Sunday, January 10, 2016

Vote! Decide which novel I should polish and finish next.

Here's an opportunity that does not come along often.

I have two novels that I've worked on and been excited about in the past, but have always had to set aside when something more pressing came up to make me work on another novel that's now out. (The circumstances include winning contests that had publication as a prize, or getting an agent who wanted to market a particular series, or needing to work on the sequel to something successful, working with an editor to get a different novel out on time, and other similar things.) I always had these two on the back burner as Books Of My Heart. I love them both and believe in their potential. I'll finish both--I simply need to establish the order. Now I need to know which one would interest more readers.

So I'm coming to y'all! Here are the openings of both novels. Tell me in the comments (or answer in the Facebook poll) which one you would most likely buy and/or read.

The first is romantic suspense with a political edge. The second is for fantasy lovers and those who love a good "good witch" sort of yarn, like an episode of "Bewitched" or "Sabrina" (or even "Charmed," which is so much darker) gone wild. If you love fantasy, skip down. If you like romantic suspense with banter-dialogue, read on.

IN THE PUNDIT'S CORNER is the story of a woman who runs a cable TV program featuring a Rush Limbaugh/Bill O'Reilly-style pundit who comments on the political news of the day and always has a homily at the end, as though he were a priest--which is how many of his followers see him. Kate Underwood Fisher, however, knows he is at heart a showman. She doesn't let any of the politics bother her until the day a "consultant" shows up to evaluate the performance of her and her staff . . . ostensibly. She soon discovers his true purpose, which is to figure out if and how her personal pundit is sending signals and communications to a group of terrorists arranged in cells across the world. It doesn't help that their attraction is like that of huge electromagnets at their opposite poles. Soon it seems that the bad guys are "on" to them, as "accidents" and incidents begin happening, and she and Whit begin to run for their lives. . . .

In the Pundit's Corner by Denise Weeks

Chapter One

All the Underwoods have guardian angels.
Furthermore, most of them claim to have seen their angels at least once during this life. A few are sure they've barely missed out--having heard the rustle of a drapery or caught a flash of light just as the save took place, but having been too occupied with the crisis in progress to pay attention until it was too late and the angel had flown.
Kay Underwood Fisher was one of the latter.
She hadn't seen her angel, but she definitely had one. Otherwise, that black Ford F-150 would've taken her out a nanosecond ago.
"Help!" she shouted, flailing her arms from the muddy puddle at the curb where she'd landed. "I've broken my ankle."
The parking lot of Dallas Cable News Network was full of responsible types arriving to work right on time. The first to reach her was a rangy man in a plaid sportcoat. As others saw him taking charge, they detoured around, and she found herself looking him full in the face. An interesting face.
The face of a young leprechaun. Dreamsicle-toned hair in that boy-next-door-who-just-leaped-out-of-bed style. And freckles. Only a few scattered across his nose and cheeks, but still, enough to lend him a Dennis the Menace appeal.
The little-boy image faded from her mind as his resonant tenor filled her ears.
"Are you all right?" He offered his arm, a little awkwardly. Then he apparently realized what she'd said, and amended with, "I mean, other than the ankle."
A quick mental inventory told her everything was intact, except that her left foot was numb. It didn't hurt--it was oddly deadened, which worried her a lot more.
"I don't know if I can stand on it just yet." She tugged her skirt down over her knees. It had scrunched up to reveal quite a few inches of thigh, but it felt as if it had flown over her head in exactly the same way her dresses used to do when she was five years old.
"Where does it hurt?"
"My dignity," she choked out as a cloud of exhaust blew past. "My social standing. In fact, my standing at all." She rubbed at the ankle and tried to smile, but felt it turn into a grimace.
Skid marks traced a circuit around the parking lot and out onto the main road. Had nobody else heard or seen the truck? Maybe it had been really "black," in the sense of those secret government helicopters.
But no, because the stranger turned his head to peer down the street, although even the dust trail behind the vehicle had vanished. "Looked like a pretty close call to me." His flat accent was Garrison Keillor midwestern. "What happened?"
The truth? She'd seen a flash of movement behind her, but only as it reflected off the inside of her glasses lenses. Cold metal had brushed against her thigh, and the concrete rushed up to meet her elbows. She knew both her feet had been off the ground for a moment. There hadn't been time to think, let alone jump out of the truck's path under her own power. She had an inkling about what kind of power had pushed her clear, but she couldn't exactly say that she believed she'd been saved by her guardian angel. Whatever had happened, it was over.
She managed a self-deprecating smile. "I must've tripped on the curb."
"Hmm," he said noncommittally. "Then that truck peeled out just as you fell?"
"I suppose. I wasn't paying attention."
He didn't look convinced.
Above all, she didn't want to sound like a Hysterical Female. "It's probably not broken. I just panicked."
Without warning, he reached down and poked a warm fingertip gently into the spot atop her foot that was starting to swell. She gasped, but more from surprise than from pain.
He nodded sagely. "If it were broken, you'd have unbearable pain. You wouldn't be able to keep yourself from yelping when I press."
She begged to differ. "My cousin broke her leg, and she didn't feel anything until they got to the emergency room and tried to set it. Then she screamed." Kay bent her knee to lever herself up, ignoring the twinges in her tailbone, and found she couldn't stand on the foot. He was still brandishing his arm, so she caved in and gingerly grasped it. "I suppose you're going to have to play Florence Nightingale."
He reddened a bit, but met the challenge with a grin. She managed to get to her feet with minimal wincing. But a few flashes of pain made themselves known, and she felt slightly dizzy.
"All right?" He held her elbow until focus returned and she could steady herself.
She whooped involuntarily as she shifted to her left foot. It refused to take any weight, even though she'd recently lost fifteen pounds.
He looked grim. "Let's get you to the nurses' station."

*to be continued*

Now, here's the scoop for fantasy/"Bewitched"/"Sabrina"/"Charmed" fans. MIRANDA'S RIGHTS (yes, I know, someone stole my title last month for their mystery series, because this has been up on various teaser sites, so I might change that to RITES, but that is so much more hardcore, don't you think?) is the story of a woman who is surrounded by witches (GOOD witches . . . white witches . . . not semi-tricksters like Serena and Endora, much as I love them. Endora must be named for the Witch of Endor, don't you think? The one God warned against visiting?) and just takes it in stride now that her mother is one (retired, mostly), her tenant is one, her best friend is one, and now she works for one. Pagans galore, but she's still a staunch Episcopalian with an attitude of live and let live. Until her thirtieth birthday, when she wakes to find said best friend in the middle of putting a spell on her. An unknown spell. Her mother and tenant aren't worried, but when the effects begin to show up once Miranda is at work, she goes into action. Zepp, her ensorcellor, insists this is to help Miranda. After all, her husband Alex has recently moved out for "some space," but Zepp thinks Miranda needs to get over that and move on. Little does anyone know that Alex is in the clutches of yet ANOTHER witch . . . this time, not so "white" or even neutral. Zepp's spell and Miranda's use of it results in a witch war of sorts, and as it plays out, Miranda must ask herself what path she will take and how she will deal with events. If Alex does come back . . . does she even want him? (The romance takes second place to the screwball, madcap, side-effects-ridden magical ride. It's very like an episode of "Bewitched" gone mad.) This one also has a prologue starring the antagonist! So if you hate prologues . . . tell me.

Miranda's Rights by Shalanna Collins


The demon Asperioth felt himself being conjured just as he was finishing up a complex three-day working.
Because the first tug came when he had his hands full, he couldn't even try a countermeasure. The working was too strong, anyway; someone out there must have his Name. He rose up into the air tail-first, cursing and dropping the components for the last step of his spell as he was sucked into the vortex between the demons' realm and that of the mortals.
The feeling was like being pulled butt-first through a knothole. A too-small knothole.
He materialized in a deep-forest clearing bathed in the light of the full moon. Someone must know a little about what they were doing. His hooves crunched on pine needles; the scent turned his stomach. Looking down, he saw he stood in the center of a salt-encrusted pentagram inscribed in a double circle engraved in the soft dirt. Apparently, someone knew quite a bit.
Or had been reading up on Summoning in the occult literature.
He blinked. As his infravision adjusted to the harsh light, he could make out a petite figure. A human female stood before him with black-draped arms upraised, her toetips barely tangent to the edge of the magickal figure.
Her voice squeaked forth with a whiny nasal accent. "Asperioth, I command thee!"
She'd heard his Name somewhere, or read it in a book, he supposed. That made things tougher for him: once they knew your Name, you couldn't resist the conjuring when you were called. That was part of the reason he'd been pulled so suddenly. And unless you could fool them, you were compelled to obey. Within reason.
"What do you seek by calling me, O woman?" He boomed it out with an echo, hoping he sounded properly fearsome. Asperioth couldn't quite remember the language, the exact phrasing that he was supposed to use. It had been so long since he'd had his Name called by a mortal. "I have little time to spend here. Tell me your desire."
"I want more power." Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight. "More power at my command without all these material components and . . . rituals." Her lips parted, revealing slightly pointed canines at the edges of her smile, and she glanced over her shoulder.
Asperioth followed her gaze to a naked human male, almost as young as she, panting on a woolen blanket behind her. The youth lay unnaturally twisted and still, as though stunned from a working. It was a sophisticated method of raising power; she was no newcomer to the Craft, nor apparently to the rules of diabolical magick.
"I could give you more power in the same way this one has given it." Asperioth beckoned, hoping he wasn’t leering too obviously. "Come hither into the center of my pentacle, and I shall grant your request."
"I am young, but not one day old, dear." She grimaced. "A demon child is not in my plans. Anyway, I've never heard of going into the pentacle with the demon."
Asperioth winced. “Please--we prefer the more correct term, ‘antiangel.’”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
Asperioth spread his arms wide, then pulled them in a bit as a shower of tiny blue sparks shot from the edge of the pentacle’s central pentagon, in which he stood. “I will do you no harm and plant no seed. You will find I can give you great pleasure as I increase your power.”
She gave him a hard look. "Don't mess with me. You can give me power at my command with a single word. I want that word of power."
Well, it had been worth a try.
"All right. But within the confines of this figure, I feel cramped and uneasy. When I am made to be so, I cannot think." The pentagram seemed claustrophobically small; it was squeezing his potbelly and his rear pillows. "Rub out a line so I can come forth, and I will grant you a word which will allow you to command power in an instant."
"Forget it." She glared at him. "You're not coming out here, and I'm not coming in there. Do I look stupid? You stand right there and think fast. Just give me the word."
All right, he would give her a word. But first he had to know what it was worth to her. "What is the payment you are willing to give for each use of this word?"
She scowled, pushing her wild dark hair back behind one ear. "What are you talking about?" So she hadn't read up as thoroughly as all that.
"I mean there is a cost for each use of the word. The power does not come from the sound of the word alone. It must be paid for by the sacrifice of some mortal component."
"Component." Her voice wavered a bit.
He paused for dramatic effect. "Your pet . . . the use of your right arm . . . your singing voice. . . ."
"Those things are not negotiable. They're too personal." She squinted into the blue light that surrounded him, as if thinking, although he doubted it was remarkably deep thinking. "What about another person?"
"That could be satisfactory." Asperioth looked at her with new respect. He had to admire her ruthlessness and her brazenness in demanding such things so confidently of a power like himself. And she was almost as free from the burden of compassion as he was. However, she should have had all her dragons in a row before Calling him. "This grows tedious. State your exact offer."
"I don't know yet. Can I state it at the time I use the word? Another person, still to be named."
"Named at the time of the casting. All right." He felt he was giving her ample exception.
But she paused. "Wait a minute--let me think if I want that, or if there's a better way." Stroking her chin as if she were an aspiring member of Z Z Top encouraging her beard, the human appeared ready to muse until Tuesday.
His own abandoned spell would be ruined, unrecoverable, if she kept him here much longer. He could feel steam rising out of both ears. "Do not anger me, mortal woman. Show the same courtesy you would use to a fellow magician, or better. You forget what I am and what you are."
"Sorry. Jeez--"
He clapped his hands over his ears before her invocation of Light could do any damage. "Please! No need for that kind of language. I have your word of power." After waiting one suitably solemn moment, he pronounced a word in the magickal tongue. Guttural and hissing all at once, it would be a challenge to her.
"Can't you give me an easier one?" She squinted at him as if things were blurring over, which would mean her hold on him was fading. She was running out of energy.
"The words are the words." He sent a hostile light out of his eyes to convince her. "They cannot be other than what they are."
"All right, all right. Say it again clearly so I can get it, and you can go."
He pronounced it once more for her, slowly, to be fair, because she had proven herself brave as well as admirably wicked. “Use it wisely. Remember the price.”
She smiled and raised her arms. “I release thee, Asperioth, and return thee to thy proper realm.”
He felt himself slipping back into his own dimension. "Thank you," he heard her calling as he clattered back onto the floor of his own workroom.
He bared his fangs in what passed for a smile. Her fatal mistake was a beginner's error. She had failed to pronounce the peace. She should have ended not with a stupid thanks, but with something like, "Depart now, and may there ever be peace between me and thee. So mote it be."
So now he had her. When she Called him next--if there was a next time--he had no obligation to comport himself with peace. "Mortals today," he muttered, picking himself up and dusting off his legs, which were sticky and covered with dried cinders from the floor. "Complete fools. But when has it ever been otherwise?"
Rhetorical question.

Chapter One

On the morning of her thirtieth birthday, Miranda Callahan came awake with the certain knowledge that her best friend was casting a spell on her.
"The moon enters the house of the dragon, and Hecate works her magick on me." Miranda groaned, raising her head off the sketches for her latest cartoon panel. She'd fallen asleep at her drawing table again.
Charcoal sketches are unforgiving. The entire page was smudged like yesterday's mascara. In the gentle morning light, the new cartoon seemed particularly uninspired. Her fingers flew to her temples, where they automatically started massaging in circles.
What could be worse than waking to unfamiliar magick--except, of course, waking up in a cold bed without Alex. Which she'd cleverly avoided by conking out at her desk around three in the morning.
She had to put a stop to this enchantment, immediately. Being manipulated was never her preference, no matter how well-meaning the manipulator.
But the spell was already working on her.
This spell was benevolent, though, she'd swear. She felt optimistic, for a change, and a little buzzed, as if she'd been affected by the margaritas she vaguely remembered drinking in her dreams.
Her stomach guggled. She hadn't been spelled unexpectedly like this since her mother had semi-retired from the Craft.

*more to come*

Well? Which one? I can get back into either of them. I don't know which one to devote my first energies to. You decide!


  1. Miranda's, like those type of stories. :)

    1. I thought I had that one finished, and it's awfully close. But then I realized that there was a difficulty in the middle. Thanks for lending your advice--I think it WILL be this one first. . . .

  2. I'm leaning toward "In the Pundit's Corner". But I'm also wondering if you're planning to continue your Ari French series or your Jacquidon Carroll series...

    1. Yes! I already have the next Jacquidon/Chantal book planned out. It takes place at the Christmas Tree Decorating Contest in NYC (which is based on my experience at the Most Gifted Wrapper contest in NYC) and has a cast of hilariously eccentric weirdos. However, it's on hold until I finish these standalones. These two standalones are 80% or more finished, but will need additional polishing. They could be out by March. As for Ari, I have notes and a partial outline for the next book. The original first Ari book was "Ariadne's Web," and it wasn't at all paranormal (although it seemed it would be at first), but it had plot holes. I don't think it can be the second book, but MAYBE. The second book will be paranormal and could be set in various places where woo-woo stuff goes on. But I'll have to travel around a bit to see where exactly. Originally, it was set in Dallas, and there *are* spooky places here. It has to ring the right bell with me before it gets to be the setting! I just want to get these two fixed up and get them out there first. Thanks for voting!

    2. Have you read "Weird Texas"? Might give you some ideas for locales... and it's great reading!