Friday, March 21, 2014

What I Overheard - Back by Popular Demand

The Intrepid Eavesdropper

(Number Two)

I'm at it again. Listening in on conversations. But it's okay because it's in the pursuit of a greater good - right? Improving my storytelling and dialogue skills is a viable excuse - right? Of course it is. So, without further ado, here is round two of the fascinating snippets I overheard last week in two of my favorite coffee shops. Today, I'll start with short and sweet and move to longer and more involved.

It's not wrong if I have a good reason.

Snippet Number Four:  "Making It Better"

At the Starbucks in the hospital lobby, on a Tuesday morning. It's raining outside. A man is washing the windows with large sweeping motions. It's quiet in the coffee shop. All I can hear is the clicking of my laptop's keys and the swish-swish of the squeegee. There is a break between customers, and one barista is talking quietly to another. She puts her hand on her friend's arm and says this beautiful, heartfelt line: 

"You're less bubbly and happy than usual and I just want to make it better."


Snippet Number Five:  "You're Having A Fucking Boy"

This is about as different as you can get. It's about half an hour later, and I'm still at the Starbucks in the hospital lobby, across from the Ultrasound Unit. A woman is on a cell phone, leaning against the shop's condiment bar. She's got the phone propped between her ear and her shoulder, and is shaking cinnamon and cocoa into her coffee as she talks. She stirs the coffee with quick, angry motions. To me, she seems more interested in her coffee than in the conversation.

She shouts into the phone.

"Guess what you're having?"

She listens to the person on the other end of the line, but only for a second.

"A boy. You're having a boy."

She makes a snorting noise.

"Another fucking boy."

She slaps a lid on her coffee.

"Yeah. It is."

She slurps her coffee, then stalks out the door.

This one still bothers me. There are so many questions that I will never know the answers to! Is this woman pregnant? She didn't look pregnant. Why is she annoyed that it's a boy? Does she already have five of them at home or something? Is she talking to the baby's father? She doesn't say "we're having a boy", she says "you're having a boy". Something seemed so wrong about this conversation.

All I can think is: That poor baby boy.

Snippet Number Six:  "Give Them Candy"

I am at my other favorite coffee shop, Zoka. I'm grumpy. I don't have my favorite table - I'm at the breezy table right in front of the door because that was all there was. But I'm coping. Not long after I arrive, two men pull out chairs from a large table clear across the room. One of the men - he's perhaps twenty-five years old and has the loudest voice I've ever heard - seems to be training the younger man (he's college-age) to teach an all-day-long SAT prep class. For over two hours, they discuss how to teach different sections of the exam to high school seniors - math, English, history.

"Essays," says the older man. "Some of them go on and on and on. Like this one."

The instructor flips open a four-inch-tall three ring binder, looking for a particular essay. He finds what he's looking for, then jabs the page with his finger. "You have to consider the voice. Is it too self-conscious? Too full of themselves? Look at this girl's essay." He turns a few pages. "Look at this part. She's inserting too much of herself here. Right there. See that?"


"And grammar. Identify the rules of grammar. Make sure they have a command of it - but then let them run with it and make it their own."


"That's the hard part. To know when they've gone too far."

The younger man nods and looks dubiously at the gigantic binder.

"Make a list," suggests the older man. "Put the most common things that give them problems up on the wall. Have conversations with them. Make them talk. Make them do worksheets, and then discuss them. Worksheets are good."

The younger man is scribbling notes. I think he looks flustered.

The older man leans back in his seat. "The best advice? They get tired around three o'clock. I say get some sugar into them."


"Always give them candy at the break."

I stop listening at this point - the minutia is mind-numbing. But as I go back to my own work, I can't help but think how lucky I am to be privy to this moment, and remember when my own children took the (very expensive) classes these men are discussing. I also know this: I would never have come up with this scene on my own. Never in a thousand years.

It really was this big.

Snippet Number Seven:  "You Just Have To Keep Going" 

The following snippet also took place at Zoka. It was the next day. Two men, dressed in slacks and collared, button-down shirts are sitting at the table next to me. No fancy lattes or mochas, just black coffee. Older man does almost all of the talking. He has a deeply lined face, a chipped front tooth, and steel gray crew-cut hair. He is constantly tapping his foot.

"I tell people to look at my hands." The older man holds out his hands. The nails are short and somewhat ragged, but clean. "I work with my hands. All my life, I've worked with my hands." Turns them over, shoves them in front of the younger man.

The younger man obviously knows what's expected of him and takes a good long look. "You work hard. You've done well."

Older man slurps his coffee. "Yeah. I have my guys. They go out there. Thirty years, they do their work. And people come to us."

"I've heard good things about your place."

"It's job satisfaction, that's what it is. I run a tight ship. Everything kept clean. Lots of light. No yelling at people. It's safer that way."


A pause, while they both take a drink of their coffee.

"I keep the radio on to fifties type music," says the older man. "People ask me, why do you listen to that old stuff?"

"Well, why?"

"It doesn't get the customers riled up, you know? Not like that modern stuff." He talks about that horrible modern stuff for a while, then he moves on. "The most important thing is to keep the place safe. And clean. But you have to be careful. I tell my guys to be careful." He holds out his hands again. "Cause look what can happen. Look at that." He holds out his thumb. "I cut my thumb clean off! A short saw. They put it back on again."

The younger man gawks.

"See?" says the older man. "You can see where they did the surgery. The color is different."

Then was a long discourse about bone grafts, and skin grafts, and hundreds of stitches, and bandages that bled all over the place. The younger man looks kind of yellow by the time the older one is finished describing every little detail of his ordeal.

"Well. It doesn't look that good, but it works," says the older man, grabbing his coffee with the hand in question. "You just have to keep going."

The color is different all right!

And that's all for this time! I'll just keep going. I'll continue listening and gathering overheard dialogues and eventually I'll have enough for Intrepid Eavesdropper Number Three.
Thanks for reading!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Editor Speaks

Rebecca's Moment in the Sun

A big welcome to my editor at Ellora's Cave. Rebecca is the person who keeps me in line, who helps me whip my stories into shape, who chases down stray exclamation points and italics, who lets me be inventive with dashes because I'm not allowed to use semi-colons. She is my cheerleader in the scary big world of publishing, and I am so very lucky to have her. 

I am thrilled to have her visit my blog today.


Thanks to Gail for hosting me on her blog! My name is Rebecca Hill, and I’m an editor for Ellora’s Cave, the premier erotic romance publisher.

Gail caught my attention from the outset as an author who obviously has new, fresh and exciting ideas, but she really revved my engines when she submitted Inn On the Edge, an erotic horror novel for EC’s “Shivers” line. I adore horror stories and I really want to see more women writing in horror, as well as a marriage between the visceral reactions of fear and arousal, so erotic horror is a genre I’m wildly enthusiastic about.

Why should Stephen King have all the fun? We know that a natural reaction to fear is sexual desire, so the two genres are a match made in heaven.

Many people think of romance as a “throw-away” genre, but in my opinion, entertaining fiction engages the emotions. Good fiction engages the mind. And great fiction does both. If a story captures me both intellectually and emotionally, I’d be a fool to care where it’s shelved. That’s why I edit for EC, and why I’m so delighted to work with ground-breaking authors like Gail.

In my opinion, Gail’s at the cutting edge of the next big thing. Her work in progress, Over the Edge, set in the same universe, promises to be just as gripping.

I’ll be back for a guest post in the near future to talk about my editing methods – but don’t believe her when she says that’s a horror story all on its own!

Thank you Rebecca! 

What Rebecca hasn't mentioned is that not only is she a talented editor who works with a large stable of prolific authors, she is an author herself. She is the co-author of the erotic horror novella, "Smoke and Mirrors". I am thrilled to share this amazing book, which is available at Totally Bound.

Purchase Link for "Smoke and Mirrors" -

Blurb for "Smoke and Mirrors"

Max has always been able to see things that aren't there…or perhaps his visions show people's true natures, in their reflections.

When he visits the circus one night, the last thing he expects is to fall in lust with the sexy knife-thrower, Lady Stiletto. But when he follows her into the funhouse — and into the hall of mirrors — they are both sucked into a warped and twisted world where time moves differently and nothing is what it seems…

Can Max find Lady Stiletto and save her from the madness of the mirror world? Or will he find only an echo, driven mad by the carnival of horrors they've been plunged into?

Reader Advisory: This story contains scenes of dubious consent, and mirror-world lovers who aren't all they seem.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Over the Edge - The First Excerpt

To my dear blog followers:

The time has arrived! 

I am ready to share the first few sneak peeks of my work-in-progress, Over the Edge. It is erotic horror, bound for the Ellora's Cave "Shivers" line. This full-length novel takes place in the same exotic world I created for Inn on the Edge and features the same manipulative sex demons. The setting is completely new - and it's deliciously chilling.

The Blurb:

Dahlia is a novice Healer who is accepted into a mysterious school in Seattle that teaches Curative Touch - only to realize too late that she and the other students are being used as a Guinea Pigs for newly-adult Sex Demons in training in the usage of their own powers. But Dahlia has done the forbidden: She's fallen in love with her Demon instructor and unearthed the truth.

Over the Edge - The First Excerpt 
(the opening two pages of the book):

     I stopped in front of a door painted in darkest, richest green.

     It wasn't the same entrance I'd been to before. The door before me was on a busier, wider, noisier street than the one around the corner that I was already familiar with. This door stood out from the others surrounding it—for one thing, it was enormous. Three people could pass through it side by side and not touch the doorsills, not even close. For another thing, the door itself was heavy and official-looking, as if it had been lifted from some building back in the old country and installed in this busy street in Seattle, with no care of how out-of-place it looked.

     Or maybe it gave the exact impression the Institute was going for?

     On either side of the door were other businesses. A restaurant on one side. A gift shop on the other. Beyond that, a second-hand clothing boutique. Further down the street, a pet shop. They all had signage and windows and crisp awnings—normal-looking entrances, all of them.

     Unlike mine.

     For months I'd been wondering about this strange place, this Institute. It had suddenly appeared without warning or fanfare in a downtown neighborhood I frequently passed through—I remember well the Friday afternoon I'd first seen this green door. I'd stopped in my tracks on the sidewalk, wondering where it had come from, wondering what lay behind it, curious to know what sorts of mysterious things went on in a place called the Institute of Curative Touch.

     And wondering if I'd ever work up the nerve to study there.

     Well, I did work up the courage. I went on-line. Found their website. Discovered to my joy that the Institute would be running an intensive eight-week Curative Touch session that summer. The students—only twelve would be selected—would stay in the Institute's living quarters, eat the Institute's food, have limited contact with the outside world, and would attend daily lectures, practicums, and healing demonstrations. The website warned that students were expected to "live and breathe" Curative Touch so they could participate in a "rigorous learning experience like no other".

     It sounded like heaven.

     I studied the website for hours, feeling like it was written with me in mind. Do you gravitate to people in pain? Lord help me, but I did. Do your hands itch to touch people? Yes! Sometimes I had to sit on my hands to keep them from roaming. Do you long to harness your inborn healing talent? Do you desire to be effective in your healing efforts? Are you willing to learn from those who have vast experience in the healing arts? Yes! Yes! And yes.


     Best of all, I could afford it.

     It wouldn't be difficult to schedule a hiatus from my freelance journalist work—I was my own boss and I was long overdue for a vacation. I checked with myself, and of course I said yes. Besides, I might write an article about my experiences at the Institute—it was bound to be interesting. I set up a tour, as requested of all potential students. On the appointed day, a delightful fellow named Jobeem met me at the side entrance. He led me through the main lecture hall, several classrooms, and a library.

     I approved.

     The next day I filled out the Institute's registration form and wrote three get-to-know-me essays—The First Time I Thought I Had Healing Touch, The first Time I Knew I Had Healing Touch, and The First Time I Was Shunned For My Healing Touch. The instructions had been to write a page or more about any three topics. Prospective students were urged to be as honest as possible, to delve deep, and to explore their feelings because everything would percolate to the surface when the coursework started and there was no sense hiding anything. So I told them everything. I put everything I had into those essays, even the thing about my grandmother who also had healing touch, and her mother, and hers, and so on.

     I bit my nails.

     Four months ago I received my acceptance letter and immediately sent a rather hefty deposit.

     I gushed about my summer plans to anyone who would listen.

     And it didn't even bother me much when people said I was crazy.

     Two weeks ago a stack of handouts arrived in the mail—among them, What Should You Pack?, What to Expect While You're With Us, The History of Curative Touch, and How Much Can a Touch Healer Accomplish in Today's High-Tech World?

     I devoured them.

     Yesterday, I took Pretty Kitty—my cat—to stay with my grandmother.

     All of which led me here, today, to this green door and to the new-student orientation. My adventure was about to begin.

     I tucked my hair behind my ear and took a calming breath, wishing I'd taken the time to eat something before coming here, wishing I had my camera, wishing that someone could take a picture of me by this antique door, all daring and poised on the threshold of my new life. As soon as I went in, I'd begin transforming into a newer, better version of myself. I'd be Dahlia Rehnquist, future healer. But I didn't have a camera. It hadn't been on the packing list.

     I was about to go in when a man came from behind me and reached for the doorknob, startling me.

     "Oh! I'm sorry—I didn't mean to make you jump," he said.

     I stepped aside. "It's okay."

     He looked at his watch, then at me. He didn't say anything.

     I gave him a sidelong look. I liked his eyes. He was a bit older than me, probably. He was tall, with wavy brown hair just long enough to brush his collar. He wore a dark jacket and had a sleek, many-pocketed backpack slung over his shoulder. He was handsome in a sandals-and-socks-in-winter athletic sort of way, a very Seattle look. A look that I'd always been partial to. Was he a student at the Institute, like me? Was he heading to the orientation?

     "No worries," I said, hoping.

     "Shall we?"

     I nodded.

     He opened the door and offered me a fleeting smile. "After you."

Thank you for reading. 
The Second Excerpt will come next week...

Monday, March 3, 2014

What I Overheard - A Writer's Confession

The Intrepid Eavesdropper

I've never been a sneaky person. I've never listened outside closed doors, picked up a phone extension and listened to someone else's conversation, or hid in a place where I knew I'd hear juicy gossip. I  don't think of myself as an eavesdropper ... but on occasion, I am one. 

Let me explain. I am a writer. I sometimes write in public places. A favorite haunt of mine - I go there maybe three times a week - is Zoka, a nearby coffee shop with perfect-sized tables, lots of electrical outlets, long banks of windows that are positioned to let in the golden evening light, and a barista crew that is starting to call me by name. My only complaint? Other people like Zoka as much as I do. Which can be problematic.

Zoka Coffee Shop, Seattle Washington
My writing place

The place gets crowded. Those perfect little tables fill up. Students from the University of Washington meet at my coffee shop for their study groups - it seems to be a favorite of the college-age set. But others like Zoka as well. Prospective employers meet with potential employees for getting-to-know-you chats. Friends get together. Families on outings come to visit; there are three different father-daughter combinations who come into Zoka for after-school hot chocolates and a half hour of homework. And, always, scattered here and there, are lone writerly types pecking away at their laptops, seemingly oblivious. I am one of them.

Several times a week, for maybe three hours, I nab one of the small square tables in front of the windows. I have a favorite table - the sideways one near the front of the shop, even though it rocks just a bit and I sometimes have to stuff a folded-up napkin under one of its legs. I drape my jacket over the chair, order a mocha (and the occasional almond croissant), and set up my laptop.

And then it begins: other people's conversations start leaking into my personal space. I can usually tune them out, but sometimes, it's hard. There's no avoiding it. 

Working on my Next Novel

Instead of being annoyed by these verbal intrusions, I've begun doing some ... ah ... judicious listening. Overheard conversations are wonderful places to gather real-life dialogue and interesting details and plot ideas. Writers have been carefully listening and taking notes for ages - it's a time-honored way of honing dialogue skills. Listening in on other people in public places is eavesdropping, yes, but I prefer to think of it as "dialogue research" intended for "character color". I've been jotting down the best snippets for months now - and getting some great stuff. I've collected wonderful bits and pieces of dialogue, and I thought it was a great time to share them.

Snippet Number One

Last week, when I was about to pack up and leave the coffee shop, two women sat down at the table nearest to me. I couldn't help but hear the job interview that the older woman was conducting for the younger one:

Older woman:   "You like to read?"
Younger woman:   "Um, yes."
Older woman:   "I mean, like a lot."
Younger woman:   "I can, if you want me to."

(At this point, I was drawn in. Intrigued. What kind of job involves lots of reading?)

Older woman:   "There would be stacks of books to read. Stacks like you've never seen."
Younger woman:   "As in ... manuscripts?"
Older woman:   "You'll have so many you won't know what to do with them."
Younger woman (laughs self-consciously):    "I bet."
Older woman:   "You'll have to read and pass the best ones on to me."
Younger woman:   "Okay."
Older woman:   "You'll learn to tell pretty quickly which are worth sending on to me."
Younger woman:   "I can do that."

(Now I had the sneaking suspicion that a literary agent was sitting at the table next to me! Holy Cow! Who was she? Had I submitted a manuscript to her?)

Older woman:   "Most are junk. You can tell by the first page."
(Younger woman laughs.)
Older woman:   "Sometimes by the first paragraph."
Younger woman:   "By the first sentence?"
Older woman:   "Sometimes! Yes!"

(Now I had a burning desire to rewrite the first page, paragraph, and sentence of my current novel.)

I scootched my chair a bit closer, trying to look innocent. They began talking about plots, and two-page synopses, and authors who don't know a Story Arc from Noah's Arc. Famous clients were mentioned. Publishers were brought up. By the time they left, I was in danger of falling onto their table, I was eavesdropping so hard. 

The last thing I overheard? The older woman asking how soon the younger woman could start.

Snippet Number Two

A few days later, I was seated next to an innocent-looking young woman. She sat at her laptop, wrapped up in her work and listening to music through her earbuds. I hardly noticed her, until a handsome young man sauntered up, pulled out a chair, and sat down across from her. That's when things got interesting. Apparently, he was late meeting her, and she was furious, as in white-faced, cold-voiced, seriously pissed off. I wasn't quick enough to capture many lines of dialogue, but what I got could be great fodder for a future scene:

Girl:   "I guess you and I have different definitions of the word SOON."
Boy:   "... but I was sorting my socks, Babe."
Girl:   "Since when does 'I'm leaving right now' mean an hour and a half later?"
Boy (tipping his chair back on two legs)   "I knew you would wait for me - so why should I hurry?"

That's all I got, but - Yikes! Oh, the simmering resentment and rage at that table! I found it hard to believe that these two would be together much longer. Great dialogue or not, it was too much for me. I found another, quieter, location, and left them to their altercation.

Snippet Number Three

The last one happened only last night. Three college-age women were having an earnest study session. It appeared that they were writing essays for a religious class or study group. They had a bible verse, and had dissected it from one angle and then another and shared their thoughts with each other. All well and good. I wasn't paying much attention - but then their conversation took a different turn, and I was all ears.

Jasmine (the only name I caught):   "I get all blushy over him."
Friend One:   "You do?"
Friend Two:   "You DO?"
Jasmine:   "I think of him like a boyfriend, like I'm in love with him."

(My hands went still on my keyboard. Could Jasmine be saying what I thought she might be? Really?)

Friend One:   "That's so cool."
Friend Two:   "What would you ... do with him?"
Jasmine (slowly):   "I get this FEELING when I think about him."
Friend One:   "Me too, a little."
Friend Two doesn't say anything but I hear her suck in her breath.
Jasmine:   "I think of myself doing something ordinary with him, like he was a real person. Like we would go out in canoes by Husky Stadium. Like we would hang out and talk, and he would be the best friend ever, the best listener."
(A pause.)
Jasmine:   " he would paddle when I got tired."

(I blinked. Wow. This was some good stuff, some inner thoughts and emotions. It was the most uncomfortable I've yet felt while jotting down overheard dialogue. For the first time, I actually felt like I was eavesdropping - but I couldn't stop.)

Friend One:   "Yes, Jesus would do that. For sure."
Friend Two:   "Oooooh, Jasmine. That's so good."
Jasmine:   "Yeah."
Friend One:   "I would hang out with Jesus."
Jasmine:   "Me too, definitely."
Friend Two:   "I would too." (Pause.) "But we wouldn't go paddling. We would watch old movies together and cry at the sad scenes together."
Friend One:   "Oh my god. That makes me shiver."
Jasmine:   "But now I'm hungry. I feel compelled by Jesus' love ... to buy a brownie."

That's all I have for now.

I'm sure there will be more - keep your eyes open for Intrepid Eavesdropper number two.

P.S. If you are ever in Seattle, near the University of Washington, stop in at Zoka and tell them I sent you. Here is their Website: