Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I'LL PASS! Nostalgia is an expensive commodity in publishing.

A few years back, I ran into Pavilions, a supermarket chain located in Los Angeles to pick up a bottle of wine to take to a friend’s house for dinner. At the checkout counter on display were books; current, hard back, name-brand, bestselling authors. You know, the space usually reserved for randy, tawdry, name-calling tabloids was now sporting novels. Interesting! A top-selling author I followed was among the writers showcased. I grabbed MY copy immediately, thankful there was still one left and held it protectively in my arms, not wanting to soil the beautiful jacket cover by placing it on the conveyer belt. I’d been reading this author for years, since her first novel skyrocketed into the literary super-stardom forefront. I’d followed her complete series. I grew to love her characters, her stories, the settings, wondering where she would take her cast and the plot next. Her books became comfort food for my eyes, and my world. I would submerge myself for hours in her vivid passages and be transported, quite literally to another place, another time, another realm…ahhh, the power and beauty of the written word.  Then, something shifted. Either I lost interest, got bored, or my reading style changed…whatever occurred, I stopped reading. But, that feeling, that magic, that sensory memory remained intact. All those rich, intoxicating places I’d been catapulted to in my past continued to surface each time I saw her name, BOLDLY spelled-out on her new jacket cover, her new release. And each time, I gobbled up my copy, compulsively shelling out good hard cash for a visit to nostalgia.  I’d get cozy in my reading chair and prepare myself to once again be devoured by the words…
and stop reading…
I think I got to page 25 with that book.  Similar best-selling author’s line my shelves now, hardback editions purchased, started and put down.  The books became more a coffee table decoration than entertainment. Dog-eared flaps turned over, a reminder of the last page I visited. All of them…unread.  Nostalgia is an expensive commodity in publishing.
So, with the brewing anticipation of yet one more highly-awaited novel coming from another decorated, best-selling veteran (the current darling of the literary world), I too sat, hungry, waiting, salivating for its imminent release. Even though, her massive, historic, highly publicized debut sat unread, a relic in hard back, left forgotten in some musty basement where I once resided years ago. At the time I felt weird. Why couldn’t I finish what I started? What was wrong with me? Obviously, I was inferior, unable to keep up with a book that held New York City’s literary circles hostage. But alas, I was a kid then, on a mission, in a hurry going nowhere, preferring hard-impact aerobics to flexible, versatile yoga. Now, my pace, as well as my age had slowed down. Now, I was ready.
The saving grace of Kindle – eBooks. I can download a sample. So, with heightened curiosity I waited, expectant, treading water in the pre-publishing press wave, awaiting delivery into my steadfast Amazon device. I began reading, at lunch actually, and got lost, immediately in the reverie of her words, her well-crafted sentences, the descriptive passages… yes, yes, yes…this is it!  Finally! Several shake my head moments. The stunning landscape of her creative vision, her feelings, and her thoughts...inspiring.  Captivating. The description was so evocative, so real, so raw, so there. Then, something strange occurred. Again. The very thing I was admiring, (relishing in fact) the element I’d been completely taken over by was now tying me down, restricting me, keeping me a prisoner.  I couldn’t get to the next paragraph without re-reading. The book was written so precisely, each minuscule second displayed photographically on the page to the point I began questioning…really? Do I need to know that?
I made it to the end. Of the sample.
But this time…I’ll pass! 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013



Chicago, Illinois
June 28, 2010
7:45 AM

    “C’mon you guys, let’s go!”
     Rhonda raced around the high-rise apartment picking up clutter left over from the night before. Bristol and Sammy were suspiciously quiet, for a change, sequestered in their separate bedrooms, supposedly getting ready for school – a summer program -- conveniently located around the corner off State Street at the Holy Name Cathedral. The television was on; CNN was broadcasting loudly from the kitchen. A bearded newsman was reporting from New Orleans. Hurricane Alex was wrecking havoc on the Louisiana coastline. He stood, drenched, dripping with water, holding a microphone under the flimsy shelter of an over-sized  yellow tarp. Rhonda glanced outside. The eerie storm warnings in effect until after midnight the night before had miraculously blown over. But, you never knew, the Windy City was a chameleon. One minute the weather could be sunny and serene, a Photoshop image of perfection, and the next, an ice surge could migrate from northern Canada and play severe damage to the City.
    “Okay, you two, I am not going to tell you again.” She checked for messages, a text...an email. Nothing. She hadn’t heard a peep from Alex. Not since last evening. Strange. He had to be up. She checked the clock, a two hour time difference in California. His itinerary for the day was full, jam-packed; one executive meeting after another, one more significant than the next: career making opportunities, introductions, presentations, all of which needed his input, his support…him. This wasn’t like Alex.  Alex awoke early, hours before, nervous, apprehensive, practicing his speech, organizing his work, buffing his shoes, his suit, choosing the right tie; the perfect match. Alex was immaculate…sometimes, too much so.
    Bristol ran into the living room. Her long, blonde hair was pulled back loosely in a ponytail. Rhonda watched on in amazement. Unbelievable how they grow up so quickly.
    “Grab your jacket. It’s chilly outside. Sammy, come on!”
    Sammy slammed the door to his room and strolled cocksure into the living room. He carried a backpack over his shoulder. He wasn’t amused at having to get up so early, even if it were his idea to register for the school’s summer activities. The handle of his tennis racket jetted out the top of his bag. He snatched an apple from the counter as he passed by.  “Okay, okay.”
    Rhonda took one last look around the apartment before closing and locking the door. The elevator took forever, stopping at each floor. She leaned over and secured Bristol’s jacket tight around her neck. Bristol was eight years old and prone to strep throat. The slightest breeze could catapult her into a high fever and swollen glands. Rhonda took extra precautions.
    The school was close by, right around the corner from their apartment complex. She would take them over, drop them off, and then mosey over to the Starbucks on State Street and have herself a latte, a clandestine moment just for herself.    
    A mass of morning tenants exited the elevator in front of them as they waited, patiently. Then, they hurried around the corner to the lobby. Dennis, the morning door attendant, stood watch. He sat like a Mayor behind the imposing circular desk. "Doesn't feel much like summer out there today, Mrs. Kitas." His voice was deep, bass, sweet with soul.  They pushed through the revolving glass doors onto Superior Street.
    “Thanks, Dennis.”
    Outside, Rhonda nudged Bristol and Sammy toward the intersection at State Street. It was chilly. The weather felt more like fall than summer. The air had that fresh, clean, crisp, burnt-leaves sort of smell. A welcome change before the sweltering layer of humidity descended upon the City, and the hot heat of summer arrived.  She held both of their hands at the streetlight; a habit practiced early on since they were children. Sammy pulled away. God forbid one of his friends should catch him holding onto his mother’s hand.
    “I don’t bite.” Rhonda inwardly smiled. At twelve, he was becoming quite the man. Tall, like his father, with, thick, wavy, sand-colored hair that fell poised, naturally, to perfection. And that smile. God, he could light up a room, from any angle. He was definitely a looker.
    “Mom, I’m almost thirteen. I don’t need to hold on to your hand anymore.”
    “Oh, excuse me, Mister Man!”
    Bristol was perfectly content in holding on. Firmly. She enjoyed watching Sammy act out his impending adolescence, being the older, tough guy. She preferred residing in that in-between stage, no longer the baby, but also not a grown up, ready to take on the world and the responsibilities that came with it. She wanted to continue to believe in magic; that whimsical element called fantasy, where fairy tales do exist and actually do come true.  Enchantment!
    Past the statuesque church, finally finished from all of its exhausting renovations, they ran around the corner to Chicago Street. Sammy recognized a friend waiting outside and waved. He turned to Rhonda for a look of approval. Please, Mom?  Still not quite the man. He still required a sense of direction, a reassuring nod from his mom saying, “it’s okay.”
    “Go,” she insisted. “Have fun. I’ll see you in a couple hours.”
    Sammy took off running, a new found pep in his step.
    “Okay, you,” Rhonda bent down and connected with Bristol face-to-face. “You have a great time today, you hear? Bring me back something amazing from your art class. I’ll frame it. Okay?”  
    “But, what do you want, so I know?” Bristol wiped her nose with the end of her sleeve.   
    “Surprise me. And, by the way, you did an awesome job with your hair this morning. Tres, tres chic.
    “Thanks, Mom.” Bristol turned and skipped toward the entrance. Her pony-tail swayed to-and-fro in the nippy air.
    Rhonda turned toward Superior Street, the congested intersection of Chicago and State. Busses passed by; the insides cramped like canned fish with early morning commuters. Foot pedestrians waited at traffic lights; taxicabs honked and blared, scouring for random fares. Rhonda took a deep breath. She checked her cell phone. This was weird. It was eight in the morning and still no word from Alex. Not even a text message. In the fifteen years they’d been married, Alex had never forgotten to call her, particularly before an important meeting like NBC. She pulled up his cell phone number and pressed enter.  Voice message. “Hey, it’s your wife. It’s nine o’clock here in Chi-town. Where are you? I thought you were going to call me? Oh well, good luck this morning. Give me a holler when you get a minute. Love you.”
    And, she did. Love at first sight sort of thing. They’d met in college. Alex was nerdy, a good-looking marketing major and her, a goody-two-shoes from Wisconsin studying for a degree in art. Art history to be precise? With her white, porcelain skin, a face full of freckles that tap-danced across her cute, upturned nose, and a mop of strawberry-blonde hair, they quickly connected, got together and became an item. Chicago was clean; a Midwest City not quite as intimidating as Manhattan or San Francisco, so they made the decision to put roots down. They shared similar aspirations: make enough money, high-tail it to the suburbs, purchase a house, raise a family, thrive. Alex’s career took off, like gangbusters, while Rhonda’s stalled. She got pregnant with Sammy and never saw the inside of another lecture hall. Although, she did stay active by visiting the diverse and eclectic art shows that circulated through the City.
    Rhonda ended the call, deposited her cell phone back into her coat pocket and crossed Chicago Street. The small, brick-paved courtyard of Starbucks came into view as she turned the corner. A few tables were available outside as she pushed through the squeaky fence, entered the busy store and took her place in line.
    “What can I get you?” the male counter person asked. “Usual?” 
    God, was she that predictable?
    Slightly embarrassed by her own rigid, day-in and day-out routine, Rhonda answered, “Why not?”   
    He smiled back, his teeth enormous. Braces filled his entire mouth.
    She strayed from the counter, perusing various brand-name items on discount, arranged on shelves in overly-organized fashion. She positioned herself close to the pickup area. Within seconds, a pair of masculine arms slinked around her waist and pulled her in close. A moment of divine weakness -- should she or shouldn’t she? And then that unanimous feeling of letting go.  She grabbed hold of the grip snaking around her sides. Short, prickly stubble of a beard tickled at her neck; soft lips nibbled. Wet intoxicating kisses.
    “Right on time,” the voice cooed. He turned Rhonda around, and they kissed.  His tongue entered her mouth, probing, searching, revisiting known territory. A few people waiting next to them took offense.
    Jake was Rhonda’s friend with benefits. Okay, so the sex with Alex had died. Dried up. She wondered about Alex, his sexuality. Did he still find her attractive? How many nights could they go over the same tedious topics, ad nauseam, to come up with the same monotonous answers? The same boring retorts. She tried to understand. But, it was frustrating for her, and equally debilitating for Alex. He would answer the incrimination's the same way, always -- the stress, the job, the hours -- whatever. Rhonda was bored. Deprived. Sexually abandoned. She felt unattractive to the point of seeking out a shrink. On the down low. She would get answers from somebody, come hell or high water.
    “Rhonda! Latte, skim milk with a maple scone.” The clerk yelled out. In all the heated excitement, she hadn’t noticed the guy’s nose ring. Or, the large, circular, black holes; the size of copper pennies, punched out of each of his earlobes. Ouch!
    Rhonda slipped away from Jake’s grip and fetched her items. “You want something?”
    Damn, he knew all the right things to say, especially to a sexually denied woman. She smiled coquettishly and collected her things at the counter. “Thanks.” 
    “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” Jake lived around the corner on Chestnut Street in a one-bedroom pied-a-terre located on the second floor of a walk-up apartment building. Rhonda’s new holding pen for adultery. Time was nonexistent. He helped her with her goodies, pulled her, carefree and somewhat guilty from the store and allowed her to cuddle up beside him as they ran the few blocks to his place.
    She had met Jake at that Starbucks, sitting at that patio, reading the New York Times and, for the record, minding her own business. She didn’t pay him much attention. Not at first. Why should she? He was years younger, a baby. But, he protested. Persisted. And, sooner than she would care to admit, he'd led her down the cougar, primrose path of infidelity.
    Jake’s body was muscular. He had a swimmer’s, lean build, not overly worked-out but smooth, slender, and deliciously sensuous. His dark, moody eyes and his brown curly, longish hair, was so, so different from Alex.
    His skin was dark, Moroccan cocoa, and his body had an ever-so-slight scent to it, sexy, manly, like ripe musky fruit.  He couldn’t be more than thirty. And, she refused to ask his age out of sheer embarrassment that he might even be younger. His fingers were mid-western, farmer-thick, and his torso was bare, without a stalk of hair. She wondered if he shaved. Could a body be so hairless? Hers had more hair on it than his. He indulged Rhonda, spoiled her shamelessly with an electrical surge of sexual attention she’d been craving, starved for. He allowed her to feel once again the finer details of being a woman; waxing, shaving her legs, exercising at the apartment complex’s gymnasium. The Stairmaster had become her new best friend, huffing-and-puffing before noon, at least three times a week, as well as the occasional Pilate’s class. Somebody, thank God, was finally paying attention to her, and damn, it felt good.
    They laughed and giggled up the two flight of stairs, keys out and ready. They tumbled like drunken sailors into the undersized living room. His pants were unbuckled and had fallen around his ankles as they entered. He shuffled into the adjoining bedroom. Rhonda set her coffee cup and scone down on the floor. She unbuttoned her blouse, flung her jacket on the only chair in the room, and left a trail of disrobed clothes to his perfectly made bed. Morning sunlight filtered in through open blinds covered in sheer red, (whore red) curtains.   
    She stood in front of him, nude, witnessing his nakedness. She was wet with excitement. Jesus! Absolutely mad for him.  He unbuttoned her jeans and helped slide them down over her hips, collecting her nothing thong with his thumb in the process. He bent over and allowed her to hold onto his back as she stepped free from each leg. Then, he reached behind her and with such ease, such grace, he lifted her onto the bed. He began tasting and licking, teasing, and exploring. In the background, soft, jazz played. A sultry saxophone serenaded.
    Rhonda was beside herself with pleasure and extreme guilt. She would allow herself this one happy diversion, this one act of betrayal. Obviously, she loved Alex, adored him, and wanted to be with him, absolutely. Forever. What she didn’t want was to grow older and experience one more year without sex. Any sex. It caused anguish. Such torment. Her new, expensive therapist was the first one to organize Rhonda’s thoughts. The positives and the negatives divided into two symmetrical blame free columns. Alex was the perfect husband, a generous provider, a wonderful man and a fantastic father. True or false? True, of course. Could she, would she, divorce Alex just because the sex between them sucked?
    “Yes, yes, oh my God,” she screamed out. Jake buried his tongue deep into her center. He was definitely practiced, educated in the fine art of cunnilingus.   
    No, she didn’t want a divorce. Of, course not. But, she would have some fun on her own. She was sure Alex was enjoying his own secret amusement, whatever that was.
    Rhonda was on top now, straddling Jake. He massaged her breasts; every so often lifting his head, slightly from the pillow to suck on one of her extended nipples. His toes would flex; his legs tense, and then relax as she lowered herself down upon him. He was the perfect size, not too large, but not too small and completely and utterly giving. He wanted to pleasure her. Giving Rhonda satisfaction seemed to give him fulfillment, at least, she hoped so. He was smiling when they came. Together. The sensation of his cock pulsating thick inside her made her come instantly.
    What a turn on! 
    They remained in that satiated, heated state until his hardness softened, and squirmed free. She rolled off and lay beside him. A ceiling fan twirled, ticked above them. She held onto this young man’s body. Reaching over for a kiss, he positioned his arm around her shoulder.
    She could fall asleep like this...   
    Then, the jarring noise of her cell phone.   
    “Jesus. Probably Alex.” Rhonda jumped up from the bed and ran down the hallway to collect her coat, which had fallen on the floor. She grabbed her mobile, looked at the number. 415 area code. Okay, San Francisco. “Hello, this is Rhonda,” she said, out of breath, flushed.
    “Mrs. Kitas?” A male voice asked. 
    “Yes.” A worried look came over her face. “How can I help you?” She turned her nakedness away from Jake, who was now sitting up on one elbow watching, listening.  His body was on display, a prime piece of exquisite, human, masculine art.
    “Mrs. Kitas, this is Dennis Plumber from NBC. Have you heard from your husband this morning? He hasn’t shown up for his nine o’clock meeting.”  

* * *

    Back at the apartment, Rhonda took a moment to regroup. Process. She needed space, some privacy, some down-time to think about this new situation dumped into her lap. She needed to at least try to make some sort of sense out of it. Luckily, she had a few hours before needing to pick up Sammy and Bristol. First things first. Don’t panic! A simple phone call to Alex would clear this whole mess up, lickety-split. Perhaps he’d overslept, which was completely unlike him, Alex being the early riser in the family. She rolled through the contacts on her cell phone until landing on ICE (In Case of Emergency) and pushed CALL. Several seconds passed by before the phone connected. Four rings then Alex’s familiar voice, baritone, grounded, sturdy. Comfortable.   
    Alex, where the fuck are you?   
    In the shower, Rhonda systematically rehashed each second they’d last spent together. She went over the details, raking for facts, compiling a mental agenda, logging the events of their last day. Sunday morning, the usual, routines like coffee, the Chicago Tribune, breakfast with the children, packing. All, very ordinary, mundane, every day sorts of things. She did remember asking him why he needed to leave so early when his meetings didn’t start until Monday? Why not hop a plane later that evening? His response was typical Alex. He needed time to organize his paperwork, prepare. Again, Nothing out of the ordinary. At least, not for Alex.
    Rhonda visualized him; sitting on their bed, watching him stow the neatly pressed shirts, his ties, socks, the new shoes they’d just purchased for good luck at Neiman Marcus, the Brooks Brother suit.
    Drying off, a tinge of guilt resurfaced. Her sexual liaison with Jake, the carefree sex, the feel of Jake's hands firm upon her breasts; gentle but rough, so in tune with her body, her needs. It was all still so fresh, so yummy, so steamy, so tantalizing, a dizzy, blurry memory. Her clumsy, guilt-ridden attempt to scrub away his scent in the shower was futile.
    In the living room, she looked out the sliding glass doors onto their wide terrace, the breathtaking view of Chicago planted in front of her like a Hollywood backdrop. She'd wanted, asked, pleaded for, in fact, a higher floor. But, Alex remained steadfast, preferring the lower levels. They compromised, the big "C" on 18. They were good together. They balanced each other out; her weaknesses, his strengths.
    In Alex’s office, she sat at his desk. She swiveled back-and-forth in his worn leather chair. She viewed with envy his immaculate organization. Everything arranged perfectly in its own individual spot.   
     Virgo! Everything has a place; every place has a thing!
     She rifled through several ledgers scouring for a clue, a hint, some evidence, anything. She opened his laptop. The icon located dead center on the screen with his name neatly printed beneath it. Password? No idea. She opened the drawers, pulled out papers, files.
    Nothing. She walked to the closet, separated the doors, the shelves used for storage, paper, toner, ink cartridges, all displayed neatly, meticulously, labels facing forward, everything in order.
    Oh, Alex…  
    She grabbed her cell phone in the living room, scrolled to the Google landing page and typed in the Fairmont Hotel located in San Francisco. The webpage loaded within seconds showing the iconic building located at the corner of Mason Street and right below it, the number for reservations. She pressed the local listing. She didn't want to get lost in some international Fairmont answering pool and have to wait for yet one more redirection.
    “Good morning. Could you please connect me to Alex Kitas’s room? Yes, thank you, I’ll hold.”   
    She looked around their spacious apartment. She was scared. Lonely. Alone.    
    Where was he?        
    The operator connected her.  After several rings, an automated voice alerted her that the guest she was trying to contact was not available. If she wanted to leave a message, she could.
    She hung up and immediately redialed.
    “Yes, hi, this is Rhonda Kitas, again, Alex Kitas’s wife. You just connected me to his room; I think it was you. Anyway, he’s not there. I have a funny question to ask. Has anybody at the front desk seen Mr. Kitas this morning? His work just called saying he hasn’t shown up, and I’m beginning to get a little worried. Yes, I’ll hold. Thank you.” She began biting the nail of her index finger, a bad habit she’d dropped years ago. This was so not Alex. As disconnected as they were sexually, they were still a team, partners, swans for life in this dance called marriage. Or, so she thought.
    “Hi, yes. Last night? Okay. Did anybody witness him coming back to the hotel? When is he due to checkout? Tomorrow. Okay, thank you.” She ended the call and flopped onto their overstuffed sofa. Her mind was racing. Panic was slowly setting in, taking up residence. She pressed Alex’s cell phone number, again. The familiar rings, his voice.
    “Alex, you are fucking scaring me right now! Please pick up. Where are you? Your job is calling, and I’m a basket case.” She ended the call and glanced around the living room. Time. She needed time to know what to do. Should she call the police? Missing persons? Jesus. Her stomach churned, gurgled. She peeked at the wall clock hanging in the dining room. It was almost two. She hadn’t eaten a thing. Not even that fucking scone left forgotten on Jake’s floor.  Right now, her appetite seemed the least of her worries.
    Once again, she opened her phone and began texting a message.
    Alex, please, I’m worried. Call me immediately!   
    Maybe he was leaving her. Maybe he found out about Jake. But how? And, why wouldn’t he mention it to her. Some things you don’t reveal. Can’t! Some things are better left unsaid.
    Oh, by the way, honey, I got laid by this young, hot Moroccan stud!    
    Yeah, not the sort of thing you bring up to your husband of fifteen years.  
    Even though Rhonda wasn’t on the best of terms with Alex’s parents she thought she’d better reach out to them. They lived in Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago. Alex might have called them to say he was leaving her, their life together, the children.  She didn’t know. She needed answers. Rhonda was not one to live with indecisiveness easily, even if the news wasn’t what she wanted to hear, or expected. A direct “yes” or “no” worked perfectly fine.
    “Hi, Jean, it’s Rhonda. Yes, the children are fine, thanks for asking…listen, I’m calling because Alex went to San Francisco on some business yesterday and this morning I received a call from his work saying he hadn’t shown up. I was wondering if maybe you’d heard something from him.” She ran fingers through her wet, curly hair. “Hmmmm.  Okay. Well, if you do hear something, let me know.” Pause. “I’m sure it’s nothing to get alarmed about, Jean. Just thought you might know something. Thanks.” She flung her phone on the sofa and walked into their bedroom. She threw her robe on the bed and began dressing. She opened the closet and grabbed a pair of slacks. She noticed her suitcase perched on the top shelf, stored away.
    Their trip to Bermuda together, the last time she packed it, the family vacation. Atlantis! Water slides and mermaids… She pulled open the top drawer of her dresser and reached for a sweater, gray, soft, easy. Again, she glanced at the black stow away.  It taunted her.  
    She closed the door and went into the living room. Her cell phone on the table began buzzing. Finally! She ran to it, tapped the screen to read who the message was from. It was a text from Jake, confidential, secret. 
    Thanks for the Scone. Hope we can meet again for coffee. Real soon.
    Her thoughts were so far away from Jake at this moment. She didn’t even respond. In the past, she would have answered, immediately, a short, cute, flirtatious line…some playful banter.  Now, her thoughts were on her children, her chaotic life, her missing-in-action husband.
    Rhonda made a Google search for American Airlines. She pressed CALL.
    An automated answering system guided her through an obstacle course of choices before she reached the voice of a real live human being.  The man answered, expectantly.

    “I’d like to book a flight, please, from Chicago."  Pause. "San Francisco."

Friday, October 4, 2013


…it was only one glass, one large Bordeaux glass of red Sangria, sweet, and fruity, and full of tiny chunks of orange, lemon, and ripe green apple. Surely, one glass off Sangria could NOT have provoked those feelings – hallucinated that touch, those cold, bony fingers, moving surely, bit by bit, as if planned, driven almost, up my naked legs, wanting, searching as if in need of something, somebody to hold onto. Trust me, I was not under the influence of alcohol. Not to that degree, anyway. Not to the legal level of intoxication to have created those kind of delusions?


I was new. New to the City. New to Los Angeles. New to my job -- that monotonous, repetitious, clock in-and-clock out profession -- standing at my large, white, counter, located in the basement of that huge metropolitan hospital, without windows, centrifuging, swirling, tipping and twirling, vial-after-vial of blood, and blood, and more blood. Wearing my white, starched laboratory jacket (very Dr. Kildare), notating results, entering ‘within normal limits’, documenting my ‘two cents’ onto lab chits, and lab reports, and lab results…ad nauseum. Argh!

Francine warned me. From the beginning. My longtime friend from Ventura. She entered the apartment tentative, hesitantly and instantly began twitching. Me, dragging her, pulling her further into the living room, excited beyond words at sharing my first apartment in Los Angeles with her. She urged me, pleaded, please…“before you move into this place, please, please, please…clear out the energy of the spirit who lives here. A woman is trapped in this hellish purgatory, and she's unable to let go…”


I scoffed, I laughed, I made fun of her ridiculous premonitions. Francine could be dramatic! Very! She proclaimed herself a ‘witch.’ A good witch, of course, but nevertheless. She performed séances with candles positioned circularly around us.  She channeled spirits forth. Frames rattled, pictures fell, and candles extinguished themselves without the benefit of a breath or a wind or the barest of breezes. She flirted, (far too much, for my taste) with Mr. Ouija Board, sniffing out answers, searching affirmations, and digging up assents. She was meticulous, a divine creature, with a hard, soft spot for black men, a nurturer’s soul for bruised fruit, particularly angels with broken wings, yet she lacked that same love and grace she gave so freely to others, toward herself. Francine’s lips were large and plump and outlined in black. Perfectly. She colored well within the lines using a bevy of robust fall colors: brown, burnt orange, deep-set purple, and red. She smelled of the exotic, a flower out of place, a bit of jasmine, sage, a torrent of musk skillfully entertwined so as not to suspect…what?   

I loved the apartment. At first sight. Well, actually it was only a studio. The Russian elderly renting the space roamed the grounds wearing humongous pink curlers, piled high, tucked tightly under a restrictive band of a flimsy black hairnet. She wore slippers, I recall, the color being white. They were fluffy, always clean, with a band of cotton stretched across the arch of her porcelain-white foot. Each time she took a step, they would slosh. Slush, slosh, slush, slosh… Her smile was welcoming.  Contagious.

In addition, the price was right!

I took it!

The studio was unfurnished and barren. Recently renovated, it had nice, shiny, hardwood floors and nostalgic crown molding connecting the high, loft like beam ceilings. California sunlight drenched the room, bleeding in from the large floor-to-ceiling windows. Freshly painted a bone-color, the space was immaculate and smelled of Mr. Clean. My possessions were few. Blankets, a few flattened pillows, a sleeping bag (one I purchased at the Navy exchange in Port Hueneme) and some sheets, all neatly organized and piled in layers against the wall.

Slightly woozy, a bit fuzzy that night, but not drunk --I was NOT wasted! – I climbed the several stairs, the outside cement stairwell lining the three-story house. I went through my evening rituals, as usual. I was militarily trained, used to a routine; the brushing of my teeth, the flush of the toilet, the lying down of my sleeping bag in the main room creating a cushiony foundation against the hard wooden surface of the floor. Next, several layers of sheets; sheets collected and bought on the cheap from fast, quick Latino shops around the area, and finally my blankets. My pillows, the ones I took from base had been with me for years, my companions, always there, alongside me. Okay, I admit it, my security blanket. I negotiated a comfortable position, one pillow tucked firmly between my legs, and gazed out the curtain less windows at a twinkling Hollywood. My Hollywood. My new home. A kaleidoscope of stars and colors and hopeful dreams blended in the street sounds below, the distant whine of a hemorrhaged siren jackknifed my reverie. The jagged limbs from a Maple tree scratched against the surface of one of the giant windows. I ignored it, I ignored it all and slid into a comfortable light sleep...

Then…a stirring. Different. Unsettling. The rustling of blankets, sheets being raised, fanned and pushed off me, to the side.  I woke up. I took a moment, a brief second to do an assessment, feel, hear… where am I? Is this really happening? Did somebody break in? Then, the touch, that touch, those fingers, those cold, bony appendages working, scratching their way, clawing up my ankles to my calves and then digging into my back thighs. Definitely, this was happening. I was frozen. A panic set in.  

My mind leapt for answers. Francine! Francine pleading, saying, loudly, proprietarily with force: “Spirit, be gone!” three times, sequentially.  “Spirit, be gone! Spirit, be gone!”

By now, the covers and cheap blankets were off me, bunched together at my sides. My buttocks and lower back were completely exposed. I knew I had to stand. I knew I had to unlock the grip this thing had upon me. I raised myself to my elbows and crawled, military style forward until I felt the cold comfort of the wooden floor. It sobered me up. Quickly. Next, I thrashed my legs, as if in a spasm, eliminating any hold this creature had. The wails, the cries, the muted screams writhing in anguish below me as I stood, naked with only my t-shirt and underwear and screamed out into the night sky… “Spirit, be gone! Spirit, be gone! Spirit, be gone!” Instantly, the three windows unlatched and opened. A Twilight Zone moment. Night air flooded the space, whirling around my body, circling the room, freezing my senses.  

I dressed quickly. I ran down the cement steps, two at a time. I couldn’t get to my car fast enough. I drove to my friend’s apartment, the one who had earlier shared Sangria with me, and pounded on her door. She sat, mesmerized while I told her the details of my story. I slept that night, at her place, on her sofa. Awake. Aware. Unable to go to sleep. She kept the heat on, even during the summer months. I remember uncovering myself, but then pulling the blankets back tight, close around my neck. To this day, I rarely go uncovered. The thought still scares me. Petrifies me, actually.

I moved from that apartment several weeks later. As I carried my few belongings to the car, the landlord caught up with me and asked why? with a look of genuine concern on her face. I asked only one question. “What’s the history of that space?” She told me the truth. She told me of an elderly woman in her 80’s who had lived in the house most of her life, for many years with her husband. He died. She committed suicide in my apartment, which at the time was the attic. Her husband’s belt had been tied securely around her throat. She stood on a chair. She attached the belt to a makeshift bar and dropped. All she would have had to do to save her life…was stand up. But, she chose, not to.

“Spirit, be gone!”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

coming OCTOBER 31!

You know him...
known him.
You met in college... you were sweethearts, lovers... remember?
He wasn't your first...
But you vowed he'd be your last.
For over fifteen years you've been married to him...
had children by him...
created a life together with him...
he takes a business trip.
Nothing unusual.
A normal occurrence for his profession...
The problem is...
he doesn't return...


* * *

San Francisco
Five men.
All mysteriously disappear.
No clues...
no ransom notes...
no bodies...
All vanished... without a trace.

Are you available tonight... for a thriller?

copyright douglaswickardbooks.com
check out A PERFECT HUSBAND anywhere ebooks are sold
check out A PERFECT SETUP exclusively on Amazon the sequel to A PERFECT HUSBAND

Sunday, July 28, 2013


  A moment of weakness...
 an afternoon of passion...

 ...a brutal murder hits close to home...
    The explosive sequel to A PERFECT HUSBAND
    Arriving exclusively on Amazon August 15!

 ~Early praise for A PERFECT SETUP

★★★★★ A PERFECT SETUP "It is a positive relief to read a sequel where the heroine doesn't bounce back happy & into the fray."
A PERFECT SETUP "...the final scene left me wanting more, needing to know. And, therein lies, for me, its brilliance."

"...Wickard delves into the sordid reality and excitement of affairs, domination, submission, & abuse." A PERFECT SETUP

"The novel does not shrink from confronting the realities of trauma and PTSS."

★★★★★ "Certainly equal to and in my opinion even superior to its predecessor

"...Masterful. ★★★★★  Douglas Wickard does it again!" Penelope Childs
"...the return of characters who've become old friends; the meeting of new ones we wouldn't want as enemies."  5* Amazon Reviewer

Sami's back! And this time it's personal!

The New York Times, Daily News and New York Post hailed her a hero.

Samantha Saxton, better known as Sami "owned the night," they reported. She was the victor, the quiet champion, the anti-heroine single-handedly destroying the career of a lethal serial killer stalking the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for six unremitting years. The disappearance of six teenage girls and the horrific details of their deaths received national, frenzied attention and Sami Saxton became the unlikely poster woman in all the coverage.

Sami's attempt to find a quieter, less hectic life by moving to the cabin her deceased father built years ago in the remote township of Montique, New Jersey didn't turn out quite the way she expected.

Returning to the City, Sami purchases a spacious, fifth floor, open-airy, glass-walled condominium on the Upper West Side overlooking the Hudson River. Another new start!

But, that night continues to haunt her...in her dreams and in her life. The nightmares persist, vivid, ongoing and relentless. Posttraumatic stress syndrome paralyzes her. Anxiety attacks intensify and not even prescription pain killers can relieve her anquish.

Then, the unthinkable occurs. A young, female model is found brutally murdered in a midtown hotel, and Jerry Saxton, Sami's ex-husband, is taken into custody for the heinous crime.

~Praise for A PERFECT HUSBAND   
"Smitty refers to his smile as his "greatest weapon," and that's ultimately what makes him so terryifying. His starting point for murder is not a brutal act, but a genial expression. Assertive characters with distinct backgrounds provide a solid foundation for the story of a killer on the hunt ."   ~KIRKUS BOOK REVIEW                                                                                     
"Up there with Jonathan Kellerman..." Amazon Reviewer Fleur Smithwick
"A killer performance." Fredericke Brooke author of DOING MAX VINYL and ZOMBIE CANDY
"...not since SIDNEY SHELDON has an author captivated me so..." Amazon reviewer
"One of the most suspenseful books I've read this year."  Nancy Silk
"The words truly paint a picture." Jaimie J.
"Could not put this book down."  A. King

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Up close & personal with writer CATHERINE ASTOLFO

                                      A special treat for my blog readers.
CATHERINE ASTOLFO is here in Los Angeles discussing her new bestselling novel

I was fortunate to be one of the first readers of SWEET KAROLINE.

"In Catherine Astolfo's chilling new novel Sweet Karoline, things aren't always as they seem. Anne, the multifaceted anti-heroine in this noir tale takes a fateful journey into her forgotten past, uncovering the painful roots of her childhood. While furrowing for answers, a mystery unfolds, truths swirl to the surface, a heinous murder occurs. Who's the killer? Caught in a tangled web of greed, lies and deceit Anne must come to terms with her past, present and future, and the bleak realization that those we hold close may be the last ones to trust. Compelling, visually descriptive, deftly delivered…Catherine Astolfo's got the goods!"

So welcome, Cathy. Nice to have you back in sunny California. Even though we met breifly, it was a pleasure sharing wine and good conversation. Let's get right down to the questions: 

     Sweet Karoline is a confident novel. Your creative voice is strong. There is something new, something different working here. Can you explain it?

That’s a great question, something I have been mulling over ever since I began Sweet Karoline. The answer is kind of complicated. When I started SK, my main characters, Anne and Karoline, were enigmas. I seriously couldn’t decide if they were good or bad “girls”.  Then my publisher   asked me if I could make Sweet Karoline part of the Emily Taylor series (you know, to help with that branding thing – important to marketing). I told her I’d give it a try. Months later, Anne and Karoline were still rebelling. Finally, I let Imajin Books know that SK would just have to be a standalone. Thank goodness, they understood. And then – I let go! I allowed my subconscious to take over. No Editor sitting on my shoulder, no solid outline – just a flow of thoughts and emotions and experiences. It was the best feeling ever. Plus I think it has changed my writing forever. I am going to be less rigid, planned and perfectionist in my writing from now on (at least during the creative flow part).

     What gave you the idea for Sweet Karoline? What triggered your imagination to weave this story?

My Emily Taylor series has some elements that are found in Sweet Karoline, namely the native influence, small town Ontario settings and complicated relationships. I wanted to write a story based on my children’s heritage. My kids are part black, part white, and part Native, with an undocumented connection to Joseph Brant. The combination of my own descendents and my children’s paternal family was just too weird to resist. Characters abound on both sides. So I took a little bit of the history, romance, tragedy and twisted relationships, added a whole lot of imagination, and out came this story.

     Sweet Karoline is a one-off, not part of your ET series. Do you prefer writing a continuing character or one-off’s?

For the longest time, I wondered if I could actually write a book without Emily Taylor in it. I thought I’d be in mourning for a long time. Not that I killed Emily or anything, but I did say the fourth book was her last. In some ways, I think I want to leave her alone, happily ever after so to speak. Now that I’ve finished one standalone, there are a whole bunch of others seeking my attention. So I honestly don’t think I’ll write another series. That doesn’t necessarily make my publisher happy re promotion and branding – but I guess the brand will just have to be me LOL. 
     How much research do you do for one of your novels?

I’m not that fond of research to be honest, but it’s a fact of life. Everything I write needs some kind of fact behind it. For instance, when I was writing The Bridgeman, I realized I had to know something about lift bridges. If I can go out and look at something, I do. I headed to Merrickville and studied their locks and the lift bridge. For the rest of my books, I’ve had to research wrongful convictions (Seventh Fire), Ojibwa philosophy (Victim) and legends, puppy mills (The Bridgeman), gold mines, the law in small town Ontario (Legacy)…you name it. However, I always caution my readers that I adhere to the old adage, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Although the research has been done, I often manipulate the details for my own purposes. For Sweet Karoline I even got to travel to Los Angeles and meet one of my favorite writers, Douglas Wickard.

     Do you use real people when you create characters for your novels?

I do – sort of. I think my characters are amalgams. A little bit me, some people I’ve known in the past (or present), characters I’ve read about in newspapers, someone I met in passing. I put all of that together, mix it all up, and make somebody entirely new. Also, I find names in the obituaries. I put different first with different surnames and so on. Part real, part fiction!

     Let’s talk about sex! Are you comfortable writing sex scenes?

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I LOVE writing sex scenes. It’s my daughter, who’s always my first reader, who gets very uncomfortable! This is what one of my reviewers said about the sex scenes in Sweet Karoline, “The novel hits its heights as the best lovemaking scenes and the ones that are just 'rocks off' sex as any I've read. The writing jumps off the page. The main character is real, frail, strong, seeking, manipulative, scared and secretive.” I really, really like that blurb, I must say. I think I do have the most fun with the characters during a sex scene. That’s when they’re naked, not just in body, but vulnerable to either be loved or used. Sometimes that’s when you can take a peek into their true natures.

     I felt your ET series maintained a certain safety, a bit of you holding back. Sweet Karoline does not, in my opinion. It felt visceral, raw, edgy. Noir. Do you notice the difference? Was the writing process different for you?

You are so right. I think because Emily is a school Principal, there’s a certain expectation that she won’t be entirely off the wall. Since she is integral to the books, she held me back a bit, I think (sorry, Em, but it’s true). Plus Emily is under a certain constraint throughout the novels. Her life didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to, and she has to hold back a lot of secrets. The writing process was quite different with Sweet Karoline. Far more stream-of-consciousness than with the Emily’s. The visceral parts were the best, when I could feel what Anne was experiencing. Honestly, if I could write like that every minute of the day, I’d be in heaven. It was a terrific experience. I hope I can continue to apply that process to the next and the next.

     We often are asked what our writing process is…but I would like to know how you tackle the editing process. The rewriting.

I’m a bit of an obsessive editor. I think it’s the bane of all ex-school teachers that we notice grammar and spelling errors. I have to admit that I edit as I go. Not so much with Sweet Karoline, however – and that was a good thing. Maybe I’m finally old enough or have been retired long enough to let go of that. Sometimes when I can’t get going on the manuscript, I allow myself to spend a few minutes editing. Believe it or not, that can get the muse flowing again. I reread a section that’s particularly good and all of a sudden, I’m off again. Once I get my Beta reader responses, I rewrite according to their suggestions. I don’t keep every suggestion, but if more than one person points out a flaw, I seriously consider changing the passage. I don’t know about you, but I could probably rewrite until the story disappears. At some point, I have to say: OK, done. Now on to the publisher and professional editors. Usually, if I’ve done my job well and followed my beta readers’ advice, I don’t have a lot of rewriting to do at that stage.

     Waiting for Beta reader’s responses can keep us in an altered, anxious state. How do you choose your Beta reader’s and how do you use their feedback?

I am so very lucky with my Beta readers. I have seven of them. Four are all retired teachers; one is a former book editor; one is my daughter and one my daughter-in-law. The last two are in the film industry and have read hundreds of scripts. The former are extremely good with the mechanics of the novel. But they’re also all voracious readers. So they can tell me about consistency of character or setting and words or phrases that are out of place or jarring. I listen to them very carefully and often make the changes they suggest, particularly if several of them make a note of it.

     What’s next?

I’m working on two books. One is a young adult mystery novel. The second, an adult mystery, is a “black comedy”. Right now I’m calling the adult book a cozy, but it’s probably a bit edgier than that. Next, I think I’ll be writing a general fiction novel about a couple of generations of women. It’s germinated, but I’m still not sure if I should throw in a mysterious death. I’ve also got two anthologies of short stories coming out around Christmas. Obsessed? Ya think?


Find out all about Catherine’s books at her website: www.catherineastolfo.com. You can join her on lots of social media there, too.



Thanks for the chat, Cathy. Looking forward to seeing you again, real soon.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


A moment of weakness…an afternoon of passion…a brutal murder hits close to home…
The explosive sequel to A PERFECT HUSBAND.


“…Somebody might ask me what it was about this book why I couldn’t put it down. Boy, isn’t that the million dollar question that all writers and publishers would like to know. In this case, the words flowed. There weren’t grammatical, technical or formatting mistakes that made me stop in my tracks. I didn’t want to re-write a section. As a writer and editor, it’s very difficult for me to read novels because I always want to fix them. I want to edit, to re-write, but this was not the case and that in itself was a joy for me.
I also liked the characters. Mostly Sami. There was something endearing and actually humorous about her. I could envision her, I felt like I was in her head, she was written clearly and succinctly, and you were on her side. You rooted for her. When she was in danger, you’d find yourself telling her to, “Watch out!”
I became involved in the story, it took me away to the world of Sami Saxton for 2 days and I thank the author Douglas Wickard for transporting me to her world where it was intriguing, thrillingly horrific, humorous at times, and most of all, entertaining. Oh, and for the next Douglas Wickard novel, I won’t read the sample first; I’ll go straight to “Buy this book.”
…Bestselling author Catherine Burr

“…Smitty refers to his smile as his “greatest weapon,” and that’s ultimately what makes him so terrifying. His starting point for murder is not a brutal act, but a genial expression.
Assertive characters with distinct backgrounds provide a solid foundation for the story of a killer on the hunt.
…KIRKUS Book Review
“Up there with Jonathan Kellerman…” …Fluerwick Smith
“A killer performance.” …Frederick Brooke author of DOING MAX VINYL & ZOMBIE CANDY.
“…psychological suspense at its best!” …Marla Madison author of SHE’S NOT THERE.
“One of the most suspenseful novels I’ve read this year.” …Nancy of Utah
“The words truly paint a picture.” …Jamie J.
“Could not put this book down…” …A. King.
The New York Times, Daily News and New York Post all hailed her a hero!
Samantha Saxton, better known as Sami ‘owned the night,’ they reported. She was the victor, the quiet champion, the anti-heroine single-handedly destroying the career of a lethal serial killer stalking the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for six unremitting years. The disappearance of six teenage girls and the horrific details of their deaths received national, frenzied attention and Sami Saxton became the unlikely poster woman in all the coverage.
Sami’s attempt to find a quieter, less hectic life by moving to the cabin her deceased father built years ago in the remote urban township of Montague, New Jersey didn’t turn out quite the way she intended.
Returning to the City, Sami purchases a spacious, fifth floor, open-airy, glass-walled condominium on the Upper West Side overlooking the Hudson River…another new start!
But, that night continues to haunt her...in her dreams and in her life. The nightmares persist, vivid, ongoing and relentless. Posttraumatic stress syndrome paralyzes her, keeping her a prisoner in her newly renovated home. The anxiety attacks intensify and not even prescription painkillers are relieving the anguish.
Then, the unthinkable occurs. A young, female model is found brutally murdered in a midtown hotel. And, Jerry Saxton, Sami’s ex-husband, married for over twenty two years, is taken into custody for the heinous crime.
A PERFECT SETUP…you do NOT want to miss what happens next!