Much appreciation to everyone who came out to Lucy’s Books last Saturday for the Second Saturday Art Walk! It was fun to chat with so many readers–some of you I’ve known for a long time, and some I met that day. I’m glad you came out to enjoy the sunshine and talk books with me. Many thanks to Lisa Reid for hosting me and being a champion of my work. (Thanks for the wonderful reviews and Lucy’s Books bag too!)
I wanted to share a new excerpt from Sunset Empire with you. I hope you like it.
From high above the forest floor, the hunter watched the girl. She was pretty, but she was too busy talking on her cell phone to watch where she was going. He had to suppress a laugh when she almost stepped on the deer carcass. That would teach her to hang up and walk.
Where had she come from? He glanced down the path—probably from one of the houses on the edge of the forest. The more pressing question, however, was where was she going? He doubted she knew. She seemed to be wandering the path aimlessly, with no idea of the trouble she could get into.
From his perch, he could clearly hear her side of the conversation as her voice echoed among the trees, even though she wasn’t speaking overly loud. With dismay, he realized this was because the forest had gone eerily silent. The wind picked up, and in the breeze he could smell death.
Go back, he thought, as if he could will her to hear him and take his advice. Wherever you came from, go back. She didn’t, of course. She just kept walking, chatting on that stupid phone of hers.
He narrowed his eyes, irritated. What was this girl’s problem? Surely she could sense that something was wrong in this part of the forest. All the birds had flown away. There were no squirrels chattering from the trees, or any other sounds of wildlife. But no, she was too busy talking to notice. She had barely given the dead deer more than a glance.
He checked his weapon. He couldn’t just stand by like last time—not now that he was sure it worked. He was going to have to reveal himself. He was going to have to save her.
Then, something curious happened. The girl stopped and looked around. “I’ll have to call you back,” she said. She hung up her phone and slipped it into her pocket. She turned a slow circle on the path, staring into the forest. Then, she shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, starting back the way she had come.
The hunter followed her with his eyes, and then surveyed the forest. The smell of decay was fading. Maybe the creatures weren’t coming after all. Silently, he inched his way down the tree, watching for trouble. Six feet from the bottom, he heard a scream.
He dropped the rest of the way to the ground and ran up the path after her, ducking behind a tree when he saw she had stopped and wasn’t dead. She was staring at a spot on the ground, her delicate features contorted with disgust. Whatever was on the ground was smoking. She shuddered in revulsion and then took off down the path, back to civilization.
When he was sure she wouldn’t see him, the hunter emerged from his hiding place. He approached the blackened thing on the ground cautiously, toeing it with his boot. A banana slug. The only reason he could identify it at all was because he could see the piebald yellow and brown markings on the end of its tail. The rest of the six-inch creepy-crawly had been burnt to a crisp.
Who was this girl?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
One of my favorite spots on the Oregon coast is Lucy’s Books, a jewel box of a bookstore, owned by a lovely friend, Lisa Reid. Lisa has curated an awesome collection of books and makes great recommendations. She’s been incredibly supportive of my work, even letting me include her store in my novel, Sunset Empire.
I knew my characters would be exploring the tunnels under 12th Street, and the windows in Lucy’s provide the perfect vantage point for watching a gang of teens up to no good, sneaking across the street to enter the basement of the fictional Chinook Bar & Grill. I asked Lisa if one of my characters could work in her shop so he could observe the mischief. She said yes, and gave Phantom a job.
That’s why I’m excited to join her on Saturday, July 8, from 5-8pm for the Second Saturday Art Walk in Astoria. I’ll be signing copies of Sunset Empire and Pitcher Plant, both of which are set on the Oregon coast. I’ll also be doing a drawing for a book-themed prize, so stop by and say hello.
Here’s an excerpt from Sunset Empire, an exchange between Phantom and his boss (who may or may not be based on the real life owner of Lucy’s–you’ll have to ask Lisa).
“I know that look, Sean Hughes.”
Phantom turned to see Lucy eyeing him from the cash register. “What look?”
Lucy smiled. “Your girl-trouble look. Who is she?”
Since the professor had lost his mind and Phantom’s mother had fallen into a chronic state of depression after his dad died, Lucy Rose was the one person in town he could count on. As his mother’s best friend, Lucy knew what he’d lost, and she’d looked out for him over the years, making sure his fridge was stocked and giving him a job at her bookstore.
Phantom spared a last look at Chinook’s, but Elyse had disappeared from view. He went back to stocking shelves. “Her name’s Elyse Pthan. She’s new at school.”
“Have you talked to her?” Lucy asked, coming over to tidy the front display.
Phantom smiled. “I bought her dinner.”
“That sounds promising. So what’s the problem?”
“We’re friends. I thought we could be more than friends, but then things got complicated.”
“How so?” Lucy asked.
“She’s a Legacy girl. And the granddaughter of Evangeline Porter, chair of the Sean Hughes Sucks Society,” Phantom said.
“That is a problem,” Lucy said, nodding. “But, you know, as much of a force of nature as Ms. Porter might be, I doubt she controls her granddaughter’s mind. Or her heart.” She reached into the box at Phantom’s feet and pulled out one of the new books. “This one will go in the window, I think.” She rearranged the books in the window to include her latest find. “Does Elyse know about Jenna?”
“I told her about the accusations against me,” Phantom replied. “Didn’t want her hearing it from someone else.”
“That’s wise,” Lucy said. “But does she know how you felt about Jenna?”
Phantom shook his head. “I don’t think I can go there yet, Lucy. Wound’s still fresh.”
Lucy put her hand on his shoulder and gave him a sad smile. “I know, sweetie. Give it time.”
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
It’s cover reveal day for Pitcher Plant!
I love, love, LOVE this gorgeous cover from Filles Vertes Publishing. They are a wonderful publishing team.
a plant (especially family Sarraceniaceae, the pitcher-plant family) with pitcher-shaped leaves in which insects are trapped and digested by means of a fluid secreted by the leaves
Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants and are used throughout the book as a metaphor to represent the idea of being lured into a situation you thought would be good, but is actually a trap. Like buying a charming old house with the idea of renovating it, only to realize it’s a money pit. Or falling in love with the wrong person.
For the cover of Pitcher Plant, we were thinking about Victorian curiosity cabinets, and how they were both sophisticated and macbre in displaying botanicals like carnivorous plants, insects pinned under glass, and taxidermy. That was our guiding vision, and I think we pulled it off with a cover that is both elegant and subtly creepy. I’m proud to work with FVP, and so grateful for their hard work on this book. You can preorder it here.
I hope you’ll celebrate our launch day on May 12 by joining us at our release day party on Facebook. Stop by from 6-10pm EDT, and enter to win all kinds of amazing prizes, including a signed copy of Pitcher Plant, a Seaside-themed gift pack, a $10 Amazon gift card, manuscript critiques (for those of you who have novels in progress), and more.
In the meantime, let me whet your appetite with a description and an excerpt from the book.
When Tawny Ellis spots a fixer-upper on the Oregon coast, she and her husband jump at the chance to own a cottage near the beach. But as expensive repairs turn their dream home into a nightmare, their marriage unravels. And worse…the house is not quite vacant. Something in the house’s dark past remains.
Tawny’s daughter has a new imaginary friend, and she bears a striking resemblance to a little girl who squatted in the cottage with her drug-addicted mother. After breaking in and camping out, they vanished, and have been missing for years.
Now the house’s previous owner is enraged with Tawny. As he stalks her family, Tawny suspects she knows what happened to the last people who slept in the house. Her family might be next.
I was falling in love with this fixer-upper, but before we made an offer on the house, I had to check out the basement. I clicked on the light and stepped over the threshold, into darkness. Floating dust motes filled the air, dancing in the flashlight’s beam.
The room before me was expansive, running the length and width of the house. On one end was a wooden stall for firewood, still stacked with logs. They’d come in handy if we restored the fireplace, though I didn’t look forward to cleaning off the cobwebs covering them. The other end of the basement was stacked with junk and garbage, similar to what we’d encountered upstairs.
Everything was blanketed with a thick layer of dust. My nose was stuffy—all the dust triggering my allergies. I made a mental note to take an antihistamine when I got back to the car. Otherwise I’d be paying for this excursion tonight, when my sinuses were too clogged to let me sleep. I just hoped there wasn’t any mold down here. I’d heard horror stories from my neighbor about getting mold removed from her home. The procedure had been costly, and if we got this house, it’d cost us enough as it was.
I ventured a little deeper into the basement, shining my flashlight on the pile of junk. I could make out an old wooden trunk. Did that come with the house? Maybe I’d clean it up and use it for a coffee table.
The beam of my flashlight fell on a tattered ragdoll. The doll’s fabric face and its light brown yarn hair looked dingy. Its flower print dress was dotted with rust colored stains and black flecks. The flecks looked like rodent feces.
There was a rustle to my right, and I startled, swinging my light toward the sound. Given the state of the doll’s dress, I thought it might be a rat.
Suddenly the air was thick with flies. I clamped my mouth shut as they flew toward my face, waving my arms madly to keep them away. They crawled in my hair and buzzed in my ears, and I bit back a shriek. The beam of my flashlight flickered as I used it to swat the flies. I shuddered at the thought of it going out and having to find my way back to the stairs in the dark.
I stumbled back toward the corridor that led to the door of the basement, trying to see through squinted eyes, the cloud of flies, and the dying light of the Maglite. As I reached the passage, the buzzing sound eased, and the flies began to drift back to whatever attracted them to the basement.
I dared one last look, directing my beam to the offending corner of the basement. The dirt floor was carpeted with insects. Flies and other crawling things, though I was too far away to tell what they were. There seemed to be a small lump on the floor that attracted their interest. A dead rat, most likely, but there was no way I was going back to find out.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
The launch date for Pitcher Plant is rapidly approaching, and the team at Filles Vertes Publishing has been hard at work behind the scenes. We’ll have a cover soon, and I can’t wait to show you all. We’re currently working on final edits, and it’s been a great experience. I truly believe the book will be stronger for having feedback from an editor and multiple proofreaders.
As a writer, there comes a point in the process of writing and revision where you can no longer see your mistakes. You know the story inside and out, so you can’t see the plot holes or the need for more character development. You can’t even see when whole words are missing. You’ve read the material so much that your mind fills in the missing parts.
It’s so important to get a fresh perspective from someone who is not as familiar with the manuscript, who can spot errors. You can use spellcheck, of course, but it doesn’t catch everything. It’s easy to spell a word correctly and use the wrong word, like there versus their or your versus you’re. Editors help with other grammatical issues too, like lay versus lie. That’s one that trips me up. Whether I’m working as a writer or editor, I always have to look it up to make sure it’s correct.
You need an editor for the big issues too, like plot and the pace of the story. I know what I want to say, but am I communicating clearly? Editors can help develop a story, fleshing out the parts that seem thin, engaging readers emotionally. They can also help you with logic, consistency, and mapping out the physical movements of your characters. A great scene can be spoiled by a mistake that pulls the reader out of the story. An experienced editor looks at a story holistically and also has an eye for detail.
Essentially, an editor helps you make a story as bullet-proof as possible. I’m grateful to have that help with this new book. We release Pitcher Plant in May, and I’m so excited for you to read it. I learned a lot about the craft in the process of writing it, and I’d like to think it’s my best novel yet.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Who’s got a publishing contract? This girl! I’m thrilled to share that my suspense novel, Pitcher Plant, will be published this spring by Filles Vertes Publishing. FVP is a press with awesome staff, contagious creative energy, and great industry knowledge. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with them.
What’s Pitcher Plant about? It is set on the northern Oregon coast. Here’s a description:
When thirty-year-old Tawny Ellis spots a weathered fixer-upper for sale in Seaside, Oregon, she jumps at the chance to own a house near the beach. She and her husband Mark are tired of sinking money into a high-priced rental, and hope by investing in the house, they can supplement their income by opening a bed and breakfast. Their marriage begins to unravel as repairs cost more than expected, budget cuts threaten Mark’s job, and Mark grows jealous over Tawny’s budding friendship with an attractive handyman. Tensions rise as Nicholas Stroud, the house’s former owner, begins stalking Tawny and her two young daughters. Tawny learns that Stroud lost his childhood home through foreclosure, and believes he may still be angry over the loss.
Then one of Tawny’s daughters starts talking about a new friend, one who might be imaginary. This friend bears a striking resemblance to a former resident, a little girl who squatted in the house with her drug-addicted mother during the foreclosure. Now the girl and her mother are missing, and Tawny suspects Stroud may be responsible for their disappearances. After finding evidence of foul play in the house, Tawny fears she and her daughters may become Stroud’s next victims.
Join us on January 28 for the FVP launch party on Facebook, 7:30pm-10:30pm EST. Connect with publishing industry professionals and enter to win prizes! Giveaways include two full manuscript critiques, partial and submission package critiques, Amazon gift cards, and more!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017