China Sings To Me – Andrew Singer

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I met Andrew at my very first Cape Cod Writers Center Conference I attended, when I moved here. We’ve been friends ever since. We’ve talked about his book, his process, and his readings during the process have been a delight. I’m thrilled the book is finally out.

On top of that, Andrew is one of the Authors Al Fresco at the Provincetown Books Festival, on Saturday, September 15 from 11:30 – 4:00 in Provincetown Mass. (Note: I’ll be in the Curated Reading between 10-11:30 AM at the Provincetown Library on that same day — come to the festival, see us both).

China Sings to Me: A Journey into the Middle Kingdom and Myself
Andrew Singer, Station Square Media, 2018

The Story Behind My Story
A friend recently commented that everyone on Cape Cod has a book in them. I am one of the fortunate few who have now seen that book reach the light of day. I am a published author.

My story has percolated inside me since 1987. That is the year I returned from a college year in China. I wanted to tell others what happened while I was there. What I saw. What I experienced. It was a time of great change, the possibility of new beginnings after the end of the Cultural Revolution and the early years of a re-established relationship with America. I had two overflowing journals, hundreds of photographs, and vivid memories.

Time, though, is a precious commodity, and one of which I did not have an abundance of excess as I operated a business and we raised a family for the next two decades. Finally, I had a draft. I know I can write, but could I tell the story? The two are not the same.

I sought help, comradery, a community, to help me answer this fundamental question. I joined the Cape Cod Writer’s Center. I participated in a writers group. I studied the craft of writing memoir. I explored the world of publishing. I made friends, writing colleagues. I kept seeking to learn more. I learned that I needed to do more, a lot more.

It took me many years and a lot of perspective before I realized something important. Part of the reason why crafting China Sings To Me took so long was not just due to a lack of time. It was also because I needed to grow personally–to reach a place inside myself where I became capable of telling the story as it needed to be shared.

My book slowly morphed over the years into a coming-of-age story. I most definitely followed the advice of writers group friends and beta readers who kept asking where the “me” was in my journey. The tale became personal–about me, my family, my life, and also that of China. I am a private person. Sharing as I have now shared did not come naturally, but I was driven to make the telling relatable and readable.

Initially, I had interesting travelogue vignettes, but there was no overarching plot, no defined arc, no web that captured the readers and brought them along on the journey. My dialogue was stilted. My emotions kept in check. This all had to change if I wanted to make my story come alive.

I spent years working on this, crafting and revising and further revising over and over again. My original passion for China and things Chinese that called me to travel abroad now also became a passion (or was it an obsession?) to share that journey with a wider audience. Yet after days, months, weeks, and years of reading and reading my own words, I lost perspective and objectivity. There were times when I would sit back after reading a passage or a chapter and say “this is something; I have a story to tell.” Then, there were other times when I would sit back, think of the entire book and say “no one will want to read this drivel.” I bounced between extremes.

When I reached a plateau, I made a game-changing decision. I hired an editor who believed in the story and eventually also became my publisher. She prodded me to emphasize arc, pinpoint characters and dialogue, drill down to those scenes that advanced the storyline and kept the reader’s interest. Learning that a first book should ideally be between 75,000-85,000 words was eye opening since my manuscript at that point was north of 112,000 words. People often talk about the need to “kill your darlings”. I was looking at a massacre. It was not easy, but I ultimately succeeded in reducing and tightening to just under the upper limit of the advisable size.

I made hard choices, never gave up, and discovered the emotional openness to make my book a true coming-of-age story, not only of me, but I hope of China too. It is an adventure story, a love story, a cross-cultural exploration, and an honest tale of growing up.

Book Excerpt
(From Chapter 14, Romance in Chengde) — The raison d’etre of Chengde is the lush mountain resort of the emperors north of the city. This walled compound encloses an expansive imperial palace and gardens that were designed by the same hands that created Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, in the Beijing suburbs near Beida. The imperial family came here when even Yuanmingyuan sweltered in the summer heat and humidity. To welcome their subjects, showcase their Buddhist bona fides, and make this far-off retreat a showcase of their rule, the Qing emperors recreated eight famous palaces and temples from around their empire spread among the surrounding hills beyond the mountain resort. Chengde is a veritable museum of ancient Chinese architecture, and I cannot get enough of it.

We rent bicycles for a palace hunt. The bikes are big and ungainly, but once we figure out their quirks and personalities, they take us where we want to go. We ride east-northeast out of downtown, cross the railroad tracks, and arrive first at Pulesi, Pule Temple. This temple resembles one of my favorites, Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. The cobalt blues, reds, and golden flared roofs on large worship halls and smaller study chambers sparkle. Crenelated block walls open into inner and outer courtyards. The view out from the upper platform, the round main hall to our backs, spreads from the plains to the distant mountains, today shrouded in haze. More than two hundred years of history saturates the wispy blue sky and fresh air hovering over the temple.

Across the expanse looking north and northwest sit several of the remaining outer temples, including our destination in the far distance, rising layered up a mountain side: Putuo Zongsheng Temple, the Chengde model of Tibet’s Potala Palace.

We have a problem. The Chengde Potala is located on the other side of a river and the bridge is not close. Beth and I ask the man at the Temple of Heaven if there is another way across. He points us to a shortcut, and we soon find ourselves riding our bicycles on a dirt path following close behind a tractor pulling a trailer filled with huge, squealing pigs. I sense their anxiety. They know their destiny. The plaintive squeals are heart wrenching. I want to glance at Beth to see if she feels the same, but cannot because I need to concentrate on the rustic path in front of us.

We come upon the “bridge.” It is all of three feet wide, about twenty feet long, and constructed of mud, hay, a few large wood planks, and a whole lot of wishful thinking. The porcine tractor pull veers off and begins crawling down the riverbank and into the water. Holding our collective breathes, we timidly venture out onto the bridge. So far so good. It does not give way. Becoming braver, and without any alternative, we then quickly scoot across. We pass the tractor climbing up through the mud and are soon peddling across peasant farmland. Beth and I are by ourselves in a part of China that time has passed by. It is hard to imagine being farther from Cape Cod than I do at this moment.

Andrew Singer
Biography
Andrew Singer is a traveler, history lover, and collector of books and Chinese snuff bottles who supports his family and interests working as a land use and environmental permitting lawyer on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. To learn more of Andrew’s travels and interests, please visit http://www.AndrewSingerAuthor.com. China Sings To Me is available online in paperback and ebook editions (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/099937270X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0, https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/china-sings-to-me-andrew-singer/1129205721?ean=9780999372708, and other sites) and in local bookstores.

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Donna & Meg: The Joy of the Meg Langslow Series

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One of the joys of this past, very difficult summer was finally getting to read the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews.

I’d picked up the first, third, and fifth book at a bookstore months ago, but between reading in three genres for a contest and reading for the review site I work for and reading for the research on my own books, they kept getting bumped to the bottom of the line.

But then, this summer, I needed something fun. And this series was recommended to me by several people whose reading tastes I trust as fun.

They were right.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I laughed a lot. When I first found out Michael was an actor, I was worried that it would be yet another of those clichés by someone who never bothered to research what real actors and real productions go through.

I needn’t have worried. Donna knows what she writes about. Except for the parrots and the monkeys, the convention in WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARROTS is far too familiar to me, and I recommended it to several colleagues who felt the same way.

Meg is fun, funny, resourceful, and gives a damn. She’s both exasperated by and protective of her family. She steps up – but what makes the series work so well is that they do, too. They might dump a lot of chaos on her, but they don’t walk away. They roll up their sleeves and dig in. The family might be eccentric, but they function by always pitching in for each other, and always giving each other room.

Meg is sensible, even though she’s not perfect. The characters even joke about the “Too Stupid To Live” syndrome in many books, where the character takes stupid chances that anyone with a brain can see will put them in peril. Meg calculates her risks. She does what she needs to do, but she doesn’t do it out of stupidity. Which makes her a character you can trust, like, and want to take a journey that is now twenty-three books.

I regularly put down books where the character is annoying, doesn’t learn from mistakes, and is so dumb I want her to be the next victim. It’s often marketed as comic and the character as “wacky” or “eccentric” when, in reality, the character is stupid.

On the flip side, I’ve had editors tell me to dumb down a character because she’s “too smart and too independent. Readers don’t want a character smarter than they are. They want to feel superior to the protagonist.”

Not in my case. I want the protagonist to be smarter and more resourceful. Donna and Meg both deliver. Andrews respects her readers.

Yes, she gets into funny, outrageous situations and comes up with equally outrageous solutions. But everything is so well grounded, that when the books take off (to use the bird puns used in the titles), the reader is willing to make the leap.

Meg also is in actual peril in the climactic sequence of the books. SHE is the one who faces down the murderer and saves herself, even with the police and her family coming to the rescue. SHE saves herself. She doesn’t wait around for someone else (or she’d be dead, and fall into the Too Stupid to Live category). Even when she’s in dire straits and knows her best bet is to keep the murderer talking or otherwise distracted until help gets there, she’s never passive about it.

Which makes her even more endearing.

In the past few years, I’ve noted more and more, especially in cozies, that climactic action takes place off the page. The protagonist is never in any real danger. The stakes aren’t life-and-death. Or, if they are, the reader doesn’t get to experience it with the character. It’s tossed off in a narrative paragraph later on. I always feel cheated.

Having Meg central to every solution and giving the reader odd, over-the-top, funny, but STILL DANGEROUS climactic sequences means that the reader gets to take the entire ride with the character and is there for the payoff. It’s satisfying.

And then there’s the breath after it, the resolution, that ends on an upbeat note.

Which leads the reader into the next book, while each book stands solidly alone.

I worry that Meg too often pushes her own blacksmithing work to the side and doesn’t draw boundaries with her family and now her community. I jumped up and down cheering when she finally said, “No.” I don’t have my reading log with me as I write this, but I made a note of it in the writing log! (I think it’s SWAN FOR THE MONEY).

I didn’t get to read the books in order, so it was sometimes like putting together a fun puzzle. But it was a joy. It was such a pleasure to read book after book, to visit Meg’s world at the end of a tough day, and feel rewarded by spending time with people who were smart, funny, and gave a damn.  Now I’m going to buy the twenty-three books I don’t own in the series, and then sit down and read them all again – in order!

DEATH ON THE MENU by Lucy Burdette

Death on the Menu

Note: Portions of this piece are cross-posted as reviews for the book on other sites; there is additional material, not in the review, here.

Death on the Menu by Lucy Burdette. Key West Food Critic Mystery #8
NY: Crooked Lane Press. 2018

My first encounter with Lucy Burdette’s previous writing as Roberta Isleib was when I read Deadly Advice, the first Advice Column mystery. To this day, it remains one of my top ten favorite mysteries. I loved the intelligent, resourceful heroine, the clever writing, the solid plotting, and the way the story and the protagonist refused to be stereotypes in a genre whose formula was beginning to narrow. I enjoyed all the Advice Column mysteries, but Deadly Advice stands out on many levels (and I often recommend it when I teach).

I admit (with a bit of embarrassment) that I have not read her golfing mysteries, mostly because to say I “don’t like” golf is an understatement. But I’m sure they’re well-written!

When the Key West Food Critic Series came out, under the Lucy Burdette name, I read them with relish (okay, that pun was half-intended). I like food, I’m interested in Key West (a place on my Must Visit Someday List), and I knew it would be well-written.

Burdette has switched publishers and is now with Crooked Lane Books. As writers, so often we’re told that we “can’t” move to a new publisher mid-series. Death on the Menu proves that is not true, and that Crooked Lane is an excellent choice.

Hayley Snow is back, and better than ever, even though she’s juggling love, murder, helping her mother’s catering business, strained Cuban-American relations, and a missing Hemingway medal.

Her mother’s new catering business landed a big-deal contract for a summit held on Key West to help Cuban-American relations. If it goes well, the business takes off; if it fails, so does the business. There’s a lot at stake. Hayley pitches in, even as she wonders where her relationship with Nathan, a local detective, is headed.

Tensions are high among the factions, and it’s not helped when one of Hemingway’s medals, on loan for the summit, vanishes, and one of the Cuban-American catering staff is found dead.

Hayley is smart and stubborn. She is like a terrier with a bone, when she gets an idea, and determined to follow through. She also gets a lesson in the privileges that come with her skin color, and the challenges faced by the Cuban Americans on both sides of the issue of opening relations between countries again. Burdette doesn’t shy away from the issues; at the same time, it’s not heavy-handed or preachy. The information and conflicts are integrated into plot, story, and character. Key West is a vital character in this series; in this book it’s more vibrant, immediate, and interesting than ever (especially in the scenes where the Hemingway cats have cameos).

Hayley’s intelligence and resourcefulness come back to the forefront of this book (whereas the last couple, it was more about stubbornness). It’s a joy to see her shine again, and the series feels fresh and energetic. There are some clever twists, and the ending sets up a wonderful arc for the next books in the series, and it will be fun to watch them play out.

As always, there are recipes. The Mojito Cake is outstanding and about to go on my list of go-to recipes. The Cuban Roast Pork Mojo Style is also scrumptious. I look forward to trying the rest of the recipes, too!

Changing publishers infused the series with fresh energy.  The previous publisher had a strong “company voice” and in my opinion, it sometimes felt as though individual author voices were diluted in favor of the Company Voice.

Burdette’s voice is loud and clear again in this book, and it’s wonderful.

Death on the Menu will delight Burdette’s many fans, and, no doubt, enchant a host of new ones to the series.

Library A-Wandering

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image courtesy of ninocare via pixabay.com

Ever have one of those days when you want to read “something” but don’t know what to read?

You look at your TBR pile. You know everything looks great, but nothing appeals right now.

You wander the house, searching through shelves, for a favorite comfort book, but none of them hit the craving.

You waft through bookstore shelves, where everything and nothing looks good.

You post on social media, asking for recommendations; again, they sound good, but for a different day.

So what do you do?

Those are my favorite days to wander the library. I either go to my “home” library (the library that holds my card or the one that I use regularly), or I go to a different library in the same network, where I can still use the card.

And I wander.

Maybe I don’t really feel like fiction today. Maybe I want nonfiction, even though I’m tired of my research. Maybe I want local history or diaries by other writers or verbal portraits of the way I wish life was. Or maybe I want fiction — something light, brain candy, so I can refresh. Or maybe I want to revisit a classic or read a classic that I haven’t yet read.

Maybe I’ll find an interesting cookbook. I test drive cookbooks from the library, and if I keep taking it out, I’ll buy it. Maybe there will be a book on garden design, or one that gives me ideas for the herb garden.

You never know, and that’s what’s so wonderful.

Wandering the library shelves, you’ll find books you didn’t know you needed to read, but are irresistible when you pull them off the shelves and hold them.

It’s not the same when you do a computer search and come up with limited terms.

Wandering the library shelves is more like a treasure hunt.

And what grand treasure it is!

When I travel, I always visit the library (if it’s open while I’m there). Even if I can’t take out a book, I learn a lot about the place, and I discover hidden gems. It never gets old.

Next time you feel restless, and want to do “something” or read “something” but can’t settle –visit the library and go on a treasure hunt!

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image courtesy of Free Photos via pixabay

The Idea Vat (A Post on Writing Process)

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One of the most frequent questions I get as an author is “Where do you get your ideas?”

As though there’s some central Idea Vat into which we writers dip in and pull out ideas.

I’m always puzzled when it comes from people who claim they want to write, but don’t know what to write about; most writers I know have far more ideas than they’ll ever be able to explore.

Non-writers are fascinated by the writing process (so are writers, but for different reasons). Writers tend to be fascinated by anyone’s process to do anything, because it’s all material.

There is no Magic Writing Bullet or Potion that will suddenly make one a creative genius churning out best-sellers and winning every award. Even the innately talented have to put in the work. I’ve had many talented writers in my workshops who were not willing to put in the necessary work. The ones who could outwork the more talented are the ones who usually end up sustaining a career.

I find the world an interesting place. Almost everything can be interesting, if approached from the right angle. Everyone has a unique story, which can be interesting, but too often is spewed out there for catharsis without being crafted. Catharsis is great, but sometimes it makes more sense to keep it in your private journal until you find the best way for that unique piece to be shared.

Where do I get my ideas?

From everywhere around me. A line in someone else’s story gets me thinking, “What if?” A fragment of an overheard conversation gets me thinking, “What if?” A news story or something heard on the radio or seen on social media gets the wheels turning. Visiting a new place inspires.

For me, setting is an additional character, and emotional geography is just as important as physical geography.

Paintings inspire me. If I’m stuck or feeling frustrated in my work, I go and look at paintings. A beautiful painting will inspire me to go back to the page — either because I’m no longer stuck or because the painting inspired a short story. Edward Hopper’s work, in particular, has inspired several short pieces.

Historical places and people inspire me. History is comprised of people and what they do. It’s not just events and dates — it’s the struggles, joys, and sorrows of those immersed in those events at those dates. Visiting an historical site often inspires me.

Soundtracks DO NOT inspire me. Soundtracks are created to support someone else’s creative vision. If I use a soundtrack when I’m writing fiction, unless that particular piece has relevance to the plot or character, it derails my work and bleeds into it.

I can always tell when my students have written something with a show or movie soundtrack on. I can usually tell what it is. Because it warps their writing.

If I have music on while I write, it’s instrumental, unless I’m listening to something specific to the plot or the character.

After the inspiration comes the work. Research, what I call “percolating.” I get an idea. I jot down notes.

I usually work from character first. Even if it’s inspired by a painting or an historical site or event, until I have my central character, I can’t do anything with it. Character, more characters, situation, then “what if?”

Then, I can work.

I usually write my way in to a new piece for about four chapters (if it’s a long work; if it’s short, I usually know within ten pages and can adjust). Four chapters (40-80 pages) gives me a good handle on whether or not this idea is viable.

Then I percolate for a bit, thinking about the idea while I’m doing other things. That negates the mindfulness in which we are supposed to do all things, but I often get my best ideas in the shower, or driving to the store, or cooking, or doing yard work.

Once I’ve percolated for a bit, I sit down and do my Writer’s Rough Outline.

For those blank-pagers (I loathe the term “pantser”) who are moaning — hey, do what works for you. This is my business, not my hobby. Writing is how I keep a roof over my head and food on the table. In order to do that, I have to juggle multiple projects. My time is as limited as anyone else’s. I don’t have the time to stare at a blank page or a blank computer screen. When I sit down in a work session, I need to be able to drop into whatever project I’m working on and produce my quota for that work session. Having a detailed Writer’s Rough allows me to do that.

It also allows me to move from project to project without losing the individual project rhythms, or having them bleed into each other.

Once I have my outline, I research what’s necessary and gather research materials to which I might need to refer as I write. I prefer to do that than put in a placeholder and look it up later for a different draft. Right now, I’m on too tight a deadline schedule for that to be viable.

I have X amount of time each day where I’m reading research for any number of projects, taking notes, making my bibliographical lists. This is separate from writing time.

Then I write. When a fiction or script project moves into “Primary” position, it means I do my first 1K/day of it first thing in the morning, at least six days a week. If I fall behind and have a deadline looming, I raise the quota to whatever it needs to be to get it done.

Once I have that first 1K done, I can move between whatever other projects are on contract and deadline and client work. If I can or need to have another fiction or script session later in the day (often on a different project), I add that in.

At the moment, I’m doing 2K/day on one novel, first thing in the morning, and then 1K/day later in the day on a different novel (with a slightly later deadline). And pulling together research for a play, while researching something that came up for one of the novels.

I prefer to edit in the afternoon. It needs a different approach. When editing/revising a novel, I do 3-5 chapters a day. And there is always more than one revision. before I turn it over to my editor. We usually have at least two rounds of revisions before it goes into production, and then as many rounds of galleys as needed or as can fit in to the schedule.

Because galleys are for copy edits and catching mistakes, NOT for major revisions. You have to train yourself to catch what needs to be caught in each phase of book production. Because it’s not just about YOU. It’s about the entire team working to make the book the best it can be.

Every book has its own rhythm and process, but the overall structure I talk about here is working for me right now. When it stops working, I’ll change it. Creativity is a process, and each piece you work on teaches something and makes it possible for the next to be better, artistically and in craft.

In a way, I suppose I do go to the Idea Vat, dip in a ladle, and pull out an idea. The Idea Vat is another name for the Creative Unconscious.

 

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Learn more about Devon’s books at www.devonellingtonwork.com

Release day: MYTH & INTERPRETATION, a Gwen Finnegan novella

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Stuck in NYC when plans for their next expedition fall through, Gwen and Justin accept teaching jobs at different local universities. Adjusting to their relationship, and juggling the academic and emotional demands of their students, they are embroiled in two different, disturbing, paranormal situations that have more than one unusual crossing point. Can they work together to find the answers? Or are new temptations too much to resist? For whom are they willing to put their lives on the line?

This between-the-books novella takes place in New York City, shortly after the action in Tracking Medusa ends and The Balthazaar Treasure begins.

Released by Bluestockings and Gentlemen Press July 2018. $1.99
Universal Buy link:
https://www.books2read.com/u/4XKL57

Q & A with Devon Ellington:
Question: Talk a little bit about how Myth & Interpretation came about.

Devon Ellington: Originally, a handful of the scenes were in the opening chapters of the second Gwen Finnegan mystery, The Balthazaar Treasure. But they didn’t work. They slowed down the story. Yet, the readers needed to know what happened in between the end of Tracking Medusa and the beginning of Balthazaar. I talked to my editor. She suggested breaking it off and doing a novella. I outlined it; she worked with me to pare it down so it didn’t become a novel. And some characters that are vital to the series get proper introductions here.

Q: Justin is in an interesting position here. He’s always been the assistant. He’s always been in the position of less power. But here, he is the leader, especially when it comes to helping his student, Jessica.

DE: Yes, he’s growing into himself. He made huge strides when he and Gwen teamed up to find the Medusa statue. Now, he’s the teacher and he’s responsible for the next generation of his profession. Gwen’s done this before; he’s finding his way.

Q: Plus, they have to work out the dynamics of their own relationship.

DE: Which isn’t easy. Gwen’s been married and divorced. She’s worked and lived all over the world, and experienced her share of relationships. She knows what she needs and won’t put up with in a relationship. Justin’s still finding out, and he’s still playing by the rules he’s used to. They have to navigate. Gwen’s approach is simple: I love you and trust you. No games. Justin is used to games.

Q: At the same time, what Gwen chooses not to tell him here is interesting. You’d expect her not to want to have any secrets from him.

DE: Yes, and that choice is part of what fuels their conflict during Balthazaar Treasure. She believes that telling him certain things – can’t mention them here or they’re spoilers – would cause the type of drama between them she wants to avoid. Yet the choice to avoid drama now means she has to deal with it further down the line.

Q: And Karl stirs the pot. Again.

DE: As Karl does. Especially when it can annoy Justin.

Q: They stayed in New York for this adventure.

DE: And Gwen can’t wait to get back in the field. She loves her home, but she loves being out and about even more. Now Justin’s got field fever, too.

Q: I kind of fell in love with all the students in Gwen’s seminar. Even the ones who were a problem. Will we see more of them?

DE: In the original outline, they grew into a tighter group and had more to do. But, again, it was too much for the scope of the piece. Their stories definitely go on; how much directly intersect with Gwen and Justin, I’m still working on defining it.

Q: But we have to see more of Alec. And Jessica.

DE: Don’t worry. You will. In surprising ways!

Q: New York was a huge character in the piece.

DE: Yes, I’m creating my slightly alternate New York based on some of my favorite places. New York is rapidly changing, but my fictional New York, I hope, can retain some of my favorite places, add some fictional places, and still be believable for those who know the city well.

Q: The crossover that happened between the worlds of Gwen Finnegan and the world of the Coventina Circle happened again, with the Société Sortileger, the esoteric library on Orchard Street.

DE: Yes, that was fun. Since Gwen lives in almost the same New York around the same time as Coventina, even though they move in different circles (no pun intended) most of the time, it makes sense that they would end up in some of the same places, even if they don’t know each other.

Q: Harry Delacourte – he’s getting around. Kind of hard not to fall in love with him.

DE: He certainly is. He turns up in the next Coventina Circle, Relics & Requiem, too. Harry’s a busy boy. He and the staff of the library will likely cross over in several books in both series. He surprised me, though, when it turned out he was related to one of Gwen’s UK coven sisters. I have a feeling he’s full of more surprises. As are Gwen and Justin.

 

Excerpt:

Justin was grateful he’d prepared most of his lectures so far in advance. He was comfortable with the material, and he could make it through the lecture without worrying. He’d have to find a way to concentrate on the papers that were turned in today.

He pulled the piles Louis collected together, shoved them into a manila folder, and jammed them into his bag. He needed to get back to the hospital. His dad was scheduled for release in a few days, and Justin had the irrational fear he’d never make it out. He hadn’t dared to share this fear with Gwen. She’d comfort him, be logical, and he didn’t want that right now.

“Mr. Yates?”

He jerked his head up to see a young woman in front of his desk. He searched his memory. Florence. The Mayans. “Jessica? Jessica Sayles?”

“Yes. I’m glad you’re back.”

“Good to be back.” It sounded false and hollow. If he reached, he could remember the joy his first days of teaching gave him. They felt far away. “How can I help you?”

“I’m not sure.”

He noticed she looked tired. “Do you need an extension on the paper?”

“N-no, nothing like that. I turned it in. I hope you like it.” She looked down, her hair falling over her face, hiding it. After a minute, she took a deep breath, brushed her hair back and looked at him. “I’m afraid. And because you and Dr. Finnegan have the experiences you have, I thought you could help me.”

“Um, sure, I’ll try?” It sounded lame to Justin’s ears, but that was the best he could do.

Jessica took a deep breath and exhaled. “I think my roommate, Gina? The one who’s in Dr. Finnegan’s seminar? I think she’s trying to kill me.”

 

Available for $1.99 digitally on July 17. Delayed release on Amazon, but with the same link.

https://www.books2read.com/u/4XKL57

Visit the Gwen Finnegan website to keep up with all the latest!