Friday, April 29, 2011

Soundtrack Fridays - Under Pressure

In chapter twenty of Daughter of Deception Viola listens to a best of David Bowie cd while baking banana bread - which is, according to Duke, the perfect apology food. I missed yesterday's recipe posting, but I hope to have Viola's banana bread up this weekend.

In that chapter, Paul Duke mentions that this song reminds him of Viola. I think it works for the entire series.

Queen and David Bowie - what's not to love?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Viola, at the beginning of The Chaos Child

Viola’s trip to Connecticut at the beginning of The Chaos Child

At first Viola thought it was a jet-lag induced hallucination. Inclement weather at BWI had delayed the last leg of her flight from Houston to Hartford. She’d used the time stuck on the plane to e-mail a memo back to the office regarding the importance of nonstop flights. Ten minutes after sending the e-mail, she’d begged Duke to deliver lunch to the office as an apology for the profanity-laden message.

As the taxi pulled into the hotel parking lot, though, it became clear that it wasn’t a hallucination. There really were three gold and red Ghost Grabbers vans parked in front of the Luz Hotel. As soon as the car rolled to a stop, she flung open the door and hopped out of the car. While he retrieved her suitcase from the trunk, she dialed Becky’s number.

“I am scheduled to be at the Luz tonight, aren’t I?” she asked, cutting off her employees greeting.

“Yes, you are. I spoke with the manager, a Mr. Scott Farleigh, this morning to confirm your reservation in a non-smoking room.” Becky’s voice was cool. It was clear she hadn’t completely forgiven Viola for the e-mail. “I have also rebooked your return flight. I will e-mail the details to you shortly.”

“Thank you, Becky.” Viola made a mental note to send Becky flowers. “I am sorry about the e-mail. You know airline food makes me cranky, and I was stuck next to the most talkative person on the planet.”

Becky harrumphed. “Is there a problem with the hotel?”

Viola handed the driver a wad of bills in exchange for her suitcase. Gravel crunched under her sneakers as she marched towards the glass double doors. “There are Ghost Grabbers vans in the parking lot,” she hissed.

She normally didn’t bother wasting energy thinking about the multitude of paranormal investigators across the country. Most treated it as a hobby, and those who hunted demons in their spare time couldn’t throw stones. The Ghost Grabbers, however, had landed a syndicated television show and national attention. Their condescending attitude towards spirits, laughable techniques, and propensity to claim everything as paranormal had earned them Viola’s disdain.

Becky muttered an apology and hung up on Viola. Viola shook her head, slipped her phone in the front pocket of her green trousers. The foyer of the mid-sized independent hotel was dark and imposing. The glass in the skylights was frosted and electric wall sconces provided the only other light. She gave them points for creepiness.

Viola ignored the rail-thin blonde standing near a grouping of chairs in the lobby. She recognized the young woman as a member of the Ghost Grabbers. The thirty-ish black woman behind the front desk smiled politely at Viola, but her posture indicated she was uncomfortable.

“Hi, Viola Duke.” Viola forced herself to remain in control. It wasn’t the poor woman’s fault the manager was a PR-hungry ass. “I’d like to speak with Scott Farleigh. Now.”

As if she’d expected such a request, the woman, Adelle according to her name tag, escorted Viola to a small office on the other side of a black column. Adelle rapped once on the door before opening it. Three men, two wearing gold Ghost Grabbers polos, were already in the room.

“Mr. Farleigh, Mrs. Duke has arrived,” Adelle said before brushing past Viola and returning to the desk.

Viola left her suitcase outside the door. She slipped her balled fists into her pockets, leaned against the doorjamb, and fixed Scott Farleigh, a graying, middle-aged stout man, with an expectant stare. “If there was a miscommunication between your office and mine, I have no problem moving on to one of my other locations and rescheduling this evaluation.”

She didn’t care if it cost a potential business associate. Something about Farleigh rubbed her the wrong way, and in the end he would be the one to lose out on profits. There were five hotels in the Hartford area looking to work with Spirited Stays.

“No, no, Mrs. Duke. There is no misunderstanding.” Farleigh’s booming voice rattled the framed photos on the walls. “I was hoping we could kill two birds in one night, so to speak. You and these gentlemen are in the same line of work. Surely your… er… skills would be a perfect complement to their technical expertise.”

Anger swirled in her belly. Power flooded her veins, turned her eyes a dangerous, glittering black. “I am not a medium for hire,” she bit out, lips curled back in a snarl. “I do not appreciate you making arrangements like this without consulting me first.”

“What’s the matters, Mrs. Duke?” One of the Ghost Grabbers leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “Afraid of the cameras?”

“Nope. I don’t want to waste my time working with a bunch of AV Club geeks who don’t know the difference between the hum of an air conditioner and an EVP.” Anger cooled steel resolve. She kicked off the doorjamb. “My expertise isn’t the one you should question, Mr. Farleigh. I’ve got mad skills.”

The spirit in the corner of the room hesitantly waved at Viola. She winked back at the shy, young man dressed in mid-nineteenth century clothing. It was clear he was less than impressed by the Ghost Grabbers, too.

“Now, it’s late and I’m tired, so I’m going to go back up to the desk and check in. I’m going to order something from room service for dinner, and in the morning I’ll pay for my stay and leave. You won’t contact my company, and I won’t tell everyone I know what a jerk you are.” She arched an eyebrow at the flabbergasted Farleigh. “Okay?”

“B-but, Mrs. Duke…”

“Oh, and by the way, your hotel isn’t haunted.”

The spirit followed Viola to the front desk. He loitered by her suitcase while she checked in and got a room service recommendation from Adelle. It wasn’t until she was in the elevator that she spoke to the ghost.

“I’m sorry about denying your presence earlier. Feel free to make a liar out of me, if you’d like.”

The ghost shook his head. “I have seen their work on the television. I do not care for their methods or their manner of speaking.” He extended his hand, thought twice about it, and settled for tipping an invisible hat. “I am Archibald Thorton, Mrs. Duke. It is a pleasure to meet someone with whom I can converse.”

“Viola, please.” She curtsied awkwardly. “Archibald? Can I call you Archie?”

“You may. It is a diminutive my dear sister often used.”

Archie walked with Viola to her room. She was pleased to have a corner room, until she opened the curtains across the wall-length picture window. She had a lovely view of… the hotel across the street. She let go of her suitcase and sank onto the edge of the bed.

“I hate Connecticut.”

After changing into sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt she’d stolen from Duke’s side of the closet, she read the one-sided room service menu aloud to Archie. There were four sharp knocks on her door. She grabbed the tranq gun out of her open suitcase and peered through the peephole before opening the door.

Farleigh and two of the Ghost Grabbers stood in the hallway. The blonde from the lobby had a black case in her hands. She shuffled her feet and shot Viola a hesitant, apologetic smile.

“Mrs. Duke, I am going to have to ask you to remain in your room for the duration of our investigation,” the male Ghost Grabber said. “Rainbow’s going to install a camera outside your door to ensure nothing contaminates our evidence. We’re going to need you to keep your television off, as well.”

Viola slammed the door in their faces. She briefly entertained thoughts of burning the building down or at least slashing the tires on the Ghost Grabber vans. The bacon cheeseburger she ordered from room service was bland and her fries were soggy. She made a mental note to forgo the complimentary breakfast.

She dragged the black upholstered chair to the window and stared out the window as she ate her chocolate lava cake. Fortunately, it had a rich flavor and the cake was moist. She regretted not ordering two and calling that dinner.

The hotel across the street had a charming, Victorian façade. It was smaller than the Luz, but looked brighter and cleaner. “What do you know about the Cantor Hotel?” she asked Archie.

“I am afraid I have not left this establishment since my death.”

As soon as she finished her dessert, Viola booted up her laptop. The Cantor’s website was simple but elegant. It only had 124 guest suites and one meeting room, but it also boasted a bar, dining room, lobby, and library. The décor managed to maintain an old world feel without compromising modern amenities.

She and Archie watched the virtual tour and clicked through the photos. Archie instantly fell in love with the Cantor. He sighed wistfully when they reached the pictures of the library.

“How attached to this hotel are you, Archie?”

“I do not know. I have not attempted to leave.” Archie faded from view. “Please pardon me.”

Viola responded to two of Becky’s e-mails. Halfway through her second game of solitaire, Archie returned. A wide smile split his boyish face.

“It is possible! I crossed the street and entered the Cantor. The library is divine!”

“How do you feel about moving?” She didn’t feel guilty in the least about stealing the Luz’s ghost. It was true that most of the hotels listed with Spirited Stays profited from being haunted, but none of them outright exploited the resident ghosts.

After hearing Viola’s proposal, Archie heartily agreed to moving to the Cantor if the proprietor agreed with the plan. They played four games of computer chess before Viola got tired of losing and shut down her laptop. The Ghost Grabbers weren’t bothering to be quiet. They could hear them stomping up and down the stairs and talking in the hallways. Viola bit back a laugh every time she heard a high-pitched exclamation. As the hotel’s only spirit was dozing in her room’s spare chair, it was doubtful they’d caught anything truly ghost-related.

She flicked off the bedside lamp and stretched out on the bed. Duke laughed when she used their link to tell him all about the Ghost Grabbers and Archie. He laughed even harder at her petulant exclamation of boredom.

“We could always…” he started.

“No,” she sighed. He made the same suggestion any time they were apart. “We are not using the link for that.”

“But I miss you.” His voice dipped lower, liquid heat her mind. “I could make it good, sugar.”

“I’m sure you could, but there’s a camera with audio right outside my door.”

His chuckle was two-parts pure filth and one-part amusement. “You could try being quiet.”

“There’s also a ghost in my room. A ghost who blushed when he saw my ankles. I’m not going to traumatize the poor thing by engaging in… in that.”

 “Ha,” Duke laughed. “Never mind, then. If you can’t say it, you can’t do it, sugar.”

Face flame red, she sent a wave of irritation through the link. “I hate you.”

“No you don’t sweetness.” Duke’s affection-warmed tone lulled her to sleep. “Just relax and think about all the things I’m going to do to you when you get home. I advise stretching first.”

She fell asleep with a smile on her face.

The next morning, Archie was right beside her as she paid for her room and rolled her suitcase across the busy street. The inside of the Cantor was as inviting as it appeared on the website. Viola went directly to the front desk, introduced herself, asked for the manager.

Phillip Dickens, the general manager, greeted her with a smile and a breakfast invitation. Behind his back, Archie gave her an enthusiastic nod. She grinned back.

“Mr. Dickens, how would you like to be the manager of a haunted hotel?”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Soundtrack Fridays... "Slow Down Sister"

Now, this next song is on my "Duke" playlist, but it's not necessarily one he would like. He's more of the rowdier, Texas country music type of guy. The song, however, reminded me a lot of how he felt at the beginning of Daughter of Deception.

"Slow Down Sister" by Lady Antebellum

So what are you listening to today?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tasty Thursdays - Paul Duke’s Slow Braised Beef or Pork Roast

I had planned on showcasing recipes actually in the series, but this one I already had pictures of. Paul Duke was a single father for ten years, and his mama wouldn't have let him feed Toby nothing but fast food. This is one of his favorite meals.

From The Duke Family Cookbook

Paul Duke’s Slow Braised Beef or Pork Roast

1 - Pork shoulder butt roast or beef pot roast, preferably bone-in (approx 3 to 4 pounds)
1 - Medium red or yellow onion (peeled and quartered)
2 - Large carrots (scrubbed and cut in thirds or quarters)
2 - Large celery ribs (scrubbed and cut same size as carrots)
12 oz - Salsa (heat level to suit you – use your favorite)
12 oz – Shiner Bock (or your favorite full-flavored (not light) beer)
Salt Pepper Onion Power Garlic Powder to taste
2 Med or 1 Large Bay Leaf (optional)

Put carrots, onion, and celery in the bottom of the crock pot.

Trim excess fat from meat. Season with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder on all sides. Stick it in crock pot on top of vegetables.

*** Aggie Duke Note:If pork is marbled well enough, you can brown it in a Dutch oven without oil (medium heat). For beef (or if pork seems very lean) use about 2 tbsp of oil (not olive, but peanut, sunflower or the like) on medium heat. Sear the meat on all sides while allowing it to brown on the large flat sides. This gives it a good flavor, makes the meat look appetizing, and by searing all side ensures a juicy roast at the end. Use tongs to turn your meat as it cooks. Fork holes in it defeat the purpose of searing and sealing. ***

Dump salsa in crock pot. Add 2/3 (8 oz) of the beer to the salsa jar and stir it well to clean the jar. Pour in crock pot and stir (beer will foam). Toss in bay leaves. Cover. Set on low and allow to cook for 4 – 6 hours. Use an instant read thermometer after 4 hours to gauge meat temperature and adjust cooking time accordingly.

Shut off crock pot 20 minutes before the meat is completely done. Let rest for ½ hour. Trash veggies and bay leaf.

Slice and serve with side dishes of your choice. Or shred, dump back in the juice, and put in tortillas or rolls.

(served here with mashed potatoes and green beans)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Duke, post TCC

A glimpse inside Duke's head post-The Chaos Child. Minor, minor spoilers.

I will get back to work on Mistress of Malice and Mercy soon. Ish.

The residents of Burkeholt treat Viola like a goddess. They fall over themselves rushing to fulfill her every whim and vie for the opportunity to touch her hand or brush against the sleeve of her jacket. Duke thinks that if they could, they would spread rose petals on the ground for her to walk on or carry her around on a padded chair.

Many of the women from Duke’s past would have exploited the demons. They would have soaked up the attention like a sponge and wished aloud for every petty thing they desired: trinkets, exotic foods, anything the demons had that caught the eye. They would have transformed themselves into their version of a goddess – beautiful, elegant, and wholly self-centered.

When it comes to being a goddess Viola, however, is just plain awkward. Duke can’t help but sit back and watch. It’s the most entertainment he’s had in years.

She listens to the outpouring of effusive compliments until her ears are a bright red, and Duke can practically see the steam pouring out of them. She’s never been one for flattery. When the frustration reaches its boiling point, she snaps at the nearest demons. Tells them to stop calling her Lady Viola, Most Benevolent Savior, Glorious Liberator, or whatever ridiculous title they’ve strung together.

Of course, the demons cower in the face of her anger. Duke bites his tongue to hold back his laughter. They think that’s bad? They should’ve seen her after Sebastian broke her favorite bow her junior year of high school. No one had been spared her wrath then. He has a scar on the back of his left knee from where a dinner plate shard had hit him. Her little tirade on false gods and brown-nosing is nothing.

The demons don’t know better, though. All they know is that they’ve angered their goddess. They prostrate themselves in front of her, beg for mercy. A few of the braver ones fall at her feet and tug on her jeans. There are tears, wails and, buried beneath it all, Duke’s muffled laughter.

Under Viola’s sarcastic, waspish bitter coating, is a heart as soft and squishy as a bean bag chair. When faced with crying, desperate demons, she melts. She forgives them in an instant, begs them to ignore her outburst, and allows them to continue. The cycle begins again.

At Burkeholt, Duke is mostly forgotten. He’s okay with that. He likes staying in the background and observing. Well, he likes watching Viola, at least.

He finds it hilarious that Viola is their Virtuous Queen of Victory. Watching her shift uncomfortably as a Xilarian bard sings (Duke’d rather listen to one of those damn auto-tuned pop songs, but his earplugs are in the truck and they rode in her SUV) her praises, all he can see is his Viola. The girl who shot herself in the foot when she was a kid. Who threw tantrums, skipped school, drove her siblings insane, and got into more trouble than he’d like to remember. She has the curiosity of a cat and fortunately, or unfortunately if you’re on the wrong side of that curiosity, the lives to go with it. She has horrible taste in music, no appreciation for his authority, and an acid-dipped tongue. Five days out of ten, he’d like nothing more than to wrap his hands around her neck and choke the stubbornness out of her.

In the middle of his musings, a scuffle breaks out in the crowd surrounding Viola. Someone starts shoving his way towards her and someone else shoves back and, like all the riot videos Duke’s seen, pandemonium ensues. He tenses, ready to jump in the fray to protect his wife, when she dissolves the tension with a single quiet but firm word.


Miraculously they do. They freeze in place. Viola scoops up the tiny, blue-skinned Crean they’d trampled and cuddles it to her chest. She glares the offenders into giving apologies. They bow their heads in shame, she immediately pardons them, and peace once again fills the sanctuary. The Crean wraps its long, spindly arms around Viola’s neck and stares at her with complete adoration.

Yeah. Duke knows that look. He’s certain it’s been on his face more than once. He gets it. Gets how they can mistake her for a goddess. How many times has she stopped him from making a drunken, stupid mistake? How often has she lifted him from depression or teased him out of self-destruction? She thanks him for keeping her from losing control, but she’s the one who saved his sanity first.

Over the Crean’s head, she flashes Duke a bright, slightly nervous smile. She glows so brilliantly inside and out, that he has to look away. For all her demonic ties and potential for destruction, he’s the one who feels unworthy. He’s struck dumb by the need to wrap her up in his arms and hide her from the rest of the world. Keep all that brilliance to himself. He’s always been the greedy sort.

He wonders if the demons know what they’re asking of her. Defeating Elrachaim won’t be simple. It could cost her every ounce of power she possesses. Could cost her life. She’d do it in a heartbeat because she’s weighed down with guilt. Hell, even if the guilt factor wasn’t an issue, she’d do it. That’s just who she is.

He hates it. They see her as their goddess, but gods fall and can be replaced by someone else with flashing eyes and superpowers. He knows too much about the true Viola to put her on a pedestal or place a crown on her head, but she’s… everything. They need her to save them from her father, but they’ve never asked him if he’s willing to sacrifice her for their freedom. He’s not quite sure what his answer would be if they did.

He thinks maybe he’d say no.

Friday, April 15, 2011

On Music... Soundtrack Fridays

I love music. No, really, I do. If the sound of my voice didn't make small children cry and dogs howl, my career path might have gone a completely different way. I'm crap at the piano, but I could still play a few songs on the flute if asked. I always have the radio playing at work, in the car, anywhere I can.

As I've said on a few writing sites, I don't create playlists for books, really. I create them for characters. They can contain what I think would be the character's favorite songs as well as songs that describe the character. These playlists are amazing when it comes time to writing from that character's perspective. There's just something about music that puts you in a certain mood.

I mention music quite a bit in the Family Lies series. Viola is a music junkie and Duke has his favorite bands. For the next couple of months or so I'm going to put up a few songs from my personal soundtracks on Fridays and explain why I chose them or where they pop up in the book.

In The Chaos Child, Viola hums a song while going through her father's diaries. Many of you have guessed the song correctly, but a few weren't sure. Well... here you go, enjoy a little flashback:

Now, I said I make character playlists, but every now and then I find a song that speaks for the whole book. In this case, I think the song works for the whole series.

What song are you listening to?

Monday, April 4, 2011

WOTD 4-4-11 (Duke/Viola May 1992)

dapple \DAP-uhl\, noun:
1. A small contrasting spot or blotch.
2. A mottled appearance, especially of the coat of an animal (as a horse).
transitive verb:
1. To mark with patches of a color or shade; to spot.
intransitive verb:
1. To become dappled.
1. Marked with contrasting patches or spots; dappled.

Dapple derives from Old Norse depill, "a spot."

May 1992

Toby flinched at the sound of rubber soles on wet grass. Ever since his dad had started training him to recognize footsteps and different sounds, he’d grown more aware of his surroundings. He knew who those footsteps belonged to; only one person he knew skipped everywhere she went.

“Hiya Toby!”

He didn’t acknowledge the cheerful greeting. He carefully filled in the lines on his sketch of the demon his father had brought home earlier. If he got the drawing right, his dad was going to let him do all the autopsy sketches. He was taking advantage of the light summer breeze and sunshine, plus his father had burned the meatloaf again and the house stank.

Undaunted, Viola sidled closer to Toby. She bumped his elbow, peered over his hunched shoulder. “What’cha doin’?”

“Drawing. Don’t you have someone else to annoy, brat?”

“Nope.” Grape-stained lips pulled back to reveal two rows of even, purple teeth. “Livy and Mom are makin’ dinner, and I dunno where Bas went.”

Toby growled under his breath when she bumped his arm again. He shoved her away and went back to work shading in the Dundalk’s dark fur coat. If he was lucky, Viola would go away when she didn’t get the attention she wanted.

“You’re doin’ it wrong.”

His head drooped forward. Long, blond bangs fell into his eyes. He brushed them off his forehead and glared. Viola merely shrugged and stood on the toes of her pink tennis shoes. She leaned over his arm to point at the picture. Her long, auburn ponytail tickled his nose. He tugged on the neon pink rubber band in retaliation.

“Hey!” She swatted his hands, stuck out her purple tongue.

“I am not doing it wrong, brat.”

“Yes you are.”

“Am not.”

“Are, too.”

“Am. Not.”

She rolled her eyes. “Are, too.”

“I. Am. Not.” His nostrils flared, eyes narrowed as he contemplated dipping inside her mind. A quick change of her thoughts would send her back inside the house and out of his hair.

“Are, too. Are, too. Are, too.” She sucked in a quick breath. “Are, too to infinity!”

He snorted. Was that really supposed to work? Remembering his grandmother’s constant admonitions to be nicer to little kids, he resisted the temptation to alter her thoughts. “It’s fine the way it is, Vi.”

“Nah-huh.” She shook her head. The end of her ponytail lashed his cheek. He slapped two hands on her cheeks to keep her from doing it again.

“What’s wrong with it, then?”

“It’s supposed to have spots. You know, like the horses. White and black spots.”

“Like the horses.” Toby released her face and plopped back on his chair. He didn’t believe Viola, but to humor her he grabbed the book by his feet. With her staring at him intently, he flipped to the correct page.

“See, I told you!” She jabbed a short, pale finger at the picture of a Dundalk before twirling away.

He ignored the girl dancing merrily behind him. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that she’d been right. Rather than a smooth, unmarked coat like he’d been drawing, the Dundalk’s coat was dappled. It was a good thing he’d done the sketch in pencil.

“I was right and you were wrong.” Viola spun around his chair, tugged on his ears. “I was right and you were wrong.”

“Yeah, but you’re still a brat.”