Hearts on Fire coming soon

Well, I guess that’ll teach me to make promises. Two months ago, on February 7, a reader asked me when I planned to publish the third installment of the Crossfire Trilogy. I had just finished the manuscript, and replied very confidently that I’ll release Hearts on Fire in 6 to 8 weeks. After all, I just had to do the edits, right? Wrong. I had miscalculated, forgetting that Hearts on Fire at 96 000 words was almost double the length of Crossfire or Fire & Ice, which had each taken me two months to edit. And double the length means double the editing time.

I did my best, working seven days a week, in the process cutting nearly 7000 words from the manuscript while tightening up my language. Don’t worry, I didn’t cut any scenes, just silly words like eventually, finally, really and other words that slow down the speed of the story. Believe me, when I edit it’s more like an interrogation of the manuscript, and it’s brutal.

The good news is that I almost made it. And if April 7 had not fallen right in the middle of the Easter weekend and left me with a very busy household, I would have made it. Yesterday I still thought I had a chance, if I used Los Angeles time instead of South African time, but an hour ago, I realized the game was up.

To give you an update of my progress, the edits are finished. What I normally do once the edits are finished is to convert my word file to a kindle file, load it on my kindle, and give it a final read through as a reader, not a writer. I have the uncanny ability to read a piece of my work as if I had not written it, so this final read through is very important. I always think of a book as a symphony, and when I read it for the last time, I’m listening to my book’s music, and listening for clangers. Yes, I just made up that word. But what I mean by that is anything that jars, anything that pulls you out of the story, like this. CLANG. It could mean a missing word, or an extra word, or a missing punctuation mark, anything like that.

That’s what I’m busy with now, but with the amount of interruptions I’m getting, I’ve had to put it aside. I’ve realized there is no point in trying to rush it, because I would hate to put out a product that isn’t as perfect as I can make it.

So I’m in the homestretch, and will announce it here the moment Hearts on Fire is available.

I want to say Tuesday but I don’t want to make any promises. Shh.

Driftwood free on Kindle

When Dr. Nancy Kendall, a trauma doctor from South Africa, took a stroll on a Mozambican beach, she had no idea how her life would change during her six-week holiday. She had gone to Mozambique to forget, but instead found a man who couldn’t remember his name or his past.

Driftwood is a 15000 word novella that I wrote to escape the monotony of editing a 96 000 word manuscript, which is of course, Crossfire: Hearts on Fire, the third book in the Crossfire Trilogy. My creative spirit needed relief from spending day after day analyzing words and sentences, and polishing my prose. While it is a necessary procedure, and those who have read my books know that I take it very seriously, it isn’t much fun.

Readers who have enjoyed the other two Crossfire novels will probably remember Karl Dietzen, Stefan’s cousin and right hand man. Though Karl is a secondary character in the series, he features prominently in Crossfire: Hearts on Fire, which prompted me to see if I could write a novella with Karl as a main character.

Driftwood takes place in the year 2000, three years before Stefan meets Marcelle, when he is still busy building Omega into the huge organization it was to become in later years. For readers who have grown to love Stefan, he doesn’t feature in Driftwood, except briefly near the end. But even that brief glimpse will give readers a strong insight into the kind of person he was before he met Marcelle.

Driftwood can stand alone as a romance novella, but also serves to introduce the Crossfire Series. So certainly, I am hoping that new readers will go on to pick up the rest of the series. For the next three months, Driftwood will be available on Amazon exclusively, but readers who use other platforms need not despair. If you have a PC, a tablet or a smartphone, you can go here to download the free kindle software that will enable you to read Driftwood.

And that’s not the only good news. Tomorrow (24th), Saturday (25th) and Sunday (26th), Driftwood will be free on Amazon. This is the first time I’m running a free promotion on Amazon, so take advantage while you can. And if you love it, please tell your friends, or drop a short review, if you have the time. A review can be a single sentence, such as these two from Nook readers. When I read that first review, I had a smile plastered on my face for three days straight. I don’t need long reviews, that first gut reaction is good enough for me.

Here it is!

Last night, I went to see Twilight: Breaking Dawn. This movie opened in South Africa about 5 weeks ago, but I waited until now to see it. To give you a little bit of background, I am a Twilight nut. I simply love the story (hate Bella, but love the story). I have read each of the Twilight books two to three times, and I have seen all of the Twilight movies at least 5 times.

What I loved about the movies was that they kept so closely to the book, and the characters were so well cast. I hate it when I read a book series, such as the Jason Bourne series, which I was also crazy about, and then a Jason Bourne movie comes out. I go there with great expectations, and what do I find? A completely different story, different plot, and a man with the face of a child, (yes, I love Matt Damon, but not in that role), who looks nothing like Jason Bourne. So, I’ve been burned before, but never by Twilight.

My thoughts on the movie, while not as exciting as the previous ones, I enjoyed it more than the book. Why? Well, part of the Breaking Dawn book was told by Jacob, and I am firmly Team Edward, so I didn’t enjoy seeing things from Jacob’s point of view, but that is purely a personal preference.

Anyway, the reason why I took five weeks to see Twilight: Breaking Dawn was because I was editing my second novel Crossfire: Fire & Ice. And when I’m working, nothing else matters. Perhaps I am too obsessed for my own good, but when my eyes were open, I was editing, and when I wasn’t editing, I could hear a clock ticking in the back of my mind. The reason for this was that a wonderful thing had happened. Readers had started contacting me via Twitter, via my email, and even on this blog, asking me about the sequel for Crossfire. I promised many of them that the sequel will be out by Christmas, and that was a promise I planned to keep. So here it is. Crossfire: Fire & Ice is available on Smashwords and on Amazon. For those of you who have patiently waited, I say thank you, and enjoy.

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Crossfire: Chapter Two

This is Chapter Two of my novel “Crossfire” which is available on Kindle and Smashwords.

Chapter One is available here in a previous post.

CHAPTER TWO

Marcelle stood on the winners’ podium, surveying the expectant faces gazing up at her. She searched the crowd for the face of the person who gave her victories meaning, craving the mischievous wink, the smile full of promises.

He wasn’t there, could never be there again.

This time was always the worst for her, when he wasn’t there to share her triumph. Her face ached as she forced another smile, trying to share the mood of her exuberant fans. She wanted to go home, but that was just a futile dream. Once the podium ceremony was complete, there would be the obligatory interviews, where she would tell lies to eager reporters asking inane questions. To win the Carrefour Cycle Classic three years in a row was an exceptional achievement, but she could never tell them her victories made her sad. She could never tell them every day was a challenge.

Two long years have dragged by since the death of her husband, Jean-Michel Deschamps, Formula One racing driver, darling of the French crowds, and thrice World Champion. He had died too young, meeting his fate at 150 miles per hour as the spectators screamed in disbelief and dread.

Cold overcast conditions had persisted during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix, and the sun had not come out for her since that traumatic day. The shock remained fresh in her memory, when she had stared in horror as her husband’s car had spun out of control, cart wheeling in a ghoulish display of acrobatics before slamming into a safety wall.

In the ambulance, she had held his hand as the paramedics tried to keep him alive. Despite their efforts, the Frenchman slipped into a coma, the result of severe head injuries. He died a week later, without regaining consciousness. France declared a day of mourning for her favorite son, and immediately arranged a huge funeral.

As the anguished nation grieved, a stunned Marcelle had stared at the walls, still hearing her husband’s voice in the quiet apartment, unwilling to believe he had left her alone. During his illustrious career, Jean-Michel had twice walked away from spectacular crashes, the only occasions when his phenomenal skills had failed him. It had given rise to a superstitious rumor that he led a charmed life, and even she had started to believe it. At the age of thirty-two, the champion had been riding the crest of the wave, sure to capture the World Title for the fourth time in eight years.

After the funeral, she had fled France, seeking refuge from the prying eyes of the press and the grief of the French public. In solitude and blessed anonymity, she tried to come to terms with the loss of her husband.

Three months later, she returned to her adopted country, her grief buried deep, and picked up the pieces of her life. Her racing career flourished as she became nearly unbeatable, training harder and longer to fill the empty hours. Each day she longed anew for the red agony of muscles pushed too hard and lungs taxed to the limit, as she searched for the black void where pain didn’t exist.

The Mayor of Paris brought her attention back to the present as he held a massive gold cup towards her. She schooled her face into a warm smile and accepted the trophy, kissing the tall Frenchman on each cheek.

The young victor kept her speech short, thanking her team, her team manager and her sponsors. She spoke fluent French, and the crowd cheered. Everybody loves a winner, and she looked like one. She was lean and strong, with slim hips and tight buttocks attesting to the many hours she spent honing her body. Her legs were long and tanned, perhaps too muscular for a woman, but perfect for one of the top female cyclists of all time.

People often stared at her, as if a mere glance wasn’t enough to satisfy their curiosity. The source of their fascination came from the contrast between her tanned skin and her light grey eyes. Dark grey rings circled each iris, and in the right light, only the rings were visible. Most people found this mesmerizing, if somewhat creepy.

Marcelle knew people stared, and cultivated a long fringe, which she could flick forward to hide her eyes whenever she felt the need. Her shiny hair hung halfway to her shoulders, and the color was phenomenal, impossible to duplicate in a salon. The base color was dark honey blonde, but the sun had bleached many strands until they became gold, white blond and strawberry blond.

Certainly, the rest of her face warranted a second look. Her skin was flawless, her teeth regular and gleaming white, and her rosy lips held an unspoken promise for those who cared to fantasize about their softness.

Her trademark easy smile and cheeky dimples was just a memory in the minds of those who knew the young widow before her husband died. Some claimed they occasionally caught a glimpse of the woman she used to be, but most agreed she had lost the light that used to shine from within her.

She was the picture of health as she raised the cup above her head in triumph. The gesture was for the benefit of the press photographers only. She hugged the two women who had come second and third. At a slender five foot eight, she was an attractive contrast to their more muscled bodies. Of course, she wore the rainbow jersey of the current World Champion, a jersey she had made her own.

~ . ~

An hour later, Marcelle had freed herself from the reporters and autograph hunters. In the change rooms, she pulled on her tracksuit and sneakers, foregoing a shower in her haste to get home. Hefting her heavy trophy and her kitbag, she made her way towards her car, a racing red Ferrari Testa Rossa, a present from Jean-Michel.

The bus had left with the rest of the team, along with her racing bikes and equipment, so she was free to drive straight home. There she planned to relax in a warm tub to soothe her aching muscles. The Ferrari let out a joyous roar as she turned the ignition key and pumped the throttle.

As she shifted into gear, she reflected on the huge apartment waiting for her, empty without Jean-Michel. Though they had often been apart for weeks because of busy racing schedules, this was different. The future looked bleak to the young widow as she threaded through the early evening Paris traffic. Tomorrow was Monday, the start of another week. The thought provoked a deep sigh.

Now the heat of competition had died down, she could feel tendrils of ice growing in her chest again. In the beginning, when the grief had been raw and new, she had welcomed the ice, had craved the insulation it gave her from the agony of loss.

As the months passed by, the ice turned out to be an enemy. Soon it had taken over, threatening to choke the life out of her as it crushed her lungs and froze her heart. The ice filled her with a constant feeling of fear, telling her she was one half of a whole, and wouldn’t survive alone. She never told anyone about the ice, because it sounded crazy, even to her own ears.

The logical side of her mind told her there was no ice, and that the icy numbness of shock she had felt after Jean-Michel’s death had turned into dread, which had manifested as a cold chill in her body. The desperate fluttering she felt at times in her chest and the difficulty breathing was most likely a panic attack, when the anxiety became too much.

Her logical mind told her so, but she preferred to give it a name, and imagine the ice was an outside force that invaded her body. It was easier to focus on the ice than on the pain that shredded her insides into mincemeat.

Only in competition and training could she generate enough heat to melt the ice, allowing her to breathe freely. Occasionally the effect lasted for several hours afterwards, allowing her to feel again, which presented a new problem. Without the pain of exertion, she would concentrate too much on the pain inside, and find herself curled up on her side, biting her clenched fist to stop her screams.

Sometimes fire melted the ice during the night, when she dreamed of Jean-Michel, and the fire that consumed him. She had come to recognize the fire as symbolic of her guilt, and in her dreams, the fire burned her until she woke from the sound of her own screams. Those were her two realities, fire or ice, neither of which eased her mind.

~ . ~

Marcelle decided to pick up her mail on the way home. She didn’t want her home address to be common knowledge, and rented a private box at a small post office near the outskirts of Paris. It coincided most often with her regular route home, which was why she had chosen it.

After parking near the entrance, she directed a worried glance at her quiet surroundings, wondering if she should rather come back during business hours. She decided against it, jogging over the gravel towards the mirrored doors. It would only take a minute.

She hurriedly entered the lobby after shoving open the swing doors, but had gone only a few steps when her right foot hooked on something. The speed of her passage allowed no time for recovery. She sprawled headlong onto her stomach, skidding over the smooth tiles with outstretched arms, feeling something hard digging into her hip.

She jumped to her feet, alarm bells jangling in her brain, the adrenalin rush rendering her breathless. What? Where? Who?

Nobody pounced on her.

She noticed the dark outline of a man sitting against the wall. His outstretched legs had tripped her. He seemed unaware of her presence, and as if to reiterate the fact, toppled over to the side, coming to rest with his face against the tiles.

She waited, holding her breath. Nothing more happened, and in the silence, she heard the man’s rasping, labored breathing. Clearly, he needed help. She expelled her breath and moved towards him. Her left foot collided against something, sending it skittering a few feet forward. She bent down and picked up the object. The gun’s grip was slippery with blood, and she grimaced at the uncomfortable sensation, holding it between thumb and forefinger. More cautious now, she crept towards the fallen man.

She nudged him with a foot. ”

M’sieur, can you hear me?”

The man gave her no reply, but as her eyes became accustomed to the gloom, she could see him more clearly. He was dressed in black, and was perhaps six feet tall. Tangled blond hair hung to his shoulders, matted with blood trickling from a wound on his left temple. Blood from the same wound covered the left side of his face, partly obscuring his features. His face was deathly pale, and she knew the stain beneath him was blood, too much of it.

She was about to sink to her knees to help the man, when she heard the crunch of a shoe in the gravel outside the door. She froze. Friend or foe? Before she could react, a slender, swarthy man of medium height pushed the doors open, a gun in his hand.

The man advanced towards her, dark eyes darting from her to the fallen stranger and back. “Has fate robbed me of my destiny? Has the great warrior died like a dog in the streets?” He spoke French with a thick accent, contempt in every word.

Marcelle swallowed, unsure if she should answer. The man clearly hadn’t seen the gun in her hand, because he lowered his weapon, his confidence making him careless. She turned to conceal her firearm further, wrapping her fingers around the butt, no longer caring about the blood on the weapon.

“You have been helping him, perhaps? You are one of his people?” The man’s tone carried a threat she took to heart. He took another step towards the blond stranger, who did indeed look dead. If he wasn’t, she knew he would be soon. She would have to act fast.

She brought her gun into view, pointing it at the gunman. “That’s close enough,” she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt.

The aspiring killer turned to face his new adversary. The smirk left his face when he saw the weapon, but after scrutinizing her for a second, he smiled. “If you were one of his people, I would be dead already, I think.” He took a step towards her. “Do you want to die for a man you don’t even know?” He shook his head. “I think not, but if you give me the gun, I’ll let you drive away in your fancy Ferrari.”

She stared into his cold eyes, seeing the soul of a killer, not believing him for a minute. How could she leave the stranger to his deadly mercies? The gunman had made his intentions clear. Technically, she would be an accessory to murder.

When she didn’t respond, the killer’s tone hardened. “If we wait for my friends to arrive, they’ll kill you, but they might want to have some fun first, when they see what a sexy girl you are.” He took another step towards her, stretching out his hand. “Come on, we both know you won’t shoot. Give me the gun, before it’s too late.”

Marcelle stared at him, remembering another time, another place. Hatred rose in her chest, threatening to cut off her breathing. Her finger tightened around the trigger as her eyes turned to stone.

* * * *

Crossfire coming soon

This is just a little taste of my novel “Crossfire” which is available on Kindle and Smashwords. It is an action romance (does such a genre exist?) of approx 70 000 words and this excerpt below is the first chapter. All comments are welcome.

CHAPTER ONE

Time stood still for a long moment as the April sun sank behind tall buildings, rushing shadows applauding the victorious darkness. No birdsong comforted the sun as she bled from mortal wounds. Silence reigned in the industrial area on the outskirts of Paris, abandoned for the weekend.

A black crow sat on a rooftop, silhouetted against the bloodied battleground of the sky. The bird shook shiny feathers, peering at a large cat foraging in the alley. The cat scattered without warning, and then the bird heard it too, heavy footfalls, approaching fast.

A man appeared, running unsteadily, one outstretched hand using the filthy wall of the narrow alley for balance, and the other pressed against his abdomen. As the crow watched, the lean stranger stumbled and fell. Curious, the scavenger leaned forward with more interest. The man dragged himself back to his feet, uneasily glancing over his shoulder before resuming his run. The bird watched him go.

If the wounded man had seen the crow, he gave no sign as he continued his headlong flight into the dusk. He ran with the desperation of a hunted animal, intent only on survival. Though darkness exerted a stranglehold on the light, the fleeing man knew his ally wouldn’t triumph soon enough to save him. The deserted streets confirmed what he already knew, that he couldn’t expect help from anyone. Perhaps it was better this way. He wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if more innocents died in the crossfire.

The man knew he had reached the end of his strength reserves. He had run nearly two kilometers since escaping the hail of death directed at himself and his men. With every beat of his heart, he could feel more blood pouring out of the ragged exit wounds the bullets had left.

By now, his assailants knew he had escaped their ambush. Soon they’ll start combing the area, baying like bloodhounds at the scent of his spilled blood. The grim thought prompted a new turn of speed from his tired legs.

Then, he saw it. A yellow La Poste sign. He knew security gates barred the locked inner doors of the building’s lobby, but the outer swing doors couldn’t lock. The open doors allowed customers to collect their mail from the locked post boxes outside of normal hours.

His clouding vision fixed on the building, the man lurched towards his sanctuary, his boots crunching in the coarse gravel. The post office would afford him refuge, and a chance to fight. Undetected, he could remain there until dark, and then go to the emergency rendezvous.

He fell against the mirrored swing doors, using his momentum to push them open as he cast a final glance over his shoulder. He hung there for a moment, swallowing hard as he tried to still his ragged breathing, listening for sounds of pursuit.

Reassured, he picked a spot about ten feet from the entrance, and sank to the floor, resting his back against the wall, stretching his legs out in front of him. A moan escaped past tight lips as the pain threatened to overwhelm his senses. He pushed the darkness away, gritting his teeth. Pain signaled life, even as it promised possible death. The thought reminded him he had no time to waste.

Awkwardly he removed a Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic from the belt of his jeans. His left arm was useless to him as he tried to reload the gun, but after a few failed attempts, the full magazine slid into the weapon. Feeling a surge of triumph, the man clasped the pistol between his knees and pulled the slide back with his right hand, feeding a bullet into the chamber. He put the gun on the floor next to him, ready for use. He repeated the process with a second identical pistol, afterwards pushing the weapon back into one of two holsters nestling in the small of his back.

His immediate survival assured, he put his right hand beneath his black leather jacket, trying to assess his injuries. He found his shirt and jeans soaked with blood, but he didn’t have the means, or the energy, to stop the bleeding. Shock had him in an icy grasp, stealing away his resolve. Nausea coiled in his stomach, and he shivered as an ominous chill infiltrated his body.

Fighting his failing senses, he realized he didn’t have the strength to walk to the emergency meeting. His assailants will find him, and corner him, in this cold, dark place. He’ll fight, but save one bullet for his own use, if things start to look hopeless. They’ll never take him alive, not again.

* * * *

Chapter Two is in the next post.

Roasted Nuts, anyone?

This is a photo of one of my kitties, Rocky. He was brought to me in a state of complete starvation at the end of December 2010. He was three months old, but looked like a 6 week old kitten, and weighed just 600g. He was hours from death and nobody held much hope for him. For the first 5 days I hardly slept, expecting each breath to be his last. He pulled through, and three months ago I took him for his standard FIV (feline aids) and FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) tests before he could come out of quarantine. Alas, he tested positive for Leukemia so his life expectancy is limited, at best. Due to the extremely contagious nature of the disease, Rocky will be in quarantine for life, however long or short it may be. For now he appears healthy, though his blood tests tell a different story. He’s a bit of a silly clown as you can see in the photo. We can learn from him, I think. Like most animals he doesn’t know how to feel sorry for himself.

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Too much editing can make you ill

I’ve never planned to have a blog, despite the fact that apparently every self respecting writer or wanna be writer should have one. I followed a link from Twitter for someone else’s blog and there was a link that said Install WordPress for iOS. Since I own an iphone and being naturally curious, I clicked on the link. Voila! And WordPress was installed on my phone.

A day later, I clicked on the icon, just to see what it was about, and they offered me a free blog. Cool, I thought, particularly since I would be able to blog straight from my iphone. Easy as pie, surely. So that is how I came to have a blog, quite by accident. I certainly cannot guarantee that I will have something to say every day, as most of my days are hectic, to say the least. Unlike other writers, I probably won’t be dispensing too much advice on how to write a novel, or how to… anything like that. I believe that I still have plenty to learn and I subscribe to many blogs to get as much advice as I can. Until now, the blog from Nathan Bransford (ex agent) has taught me so much, and I enjoy Eric from Pimp my Novel. They are definitely worth checking out.

Now to the subject of this post, “Too much editing can make you sick”. To give you a little background, I have been busy with the final edit of my 100 000 word manuscript, Crossfire, which I plan to publish on Kindle as soon as it is perfect. Yes, unfortunately I’m an August baby, and a perfectionist. No errors allowed! Yes, even if it kills me. Of course, like many unpublished writers, I have a day job, and though I love my job (who doesn’t love being the boss?); it leaves me with evenings only to dedicate to my writing career.

For the past ten days, I have been busy until one in the morning most days and it has taken its toll. I have developed conjunctivitis in both eyes from staring at the screen too long, and a sore back and shoulders from my incorrect sitting posture. But wait, there’s more! In the early hours of this morning, I fell asleep at the keyboard, and woke up this morning with a crick in my neck that is threatening to disable me permanently. Why not go to sleep when you are tired, you may ask. Well, I don’t like sleeping, and pretty much consider it a waste of time. Normally I just carry on until my body calls a halt and I’m ready to drop. Sometimes I make it to bed on time, other times I might sleep in an odd place for an hour or so before I wake up and go to bed. Ja, I know that’s odd, but I’m probably not the only person in the world who does that. To bring me back to the subject, that’s why I say, “Too much editing can make you sick”, particularly if you fall asleep. Right now, I am relaxing on the couch, a warm electric pad on my upper spine, and a box of chocolates on the armrest. I have taken enough painkillers and muscle relaxants to drop an elephant, so please forgive me if my spelling or grammar is less than perfect. I have given myself the day off to relax and to ramble on a bit on my new blog.

There, that wasn’t so difficult.