Nov 15, 2009


BECOMING THEM (121,000 words) is literary fiction.

In 1970 when Michael, a 26 year old American, wanders into an isolated valley in southeastern Europe, he believes he has only two problems: an abnormally thick-skinned face, leaving him expressionless, and an incomplete memory of the woman with whom he traveled over the preceding six months. He believes his face is likely a psychological condition rather than one of skin or muscle and embarks on a plan to soften it. Fingering through the broken images of his memory, Michael also finds a written invitation to rendezvous with the woman in two months time and is determined to be there.

In the town of Isti, Michael is welcomed and soon wants to become as they are: accepting, gregarious and communal. Yet he also learns of their secret three-hundred-year-old tradition, reenacted every fifty years, of sacrificing a newborn to live in the mountains and be raised by the previously sacrificed child, now grown. The townspeople of Isti are struggling with their tradition of sacrifice and debate whether to do it again. And if so, whose child to send. A benevolent Committee governs the town but as talk of democracy spreads through Eastern Europe in the late 1960s, Isti is not immune. Still, the townspeople are hesitant to take responsibility for a decision like this, preferring the safer course of following tradition, and their leaders.

BECOMING THEM is a far-fetched tale of sacrifices made to maintain membership in a group; of the unifying force of a well-kept secret; of change's flirtatious relationship with commitment; and of the townspeople's inability to see themselves as they truly are, insisting instead on seeing themselves as they hope to be.

Thanks for any comments.

Sample pages - In The Clouds - young adult

Sanity is overrated, and being followed everywhere by a forty-year old Algebra teacher surely wouldn't diminish my credibility as a member of the 'mentally stable,' except for the fact that I witnessed his death twenty-four hours ago.

"Mrs. Hendrix," I called to the dean. She was shuffling at top speed down the deserted hallway when I caught a glimpse of the back of her head. She turned quickly, her eyes darting around for the source beckoning her.

I ran past the long row of gray lockers.

"Miss Rollings, what are you going to tell her?" Schuster asked, his long legs easily keeping stride beside me.

I needed him to shut up before I went crazy. I screeched to a halt in front of the dean and she jumped when her eyes dropped down to see me standing right in front of her.

Her face relaxed into a small frown and she put a hand on my shoulder, "Jaycie, how are feeling today?"

The concern in her voice was the complete opposite of the sharp tone she had a couple days ago when I sat in her office accepting a handful of pink detention slips.

"Actually I wanted to ask you something." I had to catch my breath and force out a more casual tone, "I heard you tell Mrs. Lancer that I might be able to talk to someone about everything that happened."

She patted my shoulder and nodded her head, sympathetically, "The grief counselor."

"Yes." My eyes dropped to the floor.

"Of course, Jaycie. His name is Dr. Cooper and he's in room 312. You can go on up and I'll give him a call to let him know you're coming."

"Thanks." I finally lifted my eyes to meet hers.

She stepped closer and pulled me into a tight hug, my cheek pressed against her white blouse. She did this yesterday too. "Let me know if you need anything else Jaycie."

"Thanks, Mrs. Hendrix." She released me and I turned and headed up the empty staircase leading to the third floor.

"What exactly are you trying to accomplish?" Schuster asked in that sneering tone of his. The sound made the already churning acid in my stomach move like the washer's spin cycle.

"It's bad enough I had to listen to you all night. I haven't slept more than a few hours in two days. Can't you just shut up for five minutes?" I snapped. I couldn't look at him but I'm sure his face had that twisted angry, purple look to it.

Well, maybe not purple anymore.

I shook my head trying to focus on sanity. I needed sanity to get my questions answered. Otherwise who knows where I might end up? I knocked on the door of room 312.

"Come in," a man's voice called.

I opened the door and saw Dr. Cooper hanging up his phone. I stepped inside the small office. Too bad I couldn't slam the door in Schuster's face.

It wouldn't do any good.

"Have a seat Jaycie." Dr. Cooper pointed a hand at the empty chair across from his desk.

I didn't slam the door, but I did make sure it was securely closed before I sat down. The last thing I needed was to have an eye witness account of me being in this office. I'm sure there were already hundreds of rumors flying around after yesterday's big event.

"How are you feeling, Jaycie?"

Dr. Cooper looked pretty young, maybe thirty something. Younger people are usually more open-minded. Maybe he could handle something far-fetched.

More like something crazy.

"I'm okay, well actually I'm a little freaked."

He nodded like Hendrix did, the sympathy filling his eyes, "I can imagine. What was your relationship with Mr. Schuster?"

"He's been my Algebra teacher this year and I was supposed to serve detention with him before school for the next two weeks."

My eyes darted to Schuster. He was scanning the row of books on the shelf against the wall.

"So what did you want to talk about, Jacycie?"

I took a deep breath. I needed to start with something normal, "I feel terrible about what happened to him and he was angry with me and I . . ."

"You feel guilty, responsible," he guessed.

"Signs of schizophrenia usually manifest in the teen years. Why don't you go ahead and tell him everything." Schuster gave me his Doctor Evil smile, "This man is a waste of tax dollars."

I bit down hard on the inside of my cheek, forcing myself not to react, "Yeah I feel really guilty."

He reached across the desk and patted my hand, "It's survivors guilt. You did everything you could to help him."

"But going to his class today, it'll be so weird."

"Is that what's bothering you?" he asked.

I shook my head, dropping my eyes to my hands, "I keep thinking I'll see him again when I walk in the classroom. Does that ever happen?"

He released my hand and sat back in his chair, "Everyone who experiences death has that feeling of seeing the lost person again. Images or memories flood back."

"Like hearing them talk?" Uh oh, bad choice of words. I might as well have just admitted to hearing voices.

"Maybe, the full weight of death takes time to sink in. Part of your mind wants to put things back the way they were."

"What if I'm grieving so much that I can actually see Mr. Schuster, like in my bed room yelling at me to stop kicking the soccer ball against the wall?"

Verbal diarrhea rears its ugly head, and at the worst moment possible. Damn sleep deprivation!

He sat up straighter and narrowed his eyes, "Have you been sleeping much?"

"Actually I couldn't sleep at all last night," I admitted.

"Are you familiar with the word hallucination?" Dr. Cooper asked.

"You just earned yourself a ticket to the school psychologist, Miss Rollings. Can't say I didn't warn you," Schuster laughed and the sound echoed off the walls.

I wanted to scream loud enough to drown him out. I must be crazy, "Yes, I am."

"There are a number of reasons people see or hear things that aren't really there, lack of sleep being one of those. I'd like to set you up with an appointment with Mrs. Freeman. She's our school psychologist."

I groaned, but didn't protest. Maybe it was a good idea.

"Getting help during a difficult time is nothing to be ashamed of, Jaycie. I'll talk to Mrs. Freeman and see what she has available."

"Do you think I could go home and get some sleep maybe and try and talk to her tomorrow? I'm already feeling a little better."

He beamed obviously pleased he was able to help me, "Of course. You should definitely try and get some sleep."

I left his office with a polite goodbye and headed quickly down the steps and crawled underneath the stair case on the second floor. It was my favorite hiding place and I couldn't go home to my big empty house with Schuster in tow. It was less eerie being surrounded by people, even in hiding at least I knew they were there.

Matt must be worried about me. I hated to freak him out after he was so great yesterday. But I didn't want him to see me like this. I huddled with my knees to my chest and pulled out my phone to send him a text.

"Forgot I had a dentist appointment. Be in before lunch."

"I warned you about saying anything to Dr. Cooper," Schuster ranted on. I could see his giant feet pacing back and forth in front of the staircase, "You would never listen to a teacher would you Miss Rollings? Of course not. With that thick skull of yours I'm surprised you can make it through an entire school day without a handful of detentions."

I couldn't.

Maybe this was my punishment for being such an academic loser. The past two days my life had taken a small turn for the positive. I got a taste of success, but it was wrong to claim honesty when several incidents of lying and cheating were involved.

Was this really what I deserved? Watching a man die right in front of my eyes, and being condemned to have that man's voice ringing in my ears.

I was there when it happened, the only one in the room. I shouldn't have been there. If I just let things go like usual and not allowed Matt to help, I wouldn't have been there that morning. Three days ago I was dreading walking in to this school building and facing Schuster alive, but now I would take that day over this one in a heartbeat.

Everything started Monday morning. I should have pulled the covers over my head and never left my bedroom.

Fiction Query - Matriarch of Ruins

When Enoch Gamble returns home from war, it is to one of the coldest winters in memory. His body lies in the front parlor two days while his grave is dug in the frozen earth. Months later, Purdy is still grieving his loss when their oldest daughter Hannah refuses to give up her own dead baby. With her sister near catatonic and her mother talking to her dead father for advice, Loli has her own crisis as the homestead is overrun by rebel soldiers intent on using it for a hospital. In the several days that follow, Purdy Gamble will lose everything—except her love of the best man she ever knew. Hannah will search the countryside for the father of her dead baby—and gain an understanding of suffering she could never have imagined. Loli, the youngest, will discover a truth about her father—one even her mother never understood.

THE MATRIARCH OF RUINS is a historical novel, an unflinching but humanistic look at the aftermath of a major fictitious battle (think Gettysburg) during the Civil War. It is a story at once surreal and tragic, intensely human, and wrought in a voice both literary and evocative of the era. Portions of the story are set in a battlefield hospital and the descriptions of surgery and its aftercare—realistic, compelling, and dramatic—add a unique twist to the storyline that will engross anyone interested in today’s true-life medical dramas. The viewpoint is that of the common people (there are no grand historical figures here) with three of the central characters female. It is written in close third person, past tense, and the length is 106,500 words.

David Poyer, best selling author of twenty-seven novels including the Civil War novels THAT ANVIL OF OUR SOULS and A COUNTRY OF OUR OWN read a recent draft and offered this: “An evocative and at times even startling new voice in the literature of the Civil War. Realistic, compelling, and agonizing, THE MATRIARCH OF RUINS is like stepping through a time machine into the most tumultuous era of America’s past.”

My short story AN ENDLESS ARRAY OF BROKEN MEN appeared in Paradox Magazine in 2003 and received honorable mention in the Seventeenth Annual Collection of Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow. As a Stanford graduate and a neurosurgeon in particular, I pride myself on being disciplined, meticulous, well researched, and thorough. These traits stand me in good stead in my writing as well.

I would be happy to forward the manuscript to you, either via e-mail or snail mail. Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing from you soon.