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Seeing America

2015 Silver Medal- Best regional Fiction- IPPY Award Winner Missouri, 1910. John Hartmann is graduating from high school under the critical eye of his father and has no idea what options lie beyond the family farm and his small town. … Continue reading »

Life Sentences

THE SERIAL KILLER WAS sentenced to life without parole on the same morning Pilar Brookstone graduated from medical school. Her mother shared that news as Pilar queued for the processional. Now, stepping away from the provost’s handshake, the new Dr. Brookstone was still thinking about her mother’s announcement. “Chad Wilbanks is permanently off the streets,” Celeste had said as though presenting Pilar with an extra-special gift. “You’ll feel safe enough to come home, at last.” On this of all days, Pilar didn’t want to think about the murders or the man responsible. This was the moment to concentrate on the diploma she clutched to her chest, the sweet triumph of a hard-won degree. But instead, memories of her friend Susan Mitchell rose up to block Pilar’s view of her classmates. Chad Wilbanks had fi rst charmed Susan, then brutally murdered her. Susan was a statistic now, one of eight young women Wilbanks victimized during a vicious two-year spree near the University of Michigan. Would Pilar feel safe in either Ann Arbor or in her Gross Pointe Shores home now? True, she had left medical school there because of the murders, transferring to Wisconsin after the fi rst year. But Celeste’s words brought no real comfort, because in the intervening years Pilar had come to realize fear of Chad Wilbanks was not the real reason she dreaded going home. As Pilar searched the audience seated under the vast striped tent, her mother’s aqua silk suit stood out like a large fl ower among a fi eld of weeds. Seeing her always impeccably dressed mother gave Pilar a brief elated moment — how often people thought they looked alike, how often people said they could easily pass for sisters. At forty-eight, Celeste still resembled a youthful model, slender, graceful, and no gray hair. Pilar remembered how her friends envied her good fortune to have inherited Celeste’s naturally curly auburn locks and high cheek bones. Pilar believed she was even luckier to have inherited her mother’s intelligence. Unlike her mother, however, Pilar put her smarts to good use. Like a victorious athlete Pilar hoisted her diploma into the air. In response, Celeste made large circles with her arms, nodded her head, which was covered in a wide-brim aqua hat. Then she checked the others near her. Surely, her look said, everyone watching knew her daughter graduated fi fth in the class. Pilar descended the stairs with her diploma still triumphantly raised and caught a glimpse of her father’s steelwool- gray hair. Marcus Nathaniel Brookstone, III, forever tan and fi t, sat to the right of Celeste. To Celeste’s excited nudges, his body stiffened, and he crossed his arms over the chest of his navy double-breasted jacket. Despite her mother’s proud gaze, Pilar felt her enthusiasm fade as she returned to her place in the front row. Her father remained rigid, eyes focused on the podium. After the ceremony, Pilar lingered in the shade of a huge oak tree, giving brief hugs and short, bittersweet farewells to several women students. As they promised each other to keep in touch,

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Pilar’s roommate and closest friend, Julie, threaded her arm through Pilar’s. She steered Pilar through the crowd and said, “I truly wish you’d reconsider OB/GYN. You’re a natural. Your compassion alone would be such an asset.” Pilar stopped and pulled away from Julie. “I haven’t totally decided what I’m going to do. Perhaps I’ll have a better idea after my residency.” “But,” Julie scrunched her face, “we’ll be so far apart. You in Detroit and me in Oregon.” Pilar hugged the short, perky woman. “Don’t fret. There’s always the phone. Besides, that separation may not be forever. Who knows where I’ll end up?” Her own eyes tear-blurred, Pilar took in Julie’s pouting lips and wished for a moment that she was going west with her friend. Julie’s parents whisked her away. As she bounced along beside them, Julie looked over her shoulder and called out, “Don’t forget me.” Continue reading »

Summer Of Fire

PROLOGUE Houston, Texas July 1, 1988 Black smoke billowed from the roof vents. At any second, the flames would burst through, adding their heat to the already shimmering summer sky. Wood shingle, Clare Chance thought in disgust, a four-story Houston firetrap. She drew a breath of thick humidity and prepared for that walk on the edge . . . where fire enticed with unearthly beauty, even as it destroyed. Fellow firefighter Frank Wallace, over forty, but fighting trim, gripped her shoulder. “Back me up on the hose.” Although he squinted against the midday glare, his mustachioed grin showed his irrepressible enthusiasm. “Right behind you,” Clare agreed. In full turnouts and an air pack, she ignored the sultry heat and the wail of sirens as more alarms were called. Helping Frank drag the hose between gawking by-standers and shocked apartment residents, she reflected that the toughest part of the job was watching lives inexorably changed. A commotion broke out as a young Asian woman, reed thin in torn jeans, made a break from the two civilians holding her. She dashed toward the nearest building entry crying, “My baby!” Continue reading »

Rain Of Fire

PROLOGUE

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AUGUST 17, 1959

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Hebgen Lake, Montana

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Kyle Stone turned six the night the mountain fell.

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In later years, she would treasure the last perfect hours, seeking comfort in the simple details. Sunlight dazzling on water, the way the Madison River shot quicksilver past Rock Creek Campground. Dappled shade and a secret pool where she caught her first trout with only a little help from Dad. Mingled aromas, pine and campfire smoke, while Kyle’s fish sautéed in an iron skillet. She even got to help stir German chocolate cake batter.

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While the sun sank on her birthday, Kyle watched her mother light the Coleman lantern and suspend it from a branch above the picnic table.

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“Mom?” Sitting on a rough bench with her legs dangling, she tried to imagine being able to reach the lamp. “When I grow up will I be tall like you?”

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“We’ll find out together.” Rachel Stone, with the graceful body of a willow sapling, snugged an arm around Kyle. The sleeves of her f lower-sprigged cardigan did not quite cover her fine-boned wrists.

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Daniel Stone, a rugged carpenter whose hands could span his daughter’s waist, marched into camp and dropped an armload of firewood next to the tent. Max, the family Golden Retriever, followed with his plumed tail high.

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After Kyle’s ceremonial dinner, buttery trout and potatoes baked in the coals, Dad lit the candles on her cake. He and Mom joined in an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday” while Max yodeled along. People in a nearby campsite took up the refrain; someone strummed a guitar.

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Amid applause, Kyle stared at her flickering symbols. Then she drew a big breath, blew out the flames atop five wax tapers and paused to study the one that was new this year.

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She pursed her lips but stopped when Max jumped up and bared his teeth. With his ruff standing on end, he stared out beyond the circle of lantern light.

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“What’s out there, boy?” Dad set his mug on the ground and pushed up from his camp chair. “Smell a bear?” Goose bumps raised on Kyle’s thin arms. She looked for telltale eyes, a bear or the big bad wolf, though Dad had told her there were no wolves here anymore. Max paced the camp perimeter with a wary eye while her sixth candle guttered out. Continue reading »

Lake Of Fire

CHAPTER ONE

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JUNE 20, 1900 Above a scarf of morning mist, the Grand Teton blazed in a rose glow that would not touch the valley f loor for another half hour. Though the snowcapped peak towered above Jackson’s Hole, it looked so sharp and close to Laura Fielding she thought she might brush the snow from a wind-sculpted cornice. The Snake River’s willowed bottomland and the jagged mountains were like nothing she knew from life in Chicago. If she were home at Fielding House, she’d be basking before a banked fire.

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Laura wrapped her coat closer and stepped away from the red-painted coach into snow-muff led silence. In last night’s sudden storm, swirling darkness had forced the driver to give up searching for the stage station. As the only passenger left on the Yellowstone run, she had passed a restless night on hard-sprung seats, wondering if she’d been wrong to defy her father and travel alone. With rising light revealing the ramparts, she breathed deeply and exhaled a little cloud. Beneath a nearby cottonwood, a moose rubbed antlers in velvet against bark. Behind him, next to a white-f locked spruce, three more of the stately animals nosed aside the snow to reveal spring shoots. Postcard perfection, until a snort from the nearest moose signaled alert. The others raised their heads. In the same instant, Laura detected the drumming of horses’ hooves. Perhaps it was the stage scouts, searching at first light for the overdue coach, but she could not see through the snow-draped brush. She looked to the high driver’s seat. Angus Spiner, a mustachioed man in the khaki duster of the stage line, threw off his snowy poncho and reached for his Smith & Wesson lever-action shotgun.

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Laura dropped to her knees behind a willow and peeped through thick spring foliage. When the hoofbeats grew louder, the tethered team of four stage horses surged in restless motion. Two men rode into the clearing. The lead horseman reined in his palomino and shifted his eyes to his stocky partner astride a handsome chestnut. Bandana masks over both men’s faces sent a clutch through Laura’s gut. Without a word, the men on horseback snapped their rifles up. Angus raised his weapon; too late, for a pair of sharp cracks echoed over the snowy plain. Continue reading »

Waterfall Glen

Kate Brodie was working on a romantic sculpture when the brass bell above her craft shop door gave a gentle tinkle. She looked up to see a Western Union messenger approaching the counter with a telegram in his hand. “Miss Kate Brodie?” the man asked. Kate nodded, curious. She’d never received a cable before, and had no idea who might have sent one now. She wiped her hands on her jeans, signed the messenger’s clipboard, and had the cable ripped open before he’d even reached the door.

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Holden Age of Hollywood, The

If you’re looking for motivation in all this, here it is. Decided to move to Los Angeles fifteen days after I buried my father, seven days after I discovered a drawer filled with his writing—six screenplays, eleven short fi lms, one play, a few short stories, and one unfinished book abandoned after less than four chapters. He worked in advertising as a copywriter, but I never knew he wrote like that. “I read his entire body of work in two days. “My dad was the only family I ever really had, besides our dog Kirby. We moved to San Francisco from Minneapolis when I was seven, and he raised me on his own. Worked his ass off to provide. Makes me wonder when he ever found the time to write anything, much less a drawer full of stuff. Read More Continue reading »

Front Porch Prophet, The

THE APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS MEANDER FROM the flatlands of the South to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They were ancient when first discovered by the human species—venerable even as age is measured in geologic time—and have endured with injured grace the attentions of that destructive race.

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In its impetuous youth, the range was formidable. Now, wind and water have brought the mountains low, although they are, in their fashion, still as wild as their larger western cousins. Lookout Mountain originates in south-central Tennessee, wanders west across northwest Georgia, and terminates in the farmlands of northeast Alabama. It is considered by some to be the southernmost principal mass of the Appalachian chain. To others, it is home.

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  A thousand souls reside in the town of Sequoyah, Georgia, sixty miles southwest of Chattanooga. Located in a mountain valley surrounded by peaks, Sequoyah does not differ significantly from countless other small communities dotting the Southern landscape.

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    It has a store and a gas station, a diner and four churches. It boasts a school, a post office, a traffic light, and a town hall. There is a doctor, a lawyer, and an Indian chief—or at least, that is what he claims.

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Over the years, however, the settlement has developed a character unique to itself. The whole has exceeded the sum of the parts. The individuals who resided there have left traces, pieces of the patchworks of their lives. A child’s name. A house. The lay of a fencerow. A snowball bush. This is the way of towns and of those who people them. These are the relics of security, for it is not human nature to live alone.   One such memento of Sequoyah’s living past is A.J. Longstreet. His mother, Rose, succumbed to a venomous cancer when he was an infant. She was in hideous pain through much of her pregnancy but staved off the inevitable until her child was born. Her husband, John Robert Longstreet, was desolate. He paid the heavy price of sentience with his sorrow.

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  Time heals most wounds, but by no means all. On the day after Rose was laid to rest, John Robert quietly rocked his son. Rose had named the baby Arthur John after her father and her husband. It was a warm evening early in the spring, and the scent of wisteria pervaded the air. That aroma would sadden John Robert for the remainder of his days, the lying smell of illusory hope, the cloying sweetness forever tied to memories of the funeral parlor, the mound, and the gaping hole in the red Georgia clay. He sat with his mother, Clara, on the porch of the old family home place, in which had resided many generations of Longstreets. The sky to the west bled ruby into the night. John Robert sighed, kissed the baby, and offered him to Clara. She looked at him, discerned his fatal inten3 tions, and refused the bundle.

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  “Take the boy, Mama,” John Robert said woodenly, his voice a bottomless melancholy. He was not a coward but had chosen the craven path, and he had a long journey ahead to regain his place at Rose’s side Continue reading »

Sorrow Wood

Wendell Blackmon considered the dead dog lying before him and wiped his sweating brow with a white handkerchief pulled from his back pocket. He looked a bit incongruous producing the starched hanky, like a teamster holding up a pinky as he slurped coffee at the truck stop. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with thinning brown hair and a full beard gone mostly white. He sported a nose that had profiled better before it was broken those three times. His creased forehead was high and getting higher as his hairline receded, and there were laugh lines at the corners of his blue eyes. The passage of the years had added a few extra pounds to his frame, and these had the effect of enhancing the sense of largeness that he projected.

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Wendell Blackmon considered the dead dog lying before him and wiped his sweating brow with a white handkerchief pulled from his back pocket. He looked a bit incongruous producing the starched hanky, like a teamster holding up a pinky as he slurped coffee at the truck stop. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with thinning brown hair and a full beard gone mostly white. He sported a nose that had profiled better before it was broken those three times. His creased forehead was high and getting higher as his hairline receded, and there were laugh lines at the corners of his blue eyes. The passage of the years had added a few extra pounds to his frame, and these had the effect of enhancing the sense of largeness that he projected.

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The August afternoon was as humid as a rain forest and hotter than the sixth circle of hell. The weather report that morning had called for a near 100 percent chance of rain, locally heavy at times. Miniature dark clouds with petite lightning bolts had been superimposed on the weather map, and the meteorologist had gravely advised her viewers to pack an umbrella in anticipation of the inevitability of precipitation. Wendell looked up at the cloudless blue sky and mentally declared another triumph for modern meteorology. He noted a mountain hawk hanging on the wind, floating effortlessly over the landscape. Its mournful kee kee came to his ears from what seemed a thousand miles away.

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The weather woman had annoyed Wendell. In his opinion, his own mother, Eunice, had a better track record than any of the professional prognosticators, and her predictions did not rely on satellites, radar, or computers—a fact he believed may have enhanced her success rate. Her method was simple, a venerable system of forecasting that had been refined for millennia by the arthritic masses. If her elbow hurt, it was going to rain. If her knee hurt, too, it was going to rain a lot. If her elbow, knee, and hip—all three—hurt, then it was time to make peace with God because the end was near. That was her system, and she was reliable 80 percent of the time, provided she stayed away from the aspirin bottle. Still, Heather McDowell of Channel Five Weather Alive did have nicer legs than Eunice’s, and maybe the poor girl would be fortunate enough to develop a good case of rheumatism over time. Read More

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