Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

Happy Hanukkah! Today is the beginning of Hanukkah, so for any readers who celebrate it (or any who are looking for more holidays to celebrate for any reason), best wishes of the season.

***

After last week's IWSG post, I'm experimenting with writing more about writing. This is also my chance to lay out my holiday posting schedule, except... I think I'll be posting when I feel like it through the end of the year, with the exception of my #Fi50 post on the 24th, and Flashback Friday on the 29th. Otherwise, you can look for chaos for the next 2 1/2 weeks. I do plan to post Part 2 of my Pismawallops PTA Christmas story on Friday.

As for writing, my mind is full of the question of editing, and our internal editor, the one who has most of us convinced at some point in the life of every book (or at many points) that the book is awful. For me, the only way out of that seems to be to a) let someone else read it and give me honest feedback, and/or b) walk away for weeks or months until I have perspective again.

But what if the gut feeling is right and the book is deeply flawed? I have salvaged one by coming back literally years later and doing a major rewrite. Maybe the toughest test a writer can face is the need to make deep changes in a book you thought was done (thanks, Jemima Pett, for showing by example that this is a genuine option). But unless there is something incurable, I think that it's worth putting in the time (I'm not happy about that thought; I'll do some kicking and screaming and whining if I need to do it, but I think it's right).

I may be in that position with Death By Adverb. I was planning to start advance advertising, even to schedule a release date. But now I'm not so sure. Plans are on hold, including plans to reveal the gorgeous cover Danielle English has made for me. I have reasonable confidence that the book will be finished. I just don't know when. I do know that I have to put in the work it needs, and no release a half-baked story. I also know that if I need to give it space, I have a long backlog of projects I can turn to. One piece might be a mess, but I never run out of things to write.

Watch this space to see what happens next!

Writing is like body-surfing: sometimes you ride the wave, sometimes the wave lands on top of you and you get sand up your swimsuit.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mystery Monday: Honey-Baked Homicide by Gayle Leeson

http://www.escapewithdollycas.com

Title: Honey-Baked Homicide
Author: Gayle Leeson
Publisher: Berkley, Dec. 5, 2017. 288 pages, paperback.
Source: Great Escapes Book Tours electronic ARC

Publisher's Blurb: 
The owner of a delightful Southern café tastes the sharp sting of suspicion in this delectable comfort food mystery . . .

It’s fall in Winter Garden, Virginia, and business at Amy Flowers’ Down South Café has never been better. So when struggling beekeeper Stuart Landon asks Amy to sell some of his honey, she’s happy to help. The jars of honey are a sweet success, but their partnership is cut short when Amy discovers Landon’s body outside the café early one morning.

As Amy tries to figure out who could possibly have wanted to harm the unassuming beekeeper, she discovers an ever-expanding list of suspects—and they’re all buzzing mad. She’ll have to use all of her skills—and her Southern charm—to find her way out of this sticky situation…


My Review: 
Honey-Baked Homicide is a good read--a setting that works well, interesting and engaging characters, and a mystery that I didn't solve until the end. I enjoyed the story, and didn't feel like it was odd that the main character was investigating the crime--she had a good reason to care, and wasn't really treading on the toes of the police. I did have a little trouble keeping characters straight, which suggests to me that reading the series in order might help. The book definitely stands alone, but there were some things I felt like I was missing.

My main critique of the book was that there is too much description of food and clothing. That is, of course, a purely subjective critique--a reader more interested in the details of what characters are eating and wearing will probably not notice, or be happy to know what's on the menu at the Down South Café. For me, it was a bit off-putting, though by no means enough to ruin my enjoyment of a quick and pleasant read. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the way Amy talks to her dog as though he can answer--just one of many humorous touches that kept the book moving for me.

My Recommendation:
A good choice for lovers of comfort food! There are several recipes included :)

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Honey-Baked Homicide from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

About the Author: 

Gayle Leeson is a pseudonym for Gayle Trent. I also write as Amanda Lee. As Gayle Trent, I write the Daphne Martin Cake Mystery series and the Myrtle Crumb Mystery series. As Amanda Lee, I write the Embroidery Mystery series.

The cake decorating series features a heroine who is starting her life over in Southwest Virginia after a nasty divorce. The heroine, Daphne, has returned to her hometown of Brea Ridge to open a cake baking and decorating business and is wrestling with the question of whether or not one can go home again. She enjoys spending time with her sister, nephew, and niece, but she and her mother have a complicated relationship that isn’t always pleasant. Daphne has also reconnected with her high school sweetheart and is pursuing a rekindled romance while desperately trying to put her past behind her.
Kerry Vincent, Hall of Fame Sugar Artist, Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show Director, and Television Personality says the series is “a must read for cake bakers and anyone who has ever spent creative time in the kitchen!”

Says Dean Koontz, #1 New York Times bestselling author, “One day I found myself happily reading . . . mysteries by Gayle Trent. If she can win me over . . . she’s got a great future.”

The Embroidery Mystery series features a heroine who recently moved to the Oregon coast to open an embroidery specialty shop. Marcy Singer left her home in San Francisco, along with the humiliation of being left at the altar, in order to move to Tallulah Falls and realize her dream of owning her own shop. She takes along her faithful companion, a one-year-old Irish wolfhound named Angus O’Ruff. She makes many new friends in Tallulah Falls, but she also makes a few enemies. Thankfully, her best friend Sadie MacKenzie and her husband Blake run the coffeehouse right down the street from Marcy’s shop, the Seven-Year Stitch; and Detective Ted Nash always has her back.
Publishers Weekly says, “Fans of the genre will take kindly to Marcy, her Irish wolfhound, Angus O’Ruff, and Tallulah Falls. This is a fast, pleasant read with prose full of pop culture references and, of course, sharp needlework puns.”

Pat Cooper of RT Book Reviews says, “If her debut here is any indication, Lee’s new series is going to be fun, spunky and educational. She smoothly interweaves plot with her character’s personality and charm, while dropping tantalizing hints of stitching projects and their history. Marcy Singer is young, fun, sharp and likable. Readers will be looking forward to her future adventures.” (RT Book Reviews nominated The Quick and the Thread for a 2010 Book Reviewers’ Choice Award in the Amateur Sleuth category)

I live in Virginia with my family, which includes my own “Angus” who is not an Irish wolfhound but a Great Pyrenees who provides plenty of inspiration for the character of Mr. O’Ruff. I’m having a blast writing this new series!

And now--a special interview with author Gayle Leeson.

Hi, Gayle. Thanks for taking time  to answer some questions for our readers! We always like to hear about how writers do their job.
 When did you start writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or did you stumble into it later in life?
My parents tell me that almost as soon as I could talk, I started telling them stories that began, "Once uppa time..." So, I guess it was meant to be! LOL!
  
I can relate, and you clearly have gift of story-telling.  Do you draft your books longhand or compose at the keyboard?Oh, my goodness, my process is weird. I'm not sure you could even call it a process. I have to write things out in longhand at first...at least, until I get to know my characters well. And then I type. But I still always set out my chapters in longhand and then type the chapter. Does that make sense? Type a chapter, grab a pen and outline the next chapter; repeat.

Interesting. It makes some sense, though--our minds work differently depending on how we are writing. So,
do you create a detailed outline before you start writing, or… I'm something of a pantsing outliner! I try to get the big picture and then outline the chapters one at a time.

I kind of like that compromise! 
Sometimes writers have to find out about all sorts of odd things. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to research for one of your books?I'm not sure it's the weirdest thing off the top of my head, but I recently researched reading tea leaves. I'm not sure it's something I could ever do, but hopefully, I can pretend that one of my characters can.

You have a  number of different themes and careers for your heroines. What is the strangest job you’ve ever held?
The strangest job I ever had was for a small-town attorney. He was so tight that he wouldn't buy a copier, and I had to go down a flight of stairs and up the street to the courthouse whenever I had to make a copy of something! And, of course, they charged him for the copies. In the long run, it would've probably made more financial sense for him to buy a copier, but noooo...

Penny wise, pound foolish! I'll bet you were glad to leave that job. One last question: If there’s a spider in the corner of the room, do you a) panic, b) drop everything until it is removed, or c) hope it will eat the other annoying bugs that get in?
If it's in a far corner of the room, I'll ignore it. If it's in MY corner of the room, I'll speak to it and tell it  that we're good as long as he doesn't drop down on my head or something. One night I was on the porch and saw a massive spiderweb. The spider was sitting there, and I said, "That's a really nice setup you've got there--like a spider mansion or something. You should write SOME DOG in the web for Cooper." And then I laughed. Which is probably how the neighbors know I'm crazy. I attribute talking to weird things like spiders to too much Disney growing up. And, you know, being crazy. LOL!
 
I love it! Thanks for sharing that, and thanks for stopping by to chat with the Ninja Librarian!


Intrigued? Here are the links for more information:

Webpage: http://www.gayleleeson.com http://www.gayletrent.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GayleTrentandAmandaLee/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GayleTrent
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/gayletrent/pins/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gayletrentleeson/
Purchase Links:

And, last but not least, we have a Giveaway! Enter to win a $25 Amazon giftcard!

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: A Pismwallops PTA Christmas, Part 1

Decided to have some fun as we run up to the holidays (and yes, I will unashamedly say "holidays," because there are a bunch of them and I like to celebrate any that come my way, and encourage others to celebrate any they like). So I dropped in to see how the Pismwallops PTA handles the event. With a fund-raiser bazaar, of course! But nothing ever goes quite according to plan when JJ MacGregor is involved. It's looking like a 2-part story.

A Pismawallops PTA Christmas


“JJ, we need another table for the baked goods!”

“JJ, the tree won’t light up!”

“JJ, the—”

I tuned out the last voice. Arne Hancock always had a crisis for me to fix. I dispatched two kids to get the table Patty Reilly needed for the brownies, and went to help Kitty Padgett with the lights that didn’t light. Kitty’s the PTA president, so she was getting her own share of people demanding instant fixes.

“It’s plugged in?” I asked.

Kitty gave that the eye-roll it deserved, so I added, “In an outlet that actually works?” The Pismawallops High gym needed some upgrades, no question.

“I tried three outlets,” Kitty said. “It’s got to be a burned out bulb.”

I eyed the antique string of lights on our decidedly fake tree. There was no good way to find the defective bulb, unless the principal had someone in detention he really wanted to punish. Each bulb would have to be replaced, one at a time, and the string tested after each one. I made the sort of executive decision expected of a VP, even of a small-town PTA.

“Toss ’em. Buy a new set at McMullens when we get done here, and we can string them in the morning.”

Kitty nodded agreement and we moved on to the next set of crises. Arne was at my shoulder, so this time I had to pay attention.

“Someone has been playing with the hot pads and scrubbers. I left them perfectly arranged, and now look at them!”

I could see his point. The colorful clothes and crocheted plastic pot scrubbers were jumbled in disarray on the table. I thought it looked fine—a cheerful chaos—but Arne liked order.

“I suppose someone must have bumped the table or something,” I said. “It won’t take long to fix it. Get some of the kids to help.”

He pursed his lips and regarded the teens who swarmed over the gym, hanging decorations and creating a joyful chaos. At length he selected Kat and Brian—Kitty’s daughter and my son—and set them to work lining up the handicrafts.

By bedtime, the gym looked pretty good. Swags of greenery covered at least some of the cinder-block walls, and the tables lining those walls were heaped with seasonal goods. Our Holiday Bazaar was as ready as it would ever be, aside from the lights. Arne’s table was a perfect rainbow again, and Patty had the food tables organized with pricing signs to show were everything would go when the goodies rolled in in the morning. A fair number of sealed containers were already in place.

I checked to make sure none of the containers could be opened or nibbled through. We’d been known to have a pest or two in the school. Convinced everything was tight, I doused the lights, the last one out, and locked up.

#

I was the first one back at the gym Saturday morning, with Kitty right behind me hauling new strings of colorful lights. It was two hours until the holiday bazaar opened its doors, and we had some work to do.

I hit the lights, and scanned the room. Everything looked like we’d left it…until my eye reached the hot pads. Arne’s fastidious rainbow had been scrambled into a chaotic swirl once again.

“Oh, no! Arne’s going to have a coronary!”

Kitty, coming up behind me, said, “What?”

I pointed.

“We’ll have to get it back in order, fast.”

“But how could it have happened?” I wanted to know. “I was the last one out. It was fine then, and I locked the door. No one’s been here.” Except someone obviously had been there.

Carlos, the custodian and our PTA secretary, had keys, but he swore he hadn’t been near the place, and I believed him. That left burglars, who I assumed would at least have stolen some brownies, not just messed up one table; students, who would have no way to get in; or ghosts.

“Poltergeist. That has to be it,” I told Kitty.

“The Ghost of Christmas Presents?” she suggested.

“Let’s get these lights strung, then we can do something about the table.”

I checked the other tables, but as far as I could see, no one had touched anything else. I did eye one well-sealed pan of brownies, which seemed to have some scratches on the cover, but nothing had gotten in. We shared a brownie before we started, just to be sure they were okay.

We strung the tree in record time. Expecting volunteers and food donations to begin arriving at any moment, I crossed the room to turn on the music, though I’d been enjoying the silence. Kitty headed for the hot pads.

I was about to flip the switch when Kitty gasped.

“What?” I turned around, not sure what to expect. That talk of ghosts had been a joke, but maybe we were a little jumpy, or just punchy.

Kitty was crouching by the table, hand extended. She made a little kissing noise and said, “Kitty!”

“Why are you calling yourself?” Now I wondered if there’d been something odd in those brownies we’d tested.

“Not me—kitty as in cat.”

“Kat? What’s she doing under there?” And Kat couldn’t hide in that heap of hot pads.

“Not Kat. Cat.”

I still wasn’t getting it, and became convinced the brownies had been laced with something. That would be a fiasco, we’d have to…

“C-A-T. There’s a cat in here!” Kitty was laughing, at the same time as she tried to keep still and not scare the animal.

A little, scared, scrawny kitten crawled out from under the hot pads, where it had obviously made a warm nest for the night. Kitty scooped it up, cuddling it. “Here’s our Christmas ghost!”

“A Christmas present for Arne, for sure,” I laughed. “But how on earth did it get in here?”

“Santa?” Kitty guessed.

“And what do we do with it?”

“Her,” Kitty corrected, having taken a look. “She’s for Arne, of course.”

“You don’t think he’s going to adopt a cat, do you?” I looked at the ruin of his perfect rainbow. “Fussy, tidy people do not like kittens.”

Kitty smiled. “Wait and see.”

###




©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

IWSG: 2017 Year-End Round-Up


Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! If it links to Google+, be sure your blog is listed there. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG


The awesome co-hosts for the December 6 posting of the IWSG are Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner! 
December 6  (optional) question - As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?
##

I'm going to take this opportunity, as I do each year, to look back on my year as a writer and see what I have to celebrate, to regret, and to do better next year. 

The first and most obvious thing I see is that I'm not publishing anything in 2017. Book 3 of the Pismawallops PTA mystery series is nearly ready, but won't be out until early in the new year. I wanted it to be ready for the holiday season, but somehow, it just didn't happen. In part, that's because the revisions proved to be a great deal more challenging than I expected, requiring some re-jiggering of the plot, which means a big mess when you are writing a mystery. But I will also confess to some significant periods this year when I just didn't work on it, or anything else. Not sure why, for sure, though I may blame a lot of it on big changes in the family, as our youngest started college and my husband is preparing for retirement (and that will be another huge disruption to work, so I can expect my production of books to slow down even more for the next few years as we do long-awaited traveling).

On the up side, I'm doing great with the blog (too bad hardly anyone's reading it). I have written 64 book reviews for the blog so far (with several more to come), and somewhere around 30 flash fiction pieces, put together several photo-essay posts, and drafted 3 longer short stories, one of which I submitted to the IWSG anthology (no word yet, but I'm not holding my breath). That last bit fell short of my intentions of submitting at least one story a month (which I reduced to one/month over the summer, and didn't even manage that!). But I do have 2 stories that are a good polish away from submission, and plan to make that a priority after the book edits.

That raises a question for y'all: how do you manage books and shorter works at the same time? Or do you? Flash fiction is easy--by its nature, it's not as polished, and at 1000 words or less it's a matter of an hour or two. But a 3000-5000 word story for submission takes a lot more time and effort, and I can't seem to do that without destroying my focus on the book.

In a nutshell, 2017 has been a bit of a disappointing year for me. Sales are stagnant (maybe because I'm not doing any marketing? Ya' think?) and my writing editing pace is glacial, though committing to a set of editing steps each day during November (instead of drafting another mess) helped a lot.  I have a feeling my focus isn't going to get better any time soon, so maybe I need to think about a new normal.

So...to bring it back to the IWSG question, what would I do differently? Maybe work more diligently at getting the edits done? Maybe plan so that I could bring the book out more quickly when they are? Maybe backtrack all the way to 2015 when I drafted Death By Adverb during NaNo and take the time to make a more thorough outline so the final thing wouldn't have been such a mess?

There's one other thing I may want to change going forward: how I blog. I am getting burned out on all the book reviews, which have meant reviewing virtually everything I read. I'd like to keep blogging 3X/week, but I want to think of some different things to blog about, to keep myself and others reminded that this is primarily a writer's blog, not a review site. I think I let myself get swept into something didn't intend because it was an easy way to have content for the blog.

Oh, and one final plus: this fall, I took over managing the Fiction in 50 blog hop (#Fi50) from Bruce Gargoyle. It had lost pretty much all momentum, and is rather slow to get it back, but I'm trying. Check it out and feel free to join in during the last week of each month. Or even just leave me some ideas for prompts!

Okay--over to you! Let me know how your year went, and what you are proudest of.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Mystery Review: A Dangerous Talent

13550608

Title:
A Dangerous Talent

Author: Charlotte and Aaron Elkins
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer, 2012. 270 pages
Source: I purchased this book.

Publisher's Summary:

Alix London has a promising career as an art consultant, a sumptuous condo in Seattle’s toniest neighborhood, a gorgeous figure, and a presence that exudes Ivy League breeding and old money. She has it all…or does she? Only Alix knows that the image she presents to the world is a carefully constructed mirage that veils an embarrassing truth. A brilliant, once-promising art student, the daughter of a prominent New York art conservator, her world was left in ruins when her father went to prison for art forgery. Now a Harvard dropout with an emptied bank account, she is languishing in a career that has produced little more than a lucky house-sitting gig. But all of that changes when Alix meets Christine Lemay, a novice art collector with money to burn and a hot tip on a recently discovered painting by American master Georgia O’Keeffe. Chris hires Alix to perform the authentication, an assignment that finally could launch Alix into the big leagues. But soon after her arrival in Santa Fe, she finds herself tangled up in a web of forgery, deceit—and murder. Anxious to avoid becoming the next victim, she teams up with FBI Special Agent Ted Ellesworth—and gets a little unlikely help from her roguish father—to uncover the truth behind the painting and those who would kill to have it. Sharp, witty, and devilishly fun, A Dangerous Talent offers an insider’s look into the surprisingly treacherous contemporary art world.  


My Review: 
 

I have long been a fan of Aaron Elkins' Gideon Oliver mysteries, as well as the Lee Ofsted mysteries he has written with his wife, Charlotte. So I was pretty excited to find that they had more books they have collaborated on. The pair have come up with an interesting premise, as usual, and as usual have executed it with highly readable and often witty prose. I enjoyed the characters, and the New Mexico setting was a lot of fun, as I am familiar at least a little bit with some of the places mentioned.

I did notice a couple of things that bothered me a little. One was that friendship between Alix and Christine feel very similar to that of Lee Ofsted and her friend Peg--nothing wrong with that, but it was a little disconcerting, especially as both Alix and Lee are a bit uncertain about their careers, and are befriended by somewhat brash older women who push them to accomplish what they might not on their own. It's a nice form of mentorship, but I thought the Elkins were recycling a bit.

The other disappointment was that I figured out the mystery before the end. That's not so bad--I didn't have all the details, and it wasn't much before the end, but Alix definitely missed one big red flag. 

In the end, neither of those issues stopped me from enjoying the book very much, and I will be reading any more they write in the series (or any other series, for that matter).

My Recommendation:
Fans of Aaron and Charlotte Elkins will definitely want to check this out, as will anyone who is interested in art or Georgia O'Keeffe. You won't find it hard to read, and you won't regret it.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased an ebook of A Dangerous Talent at retail, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Friday Flash: Dead Comet

For this week's flash fiction prompt, I headed over to Jemima Pett's blog and checked out out her collection of prompts. A few clicks of the random number generator gave me my title, and the story gives a nod or two to Jemima and her Viridian System books.

Dead Comet


“I don’t like this.” The uncertainty in Althea’s voice carried clearly over the communications link. “There’s something wrong here.” 

Aboard the Jemima, Marlis frowned. It wasn’t like her partner to give way to vague misgivings. They might be due for some time in port, maybe even a visit to Sunset Strip. That was supposed to be the best liberty port for spacers in this quadrant. She shook herself. No good thinking about heading dirtside until they finished what they were here for. They needed to score something big if they wanted a vacation. Marlis spoke into her comm unit.

“What?”

“I’m not sure, Mar. Just…it’s wrong. The whole thing feels dead.”

“It’s an asteroid. They’re all dead. Nothing can live on an asteroid.” Marlis thought that the sensitivity that made Althea good at her job could work against her sometimes.

“I know. So why does it feel weird that this one is dead?”

That wasn’t the sort of question you could answer, so Marlis didn’t try.  “Is there anything there worth mining?” The pair were asteroid miners, not orichalcum like the top guys, but pretty much everything else. They did well, mostly because they were willing to put in the effort to harvest the stuff others bypassed.

“I’m not getting readings for anything familiar,” Althea reported. “Not even iron.” That was odd. Pretty much every asteroid had iron.

“But the computer said to walk it.” Walking was what they called landing on an asteroid and assessing its minerals.

“Maybe the computer needs a vacation, too.”

Marlis fiddled with the sensor controls. “I’ve got nothing. If you aren’t getting anything, come on back in.” She pulled the hood of her own suit closed, and propelled herself along the passage to the airlock, to spot Althea on her return. That was the dangerous moment, and the spacers never did it alone.

Later, in the control room, Althea tried to explain to her skeptical partner. “Maybe it was because the computer insisted we needed to mine that one. Maybe I was just disappointed that there was nothing there.”

Marlis nodded, but she didn’t believe it. Althea was too old an asteroid miner to be thrown off by a dead scent. It happened. The computer sensed something they couldn’t reach, or contaminants in the sensor gave them a false reading. Althea had never been bothered by it before.

“I wonder why I thought it was dead,” Althea mused.

“All asteroids are dead,” Marlis said.

“That’s just it. They’re supposed to be lifeless, so they don’t feel dead. This—remember that time we found the ghost ship?”

Marlis shuddered. She remembered. They’d found the ship drifting, no responses, no life signs, no machinery working. They had boarded it only to find the crew, so long dead they were mummified. No idea what had killed them.

“It felt like that,” Althea said. “Like something that should have been alive.”

Marlis was fiddling with the computer. She stopped, read something, turned back and read it again, and turned to her partner. She wore a puzzled expression.

“I ran the spectrum analysis. It’s not anything like the other asteroids around here.”

Althea asked, “some kind of interloper, then? Not part of whatever broke up and created this asteroid belt?”

“Yeah.” Marlis continued to stare at the computer. “’Thea, what feels alive when you walk it?”

“Planets. Ships, except when all sources of power have shut down,” she added, remembering that drifting tomb. “Not sure what else there is.” She thought and counted them off on her fingers. “I’ve been on ships, planets, and asteroids. And that thing out there,” she knew it now with a certainty that had no knowledge behind it as yet, “that thing is none of those.”

“And what else is there in space?”

“Space junk. Human detritus. I guess that’s what that ship was, except it should have been alive, so it felt weird. This wasn’t human, I’m sure of it.  Not space debris.”

“What else?” Marlis prompted.

Althea thought for a minute. “Comets,” she breathed, seeing it. “That thing is a comet. But…” she hesitated. “I thought those were just in Sol System.”

“They’re bits of rock and ice, left kicking around after the formation of a planetary system. As far as I can tell, they can happen in any planetary system. They orbit the sun, spewing bits of themselves all the way.”

“This thing isn’t spewing anything,” Althea protested. She knew it wouldn’t appear to be moving. The whole asteroid belt was in orbit, albeit a slow one, and the Jemima with it. But the tail should have been visible.

“It’s dead,” Marlis said. “Stopped moving, except with the whole asteroid belt.”

“Doesn’t that just make it another asteroid?”

“It should. You tell me.”

It didn’t. Althea remembered what it felt like to stand on the dead comet. It made her want to leave, to get far away.  “Why did the computer want me to go there? What does it have that we want?”

Marlis studied the computer some more. “Aha! It has things that were frozen into it at the birth of this star system. There are scientists that will pay for an artifact like this.” She looked closer and whistled. “Pay a lot.”

“Did I miss something?” Althea asked. “Why would they pay so much? There must be something of value in it.” She was wondering if they could mine it after all.

Marlis looked at her partner. They’d worked, lived, and loved together for more decades than either of them wanted to remember, but some things never ceased to amaze her. “It contains knowledge, Althea. We just have to get it to the people who can decode it.” She could see that Althea didn’t really understand, but loved an engineering challenge, and was already working out how to capture and tow the comet without it melting or breaking apart.

If they could pull this off, they could have a long holiday dirtside, maybe retire.

If.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
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