Netherlife… preview

Been awhile since I’ve written. Teaching takes up so much of my time. I’d love some feedback on a rough, rough draft of Chapter One for my latest WIP. Remember that the format on this site won’t resemble a regular manuscript format. It looks fine in my Word program but doesn’t copy/paste correctly. I apologize. 🙂



Four tormented suicide failure souls are convinced Netherlife Treatment Center holds the perfect cure for their obsession: dying just to discover what’s next. What’s next? Four trips to hell.

Netherlife Treatment Center

1666 Lone Mountain Road

Las Vegas, Nevada 89130

(775) 626-9300

Welcome to Netherlife Treatment Center, a program designed specifically for those who continue to believe suicide is the answer to all their problems. Our doctors and staff come highly qualified in psychology, psychiatry, social work, alternative medicine, as well as the latest virtual reality therapy.

As a patient, you’ll be expected to follow our strict but necessary guidelines to assure your treatment is a success. Please read carefully before signing, for our contract is legal and binding and cannot be broken under any circumstances. However, all cases will be handled on a person to person basis, and we understand that some people aren’t ready to fully recover.

Treatment Guidelines

  • This is NOT an “I promise not to kill myself” contract. Netherlife is not liable if you choose to harm yourself after a full range or in-between treatment regimen.
  • The ONLY promise you will make is to choose THREE people, family members or friends who you will contact daily with a progress report. Please list those people here with phone numbers:
  • __________________________________________________ ________________
  • __________________________________________________ ________________
  • __________________________________________________ ________________
  • Netherlife Treatment Center reserves the right to use alternative treatment measures depending upon each client’s needs, which may include but are not limited to a variety of medicines, group/individual counseling, biofeedback, ultraviolet light/aroma therapy, and virtual reality stations.
  • Virtual Reality Stations: Please inform the staff upon registration if you have had any epileptic seizures caused by video games or flashing lights. Such issues will not automatically disqualify you for Virtual Reality treatments, but doctors must adjust accordingly as a result.
  • Treatment sessions are not open to guests or family unless specifically requested by staff.
  • I, ____Londyn Finley____, agree to the above terms and look forward to a healthy new life no matter how long it takes. I am willing to endure and battle any and all obstacles that may prevent my success.

Patient Signature: Londyn Finley








Londyn Finley never encountered a foster family she didn’t like, for the first week, that is. Why did they always seem to mess it up? Cozy room. Closet of clothes. Cute neighbor boys. Everything she could want and more. One solid week of heaven, minus the angel choir and puffy clouds.

Sure, she came with a dark history. Enough visible and invisible scars, each with their own ghastly story. They love me. They love me not. He loves me. He loves me not. He’s not supposed to love me, not like that. In Londyn’s mind, all justifications for seeing what the next life might hold. Feeling pain was feeling something, right? Numb made a terrific friend if you liked the silent type, but in her soul she longed for Mr. and Mrs. Gregarious. A family who’d encourage her to exit the roller coaster in deference to a week at the beach mesmerized by the waves. Powerful yet more gentle ups and downs. No 100-foot freefalls or twists, only to rise higher and fall further the next time. A more natural amusement park.

In her third home, she’d heard God prepared a place for her, and for a while she believed it. Until she woke up one stale September morning and found both of her unofficial new parents dead in their beds. She guessed they’d find out if that ancient wisdom was true a little sooner than she would. Londyn prayed God showed no bias toward addicts because they still deserved a fancy room, even though they abandoned her too.

Bring on the Hornsbys, her latest attempt at normalcy, though Londyn held out little hope. What was normal anyhow? In a few weeks, they’d know. Five different medications later, and she wasn’t healed, if there was such a thing for suicide, that is. She wasn’t going to wake up thrilled to go to her ninth school in four years. They could lock up all the silverware, stash the guns, and hide the prescriptions in a vault, and she’d find a new way to visit the other side. No amount of promises, empty or not, could change it. Planet Earth had nothing for her, unless she counted depression, pneumonia (twice), scabies, lice, rape, incest, allergies to peanuts and mold, and the worst case of western poison ivy in all of Las Vegas.

“Are you sure you want to walk to school? Bruce would be happy to drive you,” Londyn’s new “mom” spoke in between coffee sips and newspaper glances. How did she maintain her movie star smile with a coffee mug the size of Alaska? With Londyn’s weak bladder, she’d be back and forth to the bathroom a half-dozen times before lunch period. Minimal food and drink in the morning kept her recent meds from reappearing at the bottom of the toilet. An important consideration if she hoped to survive every strange stare and whisper she’d grown immune to lately.

“I need some air,” Londyn replied, pulling her now shorter chocolate brown locks into a tight ponytail. She’d always wanted to donate, but her hair growth failed to cooperate. It didn’t help two years ago when she shaved one side in protest. To this day, she had no idea what she objected to exactly, but it was all the rage, so she jumped on the train.

“Don’t wanna make you freak, but today might not go so well.” If Londyn learned anything in her 17 years, it was to make honesty the first chapter in her book of wisdom.

“Why do you say that?” Kelly Hornsby peered over her Wall Street Journal and gave Londyn her undivided attention. “Talk to me. Maybe I can help.”

The replica Big Ben in the foyer chimed in synch with Londyn’s stomach butterflies. 7 AM. A deep burgundy Indian rug beckoned. Follow me out to another failed educational opportunity. Missing over a hundred days in the past couple of years caught up with her, even though she’d tested close to genius-level in the 2nd Grade.

          The smart kid nobody wanted. Why did Kelly bother? Londyn recognized pity when she saw it. She wondered who decided these people would be any different? Just play the get-to-know-you game one more time. Her latest shrink suggested. Emotional gymnastics. You never know when you’re going to stick the landing.

“The truth?” Londyn whispered. “What’s this shitty school gonna teach me that I don’t already know? Been taking care of myself since I was four. No offense.”

Kelly had no sliver of insight in response, but she had to say something. “Street smarts are valuable. No denying that. I wish I knew half of what you’ve experienced. Walked in your shoes for a year or two.”

Londyn snorted. “No you don’t. You’ve been programmed to say that. Counsel-speak or some other friggin’ psychological weapon. No offense.”

“None taken. I’m encouraged,” Kelly took a shot in the dark, running her fingers through Londyn’s latest hair style. One side short. One side shoulder-length. Almost a much darker version of Kelly’s blonde angled bob.

“Really? By what?” Londyn’s curiosity piqued.

“Well, I realize you’ve only been here a few days, but I already know you care about me. About us.”

Londyn jerked away from the dining table and stood, slinging her backpack over her shoulders. “You must be effen Einstein. Smarter than all the other doctors who’ve poked and prodded, assessed, and diagnosed me over the years.”

“Not exactly, but you better get going. Don’t wanna be late on your first day now. No offense.” Kelly grinned, meeting Londyn’s stare with a gentle hug goodbye.

Londyn shuffled down the hallway and echoed, “So, you gonna tell me or not?”

“Tell you what?” Kelly returned the favor.

“Why you’re encouraged. Geez—do I have to spell it out for you.” Londyn retracted her smile. Don’t reveal any emotional attachment. Be the impenetrable wall, and she’d avoid the inevitable disappointments.

“Get through your day unscathed, stay focused, find something decent in every class, and I’ll tell you when I pick you up. You have an appointment.”

“Appointment? Great. Sounds wonderful. No off—”

“Meet me by the school sign by 3. No excuses. Besides. You might actually like this place.”

         Yeah, yeah. Love you.

It came out unnaturally. Not a habit, like biting her fingernails or dragging her feet when she walked. Two words she hadn’t uttered in years. Love you. What could there possibly be to love after only a few days? The money? She lived with three wealthy families before. It made no difference.

Stuff was stuff. Clothes get stained, worn out. Gadgets malfunction. Only so much wide-screen 4K TV a person can watch. Only so many flippin’ fancy restaurants a person can try before they all tasted the same. Don’t even get started on cell phones or cars. Simply a means to an end. Point A to point B. Londyn would rather talk face to face anyhow. Real people can’t hide behind a screen. Love you. That was it. Kelly and Bruce Hornsby were the first real people she’d ever met. Too bad she had to run away. Again.











When Characters Are Characters

I’ve been reading a wonderful novel by Krystal Sutherland. A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares. I highly recommend it. Not my usual flavor as far as books go, but I had to share some of my observations about characterization WITHOUT spoils. Her novel truly drives home some important principles. 

Sometimes we wonder why a novel just doesn’t resonate. Excellent premise, world-building, suspense, and yet the characters just aren’t characters. For example, about three novels ago, I read a book where nearly all the main characters sounded the same. Carbon copies of the same person, but some wore pants and others skirts. (Yeah, I know that women wear pants too, but I’m attempting to make a point here. Actually, some men wear skirts, but I’m traveling down a rabbit hole. Sorry.)

Krystal weaves TWO main characters into her book, and they both have something in common. (Yes, I recognize the irony in what I just said.)  BOTH are memorable, but for completely different reasons. Looks, speech patterns, meaningful quirks, scars and wounds, intelligence, and belief systems gel together even better than french fries and ketchup, bacon and eggs, or pickles and ice cream, for all the pregnant writers.

As writers know, our job is not to TELL the reader a person is unique but to SHOW the traits that distinguish him or her from the others. For instance, Esther didn’t make a bucket list of things she wanted to do before she died. No. But because she truly believed her grandfather met Death on the battlefield and spoke with him, her definitive list included 50 of her greatest fears.

Imagine lying in a field during a wicked thunderstorm, lightning stabbing the atmosphere, and tempting Death to find you? At least she wasn’t alone. Not only was Death nearby, but so was Jonah, the friend who stole $55 dollars from her. You see? $55 dollars? Why such a random number? Why make Jonah a thief, abused, and yet one of the kindest souls, as he offered to help Esther overcome all 50 of her fears.

Our main characters need to pop off the page and settle in readers’ hearts and minds. But it’s more than just describing the tattoo on a person’s shoulder or an awkward limp. All of these individual traits should do TWO things. 1. affect the scene 2. affect the relationships. For instance, let’s say a teen grew up in a strict religious family, and the first thing he does in college is gets a tattoo. Suddenly the tattoo means more to not only the upcoming scenes but also to the relationships. Maybe his father disowns him because of it, and he’s always wanted to be just like his dad. The tattoo isn’t the wedge between them; it’s the catalyst to discuss a belief system.

Some things to consider:

  1. give characters a pet word or phrase–use in moderation
  2. give characters special skills- cartoonist, amazing with numbers etc.
  3. maybe a character can’t leave home without her lucky socks or his St. Christopher necklace
  4. unique hobbies like collecting random bones or pencils/pens
  5. weird habits like always eating sushi on Sundays
  6. Has a cell phone but RARELY checks or uses it…
  7. Odd backstory like being struck by lightning three times and lived.
  8. Or like Esther in the above novel, someone who dresses like someone famous every day, always wears a bow tie, never wears shoes etc.
  9. Unusual secrets– his father worked at Area 51 back in the 60’s and 70″s, her mother gambles every day, or once again like Esther, her father never leaves the basement.
  10. Go against the usual tropes…the disgruntled postal worker, the scary clown, the overbearing dance mom, the insane inmate.
  11. The key? Individuality but still relatable. There have been days when I’ve wanted to stay inside and never come out of the house, and my father often gambled his hard-earned money away. Happy creating!

Clear with Newman Jones Preview…

Some fans have been asking about my latest novel, so I wanted to put a sneak peek on here. Update? I’m still waiting on a few publishers to decide. As soon as I know, you’ll know. Premise: Dr. Phil meets the TV show Fringe. Ava narrates her amazing experience from her hospital bed after being in a coma for almost two years. Did Newman really gain the power to remove humans’ painful memories? Or is it all simply the power of her extraordinary imagination? 


D.M. King






Mr. Jones

I’m borrowing my mom’s computer to email you because she says maybe you can help me forget I’m 11 years old now but when I was like 7 my stupid brother dressed up like some scary person named Freddie for Halloween. I woke up in the middle of the night and he was laying in bed with me with a knife. Now I have nightmares every night about someone trying to hurt me and no doctors have been able to help me. So like I was wondering if you could maybe let me be on your show and you could cure me mom says you can call her cell phone if you wanna or contact my dad at work. My friends think I’m crazy but they want me to feel better too. Can you please take away my bad dreams? I make bead bracelets and I can make one for you if you help me. mom says to keep the letter short even though I still have alot to say. I’m supposed to end the letter with a funny word but I don’t remember what it is. So like I hope you call. I need some sleep. Here are the phone numbers. 330-215-9313 dads work- 330-992-8671


Macy Johnson













Some memories escaped as tears. Others departed without permission. Luckily, I have a few thoughts left to tell my story. I testify on this hot, oh, what month is it? July, yeah, July New York City morning that every millisecond of every second of every minute is the truth as I recall it. Mother said my experience might be a candidate for the Ripley’s Museum, but how on Earth could it be displayed? For now, let me make myself clear, which isn’t always a perfect science, not when I’m scratching to cling to ten minutes ago, let alone the past two years.

Come on, Ava. Pull yourself together. You’ve crushed the odds before. Why not now?

“Could you spare us the dramatics and get right to it? I realize you’ve been incapacitated for a long while, but time is of the essence.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound like a writer. Could I have some water or juice? My mouth tastes like sewer.”

“Of course. Nurse Jackson? Can you bring us a pitcher of juice and some coffee for me? Would you like to sit up more?”

“Sure. How long have I been out of it? Feels like weeks.”

“That’s not important now. You’re alive and free from your coma. That’s all that matters. On with the story?”

“It might take a while. You sure you wanna hear all of it?”

“Every bit. Just hearing your voice makes me optimistic.”

Well, the mélange of reality and the bizarre surfaced during a routine emergency. Paramedic school 101 prepared me for nearly everything from tornado disasters to massive shootings, but nothing readied me for this. Maybe the inexplicable should stay that way, but if I don’t share it, I may go nuts. And who’s going to want a crazy EMT trying to bandage their arm?

My partner, Newman Jones, had a rare gift but grew to abhor it. Why? He never asked for it. A blistering hot summer day in Yuma, Arizona, he reacted to the EMT call like he always did. Cracked a couple of jokes and swallowed two Aleve for his periodic aching back. I anticipated a long weekend off, but he never flinched. Three straight weekends, or was it four, on-call wasn’t anything unusual for Newman. Work-a-holic was his middle name, claiming traumas didn’t take the weekends off, so why should he?

At first, the emergency call appeared normal enough. Elderly male with heart attack symptoms. Blood pressure 70/40 and a weakening pulse. An upscale condo with a loft, well-maintained and clean. A handful of dishes in the sink, and a neighbor-lady fretting over his distressed frame on the floor. A few staccato gasps and rumblings from his throat, and in minutes the patient was in cardiac arrest.

“Get the pads,” Newman shouted as the neighbor lady broke into irrepressible tears, but I questioned her vested interest. Was she hiding something? Her striped pajamas looked a bit juvenile for her age, but it was more than that. I failed to put a finger on it exactly, though I supposed a relationship with the man wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

I yanked the manual defibrillator from my backpack, grabbed the handles, and fixed the pads to the guy’s chest. I’d done this over a hundred times; you’d think I’d get used to it. Coming from a line of medical professionals, I learned a long time ago that real-life avatars don’t always come with five lives.

The neighbor slowed her tears, enabling her to speak without sobbing. In ways, she reminded me of my grandma, just not as ancient. “I was in the middle of cooking dinner when he called. I heard a scream and a loud thud. Doc Riggins has lived next to me for the past five years.”

“How old is he?” Newman inquired. “You say he’s a doctor?”

He took his temperature and peeked at his pupils. A small puddle of blood formed under Riggins’ head staining his long grey hair, but his wound was the least of our concern.

“PHD from Yale. Not a medical doctor, but he’s such a lovely man. Can you save him?” Her voice grew stronger now, almost as if keeping her friend alive was critical to her own existence.

“We’ll do our best, but he’s in bad shape,” Newman said, taking over and readjusting the pads for a more effective shock.

“Clear!” he yelled, but the unit misfired. “I thought I told Simmons to replace the battery in this thing. Crank it up. We’ll hit him again.” I questioned his decision. Increasing the joules was a huge risk, but he was in charge.

The luxury condo reeked of agoraphobia, but nothing compared to the fried skin fog from jolting the good doctor with three-times the amount of electricity required for his rhythm. He awoke with a start, eyes bugged, and a cough-riddled whisper. A slow rasp seeped from his quivering mouth. Hollowed cheeks were drenched with sweat and tears.

“I’m so sorry. I never meant to harm anyone. Thought I’d possess it until I died, then it’d go with me,” Riggins said.

Newman and I shared a quick glance, wishing the neighbor lady would have told us he was delusional. Before we could lift him to the gurney, he went into V-fib again. A line of blood trickled from his nose and mouth. Please don’t shock him again. He’s been through enough.

Newman readjusted the defibrillator one final time, but I stopped him cold. What was the guy, around 85-90 years old? He sounded like he was ready to go.

“Wait! Pulse is non-existent. First, do no harm, remember? You burned the shit outta him already,” I begged Newman to give up.

Following orders again, Newman and I continued CPR over his fragile chest for several more minutes with little response, other than occasional stomach gurgles. Nearly breathless from fatigue, Newman shoved me out of the way screaming “clear” one last time, and that’s when it happened. Investigators deemed it a battery malfunction, but whatever caused it, Newman shot five-feet into the air and landed with a skull-crunching thud.

A fit of anger threatened to strangle my state of panic. Newman’s cheek swelled green and purple, and his lips were blue. I told you to stop. You never listened to me. I raced to Newman’s side expecting the worst only to be met with his uneasy laughter. His way of calming my fears. It didn’t work. Turning him over and avoiding eye contact, I refused to fall for his unbefitting charm. Totally pissed versus inherent compassion, but he knew I was soft. Like always, private Nurse Ava Kelly reported for duty.

Nathaniel Riggins, PHD, passed on to the afterlife a lonely old man, but his legacy would live on, thanks to Newman. You see, I’d suspected it for a while, but there wasn’t a malfunction in the defibrillator battery.

I apologize for repeating myself. The enigmatic archaeologist from Manhattan kept his secret until his dying day. Newman just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.

“Let me get this straight. You had no idea you suffered the effects as well as Newman?” The kind doctor’s lab coat says Malcolm Angel. And although I’m quite cloudy still, I suspend my narration to gulp another glass of juice then answer.

“That’s my understanding, and my heart briefly stopped. Radiant shock caused my concussion and coma. Remember? You wrote it down for me before I could speak.”

I point to the scribbles on the legal pad near my leftover breakfast dishes.

 “I’m ready to continue. I’ve so much to tell.”

“Yes, of course. Your story is fascinating.” He flips through the pad, revealing more than one written response from me.

“You okay?” I pressed Newman over and over again as the coroner examined the dead body, and I followed protocol with my assessment. “You took one helluva shock. It’s like the codger swallowed a transformer or something. BP’s a little high, but your EKG’s normal. Looks like you’re gonna live.”

Fixating on a lone fly in the window changes my focus. I feel silly sharing my make-believe hallucinations.

            “Ava? You still with me? Can’t leave me hanging.”

“Oh, my bad. I’ll owe you something after this. I’m sure you have patients worse than me.”

            “No worries. I’m a patient soul.” I ignore his “time is of the essence” contradiction from before as he fills my glass and wipes my sweaty brow. My hospital cave brightens the more I speak. Malcolm ends the fly’s incessant buzzing with a magazine swat.

I flashed Newman a cautious grin, knowing he’d argue with me about seeing a doctor. We packed up, and at least he was smart enough to ask me to drive. He shivered himself into the ambulance, though it was 90 degrees plus outside.

“Thanks. I’m fine. Let’s get back to base. I promise I’ll make an appointment in the morning.” He smiled back, but I knew him too well. Co-workers deemed it a thing, but I vowed I’d never date a younger man again. Still, I’d call what we had a few hugs and kisses more than what I first allowed, and I knew he’d make excuses.

“Tomorrow’s Saturday. Why don’t I just make one for you right now?” We motored down the highway as I swiped my phone to our insurance app, locating his primary care doctor’s number. I realized it was an invitation for trouble, not waiting until we were idle, but I knew his reputation for procrastination. The time thief and I were well-acquainted too. I hated myself, but my heart was in the right place, and traffic was light. Yeah, that’s what all the accident victims claimed.

A quick tap and a pause later, and Newman’s steel gray eyes froze me solid. He had a bit of a temper, but nothing like this.

“Stop,” he screamed, and I thought he was talking about my nagging or maybe my cell phone use while driving.

I never saw the semi turning right in front of me. I jerked the wheel and swung the ambulance hard to the left, just missing the tractor trailer, leaving a patch of tire marks behind us. Thankfully, no oncoming vehicle occupied that lane, and we escaped with a small scrape this time. I vowed there’d be no next time if I was driving.


“Can we pause again, doctor? Are you sure that none of this actually happened? Where’s Newman? Why hasn’t anyone come to see me?”

“They did. You just don’t remember. You’ll progress more with less distractions. We’ve been keeping them updated. Every experiment—never mind.” He peeks at his watch, rises, and glares at the ceiling. “Trust me. You’ll heal faster. Patients waking from comas all concur and have one thing in common. Dreamlike events play out like a movie and are as real as, well, this laptop here. You don’t mind if I take notes?” He sits again, crossing his legs and ready for me to continue.

            “And this is going to help me heal? Telling a bedtime story to a shrink?” The doctor calms my shaky hands. There’s warmth in his touch and voice. Sudden guilt strikes me. I’m to blame for his puffy eyes.

            “Your swelling was significant, affecting your temporal lobe, your emotions. This is exactly what you need. I promise we’ve had tons of success with other coma patients. Go at your own pace.” He nods, and I go on.

I drove him to his appointment that Monday, and talk about strange. Standing room only in the waiting room. It resembled an airport terminal more than a doctor’s office. Young and old glared at the examination entry door, pleading to be next. Newman batted his eyes a few times but never said a word. I knew what he was hoping.

“You’re staying. I don’t care if it takes all day. Jimmy has extra coverage with three new trainees. We can work the night shift. Besides, you were talking in your sleep all weekend. You’re a snorer not a talker.”

“Cut the shit. I don’t talk in my sleep.”
“Exactly. You snore. Like an old dog.”
“What’d I say? I hope I didn’t reveal any secrets.”

Embarrassment was unnatural for Newman, the life of the party on most occasions. But who rattles off numbers like secret codes and technical jargon way beyond his intelligence? There may have been a genius in there somewhere, but I hadn’t seen it yet. Shocked by enough electricity to light a small town had to be the culprit.

An elderly woman with long braids and a flowered sundress was the next patient called, so Newman offered me the seat, accidentally stumbling into her path. He caught himself on her walker, gripping her arm to prevent her from falling.

“I’m so sorry. My girlfriend pushed me,” he said, grunting a laugh.

I shrank, but part of me enjoyed the sound of it. I hadn’t been anyone’s girlfriend in months. Sharing a house with Newman for financial reasons had transformed into random intimacy, so I guess it made sense. He probably only said it because he didn’t know what else to call me.

The lady groaned her disapproval, considering he was acting like a teenager, but without warning she melted. Not like the Wicked Witch of the West, but her entire countenance changed. It was like Newman just finished her one-hour backrub, and she felt the relief in her aching muscles and joints.

“Thank you, young man.” She raised her weak hand up to his face and sighed once again. Thank you could have meant a number of things, but she had no time to elaborate. The place was jam-packed with sick bodies. Watery-eyed senior citizens, young adults with their heads in their hands, and a chorus of impatient kids drumming their feet against their chairs.

“For what?” Newman wasn’t trying to be stupid this time. Was she flirting? He was easy on the eyes, if you liked thick auburn hair and blue-grey eyes. Tall enough for me but not a giant and a precious twinkle in his smile.

“Come along, Mrs. Whitney. We’ve a full house today.” The nurse hurried her along, but the lady glanced over her shoulder and winked. Her labored shuffle stabilized to a casual walk.

“This was the first indication something was wrong with Newman?” Dr. Angel interjects, handing me a couple of hair clips for my longer brown locks. He must be tired of not seeing my eyes. Normally, I keep my bangs feathered and short. There must be a year’s worth of growth or more.

“Yes, but I was unable to pinpoint his exact ability. For a minute, I saw him as a healer.”

“You mean, because of the old woman?”

Random tears begin. He leans closer, offering me a tissue.

“You shoulda seen her face. Her entire visage changed. Like Newman lifted a truck off of her.”

Newman turned back to me as if I had a clue, but I was just as confused. I would have spent a few more minutes mulling it over if his knees hadn’t buckled on his way back. I tucked my arm under his just in time.

“Whoa, what the heck? You don’t look so good.” His face flushed red like a fireball and his hands shook. “Sit down. I told you there was something wrong.” He plopped into my chair, scooting it back six inches upon landing. I knelt in front of him, checking his pulse. Other patients showed concern, but I assured them I had it under control.

Teardrops formed on both of his cheeks. “Ava, you don’t understand. Mrs. Whitney, when I touched her arm, something happened.”

“I know. I saw it. You almost hit the floor, and that’s why we’re here. Pulse is erratic.”

I felt his forehead, but it wasn’t hot. In fact, it was cold and clammy, a total paradox to his reddening face. Arizona sun could be scorching in the summer, but it was still morning. Newman looked like he’d been out all day tanning, similar to his color on Friday after he got zapped. Even his handful of freckles disappeared. Visibly shaken, he ran his trembling hand through his wet hair and shook his head side to side.

Five more patients later, and he limped into the examination room. Mrs. Whitney had yet to leave, which was weird, but no stranger than Newman’s sudden condition. My training didn’t cover any of his conflicting symptoms, so I couldn’t wait until the doctor took a stab at it.

The nurse explained that irregular pulse and clammy skin pointed toward shock, which I already knew he experienced more than any normal person. Once his pulse steadied and his pupils were responsive, he started mumbling again. Something about watching her husband die, Hurricane Alice, and Hell’s Gate. Similar but different than the nonsensical word patterns he’d spouted at various times in his sleep all weekend. Yet, I experienced no uncommon feelings or unusual attraction. I recorded some of his ramblings on my phone and played it. Her puzzled look spoke volumes as she left.

Doctor Thornton knocked on the door and entered, whistling like he always did. I needed him a few months ago because of an infected toe. He had a natural way of making a patient feel comfortable. I blamed it on his quiet demeanor and soothing voice, but Newman’s expression indicated he just wanted answers.

“What seems to be the problem?” The doctor asked, examining Newman’s chart. “Pulse seems a little fast.”

With my paramedic background, I jumped right in. “He took an unusually strong charge from a—a—defective defibrillator, at least that’s what the technicians said. Tried to revive an old man in V-fib on Friday.”

“How was he after the shock? Any fever, nervous ticks, muscle spasms, an inability to sleep?”

“No, that’s what’s crazy. I checked him myself. BP perfect, no concussion, except—”

I hesitated because I didn’t want him to think my best friend on the planet was a nutcase. Antiseptic white walls surrounded me as I struggled to find the right words.

“Except what?” The doctor pressed, ignoring my abrupt claustrophobia.

Newman came back from his daydream and answered for me. “I touched her, and she—she—changed. I think she gave me something, or I gave her something. I dunno.”

“Who? Who did you touch?” Doctor Thornton raised his voice and eyebrows. We had his attention now.

“Mrs. Whitney. One of your patients,” I explained. “She stumbled, and Newman caught her. That’s when more symptoms started.”

“You touched Mrs. Whitney, you say?” Doctor Thornton poked his head out the door and shouted. “Kelly-Anne? Can you get me Mrs. Whitney’s chart? Thanks.”

Newman exploded from the examining table toward the door like a Jack-in-the Box. I interrupted his momentum, but he felt strong again, no sign of any sickness.

“Easy does it, Mr. Jones,” Doctor Thornton warned. “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I think you need to hear this.”

Characterization Fine-Tuning

Humans react to adversity in many ways. Anger. Depression. Denial. Many give up. Others accept the challenge and move on. How your characters respond in critical moments adds depth and realism to any plot. Two dragons guarding the damsel in distress? Watching the protagonist solve the dilemma reveals traits without placing a sign on him/her. “I’m brave.” Or “I’m afraid.” The essence of any character lies in their response to all the obstacles you make them overcome.

Imagine yourself as the character. What’s your motivation for reacting to the road block the way you did? In that moment, what’s driving your engine? Remember that success without struggle is boring. For example, having “said” dragons decide they don’t like the princess anyhow and leave, won’t endear yourself to your readers. And not only that, but you took away a chance at character development.

It is so important to remember WHAT your character wants and WHY he or she wants it. Is he in love with the princess? Did the dragons kill his parents warranting revenge? Is there a sack of gold waiting for him when he returns her safely to the castle? These things are often dealt with by writers in backstory, but they must be considered in the moment of decision as well. These factors will determine if and how a character conquers the odds. The characters’ choices should dictate traits revealing inner strength or hidden fears, for instance, rather than the writer spending time describing them. Twist a character’s desires/goals against them sometimes just to see how he/she might react. Let them develop organically. Then their personality might emerge as a revelation rather than a manipulated attribute.

Against the Odds

Rejection is all around us. “Please don’t sing. You sound like you’re in pain.” Or how about this one? “I can’t go out with you. You’re not my type.” 

With approximately 155,000 successful writers in the world who make, on average, 55K a year, the odds are definitely against us. As I stare down this reality with confidence I’m going to add to that number one day, I know my chances aren’t good. So, why do I keep writing? I keep reminding myself of some of those successful writers who crushed those same odds years ago. Of course we all know J.K. Rowling’s story, but did you know that Evanovich wrote for over ten years before being published? Stephen King was rejected 30 times for his first book, Carrie

A Wrinkle in Time- 29 rejections. Gone with the Wind- 38 times. C.S. Lewis received over 800 rejections. An estimated over 3 million books get published in the world every year. Yikes. How’s that for insane competition? A poll done in 2011 showed that 80% of Americans would like to be an author one day. 

Please don’t be discouraged. Feel blessed you received three full requests for that latest manuscript or had 300 family, friends, and neighbors buy your books. All of this is more than some people experience in their writing careers. 

King Salmon face an uphill battle swimming against the current, but you know what? They almost always get to their destination. Just set a realistic one. We’re not all destined to be the next J.K. Rowling, but success can still be ours, whether we’ve quit our job and make a nice living writing or publish a book or two a year. Remember your WHY. Write to affect humans, help them escape for a few hours, make them think. I pray that’s what I’ve done here. The odds are against us. So what. Just keep swimming. Uh, I mean writing…


Most writers understand the complexities of writing a novel. Even those who find success admit that they never stop learning and growing in their craft. I used to believe that one day I’d have it all figured out, but I’ve reached a dramatic conclusion: There’s no such thing. Why? Well…I’m convinced that there’s a huge gap between the creative and the editorial mind-set. Here’s what I mean.

Creativity might get you through an agent’s or publisher’s door, but there’s no guarantee for success WITHOUT an editorial mind-set. Sure. Some writers just have a knack for editorial issues in a manuscript, but I think that’s rare. For example, I’ve been teaching for 24 years and have Grammar Nazi tendencies down pat, but those mechanical errors aren’t necessarily the make or break element for success. It’s those BIG PICTURE elements a fresh set of eyes catch that often transform mediocre into good and one day good into GREAT. Therefore, I have some suggestions I’ve picked up from my editor and other sources I’d like to share.

  1. Check your dialogue. It’s insane how many times I’ve found people talking in my novels just to talk with NO plot advancement or character revelations.
  2. Check your dialogue tags. Are your substitutes for the word “said” appropriate for what’s being communicated? Ex. “I’m lost,” she proclaimed. Why would she proclaim this? What’s so critical about being lost that she has to announce it?
  3. Overuse of metaphors/similes. Some writers are brilliant, comparing things in such unique ways. But don’t overburden the reader every page just to prove how clever you are.
  4. We ARE visual people. However, our worlds consist of ALL our senses. Therefore, exposing the reader to 360 degree sensory details cannot be overlooked. For example, how many times has a smell brought back a memory? A taste? I remember coming home from school and smelling my mother’s home baked bread. And Sunday afternoons when she’d cook dinner for the family always made me feel like the most loved child of all. (She loved us all, but I was spoiled.)
  5. Finally, I’ve read many novels where the writer failed to ground the reader in the setting, both place and time. Readers want to know when and where things are happening. If there’s a huge gap of time between chapters, the writer is making it difficult for the reader to accept the false reality. You know what I’m talking about. Those times when you stop and say, “Wait a minute. How did the protagonist get from point A to point B so quickly? I never saw him leave.”
  6. I hope these simple suggestions give you something to consider BEFORE hitting send. I will add a few more in the days ahead. May 2018 be your year!

A little help here…

Writers are a different breed… Whether you are one or not, you can sometimes spot a writer in the crowd because their minds are usually rolling down a different alley, strolling down the unworn path, climbing the “Plot Twist” mountains, or generally ignoring you. NOT because they think you’re boring; you’re just not quite as interesting as what’s happening in their minds. Please take no offense because most of the time our lack of interest isn’t intentional. Transferring a story premise into a book is HARD work.

Attempting to unearth the magic in your brain isn’t always easy, is it? I’ve spent nearly five years embracing my sponge-like mannerisms, thriving on websites, blogs, and webinars to help me understand my craft. I have run across excellent advice along the way from people like Brenda Drake, for example, and a special agent Jessica Sinsheimer, with her Manuscript Wishlist and Manuscript Academy. But today I want to share another wonderful resource: Kim Weiland’s terrific articles for writers. I guarantee you will find something to challenge your writing mentality and take you to the next level. And not only that, but she’s a wonderful person too. Click on the link. You won’t be disappointed. Blessings!

Faithless Surpasses First Two

Listen up! While my first two books have been successful, readers must have the REST of the story, right? Faithless answers many of your lingering questions such as what happened to Faith, will Rico survive without her, can Marek and Dredge stop World War IV, and will Resh Baldori counquer earth? I know I’m the author,  but Faithless will take you on adventure after adventure. Yeah, I know, sometimes the third book of any trilogy isn’t as good, but I’m asking you to trust me. Thanks to all my fans who gave this newbie writer a chance. Stay tuned for the release announcement and something truly different in my next book. Blessings!

Neither Moth nor Rust

Neither Moth nor Rust


Philippians 4:12-13- I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.


My father was a starving musician for over 60 years. Probably the most gifted violinist I’ve ever known, he gave up fame and fortune to raise his six kids. Sacrifice. I understand what God did for me and would never minimize it in any way, but my father’s forfeit of a lucrative career is a standard for me as well. As the cliché goes, we didn’t have much growing up, but I remember one special Christmas that helped me appreciate the things I did have more than the things I didn’t.

At 13 years-old and the baby of the family, I asked my dad to buy me a guitar for Christmas. You know, something a bit more sophisticated than a dime store version that almost never stayed in tune. Even though I’d asked for it, I knew money was tighter that year because my mom had been in and out of the hospital, so I wasn’t counting on finding it under the tree.

As it turned out, I didn’t. I remember a few pairs of underwear, a flannel shirt or two, and some candy in my stocking but no guitar. Disappointment hounded me most of the day. In fact, for a majority of my Christmas break, I’d sulked around the house.

It seemed to me that Dad had been away a little bit more playing a few extra jobs over the holidays trying to make extra money, so the denial of my request befuddled me. I was the only one who showed any interest in pursuing music and following in his footsteps. I sang in the choir at school and wrote poetry and lyrics all the time. Why wouldn’t God honor my wish?

I think it’s in these moments of doubt that God truly shows up and teaches us what’s really important. My birthday was around the corner in January, and although Christmas had come and gone, my disappointment lingered like a musty basement stench. I stopped writing and even listening to music, and that’s when everything changed.

Dad woke me up early on a Saturday morning with a big grin on his face. He wanted me to go with him to meet one of his musician friends; he didn’t want to go alone. So I jammed a couple of pieces of toast in my mouth and ran out the door. I had no idea his friend owned his own music store on the east side of Cleveland. There were several guitars just calling my name, but I picked one labeled Aria (a long accompanied song for a solo voice). My father chose the same guitar for me and had been making payments on it for over a year, but it wasn’t paid off at Christmas.

All in all, what did I learn? “Every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of Light…” My timing and God’s don’t always line up. He knows that sometimes we settle for the mediocre, trying to do things ourselves, when His best gift is yet to come. Now every time I want to force God to respond in my favor, I catch myself. I could have had a bargain store variety guitar, but He wanted me to have something much better.

I taught myself how to play and went on to write many songs to touch other’s lives, including winning a GMA national songwriting competition with a song entitled “Daddy, Where’s the Lamb?” Ironically, a song about Abraham and Isaac. Halfway up Mount Moriah Isaac stopped his father and asked, “Daddy, where’s the lamb?” He was completely unaware that he was the intended sacrifice. But just like He always does, God tested Abraham’s faith as He tested mine.

My dad sacrificed so much to buy me that guitar, and I’ll always remember it. Whatever we perceive to give up when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior is replaced by what truly matters. Things never satisfy because joy has one eternal source. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I seek more of now. I loved the guitar, but embraced the joy on my father’s face when he heard me sing and play my first original song. And that’s something that neither moth nor rust will ever decay.