Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jacob and Saka, as interviewed by Michelle

(To read Jacob and Saka's story, Festival of Lights, keep an eye out for Babes in Toyland II - coming Nov. 30 to Aspen Mountain Press.)


I just sat back down after a break to freshen up when Tina pokes her head through the doorway.

“Michelle, your next interview is here. Are you read for … umm… them?”

“As ready as I'll ever be.” I reach for my notepad. Would this guest be as much fun as Jenna? If my first interviews are anything to go by, I'm in for a treat. Wait - had Tina said “them”?

Tina reappears with two figures behind her. I expected Jacob bar Moshe of the Kohanim, but not a …guest.

My confusion must be evident.

“Guardian.” The lone terse word from the thin-lipped woman was almost as startling as her appearance. She stalks into the room, without so much as a by-your-leave, staring and sniffing suspiciously at the most innocuous items. Her height, coupled with her brilliantly beaded vest, leather pants, a bow and an axe made her stand out against my tasteful Holiday d├ęcor.

I wait politely while she reassures herself that there is no threat in the room. I shift to raise an eyebrow at Tina. She is as clueless as I, judging by the subtle shrug she gives me in return.

I turn back to my guests and the woman's arctic blue eyes stare back at me with all the passion of a chunk of ice. Wolf's Eyes.

The man who silently steps into the room is just as striking. This must be Jacob.

He's wearing clothes that look more suited to a Nativity scene reenactment than an interview. Somehow the odd beige and brown stripped raiment suits him, though. It highlights the warm tan tone of his skin, kindles golden highlights in his shoulder length hair and turns the simple brown eyes into a warm sherry. A nice sandy beach with a surfboard would be more fitting for the man with the shy smile than following in the wake of a glacial-eyed warrior woman.

“Thank you for joining me tonight.” I put down my file and pick up my notepad and pen. The woman's watchful gaze follows my movements.

“I am honored to be invited to your home, but I must confess this is all confusing and unexpected. The man who came to my door…” He seems uncertain.

The woman spoke up. “He was not Hebrew. Jacob did not know him. He was viewed as a danger, at first.”

I look over at Tina. “Tina, please call and see if the publisher's rep made it home okay.”

She nodded and darted off. For once she didn't even glare back.

“My apologies.” Jacob bows elegantly. “There was a slight misunderstanding until these necklaces,” long brown fingers brushed against a pendant hung around his neck, “were given to us. By the man's impossibly light skin, I should have known him to be sent by Elokim to bestow the gift of tongues.”

I have no clue who the Eli guy was, but I recognize the translator pendants marketing had somehow obtained from a defense contractor. At least that was the rumor.

“I hope you don't mind if I take notes this way. The last time I used a tape recorder there were…difficulties.” I was now more than a little tired of saying this because of the looks that accompanied some of the responses. I didn't want to go into details so I just smiled and held my pen at the ready, hoping no one would protest.

Jacob's eyes brightened. “What is a tape recorder?” He looked around the room like a kid at Christmas. “There are so many things here I do not know or understand, but perhaps we can begin with that?”

Oh, that's right. I'd been warned that Jacob wasn't exactly up on the modern conveniences. “This is a tape recorder.” Pulling the malfunctioning device from the table's drawer I click 'play' and a distorted woman's voice came from its tinny speaker. It still wasn't working correctly, the tape playing first too fast and then too slow.

A sudden a streak of buttery gold flashed past my face, knocking the stupid tape recorder to the floor where it shattered.

“Saka!” Jacob stumbled over his own feet to stand in front of me, arms outspread.

I was not about to complain. That woman had just won the prize for most volatile guest. I could just see Tina in the doorway behind, holding a cell phone and making some odd hand signals. I shook my head. She'd startled me but I still don't think she wants to hurt me.

“It sounded like a demon.”

“These people have given us a gift only God can give.” Again he pointed at the pendant. “You must abide by the rules of hospitality of my people this night.”

She went from looking furious to sporting the world's best poker face before turning to stare out of the window. The motion revealed a wrist-thick braid of dark brown hair that fell to mid-back.

“Please, accept my apologies for the damage to your… tape recorder. Can it be repaired?” He looked so upset, I found myself nodding, despite it being an utter loss. “There is a war coming to my homeland. My father decided I needed protecting and bought Saka.”

“Bought?” How far back in time did these people come from? “What day was it when you left?”

“It was Yom Shabbat, seven Kislev in the year 3928.” He seemed puzzled by the question. Oh, that's right, they were Hebrew. I made a mental note to go online and figure out when the odd pair came from. I picked my pen and paper back up from the table and took a few notes.

“My family does not often buy slaves from the Syrian market. It was need that lead to my father purchasing Saka Ishkuzi.”

“What an interesting name,” I remarked. She was facing me again. I hope the smile I gave her provided some reassurance..

“She is of the Kimmeroi.” Jacob's smooth, almost hypnotic, singer's voice hurried on, “Scythian from the area above the Black Sea.” Oh, them I'd heard of. Given the way history texts described the Scythian race, she seemed positively sedate now. I jot a few more notes to myself.

“Are you ready to get started on the interview? Can I offer you some refreshments? Food and beverage, name your desire and my super-efficient elf Tina will be delighted to bring it.” I smile and see Tina tuck the cell phone away in her skimpy skirt. Very skimpy - where did she tuck it. Maybe I don't really want to know.

“Of course, tea would be perfect.” His smile is conspiratorial as he leans forward. “Is your handmaid a Scythian? Saka has the same look when my mother asks her to be helpful with food.”

“She has no Scythian blood that I am aware of.” I smile brightly and hear Tina's teeth grind. “Please, sit down.”

After Jacob settles into his chair, I raise my pen and smile. “What are you?”

Jacob tilts his head. “I am a man, a simple scholar of the Talmud hoping to one day be a member of the priesthood.”

“What problems do you face in your world because of what you are?”

Saka paces forward and stands behind his chair. The long wooden haft of her battle axe thuds on the hardwood floor and she leans against it, the blade a full head taller than her fierce angular face. Oddly enough, Jacob seems reassured by the action instead of flustered.

“In Judah, the Hellenes rule through their Seleucid forces. They have passed laws forbidding my people from worshipping our God. To that end the Temple Mount was desecrated and turned into a place of pagan sacrifice. If it is revealed that I study to be a Rabbi, my life is forfeit.”

Okay so the Barbarian Queen makes better sense. ”So what do you do for a living, and do you enjoy it?”

A wide smile breaks out on his face and I instinctively smile back. “My father and brothers all work on the caravan trails as spice merchants. They return home at different times of the year and stock our store, but always come home in time for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. While they are gone I tend the shop with my younger brothers. My mother is a renowned weaver, but she handles her own business.”

“Mmm. What do you do for fun?”

“Fun?” The statue behind him says something guttural I couldn't catch and his face brightens. “Ah, I see! I enjoy reading scrolls, learning new languages and recently Saka has been teaching me to use her bow.” The last admission brings a slight blush to his cheeks.

I smile and try not to let on that I can imagine what has transpired during those lessons. I don't need to make them uncomfortable again. “Do you have any hobbies or interesting information about yourself you'd like to share?”

“I do not believe so, I am a simple man. There are lessons with Rabbi Pathai, my mornings in the store and caring for my donkey and Saka's pony.”

“What are your plans for this holiday season? Which holidays do you celebrate, if any, and how do you celebrate them?”

“Holiday? There is Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the new month, but there are no holy days until Purim.”

Hmmm. How far in time HAVE they come? Maybe from before they celebrated Hanukkah, otherwise I'd have expected it to be mentioned by a Hebrew “Is there anyone special in your life?”

Jacob's finely sculpted cheekbones flush with color again and he looks at his hands. “There is one I consider special to me, yes.”

“Can you tell us about her?”

“I...I do not know what to say,” he stammers. Lifting his gaze to mine, Jacob flicks doe-eyes at the hatchet-faced woman now looking at Tina with something akin to respect.

My helper had to have raided her Halloween wardrobe. Instead of her skimpy Santa outfit, she wore suede leather pants and a bustier very similar to Saka's. What a suck-up. I'd stick my tongue out if I didn't think I'd lose it.

With a smug smile she set the tea cup in front of Jacob and flounced out of the room. I see a look pass between the soft and sweet Jacob and the violent and terse Scythian. It does make a warped sort of sense, actually.

“Um…okay then… What are your goals for the rest of the year?”

Sipping his tea, Jacob sighs in contentment. “It isn't often that we get these leaves from the Xian province, this is a treat. Our year has just started but before the year concludes, it would be a blessing for the Maccabeus' army to retake Jerusalem from the Seleucids and free our people from religious oppression.”

“I certainly hope your people are successful. I fear I'm taking up too much of your time. Thank you so much for joining me tonight. I really enjoyed getting to know you...both.” I smile and ignore the scattered remains of my tape recorder.

“It was an honor to meet you, even if I do not understand the reason for it.” Jacob stood and he and Saka made their way to the doorway where Tina waited to escort them out.

Saka grasped my helper's arm firmly. “Until next we meet, Taihnah. May your arrows fly straight and true and your enemies fall at your feet.” Jacob touches her shoulder and the Scythian woman walks to the door, opens it and stares into the darkness, looking for…I don't know what, but I certainly don't envy whatever it is.

Interesting, Jacob is taller and broader than the woman chosen to guard him. His gentle demeanor and smooth, attractive features made him seem softer, delicate. Feminine good looks with a man's strength. A shame he seems hooked on the Barbarian Queen.

I look at my now gloating assistant. What does Taihnah mean that, coupled with Frederick's of Hollywood's best, a Scythian would suddenly treat her so well. Mostly, I wonder if I'd ever get her ego deflated over this coup.

As I watch Jacob and Saka leave, I wonder what my next guest would have in store for me. I have high hopes for my meeting with Thanet Blake.


Melissa Glisan

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Watermelon Riot character interview

Sorry to have been away so long, but on October 6 it was such a lovely day I decided to take my son's horse for a ride. Long story short - he spooked and we went over with him landing on me. I ended up with spinal fractures. This has given me a lot of time to think - laying flat on your back in bed does that - and to work. To that end I came up with a fun character interview for Scott Reneau and Michelle Butler from The Watermelon Riot - pending publication at Red Rose Publishing.

Author: I thought it would be interesting to turn the tables on a local reporter, Michelle Butler, notably since she recently won the crown of Watermelon Queen. Hello Michelle, thanks for joining us today.

Michelle Butler: Hello, it's nice to be here. (She looks distinctly uncomfortable in her chair, idly braiding a long tress of golden blond hair.) But you can call me Shelley, most of the folks in Gallatin know me that way.

Author: Gallatin?

Shelley: Arkansas, sorry, I forgot, not everyone knows where my Gallatin is located. Rural farm towns aren't as recognizable as Los Angeles.

Author: Oh, I see. Since you mentioned Los Angeles, I had heard you had an exciting childhood going between Arkansas and the City of Angels.

Shelley: (Squirms in her chair abandoning her hair to tug at the hemline of her shorts.) Yes, well, my parents have a bit of their own notoriety. I was blessed as a child, having the solid foundation of a quiet home like Gallatin and joining my parents over summer break in the big city of Los Angeles.

Author: Didn't you decide at one time to work with them?

Shelley: You could say that. (Small nervous laugh.) I did work as a script writer on one of the more popular daytime soaps – I was just one of many talented writers – but yes, you could say I worked with them. In the industry, not on their projects, I didn't aim that high.

Author: What made you decide to come home and exchange the glitter of a Hollywood set for local news?

Scott Reneau: Hey, I wondered where you wandered off to. (Drops a kiss on Ms. Butler's temple as he sits beside her on the wooden bench.) Hope I'm not intruding.

Author: No, not at all, I was just asking Shelley what inspired her to leave –

Scott: As someone who did the same thing, left a big city for a small town I can give you a reason. (He puts a comforting arm around Ms. Butler.) Family.

Author: Ms. Butler does have family in Los Angeles.

Scott: And she has family here too, have you met Adele and Gus Strahan? They're the grandparents who helped raise her. (Across the park the gimlet gaze of Adele Strahan manages to quell even this determined interviewer. Gus just laughs and picks a tune on his beloved banjo.)

Author: Thank you, but I've met both.

Scott: They are a well matched pair aren't they? (At ease, he shakes his over-long brown hair back out of his eyes with a sleepy expression of having won something special…thinking of winning.)

Author: How does it feel to be crowned this year's Watermelon Queen?

Shelley: To be honest, I feel kind of silly (her bright pink cheeks betray the truth of her admission.), normally the Queen is a much younger woman.

Scott: Now, you know that is totally untrue Michelle. Didn't your own great-grandmother win the title back in 1927 and she was considered on the shelf at the time. (He taps a folded piece of paper Ms. Butler clutched between her fingers.)

Shelley: (laughs) Okay, you got me there, but I think the vote this year was loaded. (She leans forward with a conspiratorial wink) Grandpa Gus always said I was a throwback in the looks department to his momma, the original Watermelon Queen.

Author: What can you tell me about your great-grandmother?

Shelley: Marietta Gillett was a woman who knew what she wanted and went after him. (She clears her throat with a strangled laugh.) Her momma was dead set against Mari having anything to do with the original Fergus Strahan, but when she set her cap for the man…well, he didn't have eyes for any other.

Scott: That is the way love at first sight is supposed to work. (He gives Shelley a loving but determined look.)

Author: Wasn't there a bit of a scandal involving your grandfather over Marietta Gillett?

Scott: Yes, there was, they were at the heart of the Watermelon Riot of 1927. Instead of asking anymore questions, maybe you should pick up a copy of the story. Shelley and I have to be getting back to our booth, her melons do sell themselves (he leers at Shelley, making her laugh) but someone has to be there to collect the money.

Shelley: (As she gets up and wanders off with Scott holding his hand.) You big fibber, we're down to the last melon and you told me not to sell it, that you had plans for it.

Scott: Ssshhh…(casts a last look and wink over his shoulder) I do and time is wasting woman.

And that concludes the interview between Scott and Michelle. Would anyone like to read similar interviews with other characters? Drop me a note and let me know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Night Lights...some back ground

Now available through Aspen Mountain Press

Night Lights

Bright lights, cold nights, dark frights …Margaret Thawley's watery nightmares hold the keys to unlocking her past and her future. On the Philippine Island of Cagayan, she places her trust in the enigmatic warrior Rizal Malihim and his night lights, to keep her safe despite the tales. For in Cagayan, the natives warn, fireflies mask the dreaded berbalangs - ghoulish vampires swarming for victims to kill.


Set in Cagayan, Malaysia in 1899, Miss Margaret Thawley has been sent away from home in shame following an illicit affair. However, arriving in Malayasia she finds things aren't what they seem. The expedition turns into a witch hunt with her as the bait, and if that weren't enough, the perilous sea journey awakens long dormant nightmares of drowning from her childhood. But are they nightmares or memories? Just what dark secret lies in her past, hidden by dreams of dark waters and burning lights in the forest?

For the curious reader, the tale of the berbalangs is a very real one indeed. In 1896 Mr. Ethelbert Forbes Skertcherley filed a report of his time spent on the island of Cagayan in the Sulu Sea. The report made to the Asiatic Society of Bengal was shared and published through the "unseen university" system. What began as a rather boring recitation on the anthropological facts and findings ended in an unorthodix recounting of meeting the feared boogey-man of the native villagers. This documented event later appeared in the book "Oddities" by Rupert T. Gould.

What was most unusual was the lack of effect the fantastical account raised within the close-knit group of scholars and academics that created the brotherhood of shared information and papers creating the loose "unseen university." In the days before accredited colleges and universities sprung up seemingly in every city, the only way to obtain an education was to travel across Europe and Asia in search of different schools and teachers. As more and more men of means came to accumulate knowledge they began sharing their findings in a series of letters that evolved into newspapers, periodicals and magazines. In order to be a member you had to have something of merit to contribute - either by education or active exploration with documentation. And with this, the "unseen university" system was born.

In the 1800s, fantastical tales were either deeply investigated or shouted down as delusional ramblings. Skertcherley's account, however, passed by in relative silence. Was it because his hysterical account of astral insectoid-humans with vampire teeth and claws feasting on the stomachs of the dead was too bizarre to credit - or was there something else, something unseen that smoothed over the account? Even more compelling, the Royal Society of London within months of having the account published in their own periodical ignored the report and instead launched a multi-year investigation into the vampire of High Gate Cemetery.

Why was one vampire so sought after and the other neglected? Or was it?

That was the inspiration that led to the creation of Night Lights.

Now, from my research notes, some observances on berbalangs:

Skertchley's native informants told him that when the berbalang were not flying around in search of human victims in their astral bodies in the form of reddish firefly swarms, they lived in a small village in a jungle clearing in the interior of the island. Against his informants' earnest warnings, he decided to visit the village and see for himself, and accordingly set out one day with his local guide Matali. When they got to the village, the terrified Matali stayed behind in the jungle, but Skertchley boldly went in--and found the village completely deserted.

Night fell as they made their way back to the village where Forbes stayed and Matali lived. As they were crossing a grassy valley on their way back, they saw and heard a huge swarm of dancing reddish fireflies passing overhead and making a ghoulish moaning or howling noise, while Skertchley and Matali hid in the grass. Matali told Skertchley these were the berbalang, in search of human prey. Just before returning to their own village, Skertchley and Matali passed the outlying house of Hassan, a villager whom Skertchley knew. Matali told Skertchley the berbalang had probably tried to attack Hassan--but that he was safe because he kept a coconut-pearl, locally believed to keep the berbalang away. Visiting Hassan the next morning to inquire what if anything he had observed the night before, Skertchley found Hassan dead, a look of extreme terror on his face.

"Cagayan Sulu, its Customs, Legends, and Superstitions," in the _Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal_, Vol. LXV, Part III, Np. 1, 1896.

Still curious? There is always more...

Monday, April 23, 2007

New cover!

I'm super excited to share my newest cover with you guys!

< moved >

It was made by the ever-impressive Dan Skinner of Cerberus Inc. featuring the talented, and very photogenic sweetheart of a guy, Nick. As most of you know, The Ballet is my lone foray into the world of mainstream romance which was picked up by the newly formed Red Rose Publishing. More details on the story when the release date nears - Red Rose will be officially opening their doors this June. June is a month well known for romance being the traditional month of marriage.

So keep an eye open this June for a new press and a new title.