Author Archives: Melinda

Stumped for Story Ideas?

newspapers

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

This by far the most common question I’m asked by readers and other writers.  I’m going to share my little secret. Some of my plot ideas come from news headlines. Here’s my trick:  I don’t click through to the article. Instead, I let my imagination fill in all the details.

Obviously, not all headlines are created equal. Take the following:

First of all, we skim right through celebrity news.

  • “Surprise Proposals Shock Bachelorette”
  • “Octomom Dons Tacky Wedding Gown”
  • “Jennifer Hudson’s White-Hot Ensemble”

 Sorry, even I can’t do anything with these. Moving on to politics:

  • Senate Narrowly Passes First Budget in Four Years
  • Health Insurers Warn that Premiums could Spike

 Yawn. I got nothing.

 Next up:

  • Crude Joke Costs Two People their Jobs”
  • “Fighter Apparently Tried to Fake Own Death”
  • “Shootout in Texas may be Linked to Colo. Deaths”
  • “Manhunt Begins in Coney Island Shootings”
  • “Congolese Warlord Arrives at War Crimes Court Jail”

Jackpot! This is what I’m talking about. Reading any one of these headlines gets my imagination rolling. My brain is already making connections and naming characters.

In fact, there are many occasions when I have a plot hole and I need an event and I go perusing headlines to find just the right one.  Using headlines and actual events to spur my fiction gives my story lines realism. The only caveat: sometimes real events are truly stranger than fiction and critics will call your “real” event “unbelievable.”

Keeping the Faith

There comes a point in every book when the overall task seems daunting.  I like to call it the Crap Point.  I’ve started the book with the “Wow, this was an awesome idea” mindset.  The first 10 chapters or so have come out decently.  The mid-point looms ahead, just out of reach.   “Wow” has changed to “crap.”

I’m now wondering how I’m ever going to finish it, let alone make it a good story. My plot seems thin. The characters are irritating the snot out of me. I start to think about killing them all off so I can be done with this horrible mess I’ve created.

But at this point, it’s too late to start over. I’m locked into a case of literary claustrophobia. I’m not going to finish. I’ll miss my deadline. My career is over.

I suck.

Yes, this is the Crap Point.  Everything on my pages feels like total crap. Enter my writing friends to remind me that I felt this was about every other book at almost the exact same point (around 30,000 words).  They give me all kinds of sweet advice, like go to the gym, have a shower, take a day off and clear your head.

inspirationBut what I really need to do is suck it up, stop whining, and get writing.  Because writing is the only thing that’s going to get me out of this mess.  Even if the first draft does suck as badly as I fear, the book will be revised numerous times.  I must trust in my ability, my love of the craft, and my team of agent and editors who will point out any of the sucky parts that make it through my initial editing process.

So that is what I am doing today.  I am sucking it up and applying butt to chair. I am keeping the faith.

 

 

An Action-Pack Excerpt from Incendiary by Chris Redding

Today we’re featuring an excerpt from the action-packed romantic suspense novel, Incendiary by Chris Redding.  Author Chris Redding lives in New Jersey with her one husband, two kids, one dog, and three rabbits. When she isn’t writing she’s chauffering her two boys to activities and working per diem in her local hospital. In the excerpt below, it’s clear that Chris uses her EMT experience to infuse her story with gritty detail.

What if your past comes back to haunt you?

 Chelsea James, captain of the Biggin Hill Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00067]First Aid Squad, has had ten years to mend a broken heart and forget about the man who’d left her hurt and bewildered. Ten years to get her life on track. But fate has other plans.

Fire Inspector Jake Campbell, back in town after a decade, investigates a string of arsons, only to discover they are connected to the same arsons he’d been accused of long ago. Now his past has come back to haunt him, and Chelsea is part of that past.

Together, Chelsea and Jake must join forces to defeat their mutual enemy. Only then can they hope to rekindle the flames of passion. But before they can do that, Chelsea must learn to trust again. Their lives could depend on it.

 Excerpt 5 Incendiary

Jake opened the man’s striped pajama shirt and landmarked for CPR. He searched his memory banks and out of the depths came his training. It had been two years.

Chelsea tore a bag-valve-mask and an airway out of the green oxygen kit. She inserted the airway into Joe’s mouth and placed the mask on his face. The other mask lay discarded still around his neck. “Count out loud.”

“Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.”

When he reached thirty, Chelsea squeezed air into the patient. Brad returned with the automated external defibrillator. “Medics aren’t clear from the last call yet.” He dropped to his knees to unpack the unit.

“Damn.”

Sweat poured off Jake as he watched the exchange and compressed the man’s chest. “Three, four, five.”

“Tell them to get Mercy Seven,” Chelsea demanded.

“Seven, eight, nine.”

Brad relayed the request to dispatch and began setting up the AED. “Let me put these pads on.”

Jake sat back on his heels as the other man applied the pads. Sarah sat on the steps and cried. He wished he could comfort her and leave the rescue to the EMT’s. He could run into burning buildings, but death and dying people unnerved him.

Brad turned on the AED. “Don’t touch the patient.”

A voice from the machine said, “Analyzing patient now. Do not touch the patient.”

Jake could hear his own breathing as he hoped for Joe to start breathing. He didn’t like the gray hue of the patient.

“Shock advised. Charging. Do not touch the patient,” an electronic voice said.

Jake moved further away. Chelsea pulled off the bag-valve-mask.

“Clear.”

Brad pushed the blinking green button on the AED. Joe’s body jumped a little, but not like in medical dramas.

Jake moved to continue compressions.

Chelsea’s red face worried Jake. She bit her lip. He’d never seen her this upset.

“One, two, three, four,” Jake counted.

“It’ll time it until it’s been two minutes. Keep going until the machine says otherwise.”

He went to thirty and she put two breaths in with the mask. The machine cut in as he finished his fifth cycle.   “Analyzing heart rhythm. Do not touch the patient.”

Jake expected to have nightmares about that voice. All three shifted away from Joe who remained still and gray.

 

Why you WANT to be left hanging… And how to win a Kindle Fire!

Today, Attacking the Page welcomes three authors who are writing fabulous new Kindle Serials: Kim Law, Cheryl Bolen, and Patrice Wilton.  Have you ever heard of a book published in serial format? Many of Charles Dicken’s works were published in installments before being bound into full books, including Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers. So the idea is both old and new. Anyway, these lovely ladies are giving away a Kindle Fire, so without further delay…

There’s a new kind of book making the rounds these days. It’s called a serial. Serials are books that are delivered by episodes (usually 2-3 chapters per episode.) Therefore, the reader purchases the book, gets all available episodes at the time of purchase, and then receives the remaining episodes in intervals. Often every two weeks.

Amazon has several serials going at the moment. They are for the Kindle/Kindle Fire or free Kindle apps, cost only $1.99 (this includes ALL episodes), and future episodes get delivered automatically as soon as they are released. Readers get an email notifying them that they have a new episode, and all they have to do is re-open the book on their Kindle/app, and they’ll be right where they left off, with the new episode appended and waiting to be read.

But why would you want these instead of just buying a whole book? Three reasons:

1)      They are fun!

It’s a totally different way to read—sort of like watching your favorite television show and then having to wait until the next episode airs—and serials “promise” to leave you hanging at the end of each episode. That means, you’re going to WANT to turn that page, only you can’t.  J But then you get to let the anticipation build of what might happen next. This is what I enjoy. As the day approaches for a new episode, I can hardly wait to see that email come across so I can hurry to read the next episode!

As noted, it’s a totally different way to read, and though at first it may seem like something you wouldn’t want to try, I encourage you to spend the two bucks and give it a shot. To me it’s fun getting to the brink of something good and then knowing I have to wait! Frustrating, but fun. And the more you are frustrated, the more you know the author is doing a great job! (Side note…it’s fun, but no, I would not want to read every book this way! But I do like to mix it up once in a while.)

2)      They are cheap!

For only $1.99 for a whole book, it’s a steal! But when the serial is fully released, the price will go up, so get them early!

3)      They are short enough to read during your lunch hour, while waiting to pick up the kids, while cooking dinner, etc.

So many of us are short on time, and don’t pick up a book because we know we’re going to get sucked into the author’s world and not poke our heads out for several hours. While fun, this is often just not feasible in our everyday lives. Serials force you to put the book down and get back to your life.

So there you have it. What is a serial, why you WANT them to leave you hanging, and now…how to win a Kindle Fire…

Three Kindle serial authors have teamed up to bring readers a great and easy opportunity. Go to our websites and answer a simple question about our serials, and you’ll be entered to win a 7” Kindle Fire HD. Answer one question, be entered one time. Go to all three websites and answer all three questions, be entered to win three times. It’s that easy! And all answers can be found in episode one of each serial.

Please see any of our website contest pages for full contest details.

Ex on the Beach, ExontheBeach-coverby Kim Law – Andie Shayne is getting ready to host the wedding of the summer at her resort on Turtle Island. As the guests arrive she’s taken aback to learn that her ex–who left her at the altar–is the best man. What he did was unforgiveable, and now he’s back with an agenda for her affection.

Kim’s contest page.

Frederick_FrontCover_12.13.12Falling for Frederick, by Cheryl Bolen – Laden with mystery and suspense, Falling for Frederick is a fast-paced romance that takes place in contemporary England. Aided by the lord of the manor, a lovely doctoral student seeks a priceless medieval artifact – just a step ahead of those who’ve already murdered to get it.

Cheryl’s contest page.

A Hero Lies Within, A Hero Lies Withinby Patrice Wilton – Old secrets linger and two reunited lovers are faced with more deception and mistrust. Can their love survive a second time around? Jake Harrington left her once when her life was falling apart, and now he’s back, and so are all the emotions she fought hard to expel. Can she forget his bitter betrayal, and will he forgive hers when to save her career she must betray his trust?

Patrice’s contest page.

Contest closes at Midnight EST on March 31st, so get your entries in today!!!

Now tell us…do you think you could enjoy reading in the serial format? Or maybe you’ve already tried a serial. If so, tell us what you thought!

Pitch Writing: An Important Career Skill

???????I’m doing a pitch workshop at the Liberty States Fiction Writers Create Something Magical conference next month.  Nothing makes a conference goer sweat like the prospect of pitching her book. But the process isn’t something to fear. A 10 minute speed date with an agent or editor is hardly a bear sniffing your camping tent.  You’ll be fine, and the whole pitch process is a good exercise for your future career.

I haven’t pitched to an editor or agent in a few years, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t written pitches. If you think you’re done with pitching once you’ve snagged an agent or editor, think again.  Authors have to write pitches, too, except now they’re called proposals or short blurbs. Every time a new contract comes up, my editor doesn’t say, “If you send us books, we will pay you money.” No, she needs a proposal to take to her acquisitions meeting. Guess what the first sentence of  my proposal is?  A pitch.

Pitch writing doesn’t stop after a book is acquired either.  After the book is finished, cover and promotional copy has to be written.  Promo copy is pitches of different lengths, this time aimed at potential readers/buyers.

There might be slight differences in the wording or focus of the pitch depending upon the intended audience. But just like an action scene, a pitch has to grab the attention of the editor, agent, or in the case of promo copy, potential buyer.

The reader of the pitch must be hooked. In one or two sentences, you have to make them want to acquire/read your book.

I have one more use for a good pitch.  I like to pin my proposal to the bottom of my storyboard while I’m writing the book. During the actual plotting and writing process, rereading that initial pitch helps me stay focused on the core of the story.

Now that I’ve expounded on the importance of being able to pull the hook for your book from the rubble of a manuscript, I’m looking for some successful pitches from well-known movies or books to use in my workshop.  I have a few, but in my opinion, nothing explains a good pitch better than fabulous examples, and what makes that light bulb shine for one person might not work for another.

Does anyone have a killer pitch for a well-known book or movie?

Keeping it Real

What I love about teaching the occasional karate class , particularly working with newbies, is explaining and instructing basics. Good basic form and technique are the keys to strong skills later on. They are the foundation to a house of cards or the stock to a good soup. Form and technique also enable a small student able to generate more power and hit harder than someone twice her size.  So, if you want your smaller heroine to land a strong blow to your big, bad villain, it’s possible. But writers have to keep it real. This isn’t TV.

Martial arts employs the use of physics. Here are three ways to generate more power when striking.  Good use of one of these natural forces allows a small person to hit very hard. (Bruce Lee was not a big man, but he could deliver incredibly fast and powerful blows!)

  1. Gravity – Your heroine can stomp on your villain’s instep, ankle, or knee. If she does it properly, gravity and body weight will add considerable force to the kick.
  2. Momentum – She can shift her body weight forward while striking, using her forward motion on the horizontal plane to increase her power.
  3. Torque – A roundhouse kick is  one example of using torque to increase power. The kicker uses the turning motion of the body like a golfer or baseball player.

There are forces karate students learn to maximize their strengths. Size, strength, and conditioning are factors as well. But every student can use correct form to increase his or her personal power.

I leave you with a clip of Bruce Lee. Yes, it’s a choreographed scene, but he is still amazing to watch. Notice the tight efficiency of his body. No wild swings. No unnecessary motions. Incredible speed, power, and grace. He is economy of motion in action. Enjoy!

Revisions and the Value of a Fresh Perspective

Woman reading bookI’ve learned an important lesson recently:  I am not always the best judge of my own work.

My deadline for SHE CAN SCREAM was tight. This was my doing. I wanted to push myself and my career, but the compressed time frame didn’t for much “thinking” time, those days when I stare at my plot board and let my imagination go. Writing the first draft in 10 weeks was a huge challenge for me. Yes, I know plenty of people who can crank out a draft in half that time, but not me. I am not a fast writer.

Anyway, I finished the draft and 2 rounds of revisions. Even after my agent read and approved the manuscript, I still had concerns. (I always doubt my own writing) But the deadline had arrived. So, holding my breath, I pressed SEND.

After a glorious 10 days of not having to work on this book, my developmental editor returned it. Yay! Only one of my concerns turned out to be valid, and fairly easy to correct once she pointed it out in the document. But in reading through her comments, there were a number of remarks that surprised me, places in the book where she felt my heroine sounded cold or mean. I reread the text over and over and couldn’t see it.  As a writer, my first instinct is to reject criticism that doesn’t seem logical. But the emotional impact of words isn’t something that can be predicted with an algorithm.  If my editor was put off by these sections, some readers will surely have the exact same reaction to the text that she did.

Different people can read the same words and have completely different reactions to them. 

When people open a book, they don’t do it alone. They bring their own history and personality with them, and their reactions can be as different as the lives they’ve led.

So, I’m off to rewrite these sections of text to make sure the emotions I intended to convey are clear to as many readers as possible. And I’m thankful that this book still has two more layers of editing, with two more entirely fresh perspectives, before it goes to print.

Fun with Unusual Weapons

Today, I went to karate class looking for the usual, an awesome workout that forces me to pay 100% attention to what I’m doing and therefore clears my head. But I got more, so much more.

Just like any other class, we started with a thirty minute kick-my-butt workout.  Sensei thinks of the most interesting ways to make my muscles hurt for days.  After the conditioning part of class was over, sensei brought out some weapons.  I know! Fun!

He made a pile of wooden sticks, knifes, and holy smokes – a machete.

The beautiful thing about kenpo karate is that everything a student learns builds and is used in other ways.  I’ve never trained with a machete before, but we train in Modern Arnis (stick fighting) in our curriculum.  The reason? Techniques and movements that work in stick fighting transfer to other weapons, such as knife and machete. So, even though this was my first time training with machete, I did much better than I expected.  Here is a short video of Modern Arnis. Pay attention to the weapons. You’ll see single stick, double stick, stick & knife, plus machete used with similar movements.

Now one question remains. How in the world do I work a machete fight scene into a book? Any suggestions?

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

What is The Next Big Thing blog hop? Basically, it’s a way for readers to discover new authors. Bookstores are closing and publishers aren’t promoting new authors as much. The Next Big Thing is a way to introduce readers to authors they may not see in their local bookstore.

I’d like to thank fellow author Eyre Price for tagging me to participate. Click the link below to find out about Eyre’s latest book, BLUES HIGHWAY BLUES winner of the Jimi for Best Blues Book of the Year. “Mr. Price has given us a thriller full of blues, rock and roll and music history complete with rapscallions, thugs, and bad people too!”  Find out more about Eyre at his website: Eyreprice.net

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions. Here is my Next Big Thing!

1: What is the working title of your book?  SHE CAN TELL

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?  I’ve loved horses all my life. I taught riding lessons in college, and even own my own horse for almost 20 years. Setting a book at a horse farm felt natural.

3: What genre does your book come under? SHE CAN TELL doesn’t exactly fit into any one genre.  It’s a romantic suspense with thriller and mystery elements.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Mike isn’t a pretty boy, so David Boreanaz (Bones) would play him nicely, and I like Rachel Bilson, ironically, as Rachel, mostly because of her spunk.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  A vicious stalker, a cold murder, and a hot cop turn a horse trainer’s homecoming deadly.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? SHE CAN TELL is published by Montlake Romance,  and I’m repped by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? SHE CAN TELL book took 9-10 months to write, mainly because my daughter was very ill halfway through my draft and I had to set writing completely aside for 3 months.  I guess that makes a net of 6 months actively writing the book. The first draft was actually the only draft. I’m not sure if karma decided to give me a break buy the manuscript needed no real revisions. (That has never happened again, BTW My current work-in-process is a total disaster.)

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? There are numerous terrific romantic suspense authors I would love to be compared to, Allison Brennan, Kendra Elliiot, and Laura Griffin are just a few of my favorites.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book? I wanted to continue the series that began with SHE CAN RUN. So, I combined my love of horses and murder mysteries into a new story.  A few of the characters from SHE CAN RUN have cameo appearances in the SHE CAN TELL.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  I’ll let one a recent Amazon reviewer do it for me. “This book has it all, hot cop, steamy romance, suspense. I could not put it down and stayed up until 2 a.m. Enjoy!”

I love enthusiastic readers!

Below you will find authors who will be joining me by blog, next Wednesday. Do be sure to bookmark and add them to your calendars for updates on WIPs and New Releases! Happy Writing and Reading!

  1. Robin Perini was awarded the Golden Heart by the Romance Writers of America.  She is the author of the Montgomery Justice Series and an ever-growing list of Harlequin Intrigues.  I’m particularly looking forward to Behind the Lies, releasing in April 2013. RobinPerini.com
  2. J. T. Geissinger is the fabulous paranormal romance author of the Night Prowler Series. Her latest release, Edge of Oblivion, is “”Exquisite…A sublime example of paranormal romance…full of perfect pacing [with] almost Shakespearian intensity.” —Books, Bones & Buffy. Find out more at jtgeissinger.com.
  3. L. L. Hammer is the author of fast-paced stories filled with suspense, romance, and gripping action. Her latest release, Outmaneuvered, is available from Secret Cravings Publishing and her debut novel, Blue Horizon will be re-released in April 2013. Get all the details at jl-hammer.com
  4. National bestselling author Anna DeStefano has garnered numerous awards including twice winning the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Holt Medallion, the Golden Heart, and the Maggie Award for Excellence. Her latest release, Christmas on Mimosa Lane is “A deeply emotional story that furls around your heart like a Christmas ribbon.” —Lori Wilde, New York Times best-selling author. Find out more at annawrites.com,
  5. Award-winning author Rita Heron writes thrilling romantic suspense. She is the author of more than 50 books.  Look for her next release, Dying to Tell, on December 24!  I can’t wait to read it. Check out all her amazing titles at ritaherron.com/content/

The Opening Hook

I like to start a book with action.  Action is motion. Action is interesting. Action keeps readers turning pages. If you’ve hooked them in the first scene, they have an investment in the story. They want to know more.

So, today I’m sharing the opening scene of my latest release, SHE CAN TELL.  Tell me if this grabs you.

Twenty-five years ago

He liked to watch.

To see the secret, private things people did when they thought they were alone.

From the moonshadow of an evergreen, he stared across the weedy backyard at the dilapidated rancher. Harry was inside. The Watcher’s breath steamed out into the crisp winter air. Twenty yards of crabgrass was all that separated him from retribution.

Harry had to die.

It was the only way to make things right.

Impulsive responses, while satisfying, were rarely successful in the long term. Discipline was the key. He’d buried his rage and weighed all the options. Harry’s life against his actions. His future against the impact of what he’d done. Ultimately, it was what Harry intended to do that made the difference.

Don’t worry. Just come with me. I’ll take care of you. I promise.

An hour of standing on the frozen ground, waiting for the house to go quiet and dark, had left the Watcher’s toes with a numb ache. Fiery tingles shot through the balls of his feet as he crept toward a dark window cracked an inch for ventilation. The ground was too frozen for his boots to leave prints, but the crunch of dead grass echoed in the otherwise silent night. He crouched under the window, then peered over the sill. No sound. No light. No movement. He raised the sash and climbed through into the living room. Lacquer fumes and sawdust stung his nostrils. Heat rattled from a baseboard register as the aged furnace tried to raise the temperature above meat locker.

The Watcher had never been in Harry’s house, though the carpenter had invited him over a few times to watch hockey games. They were both Flyers fans. They had other things in common, too, but they wouldn’t be friends. Not ever. Not after what the Watcher had seen—and what he’d heard—the other night.

Don’t worry. Just come with me. I’ll take care of you. I promise.

Betrayal sliced into him like the drop point of his knife through a deer’s belly.

Silver moonlight gleamed through bare windows. In the far corner, a drop cloth shrouded a battered recliner. The gutted house had a hollow, unfinished feel that matched the empty space in the middle of his chest.

The house was in mid-renovation. Harry planned to flip it in the spring. The oak floor in the living room had been sanded down to raw wood, but the kitchen was still old and ugly. On the worn vinyl tiles, a four-by-eight sheet of plywood spanned two sawhorses as a makeshift table. The Watcher scanned the assortment of woodworking supplies. Flammable liquids. Newspapers. Rags. Check.

It was a small house with a simple floor plan. Living room, kitchen, and dining area grouped at one end. A short hall led to the single bath and three tiny bedrooms. The door to the master was ajar. He touched it with one finger, and it swung open a few more inches. Single guys don’t think much about things like curtains. Enough moonlight filtered through the blinds to see Harry sprawled on his back under a thick comforter, one arm thrown over his head, snoring. His posture was childlike. Innocent.

The guy was anything but. Anger, hot and sour, rose into the back of the Watcher’s throat. He swallowed, backed away, and clenched his freezing knuckles until they screamed. The pain focused him. He drew a chilling, chemical-laden breath into his nose and exhaled slowly. In the kitchen, he stretched a hand to the ceiling and disconnected the 9-volt in the smoke alarm. He moved to the sawhorse table. Paint thinner would do the job.

“What’re you doing?”

He whirled. Harry shivered bare-chested in the doorway, hands tucked under crossed arms, face wrinkled with sleepy confusion. The prelude to a middle-aged paunch hung over his low-riding sweats. Now what? Harry was awake. The plan was fucked.

The Watcher bowed his head to hide his eyes. They burned with frustration. Couldn’t let Harry see. The Watcher needed to say something. Something to throw Harry off. Something that would make him comfortable with a middle-of-the-night intruder.

“I need some help, Harry.” The plea choked him on its way out. His fingers crawled past the matches in his pocket to his hunting knife. He palmed the weapon alongside the back of his thigh, out of Harry’s line of sight, and opened the blade one-handed. “I’m sorry for scaring you.”

The Watcher knew he should wait it out. Come back another time with another plan. His arm even contracted to return the knife to his pocket.

“It’s OK. You’re always welcome here.” Harry was a sap. He stepped closer, rested a cold hand on the Watcher’s shoulder, and gave it a compassionate squeeze. “Let me get a sweatshirt. Then we can talk.”

The sympathetic touch and gentle words short-circuited something in the Watcher’s brain. Harry’s voice played in his head again.

Don’t worry. Just come with me. I’ll take care of you. I promise.

The Watcher’s vision went red. He lunged at the carpenter. The knifepoint pierced Harry’s belly. Blood seeped around the hilt and ran hot over frozen-stiff fingers. He yanked upward, as if gutting a deer, splitting Harry open from navel to breastbone with a moist rip. The Watcher wriggled the knife loose and stepped back. The frigid air filled with the metallic, raw scents of blood and freshly slaughtered game. Harry’s eyes bugged. His hands clutched his belly as if to keep his insides…well, inside.

“Why?” Blood gurgled from his open lips as his body went limp, sliding to the floor as if the bones had melted.

At the Watcher’s feet, dark liquid spread in a thick puddle on the raw wood. He stepped back before it reached his shoes. Sweat dripped down his back, and his heart knocked around his chest like a pinball.

Harry was supposed to die in the fire. There’s no way anyone would think this was an accident. Now what? The house was a mile outside town. No other buildings in sight. How long would the place burn before the fire department arrived? Would the fire destroy the body? Too many unanswered questions.

Harry’s limbs twitched and went still. His torso deflated; gray eyes glassed over.

The Watcher whipped the canvas drop cloth from the recliner and spread it out on the floor. At five-foot-nine, Harry was smaller than the big buck the Watcher had bagged last autumn, but dead limbs flopped and tangled as he rolled everything in the cloth, deli-wrap style. He dragged the body to the back door. After covering the kitchen floor with lacquer, newspapers, and rags, he tossed a lit match into the center. Fire sprinted across the hardwood with a whoosh. He flipped up his hood and hauled the bundle out. Using the three-foot elevation of the back stoop, he squatted and heaved the body onto his shoulders. He wasn’t small, but he staggered under the dead weight. Brittle-cold air and smoke clogged his lungs as he stumbled for the detached garage behind the house.

Discipline was the key. Lesson learned. He wouldn’t forget it again.

But at that moment, all he could think about was how to make Harry disappear.