I’m finishing (or hoping to) revisions on my next novel, a historical tale set in the Southeast Asian country of Laos in 1975. On the back burner is an idea for a detective story, the first in a series, and my first foray into crime.
That’s why I’m pleased to host J.J. Lyon, the author of the Truth Inducer crime series. You’ll see an excerpt below to the first book and can follow a few links to get more information about J.J., her books, or the giveaway.
Do you read mysteries, suspense, crime? What are your genre favorites as a reader? The flawed investigator or comedic sidekick? All ideas welcome.
Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win a $25 Amazon.com gift card.
Chapter One from Truth is Relative (an excerpt)
The Monday before Thanksgiving, my car disappeared. Or it might have been late Sunday night. The day was half over before I even looked outside. Instead I focused on an ugly painting until I realized I was hungry. I was out of bread and low on groceries in general. I cleaned my brushes, grabbed my keys, opened the front door, and stared at gray asphalt where my Mazda used to be. A few dead cottonwood leaves swirled there before the wind swept them off.
I didn’t bother calling the police. My car hadn’t been stolen, it had been repossessed.
My cell phone buzzed. It was my brother, Bart. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey, Bro. How’s life in the Big City?” Bart wasn’t being ironic. Compared to our hometown of Jersey, Cheyenne was enormous.
“It’s good!” I stepped back into Sam’s Café and tried to think of something else to say. Something that would back up my lie.
“Great. When are you coming for Thanksgiving?” Bart asked.
My brain scrambled, too busy to pay attention. I didn’t need a car. The abandoned café was a great studio, with north-facing windows and indirect natural light. My work happened right at home.
My work was also stacked against the walls, waiting for a gallery to accept it. The art that was already in a gallery had hung there for months. I needed a day job. A car would help.
“What about Thanksgiving?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Whaddaya mean? I thought you were your own boss.”
“Yeah, but I’m pretty …” I glanced out at the empty parking place. “It’s hard to get away right now.”
Bart was quiet, and when he spoke again he sounded unusually hesitant. “So how are you really?”
“Fine. I’m doing great.”
“Yeah, okay. You know what you need? A night out.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. I can tell you’re depressed.”
“I’m not depressed.”
“C’mon, Tony. Think of everything we could learn about the beautiful women of Cheyenne.” Bart could afford to be fascinated by my new ability. He didn’t have to live with it.
“I’ve got to go get some groceries,” I said.
“Fine.” Bart sounded annoyed, but he didn’t argue. “Fine, I’ll talk to you later.”
I turned away from the café window and walked to my bedroom, which was actually a converted storage area in the back of the café. A walk-in cooler had once taken up most of the space, but it had been ripped out and sold the last time the place went out of business. There was room for a twin bed and a battered dresser from Goodwill Industries. I pulled my wallet from the top drawer and retrieved my old bike from the back of the building.
It was a cold ride to the store. Cheyenne’s legendary wind pushed against my side and cut across my hands. I’d forgotten my gloves. I zipped my jacket all the way up, stuffed my hands in my pockets, and kept pedaling, glad I had at least one useful talent. God gave me excellent balance.
My mind whirled as fast as my bike wheels, tallying my other useful abilities. I was decent at hanging Sheetrock, and I could tape and texture as long as the customer didn’t mind it a little antique and heavy. As for roofs, I’d done it all—patch, replace, steel, asphalt. If I had a truck I could rent myself out as a handyman. I could work in blissful isolation most of the time.
A gust of wind broadsided me. I went down in slow motion, shifted my weight, scuffed on the pavement with my feet. In the end my shoulder hit the road before I could pull my hands out of my pockets. The car behind me screeched to a stop and a woman got out.
Last week, the sports world was left scratching our collective heads when the Asian Games authorities in South Korea asked the female Qatari basketball team to remove their headscarves. Hijab is not like earrings or other headgear which is prohibited under the rules of professional basketball matches.
Covering your hair is a religious obligation. Those who ask a woman to take off her veil are as bad as those who would force her to wear one. They are two sides of the same coin of domination and have been since colonialism, when European governments thought to unveil women as a sign of progress (read: Westernization).
Let women choose what they want to wear. Whether abaya-less in the Amazon or scarved in Seoul, let’s give Qatari women enough credit to decide what they want to wear. That’s the only position that makes any sense. Right?
I like to take photos of the “before” in my cooking because often we don’t think about the ingredients that go into what we are eating. Also, most of the things I make are so scrumptious, they go straight from the plate into the belly so after photos are quite rare in our house.
These brownies made from chickpea flour are no exception! You don’t see any sugar or flour on the table, making them one of the healthiest treats around. Believe me when I say they are 100% delicious.
Grind up a can of chickpeas in your food processor for the base. I substituted honey for maple syrup the second time (yes they were that good) and the consistency was a bit softer and the color browner. Every bit as yummy as the first time!
What are you easy, healthy, go-to snacks?
I’m a working mother. Well, all mothers work, but some have two jobs. My professional life is squeezed in between primary school and after bedtime. I wouldn’t change having kids for a second; they are what ground me and remind me that overdue article isn’t as important as a human who needs a hug.
The intersection of my two jobs also means that I’m on the road with everyone else in Qatar’s early morning traffic grid. A fifteen minute takes about 45, depending on the time you leave. This photo is the scene outside the gate of my compound at 6:45 a.m. The gridlock is representative of any day of the work week from 6:30-9.
Traffic has given me a chance to work on my attitude. I breathe, every time I want to ram someone’s car. I call friends (using the car’s Bluetooth audio system). After 8 a.m. I can listen to the BBC World Service educate myself (most days I’m at my desk by 7:30). I am resolved to get more audiobooks on my phone.
This daily challenge reminds me that we can control one major aspect of life: our attitude. As for everyone or everyone else, well, those drivers better hope the deep breathing is working.
How do you stay cool on the road? Or keep your sanity doing mindless tasks?
On my way to the car, I was stopped the look on my friend’s face. We were drenched in sweat after sixty minutes of non-stop movement, led by her enthusiastic Zumba alter ego. A few minutes after class, however, her face reflected a heavy heart.
As we chatted, I was reminded of my journey through the irritating hurdles of daily life abroad: Streets clogged with traffic, nonsensical rules for businesses, exorbitant taxes to fly the national airline.
My way around these pesky, debilitating-to-happiness moments, was discovered the hard way. I had to stop dwelling on them.
Sounds logical, but the simplest solutions are the most complicated to implement.
Try this with me the next time you’re telling that flesh peeling angry story (or in howler monkey mode as my tirades have been nicknamed).
Be 100% indignant. As right as right you can be. For 3 minutes. Okay, 10 if you really need it. And then, as made immortal to the chagrin of parents (maybe people) everywhere: let it go.
I’m convinced that half (or more) of our misery comes from rehashing and rehearsing our anger, disappointment, betrayal, or fear. When we talk about the negative moment, the tentacles of residue reach into our minds to take us emotionally back to the moment of distress.
Our body reacts as if it were happening again. We are insulted, offended, wronged: our foreheads crinkle, our lips frown. Whatever resolve we may have had evaporates.
Next time you, or a friend, are being hijacked by the blues, halt the rehearsal train. Switch tracks to a new task or a happy memory.
If ever you see me talking to myself in the car, it’s because that’s my mentally most vulnerable moment when I’m stuck in traffic and my defenses are down.
Bored because BBC World Service isn’t working, my brain ranges for something to chew over. My thoughts bend towards negative memories because they are stronger than positive ones. To halt the downward spiral, I say out loud, sometimes at full volume: STOP.
Here’s to stopping the negativity so the sun can come in.
What strategies do you use to regain focus? Here’s to happiness.
The axiom, “you are what you eat”, may be true, but another truism I’ve discovered is that you are influenced by what (and how) your friend’s eat. Lately, since mine are heading into the mid/late 30s, healthy eating has become our focus. Several friends are also now certified Zumba instructors which means instead of lunch, we work out together at least once a week.
And several others, like me for 2014, are veggie conscious. This crunchy quinoa salad with ginger dressing was popular at our last ladies’ night in.
The Lime Chili cashews raised the Thai inspired flavors another notch. I’ve made it twice already, once with tuna, and once with chickpeas in place of edamame. Surely there will be many more variations to come! Let me know if you try it and how you add your own special touch.
In their efforts to combat racism, a high school in California has gone from their mascot, “the Arabs” to “the Mighty Arabs.”
The recent suspension of star Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, has caused a furor both on and off the Internet. Rice was suspended for 2 games before a video was made public by none other than the gossip outlet TMZ. I watched the video. I have skipped over the ISIS beheading ones, not wanting to give an audience to terror. Domestic violence, however is closer to home. After seeing for myself an intimate fight between a husband and wife, I was shocked that the video was still allowed online, and chagrined I had participated in a voyeurism. His wife, Janay Palmer has since spoken to the media, defending her husband and a private moment. There’s much we could say, and has been said, about the abused protecting her abuser. At the very least we have empathy for a wife trying to save her husband’s career.
Ray Rice isn’t the only man in America – or the world for that matter – who could knock his partner out during an argument. Like Rihanna’s infamous fight with Chris Brown, during which he bruised the pop star, the fight is one part of the puzzle. What happens after the fight and our reaction to it are others.
Take for example my friend from high school. In a close knit Indian community she couldn’t come forward about the dangers in her home. When she was persuaded to go to the adults, on more than one occasion she was told that the problem was culture.
Indian men beat Indian women was the message she received from her Caucasian teachers.
“I believe her father is abusing her,” a chemistry teacher said.
No one, even we her friends, did anything. We pretended that she was like the rest of us.
My friend suffered in silence, partly to save her mother (and the rest of the family, including herself) the humiliation the Rices are undergoing in the international media.
She pretended because that’s what everyone needed her to do. Because blaming culture or overlooking abuse was easier for everyone than confronting the deep sadness and possibility of mental illness that drove her father into a blinding rage.
Easier on everyone except for her.
I’m sad for the Rices but also for the rest of us that we continue to pretend that this type of behavior is rare or surprising. Or that we think shame is the solution.
I was raised as a Hindu child in Christian America. We did not celebrate Christmas or Easter, nor the more food oriented Thanksgiving or 4th of July. Far from India, and away from the Indian centric metropolises of Orlando or Pittsburgh, even the Hindu festivals did not receive communal pomp and circumstance. The Hare Krishna farm was about as close as we could get to worship.
Yes, you can understand why a birthday was a big deal. Coming as it does in September, in the early part of the school year, I was never sure who to invite. Usually the people who came over for pizza or went out for a movie were not the girls I was talking to in January.
As an adult, and now mother, I love celebrations. We have added Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July to our family’s repertoire, with international travel on Eid holidays to boot.
Birthdays, however, haven’t yet been replaced in my heart. Until last week. Every few years I have a party. Same childhood dilemma but newer version: who in the expat community is still around to invite? Who will I still talk to in January?
Last weekend we had a party. No one likes the night before work (which in the GCC falls on a Saturday). Friday night. Three days before the actual day. There was dinner. Dancing. People jumping in the pool. On the whole, many 30somethings (and older) recapturing the essence of college, or trying to, as the essence of youth was floating in the air, a residue of the new semester beginning at the universities where many of us worked.
Then came Tuesday.
Midweek in the GCC (we start the week on Sunday). Everyone in the house up early, a big lifestyle shift, to accompany new schedules. No boxed gift on my pillow like in years past. Completely fine: I asked for donations to charity instead of luxury brands.
Hubs left the house in a rush, wanting to avoid traffic, without a happy birthday. And so it went. None of my students remembered until my 70 year old aunt interrupted class with a buzzing phone. She wanted to say happy birthday. Good old auntie. Somehow that call made me feel worse.
I slunk back to my office. Facebook was pinging away: Happy birthday! Hope you’re having a great one! Each virtual ping pushed me further down in my chair. You’re alone, they all seemed to say, alone, and worth only a few virtual seconds. Even worse (never say it can’t get any worse, it always can) I was getting emails from people on LinkedIn. People I had never met because LinkedIn knew it was my birthday and thought they should too. Lower and lower I sunk, opening the door now and then to answer a few student queries with wads of Kleenex on my desk.
I went to pick up the cake, chosen by our older son, a toddler, a la edible Paw Patrol characters (look it up, it’s what you think it is). The baker forgot to say happy birthday.
Sobbing in my car on the way home, safe behind my sunglasses, a realization hit me. I am not as important to anyone as I am to myself.
This may sound counterproductive but it was a breakthrough. Somewhere on the lone highway in Doha, between birthday wall post 90 and 100 on my Facebook wall, my ego caved in. I’m only important to myself. Expectations are the road to disappointment. These ideas are the essence of Zen Buddhism. They are freeing, humbling, and awakening. I’m still mulling it all over.
Suffice to say, this will be the last party for a long time. Never say never. If you don’t want your birthday ruined, here’s my advice.
1) Don’t have an early party.
2) Don’t go on Facebook.
3) Learn to sit with the quiet in yourself.