Friday, August 30, 2013

Urban Fantasy, an anthology of Southern urban fantasy

The anthology, Urban Fantasy, published by KY Story, is a collection of stories with supernatural beings and events exploring contemporary themes. It contains a story by yours truly--"The Bull Riding Witch--and is now available on Amazon in print and Kindle formats ( 

To get you excited about the anthology, I am interviewing the other authors and making available an excerpt of their stories. I plan to publish one interview every Friday until I've interviewed everyone in the collection. First up is John Biggs, author of the story, "In an Instant." If you like what you read, please comment and check out the rest of the anthology.


Tell us a little about yourself?

I’m one of those people who wanders aimlessly until he finally winds up exactly where he was supposed be.

I fell in love with a hometown girl who lived down the block from me, but not till she went away to college.

I was born in Southern Illinois, but found a home in Oklahoma (by way of Maine).

I’m a dentist by training, but gradually shifted to writing. I did that in the slowest way possible, by editing the Oklahoma Dental Journal and writing research articles until boring facts and stilted syntax no longer satisfied me. Then I switched to fiction.

What made you want to become a writer?

I couldn’t stop myself. I tried my hand at writing fiction about ten years ago and was immediately hooked. There are no twelve step programs around, so I’ve stuck with it.

Why Urban Fantasy? What about this genre appeals to you?

I’ve never written a story with a market in mind. I wrote a series of linked short stories that evaluate the fall of civilization from an Oklahoma point of view. I know that sounds a little odd, but Oklahoma is a special case. Native American culture is alive and well here. There are cowboys everywhere you look. Religion plays a major role in Oklahoma society. We have the most fanatic sports enthusiasts in the world.

I’ve managed to place nine of these post apocalyptic Oklahoma stories. Some in literary magazines, some in horror venues, and some in fantasy publications.  I found KY Stories in Duotrope and hoped “In an Instant” would be a match.

Could you tell us a bit about your story?

After society collapses, looting and shopping are the same thing. Raj, my protagonist, is trying to scrounge groceries from an abandoned Buy For Less, when he is captured by a roving band of men led by The Colonel. The men have no women. Raj looks like a pretty good substitute to most of them until they find a five year old girl named Mary. Raj takes charge of Mary. He manages to keep her safe until the band of men find a cache of ecstasy. Now he must decide whether to give her up and save himself or risk his life and try to save them both. As the title suggests, he has to make this decision “In an Instant."

What gave you the inspiration for your story?

Raj, my protagonist, is East Indian. I came in contact with a number of people from that part of the world and found their culture compelling. I wondered how these people might react to a complete absence of order.

Do you believe an apocalyptic scenario such as the one in your story is likely? Why or why not?

I think it is very likely. An enduring idea of Newtonian physics is that things proceed from order to disorder. Everything breaks down. The ruins of failed civilizations litter the planet. Ours is bigger and more technologically dependent, so it’s likely to fall harder than most and leave a bigger mess.

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

All of my characters are an amalgamation of people I’ve known.

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?

Danny Riley, the protagonist of my second novel—still in process—is my favorite character. He is a classical outsider: a Laguna Pueblo who grew up on the Navajo Reservation and moves to Oklahoma in search of his missing family. Danny is capable of overcoming every obstacle that confronts him. I used him at various stages of his life in “Try-to-kill-you-days," in Cactus Country I anthology, and in Boy Witch, a story that won the grand prize in the 80th annual Writers’ Digest competition.

What’s your connection to the South?

I have several connections. My mother’s father was a coal miner from Kentucky. He  moved his family to Southern Illinois in the early 1900’s.

Williamson County, where I was born, had such strong southern sympathies during the civil war that it succeeded from the Union. The succession only lasted until General John A. Logan and the Union Army convinced them the idea was never going to fly.

I live in Oklahoma, which is sort of a southern state, and my first novel, Owl Dreams, is being published by Pen-L Publishing out of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer?  If so, what do you do during the day? 

I am now retired. I was a faculty member at the OU College of Dentistry and also maintained a private practice in the specialty of Endodontics.

What is your favorite writing tip or quote?

Write every day.

What else have you published?

My first novel, Owl Dreams, will be released by Pen-L Publishing in mid November.

“In an Instant” is my thirtieth published short story. Other stories from the linked post apocalyptic series have been published or accepted for publication in: Pravic, Kansas City Voices, Open Road Review, Constellations, Mystic Signals, Lightning Cake, Clerics Charlatans and Cultists, and Ruined Cities Anthology.

Tell us a little about your plans for the future.  Do you have any other stories or books in the works?

I am currently working on two novels. Trial Separation is an 80,000 word magical realism piece that re-introduces Danny Riley, the hero of some previous short stories.

Popsicle Sticks is also magical realism. It is a 50,000 word novel which draws on Native American witchcraft.

Where can we find you online? 
This site is currently under construction. It will contain both a website and a blog.
This site is present but inactive. It will be replaced by the blog site listed above.


In an Instant
The clock on our kitchen wall stopped months ago along with everything else that works on electricity, but my mother checks it anyway.
“Still five o’clock,” she says. “In India, mothers don’t measure time with machines.”
“All the really important things happen in an instant.” She kisses me on the cheek, brushes the spot with her fingertips and tells me, “You’re a man now, Raj.”
Just like that.
 “Things change when the world falls apart.” Her Bengali accent turns everything she says into Eastern wisdom. “Now looting and shopping are exactly the same thing.”
“You see, Raj? Whether you’re in India or Oklahoma City.”
“Well . . .” I’d have more to say if my accent came from the other side of the world.
She puts her hands on my shoulders so I’ll have to pay attention; so I’ll know Bengali-Okie-men have to listen to their mothers. “Hunger makes all the difference, especially if someone’s already broken into the grocery store.”
She hands me a shopping bag made of recycled plastic. “Think of it as an adventure.”
My first assignment as a man is stealing dinner from the Buy for Less.

The rioters made a mess of things. Broken glass, pools of dried blood, piles of crumpled clothing that might have bones inside. I keep my eyes on the back of the store and my mind on canned goods.
Chef Boyardee, Vienna Sausages, Starkist Tuna.
I take careful baby steps through the deepest darkest part of Buy for Less, back where the seafood and meat have turned into a maggot factory. No wind inside the stores to move the odors around. They settle in layers that burn my eyes and turn my stomach but I’m still hungry enough to eat canned tomatoes and beets and wash them down with grapefruit juice. The looters left plenty of those things when they ran through the store days ago and cleaned out all good stuff: Wolf Brand Chili, Beer, Diet Coke.
I’m opening a can of sour croute with a one of the twenty blades on my Swiss Army knife when bright lights shine on me from two directions.
A voice behind one of the lights says, “Show us your hands, Jose.”
So I drop the knife and the sour croute and push my fingers toward the ceiling. Pigeons roosting in the girders shift positions, not sure if I’m reaching for them. They coo to each other—making plans.
The voice calls me a “Goddamned Mexican.” I hear a dollop of saliva splatter on the floor. I hear the hammer of a pistol click into the danger zone.
“I’m not Mexican,” I say before I can stop myself.
I point to the American Flag pin my mother made me wear to prove I’m patriotic. I draw a finger under the Kiss me! I’m an Okie! legend on my T-shirt.
“My name’s Rajneesh Patel,” I tell the pair of sealed beam lights. “I’m Bengali, not Hispanic.” The word Hispanic comes out like an obscenity—with accents on hiss and panic.
“My friends call me Raj.” 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Margaret McMillion and Personal Baggage

I wrote Personal Baggage because I enjoy the escape that reading gives me--to sit down with a book and be transported into a more exciting situation than the one in which I live and to read about characters who are very different from the people I know.
  I wanted to paint pictures with words, to introduce unusual characters and behind-the-scene events that intrigued me, and to pull readers into the exciting world of nursing.  I had a wealth of material, gathered over a long period of time, so when I retired and one of my children gave me Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, and my sister introduced me to David Starnes, and he offered to help me, and my husband bought a beautiful computer desk and a Hewlett-Packard machine for me, I ran out of excuses for not trying, at least, to work on a manuscript. 
As a child, I was taken with Cherry Ames and her adventures in different nursing situations.  My ambition had always been to become a nurse and, although marriage and starting a family took me off course, when I needed to make money, I chose to work toward an associate degree in nursing at a nearby community college.
I was a registered nurse for thirty years: working as a floor nurse, as an emergency room nurse, in obstetrics, in home health, in critical care, and in Oncology.  I found that the same basic skills were required wherever I worked, but I added new skills and new friends each time I changed settings. 

Book Blurb 

Personal Baggage: A Tale of Marriage, Medicine, and Murder (ISBN 1461156440) by Margaret McMillion shares the story of a dedicated nurse who, while employed at a big city hospital, uncovers a dangerous game of abuse and profiteering made possible by a broken health care system.

When Penny Pewitt decides to take on a second nursing job at a large hospital, she hopes to secure extra income for her family.  Instead, she discoverexploding changes in health care and resulting illegal practices that endanger not only patients, but also anyone threatening to expose the system.  MeanwhilePenny’s relationship with her husband,Johnny, is disintegrating.  She blames him for her unhappiness while his time is consumed with the pursuit of other interests.  As Penny encounters patients, colleagues, family members, and medical duplicity, she gains the confidence and maturity needed to see things in a new light.  In an effort to defuse Penny’s growing obsession with hospital intrigue, Johnny arranges a visit to her great-grandparents’ hometown.  As past meets present with shocking results, the trip comes to mean much more than he intends. 

“I was inspired to write by my life experiences and my delight at becoming immersed in stories by great authors,” McMillion says.   “Set against a background of Medicare fraud, this is an exciting story about one nurse's adventures in her profession.”

Summer sunlight sent a golden glow through the outstretched wings of a hawk floating on currents of air above Dixiana, Mississippi on an afternoon in the year 1991.  Without warning, the flier plunged straight at a house cat lying on the roof of a small red car.  Springing up from her nap, the long-haired calico hissed and slashed as the powerful predator swept past.
From a weed patch in the center of the driveway circle, a ­woman rushed to rescue her pet.  Comforting the animal, she stumbled past a bed of yellow zinnias and sank into a Pawleys Island hammock beneath the protecting arms of a live oak tree, whose leafy canopy danced softly on a honeysuckle breeze.  The kitty kneaded Penelope Augusta Nichols Pewitt’s stomach and purred while the hawk circled slowly overhead. two strands converged in the middle forming a Y.  Disrupting the shimmering letter, Penny placed her daughter’s cat on the ground as a small mutt with the high bellowing.

“I think you scared it, Callie.”

At the sound of Penny’s alto voice, the fluffy feline looked up.  Under usual circumstances, a small droplet of moisture rested at one corner of the animal’s mouth, but happiness accelerated her salivation rate and she had drooled from both corners until the bark of a beagle joined them to announce that their neighbor was waving from her front yard.

Like her father and grandmother before her, the older woman lived in the temple style house in which she was born: Oakden, with tall ceilings and three layers of bricks between the walls of rooms unaltered for generations.  If the truth were known, she had preserved her heritage by permitting thousands of strangers to walk through her home and gawk at her family’s possessions.

Misty Vanlandingham shaded her eyes.  “I need to ask you something,” she called.
Penny climbed out of the hammock, sauntered down her driveway, and crossed Oakwood Street, where heat waves rose from the pavement into air thick with the watermelon fragrance of freshly mown grass.

Misty spoke in a tone Jackie Kennedy might have used in a comment about the Rose Garden, while her glistening face bore witness to the temperature in massive Oakden on one of the stickiest summer days Mississippi had dished out.  “A brand-new pair of black lace undies disappeared from my laundry basket and I think your dog might be the culprit.”

Long past the puppy stage, Penny’s dog Zac seized any opportunity to swipe the neighbors’ papers.  He dug up flower beds with joyous barking and pilfered trophies from all over town: a cell phone which rang incessantly, several hats from a baseball cap to a bonnet, and innumerable shoes from the porch of their Japanese friends.  In fact, until his masculinity was removed, he had distributed his DNA all over town.

Penny attempted to imagine her neighbor in black lace undies.  “I’m sorry.  I really try to keep him out of your yard.”

Misty acknowledged the apology with a wave of her hand, collected mail from her box, and smiled at Penny.  “How are things with you?”

Avoiding a direct reply, Penny shifted her gaze to the mailbox.  “Did you see in the paper that the county has sold River Park Hospital to the corporation that built Jacksonville Medical Center?”

“No, but I know many hospitals are struggling because Medicare and insurance companies have cut back reimbursements.”

Penny faced her neighbor.  “I’m changing jobs: I am going to work full-time at the Jacksonville hospital.”  She paused, afraid her friend would disapprove. Jacksonville Medical Center, a new 300-bed hospital, was 75 miles northeast of the town of Dixiana.  Penny would begin her new job the next morning.

Misty nodded and Penny continued.  “Three twelve-hour night shifts or thirty-six hours a week will qualify me for full-time benefits, and I can still work day shift in Dixiana every other Saturday and Sunday on the Baylor Plan, which pays time and a half for each hour of weekend work.”
Misty widened her eyes and smiled.  “That hospital in Jacksonville is larger and more progressive than ours.  You’re wise to make a change before the situation here grows any worse.  It’s a long commute, though.  Be careful driving home in the mornings!”
More than a profession for Penny Pewitt, RN, nursing was her avocation yet something was missing.  Neither nursing, with its multiplicity of demands, nor the animals her children, Tom, Dick, and Harriet, had abandoned to her care filled the emptiness they had left behind.
Tears stung Penny’s eyes.  Her steps in deciding had been littered with second thoughts, but Misty agreed with her.  Recently named Dixiana’s Citizen of the Year, Misty managed the Garden Club and ­organized pilgrimage house tours for the entire town.  God knew Misty understood business!

Her decision validated, Penny looked both ways before stepping into the street.  A shiny black car was slowly approaching from the left, allowing her ample time to cross, but after she had taken a few steps, the vehicle accelerated, its motor roaring as it surged forward.  Startled, Penny raced for her front yard, jumped the curb, and reached grass only a few steps ahead of the speeding compact, which scraped against the concrete curbing before swerving back into its proper lane.

Unnerved, Penny felt every heartbeat like someone was kicking her in the chest again and again.  Had the driver tried to run her down?  It was lucky that both she and Zac had escaped injury!  She sprinted over her lawn while Zac scampered ahead of her.  His short hair was mostly white, but in places the white faded to a brownish tan, making him appear perpetually dirty.  She collected her yard gloves and kneeling pad and coaxed him into his pen. Reaching far back into his little house, she discovered several dog biscuits, a chewed-up bone, and a large pair of black-lace panties.  Zac met Penny’s glare with silent adoration.
Entering the house from the garage, Penny undressed in the laundry room and tossed her muddy yard clothes into the washer.  Yesterday’s rain had made the weeding job messy She envisioned her immaculate, stylishly-dressed mother.  As a child and even later, Penny had thought that when she grew up, she would live in heels like her mother, a minister’s wife who wore gloves more often than Michael Jackson.

The jangling phone called her into the kitchen, where she snatched up the receiver and plopped into a chair.  She braced her elbows on the table. “Hello?”

“Penny, something bad has happened here!”

The urgent sound of her sister Faye’s voice sent Penny’s blood racing.

“Reva phoned from Westview to tell me Dad knocked her down and yelled at her, that he’d call the police if she didn’t leave, but she said she would stay until I got there, if I came quickly.”

“Oh great!”  Penny stood up, barely able to listen to what might come next.  Her mother’s mental status had declined at an alarming rate since coronary by-pass surgery two months ago, and her father, a retired Presbyterian minister, was unable to manage his home.  Reva Ryder was their most recent housekeeper.

Faye continued, “I drove out there as fast as I could.  Reva said she had taken issue with something Dad was doing to Mom, and when she interfered he told her to get out.  Then he pushed her and she fell.”

After a pause Penny’s voice quavered, “So...what happened next?”

“Well, I assured Reva that we know she did her best and that she’s a wonderful person and I apologized for Dad’s acting like that.”

“And then Daddy asked her to forgive him?”

“Are you kidding?  No, he was very agitated, even after Reva said she’d never be back and left, he still looked really mean.  So I have just now come back to my office.”

Penny pictured Faye’s office in the Charleston Chamber of Commerce building, the soft folds of her sister’s skirt swinging as she paced.  “Faye, did you leave them alone?”

“Well...Mom was in bed and Dad seemed calm.  I’ve got to find another housekeeper!  I have a couple of leads but I need somebody who can start tomorrow.”

Penny had assumed that when the need arose she would be the one who would take care of her parents in the same way in which her mother had cared for her grandparents, but it had turned out that she and her husband, Johnny, a high school coach and history teacher, depended on the income from her job at Dixiana’s River Park Hospital where she had worked for nineteen years.

Penny, torn between obligations at work and her parents’ needs, walked barefoot through her kitchen, across the den, and down the hall to the bathroom. She was standing in the shower running hot water on her head when Faye called again.  Grabbing a towel, she scurried to the telephone beside her bed while water dripped onto her rug.

“Things are looking up!  I asked two ladies from the church to carry  Mom and Dad their lunch and check on them tomorrow and the next day, then I can cover the weekend, and I have the phone number for a young widow who wants to work while her kids are in school.  Let’s hope she’ll start on Monday.”

Later that afternoon, Penny was slicing Roma tomatoes with a steak knife when Johnny arrived.  Her husband crowded their small kitchen like a boulder, exuding an earthy odor of dirt and grass.

His deep voice filled the quiet house.  “Sorry I’m late.  What have you been up to?”
Penny wanted to keep supper conversation away from her new job.  “I made tuna salad.”

“Sounds good.  Just give me a minute.”

While Johnny shaved, showered, and dressed for an Investment Club meeting, Penny, who was worried about passing Jacksonville Hospital’s qualification tests for RNs, worked on a practice sheet of drug calculations at the kitchen table.  For some reason, math was harder for her than it used to be, and it had been a while since she had grappled with problems like these because manufacturers packaged most drugs in individual portions.  The hospital pharmacists dispensed the others already measured, and nurses only double checked the doses.
When Johnny came to the table his face was crimson; sunburn had erased his freckles.  He patted down his damp, sandy-grey hair, pulled out a chair, and sat in front of his plate, pressing a finger against the wireframe nosepiece of his eye glasses.  “Thanks for waiting supper.  Peter Puckett came by the field to show off his trophy wife, and then I had to finish mowing.”

“Did you finish?” Penny asked, not listening to his reply.  Johnny knew Mr. Puckett, the hospital’s administrator, better than she did.  Her husband could say something chummy to anybody, and he knew everybody because he volunteered for everything; he volunteered out of sheer habit!  He was a serial do-gooder who could chop down all the telephone poles in town and still qualify for citizen of the year.

One could say there was nothing wrong with taking an interest in people, but Johnny, a Dixiana native, not only wanted to know their names and who their relatives were, but also he wanted to help them.  He said he must repay the debt he owed his stepfather, a gentle man who had been his “Pop” since Johnny was ten years old.  Before they married, Johnny had told Penny about his father’s illness, the agonizing six weeks before leukemia killed him, and the lost little boy he became at the age of seven.

“And hickory dickory dock,” Johnny said.

Penny looked at him.

“You’re not listening.  Why did you ask me if you didn’t want to know?  You don’t give a flip about what I do.”

Penny felt hollow in her abdomen.  What he said was partly true.

Getting up from the table, Johnny stood at the refrigerator with his glass of iced tea.  He looked like he was puzzled about something, and the solution was written on the linoleum.  “I thought you liked sports when I married you.”  He glanced at Penny with an amused smile.  “We went to the football games and you came to all my baseball and basketball games.  You know?”

“But we were dating then.  I loved you, not sports.”

Johnny settled into his chair and stared at her with alligator eyes, his mouth a tight seam.  He started to speak, but Penny needed to make her point before she forgot what it was.
“You came to my choral performances, and I didn’t know music made your head ache—not until we went to Handel’s Messiah and you threw up in the church!”
Not blinking, Johnny said, “I guess I should have figured it out when you didn’t come to our boys’ games...”

Penny interrupted.  “But when the boys played you were always there and I was at work or washing or cleaning.  I guess you remember that none of our children helped around the house.”
She closed her eyes, lowered her head, and pinched her nose.  Almost inevitably, she recalled an evening when she had compiled lists of age-appropriate chores and presented one to each child at supper.  The children complained and Johnny said the lists were a bad idea.  She suffered again the desperation of that rock-bottom  moment when he didn’t support her, and she walked out of the  house, got into her car, and drove all the way to Louisiana.  Finally, she turned around at an EXXON station and returned home.

To a certain extent, Penny had enjoyed her children more when they were young: so cuddly, cute, and so eager to learn.  As they grew older and after she became a nurse, their needs multiplied in the dark.  Penny had once believed that if she tried hard enough she could be a perfect mother; Dr. Spock’s falling-apart paperback was her Bible.  But as time passed, she became a survivor, struggling with one day’s catastrophes only to face new obstacles the next.  She  remembered working eight-hour night shifts, ten on and four off, and dragging herself out of bed before the children arrived home from school.  After supper and baths, when they were tucked in, she sometimes cried as she folded laundry before returning to the hospital to work again.

Johnny restored the subject.  “Anyway, we’ve got that field the best it’s ever been.  Man, it’s going to be fun to play on!  Big Time!”

Penny ran cold fingers through her faded-blond hair, inhaled, gripped the edge of the table, and shifted in her chair.  Her bare toe touched his shoe, and she jerked her foot back as though it had been burned.  She felt so upset she couldn’t sit while Johnny explained the hot stock tip he planned to present to his club.  She marveled at the way he kept his emotions under control and wondered whether he masked them or never even experienced them in the first place.  Johnny’s disinterest in her was stunning.  She felt a twinge of pressure on her bottom lip and made herself stop biting it.  No wonder her lipstick never stayed on.

She doubted that her husband would notice the tears standing in her eyes when he told her goodbye: Johnny was gifted with not noticing.  Too busy to need her, he didn’t see her, not really.  Her life was unraveling, and she was grasping at the threads; all the good times were over.

Surely, one might agree that when a relationship fell apart  there should be a sign to show that something life-changing had happened—not like this: just keeping on keeping on.  Even lovemaking, which her mother described as “your privilege to do something for your husband,” had become just another chore before Penny could sleep.

After cleaning up the kitchen, Penny fed Callie and Zac and retired to her room.  She needed rest to be at her best the next day, but her thoughts returned to the week during which she had agonized over whether to apply for the job in Jacksonville.  She had asked Johnny’s opinion, since he always had one, and the ability to see through a problem to the choices and to calculate the consequences.  Fittingly enough, he had pointed out the extra driving time involved and the increased cost of operating her Chevette and then he said, “It’s your call, of course, but do you think it is wise to change jobs when you’re fifty-three years old?”

Penny’s uncertainties swarmed in.  She must have been crazy to think she could work in Jacksonville!  It took all her energy just to make it from one day to the next, and yet she was vegetating in Dixiana.  At the big hospital, she would learn to manage Swan lines and assist with pacemaker insertions and she could take part in new procedures she had only read about.  She wanted to work in a larger hospital, and she had already accepted the job!
She was ready to move on, done with doing what everyone ­expected of her.  She had attended a small church college and ­selected the Bible as her major which failed to prepare her for the working world.  The realization that she had to work outside their home came upon her like a locomotive: a tiny speck in the distance which became larger and larger until, with a deafening roar when Harriet was only four, Penny had left her crying at day-care and returned to college.

Although starting work with an Associate Degree in nursing bore no resemblance to the experiences of her childhood literary heroine, Cherry Ames, Penny stuck with it because there was no other choice: they had no money for music lessons, no money for braces, no money for clothes.  On Johnny’s salary, their family of five had met the ­requirements for reduced prices on school lunches.

Besides, tomorrow would be a new beginning when people would not know her.  She would be smart and careful and kind, and wash her hands before and after every patient contact.  Yes!  This was her opportunity to become a better nurse.

Determined to make a good first impression, Penny selected her outfit carefully: black slacks, a silky gray blouse, and her new Bass flats.  With her clothes laid out and the room tidied, she propped up in bed and scribbled a letter describing Zac’s panty theft to her parents.  They enjoyed receiving mail, and Penny made her story entertaining.

She turned off the lamp and lay down, trying to focus on the side effects of commonly-used drugs, but her thoughts were muddled by little black cars zooming back and forth as she drifted toward sleep.

On that August evening, Penny had no idea that she would soon be swept into a realm of greed, intrigue, and, ultimately, murder.

About the Author

Margaret McMillion, a retired nurse, was born in Conyers, Georgia and spent her youth in Charlotte, North Carolina and Natchez, Mississippi.  McMillion earned a bachelor’s degree from Rhodes College and an associate’s degree in nursing from Columbia State Community College.  In addition to her career, she is a wife, mother, grandmother, and lifelong writer.

Find Margaret online:


Friday, August 23, 2013

Demons in the Big Easy, for free

My novella, Demons in the Big Easy, is free today at World Literary Cafe: If you haven't read it already, get your free copy now. Read the first chapter below.

Demons in the Big Easy

Chapter 1

Shivering in the cold, Cassandra leaned on her staff as she stood over the snow-covered graves of her husband and four of her five children. Her long, white hair was loose under her hood, and she stooped with age. A storm was just over the horizon, and her bones ached. Curse these old bones of mine! The staff was of heavy oak, so she didn’t know if it were more of a help or a hindrance, but she didn’t dare leave home without it. One never knew these days when one might run into a demon. Something had made the veil thinner, making it easier for them to cross into her realm, and it was Cassandra’s job to send them back where they belonged.

Cassandra sighed wearily. She was getting too old for this kind of thing. She should have trained an apprentice to take over years ago, but she’d never been able to find a young person with the necessary talent. Arwain, her oldest, had had it, but he’d died before she’d had him half trained. A demon had come upon the village when Cassandra had been busy playing the role of midwife. At sixteen, Arwain had been eager to prove his worth and had taken on the demon on his own. By the time Cassandra heard the news, it had been too late. Arwain had managed to banish the demon, but only at the cost of his life.

She patted Arwain’s gravestone. It had been nearly forty years, but she still felt the loss. “Why, son? Why didn’t you run to me instead of toward death? The village needs you now. I won’t be with them much longer.” Cassandra half-smiled at the thought. She’d soon see Arwain again as well as her husband and other lost children. If only she had good hands to leave the village in, she would be at peace with the thought of her death.

She looked down at the next two little graves that held the bodies of her two babes—twin girls. She didn’t want to think about how she’d failed to save their lives. The twins had come too early, as is common with twins. If they’d been anyone else’s children, she might have been able to sustain them, but childbirth had weakened her, and they’d passed before she recovered her strength. Her daughter Malva came next. Malva had died giving birth to the twins—Aine and Caronwyn. Cassandra grieved not being able to stop the bleeding that took her life. She’d helped so many other mothers give birth safely, but somehow she’d not been able to save her own child.

Cassandra felt eyes watching her and turned. On the other side of the fence, just off sacred ground, stood a demon. It smiled at her revealing nasty, yellow teeth and a forked tongue, its cat-like eyes glowing with satisfaction. “Good e’vn, powerful one.” The demon was short, but bloated, as if it had just consumed someone’s essence, but it was too small to have gotten past the wards she had guarding the village.

Cassandra’s lips tightened as she wondered who had been caught outside the wards. She hoped it wasn’t one of those who relied upon her for protection. She’d warned them not to be without the village boundaries after sunset. She readied her staff to perform the ritual of banishment, but the demon’s behavior was odd. “Why have you sought me out? You know I’ll simply send you back where you belong.”

The demon laughed. “Today, yes,” it hissed. “But soon there will be enough of us to overwhelm your wards and devour your village.”

Impossible. The veil might be thinner, but not thin enough for demons to cross in multitude. It would take far too much energy. “Your idle threats don’t scare me.” Cassandra took her staff and began to draw a pentangle in the snow, the first step of the banishment ritual.

The demon smiled wider as the pentangle took shape; it should have cowered in fear. “I will feast on you yet, powerful one, and the meal will be delectable.” It licked its thin lips with its forked tongue and made no effort to thwart the banishment. Any effort it made would have been futile, but still, she usually had to do the ritual while fighting them off, a lapse of concentration on her part would usually be fatal. This demon just watched as if rather amused by the spectacle.

Cassandra finished drawing the pentangle and stood in the center. She planted her staff and began to chant in the old tongue. Directing her will and her energy into the staff, she pointed it toward the demon. The demon began to fade as she pushed it back beyond the veil. Usually, at this point, the demon would scream and curse her name. This one just laughed again and spoke a single word, “Soon.”

When it was gone, Cassandra leaned against the staff; the banishment had not been difficult, but the behavior of the demon disconcerted her. Surely the demon’s threats were empty. Still, something was going wrong with the world, and she was getting too old to handle it.

She tottered to the graveyard gate. As she opened it, a young woman came racing around the corner. “Grandmother! Grandmother!”

Alarmed, Cassandra looked around for any sign of another demon. “Caronwyn, what are you doing here? The sun set half an hour ago. This is outside the wards, and demons are about. I just finished banishing one.”
“Grandmother, it’s Aine!” Tears streamed down Caronwyn’s cheeks.

Thinking of the demon’s bloated belly, Cassandra grabbed Caronwyn’s shoulder. “No, it isn’t true. The demon didn’t get her.”

Caronwyn shook her head. “No, Grandmother, she’s fallen through!”

“Fallen through what?” Cassandra pictured a hole in the ice over the river and wondered why her granddaughter would come to her instead of someone who could help. Running water negated magic, and she’d be useless in such a situation. Aine and Caronwyn were all she had left, and she couldn’t bear to lose either of them.

“A gateway, a random gateway!” Caronwyn wrung her hands. “Grandmother, we have to go after her! We have to bring her back!”

Random gateways between Domhan and Earth did occur, but they weren’t common, and they were so obvious they could be easily avoided. “Surely you’re mistaken.”

“No, Grandmother, I saw it with my own eyes. I was out gathering holly for the Solstice celebration when Aine came running up the hill, followed by Henrik. They were arguing as usual. He was pleading with her to listen to reason, and she was cursing him and his ancestors.”

Cassandra hoped the cursing would take. Henrik was no where near good enough for her granddaughter.
“Aine stopped at the edge of the cliff and told him if he came any closer she’d jump. You know how dramatic she always is. I came out and told her to step away from the edge. She said she’d do no such thing until he apologized. He said, ‘Alright, I’m sorry.’ But Aine didn’t think that was good enough. She told him that he really needed to mean it, and she stamped her foot. That’s when the edge of the cliff gave way.” 

Caronwyn let out a wail. “She flailed with her arms, but she still went over. Both Henrik and I screamed her name and ran to the edge of the cliff. That’s when we saw the black light. She fell straight into it. The air crackled with lightening. Then the black light disappeared, and she was gone. We searched all around the base of the cliff, and we couldn’t find her body. She’s gone through. She’s on the other side. You have to bring her back.”

Cassandra sank down on a nearby stone. Random gateways were unstable. Aine could have arrived in mid-air and fallen to her death or materialized inside stone and suffocated, or worse yet, she might not have made it all the way through and be trapped somewhere between Domhan and Earth in that dark, formless void forever.

“We’re wasting time. We have to go after her now. Who knows what will happen to her in that frightful place?”

The same thing that would happen to any young girl without money on the streets of Earth. Earth with its racing technology was no easy place for the laid back inhabitants of the slower moving Domhan.
“Take me to where she went through. I need to get a reading on the gateway, so I can build one in proximity to when she went through.” The where wasn’t difficult. Any gate built in the vicinity of their village would place them in the Earth city of New Orleans. But when was harder to pin down. Time moved weirdly between gates, and a cross could take a few minutes or a few years. If there was enough residual energy from the gate, she could likely pin Aine’s location in time down to within a few months, but that was as close as she was likely to get.

“This way.” Caronwyn grabbed Cassandra’s arm and start pulling her after her.
Cassandra’s knees and hips protested sharply. “Slow down, child. This body doesn’t move like it used to.”

* * *

Cassandra was winded and hurt in all her joints by the time Caronwyn had dragged her up the steep hill to the spot where Aine had gone over. Cassandra planted her staff and leaned heavily against it. She could still feel the gateway’s residual energy. After she’d rested a moment, she stepped as close to the edge of the cliff as she dared. She focused her energy through the staff and sent a beam down to where the gate had been. The residual energy from the gateway was faint, but still strong enough that Cassandra could read when Aine had gone through. It was a nearly instantaneous gateway. Aine had come out, if she’d come out, at nearly the same moment she’d left. Cassandra only wished she could be that precise in building her own gateway.

As Cassandra and Caronwyn came back down the hill, they were met by Henrik and nearly half the villagers, including Zinna and Yale—Aine’s other set of grandparents. “Is it true?” Zinna asked. “Has our Aine fallen through?”

Cassandra nodded and patted Zinna’s arm. “It certainly appears that way.”

“You will go after her, won’t you?” Yale asked. “You’re the only one within a hundred miles that could.”

“Of course I’ll bring her back.” Dear goddess. Please let me find her. Let me be in time.

“What can we do to help?” Zinna asked.

“Get me Aine’s hair brush—I’ll need some of her hair to perform a tracking spell. And bring me all the gold and silver you have. They have value on Earth.” On Domhan, they were so common that even the poorest of the poor had them in quantity. “I may need the money to track Aine down.”

Caronwyn stepped forward. “You mean, we may need the money. I’m going with you.”

“You?” Cassandra, Zinna, and Henrik said at once. Caronwyn was a timid girl. She’d hardly cross the village street without Aine holding her hand.

Caronwyn crossed her arms. “Aine would do it for me, and you may need help.”

“What help could you possibly be?” Zinna asked, in what Cassandra thought was a tactless manner.

“You have no magic, granddaughter,” Cassandra said more gently. “It’s best if I do this alone.” Caronwyn would only be someone else she’d have to worry about.

Caronwyn tried to argue, but Cassandra stood firm. Caronwyn glared at her. “I’ll fetch Aine’s brush and gather the village’s gold and silver.”

“Bring it to my house at sunrise. I need light to create a gateway, and it’s too dark tonight.”

Caronwyn and the villagers scattered, and Cassandra hobbled home. She went to her old trunk, opened it, and took out the quilts to reveal the false bottom. She fumbled with the secret catch and opened it. Inside were souvenirs from her previous trip—most importantly, a thousand Earth dollars, money to keep her until she was able to sell whatever gold and silver the villagers donated to the cause. Cassandra had always intended to go back to Earth or go to the capital and do great things. She was really too powerful for such a small place. But after her adventure, she’d fallen in love with the village blacksmith. She’d married and had children. Then she’d used her talents for the good of the community, protecting it from demons and wild beasts, helping the crop to yield bounteous harvests, healing the sick. She didn’t regret her choices; she’d had a good life, if not the exciting one she’d once imagined.

She’d offered the money to Aiden, her youngest, when he went off adventuring, but he’d told her he didn’t intend to pass through. She smiled at the thought of her youngest, most mischievous child. He’d always been getting into one mess or another. But he’d had a good heart.  All would have been well with him, but he envied the talent his older brother held. He’d always been after her to teach him more, and she’d tried. Aiden’s  magic had hardly been adequate to light a candle. She sighed as she wondered what had become of him. She hadn’t heard a word from him since he went off thirty years ago, but in her heart, she couldn’t believe him dead. If he’d been dead, she surely would have felt it somehow. She’d always believed he would return. She still did. She just didn’t know if she would be still be here when he did. At seventy-five, she was already an old woman.

Cassandra dismissed useless thoughts of Aiden and began gathering the paraphernalia she’d need for the spells to rescue her granddaughter: candles, incense, chalk, and a compass. She was powerful enough that these trappings weren’t strictly necessary, but they helped conserve energy she might otherwise need. Lastly, she lay her wizard staff by the bundle. She hoped it wouldn’t be necessary, but if she had to fight, it could come in handy.

* * *

When Caronwyn arrived early the next morning carrying a sack of silverware, candlesticks, and jewelry that she’d been able to gather from the villagers, Cassandra was dressed in her warmest clothes and had the thousand dollars and the magical paraphernalia in a pack that had been among her souvenirs. The storm that had been threatening the night before was upon them.

Caronwyn collapsed with the sack at Cassandra’s table. She was trembling. Caronwyn and Aine were twins and had never been apart a day in their lives. The separation must be terrible. “I’ll find her,” Cassandra said with an assurance she didn’t feel.

“Let me come with you,” Caronwyn pleaded.

Cassandra shook her head. “We’ve been over this.”

Surprisingly, Caronwyn argued no further. When Cassandra was ready, Caronwyn—carrying the heavy gold and silver—accompanied her into the woods behind her house to the clearing where she’d built her first gate all those many years before. In the clearing were two trees the proper distance apart to anchor a gateway.
The wind was blowing too fiercely for Cassandra to have any hope of lighting the candles that would help focus the spell. Fortunately, she had the energy to proceed without them. She drew a pentangle in the snow between the trees with her staff. The five points—one for each element (fire, earth, air, and water) and one for the spirit—anchored her so that she didn’t get caught between, as Aine may have done.  Then she began the chant in the old tongue—the language of the goddess herself. She pleaded with the goddess  to allow a rift between worlds that she might step over. At first, nothing seemed to happen. Perhaps the storm negated the magic necessary to open the gate; rain would. Snow didn’t usually bother magic. Then, a bolt of lightening ripped through the air, and the air between the trees filled with a blackness so absolute it denied the existence of light.

Caronwyn screamed and grabbed hold of Cassandra’s arm. Cassandra had forgotten just how dark and powerful the gateway was. “It’s alright, child.” She patted Caronwyn’s hand. “Remember I may be gone awhile, but that doesn’t mean I have failed. Give me the gold.”

“No!” Caronwyn said, and before Cassandra could stop her, she stepped into the darkness. Cassandra had no choice but to follow.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Interview with Richard Porter

Today my guest is Richard Porter, author of London Lunatic. Meet him and read an excerpt from his work. If you like what you read, I'd love your comments.

Tell us a little about yourself? 

In 2009, the doctors told me I had Prostate Cancer. At that time, I had just received a lead role in a play that I was acting in. The doctor told me to come into his office and sit down, that he wanted to explain some things to me. Mr. Porter the doctor said. You have three choices. You can do nothing, and you will survive three years. Then we will only be able to make you comfortable with some medication. The second thing is to have an operation and clear all the Cancer out of your body. And lastly, you may take radiation treatments for that will also clear the Cancer from your body as well. The medical procedures will leave you with some problems for the rest of your life. These procedures if done early enough will leave you with a better quality of life. We have seen a 90% success rate from having these procedures done. I walked out of that office afraid and angry. Once I arrived at home,called my children, and we discussed what would be the best decision for the family. We all agreed that radiation would be the best way for us to go. That was in November of 2009 as I went through those horrible weeks of radiation. Five days a week without fail. 

I studied 300 lines that I had to bring to memory. I was the lead actor in the play called "The Devil Is Loose." Most of those eight weeks were very uncomfortable. I still was able to perform and did a good job. I told none of the production staff about my medical condition. 

Now, I write e-books for Amazon Kindle, and happy to say, the year is 2013, and I will continue as long as I can. I hope that when you purchase one of my books. My belief is you will enjoy the stories that I produce. I write like there is no tomorrow, so you will get my very best every time out. 

What made you want to become a writer? 

I have a love of reading horror books. So I began to try my hand at writing horror. 

What genre do your works fall into? 

Most of my work is Horror/Mystery/Fantasy 

What about this genre appeals to you? 

You can dream up the most horrible stories, and you don't have to hold back anything. 

Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read? 

My London Lunatic is only for hard core Horror fans of all ages. The average person would be highly upset if forced to read this tale. But those who love horror will enjoy this story like no other. 

What gives you inspiration for your book? 

Some of my dreams, people I see in the street. In fact I killed my landlord in a story. She had raised my rent in real life. That is how I got even with her. Just kidding. 

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

Most of the people in my stories are make believe. I do use some relatives' first names. 

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why? 

Cynthia Clayton FBI Special Agent. 

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer? 

People actually read my books, and some even like my style.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you either growing up or as an adult? 

Alfred Hitchcock no one can craft a story like he did. I love his work. 

Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day? 

Sometimes I work as a Chicago Actor. 

What is your favorite writing tip or quote? 

"Don't stop to correct just write" 

Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Do you have any other books in the works? 

I have my London Lunatic II to be released in Dec 2013; also Cynthia Clayton FBI Special Agent stars in two more short stories. 

Where can we find you online? 


Chapter 1
The Second Victim

She was weak. Although she struggled and screamed she couldn't break the grip he had on her arm. For the first time in his life, Jonathan Walker felt like he had power over another human being. It was a heady, exciting experience that he wanted to draw out forever if he could. The thrill of this moment was nearly overwhelming. He had planned this so well, but he didn't really know what it would be like until now.

He pushed her against the wall of the dilapidated, deserted building that was destined to be razed for another renewal zone in London at the beginning of the 20th century. The new electric street lights softly lit up her face. She was young and frightened. Her body was so small that from a distance, she looked like she
might be eight, but upon closer inspection, the curves of her tiny frame convinced him that she might be 16 or 17.

She wore a skirt that ended above her knees – it almost looked like a swimming suit except that she didn't wear tights beneath it. She had on a lot of short petticoats, but they were designed to hold her indecent skirt out rather than help her gain modesty. Her blouse dipped down to show off plenty of cleavage that was partly covered by a mass of dark, tangled hair pulled forward to cascade down her shoulders. However, she was clean and seemed sober. That surprised him.

“Please, Mister,” she whimpered. “I'm doing' no harm to nobody. I'm just out to give a good time to anybody that wants it. Please, Mister, don't kill me?”

Her voice was soft. Not loud and brassy like he expected.

“Shut up.” He ordered

“Yes, Gov'ner. And I've got family. People who'll be looking for me” She added this piece of information hopefully, searching his face to see any sign that it made any difference.

It did. If he had felt any softness toward her at all, it disappeared in a rush of violent rage. He knew how she felt. He remembered all too well being tiny and helpless against a bigger human being. He, too, had sought to find words that might prevent the brutal blows that were about to rain down on him. Just like this whore, his words always seemed to have the opposite effect on the drunken adult who was assailing him. No matter how pathetically, or politely, or pleadingly he delivered his petition for forgiveness, he always managed to earn himself a harder beating than if he had just kept silent.

He tightened his grip on her thin forearm and shoved it above her head against the wall. Her breath was coming hard now, in apparent fear. “Please, Sir. I'm a good girl. As good as I can be. I live with me Mum Please sir, don't kill me for 'er sake.

“Please....” her appeal was abruptly interrupted by a high-pitched scream close at hand. He shoved his body against hers, still pinning her by her upraised arm with his left hand. He pressed his right hand hard against her mouth.

“Don't make a sound or I'll break yer neck,” he whispered urgently. Both of them had been so intent on each other that they had not noticed the carriage that had driven up out of the drizzle and fog and stopped within 100 feet of them. A well-dressed gentleman had alighted and helped out an obviously drunken older woman. As her feet hit the sidewalk, he had slapped her on the bottom, eliciting the scream that Jonathan and his captive had just heard.

“There, Flossy, see if you can stagger home from here. I've got to be going now, or I'm in big trouble.”

“Ya think yer new missus would be jealous to find out about old Flossy.” The woman demanded with her hands on her hips. She'd be thankin' me if she knew that it was I who taught ya ever thing ya knew about love.”

“You taught me nothing worth knowing, you old whore. And I won't have you in my carriage again unless you find your girl and bring her along. I can find better than you, Flossy.”

“Right, Mister Baxter. She thought she'd strike out on 'er own for a while, but I'll bring 'er back.”

“You may not Flossy. You may never find her.”

Flossy, turned on him weaving slightly. “And just what do ya mean by that, Mister Baxter? She'll come back. She always does. What do ya mean, she won't come back.”

“Now don't get excited, Flossy. I just meant you can't keep promising me your daughter when you haven't got her. You might do well to look for a different... uh.... assistant. And not that other old dried up drunk you're always palling with. I don't want her either.”

Flossy looked at him for a while. From the constantly changing look on her face, it was obvious that several emotions were fighting for the upper hand. She finally decided that it was best to use caution on an old customer.

“Well, ta ta till next time.” Flossy turned to stagger down the street. She was singing, “A twopence or a pound. It's all the same to me. I'll do me best for you sir. I'm the best, you'll see.”

She passed within feet of Jonathan and his victim. She was bent forward, singing her ditty and watching her dirty shoes slap on the pavement. Jonathan thought that with her long skirt and high-buttoned blouse, she was dressed more decently than his intended victim, but something about her aroused more disgust and loathing. Her loud voice and drunken amble excited a hatred in him, but he was not about to let go of the girl he had after she had had such a good, up close view of his face.

Molly watched the woman walk by with intense interest as well. It was almost as if she had forgotten the man who was threatening her life. She quivered a little as her eyes tracked the path of the singing drunk. Her lips moved as though she wanted to say something but she didn't try to make a sound.

“That's a good girl.” Jonathan spoke to her quietly as he took his hand from her mouth. “If ya are good, ya should last a long time.”

“Ya won't kill me then, yer Lordship?” the girl raised Jonathan's status to show respect.

“No. I'll take care of ya.” Jonathan sounded almost tender as he reached in his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief wrapped in oiled leather. He opened the cover and held the hankie against her nose and mouth. Within seconds her eyes rolled up in her head and the world turned black.

Jonathan held her beside him, trying to make it look like they were walking side by side as he slowly waddled back to his house a two blocks away. When he finally got to his row house he turned and pulled the girl up the two steps to the ground floor entrance. Further down the street sitting on the corner curb, a man with two deep scars on his face watched him. Although it was late May, the weather was still uncomfortably cool and the moisture in the air was too heavy to be described as a mist and now too light to be a drizzle. The man turned up his collar against the night chill but seemed to not notice that he had no hat. Jonathan saw the man looking at him and hoped that he looked like a customer bringing a drunken prostitute home. It was a ordinary scene in this neighborhood, but Jonathan was no ordinary-looking man.

The next morning, Jonathan went down to the basement to see his new guest. A moderate rain had started to fall. A heavy rain might have emptied the clouds and spent itself in a couple of hours; a light rain may have fizzled out from its own disinterest. But this moderate rain settled in and kept up the same pace for a two day. Although it fell steadily, it didn't take enough away from its parent cloud to keep it from blocking the sun.

Jonathan had been a virtual prisoner in the same basement room most of his life up until two days ago when he had killed his mother and taken her place as the sovereign of the apartment. He had had no contact with people that wasn't of the “victim/perpetrator” kind. So it seemed normal to him that his new family member take his place just as he had taken his mother's.

The headache that had pounded since he had beaten his mother to death had cleared and what his last step-father had described as “episodes” had passed. He would definitely keep this new girl as a companion as long as she was nice to him.

“Hello, Honeeee, I'm hoooome,” he called like his last daddy used to do when he came home. He opened the door to his old room and found his girl sitting on the floor staring in horror at his mother's body.

“This is me mum,” he said in a friendly way like anyone would when introducing a family member. “I killed 'er by accident a couple of days ago, and then didn't know what to do with 'er. I'll leave 'er down here as company for you until I can bring ya someone else.

“Please Mister. Please let me go. I'll do anything.”

“Oh no. You'll get to like it here. You'll get to like me. I'll take care of ya. What's yer name.”

“Molly... Me name is Molly. Maybe I can have something to eat?”

“I'll find you something later. I don't eat much meself.”

Indeed Jonathan had the stunted appearance of someone who had grown up without regular meals, but in this section of London, a lot of people looked like that.”

“Well, when you find something, will you share it with me?”

“Oh sure Molly. I'll go upstairs now and leave Mum and you alone.” Jonathan had been eager to make Molly's acquaintance, but when he was face to face with her, he felt just as eager to get away. He hadn't had many conversations with people. Maybe a couple with his last daddy, who had left about a year ago after only three or four months with the family. His last daddy had seemed so nice at first before he started acting crazy. He had told Jonathan's mother that a boy ought to have decent parents one time after he took away the strap she was beating Jonathan with. Jonathan liked that line but he thought it was a weird thing to say. His last daddy said and did a lot of strange things.

The rain lasted all day and then fell into a miserable sprinkle the following night. It picked back up the next day and then stopped at night. It was chilly and drippy though so Jonathan sat in his apartment, walking back and forth from the living room to the kitchen and occasionally going downstairs to fill the furnace with coal. 

He didn't go into Molly's room. He had everything under control. He was glad she was there, but he didn't have to go see about her all the time to enjoy her company.

Twice during those rainy days, he made himself a bread-and-butter sandwich from a moldy loaf that he found in a kitchen cabinet. That's what his mother would have done for him. The rest of the time, he ate nothing. He went to see Molly for a short time the second day after he got her, but she greeted him with a list of complaints, so he just shook his head and backed out the door.

He forgot that Molly said she was hungry. He did remember, though, that he had promised her a companion and as soon as the weather cleared he went out to find one.