Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Friday, December 27, 2019

Friday Excerpt: Deus Ex Magical

This is an excerpt from the first of the Ostrander Witches series, set in Seattle.

DEUS EX MAGICAL by Kat Parrish

I won’t pretend my usual breakfast is a bowl of unsweetened Greek yogurt with a handful of perfectly ripe raspberries stirred in with a tablespoon of chia seeds that I wash down with a huge mug of organic green tea sweetened with a teaspoon of artisanal honey.
I’m not the girl juicing beets she grew on her apartment balcony or blending kale with pineapple and ice for a super-healthy, vitamin-packed smoothie. I don’t even own a juicer. Machines like that scare me. I can barely manage to wrangle my drip coffee maker in the morning.
Most of the time I start my days with leftover Indian food or drunken noodles with chicken or kung pao shrimp because spice kickstarts my metabolism way better than caffeine and I can tell myself I’m getting a shot of protein and vegetables in with the carbs of the leftover naan and noodles.
And yes, what I eat for breakfast tells you more than you need to know about what I eat for dinner most nights.
Cooking is not my super power.
I try, but sometimes, when it’s been raining for a week and the five-day forecast calls for more of the same, the only thing I want for breakfast is the daily special at the coffee shop on the first floor of the building where my office is located. The daily special never varies because nobody wants to have to deal with making choices first thing in the morning. I find that comforting.
I love that I can sit down, push the menu to the side and tell Dineen I’ll have the special. I love Dineen, even though she’s not a morning person so our interactions are pretty one-sided. I know it can be irritating to be around someone who isn’t morning challenged when you are, so I respect that and keep it brief.
 I love that Dineen doesn’t try to talk me into having something like oatmeal with a bowl of fruit on the side. She just picks up the menu, goes away and then returns bringing me sustenance. Orange juice. With extra pulp, just the way I like it.
French toast with crispy edges.
Bacon that’s still flexible.
An egg any style, which means scrambled dry for me.
All for eight dollars, which is a steal.
It’s late October and 44 degrees in Seattle. It was a French toast kind of day.
I had meetings scheduled back to back all morning, so I wanted to come in early to get paperwork out of the way. I’d done a job fair at Kent-Meridian High School over the weekend and had not only heard from tons of kids who were looking ahead to jobs after graduation and summer internships, but six different faculty members had also contacted me. I was particularly interested in one history teacher who had her pilot’s license, had exhibited her photographs in galleries across the Pacific Northwest and who listed “adventure travel” as a hobby on her resume.
She absolutely fitted the requirements I needed to fill a position being offered by a documentary filmmaker who was putting together a history of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and needed a pilot to get him to remote locations as well as someone to take still photos for the book he was writing to accompany the documentary. He had a government grant for the project, so the pay would be generous, and he planned to do all the field work during the summer when the teacher was on a school break.
My food arrived just as I was composing a text to my client, telling him I had the perfect candidate to work on his documentary.
You’re probably thinking—Shouldn’t you have at least interviewed the teacher before telling your client you had “the one?”
If I were just any job recruiter the answer would have been—yes, I absolutely should have. But I’m not just any recruiter. Finding people isn’t just my job.
It’s my talent.
If you’re a Fuqua Business School graduate who invented an app and sold it to Google before your twenty-third birthday, anyone can find you a job—if you actually need to work after selling your app to Google.
But say your skillset is a little more…eclectic. Say you are basically unemployable except for the one job that fits your skillset perfectly, even though you have never heard of that job.
I am the headhunter who will find you that job.
When a client comes to me with a request for a left-handed Mandarin speaker who plays the piano and has experience as a pastry chef, I know that somewhere there exists exactly the person they’re looking for.
And if you are that person, I will find you.
As I said, it’s a talent.
All witches have one.
I grant you having the ability to match people to jobs isn’t exactly the sexiest thing a witch can do. When I was growing up, a lot of my relatives pitied me and some of the ones who were closer to my age bullied me. Especially my twin cousins Lea and Tia who could both time travel. They used to call me a “lamitch,” which was their made-up word for “lame witch.” They didn’t call me that around Roz, though. My older sister is a weather witch, the strongest in the family for the last hundred years, and she’s very protective of me. The last time the twins started to give me a hard time, she conjured up an extremely localized storm that rained on them just as they were leaving for their prom.
Roz is awesome.
That sort of thing is totally against the rules, of course, but I wasn’t the only one the twins bullied, so everyone in the family kind of looked the other way. And the twins never bothered me again.
I would have liked to be able to time travel or whip up storms, but having a skill that’s actually marketable in the normal world turned out be pretty useful, and while Tia and Lea landed jobs working for a super-secret government contractor at monthly salaries roughly ten times what I make in a year, their job requires them to live on-site in an out-of-the-way military base in Greenland.
I know of at least three people who’d hire either one of them in a second if they knew they existed, but I’m not going to be the one who introduces them.
I know it’s petty, but they’re mean girls. And I don’t like mean girls. It’s not as easy to steer clear of them here in Seattle as it was in my home town, but for the most part, my life is mean girl free.
I was born in Port Angeles, Washington, a small town north of Seattle known mostly for being the birthplace of football legend John Elway. My dad runs the online learning program for Peninsula College and my mother is a liaison for the student exchange program with kids from Port Angeles’ sister city in Japan. My mother’s talent is languages. She speaks them all. Even the dead ones. Some of the ghosts of people who died in the Fukushima tsunami ended up wandering on the beaches of Washington state and my mother helped them get home. That’s another of her skills. She sees dead people.
My father loves my mother unconditionally, but he isn’t a witch and it sometimes freaks him out that both his daughters inherited her witchy ways.
I think he’s kind of relieved that what I do isn’t particularly showy or odd; that it’s almost something that could be explained as being “really good at her job.”
Even if I hadn’t had a power, though, I still would have been “different.” Even though Roz and I look enough alike I used to “borrow” her driver’s license when I was underage, in other ways, we could not be more different.

Friday, December 20, 2019

An Excerpt from The Gates Between

This is an excerpt from my story in Queens of Wings and Storms, now available. The cover was created by Lou Harper of Cover Affairs. I love her work. She has plenty of premades as well as the custom work she does.

by Kat Parrish

Most people believe the gates separating life from death only open one way. That’s not true. What is true is that once you pass through the gates and then return, you are never the same again. I found this out the hard way. I died on my 17th birthday.
And then I came back.

CHAPTER 1:  You’ll be sorry when I’m gone

I don’t even remember what the argument was about. My stepmother and I fought constantly about everything…everything and nothing. Often our arguments were about me *not* doing something. One day it would be about me not making up my bed.
I kept the door to my bedroom closed, what did she care?
Another day it would be about me not putting gas in the car the last time I used it.
The morning of my birthday, it had been about me not wanting to eat the nutritious breakfast Elle had cooked especially for me, relaxing her ban on eating what she called “flesh” to fry up some turkey bacon. Though why she had even bothered, I don’t know. I usually just grabbed a cup of yogurt on the way out the back door and on the one day—the one day—she decided to do the mom thing and cook up some eggs and bake some refrigerator biscuits, I didn’t want to slow down to bond with her.  It was my birthday and it already sucked.
 I was already missing my real mom worse than usual; the idea of making pre-coffee chit-chat with her flawed replacement was not appealing.
It never occurred to me offering me breakfast might be Elle’s way of trying to make me feel better, to start the day off in a nice way. It never occurred to me to give Elle credit for anything, especially not for doing something nice.
My best friend   Kasi told me I was being a bitch when I complained to her about what a big deal Elle had made of me dissing her breakfast. 
Kasi’s mother’s idea of cooking breakfast was throwing a box of toaster waffles on the table as she left for her office. “You should be grateful she cares enough to cook for you.”
Maybe, but I was sure Elle wasn’t cooking for me because she cared about me. She just wanted to look good for my father. 
Not that he was there. He was hardly ever at home any more, at least not for more than a week at a time before he jetted off to some exotic place to advise his clients on the best way to exploit the natural resources of their or someone else’s country.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A Different Kind of Christmas story

Dog’s Dinner

By Katherine Tomlinson

Christmas dinner at our house is always a big deal.
Maura always brings the candied yams. She makes them with pecans and orange juice and marshmallows and crushed cornflakes on top so they’re squashy and crunchy at the same time.
She’s the only one who ever actually eats them; the rest of the family prefers to load up their plates with Helen’s sour-cream garlic mashed potatoes and Sylvia’s cauliflower cheese and Nissa’s cornbread stuffing. Plus there’s always macaroni and cheese and corn pudding and green bean casserole and buttered Brussels sprouts and Aunt Rose’s cherry Jell-O salad.
Theo, the only brother, always brings carrot sticks and celery stalks stuffed with pimento cheese. Nobody eats those at all, but it is a tradition, so he brings them, and Mom always throws them away after she lets me lick the cheese out of the channels in the celery.
Theo’s my boy. When we were both little, I’d sleep on his bed and he’d hug me like a stuffed animal and tell me his secrets. When he got ready to leave for college he hugged me and explained that he was going away but that he loved me and would be back. I licked the tears from his face but didn’t really understand what “going away” meant until I realized I couldn’t smell him in the house any more. That made me frantic until Mom found an old sneaker that had Theo’s scent all over it and let me have it to chew on.
Dad always carved the turkey and he did it the old-fashioned way, with a bone-handled carving set that his father had used and his father before him. Sylvia’s husband Daniel thought that was a very inefficient way to do things and one Christmas, he’d come over to the house with an electric knife in one hand and a big cheesy grin on his face. He’d pushed Dad aside at the head of the table and turned on the knife.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Ink for the Beloved by RC Barnes--a review

"First in a series" is always a great phrase--a chance to experience a new world or discover a new writer. Ink for the Beloved is the first book in RC Barnes' "The Tattoo Teller" series. It's YA done with flair and imagination. There's a mystery at the heart of it, but the heroine, 16-year-old Bess Wynters is a girl with a little something extra. What her 'superpower is" and how it affects her life and helps her solve the mystery is both original and believable.

Barnes hooks us from the first pages of the book. Something terrible has happened and Bess is sitting in an interrogation room as she's questioned by the cops and a sympathetic ADA about people she knows. Beth is confused, conflicted, guilty and defiant and we're drawn to her and her inability to give a simple answer to the lawyer's question, "When did the trouble start?" For Bess, there has always been trouble growing up in her mercurial mother's household. Her beautiful mother with tattoos all over her body and her bright red hair. She looks like her eautiful mother, although her skin is nut-brown, the legacy of a father named Charles who never met her and doesn't even know she exists.

Bess can't really count on her mother--a legendary tattoo artist whose promiscuity ensures a never-ending parade of possible "daddies" for Bess and her baby sister Echo--but she has two friends who have her back--Rueben and Joanie, whose Jehovah's Witness beliefs are challenged by the whole tattoo thing, but whose steadfast friendship survives things that would have sent a lesser friend away.

Bess is clever and brave and those two qualities almost prove her undoing as she tries to puzzle out what's going on with her mother's shady new beau Todd. She's tender with her little sister--a wonderful character who comes across like a real little girl, and not some imaginary version of what a little kid is like.

There are wonderful moments between the sisters, who share secrets and much, much more.

There are also moments that will break your heart when the meanings behind some tattoos are told. (There's a lot of good info about tattoos and the trends and the menaing. Barnes has included little vignettes along the way, and they enhance the overarching story.)

The book is complete as a stand-alone but there are still some mysteries. What happened to the mural artist who called himself Spiderwand? Will Bess ever meet her father? These characters feel like they have a life beyond the pages here. Treat yourself to the read.

Find Barnes at her website and follow her on Amazon.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Monday Excerpt from The Waking Dream

     The Waking Dream is a "new adult" paranormal romance that I think is a little different from the usual run of PNR.  I have always been fascinated by dreams, and this story grew out of an idea I had while reading about new sleep therapies. It's a quick read--roughly 21K words, which is a novella. Here's the first chapter.   


For in that sleep…what dreams may come?”—William Shakespeare

If you have a sleep disorder and you google “treatment” or “cure,” chances are one of the first links that comes up is the website of the Alviva Sleep Clinic (ASC), the revolutionary medical center run by Dr. Lauren Alviva and her two oldest daughters, Dr. Kitta Alviva-Fujiwara and Mira Alviva, Ph.D. It’s kind of a boring website—a homepage illustrated with stock photos, a contact page, an “about us” page. There are no links to social media, no auto-playing multi-media elements, no newsletter registration forms popping up.

It almost looks like something the doctors put up themselves using a Squarespace template and YouTube tutorials. The copy hasn’t been SEO’d. There’s no attached blog either.
It’s almost as if they’re not trying.

  But having a small digital footprint hasn’t hurt the clinic’s business. On the contrary, like a new restaurant that doesn’t publish its address or a club that opens in a new location every night, people “in the know” always seem to know where to find it.

The clinic’s unorthodox treatments for insomnia, sleep apnea, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, narcolepsy, and sleepwalking are controversial but effective, and there’s a sixteen-month waiting list for the thirty-bed clinic tucked away in a picturesque valley in upstate New York.

The results ASC achieves are noteworthy and consistent. Former patients have left glowing testimonials on the website and rapturous reviews on Yelp. The local papers and lifestyle magazines regularly feature one—or all—of the Alvivas in articles that are as much gushing personality profiles as they are business stories. The various doctors Alviva have been featured in national print media as well, and Lauren’s expertise makes her a sought-after guest on cable and broadcast television. Everybody wishes they could sleep better.

The doctors are all extremely photogenic, all of them tall and Nordic blonde, like a group of Valkyries who decided to come to earth for a spa day and then stayed to open a sleep clinic. So that plays a factor in getting the word out as well, although Lauren Alviva discourages what she calls “the cult of personality” surrounding herself and her daughters and makes every effort to frame the clinic’s narrative as being a team effort.

It’s a big team. The ASC employs a fleet of psychologists and board-certified sleep specialists as well as nutritionists and personal trainers who work together in a holistic fashion, using everything from massage to sleep restriction therapy to tackle deep-seated sleep issues. The clinic offers seminars on stress management—open to the public as well as the in-patients—and provides customized vitamin and supplement regimens to combat insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

Successful as those therapies are, they are not the only source of the clinic’s reputation and the impassioned devotion the doctors Alviva inspire. The most enthusiastic praise for the clinic is a result of the program Lauren calls “Deep Dreaming.”

Thanks to the technologies and techniques she’s developed, Lauren and her oldest daughters can access their patients’ subconsciousness and participate in their dreams. This tandem dreaming makes it possible to access the deeper roots of sleep problems and other psychological factors that might be in play. The procedure is less invasive than it sounds, and often when the patient wakes, he or she has no memory of what happened while they were sleeping.

When the Alviva Clinic first introduced “Deep Dreaming,” it seemed like science fiction. To say the sleep science community was less than enthusiastic was an understatement. Most were deeply suspicious—suspicious to the point of paranoia.

North America’s premiere sleep specialist, Dr. G. Taylor Wells of the University of Toronto, was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the tech-assisted therapy, calling it “downright dangerous” and “criminally irresponsible.”

The patients disagreed. And they kept coming to see one or another of the doctors.
Each of them has a different area of specialization.
Lauren’s area of expertise is sleep-walking, sleep-talking, and night terrors--parasomnias all her daughters suffered in childhood.

Kitta, whose wife Mai Fujiwara was killed while working with Doctors Without Borders, specializes in helping people deal with PTSD and other conditions brought on by trauma. The Deep Dream treatments take a lot out of her and she can’t schedule more than two or three a month without suffering from PTSD by proxy herself.

Mika’s practice is almost entirely limited to those who want to change behaviors, whether it’s an addiction to drugs or overeating. The clinic offers a “money-back” guarantee for patients who relapse and most of them use the money to go through treatment again. The Clinic rarely must refund a client more than once.

If that’s all the clinic did, it would be enough to keep it in business for decades but there’s another treatment option that’s “off the menu,” so to speak, an option you won’t find mentioned on the website or in the brochures or even in the Yelp reviews. The clients seeking this unnamed remedy usually arrive at night, often by helicopter and nearly always in disguise.

They’re not here to be treated by the famous Dr. Lauren Alviva or her equally famous daughters Kitta and Mira.

They’re here to see me.