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Author Showcase – Jana Richards (Love at Solace Lake series)

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Love is worth the risk…

When their grandfather dies, the Lindquist sisters, Harper, Scarlet and Maggie, inherit the northern Minnesota fishing lodge that had been in their family for three generations. The inheritance is bittersweet. They were raised at the lodge by their grandparents. The natural beauty of the place hasn’t changed, but the building itself is crumbling and desperately in need of repair. The lodge also reminds them of what they lost. Twenty-two years previously, their parents died there in what was ruled a murder/suicide.

As the sisters struggle to breathe new life into the failing lodge, old fears and questions rise to the surface even as new love presents itself. Why did their father murder their mother? What truths did their grandparents keep from them? The sisters must fight to keep the wounds of the past from putting their futures, and their fledgling relationships, in jeopardy.

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~~ Book One ~~

She can’t live with one more lie. He can’t tell the truth. 

Harper Lindquist is convinced she’s found the answer to her financial prayers. Unless she pours cash into crumbling Solace Lake Lodge, she’ll lose her family’s legacy. Her would-be savior arrives in the middle of a Minnesota blizzard and she’s determined to prove to her reluctant, and trapped, financier the lodge is a sound investment. But Harper isn’t completely honest with him. And she has no idea the lake is hiding secrets of its own. 

Ethan James is a liar, but his money is very real. He isn’t convinced a broken-down inn is a smart investment opportunity. But the more he understands Harper’s dreams and desires, the more he wants to be the man to make them come true. The trauma in both their pasts means neither can fully trust the other. They must find the courage to love, to trust, and to accept, or yesterday’s sorrows will keep them apart.

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As she stared into his dark eyes she realized how much she trusted him, and relied on him. That was something rare for her. The only people she trusted as much were her sisters.

I’m in love with him.

The thought blasted through her brain with the force of a tsunami. The tension of the last few weeks, the insecurity, the mistrust, the fear, slipped easily from her shoulders. For the first time, her mind was clear. She was in love with Ethan and she didn’t want to wait anymore. She wanted him. She wanted him to be her first, her last.

Finding courage she didn’t know she possessed, Harper slid off the stool and walked around the island. She plucked the wine glass from his hand and set it on the counter, then placed his hand on her breast. “Make love with me, Ethan.”

A fire lit in his eyes, telling her he wanted her, too. But there was a question there, a hesitation. “Are you sure?”

She’d never been more sure of anything in her life. “Yes.”

“Harper—”

“Shhh. Let’s not talk anymore.” She placed one finger over his lips, then stood on her tiptoes and kissed him.

Ethan’s reaction was lightning swift. He wrapped his arms around her and brought her close, his mouth descending on hers in a wild, warm kiss. Their tongues tangled, slid over each other. She’d missed his touch, his taste. She moaned, and in the sound she heard thirty-two years of longing.

For this. For him.

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~~ Book Two ~~

No matter how deeply buried, secrets rise to the surface.

Scarlett Lindquist has agreed to help her sisters rebuild the dilapidated fishing lodge in Minnesota they inherited from their grandparents. Although the lengthy restoration is bringing the three sisters closer together, Scarlett’s support is temporary. Her leave of absence from her job in Chicago is temporary and she has no intention of staying at Solace Lake Lodge, where the lake holds dark secrets. When frightening childhood memories resurface, they are tempered by her fascination with an irritating contractor. If only she could trust her feelings for him. If only he could trust her.

Cameron Hainstock meets Scarlett at his brother’s wedding to her sister and their attraction is instantaneous. But Cam avoids the beautiful marketing executive. All his efforts are aimed at battling for custody of his only child. When the unimaginable happens and Cam faces the biggest challenge of his life, he’s reluctant to accept help to halt his downward spiral. Can they learn to trust each other and fight for a future together or will they go their separate ways?

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The shock on Scarlet’s face, the disbelief and grief, made him wish he’d kept his mouth shut. The last thing he wanted was to inflict her with the same hell he was going through. He turned away from her, pushing her hand from his arm. “Go home, Scarlet.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” She grabbed his arm again, preventing him from picking up the axe, the tool he’d used to keep himself from reaching for a bottle. “I won’t leave you alone.”

Ignoring the sweat and dirt, she wrapped her arms around his waist and held him tightly, resting her head against his chest. His body stirred to life at her touch, disgusting him. His world was crumbling around him and all he could think was that he wanted to bury himself inside her until she screamed his name.

“Go,” he said roughly. If she was smart, she’d run away and never look back. He was a bad-tempered, recovering alcoholic with nothing to offer her. He wasn’t worth the risk.

She looked up at him, her blue eyes clear and steady. “No. I won’t leave you.”

He pushed her up against the wall of the workshop, not sure if he was trying scare her away or make her stay. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She shook her head. “You won’t.”

Cam closed his eyes and groaned. He wrapped his arms around her in a vice-like grip, unable to resist her any longer.

God, he needed her.

He lowered his head and kissed her. There was no subtlety in the kiss, no gentleness or finesse. Only passion and raw need. But she stayed with him, returning his passion, giving solace. He greedily lapped it up, taking everything she had to give.

But he wanted, needed more. He lifted her and she wrapped her long, slender legs around his waist. He buried his face against her soft, sweet-smelling neck, inhaling her clean, floral scent. At the same time, he snaked his hand up her thigh and began to pull down her panties.

“Tell me to stop,” he rasped. “Tell me now while I still can.”

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~~ Book Three ~~

The truth could destroy them. Or set them free.

Maggie Lindquist left Solace Lake determined never to return. Circumstances have pulled her back and she’s helping to restore her family’s dilapidated fishing lodge. When she agreed to the plan she didn’t expect to have to work side by side with the man who abandoned her ten years earlier. She didn’t expect to like him, or want him ever again. But can she trust him as she once did?

Luke Carlsson rushes home to tend to his ailing mother. Her lengthy illness means he needs to stay, at least temporarily. And to stay, he needs to work. Solace Lake Lodge offers him a job and an opportunity to work with the woman he’s never stopped loving. But the restoration is unleashing secrets hidden for decades and no one is left unscathed. Especially not Maggie and Luke, whose love needs to be resilient enough to forgive, and strong enough to build a future together.

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A memory flashed through her mind. Luke driving an ancient, mostly rusty Ford pickup to the lodge that summer. He’d worked odd jobs summers and after school for three years to buy it and keep it running. The old Ford had been his pride and joy.

Every chance they got, they’d sneak off in the Ford and park somewhere secluded. They’d been in that truck the first time Luke had kissed her. He’d pulled her toward him and covered her mouth with his, and she’d sworn she’d heard angels singing. And then, her body had gone up in flames in a very unangel-like way. As the summer went on, they’d grown bolder in their explorations. Harper had given her ‘the lecture’ on sex, but she hadn’t prepared her for the way her body would react to Luke’s kisses, or his touch. Like the way her nipples would harden as he caressed her breasts, and the way her panties would dampen. And when he’d reached inside her panties and inserted a finger inside her—

“Are you ready?”

Maggie stared at Luke in incomprehension. And then the present returned with forceful fury. Heat infused her cold cheeks. They were on their way to see his sick mother. Her thoughts shamed her.

She reminded herself that Luke had left her once and would do so again. The heat and her vivid memory dissipated.

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When Jana Richards read her first romance novel, she immediately knew two things: she had to commit the stories running through her head to paper, and they had to end with a happily ever after. She also knew she’d found what she was meant to do. Since then she’s never met a romance genre she didn’t like. She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and historical romance set in World War Two, in lengths ranging from short story to full length novel. Just for fun, she throws in generous helpings of humor, and the occasional dash of the paranormal. Her paranormal romantic suspense “Seeing Things” was a 2008 EPPIE finalist.

In her life away from writing, Jana is an accountant/admin assistant, a mother to two grown daughters, and a wife to her husband Warren. She enjoys golf, yoga, movies, concerts, travel and reading, not necessarily in that order. She and her husband live in Winnipeg, Canada with their Pug/Terrier cross Lou and several unnamed goldfish. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.janarichards.com

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Author Showcase / Interview – Diane Shute (After Midnight & Midnight Crossing)

Welcome, Diane Shute!

 

  1. For those who might not be familiar with you, would you be a dear and tell the readers a little about yourself? How did you get your start in the writing business?

(Diane) First of all, thanks for having me, Kam. I’m a somewhat typical West Coast girl (at my age, the term is best used loosely) I’ve always loved crafting stories, but writing did not evolve beyond a hobby until after I retired. Now that my children are grown, I’m free to enjoy my own pursuits. Before my mother passed away, she encouraged me to publish my work. I dedicated my first book, After Midnight, to her memory.

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  1. All writers fear the dreaded “block”. Please tell us how you handle it.

(Diane) Nothing is worse than the intimidation of the blank page of a new work. For me, it’s best to just start writing. The story shapes itself later. Syntax and rhythm don’t matter in a first draft. The point is to get it down to edit later. Afterwards, I put my work away and let it sit while I do other things. When I pull it out again, I go back to work. Voila—no more “block” in the process of defining the sentences.

 

 

  1. Will you please share with the visitors what genre(s) you write? Also, when you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

(Diane) Absolutely—I write 19th century historical fiction, with a twist of mystery and suspense. When I’m not writing a book, I can usually be found with my nose in one. My kids tell me I’m a good cook, but maybe they just like to eat. I love flowers and putter around with light gardening. I also have two dogs and three cats, all of which are rescue animals. I’m guilty of taking too many pictures, some of which I post on social networks.

(KAM) Kids will tell you when they don’t like a food/meal, so I’m sure you’re a fantastic cook. As for gardening, I’ve never had any luck making anything grow — well, except weeds.  😛 

 

 

  1. I know many writers, such as myself, keep their pastime/career a secret. Do those close to you know you write? If so, what are their thoughts?

(Diane) Yes, with one book published and on the verge of launching the sequel, everyone in my family is aware of my passion to write. One of my daughters is actually my chief beta reader…I love to brag about my supportive family!

 

 

 

  1. Will you share with us your all-time favorite authors? If you’re like me, it’s a long list so give us your top ten.

(Diane) Holy cow; where to start? I hold near and dear the writings of Kahlil Gibran. In high school, I read all the classics I could find in the local libraries. John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony was my first real book, a gift from my grandmother when I was eight. Lewis Carroll was also intriguing because he was my father’s favorite author. My older brother is actually named after him…but out of all those old classics, I would say Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe win out. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and Kipling have long been exciting. Of contemporary writers, I admire Gregory Maguire and Dean Koontz, Janet Evanovich, Michael Connelly, and I’ve just begun a fantastic new series by Ken Fry that’s very promising.

 

 

  1. If you could choose one book to go to the big screen, yours or otherwise, which book would you choose and whom would you love to see casted in the parts?

(Diane) I would cast my own, of course!

Of the characters from the Midnight Trilogy, I’d like to see

Natalie Portman as Alix and her twin sister Lily

Richard Armitage as her uncle, Quenton Saint-Descoteaux

Taron Egerton as Lily’s husband, Nicholas Griffon

Hugh Jackman as Alix’s guardian, Sir Robert Gordon

Ryan Gosling as the mysterious Drago Fortescue

Ryan Reynolds as the notorious Count Claude Rouget, and lastly but not least…

Jessica Chastain as Alix’s friend, Leah Burton

(KAM) I love your casting choices! 

 

 

  1. Would you care to tell us what you’re working on now? That is if it’s not top-secret information. If so, just whisper it in my ear. I swear it’ll go no further.

(Diane) Book 3 of the Midnight Trilogy is my WIP. It is as yet untitled, and is the conclusion of the series and solutions to mysteries will be revealed.

 

 

  1. Where can we find your stories and is there a particular reading order?

(Diane) After Midnight is Book one, Midnight Crossing is Book two. Book 3 of course is under construction. They can be found online at Amazon, Kobo, Barns & Noble, Taylors–wherever books are sold, basically.

 

As far as Alix is concerned, she has no past—only today, and her plans for the future: creating a dynamic stable of Thoroughbreds that will take the 1830s British racing world by storm. When forced into assuming the role of Lord Griffon’s wife in London, her plans are threatened by disturbing images of a castle from her past that fight to resurface. Alix is determined to find a way to take control of her life and fulfill her dreams. This women’s historical fiction novel is the first in the Midnight Series.

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When Quenton wants to take Alix home to France after years of exile in England, she is torn between the restoration of her fortune and her dream to build her Sterling Wood Stable into a successful racing business. She finds an unlikely friend in her uncle’s companion, Nicholas Griffon. Caught by her surprising fondness for him, Alix does not realize shadows from the past are stalking her―until she’s trapped by their darkness.

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  1. Would you please share how your present and future fans can contact you?

(Diane) Anyone can find me at www.dianeshute.com… After Midnight is on Facebook, and I’m @DianeShute on Twitter.

 

 

  1. Before we conclude this enlightening interview, do you have anything else you’d like to share? The stage is all yours.

(Diane) I appreciate the invitation to join you, Kam. I look forward to hearing from your followers and reading their reviews! Thank you!

 

Thank you so very much, Diane, for joining me today. It was a true pleasure learning more about you. I wish you all the best in life and oodles of sales!

 

 

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Author Showcase / Interview – Patricia Panahi (Veil of Walls)

Welcome, Patricia Panahi!

 

  1. For those who might not be familiar with you, would you be a dear and tell the readers a little about yourself? How did you get your start in the writing business?

(Patricia) Originally from Massachusetts, I moved to Iran at the age of nine. I later returned to the States and completed my graduate work at San Diego State University. I have taught English in Iran, California, and Hawaii, owned and operated The Light Spot Bookstore and Coffee House in San Diego, and directed English language programs for international students for the University of Hawaii. Due to the many misconceptions about Iran and Iranians, and considering my direct experience and knowledge of the people and their culture, I decided to begin my writing career with a novel that portrayed them in a more realistic light.

 

 

  1. All writers fear the dreaded “block”. Please tell us how you handle it.

(Patricia) I began my writing career late in life and have not experienced writers block to date. If I don’t feel inspired, I just wait until inspiration comes.

 

 

 

  1. Will you please share with the visitors what genre(s) you write? Also, when you’re not writing, how to do you spend your time?

(Patricia)  I write literary fiction and non-fiction books. I am also retired and live in Hawaii, enjoying the beautiful nature, yoga classes, good friends and good books.

(Kam) I’ve been to Hawaii only once (so far). It’s absolutely gorgeous and the people are very friendly. 

 

 

  1. I know many writers, such as myself, keep their pastime/career a secret. Do those close to you know you write? If so, what are their thoughts?

(Patricia) Everyone who knows me, also knows that I write and completely supports me. I have done local presentations and book signings that were well attended.

 

 

      5. Will you share with us your all time favorite authors? If you’re like me, it’s a long list so give us  your top ten. 

(Patricia) 

  • Deborah Harkness
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Katherine Howe
  • Arthur Golden
  • Anne Rice
  • Amy Tan
  • Alice Hoffman
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • Richard Bach
  • Michael Cunningham

(Kam) Thank you for the list. You’ve gave me (us) some new authors to possibly fall in love with. 

 

 

 

  1. If you could choose one book to go to the big screen, yours or otherwise, which book would you choose and whom would you love see casted in the parts?

(Patricia) I would love Veil of Walls to go to the big screen. No preference on actors.

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  1. Would you care to tell us what you’re working on now? That is if it’s not top-secret information. If so, just whisper it in my ear. I swear it’ll go no further.

(Patricia) The Nature of Love, a novel tells the story of five Iranians whose lives intersect as they learn about love and life during the tumultuous 2009 Iranian election protests.

 

 

  1. Where can we find your stories and is there a particular reading order?

(Patricia) I have a novel and a nonfiction book on Amazon.

Veil of Walls, the struggles of an American girl who visits her father’s relatives in Iran and not permitted to return home.

God Outside the Box – a spiritual memoir.

If you liked Eat, Pray, Love, The Celestine Prophecy, or The Way of the 
Peaceful Warrior, you will likely enjoy this true story of a journey to spiritual awakening.
 
An ordinary woman finds extraordinary potential within herself in this narrative of spiritual awakening and exploration.

Born to a New Jersey Catholic mother and an Iranian Muslim father, author Patricia Panahi was never quite sure exactly who she was from the very beginning. This early confusion would lead her on a rollercoaster ride of a spiritual journey for years to come – an amazing journey chronicled in her inspirational new book, God Outside the Box: A Story of Breaking Free (published by AuthorHouse).

After exploring a variety of religions and traditions, Panahi discovers that none of them truly “speak to her soul.” She begins to question if there really is a God at all and, finding no answers to satisfy her, becomes an agnostic. But at 28 years old, Panahi’s world is rocked by a surprising diagnosis: cancer. Feeling lost, alone and afraid, groping through the dark with a weak-willed Persian husband and without a religion or solid tradition to turn to, she begins the search for a spirituality that would fill the large and heartbreaking void.

At 32, Panahi’s painful childhood memories – her mother’s abandonment and her forced relocation to her father’s country – resurface. She is able to heal and find inner peace, but discovers that her “journey of transformation” has only begun when she makes contact with her inner voice and begins to experience extrasensory perceptions. It is after a particularly vivid dream that Panahi opens The Light Spot Bookstore and Coffeehouse, where her spiritual search continues with the help of the many fascinating people who come through its door.

As her spirituality grows, so does the gap between Panahi and her husband. Her inner voice and visions call her to move to Hawaii, where two years later she meets and marries her “true soul mate” and begins a new life. Her happiness is challenged quickly, however, when she is suddenly afflicted with Bell’s Palsy – a paralysis of one side of the face – in 2002. As traumatic as this experience is, it finally leads her to face her doubts and fears while fully committing herself to her spiritual path and purpose in life. Firmly rooted and happy, her life is shaken up once again when she receives the call to let go of her secure career as a university faculty member and become a writer.

Today, this move still terrifies Panahi, but she feels that she has made peace overall with her new calling. “A spiritual life is not about complacency and comfort and self-satisfaction,” she says, “but the ability to accept and flow with change.”

It is Panahi’s hope that her readers of God Outside the Box will “gain a new understanding of their own search for answers” as she unveils “universal truths and discovers a rich spiritual path that crosses the boundaries of culture, tradition and belief.”

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  1. Would you please share how your present and future fans can contact you?

(Patricia) Facebook / Twitter / Website 

 

 

  1. Before we conclude this enlightening interview, do you have anything else you’d like to share? The stage is all yours.

(Patricia) I hope my first novel, Veil of Walls, can provide readers with a new perspective of a country and a people.

 

Anahita Sadeghi, a typical, happy-go-lucky American ten-year-old, was not too keen on traveling to the other side of the world to meet her father’s family. But her month-long vacation turns into a nightmare when her Persian relatives refuse to let her return to the States.

She is forced to deal with the dizzying maze of social customs, resist her grandmother’s efforts to mold her into the proper Persian girl, dodge her aunt’s schemes of marriage, and fight to make her own life choices until she can find a way to return home. Longing for her friends and her freedom, only the enigma of her missing aunt, Scheherezade, gives Ana a glimmer of hope of one day escaping Iran for good.

Will Ana’s family marry her off and forever bind her to this country, or will she break free of Iran’s walls and find her way back to America?

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Chapter One

The blue Aerogram with its scribbles of Dad’s native language lay open on the breakfast table like an ancient spell. It was 1962, a nippy New England morning just like any other in the snow season; snug in our thick winter robes over a Sunday feast of johnnycakes, corned beef hash, fried eggs and the rich aromas of percolating coffee and hot cocoa, my parents dropped a bombshell – we were going to Iran. Just for a month, they said. In March – for the Persian holidays. A surgeon at St. John’s Hospital in Lowell, Dad rarely took more than a week off, but the Shah of Iran was abolishing the feudal landlord system – whatever that meant – and my father had been summoned home on family business.

I was ten and not too keen on traveling across the globe to meet a slew of strangers, so I whined and pouted and complained that I’d miss a whole month of school, that Grandma and Grandpa promised to take me to Beantown to watch the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, and we had to consider Angel, our cocker spaniel. Wouldn’t it be better if I stayed with Grandma Brigid? But Mom believed it was an opportunity for me to finally meet my Persian relatives and all my pleading landed on deaf ears. So they dragged me away from my shady New England neighborhood to the walled-in courtyards of Tehran.

***

March 1962 – Tehran, Iran

I stood before the dancing flames, unable to move. A row of bonfires crackled and popped. The earthy scent of burning brush teased my nostrils; the smoke burned my eyes. Branches of persimmon and pomegranate cast eerie shadows on the courtyard walls. I bit my lower lip so hard it bled.

My cousin nudged me forward. “Jump, Ana. It’s Chaharshambeh Suri – Red Wednesday. You have to purify yourself in the fire to let go of the old year and welcome the new one.”

I fixed my gaze on the flames, my heart skipping a beat.

Parvaneh pushed strands of dark hair away from her face and tilted her head. “It’s safe, Ana. Iranians all over the country are jumping over fire tonight.”

But I’m not Iranian. I grimaced at my cousin, trying to wrap my head around these weird Persian rituals. Her name means ‘butterfly’ in Farsi, but with her rose-bud lips and dark liquid eyes, she looked more like a princess out of One Thousand and One Nights. I thought her name suited the way she flitted about without a care in the world.

Roxanna and Kianoosh, my other cousins, their faces luminous in the firelight, called out and waved from the far end of the line. I liked Roxanna. The girl had spunk. Kianoosh, on the other hand, thought he was God’s gift to the world.

“Go on, Ana. You’ll be fine, sweetheart,” Mom called from the veranda, her ginger curls dancing in the breeze. A nurse of Irish descent, Mom loved Iran – the food, the hospitality, the multicolored Persian carpets. She waved in a big arc, her face lit up with a smile. A smile that always calmed and anchored me. She looked happy this evening, glowing even.

But tonight her smile didn’t work its magic on me. My leg muscles tightened further. The family didn’t understand just how much a burn hurt. How it ripped your skin. I pictured the flames licking at my feet, my dress catching fire and going up in flames. Why did Dad have to bring us here?

Parvaneh poked my arm. “Trust me, Anahita. You’ll be all right.”

I felt trapped, still not sure why my cousin insisted I jump into the flames. Trying to buy time to calm my jitters, I cleared my throat and spread my hands. “Why do they call it Red Wednesday when it’s Tuesday night?”

Parvaneh rolled her eyes. “The night before Wednesday is Wednesday night. Everybody knows that.”

Like many other things that everybody knew in Iran, this made no sense. After two weeks, I still found myself scrambling to digest this exotic land of my father’s.

With a sigh of exasperation, Parvaneh shook her head and nudged ahead of me. Bunching her skirt, she leapt over the bonfires, chanting the ritual words.

I sucked in air and faced the fire. Sparks escaped, floated for a time like fireflies then winked out. My cousins hollered and whistled. They had jumped across all seven bonfires. No one had burned. No one’s clothes had burst into flames.

A stream of relatives flowed down the steps and lined up behind me. I recalled the ritual words Dad had taught me. The words all Iranians chanted while jumping over fire. Not wanting to look like a sissy in front of my Persian relatives, I pushed back the fear, gathered my skirt, and jumped.

“Zardi-eh man as toe – I give my yellow, my sickness and pallor, to you,” I chanted, the Farsi words feeling strange in my mouth. The flames licked my feet, teasing me, daring me. I sailed over the first fire and landed safely on the other side. Elated, I braved the next one.

“Sorkhi-eh toe as man – I take from you your red, your ruddiness and vitality,” I sang to the flames, imagining the energy of the fire soaking into my skin, my bones, filling me with strength and courage. Then I skipped over the remaining bonfires, chanting the words again and again. I turned to my cousins, arms raised in triumph.

Parvaneh and Roxanna hooked their arms in mine and pulled me to the back of the line “Again,” they said in unison.

I imagined telling my friends all about the fire festival when I got back home to Lexington. Becky, her pudgy cheeks dotted with freckles, would stand there with arms folded and refuse to believe I jumped through flames. But Julie, my other best friend, would probably stare at me with those big brown eyes and say ‘Wow!

**For a longer FREE PREVIEW of Veil of Walls, please visit Patricia Panahi’s WEBSITE.**

 

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(Kam) Thank you Patricia Panahi for allowing me the chance to interview you. I wish you much success in life and look forward to what you create next. 

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Review of “Sugar Skulls” – M.R. Tapia

“Life is a matter of death. Death is a matter of fact.”

Micah DeAtta learns this as he awakens with Death seated across from him, whetting his sickle. Micah has no choice but to converse with Death in order to figure out his own demise. As their conversations become a battle of wits, Micah is forced to relive prominent deaths of family and friends before learning of his own. Each death happens in real time, each correlating with the nine levels of the Aztec underworld. Before it is said and done, Micah will have been forced to face his fears, his losses, and the fact that although life may be too short, death is forever.

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(Chapter 13)

 

When Mama died, I died. Mama died of cancer. I can’t exactly remember how I died.

Now I’m sitting here with Death as he takes me back to these deaths. This whole experience is infuriating. He talks to me as if he cares while making it clear that he doesn’t.

I murmur, “You’re Death,” saying it more to myself than to him.

“I’m sorry?” he asks with confusion.

I quietly shout, “You’re Death. You—are—Death.”

I look up at him in anger.

He stares at me, blankly. Dead.

“What the fuck do you pity the lives you end for?” I point my finger and tap the air as if it were his chest. “You don’t know, do you? You don’t realize what you do to the family and friends of the person. You don’t know what sorrow feels like. Grief. What pain and heartache feel like.”

There’s no stopping me now. Not even his calm and bone-collected self. Sitting there nice and composed. Asshole.

“You don’t know what it feels like to have someone ripped away from you. You never held your sister in your arms while they cry violently, asking why God took her baby. But it was you. You took her baby. You haven’t watched a teenage family member on a hospital bed being kept alive with beeping machines and wheezing pumps. Being held away from you. Feeling helpless as you watch the Nurse’s assistant gently wipe away dried sweat and drool and blood from their inflamed face.” Sweat and drool and blood also smear my face.

“Micah—”

I cut him off, “You’ve never sat and watched as your mother was lowered beneath the ground. No. You just do the dirty deeds, don’t you? You’ve never had to repeat ‘I’m okay. Hanging in there,’ to everyone asking how you’re doing.”

I grunt, “You’ve never listened to the broken record of ‘they’re in a better place now; they’re resting in peace now; there’s no more suffering where they are now’. You’ve never had to turn your back on those attending a loved one’s funeral to keep from blowing up on them because they’re there to be nosy.”

Death sits there as tears stream from my bloodshot eyes. “Do you know how many funerals I’ve been too? What about you? You may be the reason behind the grieving families at funerals, but how many have you actually been too?”

He stands, tall and erect. “You fool!” The boner’s voice enters my soul with loud impatience. He slams the butt of the scythe’s handle to the ground and I feel my world tremble like a tremor. “Do you know how many I’ve caused? How many funerals are of my doing? The funerals you’ve been to, they’re because of me.”

My eyes are forced shut, the force of his shouting reaching my core like an explosion.

As I hold them shut I sense a breeze brush along the beads of sweat on my forehead and forearms. I’m frightened to open them. I struck a nerve now.

I remember wanting life the day after pleading for my death, but right now I want nothing more than life and Mama’s warm, reassuring embrace. Besides an ominous breeze, I feel and hear nothing. I concentrate on my panicked breathing. My heart rate high, pounding behind my eyes. That’s when I hear the voice.

“We commend unto thy hands of mercy, most merciful Father, the soul of this thy child; and we commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.—”

My body is still as a gambling addict whose life’s savings are wagered in the hopes of early retirement, awaiting the judge’s results for the boxing match.

What am I awaiting? Sitting here, eyes clinched. Body, clinched. Am I waiting for Death? Confirmation of Death? Something’s out of place.

“—judgement shall come which thou hast committed to thy well-beloved Son, both this child and we may be found acceptable in thy sight. Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Savior, Mediator, and Advocate. Amen.”

I slowly open my eyes and realize that I am no longer in front of Death. Another memory. Now, I am tight within a crowd of people. People who are dressed mostly in black, or in dark shades. I nudge forward through the darkly dressed crowd.

My feet are inches deep in sod. As I stretch my calves, peering over shoulders, a priest comes into sight. He is closing a bible, placing a holy kiss on the cover, and hugs it tightly against his chest.

A man and woman make their way forward, leaning over in front of him. But they aren’t taking communion or asking for a blessing. They’re giving a kiss to a glossy, pink box. The box is about the size of a large sack of potatoes. I’m about as clear minded as those same potatoes.

This is all familiar. Even the man kissing the box. He is dressed in a charcoal grey suit. I recognize him as my brother.

Cheecho straightens and turns away from the box. It’s not just any box. It’s a casket. A casket holding my stillborn niece.

The box jerks immediately as it descends into the earth. Feet away from her angel-daughter—my angel-niece—my sister jerks in unison.

Behind her, my family, and others, lies a field of tombstones. Precious Moments sculptures decorating a few of them, crucifixes and Jesuses and saints and Virgin Marys adorn the majority of the rest.

A shadow meanders through them. It holds what appears at a glance to be a Johnny Appleseed knapsack.

I know what it really is, though. A sickle.

And I know who he really is.

Death.

He stops behind a tombstone and his head turns in my direction as if mourning alongside my family and I.

Some Taiwanese funerals have professional mourners. People hired to speak, and mourn for the deceased. Women with makeup streaking down their faces with tears.

The clinks of the gears lowering my niece are loud as an interstate highway accident.

My sister, she wails. Her makeup streaks down her face with tears. She attempts to tear her heart out through her black dress, mascara-tears clogging random pinholes in her black veil.

Then I look at the graceful pace of Death.

I panic.

It was hard enough the first time. This time only reiterates the fact that I can’t help her. I know this isn’t real. Just another Death joke. I do an about face, allowing my feet guide me away. But they guide me into the backside of a woman.

“—earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.—”

The words enslave me. Over the shoulder of a woman before me I again see a priest with his hand sprinkling Holy water over a casket. This black casket is tailored for an adult.

“—Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Savior, Mediator, and Advocate. Amen.”

I push forward again and see Ronnie’s mother wiping tears away from her cheeks. That’s Ronnie’s casket. This is Ronnie’s funeral.

My attention is returned to Ronnie’s mother and others from their family as they all wail a song of heartache as Ronnie descends into the earth. The melody is in Spanish. The singer is wailing, singing Entierranme Cantando. Sing while you bury me.

As turn away in anguish, and I see AJ texting away on her phone, her hands resting upon her fat belly that my child temporarily calls home.

I glance at the priest and his bible. Death peeks over his shoulder, looking at Ronnie? At me? It’s hard to tell with his empty eye sockets. Patches of skin flail with the misty breeze.

Panic turns to anger. Anger toward AJ’s ignorance. Anger toward Death. Anger due to me being forced to relive these moments, as if the pure memory and loss isn’t enough.

I do a half turn to escape Death’s sadistic joke. Maybe even Death himself. I stop before running into the back of another priest. Or is it the same one? I don’t know. But the casket before him is different.

The picture on the stand is one of Gabe. He’s dressed in a black cap and gown with crimson stitching and a sash and cord to match. It’s Gabe’s funeral.

I panic is turning into a frantic movements like a slow internet connection. I juke to my left and see another framed picture. This one of Artie standing next to his first car. I refrain a shout, turning once again to get out of here. Out of this moment- these moments. My past. My future. My Death. But I am stopped short by the sight before me.

A glossy, deep forest green casket sways upon thick green straps, hovering above a rectangular pit. Pictures of Saints adorn the sides of it. The centerpiece is a beacon of Mexican culture. It is a picture of the Virgen de Guadalupe. A beacon of Mama’s faith. It’s my mother’s casket.

A shadow crosses on the other side of Mama’s casket. My head jerks upward and instead of Death’s black shadow, I see a white owl with golden eyes perched atop a tombstone.

Gears crank and I look at Mama’s casket. Tears cascade from my eyes as my mother is lowered.

This is pure agony, although I know this has happened before. I know this is a part of Death’s torture. I also know that the pain I feel is real. Maybe even more painful because I am forced to relive it. Relive the fresh pain, peeling back the scab far enough that skin also rips away bringing forth more anguish.

This time, I involuntarily change a detail. While kneeling by the platform’s metal bars that support Mama’s body, my muscles contract, readying themselves. The green, thick, wide straps give way to Mama’s physical existence, lowering her to her final destination, I rise to my feet.

My core burns with the intensity of a forest fire. My weight leans forward. My feet part ways with the earth, where Mama’s body shall rest.

Earth to earth.

I chase my freefalling tears down into Mama’s resting site.

Ashes to ashes.

The damp air graces my skin, and I fall, closing my eyes, peacefully.

Dust to dust.

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My Review

Death is inevitable. Some depart this world peacefully in their sleep and some pass on painfully. We’ve all heard stories depicting angels, bright light, but no one really speaks of “Death” himself. In Sugar Skulls, Micah has quite the lengthy conversation with Death. I agree with Micah, Death behaving more like Sigmund Freud than the thing of nightmares was quite unnerving. I can see why Micah mouthed off to him. Death was basically acting like a shrink and not everyone is comfortable with a head doctor, let alone one looking like DEATH. DEATH made Micah relive the best and, more importantly, the worst moments of his existence.

 

In doing so. certain points in Sugar Skulls proved quite informative and/or fascinating. 

1.) Mictlan (underworld of Aztec mythology) and its 9 levels.

(Each level was described and integrated into the storyline very smoothly.)

 

2.) Death’s reaction to taking some lives but not others. 

(Many have pondered the question if DEATH views all his “victims” the same. Does he regret any lives taken? No regrets whatsoever? His response might amaze you. Tapia clearly didn’t want DEATH to be a silent player in this story. DEATH certainly had depth to him.)

 

3.) The ending. 

(The closer the end came, the less surprised I was by the turn of events. However, I must say, the end was pretty damn good.)

 

 

Heart Rating System:

1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 

Score: ❤❤❤❤

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M.R. Tapia has had his short stories appear in various publications including Schlock Webzine, Deadman’s Tome, Empty Sink Publishing, and Hindered Souls: Dark Tales for Dark Nights. His short story, ‘Stella Reign’ is a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee.

Twitter Link  / Website Link

 

 

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Review of “Deadman’s Tome: Monsters Exist” – Horror Anthology

Editors: Mr. Deadman & Theresa Braun

 

From the time we are young, we fear the monster under the bed or in the closet, making it impossible to sleep without a nightlight. Then, we hear stories of Bigfoot, and maybe even the Mothman around campfires. When we are adults, we wonder if there might actually be supernatural creatures lurking in the shadows. Are these tall tales and urban legends only metaphors for what horrific things humanity is capable of—or do monsters exist?

Go to some terrifying places with this cast of authors. You will be dragged into mystifying realities where demonic fairies hide, where devil monkeys lure carnival-goers to their demise, where Goatmen seek to destroy their prey, and where the goddess of death puts out a hit on victims of her choice. These shocking tales will have you biting your nails and locating that childhood nightlight. Because, in the end, we all know monsters do exist.

 

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(review request submitted by the author Gary Buller for an honest critique) 

 

Upon the pages of Monsters Exist, a reader will embark on spine-tingling adventure where some stories are full of immense blood and gore. Some are so damn freaky but I was shuddering in my seat. For example, the first short story “Master Vermin” by Wallace Boothill, there’s just something about rats that just gives me the willies. If one average size rodent doesn’t make you scream and go running for the hills, then try being surrounded by tens of thousands of the beady-eyed vermin. Some rats were as big as cats. Oh and don’t get me started on the Rat King. Seriously, I’d move….. like far, far away and never look back!

Another story that had my skin crawling was “Bitten” by Christopher Powers. Christopher tapped into a common fear, arachnophobia. Little itty-bitty anthropoids scare me enough but Christopher’s twist on the arachnids will probably have me cringing for days. I won’t tell you why but this short story is a CAN’T MISS! Be warned though, it WILL FREAK YOU OUT if you have the slightest fear of the 8 legged fanged beasts. 

They were also stories such as “Never Sleep Again” by Calvin Demmer and “Legend Trippers” by Theresa Braun who had gore, blood and moments where I was happy I wasn’t reading their tales after sundown.

Sylvia Mann, she literally made my skin crawl with “Eclipse At Wolfcreek” while Gary Buller’s “Wicked Congregation” ending touched me the most. It was like the rest, spooky, but the final moments of his paranormal tale was just unexpectedly moving.

Whether I was reading about monsters swooping down from the sky or grabbing onto a victim from below, all the contributing authors in the anthology, Monsters Exist, stayed true to one fact —- every creation showed their love of the horror genre by creating HIGHLY DESCRIPTIVE MONSTERS that’ll surely make for some interesting dreams…er, nightmares later tonight for many readers. So I say to you, be ready for some blood, gore, dismembered bodies, and some scary ass creatures because these 14 authors held nothing back. 

 

Heart Rating System:

1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 

Score: ❤❤❤❤

 

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 Let’s Meet The Authors………

 

 

 Wallace Boothill: I write horror/supernatural fiction for whoever will read it. Looking for the right beach for the Haunted Luau. Published in Shotgun Horror Clips and Deadman’s.

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Theresa Braun was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and has carried some of that hardiness with her to South Florida where she currently resides with her two fur babies, who are her creative sidekicks. She enjoys delving into creative writing, painting, photography and even bouts of ghost hunting. Traveling is one of her passions—in fact, her latest adventure took her to Romania for a horror writers’ workshop where she followed in the steps of Vlad the Impaler. She writes horror fiction and the occasional romance. Oh, and she likes to guest blog about writing, television shows, movies, and books, mostly in the horror genre. Her short story “Shout at the Devil” appears in Under the Bed Magazine, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Hindered Souls, and “Dead over Heels” is soon to be published by Frith Books.

Twitter Link  / Facebook Link / Website Link

 

Hi my name is S.J.Budd, I live in London but grew up in Cornwall surrounded by beautiful wild lands and ancient Celtic legends and folk tales which had a big impact on my eternal fascination with everything out of the strange and ordinary. Like seriously who wants to be normal? Not me!

Website Link /Twitter Link 

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Buller is an author from Manchester England where he lives with his long suffering partner Lisa, and his daughter Holly. He is a huge fan of all things macabre having grown up reading King and Koontz and loves a tale with a twist.

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S.E. Casey is a writer of the weird, the grotesque, and the darkly wonderful. His speculative fiction focuses on a collection of oddities, forgotten places, and fallen characters. The horror isn’t in the blood on the knife, but in the loneliness of the void. In vacant corners of empty alleyways does this existential madness collect and fester. 

Website Link.  / Twitter Link 

 

 

Mr. Deadman: Owner of Deadman’s Tome – a site for scary stories and demented horror.

Website Link / Twitter Link 

 

 

 

Calvin Demmer is a crime, mystery, and speculative fiction author. He has had over thirty stories published in various magazines and anthologies. When not writing, he is intrigued by that which goes bump in the night and the sciences of our universe.

Website Link / Twitter Link 

 

 

 

Philip W. Kleaver lives with his cat in Baltimore, Maryland, where he works as an educator. He is a too-competitive player of gin rummy and an avid collector of horror and science fiction paperbacks (preferably the musty, yellowing kind). 

Twitter Link  / Website Link

 

 

Sylvia Mann: Fiction writer. Teacher. Musician.

Twitter Link 

 

 

 

 

William Marchese: Horror Writer, Horror Writers Association supporting member.

Website Link / Twitter Link

 

 

 

 

John Palisano: Vice President of Horror Writers Association, Bram Stoker Award winner, FANGORIA writer.

Website Link / Twitter Link 

 

 

 

Christopher Powers: Writer of horror and dark fiction.

 Twitter Link 

 

 

 

Leo X. Robertson: I’m a fiction writer from Glasgow, Scotland, currently living in Oslo, Norway. I also run the Losing the Plot podcast, where I talk to editors, authors and other favourite people of mine about reading, writing and just about anything!

On my site you’ll be able to find out about my latest news, events, publications and hear the latest episodes of the podcast.

Website Link / Twitter Link 

 

M.R. Tapia: Head editor at Hindered Souls Press. Author of dark fiction. The Die-Fi Experiment, and debut novel Sugar Skulls coming this fall.

Twitter Link 

 

 

 

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