Thursday, April 7, 2016

Nobody's Ray of Sunshine

We began our journey in 2000. My daughter was born May 20th, three weeks early. I had no idea that a difficult pregnancy, super high blood pressure, borderline gestational diabetes, and an emergency c-section would be the easiest part of having my daughter. I did everything I was supposed to. I even gave up freaking caffeine while I was trying to get pregnant and throughout the pregnancy. I didn't take meds I wasn't supposed to. I didn't drink. I've never smoked. I followed all of those baby book rules on how to give your baby the best possible start.

We noticed she wasn't making any of those baby milestones. We pushed for an early referral and didn't settle for - maybe she's just a late talker. Oh, we did early intervention. We had our first evaluation at 18 months. We did home therapy. We did special schools. We took classes on how to communicate. Here it is and she’s going to be 16 next month. She’s been at four different schools in two years. We failed at high school general ed with support. We failed at high school special ed with more supports. We failed at in school computer based classes with many supports. We failed at day treatment school number one. We failed at the autism school that takes kids that can’t succeed at other schools. And now we’re at day treatment school number two. She’s still physically aggressive. She’s still defiant. But, by god they’ve had her doing the first actual academic work she’s done in two years.  `

When we first started on this journey when she was young, there were more experienced parents that gave us advice and encouragement. You’d think I’d pay it forward, but I don’t. I can’t. How can I offer hope and encouragement to a parent just starting this journey? My well of hope is a damp puddle at best. I don’t see a light at the end of my tunnel – not even an oncoming train. Maybe I will rediscover hope. Maybe this school will be the magic we’ve needed. Maybe we will finally get the right dose of med. I don’t know.

I hate when people tell me they’re sorry about her. I hate when they act like I’m a fucking saint. I’m not. They tell me, ‘God’ chose me to be her mom, and ‘God’ doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Fuck you! I deal with this because I have to deal with it. I soldier on because there’s no alternative to me. Yes, I love her. It may not sound like that, but I do. She’s smart and funny and so creative – and drives me up the fucking wall. She’s frustrating, maddening, obstinate, difficult – in fact difficult doesn’t even begin to cover how difficult she can be. But it is what it is. You know what would be like winning the lottery? Telling her "I love you" at bedtime, and just once her saying it back to me.

I don’t have a blog of sweetness and light. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want accolades. I just want a fucking ray of hope. Maybe I don’t deserve it, but damn it, I need it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Streamline to Justice

This is a short story I wrote as a thought exercise. I wanted to share it with those of you that take the time to read this blog. Comments are welcome.

Streamline to Justice

Jury Duty
The first and only round of jury duty notices went out. Agnes looked at the new notice with curiosity. It said to plan on a full day and bring any necessary medications as a precaution. “Shouldn’t there be a part here for how to get excused?” she asked her cat, Doofus. He was entirely unsympathetic.
Agnes showed up on the appointed day. She was running late. The rain had backed up traffic and she wasn’t used to driving to this end of town. After searching her purse, the guard directed her to a room on the second floor. Eleven other individuals turned and looked as she entered the room. The two small children playing on the floor ignored her. The group appeared composed of everything from a business executive to a cowboy and of course, the mom. Agnes had done jury duty before. Normally there was always a large room full of people. They’d wait around all day until their number was called, or they’d finally be sent home. Perhaps she was in the wrong place?
Looking around, she saw the same jury notice tucked into the book of the thin faced young man with the glasses. Resigned, she took a seat where she could watch the door.
A few minutes later a woman came in with a clipboard, a stack of stapled papers, and a folded stack of clear bags. “Now that you’re all here, let’s get started. Please take out your photo ID and have it ready. I’ll be coming around to check your name on the list and give you your packet and ‘locker’. You will have the next hour to read your packet and sign the last page. All electronic devices will go into the bag provided. Please turn them off before placing them in the bag. You will get them back at the end of the day.”
Each of them was given a small magnetic nametag with their juror number to fasten to their shirts ‘left side please’.
The woman with the two children tentatively raised her hand. “Excuse me. I have small children. There’s been a mistake.”
The woman with the clipboard ignored her. “Please read through your packet. If you still have questions after you finish, I will be happy to answer them. The restroom is through the door on the right. There’s a small break room with vending machines and a drinking fountain on the left.”
“I’m going to be late for my meeting,” said the man in the expensive looking suit. “Who do I need to talk to around here?”
“As I said, you need to read your packets. The state appreciates the sacrifice you’re making in doing your civic duty.”
When it was Agnes’s turn, she got a quick glimpse of the clipboard. There were exactly twelve names on the list. Her name was checked against her ID. It was returned to her with a stapled packet. Her name was on the cover. She was juror number one. The clear bag was already labeled ‘Juror 1’.
“I’ll be back in an hour,” said the woman. She left, pulling the door closed behind her.
They all flipped their packets to the first page. “Juror’s Guide to Proposition 973B – Streamline to Justice.”
“Oh hell no!” said the man in the business suit. “They’re not roping me into this bullshit! I have things to do.”
“I don’t have a babysitter,” wailed the young mother.
“The neighbor could only watch my Rosie for a few hours,” said an older gentleman with a heavy Russian accent. “I am her caregiver. They cannot do this.”
“According to the good voters of this fine state,” said the young man with the book, “They can. Everyone wanted streamlined justice to save taxpayer dollars. No jury pool. No postponement or disqualification. Welcome to the future.” He flipped to the last page and scribbled his name. “I don’t need to spend the next hour reading to know we’re screwed.” He placed the packet on the chair next to him and returned to his book.
Agnes made a valiant effort. She even got out her reading glasses. She couldn’t help it that she kept drifting off around page five. She wasn’t the only one that jerked awake when the door clicked open again.
“I trust everyone had time to finish their packets? I’ll just collect those signature pages and then I’ll take any questions.”
Agnes (and a few of the others) hurriedly signed the final page. The woman gathered the pages, checking off each one as she went. This time Agnes caught a glimpse of her name tag ‘Estelle Alvarez’.
“I’m sure I’m repeating what you’ve already read,” said Estelle, “But the new law requires a recap in case anyone has literacy issues. You have been chosen as a random sample of the local demographics for this jury trial. As per the new law, child care will be provided. For any of you with other caretaking duties, I will give you a form to fill out and the state will meet these obligations for you as you serve as agents of the court. Further, as a temporary agent of the court, you will be paid the current wage for said position. Taxes, of course, will be withheld. As soon as we finish any of the additional paperwork, the accused is waiting for his streamlined justice.”
The young mother tried not to cry as she filled out the form Estelle handed her. The Russian gentleman was not as restrained.
When they finished, a cheerful looking woman wearing a blouse festooned with teddy bears appeared to claim the two young children. “I’ll take good care of your children, Juror 4. We’ll have a fun day together; won’t we girls?” The two children looked confused. They didn’t start wailing until they reached the door and realized their mother wasn’t with them.
Agnes, of course, was Juror 1. The agitated man in the nice suit was Juror 2. The young man with the book was Juror 3. Juror 4 was the young mother. Juror 5 had not spoken yet to anyone. He was tall, rangy and deeply tanned, wearing worn cowboy boots. Juror 6, was young and fit and wore a skin tight belly shirt that hid nothing. Juror 7 had a deeply lined face and wore faded jeans and an old army jacket. Juror 8 too wore a nicely tailored suit. She’d put her smart phone down only long enough to sign the paperwork before returning to her texting. Juror 9 wore coveralls and boots and had dirt worn into his calloused hands. Juror 10 looked like she’d accidentally been cast in the wrong movie. She wore sky high heels and a silk pantsuit. Juror 11 looked tired and resigned. She wore a t-shirt with the name of a local restaurant chain and broken down sneakers. The Russian man who still wiped tears for his Rosie, was Juror 12.
At the door, a guard with a security scanner screened them for contraband electronics and took their bags. As they watched, the bags were sealed and placed on a small cart. They followed Estelle out of the room and down the hall. The bathroom and refreshments were pointed out in the room they went through. The door on the far side opened onto the jury box. In numerical order, they filed in and took their seats.

The Trial

The courtroom was mostly empty. There was a stenographer. The defendant sat at a table with one man. The prosecutor sat at her own table. Guards were stationed around the room. The oddest thing, really, is that where the audience would typically be contained only cameras.
“The proceedings are being broadcast,” said Estelle. “If the judge needs to address any issues off camera, she has only to pause the feed. Not to worry. Your faces will not be visible at any time during this trial. You will only be referred to, if at all, by your juror numbers.”
A black binder was on the table in front of each seat. “This is your evidence folder,” she continued. “All exhibits are contained in the binder. You will be allowed to take the binders into deliberations when the time comes. We will collect them at the end of the day.”
Agnes held up her hand. “I don’t understand. This isn’t how it happens on television.”
“Technically, after today, it is,” said Estelle. “Analysis of previous trials indicates that most jurors find the scientific evidence too complicated to use in making a reasoned decision. All physical evidence in this case was presented to a panel of top scientists. Each tab in your binder will show you the key evidence as well as the conclusion of our scientific panel with a translation to layman’s terms. The accused has been presented with this binder for review and he and his attorney have agreed to accept the information as presented.”
“Then why are we here?” demanded Juror 2.
“You still have the traditional rights and responsibilities of a jury,” said Estelle. “You may choose to reject the evidence presented. You may find your vote swayed by the statements of the prosecuting attorney or defending attorney. The prosecutor will make her statement first. After a brief break, the defending attorney will make his statement. You may ask the judge any legal questions at that time. Then you adjourn for deliberations. If there are no further questions, let’s begin.”
“What if we refuse to participate?” asked Juror 2.
“If you refuse, you can be held in contempt of court and could potentially face jail time of your own. Is there anything else?”
“All rise for the Honorable Judge Angelina May,” called the guard near the front of the courtroom.
The jury all stood, as did the defendant and the attorneys.
The judge was a petite woman with short, dark hair. Her expression was grave. She took her seat. “Everyone but the jury may be seated at this time," she said.
Each juror dutifully raised one hand with the other over their hearts and swore that they would follow the laws of the land and the instructions of the court.
The prosecutor took the floor first. “You find before you Leon Marcus. He is accused of the brutal rape and murder of Lindsay Blackwell. Per Exhibit One, we will now play the footage from the parking garage. This footage has not been digitally altered in any fashion.
The crime played out in all its brutality. There was no sound, but the terror on her face and silent screams were still wrenching. The footage was black and white and somewhat grainy, but it was still very clearly the defendant stalking and ultimately destroying Miss Blackwell.
Several of the jury members were openly distressed by the time the video screen went black. A few were in tears. The defendant was smiling; like someone watching a particularly enjoyable home video.
The next exhibit went through the autopsy and litany of injuries suffered by Miss Blackwell. At the end of that section, Juror 6 raised her hand. “I need a break,” she said.
Judge May called a general fifteen minute break. The jurors were admonished to not discuss the case in the meantime. No deliberation was to happen until both sides had completed their statements.
Everyone took advantage of bathroom breaks. A few had coffee or tea. No one was interested in eating after the images they’d just seen.
Returning from the break, the jurors were reminded that they remained sworn in.
The final section of the binder was a copy of the defendant’s written confession. He denied nothing. Not only did he admit to every detail, he’d embellished his statement with how much he enjoyed the chase.
“The defendant, Leon Marcus, has shown utter indifference for human life and a demonstrated enjoyment of human suffering. For the protection of the citizens of this state, we ask that the defendant be found guilty of all charges and sentenced accordingly. Lindsay Blackwell’s young daughter will grow up without a mother. Nothing can restore this loss. At least give this child the closure of knowing the accused will never walk free to hurt another living being.”
After another admonishment to not discuss the case, the jury was given an hour long break. Lunch was catered in. Two guards stood silently in the room to enforce the rule about not discussing the case. What little talk there was mostly concerned the weather and forthcoming movies.
After lunch, they filed back into the jury box and took their seats. This time the attorney for the defense took the floor. “Yes, the crime was tragic. My client does not deny his guilt in this matter. We ask that you hear the circumstances of his life that brought us to this tragedy.
A story was painted of a neglected and abused child. The parents had both been heavy users of drugs. By his tenth birthday, he’d been indulging with the rest of the family. Of course the binder had indicated that while he was a regular drug user, no drugs had been in his system at the time of the crime.
“Because of my client’s childhood of neglect and abuse, we ask that the jury recognize his inability to make responsible moral judgments. Parental deviance left him incapable of expressing the remorse he truly feels in his heart.”
The defense attorney did his best, but his client’s behavior did nothing to help his case. Throughout the heartfelt statement, Leon leered at the female jurors making obscene gestures with his tongue.
The gavel came down and the bailiff cleared the court. Judge May turned to face the jury. “All of the factual information relevant to this case is available in your binders. You are only to consider the facts as provided; not any allegations from the media outside of this trial. You will face charges if found accessing any electronic devices prior to the conclusion of these proceedings. If you have any questions during your deliberations, knock on the door and the bailiff will bring me the question. I will send a written response. The footage from the parking garage is available for review. If your deliberations continue long enough, you may request an evening meal. Are there any questions?”
Juror 4 timidly raised her hand. “What about my girls? They’re going to need dinner and they have a bedtime.”
“Your children are being cared for. I assure you their needs are being met. Are there any other questions?” asked Judge May.
The jurors said ‘no’ or shook their heads.
“Very well. You may adjourn to the juror room and begin your deliberations. I look forward to your verdict.”

The Vote

“I’m ready to vote now,” said Juror 2. “This has already taken enough of my time. We all know he’s guilty as sin. So he had a rough childhood, boohoo. He wasn’t the first person to have shitty parents.”
“But if his parents really treated him like that, maybe he couldn’t help it,” said Juror 10. “If you raise someone like an animal, what do you expect?”
“Excuse me,” said Agnes. “Shouldn’t we decide if we think he’s guilty or not and then talk about the penalty stuff? If we don’t think he’s guilty, we don’t need to continue.”
“I think the penalty does matter,” said Juror 8. “If we say he’s guilty, he goes to jail. What if he really needs treatment, not punishment?”
“I plan to take my time and read through the evidence,” said Juror 5. “Ya’ll can do what you want. I’m not voting before I have time to think about it.” He opened his binder to page one and slowly began reading.
Reluctantly, the others joined in. Soon the only sound was the slow turning of pages.
Halfway through the book, Juror 4 turned pale and slammed it closed. “He’s a butcher. I want to vote now. I don’t need to read every detail. Please, let’s do this. I want to get back to my babies.”
When Agnes looked up, everyone was staring at her. “You’re the foreman,” said Juror 2. “You have to call the vote. Are you going to do it or not?”
Agnes pulled the list of charges out of her packet. “I guess we should go through them one at a time,” she said. “It says we can vote how we want – either anonymously or through a show of hands. What do you want to do?”
For the first time Juror 7 spoke. “Let’s do a show of hands. Only cowards need to be anonymous.”
Everyone agreed on the majority of charges. Leon Marcus had most certainly sexually assaulted an unwilling Lindsay Blackwell. They agreed on battery. They agreed on the theft of her purse. They agreed that Leon Marcus had been directly responsible for her death.
Agnes started down the list of aggravating factors. Without meeting at least one, a murder conviction would lead him to life in prison; not the death penalty.
“We don’t know he intended to cause her death,” said Juror 7. “The coroner’s report says the direct cause of death was asphyxiation. If he didn’t know her nose was bleeding, he wouldn’t have known she couldn’t breathe through her nose.”
“He tortured her,” wailed Juror 4. “You saw what he did.”
“Rape and torture are not the same things,” said Juror 7. “He didn’t hit her until she struggled. If she hadn’t struggled, her nose wouldn’t have been bleeding.”
Juror 4 leaned away from Juror 7. He seemed oblivious to the judgmental looks from the rest of the panel.
“But he was lying in wait in the garage,” said Juror 6.
“He wasn’t lying in wait for her,” said Juror 9. “He said she caught his eye and he couldn’t control himself.”
“Do you want him to get away with this?” demanded Juror 11.
“No ma’am,” said Juror 5. “What I want is to follow the letter of the law. If there aren’t aggravating factors, he can’t be sentenced to death.”
“Are you saying his assault wasn’t heinous, cruel or depraved?” said Juror 6.
“Most everything he did with her has been done between consenting adults at some point,” said Juror 7. “I agree he acted without her consent. I don’t believe he intended that she die.”
“Are you soft in the head?” asked Juror 6. “Any reasonable person knows that if someone is bleeding from their nose, they can’t breathe through their nose. Too bad she didn’t just bite it off; would have given him something to think about.”
“I want to send a question to the judge,” said Juror 8. “Can you be ‘lying in wait’ if it isn’t for a specific person?”
There were many nods of agreement around the table. Agnes wrote the question on a piece of paper and knocked on the door. The bailiff took the note, closing the door again behind him.
The bailiff returned after a short time. The note included a legal definition and nothing more.
“He wasn’t ‘lying in wait’,” said Juror 9. “The video show he stand out in open. He not hide.”
“Well he didn’t do it for money, she wasn’t a child, and no other victims were injured,” said Juror 3.
“I think I have it,” said Agnes. “It’s on page 163. ‘The defendant unlawfully and intentionally, knowingly, or with universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life…’.”

The others flipped to the page. “Maybe he didn’t know she couldn’t breathe. He didn’t care either. Look at his confession. He says he liked it when she struggled,” said Agnes.
They all looked over at Juror 7. “Fine. I agree. He wasn’t trying to kill her, but he didn’t care if she died either.”
Finally, they had their unanimous vote. Agnes carefully filled out the form and signed it. The bailiff would take it to the judge and soon enough this mess would be over and they could all go home.

The Sentence

Food was brought in while the jury waited to be summoned back to the courtroom. Only Juror 7 appeared to enjoy his meal. The rest picked at their food.
“What’s taking so long?” asked Juror 10. “I have a cocktail party tonight. I am not wearing this!”
Agnes flipped through the jury instructions. “Um, it says they have to give the defendant and attorneys time to return to court for the formal reading of the verdict. Oh my…which I have to do. I don’t understand. Why can’t the judge just read it?”
“Who cares about your party?” said Juror 12. “My Rosie won’t eat for anyone but me. She is afraid someone will try and poison her.”
Every head turned when the door finally opened. “They’re ready for you,” said the bailiff.
The group filed back to their original seats. Most looked anywhere but at the man they had voted to condemn. When Agnes inadvertently looked that way, she saw that same smirk he’d carried through the video from the parking garage.
“Please stand,” said the bailiff. They all rose again as Judge May entered the courtroom. The Judge settled into her chair and the bailiff gestured for them to return to their seats.
“Juror 1, I understand the jury has reached a unanimous verdict. Is this true?” asked Judge May.
“It is, Your Honor,” said Agnes quietly.
The bailiff carried the document from the Judge to Agnes. “Please proceed,” she said.
“We the jury, empowered by this great state, do hereby find the defendant, Leon Marcus, guilty on all charges,” said Agnes.
Judge May asked each juror in turn to confirm their votes of guilty. They all agreed.
“And what find you for aggravating factors?” asked the Judge.
“We found that the defendant unlawfully and intentionally, knowingly, or with universal malice manifested extreme indifference to the value of human life,” said Agnes.
Again the jurors were polled. Juror 7 hesitated ever so slightly; then he too agreed.
Just as the jury started to relax, the Judge said, “Thank you for your speedy verdict. We can now proceed with the sentencing portion of the trial. Bailiff, please distribute the binders.”
Agnes sank back into her seat as the bailiff passed out slim red binders to each of them. “As per Proposition 973B, the defendant, should he be found guilty, was given his choice of method of execution. His options were: lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad. You will find details on each method in your binders.” Pausing, Judge May slit open a sealed red envelope. “I see that given a choice, Mister Marcus chose execution by hanging. He is excused for his last meal of ribs and coleslaw and a slice of chocolate cake while we finish our business in here.”
The attorney rose with his client, shaking his head as the man continued to waggle his tongue and make pelvic thrusts in the direction of the jury.
“All rise,” intoned the bailiff.
“Everything is prepared for the execution,” said Judge May. “The bailiff will be coming to each of you with a small bag. You will draw a single stone from the bag and keep it concealed in your hand until I tell you to reveal your stone.”
Responding to the looks of confusion, Judge May said, “You each signed that you had read the contents of your jury instructions. Did anyone actually read the entire document?”
Not a single hand went up.
The judge sighed and shook her head. “I don’t suppose any of you read the law before you voted either. Well, you’ll find out soon enough. Draw your stones and we’ll continue.”
The process went quickly. There were only twelve of them.
“Fine. Turn over your hand and reveal your stone.”
Agnes’ hand shook as she turned her hand, revealing a round white stone. Juror 4, the young mother, gave a little shriek and the black stone dropped from her fingers.
“Juror 4, by blind lot you have been chosen as executioner. Don’t worry. The guards will prepare Mister Marcus. You have only to pull the lever. You will all stand witness until Mister Marcus is pronounced dead and then you will be excused. The bailiff will inform you when Mister Marcus has finished his meal.”
Jurors 3 and 5 had to help support 4 as they filed out of the room. She was sobbing uncontrollably when they eased her back into her chair.
“They can’t do this!” she wailed. “I have children. I can’t just kill someone.”
Agnes opened her red binder. The pertinent pages from the original instructions were there. “Should the jury find the defendant guilty, with appropriate aggravating factors, the execution will be immediately carried out by a member of the jury chosen randomly from the jury pool. As per Proposition 973B, the lengthy period between the average sentencing and execution was found to be both expensive to the tax paying public and cruel to the condemned. Should the jury not reach a unanimous verdict with a unanimous vote on the aggravating factor or factors, the sentence will be commuted to life in prison without possibility of parole.”
“What if I refuse?” sobbed Juror 4. “Can’t someone else do it?”
“Let me look,” said Agnes.
Several of the jurors flipped through their binders as Agnes read the instructions. “If you refuse, they will commute the sentence to life in prison with no change of retrial on these charges.”
“I don’t see the problem,” said Juror 7. “We all voted he was guilty. He admits he was guilty. We all agreed to the aggravating factor. Looks like we get to do our own dirty work. If you didn’t have the stomach for it, you shouldn’t have voted for an execution.”
“But they have people that do these things,” she snuffled. “I’ve never killed anything in my life.”
“Not even a bug? Ever eat meat? That looks like a leather purse,” mocked Juror 7.
“Stop picking on her,” said Agnes. “Nobody read that part of the instructions; not even you.”

The Execution

Juror 11 got water and brought it to Juror 4. “Try this hon,” she said. “It might help.”
“What if I can’t do it?” said Juror 4 quietly. “I know what I voted. He butchered that poor woman. But how can I just kill someone? Yes, I’ve killed bugs. I eat meat. I wear leather. None of those are a human being.”
“If you can’t,” said Agnes, “We should send word to the judge. She’ll need to know.”
“We could have been home hours ago if you hadn’t worked so hard to find your aggravating circumstances,” said Juror 7. “Here. Let me help.” He switched on the video player.
They watched, frozen, as the crime played out again on the large screen in front of them.
“Play it again,” said Juror 4, lips tight. Her eyes never left the screen as the rape and murder played over and over until the bailiff came to get them.
They were led through the building and finally out into a small enclosed courtyard. The gallows were metal but the rope looked exactly as you’d expect to see in some old cowboy movie. Leon Marcus entered the courtyard through another door. His hands were bound but there was no gag or blindfold. He smiled at Juror 4, standing near the release lever. “Sorry sweetie,” he said. “They refused my last request. I wanted a turn at my executioner. I was worried it might be a guy, but you’re kind of hot. Unless you’d like to oblige the condemned? No? Shame.”
The walkway clanged under his footsteps as he walked to the center of the platform. Guards held him in position as another settled the rope around his neck. “I hope you enjoy the show,” he said. “All you fine, upstanding citizens. I hear the hanged man comes before he dies. I’m looking forward to it. Come on, baby. Make it good.”
Juror 4’s hand shook as she reached for the lever. She stared at Leon Marcus for a long time.
“I said one of you wouldn’t have the guts…” he started to say. His eyes bulged as the platform fell away and his neck made an audible crack.
Juror 4 vomited as a guard had to hold her up. The hanged man kicked and twisted on that rope, making gurgling noises longer than anyone had ever imagined. The stench was hideous as he voided his bowels. They watched, some sobbing, some stoic, for the entire twenty minutes it took the man to finally die.
The body was lowered and the jury left the courtyard. From behind the closed door, Agnes heard a woman scream, “You bastards! You killed him. I hope you never sleep again!”

The Aftermath

The binders were gone when they returned to the room they had spent so much time in. A doctor was waiting to check each of them. Juror 4 was prescribed a sedative and arrangements were made for a brief hospital stay while her children were cared for. She was not fit to drive.
The rest of the jurors exited through the rear of the building. Each was given their bag of possessions from years ago this morning. A television was set to trial coverage. One group protested the barbarity of capital punishment while others cheered that justice had been done for Lindsay.
Agnes sat for a long time in her car. “Lindsay? Did we do anything for her? Will this make it any easier for that child to grow up without a mother? Still, he won’t ever hurt another person. That’s something, right?”
Doofus meowed loudly when he heard her key in the door. He was a cat. He had no sympathy. He wanted dinner and that was all. Still, he did let her pet him when she went to bed that night, staring into the darkness, unable to close her eyes.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dear Author, I Trust You

I just read a blog about advice for young writers. It got me thinking about something that happened back in high school

First, some background. I read a lot. My personal library, both printed and ebooks, is over 7600 books. When I read fiction, I read about 100 pages an hour. When I was younger and before I had my daughter, I usually read a book a day. Now it might take two days, depending on the book of course.

These days I read urban fantasy, suspense, humorous chick lit, and a variety of things from my fellow authors at MuseITUp. Back then, I will confess that I read a lot of romances - mostly historical romances. I also had less information stuffed in my brain those days so I generally remembered trivia from what I read. And I trusted that an author writing an historical romance was giving me facts amidst the romance.

Now in high school I took many AP classes. Those were advanced placement. They allowed you to take a test for each class towards the end of high school and your score on the test translated to college credit if you scored high enough. The AP European History test is really the only one I remember. The essay question asked about William of Orange. I remembered nothing about him from my school. I had however, fairly recently, read a historical romance set in that period with the political struggles of William and his wife Mary as a backdrop. I took a leap of faith and answered that essay based on what the author had used in the romance.

I don't remember your name, or the name of the book, author from my past, but thanks to you and your diligent research, I never had to take a history class in college. Huzzah!

I guess my point, in as much as I have one, is that if you are going to write historical fiction, please do your research. Someday, unbeknownst to you, someone's academic career may depend on you.

And just for a point of trivia, this was one of my all time favorite romances. You can get a rerelease on Amazon. This is the original cover and the one on my copy (which I still have from its original release).

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Sorry for going quiet lately. I'm trying to stuff a 570 page technical book into my brain and retain all of it, and I need to be done by the end of the month. I started on the 19th (of this month). I'm up to page 326 and my poor brain wants to tap out, but that's not an option.

In other news, I just got my first round of pre-edits on book 4, Dungeon Raiders. I will start on them as soon as I finish my tech project. And after that, I need to start on book 3.5 in the Furious Misfortune companion series.

Busy, busy, busy.

And just because, this is in the entryway of my home office.

Monday, February 8, 2016

About Olivia

I have to confess - I find flawed characters more interesting. I like a character that changes and matures through the story. Perfection has always annoyed me (hence my childhood dislike of Nancy Drew - she was too damn perfect).

My newest review of Forging Day, as of this writing anyway, was negative. The reviewer had some nice things to say - but ultimately, their main complaint was that Olivia makes bad relationship choices and acts like sex will fix all of her personal problems.

I agree. When the story begins she does make bad choices and she does have that mindset. Olivia's scars may not be visible, but she has them. The reader will find out more about her past as the series progresses. I'm thinking about one scene in particular from Family Values, but posting it would be something of a spoiler.

Anyway, back to the review. The reviewer seems to feel I'm making Olivia act that way as an excuse to force more sex into the story. Trust me, I don't need that as an excuse. Olivia acts that way because she's broken when the story starts. She's making her first baby steps after a decade of dysfunctional choices.

Emotional health is a tricky animal. Fixing it isn't like flipping a switch. Olivia's story isn't just a fantasy action/adventure story. The story is her emotional growth as a person. These things take time.

Here's a small excerpt. Olivia is the one speaking. You'll find out who she's talking to in Family Values.

* * * * *

Here’s the thing. For the first time, my body is something I own. I choose who I want to be with. I make love with them because it pleases me. It’s not a question of polyamory, or swinging, or whatever you want to call it. It has to be my body and my choice. If I lose myself again, something will break inside of me, and I’m not sure anyone can fix it.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Tale of Two Olivias

The Olivia of Forging Day was born in my head many years ago (before I had my nearly 16 year old daughter) at a tabletop post-apocalyptic Dungeons & Dragons game. Sure, there are some similarities. She has the same name. They both became Dark Elves. She had a sister named Cordelia and a brother named Leo (who was in the military), but that's about it. And I almost forgot about her flying motorcycle. That thing rocked!

I remember the original Olivia used to keep a kill count. And her favorite weapon was a Glock.

My Olivia now doesn't use guns, though her dad, a cop, did make sure she knew how to safely use a firearm. My Olivia is far more skilled at magic than old Olivia. And I didn't set out to make it that way, but my Olivia doesn't have a particularly high body count. Sure, there is a fair amount of violence in her stories, but on the way home from work today I thought about how she's been doing.

She killed one person in Forging Day, and it was self defense.
She kills dangerous slimes and critters in Family Values. Not that she doesn't intend to kill certain parties, but'll see.
She doesn't actually kill anyone in California Dreaming (book 3). The old Olivia would have had a body count in this one - trust me.
Um, things get a little bloodier in book 4, Dungeon Raiders. I think people will agree with her choices, but I guess we will see when the time comes.

Old Olivia, now this was more her style.

I know we're leading up to the release day for Furious Misfortune, the companion book to Forging Day, and Family Values, the sequel to Forging Day, but I really can't wait until California Dreaming comes out too. You see Aerin, Olivia's mentor ( and she also makes an appearance in Bryan's book, Dragon's Luck) was my original Dungeons and Dragon's character from over twenty years ago.

My husband and I met playing AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons). He ran the game and I hosted the locale. Aerin, Angus, Lilah, Geneva, the kids, Cartamandua, the Llewellyns - they're all from those long ago days. Ah, if only you could see the boxes of Aerin's story. I wrote out everything longhand on tablets. I have books full of her facts and stats. I have a freaking family tree for her. I kept absolutely everything.

Yes, this is Olivia's story, but I still hold Aerin and her family dear in my heart. This was my model for Lilah. You'll meet Lilah soon enough. Don't worry.

This picture always reminded me of younger Aerin.

And so...after not blogging much, have I babbled on long enough? Believe me, I don't get tired of talking about my characters.

Until next time....

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Family Values

And because I did pretty much nothing but write for a year, Family Values, the sequel to Forging Day, is due out March 1st!

All you need is love...and an exploding bluebird.

The world has settled down remarkably well in the wake of the Change that turned a full third of the Human population into Elves, Dwarves, Trolls and more. People are back at work, buses are on time, and—thankfully for Olivia Mitchell—the hospitals are learning how to care for Dark Elves. Olivia is even behaving like a responsible citizen, using her magic to help drive back the flesh-eating slime creatures and mutant coyotes emerging from the former Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

That part is easy. The rest of her life is as chaotic as ever. Her relationships are up in the air, Mikah’s parents have arrived—doing their level best to disrupt everyone’s lives—and on top of all that, Olivia just might be expecting.

Who—or what—is behind the growing disruption at the arsenal? If Olivia doesn’t want to end up a sacrifice in a fiery ritual, she’d better figure it out.