Odyssey of a Novice Writer

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time… ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?

Novocain

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Arlene rubbed her forehead, trying to smooth away the worry lines forming there.

She wasn’t sure how she was going to pay all these bills; the money Buck gave her each week never seemed to cover everything. It was her responsibility, paying the bills. He made the money, gave her a weekly allowance and kept the rest of his pay for himself. She never knew what he made, and the amount he gave her fluctuated from week to week.

She added the column of figures again, making sure the sum was correct. A frustrated sigh escaped her as the second attempt confirmed her addition. There was no way she’d be able to pay all the bills for the month.

She got up from the kitchen table and poured a cup of coffee from the old percolator sitting on the counter. As she sipped the bitter liquid, her eyes settled on the cane propped against the wall in the corner of the room.

Her mother’s cane.

Her mother.

Still in the hospital, recuperating from surgery. An unanticipated surgery.

Arlene continued to sip the coffee, staring at the cane. She visited her mother each evening, making sure she had what she needed, keeping her company. Buck was working a second job, and when he wasn’t, he was out with friends. She frowned as she thought how she and her sister, Edna, had to rely on Edna’s boyfriend to take them to the hospital. Neither of the sisters could drive.

Arlene had the additional worry of what to do about Judy. With Buck at work or out on the town, she had no choice but to take the nine-year old along, asking Edna’s boyfriend to sit with her in the car. The hospital wouldn’t allow her to bring the child inside… she was too young to visit.

Arlene didn’t like Mark, but she relied on him, especially now that her mother was ill. God knows Buck wasn’t any help! Mark and Edna had been going together for a year, and while he went out of his way to be helpful, Arlene disapproved of him and was against Edna’s marrying him. She didn’t think he was good enough for her.

He’s good enough to help you out, though, isn’t he?

She pushed the unhappy thought aside and took another sip of her coffee, swallowing it too quickly. The hot liquid scalded her tongue, making it numb. Briefly, her eyes filmed over with pain.

Looking at her mother’s cane through misty eyes, she shook her head.

Mother’s cane.

She continued to stare at it. For a moment, it seemed to shimmer, the burnished wood glowing, commanding her attention. Nova cane.

She rubbed her eyes and looked again. Just a cane. Nothing more.

Nova cane… Novocain…

She smiled with bitter amusement at the wordplay. Her mother’s life had always been a source of guilt and anxiety for Arlene, numbing her own pleasure, her expectations. The emotional baggage she continued to carry from her unhappy childhood was not only heavy; it was deadening.

When was the last time she’d felt any real happiness? The thought depressed her.

She went back to the table and looked again through the pile of bills, deciding which she’d pay and those that would have to wait. After several moments, she looked up, hearing Judy’s footsteps as she descended the stairs.

Arlene’s brows drew together. Judy had acted like a brat the night before, carrying on because she had to stay in the car while Arlene and Edna were in the hospital visiting Mother.

As if Arlene didn’t have enough to worry about!

Who was going to take care of her mother when the doctor released her from the hospital? Edna worked full time and couldn’t do it. Arlene knew Buck didn’t want her mother staying with them… what was she going to do? And then… the bills from the hospital. Would her mother’s insurance pay for everything? God knows she and Buck couldn’t afford to help out, and Edna’s salary as an assembler in a toy factory barely carried the young woman through the week.

Problems, problems, problems… Novocain. How she wished she could escape… just stop thinking about everything. She was so tired of the constant worry, of carrying everyone’s load in addition to her own.

“Mama?”

Arlene looked up from the bills. Judy stood in the corner, her hands fiddling with the cane.

“Put that down, Judy,” she said. “It’s not a toy. Your grandmother will need that once she’s released from the hospital.”

The girl put the cane aside, and bit her lip.

Watching her, Arlene thought of herself at that age. She’d seen photos of her and Edna, swimming and playing tag at Sunday school picnics. Judy was a dead ringer for the girl Arlene used to be.

Perhaps that’s why the child’s timid ways so often annoyed her. It was a reminder of her own timidity, and how she hated that! Arlene tore her eyes from the girl, going back to the bills in front of her.

Judy came close and put a tentative hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Mama, look… this is for you.”

Arlene glanced up, and Judy handed her a small pink shell. “Cindy gave it to me… last week she went to the beach and found this near the water. Isn’t it pretty? Put it near your ear… Cindy says you can hear the ocean if you listen hard enough.”

Arlene smiled, taking the shell and holding it close to her ear. “Yes, I think I hear it.”

Judy moved closer and leaned her head against Arlene’s shoulder. “Mama, tonight… can I say home while you go to the hospital?”

Arlene frowned. “Now, please don’t start with me. Your behavior last night was my first think this morning – and not a very happy one. You’re too old to carry on like this, Judy!”

“But, Mama,” started the desperate voice.

“I mean it, Judy. I have a lot on my mind, and I don’t need this. I don’t know what your problem is, but you will stop this. You’re going with me tonight, and that’s all there is to it. I can’t leave you here alone and worry all night long.”

“But, Mama…”

“Judy!” Arlene warned, taking up her pencil again and going back to the bills.

“Mama, he touched me!”

Arlene froze, and the pencil stopped in midair.

She looked at the girl. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean… you know, right Mama?”

Unconsciously, Arlene picked up the small shell, and began to knead its surface, trying to get her emotions under control.

What did Judy mean? Mark? Did she mean Mark?

For the love of God! Didn’t she have enough to worry about? This, too?

She closed her eyes tightly, determined not to cry. Novocain… Novocain… She didn’t want to think about this. She didn’t want to feel the roiling disgust her daughter’s words provoked, didn’t want the ugly images…

Could it be?

No. Judy had to be making this up. Wicked child! Worrying her with fantasies. The girl was always making up little stories, lost in her own world… She probably heard something in school or saw something on TV and it ignited her imagination. Mark wouldn’t… couldn’t

She had so many other things to worry about…

“Judy, I want you to stop this. I don’t want to hear you ever say anything like this again, understand? You know this isn’t true. So just stop it!”

Judy began to back away, tears staining her face.

“That’s right, go on. Go on up to your room. I don’t want to hear any more about this.”

The girl’s shoulders slumped forward as she turned away. “He touched me, mama. Don’t make me go tonight,” she said softly, her words dying out as she left the room.

Arlene watched the small figure retreat. Part of her was furious with the child. She didn’t believe her!

Couldn’t believe her…

She glanced down at her hands. Her fingertips were raw and red, evidence of the shell burn caused by her rough kneading of the shell’s jagged edges.

He touched me, Mama.

Arlene started to cry. Just another day in her shitty life.

She placed the shell back on the table. Maybe nine years old is old enough to stay alone for a few hours, she thought.

She stood up and went in search of her daughter.

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Author’s Note: This story is written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of this week’s ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog, BeKindRewrite. The phrases used are: dead ringer; emotional baggage; nova cane; shell burn; and first think in the morning. I played a bit with the last phrase, but only slightly. Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration prompts this week!

The Dare

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“I double dog dare ya!” said Butch.

What seemed like a good idea earlier didn’t seem so hot now that we were standing on the front lawn of old lady Havisham’s aged Victorian. The house’s peeling paint and crooked shutters gave me the creeps.

My dog, Charlie, was straining at the leash. His hound’s nose scented something.

“Stop, Charlie!” I said, yanking the leash, but the dachshund refused to listen.

“Look, Skeeter, if you ain’t gonna do it, I’m leaving.” Disgusted, Butch turned away. “You’re such a girl sometimes.”

His words wounded my tomboy heart. “Wait!”

He did. “If you’re gonna do it, do it now. I ain’t got all day.”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t gonna do it… I just need some time to think.”

“About what? Just knock on the door and run. I’ll hold Charlie for ya. Go on.”

This special summer was important. Butch was the new boy in town and his opinion mattered. I was eleven, but I’d already decided he was the boy I’d marry when I grew up. I liked his blond hair and freckles. He seemed to like me, too; said I was the bravest girl he knew.

“Okay,” I said, tossing him Charlie’s leash. “Hold him – he likes to run.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout Charlie,” he said, nudging me forward. “Go!”

I took a deep breath then ran up to the sagging porch. Peeking through the window nearest the door, I couldn’t see much. The panes were grimy and foul.

“Hurry up,” called Butch.

“Okay, okay,” I muttered under my breath. I quickly pounded on the door. Before I could run, it suddenly swung open, no one in sight.

“CHARLIE, NO!” yelled Butch.

Charlie, leash trailing, scooted right past me and through the door.

Cautiously, I followed. “Charlie?” I whispered. “Come back here, bad dog!”

My eyes slowly adjusted to the shadowy room.

On a nearby table sat a sepia-toned photograph of a young woman dressed in white, wearing a pearl necklace and long, filmy veil. I picked up the photograph, studying it.

PUT THAT DOWN, LITTLE TOAD!”

Scared, I dropped the photograph and spun around. Before me stood an old woman, glaring.

She held Charlie in her arms, ignoring his wriggling attempts to get free. “Is this yours?” she asked.

Frozen with fear, I could only nod. Her long, grizzled hair hung past her shoulders and she wore the tattered remains of a once-white dress and old, chewed veil. I gagged on the smell of mothballs.

“Come to visit, little toad?”

She crept close and I slowly backed toward the door. Suddenly, Charlie freed himself, jumped down, and ran out of the house.

“What about you, little toad?” She raised a withered claw in welcome.

Cackling laughter followed as I ran out the door, screaming like a lunatic, no longer caring about Butch’s opinion.

Catching up with Charlie, I grabbed his leash, putting distance between us and that house.

I never looked back to see if Butch was following…

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Word Count: 500
Author’s Note: This tale is written in response to a writing prompt to write a 500-word story utilizing the words: photograph; special summer; heart; dachshund; and pearl necklace. Thanks to Elizabeth Frattaroli who hosts monthly challenges. Her blog can be found here.

The Cost

Caskets. Flags. ‘Grateful nation…’

Cold comfort.

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Word Count: 6
Author’s Note: Written in response to challenge to create six-word story about anything. Weekly flash fiction challenge hosted by ThainInVain.

The Last Yodel

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Blame it on the insomnia – that damned inability of mine to sleep through the night. I’ve always been a creature of the hours after midnight.  It’s the reason I ended up at The Last Yodel, staring at that damned elf hanging over its doorway.

Insomnia’s been a problem for me ever since I was a kid. While others in the family slept secure in the arms of Morpheus, I’d always awaken two or three times during the night. Finally, I’d throw in the towel and head to the kitchen, make myself a sandwich and then park my butt in front of the TV, watching infomercials until I fell asleep, usually about four a.m.

It’s just how I’m wired, you know?

The only time I ever slept like other people was during my brief marriage to Susan. There’s something about a warm body next to yours that makes you sleep better.

But Susie died… and the insomnia returned, worse than ever. Lots worse.

Supersomnia.

Once Susie was gone, I returned to my former sleep patterns, which was basically no sleep at all. During the day I was a zombie, living off cigarettes and coffee, trying not to fall asleep at my desk. Damned funny thing: no matter how tired I was during the day, as soon as I reached home and tried to grab a couple of zzzs, I was wide awake.

My shrink blames it on separation anxiety, saying I haven’t come to terms with Susie’s dying, and that’s why I am having trouble sleeping.

No shit.

Like I need to pay big bucks to some fancy witch doctor with a long title I can’t pronounce just to learn that I’m missing my wife.

Seeing Susie’s empty side of the bed didn’t help with my insomnia, that’s for sure. That’s why I knew I had to get out of the house tonight, get away from that empty bed.

I’m not sure how I ended up on Brighton Rowe. It’s not really my scene. It’s a street with a number of glossy bars and yuppie restaurants, all themed and having silly names like the Glass Rocket, the Cliffhanger and – best of all – the Guilty Lawyer.

The Guilty Lawyer – that’s rich. I mean, seriously, is there any other kind?

Sounds of oompah music drifted my way, and that’s when I noticed The Last Yodel.

It’s a goofy-looking place, a faux Teutonic biergarten. Perched above the doorway is that wooden elf I mentioned, dressed in lederhosen and a Bavarian hunting cap, and holding up a beer stein in welcome.

Dumb. Just the kind of place I usually hate. So what am I doing here?

The insomnia. I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I sure as hell didn’t want to go home and stare at Susie’s side of the bed…

The place was packed with young professionals, talking about IPOs and tax havens, and all of them trying to impress one another with their own importance. Beautiful blondes dressed in skimpy skirts and low-cut peasant blouses were serving steins of beer to loud and thirsty customers.

One of those blondes was behind the bar, and she smiled at me, indicating an empty seat in front of her.

“Hello handsome – anything to interest you?” my new friend asked.

I did a quick survey of her attributes, which were considerable, and I had to admit a lot interested me… but a memory of Susie surfaced and I lost heart.

“I don’t know why I came in here. I don’t even drink,” I admitted. “I had trouble sleeping… ah, shit, this is a mistake.”

I started to get up from the bar, but the pretty fraulein put an unnaturally cool hand atop mine. “There are no mistakes,” she said softly. “You’re at the Last Yodel because something called to you. Accept it… enjoy it for what it is. So, no beer for you?”

“Never developed a taste for it.”

“I bet you’d feel differently about a Bloody Mary.  Ever had one? I can go light on the alcohol, and heavy on the tomato juice and tabasco – it’s good for what ails you.” She looked at me appraisingly. “You look unwell,” she said, her voice sympathetic.

“Lady, what ails me, you ain’t got no cure for.”

I didn’t want pity, especially from some dame dressed like she should be serving schnapps to goons at a gathering of the SS faithful. “So, what’s your name? Heidi? Gretchen? Brunhilde?”

She grinned. “You’re not even close. The name is Mary – Mary Flannagan.”

“Flannagan? No shit?”

“T’is Irish, I am,” she said, her voice taking on a fake Gaelic lilt.

“You look like a Heidi,” I said, taking in the blond hair and German outfit.

“It’s a shtick… German bar, German clothes. A fake Heidi for a fake German biergarten. Remember this, my friend, nobody is ever what they seem. First rule of survival: expect the unexpected.”

I was starting to like this girl; the blond pigtails and the low-cut top didn’t hurt…

“So, you want to try a Bloody Mary?”

I nodded. “Yeah – and heavy on the tabasco.”

***

An hour later, I was still sitting at the bar, finishing up my third Bloody Mary. I didn’t know where pretty Mary Flannagan had gotten to.  I lost track of her halfway through my second drink when she was working some guy at the other end of the bar, smiling prettily, flashing that cleavage – and making some damned fine tips, no doubt.

I signaled one of the other girls that I’d have another drink, then slid off the barstool, my bladder telling me it was time to pay a visit to the john. Once I finished washing my hands, it occurred to me I hadn’t had a smoke in over an hour.

Patting the pocket where I stored my cigarettes, I headed out into the night. There was a full moon riding high in the sky, casting a sickly yellow glow onto the streets.

A couple stumbled out of the Last Yodel, and brushed up against me, almost knocking the cigarette out of my hand. The guy leaned the girl up against the wall and began sticking his tongue down her throat. I didn’t need to see that crap, so I walked around the side the building, determined to have my smoke in peace.

I lit up and the cigarette was halfway to my lips when I heard it: a soft, slurping noise, greedy in its intensity.

Must be a feral cat, I thought, enjoying a dumpster treat. I took a drag from the cigarette, relaxing as the nicotine hit my system. I was about to take another when I heard something new… something odd.

That’s no cat, I thought. I dropped the cigarette, crushing the butt beneath my left foot.

I heard it again, the sound of groaning.

Human groaning.

It was dark behind the Last Yodel, and the moon’s ghastly yellow was all but snuffed out by the building’s high walls.

The groaning was louder now.  It gave me the creeps. I thought about running, going back inside the bar, minding my own business.  I mean, who knows, maybe it was an amorous couple getting some action behind the building… maybe that’s what I was hearing.  I almost had myself convinced when I heard the slurping sound again, the one I’d heard earlier… the one I thought was coming from an old tom eating out of a dumpster.

They say curiosity can kill a cat, and I guess that’s true. It sure didn’t do me any favors.

Pulling the lighter from my pocket, I flicked it open and held it up, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from.

I’d been right about a garbage dumpster.  One was not more than three feet from where I was standing.

The cat? Well, you can’t be right about everything….

Unfortunately.

Instead of a feline, I saw a man lying on the ground, his hands twitching.  A woman leaned over him, her slender arms holding him in place.

In shock, I dropped the lighter.  By the time I retrieved it, she was looking at me. The edges of her bright blond pigtails were tinged with red and there was a smear of scarlet across the top of her pale, perfect breasts.

In less than an instant she was at my side, taking away my breath with her speed.  I smelled the scent of copper on her breath.  It gagged me, and I started to sink to my knees.  Her hand shot out and she grabbed me by the throat, pinning me high against the wall of the Last Yodel.  Watching my legs dangle, she began to smile.

Yeah, she smiled, exposing two long incisors stained ruby red. Then she asked the question -

“Want to try a bloody Mary?”

Life sure can be funny. You lose one problem, but gain another.

I guess I won’t be worrying so much about insomnia in the future…

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Author’s Note: This story is written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of this week’s ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog, BeKindRewrite. The phrases used are: supersomnia; cliffhanger; the last yodel; guilty lawyer; and glass rocket. Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration prompts this week!

Pop Goes The Weasel…

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I’m not sure exactly when I woke up – or why. Not that it matters. Some things are just mystery. I mean, do you know why you have self-knowledge? Or who gave it to you? Like I said, some things are just mystery.

I know one thing, though. Seems I was born listening to that ceaseless, monotonous tune, always feeling its reverberations inside my box. Like to drive me crazy, you know?

dah.dah.dah.
dah.dah.dah.dah.daaaaah…

POP GOES THE WEASEL!

That’s when the lid to my box would burst open, and against my will I’d spring out, my body swaying and arms flailing.

It’s also when I’d find myself confronted with him.

His fat, pig-like face and slobbery pink lips would be grinning at me. I hated him, hated the red pimples on his cheeks, the black-framed glasses, the long, greasy hair. He was a mess.

Worse, he was mean. Real mean.

He’d stare at me, putting his face so close to mine that I could feel his mucous-clogged breath. “Your time’s coming, Jackie Boy. You wait and see… your time’s coming…”

***

“Christ, Wesley, look at this shit!” said the woman, walking into the bedroom. She looked around, shaking her head. Feathers and stuffing floated about the room.

“You’re ten years old. Don’tcha think that’s a little old to be playing with stuffed toys and jack-in-the-boxes? What the hell did you do to these toys? Jesus, stuffing’s all over the place. You’re just like your father! He was a psycho, too. Like father, like son. You wanna wind up in prison, too? Mr. Psycho, Jr.? Now clean up this crap and get to bed.”

Wesley and I watched her leave the room.

“Bitch,” whispered Wesley, repeatedly plunging his small penknife into the smiling panda next to me. “Bitch, bitch, bitch!”

His rage spent, he left the knife buried in the shredded remains of the panda.

Suddenly, he looked up at me. “What the hell are you staring at? Huh? I got news for you, Jackie Boy… your time’s coming.” He shoved me, causing me to tip over into the soft down of the panda’s stuffing. He laughed. “Your time’s coming!”

The bear’s smile seemed sad to me. His empty black eyes stared upward. I thought I heard a whisper.

Justice.

***

Wesley’s fury had exhausted him, and he fell across the bed. Within minutes I heard the snuffling sounds he always made when sleeping.

That’s when I decided I had a newsflash for him. Just this week I’d discovered I had the ability to move my arms, make my mitts do whatever was necessary.

I looked at the panda apologetically, then reached into his guts and withdrew the small, sharp knife.

Justice.

I secreted the knife within my folds, and grabbed the lid of my box, carefully pulling it down as I gathered myself deep inside.

I’m going to be ready for you next time, Wesley. Your time’s coming. Yeah, your time’s coming, Wesley Boy.

dah.dah.dah.
dah.dah.dah.dah.daaaaah

POP GOES THE WEASEL!

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Word Count: 500
Author’s Note: This week’s tale is written in response to a challenge to write a 500-words or less story in which the protagonist is an inanimate object granted sentience by a higher power. You can check out these weekly flash fiction challenges hosted by ThainInVain here.

Book Review: Death in a Red Canvas Chair by Noelle Granger

If you’re a fan of murder mysteries, if you like to try and figure out ‘whodunit,’ and if you like the setting of a small town where all the characters (good and bad) have at least some acquaintance with one other, you’re going to adore Noelle Granger’s novel, Death in a Red Canvas Chair.

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This is the first in a series of novels about the sleuthing adventures of Rhe Brewster, a thirty-seven year old emergency room nurse who has a keen nose for solving crimes as well as a passion for detective work. Much to the dismay of her husband, a college professor in the fictional university town of Pequod, Maine, Rhe doesn’t need to go looking for crimes to solve; they come to her, and sometimes in bizarre fashion.

In this, Granger’s debut novel, Rhe is attending her son’s soccer game when her eye notices a figure sitting in a canvas chair far afield of the match. The figure never moves and, after the game concludes, the curious Rhe goes to investigate. What she finds is a decomposing body slumped in a red canvas chair. With that discovery, we are off and running, joining Rhe on her quest to discover whose body it is, how she died, why and – of course – ‘whodunit!’

The well-written story moves along at a rapid, compelling pace. I found it difficult to put the novel aside in spite of a busy 4th of July weekend. Like Rhe, I wanted to know who was responsible for the young coed’s death: was it pretty Zoey, a college girl who earned extra money as a prostitute? Was it the handsome football quarterback, Kelly, or his volatile teammate, Raymond? Or was it the mysterious Adriano, the dead girl’s cousin? These are but a few of the potential suspects.

There’s a nice family dynamic that runs throughout the book. Will, Rhe’s husband, despairs of his wife’s inability to refrain from investigating crimes. He worries she is putting her life in danger, and this creates some nice tension throughout the book. Theirs is a good marriage, but we learn from Rhe that it hasn’t been without its rocky patches. They have an active six-year old son, Jack, and I enjoyed the way Rhe juggled her family and professional obligations as well as her penchant for snooping.

Granger throws together a nice mix of vivid town characters. There’s her brother-in-law, Sam, the police chief; Paulette, Rhe’s best friend and occasional partner in sleuthing adventures; and Marsh, the donut-loving pathologist whose obsession with working out keeps him trim and fit. These characters contribute to the warm and inviting, small town feel of the book. You very quickly begin to care about these characters, to enjoy them and to look forward to seeing them in future novels.

Rhe, herself, is a likable heroine. Attractive, persistent and clever, she experiences many close calls as she gets nearer to solving the crime. She has both a keen sense of humor (she calls her old Jeep ‘Miss Daisy’ as in ‘Driving Miss Daisy’) as well as ingenuity. Granger has successfully created a memorable character in Rhe Brewster, and I look forward to following her future adventures.

Death in a Red Canvas Chair by Noelle Granger can be found at:
Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Noelle Granger

Noelle Granger

Biography: Noelle A. Granger grew up in Plymouth, MA, in a rambling, 125 year old house with a view of the sea. Summers were spent sailing and swimming, and she was one of the first tour guides at Plimoth Plantation.

She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in Zoology and from Case Western Reserve University with a Ph.D. in anatomy. Following a career of research in developmental biology and teaching human anatomy to medical students and residents, the last 28 years of which were spent in the medical school of the University of North Carolina, she decided to try her hand at writing fiction.

‘Death in a Red Canvas Chair’ is her first book and features an emergency room nurse as her protagonist. The book is set in a coastal town in Maine, similar to Plymouth, and she has used her knowledge of such a small town, her experiences sailing along the Maine coast, and her medical background to enrich the story.

She has also had short stories, both fiction and non-fiction, published in Deep South Magazine, Sea Level Magazine, the Bella Online Literary Review, and Coastal Style Magazine. Her second novel in the Rhe Brewster mystery series, ‘Death in a Dacron Sail,’ will be published toward the end of 2014.

Noelle lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with her husband, Gene, a physician, and is the mother of two children.

***

After reading Death in a Red Canvas Chair, I wanted to get to know Noelle better and she graciously agreed to answer some questions as part of this review.

Kate – Noelle, I loved the character of Rhe Brewster! She drew me in immediately. Tell me, how did you come to write about Rhe, and how much of you (if any) is in the character?

Noelle – I would like to think some of me is in Rhe’s character – her intelligence, intuition, spunk, and occasional snark. As I wrote, though, I realized part of Rhe was drawn from a girl I knew in high school. Her last name was also Brewster, and I admired her for her carefree, daring and more than occasionally wild ways, which as a book-wormy ‘good’ girl were nothing I would do.

Kate – I think we’ve all had people like that in our past – we admired them even though they were nothing like us. I wonder what she’d think if she knew certain aspects of her personality are now memorialized in your novel’s heroine? It’s certainly fun to think about. Maybe she’ll show up one day at a book signing.

Have you always had a passion for writing? Can you remember when you first decided that this is something you wanted to do?

Noelle – Whatever passion I had for writing was subsumed into my need to write journal articles on my research, as well as reviews and grants. I really enjoyed the writing but with teaching and research, not to mention my family, there was no time for anything else! As I approached retirement, my frustration with the stylized scientific format and desire to do something creative with my writing put a book on the top of my bucket list. This first book was written – badly – in the six months following my retirement. My critique groups taught me how to turn it into something better.

Kate – Tell us a little about your next book, Noelle.

Noelle – My next book, Death in a Dacron Sail, is nearly done. In this one, Rhe is on a search for three missing girls, her efforts complicated by serious marital difficulties. I’m currently working on a final rewrite with help from my beta readers, and I hope the book will be available in late October or November. I’m still trying to find a publishing company.

I’ve just started a third book, Death by Pumpkin, so more is on the way.

Kate – Well, that makes this reader a happy woman!

Would you like to share a little about your blogging experience? Also, are you on Goodreads?

Noelle – I am on Goodreads, but haven’t taken full advantage of all it has to offer…yet.

I do enjoy blogging, more than I thought I would, especially now that I’ve met some wonderful women writers like you. The variety of blogs never ceases to amaze me. My own is a potpourri of different things: general observations of the joys and vicissitudes of life, bite-sized memoir, history, whatever strikes me on any one day. Blogging for me is like retirement, no schedule and being free to write whatever you fancy. I thoroughly enjoyed doing Renaissance artists for the A-Z challenge this year.

Kate – I became a big fan of your blog when I chanced upon it. I like your tales of growing up in Massachusetts, your family life, your struggle with polio as a child. You’ve got a few short pieces of fiction there as a treat for your readers.

Noelle, is there anything else you’d like to share with readers about the Rhe Brewster series, or anything near and dear to your heart about family (a big part of Rhe’s life) or about books or reading, in general?

Noelle – I set the Rhe Brewster series in Maine because I spent magical vacations there with my family when I was growing up. My brother reminds me all the time that some of those vacations weren’t all that magical! There is still no place like Maine in the summer – the ocean, off-shore islands, sailing, little coastal towns, art museums, lobster, little neck clams, oysters and, of course, blueberries! For research on my next book, my husband and I ventured there in February. Definitely not magical.

Like Rhe, I love to sail. Unlike Rhe, I’m a fairly decent cook. And I used to have a Jeep.

I am a voracious reader of all genres of books, except maybe fantasy, although I do like science fiction. My husband and I enjoy traveling and like to spend time with our son and daughter. Good thing because one’s in Germany and the other in Los Angeles.

Kate I truly enjoyed Rhe’s adventures in Death in a Red Canvas Chair, Noelle, and I look forward with great anticipation to the next Rhe Brewster mystery, Death in a Dacron Sail.

Thank you for allowing me to interview you for my blog. Best of luck with your writing ventures!

Noelle Thanks, Kate, for taking time to review my book.

Noelle’s blog, SaylingAway, can be found here.

Tribute : Sam Berns (1996-2014)

Kate Loveton:

I came across this post and video several days ago, and it continues to stay with me. I hope you’ll take some time to listen to Sam Berns. Last week, I wrote a post in which I quoted Abraham Lincoln’s remark that people are, basically, as happy as they choose to be. Well, Sam Berns’ life was a testament to that philosophy as well as to the human spirit. Listen to this young man’s thoughts on how to be happy. I think you’ll be as captured by his story as I continue to be. RIP, Sam Berns.

Originally posted on PROPEL STEPS:

We hope you must know him, inspirational Sam Berns. Though he lived short, he inspired many people to take life positive and happy.

lifeaccordingtosamSampson “Sam” Gordon Berns (October 23, 1996 – January 10, 2014) was an American who suffered from progeria and helped raise awareness about the disease.

He was the subject of the HBO documentary Life According to Sam is about one family’s courageous fight to save their only son from a rare and fatal disease, progeria. The average age of death from progeria is 13, there is no treatment, and no cure. Dr. Leslie Gordon and Dr. Scott Berns are set on changing this. When their son Sam, now 16 years old, was diagnosed with progeria at age two, doctors told Leslie and Scott to enjoy Sam while they could. They refused to believe this was the answer. In less than a decade, their advances have led to…

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A True Horror Tale

Okay, I’ve misled you. I’ve no flash fiction tale for you this time.

It’s just me, Kate Loveton, sneezing at the computer screen and hoping I’m not sending my germs over the internet.

I wanted to quickly drop in and say AH-CHOO!

Well, that and hello… and to admit to all of you that I haven’t felt much like blogging the last few days. Naps? Oh yeah, I’ve felt like napping a lot. And sending my poor husband out in search of Starbucks’ vanilla bean frappuccinos with the whiny plea, “But they make my throat feel so much better…”

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The man is a saint. And I’ve gained a pound, probably, from all those cool, icy, and wonderful milky concoctions. Ah, but I digress…

Back on point, instead of my usual healthy appearance -

Marilyn

I’m afraid I’m looking like this -

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Quite a difference, huh? Are you feeling sorry for me yet?

Okay, so I don’t really look like Marilyn Monroe. I’ll do anything for a bit of sympathy when I’m feeling unwell. I’m a sympathy hound. Bassets got nuthin’ on me!

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See how little pride I’ve got left? I’m now using photos of cute dogs to get sympathy.

Anyway, my friends, I wanted to thank all of you for the nice responses to my last story, The Visit, and to apologize for my tardiness in responding to your gracious comments. I hope to get caught up this weekend.

There is one thing that’s been making life bearable for me while enduring this cold – aside from the wonderful frappuccinos and my wonderful husband – and that would be my baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, who are having one of their best seasons in quite a long time. So I’m coming out of the closet and giving you a glimpse of the real Kate Loveton (minus cold), dressed in her dorky Orioles apparel. (Dig the cool ‘Orioles Orange‘ sunglasses… have I got class or what?)

Now…if only someone would introduce me to Nelson Cruz…

Go Orioles! As for me, time for another nap. :)  Just make sure to wake me in time for tonight’s game, okay?

Orioles Fan

The Visit

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She stared at him, concern wrinkling her brow. “Are they treating you okay? Do you have what you need?”

He nodded, watching her.

“You seem thinner. Are you getting enough to eat? I worry…”

“You needn’t,” he replied. “Things are as well as can be expected.”

Glancing around the sparsely furnished room, her eyes settled on the stern man positioned near the door. He appeared not to be listening, his eyes focused straight ahead. But she knew better.

With Ted in prison, every visit was like this.

She reached across the table to take his hand and the sentry tensed. Touching was against the rules. She withdrew her hand.

“I wish it didn’t have to be this way,” she began.

He leaned forward. “The story – how is it coming?”

She brightened. “Very well! Vanity Fair is interested. They’ll want to send a photographer. You’ll have to open up with them, Ted. It will help your cause.”

“What would you have me say, Shayna?”

“The truth! That they drove you to it! Those terrible women… you’re the victim, Ted. Not them! Once people know the truth, know you the way I do, they’ll see the injustice.”

He said nothing.

“I was thinking…maybe we should get married.”

He raised his brows. “Married? How would that help?”

“Love, don’t you see? It would create sympathy for you. People will question your involvement in the murders. They’ll tell themselves that no woman familiar with the case could have fallen in love with a man capable of such crimes.”

“You have a point,” he said. He picked up the pencil sitting next to the pad on the table, and scribbled something on a page already filled with tiny, cramped writing. “But what about the razor blades?”

She blinked in confusion. “Razor blades?”

He frowned. “Don’t you remember, Shayna?”

She glanced at the man stationed by the door. Something odd about his uniform… he wasn’t wearing one… he had a clipboard in his hands…

“Shayna?”

She looked at Ted. A smile broke the confusion.

“I’ve always wanted a church wedding, but I guess that won’t be possible…”

Ted stood up, the visit over.

“I’ll see you next week, love,” she said.

He never looked back, and the sentry ushered him through the door.

***

Dr. Martin peered at the woman through the one-way mirror in the next room.

“A year now, and she still calls you ‘Ted,’” said the male nurse, making a note on the clipboard.

“There’s been little progress.” Martin shook his head. The case frustrated him.

“You think she really doesn’t remember giving those blades to Ted Girardi?”

“She’s repressed the memory.”

Thinking of the photos he’d seen of the two slain prison guards, throats slit, Martin wished he could forget.

“I don’t get it, doc… a smart reporter at the top of her field and she falls for a murderer…”

Martin didn’t know what to say, and so he said nothing.

Shayna turned toward the mirror and smiled.

__________________
Word Count: 500
Author’s Note: This week’s tale is written in response to a challenge to write a 500-words or less story about a journalist writing a story about living on death row and who falls for one of the inmates she interviewed. You can check out these weekly flash fiction challenges hosted by ThainInVain here
.

Second Star to the Right…

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No matter what Captain Kirk says, it isn’t space that’s the final frontier.

It’s age.

I’ve been a resident at the Barrie Retirement Home for fifteen years now. I spend my time reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards with the other old gals, and taking up my position in front of the huge glass window that looks out on the retirement home’s parking lot. There’s a row of rocking chairs lined up in front of that window, and most of us spend our afternoons in front of it, slowly rocking back and forth, and gazing out at the driveway and at the woods beyond it.

And waiting.

We’re waiting for something… for someone. Usually family. We watch as they drive up to the entrance and park their cars. We watch their body language as they disembark, their faces closed, their walk to the front door slow, reluctant. They don’t want to be here, fearful that old age is catching, and they look at their watches even as they approach the automated doors.

Who can blame them?

I don’t want to be here either.

Mrs. Darling’s teenage grandson said it best as he was leaving last week. “Thank God another visit to the window lizards is over.”

His father saw I’d overheard and he turned scarlet. “Shut up, Tommy.”

To the boy’s credit, he had the grace to look embarrassed.

But why should he? It’s the truth. Window lizards. That’s what we are. Time has stolen our vitality. Our sole purpose in life now is to hold onto it. Hold onto it for another day. And for what? So that our wizened, leathered bodies can sit in front of this window, watching life as it comes to visit – and then, too soon, depart?

Some existence.

Shifting in my chair, I laid the crossword puzzle book down on my lap and glanced over at Peter, who’d fallen asleep in his rocker.

I like Peter.

He must have been a looker in his youth; there are still vestiges of a once attractive man around his eyes. Those blue eyes, now slightly dulled, still sparkle when he tells a story, and no one tells a story better than Peter. He once showed me a faded photograph – taken on his wedding day – and I was surprised to see he’d been a redhead back in the day. Such beautiful hair. Even the aged photograph couldn’t dim its vivid carrot color.

That was then, though.

Like all of us, Peter had experienced too many visits with Lady Time. She’s a harsh mistress, that one. Shows up without invitation and, in the end, spares none of us. Not even Peter, whose sleeping, slack face bore evidence of time’s stamp.

He must have sensed my study of him; he began to stir and slowly roused himself.

“What time is it?” he asked in a hoarse, old man voice.

“Does it matter? You going somewhere?”

Peter grinned. “Always the comedian, aren’t you?”

Painfully, he adjusted his body in the rocker, and his eyes gazed wistfully out the window. “You never know, though,” he said softly, his words more for himself than me.

“Know what?”

Peter looked at me. “I might be going somewhere. I was never meant for this.”

I snorted. “Who was? You think I booked a room at Hotel Barrie with my travel agent?”

“I’m going to be leaving soon.”

I laughed. “You can’t even get from that chair to the toilet without help. So, Mr. World Traveler, where do you think you’re going?”

He leaned forward in his chair, his eyes searching the woods beyond the parking lot.

“What are you looking for?” I was intrigued, in spite of myself.

“My gang. They should have been here by now.” He frowned. “I used to think that to die would be an awfully great adventure… but it’s not. It’s a tedious endeavor.”

With a palsied hand, he rubbed his forehead. “Why can’t I remember the words? If I could remember the words, she’d reappear, and once more we’d go off together, and such grand adventures would await us.”

“Who would appear – your wife?”

He shook his head. “No, no… Wendy died years ago. It’s the other… she’s the one who would come back. She deserted me when I married.”

Sighing, I picked up the puzzle book. I was used to Peter’s ramblings about the mysterious creature who turned her back on him when he married his wife. Generally alert, Peter sometimes went off on tangents of fancy that made me worry if dementia was settling in. I’d heard the doctor’s whispered comment to another physician as they passed Peter’s room one night. “Mercury poisoning, I’m afraid… it’s affected his brain.”

Perhaps the doctor was right. Peter’s ramblings about a gang or secret organization waiting for him was the stuff of madmen.

“Evelyn, have you ever flown?”

I glanced up from the book. He was looking at me intently. “Sure… before I became this old, I used to visit my daughter on the coast… flew out there every summer.”

“That’s not what I mean… have you ever flown?” His voice was urgent. “I used to love to fly. I’d soar above the rooftops. It was such an adventure! The cool night air, the feel of it against my skin, the stars so bright, so close…I could almost touch them…

“I loved my wife, Evelyn. I wouldn’t trade those years. I wouldn’t, do you hear me?” He sat up, agitated.

“Peter, calm down. I know you loved your wife. Don’t rile yourself so.”

“But the other… she was so jealous. She stole my ability to fly.” Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. “If I could just remember the words, I know she’d come back… take pity on me. Oh, Evelyn! I so want to fly again… just once more. Just one last grand adventure!”

I didn’t know what to say, and so I reached over, placing my hand atop his, and we rocked in silence for several moments, only the sound of Peter’s weeping disturbing the quiet.

At some point, I must have fallen asleep in the chair because a gentle voice was calling my name. “Miss Evelyn?”

I opened my eyes and the kind, brown face of Louise Hayes was facing mine. I love Louise; she’s my favorite of all the health aides.

“I guess I fell asleep.”

She chuckled. “Yes ma’am, I guess you did. You ready to go back to your room now?”

“I think so. How about you, Peter?” I asked, turning to his chair.

It was empty.

I looked at Louise, and she was gazing at me sadly. “He passed while you were sleeping. I’m sorry. He was a favorite of yours, wasn’t he?”

My throat constricted with pain, and I could only nod. Peter! Gone! I blinked back tears, hoping his journey was one last grand adventure.

Louise bent down to retrieve my puzzle book, which had fallen to the floor.

“Damned housekeeping,” she muttered softly, brushing the cover of the book. “Look at all this dust on the floor.”

She handed the book to me, and I glanced down at it.

A small sprinkling of dust still clung to its cover.

Gold and sparkling.

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__________________
Word Count: 1206
Author’s Note: This story is written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of this week’s ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog, BeKindRewrite. The phrases used are: window lizards; mercury poisoning; secret organization; time stamp; and the final frontier. Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration prompts this week!

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