Interview with Ryder Billings from the Lindy Johnson Series by Nellie K. Neves

Hello Readers! I know, it’s been a while since my last interview with a book character, but the person I have run into now drew me out of my hiding hole. Ryder Billings stars at the side of Lindy Johnson in Nellie K. Neves’ awesome Lindy Johnson series. I have written reviews of the first two books, but book three, Sparrows & Sacrifice, needed more than just a review. So I invited Ryder to chat with me, even if he’s not at his best at the moment.

Hi Ryder, how are you doing?

Hi, thanks for having me. I hope you don’t mind, I brought some snacks. Candy calms me down a bit when I’m agitated. Seems like I’m always agitated these days. You can have some if you want. I think I have Red Vines and Sour Worms here.

Ooh, snacks! I’ll have a few Sour Worms, thanks! Although I must admit I’m more into chocolate. So, Ryder, you‘ve just been released from hospital with amnesia. Is it very hard to deal with? What is the last thing you remember?

That’s the thing, my shrink, Dr. Tarleton, was explaining this to me—it’s not amnesia, it’s repressed memories. Think of it like dropping a glass of milk on a floor. You’re gonna want to contain it before it goes everywhere. Trauma is being contained by my brain. Anything that trauma touches is repressed. When people ask what my last memory is, I don’t know what to tell them. Amnesia is like a wall in a specific moment in time. What I’m facing is more like Swiss cheese. Half a memory here, a third of one there, not ever enough to make a complete recollection. Things spark, but I can’t quite grab hold.

Goodness, that must be so frustrating!

Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover it. Infuriating is closer. No one will give me answers. I get flashes of things, terrifying things, but they’re gone before I know why I was scared. Dr. Tarleton says it’s not the first time I’ve done this. He says all these childhood memories were already repressed and whatever happened to me brought them to the surface.

Yes, your father wasn’t exactly the most comfortable person to be around. Lindy found weapons all over your mother’s bedroom when she stayed in your place before she went to the dude ranch. It made her uneasy. You mean you don’t remember any of that, either?

I guess this is how my brain deals with trauma. It’s kinda stupid if you ask me. My most complete memories are from the summer. I remember a party at Johnny’s bar, and I remember leaving on a trip with Vanessa, but I’m having a hard time even putting that together.

Can we move back to the day you walked into a bar and ran into Lindy Johnson for the first time? There clearly was a lot of static in the air between you. Was it love at first sight?


He pauses and pops a Sour Worm into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

Yeah, I remember that night. Was it love at first sight? No. Attraction? Maybe. Deception? Definitely.

He sighs.

People can have chemistry, you know? But if that’s all there is, even the strongest chemical fires burn out. We had chemistry. I won’t argue that. But where is she now? Not here. It speaks volumes, doesn’t it? I’ve got this thing with abandonment. I guess my shrink says it’s a trigger. I’m finding out all about my triggers and faults in my twice a day therapy sessions.

Ryder shifts in his seat and looks over at me sheepishly.

Next question, I didn’t like that one.

Before I can even take a breath he interrupts.

Fine. I’ll say this about Lindy. What I can remember is conflicted at best. One side, I can’t forget that kiss I stole the night of the masquerade, or her staying with me at the lighthouse, letting me keep her safe. But on the other hand, I know she’s used me. I know she pushed me away. Shouldn’t I let go at some point? But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s this Swiss cheese hole over the top of most of it. I can’t let go. I can’t move on. But I don’t know why. And the only person who could tell me ran off for a case—again.

Love at first sight? No. But I wish she was here. Maybe then we could sort the rest out.

His hand automatically digs into the Sour Worms, fiddling with each one before it lands in his mouth.

You saved Lindy numerous times due to her outstanding ability to get into trouble, but she never really treated you as her hero, did she? Did that hurt?

This question makes him laugh.

Outstanding ability, understatement of the year, even with my limited memories.

He pauses.

Yeah, there were times I wished had ended differently. I don’t have time to catch a breath before she shoves me away again most of the time. I don’t know if I’d be that hard on her though. After the casket, I know I was her hero. She’s not one to gush, but if you’re around her long enough, you learn to read between the lines. I’ll say this about her, Lindy is the first person to truly see me. If I hold back, or lie, or tell someone else I’m fine, they let it go. Not Lindy. She’ll throw herself on the pyre trying to get the truth out of me. She’s not your typical woman. She doesn’t blurt out her feelings, or drown a guy in compliments, but those times she surrendered to me, melted in my arms, and gave me control, I was her hero, her knight and her rescuer. I’d take those stolen moments over any amount of praise or fanfare.

I’m raising my eyebrows.

Well, with that description, I’m definitely not a typical woman, either. Maybe that’s why I like her so much. Even if I also think she’s a bit hard on herself sometimes. Okay, a lot of times. Let’s move on to another little special about Lindy. You have extensive medical training, even if you‘re not a doctor. What went through your head when you first heard that she suffers from Multiple Sklerosis?

Ah yes, her big secret. Honestly, the first thing that went thought my head was, “At least it’s not cancer”. I was worried she was terminal, five weeks to live or something like that. I said it to myself like it was somehow better that she’s facing chronic disease, rather than terminal disease. I’m glad it’s not cancer, I really am, but MS isn’t easy. Where other diseases follow a predictable pattern, and treatment plans are typically clear and concise, multiple sclerosis is all over the place. She has every right to be scared and cautious.

Yes, she has. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to have that hovering over you all the time. At the same time I don’t how I would react if I found out my husband was chronically ill.

Some people aren’t made to have a chronically sick partner. You can get sucked into the role of caregiver and nurse and forget you were ever lovers in the first place. You see it across the board in the medical community, people being abandoned while at their weakest. Either pushed away by the ailing patient, or overwhelmed by the responsibility. More marriages end from chronic illness than you’d expect. Knowing the inevitable future she was facing, I did stop. I did consider shutting it down right then and there. She looks healthy now, but there’s no telling how long it will last.

Especially if she goes on pushing her limits like she does. How do you feel about her notion to keep you at a distance so you won‘t have to see her suffer? Is that one of the reasons for your relationship with Vanessa?

Her rules, yeah, she’s all about sacrificing herself. Her happiness, her health, her future, her life… I think because she feels like she’s got this expiration date stamped on her arm, none of that matters. In all honesty, I think it’s stupid to keep me, or anyone else, at arm’s length to stop us from getting attached and lessen our pain if it turns out she has less time than we expected. She needs people in her life to help her through the hard times. We’re gonna hurt no matter what. If I had a few memories to carry with me, especially now, it might make it hurt less. She must think very little of herself if she believes she can leave this world without people feeling the impact from her life. That’s just sad.

I think so, too. Maybe it’s because her parents always told her she’s weak. And because she feels chronically guilty for the loss of her sister. Perhaps that’s a lot worse than MS. On the upside, she could heal, if she’d just let anyone in on her innermost self. Why does the term ‘not before hell freezes over’ come to mind?

We both laugh and help ourselves to more snacks.

So what about Vanessa?

I don’t know what to do there. Look, don’t say anything about it, but it’s a real mess. She keeps telling me she loves me. I hate it. I feel like I woke up in someone else’s life. Everyone wants me to be whoever that guy was—the one they knew before. I keep running over the memories I have. I hate to say Vanessa was a rebound, but I can’t figure out why I took her number the night Lindy stood me up. Because she was there? Dr. Tarleton says the trauma from my childhood, all the abuse, makes it hard for me to be alone, not physically, but emotionally. I guess that’s why I was with Vanessa then, and why I let her hang around now. Because she’s there. It’s the one quality Lindy never seems to have.

What are you hoping for at this point? Do you even want to remember what happened, knowing that your brain basically shut down due to emotional overload?

At this point, I just want a life free of shrinks and projection tests. I want my mom to move out. I want to be able to drive, cook, paint, anything without people eyeing me like I might snap. I’m not even allowed to weld right now. My mom hides my keys. I think she’s worried I might swerve off a cliff or something. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it. I feel like an intruder in my own body. Like maybe this is a bad dream, and I need something big to jolt me awake. I wish I could go back to normal, but I don’t know what that looks like.

Do I want to remember? If I can be honest? No. And yes. Mostly no. The blips I see, the moments of clarity, I know there’s a reason I don’t remember. Violence. Terror. Not fear, but absolute terror. I know I’m fighting them back, wanting normal, but not wanting to carry that trauma on my conscious mind. I feel like it might tear me apart to remember it, like I might get lost forever. And as dark as my thoughts get, I’m not willing to take that risk. If I could get my life back without ever knowing anything from my past, I’d do it, but I don’t feel like that’s possible at this point.

That’s really a tough place to be in. I wish I could just snap my fingers and make everything fine again. But it won’t happen. You’ll have to fight your way through it. Wishing you all the best, though! One final question, to ease out on a lighter note: If you were a fairy tale character, who would you be?

Lighter, yeah, that sounds nice. Well, right now I feel like a troll under a bridge. Everyone is tip-toeing over the top, avoiding me, trying not to set me off, but if I got to choose a fairy tale character? Robin Hood. He lives in the woods with his buddies, he’s a total rogue, and he gets the girl. Sounds like the dream to me.

But it’s not like Lindy would sign up to be Maid Marian. She’d pick Rapunzel, up in a tower by herself. I’d be on the ground waiting for her hair to grow.

Well, if that’s the case, you’d better store up on those snacks! Thanks so much for being here and good luck for your future! I so hope it’ll all turn out alright. Bye!

He waves and throws me the rest of the Sour worms. I sit munching for a while, wondering where all of this will lead. I really hope the two of them get things sorted out and find their happily ever after!


Sticking to Rules is just a Symptom

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Remember Lisa? I’ve done an interview with Lisa a while back. Lisa is my protagonist’s older sister, and she sure knows how a Christian should behave. She knows all the rules and sticks by them. She expects everybody else to stick by them, too! To give you a little impression, here’s an excerpt from “Out of the Dark“, where Lisa meets Josie for the first time, the woman her brother Jim fell in love with – unbeknownst to her.

“We don’t drink alcohol,” Lisa cut in. Josie’s eyebrows shot up.
“You don’t?” She looked at Stacey.
“Oh, Lisa, come off it. YOU don’t drink alcohol. I do once in awhile, but you have yet to see me drunk. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.”
Lisa ignored this statement completely.
“Are you a Christian?” she asked Josie instead. Josie hesitated a moment.
“Is that a prerequisite for moving in here?” Josie asked back, to gain a bit of time. She was already aware of the fact that while Stacey was an uncomplicated and warm-hearted person, Lisa on the other hand was a bit peculiar. She hadn’t quite put her finger on it yet, but it seemed to her that Lisa liked to be in control and set the rules. She was probably friendly and sweet as long as everybody played her tune, but might turn nasty if one decided to play one’s own little melody.
“No, it’s not,” Stacey said very decisively in response to Josie’s question.
“Would you say you are, even if you’re not, if it was a prerequisite?” Lisa went on, eyes shining eagerly like a cat smelling rat.
Josie leaned back in her chair and smiled charmingly, envisioning a tail twitching with excitement sticking out through the back of Lisa’s chair. Now she knew exactly what Lisa was like, but it didn’t bother her in the least. Lisa loved the challenge of getting her way without people noticing it. But – Josie relaxed completely – she was not very good at it. Josie chuckled quietly to herself. Her mother was like that. And her mother was extremely good at it. And so was Josie herself, having learned from her – and used it on her successfully.
“No, I wouldn’t,” she replied to Lisa’s question. “If it was a prerequisite, I would think you are religious freaks and would most certainly not want to live with you. Are you religious freaks?”
Stacey giggled again.
“I don’t think I have laughed so much in the past three weeks together,” she said cheerfully.
Lisa’s smile appeared to be a little strained, but she made no further comment on matters of faith.

 Out of the Dark, Chapter 3, A Good Move

Do you know people like that? I have encountered them and I must admit that they are not the ones who made the Christian faith attractive to me. I tend to do things my own way and people who want to impress their rules on me usually make me squirm and snap.

But faith is all about rules, isn’t it? God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to keep and even Jesus himself said “You love me if you keep my commandments” (John 15:10). Obviously, there is a connection between the rules and love. Most people think the connection is this: If I keep the rules, God is going to love me. I know many people who see it that way, some of them Christians, some of them not.

For the Christians, this attitude means they can earn their way into heaven. And if they can earn their way into heaven, so can everyone else. All you have to do is keep the rules. It gives them the perfect excuse to act like Lisa and call everyone out who is NOT keeping the rules.

For the non-Christians, this attitude is a monstrous barrier between them and God. Either they don’t want to keep all the rules because there are just too many of them and life is no longer fun if you stick by them, or they feel they will never be able to keep all the rules, well aware of their own weakness.

The good news is: It’s a lie. Nobody can earn their way into heaven. Salvation is a gift, and the only thing you have to do to receive it is to accept it. The connection between the rules and love is this: Keeping the rules is just a symptom of loving God.

When I accepted the fact that I needed a saviour and Jesus was the only one adequate to deal with all of my problems, I was far from perfect. I didn’t keep the rules. I didn’t even know all the rules. Some of them I knew and broke willfully, because I wanted to. The only thing that happened was that I hurt myself. It did not diminish God’s love for me. The longer I’ve lived in this extraordinarily loving relationship with God, the clearer the rules became. And with this growing awareness, my wish to keep the rules increased. Not for the rules’ sake, but for my sake. Not to please God and make him love me, but because I learned from experience that breaking the rules hurts – either me or others.

It makes me sad to hear Christians call people out on their sins, because I know it will only drive them away from God. It doesn’t help. Acceptance helps. Helping helps. Sharing in the pain of a broken heart helps. Good advice or empty prayers rarely do. Another small excerpt that shows the difference.

Josie didn’t reply but stared into her coffee cup, wondering why this was so utterly different from what Stacey had said to her about Jesus. Of course, Stacey hadn’t asked Josie to pray with her, she had only spoken about her own experiences. But Lisa had also spoken of her experiences, so why did she feel offended? It felt like an intrusion, this offer of prayer. As if Lisa tried to make things right from a distance, without getting involved. Stacey had gotten involved, had not been afraid to get real close to what was happening.

Out of the Dark, Chapter 7, The Workings of the Heart

There are those who are not afraid to get involved. Those who do not judge. Those who stand by you without asking questions. They might tell you their opinion, but they will never condemn you. They are the forgiven ones. The ones who remember the times when they themselves were helpless, hopeless and in need. The grateful ones who serve God not out of duty, but for love. If you meet one of those, don’t be afraid to trust them. They make great friends.

Wingless by Heather Trim

Following the airy YA adventure of Wingbound, which ended in a dragon-infested battle chaos, Wingless picks the story of the flying island Ellery up and moves it along at a good pace.

We meet almost all our familiar characters in prison – winged and wingless alike, which makes the reader wonder what is going on. Things are cleared up pretty soon and the Balfourians have only one wish: To get home to their village in one piece. Or do they?

It’s hard to describe this story without giving away any of the twists that make it so enjoyable. Let me just say that black and white no longer exist, there are good guys and bad guys with and without wings and Ledger, Tolliver and the rest of the crew have as much trouble figuring out whom to trust as the reader.

Personal relationships and development of characters are clearer, more natural and more intense than in book 1, fuelled by the introduction of new friends and foes.

The only criticism I have is that the ending is a bit too smooth. Given the characterization of the bad guys, I doubt that the massive changes necessary to achieve peace between the winged and wingless people would be possible as described. But if you enjoy a happy ending, this book will have you close it with a deeply satisfied sigh.


The author kindly provided me with an advance copy for this review. If you would like to know more about the series, click here for an interview with Hollis, the girl who thinks dragons make wonderful pets. 

Interview with Drew (Safe Cages)

Young smiling manDear readers,

Today’s guest on my sofa is a very unique person. For those of you who may not have read Michael and Sam’s story as told in Safe Cages by Michelle Bolanger, Drew Reardon is a pastor who was born with the outward (and some internal) physical characteristics of both male and female. The traits were so equally formed, it was impossible at birth to clearly determine which gender he should be assigned. With the doctor’s advice, it was decided his birth certificate would indicate he was female, and he was raised as a girl until puberty, when hopefully his body would begin to produce either estrogen or testosterone. At the age of about 16, his body began producing testosterone. After he turned 18 and graduated high school, he had corrective surgery and fully transitioned to male. I hope you don’t mind me telling our readers all these details, Drew. You were pretty open about it with Michael.

It’s fine, don’t worry. Now you probably have everyone’s attention!
He laughs heartily.  

I sure hope so! I’m sorry it’s so awfully hot here, would you like a drink? Water, Coke, a beer?

I really enjoy a nice cold La Croix soda water, but most people don’t have that, so I brought a case!

That’s new! People usually don’t bring their own drinks, but hey! I’ll have some. Drew, given your own personal history, how hard was it for you to accept that God doesn’t make any mistakes? 

That is a difficult question to answer concisely, because my parents always made sure I understood there was nothing wrong with me. When I was old enough to understand, they explained that I had a physical condition which would eventually require corrective surgery, but the way my body was formed didn’t change who I am. I thank my parents for that, because they never made me feel I was broken or somehow ‘less’ than anyone else. They loved me unconditionally, and their love taught me, in a very tangible way, that God loves people for who they are, not what they look like.

That has certainly been a blessing in your life. But weren’t there questions? Doubts? Why did God make me this way? I mean, almost everyone asks themselves these things.

He twists his soda thoughtfully in his hands.
Let me come at it from another angle. I don’t think I ever thought God made a mistake with me. But, once I was old enough to fully grasp what my body needed me to do – which was to live and be accepted as a boy instead of the girl I’d been raised as – I blamed God and my parents for keeping me from it. I was very angry during my senior year of school, especially when word got out that I was different. While I was in recovery after my surgery, I began to understand why my parents insisted I wait until I was out of High School to transition. High school is an emotional, hormonal mess of an experience all on its own, and giving me an additional year to adjust to those emotions and rising hormones BEFORE I transitioned gave me a much firmer foundation to begin from as a man. There are still times I wrestle with why God had me go through it, but in the end, none of it changed who I am as a person, and it has opened doors of opportunity for me I might not otherwise have had.

If I had been in your shoes, I probably would have moved to a different city where nobody knew me. What made you return home after only one year? How did people react? 

I stayed because Canberry Ridge is home. Home is home, you know? The people closest to me and my family already knew the whole truth and stood by us. Having a solid support system was vital to me being able to move forward. I can’t imagine trying to go through such a huge life change without them. As for how other people reacted? Well, as I said, our closest friends and family knew from the beginning, and most of them were there to support us when others weren’t willing to hear the truth. It was difficult to hear the rumors and the hateful words some used, but I knew who mattered most in my life, and let the rest go.

I’m not sure this was as easy as you make it sound right now.

He bites his lower lip and nods slowly, but doesn’t say anything.

I can see you are more open-minded than many Christians out there. What Michael had to go through with his parents simply shouldn’t happen. Do you think this accepting lifestyle you and your family are living is something you can teach people? 

I certainly hope so!

I wonder how you go about that. But when I look at you, I suspect you probably go by the old writer’s rule “show, don’t tell”.

That’s always been the best way to do it!
He winks at me.

Let’s take a closer look at Michael and Sam. Best friends, lovers, husbands! Those two share a bond that runs deeper than most happily-ever-after couples I’ve met. Didn’t it tear you apart to tell them they need to separate?

Drew sighs heavily.
It did tear me apart to see them separate, but I never told them they needed to, I didn’t have to. When Michael made the decision to trust God, GOD showed him what his next step was. I was prepared to give him time and space to figure it out with God. I think sometimes we do more harm than good when we try to speak for God in situations like this. I trusted that Michael, and eventually Sam, would develop enough of a relationship with God and His Word that they would come up with the solution without my interference.

I wish more Christians trusted God like that. But so often we think we know better and have to help God along a little, because he is not moving at the speed we expect. Like you said, we often do more harm than good.

Michael trusted God and stepped into a relationship with Him, not me. My job as Michael’s pastor was to guide him into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest. He always does.
A strange light comes into his eyes as he says this and I wonder what miraculous memories he’s thinking of.

You’ve talked to Michael extensively. How could he possibly turn back to the God who created him with all these feelings and then told him “no-no”? He will have to deny himself and possibly remain single for the rest of his life! 

Michael came back to God because being without Him was no longer a risk he was willing to take with his future. His physical needs and desires here are very real, but they are no more or less than any other single man or woman faces when they make the commitment to wait until marriage – and then are denied the marriage they crave – for whatever reason. That sounds like a trite answer, or a cop out, but it isn’t. As a committed Christ Follower, there are many pleasures God doesn’t allow me to participate in, but in comparison to eternal life and the peace that comes from being in an intimate relationship with God, they aren’t worth it.
Michael and I have talked a lot, and I won’t speak for him, but I don’t believe he feels like he is being denied anything anymore.

Do you think Sam will eventually enter into a relationship with Tasha? Would she be open to such a thing, knowing Sam’s true feelings? 

That’s not for me to answer, and I truly don’t know if either of them would consider it. But, if they asked me, I would counsel them against it. Both of them need time to adjust to and figure out who they are as individuals before they approach a romantic relationship with anyone.

What could straight couples or singles learn from Michael and Sam?

Wow. That’s a great question. Their friendship alone is something to be admired, although it is still evolving and will probably never be what it once was, it proved to be unbreakable in the face of one obstacle after another. I believe they would quite literally die for each other.
The way Michael took on the responsibility for Sam’s daughter AND her mother still amazes me. He never wavered, never hesitated to treat them as his own family. He still does, by the way.
And Sam – I think he knew Michael was going to pull away, but gave him the space to make the decision. He didn’t understand it at the time, and it certainly wasn’t the decision he expected, but he didn’t try to stop Michael from working it out in his way. Given Michael’s willingness to give Sam anything he truly wanted or needed, Sam could easily have dissuaded him from spending time with Tasha and myself. He trusted Michael implicitly, even when he suspected it would cost him in the end. Michael’s peace of mind was more important to Sam than having his own way.
Both of these men are selfless and want nothing more than to know that the people they love have what they need, even if it costs them what they want. I want to be more like them.

Thank you, Drew, for being so honest with us. It’s been a great chat and I hope we meet again!

Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions! I hope I answered them well. Before I forget, my wife sends greetings – and this.
He hands me a gift bag. I peer inside and find tea towels, specialty candies, and a candle that smells faintly of lavender. 

red love heart christmas
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Why, thank you! That’s a nice surprise!

He downs the rest of his soda and shakes my hand in farewell.

Wow, what an impressive personality. This chat has really widened my horizon. Amazing how a person can be both so strict about following God’s law and so compassionate about the feelings of the people around him. I think we can all learn from him!

Interview with Jennifer (The Healer’s Secret)

The Healer's Secret_kindle coverI’m very happy to welcome a guest from Italy today to chat with me on my sofa. I met Jennifer in a book called “The Healer’s Secret” written by Helen Pryke and her story is filled with loss and heartache. Nevertheless, the lady sitting next to me is looking quite happy. Welcome Jennifer!

Hi Annette, thanks for having me.

Would you like some coffee?

She laughs.
Do you really need to ask that?

No, not really.
Jennifer, you have been incredibly honest when you told your story and I can only marvel at the things you have gone through. For those who know nothing about it, you were born in the UK and then moved over to Italy to spend some time with your mother’s relatives. Tell me, when you first met your Italian relations, were they family to you immediately or rather strangers who grew into family after a while?

They were so welcoming and loving that it was easy to feel part of the family immediately. Aunt Liliana is a force to be reckoned with, she’s a fireball of energy that dominates the whole family. But you can tell she does it because she loves them. When they all offered to help clean up the cottage, I was amazed – Giulia was pregnant at the time, but didn’t hesitate to get stuck in! Italian culture is so different from British culture, it’s all geared towards the family, which can be suffocating at times. I found it overwhelming at first, but I also loved the fact that they were so relaxed and natural with me right from the beginning. They let me into their family and their lives without hesitation, and that’s an incredible feeling.

It seemed to me you wanted to be alone and loathed it at the same time. How hard was it for you to allow them to get close?

Jennifer sighs deeply.
When I arrived at the cottage, my head was all over the place. I’d come over to Italy for some ‘me’ time and to sort myself out, and found myself thrown into the middle of these people who were all talking at once. I could hardly understand a word. And then there was that business over Bruna – all I did was try to ask them about her. You’d have thought I’d mentioned Jack the Ripper! I was dreading that first week, with them coming over to the house every day to help clean, but you know what? I found that I liked the company. They talked non-stop, about anything and everything, and it was lovely just to listen to them. It distracted me from thinking about booze, too. There, I’ve said it. The elephant in the room.
Like I said, my head was all over the place back then. I had a serious drinking problem, I’d lost my job and my husband because of it, and Mum and I didn’t have a very good relationship at the time. She refused to talk to me about what was going on, about how losing the babies had turned me into this person I didn’t want to be, and I needed someone to hold my hand and tell me everything was going to be all right. So I came from this quiet house in the UK, where I had too much time to think, to these wonderful, open, talkative people who wouldn’t give me a moment’s peace. By the end of the week, when they told me they were going to leave me alone during the weekend, I suddenly realised I didn’t want that peace and quiet any more. And, as you know, I went a bit crazy and turned the house upside down looking for alcohol…
She studies her feet.

Can we talk about what it did to you? How hard is it for you to stay away from drink, especially in a country that celebrates “dolce vita”, excellent wines included?

It was really hard at the beginning. Just the smell of it had me salivating, and it took all my strength to say no to a glassful. I did give in, though. Like I said, I searched everywhere for a bottle of wine, even just some dregs, and thought I’d hit the jackpot when I found all those bottles in the garage. I couldn’t resist, and had to drink some. As you know, it had some unexpected side effects, and I felt pretty stupid when Agnese told me it was just fruit juice. But, like everything else here at the cottage, it wasn’t just any old fruit juice, it had magical properties. Do you believe in magic? I didn’t, until I arrived here and all these things happened to me.
She pauses, for the moment undecided whether to go on.

I think what turned me off alcohol forever was that incident with Mark. I still don’t understand why he did it – was it really because I’d told him I wanted to go to the caves rather than the sanctuary? He wasn’t right in the head, and I hope we never see him again, especially after what he did to Agnese. If he’s got any sense, he’ll stay far away. After his run-in with Mum, he should think twice about coming back!

I can’t even begin to imagine how rotten you must have felt. Let’s not dwell on that.
What was it like to suddenly tap into a family history that runs hundreds of years into the past; to discover secrets both dark and almost magical?

It was a scary feeling. One moment I was sitting down, enjoying a glass of wine, the next I was reliving my great-grandmother’s life and going through everything she’d gone through. Afterwards, though, I was awed by the fact that our family has such a long history – all the way from medieval times! And touching the recipe book – it sends shivers down my spine every time. To think that women have been writing in it since the 1300s, recording every concoction they made so that we can continue to make them today…that’s incredible.
And there is something magical here at the cottage, I can feel it. One day I’ll discover what it is, why there’s both good and evil in this place. When I find the courage to open the box, that is. I keep getting nightmares about it… such strange dreams… so eventually I’m going to have to open the chest with the tapestry and go back into the past.

One last question: If you were a fairy tale character, who would you be and why?

Sleeping Beauty, because I feel like I’ve been asleep ever since my relationship with Paul turned sour. Losing the babies and then turning to drink meant that I put my life on hold, unable to face up to my past and move on to a better future. Although I didn’t need a Prince Charming to wake me up – I did that all by myself –, Francesco was an added bonus!

Oh yes, Francesco. I’d love to hear more about him! I believe you have a plane to catch, though, so thank you a lot for joining me and being so open about everything!

You’re welcome and thanks for the coffee. I have a little gift for you before I leave.
She hands me a tiny painting.

Oh! This is lovely! Did you do this?

No, I got this from a cab driver who is also a painter. He gave it to me after taking me to the cottage that first day in Italy. I thought it would look nice over your sofa.

Wow, that painting? I remember! Are you sure you want to part with it?

She nods and rises to leave.

I’m deeply honoured. Thank you so much! I really appreciate this. Bye!



Interview with Hollis (Wingbound)

Today I have a very special guest coming in for a chat. To be honest, I am in awe of this lady. I came across her in the newly released novel “Wingbound” by Heather Trim and I’m a tiny bit apprehensive about her showing up. You’ll find out why in a minute!

HollisA fair-haired young woman enters and plops down on the sofa, taking one look around before grabbing a cookie out of the bowl on the table.

Hi Annette!

She smiles perkily and pops the cookie into her mouth. A faint smell of fire hovers around her.

Welcome, Hollis! Nice to meet you. Tell me, when you grew up in your village, was it a carefree time for you and your friends? How much did the annual clash with the Sky people affect you?

Balfour is pretty fun, probably because I make it fun. The Clash makes me crazy. I have to stay inside. Bored. Waiting. Smelling feet. Well, not my feet, but my brothers’ feet. Gah! They stink.

She pulls a face and wrinkles up her nose in disgust.

What about Ledger? You played some fierce pranks on him while growing up together.

Ledger spends a lot of time with a straight face. I just figure I am helping him out by making his face do weird things… like SMILE.

I can’t get enough of the flailing he does when he’s startled! Ha!

Another cookie disappears in her mouth.

When did you become aware of the true nature of your feelings for him? Was it before or after you went on that crazy trip with him and the others?

I’m pretty sure I was born to love that guy. My heart is like a ferret. When it latches on, that thing never lets go! Ledger just took a while to realize that I’m his ferret.

It must have been terrible for you to learn about his true motivation for that adventure.

I freaked out a little. Okay, a lot. What girl wouldn’t? It’s not like he is any good at expressing his feelings or using words—out loud. A little heads-up before leaving Balfour would have been nice! I was blindsided. “Hey Hollis, your man is chasing the tail of some other girl—with wings.” Haha, that made her sound like a dragon. She is not as cool as a dragon. He figured that out after she ditched him. He didn’t know what in the world he was doing. It’s like his brains got sucked out of his head. I considered letting Tristeh crap on him. Anyway, what were we talking about?

Oh, definitely dragons. You found solace in caring for one, didn’t you? By the way, I’m so glad you didn’t bring Tristeh. Even though I can’t shake a certain curiosity. Why didn’t she eat you?

Hollis laughs with a twinkle in her eyes.

Tristeh is amazing! She’s a big baby. She didn’t eat me because she knows I saved her, well, we saved each other, I guess.

But when I found out she could breathe fire—Whew! I was shocked. Why in the skies did she need to do that? I figure I’m too awesome to barbeque!

I can’t help laughing – and agreeing.

You seem to have a special touch for special creatures, Ledger included. He isn’t exactly the easiest person to be around. Why him?

Ha! Yes, I’m a beast tamer! Ledger is the best because he’s the least judgmental person I know. I mean, he offered to help our mortal enemies. Who does that? Plus he has great hair.

Great hair? Well, in that case I have hope my older son won’t have trouble finding a girl. When he shows up at the hairdresser, all the women flock around him to get their fingers into his curls.

So, what do you think will happen when you complete your trip and return to your village with a monstrous pet?

Holy skies, I haven’t even thought that far ahead! Hopefully my dad will let me keep her. And let me keep Ledger.

Hollis winks confidentially at me. I wink back.

Just between us: What do you think of Alouette?

Hollis rolls her eyes.

That girl is sending all sorts of weird signals. I wish Ledger would have introduced me to her back before we left Balfour. I would have told him she’s not his ferret. Or at least not ferret-material, if you know what I mean.

I suppose it was the combination of doing something forbidden with the thrill of encountering something completely new – like flying – that captured him. If someone told you to give up your dragon, you wouldn’t listen either, would you?

What did you say?

Right. One last question: If you were a fairy tale character, who would you be and why?

I know this isn’t a fairy tale character, but hey, I’m not one much for rules. You’ve seen My Little Pony, right? I would totally be Rainbow Dash because she’s brave and fast. She’s sassy and amazing. Like me.

Well, I have to get going, Tristeh hasn’t had her daily exercise yet and you don’t want to have a bored, cranky dragon under your feet, believe me. Can I take some more of those cookies? They’re great!

Sure, go ahead. And thank you so much for joining me, it was fun meeting you!

She waves and rushes out the door like a fresh breeze. When I move to straighten the cushions, my eyes are caught by something longish and flat lying on the sofa.

Hm, what’s this? Looks like a scale of some sort. Maybe it’s a dragon’s scale! Wow. I should start a collection of memorabilia of my chat guests. I already have a ball of fur from Malcom, the cat shifter. And now a dragon’s scale! Fabulous!

Interview with Malcolm

Today I have an unusual guest to chat with.
No, dear readers, I have not gone mad talking to a cat. Well, I have talked to numerous cats in my life, but this is definitely the first time I’m receiving coherent answers.
You see, Malcolm here is a little more than meets the eye. I have encountered him in a story called “Sweet Vengeance”, written by Aliya DalRae and I must admit I was intrigued right from the start.

 A large, black cat jumps up on the sofa, kneads the cushion with his claws a few times and then settles comfortably. The faintest of purrs is audible.

 Welcome, Malcom! Or should I say King Cat?

Hello, and Malcolm is fine, though King Cat has done wonders for my ego.

Malcolm, you seem to be playing a superior role among the felines under Jessica Sweet’s care. How do you get along with them?

Regarding the cat population Jessica insists on caring for, well, they’re just cats, whereas I am quite a bit more. I think most people know by now that I am actually a cat Shifter. Due to some rather unfortunate circumstances in my past, I’ve chosen to remain in my feline form. It’s just easier for me at this point.  (For more on that, check out the short story, Bittersweet.) As for how I get along with the lesser cats? I hate to sound like a snob, but I avoid them as much as I can. I mean, they eat kibble. Know what I mean? That’s just…

Malcolm shivers.

When I was first introduced to you, Jessica seemed to be looking after you. But now I’m not so sure. Were you looking after her?

Good catch there. As I mentioned, I’ve been in my feline form for a while now. My Clowder (that’s what we call our group of Shifters) tried to force me to change back, to return to my other life, but when your heart’s broken sometimes you just need to take a break. When the wolves approached my Overlord requesting one of us keep an eye on Miss Sweet, I was the obvious choice. I do my best to make sure she stays safe, but that girl has an uncanny knack of finding trouble if there’s trouble to be found. If there were anyone who needed looking after, it would be Jessica.

Yes, she is rather stubborn and a bit reckless – a dangerous combination. It was quite obvious in the story that you aren’t too fond of Raven. Let me ask you straight out: Are you jealous of him?

Malcolm hisses.

I think saying I’m “not fond” of Raven is a gross understatement. I can’t stand the fu… the guy. He’s totally wrong for Jessica, and believe me, she’s going to see nothing but trouble from having that Vampire in her life. Pain and suffering as far as the mind can see. But that isn’t answering your question. Am I jealous of Raven? You’re darned right, I am.

And Jessica doesn’t have a clue! She thinks you’re just a cat. Well she did until Raven started communicating with you. I know cats have strong egos, but wasn’t taking it up with a centuries old vampire a little out of your league?

Malcolm chuckles and shakes his head.

You know, I ask myself that every…single…day. I mean really, when it comes down to it, what could a barn cat do against a creature like Raven? Even in my human form, I would be no match. And yet, there is more to me than meets the eye, surprises I have yet to reveal. Stay tuned, my friends.

Now you really made me curious. I just hope your heart doesn’t get broken all over again in this! It must be very difficult for you to stick to your assignment, having to watch Jessica being totally infatuated with Raven and knowing that scratching that Vampire’s eyes out is just not on. You have my deepest sympathies! Anything else you would like to share with us?

Mostly, I’d just like to thank everyone who has read the Jessica Sweet stories, and who has shown me so much support. It’s good to know that, even as the underdog (I really hate that term!) I have people out there rooting for me. If I plan to win Jessica’s heart, I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. But in the end it’s just nice to know that I’m loved, that there are people who care as much about me as they do about that Vampire, and that ultimately, I’ll never be alone. And thank you for this interview. It’s been an honor and a treat!

Speaking of treat, how about some cream? Or kibble? Just kidding. Thank you for joining me, Malcolm!