Thought I’d share a short excerpt from my latest Muddy River supernatural mystery, TATTOOS & PORTENTS:

Festus took a swig of beer before saying, “You know I travel a few times a year for my job.”

I nodded. “You write ads for small businesses and do online advertising for them, but once in a while, you have to meet with them to keep up to date.” The warlock was a whiz at clever campaigns and images.

“This time, I drove to a town east of here on the river, like we are,” he told us. “I met with the business owner and was ready to start home when I must have blacked out in my car. Thank Hecate I made it that far or I might have crumpled on the street. I don’t know how long I was out, but when I came to, I had the tattoo, and I’ve been having the same nightmare over and over again every night since it appeared.”

Raven scowled and looked my way. “Have you dealt with anything like this before, Hester?”

I shook my head. “Sounds more like Fae magic than ours.” I studied the dark ink, a Celt symbol. “May I touch your tattoo?” I asked Festus.

He rolled up his sleeve again, and I placed my hand on it. “I feel both Fae and witch magic.” Keeping my hand on the tattoo, I cast a spell, and suddenly, an image appeared in the air before us, a scene that played out as a movie.

We were seeing the images through someone else’s eyes. Whose, I couldn’t tell. But we were walking along a river bank, picking leaves and roots to brew for potions. We felt the sun on our backs, but the air was cool. Leaves were changing colors, and some had already fallen to the ground. Autumn. Late October maybe?

We could feel the seer’s thoughts and emotions. Whoever it was, was new to the area, surprised by how many varieties of plants grew there. She almost had her basket full when the sound of movements made her glance up. A swirl of spirits raced toward her and whirled around her like a gray tornado of dead souls. Wisps of faces flashed past her.

I’d seen spirits like these before at the voodoo village across the river. I knew the spirits could do no harm, but this girl was frightened. She screamed, dropped her basket, and threw up her hands to defend herself. Then, she heard more movement behind her, but before she could turn, pain exploded in the back of her head and oblivion overtook her.




Instead of my usual Mystery Musings today, I’m visiting a writer friend’s blog.  C. S. Boyack was kind enough to share his site with me today and suggested writing about any research I do for my Muddy River stories.  You’d think writing about witches, demons, and shifters wouldn’t take much, but I still manage to get intrigued by all kinds of articles about witches and Druids, etc., so I hope you visit me at Craig’s.  And while you’re there, check out his blog.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  He writes pretty entertaining books, too.  I especially enjoy his Lanternfish and Serang novels.

Craig also is one of the talented writers for The Story Empire blog, and I’ve shared links from there often.  It’s worth looking at:  

And while you’re there, I hope you leave a comment.  I love them.

Yay! Tattoos & Portents is up!

I’m doing a happy dance around the house.  My chihuahua’s staring at me like I’m nuts.  My husband joined the conga line, and my cat’s unimpressed.  But then, it’s hard to impress Dutchy.

Muddy River 4 came from an idea my husband had and kept pestering me with.  He looked at images of tattoos online and could picture them moving to “talk” to each other.  He mentioned it so many times, I decided to use it in my book.  I already had Druids near Muddy River whose tattoos writhed and could stretch to grab someone.  I just needed to come up with a new twist for this story.  And I had a lot of fun having people leave Muddy River and return with a tattoo staining their right arm and incessant dreams that repeated themselves over and over again.

When Festus, a friend of Hester and Raven’s, leaves on a business trip, he returns with a tattoo he can’t remember getting and dreams that make him lose so much sleep, he can hardly function.  When he asks Hester for help, she realizes the tattoo was placed on his arm by a witch who’s imprisoned in a voodoo priest’s basement, and the dreams are cries for help.  But where is the witch?  And how do they find her?  Soon, they discover there are more people with tattoos, and each one holds one piece of the witch’s story.  To fit them together, Hester must touch each tattoo and let the vision it contains open up for them to watch, sort of like looking into a crystal ball.

And that’s how I got the idea for the cover of the book.  I wanted a background that would give a dream-like feel, and a Celt tattoo like the ones the witch implanted on peoples’ arms.  And I wanted something to suggest that Hester was seeing visions of the scenes the witch sent them.  And this is what I ended up.  Hope you like it.



Mystery Musings

Today, I’m offering praise to just plain old ENTERTAINMENT.  HH and I are meeting another couple at the Arena Dinner Theater tonight to see the play Who’s In Bed with the Butler?–a farce.  I’m not looking for any deep meaning, any social message or tension or drama.  I’m looking for FUN.  And sometimes, that’s all I want from a book, too.

I’m halfway through a paranormal mystery, DARK, WITCH, AND CREAMY (book one in the Bewitched by Chocolate series by H.Y. Hannah), and at the end of the day, I can’t wait to sit down to read it.  Because it’s funny and surprising, a page turner because I never know what’s going to happen next, and whatever worries I had through the day go away.  Books like that are hard to come by.

Sometimes, I read an author because of her eloquence or use of language.  Elizabeth George, Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Mae Clair come immediately to mind.  Sometimes I read because of complicated, complex characters, rich settings, and intricate plotting.  Then I reach for William Kent Krueger, P.J. Parrish, Anna Lee Huber, and J.D. Robb.  And sometimes, I just read for fun, so I’ll scroll through new titles for Lynn Cahoon, H.Y. Hanna, Molly MacRae, and C.S. Boyack.  When I need a kick-ass character, battles, and tension, my go-to is Ilona Andrews.  But every once in a while, nothing will do but a Regency.  Then I download Julia Donner, Darcie Wilde, T.E. Kensey, or C.S. Harris (along with Anna Lee Huber again).  And then, every once in a while, all I want is a witch.

I have to confess, and I refuse to analyze this overly much, that for some reason, I’m drawn to witches as protagonists.  Maybe that’s why I’m still writing the Muddy River series.  The idea of magic intrigues me.  I’ve read and written about other supernaturals, but vampires are a little too bloodthirsty for me, even though they featured prominently in the Fallen Angels series I wrote as Judith Post.  I avoid zombies completely.  They gross me out.  I’m pretty fond of shifters, like the ones in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  Most of my family and friends shy completely away from all things paranormal, but not me.  I’ve been fascinated by witches since I met the three hags stirring the cauldron in Macbeth.  Which means, of course, that I’ve read a variety of books with witches as protagonists, and I’ve enjoyed most of them.  H.Y. Hanna’s Bespelled by Chocolate series features a witch who’s caught up in a murder mystery, so there’s a double dose of happiness for me, since I love a good mystery.  Amanda M. Lee’s Spells Angels books combine witches, shifters, and mysteries, too.  A great mix.  And like H.Y. Hanna’s books, they’re just plain fun.  Sometimes, that’s more than enough to make them a win for me.

How do you pick the books you read?  What do you look for?

Character Archetypes: The Mentor

Some of you are writers, and this series of blogs that C.S. Boyack is writing for Story Empire is a great study on different characters to use in your stories.

Story Empire

Hi gang, Craig with you today. This is post number two in the character archetypes series. In the Hero’s Journey, there are some common characters that are likely to show up in all stories. This doesn’t mean each archetype shows up in every story, and aside from the hero, the rest are kind of optional. Almost every story will have an assortment of them.

This series is to introduce you to them. Once you’re aware of them, you can decide if they can benefit the story you’re writing.

Let’s meet one of the more fun ones.

The Mentor:

Heroes should start off as being capable. These aren’t completely inept characters, and you want your readers to believe they can succeed against the big odds they’re about to face. But early in the story, they aren’t quite ready yet.

Think of the hero at this stage as a beautiful prime rib…

View original post 974 more words

Can Antagonists be as powerful as Villains?

I recently finished reading Dead of Winter by P.J. Parrish and wrote a review for it on BookBub and Goodreads.  I’d write one for Amazon, but they take down so many of the reviews I write, I don’t even bother anymore.  I really liked this thriller, and when I thought about it, it’s because the “good guys” scared me lots more than the killer.

I’m warning you now that there will be spoilers in this blog, so if you’re planning to read the book, you might not want to read on.   But Louis Kincaid is a black cop who’s hired in Loon Lake, Michigan, and it SEEMS like he’s going to be accepted by most of the whites in a white town and police department.  Some of the cops make a point of welcoming him, and then he learns that the last black cop who worked with them was killed inside his house, near his front door, by a shotgun blast.  As he investigates the murder, though, he realizes Pryce’s murder had nothing to do with race.  The evidence points to it being a vendetta, pay back for an old case that happened before he joined the force.  The more he learns, he’s convinced that two teenagers were killed in a standoff with the cops, and their father holds the police who were there responsible.  When a retired cop, who’d been at the scene, is found under the ice of the frozen lake with a playing card with a skull and bones on it, similar to the card at Pryce’s body, and the man’s squad call number is scrawled across it, he’s sure of his theory.

This is where things get interesting.  Lacey, the father, is ex-military and was dropped behind enemy lines often during Vietnam.  He knows how to elude anyone looking for him.  He’s an expert shot, and he intends to kill every single Loon Lake cop he can, especially the ones he holds responsible for killing his son and daughter.  Readers know he’s a serious threat, and we don’t want him to succeed the more pages we spend with Louis and his fellow cops.   We like them.  We don’t want them to die.

BUT, in the cabin Louis rents near the lake, he meets a mysterious woman who loves to run and is an artist.  She rents a cabin across the lake from him, and they start a relationship.  She tells him that her name is Zoe.  Louis is new to town.  There’s no way for him to know that she’s his chief’s wife.  Once the chief finds out he’s having an affair with her, though, he does everything in his power to make Louis’s life so miserable, he’ll quit the force.  In front of one of their early morning meetings, in front of every other cop, he calls Louis a pussy and slaps and mocks him.  And it gets worse from there.

Gibralter, the police chief, is so clever, so vindictive, and possibly a little bit crazy, that Lacey killing people pales in comparison to what he does.  I tried to think of an adversary that scared me more, and I came up blank.  He demands total loyalty, and if someone missteps or questions him, he punishes them.  Brutally.  When he’s in a scene with a “good” cop who might disagree with the way he’s handling things, I found myself holding my breath.  What would Gibralter do?  How bad would it be?

P.J. Parrish–two sisters who write as a team–made every character in the novel flawed.  Louis made his share of mistakes.  And the mystery interested me.  But what kept me turning pages were the bad guys–the killer and the police chief.  This book made me think about how effective a serious, in-your-face antagonist can be.  I don’t write those often.  They’re a little over the top for cozies.  But this book made me realize that antagonists serve as much a purpose in stories as villains.  They’re worth thinking about.

It’s almost February, friends.  Have a good one, and happy writing!


Is Muddy River getting a new Druid as a resident?

pizza & wine


Chapter 21

Most of Muddy River was celebrating Yule as they always did, but Raven and I had decided to stay home and work. We’d postponed the big supper we had with friends when we’d put off Yule Eve, so we had a day to huddle and review everything we’d learned about the voodoo priest.

Raven sipped coffee at our long kitchen work table. “When I talked to Donella, she begged us to find Spellyr’s body. I told her we were doing our best, but she’s a mess right now.”

I brought the coffee pot to the table to refill my mug. We’d eaten so much, so late last night that we hadn’t wanted much for breakfast, settling on croissants from Sugi and Nora’s shop. “Donella’s family lives in Muddy River. She’ll need them now. They’ll give her plenty of support.”

Claws went to lie next to Raven’s feet, and he reached down to scratch behind the ocelot’s ears. “Ruby put a sign-up sheet at her diner for people to volunteer to take casseroles to Donella’s each night for the next month. It’s mostly full.”

That was the wonderful thing about Muddy River. We supported each other. I’d have to remember to make a dish for her.

Raven reached for his laptop just as his cellphone buzzed. He listened intently before hanging up and looking at me. “Brown and Meda are coming over. He just got a call from a deputy he works with. A mother went to spend Yule with her daughter and her family in a small town an hour from here, and the entire town is empty. Deserted.”

“Dead.” The priest wasn’t wasting any time. He was creating undead faster than we could keep track of him.

He nodded. “Another sheriff called Brown. A family who lives in a remote area that he works is missing.”

“Is there a pattern?”

“That’s why Brown’s coming. We’re going to try to connect the dots for each missing person call. Maybe we can come up with something.”

Before Meda and Brown arrived, Birch called. I could hear the loneliness in her voice as she said, “I’m sorry to bother you, and I know canceling Yule was mostly my fault, but it feels strange being in the house alone today. Mom always made a big event of each holiday. Everything’s closed or I’d go somewhere to eat and be around people instead of bothering you, but I was wondering. . . “

I interrupted. “Brown and Meda are on their way here. We’re talking strategy. Want to join us?”

“Thank you, Hester.”

“See you soon.” I glanced at Raven at the end of the call. “Will we be in your way? Do you want me to take my witches to the attic so you can work in peace?”

He shook his head. “They can help.”

I wasn’t sure what we could do, but we’d try to make ourselves useful.

He grinned. “If nothing else, with three witches in the kitchen, we should have something interesting for supper tonight.”

I frowned. “Interesting? What does that mean?”

“If I’m right, things are coming to a head. We should be battling the priest pretty soon, and then we’ll have Yule Eve one night and Yule the next. So we should think of something different this time.”


He shook his head, unimpressed.

“Homemade pizzas?” I didn’t bother with those often. Raven liked Hawaiian, and I liked chicken club. Muddy River didn’t have a pizza parlor, and it was a bother making two different types for supper for just the two of us, so I usually passed.

His tawny eyes lit up. “Hawaiian?”

“My friends will be here. Maybe we’ll make a few different kinds.”

“Can Brown and I grab scraps while you work?”

“Don’t you always?”

He laughed. “This is going to be a good day.”

We got busy cleaning our breakfast things, and soon Brown and Meda pulled in our drive with Birch only a few minutes behind them. All of us circled the table while Raven and Brown spread a big sheet of tissue paper and drew a quick map of our area. The paper wasn’t the best to work with, but it’s all I had that was big enough. Both men checked their laptops and began marking spots where people had disappeared. When they’d marked them all, they were all concentrated north and west of us.

“We’re going to start calling around to ask other enforcers in that area if they have anything for us,” Brown said.

I frowned. “On Yule? Will people be in their offices?”

Brown grinned at me. “Muddy River’s the only supernatural town I know with enough witches to bother with Yule. Shifters and vampires don’t pay much attention to it.”

I blinked. Most Celts cared about it, but then, shifters and vampires weren’t as close to Celts as Druids and witches were. “They never picked up the mortals’ celebrations?”

“We tend to stay away from most things mortal,” he said.

For good reason. While the men began their calls, Birch, Meda, and I went to my long counter tops and started pizza dough. We decided to have fun with it, making some with honey, adding garlic and cheese to another batch, and even adding a few jalapenos to a batch Meda wanted to try for a southwestern pizza. I wasn’t sure how some of them would turn out, but there’d be enough it didn’t matter.

I was stirring sauces for toppings, and Meda and Birch were chopping all sorts of things to sprinkle over the sauce, when someone knocked at the front door. I frowned. Hardly anyone came to the front porch. Friends usually knocked at the kitchen, so I went to see who was there. When I saw Lir trying to peek through the glass, I smiled and invited him inside.

The Druid jammed his hands into his pockets. “Aengus let me come back to celebrate Yule with you, but then it was put off and I wasn’t sure what to do until he told me to come anyway. I stopped at Birch’s house, but she wasn’t there.”

“She’s here.” I gestured toward the kitchen. “She’s helping me make pizzas.”

“Pizzas?” He inhaled the aromas of garlic and onion, tomato and basil, and followed me into the kitchen. When Birch looked up and saw him, her face lit up. So did his when he saw her. He looked uncomfortable and then said, “How’s it been going, shop girl?”

She pinched her lips together. “I’m the shop owner, and business was great right up to Yule.” She studied him. “What about you? How are you doing?”

“Fine. Feeling lots better.” He glanced around the kitchen at all of us watching them and listening.

Raven’s lips twitched, and he sent me a look. It was obvious the two of them were hooked on each other.

I smiled. “The witches in my coven said business was better this year than usual, both in town and over the internet. Cordelia told me that she sold more jewelry than she ever has before, mostly rings. She thinks a lot of women are going to be proposed to this Yule.”

Lir’s brows went up. “Really? I’ve been thinking it’s about time I took a wife.”

Birch’s color heightened, her cheeks pink. “Do you have to mate with someone from your village, another Druid?”

Lir slipped off his coat, and I took it for him. He looked at Birch. “I’ve known all of those girls since I could crawl. I was beginning to think I might be single my whole life until I came to Muddy River.”

Her eyes grew bright. “And now?”

“I sure wouldn’t mind joining up with a witch. Our magicks work well together.” He gave her an intense stare but kept his voice casual. “What about you? Are you getting ready to find someone?”

“I’ve dated everyone in town, but I’m still single. My parents have moved away, and I’d rather be with someone.”

“What about me?”

She gasped in surprise, and we all grinned as she flew into his arms. Raven pushed away from the table and started to the basement.

Lir watched him, looking worried. “Did I offend him? Should I have done this in private?”

I laughed. “Just the opposite. He’s ready to celebrate. We’re happy for you.”

Raven returned with two bottles of champagne. “Congratulations!”

Brown closed his laptop, and we all came together to toast the new couple. “When’s the official date for your mating?”

Lir wrapped an arm around Birch and tugged her close. “I hope tonight when I officially move in with her.”

“Aengus has given you permission to move here?” I asked.

“He encouraged it, as long as I drive to the Druid village to work with him every week day.”

Meda and I nodded to each other. “Then our coven will ward the road from here to there,” she said. “It’s time. We’re working together more than we used to.”

Raven went for more wine, and the rest of us got busy putting together a meal.

“What about your work?” Lir asked. “Do you need to finish it?”

Raven pointed to the tissue map on the table. Dots formed a circle, and he’d marked an X in its center. “We think the priest must have settled around there. Brown and I are going to drive there tomorrow to try to find him.”

“And battle him?” Lir asked. When Brown nodded, Lir said, “I can come with you.”

“No, you can get the last of your things and move here tomorrow,” Raven said. “You shouldn’t start your stay here with a battle. We have plenty of help. Cein and Boaz are coming with the four of us, and so are the three witches he held captive. Drago’s witch is as strong as some of the members of Hester’s coven. We promised them they could help with our final battle. And I hope this is our last one.”

Meda and I exchanged glances. Astra might as be as powerful as some of our younger witches, but my coven was stronger than most people realized. The young witch who’d run off with Flint still had a lot to learn, and we’d have to make sure she wasn’t hurt while we fought. The third witch, Lucia, could probably hold her own against the Undead. I’d have to pair her with one of us so we could shield her if she needed it. But it wouldn’t be fair to ask them to stay behind, and they’d learn from being in a battle as big as the one we faced.

I was worried that Lir and Birch would argue to join us, but Birch shook her head. “I’m not strong enough yet. I’d only get in your way. I understand.”

I heard her dismay and shook my head. “You’re young. We’re ancient. We’ve been practicing for centuries. You’ll get there. Keep learning new spells.”

“But I’m not there yet.” She reached for Lir’s hand. “Come back to us, though. We need you in Muddy River. I need you.”

Promises were pointless. No one could predict if we’d win or lose, so I said, “We’re going to do our best. That’s all I can tell you.”

“In that case. . . “ Meda carried bowls of dough to the work table. “Let’s enjoy each other while we can. Let’s make great pizzas.”

Raven rolled up his map, and I sprinkled flour on the table top. I went to turn on the ovens while people rolled out their dough.

“Fingers crossed they all turn out good,” Raven said.

We switched moods, laughing and talking while we came up with whatever struck our fancies. Claws went from one person to the next, begging for treats. And maybe Hecate was blessing us or the planets aligned, because each pizza tasted wonderful.

At the end of the night, when everyone finally left, Raven pulled me into his arms and nuzzled my neck. “This was a perfect day. Happy Yule, my favorite witch.”

With a grin, I clapped my hands, and all of the lights went out. I tugged Raven down onto the couch with me. “It’s time you gave me your present.”

He chuckled. “This one’s mutual.”

“Even better.” I pressed my lips to his, and heat surged through both of us. This was going to be a Yule to remember.