Monday, October 31, 2016

This Hallowe'en, Try a Different Kind of Bloodsucker!

Since today is Halloween, and tradition in our house is limited--we don't wear costumes or decorate or hand out candy--I'll focus on how we do observe this holiday.

We watch horror movies. Usually old ones, or comedies set on Halloween, like Spaced Invaders. I've already written about that movie, so today I'll put the ol' spotlight on a short-lived TV series: Dracula (1990). 
 
 
The series is set in Luxembourg and features a fresh take on the notorious bloodsucker. Dracula (Canadian actor Geordie Johnson), calling himself Alexander Lucard (A. Lucard--spell it backwards), heads an international conglomerate and is considerably better-looking than another power-seeking billionaire bloodsucker (Trump, I'm looking at you). Van Helsing (Bernard Behrens)  is a retired professor/vampire hunter living with three kids (Jacob Tierney, Joe Roncetti, Mia Kirshner) who may be related to him--I was never quite sure, though they did call him Uncle Gustav. The kids are a bigger pain in the neck to Lucard than Uncle Gustav could ever be. 
 
 
When Lucard is about to make his move on a potential meal at his castle and the kids interrupt him, he complains, "Does everyone have a key to this castle?"

Then there's Gustav's son, Klaus (Geraint Wyn Davies, who also played a vampire in another TV series, Forever Knight), who must have suffered from some sort of supernatural allergy to becoming a vampire, because his belfry is short more than a few bats. I wonder, is it possible to suck one's brains out with the blood?
 
 
In one episode, Lucard puts the bite on the mousy husband of a psychic, who announces to her and the Helsings that he now has a sixth sense. His wife is unconvinced. "You can barely handle five," she tells him.
 
 
Gustav's passion for schnitzel is a running joke throughout the series--and puts the family in danger when Lucard turns the schnitzel delivery guy into a vampire. According to legend, you see, a vampire can only enter a home by invitation when it's under the protection of a cross.

The kids' attempt to do a good deed--having the family's cross blessed, as must be done from time to time--leaves them vulnerable. Lucard takes advantage, but is foiled at the last minute when a worker from the church arrives with the newly-blessed cross. I suspect the poor man needed a blessing himself when he saw Lucard, fangs bared, and threw the cross to the Helsings and ran away screaming. 
 
 
One of my favorite moments involves Lucard dictating while on his stationary bike. I'm not sure why a vampire needs exercise, being dead and all, but I did enjoy his snarky comments about having to level a small village for one of his business developments. "It was an ugly little town anyway," he notes.

Lucard's lifestyle--expensive suits, limousines, private jets--draws the anger of his fellow vampires as well. Nosferatu (Denis Forest) comes to Luxembourg to sabotage his empire, and nearly succeeds.

Why the Helsings come to his rescue, I'm still not sure....
 
 
Happy Hallowe'en, everyone! 

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Advice Most Often Given to Writers: Write What You Know

The trouble with that advice is that a lot of thrillers, supernatural suspense novels and tales of horror would never be written if we followed it. I've written about killers, genetic experiments, financial empires, supernatural powers, espionage, the Middle East and other topics of which I have no personal experience. If I only wrote about what I know, the list would include idiots, self-absorbed and spineless jerks, nutcases, liars, and false friends.

Okay, so I could write political novels. As we all know, Washington is full of all of those type of characters.

rots-2

My friend and fellow author, Shelly Arkon, has lately been writing a  great deal about matters of faith on her blog. Shelly has spent the past few years studying both the Bible and the Torah and has learned a great deal. While bloggers are often warned about writing about matters of faith in a cheesy manner, Shelly's posts are honest, from the heart and thought-provoking. I've done a lot of thinking myself. I'm a Christian, and I've experienced a great deal in my life that has confirmed my faith--but I still have more questions than answers. I'm by no means an expert, but still I want to write things that make people think and hopefully find a door opened to them that they haven't seen before. So how to do it?

Fiction, mostly. In Chasing the Wind, I write about characters who also have more questions than answers: cynical FBI agents, an agnostic photojournalist, a Biblical archaeologist who has faith but challenges it, and an atheist who is called to be a prophet but still can't believe what's happening to him. I put them in situations where they get pushed to their limits and their faith (or lack of it) is tested. They witness miracles. They deal with loss and rise above it. And they face many of the same questions I've faced.

I always believed in God--but as the Bible says, even demons believe in God. They know He exists. Believing is not the same as putting one's faith in God. I wasn't able to do that completely for a long time. That door opened for me twenty-two years ago, on a dark night in which I felt more hopeless than I ever had. I went to bed that night, facing a situation for which there seemed to be no resolution. I prayed, more than I ever had before, and was still praying when I finally fell asleep. I was awakened the next morning by what first seemed to be just a ringing telephone, but in fact was God's answer to my urgent prayers--the miracle I needed.

That miracle has led me to write my first work of nonfiction--a memoir that's (finally) almost finished, Riding Out the Storm. It's not easy to lay bare one's soul for all to see, as my close friend William Kendall discovered with his recent blog post. But sometimes, we need to write about the things that make us most vulnerable. Sometimes, as in William's case, it's a way to exorcise our personal demons in order to be free of them. It took tremendous courage for William to share the things he'd kept so private for so many years. For some, like Shelly, it's a way to share our discoveries of faith...and to provide a warning of what's ahead. For me, it's hopefully a means to testify, to show others that anyone can--and will--change. And that it really is darkest just before dawn.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What a Character!

Recently, Collin and I went to see a special sneak preview of Doctor Strange. We're both big fans of the Marvel superheroes. Why? Because they don't take themselves too seriously. There's a lot of action in their movies, but also a healthy dose of humor. And their characters are people first, superheroes second. Their movies have some of the best characterization I've ever seen. Their heroes are flawed, men and women with questionable pasts, dark sides and emotional issues.

Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant, arrogant neurosurgeon who believes only in himself and his skills as a surgeon--until a career-ending accident puts him on a path to a world he could never have imagined, and a life in which he could save millions rather than one life at a time.


In Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers are divided when a tragic mistake made during a mission causes the deaths of many civilians. It pits genius Tony Stark (Iron Man) against Captain Steve Rogers (Captain America). Tony has daddy issues--he never felt loved by his father, Howard. "My father never told me he loved me, he never even told me he liked me," he says. By contrast, Steve had a close friendship with Howard back in the '40s, when Howard assisted Dr. Abraham Erskine in creating Captain America using his super soldier serum for the US  military. Tony remembers hearing Howard talk about Steve over the years, and there's clear resentment there. For Tony, it's akin to sibling rivalry. Steve had a relationship with Tony's father that Tony never had. When Tony discovers that Steve's best friend, Bucky Barnes--the brainwashed assassin Winter Soldier--killed his father and mother twenty years ago, he realizes their deaths weren't an accident, as Tony had been led to believe--and that Steve knew the truth.

civil-warTony is a complex character. He's always been terrible at relationships, even when he really wanted them to work. He was deeply loved by his mother but felt rejected by his father--a fact that shaped all of his interpersonal connections.

Actor Chris Pratt, who portrays Guardians of the Galaxy's Peter Quill, describes the character as "emotionally stunted." Peter's mother died when he was just a boy, and he never knew his father. Add to that being abducted by aliens the night his mother died, and it makes sense that Peter would miss the maturity train, so to speak. He grew up a thief, part of a group of intergalactic pirates called Ravagers, but something deep within him yearns to be the hero, the Star-Lord his mother nicknamed him. It takes him twenty-six years to open the package she gave him on her deathbed. She told him not to open it until she was gone. Perhaps somewhere in his subconscious, he doesn't open it because as long as he doesn't, she's not really gone?

Marvel's got some well-developed villains as well--Loki, for example. The second son of Odin, King of Asgard, he grew up in the shadow of his older brother, Thor, heir to the throne. When he discovers he's not Odin and Frigga's biological child, that Odin found him during a battle with the Frost Giants, having been abandoned, left to die, Loki concludes this is why Odin always favored Thor. Even when Loki does his worst, fans relate to him. They get him. When an angry Odin tells him his birthright was to die, the fans feel for Loki.
guardians
Zemo is another interesting bad guy. Having lost his entire family during the Avengers' battle with Ultron, he seeks revenge. He knows he can't destroy the Avengers, but with the right push, they can destroy each other. "An empire destroyed from outside can be rebuilt," he says, "but one that is destroyed from within is dead forever."

Throughout his quest for revenge, Zemo is seen listening to a voicemail message. It turns out to be the last message he received from his wife before her death.

When I started writing, I was focused on plot. I was young and lacked the life experience to understand the importance of well-developed characters. One editor I knew used to call me "The Master Plotter." Now, I prefer more character-driven stories.

Who are some of your favorite characters?

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Misadventures of Shady Lady and the Wayward Nut (Or How the Cubs in the World Series Has Jumpstarted the Apocalypse)

I suppose I should explain that title. Collin and I have some pretty weird after dinner conversations sometimes. Last night, I dropped an almond I still haven't located. I told Collin I had to find a  wayward nut. He said it sounded like Trump's Secret Service codename. It's actually Mogul, but this one is a much better fit, don't you think?

From there, we reached the conclusion that Shady Lady fit Hillary better than Evergreen. Or maybe IT Gal (as in IT, internet technology)?



It's been a wild week, hasn't it? Who would have expected the 2016 World Series to be the Chicago Cubs vs. the Cleveland Indians? Talk about an underdog story! But then, it's been that kind of year. Nobody--especially GOP leaders--expected Donald Trump to be their nominee for President of the United States. Most of us thought it was just a really bad joke that day he descended via the escalator at Trump Tower, surrounded what was rumored to be a paid-for crowd of enthusiastic supporters (I still suspect that entrance was a bit of raunchy symbolism to make him look as if he were descending from the heavens to save us from ourselves). After all, he'd said just the week before that he was going to make an announcement that would make everybody happy--his words, not mine! I took that to mean he was going to announce he wouldn't be running for President! It certainly would have made my day.

 
I didn't think Hillary Clinton would run, either. I thought she and Bill would be content with their foundation and their two grandchildren. I'm younger than either of them, and I'd rather be at home watching movies and eating pizza with Collin than spending my days like an ant stuck under the giant media magnifying glass in sunlight hot enough to fry me.



But no. Instead, we have the two most unpopular candidates in history as our choices for our next President. We have the two least likely teams to reach the top competing for the World Series championship. What's next? Venus gets knocked out of orbit and collides with Earth? 


PS To my blogger friends: I'm way behind on blog reading/commenting. I spent most of Saturday changing all of my passwords in the wake of that massive global hacking. Some were easier to change than others. Some still haven't been changed. WordPress was such a PITA, I'm seriously considering dropping my author blog there. Don't need it anyway. I have author pages at Creativia and Amazon.

I promise to get caught up with all of you within the next few days....


Friday, October 21, 2016

Is Mercury in Retrograde Or Something?

It's been one of those weeks.

It started off great--royalties! We always celebrate royalties (and advances, when I was in traditional publishing). Even when the checks aren't big ones. The largest check I ever got was $35,000. The smallest, a royalty for a Silhouette Romance published over twenty years ago, came earlier this year. The amount? $5.78. They fluctuate.


Anyway, after the arrival of quarterly royalties, it was all downhill. Wednesday night, I made the mistake of thinking it would be cool enough overnight to leave the central air off. As a result, I was too warm to sleep comfortably and got only a couple of hours sleep. I was groggy all day. I got in the shower, thinking that would wake me up. Halfway through, we had a power outage--our first in ten years. After trying to finish in the dark, I've come to the conclusion that if I ever go blind, I'm screwed. I already had enough cuts and bruises from my ongoing attempt to declutter our place. (We really need a bigger storeroom--or less stuff!)

With the power off, I couldn't try to catch up on that lost sleep, so I forged on, exhausted. With no electric, I couldn't make lunch, so Collin went to get takeout for us. (Okay, so there was a bright side to this!) I couldn't do any work in the storeroom, either--no windows, so no light. We had already gotten rid of a lot of stuff, though--so much that I mixed up some bags and accidentally sent a bag to recycling that should have gone to the trash. I guess a big bag of recycling ended up in the dumpster....

Fortunately, the power was restored within two hours. With the AC back on, I decided a nap was in order. I had just drifted off to sleep when the phone rage! I couldn't believe it! I was so angry, I could have slammed it against a wall. I hate talking on the phone and rarely do so. I only have one friend I call, and that's because she doesn't have internet service. I even make my doctor appointments via email.

Everyone else knows I do email, so most of the calls I get are wrong numbers. I guess that was the case yesterday, because there was just a number, no name, so it wasn't someone in my phone's contacts app. I snatched the phone up and disconnected the call (that was an accident, really--I just don't answer if I don't recognize the number). Then I turned the phone off so I could sleep for a while.

This is how it goes. I can go weeks without getting a call, and when I do, it's always when I'm dictating (my phone is great for dictation) or sleeping. 

I did get one bit of good news this morning, though: my publisher's new landing page for Chasing the Wind is up, and it looks great! Take a look....

Monday, October 17, 2016

Maybe I Won't Retire, After All....

Writing used to come easily for me. I wrote one of my best novels, The Unicorn's Daughter, in four months. Final Hours took six weeks. It was almost too easy, which is why I was surprised that The Unicorn's Daughter required almost no editing from Berkley and became, along with Chasing the Wind, one of my best-reviewed novels.

As I've gotten older, though, I've found it more and more difficult to finish a project. I asked my neurologist if I might be in the early stages of Alzheimer's. "No. You're way too sharp for that," she assured me. Okay. If not that, what about epilepsy? I was first diagnosed as a teenager, and due to my own stupidity, was off the anti-seizure meds for a long time (I don't have convulsive seizures, so I assumed--incorrectly--that I wasn't having seizures at all). Again, the answer was no. My previous neurologist told me I was just distracted. ADHD, maybe?

My eyesight is not what it used to be--not that it was ever all that good. Arthritis has been an issue, so writing first drafts in longhand, as I've done throughout most of my career, was no longer possible. It was also a problem in using a computer, tablet or smartphone--especially the latter two, since I had to hold the devices at an angle close enough to be able to see the screens. I've joked here about my "Kindle elbow."

I'd tried dictation, but that was also a struggle--until I found this book.


Dictate Your Book: How to Write Your Book Better, Faster and Smarter by Monica Leonelle is a gem. Really. She points out that, like learning to type and use a computer are skills that require training and practice, dictation isn't something you just do. Her book is short, concise and gives you all you need to learn to dictate your books, screenplays, short stories, etc. Collin is even considering it for doing his classwork, time being a big factor for him.

I'm probably going to repeat this post on my writer blog on Wednesday. And speaking of that, today's post there is on characterization....

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why Are Fictional Presidents Always Better Than Real Ones?

The answer to that question is a simple one. Writers control our fictional characters. God gave humans free will--which hasn't always worked out so well for all of us.

In Air Force One, Harrison Ford battled terrorists...


In Independence Day, Bill Pullman battled aliens...


In Designated Survivor, Kiefer Sutherland became President by default when just about everyone else in Washington was killed during the sitting President's State of the Union speech...


In The American President, Michael Douglas dealt with a Republican opponent...


In The West Wing, Martin Sheen dealt with more "normal" issues...


In House of Cards, Kevin Spacey just disposed of anyone who got in his way--but he was still better than Donald Trump!


And then there are our real-life choices for President. In less than a month, we get to choose the lesser of two evils!

















Don't forget to vote!

Postscript: All but the first on the Trump/Hillary memes were created by my talented son Collin. And for a twist, my author blog today is focused on nonfiction....





Monday, October 10, 2016

The Great Decluttering Movement of 2016, Part Deux



Yep, it's still full steam ahead and all that. By the time I'm finished, all that will be left in our storeroom will be items of sentimental importance and the things we don't have space for in the kitchen.


My drawers and closets are done. I no longer have any clothes I don't wear. I'm not saving anything I have any hope of getting into ever again. That stuff has been gone a long time now. I've surrendered on that battlefront. Not gonna happen. I had shoes I'd never even worn.

But then, I really don't like wearing shoes at all. In a perfect world, I'd be living in a climate where only sandals and flip-flops would be needed. And no heels!
I dumped a lot of makeup last year. I seldom wear it anymore--one of the advantages of getting older. Too much is, well, too much. 

Collin's been busy, too. He's digitized our entire DVD collection. Now, everything is on external hard drives. With them, our Kindles and our smartphones, we can now store all of our books, magazines, photos, music and movies in one small drawer. Digitizing is a great space-saver.


I even turned one of my older Kindles into a digital cookbook. Amazon offers several e-cookbooks free or for a very low price. Not that it's going to get much use. I'm still a terrible cook. I microwave. I order takeout. I use my Crock-Pot when I can find a recipe that doesn't require any of the ingredients be pre-cooked. (Come on...isn't that what Crock-Pots are for--convenience?)


Decluttering can also be profitable. Collin took several of our DVDs to V-Stock--and got just over $84 for them. They sure sell better than used books these days!
The most important decluttering task, however, is decluttering the mind. That's next. It really should have been first--but I tend to do things backward, like reading the end of a book first. 


Friday, October 7, 2016

Coming in for a Landing…But Where’s the Rest of the Squadron?

I once told a fellow author I was going to take flying lessons as research for a book (that was never written, as it happens, because my agent didn’t find the idea glamorous enough). The fellow author’s response: “Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the air.”

I should probably point out that this comment was made in the early ’90s, when air travel was still fun.

Anyway, I’m not flying now. Not even as a passenger. By “landing,” I was referring to Creativia’s landing pages for my books. So far, only two are up and running. I’m guessing they’re doing this in alphabetical order, as the first one up was Alexander’s Empire and now we have Angels at Midnight. To check them out, just click on the links. And while you’re at it, check out my author page at their site. (They haven’t yet added my latest release, Ms. Maxwell and Son, to my bibliography.)

Angels at Midnight Complete
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When I decided to reissue my backlist books, I had a choice to make. These books, with the exception of Chasing the Wind and Final Hours, had all been written and published in the late 1980s-early 1990s. That was a time when the most popular fiction was either historical romance (not my cup of tea) or glamorous, suspenseful contemporary romance. Today, the market is decidedly different. On one hand, I really wanted the old books to be available on a permanent basis, even if they didn’t gain many new readers. Om the other, I felt an urge to rewrite all of the old stuff, not just to make it more relevant to today’s readers, but in the case of Alexander’s Empire to satisfy my need to finally publish the story I’d wanted to write from the start.

If I were writing them today? Alexander’s Empire would still involve wealth and power–to a degree. But it would be, at its heart, the story of a man who discovers he’s not who he’s always believed himself to be, that his present life was created out of a tragedy that destroyed several lives. It would focus on his inability to trust, to love, and his search for answers.

As for Angels at Midnight, again, there would be less glamour and more of a modern “MacGuyver meets Robin Hood” story. Ashley might still be a celebrated artist, but Collin wouldn’t be an oilman’s heir. He’d be someone who was one of many cheated by a ruthless employer. He’d be more high tech than he was back in the ’80s. And there would be more fencing. Those were my favorite parts of the original.

That’s what might have been….

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What Do a Single Pregnant Woman, a Cranky Musician, a Toilet-Flushing Cockatoo and a Snowstorm Have in Common?

Yes, I know it's not Monday or Friday, but....

Since my first series romance novel, Ms. Maxwell and Son (originally published by Silhouette in 1988 under my Toni Collins pseudonym, reissued under my own name by Creativia in August 2016) is currently on sale at Amazon through Monday, here’s an excerpt….

maxwell

Chapter One

This is it. This is really it. The baby’s corning. The contractions were thirty minutes apart now, and still nothing more than a vague cramping sensation in the lower abdomen. I have plenty of time, Katie Maxwell thought, brushing a strand of her short, dark auburn hair off her forehead. She willed herself to remain calm. Plenty of time to get to the hospital. Plenty of time. She drew in a deep breath and tried to focus her attention on the comic strip she’d been working on, but without much success. Deadline or no deadline, she couldn’t think of anything but what was happening inside her own body.

It was about time. Her due date had come and gone almost two weeks ago with no indication that her baby had even considered making his debut in the outside world. Just like your father, Katie thought. She immediately pushed the thought from her mind. Mustn’t think of Michael now. Not now. Michael’s not your father …not in any way that really matters. He was just my husband. Was. The man who made me pregnant. That’s all.

She looked at her watch. She had to keep timing the pains. This couldn’t be false labor. It just couldn’t be. It had to be the real thing. She couldn’t wait another day. Not after having waited so long already.

Her obstetrician had told her to be patient, that first babies often arrived late. But everyone’s patience had its limits, and Katie’s was no exception. She’d waited eight months already. . . eight long months since she took the home pregnancy test that had changed her life so drastically.

She got up from her drawing board and walked across the room to the windows, her left hand gently massaging her aching back as she moved at a slow waddle. In the past few months she’d begun to feel like an unflattering cross between a duck and an elephant. It was snowing.

She had no idea how long it had been snowing . . . she hadn’t looked outside in hours. She’d been struggling to meet her deadline when the first contractions came at just past mid- night. She hadn’t had the TV on, so she’d had no idea there was any inclement weather in the forecast. God, why did it have to snow tonight, of all nights? Normally Katie loved the Connecticut winters. The countryside that was verdant green in summer and rich with reds and golds in autumn was especially beautiful after a freshly fallen snow–before that special beauty was marred by the snowplows and salt and cinder trucks. Normally Katie looked forward to that first snowfall, but tonight it only meant trouble. It meant she wouldn’t be able to drive herself to the hospital as she’d planned. It meant she’d have to call for a taxi…or an ambulance.

She settled down on the overstuffed couch and waited for the next contraction. When they were fifteen minutes apart, she would call Dr. Rowen and leave for the hospital. She decided it would be safer to call an ambulance than take a chance on a taxi that might not arrive in time. Katie frowned. No wonder her mother kept insisting a baby needed two parents. One to do the heavy labor, and one to drive to the hospital in case of nasty weather, she thought wryly. At least I haven’t lost my sense of humor—yet.

Another pain came, this time more intense than the last. Katie caught her breath and checked her watch again. Twenty-five minutes apart. They were coming closer together. She lay back against the couch and sucked in her breath. Had she made the right decision? she wondered for the hundredth time in the course of her pregnancy. Not that she’d really had any other options. Michael had made the decision for her the same day she told him about the baby. Michael had never had any desire to be a father—he’d made that clear from the day they were married. Still, Katie had always hoped he’d change his mind. He hadn’t. If anything, he’d become more adamant in his refusal to even consider starting a family. She’d never had to worry about forgetting to take the pill—Michael always reminded her. She recalled now how he’d reacted to the news of her pregnancy….

“You’re supposed to be using birth control,” he said evenly as he went to the bar to pour himself a drink. As he’d put it, he was sure he was going to need one.

She watched him for a moment as he poured automatically. Just the right amounts of vodka and tonic, two ice cubes, never any more, never any less, and just a small twist of lime. He could almost make it in his sleep. It never varied. It was almost as though all the glasses were marked and the lime cut in precisely the same size pieces. Katie realized for the first time how annoying that was. She searched his handsome face for some sign of emotion, any emotion. There was none.

“I was–that is, I am,” she said finally. “Something must have gone wrong.” She gave a helpless shrug.

“Obviously.” He lifted the glass to his lips, his expression now as cold as the ice in his drink. He took a long swallow, slowly, as if taking time to consider the options. “How far along are you?”

“About six weeks.” He was taking an interest, anyway, Katie thought, however slight. Itwas a good sign. A beginning. But her hope had been short-lived.

“Well, thank God for that,” Michael said with relief in his voice.

“I don’t understand–” Katie began. 

“At least it’s not too late.”

“For what?”

“An abortion, of course,” he said as he put down his glass, as if the decision had already been made.

“I have no intention of having an abortion, Michael,” she told him. “This pregnancy may not have been planned, but there’s no way I’ll terminate it.”

His smile was cold. “Don’t tell me it’s against that Irish Catholic heritage you’re so damn proud of,” he concluded.

“Heritage or not, I don’t believe in abortion,” she said tightly, her fists clenched in the folds of her full skirt. She was fighting to control her anger. “This is my child, and I have every intention of keeping him.”

“Then you’ll keep it alone,” he said with barely controlled anger in his voice. “I told you before we were married that having children was one subject that would not be open for discussion. I didn’t want children then, and I still don’t.”

“And that’s all that’s ever mattered to you, isn’t it–what you want!” Katie exploded. “What I might want doesn’t matter to you at all, does it?”

“If you were so set on a life of home and hearth and sticky fingers and runny noses, you should have married a family man, Kathleen,” he said acidly. “You knew my position on this before we were married.”

“Your position? My God, Michael, you make this sound like a legal debate!” she responded incredulously.

He looked at her calmly. “We had an agreement.”

“No, Michael, you had an agreement. I had a marriage–or I thought I did, anyway.” She was fighting to control the temper that was very much a part of her Irish heritage. “What I wanted never mattered to you. How I felt never mattered to you. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that.”

“Then you’re determined to go through with this pregnancy?” he wanted to know.

“Yes. I am.”

He nodded slowly. “Fine,” he said finally. “Do you want to get the divorce, or shall I?” 

“I think I’d better do it,” she said dispassionately. “As far as I know, pregnancy isn’t grounds for divorce in this state…but discovering I married a selfish jackass just might be.”

Katie’s thoughts returned to the present. Looking back on it now, she realized she shouldn’t have been surprised. Michael had never really liked children. She’d seen it when he was forced to be around her nieces and nephews for any length of time. He’d never showed any interest in even trying to learn to like them. He didn’t like children, didn’t want any of his own, and that was that.

At least he was honest about that much, she thought dismally. After the divorce she’d often wondered if he had ever really wanted to be a husband, either, or if marrying her had just been more convenient than having to go looking for someone to take care of his sexual needs when he felt the urge.

By three in the morning the snow had reached blizzard proportions and Katie’s contractions were fifteen minutes apart. Time to call the doctor. She picked up the phone on the table next to the couch and started to dial, realizing halfway through the number that the line was dead. “Oh, no,” she breathed, depressing the button on the cradle repeatedly, frantically. Nothing. The snow must have downed the lines. She tried her cellphone. Again, nothing. No signal.

Terrific, she thought. Now what? She searched her mind frantically for a possible alternative. She could have the baby right here, alone. She shook her head, dismissing that idea. She could just as easily fly to the moon on gossamer wings. Only as a last resort, she promised herself. Stay calm. She willed herself not to panic. It wouldn’t do any good. It might even make matters worse. Or would it? She remembered reading somewhere that anxiety could actually prolong labor. It might give her time to figure out how she was going to get to the hospital.

Good grief, what was she thinking of? Who in her right mind would actually want to prolong labor? The thoughts of a desperate woman, she decided. A very desperate woman. Who else in the building was home right now? she asked herself. Who might be able to help her? There were only six apartments in the converted Victorian manor. Two were vacant at the moment. Julie, her only real friend among the tenants, was away for the weekend.

“Don’t have that baby till I get back,” she’d told Katie jokingly as she was leaving yesterday.

“Don’t worry,” Katie had laughed. “I think he’s waiting for the spring thaw.”

I’d be happy if he’d just wait until morning–or at least until the phone’s working again, she thought now, ready to push the panic button. The Kellers, the elderly couple who lived upstairs, were off on one of those “Love Boat” type cruises. Even if they had been home, Mr. Keller was hardly physically up to a mad race to the hospital inthis weather—and Mrs. Keller didn’t drive at all. The man who lived next door had just moved in two weeks ago. Katie had seen him on the stairs a couple of times, but knew nothing more about him than his name and the fact that he liked to play his piano in the middle of the night. She’d heard he was a real grouch, too. She considered her options, then got up off the couch.

It looked like the man in 2B was her only chance.

*****

Jack Spangler tapped out a tune on the keyboard, then paused long enough to scribble some illegible notes on a music sheet on top of the old, scarred piano. Had he taken the time to look in a mirror, he would have seen a face that looked as if it had been without sleep in at least a week, one that probably had not known a razor in almost as many days. He would have seen bloodshot eyes shadowed by the effects of too little sleep, and thick, dark brown hair in desperate need of a barber’s scissors. He would have seen a body that was just a little too thin from skipping too many meals. But he would not have cared, even if he had taken the time to make those observations. There was only one thing on his mind, and that was his music. He was not a dedicated composer; he was an obsessed one. When he was in the middle of a composition, it occupied his every waking thought and haunted his dreams. He lived and breathed music. It was his mistress, his tempestuous, demanding mistress, possessing his soul as no mortal woman ever could. And unlike a woman, his music would never leave him; it would always be with him, always be a part of him. When he was composing, the rest of the world ceased to exist. And that was the way he wanted it.

He raked a hand through his thick, dark hair and took a long swallow of the cold coffee in the mug that had left a ring on his completed sheet music, making a face at the unexpected bitter taste. Time to make fresh coffee. He got up from the piano and walked barefoot into the too small kitchenette, mug in hand. After dumping its contents into the sink, he rinsed the mug, then filled it with hot water from the tap. No point in wasting time boiling water, he thought. He opened a jar of instant coffee he kept on the counter and spooned three heaping tablespoons into the water, stirring it as he scanned the shelf overhead for the individually wrapped crackers he always pocketed in restaurants. Finding the packets in an old cracked mug, he took two. “Hungry, Sam?” he called out.

“Sam’s hungry,” a large white cockatoo responded from his perch in the living room. He spread his wings wide and ruffled his feathers as if to emphasize the point.

“You’ve been on your best behavior,” Jack decided aloud as he returned with the coffee and crackers. “I guess you’ve earned these.” Putting the mug down on the top of the piano, he unwrapped the crackers and offered one to the bird. Sam took the cracker in one claw and started to eat it.

“Where’re your manners, Sam?” Jack asked as if he were speaking to a child to whom he’d just given candy.

“Thank you, Jack,” Sam answered on cue, immediately returning his attention to the cracker.

“You’re welcome, Sam.” Jack sat down at the piano and started to play again, but was interrupted by the unexpected sound of someone knocking at the door. At first he thought he was hearing things. Nobody in this quiet, very normal neighborhood could possibly be out and about at this hour. He’d begun to think they all went to bed at sundown.

Then he heard it again. He glanced at the clock on the mantle. Who the hell could be knocking at this ungodly hour? He’d thought he was the only living soul in this part of Connecticut who kept graverobbers’ hours. He dragged himself off the bench again and crossed the room.

“Listen, whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying–” he stopped short as he pulled the door open.

The woman standing in the hall looked familiar, but he couldn’t place the face. She was short, with thick hair cut to frame her face like a glossy red cap, a delicate, heart-shaped face and dark green eyes. She was, he decided in the seconds he’d had to appraise her, quite attractive. She was also either very pregnant or a Weight Watchers dropout. Even under her bulky winter coat, he could tell that her stomach was quite large.

“I’m Katie Maxwell,” she told him, clearly upset about something. “I live next door.” So that’s where I’ve seen her before. On the stairs, Jack thought.

“I need your help,” Katie was saying.

He gave her a puzzled look. “Lady, it’s three in the morning–” he started.

“I’m in labor. I need someone–I need you, that is, to drive me to the hospital,” she went on.

“Where’s your husband?” Tact had never been Jack Spangler’s strong suit.

“I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” Katie said crossly, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I don’t have a husband—and right now, I don’t have any other way to get to the hospital. I can’t drive myself. Nobody else in the building is around, and I can’t call an ambulance because the phone lines are down.” She’d gotten it all out in one breath. Jack was still staring at her, bewildered.

“Will you help me?” she asked, almost pleading by now.

He hesitated for a moment, considering the alternatives. She could end up having her baby right there in his living room. He would have to deliver it. The thought of that made him feel a little anxious himself. “Yeah, okay,” he said finally, nodding in surrender. “Give me a minute to pull myself together, okay?” He dropped onto the couch and started pulling on his socks and boots. “You got a suitcase or anything?”

She nodded. “I’ll get it.”

He shook his head. “I’ll get it. Just tell me where it is.” In every TV sitcom he’d ever seen, they always rushed off without the suitcase and had to come back for it. He had no intention of coming back for anything.

Katie nodded. “It’s just inside my door, on the big chair.”

“Hey, good lookin’!” Sam squawked as Jack started looking for his coat.

“Shut up, bird!” he ordered as he walked out, closing the door behind him.