So what’s been happening . . .

Avalon South Carolina_1800HIGHIn case you missed in during all the news about who’s fighting who and who’s suing who, Avalon, S.C. was released on August 6th. Available for immediate download from Amazon to your device. And I know–you’ve already read it while I was posting chapters. But reading it like a regular book is a whole different experience. So in case you haven’t done so already, here is the link to buy.

ReturnFromAvalon Cover Continue reading

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What’s Going On?

Today’s post will be an update of the things going on in the writing world of Rusty  Rhoad. As Jerry Lee Lewis would say, “There’s a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

FIRST: The Adventures of Sir Kay. I will begin posting chapters TOMORROW, and continue on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays until it’s done. The critical read and notes for rewrite are completed, as is the rewrite of Chapter 1. Tell all your friends.

Sir Kay will also be getting a real title soon. I think he’s due, don’t you? After bumbling along all these months on a makeshift title. My latest candidate (not the final choice, just my favorite so far) is: Kaffka, the almost-Holy Grail, and a Woman that Reads: The Quests of Sir Kay.

Strange Bedfellows #3 copySECOND: Strange Bedfellows has a release date: March 5th. Yikes! That’s next week! I’ve done a lot to get ready, but there’s still plenty more to do.

*** IF YOU HAVE READ STRANGE BEDFELLOWS, please post a review on Amazon shortly after it is released. Early reviews are important in how a book a touted, listed, etc.

I’ve ordered new business cards with both novels on them. Got word today they’ve shipped, so I should have them in time to hand out at the party this time. Party, crap. Add that to the list of things to do. Hey, if you get a book published, you should have a party. No excuses.

business cardTHIRD: I have made a decision that my next project will be to rework/update Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail. That novel has holy grail 1been sitting around far too long. I will be starting the critical read (the latest critical read–there have already been a half dozen) as soon as I press the “Publish” button for this blog.

FOURTH: Avalon, South Carolina (that is the final title, although the “South Carolina” will be in a smaller font) will be released this summer. Rick, Sabrina, and Chai are ready for their 15 minutes of fame.

FIFTH: Return from Avalon (and Points West) should be coming out in paperback within the next month. That means I can sign copies, make guest appearances, and all that stuff.

As part of the promotion package for Strange Bedfellows, Return from Avalon (and Points West) will be offered for free for 3 days next month. I’ll let you know, although all of you should already have a copy.

SIXTH: The combination of all those things means I’m going to have to get my web page up and running. I’ve have rustyrhoad.com reserved for more than a year now, but didn’t think it would add anything of value until I had two books out. So that moves way up the priority list.

throw up in your mouthSEVENTH: I have finally accepted the fact that I’m going to have to have a presence on Twitter (pardon me while I go get some water; I just threw up in my mouth a little bit). I still don’t get it. But I had some working sessions on building a web presence with somebody who knew a whole lot more about it than I do and, yes, Twitter is the next step.

I’m going to try to get by on 5 hours a week on social media, but frankly, I’m not optimistic.

So there’s a lot going on. But writing is still my first priority (if you’re a writer, it damn well better be).

See you with Sir Kay, installment one tomorrow.

Jerry Lee Lewis2For your entertainment, here’s a video of Jerry Lee Lewis at age 22 (1957), perfoming Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Return from Avalon (and Points West)

It’s Up!  I’m officially a published author!

http://www.amazon.com/Return-From-Avalon-Points-ebook/dp/B00E5TCN4S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374842042&sr=8-1&keywords=Rusty+Rhoad

 

Once you’ve danced a bit and shared in my euphoria, I’m sure the first question you thought about is, “What can I do to help?”  Well I’m glad you asked.

1.  Buy a copy.  Early sales are very important to a book getting some attention.  At $2.99, it’s not a serious investment.

2.  Tell your friends.  There are a lot of ways to advertise, but none are as effective as people telling other people about a book that they liked.  Of course, you’re going to have to read it to be able to say that truthfully.  On the other hand, you can tell them that you like other books that the author has written, and you can’t wait to read this one.

3.  Write a review.  Favorable reviews in Amazon are also critical to the reception of a book.

4.  Enjoy the moment.   Share it with me.

 

Cover Art – It’s Here!

I got the first pass at the cover art for Return from Avalon (and Points West) yesterday.  I say first past, since they sent it to me for approval.  Couldn’t get that email out fast enough.  Which is why my prose may be more . . . um, immature? . . . than normal.

Wow.  I’m absolutely delighted.  Magnificent.

That’s OK; Debby didn’t give me any shit about bad writing.  Have I ever said how delightful Debby and Soul Mate Publishing have been to work with so far?  Probably.

I don’t have my feet back on the ground quite yet.  But any time now, I’m sure.

Here’s a recap of what I said when they asked me for my preferences and vision for cover art.

LOOK AND FEEL: I like for the artwork to cover the entire cover, not just an insert.  The name and title should not totally dominate the cover.  I like graphic art, prefer simplicity over complexity.

PREFER: Objects to People.

Are there any special objects that play a role in the book?

  • A 3’ section of rebar.
  • Tarot cards.  The most significant in order are: King of Swords, Ace of Swords, Queen of Cups.
  • A strange used book, Return from Avalon, by M. A. Gwalchmai, published in 1797 by The Crwys Streete Press, Cardiff, Wales.  A very thin book, bound in a fine leather binding, with rich thick paper, embossed with gold writing, showing little wear for its age.
  • Excalibur
  • Letters from the hero to his ex-wife (format of the book).

Any vision/suggestions you may have for your cover?  Based on my totally amateur vision, the two that came to mind are:

  • A 3 tarot card spread with the piece of rebar stuck into the king of swords.
  • A letter.  The opened envelope is on top, addressed to Ms. Jenniver Penders, 674 Oakdale, Atlanta, Georgia 30316, return addressee Arnie Penders, no address given.  Underneath can be seen the top of the letter with one of the letterheads from the book, date, and “Dear Jen” showing before it is interrupted by the envelope lying on top.
  • If the cover needs a person, it could be the hero holding the piece of rebar (or even Excalibur) while engrossed in reading Return from Avalon.

So: without any further ado, here’s what it looks like.

ReturnFromAvalon Cover

Is that classy, or what?  Way better than my amateur vision.

The Three of Swords, clearly visible as the upper of the two tarot cards, isn’t one that I listed.  But it is featured prominently at the end of the novel, when Lola suggests that Arnie is going to be unlucky in love three times.  And since he has met three women who he likes a lot on his journey, that bums him out.  But in typical Arnie fashion, he talks his way out of it.

The other card is harder to make out.  The Lovers, perhaps?  That would be Soul Mate’s subtle was of making the cover more attractive to women, I’m guessing.  Very nice.

So . . . what do you think?

 

Women Who Won’t Behave Part IIIa

OK, this is absolutely my last post on this topic.  It’s an update on, “So, Rusty, what happens to the women who won’t behave?”

As far as Sabrina and Chai go, I don’t know.  I’ve more than 80% through the 1st draft, and I have only the vaguest idea.  But Meg’s story is complete, at least for now.  I’ve got a real itch to do a sequel — and yes, I know, I don’t do sequels — that follows her life after Return from Avalon (and Points West).  So here are the scenes where we see her next.  Arnie has done his save the world bit, and has come back to tell Meg what it was all about, as he promised (and you previewed in Women Who Won’t Behave Part III).  If Meg doesn’t completely steal your heart, well, you might not have one.

By the way, Return from Avalon (and Points West) is scheduled for publication in June.

* * * * *

Midmorning Saturday found Vivian and me indulging in an intimate picnic on the bank of the Avon, accompanied by my little prepubescent changeling.  Meg was in little-girl heaven, walking along between us, one hand protectively holding each of ours.  Talking to first one of us and then the other, stopping and staring while she talked, concentrating totally on that person.  After a bit we spread a blanket and pulled out lunch goodies, and while we ate I told Meg what it had all been about, as promised.  But of course she managed to steal my thunder.  “Yeah, I saw it all on the telly last night.  It was pretty odd in a way, like it was you and not you at the same time.  But I don’t mind hearing it all again, ‘specially with you telling it.”

Meg’s fascination with Vivian certainly wasn’t one-sided, either.  After lunch they spent quite a bit of time with their heads close, talking in very low voices.  I couldn’t follow the conversation and was dozing off when Vivian sat up and said, “OK, I’ll show you.  But it’ll have to be our secret.”  To which Meg replied – I’m sure I don’t have to tell you – with a serious single nod.

So they went off a little ways and came back with handfuls of twigs and kindling.  Vivian stacked the fire makings into a little teepee, at the same time telling Meg, “Back when my Grandmother showed me how to do this, it was a lot more useful than it is today.  Matches weren’t common yet (matches weren’t common yet?), and you either kept your fire going all the time or used flint and steel to relight it.  Now you can just carry a lighter if you need a fire.”

Then she knelt down, spoke something under her breath, and touched the twigs.  And it was like a flame sprang from the tip of her finger and started the kindling gently burning.  And her description of it was right on – it made a subconscious sound.  Sort of like a siren faintly rising and falling one time off in the distance, except too faint to hear except in your mind.  Having heard the stones sing, which I guess is in the same vibration category, I wasn’t all that surprised by it.

Meg, on the other hand, was totally fascinated.  She closed her eyes and cupped her hands over her ears, like she was trying to hold the sound in.  She stayed like that for a long time, then took Vivian’s hand and ran her fingers all over and around the fingertip that the flame had come out of.  And then sat back and pondered for a while.  We indulged her fondly without speaking.  It would be hard to say which of us was more taken by her charm.

Finally Meg gave the nod – more to herself than to us, I got the feeling – got up to collect more kindling, and piled it up just as Vivian had done.   Then she stared at it for a while with her precious little face screwed up in serious concentration.  At last she closed her eyes, moved her lips without speaking, and extended her finger toward the little pile.

Holy shit, it was like you were climbing up in the bell tower of Notre Dame and all of a sudden Quasimodo decided to play Tarzan and started swinging on the ropes.  Clanging and bonging loud enough to wake the dead.  Meanwhile, the poor little defenseless brushwood went up like someone had turned a flamethrower on it.  Not to mention scorching the living shit out of everything in a streak a couple of meters long on the other side and starting a grass fire which we hurried to stamp out before it turned Clive’s place into a smoking ruin.  While we did our Smoky the Bear thing Viv turned to Meg and gently remarked as if nothing remarkable had happened, “Maybe not quite so much force next time,” to which Meg just nodded, looking pretty pleased with herself.

(next chapter, next day)

When I rang Millie’s doorbell to pick up Vivian, I walked right into a gloomy little ceremony.  Millie’s eyes were red and her laughter was perhaps a bit more subdued than usual, Drew was keeping a stiff upper lip with obvious effort, and Baby Gail was wailing and hanging on to Meg’s leg.  It took a bit of sorting out before the impetus for this emotional display became apparent: Meg was going with us.  Predictably, she was the least emotional of the lot.  “Oh Mum, don’t be such a sissy.  I shan’t be THAT far away, I’ll be home for Christmas before you know it, and we can write and talk on the phone and everything.”

With Meg’s bags added to the rest of our stuff, our little car was pretty well packed. But she squeezed in back without complaint, then leaned forward and gave me a quick pat on the arm.  “Let’s just go, Mr. Artie.”  Vivian’s matter-of-fact explanation, “She coming to live with me for a while,” didn’t do much to clarify what was going on, but neither did it really surprise me – I’ve pretty much learned to take the small stuff in stride.  Same with the fact that she was back in her eye-popping white outfit, which was impressively wrinkle-free after a week in her knapsack.  Well, Vivian had already demonstrated much more remarkable skills that couldn’t be explained by normal science; this one could have been affected merely by borrowing an iron.  I was more surprised that Meg was wearing a dress but didn’t give her any ribbing about it.

We made time to swing by Stonehenge on our way out of town.  Vivian wasn’t all that impressed – said it hadn’t changed much since she’d last been there (I cleverly deduced from what I knew of restoration at the site that her previous visit had been in the last 50 years).  Meg, on the other hand, had never been there before (how can you live less than a hour away from one of the most significant archeological wonders of the world and not have visited it?) and was properly awed.  She stood as close to the giant stones as the crowd-control ropes would let her get and just stared for a while.  Finally she ducked under the rope (I made no attempt to stop her – wasn’t my job), walked over to one of the sarsens, and put her ear as close as she could get it without actually touching it.  She stood that way for a moment, then put her hand over her other ear and closed her eyes; listening intently for several minutes.

During all this the crowds began to take notice.  At first there was just a mild rise in the conversational buzz, people nudging their companions and pointing her out.  But quickly that died down, to be replaced by a respectful silence.  One of the attendants walked down the path a bit toward where Vivian and I were standing, skirt snapping with the authority of her stride.  But something in the tableau made her think better of interfering, so she stopped and joined the spectators instead.

Finally Meg turned toward us with huge eyes and a giant smile.  “Mr. Artie!  Miss Vivian!  They sing!”

At her words, the crowd let out a sound that was half-sigh, half-moan.  And they moved back a little as Meg came back under the rope, perhaps a little intimidated.

 

Researching on the Internet

The Internet is the fiction writer’s best friend.  Well, not counting those precious members of your writers’ group who will tell you the truth.  And your writing partner who reads every word and loves you anyway.  Or your editor who encourages you to “just get me another book.”

OK, the Internet is the fiction writer’s 6th or 7th best friend.  You can find out just about anything you need to know in not very much time.  Amy and Walter are traveling on the Interstate through Knoxville.  What do they see?  Hmm.  I’ll bet I can find that fact in . . . 7 clicks.  Look.  It’s the Sunsphere.

Part of the story in Return from Avalon (and Points West) takes place in the “book town” of Hay-on-Wye, Wales.  When I was writing the 1st draft, I did as exhaustive an Internet tour of the town as possible.  Pulled up articles, photos, everything I could come up with to give me the look and feel of the town as well as the facts.  Thought I did pretty damned well.

And then, when I was working on the 1st rewrite, I was in Wales on business (how cool a job is that?) and actually had an opportunity to travel to Hay-on-Wye.  Even better, write it off as a legitimate business expense.  It was in December, and we finished up on Thursday around noon.  The plant was near Swansea, and my flight left Cardiff early Saturday morning.  So I pointed my car north and headed out on an adventure.

Having lived in Texas for as long as I have, it never occurred to me that it gets dark around 3:30pm in  Wales in December.  So driving little roads on the wrong side in the dark with a map but no GPS — well, let’s just say that by the time I got there, it was late and I was fried.  But I found a room in an inn over a pub (and even rarer, a parking spot), dumped my stuff off, and went out exploring.

Despite my exhaustive Internet research, Hay-on-Wye was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like I had pictured it.  Because I was seeing the pictures and reading the descriptions through my American filters.  Except for the pubs, the little town was closed up tight as a drum.  Restaurants (I had blithely assumed there were several to choose from)?  Nope — everybody eats at a pub.  Not to mention, the place is TINY.  And about twice as much charm as I had imagined.

And the next morning . . . the book stores, which is what the town is famous for, were amazing.  That much I had gotten right, at least.

So, fellow writers.  Stay on the good side of your 6th or 7th best friend, the Internet.  But if you get a chance, put your feet on the real estate.

hay-on-wye

 

Women Who Won’t Behave Part III

I recently completed a critical read and a rewrite of Return from Avalon (and Points West) [referred to hereafter as RFA], the novel that’s being published by Soul Mate Publishing this summer.  I’d put it off because I’m so obsessed with the novel I’m writing the first draft of, but it had to be done.  So I made it the top priority for a couple of weeks.

I hadn’t read RFA for a few years, so it was relatively new.  And I made that ultimate discovery for a writer: it was better than I remembered it as being.  Much better.  Found myself laughing out loud at stuff I’d written.  Way cool.

And then I came across the original woman who wouldn’t behave, Meg.  Meg had only one role in this book, to call Arnie “Mr. Artie” by “mistake.”  After that she was slated to disappear from the scene.  No way.  Meg crossed her arms and stamped her foot and insisted that, heck no (Meg would never say ‘hell’) she’s not leaving, write her a bigger part.  And in the end, softy that I am, I did.

Just reading the chapter where she first makes her appearance made my heart go chunka-thunk all over again.  OK, I confess it: I’m in love with Meg.  So I’m going to share with you an extract from that chapter.  See if you agree.

What’s happening in this chapter:  Our hero, Arnie Penders, is looking for a stone farmhouse from a battle that he’s only dreamed about.  He has used logic to narrow down the area to a 30-mile stretch of the Avon River between Salisbury and the English Channel at Christchurch, but there’s still a lot of area to search.  After a fruitless few hours, he falls back on a tried-and-true source of information on his journey so far, the waitress.  We pick up the story early in the afternoon of his second day of pub-hopping, looking for a waitress that can recognize the sketch he’s made of the battlefield in his dreams.

* * * * *

Fourth pub of the afternoon – The Wounded Stag, probably named back when there were actual stags living around here – I hit paydirt.  “Millie” was her name – maybe 30 years old, 20 pounds overweight, wavy hair styled 10 years out of date, highly prone to laughing at the slightest excuse or even with no discernable reason, slightly florid of face, likes to touch your arm when she’s talking to you, and laughs a lot (OK, I made the part up about the hair style just to keep the number progression going, but you caught me; what do I know about hair styles?).  Oh, did I mention that she laughs a lot?

“That’s Clive’s place,” she told me when I showed her my sketch.  “I used to be chums with the dolly next door.  #LOL#  We played all along the river there, before I grew tits and discovered better things to do with my time #LOL#” (I thought I’d give you a flavor of the way that loud bursts of laughter punctuate Millie’s conversation – hence the #LOL# indication).

“That’s great!  Can you tell me how to get there?”

“No chance I can give you directions that you could follow.  #LOL#  Course then, I never met a man who could follow directions worth a frig.  #LOL#  ‘Touch right there, but not so hard,‘ I’ll say as plain as water #LOL# but certain as MP’s are crooked he’ll be touching me too hard AND in the wrong place.  #LOL#”  OK, you get the point.  Just assume anytime Millie is talking she’s laughing.  “But I’m off tomorrow – how ‘bout if I just drive you there?”

With the distraction of the one-woman laugh track, I couldn’t tell if I were being hit on or not.  Well, I’d have my trusty singing walking stick along, how bad could it get?  Plus I guess somewhere along the way you have to pay your dues – maybe Millie was mine.  I was working really hard not thinking about making love to Millie while she directed traffic.  Trying to keep it up when, instead of moans of passion or cries of ecstasy, a little spurt of laughter escapes her lips at every stroke.

In any case, we decided to meet there at the ‘Stag at 9:30 the next morning.  “Give us a place to leave your car, and I’m pretty sure you can find your way back without directions #LOL#.”  Soon after that I left and headed north before I ended up pissing off my only lead so far.

* * *

Millie pulled up five minutes after I did, and all of my worries about being hit on vanished: she had three kids packed in the car with her.  Andrew “who we call Drew, not like the bloody prince” was a stout lad of about nine with his mom’s ruddy looks and quick smile; Megeth “just call her Meg,” a slight and solemn young lady, maybe eight, that must have been adopted, considering the total lack of physical – and personality – resemblance to the rest of the family, and “Baby Gail,” a curly-tow-haired charmer, despite a penchant for snot, who immediately came up and put her arms out for a hug.

“Climb in,” Millie ordered, thumbing her oldest toward the back seat and sweeping off a mountain – well, at least a molehill – of litter, crumbs, and other debris that accompanies small children in cars everywhere.  And laughing, of course.

Millie the mom was markedly less vulgar than Millie the waitress had been the day before, although muttering “bugger” and yelling “piss off” were apparently necessary to the act of driving.  Surprisingly to me, the kids were totally well mannered with never so much as a hint of their mum’s spicy vocabulary.

Ten minutes later we turned onto a rutted dirt lane and crept along for maybe a mile.  Then we rounded a corner and there was the stone farmhouse.  The stain wasn’t visible from the road, but the “whump” that my heart made was right up there on the Richter scale as when I saw you carrying my letter – clear evidence that my subconscious recognized where we were and was excited about it.

In retrospect, the new Arnie never doubted that I would find this spot.  But the old, skeptical Arnie never really believed it, either.  But for one delicious moment, I was at one with myself.  Totally at peace with whatever this quest was and my altered view of the universe.

Seconds after Millie parked the car, Drew was out the door and racing toward the river with Baby Gail toddling along behind on chubby little legs, trying valiantly to keep up.  Millie watched long enough to make sure that her youngest wasn’t in real danger, then yelled at Drew to keep an eye on his sister and headed toward the farmhouse to pay her respects.  Me, I just stood there a few moments longer, quietly taking it all in, before starting to walk slowly toward the gravel bank.

A moment later a small hand crept into mine.  I looked down in surprise to find Meg looking solemnly back at me.  She watched me carefully for a minute, then tugged on my fingers and whispered, “Let’s go see, Mr. Artie.”

“OK,” I whispered back.  “But it’s Mr. Arnie.”

Meg nodded her head once in compliance if not agreement and off we went.

Except for the lack of a bridge, the battlefield was exactly as I had seen it so often in my dreams.  Hand in hand, without words, Meg and I explored the entire place.  I carefully examined the ground where the bridge should have been, and imagined that there might be the vaguest remains of pilings or something, but couldn’t really tell for sure (“maybe it was a pontoon bridge,” a silent voice in my head suggested.  Pontoon bridge?  Historically possible; they’d been used in battle as far back as Xerses, but I think I would have noticed that detail during one of my dreams.  Well, if I had that dream again, I’d be sure to check).

Finally we sat down under one of those twisted oaks whose trunk was large enough for the two of us to lean up against.  After a couple of minutes of silence – well, silence except for Drew and Baby Gail laughing and shrieking their joy in the background – Meg leaned toward me and whispered, “What are we looking for?”

Never having been a parent, I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for when to lie to kids and when to tell the truth.  But Meg’s fierce intensity argued for full disclosure.

“I keep dreaming about this place,” I answered in a calm, low voice, “and I don’t know why.  About being in a battle that took place here about 300 years ago, except that there wasn’t really a battle here.  But something in the back of my head kept nagging me to come see it.  So here I am.”

Meg chewed on that for a bit, then nodded her head once.  Apparently that was the perfect gesture for a girl of few words.  She pondered a bit more, then asked, “What do we do now?”

“I’m going to breathe deeply and go into a light trace so I can see if there are any ghosts here,” I replied, opting for truthfulness again.  And got the head nod again for my troubles.

So I did my thing, only vaguely aware of Meg matching my breathing (which must have been quite a trick considering how much larger my lungs are).  When I opened my eyes I was not at all surprised to see that there was nothing to see.  How could there have been – there wasn’t really a battle here.  What did surprise me was Meg’s next comment.  “There aren’t any ghosts, are there?”

“No.  How can you tell?”

“I would have seen them if they were here, Mr. Artie.”

I opted for the single head nod as the correct response, not bothering to correct her about my name this time.

“Let’s see if we can get across the river without getting wet,” I proposed.

When we reached the bank I took off my shoes, rolled up my pants legs as far as they would go, and put my keys and wallet in my shirt pocket.  Meg was wearing a little one-piece jumper-with-shorts (sorry, I’ve rifled my vocabulary of little girls’ fashion but can’t come up with a better term) and flip-flops, so she was good to go.  Choosing the exact place where the French infantry had crossed, I was rewarded by the water only coming up to my mid-thigh at its deepest.  Of course that would have been pretty high on Meg, but when she got to the point of getting her clothes wet she lifted her arms up and I carried her over.

I quietly explained to Meg.  “In my dream I’m standing over there, holding a musket and scared to death, while the French cross the river right where we just did.  But just at that moment, King Arthur rides up with a squadron of cavalry, charges the French, and chases them back across the river.”

She considers that – Meg never spoke without due consideration as far as I could tell – then answered resolutely, “There weren’t any muskets when King Arthur lived.”

“No.  But in my dream he’s returned from Avalon to fight the French invaders.”

A nod signaled understanding.  “Let’s see if there are any ghosts over on this side.”

There weren’t, of course.

We explored a bit more and then headed back over the river.  “What should I say to mum?” she whispered, a bit conspiratorially this time.

“It’s OK with me if you tell her the truth, if you think it’s OK.”  As soon as those words were out of my mouth I had to stop and consider what I had just said (as you well know, unlike Meg, I obviously don’t always think before I open my mouth).  Was I really telling an eight-year-old to decide if it was OK to tell her mother the truth?  But it felt right – felt like the responsibility lay where the wisdom was – so I let it go.

When we got back, Millie was standing with an elderly man dressed in tweed (of course), reminiscing while they watched the kids playing.  “So, my nippers have managed to keep their clothes dry but I see that you haven’t.  What have you and my changeling daughter been up to?”

Millie’s choice of words startled me a little, but Meg was of course unfazed.  “We’ll discuss it later, mum” she replied with a finality that allowed no discussion.

Back at the ‘Stag I offered to buy lunch, but Millie said that she had already indulged enough for the day.  “My husband is coming back tomorrow from three weeks on a project in the North Sea,” she told me in a voice low enough so that the kids couldn’t overhear.  “And while I can’t hardly go that long without a diddle to tide me over, this time I haven’t had so much as a rub.  By a man, that is (you can figure out where the laughs go yourself).  And now it’s too close to take the edge off, else I’da had you in my knickers already.  But I don’t want to have no cooking or chores left to do when he walks through the door.  So I gotta get home.”

I guess my earlier premonitions weren’t totally off the mark.  Good Ol’ Millie, salt of the earth.  She’d probably brought her kids with her to keep temptation at bay.

“OK, then.  Thanks ever so much for showing me the place.  Can I contribute gas money or to the kid’s college fund?”

“Naw, it was great to get back and see Clive again.  Plus I’ll get a good story out of it – I can see that Megeth has a secret to share.  But if you really feel that you have a debt to pay, why, just drop back by in a couple of weeks, we’ll settle up then.”  She punctuated this last proclamation by patting my ass as well as the requisite chortle.

As soon as she had gotten in the car, Meg climbed back out.  I squatted down to be on her level.

She gently slipped her hand in mine again – apparently, hugs and kisses were for other kids, she expressed her affection her own way – looked me square in the eyes, and said, “Once you find out what your dreams are all about, will you write me and let me know, Mr. Artie?”

I took both of her hands before answering.  “Megeth, if and when I find out what this is all about, I’ll come by and tell you personally.  And that’s a promise.”

She held my glance for a long moment, then sealed the deal with a nod.  Me too.