The Burning One – A Short Story by Author Jessica Leigh

short story, fiction, angels, death, survival

In many cultures, visitation by a divine angel can occur in varying forms. Have you ever experienced an angelic event that touched your life? ~Jessica Leigh


The Burning One

Moonlight slid through the open window and kissed her awake. Eva opened her eyes, and followed the shimmering path of moonbeams as they arched across the ceiling.

Although she was only twelve, Eva held no fear of night. She liked its dark rhythms and thick, musky scent. The night was her friend, both cool on bare skin, and soothing.

It was the sun that she hated. Stark, harsh, and always ready to expose the horrors of the living.

Eva pushed upon her elbows, forcing her body into a sitting position with a gasp. She glared at the two lumps of withered flesh that remained beneath the coverlet. Lifting her chin, she deliberately turned her gaze from her useless legs to the slivered moon that drifted beyond the windowpane. A breeze lifted, sighing, and on its wings she heard the echo of a voice, high-pitched and lingering.

A knot twisted inside her; excitement, fear, anticipation. He was lonely again and waiting for her from somewhere within the swelling void below her window.

Turning, Eva gripped the arms of her wheelchair and dragged the useless remainder of her body into it.

Once positioned, she unlatched the brake, and pushed against the sluggish wheels. The chair resisted for but an instant, then slid across the hardwood floor. Her eyes knew the darkness now, and shadows shrouded by evil withdrew, defeated, into the simple and inanimate lumps of dressers and drawers.

Even blind, she would have known the way. Three pushes, pause, reach to the right for the nightstand, and pull the small, worn afghan securely into her lap.

Two pushes. Eva was in the hallway. The house held the silence of a tomb, and its walls pressed in on her greedily. One push – and a long, thin squeak as the

floorboard groaned beneath her weight. She paused, listening for a stir of life from her mother’s room. Pointless, Eva knew, for her mother slept within the tender arms of her Percocet. Her father was dead and gone for three months now.

On the worst nights, when sleep had spurned her altogether, she heard her father calling to her. Why had she left him? Why had she remained? Her father was lonely. And Eva had failed him.

Biting her lip, she refused herself the indulgence of tears. Three pushes and Eva entered the foyer, her wheels whisking now on the cold, slate tile. Eva was stuck in the aftermath, and only half of her was dead. The other half clung stupidly to life. She did not know how to make it let go.

Eva drew open the heavy back door and the lapping tongue of night brushed over her gleefully. She breathed deeply, pulling in its dark and heady scent. She moved out into its arms, pushing again on the wheel rims, harder now, fighting against the earthy tug of moist and sucking sod.

She labored: five difficult pushes. She paused to listen as the breeze sighed through the trees, and the throaty hum of crickets pulsed from the thickest shadows. It was the witching hour, this the deepest stroke of night. It soothed her.

Eva tilted her head, waiting, struggling to still her ragged breath. A low moan rose from beyond, rising in pitch, wavering, and then falling away into nothingness.

Her stomach twisted again, sharper, turning in on itself. The moan terrified her. It was Eva’s voice, the voice inside, trapped and tempered by the thick hand of anguish. Woeful, like… The Day.

She had tried so hard to get to Daddy. She had tried so hard to reach him in time, back to the burning, flaming car she had been torn from only moments before.

Her legs hadn’t worked. The sun had been shining sinfully, the wrecked car she had been thrown from only moments ago, now aflame with wicked light. But Eva’s legs were dead.

The moan again.

When she pushed, the wheelchair caught a rut and tottered, one wheel spinning, on the brink of upsetting. Eva caught her gasp between her teeth, and then swallowed it. She would not cry out. She would not make a sound. She gripped the rims and waited, motionless. She would not try.

Eva closed her eyes and remembered the first time they’d stuffed her body into the confining wheelchair like a dry and lifeless husk. She remembered the sterile brightness of the schoolroom, and Teacher bending over her.

Teacher had been upset.

“Why do you not try, Eva? Why won’t you speak to me?”

Mother stood behind. “The doctor says that you could walk again, Eva, if you’d only try. Try for your Teacher. Try for Mommy.”

Eva waited. Slowly, the wheelchair righted itself, brought to rest against the skin of night by the tugging will of gravity. Her lips curled with the ghost of a smile. She pushed hard on the left rim to rid herself of the rut’s entrapment. And again, her wheels went slicking over dampened grass.

Four trembling pushes. The wretched cry came again, sharper now, and Eva’s panicked eyes searched through the shrouding darkness. She felt disoriented, and the night air was suddenly cloying, overpowering with heavy pollen and dew.

Where was her Seraph? She anxiously sought the glow of white flesh from within the belly of night, but there was only rippling shadow.

Two weeks ago, Mother had brought the creature home for what the therapists called convalescence. Eva had called it pity. And, turning the wheelchair away from her window, Eva had refused them any words. She had shown no emotion at all. But that night, when the sun had died away, her Seraph had called to her with an enchanting, whickering voice. And Eva had succumbed to her curiosity.

From her wheelchair, she had lifted a slender hand through the wire fencing, placing it against the warm satin of his flesh, flesh the shade of holiness incarnate.

His mane was thick and flowing like the robe of an angel, and Eva had been awed by the power of him. His eyes were large and liquid, glittering with the moon’s pale reflection, and filled with knowledge far beyond her twelve slim years.

His name came to her. “Seraph,” Eva had whispered aloud, not quite understanding. At her voice, the animal had lowered his great head to blow sweet and heated breath upon her, lifting the clasp of night up and away. In Seraph’s face, Eva had known the sun. The very next day, she looked up his name. It was the name of an angel. It meant “the burning one.” Although she did not understand why, every night from thereon, she had sought him at the midnight hour, when all others slept.

But tonight, she could not make out the glow of his brilliance in the darkness. Eva pushed and pushed at the rims, breathlessly closing in on the dark line of fence. The moan rose again, now soft and quavering. And near. Where was Seraph?

A strangled cry filled her throat when she saw him. He lay on the ground, barbed wire twisting over his white flesh, now cruelly slashed with lines of glistening red. Now and again, his great body would thrash, and then wearily draw still once more.

Eva reached the fence. She was panting in short, harsh whimpers. “Seraph!” His massive head lifted, and he nickered. Tears burned at her eyes, hot and blinding, as his head lowered back slowly until his muzzle touched the dampened earth and rested there.

Eva looked over her shoulder, measuring the distance between the fence and the dark, hulking form of the sleeping house. The blacked stretch of night between seemed yawning and limitless.

She slid her body from the wheelchair. It met the ground heavily, forcing the air from her lungs in a whoosh. She pushed up on her elbows, and painstakingly began to crawl, inching beneath the shrouding fence. With trembling fingers, she touched upon the wicked points of cold wire burrowed into tender flesh. Her Seraph no longer moved.

Eva struck at her stubborn legs with hard fists, forcing her knees up under body. Her legs had obeyed her. Eva found one white leg and lifted. It was oh so very heavy. The barbed wire came loose in her hands reluctantly, piercing her skin as she unwound it.

Methodically, she sought all four of his massive hooves, lifting, pulling, tugging, and tearing her own skin. Her grief drowned any pain. “Seraph, please,” she whispered to him. He did not respond. When it was finally done, and she had removed all the cruel metal but for what lay beneath him, she crawled on hands and knees for the afghan. She pulled it from the seat and shoved at the chair with all her might. It wobbled, tipped, and fell on its side.

Exertion caused her breath to hitch, but she crawled back to her Seraph, and climbed across his great, warm body. When she felt the slow rise and fall of his ribs beneath her, Eva pulled the afghan over them both. She lowered her head to his neck and felt the soft tickle of mane against her wet cheeks. She closed her eyes.

Above them, a cloud passed the passionless face of the moon.

**************************

Dawn came slowly, licking across the heavens with fingers of rose and muted gold. The groom found her in the pasture, her black curls seeping out from beneath the blanket to spill across the white flesh beneath.

He saw the blood stains that were everywhere, and cried out loudly. “Eva!” Dropping to his knees, he tried to pull her off the animal.

Eva came awake, screeching, and gripped the horse’s neck with a fierce strength. She would not leave him. Ever. “Nooo!”

The animal emitted a long, low groan at her keening voice. Both the groom and Eva stilled.

“He’s alive, Eva.”

Slowly, the horse lifted his long forelegs out before him. Carefully, he raised his massive body from the ground. Eva gripped the white mane and clung to him.

The groom stared at her in amazement. “Eva, your legs.”

She glanced down, seeing that her nightdress had ridden up over her thighs. Seeing that her legs were long, bare, and gripping the animal’s bloodied sides.

The horse blew through his nostrils, and shook its great head wearily. The groom slipped a halter over his long nose, and led him gingerly from the pasture with the girl still clinging to his back.

Mother was in the doorway, a motionless figure with a slim, white hand fluttering at her throat. Eva smiled and stretched out her bare arms. And allowed the sun to touch her.

Author’s Note: Medieval Christian theology paints seraphim in the highest choir of the angelic hierarchy. They seek to energetically lift those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all-consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness. ~ Source: Dionysius the Areopagite in his Celestial Hierarchy (vii)

About the Author:
Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. Jessica’s recent contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is now available on Kindle, and she is currently at work on a sequel to Savage Forest.

Visit me on Facebook or at www.writerjessicaleigh.com for release updates and more!
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A Romance Writer’s Tip That You Would Never Think Of

writing romance novels critique reviews

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We all know the importance of having someone else objectively beta-read and critique your work. Unfortunately, it is particularly hard for small Indie authors to accomplish without a fan club, or a bff literary wizard, or even a mom who was an English major. And reviewers are often unforgiving when it comes to errors.

Here’s a thought: If you really want someone to sniff out a fundamental flaw, plot hole, or something that simply does not make sense any which way you word it – pick a dude.

Huh? He’s really not your intended audience? He will make pure and unabashed fun of you? He will give you that feeling of, Oh my God, I AM that naive? Yes, exactly!

He may also provide you with some straight-up criticism that – placed in your hands appropriately – will aid you in honing your story-line to a razor sharp edge that makes sense, and still hits all of your reader’s romantic feel-good buttons.

It happened to me by accident. A small comment placed on Goodreads, a timid request, yielded me one, solitary raised hand. A male hand. Educated. Unromantic as hell. Probably hairy. But SMART. Dean was a software developer who occasionally enjoyed some fiction that ventured on the side of erotic. (Go figure, right?)

HOWEVER. Dean (who occasionally dabbles as writer A.V. Roe) took the time to thoroughly read and critique my work, without mincing any words. Yes, some of his comments made me wince with the agony of regret and embarrassment. However, in using that magnificently male left brain of his, Dean was able to zero in on several plot holes that I had never even spotted – and offer solid, logical suggestions on how to fix them.

Here is Dean’s methodology, in his own (adorable) words:

I have two modes: Eye Jerk (EJ) and Brain Jerk (BJ). (Sorry, couldn’t come up with a better acronym for the second mode.)

EJs are caused when my eyes can’t digest words, primarily because of typos. I’m not a speed reader, but my eyes and brain flow when I’m reading and when something doesn’t seem right, my eyes halt, back up and try to figure out what just happened.

BJs are caused after I’ve read one or more chapters and I have to go back and re-read to try to understand what the author is trying to tell me. It can be body parts that don’t fit properly in steamy descriptions, or plot holes or the storyline just doesn’t make any sense, or the syntax and punctuation is so screwed up, even I can’t figure it out.

Dean then went on to list each and every “EJ” and “BJ” that he came across in my writing sample – in a very matter-of-fact method. The logic of his suggestions startled me. He was right. And his comments did not wound me to the quick. They helped – a lot.

As hard as it may be, finding reviewers that are NOT in your genre – or of your sex – can help you to fine tune your technique in ways a traditional edit or beta read would not. It is highly beneficial to look at scenes from a completely different perspective, and identify situations that probably would not work, even if you have managed to get your reader hooked on and ready to suspend their disbelief. Technically, if it’s really good, they should not have to suspend it in the first place!

Yes, romance is emotionally-driven and sometimes whimsical. Yes, we all secretly wish to believe that the perfect hero or heroine is waiting to make our lives serenely perfect at the end of a breath-taking adventure, and give us ten (or fifty) climaxes in the process. That’s why we love romance!

But conflict, tension, and the events leading up to certain plot situations simply have to WORK well to create a great story – rather than just a good one.

So, if you want to try what I just did, find yourself a left-brained, no-nonsense dude who is willing to tell you exactly what he sees and feels when he reads your work. It’s an excellent reminder that too much cream and sugar in your coffee can cause create something a bit sweeter than necessary, and therefore reduce that special kick.

For romance to flow in that perfect formula to create a winner, fantasy has to mesh with reality. And it might just take a unromantic guy to notice the slight miscalculations in your equation.

~~~~~~~

About Jessica Leigh

Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. Jessica’s recent contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is now available on Kindle, and she is currently at work on a sequel to Savage Forest.

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The Lady in Red – a Historical Short Story

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This is a true story as told by my great-grandfather, Joseph F. Kepler. ~Written and recounted by Jessica Leigh

I would never forget that morning. At the very least, until my dying day. Mayhap even longer should the Lord see fit to allow the keeping of my life’s memories.

We’d had a soaker in the evening hours, well before dawn, and all was damp and the earth quenched. It was very still. Even the birds had ceased their mindless chatter, strangely so, for it being early June – mating season and the like.

Mist hung in the air, great pockets of it, here and there, just draped between the woodland trees. It was right ghostly, and surprisingly thick. I realized, if I squinted just hard enough, I could see through to the other side. I would certainly be able to travel.

I was due to make the weekly trip down the mountainside and into Marsh Creek. My wife needed flour, and sugar, and oh, a few other things not really worth mentioning. It was the spring of my thirtieth year, which brought the date to 1896, if I recall correctly.

My horse knew the way, for he’d done it often enough, leaving me the freedom to sit back in the saddle and take in the smells of the forest, since the view weren’t much of anything but fog and shadow.

There’s nothing quite like the scent of freshly washed pine. Mix it with that damp sweetness of spring earth, ripe for the plowing, and you’ve got a pure heavenly bouquet for a simple man like me. I minded that foggy morning not at all.

Enough on the day, though, I’ve got more important events to recount. At the base of the mountain, before hitting town, we rode down upon the railroad bed. The track itself was raised up, leaving two hefty ditches on either side.

I could see my normal spot for crossing over was a mud hole the likes of which the average animal takes one good look at, and pins his ears. My horse went and did just that.

“All right, then,” I said agreeably enough. I wouldn’t want to walk through mud up to my boot straps either. “We’ll cross it up a-ways.”

I let the animal pick his way along the track about fifty yards. We went smack into a heavy veil of mist then. It was cool, and left a dewy touch behind on my skin. We crossed the track without getting sucked into the mud, and ambled down the other side.

It was then that I saw it. Even through the shrouding fog, I could see the crimson glow of it right through the mist. Being a fairly young man, with more than a healthy dose of curiosity, I turned my horse in that direction to investigate.

When we were about five feet away, it finally hit me – just what I was looking at. My horse did too, for he lowered his head, blowing loudly through the nostrils. He planted his four hooves directly into the ground like tomato stakes in a garden. Wouldn’t budge at all after that.

I dismounted on quavering legs of my own, and made my way over to her. Yes, it was a she. A lady in a flowing, scarlet dress. At first, I thought she was sleeping, just laid out there by the tracks for some odd reason and took her rest. Crazy thought, I know it now, but in that frantic moment, my mind was grasping for other answers than the actual truth.

You see, the verity was, the lady was dead. When I knelt next to her, I realized that the grim reaper hadn’t managed to take a darn thing from her but her breath. Another wild thought, I know this too. You see, this lady was the most beautiful thing I ever saw, forgive me Eva honey, but it’s right factual. Her skin was so pale and smooth, that it looked like porcelain. Like one of those fancy dolls from France that cost more than a month’s work of milking.

There was not a mark on her. Her lashes were black and long, resting softly on those ivory cheeks, and her hair was a crowning glory in itself. It was thick and lustrous, piled under and about her like a blanket. Her lips were full and nearly the same color of her finely made dress.

I’ll admit it now; I was a-feared to touch her. Not because she was dead, either, I know that’s what you’re thinking. There was just something about her, something perfect, something pure, and almost holy. Being a mountain-bred farmer, I wasn’t sure whether I even had the God-given right to touch something quite so gentle. But I did so.

The lady was oh-so-cold, and her skin was stiff and unforgiving of my fingers, like nothing I had imagined at all. I wished hard that I hadn’t touched her then, but I suppose wishin’ is for fools.

I mounted my horse, and headed for Marsh Creek as fast as the cloying mist would allow. At the general store, I spilled my guts to every man in earshot, without even a whit of the composure I had hoped to keep about me.

“Joseph Kepler,” says my neighbor Peter, “You sure you ain’t had yourself a tipple already this morning?”

Well, Peter found out soon enough that it weren’t no lie, and no whisky-trip either. And not one man had a darn clue as to who she was, or where she came from, or even how she had come to die so purely along those railroad tracks.

Like I told you, there was not a single mark on her body. And the doctor himself went as far as to look under that fine crimson dress, too. Not a mark. So how did she come to lie on the railroad bed in the hanging mist that morning, for me and my horse to stumble upon?

I still don’t know, to this very day. Not to this very day, child, and I suspect I never will.

~~~~~~~~~~~

“Grandpap, tell us who she was!” The littlest one climbed higher in my lap, pulling at my whiskers impatiently, as was her nature. I tugged at her own black curls in smiling defense.

“Now, Janet. I told you we never found out. Never, ever.”

She pouted up at me. “But, the tombstone. Tell me again about the tombstone.”

I stopped rocking then, and felt my face cloud over. The memory was fierce, as it always was. For me, each time I recounted this particular story, it was as real to me as the very day. And it always pained me in the same places.

Janet shivered with excitement, already knowing what happened next, but anticipating the end of the story anyway.

“Well, I did not go to the ceremony that was held for her. I just couldn’t, you see. I could not bear to view her in that coffin, or watch the dark, hungry earth covering up what that reaper could not take from such a fine lady. So I didn’t go, and I tried to put it from my memory. It was just to be another of life’s mysteries.

I looked down into the glistening eyes of my youngest grandchild, eyes brown and deep, like my own. She was waiting.

“Must have been a year or so later, that I found myself walking by that cemetery in Marsh Creek. My eyes were drawn to the very spot they placed her. How I knew it, I’m not rightly sure. But I walked to the gravesite where she lay beneath.

“What did it say, Grandpa?”

My eyes filled with tears then, as they always did.

“The only four words it could, child. The Lady in Red.”

About the Author:
Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. Jessica’s recent contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is now available on Kindle.

Visit me on Facebook for release updates and more!
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What’s The Cure for a Horrible Book Review?

authors get bad reviews for great novels

How to let it roll “write” off

It’s one of the most gut-wrenching, tooth gnashing experiences that any struggling Indie author has to endure.  And endure it, we must – this shit just happens.  There is really not much you can do about it either, unfortunately.

Advice from those above us is to simply accept it, don’t respond (unless it’s vulgar and sometimes that doesn’t even work), be as professional as you possibly can, and just move on to the next page.

Just move on?  Really?

For instance, one of my latest and greatest: 

“I’ve never read a book so poorly written.” 

Holy ouch.

I will admit to some grammar mistakes in my ebooks, they happen to everyone.  Even to the best of the best, with the most expensive of editorial eagle eyes on patrol.  But this particular person had never written another review on Amazon whatsoever, my book was the first, and bam, she (or he) gave it to me right on the nose.  You suck.  Gee, thanks!

THE CURE FOR THE REVIEW-BLUES

  1. Pour a glass of wine.  Seriously, it helps whittle away the sting of just about anything negative.  If you don’t partake, than try some hot tea or a sumptuous caramel latte with whipped cream.  I don’t care if your book is sub-par, you wrote it, it’s your baby, it’s a piece of you, you put real, honest-to-God effort into it, and you don’t deserve an open insult.  You just don’t.
  2. DO realize other people have bad days, and it is an unfortunate but inevitable part of human nature that they will strike out.  Sucks that you are in the warpath, but it is what it is.  I have come to believe that many people do not think about the real and lasting sting a negative review of a book can deliver. They don’t realize it’s just like telling an artist to their face – YOU SUCK – because they type it onto a keyboard.  It’s sterile.
  3. DO read your good reviews over and over.  And then over again.  They are your life blood.  Someone has taken the time and effort to sit down and write GOOD things about you, out of pure generosity and kindness.  And you gave them the inspiration to do so.  THOSE are the people you are truly writing for.

So…..Time to REFOCUS

My good reviews, from kind, generous and thoughtful people, have kept my will to continue as a struggling Indie author going strong.  They give me hope.  Consider this gem:

“I loved this book. The characters were brilliant and you got invested with them. I was so sad to see this story end! Wish there was another book following Jenna and Running Wolf’s story or even another story with other characters mentioned in the story…hint hint 🙂 Can’t wait to read what this author writes next!”

This review put tears in my eyes.  It’s a huge part of why I’m writing the sequel to my first book, Savage Forest, at this very moment.  I don’t know who you are, ADaniele, but you rock.  I also had a woman of Native American decent mention that my story truly spoke to her.  THAT meant something very valuable and real to me.  I did that?  I DID that!

So remember, the good is what you have to focus on.  I know it’s impossible to entirely ignore the sting of a bad review.  Furthermore, some negative reviews can have very helpful elements – such as suggestions or points – that are valid, and will help you to grow as a writer.  (Once you have your glass of wine.)

Other reviews…. are just plain mean.  They were put there to get to you, so whatever you do, don’t let your silent stalker win.

Keep writing everyone!

~Jessica Leigh  (I would love for you to visit me on Facebook!)

About the Author:
Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. Jessica’s recent contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is now available on Kindle.

Visit me on Facebook for release updates and more!
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The Power of a Haunting Setting: Waiting for Eden and Savage Forest

savage forest, waiting for eden, jessica leigh

The Setting That Haunts Me

I am in love with a place. 

There is no other way to put it, really. Love produces a physical response: an increase in pulse rate, a swell of feeling within, a dreamy essence to your thoughts, and a desire to return again – at all cost. Do I feel this love?  Oh, yes.

This kind of emotion will lend an individual a sense of an intimate connection with a location, as well as an underlying feeling of its sheer mystical power.  You research, you photograph, you even obsess a bit as if you were head over heels with a new lover.  It has power because it gives YOU power.

And thus, you never forget.  If you are an author, like I am, such “positional love” tends to return in your story-telling efforts, again and again.  Often, a great story begins with the power of a place, and not simply a character or plot idea.  Characters emerge because they belong there, or are birthed by events that have transpired in the past.

I am finding the power of setting to be an underlying theme in my own writing.  In , Savage Forest, my first novel, the Dark Forest is a Native name for a place that is very real in north-central Pennsylvania.  It is an interesting place historically, rich in lore and inhabited by many different tribes of people before settlers appeared.  Lenni Lenape, Mohawk, and a small band known as the Susquehannock all inhabited different areas of these mountains, and pushed back and forth into one another’s territories.

Three of the mightiest watersheds in all of the United States meet in Potter County – in one tiny, little spring that bubbles forth from a remote location near the town of Cobb Hill.  These infant waters flow and spread across the land, morphing into the powerful Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, and the Susquehanna River which fills the Chesapeake Bay.

Setting -worthy, powerful, magical even?  Hell yes!

In the middle of this amazing mountainous land, located in north central Potter County, I have spent much of my youth, as well as backpacking in my college years, and hiking and camping in my early married life.  I have shown this place to my children, and cultivated the next generation’s love for a place.

In my second novel, Waiting for Eden, this setting emerged again.  It birthed new characters, and grew even more dear to me in the process.  I am excited about future possibilities as I begin to research local lore, Native American tales, paranormal events, and historical accounts of happenings in the Susquehannock State Forest. 

Stay tuned, because I plan to spread my love of place to my readers, moving back in time of my investigation of events and tales both real and imagined. 

 

About the Author:
Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. Jessica’s recent contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is now available on Kindle.

Visit me on Facebook for release updates and more!
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Inevitable Change, an Author’s Journey

contemporary romance novel jessica leigh A hint of change is in the air.

As I took a run along a country road this very morning, I pondered how in the space of one single day, or breath even, everything is singularly different. Although it still remains August with warm breezes and verdant landscapes, the hint change to come has arrived yet again. 

I can’t quite identify it.  Is it a scent, or a quality to the air itself, or even a chemical reaction that we can’t quite sense logically?  Yet we do feel it, don’t we? It exists.  Nature communicates – and we, as ‘natural’ creatures ourselves – are pulled within its cyclical rhythms.

We are ruled by change.  Whether by fate, by luck, or mere happenstance, we will walk roads we never intended or previously imagined.  Sometimes it’s for better, and sometimes it’s not.  Authors are forever changed by each book they write. It’s a bit odd, but it feels almost as if we somehow live through the events we put to pen, in some secret place, and little bits and pieces of the characters themselves are left behind in the wake. A book transpires inside the mind of the author, and feels much like the way it does when you awake from a particularly vivid dream.  It’s deeply personal. It effects you.

Recently, my own ‘personal’ life is undergoing the deepest kind of change.  A break from a spouse, children and family life in turmoil, starkly altered routines, and all the pain and regret and stress and wondering it brings.  Yet there’s a new me, a changed me, emerging.  I learn and grow through experience.  Life is a novel in itself.

Through all this, I’m excited to begin my next book.  Savage Forest was an innocent beginning for me, and although the historical elements were in some ways harsh, the entire outlook was of youthful hope, belief in forever love, and the deepest reverence for the beauty and depth of a forgotten way of life.

Waiting for Eden ventured into the realm of change, broken love, injured hearts and psyches, and how to find the strength and fortitude to begin again without bitterness on a new path, as a new person. Without ending up dead…(yes, there’s that!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Both books had one theme in common.  The setting.  The Black Forest of Pennsylvania is a real place, and one I know well.  It is an area that pulls me always, inspires me, renews me, and stays with me like that vivid dream that never quite slips away from the consciousness mind once dreamt.

I haven’t been there in years.  I feel that in order to complete my change, I need to revisit this place, in order to move on and begin again.  A new life, and a new novel.  A road trip for Jessica Leigh then?  Perhaps. The Black Forest is calling.

About the Author:
Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. Jessica’s recent contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is now available on Kindle.

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The Art of Crafting a Character

Luke MurphyFellow author Luke Murphy and I agree wholeheartedly on this sentiment – character development is everything to the ultimate success of a novel.  And we are talking not only the evolution and structure of a character, but also in his or her believability.  A gripping plot is a big bonus, but your game players truly need to steal the stage.

Do you really want to read about a “superhero” that’s got it all going on?  Are you that willing to suspend your disbelief?  Or would you rather read about a person who struggles with life, has demons and weaknesses, and yet still perseveres and throws down when stuff hits the fan…hard?

Luke and I both admit to admiring author Harlan Coben’s style of character development.  Although I write contemporary and historical romantic suspense, Coben still lingers in my mind as I bring characters to life.  And Luke takes it a whole step further when he asks the simple question:  so does a protagonist always have to be good? 

Read what he’s got to say about this subject:

Dead Man's Hand“Dead Man’s Hands is a crime-thriller set in the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas. It takes readers inside the head of Calvin Watters, a sadistic African-American Las Vegas debt-collector framed by a murderer who, like the Vegas Police, finds him to be the perfect fall-guy.

Many people have asked if I can make any real connections to the main character in my novel. The answer, as for my connections… well no, I have never been involved in a homicide investigation, LOL. The plot is completely fictional. Although I am not a 6’5”, 220 pound African-American, I’ve used much of my athletic background when creating my protagonist Calvin Watters. Watters past as an athlete, and his emotional rollercoaster brought on by injuries were drawn from my experiences. His mother died of cancer when he was young, as mine did. There are certainly elements of myself in Calvin, but overall, this is a work of fiction. I did not base the characters or plot on any real people or events. Any familiarities are strictly coincidence.

As far as characterization goes, Dead Man’s Hand’s protagonist Calvin Watters faces racial prejudice with a calmness similar to that of Walter Mosley’s character Easy Rawlins. But Watters’ past as an athlete and enforcer will remind other readers of (Jack) Reacher of the Lee Childs series. The Stuart Woods novel Choke, about a tennis player who, like Watters, suffered greatly from a dramatic loss that was a failure of his psyche, is also an inspiration for Dead Man’s Hand.

When thinking about creating the main character for my story, I wanted someone “REAL”. Someone readers could relate to. Although it is a work of fiction, my goal was to create a character with whom readers could make a real connection with.

Physically, keeping in mind Watters’ past as an NCAA football standout and his current occupation as a Vegas debt-collector, I thought “intimidating”, and put together a mix of characteristics that make Watters appear scary (dreadlocks and patchy facial hair), but also able to blend in with those of the social elite. Although he is in astounding physical condition, handsome and well-toned, he does have a physical disability that limits his capabilities.

He’s proud, confident bordering on cocky, mean and tough, but I also have given him a softer side that readers, especially women, will be more comfortable rooting for. After his humiliating downfall, Calvin is stuck at the bottom for a while, but is trying hard to work his way back up.

He has weaknesses and he has made poor choices in his life. He has regrets, but Calvin Watters has the opportunity to redeem himself. Not everyone gets a second chance in life, and he comes to realize just how fortunate he is.

Calvin Watters is a man definitely worth rooting for.

Consider this:  I truly believe that the major character conflict in my story is Calvin vs. himself.

Watters was on his way to NFL stardom when a sudden, selfish decision destroyed any dream he ever had. He remembered when the rich had welcomed him into their group as a promising, clean-cut athlete bound for glory. Now, he was just an outsider looking in. Just another thug.

Pain bolted through his right knee, but the emotional pain from a shattered ego hurt far deeper. He was the only one to blame for USC’s humiliating loss and his own humiliating personal downfall.

The press, always ready to tear down a hero, had shown no restraint in attacking him for his egotistic, selfish decision and obvious desire to break his own school record. One minute he was touted as the next Walter Payton, the next he was a door mat for local media.

Looking at Calvin now, no one would believe that he was once a thousand-yard rusher in the NCAA, and welcomed with open arms in every established club in Southern California. Hell, he had even been bigger than the mayor.

That the resulting injury had ended his college football career and most importantly, any chances of a pro career. By making the wrong, selfish, prideful decision, Calvin had made himself a target for the press and all USC fans.

The devastating, career-ending knee injury wasn’t the quarterback’s fault for missing the audible, or the fullback’s fault for missing the key block. It was his fault entirely, and it had taken him some time to understand and accept responsibility for it.

After he spent three years building a reputation as the toughest collector in Vegas, no one even knew he’d been one of the greatest college running backs ever. To them, he was just “The Collector.”

Now Calvin has to rebuild his life and his future, eliminating the thoughts of his downfall, picking himself up, dusting off, and trying to live a respectable life he can be proud of.

But has his time as a leg-breaker made him corrupt beyond redemption?”

So do you think this is someone you could root for? You’ll have to read it to find out, but I would bet on it. ~Luke Murphy

~You can purchase Dead Man’s Hand on Amazon and don’t forget to visit Luke on Facebook and Twitter and at www.authorlukemurphy.com

~ And please feel free to take a look at excerpts from my new release Waiting for Eden, or purchase my first novel, Savage Forest @ Amazon and Smashwords.

Join Jessica Leigh on Facebook!

http://writerjessicaleigh/weebly.com

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