Thursday, August 8, 2013

Preschool ramble

Another school year is gearing up to start. Teachers officially report back Monday, but as a new teacher at my school I have an orientation seminar tomorrow. It's a formality mostly. I've been working in my classroom for a couple weeks now and meeting with the coordinators and other teachers working in the same academic program.

What does this have to do with my writing, you ask? Well, for one thing, writing goes on the back burner during the school year, though I'm hoping to reserve a few hours each weekend to do some personal writing. 

Secondly, writing is part of what I teach as a secondary English teacher. I will also be teaching a class in journalism.

One of the key things I think makes me a strong teacher of writing is the fact that I do it myself. I regularly face blank page syndrome and overcome it. I have to brainstorm and organize ideas, and I have to rewrite, take critique, and edit. Too many students don't think of writing as a process. The whole "one and I'm done" mentality is detrimental to students growing as writers. With my practical experience perhaps I will be a convincing model to the typical student and help them enjoy writing as a process rather than an onerous task.

One can only hope. So here's to the start of another year. I raise a glass in toast to teachers everywhere.



This is me with a juvenile osprey who got stuck in a stairwell a couple weeks ago. I brought it down to the school's open courtyard so he could fly away.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Birthday Weekend & Winners

I thank you all for stopping by throughout my birthday weekend and especially thank my characters for being willing to share a bit more of themselves with you all.

I'd like to announce the winners of the your-choice ebook giveaway. I will attempt to contact you all via email, but in case you see yourself or know one of these folks, I'm listing the winners here:

Sherry Mills
FrogDog
Marie Foose
Ona Marae

If I don't contact you within 24 hours, you should contact me. Again, you may select any one of the following ebooks for yourself:

Bren & Cass's novels:
Turning Point
Turn for Home

Skylar's novella: Skylar's Pride

Kennedy and Jean: "Traditional Values" (the To Love and To Cherish collection, vol. 1)

Kelly and Leigh: "Jack's Ex" (the I Kissed A Girl II collection)

~ LZ

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Giveaway Day 4 - Kennedy McMasters

Lara's Note: Today's post is a little different. I created Kennedy McMasters quite some time ago and have been working on her novel ever since. She finally made it briefly to print, along with Jean, in "Traditional Values", my contribution to the To Love and To Cherish anthology raising money for marriage equality. I still have print copies of this book, as well as the trio of ebooks (which are no longer available). One person will win a print edition autographed by me. Another person will be able to select any ebook (my story is in volume one).

For today's blog, Kennedy decided to share her perspective the day she first met Jean Randall, an event which was only briefly described in the short story 'Traditional Values."

--
It was barely dawn when my radio crackled. It was Sunday morning in the almost continual heat of Florida in early August. Most people in their right mind aren't anywhere near awake. But I was on duty. I took the early shift because most of the rest of our little police force are married men with wives, or single men who'd have been out partying the night before. I was driving along Coast Road in my cruiser. Sea oats and a forest of Florida scrub blocked most of my view of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Dispatch to Oh-One-Four,” shattered the idyll of scrub jays calling to one another. Cutter's nose appeared over the back seat at the sound of the radio.

I glanced at my shepherd partner as I grabbed the radio mike. “Oh-One-Four here,” I answered. “Go ahead, Libby.”

“We got a call in from the marina. Body found.”

“Deke called?” I immediately thought of Deke Madsen, one of my family's oldest friends. He and my father had served in the Navy together.

“Nope. Somebody on a cell phone. You want the name?”

That in itself was unusual. Most people down at the marina hunted up the harbormaster first. Then Deke, harbormaster for 21 years, usually called Captain Denton. “All right, Libby, give me the name.”

“J. L. Randall.”

“Thanks. Oh-One-Four out.” I rehung my radio's handset. “Okay, Mister Randall, what's your problem.”

The name was not connected to anyone in town that I knew, so it had to be a tourist passing through the marina. Maybe someone cruising up from the Keys along the Gulf Coast. It made more sense that someone like that would not have contacted the harbormaster first.

I pressed the gas a little heavier, raising the speed of the cruiser just above fifty for this forty-mile-an-hours stretch.

Every vehicle had to pass under the shadow of the harbormaster's lookout, and be checked in and out for business conducted at the marina and wharves by the uniformed guard at the gate.

Looking up I flashed a wave to Ducky who activated the gate. Donald Ramsey was a member of the harbor patrol manning the gate that morning. I was surprised not to see Deke's familiar silhouette, binoculars to his eyes, up in the lookout.

Maybe he's with Randall, I thought. Deke and his wife had moved into the housing at the marina since their kids were now grown and gone from home.

I parked the cruiser in the emergency lane and hopped out, letting Cutter out from the back seat. I shushed him with a quick drop of my hand, and called out, “Hola!” No one was moving among the warehouses between piers five and six. It was well into first shift on a Thursday; where the hell is everybody?

Catching hold of Cutter's leash, I scanned the area and listened for noises. There was a low murmur coming from the shadows at the end of the dock area, shrouded by the big building's looming to either side. Advancing I called out, “Who's there?”

As a team, Cutter and I moved forward, rounding the corner of a warehouse office to peer toward the water.

A pair of figures coalesced in the shadows, huddled at the far end. I began cataloging visual details, moving quickly but cautiously forward with a hand over my holstered weapon. Blond female, hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a diver's wetsuit, and maybe late 20s. Since she was seated it was hard to judge height, but my guess was five-five, maybe five-six. A large male lay on his back across her lap, legs splayed haphazardly. He looked to be about six feet tall.

“Did you call for an officer?”

The female looked up. “I called.”

“I'm Lieutenant Kennedy McMasters. Are you J. L. Randall?”

“Jean.” She gestured with a downward nod to the male draped across her lap. “I called because I found him offshore.”

I came close enough to make ID, still watching for signs of sudden movement. The prone man's clothes were soaked. He wore sturdy shoes and his build suggested he was around 250 pounds. My gaze finally took in his face and I made ID instantly.

“Deke!” Dropping to my knees I grabbed my shoulder speaker. “Oh-One-Four to Dispatch, send...” I felt for a pulse. I couldn't find one.

Checking a second spot, I looked up to see that the woman already knew this. “Dead when you found him?”

Jean Randall nodded. “He looks like he fell in. I couldn't find any ID on him so I just called 9-1-1 on the cell.” She nodded toward a cell phone that lay on the dock boards nearby.

“Deke Madsen has been swimming this cove for longer than I've been alive,” I pointed out. “Hang on.” I went for my radio again when Libby's voice came back. “Libby, have the coroner sent out to the marina. We've got a problem.”

“Need backup?” asked Libby.

“No. I doubt the culprit's here still. It's been hours.” I judged from the deep blue, almost purple lips, and the rigor I felt when trying to move his head and look for swelling or bruises on the neck. Nothing. “But you better tell the Captain the victim is Deke. He might want to come out here and talk to Connie.” Libby's audibly inhaled breath reminded me again how small small towns could really be. Nearly everyone knew everyone else. Which brought me back to the stranger in our midst: J. L. Randall.

“Let me help you get up.” I bent over Deke's body and lifted, easing the large man off Jean, who moved aside quickly. Deke's body was returned to the exact position, and Miss Randall and I both stood up.
The blonde's eyes kept straying to the dead man with a crease of concern forming between her brows. Cutter settled next to the body, looking dejected as he watched over it.

I took a few steps away and coaxed Jean Randall to follow. “We have to wait for the coroner, but I'd like to ask you a few questions.”

“I don't know Mr. Madsen. I told you I found him floating offshore.”

“These questions aren't about him. I'd like to hear about you.”

“I'm a suspect then?”

“I'm just gathering as much information as possible right now.”

“I'm Jean Randall, with the marine biology institute at the University of South Florida, working on my doctorate.”

“Bit far north, aren't you?”

“It's only few hours by boat. I came in to do research on the ecology here.”

“How long ago? Are you registered at a hotel in town?”

“I've been living on the boat. I arrived last night.”

“Where's the boat?”

“Tied up at the pier.”

“And you dragged the body all the way up here?”

“I wasn't going to leave him there,” she sounded indignant.

“By yourself? That man is every ounce of two-fifty.”

“I didn't think about it. I just did it.”

“I'll have to see your boat, impound it. Do you have any idea where in the water you found him?”

“My boat records GPS for all of my work. It's got a record of where I pulled him up.”

“How far out?”

“Just outside the speed markers for the pier traffic.”

I had to admit that Jean Randall was forthcoming, and managed eye contact well, except when her gaze kept straying to the body – perhaps a shock sort of reaction, though she sounded anything but distressed; she appeared very business-like, even in a wetsuit.

The sound of an engine cutting out in the parking lot drew my attention. With Randall following, I walked back toward the body.

“Once the coroner's set, I'll take you to a hotel. I'll need any keys to your boat.”

“But I have all my experiments. My things!”

“I'm sorry, but your boat is evidence.”

“He wasn't bleeding when I found him. What do you think you'll find?”

“That's not for me to guess,” I pointed out. “But I will have to look it over.”

Jean looked about to argue again, then her shoulders dropped and she leaned over and picked up her cell phone. “Fine.”

When Jean turned her back, I felt a surprising surge of apology. “It's procedure,” she said quickly. “As soon as your stuff is cleared, I'll bring it to the hotel.”

Jean wasn't listening, but looking again at the body. “Did he have anyone?” she asked. We stepped back when two men arrived in their black jackets marking them from the coroner's office. I watched Jeff photograph the scene and lay down the tape. Then Brad lifted Madsen onto a low gurney to wheel him to the car.

“He has a wife, and two kids, three grandkids,” I told her. My radio beeped. “Oh-One-Four here.”

“Kay, it's Ralph. Um, could you come up to the Madsen place. I'm with Connie.”

“Be right there, Chief.” I looked at Cutter, and ordered him back to the car where I knew he would sit in its shadow until summoned. “Mrs. Madsen is afraid of dogs,” I explained to Jean. “I have to go see the widow. I don't want to have to arrest you to keep you in one place, or set Cutter to watch you in the patrol car. I'm going to hand you off to my captain. Will you come with me?”

“She's going to ask questions, isn't she?”

“You could stay with Cutter,” I said. “I need your story on record before you give it to anyone else.”

Jean sighed. “All right.” I saw her glance toward the patrol car where Cutter had jumped quickly to his feet at the sound of his name. “I'm not very comfortable around dogs either.”

I sighed. Oh well, it wasn't the first time I would stretch protocol. In her defense I thought, Jean Randall is not a suspect. She just found the body. You only need information from her.

In fifteen years on the force, I have only been wrong a couple of times. Both times love had skewed my judgment. Certainly not the case this time.

With a gesture, I guided Jean down the stone walk which led around to the south of the complex to the harbormaster's house, a clapboard four-bedroom place right on the water.

--

That was the first time I met Jean, and we went through quite an adventure before I realized I was in love with her, and my feelings had started in that moment when my hand touched her back to guide her to the home of a woman whose husband had just died. 

~ Kennedy McMasters

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Giveaway Day 3 - Cass

Author's Note: Cassidy Hyland is one of the two leads in my novels Turning Point and Turn for Home.

When I asked her to write an entry for the blog, she decided to share her first meeting with Gary, one of Brenna's brothers. She said it was to show the family connections she was building with Bren. I think it shows her 'defender' side as she kept sizing up Gary's intentions the whole time. You decide.

Leave a comment after Cass's message and you'll be entered to win a free ebook of your choice.

--
I had no idea what to expect when I met Gary Lanigan. Somehow, the very tall, very thin man in a red and blue baseball style jersey and cargo short pants, knobby knees and legs with the same curly red hair that covered his head was not it.

This man and Brenna are related? I stopped in the back doorway, holding the door open for Ryan, having caught a glimpse of the greeting taking place at the front door. Had he come to the door when I was the only one home, I would never have believed he was a relation and probably would never have let him past the threshold.

Brenna looked up to her brother and even at this distance, I felt Brenna's anxiety and heard it in the rumble of her voice. "How was your flight?"

"Bumpy. You'd have thought one of California's earthquakes had gone airborne."

"Bad weather?"

"Captain called it some inversion of the jet stream."

Brenna nodded.

When I closed the door all attention swung around to me. Wanting to be supportive of Brenna, I started to introduce myself. "Hi." I looked from Brenna then over and up to Gary.

It was then I finally saw the family resemblance. While his face was covered in freckles, something Brenna's only had after excessive sun, Gary definitely shared her eyes, that magical blue-gray. Too, his facial structure matched Brenna's, though her strong chin was a narrow addition to Gary's face, casting it somewhat effeminate, without even a hint of beard or stubble.

His hair was still shocking though, not only the color, but the style. I had envisioned all her siblings, raised as carefully as Brenna, as tightly groomed and conservative in appearance. Gary's hair was a riot of curls, and long for a man who had to be near forty, resting on his shoulders.

When he spoke, I heard a more pronounced version of Brenna's Michigan accent and Gary's voice didn't seem to carry as much gravity.

Brenna took a step away from Gary toward me. She began introductions, clearly choosing something neutral to see what Gary's response would be first. "This is Cassidy, my... costar on Time Trails. Cass, this is my brother, Gary."

His gaze centered more on me but did not narrow in judgment as I had seen others do. I straightened my shoulders though.

"Is that your boy?" Gary asked suddenly.

My shoulders dropped in surprise. I then remembered Ryan had stayed to my right upon seeing Gary when they entered the house. "Oh. Yes. Ryan?" I called my son's attention; he had also been staring at Gary. "This is Ms. Lanigan's brother, Gary."

Ryan turned and sized Gary up. "But he doesn't look like her at all."

I bit my lip, firmly holding my grin at bay. "My apologies," I offered to Gary as I nudged Ryan's shoulder.

Gary shrugged. "I get that all the time." To Ryan he said, "You know, they call me the black sheep of the family."

I shot Brenna a surprised look and caught consternation on the slim face, pinching her nose.

Ryan however was unfazed and sounded just as factual in his reply. "You're not black, you're red."

"Very true that." Gary nodded seriously. Straightening up and looking at Brenna, he asked, "So where are Thomas and James?"

"Due home very shortly." Brenna's furrowed brow deepened. "Can I get you something?"

"A soda, if you've got it."

"Of course." Brenna nodded and backed up. My gaze followed her into the kitchen. "Have a seat."

Gary looked at me; he would have to walk past me to enter the living room. "After you," he said.
I led the way to the living room furnishings. Ryan had taken only one step further away from me following his exchange with Gary. I was grateful I could coax him onto my lap when I sat down in the padded rocker.

My only point of relaxation, I felt, was my 'read' of Gary that suggested he too had no idea what to say, or perhaps, how to phrase the questions I saw perched in his eyes. It was the same way Brenna looked when uncertain, the gray swirling through the blue and overtaking it.

Brenna's arrival with a tray of drinks for all of us brought sound back to the room.

"Here we are," Brenna said.

"Thanks," Gary said, leaning forward and taking his glass.

"Thank you," I said, leaning to take mine, a raspberry lemonade.

Silence fell again as Gary scooted back further on the sofa and Brenna settled to the nearest cushion, barely perching with no weight on it.

"So how was your trip?" Brenna asked after taking a sip.

"You already asked me that." Gary seemed to pause then, as Brenna froze. He abruptly put down his glass, the perspiration quickly staining the coffee table's top. "Listen," he said. "So you're getting a divorce; you've got your girlfriend living with you. It's all a little freaked out but, you know, the family will get over that your girlfriend is prettier than Tommy's wife."

"Are you serious?"

Gary's reply to his sister's question confused me. "Have you ever known me to be?"

Brenna bristled. "This is serious. I need to know."

"Kevin says you're visiting next weekend."

"So he's still talking to the family?"

"Visits Mom every other weekend. More often than even Tommy."

"Does she say anything?"

Gary shook his head. "Nothing anyone understands. Bren, honestly, I don't think she'd know who you were if you spoke with her."

I leaned forward. "Is something wrong?"

Brenna exhaled and rubbed her forehead before answering me. "Dementia, or so the doctors say. Unreasonable bouts with emotion, and times when it doesn't seem she's living in the present at all."

"And Kevin wants you to tell her about your divorce, and me? That's cruel."

"He thinks she'll chicken out," Gary said. "But you won't will you, Bren?"

"Gary..."

"Come on, sis. You've been bucking the family for 20 years. Why you even took to Shea is beyond me."

"You were happy for me."

"Because I have never messed in your life," he said. "Not my place with my life the way I live it."

"Aren't you messing now?" I asked, leaning forward and letting Ryan's shoulders go.

Ryan slid from my lap and went, as I knew he would, over to Brenna, whose expression had grown steadily more pained with each exchange with her brother. He put his hands in her lap, wrapping around her own. Brenna looked up, pushing a smile onto her lips for Ryan briefly before lifting her gaze past his and meeting mine.

Gary had been watching. He nodded. "I'm just here to watch a little baseball with my nephew. When you meet my family, you'll know messing."

I stood up. I had always been under the impression Brenna's family was a good support for her; after all, I had seen how well Thomas and James shouldered together and responded to her. Certainly that solidarity had to be a family trait?

When Brenna's gaze lifted to follow me with question, I moved to the sofa, nudged her over, and slipped in behind her. With my hands around Brenna's waist, she settled back against my chest after shooting a hesitant glance toward Gary. "I'm with you through anything," I promised; my chin firmed and my gaze steeled on Gary.

Out on the front drive, a vehicle pulled up. Turning at the sound, Brenna started to stand. I held her back for a moment. "It's James or Thomas," Brenna said.

"I know." I did not let go.

"I'm not," Brenna said, understanding that I did not want to give the impression that they pull away from each other in front of family. "That means it's time to start dinner."

I lifted my hands after briefly stroking down Brenna's lower back. "You're right."

Brenna smiled; she stood, using her hands to push off from me. She did not lean down for a kiss, but I saw the intensity in her eyes that suggested she wanted to do so. "So Gary, you still handy with a knife?"

Lifting his gaze to his sister, Gary nodded. "Yes, of course." To me he explained, "I spent five years up in Alaska gutting fish at a packing plant."

I asked, "What is it you do now?"

"I'm a teacher and advisor on an Oklahoma reservation."

"What business brought you to L.A.?"

"Family business," he said then rose and followed Brenna into the kitchen. I turned around and watched the two begin shuffling materials around in the kitchen, younger brother following older sister easily, but I saw the brief pause, as the two crossed paths in front of the refrigerator. Gary wrapped up Brenna in a hug, one hand holding a head of lettuce and the other gingerly cupping a tomato. Brenna's face buried in his chest and her arms wrapped around his middle.

That was how Thomas found them. He looked around as he set his overnight pack down. "Hey, Uncle Gary, you made it in."

"Of course I did," Gary responded, letting Brenna go and reaching across the counter to a long-armed shake of his nephew's hand. "So where've you been?"

I eased off the sofa; Ryan followed. Thomas picked up Ryan when he leaped at him and yelled "Hi!"

"I'm in a program with the Forestry Service."

"Why don't I help out with dinner?" I suggested. "You two can catch up."

Stepping into the kitchen, I drew up when Gary turned to me. The knife circled in his palm, blade finally tucking out of sight in his grip, handle toward me. His eyes twinkled. "Your weapon for battle," he said.

I took it, receiving a friendly clout on the shoulder from his other hand as he stepped past and out of the kitchen. He came around and asked Thomas, "Have you taught this kid basketball yet?"

"Nah, but he hits a mean baseline drive."

Gary turned to Brenna. "How long til dinner?"

Looking up from where she was cutting red and yellow pepper strips into a skillet, Brenna looked up at the clock. "We'll eat around 4 p.m."

Gary looked up at the same clock. "An hour then."

Thomas grinned, putting Ryan back on his feet. "Ryan, go get your bat and glove."

"We're going to the field?" Ryan asked excitedly.

"Mmm hmm."

When the three males had left, I turned to Brenna. "Are all your brothers like that?"

"Like what?"

"Lightning speed between serious and fun?"

Brenna's smile was slow and fond. "No. I... That's just Gary. I didn't expect it but, I'm glad he came."

I was, too, if the relaxed line of her shoulders was any indication of Brenna finally letting go of her fears. "So what's the dinner plan?"

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