Miriamne the Magdala

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                                     Miriamne the Magdala
        The First Chapter in the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series

Miriamne the Magdala written by historian JB Richards is a beautiful novel brimming with the history of the holy lands. It explores the relationship between Yeshua bar Joseph, known more familiarly to us as Jesus, and Miriamne Bat Micah, daughter of the Hekatontarchus of the Hyperatai, the Commander of the Holy Temple Guard, and more familiarly known to us as Mary Magdalene. The novel, the first in Richards’ planned series is told from Miriamne’s point of view, and takes place during the period just after Yeshua has had his bar mitzvah. Now considered an “adult” according to Hebrew standards and customs, Yeshua is still a young man at 13 years old, and often acts as such: petulant, demanding, and prone to bouts of anger not generally attributable to the Son of God. Richards does a good job of showing us how sometimes, even the Son of God needs a bit of time to grow up.

Yeshua’s present concern is the health of his abba, his earthly father, Joseph, who is suffering from a debilitating cough that has left him weak and fatigued. Joseph was a stone mason, working in Nazareth where the family lived. Nazareth boasts a stone quarry but also a constant dust hovering about the city, a direct result of the quarrying operation. Once a strapping man, now Joseph can barely rise from bed. Yeshua’s hopelessness is a result of HaShem’s (God’s) refusal to grant Yeshua’s most heartfelt desire — to heal Joseph. Even as a baby, Yeshua had the power to heal, and HaShem’s denial of his request is making Yeshua furious. And when Yeshua gets angry, bad things happen. Even Mary, his Ima, or mother, cannot calm Yeshua down when his anger is this great, and it’s causing trouble in the family and the village.

Enter Miriamne the Magdal, or Tower, and, as Yeshua’s beloved, the one person able to reach him. That she and Yeshua can read each others thoughts is one of the perks of young love between these two visionaries. From the first moment they meet, these cousins are enthralled with each other. Miri is an unusual child who has suffered all her life from “episodes,” visions of the future that leave her weak, frightened, and unable to express to others what she has seen. Those who do not understand believe her to be possessed by demons, something people have also been saying about Yeshua his entire life. As a result, both grew up somewhat isolated and at this point in their lives they really understand each other. Miriamne’s mother, Salome, and Yeshua’s mother Mary, are cousins, and their fathers were best friends until fate forced them apart, while Yeshua’s brothers — James, Simeon, Judas and Joses — sons of Joseph from his first wife, are his greatest protectors and most ardent supporters.

Miriamne the Magdala is limited to the first year of Miri and Yeshua’s time together, and Richards does a nice job of portraying the history: the food and drink; the housing; the modes of transportation, the religiosity, and the overall pace of life which was very much in keeping with life 2,000 years ago. In addition to exploring more than just Yeshua and Miri’s love and lineage, Richardson delves deeply into the roles that women played — secondary status (no shock there) — in a world dominated completely by men. Miri, however, is no secondary character, but a firebrand who doesn’t take no for an answer and who manages on most occasions to get exactly what she wants, including Yeshua.

Miriamne the Magdala could easily be a YA novel. There is no sex, no real violence, and lots of dialogue between the young lovers. Miriamne the Magdala was ranked in the 2016 Summer Indie Book Awards Top 10 Best Historical Fiction, Top 20 Best New Adult, and Top 50 Best Young Adult novels in addition to being a nominee for Best Romance.

My one criticism of the book is the repetitiveness of a few of the themes such as the taboo of premarital sex or even kissing which was repeated in many instances. Yes, it was a puritanical time, and certain things were expected from both men and women, but the scenario was played out too often, giving an otherwise delightful book a repetitive feeling that, at over 800+ pages, it could have done without. Perhaps it was a tactic employed for the YA reader, but today’s YA reader is savvy and doesn’t need the extra handholding. You don’t need to repeat yourself to get your point across. You simply need to create gripping and memorable scenes which the novel already does quite well.

If you are open to a reimagining of the early life of Yeshua and his beloved, Miri, then pick up Miriamne and let the Magdal enchant you.

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Laura Wolfe’s Secrets

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Laura Wolfe’s Secrets

Welcome back to the sixth installment of Mystery Thriller Week (2/12-2/22) and this time we’re deep in the heart of it with author Laura Wolfe, a self-described lover of animals and nature. When Laura isn’t writing, she can be found playing games with her highly-energetic kids, riding horses, growing vegetables in her garden, or spoiling her rescue dog where she lives in Michigan with her husband, son, and daughter. Laura’s YA mystery, Trail of Secrets (Dark Horse, Book 1), was named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards—First Novel category. Laura holds a BA in English from the University of Michigan and a JD from DePaul University. She is an active member of multiple writing groups, including Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the SCBWI. For more information on her upcoming books, please visit Laura’s website.

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Synopsis for Trail of Secrets

Spending three weeks of her summer at the elite Foxwoode Riding Academy in northern Michigan should have been one of the happiest times of sixteen year-old Brynlei’s life. But from the moment Brynlei arrives at Foxwoode, she can’t shake the feeling she’s being watched. Then she hears the story of a girl who vanished on a trail ride four years earlier. While the other girls laugh over the story of the dead girl who haunts Foxwoode, Brynlei senses that the girl—or her ghost—may be lurking in the shadows.

Brynlei’s quest to reveal the truth interferes with her plan to keep her head down and win Foxwoode’s coveted Top Rider Award. To make things worse, someone discovers her search for answers and will go to any length to stop her. When Brynlei begins to unravel the facts surrounding the missing girl’s disappearance, she must make an impossible choice. Will she protect a valuable secret? Or save a life?

Sounds like an exciting read, Laura. And now, the questions:

What’s your writing background (schooling), backdrop (where you work at writing), and backstory (what you will tell the world when you become super famous)?

I have a B.A. in English from the University of Michigan. Unfortunately, while I was in college I hadn’t yet realized I wanted to be a writer, but I’ve always loved to read and delve deep into books. I became serious about learning the craft of writing a few years ago after leaving my full-time job to stay home with my kids. Now that my kids are a little bit older, I spend almost every minute they’re at school in my home office typing away or connecting with other readers and writers on social media. Deep down, I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I just didn’t know how to get there. It wasn’t until I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) three years ago that I realized that I could write a novel. Of course, it takes much longer than thirty days to get from the first draft to the final product, but NaNoWriMo gave me the confidence that I needed to see myself through the entire process.

I also participated in NaNoWriMo and it helped me jump start the book I’m working on now. It’s a great organization.  How about reading? What are your favorite books?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Pretty Baby and Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
I have SO many more, but I’ll end it there!

Why mysteries?

I’ve always heard that you should write the book you want to read. I love figuring out a good mystery and reading books with unexpected twists and turns that suddenly make sense in the end. It’s natural that I’d want write similar books. It’s a challenge that I enjoy.

Do you see the need for all these sub-genres or do you think we’ve become over-specialized?

I do feel that over-specializing books may limit the number of readers who may have otherwise been interested in them. For example, my book, Trail of Secrets, is a mystery, but also a young adult novel. On top of that, it can also be characterized as an equestrian or horse book. While all of these categories may help attract certain readers, they could also turn away potential readers who would have enjoyed my book had it not been called “YA” or an “equestrian” mystery. After all, people do not need to like or know horses to enjoy my book—which is a mystery at its core. I guess all of these sub-genres are somewhat of a double-edged sword.

Why writing and not ceramics, or gourmet cooking, or anything else really? If not writing, then what?

I write because I have to write. I have ideas swirling around in my head that I simply need to get down on paper. Writing is somewhat therapeutic for me and also a creative outlet. That said, I enjoy other hobbies outside of writing, like horseback riding and running.

Totally agree about writing being therapeutic.  From where do your ideas come?

I have no idea. Sometimes these thoughts just pop into my head and I can’t get them out. For example, with Trail of Secrets, I was horseback riding one day and thought, What if a horse returned from a trail ride without its rider and the rider was never seen again? I couldn’t stop thinking about that scenario and it ended up becoming the premise of my first novel. I also watched a lot of horror/thriller-type movies as a kid, so I think those movies have influenced the darker tone of my work.

What’s your routine? Do you work out while writing, take breaks, or simply gut it out?

When I’m writing a novel I like to start writing first thing in the morning and go until mid-afternoon. I take a break for lunch and to play with my dog. I don’t get anything done when my kids are home from school, so everything productive happens on weekdays between 9am-4pm.

What is your favorite place to walk?

In the woods, preferably with my dog.

We talked a bit about writing being therapeutic.  Has it helped you work through anything in particular?

Yes, absolutely! I’m always amazed at how the subconscious mind works. The main character in Trail of Secrets is a “highly sensitive person” or HSP. I wrote the entire novel without realizing that I, myself, am also an HSP. I even did research on it and still did not make the connection until months after my book was published! It happened when I took a quiz to help people determine whether or not they are HSPs. My score was off the charts, leaving no room for doubt. I was floored, but at the same time it all made sense. Writing about another character with the same condition helped me be more accepting of myself and how my brain sometimes processes things differently than others.

Pantser or perfectionist who meticulously plots out their stories?

I’m definitely a perfectionist who plots out my stories. I don’t plot out every detail, but I do make a general roadmap to follow as I’m writing so my story doesn’t get too far off base.

Your perfect day – go.

Coffee.
A trip to the barn, including a riding lesson on my favorite horse, Abby.
An afternoon spent writing.
Dinner with my family.
Playing a board game with my kids and husband.
Watching Homeland while drinking a glass of wine and snuggling with my dog.
Reading in bed (assuming I’m still awake at this point!)

Sounds idyllic!  What has been your greatest writing or life lesson?

For writing (and life), I love the phrase, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” It’s so important not to give up. Sometimes things don’t happen the way you want because you’re not ready for them to happen that way. I believe the universe has a way of knowing when you’ve put in the work, when you ready for the next phase, and when you’ve earned it. Until then, keep trying and don’t give up!

 

And the final question, do you think writing can save the world and if so, why?

Yes. Words are powerful. They matter. Writing allows people to share ideas with one another. Books can (and do) change people’s outlooks, educate people, and incite change—hopefully, for the better.

Thanks so  much for talking with us today, Laura.  Good luck with your second book due to release March 14th.  Love the cover!

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Want more?  Then read on for an excerpt from Trail of Secrets:

Excerpt from Trail of Secrets:

“I have a ghost story,” Alyssa’s high-pitched voice called from the back row.
“This should be good,” Anna muttered under her breath.
“It’s scary because it’s true,” Alyssa continued. “It happened here. At Foxwoode.”
With the exception of the crackling fire and a few crickets chirping in the distance, there was complete silence. Everyone turned to look at Alyssa.
“It happened just four years ago,” Alyssa said. “Caroline Watson was fifteen and from a small town somewhere near Lansing. It was her first summer at Foxwoode. She was young, but she was a kickass horse trainer and one of the best riders ever to come through Foxwoode. She was also gorgeous. Tall and model thin with perfect skin, long, shiny black hair, and bright green eyes, Caroline turned heads. Some of the other girls didn’t like that. They were jealous of her riding and her looks.”
“Is that how you feel, Alyssa?” someone said with a hint of sarcasm.
“Every day.” Alyssa flashed her perfect smile, and a few of the girls laughed. She clearly enjoyed being the center of attention.
“Anyway, two weeks into Caroline’s three-week session, she was the favorite for the Top Rider award. Everyone knew she would get it. One afternoon, Caroline took a trail ride on the young horse she was helping to train. Then, she screwed up big time. She went on the trail ride by herself and wasn’t wearing her helmet. She didn’t tell anyone she was leaving or where she was going. No one even realized she was missing until her horse came back that night, his saddle hanging to the side. He was covered in mud.”
Brynlei had never heard of a horse returning from a trail ride without its rider. She dug her toes into the sand and leaned forward, not wanting to miss a word.
“The search for Caroline began immediately. Search teams canvassed the forest for three miles in every direction. The second day of the search, someone discovered one of Caroline’s paddock boots floating in Big Rapids River about a mile and half east of here. They found her blood and hair on a jagged rock near the river’s edge. They said she must have lost control of her horse, fallen off, hit her head, and drowned in the river or died somewhere out in the woods. She was presumed dead. To this day, her body has never been found.”
The girls listened in silence. Only the lapping waves and chirping crickets hummed in the background.
“Some believe her death was an accident. Others believe it was something more sinister. Perhaps she was murdered by some of the girls who were jealous of her. Some people suspect the creepy barn hand, Bruce, who still lurks around our cabins.”
Some nervous laughter escaped from the mouths of a few.
Alyssa lowered her voice. “They say Caroline’s spirit never left Foxwoode. They say she will never rest in peace until her body is found and given a proper burial. Over the years, people have seen her ghost in the woods and in the barn. She is there one moment and gone the next. Sometimes items go mysteriously missing from the cabins. Two summers ago, one girl woke up in the middle of the night and saw a ghost with long black hair and glowing green eyes standing over her bed. She closed her eyes and tried to scream, but no sound would come out. When she opened her eyes again, the ghost was gone.”
As much as Brynlei disliked Alyssa, she had to hand it to her. Alyssa could tell one heck of a creepy story.
“So, if you awake to a thump in the night or you’re on a trail ride and suddenly feel uneasy, you know that the ghost of Caroline Watson is there. She’s in your cabin. She’s hiding among the trees. She is always watching you.”
“BOO!” someone yelled. Everyone jumped and screamed, and then laughed.
“Is that really a true story, Alyssa,” asked the girl who had told the babysitter story earlier.
“The part about Caroline disappearing on a trail ride is true,” Alyssa said. “Everyone knows about that. The stuff about the ghost is a load of crap. People keep adding to the story every summer.”
“Okay, girls. That’s enough talk about Caroline Watson. It was a tragic event. The Olsons don’t need us spreading rumors,” Miss Jill said. “It’s after nine thirty. We all need to get back to our cabins.”
Some of the girls filled buckets of water to put out the fire, but Brynlei shuffled her feet through the sand toward the path. She couldn’t wait to climb into her tightly made bed and sleep away the stress of the day. She gazed out at the glassy black lake, mesmerized by the rhythmic sound of lapping waves. Something caught her eye in the woods beyond the lake. A hint of movement, almost imperceptible, except for the thousand pin pricks of static electricity surging through her body. She froze. She could feel a presence. Brynlei squinted into the darkness, searching for the shadowy figure she thought she’d glimpsed. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.

p.j.lazos 2.19.17

 

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Nick Rippington Leads the Way By Hook or By Facebook

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Nick Rippington Leads the Way By Hook Or By Facebook

We’re back again with another installment for Mystery Thriller Week, (2/12-2/22) this time with a guest post from U.K. author Nick Rippington who wrote the gangland thriller, Crossing the Whitewash.  I’m off to download a copy to my Kindle now and suggest you do the same.  In the meantime, Nick’s got some great advice for all you indie authors who find yourselves in need of a little marketing love.  Thanks for the advice, Nick.  Do tell.

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TWELVE MONTHS ago my budding career as an author was on a life-support machine. You know the feeling: There’s that graph that appears on Amazon to say how many Kindle sales you have made over the last month and it has flatlined. You’re looking for any little bump in it just to indicate you have made a sale. If you see one you do a lap of honour around the house, telling anyone who can be bothered to listen (cat, goldfish, canary, 5-year-old child): “I’ve sold a book! I’ve sold a book!”

You are suspicious: You think someone is trying to sabotage your new career and give your partner strange looks out of the corner of your eye. Did they inadvertently press a button on your computer and obliterate your work of art somehow?

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Unfortunately the truth is more straight-forward than that.  In these days of Indie Publishing there are thousands and thousands of us out there shouting: “Look at me! look at me!”  There are also thousands of unscrupulous social media “experts” who are getting in touch with you through Twitter or email, offering to promote your book to their 8 million followers on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

I’ve tried quite a few of them, paying over £40 or £50 of my hard-earned dosh in the misguided belief that these people are hell-bent on spreading the word about Crossing The Whitewash to all four corners of the globe.  The trouble is that most of their so-called followers are robots, or people who would rather show you a picture of a celebrity with few clothes on than actually click a link, read about and buy a book.

The thing is that I knew I was on the right track with my writing. I had 30 reviews garnered through Net Galley (expensive but worth it) and a few other channels, and 21 of them were five-star. People liked the book. My dad even said it was like a “proper” book, which was high praise indeed coming from him.  So I knew there were readers out there… I just had to find them.

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I tried a facebook ads course, but demanded my money back because it was all a bit too complicated and involved giving books away for free in the hope readers would buy your fourth or fifth book. Difficult when you only have one and it took four years to write!
Still, there was the germ of an idea and here is the crux. Facebook is brilliant when it comes to burrowing down and finding your readers. You aren’t just shouting to an indiscriminate audience, if you give FB the right instructions they can target those who will be specifically interested in your type of book.

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The key word here, though, is professionalism; there’s no point putting out a cheap-looking ad even if the book may be suited to those people. They will compare it to the very best on the market. With that in mind I went to my book designer, picked out some pictures I liked, and she came up with various images, colour and black and white, with which to experiment. In all cases, the book cover was prominent.

After that it was about targeting and tinkering. My book is a gangster thriller with twists and turns galore. I wrote it because I like that sort of thing. Who else do I like? Well, Ian Rankin, Harlen Coben and Mark Billingham spring to mind. I threw in Martina Cole for good measure because she writes UK gangland tales, then targeted people who had told Facebook they were fans of those writers.

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I set an age group (over 30s) because they are always more likely to shell out on books – unless you write specifically for young adults. Then it was on to writing the ad.

I’d watched videos about this sort of thing. First out, you must tell people exactly what type of book you’ve written. My intro was “Nick Rippington’s UK gangland saga is not for the faint-hearted”. I wanted people left in no doubt about the content so they couldn’t complain afterwards. Then there’s that little trick: “If you like such and such, you’ll love this”. It tells people: “Look, you really like stories which contain these elements so why not try this? Better still, if people are buying it for someone else it makes them think: “Oh, so and so likes that sort of thing”.

Finally, you bring in your writers. “Will suit fans of…”

This, of course, wasn’t my first try. It’s all about tinkering. You want people to click through to your Amazon page but it’s key that it’s the best it can be: the blurb must be sharp and to the point, your book cover must be attractive and suit the genre, and your opening few chapters must draw the reader in – mainly because of that Amazon “Look Inside” feature.  If you get all that right – well, it still might not work but at least you have given yourself a fighting chance.

As far as I am concerned the objective is not instant profits – to be able to give up the day job straight away and launch a career as the next J.K. Rowling – it is to build a buzz, to get people in the supermarket saying “hey, have you read the latest? He’s a new author, very good, writes these gangland thrillers … .”

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The key to that is featuring prominently on Amazon search engines. Of course, none of this comes free but to spend £150 on getting almost 200 sales in one and a half months, and to see the book shooting up the Amazon charts … that’s half the battle.

And it means no one need switch the life-support machine off just yet… .

DISCLAIMER: Please don’t sue Nick Rippington if you try all this and it doesn’t work. There are no guarantees and he has taken no money for this guest blog!

Thanks for that great advice, Nick, and best of luck with your book sales!

p. j. lazos 2.16.17

 

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In Defense of Love

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[photos courtesy of Stephen D.]

I first posted this essay three years ago.  I let it speak for itself.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

In Defense of Love

What follows is not the story I set out to write. I wanted to write about how part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013. I wanted to talk about the struggle for gay rights, and the time it’s taken for an entire class of people to go from being the object of hate and ridicule to the darlings of the ongoing and age-old drama known as the human rights movement. I wanted to give facts and figures, visuals and statistics, and my take on why, now and finally, it all busted open, hearts and minds and opinions. Instead, this story came out — not the big picture story, but a smaller, more personal one, a blip on the radar of human evolution, and quite possibly a version of the millions of other stories which have congealed to create this fabulous moment in history. So I’m going with it, my little story. I want to tell you about my friend.

     Stephen is not just any ordinary friend, but a lifelong friend, the kind you only get once every few lifetimes. My mom has a picture of Stephen and me, sitting on a small hill behind our house, both in diapers, not much more than a year old. We lived a few houses down from each other and went to kindergarten together. We had morning kindergarten and since his mom worked and mine was a stay-at-home mom, we’d go to my house for chicken soup and crackers. We ate lunch and laughed — a lot. We went to eight years of Catholic school together, walking the mile from our homes to the school, back in the day when kids still walked. As we walked, we talked of  important issues of the day. We were curious. We wanted to be informed. We also sought adventures. After school, we’d ride bikes, swing on the swings, or run around one of our yards, doing cartwheels and flips. Sometimes we’d play football or badminton or basketball with other neighborhood kids. We made movies with my mom’s hand held video camera that must have weighed twenty pounds. We went to summer camp together, walking through the creepy cemetery to get there. I wouldn’t go if Stephen wasn’t going. Whether he knew it or not, he was my protector, the brother I didn’t have. As long as I can remember, he was the life of the party, the funniest guy in the room. He could always brighten a dull day for me. I hated sharing him, but a guy like that, well; everyone wanted a piece of him.

 

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       We went to four years of public high school together and both swam on the swim team. In our sophomore year, something happened that would completely change the trajectory of Stephen’s life: his parents got a divorce. He told me at school, in the middle of a crowded dance floor, perhaps by design so I couldn’t ask too many questions. The official story was that his parents’ irreconcilable differences involved his father’s overuse of alcohol and his mother’s inability to take the distance, the long silences, the total checked-out-ed-ness of their relationship anymore. I didn’t buy the story – Stephen’s dad an alcoholic? Something deeper was at work, yet it was plausible, and my friend was clearly in a great deal of pain so I didn’t push. We started to drift apart in high school while we pursued our niches, yet remained friends. High school ended – finally – and we were out in the world, looking for the dreams that were probably looking for us.

       Fast forward a half dozen or so years. I’m living in Philadelphia and so is Stephen’s dad while Stephen is living in New York. Stephen comes to visit me and we go see his dad. I don’t remember when Stephen either: a) told me the truth, or b) I figured it out, but Dad wasn’t really an alcoholic, or if he had been, it was a symptom of a larger problem caused by a homophobic, fear-driven society. The big secret was that Stephen’s dad was gay. Maybe he hadn’t known. More likely he had, but rather than take the agonizing step of outing himself and risk being ostracized, he went for a “normal” life, one that would allow him access to “normal” society. He couldn’t keep up the ruse without dying a bit more every day and finally he chose self-love and self-esteem over whatever the damn neighbors might say. The casualties of his internal war were, besides Stephen, his mother and sister, both beautiful and amazing women who at the time didn’t understand why such heaping loads of pain and anguish were being foisted upon them, but who handled the transition with poise and grace. Stephen’s mom remarried; eventually, the pain and anguish pushed off to sea, although that heartache can never be understated. In a different time, the heartache could have been avoided altogether, but it was the 1970’s and just about everyone was still in the closet. The day we went to meet Stephen’s Dad and his lover in their beautiful brownstone home in Philadelphia, I saw what courage bought: acceptance, peace and the assurance that his son would never have to live the same lie. In the interim years, Stephen figured out that he was also gay, but because of his father’s choices, he didn’t need to wait for years, or until he’d already started a family to say it out loud, because his template had changed. In Stephen’s world, because of his father, Stephen’s sexual preference was accepted. That, my friends, is progress.

I only knew one kid in high school who was openly gay and while he seemed well-liked and even admired for his bravery, he seemed to dwell in loneliness on the other side of some invisible line. How times have changed. Today, another one of my besties is gay, and I’m pretty sure we would have dated if he wasn’t. You see, the element of love is always present, color blind, immune to gender, routinely changing shape to fit the situation.
If people realize that the bank teller, the grocer, the phone repair guy, or their neighbor, people they’d been dealing with for years, were gay, then they’d shelve their prejudices, lay down their arms and just get on with the business of living. It may seem improbable now that people ever had to hide who they really were, especially given the “overnight success” of the gay rights movement, but as any writer who’s been at it for 20 years and suddenly finds herself with a bestseller knows, those damn overnight successes can take a lifetime. It took almost 40 years since Harvey Milk organized the first gay rights marches in the Castro District in San Francisco, forty years for the federal protections now afforded same-sex unions, forty years for the overnight success. Before that, there were eons of inequity, but we’re not done yet.

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Stephen and his partner, John got married soon after the Supreme Court decision.  They were the first people to get married at City Hall.  Stephen’s a nurse and for the first time, his employer, a local hospital, was offering health and other benefits to married same-sex couples, but in order to qualify, they had to be married by, ironically, Valentine’s Day. The couple traveled to New Jersey, Stephen’s home state, because Florida, where they were domiciled did not allow same-sex unions. It all happened so fast; there was no time to plan, but the family and friends not in attendance got to watch it all unfold via updates on Facebook. It was surreal–and very moving — getting updates via the internet of my oldest friend marrying his partner of 20 years, a man I’ve never even met in person, a man who Stephen has been in love with since their first days, a man of integrity and compassion, a man who volunteers at Hospice to be an end-of-life friend and guide to those about to transition, a man worthy of Stephen. The Facebook posts practically glowed; hundreds of friends got to virtually witness their nuptials.

This next generation of kids coming up will be the first to be color and gender blind with no preconceived notions of “normal.” Give it ten more years and we’ll have forgotten that being gay was ever an issue. These are strange and amazing days we live in, ones I think we’ll look back on as a time when consciousness shifted and people’s eyes were opened wide, not to the differences, but to the enormous similarities, and to how what effects one of us really does affect us all.

What I most look forward to is the day we’re all standing on the same side of the line, or better still, the day that line is gone.

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p.j. lazos 2.14.17

 

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Tangled Weeds and Other Tales

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Tangled Weeds and Other Tales — Meet Sarah Key

Welcome back to the fifth installment in my author spotlight series for Mystery Thriller Week which opened today and runs through February 22nd.  Today’s guest is the divine Sarah Key.

Sarah lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her husband two daughters and two mixed-breed dogs, Sprout and Zoe.  She loves to travel and workout frequently to stay fit and strong, and she just returned from a 3550 kilometre tour of South Africa – her incredible diverse country. Sarah is former English teacher with a Master’s Degree in Adult Education.  She loves teaching her post-graduate students at the University of the Witwatersrand where she interacts with a variety of students, many with incredible stories surrounding sensitive cultural issues, and who, once emboldened, shared their stories with her.

From October 2006 – 2010 Sarah led a national rollout of a UNICEF/Department of Social Development project aimed at establishing a model for Child Care Forums – community-owned, community-driven solutions to reduce the ravages of the HIV and AIDS pandemic in South Africa.  In 2011 she began her journey writing fiction with her debut novel, Tangled Weeds, a psychological thriller released in April 2014.  The Dandelion Clock, the first book in a trilogy, was published in October 2015 and book two, The Butterfly Wind became available on Amazon on the 4th November 2016. Sarah is currently completing the final book in The Sisters of Light trilogy, The Starlight Tide.

Here is a sampling of her books to date:

 

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When lives collide, and time runs out, will there be a final chance for redemption?
Aden Cassalotti, damaged by childhood trauma, tragedies and disappointments, is financially and emotionally insolvent and finds solace in a crack pipe. Volatile Noel Schuurman, Aden’s lifelong friend and business partner, feels neglected living out of town running their marijuana and magic mushroom operation. The brooding recluse has killed before and, with escalating pressures, not even his mother and sister are safe on their isolated plot. Aden takes a job with a ruthless criminal enterprise in an urban slum where dope and flesh are pedalled. He encounters Mandipa Ndlovu, who is being held with other sex slaves waiting to be sent to work. Kgotso Shelile and his cousin, Senatla, search for Mandipa, Kgotso’s abducted girlfriend. In the underbelly of Johannesburg, they encounter Aden. Having grown up together, the men share an immediate bond. When fate throws the three together in a Hillbrow strip club, the potential for peril is fraught with danger. Key’s debut psychological thriller is sure to get your pulse racing.

 

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Silent Helene Van den Bergh has wandered the city since her release from a psychiatric hospital fifteen years earlier. Horrified when her friend is murdered, she knows the bullet was meant for her ‒ but why? 
On Devil’s Peak on the spring equinox, Helene waits for the moon to rise. She is unaware that two killers stalk her, The Dark Man, and Etienne Craig, the Diabolical Creation, a depraved lunatic whose lust for violence has reached its zenith. But something infinitely more evil tracks the hunters on the charred mountainside. Its depravity knows no bounds and its form cannot be predicted. Evil men set on slaughter may themselves become its prey. 

Will the Sisters of Light, Honey Esack, a psychic nursing student, Flash Peterson, a music student and rock singer and Petra Montgomery, a rich anorexic, be able to deal with their personal issues and pull in enough favours to help save homeless woman Helene?  In a desperate scramble against the clock. can they conquer the darkness in time to save their friend? 

In this gripping psychological thriller, Sarah Key, author of Tangled Weeds, weaves the supernatural with crime to stunning effect. 

 

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Time is running out for the hunchback enchantress, Siango. The village on the floodplain is in conflict and the failing chief needs her dark craft. Crazed poacher, Ikului, hunts elephants for their wisdom sticks. He offloads his cache in Lusaka where he procures unique ingredients needed for Siango’s potions. But he has more than ivory to trade. A vicious attack on a game ranger brings life-long friends back to Chistlehurst Manor in Lusaka, the hotbed of secrets and crushing betrayals. Flash Peterson worries about her brother, Derrick, as the priest’s son has strayed from the righteous path. Caught up in a trans-national smuggling ring, Derrick crosses southern Africa on a soul-altering journey. His cousin, Honey Esack, uses her psychic ability to locate him. From Cape Town, to the Victoria Falls, Lusaka and Western Zambia, disparate characters’ fates are perilously entwined. In a storm, on a bridge spanning the mighty Zambezi, can the Sisters of Light once again conquer darkness? Can forgiveness be won in a pulse-racing faceoff with evil?

Sarah Key again enthralls readers in this sequel to The Dandelion Clock, about the Sisters of Light and the mysteries and magic of Africa.

 

Go Sarah!  Looks like you’ve been busy!  She took the time to answer a few questions so let’s see what else Sarah’s been up to.

What’s your writing background and backdrop?

I began my professional life as an English teacher but soon moved into adult education as I did not enjoy disciplining teenagers and trying to convince them of the worth of Shakespeare! After completing a Master’s degree, I lectured post-graduate students at the University of the Witwatersrand, taught at a technical college and worked in community and psycho-social development throughout South Africa. Our country has a complex past and we face various problems such as HIV and AIDS, poverty, patriarchal systems (including polygamy) and xenophobia. In 2011, I embarked on writing my first novel and drew heavily on what I had learned in my working life and from interpersonal relationships.

Those are difficult issues and I commend you for tackling some of it through your writing. What you will tell the world when you become super famous?

Writing, like most jobs, is hard work. There are days when your work fills you with pride and delight and times when you face a crisis of faith in your ability. Dogged determination and passion are beneficial attributes for a writer. Writing has become part of my daily life. I am disciplined and release my creativity and complete my projects in order to gain a feeling of accomplishment. Weaving stories through the eyes of my vastly varied characters fulfils me.

What are your favourite books?

Ones that have good story lines usually involving a mystery or crime but that also have a lyrical component and use original figurative language. For a while I read a glut of Scandinavian crime writers and enjoyed the otherworldliness of their settings – snow and endless cups of coffee are foreign to this South African. Stieg Larson’s trilogy was remarkable. I have read so many great books and a few that come to mind are Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Wally Lambs’ I Know This Much is True and I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.

I Know This Much is True happens to be one of my favorite books of all time. So, do you see the need for all these sub-genres or do you think we’ve become over-specialized in our categorization of writing?

Emerging sub-genres interest me. A few days ago I googled ‘Steampunk’ to find out more about this style. I have come to realise how genre-driven reading currently is and how large followings are in the various categories. I try not to box my novels – they are gritty psychological thrillers and involve the supernatural in that they draw on myth and African magic. My books focus on multicultural aspects of local life and the aberrant human mind so putting them in one category is difficult.

I agree, and I also didn’t know what Steampunk was!  Why do you write instead of ceramics, art or most anything else, and if not writing, what?

I really enjoy cooking. My mother is a trained cook and I grew up in a household where food was a central part of life and celebrations. I find cooking therapeutic and creative. Hold off on the ceramics and art though! I have no talent and don’t enjoy doing things I am not good at. As we only got television when I was 12, I was a child of the radio. I listened to stories and come from a rich literary background. Writing fiction seemed to be a natural progression in my life. At the moment, I need to write.

From where do your ideas come?

I have always been creative and always have an abundance of ideas. Concepts for my books such as the setting, a rough idea of a dramatic climax and resolution, and sets of disparate characters take root in my head. These are sometimes based on people I have known or a scrap of family history that allows poetic licence. Ideas are permanently brewing in my mind as I go about my daily life. I don’t write notes; I hardly ever forget an idea that comes to me. Unfortunately I don’t dream about my developing novels like some authors I know do.

Pantser or perfectionist who meticulously plots out their stories?

Perfectionist I wish! I’m not quite a pantser either. As my plots unfold, my characters are affected in their own way and make decisions and take action particular to their personalities and circumstances. I would love to meticulously plot a novel from start to finish but this, so far, has been impossible as I can only predict my character’s paths as they evolve or devolve, as the case may be.

Do you have a day job and what is your writing routine?

I don’t have a day job at the moment but do have family responsibilities. I try to write everyday but recently I switched my focus to include marketing my books which I have neglected over the past years. This year I plan to alter my routine somewhat to include a couple of hours marketing daily. I have the final book in my Sisters of Light trilogy to complete as early as possible this year. I have left my antagonist gasping her last in a walk-in freezer for more than a month due to the busy holiday season! Sometimes life gets in the way of art but a routine is a good way of ensuring this doesn’t happen.

Love the visual of that!  Where is your favourite place to walk?

In a big bustling city like London or New York.

Do you think writing is a form of therapy and, if so, has it helped you work through anything in particular?

Writing is definitely therapeutic for me. It is a space of my own, a place to create and make sense of a world I control. An author I know put is well when he said, ‘I write to remember, I read to forget.’ Creating and escaping through stories gives me extreme pleasure (and at times intense pain!) My first novel, Tangled Weeds, was cathartic and allowed me to come to terms with life experiences such as a friend’s crack cocaine addiction, political instability in southern Africa and vastly different cultural practices.

Do you think writing can save the world and if so, why?

I create works for readers to engage with and internalise these stories hoping that this will shift people’s perceptions and make them more tolerant and inclusive. My books employ a partly ethnographic approach that aims to break down social taboos. Fast-paced crime-thrillers become a vehicle to make pertinent social issues palatable by wrapping them in the guise of fiction in the hope that sharing these experiences will promote understanding of my society, one that is still enmeshed in traditional culture and ethnic practices. I believe that stories that evoke emotions have a potent power to unite, heal and inspire.

Couldn’t agree more.  Thanks for taking the time to virtual chat, Sarah and best of luck with your writing!

pjlazos 2.12.17

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Split

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Split

I have adored M. Night Shyamalan’s work since the opening credits of The Sixth Sense and have maintained that level of adoration all the way through the closing credits of Split. There are some who may disagree with my assertion that he’s the living embodiment of one of the greatest movie makers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock, the master of the psychological thriller, and therefore, himself a master. Disagree if you must, but allow me to explain.

Shyamalan’s initial problem is also his inordinate initial success. When your first movie — The Sixth Sense — hangs around the movie theatre for the better part of a year — the theater, not Netflix — you become your own proverbial tough act to follow, and proving your brilliance again can be daunting if not impossible. To totally fool everyone is a big lift, but Shyamalan did it with The Sixth Sense and has paid the price of unrelenting critical comparisons since then. I feel for you, man, although I also realize it wouldn’t be terrible to have your particular problem. Still, Shyamalan seems to have said no worries to all that and gone about his business making movies — critics be damned — with his penchant for the hero’s journey, a la Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces  on full display in every film.

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Shyamalan’s movies combine a great plot with elements of psychology and mythology running through them, the individual human condition versus the world, the macro reflecting the micro, resulting in a polarity within his protagonists that is reflected back to us as ourselves. And you know what? The human condition really does matter to us, to all of us. Light, dark, black, white, the duality of earth, despite all the caterwauling and name calling, is the nature of our existence. Sometimes it’s darker and sometimes lighter, but it always both and in the space therein lies the fertile and fecund ground of storytelling, the one thing that helps us navigate our lives. Shymalan knows this, especially the parts that deal with things that go bump in the night, i.e., your deepest fears, represented onscreen as boogyman types, but the same fears relate to money or health or safety that keep us up at night.

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The cast of characters inhabiting the body of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) are only allowed to share the light one person at a time. Kevin has 23 personalities living inside him and as of late, Dennis is in charge, along with Miss Patricia, a spinsterly 50-something, and Hedwig, a nine-year old itching to be accepted. Dennis kidnaps three girls on their way home from a party: Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and outsider Casey (Anna Taylor-Joy) who isn’t really friends with the girls, but got invited to the party because Casey felt sorry for her. Kevin and his 23 personalities are the ultimate outsiders so on some level, Casey can relate. Kevin also sees a psychologist who is on the cutting edge of dealing with schizophrenic personalities although she is having a hard time getting the medical community to pay attention to the disease. Moreover, she senses something is amiss with Kevin these days. Cue scary music. Kevin’s condition, brought on by repeated childhood abuse and trauma, and Casey’s introverted nature brought on by her own crappy childhood are both relayed in a slow rollout of flashbacks over the course of the movie.

As in all his films, expect to see Shyamalan in a cameo, and another by Bruce Willis in an ode to films past, and, of course, the movie to be set in Philadelphia. If Hitchcock could have handpicked a mentee, someone to carry on his legacy, he would have picked Shyamalan. Split is a thrill ride through the mind of a schizophrenic as he evolves into a killer. It leaves Shyamalan where he started — at the top of his game.

pjlazos 2.9.17

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DUP Departs — And Gavin Mills Arrives

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DUP Departs and Gavin Mills Arrives

Welcome back, friends, to the fourth installment in the lead up to Mystery Thriller Week, 2/12/17 – 2/22/17, the first ever of its kind of Facebook, a week (give or take a few days!) where readers, writers, bloggers and book reviewers who enjoy a good mystery or thriller will gather together, virtually, to have a look around the bend as to what’s out there in this genre, to read author interviews and book reviews, and to sign in to author “power hours” where authors will be exchanging and interfacing with their audience in real time. (click here for a calendar of events.)

Today my guest is Gavin Mills, a former Chemical Engineer from South Africa with boasts two year’s military service (2nd lieutenant as well as transport officer for 52nd Battalion,  Ogongo, Namibia, circa late ‘70s), and a career in IT in his career arsenal before ditching it all to become — wait for it — a professional dancer!  He’s performed in the coolest places:  South Africa, London, Paris, Spain, and Portugal to name a few, and performing in Moulin Rouge in Paris, Scala in Spain and Canary Islands, and Estoril Casino in Lisbon, Portugal.  Dancing led to choreography, stage production and industrial theatre and a bit of political activism when he played a significant role in voter education leading up to the historic South African 1994 elections.  Gavin eventually wind his way back to the corporate world where he focused on event marketing and production. Gavin is married and has two kids, two cats, two goldfish, and two books (the other is Seed of Reason) on an indie publishing platform.  He also runs two successful companies (do you see a pattern of two’s here?) and can tell a hell of a good story.

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SYNOPSIS for DUP Departs

Arnold Du Preez had had enough. It is time to get out. But how and where to?  Then Louanne, the hot stripper has a plan – and connections. But there is a price. …There is always a price.  41mql7jcqvl

Dup Departs takes Du Preez from the ghettos of Warsaw to the slums of Lagos, Nigeria to behind the scenes glitz and glamour of the first Miss World Pageant at the spectacular Palace of the Lost City, Sun City.

A rollercoaster ride of violence and deception, kidnap and subversion as Ivan Bazkaowzki the Polish underlord will risk everything to protect his business interests, Genghis Kahn the massive Nigerian movie mogul will do just about anything to clear his name, and Dup will do absolutely anything to keep his family alive.  Sometimes when the cards are down, all one can do is just keep moving forward…

 

 

Sounds like one rocky ride after another, Gavin!  And now, on to the interview.

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What’s your writing background (schooling), backdrop (where you work at writing), and backstory (what you will tell the world when you become super famous)?

My writing was schooled by my mouth weaving its way out of hairy situations, honed by my ability to relate movies running through my mind, and fed by a life chasing journeys which I never saw coming. I have studied engineering and computer programming, excelled as a dancer on world class stages like the Moulin Rouge in Paris, have choreographed for world class shows – and strippers; saw through hard times as a barman, ran Voter Education leading up to the historic 1994 SA elections bringing to an end the oppression of apartheid; launched and run companies, and invented things from baby changing mats to computer chairs.

I have travelled and lived at both the top and bottom of the food chain – and learnt about both life and people every step of the way. These are the blessings which fed my imagination and filled my pages.

Wow!  My life feels a tad bit boring in comparison.  Let me ask you a bit of a staid question while I regain my composure.  What are your favorite kinds of books?

There are so many books I like. I like books that discuss personal growth and motivation. I love stories about underdogs who persevere and succeed. I s’pose I’m a bit of a fairy tale fanatic who likes happy ever-afters.

Why write mysteries?

Mysteries feed our everyday life. Hell, how many of us know for sure what tomorrow may bring. Taking normal people overcoming the hardships of that give them character – and then turbo charging their stories… What a rush!

Do you see the need for all these sub-genres or do you think we’ve become over-specialized, as in, a story isn’t just a story any longer, but a specific type of story?

The challenge of course is to entice people to read your stuff. There are so many books about so many things. It seems to make sense to compartmentalize readers – to make their lives easier finding things that appeal. …Else many of us would be drowned and lost in a sea of big names and hefty marketing budgets.

Why writing and not ceramics, or gourmet cooking, or anything else really? If not writing, then what?

I’ve done so many things, and have so many stories, writing seemed a logical choice. Besides, cooking and ceramics? Yuck. I hate getting dirty!

From where do your ideas come?

From life and people. Things I’ve seen, experienced or heard. It’s pretty easy to find a seed of an idea and then feed it with the unlikely and grow a forest of intrigue.

I love that simile, “a forest of intrigue.”  So what’s your daily routine? Do you work-out while writing, take breaks, or simply gut it out?

Routine with two young kids while running my businesses? What’s that? I normally write at night when family noise has retired. But also every now and then, hit the keypad with relish when a really cool idea takes hold.

What is your favorite place to walk?

Anywhere, as long as it’s with my family.

Do you think writing is a form of therapy and, if so, has it helped you work through anything in particular?

Without doubt. Writing gives me the opportunity to step back from facets of my life and then see alternative ways to cope. Dup was seeded by my life in the current South Africa. We have come a long way, but there is still so far to go. Writing provides the opportunity to ‘see’ how other cultures and individuals may relate.

Tell us about your day job?

Yes. I have a communications company and a manufacturing company producing the coolest writing platform ever. Check it out at http://www.sci-ryder.com or SciRyder Facebook page. I also partner with my wife marketing baby products and am busy developing a range of other products. I like inventing almost as much as I love writing!

If you could quit your job and just write, would you or do you pull inspiration from the other aspects of your life and find it necessary to keep the creative spark going?

I would love to close up all shops and just write. I have so many stories I would love to tell. We’ll have to wait and see what the future brings…

Pantser or perfectionist who meticulously plots out their stories?

A bit of both. I work quite methodically drawing up a flow and development. But once I have my homework done, I get down and unleash. I believe that when writing, keep moving forward, and when it’s done, then come back and turn it into a book worth reading.

Your perfect day – go.

A blue sky, open beach, endless sea, children’s laughter, secure knowledge that my loved ones will be cared for tomorrow, and a sunset I can enjoy to end it, feeling that it was a day worth living.

Love that.  Okay, favorite book or favorite author.

My favourite book is The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, and favourite authors? So many. Ken Follet and Goeffrey Archer have special places in my heart.

What has been your greatest writing lesson? How about life lesson?

Be brave. Say what you want to say and don’t worry about the response. It is your story. Write it.

Great writing and life advice.  So, if you could be a character in any novel, what character would you be?

That’s a hard one. Different characters at different times. I mean surely most people would like to be the hero good guy of the book they are currently reading. But would make it much easier if he was stinking rich!

 

Favorite childhood memory?

My mini-mite from toddler to man

And the final question, do you think writing can save the world and if so, why?

Yes. We can all save the world when we start looking further than the designer sunglasses on our noses. Social Media has made it possible for us to reach out to the world, and writers have the ability to contextualize realities. The world is not in a good place. The divide between the rich and poor, our fixation with war and violence and disregard for the world we leave for our kids are serious issues. I have to believe we can make a difference – else what’s the point.

Gavin, thanks so much for taking the time. How can readers find out more about you and your work?

Anyone wishing to find out more about me and my books can find me on Goodreads, my FB author’s page and Pinterest:

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Facebook
Pinterest

Want to read more about Gavin Mills?  How about an excerpt from Dup Departs?

Dup Departs

There would be hell to pay and heads would roll. If there was one thing Ivan was sure of, it was that. A little up and coming actress did not simply snuff it and disappear into the great unknown.
There would be questions. They already probably knew she was as high as a kite when she croaked. It didn’t matter if it was an overdose or simply related. Drugs were involved and there would be questions.  

And the bitch of it all, he actually liked Rachel with her innocent eyes and victim face – and a body that turned into a machine when the right buttons were pushed with the right chemicals.
They would want to know where she got the shit. That was as obvious as the scar on his cheek, earned once when some fuckwit decided to try dance in his parade. And there were those that knew. …Like that lilly-assed excuse for a man of hers – and then there was Louanne.

Louanne. Now that was a piece of meat he would like to fuck. Take those leathers of hers and tie her up, and ride her like a biker bitch should be ridden.  Anyway. What of it. It wasn’t his fault. Sure he went around. And sure they partied. But hey, there’s a limit, even in Poland. When he left, she was still alive. Not his indaba as they said in this fucked up place.

But times of turmoil were good for his trade. Business wasn’t where everyone was happy and full of the joys of spring. It happened where there was too much stress, too many problems. …Too much money. And in the right circles where he played, there was more than enough of all, in spades.

p. j. lazos 2.4.17

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