Author Archives: Judi Lynn

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Mystery Musings

What did I do before I got Netflix and Acorn?

The Old Poop and I have been married for 48 years. I still have to pinch myself when I say that. It doesn’t seem possible. The time has gone so fast, and we’ve had so many up and downs, and we’re still together.

I call him the Old Poop because my daughters and I watched the Jane/Henry Fonda movie On Golden Pond, and that was Katherine Hepburn’s nickname for Henry Fonds. In the movie, the retired professor growled and fussed a lot, but he had a heart of gold. My daughters watched him connect with the prickly boy Jane Fonda drops at his doorstep, and they said, “He’s just like Dad.” And he was. My HH might grump, but he always comes through. And he’s a heck of a lot more romantic than I am.

He likes to tease me and say that he should have known his life was changing when he married me because I warned him way ahead of time that if we got married on the day he wanted and then honeymooned for two weeks after, he’d have to stop every Sunday night to watch Henry VIII because in the series at that time, Ann Boleyn was going to being beheaded. Now, I mean, who could miss that? Not even for honeymoon fun.

Since then, the poor man has watched more fantasy and mysteries than he ever thought might be in his future. And now that we have Netflix and Acorn, his nights are filled with Longmire, Hercule Poirot, and The Queens of Mystery. Not that he minds them that much, but he sure pretends he does. He does grumble once in a while about Carnival Row and The Witcher. They’re a little dark for him, but his idea of fun is the movie Borat and anything by Mel Brooks. I’m put upon, too😊

I’m not quite sure why, and it’s something I need to think about at some future date, but I enjoy British mysteries a lot more than American ones with the exception of Longmire. We just went to see the movie Knives Out, and we both loved it. And that had an Agatha Christie feel to me. I like formats where the author says, “Here are the suspects. Try to pick the right one.” And then gives you a clever puzzle to figure out.

It makes me a little sad to say that we don’t watch very much regular TV anymore. 30-minute sitcoms don’t interest us much, and even the CSI and dramas don’t bring us back every week. But as hooked as I am on the foodnetwork every Saturday morning, when the shows are original and not repeats about cooking, the Old Poop is just as hooked on the Great British Baking Show. What can I say? Our tastes have changed over the years.

But I’m still hooked on a good mystery. And thankfully, we now have Netflix and Acorn.

Tattoos and Portents–19

Love means….when you’re mated to a witch, you’d better say “I’m sorry.”

Chapter 19

We woke to heavy snowfall. After all, it was December in Indiana, and even though we were in the southern tip of the state, on the Ohio River, we still had winter. My SUV plowed through slippery streets, but Raven’s Lamborghini was so low to the ground, it didn’t fare as well. Spellyr Blaster mowed lawns in the summer and did snow removal for winter, and once he cleared the streets, my coven and I sent blasts of warm energy to melt the ice.

I liked Spellyr. He was a kind, pleasant man. When his daughter Bru, along with every other girl in Belladonna’s coven, died from a spell that backfired on them, he and his wife refused to join Blood Sharp’s vigilantes. The parents who did join him killed an innocent man because they suspected him of making the magical pouches their daughters wore that killed them.

Bru was a sad loss for Muddy River. She was young and would have left Belladonna when she older and wiser. I felt sorry for the parents whose daughters had turned to the dark arts, because I knew most of them would have gotten smarter with a little more time.

No one in Spellyr’s family was very powerful, including Bru. He was only one fourth witch, but that didn’t stop him from contributing to Muddy River. I was in the kitchen, pouring coffee for Raven and me, when I heard his snow plow rumbling down Banks Road. He cleared the town’s main streets before working on the road that followed the river.

When he’d almost reached our house, I threw on a coat and boots to carry a few cookies and a cup of hot coffee out to the street for him. He saw me and idled the heavy machine’s engine.

“Thanks, Hester!” He gratefully took a sip of the hot brew. “A couple more hours, and I’ll be done.”

“Take care,” I told him and headed back inside, grabbing the paper on our front porch on my way and carrying it into Raven. “Do you need to go to your office today?”

He was dressed in dark jeans and a lightweight black sweater. When we’d met, he only wore black in reverence to the severity of his job. Either that, or he knew he looked darned good in it. With his ebony hair and tawny eyes, black was a good color for him. He reached for the paper. “I should at least check in to see if there are any messages. Cein’s stopping by today, too, so I can catch up with him.”

I frowned. “Has he moved his furniture here yet from his house in the middle of nowhere?”

“It’s coming today. I promised to help him unload it and settle in.”

“But he’s not crossing our borders to get it, is he?”

Raven gave me an encouraging smile. “He’s staying inside your wards, so he’ll be safe. Well, from the priest anyway. Lust is coming to help him arrange furniture, too.”

I laughed. “Good girl.” She wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to be with him.

“What are your plans for today?” he asked.

“I’m in good shape for Yule Eve, so I thought I’d head to the attic and make more pouches. We’re running low on them.” I went to the pot for more coffee then grabbed a scone I’d taken from our basement freezer last night. Raven grabbed two scones and sat across from me.

He pressed a hand to his pouches, hidden under his sweater. “We don’t want to run out of these.

I didn’t like to run out of any witch protections, so when he left for work, I climbed the steps to my attic workroom and pulled down herbs and plants hanging from the rafters. Claws followed me and sprawled near one of the dormer windows in the pitched roof. Two hours later, I’d ground all of the ingredients and chanted them into power, then filled fabric pouches. As a precaution, I always chanted a spell so that they wouldn’t work for enemies or anyone using dark magic.

Since I was upstairs anyway, I took down a few of my old spell books to look through to study what my mom and grandmother had used when they practiced magic. I had a wall of books and chants from my family and other witches I’d known when they were still alive. When my ancient, good friend Carlotta was with us no more, she’d willed her spell book to me. I liked to page through them occasionally because over the centuries, someone I’d known had encountered just about anything a witch would ever have to deal with and had come up with ways to battle it.

I was jotting down new spells to teach my coven when I heard Raven’s car race down the driveway. And I mean race. Claws jerked his head up to stare at me. I shut my books and put them away. Something must be wrong, so I hurried downstairs to meet my fire demon. He entered the kitchen with Cein close behind him. The Phoenix shifter wore a scowl as dark as my mate’s. Donella followed them inside. When I saw her, my stomach knotted. She was Spellyr’s wife.

I locked gazes with Raven, and he gave a sad shake of his head. “Spellyr never came home today. He started plowing early, and it never takes him this long. He’s always home by now. Donella’s worried about him.”

I would be, too. I turned to her. “Did he stay inside Muddy River’s borders?”

Donella bit her bottom lip. “He talked about plowing the road all the way to the Druid’s village since Aengus was driving here more than usual.”

“That’s not protected.” My voice came out hoarse. We’d been attacked on that road the last time we took it. “Muddy River’s wards protect us, and the Druids’ wards protect their settlement, but we never warded the road between us.”

She wrung her hands. “I told him that. He knew, but when that man gets something in his head, he doesn’t always listen to reason.”

Raven glanced at my coat near the door. “We’re going to look for him.”

“I’ll come with you.” Claws padded by my side as we walked to my SUV. Donatella sat in the backseat with me, with Claws between us, and Cein rode shotgun. He was nearly as tall as Raven, so it was hard to look over his shoulder at the road ahead. And his shoulders were as broad as Raven’s. He kept running a hand through his wavy, mahogany hair. He was as nervous as I was.

A few minutes later, we sped through town. Twenty minutes later, we saw Spellyr’s snowplow half on, half off the road. Raven pulled up behind it, and we got out to check the area. Lots of footprints trampled the soft, white blanket of snow at the road’s shoulder. Then we saw blood. Too much blood. Claws followed the tracks and scents over the field and through a wood until we came to another road. It wasn’t plowed, so we could see one set of wide, thick tire marks that stopped nearby and then did a U-turn heading west.

“Someone drove a heavy truck of some kind to drop people off and pick them up,” Raven said.

We returned to the SUV and found the road with the tire tracks, then followed them until we came to a highway. It had been plowed. There was no way to follow them anymore.

Spellyr was gone.

Tears streamed down Donella’s cheeks as Raven returned to the snow plow. The keys were still in the ignition. Cein got out to drive it home, and we waited to make sure the plow started before we followed him back to Muddy River.

Once again, we trudged into Derek’s bar and people came to hear the news. As it spread through town, Prim walked into the bar and took a stool. The lovely Fae reached for Derek’s hand. “Are you okay?”

Our vampire bartender bristled with anger. His fangs sprang past his lips and his wife stroked his arm as he fought for control. Finally, he nodded. He and Spellyr had been friends. Spellyr mowed around the bar and plowed the parking lot. He even cared for Derek’s yard and drive at his home.

Birch came and pinched her lips into a fretful line. She looked at me. “What if he’s not dead?”

I’d thought of that but didn’t want to upset Donella. Her face crumpled, and she cried harder on the stool next to mine. I rubbed her back.

“What if they made him one of them?” Donella sobbed. “An undead?”

I didn’t know what to say to comfort her. Finally, I said, “The priest will only have his body. His spirit is already gone.”

“Are you sure?” She wiped her eyes, but more tears came.

I glanced at Raven. “Tomorrow’s Yule Eve, and then we’re celebrating Yule with friends. But the day after that, we can drive to Drago’s settlement and ask the voodoo women who live there if Spellyr’s spirit is free.”

Before Donella could finish nodding, Birch said, “We’d all understand if you postponed the get-togethers for a day or two, Hester. Will the food you made keep if we put the celebrations off a bit?”

Put off Yule? It was tradition. “The food’s not a problem, but everyone’s counting on. . . “

Meda stood at the table she shared with Brown, Gray, and Syn. She looked around the bar. Most of the witches in my coven had come when they’d heard about Spellyr. “What do you say, guys? Can Hester check on Spellyr first?”

The entire bar nodded in agreement. Syn grinned. “It’s not like witches or supernaturals believe in Santa. We celebrate the spirit of the season—giving and caring. How can we celebrate until we know Spellyr’s spirit is safe?”

Raven nodded, weighing in with the others. “Every family can celebrate on Yule, but we’ll postpone our get-togethers until after we visit the voodoo village.”

I felt my body tense. Energy prickled over my skin. I’d worked so hard to get everything ready, I felt letdown. I didn’t like it, but what was I going to do? I’d been outvoted. I didn’t have to be graceful about it, though. I didn’t say anything, and Birch squirmed nervously. So did Meda. The members of my coven wouldn’t meet my gaze. Finally, Raven glanced at me then looked away. Next year, they could organize Yule Eve and Yule.

Speedy came out of the kitchen to take food orders and Derek started pouring drinks, but no merriment filled the bar. The crowd sat subdued by Spellyr’s death and my silence. I knew I was being a downer, but I didn’t care.

Cein leaned his elbows on the bar to tell Raven, “I’m coming with you. If anyone tries to surprise you, you might need backup.”

Donella gave a raspy sigh but shook her head. “I should go, too, but I’m sorry. I want to know, but the voodoo women terrify me.”

Raven glanced at me to comfort her, but I turned my head. He’d made a decision without asking for my input, he could deal with whatever came up. “We’ll tell you as soon as we learn something,” he promised.

There’d be no we about it. He could call her with the news.

Lust frowned at her father, and Boaz said, “I’m coming, too. If you meet a mob, another ally might prove useful.”

The man didn’t have much choice but to volunteer, or Lust would never let him hear the end of it. She turned sixteen soon, then it would only be two more years before she was legal mating age. She meant for Cein to survive until then.

Raven made desultory conversation as we ate our meals, trying to include me a few times, but I ignored him. Our food finished, we all scattered close to the same time. We drove Cein and Donella home before heading back to our house.

“On a scale of one to ten, how mad are you?” he asked.

“Eleven.” I turned away from him. The rest of the drive was in silence. Claws slunk into the kitchen with us, feeling our tension.

When we crawled into bed, I faced one direction and Raven the other. When he tried to move closer, I put an invisible shield between us.

“How long are you going to stay mad?” he asked.

“As long as I want to.”

He sighed and moved farther away from me. “Are you going to the voodoo village with us tomorrow?”

“I might as well. There’s nothing to celebrate here.”

“If we’re under attack, will you protect me or join the undead?”

“Don’t tempt me.”

He moved away a little farther. If I was lucky, he’d fall off the edge of the bed. But as I fell asleep, I stared out the window at the tiny slice of moon before it completely disappeared. No silver beams tonight. Somehow, that seemed appropriate.

Materialistic or Spiritual?

A wonderful man belongs to my writers’ group.  He’s a retired cop from Milwaukee, AND he teaches philosophy.  He’s writing a memoir about the experiences he had on the force from the time he was young and inexperienced to the time he retired, and his stories go from laugh out loud to deadly serious.  I love listening to him read when it’s his turn to share.

Since he has a philosophical bent, he told me that he believes most modern literature is materialistic, not spiritual.  I replied that I wasn’t sure I agreed with that.  But when he asked me why, I had a harder time coming up with an answer.  I’m not a fast thinker.  I have to ponder ideas and sort them.  But after pondering away, I haven’t changed my mind.  Maybe that’s because of the reading material I choose.

I read predominately mysteries, but I intersperse them with other genres.  And here’s what I think and the authors who’ve made me think it:

First, I don’t necessarily equate the spiritual with religion, just as I don’t necessarily equate justice with the law.  To me, being a spiritual person equates with trying to find the greatest good in ourselves, the divine.  And I’ll be honest.  I struggle with that, because I’m never sure exactly what I believe that means.  Anyway, here are my thoughts about the spiritual in literature:

I’ve only read two William Kent Krueger mystery/thrillers featuring Cork O’Connor–Iron Lake and Boundary Waters–but Cork wrestles with doing the right thing and balancing his Native American culture and beliefs with his Irish-Catholic upbringing.  Indian mysticism flavors everything in the stories.  Nature plays a powerful force.  The books are as much about Cork’s character as they are about surviving and catching the bad guys.

I’m a fan of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby historical mysteries.  Kiera Darby survived a horrible first marriage.  In the 1830s, husbands OWNED their wives.  They could abuse them nearly any way they chose.  Sebastian Gage’s mother married beneath her, a commoner, and her family taunted and ridiculed young Sebastian.  When Kiera and Sebastian meet and fall in love, they both struggle to overcome their pasts and to treat those they meet, even their servants, even people who have wronged them, with respect.  They work to rise above the harsh lessons they’ve endured in life.  The quality of a person matters more to them than titles or wealth.  Is that a spiritual journey?  It feels like one to me.

But I’ve read lots of books where a plot revolves around people trying to find answers and overcoming their faults and shortcomings even while the main plot might rotate around a murder or romance.  M.L. Rigdon’s The Gracarin is a fantasy where the warrior Torak rules a country whose religion is based on nature and music, harmony, and where women are treated as equals.  He forms an alliance with another country that has a more structured religion, but the leaders of both worlds abhor debauchery, cruelty, and excess. They join forces to conquer the corrupt rulers of the wharf.  In many urban fantasies, the theme is good vs. evil.  Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series has an over arcing story question of Kate battling her father, who wants power for power’s sake.   Kate often doubts herself and her choices, which makes her journey all the more real.  Many mysteries star protagonists who try not to be stained by the bad people they battle.  They try not to stoop to their enemies’ levels.

In an extreme example, in Mark Lawrence’s fantasy, PRINCE OF THORNS, Jorg watched enemies kill his mother and young brother before they leave him for dead.  Worse, when he’s rescued and his father, the king, learns what has happened, he chooses not to go to war over the incident.  It would be too costly.  Angry and disillusioned, Jorg runs away and joins a band of ruffian misfits.  While he’s away, the king remarries, and when his new bride has a son, the king–his own father–wants Jorg dead.  Jorg does despicable things in the book, but it’s hard to hate him, because everyone else is worse, even the peasants.  Their hate is selfish and random.  Jorg’s enemies kill for land or profit, but Jorg kills to build an army strong enough to ultimately make him a ruler.  And he swears he’ll be a good one.  He has a conscience and a code of ethics, but they’re brutal by any standards.  But then, so are the times.  Jorg’s far from the spiritual journey most think of, but his struggles are real and beg the question: Does the end ever justify the means?  Everything in Jorg’s world is relative.  Does that preclude his journey from being spiritual?

I still don’t know if I have an answer to my friend’s question.  It’s possible I’m too practical to be philosophical.  Can a person be idealistic and practical at the same time?  I’m not sure.  But it was fun to consider the books I’ve read in a different light.  Any opinions you’d like to share?




The voodoo priest is testing what works and doesn’t to battle Raven and Hester.  Lir, the young Druid, helps them win another skirmish:

Chapter 18

Druid's Stonehedge


Tuesday morning was cold, but there was no breeze. Raven left to drive to town, and I turned on my ovens. Soon, the kitchen was warm and toasty, and as I stirred the dough to make gingerbread men, the aromas of cloves and molasses filled the room. Thursday was Yule Eve, so I decided to try to make as many things ahead for the get-together as possible. Big meals were easier for me than party food. A big ham, turkey, and prime rib weren’t as time consuming as lots of nibbles.

Once I finished with the cookies, I started on lots and lots of meatballs, then turned my attention to cocktail franks. I always offered fancier fare, too, and mounds of shrimp cocktail, but the meatballs and franks disappeared every year. I was cleaning the kitchen at the end of the day when Birch’s car pulled into the drive. She and Lir were riding with us to the Druid village tonight.

I’d left a plate of cookies on the table to snack on and had coffee or hot chocolate to offer them, but Lir asked for ale. Druids. I poured coffee for myself and hot chocolate for Birch, and then we gathered around the table.

“I have good news.” Birch’s voice rose with excitement. “I’ve met with other girls in town, and your four students who’ll graduate this year want to join my coven. So do two more young witches, so we’ll have seven to start with, counting me.”

“Wonderful!” The more trained witches, the safer Muddy River would be.

Lir reached for a cookie. “How many students are in your school?”

“Twenty-six right now, from first grade to graduation, but I only train young witches. Muddy River has a public school for other supernaturals.”

Lir’s green eyes gleamed. “And they learn all of the important spells before they leave?”

I nodded. “Once a witch learns a spell, it’s hers forever, but most of our witches don’t practice most of them after they graduate. And they don’t learn more. That’s why I’m so happy Birch is going to start a new coven.”

“Do most of the witches who grow up in Muddy River stay here? Do any of them move to find mates or have new beginnings?”

I smiled. “A few do, but most of them stay.” Aengus had told me once that Lir was endlessly curious, and I could see that now. Curious and quick. No wonder Aengus was so fond of him.

Bird cries interrupted us, and we all turned to glance out the kitchen windows. A huge flock of crows, sparrows, geese, and others was flying east over my house. I stared. Birds didn’t mingle like this. What did it mean?

“A sign,” Lir said, frowning.

“About the priest?” I didn’t use bird flight as a sign, but I knew Druids did.

Lir stood and walked to the French doors leading to the back patio to see them better. “The priest must be making a new settlement somewhere west of here. They don’t want to be close to him.”

Neither did I, but we’d have to face him to stop him.

Raven’s Lamborghini pulled into the driveway. He parked in our two-car garage, and Lir watched him walk to the house. Raven immediately went to the table to reach for a cookie. It’s a good thing my fire demon’s metabolism burned lots of calories.

“Coffee, hot chocolate, or beer?” I asked.

“Hot chocolate. With marshmallows?”

I smiled. “More sweets. I should have known.”

Lir joined him at the table and bit into another cookie. He groaned with satisfaction, then sniffed the air, still redolent with the aromas of the day. “I love your kitchen. It always smells good. You’re a wonderful cook.”

Birch pushed away her empty cup and frowned at him. For some reason, his comment had irritated her. “I take it I’m not? You haven’t starved in my care.”

He blinked, clearly surprised by her reaction. “And I thank you. You’ve kept me well-fed while I healed.”

“What does that mean?” Her shoulders stiffened. “That my cooking fills your belly but doesn’t impress you?”

Lir raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t say that.”

“Well?” She locked gazes with him.

“Well what?” Smile lines creased the edges of his eyes. He was beginning to enjoy their exchange.

“Do you like my cooking or not?”

“I like it.”

Birch pressed her lips together, dissatisfied. She turned to me. “You’d teach me how to cook like you do, wouldn’t you?”

She caught me off guard. “If you want me to. You’ve never been interested before.” Sometimes my coven and I got together to cook for casual get-togethers. Birch had never joined us.

With a scowl, she snapped, “I never realized my cooking was inadequate before.”

Lir spread his hands in an innocent gesture, but his eyes sparkled with humor. “It’s adequate.”

Birch let out a frustrated huff. “You just wait and see. I’m a quick learner. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to resist my cooking.”

Lir grinned. “You’re already irresistible. You don’t have to impress me as a kitchen goddess.”

It was Birch’s turn to blink in surprise. “I didn’t think you found me interesting.”

“But I do.”

Birch gave a satisfied smile, and Raven shook his head at me. Young love. He glanced at the clock. “When are we supposed to be at Aengus’s?”

I looked, too. I’d lost track of the time. “We’d better get going.”

Raven grabbed another cookie as he stood. Birch and I carried the dirty mugs and plates to the sink before we went for our coats. Claws ran to my SUV and snuggled between Lir and Birch in the backseat.

“If he’s crowding you, he can sit in the very back,” I told them.

Lir reached to scratch behind my familiar’s ears and smiled at his rumbling purrs. “He’s fine. I wish Druids had familiars.”

“Coonie wouldn’t mind if you brought in a new pet,” Birch told him. Her familiar was an orange Maine Coon cat.

“Would you mind?” Lir asked.

“Not if that would make you happy.”

Lir reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Thank you, but I’d better talk to Aengus before I plan too far ahead.”

Birch bit her bottom lip but didn’t reply. She’d thrown him an opening, and he hadn’t taken it. I could sense her disappointment.

They sagged back in their seats. We drove on in awkward silence, the SUV filling with turbulent pheromones, until Raven stomped on the brake. A dozen undead led by two witches and three voodoo women stepped onto the road, blocking our way.

“Is everyone wearing their pouches?” I asked.

Lir and Birch both patted theirs, hidden under their sweaters. I glanced at Claws. For good measure, I’d even attached two pouches to a collar around his neck. He usually fussed when I tried to put a collar on him, but this time, he’d purred and licked my hand. He knew I was trying to protect him.

We all exited the vehicle, and the women smiled. I didn’t. They’d better enjoy themselves while they could, because I was sick and tired of the priest’s flunkies. A dark cloud of spirits zoomed toward us. This time, I wasn’t about to let them turn around and run home to tattle on us. I moved my hands in a circular motion and a tornado of wind sped toward them, sucking them in. I aimed it, skyward, in the opposite direction. By the time the spirits escaped, they’d be so dizzy and disoriented, it would take them days to find their way home.

The voodoo women frowned, irritated, and began to chant. The dead grasses at the sides of the road grew thick and strong to wrap themselves around our ankles. Earth magic. I had plenty of that. With a few words, the plants retreated and shivered. They’d gotten lucky. If Raven had used his magic, they’d be scorched.

A dark witch grew impatient. She reeked so strongly of blood and sacrifices, I had to wrinkle my nose. She raised her palms at Lir but before she could blast him, he said a quick chant of his own. Lightning zapped from the sky, pulsing through her body so strongly, her friends had to jump away from her as she spasmed to death.

The second witch looked surprised. Not many supernaturals knew or worked with Druids. She wouldn’t understand their magic. She called on a whirlwind of energy to encompass us, but Birch was an air witch, too. Her whirlwind collided with the witch’s, and they exploded, knocking a row of undead off their feet.

The voodoo women reached into a pocket, took out handfuls of sparkling dust, and blew them at us. I could have blown them away, but let them drift toward us instead. Why waste magic when our pouches would protect us? The dust kept going, floating past us before falling to the ground. The women took a step back, frowning in confusion. They’d obviously counted on their sleeping potions to disable us.

Flustered, they sent the undead toward us. I shook my head. Slow learners. Raven raised his arms and fire leapt toward the first row of them, turning them to ashes. The women stepped closer together, trying to combine their energy, but I was out of patience. I glanced at Raven.

“Let’s end this. Stay behind us, Claws. This will only take a minute.”

We all raised our hands at the same time. Raven shot fire. Birch and I blasted energy, and Lir sent streaks of lightning. Soon, only mounds of ashes littered the ground. I grimaced and turned back to our SUV.

As I strapped on my seatbelt—after all, Raven was driving—I couldn’t contain my anger. “The only thing this priest is good at is hiding. He’s a coward. He terrorizes mortals who don’t have any magic to defend themselves.”

Raven raised a dark eyebrow. “He just attacked us.”

“No, he sent people to do his dirty work.”

“And if you hadn’t looked into voodoo magic, we’d have all hit the ground from that sleep powder. He’s testing what works on us or doesn’t. Don’t sell him short. Let’s hope he doesn’t find something that affects us.”

I made a face. He had a point, but the dust would have never reached us. Both Birch and I could call on air magic to blow it away. So could Lir. I frowned at Raven. “Could you have avoided the sleeping powder?”

“It’s according to whether fire pulverized it or not.”

I never wanted to find out. “Don’t ever remove your pouches.”

He touched a hand to his. “No worries. I don’t want to wake up in a cage.”

That made me wonder about something else. “Does silver affect you?” The bars on the jail cells in Muddy River were made of silver to hold vampires and shifters.

“Not a bit, and silver melts.” He grinned. How he knew this, I didn’t ask.

We parked in front of Aengus and Afric’s a few minutes later. The Druid temple sat in the center of the settlement, every house arranged in squares to face it. Stones, arranged to correspond to the solstices, sat in the large square, and an ancient oak tree shaded the building. The temple itself was made of thick oak logs and the peaked roof was shingled with cedar shakes. A healing well sat near the front doors. When Aengus came to greet us, he looked us up and down. “We saw dark clouds and lightning in the distance. Looked like Lir’s work. Everything okay?”

Lir got out of the vehicle to hug his friend. “A couple of witches and voodoo priestesses slowed us down on the way here. Nothing to worry about.”

Aengus’s laugh boomed as he led us inside. “Are a few more undead properly taken care of now?”

“A dozen of them.” Lir reached for Birch’s hand to lead her through the worship center with its altar to Aengus’s apartment in the back, but she pulled away from him. He grimaced but let it go. Afric looked up when he gave a quick knock and stepped through the door into their sitting room.

“Welcome!” She flew to hug him, narrowing her eyes to study him. “You look much better.”

Aengus threw an arm around Lir’s shoulders and led him to a dark, heavy cabinet with carvings covering both doors. Throwing it open, he revealed rows of liquor bottles inside. “Chouchen?” he asked.

Lir nodded, but the rest of us passed. Trying to be inconspicuous, I glanced through the open doorway to the kitchen. Afric caught me and chuckled. “I thought we’d have Aengus’s favorite stew for supper, Cornish beef ‘n beer, and skip the entrail reading. I did that earlier, and the only thing I learned was that the priest is amassing more followers a few hours west of Muddy River.”

Lir nodded. That’s what he’d told me when he saw the birds fly over my house. I heaved a sigh of relief. Afric had already read the entrails. Thank Hecate. I didn’t want to eat whatever animal they chose to study. Hypocritical, I knew, but I’d rather buy anonymous meat that I’d never met at Faiza’s grocery.

Afric motioned us into her kitchen.

“We’ll be there in a minute,” Aengus said, pouring chouchen for him and Lir. I followed Afric and couldn’t hide my surprise. I’d never been farther than the large sitting room with its heavy, dark furnishings, but the kitchen was light and airy with modern appliances. Afric looked at me, her brows raised in question.

“Sorry, but the sitting room feels like something I visited before my family came to the New World, so I was expecting you to cook over a fireplace and prep at a big wooden work table.”

She laughed. “If Aengus had his way, that’s what we’d have. But I do the cooking in this house, and I wanted a food processor, a blender, and a stove with gas burners. And some bright colors.”

The chinked logs were painted white, and ceramic roosters adorned counter tops and the top of the side-by-side refrigerator. “This is a happy space,” I said.

She nodded and went to pour us some wine. When Raven and the others joined us, she handed them cold bottles of beer. Then she motioned to a stack of bowls on the countertop. “Serve yourselves.”

The stew smelled heavenly, rich and full-bodied. We’d used magic energy when we fought the priest’s minions, and we were hungrier than usual. We filled our bowls. Round loaves of bread and slabs of butter were on the table. Birch waited to see where Lir sat, then chose to sit next to me. He gave her a long look, then looked away. When Afric joined us, we dug in.

Aengus studied Lir, who was sitting across from him. “Could you stay in the settlement tonight to help get ready for the mistletoe ceremony on Thursday?”

“Of course. I’m your apprentice. It’s our sacred ceremony.” Except for Aengus’s new tradition of picking mistletoe at Yule, the only other time to gather it was at night on the sixth day of the moon.

Aengus glanced down the table at Birch before saying, “You can return to Muddy River on Thursday night to continue healing.”

Lir stopped eating to frown at him. “I’m much better. Really. I battled today with no problem.”

Aengus shook his head. “But surely you’ve made plans for Yule at Muddy River?”

“Hester’s invited me to her house for Yule Eve and Yule dinner, but we’re so close, I can drive back and forth if you need me.”

Aengus ripped off another chunk of bread before answering. “It will be good for you to learn how other supernaturals celebrate. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy yourself on Thursday night and Friday. You might as well stay the weekend, too. Afric and I are relaxing then.”

With a nod, Lir returned to his stew, but Birch’s expression turned stony.

We stayed to visit for another hour and a half. Aengus, Afric, Raven, and I laughed and talked, but Lir and Birch were unusually quiet. When it was time to take our leave, Lir stayed behind while Birch rode home with us. The minute she reached our house, she started for her car. “Sorry, but a headache’s been plaguing me. I’m going to go home and try to sleep it off.”

With a nod, I watched her go. Lir had disappointed her tonight, and she’d shut herself off.

Raven sensed my mood and wrapped an arm around my waist. “There’s no reason for me to go to the office tomorrow. Brown, Oren, and I decided we need to work at our computers to see if any mortals are disappearing west of here.”

“Mm-hmm.” I only half-listened. The moon was waning, only a sliver in the sky. The dark of the moon is a good time for new beginnings. It would be a perfect time for Lir and Birch to start a new life together in Muddy River. But had I misjudged them? Did Lir simply enjoy baiting Birch while he grew stronger?

Raven put his thumb under my chin and tipped my face to his. “It will happen. They’re right for each other. But for now, before all the festivities get started, I wouldn’t mind enjoying our own love and harmony upstairs.”

I stared, and a slow smile tilted my lips. There were many things in life I couldn’t control, but I could always enjoy my mate. We started up the steps to our bedroom together.

Mystery Musings

I finished Mae Clair’s last book in her Hode’s Hill series, EVENTIDE.  I loved the entire series.  In each book, she combined a mystery from the past with a mystery in the present, AND she wove paranormal elements in with mystery elements.  I’m a sucker for that combination.  In EVENTIDE, though, she upped the ante since it was the last book.  And as I was innocently reading along, enjoying the ghosts involved in the past mystery and wondering how they’d come into play in the present day story, all of a sudden, I was in the basement watching Madison’s love interest unfasten huge bolts from a cistern to see what was inside it.

You know those scenes in horror movies when you yell at the movie screen, “Don’t go in the basement!”???  That’s what I was doing with this book.  “Don’t open the cistern!”  But do the characters ever listen to you, the wise audience who’ve seen this before?  No!  So, they wrestled the lid off the cistern and a dark, evil spirit flew out of it and escaped.  And that’s when the tone of this book changed and got LOTS creepier than the first two books in the series, and… it worked.

Lots of mysteries build tension the longer the hero/heroine searches for the killer.  That’s always a good sign.  But in this book, the minute the THING escapes the cistern, the tension ratchets to a new level.  It never tips the scale into horror, but it comes VERY close.  And since I don’t read scary books that often, I learned a thing or two.

Number one:  The first kill had better be memorable.  And it was.  Poor Doug, he didn’t deserve what happened to him.

Number two:  Near misses build more fear than an actual dead victim.  First, because Mae Clair, being an evil author who knows her stuff, made us LIKE the poor overworked waitress at a favorite bar.  We’d watched her work her fanny off trying to please customers who wanted their drinks NOW and didn’t care that someone had called in sick and she was trying to cover two sets of tables.  We sympathized with her when she left the bar later than usual and had to walk to the parking garage alone to get her car.  And we DIDN’T WANT HER TO DIE.  So, when all of the lights went off in the garage and the horrible smell that made her gag hit her, we held our breaths and reached for our blankies.  I won’t say what happened–I don’t want to give anything away–but don’t carry a flashlight to save anyone in a parking garage.  It’s not pretty.

Number three:  Plain, old, ordinary humans can be as scary as any monster when they’re a little off kilter.  Yes, ghosts can be scary, but some ghosts can be good.  Yes, an evil dark presence is ALWAYS scary, and it’s a good thing someone knows how to kill it.  But yes, a person obsessed can make me reach for my blankie, too.  He SCARED me.

Number 4:  The final battle with the big, bad evil had better be memorable.  I’d learned this before after reading too many of Ilona Andrews’s urban fantasies.  But it held true here, too.  When Dante grabbed a flashlight and a butcher knife to step out into the dark to confront the dark evil with a stench from hell, this was a make it or break it moment, and if he didn’t win, he’d be dead.  I have to admit, only because I’ve read way too many urban fantasies, I wanted this moment to be bigger than it was, but it was plenty big for a mystery/thriller.  And I really wanted this particular monster to DIE.

Number 5:  A final twist is a pleasant surprise.  At the end of the book, after warring ghosts and the monster, Mae Clair pulled off a wonderful surprise.  And after everything dark that had happened in this book, I finished the final page and smiled.

All in all, I finished the book satisfied.  It had delivered on so many different levels.  And these are the kinds of books I like to think about and dissect, because I can learn from them.  I might not ever use what I learn in my own writing.  I can admire someone but never write like them.  But that said, they still make think about the CRAFT of writing, and that’s a good thing.

Macro vs. Micro Thinking

I’ve mentioned C.S. Boyack before on my blog, and we both ended up writing about HOW we write this week. Ironic, huh? It fascinates me to hear how other writers work, so thought you might enjoy this, too.

Story Empire

Hi Gang. Craig here, and you get me twice this week.

I was on vacation when I wrote this post. It will go live shortly after I return to my paycheck job. I’d just put in a decent day of writing (2000 words) when the topic came to me.

My way of writing a book isn’t for everyone, but I share here because it might work for some of you. I’ve detailed my storyboard way of outlining to death at Story Empire, but there really is more to it.

Storyboarding is the macro thought process. It involves the big turning points of my story, then breaks down into smaller accomplishments my heroes have to make to stick the landing.

I have index cards for each section, but those usually have one goal along the path. Everything else that happens I come up with while free writing. This is the micro…

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Finishing Up

I’ve mentioned before that I rewrite as I go when I work on a book.  This time, for the Lux novel I’m working on, I felt as though I’d written too lean.  I have a habit of doing that.  So before I reached the last chapters, I went back and polished everything I’d already done.  I added a character because I thought the story needed it.  And as always, I added more description and details.  Then I read the first chapter to my writers’ group on Wednesday, and they wanted even MORE description.  I must have REALLY written lean this time:)

The result is, I think I’ve made this book too short, but that’s how I’d planned it when I started out.  I intended to self-publish it on Amazon.  When I write a Muddy River, I purposely aim for about 60,000 words.  I’ve said many, many times that I’m a plotter.  I’m not only a plotter, I pretty much know how many plot points I need to get the number of words I want.

For a Muddy River book, I write out 30 plot points.  30 plot points usually equate to 60,000 words for me.  IF, which I don’t, I wrote chapters that were at least 10 pages, I’d end up with 300 pages and close to 70,000 words, but many of my chapters are much shorter, sometimes only 6-8 pages, so I need the 30 points to reach the word count I want.  And 30 always have worked on Hester, Raven, and their supernatural friends.  So, when I sat down to plot Lux, I made myself come up with 30 ideas and an extra one for good measure.  But I don’t have as many descriptions and as many characters in this mystery.  Hester and Raven meet friends at Derek’s bar to discuss what’s happening, and they travel back and forth to interview people in other towns.  That doesn’t happen with Lux, so I’m coming up short on words.  I had to come up with a few extra ideas.  I could have FORCED each chapter to be longer, but then the writing would FEEL forced.  This book has a fast pace I like.  Right now, I’m at 50,000 words with three more plot points before I finish the story and I still need to polish the chapter I worked on today.  That will add words.  It always does, but I’m not sure I’m going to able to summon even 60,000 before I write The End.  No problem if I still planned to self-publish.

BUT, I like this book so much, I’d really like to find a publisher for it.  Most publishers want at least 70,000 words for a  mystery, though, and there’s NO WAY I’m going to make that.  To come up with a book that length, I plot out 40-45 plot points and end up with about 35 chapters.  I just don’t have enough to make Lux a longer book, and the thing is, I really like it the way it is.  I don’t want to tear it apart and rework it to make it longer.  So I have a dilemma.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I’ve always believed in sending in stories I believe in, with the idea that my agent or editor can always turn me down.  And if they do, then I can self-publish.  But my fearless critique partner, M.L. Rigdon, swears I write sparse enough, she can find lots of places for me to expand descriptions that will make the book better and the right length.  I’ve learned an important lesson, though.  The next time I write a Lux novel, I’ll need more plot points just because her books don’t have as many  “down” times or “soft” scenes that my other books have.  They move faster, so they need more ideas to fill them.

Toward that end, I came up with a list to fill out before I start plotting my next one.  It should give me more characters to choose from and more things to keep in mind: (and remember, this is for mysteries):

  1.  Who’s killed (the first victim), or what is the crime?
  2.   Why is the crime committed?
  3.   Who commits it?  List how and when he commits it.
  4.   Who are the suspects?  At least two.  Why are they suspects?  Any more?
  5.   Any witnesses?  Innocent bystanders?
  6.   What’s the ending?  (I always know the ending before I start a book).
  7.   Any special clues or red herrings?  Any alibis or fake alibis?  Accusations?  (I don’t always know these before I begin and have to fill them in later).
  8.   A subplot (something going on with a character besides solving the murder)
  9.   A second subplot (smaller)

I usually don’t bother with answering all of these questions, but I’m going to make myself for the next Lux,  because I know now that I’m going to need them.

Whatever you’re working on, good luck and happy writing!