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Posts Tagged ‘Avalon Books’

During my tenure as director and editor for Honno: Welsh Women’s Press, I encouraged my mother to write her World War II memoirs. I presented my siblings and my sons with a privately published copy on her 90th birthday. These memoirs were subsequently published as an ebook, Following the Troops: Life for an Army Wife, 1941-1945. 

July 23, 2012

I read Andrew Galasetti’s guest blog at selfpublishingteam.com on Saturday morning (July 21, 2012) that resonated with me. Near the end of this post, Galasetti writes about his grandfather’s writing dreams and how they had nearly died with him. This was particularly moving to me because I spent many years as an editor for a women’s cooperative press in Wales, selecting material for three volumes of autobiographical writing by women that, had it not been for Honno, would not have been published or recorded for history.

One of my proudest publishing moments was working with historian, Dierdre Beddoe, on Parachutes and Petticoats and Iancs, Conshis a Spam, two volumes of women’s writing about their experiences in World War II. Many of these accounts were harrowing, tragic or triumphant. All were about the indomitable human spirit and our willingness to sacrifice our lives for strangers.

The stimulus for both of these volumes was the stories my mother told me about her experiences during World War II and her childhood. Twenty years before her death, I asked her to write these stories down, intending to include them in one of the volumes. In the end, I edited and published them independently for my family and her grandchildren.

Several of my friends have created similar publications, so that their own personal journeys aren’t lost and forgotten. During the latter part of the 20thC, there were hundreds of volumes of diaries and oral history projects undertaken to capture these stories for posterity. Until they were written, recorded or published, these experiences were stories passed on from one generation to another but often not. Now they are history, available to us all.

That is, as long as our smartphones, laptops, ereaders and tablets keep working. Galasetti’s book, To Breathe Free, incorporates his grandfather’s poetry and will be published in Fall 2012.

If you want a really good yarn, talk to your elders.

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Shortly after Avalon Books published my debut novel, the sale of Avalon to Amazon’s imprints was announced and finalized. This was my short farewell to my editor, Lia Brown. For most of us, losing an editor is one trauma we don’t anticipate. In my case, I found an editor and a publisher in one year and lost them both in the next. Amazon’s Montlake published Wait a Lonely Lifetime as an ebook and paperback in October 2012.


 

June 23, 2012

We here at Avalon Books have been in transition for a few months as my colleague, Kent Conwell, has mentioned in his blog this month. I’ve only been with Avalon for a little over a year but I’ve felt welcome and at home from the beginning.

My editor for Wait a Lonely Lifetime, Lia Brown, was the first person to read my novel and I will be forever in her debt for seeing the story as ‘a terrific romance’, and doing what editors do to get books they have enjoyed published.

Lia’s departure late last year was a blow, as losing editors has been for Kent. He has years of publishing experience to sustain him, as do all of the Avalon authors who’ve been with Avalon Books for a lot longer than I have.

I take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone here at the Avalon Authors Blog and the community established to help and support one another as writers, through transitions and uncertainties.

And to think, we’ve been called ‘jealous creatures’ (a line from the film, Midnight in Paris, attributed to Ernest Hemingway).

For a list of Avalon Books and all their authors, start at the publisher’s website and go on to their full list of all Avalon authors. Find out what makes them all so special.

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This article appeared a few weeks before Wait a Lonely Lifetime, my debut novel, hit the libraries and online booksellers. Amazon Publishing had already purchased Avalon and my career as a published author was already on shaky ground.

March 23, 2012

Cover art for Wait a Lonely LifetimeThe forthcoming publication of my debut novel, Wait a Lonely Lifetime, with Avalon Books calls for some attention to the hero of this book:  U.S. Army officer, Eric E. Wasserman, who doesn’t feel comfortable in civilian clothes.

I admit, when I see a man in uniform, I look twice. I don’t know if this is a genetic anomaly or a primordial instinct but there is something about a human male impeccably dressed, starched, buttoned and tied that unleashes a basic response from me: instant & rarely unjustified trust, a sense of security and protection as well as a recognition of pride and courage.

Medal of Valor presented to US soldierThis could be because so many of the most trustworthy, dependable men I have known have been the uniformed kind. This could also be the reason I have made my hero, Eric Wasserman, uncomfortable out of uniform when he first meets the love of his life and why he chooses to wear only military garb when they next meet.

His choice to return to Army life after a brief stint as a civilian has as much to do with the story development as with my own military-philia, having a long, proud history of U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force family members. Eric came to life when I saw him as a gawky, ex-GI out of his element among art college students.

 Readers of Wait a Lonely Lifetime will recognize this scene.


Readers of Wait a Lonely Lifetime will recognize this scene.

Eric Wasserman is a fictional character who embodies all I can imagine of the best of the male of our species: characteristics I have observed throughout my life; characteristics that are embedded in their genetic coding. My first novel for Avalon is my way of saying thank to people who have been important in my life – both familiar and unknown.Feeling out of our element is something we all share at one time or another. Eric’s second-in-command, Lt. Cleonina Jones, forces him to face his desertion of the only woman he has ever loved, Sylviana Innocenti, and take responsibility for his part in the unhappy outcome.

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This repost contains some music links to artists and songs that were inspirational to me for some personal, as well as professional, reasons. Again, this was part of the promotion I did for my debut novel.

February 23, 2012

Forget blurbs. Forget synopses. Forget even writing a novel or composing the jacket cover biography. The hardest job is finding a title. You’ve written a book to be proud of. You’ve put years of experience, months of work, weeks of revision, days of anticipation into the masterpiece. What keeps you awake night after night? The title.

What comes to mind? Nothing as arresting, compelling, delightful, thrilling as the story. No. What do you do?

Sometimes I search the manuscript for phrases that catch the eye or the imagination. Funny thing. There never seems to be one that meets expectations. Does that mean…? Could that mean the book isn’t as great as I thought? I don’t entertain that thought for very long. That’s just “Title Search Paranoia” whittling down writer confidence.

What’s in a title, anyway? Just about everything, at least according to one of my college professors. Get that right and you’ve put a book in someone’s hands. Get it wrong and you’re overlooked for the catwalk creation sitting next to your wallflower. You need resonance. You need speaks to the heart/soul. What you get in the middle of the night is, well,… not much.

Sometimes, the best one comes to you as a flash of serendipity. Sometimes you agonize. Sometimes, you find a title before you know your characters’ names or written a word.I carry a notebook in my bag. When a title presents itself, I make a note. Too often, the moment of inspiration passes without recognition. Just as often, the recorded title has no meaning when I next open that notebook.

Once in a while, I find myself locked into a title that is exactly perfect. Much more often, the novel is written, the characters ready for their moment to be read but the book is “untitled” or has the first name of one of the characters to distinguish it from all the other works in progress in my computer filing system.

In the case of my first novel for Avalon Books (to be released in April) the title came to me as I was walking to meet my lift to work. I was singing in my head and there it was. Wait a Lonely Lifetime has two significant events or connections to recommend it to me.

You may know it from the Beatles’ song, “I Will”:

Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to, I will.

This was the song in my head and is actually a musical reference to a song that always breaks my heart when I hear it and one that both my husband and I shared as a favorite when we first met – playing on the jukebox in a bar in Noe Valley – we were on our second date. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Bishop and the song’s title is “Looking for the Right One”:

Will I wait another lifetime,
Keep on looking for the right one?

Art Garfunkel also recorded this song but I prefer Bishop’s original. You decide:

This line, these four words, were and are perfect for the story I tell in Wait a Lonely Lifetime, of two people who find “the right one” but are kept apart for a lifetime by the calculated interference of someone they both thought of as a friend.

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This interview was the first I ever did with another Avalon author. Stone Wallace’s latest novel, Black Ransom, is published by Berkley and I received a gift copy last week. I also wrote an article about it here.
Stone Wallace is now publishing with Berkley and I had the privilege of reading an early draft of his forthcoming novel, Black Ransom. This interview was published on Avalon Authors June 15, 2011.
BlackRansomWhen the call went out for interviewers, I leapt on the opportunity to have a chat with Stone Wallace. Although we had just ‘met’ in an online writer’s forum, I had an inkling I wanted to know more about him and his new western, The Last Outlaw, for Avalon Books. I’m glad I went with my inkling – I would not have wanted to miss talking to him as we have over the past few weeks.
You say in your interview with Quinten Mills-Fenn for Style Manitoba, you had a fascination for gangster movies and television series. You’ve also written non-fiction and horror. Where does your western fiction find its inspiration?
Before I decided upon writing Denim Ryder as a Western, I was actually playing around with the idea of creating a series featuring a female secret agent simply called “Denim”. What I think happened was one night I was interviewing actor John Agar and we got to talking about the Westerns he’d made and something in our conversation got me to thinking that possibly I could develop Denim into a frontier female. Had never written a Western before, so that offered another challenge. Plus it gave me the privilege to honor John Agar, who was simply the sweetest, greatest guy, by basing a character on him.
John Agar’s films are legendary, including the horror films and I remember them well. Denim was transformed into a frontierwoman as a tribute to Agar. You went on to write another female character in Montana Dawn. Is there a reason you chose to write these books from a female point of view?
Not really. “Denim” and “Montana” both just happened to develop with female leads and I went from there, groping my way through the actions, emotions and complexities of these two characters. Again, this resulted in a creative challenge to see if I could make these characters believable. Females, of course, had featured in my past novels, but central to these stories was always the male – be he protagonist or antagonist. Most of my female characters up to that point had pretty much been window-dressing.
What were some of the creative challenges you met while writing Montana Dawn? Was there a specific event in the novel that you had to dig deep to find her reaction?

 

Interestingly, I found Montana Dawn to be an exceptionally easy story to write. Of course it required some research into the time and the locale, but it seemed as if the characters themselves propelled the narrative. They became real to me – real, breathing people – who ended up taking me along on their adventure. When that occurs, writing becomes pure pleasure.
Has there ever been a character who point blank refused to play by your rules?
I suppose the best answer I can give is when I wrote my first book, a horror novel. While most of the characters were rather naive to the supernatural occurrences happening around this young, withdrawn girl, there was a most capable psychiatrist who gradually began to fit the pieces of the mystery together. I fully intended to have him stick around to the end of the book and to some degree have him be the savior of the situation, but about midway through the plot took an unexpected detour and the poor fella got himself killed. Really didn’t see that coming, and his death put me in a bit of a quandary as to how to bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion. But I must confess I like those types of unexpected plot developments. I feel that if it surprises me, it may do likewise to the reader.
You have said you think The Last Outlaw is ‘noir’. Without giving away any of this gripping story, can you tell me more about this book or how you came to write it?
Thanks for the nice words. Yes, The Last Outlaw is quite different from my previous two Avalon Westerns. Yes, it can best be called a noir Western, in that it has a darker storyline, some pretty dark, if not downright nasty, characters. Again, because I’m a fan of gangster dramas and film noir, I thought it might be interesting to combine both into a Western. Most of the noir I’ve seen or read is a gradual descending into darkness, usually through circumstances over which the hero has no control. And that certainly is what occurs to my story’s protagonist, Cash McCall. Despite his strong and honest efforts to rehabilitate after his release from prison, his situation just becomes bleaker until he has no other choice but to return to the life he’d hoped to leave behind. Again, once I knew what the plot would be, it’s a story that unfolded almost by itself. I just followed Cash through those dark alleys on his attempted journey to redemption, really not sure of the outcome. I believe that uncertainty helps to create suspense. I hope that suspense element comes through to the readers.
In Montana Dawn, you mentioned you based a character on John Agar. When you create characters, do they also evolve from other creative sources – art, history, films, novels or from ‘real life’, your own experiences and imagination?

Outside of John Agar inspiring the character of Jason Cole in Denim Ryder, I really don’t use any source other than my imagination – although unique characteristics or personality traits may be “borrowed” from real life. It’s usually after I’ve completed writing a book that I allow myself the luxury to visualize actors and actresses who would be my choice to play characters – if a movie were to be made of one of my books… and if the performer were still around, whichis not the case since I prefer the older actors from the 30s, 40s and 50s. For example, for Montana Dawn I envisioned Rhonda Fleming as “Montana” and Ben Johnson as “Walt Egan”. Thought they would have been great – if the book had come out some decades ago.
I can see Rhonda Fleming in that role. The Last Outlaw is in the tradition of the hero against the forces of evil. This is a recurring theme in your three westerns. When you knew the plot for this or your other books, were you aware you were voicing the universal angst of the artist? 
Here’s where I’m probably going to disappoint you. My sole motivation when I write a book (fiction, naturally) is simply to tell a good story. Not to educate or necessarily edify, but hopefully, to entertain. I don’t care if people think I’m a “great” writer; I’d much prefer to be known as a good storyteller. If people can put down a book of mine and feel they’ve had an enjoyable read that maybe took them away from themselves for a while, having become immersed in the characters and situations, then I’m satisfied.

What do you read, besides your day job work?
I spend most of my workday (the dreaded day job to which, unfortunately, most writers must succumb) reading and editing trade and association publications, which, frankly, is deadly dull, affording virtually no creative stimulation. Often by day’s end I can’t bear to look at another printed word and, at that point, will usually watch a good movie instead. On weekends, though, and on those weeknights when my brain needs a jump-start of literary stimulation, I generally read biographies and histories. Definitely read some Westerns, of course. There are a lot of talented, dedicated Western writers out there whose books I enjoy and from whose styles I can learn. Avalon, in particular, has a terrific stable of authors, among whom I am now immensely proud to be included.
When you sit down to write a good story, what are the things you enjoy about writing?

Good, interesting characters, of course, whose lives, loves and adventures you enjoy exploring along with them. Most of all, I love surprise. I like to suddenly veer into an unexpected direction in the narrative and thereby, hopefully, throw the reader off course. I really am not a fan of formulaic fiction, where you know from the first chapter exactly how the story is going to develop and how it will be resolved. I think I tossed a pretty good curve ball at the end of Denim Ryder, which at first even Avalon, I’m told, questioned. But I didn’t want readers of that story simply to put down the book at the end and say maybe that it was a satisfying read, nothing more. I wanted to leave them with a “kicker”, as it were. Something they did not expect. And from comments I’ve received from readers of that book, I believe I succeeded.

When that good story isn’t going well, what keeps you working?
Ah-hah, the dreaded writer’s block – or when you have those days when you sit down to write and later you take a look at the day’s results and think your five year-old daughter had composed it. Had many of ’em. Those terrible periods when you say to yourself: “What makes me possibly think I’m a writer?” Fortunately, what I’ve learned is simply to chalk it up to just having a bad day, forget about it and try again tomorrow. Don’t get discouraged, just keep at it. Usually (at least in my case) the next day you write “gold”. You stumble, get back up again.

If you know the story isn’t going to work, what do you do with the aborted effort?
Boy, that’s something else I’ve experienced. I’ve submitted partials which (even after I’d established something of a publishing track record) were rejected numerous times by various publishers and finally gave up on the book and moved onto something else. But fortunately (or not), I’ve never started a story that part- or mid-way through I realized I couldn’t finish because the narrative strayed or I simply lost interest. Such has happened, but I’ve stubbornly stuck through it and eventually finished the book. It’s only when frequent rejections hammer it into me that the story is not marketable that I’ll give up the ghost and not finish the book – after all, writers don’t necessarily want to write in a vacuum. For me, at least, I write to be read. I confess I own a writer’s trunk of incompletes and rejected manuscripts. Don’t visit it often, though.
In your trunk of backlist manuscripts, is there one book you regret letting go?
If you’d asked me that maybe ten years ago, I’d probably say ‘yes’. But now, not so much. Some of the stuff hidden amongst the mothballs is pretty raw. But I certainly don’t regret having written them. You learn by writing, whether your stuff is published or not.
I’ll tell you a funny story, though. After I’d somewhat established myself as a horror writer back in the mid-80s, I wrote a teenage vampire novel, which, in many ways, was quite similar to “Twilight”. Submitted it to my publisher, who rejected it, commenting that there just wasn’t a market for vampire fiction at the time. Same thing when I submitted another manuscript about a vampire hitman. Two strikes and I was out when it came to bloodsuckers. Who would have guessed the market turnaround. Yet that’s encouraging. Because even though the Western genre might be in a bit of a slump at the moment, a turnaround could be right around the corner.
If you had the chance to begin your writing career over, is there anything you would want to change?
Oh God, Leigh, is there a writer alive who wouldn’t want one last crack at a published manuscript. We’re our own worst critics, though the reality is, even if we could make those final, final changes, down the line we’d probably want yet another shot at it. I can definitely say that about myself. I’m a nagging perfectionist and confess that errors that got through in books of mine published twenty years ago still irk me.
And maybe one more thing. After my third horror book was published, I’d decided to tackle other genres; the market seemed to be slowing and I didn’t want to become typecast. I wrote and submitted a gangster book to a publisher who, though not interested in that particular book, somehow knew of me and asked if I’d consider writing horror books for their company. Like the twaddle I sometimes am, I refused their offer and ended up not writing another book for almost 15 years. I look back now and contemplate the “what if . . . ” scenario.
You’ve written non-fiction and fiction, westerns and horror. Is there another genre waiting in the wings for you?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier I’m currently working on completing a gangster novel called The Chicago Boys.
It’s a fictional telling of what happened to the Chicago mob after Al Capone was sent away to prison on an income tax rap. It deals with the internal power struggle among the Outfit and their attempted extortion of Hollywood studios during the 30s. There’s lots of facts and real-life characters, but it is a novel so I can use my imagination to create situations or creatively expand upon stuff that really did happen during that era. As you know, I’m a gangster addict, and this has been something I’ve been developing for a long time. Fortunately, I also have a publisher interested. There always seems to be some market for these types of books. And the interest in Capone never really seems to waver.

Now that The Last Outlaw is published, is the party over?
I hope not. I do have ideas for other Westerns that I’d like to write, including a sequel to Denim Ryder. I’d love to do some promotions for all of my Westerns, but that’s somewhat difficult with them not available in Canadian bookstores. That’s always a handicap when it comes to author publicity, as I’ve unfortunately discovered. I’ve experienced some local media who are resistant to do an interview BECAUSE a book of mine is not in stores. I suppose they may feel that any book that is not in stores is not a “true” publication and maybe a “vanity” effort, which can be a bad rap. Personally, I feel that, shelf competition aside, it is vital for books to be placed in brick-and-mortar stores – for visibility and to give potential readers tangible evidence of the book’s worth. But that’s probably best for another story another day.
Thank you, Stone, for this opportunity to talk with you. It has been a pleasure to become better acquainted. My copy of  The Last Outlaw is on its way to me and I’m anxious to follow Cash McCall into his dark world.
Addendum: My copy of The Last Outlaw was delivered at the last possible moment at end of my stay in West Hartford, CT in July 2011. I couldn’t put it down.

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Below is my first article on Avalon Authors on May 23, 2011. Avalon is no more and some of us are forming a new group blog at Classic & Cosy. I hope you will join us there. These are my blogs for the original Avalon Authors group blog. Over the next few months, any article title with ‘Repost’ in it will have come from the Avalon Authors blog.

Good day. My name is Leigh Verrill-Rhys and I am a new author with Avalon Books. My first published novel is Wait a Lonely Lifetime, a contemporary romance set in Firenze (Florence) and San Francisco. Although this book has had a rocket speed journey from conception to contract, the journey for me as an author has been a lifetime.

WLLjacketproofwebWhat can you say about an event that amounts to the biggest moment in a writer’s career? Selling your debut novel. Every description falls short – despite your finely honed skill at the craft you have made your life’s work.

I have put words on paper from the day I learned how to hold a pen and make letters. I remember the evening I sat at the drop-leaf table in my parent’s living room, scribbling my story of giants and fairies, when I decided to make writing my profession.

Between then and now, there have been a few hundred diversions and denials. All manner of writing has sustained me – from grant proposals to articles to autobiographical anthology editing. Besides short stories, I steered clear of fiction. I told myself, ‘If I truly wanted to write fiction, I would be writing novels.’ But I was writing novels, in my head and in notebooks, a secret indulgence!

The day came when I had to make the final declaration. Though I have always written, I hadn’t given myself permission to be a writer. For years, I struggled with where my writing always took me. One day, I confessed. ‘I write romance.’ I lost a few friends or rather they deserted me but I had finally staked my claim on my future. The journey so far has led me to many new friends and opened a vast world of potential.

Three years later, almost to the day, I sent my contemporary romance to Avalon Books. Though not my first completed novel, I’m proud that Wait a Lonely Lifetime is my debut as a novelist.

Last month [April 2011], I participated in a group blog as a guest at Four Foxes One Hound. The subject was ‘ideas’ and I wrote about some of the events and images that contributed to this romantic novel. The title sums up not only the relationship in the book but also the length of time to experience enough to be ready for that moment of clear, sparkling inspiration.

My moment came one morning in early autumn as I sat at a table in Venice. Across the room, I saw a man in uniform. From that moment, Wait a Lonely Lifetime took shape and flourished through to the end. In this book, I had to explore a world and a way of life that were alien to me. At the same time, I felt I was ‘coming home’.

Have you had a similar journey? Where has your writing taken you?

By now, Wait a Lonely Lifetime is available as an ebook and in paperback, at local libraries and at Florey’s Book Company in Pacifica, California where I held a book signing in 2012.

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Now that Wait a Lonely Lifetime has reached its 90th day on the market and is now in the hands of Amazon Publishing, I want toCover Artwork for Wait a Lonely Lifetime thank all of the readers who have contacted me since the book’s release in April.

I have received wonderful comments and support from so many, I’m overwhelmed and sincerely appreciate your efforts to let me know your response to my book. And thank you for reading my novel.

Now that Avalon Books has been bought by Amazon Publishing, Avalon authors are looking forward to the release of our books in digital format in the near future. If you haven’t yet read Wait a Lonely Lifetime, keep any eye out for the ebook edition this Fall or early in 2013.

In the meantime, you can hear the excerpts from the novel read by Osian Rhys and Rebecca Miles:

Rebecca Miles reads Sylviana's Second Letter

Rebecca Miles

Rebecca Miles reads Sylviana’s Second Letter

Osian Rhys reads Eric Wasserman's First Letter

Osian Rhys

Osian Rhys reads Eric Wasserman’s First Letter

Or read an excerpt from the novel: Excerpt from Chapter One

 I loved writing this story about two people who lost each other and grasped their second chance.

Thank you again and I look forward to hearing from you.

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Book cover image The Lat OutlawAvalon Authors blog has had an active week. Monday, June 18, Chapter 11 of Along for the Ride, the group novel Avalon Authors have written online over the past few months, was posted. The next installment, Chapter 12 by Sandra Wilkins, will be published on July 2, 2012.

Tuesday, Kent Conwell wrote about his experience of losing agents and publishers. Rebecca L. Boschee posted an interview with a certain debut author on June 20th, on Friday, K T Roberts announced an ebook giveaway.

Today, Saturday, June 23rd, ‘Among Friends’ has been posted with links to all the Avalon authors and their books over the years. A bit of serendipity doesn’t hurt, now and again.

These are some of the books by authors I’ve interviewed for the blog.

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Sylviana met her friend’s steadfast stare for a long, dry moment. “So, you think he’s dead.”

“Sylvi, it’s been fifteen years. That’s what happens to lots of soldiers.”

Sylviana looked over the balcony of the restaurant onto Ghirardelli Square . “How did you know? I mean, how did you find out what happened, what Eric did?”

Aggy pushed her fork around her salad plate for a few moments. “He was kind of cute, and I didn’t think you were interested. Turns out he wasn’t interested in me either—and not in the kind of life we were all leading then, anyway. I don’t know how I heard or who from, Sylvi. Someone gave me his phone number—Steve, maybe—but I only tried calling him once. A few months later, I just heard from someone that he’d packed in his job at the insurance company and re-enlisted. So what else but dead can you expect? All these guys are just cannon fodder for one bigheaded politico or another. Didn’t you know he’d gone back into the Army? Steve brought him to the parties—didn’t he tell you?”

“Steven hardly mentioned his name after Eric disappeared, like he had never existed.” Sylviana rubbed the side of her nose and along her cheekbone.

“And you’ve been carrying a torch for this guy for how long? Since your divorce was final?”

“Since I met him, Aggy. Since that first party at Frankie’s show.”

“Holy cow, Sylvi. That’s some torch. The whole time you were married to Steven?”

“It wasn’t like that, Aggy. I loved Steven—it’s just that, since the divorce and dating a few guys, I can’t get Eric Wasserman’s face out of my mind . No one else has come close to what I felt the first time I saw him.”

“You sure had a funny way of showing you were interested in him, Sylvi.”

“What do you mean? I talked to him for hours. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.”

“Maybe, but never without a pack of baying wolves around you. Poor guy couldn’t get very close.”

“That’s not how I remember it,” Sylviana replied.

“Then you’ve been dreaming. Eric was about the hunkiest   jarhead any of us had ever seen, and the only girl he saw in the room—you—scarcely seemed to give him a glance. Once Steve Langdon came on to the scene, that was it for you.”

“But that’s not true. I didn’t talk to Steven. I talked to Eric Wasserman—endlessly—though he barely said a word. I probably didn’t give him a chance to,” she moaned.

“That’s not the way I saw it. But it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? If Eric’s not dead, he’s probably married with a family,” Aggy told her. “Dumb guys like him do that too. Don’t know a good thing and can’t stay out of trouble.”

There was nothing else Sylviana could say to Aggy. Her best friend from kindergarten had always been radical, cut-the-corn and get on with it, anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-fascist, anti-establishment. Sylviana ran her fingers around the base of her wineglass. Her daughters were safe at home with her parents, and she was baring her soul to the only woman she knew who wouldn’t laugh in her face.

She knew her ex-husband’s military record. She knew his unit members and a couple of the people he hadn’t written out of his life the day his discharge came through. Eric Wasserman was the only one who’d appeared on the scene and stuck around for a few weeks, come to a few parties, captured her heart, and then disappeared forever. Steven Langdon had been quick to let her know that he wasn’t going anywhere out of her life fast. He’d swept her off her feet with his avid courtship, and months later, marrying him had seemed like the best idea at the time. Twelve years and two little girls later, she’d asked for a divorce.

During her lunch hour, the Monday following her talk with Aggy, Sylvi pushed open the door of the Army recruiting office four blocks from her office. The soldier at the desk glanced up, gave her a quick smile, and looked back down at his paperwork. When his eyes indicated a chair in front of the desk, she positioned herself on the edge, folding her hands over her shoulder bag.

“I’m not here to enlist,” she said, then wished she hadn’t.

The recruitment officer didn’t smile. “No, ma’am.”

“I’m looking for someone.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we don’t have that kind of information here. Classified, unless you’re family.”

“I’m not family. He was a friend. He is a friend.”

“Sorry, ma’am. Can’t help you.”

“If I was family? If we just lost touch? Circumstances? Relocated?”

He studied her face for a while. “There are a couple of groups that reunite service families, ma’am.” He pulled a card from a drawer and laid it on the desk in front of her. “They won’t tell you anything outright, but they may be able to contact the soldier you’re looking for. It’s up to him then.”

Sylviana drew the card toward her and couldn’t conceal the trembling of her hand. “Thank you. You’re very kind.”

“Good luck, ma’am.”

April 10

San Francisco

Dear Eric,

I know you won’t remember me, but we met about fifteen years ago. My name is Sylviana Innocenti Langdon.

The letter had been on Wasserman’s desk for two days, in his pocket for another, then held unopened in his hand for half an hour before the feeling that one of his unit had shoved a bayonet into his gut and was twisting it around finally subsided. Ten more minutes passed before his thumb ripped through the last fraction of glue, but his hand was still shaking so badly, the single sheet of pale blue paper refused to be taken out. He finally worked it free, crumpling a corner, and smoothed it on his thigh. As soon as it unfolded, he read her married name, and the bayonet jammed straight through to his spine.

“Captain?”

He lifted his eyes from the blur of ink. “What is it, Clee?”

“It’s Martinelli, sir. Wants to know what to—”

“Tell her, I’ll be right there.” He shoved the letter back into the envelope, pressed it down into his pocket, and felt the barbs driving into his chest. He took it out and tossed it onto the desk. The envelope skittered across the surface and caught in the pages of the duty roster, face up. S.I. Langdon, 81 Hill Street, San Francisco.

Why is she doing this?

“Where’s Martinelli?”

“Down by the vehicle dump.”

“What’s she doing there?”

“That’s her assignment, Captain.”

Wasserman looked at his second in command for a moment. They’d been a team for two years. He knew Lieutenant Cleonina Jones as well as he’d known any one of his lieutenants. Better. Whatever was going on, she wasn’t part of it. “What does Martinelli want to know? Never mind. I’ll go down. Need a walk, anyway.”

Clee walked back to her desk, shuffled through papers, and watched Captain Wasserman through the open door until he was out of sight at the end of the camp before she leaned over enough to see into his office and the letter on the desk that hadn’t come from his sister. “Sure is pretty handwriting.”

Eric was nowhere near the dump by the time he raised his eyes. Not a word from Steve Langdon for three, almost four, years and now, this. What kind of joke is this? The vehicle dump was on the other side of the camp, camouflaged in trees and under nets—coolest spot in the valley, now that the winds had died down. The combat support unit captain straightened his back and headed in the direction he’d meant to go, keeping his eyes on the vineyards on the hillsides.

Martinelli wasn’t in sight. He ducked under the strips of camouflage and called the second lieutenant by name. The wheeled creeper swept out from under a truck . Hard to believe anyone that small could be such a good mechanic. Of course, everyone was tiny compared to six feet four inches. Captain Eric D.D. Wasserman. Even the biggest of the combat unit didn’t look him straight in the eye without tilting his chin a bit.

Martinelli jumped up in front of him and dusted off her backside. Her grin broke through the fog in his brain—pure, fresh, San Francisco fog—and he grinned back. She pointed in one direction at the oily wreckage of a truck and hooked her finger at a ratchet-jockey in the other. Whatever the private had failed to fix , he wasn’t owning up to it until Martinelli had raked him through the eastern European dust for a good half hour.

“Well? Who’s it from?”

“Who’s what from, Angel?” Clee shoved the drawer of the cabinet with her hip and pulled her CO’s office door shut so that Private Angel Watts couldn’t walk in.

“Don’t be coy, Jones. Everyone in the unit knows he’s gotten a letter, and it’s not from Lodi. Scuttlebutt says he’s got a sweetheart out there.”

“Scuttlebutt is wrong.”

“Scuttlebutt says it even smelled nice.”

“Scuttlebutt wouldn’t know a good smell from the latrine.”

“The least you can do is tell me if he opened that envelope yet.” Private Watts sidled to the door and cupped her hands to the rippled glass.

“What are you talking about? He opened it—ages ago. What do you think? He’s some kind of kid?”

“What’s in it?”

“How should I know? Whatever it is, it’s private. Just like everybody else’s mail.”

“Let’s have a look,” Angel said, clamping her hand around the doorknob and easing the latch free. “You’re going to know, anyway, sometime.”

“No way,” Clee hissed, yanking the door solidly against the frame. “One, I would never do that to him. Two, he’d know the second he opened the door.”

“Well, how are we going to know what’s going on?”

“Just like every time, everything, and everyone else, Angel. We’ll find out when Captain Wasserman is good and ready to tell us.”

That didn’t happen before mail call put another pale blue envelope on the CO’s desk, on top of company and field dispatches, requisitions and requests. Eric didn’t meet Clee’s gaze but felt her staring at him, drilling a hole in his neck with her cocoa brown eyes, the same color as her skin. He didn’t flinch when he pushed the square aside. He didn’t even look up when she sighed, folded her arms, and went back to her desk. All the clicking and clattering on her keyboard and the constant whirr of the printer didn’t break through the blank in his brain, like it had been blown out. All he could do was slide documents back and forth, stare at lines of type he couldn’t read, wait for something to catch him before he dropped like a grenade, that moment before the sound of the explosion hit him, when the ground just rocked.

“Are you going to take this call, sir?”

“Yeah, put ’em through. Who is it?”

“I told you, sir. It’s the colonel.”

“Yeah, yes, right. Afternoon, Colonel.”

“How’s it going down there, Eric?”

“Good, sir. No problems.”

“We’ve got some civilians coming down from NATO this week. It’d be good if you can show them a pretty picture, something the press won’t hash and trash.”

“We’ll do our best, sir. Not a problem.”

“Good. Glad to hear it.” The colonel paused, then hummed for a moment. “Eric, anything going on I should know about?”

“No, sir. Nothing I can think of.”

“You’ll let me know, right? Whatever it takes. Whatever you need.”

“Yes, sir. We’ll get the job done at this end.”

He held the receiver to his ear for a few seconds, letting the dead, empty silence take over for what was really going on. Everyone, from his CO to his youngest rookie, knew something was going on. Captain E.D.D. Wasserman had gotten two letters from Stateside in less than two weeks. His sister wrote him letters once, at most twice, a year, sometimes with more than an eight-month gap between missives. That was it. No bank statements arrived. No demands for payment. No complaints from anyone that he didn’t write. He hadn’t even heard from Steve Langdon the way he usually did around his wife’s birthday, not for a couple of years. His hand was steady until the moment he unfolded the first letter on his desk, and he forced his eyes to focus on the lines Steve’s wife had written.

April 10

San Francisco

Dear Eric,

I know you won’t remember me, but we met about fifteen years ago. My name is Sylviana Innocenti Langdon. We met at a party here in SF. I don’t know if you and Steven are still in touch, and you will probably think I’m crazy, but a few events over the past few years have given me reason to think about those times.

A friend of mine, Aggy Tarkingdon, mentioned the party, and we talked a bit about you, just remembering faces, and we both wondered what you were doing now. You will think I am insane when I tell you that it became a kind of quest.

A very nice recruiting officer for the Army took pity on me. Just so you don’t go gunning for him, I won’t mention his name, but he gave me the name of a group to contact.

If you get this, I would be happy to hear from you, Eric. Let me know what you’re doing—if you want.

Fondest regards,

Sylviana

She had olive green eyes and dark brown hair that swept across her shoulder blades like silk, thick waves of heavy silk, and she was wearing something blue, some long dress with pant-legs instead of a skirt. He had stood inches away, wondering how she’d gotten into it and how he could get her out of it. Every guy in the room had been thinking the same thing.

What could he write? She was married to his best buddy, the guy who’d taken the bullet that had his name on it. If Steve Langdon hadn’t gotten in the way of that bullet, he would not be feeling this pain now. Wasserman sucked air hard into his lungs, clenched his jaw, and slapped his hand onto the second blue square, ripped his thumb through the flap, and tore out the blasted, scented, bayonet-wielding letter.

© Leigh Verrill-Rhys 2012

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As part of my Virtual Launch of Wait a Lonely Lifetime published by Avalon Books and now available on several online bookshops, Sandra Carey Cody posted an excerpt from the first chapter of the novel on her website: SandraCareyCody. Use the following link and click on the Guest Excerpt tab.

Sandra Carey Cody is one of my fellow writer colleagues at Avalon Books, writing in the Mystery genre. She has very generously offered to host this excerpt and I am happy to be able to share some of her books with you: Put Out the Light (2005); Consider the Lilly (2008); By Whose Hand (2009). Her most recent book for Avalon is Left at Oz (2011).

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