Monday, January 30, 2012

Indie Chicks Series with my Guest Anne R. Allen

Please welcome Anne R. Allen to my blog today.  Anne is a women's fiction author and one of the fabulous chicks featured in the Indie Chicks anthology. 

Here's her story...


By Anne R. Allen 

When I started writing funny women’s fiction fifteen years ago, if anybody had given me a realistic idea of my chances for publication, I’d have chosen a less stressful hobby, like do-it-yourself brain surgery, professional frog herding, or maybe staging an all-Ayatollah drag revue in downtown Tehran. 

As a California actress with years of experience of cattle-drive auditions, greenroom catfights and vitriolic reviewers, I thought I had built up enough soul-calluses to go the distance. But nothing had prepared me for the glacial waiting periods; the bogus, indifferent and/or suddenly-out-of-business agents; and the heartbreaking, close-but-no-cigar reads from big-time editors—all the rejection horrors that make the American publishing industry the impenetrable fortress it has become. 

But some of us are too writing-crazed to stop ourselves. I was then, as now, sick in love with the English language. 

I had three novels completed. A fourth had run as a serial in a California entertainment weekly. One of my stories had been short-listed for an international prize, and a play had been produced to good reviews. I was bringing in a few bucks—mostly with short pieces for local magazines and freelance editing. 

But meantime, my savings had evaporated along with my abandoned acting career; my boyfriend had ridden his Harley into the Big Sur sunset; my agent was hammering me to write formula romance; and I was contemplating a move to one of the less fashionable neighborhoods of the rust belt.  

Even acceptances turned into rejections: a UK zine that had accepted one of my stories folded. But when the editor sent the bad news, he mentioned he’d taken a job with a small UK book publisher—and did I have any novels?

I sent him one my agent had rejected as “too over the top.” Within weeks, I was offered a contract by my new editor—a former BBC comedy writer—for FOOD OF LOVE. Included was an invitation to come over the pond to do some promotion.

So I rented out my beach house, packed my bags and bought a ticket to Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where my new publishers had recently moved into a 19th century former textile mill on the banks of the river Trent—the river George Eliot fictionalized as “the Floss.”

George Eliot. I was going to be working and living only a few hundred yards from the ruins of the house where she wrote her classic novel about the 19th century folk who lived and died by the power of Lincolnshire’s great tidal river. Maybe some of that greatness would rub off on me.

At the age of… well, I’m not telling…I was about to have the adventure of my life. 

I knew the company published mostly erotica, but was branching into mainstream and literary fiction. They had already published the first novel of a distinguished poet, and a famous Chicago newspaper columnist was in residence, awaiting the launch of his new book.  

But when I arrived, I found the great Chicagoan had left in a mysterious fit of pique, the “erotica” was seriously hard core kink, and the old building on the Trent was more of the William Blake Dark Satanic variety than George Elliot’s bucolic “Mill on the Floss.” 

Some of my fears subsided when I was greeted by a friendly group of unwashed, fiercely intellectual young men who presented me with generous quantities of warm beer, cold meat pies and galleys to proof. After a beer or two, I found myself almost comprehending their northern accents.

I held it together until I saw my new digs: a grimy futon and an old metal desk, hidden behind stacks of book pallets in the corner of an unheated warehouse, about a half a block from the nearest loo. My only modern convenience was an ancient radio abandoned by a long-ago factory girl.

I have to admit to admit to some tears of despair.

Until, from the radio, Big Ben chimed six o’clock.

That’s six pm, GMT.

Greenwich Mean Time. The words hit me with all the sonorous power of Big Ben itself. I had arrived at the mean, the middle, the center that still holds—no matter what rough beasts might slouch through the cultural deserts of the former empire. This was where my language, my instrument, was born.

I clutched my galley-proof to my heart. I might still be a rejected nobody in the land of my birth—but I’d landed on the home planet: England. And there, I was a published novelist. Just like George Eliot.

Three years later, I returned to California, older, fatter (the English may not have the best food, but their BEER is another story) and a lot wiser. That Chicagoan’s fit of pique turned out to be more than justified. The company was swamped in debt. They never managed to get me US distribution. Shortly before my second book THE BEST REVENGE was to launch, the managing partner withdrew his capital, sailed away and mysteriously disappeared off his yacht—his body never found. The company sputtered and died. 

And I was back in the slush pile again.  

But I had a great plot for my next novel.  

Unfortunately, nobody wanted it. I was now tainted with the “published-to-low-sales-numbers label and my chances were even worse than before. 

So I wrote two more novels. Nobody wanted them either. 

Then I started a blog. I figured I could at least let other writers benefit from my mistakes. My blog followers grew. And grew. The blog won some awards. My Alexa and Klout ratings got better and better. Finally, publishers started approaching ME. (There’s a moral for writers here—social networking works.)

And finally, six years later, another publisher, Popcorn Press, fell in love with FOOD OF LOVE and sent me a contract. Soon after, they contracted to publish THE BEST REVENGE, too. 

And this September, a brand new indie ebook publisher called Mark Williams International Digital Publishing asked if I had anything else ready to publish.  

Just happen to have a few unpubbed titles handy, said I. 

He liked them. 

So in October and November of 2011, those three new comic mysteries will appear as ebooks: THE GATSBY GAME, GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY, and SHERWOOD, LTD (that’s the novel inspired by my English adventures.) Popcorn Press will publish paper versions in 2012. THE BEST REVENGE debuted as an ebook in December, with the paper book to follow in February. 

A fifteen-year journey finally seems to be paying off. 

Did I make some mistakes? Oh yeah—a full set of them. But would I wish away my English adventures?

Not a chance.


This is one story from Indie Chicks: 25 Women 25 Personal Stories available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To read all of the stories, buy your copy today.



Twitter @annerallen 

Authorpages:  At , at , on Facebook 


(Romantic comedy/mystery: MWiDP) A penniless socialite becomes a 21st century Maid Marian, but is “Robin” planning to kill her?  Buy at ,, or Barnes and Noble


(Romantic comedy/mystery: Popcorn Press) A suddenly-broke 1980s celebutante runs off to California with nothing but her Delorean and her designer furs, looking for her long-lost gay best friend—and finds herself accused of murder. Buy at or and in paper at Popcorn Press or in paper at

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Indie Chicks Series with my Guest Sarah Woodbury

Sarah Woodbury is the author of several fiction novels, including her Last Pendragon Saga.  If you haven't gotten to know her books already, you should.   


She is also one of the authors in the Indie Chicks Anthology.  Here's her story:

Turning Medieval by Sarah Woodbury 

Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint those moments in your life where everything is suddenly changed.  When you look across the room and say to yourself, I’m going to marry him.  Or stare down at those two pink lines on the pregnancy test, when you’re only twenty-two and been married for a month and a half and are living on only $800 a month because you’re both still in school and my God how is this going to work? 

And sometimes it’s a bit harder to remember. 

Until I was eleven, my parents tell me they thought I was going to be a ‘hippy’.  I wandered through the trees, swamp, and fields of our 2 ½ acre lot, making up poetry and songs and singing them to myself.  I’m not sure what happened by the time I’d turned twelve, whether family pressures or the realities of school changed me, but it was like I put all that creativity and whimsicalness into a box on a high shelf in my mind.  By the time I was in my late-teens, I routinely told people: ‘I haven’t a creative bone in my body.’  It makes me sad to think of all those years where I thought the creative side of me didn’t exist. 

When I was in my twenties and a full-time mother of two, my husband and I took our family to a picnic with his graduate school department.  I was pleased at how friendly and accepting everyone seemed.

And then one of the other graduate students turned to me out of the blue and said, ‘do you really think you can jump back into a job after staying home with your kids for five or ten years?’

I remember staring at him, not knowing what to say.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it, but that it didn’t matter—it couldn’t matter—because I had this job to do and the consequences of staying home with my kids were something I’d just have to face when the time came.

Fast forward ten years and it was clear that this friend had been right in his incredulity.  I was earning $15/hr. as a contract anthropologist, trying to supplement our income while at the same time holding down the fort at home.  I remember the day it became clear that this wasn’t working.  I was simultaneously folding laundry, cooking dinner, and slogging through a report I didn’t want to write, trying to get it all in before the baby (number four, by now) woke up.  I put my head down, right there on the dryer, and cried.

It was time to seek another path.  Time to follow my heart and do what I’d wanted to do for a long time, but hadn’t had the courage, or the belief in myself to make it happen.

At the age of thirty-seven, I started my first novel, just to see if I could.  I wrote it in six weeks and it was bad in a way that all first books are bad.  It was about elves and magic stones and will never see the light of day.  But it taught me, I can do this!

My husband told me, ‘give it five years,’ and in the five years that followed, I experienced rejection along my newfound path.  A lot of it.  Over seventy agents, and then dozens and dozens of editors (once I found an agent), read my books and passed them over.  Again and again.

Meanwhile, I just wrote.  A whole series.  Then more books, for a total of eight, seven of which I published in 2011.

And I’m happy to report that, even though I still think of myself as staid, my extended family apparently has already decided that those years where I showed little creativity were just a phase.  The other day, my husband told me of several conversations he had, either with them or overheard, in which it became clear they thought I was so alternative and creative—so far off the map—that I didn’t even remember there was a map. 

I’m almost more pleased about that than anything else.  Almost.  Through writing, I’ve found a community of other writers, support and friendship from people I hadn’t known existed a few years ago, and best of all, thousands of readers have found my books in the last year.  Here’s to thousands more in the years to come . . .

This is one story from Indie Chicks: 25 Women 25 Personal Stories available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To read all of the stories, buy your copy today.


Links to my books:  Amazon and Amazon UK
Smashwords  BarnesandNoble  Apple

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whispers of Murder -- Published!

It's a blend of nervousness and excitement when a novel goes live, but I'm pretty excited to release Whispers of Murder, my Romantic Suspense Novella. 


It was Isabelle Donnelly's wedding day, a moment in time that should have been the happiest in her life...until it ended in murder.
Three women, three motives to kill:
--A jealous sister
--A company CFO
--A newfound friend
But which one is plotting against her? Which one wants her dead?
Think you know who did it? Think again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Welcome to Wyoming: Part One -- If It Flies, It Dies

Four years ago I lived in Park City. 

I loved it there.  I've never been a fan of cold weather, but the gorgeous mountains kinda offset that for me.  And the summers, talk about...mmm...mmm...good.  There was also something exciting about living in a town that people flocked to for vacation--everyone always seemed to be in a such a good mood.  

When I married my husband a few years ago, he didn't want to live in Park City, or any city for that matter, and that was really hard for me at first.  He'd grown up in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, so in that respect, I could see how Park City wasn't very inviting. 

So we moved to Wyoming.  A place I had never lived before.  A place where the hunters go.  A place where people eat things like buffalo burgers, elk, antelope, deer, name it.  If it's wild, they eat it.  Really.

When we dated, my husband said, "I'm a hunter."

But I heard, "I love animals."

And not, "See that deer out yonder...scoot back a little in your seat so's I can kill it."

Not only that, but my daughter (from a previous marriage) and future tree hugger and animal activist, upon hearing my new husband was a hunter, got a hold of a couple of his hunting magazines and shredded them to bits with her bare hands.  She then hid the bits in her backpack to dispose of the evidence of her crime.  She hadn't planned on that course of action.  In fact, when she picked the magazines up off the couch she thought she was going to see pretty pictures of Peter Cottontail.  Imagine her shock when she found pages full of the dearly departed.  Bloody, no less.

I didn't grow up around hunting.  I'd never even dated anyone that hunted.  So, when we crossed the Wyoming State Line, I swear the sign said, "Welcome to Wyoming.  If you don't have a hunting license, get out."

The sign actually said this:

But my problem was, after the shredding of the magazine incident, my husband explained the "hunting lifestyle" to me.  So, all I saw was this:

And this:

As much as I was happy to be with him, I wondered if the hunting side of things would be a hard adjustment.  It didn't take long to find out...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Indie Chicks Series with my Guest Suzanne Tyrpak

Suzanne Tyrpak is a talented writer and one of the amazing women featured in the Indie Chicks anthology. 

One thing that fascinates me about her novels is their historical aspect.  I'm a sucker for that stuff!  If you like that type of thing, I urge you to check them out :)  

Here's Suzanne's excerpt in the Indie Chicks Anthology:

I used to think I had to be perfect. Of course, I fell short of perfection on a regular basis so I frequently felt like a failure.

The only way to prevent failure is to hide. If we don’t put ourselves out there, we can’t fail.

To prevent myself from failing, I hid in a fantasy world. As a young child, I longed to be a ballerina. I loved to dance, but more than that, I wanted to escape into the fantasy world of the ballet. I wanted to live inside a fairytale, and in my mind, I did. I invented worlds I could escape to, perfect worlds that seemed more real to me than life. Meanwhile, I ate, and ate, and ate. Not ideal, if you want to be a ballerina. My reality never matched my inner world.

I created this pattern, this external and internal disparity, throughout my life. I brought it into my marriage, convincing myself that my marriage was perfect, while in reality it was a mess. Instead of leaving, I found escape in writing. I lost myself other times: ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient Rome—worlds as far away from my reality as possible. In my writing, I disappeared for hours, days, years. I got a job working at an airline so I could travel and do research. I got an agent. I felt sure I would be published.

Then my world fell apart. After nineteen years of marriage, my husband wanted a divorce. I fought it. Divorce didn’t fit my idea of perfection, my fairytale. I viewed this loss as a disaster, but in truth it was an opening, a hole leading me to greater understanding and compassion for myself and others.

I was broke, trying to live on what I made at the airline. I was lonely. I had no time to write. Worst of all, I had to admit my life wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t perfect. Forced to accept myself with all my imperfections, I discovered that the more I could accept myself, the more I could accept others. Even my ex-husband. To this day, we remain friends.

Because I no longer had time to sit down and write for hours, the kind of time it takes to write a novel, I wrote short stories. I wrote about my experience, about my struggles as a woman of fifty going through divorce and entering the dating world. Initially, I wrote the stories for myself as therapy. Then I began to share the stories with my writing group. They encouraged me to submit the stories to magazines, and several were published. I read a couple of stories at our local library and people laughed. Then my good friend, Blake Crouch, convinced me to publish the stories on Kindle. A frightening prospect. What if my stories weren’t good enough? What if they weren’t perfect?

At first I resisted. I’d had two literary agents, and a longtime dream of being traditionally published. Self-publishing didn’t fit my idea of perfection. But, in reality, I no longer had an agent, and I hadn’t worked on a novel for several years. What did I have to lose? Nothing. So I published Dating My Vibrator (and other true fiction).

My world changed, not because I was finally published, but because I changed. I finally found the confidence to pursue my dream despite my imperfections. I found the courage to stop hiding and put myself out into the world. This freed me.

I rewrote my novel, Vestal Virgin—suspense in ancient Rome. Originally, my characters were a bit flat. Why? Because they were too perfect! I hadn’t looked at the manuscript for two years, and a lot had changed for me in that time. I rewrote the book with a cold eye: cutting, digging deeper. My characters became multifaceted, real people with flaws.

I became busier and busier, caught in a whirlwind, trying to hold down a full-time job, write, promote my books and have a life. Trying, once again, to be perfect.

And then the universe stepped in.

I had an accident at work. While moving a jet stair (which weighed over 1,000 pounds) away from the aircraft, my right foot got crushed. I fell, screaming, onto the tarmac while passengers onboard the plane watched. A coworker rushed me to the hospital for the first of three emergency surgeries. I suffered intense pain due to nerve damage, broken and dislocated toes and, ultimately, amputation of a toe. As I write this, I’m still recovering.

I spent five weeks at a nursing home, a good place for me (even though most of the patients were over eighty years old), because it would have been close to impossible for me to take care of myself at home. While there, I had a chance to meet a lot of the patients and residents. All of us had obvious holes.

I learned a lot from the other patients. And I was forced to face my own mortality. Aging offers us the gift of acceptance. In order to age gracefully, we must the release the idea of perfection. We learn there are some things we can change, and some things we must accept. And, when we accept what is, we may find the good in even the most difficult situations. We learn to accept the holes in ourselves and others. We even welcome imperfection.

Since the accident, I’ve been thinking about holes a lot. I've been thinking about being whole, in relation to loss. How can loss make a person whole? I’ve learned that loss can make a person strong, more self-reliant. Loss can make us more compassionate to ourselves and others.

Where I had a toe, there’s now a hole, and that hole reminds me that I’m not perfect. But, despite my imperfection, I am whole. I am me. It would be ridiculous to think that I am any less of a person, because I’m missing a toe, because I have a hole. Just as it’s ridiculous for any of us to think we must be perfect.

Physical wounds can’t be hidden as easily as emotional and psychological wounds. And that’s a gift. Physical wounds make us confront our mortality, our humanity. Physical wounds can’t be denied. They are tangible and force us to accept ourselves, with all our imperfections.

It's impossible to get through life without being wounded. Some wounds are obvious. Others are internal, even spiritual: the loss of the ability to trust, to connect deeply, to hold a friend and know that you are loved.

We run away from wounds. Try not to look at them. We think they're signs of weakness, but our wounds—the holes in us—provide a doorway, a soft spot in our armor. We walk around armored, protecting ourselves with platitudes and false smiles, never touching our own vulnerabilities, afraid to share our tender rawness with another or even with ourselves.

If we can touch the tender spots, allow ourselves to feel fear, sorrow, loss, we become closer to wholeness. The more we accept our holes, the more compassion we can have for others. When we feel compassion we are able to connect. We are able to expose our soft underbelly to another human being and share the salt of our tears, the sweetness of our joy. That’s what I want to write about, that’s what I want to share, because salt makes all the difference between a bland, protected life, and a true life: pulsing, bloody, messy, passionate and truly whole.

Flaws, or holes, are what make a character seem real—in life and in fiction. Perfection is impermanent, an illusion. A person who seems too perfect is repulsive. We don’t trust him. We know that person can’t be real. Holes speak of truth. Holes allow us to connect, to ourselves and to each other. Our holes make us human, make us beautiful. Holes allow the light to shine through.

If someone had asked me last spring, “Would you give up a toe in order to learn, in order to have time to write your next novel?” I might have said, “Yes.”

Funny, how life works.

This is one story from Indie Chicks: 25 Women 25 Personal Stories available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To read all of the stories, buy your copy today. All proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer.
Also included are sneak peeks into 25 novels! My novel, Seeing Julia, is one of the novel excerpts featured. It is available at most online retailers in trade paperback as well as e-book formats.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Whispers of Murder: Chapter One Sneak Peek

Whispers of Murder is a Romantic Suspense Novella. 

Here's a sneak peek of the first chapter:

Isabelle Donnelly’s eyes darted around the room, first to her mother, then her sister before coming to rest on the man that stood as a barrier between herself and her betrothed.   
“We are gathered here today in the presence of God to offer up our bounteous thanks for the gift of marriage, and to witness the joining together of Isabelle and Leo,” the pastor said. 
Isabelle’s gaze returned to her mother who was perched on a pew in the front row.  Her mother’s eyes were riveted on a single piece of lace fabric in her lap that she picked at like she hoped it would unravel, just like she wished the wedding would.  She hadn’t made eye contact with her daughter since she entered the church, and Isabelle suspected she wouldn’t, not after the blow up she’d had with her father the night before.  He’d knocked on the door to Isabelle’s hotel room with a request to speak with her, but it hadn’t taken long to realize it was his last-ditch effort to dissuade her from the decision she’d made to marry.  When she refused to listen to what Dad liked to call “the Donnelly voice of reason,” he stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind him.  She hadn’t seen him since. 
The pastor continued.  “Today is a time for family and friends to share in their commitment to each other by offering Isabelle and Leo our continued support, love and best wishes in their lives together.”   
Isabelle’s sister, Melanie, slouched back in her seat, rolled her eyes in disgust and gave Isabelle a why-the-hell-are-you-doing-this glance.  Isabelle scrunched her eyes shut and wished they would all disappear, but when she opened them again, her family was still there.  Today was the day she would marry the man of her dreams, but everywhere she looked she was met with scowls of disapproval.  It made her question why they’d come at all and why they hadn’t forsaken her like her father, who had left her at the last moment to walk down the aisle alone.  Did he really think she wouldn’t go through with it just because he disapproved?  And where was Emmett?  He promised he’d be there, and yet as she studied the faces of everyone in attendance, his was absent.
Isabelle disregarded the tension saturating the room and stared into Leo’s eyes.  The room around them whirred to a stop, and in slow motion he slid the three-carat diamond ring into position on her finger. 
“I know we’ve only known each other for a few months,” he said, “but I’d feel the same even if it had been three years.  I never knew women like you existed.  From the first time we bumped into each another, I knew I had to have you.  Nothing else mattered to me anymore, only you.”
A faint gagging sound broke the silence.  Isabelle turned to her sister who clasped her hand to her throat like she had a piece of meat lodged inside that she was desperate to get out.
The pastor nudged Isabelle and placed his hand over hers.  “It’s your turn,” he said, nodding toward Leo. 
  She cleared her throat.  “Leo, I…”
The next two minutes passed by like a blur, and in the end Isabelle wasn’t sure if she’d said what she intended, nor if any of the vows she’d spent the past several days rehearsing had come out as planned.  All that mattered to her now was that the wedding was over and the two of them could get on with their lives somewhere far away from the scrutiny of her family.  
Leo rubbed his thumb over her hand and mouthed the words, “We’re almost there.”
The pastor surveyed the audience and spoke.  “If any of you can show just cause why these two fine people shouldn’t be married, speak now or else forever hold your peace.”
Isabelle gave Melanie a glare that said: Stop this wedding and I’ll never forgive you.   Her sister uncrossed her legs and crossed them together on the opposite side but remained silent.
The back doors to the church flung open like they’d been struck by an onslaught of insurgents and Isabelle’s father staggered inside.  Emmett followed close behind.  Neither spoke, but Isabelle’s father eyeballed her with a solemn look on his face.  A single tear traveled down his cheek and splashed down on the belt buckle that cinched to the waist of his Wrangler jeans.  She was stunned.  Her father had never cried in front of her before.  Emmett ushered him to a row at the back of the room and they lowered their bodies down into their seats. 
The preacher waited until the two men were settled in and continued.  “Now that Isabelle and Leo have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, before us and before God as witness, and have shown their affection and trust by the giving and receiving of rings and by joining hands, and by the power vested in me I pronounce…”
Isabelle’s knees buckled like they’d been stuffed with cotton, and she collapsed.  Her head smacked against the hardwood floor upon impact and she lay there motionless, her eyes closed.  
Within seconds her sister had scurried to her side and cradled Isabelle’s head in her lap.  Leo bent down to touch her but Melanie slapped his hand away.  “Don’t touch her!” she hissed.  “You did this!”  She turned toward the back of the room and yelled, “Emmett?”  But there was no need, he was already there.
What should have been one of the happiest moments in Isabelle’s life turned out to be the day her whole world unraveled.

I Have A Secret: Chapter One Sneak Peek

I Have a Secret
Sloane Monroe Series #3  

Chapter One Sneak Peek 

Doug Ward stood on the ship’s deck and gazed across the calm waves of an evening sea.  The cool ocean breeze brushed past his face and clung to it like little particles of mist, but he didn’t seem to notice.  The scotch in his hand was his fifth of the night, or the sixth or seventh—he couldn’t remember.  Most nights he drank until he passed out, and tonight would be no exception.  He’d drink himself into oblivion if it meant never hearing another one of his classmates sing the karaoke version of M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” 

Twenty years had passed since anyone called him “Douggie”, but tonight he’d heard it shouted from every corner of the stuffy room that contained him.  All he wanted was to get away from it, so he left the crowd at the costume party behind to sing their hearts out while he pondered the long list of life’s regrets in solitude.  Rounding out the top five was his decision to take the high school reunion cruise in the first place.  But there was little he could do about that now. 

 Two more days, he thought, and this trip will be all over.

Doug’s memories of high school had faded through the years until he hadn’t remembered much of anything.  It all seemed like the blur of someone else’s life, as if the experiences he recalled weren’t really his anymore.  He had flashes of memories here and there, but only one solid enough to stand the test of time.  And that was the one he’d tried his hardest to forget, but no amount of alcohol would ever drown it out.  Not completely. 

Often times Doug thought about what he’d change if he could go back in time and do it all over again.  He envisioned himself at the fork in the road and often thought about what it would have been like had he chosen to go in the other direction.  Maybe he wouldn’t have gone through life with all the nightmares that plagued him, or the secrets that gnawed at his insides like a thief in the darkness trying to find his way out of a dense, black fog surrounding him on all sides, 

“There you are,” a voice said behind him. 

Doug rotated his body around and faced Trista, his wife.  She looked exquisite in her black satin vampire gown that hugged every curve of her petite frame.  Her cocoa-colored hair fell in loose curls around her shoulders, and her lips were stained the perfect shade of red.  It didn’t matter how many years had come and gone since they’d married, she still remained the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. 

“I’m sorry, honey.  I just needed a moment alone,” he said. 

“Everyone is looking for you,” she said.  “They want to know what happened to the life of the party.”

He rattled the ice cubes in his glass around and shook his head.  “You know I haven’t been worthy of that title for a very long time.”

She shrugged. You can’t help how people remember you, Mr. Prom King.  And I thought you should know your queen is getting lonely in there without you.”

Doug managed to crack a smile.  He hated to disappoint her.  “I need a few more minutes, okay?  And then I’ll come in.”

Trista wrapped her arms around him, stared into his eyes and whispered, “I’ll be waiting,” and then she brushed her lips across his and turned and went back inside. 

Doug winced when she touched him.  Not because her affections were unwanted, but because he knew how much he’d let her down over the years.  He hadn’t lived up to the man he should have been—not as a husband, a father, any of it.  And yet she stayed while he wasted away.  He knew he didn’t deserve her, and that made him feel even worse.

So many times Doug tried to pick himself up again, for his wife and their kids.  But no matter how many twelve-step programs he went to, it always ended the same way, with one eyeball staring down the bottom of a bottle until he’d finished every last drop.  Most nights he woke up in his bed not knowing how he got there, and he’d turn and gaze upon Trista who was snuggled up next to him.  In those moments of serenity he vowed the next day would be different.  But when the sun rose and brought a chance to start anew, he was too weak and couldn’t get out the door without at least one drink.     

Doug turned back and stared out to the sea again, but the night had bathed the sea in black, and he couldn’t see much of anything anymore besides the mirrored glow of the moon across still waters.  He sighed; it was time to go back inside.      

Beside the door a shadow emerged and gravitated in his direction.  Doug hunched over to get a better look, but his eyes played tricks on him, and everything was a haze.  “I’m coming in now, sweetie.”  

The figure halted.  Doug squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again, but the image in front of him was still a blur.  Several seconds went by and neither moved.  He shook his head back and forth at a rapid rate and tried to jolt back into reality.  And then it occurred to him—whoever lurked there seemed too tall to be his pint-sized wife.  

“Is that you, Candice?” he said.  “Because I’m still not interested.  I love my wife.  You have to stop this—right now.”

The figure shook its head but did not speak.

Candice was known in high school as the girl all the guys slept with, and being told no wasn’t part of her limited vocabulary.  Doug had resisted her for most of his senior year until one night when she showed up on his doorstep.  It was like she knew he’d been left all alone.  With his parents gone and Trista away at cheer camp, Candice pushed her way into his house.  Doug tried to say no, he wasn’t interested, but Candice tossed her head back and laughed while she unfastened the belt on her jacket, grabbed both sides and spread it all the way apart.  Doug gasped.  She was stark naked.  She let the jacket drop to the floor and took her pointer finger and curled it back toward her.  That was how she always got her man.  She had the best body of any girl at school—one that none of the boys could resist—and she knew it. 

Since the first day of the reunion cruise Candice had stalked him, showing up at the same excursions he was on with Trista and making obscene gestures whenever Trista glanced the other way.  The mere sight of her made Doug’s insides feel like they were on a continual roller coaster, and he just wanted to get off.  On the second night, Candice had even cornered him in the hallway and slammed him up

against one of the guest rooms.  Doug had more than his fair share of drinks that night, but he’d managed to shove her off him before he stumbled down the hall to his cabin where Trista was waiting. 

And now, there they were.  Doug stared at the figure, sure it was Candice.  She stood, silent, like she was waiting for something.  What kind of game is she playing now…he thought?  “It is you, Candice, isn’t it?”

The figure shook its head and accelerated toward him, and for the first time in years, Doug wished he was in control of all his faculties.  The figure wore a long black robe with a mask that looked like they’d just attended a masquerade ball with Marie Antoinette.  Doug reached for the mask, but his hand swept the open air, not catching anything in its grasp. 

“Who are you?” he said.  “And what do you want?”

The masked person displayed a long, shiny object.  Doug panicked.  He tried to lunge to the side, but instead he stumbled backward, and the knife plunged into his chest.  Doug’s drink tipped from his hand and fell overboard into the icy depths below.  Before he had time to react, he felt another sharp pain to his abdomen, and then another.  He wanted to fight back, but he was drunk and helpless.  The third jab cut deep, slicing straight to the heart, and as the life drained from his body and the blood spilled out, staining the deck below, he

managed to utter one single word: “Why?”

The figure withdrew the knife from Doug’s body, pulled him in close and whispered a single word—the last one he’d ever hear: Revenge.  He pressed his hands into his gaping wounds and slumped over, trying to stand, but it was too late.  Within seconds, Doug Ward was dead.