Sunday, September 12, 2010

When it Mattered

My eyes opened in the pre-dawn darkness and I reached out, surprised that you weren’t there. Then I remembered.

I felt my way through the house to the back yard and lifted my face to the black sky. I started a deep breath but my throat refused the grit and miasma.

I closed my eyes and stretched my arms wide. I whispered, “I’m ready,” and stood motionless until my shoulders ached and my arms collapsed against my sides.

I went inside, washed with cold water, dressed by candle light, and left for the office.

I lingered in the driveway to watch the sunrise. The same dust that hid the stars now threw the morning’s first light across the horizon in blazing splashes of vibrant orange and red. When the last blush turned gray I hurried off to work. The few vehicles on the freeway were heading the opposite direction, out of the city.

The skyline wasn’t the one you knew. Many buildings were shattered, others stood untouched. Rubble and derelict cars littered the streets. The few people still downtown stared at, then through me, their blank faces and tattered clothes gray with dust.

My building was covered in dust and ash, but intact.

I drove down into the parking garage and felt my way through the dark to the stairwell. When I got to my office I was winded from the long climb. I averted my eyes from the silver frame on my desk to avoid your smile. My fingers glided over my desk and chair, absorbing warmth from the hand-rubbed mahogany, caressing the soft leather. As the familiar furnishings enveloped me, I reflexively touched the computer’s power switch. No hum, no light, no messages to read. But I knew that.

I pulled hard copies from the filing cabinets. I read reports, tallied invoices and cross checked spreadsheets; the company was thriving when the world died.

At 11:30 I took a bottle of water and a peanut butter sandwich from my briefcase and started back toward the stairs, past gray cubicles with black nameplates that stood in rows like headstones.

I descended, guided by the cool railing, until my footsteps echoed off the marble walls of the lobby.

The statue in the parkthe one you liked with the woman and the birdswas still there, but the horse and rider had fallen. I chewed the taste out of my bread, staring without interest at a pile of refuse on a bench until dark eyes peered out. I offered the remainder of my sandwich and water. Two boney hands stretched out, slowly, as if hoping that I would change my mind and take the food away. When I persisted, an irresolute grip enclosed the offering. I waited until muffled sounds of eating seeped out of the newspapers and gray-brown rags. No words expected, none given.

By the time my watch read 12:32 I was back at my desk, pulling hard-copies, reading reports, tallying invoices and cross-checking spreadsheets.

I worked until my vision blurred, then groped my way past the workstation-graveyard down the stairwell to the parking garage. I started my car and checked the fuel: enough to get me home and back for the rest of the week, or perhaps the rest of my life.

On my first day with the company I vowed that someday I would have a top floor office. Sixteen years, two months, and three weeks later I made CFO. Did you count the days too? I think you did, but for different reasons.

I wish I’d missed you when it mattered.

Back in our kitchen, I turned from the missing wall and listened to cereal crackle as water poured over it.

I imagined Rascal dancing on his hind legs. I could see him whirling, eyes sparkling, pink tongue flicking in and out with his happy panting. Then I remembered that his body was with yours somewhere in the rubble that used to be our bedroom.

I never believed that the meteor storms would come. I would have been home with you instead of working late the night our home was cut in half. I wanted the corner office with a view of the park.

I went outside and closed my eyes, stretched my arms wide, whispered, “I’m ready,” and stood motionless until my shoulders ached and my arms collapsed against my sides.

I’m ready.

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Useful links:

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Jess Harris is a writer who is not quite ready to give up his day job as a US Army officer. He’s been published in, among others. He is a member of MinnSpec Writers’ Network, MN8 Novelists’ Retreat, founder of SoFriedSpecFic, and adjunct member (strap-hanger) of SA-based Adamaster Writer’s Guild.

He writes dark science fiction, urban fantasy alternate history, high fantasy with practically no magic, “literary crime fiction” (whatever that means) and humorous horror. His biggest challenge is usually deciding what genre a particular piece falls into.

Go figure.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pamela Hearon and The Timestone Key

This week Toad welcomes Pamela Hearon, author of The Timestone Key, to her corner for a cuppa tea and a quick chat.

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Tell me about the blinding moment of realization that led to you realizing you wanted to be an author.

Well, when I was three years old…J No kidding, I don’t ever remember not wanting to be an author. My mom still has poems I wrote her as soon as I could write and understood the concept. I’ve always loved words. I love languages and etymology, can be absorbed by a thesaurus or a dictionary. My dad is a bit of a writer, and I believe the passion was in my blood at birth.

What sparked your concept for The Timestone Key and how did you set about writing it?

I’ve read King Arthur stories all my life. I can never get enough of them. So, a few years ago, I planned a trip with my husband during which we would drive around England, going from one Arthurian site to another. An idea germinated in my mind on the first day. By the time we left, I had a full-blown story. When we got home, I started putting it on paper, and six months later, I had a rough draft. It was dreadful, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought it was fabulous! A gazillion rewrites later, it was ready for publication.

Who will enjoy reading The Timestone Key and what are the underlying themes running through the work?

The underlying themes are “follow your heart”, and “you must be happy with yourself before you can be happy with anyone else”. This story will appeal to readers of romance, fantasy, and lovers of King Arthur stories. But the latter should be forewarned—I give my own twist to the legends!

What is the most challenging thing about being an author?

Hands down, finding time to write. Life doesn’t stop for me to get my ideas down on paper. Sometimes, I find myself snatching bits of time from here and there, but I think about the next scene all the time. My mind is always on point!

Who is your most influential author, which work of theirs do you keep returning to and why?

I know it’s a strange combination, but I idolize Jennifer Crusie and Diana Gabaldon. I try to think out of the box like Crusie (Bet Me) but try to use a flowing, narrative style like Gabaldon when description is called for (Outlander). Another huge influence is my critique partner, Kimberly Lang. She’s taught me things about the romance genre I never picked up as a reader.

Do you have any advice for people considering writing their first novel?

Just do it. Don’t be daunted by rules or word length or getting published. Show yourself you can get that first story down on paper. After that, you’ll either be fed up with it or hooked. Then, on the rewrites, you can worry about the rules, word length, and getting published J

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Pamela Hearon believes in magic. Since childhood, her favorite stories have been those that go beyond what can be explained and plunge her into the world of the inexplicable. But now she doesn’t just enjoy the magical stories of others; now she creates her own. And through the years she’s grown to understand that magic doesn’t limit itself to a stone releasing a sword. It also encompasses a woman’s heart opening to love.

Because nothing could be more magical than a flower growing from a seed or a comet’s tail stretching across the sky, Pamela enjoys gardening by day and star-gazing by night.

A Southern girl at heart, she now lives in the Midwest with her husband, her real-life hero who captivates her with his own special magic.

Visit Pamela on her website at or email her at

The Timestone Key can be found at

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Recommended Read: Steel in the Morning

Toad would like to recommend this excellent free read by author DJ Cockburn, who has mastered the art of story-telling. Yes, it's not quite within the genres she's promoting but reckons this one is just so absolutely fabulous you shouldn't miss it.

In short, this tale takes readers into the mind of an expert sword-master, one Le Méridien. To say anything other than "misty morning duels" is to give far too much away. Toad enjoyed this yarn very much.

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