Sunday, January 25, 2015

WRITING A REVIEW

WRITING A REVIEW





Do you make a habit of reviewing the books that you read?
There’s no way around it; reviews can make or break the success of an independent author’s novel. Accumulating reviews is a major hurdle for a new novel. Many sites that advertise books will not accept one that doesn’t have a certain number of reviews on Amazon.com. There are thousands of places online to leave a book review, but the number of reviews on Amazon are the ones by which an author is most often judged.
            I don’t believe most readers realize how important reviews are in a novel’s fate. All the advertising in the world, even expensive reviews by professionals, cannot replace the value of good reviews by the readers themselves.
            A review can be as simple as three sentences that say what you liked or didn’t like about the story, or it can include a one or two page synopsis. The ones your author needs the most, the ones on Amazon, do not have to be lengthy. In fact, Amazon has recently lifted its ban on reviews that are too short. A week ago I got a review for Trespass, that simply said, “I loved it!”

            So get busy typing and support your favorite reads!
·      Where to leave reviews: Amazon is all-important. Goodreads, Shelfari, and Library Thing are also excellent places to leave a review, as is any site that promotes books.
·      Don’t know what to say? You don’t have to write an entire synopsis of the story. A few sentences say it all: How much you enjoyed the book, the characters, the plot, the ending.
·      Don’t worry about not being a wordsmith. Give your impression of the book simply and in your own words, as if telling a friend about the story.
·      Be careful not to reveal too much of the story line. If you absolutely hated the ending, don’t explain why. But if you find you have to talk about the storyline or ending, add a large "SPOILER ALERT" notice above the review.
·      Take time to explain what you didn’t likeIf you rated a book poorly, explain why.Not everyone has problems with the same things, e.g. endings that close with a question or stories with a lot of narrative. 
·      Even negative reviews can be helpful to an author if you take the time to point out why you didn’t like the book.


Dear Readers,
            My last blog about paid reviews led to a lot of discussion and opinion. So much so that I thought the next step would be to encourage all of you to leave reviews. If you leave them regularly for the books you read, each one will be easier to write.
 Reviews are precious gems to an author. If you get in the habit of leaving them, you will be making authors very happy, which will encourage them to write more books for you. Keep reading!
Have a happy and healthy week,

Marla

Saturday, December 27, 2014

To Pay or Not to Pay… Should you pay for book reviews?

TO PAY OR NOT TO PAY 

Should you pay for book reviews?




James Ventrillo is the president of ReadersFavorite.com, the fastest growing book review and book award contest on the internet:

"I have read and heard many arguments regarding paid reviews, most of which revolve around the honesty of the review. But that argument does not belong in this debate. Paying or not paying for a review is about turnaround time and name recognition, integrity is not relevant to the discussion. Why, you ask? Because you should not be dealing with a disreputable review company in the first place. If you can’t definitively say the company is reputable then there is no point in getting any review from them, paid or otherwise. So once you pass this hurdle then paying for a review is no longer about the integrity of the review, just its cost/value ratio: how much you are paying for the review vs. the value it will have to you and your marketing.
"Remember, negative reviews can be just as beneficial to an author as a positive one, as long as they are not posted publicly. So before you request any review, make sure you can decide if it will be made public, or at the very least, whether the reviewer will post negative reviews. Reputable review companies who offer review services for a fee fall into two categories: companies that provide free reviews but offer to expedite those reviews for a fee, and companies who only provide their reviews for a fee. With the first company you are not paying for a review, you are paying to expedite it (although some companies offer added features for expedited reviews). In most cases, the same reviewer who would be reviewing your book for free will also be the one reviewing it for a fee, only faster. So your only decision should be if you really need the review back quickly. 
"I always recommend you try for free reviews whenever possible. For those instances when you must have reviews back quickly for a launch or book cover, etc, then the issue is simply the cost/value ratio. 
"In regards to companies that only have fee-based reviews, you are essentially paying a premium for their name. The best example is Kirkus, in my opinion the big Kahuna of book review names. I say names, because although Kirkus writes good reviews, their highly recognizable name is what really commands their $400 price tag. Due to that high cost I recommend you DO NOT go straight to Kirkus, no matter how much confidence you have in your book. Instead, you should get as many reviews as you can first (free if possible). If all of your reviews come back great, then you can be reasonably sure your Kirkus review will be positive as well. Used correctly, a positive Kirkus review should be worth far more than its $400 cost. I am often asked why I recommend Kirkus or other competing review and book contest companies. 
"The simple answer is that book reviews and book award contests should not be a competitive industry. You should be getting as many reviews and entering as many contests as you can, ours is just one potential stop on that journey. I hope this article is of some help to you in your pursuit of reviews and whether to include paid reviews in your marketing budget."
James Ventrillo,



Dear readers,

It is so difficult for Indie writers to get those important first reviews! When I wrote Relative Malice I used Book Rooster and paid them to submit my reviews to thier reviewers. I got at least ten reviews in the following month and was happy with their service. My latest book, Trespass, was not so fortunate. This time, for my fee of $67, I only got one review from Book Rooster, and they would not compensate me because they do not promise you reviews, just promise to submit your book to their reviewers. So be careful when you pay. Be sure you know exactly what you are paying for.


Be aware that Amazon does not allow professional review companies to post to the Customer Reviews section on their site. Instead, they have created an Editorial Reviews section in your Amazon Author Central account where you can post excerpts from your professional reviews. This section appears before all your other reviews because they are considered more valuable. In addition, you can control what part of the review you post.

Readers Favorites, will, for a fee, guarantee you a defined number of expedited reviews and if you aren't in a hurry, free reviews. I have found them to have excellent service. Check out the website, they have a lot of services for authors.

Mr. Ventrillo has great advice about paid reviews. Hope you found his words helpful!

Have a wonderful and successful new year!
Marla

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My New Book Trailer and Its Creator, Kathy Golden






Dear Readers,
My guest today is Kathy Golden. Kathy creates persuasive and engaging book trailers at affordable prices. I was fortunate to meet her through Goodreads and she has produced my new trailer for Trespass. Today I’m introducing the new trailer and the woman who created it.
To find out more about Kathy and her work, visit: www.booktrailerservices.com for complete details. In addition, her new services include Paid Book Reviews, and soon she’ll offer Manuscript Evaluations.
Kathy writes in multiple genres: family dramas, romance, and Christian fiction. She also writes non-fiction articles and reviews. For more articles and information, visit her website at www.kathysnotes.com. Don’t forget to subscribe for updates. Email her at kathy@theomissionshortstory.com 
Thanks for stopping by, 
Marla

                                   

Book Trailers

- and Reasons to Have One



If ever there were a time to have a book trailer, that time is now. Video-infos and video-advertisements are everywhere. When I visit sites looking for information, more and more, I find myself expecting to acquire that knowledge through video.  I don’t mind saying, I avoid any sites where the videos are auto-start, but even those kinds of sites abound. I don’t think anyone surfing the net today can deny the prevalence of YouTubes and Vimeos sharing practically anything that’s worth investigating.

How does this video-hunger affect authors?  It conditions readers to be on the lookout for your book trailer: for that mini-glimpse that will draw them into your book in about 90 seconds or less.

A big question concerning trailers used to be: where am I going to post it, so that people will see it?  Your first stops would be YouTube, of course; Vimeo; your Amazon Author Page and your Goodreads Author page.  Regarding YouTube, search for channels focusing on books in your genre; then contact the owners to see if they would be interested in adding your book trailer. The owners you’d contact are those whose channels have a variety of trailers by different authors and different creators.

In addition, I did a Google-search using the keywords: upload your book trailer. The search returned some good ideas and suggestions for promoting your trailer, as well as sites that let you upload and promote your trailer for free. Another good keyword search is: share your book trailer. There are Facebook groups out there that only want book trailers. 

Plus don’t miss out on uploading your trailer on Book Reels at www.bookreels.com. You must have a trailer to submit your book to this site because readers view your trailer as part of their method of evaluating your book. The site is totally free. What makes it exceptional is that subscribers can view trailers by genre. Make no mistake: the best kind of promotion for your book is when you are showing it to your targeted audience. Book Reels lets you include a book blurb, and a large cover of your book is a must. This targeted-promotion is completely free.

Indie author, G.M. Barlean, has started a site that only accepts trailers featuring books by indie authors http://indietrailers.wordpress.com. Her site is new but will grow as more indies add their trailers. Most importantly, as her site’s popularity grows, it will rank higher in the search engines, thus providing more exposure for the trailers on it.    

Another option is Pinterest, which allows viewers to search for trailers by genre.  For romance writers, The Romance Novel Center lets you create a profile and upload your books and your trailers. I also came across a site that featured mystery-book trailers. Plus there’s room for you to hunt for other places that accept trailers in your book’s genre. If you are invited to give interviews on your book, ask the host about sharing your trailer on his/her site.

I also like what Amazon has done to author’s profile pages. Amazon has all the books and videos at the top of the page as well as in a column below. Your trailer looms large and entices viewers to click on it.

The question of whether or not book trailers sell books has no definite answer. What is the trigger that prompts a person to buy a book? It’s varied and hard to pinpoint. But exposure is key in helping to sell your book. Books never or seldom seen are books never or seldom purchased. A book trailer gives you another way to make people aware of your novel, and it takes advantage of this current wave of searchers who would rather consume their information through a video as opposed to just reading.

You can buy your trailer or make one yourself. If you opt to make it, you can find video tutorials on YouTube that will teach you how to create a trailer using Windows Movie Maker, or you can use software by Adobe or Sony Vegas.
If you’d like to buy one, I sell book trailers at what I consider to be a great price for the product delivered. My trailers start at $15 for a 15-second teaser; next up is The Spotlight-On-Your-Cover-Trailer for $45, and then the Your Story in Pictures  trailer that sells for $65. Marla’s book-cover trailer has some extras and would costs $50. I’ve seen some of the trailers that sell for several hundred dollars or more.  My product is easily competitive with those.

Whichever route you choose, I encourage you to take advantage of this tool as a way to promote your book. Most sites accepting book trailers charge authors nothing to add their trailer. Don’t miss this opportunity to expose your book and possible garner new followers.

To thank Marla for featuring me on her blog, I’m offering a 15% discount off the regular price of my trailer-creations. In addition, I also provide paid book reviews for $35, and you’ll receive a 15% discount off your review. Purchase both a trailer and a book review and receive a 20% discount off each item. This early Black Friday special is good through December 10th. I generally create trailers in two to three weeks. If I’m not able to meet this schedule, I’ll let you know when you submit your order. 

If you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift for fellow authors, a book trailer is a great choice I’m sure will take them by surprise. I do need authors’ involvement in creating a trailer, so if you want to purchase some as gifts, after you pay for the trailers, I’ll present you with vouchers that you give as your gifts. When the authors are ready, they contact me, and we begin creating their trailers.To get your discount, just visit my website at http://www.booktrailerservices.com; let me know that Marla’s site referred you, place your order, and I’ll send you an invoice with the appropriate discount applied.
 Even if you’re not ready to order, stop by my site and opt in for updates on the addition of new trailers and other informative news. My site is new, and Marla’s trailer has absolute reign right now, but other trailers are on the way.
Feel free to ask questions and offer comments. My thanks to Marla for sharing this post, and thanks to you all for reading it.  Happy Holidays.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Here's Katie!

Dear Readers,

I'm departing from my usual format to introduce you to a friend of mine, Katie Mettner. She's a  successful romance writer with many titles under her "author's belt." We are fortunate to be part of a group of writers in our area who support each other’s writing and socialize when we manage to find the time.
Hope you enjoy our question and answer session and also leave with a few tips on promoting.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving,
Marla



HERE'S KATIE! 




Katie Mettner grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and moved to the Northwoods where she now resides with her husband and three children. Katie writes inspirational romance and is the author of The Sugar Series, The Northern Lights Series and the Snowberry Holiday Series. Her stories are a reflection of her love for family, intricately woven with life experience. When the gales of November blow early you can find her at the computer with a cup of joe working on her next adventure.


The Sugar Series





Marla: When did you start writing and why?

Katie: I started writing early in life, as I think anyone who likes to write does. I stopped writing when I graduated from high school and life kicked in, but I never stopped thinking about writing. I had this one character in my head that wouldn't leave. I finally sat down in February 2011 and wrote Sugar's story. Sugar's Dance was the result of that and now there are three more in that series, Sugar's Song, Sugar's Night and Sugar's Faith.

Marla: How did you decide on a genre?

Katie: This question indicates that I actually knew what I was doing when I wrote Sugar's Dance! I had no idea really, I just knew I wanted some mystery and intrigue, and some romance. I found that I liked writing inspirational romance as much as the intrigue, so my books have moved in that direction, though there is always a little bit of intrigue as to why the character is the way they are. Sugar's Dance and Sugar's Song are much more romantic suspense than the rest of my books.

Marla: Have you always had your books as ebooks?


Katie: Yes, of course. I don't think that you can publish books in this day and age and not offer ebooks. There is always a call for paperbacks, but people have devices that offer them instant gratification and if you don't have your books available for them to one-click, you will lose sales all day long. When I released Sugar's Dance at least I knew about ebooks because we all had Kindles, so I really just wanted to have an ebook of the book and a paperback, so my friends and family could get it. As I continued to publish books, however, I have found that I love the ebook for ease of fixing errors and republishing it quickly.

Marla: You have a good following for your books. How did build it?

Katie: Slowly. LOL But seriously, it has taken me three years to get where I am, so patience is a virtue. I found it was important to network with other authors through social media, tweet other authors and their books, be a genuine person who isn't just out to sell a book, and be willing to help anyone out with guest spots, book promotion and even formatting their Ebooks. It requires a lot of time to build a good following, but the most important thing, I think, is to put out quality stories. Readers want to be entertained and expect that in a book they buy. I try to give them that and include in my stories a bit of a life lesson.

Marla: Do you have a favorite? Why?

Katie: If you had asked me this question a month ago I would have said Sugar's Dance. I mean, it was my first book and so many wonderful things have happened because of it. Now, a three years later my answer is Sugar's Faith, the final in the series. Though I'm still pretty fond of Sugar's Dance, Sugar's Faith led me places I never expected and allowed me to grow these characters in ways I never dreamed possible when I finished Sugar's Dance. I have 9 books written now and they all have parts of my heart that make them my 'favorite', but the Sugar Series will always remain in my heart as my defining moments as a writer, and as a person.

Marla: What are three marketing tactics you have used that you would recommend to newly published authors?

Katie: Oh this one is easy!

1. Give away as many books as you sell in the beginning. No, seriously. Don't cross your arms and roll your eyes, hear me out! I found this to be THE number one way to get my books out in the hands of readers as a new author. There are so many ways to do this and it doesn't cost you anything if you have a mobi copy from Smashwords or one you make yourself. You can give copies away in giveaways with blogger pages (search Facebook for bloggers who read your genre). You can give copies away when other authors in your genre do cover reveals or book releases. You can join groups on Facebook or tweet on Twitter that you are looking for reviewers who will give you an honest review for a free copy of the book. For the first year I gave away as many (or more probably) than I sold, but it has given me a fantastic reader base of bloggers and other authors who promote my work.  

2. Social Media. When I first started three years ago Twitter was a great marketing tool, and it still is, but it takes a long time to build this platform. The best tip I can give you for Twitter is decide you are going to put the time in and do it right or don't do it at all. I spent hours retweeting authors, talking with them via 140 characters, tweeting their book releases, and I still do! I offer guest spots on my blog, make sure everything I can gets shared on my Facebook Author page and Pinned on Pinterest. I have a core group of Twitter friends who tweet for me in return and have developed so many connections because of social media. Facebook has many book groups, blogger groups and the such that you can post your books on with your buy links. Some of these groups have over 3000 members, so it's a great way to get the book out to many with very little effort. If you don't use social media you will have a very hard time bringing any attention to your books.

3. Write more books. Not expecting that to be one of the answers? I learned this one recently myself as I've started putting out more books. The more books you put out the more choice your readers have, the more they will talk about your work and share with others. I really struggled when I was only putting out one book a year, but in 2014 I put out four and I have seen my sales take off. More people are sharing my work, more people are reading my work and that leads to more sales. I made this number three, but I think it's probably the most important aspect of marketing. Keeping new fresh stories out for the reader to pick up is the best way to market yourself. 


Marla: Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?


Katie: I grew up in Eau Claire Wisconsin, which is a very arts-and-entertainment-centered community. It's a lot like Duluth, Minnesota where my books take place. What I liked about Eau Claire was it was a big enough city to keep you active and engaged, but small enough that it felt friendly and welcoming, also much like Duluth. Of course Eau Claire is mentioned several times throughout my books, but the majority of my books take place in Northern Wisconsin/Minnesota simply because a lot of them are centered around Lake Superior. 

Marla: What do your fans mean to you?


Katie: My fans, or readers, mean everything to me because they are the reason I write. Being able to tell stories that impact people's lives, and change the way they look at life, is the most important thing for me. I would continue to write even if no one read it, but getting the feedback from the readers encourages, inspires and improves my writing.

Marla: Final question, what motivated you to become an indie author?


Katie: I really didn't intend to become an author, I was just a writer. When I finished Sugar's Dance I let a few people read it and they all told me I HAD to publish it. I really didn't know how to go about doing that, so I had to learn really quickly. Now, three years and nine stories later, I have learned more than I ever dreamed I'd know about publishing and being an indie author. I find it is great fun to talk with and engage my readers, something that is harder to do when you are traditionally published. I control every aspect of my books, which is also not something you are given when traditionally published. I was offered a traditional publishing contract through a small press, but turned it down simply because being able to say I was a traditionally published author didn't outweigh the benefits of being a self published author. Maybe someday that will change, but in that particular case it wasn't smart business. I think sometimes we find ourselves looking at writing as a business and less as what it should be, and that is a passion. I never want the need to be published overtake my need to write and be able to connect with the readers who reach out to me and tell me their stories of pain and triumph. 


Keep in Touch with Katie

The View From the Other Side
Amazon
Twitter
Facebook
Pinterest


A Snowberry Holiday Series



The Northern Lights Series



Friday, November 7, 2014

The Golem of Hollywood

The Golem of Hollywood


When is a Kellerman Not a Kellerman?




As you can see, the cover of The Golem of Hollywood spreads the name Jonathan Kellerman across the front in a huge font. A reader contemplating purchasing the book barely notices Jesse Kellerman’s name, and, if he does, would logically expect the book to be mainly the prowess of Kellerman senior.
The book, a Los Angeles mystery, is based on the legend of the Golem of Prague, a Jewish mythical creature that  supposedly protected the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks. The remains of the Golem are now believed to lie dormant in the garret of a synagogue in Prague.
            When Detective Jacob Lev is assigned to a grisly murder in which the only evidence is an unidentified head with the word “justice” in Hebrew burnt into a nearby kitchen counter, he ends up traveling the US and Europe  in an attempt to solve the mystery.
            Lev’s story is intertwined throughout the book with a biblical parallel that begins with Cain and Abel.
For me, expecting a Jonathan Kellerman-type of suspense read since his name was the prominent one on the cover, this book was extremely disappointing. Jonathan Kellerman is one of my very favorite authors. His wife's suspense books, (Faye Kellerman) which always include large amounts of Jewish tradition and add it at length to the story line, are not books that I enjoy reading. If I have an interest in learning  more about a religion, I'll read a book on the subject. I won't look to a suspense book to educate me.
To me, this book read a lot more like a Faye Kellerman novel than either a Jonathan or a Jesse novel. I haven't been a big fan of Jesse's books either, so I was hoping this father-son combo would result in something fantastic. It didn't. Not unless the reader enjoys a crime story that constantly switches back and forth between the real world and a biblical fantasy.

Is there a lesson to be learned here for us Indie authors?
1)       Your loyal readers will be expecting more of the same. Don’t let them down.
2)        If you are going to make a switch in genre or theme, be sure to advertise the book in a way the reader understands what he is getting.
3)        Always remember – An established writer like Kellerman can take liberties on occasion and get away with it. You cannot!

Dear Readers,
I firmly believe there is a wealth of writing information to be learned from reading our favorite authors. Please don’t let this review keep you from reading Jonathan Kellerman’s books. His Alex Delaware series is an excellent example of how to fashion a successful series, one that followers will love and new readers be able to dip into at any point. Each book can easily be read as a stand-alone, something that is not easy to accomplish.
Take care and keep reading and writing,
Marla

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Trespass, by Marla Madison

New Release – TRESPASS





Today my blog is the first ten pages of my newly released suspense novel, Trespass, next in the Private Investigator TJ Peacock & therapist Lisa Rayburn series, available now on Amazon.com.
Here is a brief synopsis. I hope you’ll find the story intriguing.

A deadly house explosion nearby lures investigator TJ Peacock to the site of the fire where she meets Gemma, a woman tortured by the death of a friend who died in the explosion.
Gemma, struggling with the ghosts of her past, is convinced the explosion was deliberate, and hires TJ to find out who murdered her friend. TJ takes the case and returns to the work she loves, despite feeling guilty about the responsibilities of motherhood and the attitude of her long-time lover, Detective Richard Conlin.
When a series of attacks and a murder take place in the same neighborhood, TJ unearths a bizarre connection to a sixteen-year-old double suicide of a couple who were partnered in a swingers’ group. A killer is trying to eliminate everyone who had been players in the group.

Prologue
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
11:33 p.m.

Escaping the confines of its closed system, a heavy gas diffused into every corner of Norman Teschler’s basement and slowly began to permeate the upper floor. Natural gas, odorless in its original form, contains the additive mercaptan, which lends it a repugnant odor for early leak detection.
             Norman returned from a run, proud of the distance he could still cover after turning seventy. Night running was something he didn’t do often these days, but tonight his head had felt foggy. Unable to focus on his writing, he had taken off into the night for a run along the parkway to clear his head.
            Invigorated by the exercise, he stepped out of a hot shower, pulled on a pair of sweats, and headed to the kitchen for a quick snack before getting back to the new chapter. The refrigerator held nothing of great appeal. Since losing his sense of smell, eating didn’t have the same enjoyment it once had. Strange how important the scent of the food was to hunger, a fact he had never given any thought to when he could still be tempted by the mouthwatering odors of things like popcorn, pizza, or a steak on the grill. Most of the foods he ate tasted bland these days.  He grabbed a bag of extra spicy Cheetos and an iced tea, and then returned to his writing.
            Three pages into the new chapter, Norman could hardly keep his eyes open; the gas had soundlessly seeped into his study, its sulfurous warning odor useless to Norman’s impaired olfactory sense. He thought his body was sending him a message, telling him it was time to call it a day. He’d had a busy week at the agency and reasoned that his late nights spent writing had taken their toll. He turned off the computer. Tomorrow he would get an early start.
The humidor on his desk, a rare antique of carved oak, held his favorite cigars, Cuban Montecristos. He raised the lid, withdrew one, and then took a seat in his well-aged leather recliner where he picked up a book he had been reading. The smoke had become an end-of-day ritual, one he savored since giving up cigarettes. Enjoying a cigar every night kept him cigarette-free. He reached for his lighter. Norman pushed the recliner back to elevate his feet and realized he barely had the energy for the movement. The chair clicked back into its upright position as he leaned forward. It was never a good idea to smoke in a position so conducive to sleep. Feeling like he had done the safe thing, Norman flicked the lighter.
The gas ignited, instantly destroying the house and all its contents. Giant clouds of brilliant orange edged in tongues of white-hot flame leapt toward the sky.
             
1


Famous or not, Mancusi was an asshole. TJ Peacock knew it was too late to back out of the gig; she had already been well paid to protect him for three days. But if the slimy bastard didn’t quit eyeballing her breasts, she would pop him. Arlie Mancusi, everyone’s favorite comedian and star of a weekly sitcom that had been running on a prime TV network for nearly ten years, wasn’t making her laugh.
Mancusi had pumped up his personal security while he was in Milwaukee because he had a stalker. TJ studied the photo of the stalker, Carolyn Alberty, an attractive woman who obviously had shitty taste in men. Alberty had recently been acquitted of a stalking charge despite the evidence against her. TJ figured the whole thing could be a publicity stunt. If you’re a big name, any publicity is good publicity.
Mancusi had arrived in town for a sitcom he was guest starring in that featured a Milwaukee locale. TJ, a local PI, had been added to the entertainer’s in-house security staff during Mancusi’s stay. The group was gathered in his suite, discussing the best way to protect him. The head security guy dismissed her. “We’ll stay with Arlie. You scope out the hotel and let me know if you see the bitch hanging around.”
As a licensed private investigator, TJ hadn’t expected to be a token on the coattails of Mancusi’s herd of security beef, but the money was good. There wasn’t much she could do for him as a member of the herd, and the fact that she was the only one designated to lobby patrol reinforced her suspicion that the whole stalker thing was a stunt.
“I’ll get right on it, sport,” she replied.
She moved to the elevators, pulling a wheeled suitcase behind her that bounced in her wake. Dressed like a tourist, she wore jeans, a tank top under a gauzy white shirt tied at the waist, and a small shoulder bag that matched the luggage. There was nowhere to hide her piece in the outfit she wore, not that she would need one for this farce. She wheeled her bag into the gift shop and bought a People magazine she carried with her to a loveseat she found in the lobby where she could keep an eye on the crowd.
           She hadn’t even gotten to the article on Jennifer Lopez she wanted to read when she spotted her—Mancusi’s stalker—her dark hair in long, Lady Godiva curls and, like TJ, pulling a small suitcase with a matching bag. She looked about five feet nine in high, platform sandals and wore a slim, chocolate-brown dress that reached her ankles. TJ left the sofa and caught up with Carolyn Alberty as she was about to join the line in front of the registration desk. “Ms. Alberty, step over here a minute. We need to talk.”
           Alberty, feigning annoyance, followed TJ to a spot off the lobby in front of a darkened restaurant. Her eyes shifted nervously. “Who are you?”
           “I work for Mancusi. You’re in violation of a restraining order. Get arrested again, you could do jail time.”
           The stalker studied TJ. “I can’t help it. I love him.”
           TJ scoffed. “Yeah? You know what I think? I think you’re full o’ crap.”
           Alberty’s perfectly made-up eyes widened. “You don’t have to protect him from me, I’d never hurt him.”
                  TJ looked her over. Her appearance seemed too showy for a stalker who should be attempting to remain unnoticed. “Tell you what. I’m gonna do you a big favor. I won’t call the cops, but you’re leavin’ town. Next flight out, your ass is back to C-A. I’ll escort you personally and even wave good-bye as your plane lifts off.”
           Alberty took a moment to review her options. “All right. But I have to make a call first.” She pulled a cell phone from her purse.
           TJ snorted. “You’re a real piece o’ work. You wanna tip off the press an’ get your face on the news tonight, right? Hand over the cell phone. Now.” TJ didn’t give a rat’s ass if the stalker got her moment in the limelight and suspected Mancusi wanted the press coverage. Tough. TJ had already been paid. After she and Alberty arrived at the airport, TJ would give her the frickin’ phone. She just didn’t want a welcoming committee waiting for them.
    Pouting, Alberty jammed on a pair of dark glasses and passed over her phone.

At home that night, TJ relived the scene at the airport. She hated being in the spotlight, unlike the stalker who had made the most of every second in front of the cameras.  She hated security work, too, especially when the job felt as ridiculous as this one. Criminal investigation is what she really wanted to do, but she’d given it up when she became a mother. Supposedly temporarily.
           Richard Conlin was sleeping soundly in her bedroom. He and TJ had been together for years; the only break in their relationship occurred when she had been on a quest to prove to the Milwaukee police that too many missing women added up to a predator on the loose. The investigation had put a strain on their relationship, a strain that led to her becoming close to Jeff Denison, the husband of one of the missing women. A killer who had made Jeff’s death look like a suicide, murdered him before TJ had even known she was pregnant with Jeff’s child. She would never know what might have happened if Jeff had lived, whether or not their feelings for each other would have ended in a lasting relationship.
She and Richard had gotten back together after Jeff was murdered, and since the baby had come, Richard stayed with them nearly every night, although he had yet to give up his own apartment. He adored one-year-old JR, Jeffrey Richard, named after his biological father and Richard. Richard had insisted on the sequence of the names.
TJ’s home and office were in an old two-story brick duplex off State Street in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley. It was a large building. Her apartment on the second floor had three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area and living room, and the entire first floor she used as office space. The short street the home sat on ended at a bluff crowned by a wealthy area of Wauwatosa, its aged brick homes regal. TJ sold her condo in downtown Milwaukee after finding out she was pregnant. A high-rise was not the place to raise a child. So far, she was enjoying her new neighborhood.
A Milwaukee detective, Richard had come off a late shift that night and stayed up with her only long enough to watch the ten-o’clock news. They were starting to behave like an old married couple. He hinted around about marriage every now and then, something TJ didn’t even want to think about yet. She loved JR with a passion she never knew possible, but motherhood hadn’t doused her love for investigatory work or her need for independence. Facts she had yet to admit to Richard. Richard felt that TJ should stick to security work during JR’s first few years.
An hour later, TJ gave up on the mundane offerings on TV and headed for the liquor cabinet. A drink would put her to sleep.
The blast hit just as she reached for a shot glass—a blast that felt like a bomb had landed somewhere close by. Her ears popped and the house trembled. The glasses inside the cabinet were still rattling as TJ ran out the front door to see           the night sky above the bluff had turned a brilliant orange. She rushed back inside and tried to wake Richard, who told her in a voice heavy with sleep that they would find out about it in the morning. She should come to bed and get some rest.
Sleep wouldn’t happen anytime soon, not with her heart racing from what she’d seen outside. She checked on JR once more before downing a shot of tequila and leaving the house on foot.


2



Gemma
I’m in that elusive state between drifting off and actually being asleep. My horror mounts when, once again, unseen hands clutch me in a deathlike grip. I’m aware of the room; I see it through a sepia wash like an old photograph. I’m lying on my side, held tightly by an invisible presence in my own bed. I feel him pressed tightly against my back, his raspy breath scorching the nape of my neck.
I fight to waken, but I can’t move or make a sound. I’m moaning, but no one can hear me.
           Endless seconds pass. I remain paralyzed. The visitor’s weight is pressing heavily against me. I know he’s only a phantom, but his hands on my body feel all too real.  When the strength of my frantic efforts to call out finally frees me of the paralysis, I sit up in bed, gasping to regain control of my breathing.

The room hadn’t changed; everything is as it was. My books are lined up on the shelves, the throw pillows on the bed are neatly stacked on a chair in the corner, and my lovely blue Tiffany lamp sits by my bedside, its brilliant shades of blue and teal gray in the soft light from the streetlamp outside the window.
           I need to find a way to end these episodes. There have been too many nights when I’ve awakened in terror, then lain awake in dreaded anticipation.
           There is a name for what happens to me. It’s called sleep paralysis and isn’t really uncommon. It’s blamed on everything from demonology to pepperoni pizza eaten before bedtime. I’ve never believed in demons and I seldom indulge in pizza or other spicy foods, so why this is happening to me remains a mystery.
But I have to make it stop.
           Fear of another episode left me pacing until I decided I had to do something—now. Desperate, I opened my laptop to research therapists and discovered a multitude of them in the area, some grouped together in clinics, some with stand-alone practices. Most of them don’t list their area of specialization, and even if they did, I didn’t think that sleep paralysis would be one of them. I should have checked for a heading under “witch doctors” since sleep paralysis is considered by many to be a paranormal event akin to seeing ghosts or conducting séances.
There were too many therapists to choose from; tomorrow I would call my doctor and ask for a referral. Longing for some fresh non-AC-cooled air I poured myself a glass of wine and walked out into the screened porch. The humid evening air enveloped me like a warm cocoon. Through the trees in my backyard, I could watch the parkway along the river. It was quiet now, after eleven. Even the runners were home in bed.
           The wine slid down my throat, sedating me into sleepiness. I leaned back on the rattan sofa and raised my feet onto the cushions, then curled myself into a circle of warmth like a cat and dozed off.
           I was awakened by a sound so powerful that it shook the entire house. Alarmed, I rose from the sofa to see the night sky muted with a brilliant light.  Forgetting I was dressed in only my sheer nightgown, I ran outside and circled to the front of the house where a tower of flames like a giant bonfire had replaced the house across the street. Every nerve in my body screamed out as I realized the house obliterated in the explosion was that of my best friend—my employer, Norman Teschler. 
I walked like a zombie to the edge of the curb. I felt the intense heat of the fire on my skin, and its acrid smell stung my nostrils. The bricks and debris that littered my yard must have singed the soles of my feet with every step, but I felt nothing. A crowd of neighbors was gathered at a cautious distance from the blaze. I barely noticed them. I didn’t understand how it could have happened—Norman had to be the most careful person I had ever met, anally fussy about everything in and around his house and yard.
The fire trucks arrived in minutes, the onlookers pushed back as the area of the explosion and the next-door neighbors’ houses were roped off. Minutes later when the police arrived, one of them made his way through the crowd, asking us if we knew whether anyone had been in the house when it exploded. I heard a neighbor say she thought Norman had been home. I edged farther back, not ready to submit to their questions—it would be too painful. I kept seeing Norman as he’d been the last time I visited his home, happily bragging about the book he was working on and his plans for Cityscapes, the advertising agency he owned.
Despite the heat, I suddenly became aware of the light nightgown I wore; it would be nearly transparent in the blazing light of the fire. I must have been quite the sight. I usually dressed to downplay a body that brought attention my way, yet here I stood on display for the entire neighborhood.
A woman who had been talking to the firemen approached me. Her eyes, a vivid violet blue, twinkled in the golden haze. Dressed casually, she didn’t appear to be with the police or the fire department. She said, “You okay?”
My stupor must have been obvious. I nodded. Words wouldn’t form in my mouth.
“Stay here,” she ordered. She pushed through the crowd to the paramedics’ van and returned with a ratty but clean scrub top that I quickly pulled over my head. My tongue loosened. “Thanks. Are you with the police?”
“Used to be. I live a few blocks over and came to see what happened, see if I could help.” She frowned. “Maybe the paramedics should check you out.”
“I’m fine.”
She didn’t look convinced. “I’ll walk you back to your house. Here, put these on.” She handed me a pair of booties, the kind doctors wear for surgery. I slipped them over my scorched feet.
The woman appeared to be concerned about my well-being and I felt strangely relieved I wasn’t alone. We left the scene, and she walked with me back to the porch. I picked up my empty wineglass from the table next to the sofa and turned to her. “I need more of this. Want one?”
“Got any tequila?”
I poured her tequila, neat, and we sat in a comfortable silence until I said, “My name’s Gemma.”
She raised her glass. “TJ.”

____________


Dear readers,
I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak preview of my new book. If not, let me know why you didn’t find it engaging so I will know what to do better the next time!
Thanks for stopping by,
Marla