Postcards

Postcards – Short Story Thriller

I like writing contests because they force me to write. There’s something about a deadline. When I saw NYC Midnight‘s Short Story Challenge, I knew I had to enter. I was placed in a heat with 20 other authors and given 8 days to write a 2,500 or less short story THRILLER with the subject SEARCH OF A MISSING PERSON and a character A TOURIST.

With so many people wanting me to put my crime lab knowledge to use, I incorporated forensics into this Thriller. Hope you enjoy it. Happy to hear your thoughts. :)

Postcards

POSTCARDS

 


Her bare feet slapped against the white laminate hallway casting echoes behind her like ripples in water. Cold air assaulted her back where the hospital gown flapped open.

Was that a scuffle of movement behind her?

She held her breath and checked the timer zip-tied to her wrist.

00:03:21.

00:03:20.

00:03:19.

There was still time.

She sprinted toward the staircase.


One month earlier

Teresa dropped from a jog to a walk a half block from her apartment. Air burned through her lungs and her legs felt gloriously tight. Running helped purge her anxiety. Today’s two extra miles were worth it. Nothing was worse than waiting for news.

She used the bottom of her shirt to wipe the sweat from her upper lip before tapping the code to open her mailbox. A misshapen pile of letters perched at the edge of the slot. The junk mail went straight into the apartments’ trashcan. She sorted through the rest: two medical bills and a postcard.

A postcard?

A 747 wide-body plane with the space shuttle piggybacked on top was framed by a cloudless day and “Greetings from Houston” in a swirly yellow font. Heat wormed through her stomach and twisted her intestines with its strong fingers. At the base of her skull, the sweat covering her body turned to ice and spider-webbed along each of her ribs.

Her hand shook as she turned the postcard over. On the right, her name and address greeted her in Josh’s barely legible scribble. But on the left, a single smudge-free fingerprint accompanied the words “The Tourist.” Everything–from her address, to the print, to the signature–was written in reddish-brown ink. The color of death.


00:02:32

The tips of her fingers grazed the metal rung before her feet thudded back to the floor. Why did she have to stop growing at four foot nine? Would it have been too much to ask to be five feet tall?

She scuttled back a few steps and tried again.

Step, step, step. Jump.

This time, her right hand gripped the ladder and held. The pendulum of her swing reversed and her left hand found the bottom rung. She pulled herself onto the ladder. Thank goodness for CrossFit.

She climbed.

00:02:27


Three years earlier

The red flag on the folder indicated the case was a “rush.” Josh flipped to the submission form. Offense Type: Missing Persons.

He used a sterile scalpel to cut across the bottom of the manila envelope, making sure to leave the evidence seal intact.  Squeezing the sides of the envelope with a gloved hand, a single postcard slid onto the bench paper.

Interesting.

He photographed it and recorded the pertinent details on the Evidence Processing Form: city skyline with “Hello from Seattle” on the front; fingerprint, address, and “The Tourist” on the back in dark red ink.

The swab wrapper opened with a satisfying snap to expose the stick end of a pair of sterile swabs. He applied two drops of deionized water onto the cotton tip of one swab. With deftness from years of practice, Josh rubbed the moistened end across the fingerprint hard enough to transfer a light sheen of rusty pigment onto the white cotton. Holding the swab tip over the biohazard trash, he squeezed one drop of phenolpthalin then two drops of hydrogen peroxide onto the light stain. In less than five seconds, the cotton tip turned bright magenta.

Positive for blood.

He moistened the other swab and collected more of the dried red fluid. DNA testing would confirm the blood was human. Seemed a waste of time considering they’d already identified the fingerprint, but that was forensics. Dot every i, cross every t.


00:02:03

At the top of the ladder, a square panel identified the trapdoor’s outline. Teresa pushed on the access panel, but the rusty square held fast.

She needed more leverage.

Crouching on the top ladder rung, she braced her back against the door and straightened her legs. This had to work.

Her thighs wobbled as if she were on the last rep of her third set of leg presses. C’mon.

The door sprung free with a metallic squeal.

00:01:48


Three years earlier

Josh double-checked the DNA results.

No chance of a sample switch, the samples had been run in duplicate.

No chance of contamination, the profile didn’t match any other case or staff member DNA profile.

There was no doubt. Barbara Akers, Neil Akers’s mother, was not related to the source of the blood on the postcard.

That led to one conclusion: the blood on the fingerprint wasn’t from Neil Akers, owner of the fingerprint.

Whose blood was it? The perpetrator’s? Another victim’s?

Josh punched in the phone number for the lead detective. “Teresa Akers? This is Josh Steury. I got some interesting DNA results on your missing persons case…”


00:01:47

Teresa stepped outside into the sauna that was Houston in July. Even at midnight, the temperature was in the eighties. She took a moment to collect her bearings. Skylights pocked the roof, reflecting light from the almost full moon. Myriad pipes and air handlers cast moon shadows perfect for hiding.

She’d have to check the entire roof. Hopefully, she’d be lucky.

The roof’s rough debris cut into her tender feet as she ran.

00:01:38


Three weeks earlier

Teresa’s cell phone buzzed. She held a nail-bitten forefinger up to the barista while she dug the device out of her right front pocket.

The caller ID displayed three letters: F B I.

She drifted away from the counter.

The barista’s voice mixed in with the jingle of the door’s bell. “Ma’am? What about your latte?”

Teresa pressed her hand over the ear opposite of the phone to mask the noise of downtown Seattle. “H-hello?”

“Mrs. Teresa Steury? This is FBI Agent Clark Kennimore. We have news.”


00:01:09

She hadn’t been lucky. Wedged into the joint of the build’s final corner a bound man waited. Dirty jeans. Blood-stained T-shirt. Black plastic garbage bag covered his face.

Teresa slid to her knees near him and ripped the bag from his head. The sour scent of sweat and fear filled the air between them.

Gray eyes blinked groggily before closing. His head lolled to the side. He’d been drugged, but at least he was still alive.

She grabbed him under the arms and tried to leverage his six foot three frame to his feet. “Wake up. We’ve got to get out of here.”

Cold metal stabbed the base of her neck. “That’s optimistic of you.”

00:01:01


Three years earlier

For a science geek, the guy was cute. Dressed in scrubs and tennis shoes, Teresa appreciated Josh Steury’s intelligent gray eyes and the way his arm muscles corded as he moved.

Josh clasped his hands together on top of the conference table and gave her a no-nonsense look. “No luck running the blood profile against the DNA database. So far, it hasn’t matched any crime scene or convicted offenders’ profiles.”

“Maybe it’s not the killer’s blood. Maybe it’s another victim. What about another database?”

“Aside from the missing person’s database, we don’t keep victim’s profiles. It’s against the rules of CODIS–the Combined DNA Index System.”

Teresa drummed her fingers against the tabletop, nails clicking. “Well, if the blood is from a victim, maybe that person is missing as well.”

“Seems unlikely.” Josh closed the case file and stood. “I’ll search against the missing persons database under one condition.”

She stood up too, but had to crane her head to meet his eyes. Even if she were wearing heels, she wouldn’t come higher than his chest. “What’s the condition?”

The smirk on his face made him look roguish. “Have dinner with me.”


00:00:59

Teresa dropped to the ground and swept her leg out behind her. Her assailant fell back and the gun skittered to the roof’s edge.

She dove for it, but a hand clamped onto her foot. Sharp fragments cut into her flesh as her hands and knees smacked onto the roof’s ragged surface.

She rolled onto her back, smashing her heel into her attacker’s face. With a grunt, he let her go.

She scrambled backward like a crab until her right hand slipped off the edge of the roof.

00:00:52


Three weeks earlier

Agent Kennimore squeezed Teresa’s hand in a firm shake. “Nice to meet you in person, detective.”

“I left the force more than a year ago, Mr. Kennimore.”

He gave her a lopsided grin. “You can take the girl off the force, but you can’t take the force out of the girl.”

Was he flirting with her? “What news do you have that you couldn’t give me over the phone?”

His smile evaporated. “Follow me.”

He led her into a small conference room. Gesturing to a seat at the oval table, he closed the door and sat across from her.

She waited, arms crossed.

Kennimore cleared his throat. “The blood on the postcard hit against a man named Arthur Elliot. His wife reported him missing more than four months ago.”

Teresa took a deep breath. “And the fingerprint?”

“It matches your husband.”


00:00:51

Her fingers found the gun.  She leveled it at her assailant. “Don’t move or I will kill you.”

The killer held his hands out and took a step backward. He was older than Teresa had expected, with a Sean Connery air to him–white-haired and wrinkled, but large-framed and commanding.

“That would be a mistake.” He lowered himself to the ground cross-legged, hands on knees. “Kill me and your husband explodes.”

“I played by your rules. I located him before the time ran out.” She thrust out the timer strapped to her wrist. “Now disarm the bomb.”

00:00:45


Three weeks earlier

Kennimore slapped a series of pictures on the table in front of her. “Fifteen victims, all involved in the criminal justice system. The family of each victim received a postcard two months after they disappeared. Each postcard contained a fingerprint made in another victim’s blood.”

Teresa shuffled though the pictures and tapped one. “This man, Neil Akers. I investigated his disappearance. Josh did the DNA testing. That’s how we met.”

“Neil was one of The Tourist’s first victims. The FBI wasn’t involved yet.”

Teresa pushed her worry about Josh away and flipped her brain to police mode. “What else can you tell me?”

“The blood source is killed at the postcard city. The fingerprint victims are abducted while they are on vacation in the postcard city, a day or two before the other victim is murdered. The fingerprint source becomes the blood source on the next postcard.”

“So if our perp follows the same pattern, he’ll murder Josh and kidnap his next victim in Houston.” Teresa fingered Josh’s picture, the one she’d provided to the FBI when he’d first disappeared. “So we have three weeks…”


00:00:44

The Tourist didn’t move.

“Disarm the bomb!” She rose and stepped toward him.

“You’d kill an unarmed man?” He spoke calmly as if they were at a rooftop picnic.

Fear pulsed at her temples. “Not if I don’t have to. Disarm the bomb, and you’ll have your day in court.”

He laughed, a bitter sound. “I think not. I’d rather fly off this building like Daedalus.”

Teresa flicked her gaze to the timer.

00:00:32.


Twelve hours earlier

The room swirled as Teresa opened her eyes. Her stomach clenched. Where was she?

She groped her way to a sitting position with her back against a white padded wall. In the corner was a toilet and sink, but no furniture. Not even a bed. The mattress lay directly on the floor.

“Ah, good. You’re awake.” A man’s disembodied voice seeped from the walls around her.


00:00:31

“I know about your wife and daughter,” she blurted.

The Tourist’s gaze narrowed. “What about them?”

“Your son-in-law killed them, but he was never charged because the police chief was his uncle.”

“Impressive. How did you figure it out?”

“He was your first victim. The blood on the very first postcard. The start of your death chain.” She spat the words as fast as she could. “Since then, you’ve been targeting detectives and crime lab personnel.

“We also know you left your job at Memorial Hospital to become a traveling nurse after your family died. You’re a caregiver at heart, not a killer. Please, I’m begging you, disarm the bomb.”

The Tourist tilted his head. “You’re certainly very smart, but the answer is no.”

00:00:15


Twelve hours earlier

“The rules are simple. Find your husband before the timer strapped to his wrist reaches zero. If you do, you’ll both survive. Fail and he’ll explode, a direct result of your incompetence. You’ll end up back here and have to hope the next player will be a better competitor than you.”


00:00:12

Helicopter blades thwack-thwacked in the distance. Agent Kennimore to the rescue. Too bad he wouldn’t reach them with enough time to disable the bomb.

Her finger itched to pull the trigger, to give vent to her frustration.

As the thwacking grew louder, The Tourist rose slowly to his feet. “Very good, detective. It seems you have won after all.”

“Then you’ll diffuse the bomb?”

Agent Kennimore’s helicopter landed on the hospital’s roof.

The Tourist shook his head. “There’s no need.”

Before she could pull the trigger, he ran five paces and jumped off the forty-story hospital.

00:00:03

Teresa sprinted to Josh. She patted him down. Where were the explosives?

The timer on his wrist caught her gaze. The explosives must be inside the timer.

She tugged. Stupid zip ties! Without scissors or a knife, she couldn’t get it off.

Tears dripped off her chin and she cursed.

00:00:00


One month later

Teresa curled up next to Josh on the porch rocker with a coffee cup in hand.

He put his arm around her. “Who was on the phone?”

“Agent Kennimore.”

“Oh?”

She savored a sip of coffee. “It turns out the two timers were linked. As long as they were within a three feet of each other, the signal from mine cancelled out the triggering mechanism on yours.”

“As we figured.”

“The surprise was there was another strapped to The Tourist.”

Josh sloshed a bit of coffee. “He had a device too?”

She nestled into him. “If he’d died, it would have activated the explosives in both of our timers.”

“Good thing you followed proper police procedure, then.”

“Indeed.”



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying A with logo on white

Best Books of 2015

I’m an avid reader. I read something like 67 books in 2015, or so Goodreads tells me. Might be more. Probably is more because I didn’t do a good job keeping track this year. (Resolution #1: Keep better track of books read in 2016).

If you’re a reader too, here are the best of December, the best of 2015, and my first ever award for best Christian fiction of 2015!

December’s Reading Roundup

Flying A Dec 2015

#1: ROOK by Sharon Cameron

Genre: Dystopian

Worldview: Secular but clean

Pros: The premise – that the earth’s magnetic pole reversed and played havoc with all the electronics. Now there’s a society who can’t function once technology is removed because they’ve be come so dependent on it. Love the characters and the romance. Definitely channels French Revolution.

Cons: Standalone, so I can’t look forward to a sequel. :(

#2: SOARING THROUGH STARS by Rajdeep Paulus

Genre: Contemporary YA

Worldview: Christian

Pros: Solid writing, empathetic characters, continuation of a heartfelt story.

Cons: The story didn’t go where I thought it would, which is both a positive and a negative. Positive in that I couldn’t predict it (bonus), but negative in that it didn’t really take me where I was hoping the story would go. I was surprised that there was a third book because originally I thought the story concluded after book 2. It didn’t focus or culminate in the trail as I expected. In fact, you never really get to the trial so there’s no more finality than there was at the end of book 2. Still worth reading.

#3. SHADOWED EDEN by Katie Clark

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Worldview: Christian

Pros: Solid writing, the author knows how to tell a story. A gentle romantic line. Unique premise. Good main characters.

ConsSecondary characters could have been better developed.

Books with spiritual warfare are hit or miss with me. I’m fairly picking when it comes to how biblical beings are portrayed. The concept of the Garden of Eden still existing somewhere on earth and what it might be like provided a unique storyline. I would have liked to know more, but I suspect that will come later in the series. All considered, the book kept my interest until the end without bothering my sensibilities.

#4. THE NETHERGRIM by Matthew Jobin

Genre: YA Fantasy – waking evil and the unsuspecting hero

Worldview: Secular, but clean

Pros: Nice fantasy story with interesting new creatures. Unconventional heroes, especially the female warrior. Rich fantasy world.

Cons: Story structure was off for me. Nothing really happened for the first half of the book (we were ushered along by the mystery), then when it did, it resolved too easily. I still enjoyed the story, and since this is a set up to a longer good vs. evil conflict, it served its purpose in introducing the stakes. I’m interested in reading the next book in the series.

#5. THE HESITANT HEIRESS by Dawn Crandall

Genre: Historical Romance

Worldview: Christian

Pros: The mystery aspects of the book kept me interested. What was the deal with Bram Everstone? What happened with her dad? Her mom? If the point of a romance is just throwing obstacles up between the heroine and hero, then there isn’t enough to keep me reading. This book had enough going on with the story to keep me interested.

Cons: I hate it when tension is created by the protagonist having a secret/misunderstanding that could be cleared up by a simple conversation. There was a bit of this in the story. Because of the first person narrative, it didn’t seem historical to me, almost anachronistic. 

#6. OUT OF DARKNESS RISING by Gillian Adams

Genre: Fantasy Allegory

Worldview: Christian

Pros: I have a love/hate relationship with allegories. Since I like for stories to take me somewhere new, once I realize I’m reading an allegory, I know where the story is headed. Then it’s a matter of how well the author tells the story. That’s what we have here – one of the best told allegories I’ve read. It’s creative, clever, and imaginative all without being overdone. More straight allegory than something like CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien. I loved the imagery and story telling. The writing was vivid and worth reading all on its own.

Cons: It’s an allegory.

BEST OF 2015

2015 Reading Roundup

#1. DARKNESS REIGNS by Jill Williamson

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Worldview: Christian

Pros: Worldbuilding, story weaving, characters, writing, everything. Plus it’s free on Amazon right now.

Cons: It ended.

#2. COUNTING BY 7s by

Genre: Contemporary YA

Worldview: Secular

Pros: Heartwarming story with beautifully flawed, complex characters.

Cons: If only it had a spiritual thread it would be perfect.

#3. FAILSTATE by John Otte

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Superhero, YA

Worldview: Christian

Pros: Clever and creative story. It doesn’t get any better than a reality TV show for superheroes. Wish I had thought of the idea myself.

Cons: Wish I had thought of the idea myself.

#4. A TIME TO SPEAK by Nadine Brandes

Genre: Dystopian

Worldview: Christian

Pros: Love the premise of the story. Love Parvin and Hawke. In awe of how the spiritual thread is interwoven throughout these stories.

Cons: None.

#5. AMISH ZOMBIES FROM SPACE by Kerry Nietz

Genre: Science Fiction

Worldview: Christian

Pros: Creative. Plausible. Not campy. LOVE these books. The author does a great job with using the Amish portions of the book to organically weave in spiritual content. Everything is so deftly handled.

Cons: None.

#6. BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: Urban Fantasy, YA

Worldview: Secular

Pros: Vivid writing (amazing), wonderful characters, complex storyline.

Cons: Language!!! and content. This is one of those books that I like in spite of itself. The language is appropriate to the characters, but so many f-bombs I wouldn’t want younger readers to read it. It also deals with fortunate-telling and magic, the type the Bible decries. While in this case, there is good and bad to these aspects of magic, it does promote fortune-telling as a positive. Reader beware.

AND THE FLYING ANGEL GOES TO…

Seems like if I’m going to spend all this time ranking and reviewing, I may as well give an award. ;)  This year, I’m inaugurating The Flying Angel, for the best Science Fiction/Fantasy I’ve read during the calendar year. It is particularly fitting that the first-ever Flying Angel goes to Jill Williamson for King’s Folly! Although, King’s Folly doesn’t release until March 2106, the first part, Darkness Reigns, is currently available for free on Amazon. Congratulations, Jill, and never stop writing. Please. :)

2015 Flying Angel Award

NOW YOU: WHAT WERE YOUR TOP READS OF 2015?

Flying A with logo on white

Reading Roundup for November

Last month, I rolled out the Top Tier Books in Review idea. Got some feedback and was challenged to come up with a better, catchier name. So, Flying A Book Reviews is born! To celebrate, here are the top 6 books I read in November.

Flying A Nov 2015.jpg

  • Darkness Reigns by Jill Williamson (King’s Folly Part 1)

Epic Fantasy, subtle Christian overtones

Pros: Great writing, characters, plot, and it’s FREE for now. (Hurry)

Cons: It’s the first part of a longer work so you have to wait for the finish. It doesn’t have a cliff hanger ending to make you angry, it just leaves you wanting to know more.

  • Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers (on audio book)

Historical Fantasy, NOT Christian

This series was recommended to me by Karen DeBlieck.

Pros: Great writing, characters, plot, yummy romance. I am NOT a romance reader, but I enjoyed the romantic sub-thread in the story.

Cons: Some mature issues, but handled well. I was bothered at first about a god of death, but reading through I found some nice parallels with Christianity: humans posing their views on God desires, the heart of God and his love for people, redemption.

  • The Martian by Andy Weir

Science Fiction as it was meant to be. Certainly not Christian.

Pros: More realistic than any other sci fi story I’ve read. Fascinating, totally absorbing plot. (The movie was pretty good too).

Cons: LANGUAGE! Don’t believe me, check out the first page on Amazon or wherever. F-bombs all over the place. The movie had cleaner language by far than the book.

  • The Heir War by Jill Williamson (King’s Folly Part 2)
  • The End of All Things by Jill Williamson (King’s Folly Part 3)

The continuation and ending of the King’s Folly installments. I will order the book for my shelf when it’s available, and read it again. Loved this book and the wonderful metaphor it employs. So many intricate layers. No one plot weaves like Jill Williamson!

  • Embers by Ronie Kendig

Epic fantasy, Christian overtones

Pros: Great world-building, theme, and characters

Cons: I got a little lost in places, but overall I was happy with the book and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

NOW YOU: What was your best November read?

Katie Clark disguise

The Secret Life of Katie Clark

Katie ClarkKATIE CLARK started reading fantastical stories in grade school and her love for books never died. Today she reads in all genres; her only requirement is an awesome story! She writes young adult speculative fiction, including her upcoming YA supernatural, Shadowed Eden. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

I met Katie when he dystopian trilogy was releasing. Sometimes dystopian fiction all runs together for me, but there were aspects of Katie’s stories that still swirl in my brain.The main character’s mother’s sickness, for one. I think I’d like to go back and read the series again.  

Enslaved banenr

I’m pleased to host Katie on the blog today and can’t wait for you to get to know her secrets…

Besides writing, what is your secret passion?

OK, this is a little embarrassing, depending on who I’m talking to, but…I am a Disney fanatic. I don’t mean that I like watching Disney movies and visiting Disney World. I mean that I spend big bucks on Disney World guide books, I obsessively “pin” Disney stuff on Pinterest, I can tell you just about anything about every Disney movie ever made, and I am ALWAYS in the process of planning another Disney vacation (even if it’s all just a pipe dream). Yes, I am a Disney-aholic. I am not ashamed.

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What do you find most interesting about Disney?

Everything! I love the magic and fantasy, but there’s more than that. I love the feeling of childhood wander. I love the lighting around the Disney parks (did I just say I loved the lighting? Yeah, I might be a bit odd). I even love Walt Disney’s life story.

I actually program lights for our church, so appreciate that you love the lights. It’s fun to make them dance, or place beams just so, or use color to accentuate things. I’ve only been to Disney (World) once, but it was a magical place. Partly because it was so clean, and partly because they have moving a lot of people around down to a science.

What are some common misconceptions people have about Disney?

So many people think Disney is only for kids. It’s totally not! (can I just say, “Nanny nanny boo boo”?)

Give us the skinny – what are some interesting facts about Disney that most people don’t know?

Oooo, you mean I get to show off my Disney knowledge? OK, let’s see. The characters at Disney World will carry on full blown conversations with you—as their characters. You want to tell Gaston how self-absorbed he is? He will totally flirt with you (but not in a creepy way). Want to ask Belle about her favorite book? She’ll happily tell you all about it!

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And there’s more! Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a roller coaster called Expedition Everest that has been called one of the best roller coasters in the country. And at Disney’s Epcot you can taste Coca Cola from around the world—for free!

But the history of Disney is so much richer than just the Disney parks. Walt Disney’s story is truly fascinating (at least to me!).

Yep, you’re a fangirl all right. ;) How do you balance writing, Disney, and your private life?

Now, that is where my *love* for Disney does get embarrassing. There are times I have to FORCE myself to stop searching out Disney World deals and get back to writing. I’m like a kid with a video game when it comes to Disney.

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Does your obsession ever sneak into your writing?

Sadly, no. Disney has no place in my own fantastic tales. Sigh.

Maybe one day. Try wishing on a star. ;)

Katie Clark disguise

Thanks for sharing with us today, Katie! I’ve got Shadowed Eden all cued up on my kindle and ready to read.

ShadowedEden_ws11813_750Avery Miles is ready to spread her wings and prove her worth on a church mission trip to Iraq, but when their entourage gets blown off course in a desert dust storm, the group is lost in an inexplicable garden oasis. Along with the luscious fruits and crystal springs, Avery and her friends find poisonous snakes, deadly sink holes, and a group of natives that are almost unearthly–but that’s not their biggest problem. No matter which way they trek, they can’t seem to leave.

 To keep the group safe, Avery steps up and takes charge, but it isn’t long before she realizes things aren’t as they seem. She isn’t the only one seeing the mysterious boy named Rae, and she’s pretty sure her father is sabotaging her rescue efforts. Gathering her courage, Avery must decide what’s most important to her–finally winning her father’s approval, or getting out of the jungle for good.

NOW YOU: Have you ever been to a Disney theme park? What did you think? 

Titus Secret ID

The Secret Identity of H.A Titus

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H.A., or Heather as I know her, is one of the most unassuming people you will ever meet. We’ve been running in the same circles for a while now, but it was only recently that we realized we weren’t FB friends. We rectified that immediately, of course!

Heather’s debut novel, Forged Steel, released earlier this year. I haven’t head a chance to read it yet, but it’s on my list. :) Here’s the blurb:

Forged Steel cover

Downtown. Coffee shop. 2 AM.

One minute, Josh is firing off sarcastic remarks at his best friend Marc – the next, they’re running from shape-shifters. Apparently, even best friends don’t share all their secrets.

Now Josh is in danger. He can see the monsters among the humans.
When Marc is kidnapped, Josh finds himself pulled into the schemes of the fae courts, and throws in his lot with Marc’s allies: the lovely Larae, a human named David, and the fighter, Eliaster. But what began as a rescue mission becomes something much more involved…

And all Josh wants to do is get out before it’s too late.

Without further ado, let’s learn all of Heather’s secrets…

Besides writing, what takes up your time?

A lot of folks are surprised to find this out about me, but over the last couple of years, I’ve begun to mountain bike (weather permitting, which means May-September in Michigan). I’m not a big fan of sweating, working out really hard, heights (although I occasionally rock climb too), or even doing risky stuff, but for some reason, mountain biking is something I will willingly do over and over again, even if I’m privately cussing myself out during the actual ride! ;)

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My husband loves to mountain bike! He hasn’t been able to do it since he got in a freak bike-dog-bus accident and broke his elbow though. I’m not coordinated enough to even try. :(

What do you find most interesting about mountain biking?

There’s a lot to it–challenging myself to try new trails, working hard to keep up with my biking buddies–but my favorite part is the downhill (of course!) portion of the ride. ;) That’s not to say it’s the easiest–downhill still has a lot of hazards, and every single time I’ve wiped out, it’s been on the downhill part of the trail, but the speed and even some of the small jumps are a ton of fun. There’s always something new to learn every time I go out, even if I’m riding the same trail over and over again (which, I admit, is my tendency, because it’s my favorite trail.)

What are some common misconceptions people have about mountain biking?

“You have to be in super good shape for that!” Eh, not really. I’m fit, but not as fit as I could be. I’m certainly not in “super good” shape, I’m just in decent shape and really, really stubborn.

“You mountain bikers are all nuts! Just adrenaline junkies looking for another thrill!” Nope. I’m most definitely not an adrenaline junkie. Ask my husband. It took me a dozen times of riding the same trail to even work up the nerve to try a small jump, and I’ve been known to skip sections of trail or walk my bike on areas that I’m nervous about. I definitely prefer to err on the side of caution.

You forgot that you don’t actually have to have a mountain to mountain bike! We live in Houston = no mountains. ;)

Give us the skinny – what are some interesting facts about your hobby that most people don’t know?

You don’t need special gear, just a bike and a helmet. I started riding on my cheap $80 WalMart bike. Now, granted, it’s a LOT easier now that I have a more expensive bike that’s actually made for the kind of rough terrain I’m riding, but you don’t have to invest in that right away. It’s nice, because it’s something you can try a bit before committing yourself with expensive gear.

How do you balance writing, biking, and your private life?

It’s a bit easier since mountain biking is so darn hard. I couldn’t go every single day, because then I’d never be able to walk! :P But it can be difficult sometimes, because it’s not just a hobby where I can pick up and go whenever I want–I have to have someone to go with (I’m not proficient enough that I feel safe by myself out on the trails), and if I’m going with my husband, I have to find care for our son.

Earlier this year, we were going about once a week with friends, while their kids watched our son. That was a nice balance. But then life got hectic (and I got pregnant!) ;) We’re hoping next summer to try to get back to the once-a-week rides, because it really was a fun time.

Oh wow! Congratulations. I didn’t know you were pregnant. Mountain biking is definitely NOT something you should do while pregnant.

Does your hobby ever sneak into your writing?

Some of the scenery definitely does! And sometime, I’m hoping to give a character the hobby of mountain-biking…I’m just waiting for the right character to come along. Unftounately, it’s not a very writing-useful hobby. ;)

Thanks for dropping by today, Heather. I can’t wait to read your book.

Titus Secret IDYou can connect with Heather at:

NOW YOU: Have you gone mountain biking? Like it, hate it? What is the most extreme sport you’ve ever tried?
Tiered Books in Review Logo

My (not so secret) love affair

I like to read. A lot.

I like the texture of books and their aroma. I like the feelings libraries and bookstores evoke – peace, possibility, and luxury. I enjoy the crispy sound of turning pages.

I even like e-readers: the way I can carry hundreds of ebooks with me wherever I go. The fact that they don’t fatigue my fingers or weigh as much as hardback novels. The fact that sometimes I try to turn their pages because I’m so lost in the story.

I love listening to stories while driving in the car, especially when read by someone who adds another dimension to the stories themselves. Narrators such as Jim Dale (Harry Potter series and The Night Circus) and Will Patton (The Raven boys series).

I love the way different authors string words and ideas together to create strange and sometimes impossible worlds. Scenarios larger than life. What ifs I don’t have to live to experience.

And I love data and keeping track of things, too. So…

I’m trying something new. I have been challenged to find an original way to review books. In answer, I’ve come up with Tiered Books in Review. :)

This system will make me keep track of what I’ve read each month and then create a pyramid of sorts for the books. My favorite goes on the top tier, then tier 2 are other five-star reviews, tier 3 are 4-star, etc. Here is October’s Tier:

October's Tier

TOP TIER:

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – Urban Fantasy

Oh my. The writing. NO ONE writes like Maggie Stiefvater.

Despite the profanity (lots) and the subject (fortune telling, future divination), this urban fantasy is amazing. Three books into the series and I don’t want it to stop (but I do want to read the next one!!)

Fantastically complex characters and plot. I “read” this one in audio book and the narrator,Will Patton, does a tremendous job. His voices add another dimension to the characters and story.

2nd Tier:

The Selection by Kiera Cass – YA/dystopian

I had this book forever but hadn’t read it. My daughter told me she loved it, so I went ahead and picked it up. Then I couldn’t put it down. Thoroughly enjoyed this Cinderella story.

Impervious by Heather Letto – YA/dystopian

3rd Tier:

The Hive by John Otte – Science Fiction

Girl, Stolen by April Henry – YA Contemporary

The Field by Lydia Thomas – Christian Allegory

4th Tier:

The Elite by Kiera Cass – YA/dystopian

The One by Kiera Cass – YA/dystopian

The Elite and The One are books 2 and 3 of The Selection series. I overall enjoyed them but got tired of the fickle love triangle and too convenient plot points.

NOW YOU: WHAT WAS YOUR TOP TIER READ FOR THE MONTH OF OCTOBER?

Nadine Brandes: author, editor, and ?

The Secret Identity of Nadine Brandes

Nadine & Me - Dallas

Nadine & Me – Dallas

I had the pleasure of meeting Nadine prior to the launch of her first book, A Time to Die. Being a huge dystopian fan, I really wanted to read it. Thanks to social media, we became friends and now, here I am helping to launch A Time to Speak!

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I love this series. The world and characters are complex, the struggle to find faith in the midst of suffering is woven organically, but most importantly, there is hope.

Let’s face it: we live in a dystopian society. Any culture on this side of eternity is dystopian. Some things shock us worse than others, and some things don’t shock us as much as they should. What sets a Christ-follower apart from the rest of the world is the fact we have hope. That doesn’t mean we don’t suffer. That doesn’t mean we have all the answers, but that does mean that we know Someone who does. :)

unnamedBut enough of my soapbox. Let’s learn more about Nadine!

Besides writing, what is your secret identity?

You expect me to tell you? ;-)

Okay, since you asked… My secret identity is…[dramatic music]…adventuring. I go on adventures, and/or brainstorm adventures almost as much as I brainstorm new stories.

Adventures can be anything from road-tripping through Europe or chasing a boxcar train, to eating raw potatoes or trudging through knee-deep snow in a fur-lined skirt.

Hiking in her Parvin skirt

Hiking in her Parvin skirt

What do you find most interesting about adventuring?

The fact I get to explore the world and experience life in unique ways that I would have missed had I not been intentionally pursuing an adventure.

Another aspect is that it takes a lot more bravery than I would have expected. I was raised as a traveler – my dad is a pilot and taught my siblings and me how to focus on where we’re going instead of what we’re leaving. But even with that, the unknown is deliciously intimidating.

It seems like you travel all the time. Where have you been?

Riding a sleeper train in Russia

Riding a sleeper train in Russia

If you’re talking about outside the U.S. then I’ve been quite blessed enough to travel a lot. I’ve been to:
-Russia, Korea, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Canada, Mexico, Panama, England, Scotland, France, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium, and several islands (Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, etc.)

A castle town in Germany

A castle town in Germany

Crikey! That’s a bunch of places. I’ve been to Mexico, France, Germany, Greece, and Turkey but you certainly have me beat! 

How did it come about that you traveled to all these places? Were they all vacations or something else? Are you a spy?

Nadine competing in the National Championships for Boardercross (2013)

Nadine competing in the National Championships for Boardercross (2013)

Many places I traveled were for ministry purposes (Russia, Korea, Mexico, etc) and a few were for vacations. I traveled to England, Scotland, and Finland because I was attending a Bible college in England for one semester. It’s much easier to travel to many places when you’re already living in Europe. Everything’s so much closer.

My dad is a pilot and an adventurer, too. He took us on a lot of trips when we were younger, teaching us how to sail, scuba dive, fly airplanes, rock climb, navigate airports that are in different languages…I learned it all from him. ;)

Wow. So what’s on your bucket list? Where do you want to go that you haven’t visited yet?

I’d love to go to Italy someday because it’s part of my heritage. And…for personal bookish reasons, I’d love to visit Antarctica briefly.
Other things on my bucket list to do include Skydiving, going on an alpine slide, riding a bike in Amsterdam, and riding the Trans Siberian Rail across all of Russia.

What are some common misconceptions people have about your traveling?

They think I must have a bottomless bank account. :P But really, an adventure doesn’t always mean traveling to a new country or dropping a few grand on some crazy adventure. Last year I did the #Walk30Days challenge where I walked every day for 30 days and took a picture each day. That was an adventure because I was discovering life in a new way.

Adventuring doesn’t mean going It means doing something new or different. (From Nadine’s English Dictionary)

Give us the skinny – what are some interesting facts about your hobby that most people don’t know?

It’s easy to do! Some people think adventuring takes a huge time or money commitment. But just take a step out your door and turn left instead of right! Read an entire book while sitting outside instead of inside. Find out what your friends’ hobbies are and join them one day. Adventuring is easy. The only thing EASIER is choosing not to do it. ;-)

People are totally willing to help you make an adventure. I got to go dogsledding for a full day because I asked people in my church if they knew a place I could do it. Sure enough, a great friend had connections. Voila!

Dogsledding. Only Nadine!

Dogsledding. Only Nadine!

How do you balance writing, work, adventuring, and your private life?

I always check in on my priorities, and then organize around that. God and hubby trump writing and adventuring. The two can go hand in hand, because most of my adventures either stem from or feed into a story I’m writing. Also…hubby tends to join me on these adventures. :)

Does your hobby ever sneak into your writing?

Going through the Panama Canal on a 40-ft sailboat (2015)

Going through the Panama Canal on a 40-ft sailboat (2015)

Um…YEAH! Sometimes, when I’m on an adventure (like being a seacook on a 40-foot sailboat from North Carolina to the Bahamas) I’ll write scenes that I experience and then I’ll build a scene in a story around that.

Or it’ll got the other way around. I’ll be writing a scene and won’t get it detailed to my liking, so I’ll see if I can go live it out (like rock climbing a cliff face, or wading through a cattail marsh…see A Time to Die.)

Toothless and Parvin at Realm Makers in St. Louis

Toothless and Parvin at Realm Makers in St. Louis

Nadine was shy, so I had to enlist a couple of friends to help make the trailer for book 3 (thanks Gretchen and Emilie!). Who’s ready to read A Time for Interpretive Dance?

Connect with Nadine:

Book links:

NOW YOU: Have you been out of the country? If so, where? Favorite adventure? Bucket list place to visit?

Link

The Power of Football

I’m a Texan. Born here, went to college here, still live here. When the air turns crisp and no one can breathe because of all the ragweed in the air, something magical happens.

Football.

Football is a religion in Texas. You can worship Friday night (high school), all day Saturday and sometime Thursday night (college), and Sunday and Monday (pros). People change which church service they attend depending on what time the Texans/Cowboys play on Sunday. Out of town trips revolve around away games. Children are banished to the upstairs TV so parents can eat chips and queso and yell for their team. And if the game is really big, sometimes you don’t invite other people over so that you can be grumpy and yell at the refs and coaches without anyone to witness your bad behavior.

What is it about football or any other professional sport that inspires such fantastic fanatics?

Read more on The Scriblerians: The Power of Football

 

Called to Speak on Truth

I’m proud to be part of the Blog Hop promoting A Time to Speak. This hop is to encourage myself and others to speak out for our passions and against injustice.

It is also to spread the word about Nadine Brandes’s new dystopian novel, A Time to Speak, second in the Out of Time series, and sequel to the award-winning A Time to Die. The ebook is available now, the paperback releasing soon.

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Friends, we live in a world where Truth is shrouded in a lie called relativity. This lie is predicated on “tolerance,” an oxymoron in and of itself the way our culture uses it today.

THE TRUTH IS NOT RELATIVE.

Truth is NOT something to one person, and something else to another. Truth does NOT depend on our perspective. Truth is NOT a dress that is white/gold to some and blue/black to others. Truth is NOT something that we get to define. Truth was established by our Creator.

Can you hear my passion? ;)

It makes my heart sad when I hear Christians say, “How do I know that this Mormon/Jehovah’s Witness isn’t really a Christian? I see the things they do and the love they have for others. They say they believe in Jesus. It sounds to me like they’re a Christian.”

Friends, be very careful that in trying to love others that you yourself are not misled! This very problem was something that the early church in Corinth experienced. Paul wrote to them and said,

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. ~2 Corinthians 11:4

On the surface, Mormon and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim they worship God and Jesus the Son of God. When you dig deeper, you realize that their definitions for Jesus are not the same as God’s.

Mormons believe that Jesus was the first spirit child of the Father and one of his unnamed wives based on Psalm 2:7. “Jesus, as a spirit son, progressed by obedience and devotion to the truth in the spirit world until he became a God. Prior to his incarnation on earth, Jesus was Jehovah of the Old Testament.” (borrowed from The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions by Ron Rhodes)

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus is a “son of God” the same way that angels are all “sons of God.” They don’t consider him THE Son of God. In fact, they believe that Jesus and the Archangel Michael are the same person.

For new converts to Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness, who knows what they believe in their heart of hearts? But they have stepped off the path leading to the one true God. Loving others as you love yourself means sharing the Truth with them.

Remember, the apostle Paul, back when he was still called Saul, was such a zealot for God that he went around finding Christians and having them put to death. He thought what he was doing was FOR God! He thought he was right and upholding the law. Thankfully, God saw his heart and showed him the truth.

If you’re a Christian, stop claiming that Mormons or JW might be right!

Let us agree to speak the truth about God and hold one another accountable. Let us cling strongly to the true gospel and not be clouded in this culture of relativity and tolerance.

There is only one Truth, and His name is Jesus. 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” ~John 14:6

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Interested to know how others are #Called2Speak? Check out other stops on the blog hop:

9.28.15 – Gretchen Engel

9.30.15 – Nadine Brandes

10.01.15 – Jason Joyner

10.05.15 – Gretchen Engel (part 2)

10.06.15 – Tricia Mingerink

10.08.15 – Gretchen Engel (Scriblerians)

10.09.15 – Emilie Hendryx

10.11.15 – Janeen Ippolito

10.12.15 – Zachary D Totah

10.14.15 – Brittany Valentine

10.15.15 – Andrew Swearingen

10.17.15 – Megan Besing

10.19.15 – Angel Roman

10.20.15 – Charles Franklin

10.21.15 – Lisa Godfrees

10.23.15 – Shantelle Hannu

10.27.15 – Natalie Walters

10.29.15 – The Artist Librarian

11.02.15 – Rosalie Valentine

11.17.15 – Amanda Fender

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Enter to win a signed copy of A Time to Speak, the book that was the inspiration for this post.

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What happens when you live longer than you wanted to?

Parvin Blackwater wanted to die, but now she’s being called to be a leader. The only problem is, no one wants to follow.

The Council uses Jude’s Clock-matching invention to force “new-and-improved” Clocks on the public. Those who can’t afford one are packed into boxcars like cattle and used for the Council’s purposes.

Parvin and Hawke find themselves on a cargo ship of Radicals headed out to sea. What will the Council do to them? And why are people suddenly dying before their Clocks have zeroed-out?

Book Two in the “Out of Time” series. Read about the first book, A Time to Die, here.

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NOW YOU: What are you passionate about? If you could speak about anything, what would it be?

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The Secret Life of TLC Nielsen

Welcome to the second post in our wonderfully weird world of writers. Allow me to introduce Tracey “TLC” Nielsen.

Chief MsTery RealmMakers15

Besides writing, what is your secret identity (day job and hobby)?

I’m a library worker by day, a jazz trombonist by night and a writer sandwiched somewhere in the middle. I’ll reveal my true secret identity a little bit later. One hint: it has to do with books!

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Tracey playing the trombone during a concert in Italy

What do you find most interesting about being a librarian?

I love books, I help kids find books and I like writing books. The library is filled with all kinds of books so I think I have a great job. Plus I get to design interesting programs for kids of all ages. I have way too much fun at the library! And I haven’t even talked about the computer lab, which can be fun in a completely different way.

What are some common misconceptions people have about librarians?

For some reason, people still think you have to whisper in the library. In the kids department, we don’t like running or screaming but we’re pretty chill about normal conversations and kids having fun.

Give us the skinny – what are some interesting facts about librarians that most people don’t know?

Chief Ms.Tery, Head of GAPLD Novel Detectives

Chief Ms.Tery, Head of GAPLD Novel Detectives

My job as an assistant youth services librarian at GAPL has a secret component to it but you can’t tell anyone I told you. I’m also known as Chief Ms.Tery, Head of the Novel Detectives Group. We uncover good books no matter where they hide. We even have secret agents who go undercover searching for a few good books.

Another fact no one seems to know is that your library is a limitless place – if our library doesn’t have the CD, DVD or book you are looking for, we can probably interlibrary loan it from another library. Plus, you can take your library card and use it anywhere in our state if you take a few moments to register it. I’m registered in at least 7 libraries so far in Illinois.

How do you balance writing, work/hobby, and your private life?

Balance, you ask? I think I do a form of weaving, running from event to event and jotting down stories along the way. I spend a lot of time practicing music, hanging out with my family and attending as many family events as I can handle. I’m proud to say I’m a 10 Minute Novelist, writing in 10 minute chunks of time, which helped me finish the rough draft of my first Teen Fantasy book this year.

Does the library ever sneak into your writing?

TLC Jedi

Library Jedi – May the 4th

Definitely, my job and my life sneak into my stories. Some of the characters in my novel talk about books and one book they mentioned took my story in a whole other direction. As for life stuff, one of my characters became a “toothsayer” for their job at a time when I had to visit a lot of dentists. Even fictional characters go to the dentist.

Thanks, Lisa, for hosting me. My blog, The Extraordinary Ordinary, can be found at http://www.lookandbe.blogspot.com and I interview ordinary folks with extraordinary life stories. I’m occasionally on Twitter as Read2Mii2, mainly for library-ish events.

NOW YOU: HAVE ANY FOND MEMORIES OF LIBRARIES OR LIBRARIANS? EVER PLAY THE TROMBONE?