Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Laguna Beach Christmas Sawdust Festival and An Excerpt

I love Laguna Beach. I consider myself lucky to live so close. Years ago, I came to Southern California on a senior class trip. A group of us from Arlington High School, traveled here to celebration graduation. We went to Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, and Newport Beach. On one day, we took a cruise around Newport Harbor and floated past John Wayne's former home. The tour guide made the comment, "and none of you will ever live here," and I remember a voice whispering in my mind, "but I may be close." And I am.

Fast forward a few years later when my husband is about to graduate from MBA school. Met Life had sent him a letter asking him for an interview for a job in their Irvine office. A friend came over clutching the same letter and announced that this was him job. I replied, "No, that's Larry's job." And it was. A few months later as we drove down the 91 freeway and followed the signs to the "beach cities," a thrill passed through me. Every time I travel the 91, head home, and follow the "beach cities" sign, that thrill tingles through me.  

Currently, the characters in my novel are from the fictional town of Shell Beach, which is a lot like Laguna. But my recently released novel, Sea Drift, takes place in Laguna Beach. There's an excerpt of Sea Drift in the Orange County Fictionaire's anthology, Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem. We got this review today, 

By Orange Otter on November 20, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition

 Most stories are very ‘fast reads’ and it is quite easy to stay glued to your seat (or tucked into bed); turning page after page. There are partial biographies at the end of the book that give insight into the background of each writer; some of which explains their approaches and insights into the stories. Stories should appeal to many readers. As the Title says: a little murder, lots of mystery, and some mayhem. There is even a funny takeoff of the old Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson partnership. Being an engineer myself, Michelle Knowlden’s “Last of the Skipjack” certainly pegged the engineering mentality and behavior. It provided clear insight into how business gets done, or not, in the real world. Irony in one story; zombies in another; and if you are a resident of Orange County, you will actually walk through the Kristy Tate’s Chapter with an eye of familiarity of the scenes and culture of this part of the country. Highly recommended as an introduction to the talents and styles of each of the authors, from which you may want to explore their works in greater detail.

Mic dove into the pool and lingered below the surface, contemplating his ability to drown. He watched blue bubbles swirl as he sank further from the white morning sun. Knowing he hadn’t the nerve or will, he let his lungs pull him upward, and he floated before breaking surface. Gasping, he filled his lungs with air before swimming without noise, his clean strokes a reminder of what his bovine body had once been.
Mic reached the edge of the pool and hung on the ledge. Beyond the neighboring orange grove he saw the long blue stretch of the Pacific. Squinting, he imagined the bobbing black heads of surfers. Closing his eyes, he felt the tide’s push and pull, the stinging salt water, the call of gulls, and the beckoning waves. He thought of the Brotherhood, recalling their wiry brown bodies, salt-crusted hair, and red eyes. Most, if not all, had long since died.
Mic pushed away from the wall, rolled onto his back and looked up at the dark windows of the neoclassical monstrosity he called home. He wondered if Ginny was watching from an upper window and in a small fit of rebellion he pushed his distended belly a little higher as he did the backstroke. He knew he looked like Humpty Dumpty with spaghetti arms and legs laced with purple veins. He had no illusions about his Einstein hair and ZZ Top beard. But what had happened to her? Who had replaced the girl in the tie-dyed skirt with daisies tucked in her braids? The girl who tasted of homemade blackberry wine? Where had she gone? Was she happier in the mansion than in the shack with longboards lining the walls, towels draped over the scavenged furniture, chinks of daylight shining through the haze?
Mic returned to the pool’s edge and heaved out of the pool. He shivered in the morning cold, shook the water out of his hair and beard and retrieved his water bottle. Pulling off the stopper, he drank fast, letting the liquid slide down his throat. The water, at first innocuous, turned to stinging tin and burned his mouth, tongue, and gut.
The bottle slipped from his fingers, splashed to the ground and rolled at his feet. Mic staggered, reached for the back of a lawn chair, and tripped on the plastic bottle. His head hit the tile with a thud. Lead filled his limbs. A weight settled on his chest making his breathing laborious and painful. He lay on the cement, his eyes fixed on the sun, his body inert, unable to move, flinch or cry out when a foot wedged beneath his torso and kicked him into the pool.
Is this it then? Mic wondered, his thoughts as clear as the water filling his nose and lungs. After everything, crystal blue? Letting go of his will, Mic sank beneath the surface and watched the sun fade.


Maisie dropped her pencil when the Thor-look-alike entered the cafe. The pencil rolled across the floor and bumped against a Victorian curio cabinet. Maisie scrambled after it, trying to collect her scattered thoughts while the man chose a table beside wrought-iron shelves overflowing with an eclectic collection of china pieces, antique books, etchings, and prints.
He didn’t belong in the fussy shop. He looked like a misplaced Viking surrounded by Rococo and Baroque decorative art. He had a friend, also attractive in a swarthy-pirate-like way. But his beauty didn’t make Maisie rethink her life plans.
Brushing dust off her skirt, Maisie put on her may-I-help-you smile and approached their table. “Did you guys see the menu board with today’s special?”
While she took their order, for the first time, she was grateful for writer’s block. She would much rather be in the company of handsome men than sitting in a library trying to finish her book. And why write about Laguna’s history when she could write breakfast food? Who needed a book contract in Laguna, home to perpetual sunshine?
Maisie dished the men’s orders and inhaled the heady scents of fresh-baked bread, cheese, and coffee. After adding a couple of extra strawberries to their plates she willed herself not to stare.
“I don’t know, Maisie.” Mrs. Henderson, one of their most valued customers, called for Maisie’s attention. Tapping her size six shoe, she held up a swatch of blue and white tulle and cocked her head. “It’s just such an important decision…” Her voice trailed away and her eyes flicked toward the pastry counter.
“Maybe an éclair would make the decision easier,” Maisie said, wiping her hands on her apron.
“Oh, I really couldn’t. Ralph, my trainer, he’s a calorie cop.” Mrs. Henderson began to twist the tulle between her ring-laden fingers, giggling. “But the cream in an éclair is low carb.”
While Mrs. Henderson tangled with decisions, Maisie watched the men lounging at a table between a display of antique hatpins and a Victorian gilded mirror. If she stood just so, she could see the one who reminded her of Thor reflected in the mirror. He seemed to fill the room. In reality, he held a fork, but in her mind he held the magic hammer, Mjolnir, capable of throwing lightning bolts to her heart. His companion, the pirate, held a napkin. Maisie shifted from one foot to the other, wearing a pleasant face that hopefully didn’t reveal Norse-deity-worshipping thoughts.
While Maisie waited for Mrs. Henderson’s choice, she wondered if the woman had felt the same rush of pleasure for her husband when she first saw him. Maisie had never met Mr. Henderson, but she’d heard from Mim that he’d recently died, suddenly, tragically. And yet days later, here was Mrs. Henderson debating over decorating decisions.
Maisie raised her eyebrows, smiled and tried not to look at Mrs. Henderson’s neck, one of the few physical signs of the widow’s age. Mrs. Henderson had a forty-year-old face, high, pointy teenage breasts, and a geriatric neck. Maisie allowed herself another sneak peek at Thor’s biceps, swallowed and said, “Actually, I just made the éclairs this morning. They’re mostly eggs and protein rich.”
Mrs. Henderson’s glance flitted between an early Staffordshire, a Majolica teapot, and the alluring éclair. Maisie looked out the window at the marine layer billowing off Laguna’s shore. Even though the traditional school year had started a few weeks ago, as the sun rose the sidewalks and beach would fill with tourists in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts. Maisie’s gaze returned to Thor’s thick, tanned forearms and Rolex watch. No wedding ring. The pirate looked as if his shoulders and chest were about to burst his polo shirt.
Maisie turned her attention to Mrs. Henderson and noticed the woman’s tired eyes and the soft sagging skin beneath her chin. Maisie wanted to offer sympathy for Mrs. Henderson’s loss, but she didn’t know how, so instead she said, “Maybe just a nice cup of tea or a glass of juice?”
Mrs. Henderson sniffed. “When does Mim get back? She’s always very good with these decisions.”
Considering her aunt’s swollen face and swatches of bandages, Maisie gave the rehearsed response. “About a month, I think.” A month of pain endured for the sake of vanity.
Mrs. Henderson threw up her hands. “Oh what the hay! You’ve convinced me! I’ll get the Staffordshire and an éclair!”
Maisie took a step backward. “Hmm, great. I’ll wrap up the teapot. It’s a lovely piece.”
Mrs. Henderson, content with her purchase, said, “I remember when Mim brought it home from the Lake District.”
Maisie stopped listening; she remembered Mim finding the piece on eBay. She carefully removed the pot from its place among the Bardollos and McCoys and slipped into the back room. “It’ll take me just a sec to wrap this up,” she called over her shoulder.
She passed Whistler, a wiry Jack Russell terrier, sitting on his bed near the doorway. He let out a small grunt and rooted around for his ball. Maisie had let him into the shop because she’d felt both guilty and sorry for him. Uncle Les had tired of him and had put him in his kennel in the alley where he’d spent the morning crying. He’d stopped barking, but he didn’t seem any less crotchety on his bed. He licked his wounded paw and worried the bandage around his foreleg. He reminded Maisie of the rattlesnake adage, the smaller the snake the meaner the bite.
The back room could have been on a different planet from the front showroom, which had been decorated by Uncle Les, an artist with fussy flair. The back room of the shop was all Auntie Mim. Antiques, whatnots and whatevers had been piled into towers that blocked the meager light streaming from high, dusty windows. The kitchen grill, sink and cutting board were usually overrun with Mim’s latest acquisitions. Only the stove-oven combo remained safe from clutter. Chairs, tables, and a grandfather clock hung from the pipes that crisscrossed the ceiling. Whenever Maisie had to spend any time in the back room, she tried not to think about earthquakes.
Maisie twirled the pot in bubble wrap, sealed it with a Mim’s Mercantile sticker and placed it in one of the signature pink paisley bags. She emerged from the dark, dusty back into the bright, sunny shop while Thor and the pirate fumbled in their pockets and counted change. Whistler, who seemed to sneak out of nowhere, snagged what remained of their croissant and bolted out the door.
“What the–” the pirate began.
Thor burst into a laugh.
Maisie groaned.
Thor took note of her distress. “I’ll get him.”
The pirate stopped laughing. “No, I’ll get him.”
“Please, don’t bother–” Maisie began, watching Whistler streak down the sidewalk, his bandage waving in the air like a flag of victory.
Thor and the pirate looked at each other momentarily and then as if telepathing a silent go, they bolted. For a moment they wrestled in the doorway, then Pirate gave Thor a good-natured shove back into the store and tore up the sidewalk. Thor overtook him by the intersection.
Maisie thought about hustling Mrs. Henderson out the door, closing the shop, and chasing Thor, Pirate, and Whistler, but a man dressed in a dark blazer, sturdy brown shoes and sunglasses stood in front of the gaping front door, watching the men and dog weave up the sidewalk. After some hesitation, he entered the shop, making two customers Maisie would need to shoo. He fiddled with the rims of his glasses but left them on.
Mrs. Henderson nodded at a dog’s toy in the corner. Maisie gave the man another look before trying to nonchalantly kick the squeaky mouse behind the counter. Sighing, she knew that chasing Whistler would only encourage him. Left alone, the dog would come home when he was hungry, and he was always hungry, but if someone gave chase, he could be gone all day. He wouldn’t completely disappear, but he’d toy with his followers, tease them with near captures and taunt them with close encounters.
Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat. She stood, drumming her long French manicured nails on the glass of the pastry counter. She dipped her head again at the man standing in front of the hatpin collection with an unreadable expression on his face.
He didn’t seem the hatpin sort; in fact, Maisie wouldn’t have marked him as a collector. He was too large and masculine for Mim’s shop, like a Scottish highlander crashing a ladies’ tea. Maisie followed Mrs. Henderson’s pointed gaze toward the man’s waistband and saw a leather holster and a flash of metal. Her heart quickened and she relabeled the Scottish highlander into a highwayman.
Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat again and raised her eyebrows at Whistler’s abandoned rawhide bone lying beneath the bistro table.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Henderson,” Maisie said, hurrying to get the éclair while using her foot to scoot the dog chew behind a potted fichus. She opened the pastry case and pulled out a brownie. Fumbling with a Mim’s Mercantile bag, she licked her fingers and tried to open the bag. She could feel the man watching while she gave Mrs. Henderson an apologetic smile and shook the bag open.
“I wanted an éclair,” Mrs. Henderson said. She cast the man another glance, but he kept his sunglasses trained on Maisie. Mrs. Henderson turned her back to him. “FBI,” she mouthed.
Whistler hardly seemed worth an undercover agent, but Maisie’s cheeks flushed. She’d been irresponsible and thoughtless to allow the dog in the shop. Flustered, she set the brownie aside and fought the urge to lick the frosting off her fingers. She’d forgotten the plastic gloves, a testament to her nervousness; finger licking and food serving shouldn’t be standard café practice. Under the shelter of the counter she slipped the plastic gloves over messy fingers and pulled an éclair out of the case. She took a deep breath or two, trying to relax. Was this really easier than her job at LA Literary? She’d left the magazine to devote her time to writing, not selling pastries and chasing dogs. When Maisie glanced up, the man had turned toward a pair of Uncle Les’s photographs of Avalon Bay.
“You shouldn’t have invited Monster to the store,” Mrs. Henderson whispered.
Maisie nodded. She considered defending herself, but knew Mrs. Henderson was right. Even though the Jack Russell whined and cried when left alone, he should have stayed with Mim where he could chew and destroy, but not threaten the shop.
Maisie looked out the window and watched the dog and men dance down the sidewalk, dodging tourists, bumping into a man on rollerblades, interrupting a skateboarder. Whistler’s tail darted across the street, causing a BMW to brake quickly and skitter toward a parked van. A Hyundai bleeped as Thor and Pirate lunged for the dog. Safely out of traffic, Whistler’s white rump disappeared into a hedge. Thor leaped over the plant while the Pirate crouched on the sidewalk.
Then Thor took off his shirt.
Mrs. Henderson cleared her throat again. “I said,” Mrs. Henderson raised her voice an octave, “that I’d like another éclair.”
Maisie reluctantly tore her gaze off Thor’s muscular back. “Really?”
Mrs. Henderson twisted her lips into a sheepish, unnatural grin and gave the armed man a lowered eyelid appraisal. “If you’re going to go to hell, you might as well go in a limo.”
Or in the back of a dog catcher van, Maisie thought. “Thank you, Mrs. Henderson. I hope we’ll see you again soon,” she said, wondering how to rescue Whistler while a man with a concealed weapon considered a 1910 edition of Huckleberry Finn.


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