Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Chapter One of The Unbelievers (Book 2 in The Awakening Series)


Chapter One  

Tara punched in the security code, resetting the alarm beneath the kitchen cabinets. Though she was already late, she peered through the small, square window over the sink. Gas lamps lit the path that bordered the house trailers nearest her temporary home. Holiday lights sparkled on bushes and around windows, creating shadows that darkened the spaces between the trailers.

Kali Kerkorian sat at the fold-down table behind Tara, tablet and textbook open in front of her. “Cyril can do nothing from jail,” she said.

“The people he works for can.” Tara turned away from the window to face her friend.

“And so?” Kali said. “You will stay in tonight?”

“Like every other night for the last four months, you mean?”

Kali shrugged and smiled. “I can make tea for us. Or return home to Grandmother.”

“No.” Tara zipped her jacket and resisted the urge to recheck the alarm. Her baby, who, by all natural laws, should not exist, slept on a blanket in the living room, unaware of any threats or of the controversy surrounding her. Tara longed to lie down and rest like that without at least part of her on the alert. She doubted she ever would.

Outside, dried leaves crunched under Tara’s gym shoes. She inhaled crisp night air. It smelled of pine. She exhaled a long breath. Kali knew about the death and damage caused by those who’d been after Tara while she’d been pregnant. She would take all security precautions. And she’d watched Fimi before. But that had been during the day. Somehow, leaving the baby alone after dark felt more worrisome despite the protection the Willow Springs community offered.

The Friday night service at the Community Center, with its dancing and singing, helped Tara unwind and feel freer than she had since she’d discovered she was pregnant. The grown ups only hour after it added to her good mood. Most of her socializing in the last four months had been with Kali and Kali’s grandmother, Nanor, the founder of Willow Springs. Both were people Tara loved, but it felt great to visit and laugh with others, too. A text from Kali at the start of the gathering reassured her that all was well and she could enjoy herself.

On the way back, Tara veered slightly off track toward her favorite section of Willow Springs – the lake that divided its residential area from the woods surrounding it. The night was hazy. Few stars dotted the sky, and the moon stayed hidden. When Tara reached the creek that fed the lake, she listened to its trickling water, her eyes scanning the landscape. Vigilance had become a habit.

Rustling came from the darkness to Tara’s left. She froze, peering at silhouettes of bare trees. A rabbit, white tail bobbing in the faint starlight, darted across her path, startling her. A few minutes later, leaves skittered along the stones that edged the creek. More rustling in the distance.

“Another rabbit,” Tara said aloud, her voice echoing. But she did an about-face. She’d been gone long enough for her first evening out.

The six trailers nearest Tara’s stood dark, other than their holiday lights. No doubt her neighbors were still at the Community Center. All the lights glowed in Tara’s trailer, just as she’d left them. But a John Fogerty song blared through the closed windows. She quickened her pace, hand dropping to the pocket where she kept her switchblade. While Fimi was a happy baby, rarely crying or fussing, Kali wouldn’t crank the sound to that level to test Fimi’s good nature.

Knife in one hand, Tara tried her cell phone with the other. 
No service. She ran for the front door. This couldn’t be happening. The trailer she’d stayed in during her first visit to Willow Springs the year before had been broken into. By Cyril Woods. But he was in jail, and Tara had been assured all the security vulnerabilities had been fixed.

She burst through the door. Fimi’s blanket, rattle, and stuffed monkey lay on the carpeted living area floor. But no Fimi.

She’s here, she’s here, she’s got to be here.

The song changed to “Centerfield,” and John Fogerty’s cheerful voice sang “Put me in, coach.” An undertone of sweat, acrid and unfamiliar, permeated the hall between the living room and bedroom. Strangers had been here. Or were here.

Tara forced herself to creep rather than race down the hall. She cracked the bedroom door. Kali lay on her side on the bed, wrists behind her back. Duct tape covered her mouth, and her eyes had swollen shut. Bruises purpled her forehead. Holding her breath, Tara eased the door open. She saw no intruders. And no Fimi. She rushed in.


No response. Tara held her hand in front of Kali’s nose and felt faint breath. She tried her phone again, then the landline. No dial tone. Tara rushed through the trailer, pausing only to yank open the few drawers and cabinets large enough to hold a baby. Outside, she banged on trailer doors until she found a neighbor with a working landline who called Security.

Tara circled her trailer looking for tire tracks, signs of the intruders, anything that might provide a clue. Aside from one emergency road, Willow Springs wasn’t accessible by automobile. Only golf carts, bikes, and motorcycles fit through its gates, down the paths in the surrounding woods, and along the narrow residential roads. Tara found no tracks other than those leading to her own golf cart. She peered through the back window at Kali. She couldn’t leave her friend. But how could she stay here when Fimi could be anywhere, with anyone?

At last, flashing red light flooded the front garden. The head of Security and the community doctor arrived in the first golf cart. Both women rushed inside. A second cart brought two more Security personnel. After Tara spilled out the story, search tasks were assigned.

Tara took her own cart and drove toward the closest wooded area. Someone from Security would be searching as well, but Tara had to do something. Residents jumped out of Tara’s way as she drove, horn blaring. She saw no one who shouldn’t be there.

Where is she? Where is she? This was supposed to be a safe place. And Kali, what about Kali?

When she reached foot trails, Tara pulled the cart to one side and hurried into the woods. She shone her smartphone’s flashlight around, trying to think who would take Fimi. The obvious answer was the Brotherhood, the religious order Cyril Woods had belonged to. Probably still belonged to, despite being in prison awaiting trial for what he’d done to Tara’s brother. But why now? News about Tara and Fimi had spread across the Internet. But after what Tara had said under the Arch for all the world to hear, few people believed what the press called Tara’s “story” that she’d been shocked to discover her pregnancy because she hadn’t had sex. Not many had believed even before Tara had spoken. So what threat could Fimi pose to the Brotherhood and its teachings?
Tara took a side path. She’d seen no trace of the Security person who was supposed to be here, but the woods spanned acres.

Breathe. Panicking won’t help.

Fimi might have been taken by any of the hundreds of people who’d sent messages calling Tara evil, a liar, or a slut, or telling her God should have made her baby stillborn. But Tara thought if she were going to kidnap a child, she wouldn’t send a warning first, she’d just do it.

Moving as quickly as she could, Tara examined each shadow, petrified she’d find Fimi’s body on the ground or tied to a tree branch or bush. Twigs snapped behind her. Tara spun, her flashlight beam illuminating the trees around her.

Cyril Woods stood before her.

Click here to order The Unbelievers for Kindle in paperback, or as an audio book, here to order it for the Nook, and here for Kobo. Want to be notified when Book 3 is available? Click here to join the author's email list. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Unbelievers (Book 2 in The Awakening Series)

A young woman whose unusual pregnancy almost destroyed her life.

A child who, by all natural laws, cannot exist.

A zealot who sees himself as an avenging angel, fearing the Antichrist walks among us….

The Unbelievers, Book 2 in the acclaimed Awakening series.

Click here to Pre-Order today

Special introductory price - $3.99

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pete Spencer Held Prisoner -- Excerpt From The Awakening, Book 2: The Unbelievers

Reader Kerri Geiser attended a book release party for the paperback edition of The Awakening and won the right to have a character named after her in Book 2 in the series.  Below is an excerpt that includes an interchange between her character and Tara's father, Pete Spencer, from The Unbelievers, set to be released in September, 2014. These scenes occur around the middle of The Unbelievers but do not contain spoilers, so read away:

Pete lay on thin carpet over what felt like a metal floor that swayed beneath him. His shoulders ached. When he opened his eyes, he saw only black. No light seeped in around the edges of the blindfold. His hands were bound behind him.

Bouncing, rattling. A van. I’m in the back of a panel van. He tried to move his feet, but they, too, were tied together. At least he wasn’t gagged.


No answer.

Pete kicked his feet in unison. They hit what felt like metal. A clanging sound echoed around him. He rolled along the carpeted floor until he banged into what must be a side of the van. It seemed too long to be the back. His body fit lengthwise against it. His head felt fuzzy. He had no idea how long he’d been out.

The van jounced, and his right knee smacked the floor at the perfect angle to send shooting pain along his inner thigh. His shoulders and upper arms ached from having his hands behind his back. Otherwise, though, his body didn’t seem battered. Pete worked his wrists and felt the rope stretch. Whoever had bound him hadn’t done so tightly. He considered whether Cyril had lured him to the church and set the trap. But much as he wanted to blame Cyril, he couldn’t see what the man stood to gain. 

But if Cyril’s not part of this, where is he? And what could anyone else want with me?

Pete froze, forgetting the ropes for a moment. Tara. They want to get to Tara.


A door slammed. From inside the panel van, heart hammering, Pete listened to footsteps crunch in snow. He simultaneously regretted that he’d stayed so distant from Tara since Fimi’s birth and cursed her for not keeping quiet about her unusual pregnancy. Telling anyone beyond the family placed them all in danger. 

“My name is Kerri Geiser, Mr. Spencer. I will open the doors in a moment. I apologize for the method of transport. It is important that you not know where you have been taken if you decide not to help us.” 

A woman’s voice, but not the priest’s wife. The accent sounded Russian, with rolled R’s, stressed syllables, and the W’s pronounced like V’s.

Help you do what? Pete thought, struggling with the ropes around his wrists. Was it a bad sign that Kerri Geiser had given him her name? If it was her real name. For the first time, he wished he’d taken boxing or martial arts like his father had wanted him to do. He might know something more about fighting, as Cyril no doubt did. He’d been in pretty good shape before Megan’s death; he’d found a way to work out every other day, at least by swimming half an hour at the Y. But since then he’d let it slide, and he’d become softer and weaker. He’d let a lot of things slide.

He heard creaking as the doors opened, and a blast of icy air hit him. His down jacket had come most of the way unzipped, and he was sweating from his struggles, so he felt chilled and clammy. No light seeped in around the edges of the blindfold, so it must be after sunset.

“Slide forward until you sit at the back bumper of the van,” Geiser said.

He inched his body through the dark toward the cold air, his shoulder joints protesting the unnatural position they’d been forced into. Based on her voice, Pete guessed the woman’s age as mid-thirties. But he was probably wrong. He’d met many clients in person after speaking to them on the phone whose voices matched their looks not at all.

“Why am I here?” He maneuvered into a sitting position, a challenge with his hands behind his back, and put his feet on the ground.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

The Day After The Awakening - An Interview with Tara Spencer

The Unbelievers (Book 2 in The Awakening series) begins a few months after the end of The Awakening and is scheduled to be released this Fall. Below is an interview with Tara Spencer the day after The Awakening ended, plus a sneak peek at the current draft of the cover of Book 2.

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Tara, you gave birth yesterday, how do you feel?

- Exhausted. I feel like I could sleep for a year.

- Relieved. Fimi’s okay – I named the baby Sophia Fiona, Fimi for short – she’s in an incubator because she’s so tiny and she’s premature, but the doctors say she’ll be out in no time.

- Grateful to my mom and Sophia for being right there when I gave birth.

- Angry at my dad for calling the FBI, though I understand why he felt like he had to. No one knew what the right thing to do was about Bailey being kidnapped. But if he hadn’t, I would have said what the Brotherhood wanted me to say and Bailey would have been released without harm – maybe. I get that’s a big maybe.

- Also angry at my dad because I’m pretty sure he still doesn't really believe me that I don’t know how Fimi could possibly have been conceived.

- Sad and dark when I think about Megan, so for just this little while, I’m trying not to. It’s too much to take in. Part of me refuses to believe she’s gone.

- Confused about reviving Bailey and Cyril. Or, rather, about what I was reviving them from. It was all such a blur. At the moment, I felt sure Bailey was dead and Cyril was dying. But now I can’t believe that could have been so. Maybe they both just passed out.

- Furious at Cyril for kidnapping Bailey and relieved that Cyril ultimately let Bailey go. At least, that’s what Bailey said happened, but he’s pretty fuzzy on everything, which the doctors say is normal. I also feel heartbroken that this person I felt like I was falling for doesn't seem to exist. When I met Cyril, he seemed so certain of everything. I thought he might be crazy, and that he must be wrong about me, but there was something appealing about how sure he was and how dedicated to his goals. It’s how I feel about becoming a doctor. I want to study medicine, particularly oncology, and be a family practice doctor. That way I can try to prevent cancer or catch it early as well as treat it. I’m not really seeing right now how I’ll manage all that given everything that’s happened, but there must be some way.

Have your beliefs about God – or there not being a god – changed?

Can I say not exactly? It seems like there must be something supernatural or I couldn’t have become pregnant. But part of me still thinks there’ll be some logical explanation. What, I can’t imagine. Especially now that I’ve seen Fimi and she’s healthy and normal. I’ve got to tell you, despite the pregnancy proceeding normally (other then all strange things that happened to me), I had nightmares about giving birth to an alien baby. One that looked like a tiny ET or a spider out of a Stephen King novel. Or a demon child with hooves. Okay, let’s not go there.

Did you really mean it when you told Cyril you forgave him?

I did at that moment. If you could have seen his face – everything was right there. How awful he felt for everything he’s done. This sort of envy, or maybe longing is a better word, for the kind of family I have. We’re not perfect, and I’m still getting over my mom and dad letting me down, but I never doubt they love me. And I love my sibs and they love me. It's one of those things I never question, it just is. But Cyril, I'm pretty sure he's had the opposite experience. He has not felt much love, and he's wondered if the people who say they love him really do. Which does not bode well for him, I realize, when it comes to forming romantic relationships. And before you say I should have thought of that before getting involved with him, let me remind you how chaotic my life was at the time. Cyril seemed like a rock, well, at least a fairly sturdy boulder, in comparison to everything else going on.

Would you ever get involved with Cyril again?

I really seriously doubt it. For one thing, he’ll be in jail for a long time. But more important, I don’t know how I can trust him. He could tell me he changed, but how could he prove it? And how could he make up for being part of the scheme to kidnap Bailey and getting Bailey killed or almost getting him killed, whichever it is that happened? I won’t say it could never happen because I’ve been completely wrong about people before, but I don't see it.

Are you worried about the Brotherhood?

How could I not be? I'm just hoping its big goals were (1) to stop Fimi from being born, which it failed at, and (2) when that didn’t work, to make me “admit” there was nothing out of the ordinary about her conception. The second they more or less succeeded at since I said Fimi was conceived in the usual way in the hope that it would make Cyril release Bailey. So the Brotherhood and I should be done.

I’m a little concerned about the repercussions of that lie. For one thing, I think it made my dad doubt me more. But I’m glad I told it. I think I’m better off being quiet about Fimi and staying out of the public eye. In fact, when Fimi’s a little bigger, I plan to move to Willow Springs. Nanor said I can stay there for a while with Fimi and just rest and recover. She held a vote with the community on it, though she’s the founder and didn’t need to, and most everyone agreed that would be all right. So I can get adjusted to having a baby and, I hope, catch up on my college classes. Eventually, I’ll need a longer term plan, but for now, that makes a lot of sense to me.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Inspiration, the Character of Megan, and Thoughts for the New Year

If you've landed here, you've read The Awakening, so first I'll say thank you. Second, a quick update: the next-to-last rewrite of Book II in The Awakening series, The Unbelievers, is halfway done. When I finish, I'll send it to a handful of writers/readers for comments, then do a last edit and publish it. Look for it in spring of this year. Also, a paper version of The Awakening is scheduled to be released in late January, so if you have friends who might like to read it but don't have an e-reader, I hope you'll pass on the word. Both events will be announced on the Facebook page for the book.

During the holiday season, I attended a party where a friend of the host had just read The Awakening. She asked about the character Megan and whether I'd known anyone like her in real life. Megan was inspired by my niece Emma, to whom I dedicated The Awakening. Like Megan, Emma was diagnosed at a young age with a brain tumor.

I included Megan as a character for a few reasons, one of which was very practical. Because it's meant to be unclear whether the origin of Tara's pregnancy relates to Christian theology, I wanted her to have a strong, practical reason for deferring sex rather than a religious one. Given that she's 21 and in a long-term relationship with a young man she plans to marry, I felt that reason needed to be especially persuasive. So I created Tara as a pre-med student and the oldest of five children. She's ambitious and, because of Megan’s illness, she has even more responsibility for her siblings than most eldest children do. She gains real insight into what raising children requires and she wants to be sure she's ready.

I borrowed a bit from Emma for another reason -- she inspires me. From before she could walk, Emma loved books. When she was ten, I gave her the Narnia Chronicles, which I’d so loved at her age. When she was eleven, she read me adventure stories she’d written in her journal. I have two brothers, one who had six children, and one who had one – Emma. I felt thrilled that one of my brothers’ children enjoyed writing as much as I do.

Unfortunately, unlike her cousins, Emma won’t reach adulthood, just as Megan didn't. Emma would have been twenty-one this year, but she died at age eleven, a few months after she shared those stories with me. She started her first day of junior high, but never high school; celebrated her first communion but never her graduation. She did not get to grow up, fall in love, start a career. While Father Saur is not modeled after any real priest or pastor I know, some of his words at Megan's wake are borrowed from a talk a priest at my niece's wake gave. I cried at the words.

Emma took great joy in life despite being treated for her tumor for almost half of it. She met a Minnesota Viking football player and traveled to the Minnesota Twins spring training through Make-a-Wish. She had a blast playing with cousins on both sides of the family. She loved her parents, her kitten, and the Beanie Babies my mom bought her. She always took the tags off them so they’d look more like real animals.

When I have a challenging day – the dishwasher leaks, or Amazon tells me I have zero book sales for a week, or a client in my law practice is unhappy with me – I often think of Emma. Emma would have loved to grow up and have the chance to deal with these kinds of issues. Emma also reminds me to be present and enjoy the wonderful parts of life. A glass of wine with friends, a family dinner, a professional accomplishment. A quiet walk along Lake Michigan or a less quiet one on State Street to see the holiday windows and lights. Each moment is a gift, an instant that not everyone is lucky enough to experience.

So I am grateful to Emma, for being an amazing, wonderful part of my life. And, as I said in the dedication, I wish she were still here.

If you'd like to share thoughts about anyone in your life, The Awakening, or the coming year, feel free to comment below or e-mail me at lisa@lisalilly.com.  To join my e-mail newsletter list and be notified first thing of new releases, click here.

Best wishes for a safe and happy new year.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Where Is The Awakening II?

A few people have asked me where The Awakening II is. Which makes me happy because it means they must have read The Awakening. It's been about two years since the first book was published, so I thought I should answer the question.

Right now, it's on my dining room table. That is, the first draft of it is. A second/third draft (I rewrite in pieces) is in the laptop. 


I should add that, actually, first I outline, which sometimes takes longer than the first draft. So I basically write from point to point in my outline, in sort of a mad dash to the end. Rather than get distracted by the Internet - not that I ever am, of course - if I need to research something I put a bolded note in brackets to check it later. For instance, when I wasn't sure what the national language for Turkey was, I used "Turkish," then in brackets said [check this]. (Turns out it's Turkish.) 

This approach to first drafting means I spend a lot of time rewriting.  I start with the various plot lines. I did a Find in Word for Ray -- Tara's biological father, who has a small role to play. I read each scene involving Ray in order, skipping over everything else, to make sure his story fit together, then did that for the other characters.

I'm now pretty much done with the main plot and sub-plots, so my next step is to look at the overall order of scenes. Sometimes I wrote all the Cyril scenes (yes, he's back for those who loved/hated him) in a row when really, looking at the time line, other scenes belong in between. Then I'll rewrite from beginning to end on the laptop, experimenting with point of view and asking myself what the viewpoint character sees, tastes, smells, hears, and feels (both tactile feeling and emotion). Finally, I'll look at the lines and words themselves. This includes lengths of sentences, lengths of paragraphs, lengths of chapters. Also actual words - is the same word used too many times on a page or in a chapter? Can I say anything more succinctly? As in, can I use fewer adverbs like "succinctly"?

Then I'll print the whole manuscript out, wait a couple weeks, then read it. I'll particularly look for any scene where the characters are sitting and talking or sitting and thinking. Or standing and talking. I don't cut all those scenes, but if there are a number in a row, or one is very long, I try to find something more active that could get the same point across, or intersperse the dialogue with another scene that involves action. In each chapter, I ask myself if the stakes can be raised. I also look for too much action. Sometimes a reader needs a break, a moment to just breathe and be with the characters. After I've made those changes, and I feel like I'll throw up if I look at it one more time, I'll send it on to first readers and/or take part of it to a writing workshop. (That's Mr. Bird reviewing some of my writing. I don't always takes his suggestions, but don't tell him, he's very sensitive.)

So, short answer (which, as you see, is hard to get from a novelist), The Unbelievers (Book II of The Awakening series) is on its way. I'm hoping it'll be ready by Christmas, more likely it'll be somewhere between Christmas and Easter.

In the meantime, if you'd like to be notified when The Unbelievers is available, please click here to join my mailing/email list.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Taboo Topics

Most people know the general rule about not discussing religion or politics when you first meet someone.  Yet often that's what fascinates me about other people.  I am not a religious person, yet my interest in religion, and the role it's played in my life, strongly influences my writing.  I tried very hard in The Awakening to depict characters who clashed not because some were inherently good and others inherently evil, but because they hold conflicting beliefs that mean more to them than almost anything else.  None of the characters was inspired by me or my mother, but I'm sure some of the themes in the book came from a lifetime of conflict with my mom over religion.  We both had strong views about it, and over time those views diverged more and more.  My mother took that personally, seeing our differences as a failing on my part or hers or both, as she believed, as many people do, that  her beliefs were the only correct ones.  (Happily, at some point we reached a sort of truce, each letting the other go her own way.)

After my parents' deaths, the way religion can divide as much as unite became even more striking to me.  My mom and dad were hit by an intoxicated driver.  My mom died at the scene; my dad died after two major surgeries and 6 1/2 weeks of struggling to recover.  Because my parents were very religious, it didn't surprise me that many people said things about God when trying to offer words of comfort.  What did surprise me was the people who said things like, "It's God's will."  They must have believed such a concept would bring solace.  For me, though, the idea simply seemed wrong.  Surely a kind or just divine being had no reason to want my parents to die in such a painful and violent way.  And surely the individual who caused their deaths was not a god in the heavens, but a man behind the wheel who chose to drink and drive.  To blame -- or credit -- God seemed to me to let the man who had done this off the hook.  Other variations on the theme included that God had a purpose for everything and everything happened for the best.  If someone who recently suffered a loss or tragedy said that to me about her or his own circumstances, I wouldn't argue with that person.  But I could never for myself consider what happened to my mom and dad, or my or my family's loss of them, to be for the best.

Often I feel people offer comments about God and religion after a death as much to reassure themselves as to comfort others.  Why an all-powerful, all-good divine being would create a world where terrible things happen is a question that's difficult to answer.  One answer is that perhaps God doesn't watch over everyone on a personal level, but instead is only concerned with the very big picture -- the fate of the world, perhaps, or the fate of our souls.  In a culture that prays about the outcomes of football games or even attributes particularly good plays to God, though, that answer doesn't seem very satisfying.  But if there is a god and he or she does influence everyday life, why would that god heal one child's cancer and not another?  Or, worse, help a basketball player make a free throw and seemingly ignore the child with cancer altogether?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but they trouble me, so I write stories to explore them.  Writers get to create their own universe, to create order in their world even if there is none in real life.  That's why I love reading fiction, and why I'll keep writing so long as there are questions to ask.