*The giveaway is AAAALLL the way down in the end. Enjoy the introduction to Seth & Travis, I know I certainly did!!!*
Interview with Seth and Travis from Parting Burden
In the spirit of wanting to discuss my characters more than myself, I thought I'd interview a pair of them from a book I'm working on. Parting Burden is a novel in the Secret Connection Collection. That is, it's a stand-alone novel, connected to several of my other books, (published and in-the-works), by the characters. Confused yet? Well, the books in the collection span various genres. I've written them so that readers who are genre-specific can read them separately. However, those who enjoy a series, regardless of genre, can read all of the books as connected works. (Yes, I like to do things the hard way.)
Parting Burden was planned as a romance novel, but somewhere in the writing, several of the characters became raging smart-asses, and it took a more of a turn toward dramedy.
Since the book isn't available yet, a bit of an introduction is in order. Here is a pair of excerpts, introducing each of the men. Melissa Shuler is the main character of the book, and narrator:
The pub was remarkably clean and deserted. Low, round tables were scattered throughout the space with oversized, brown, leather chairs nestled around them in pairs and quartets. I could barely make out the strains of a psychedelic rock song, drifting into the room from several, invisible speakers. All wood and brass, the main bar looked incongruously "Old West", especially surrounded as it was by black plastic, neo-modern barstools.
Two of the walls were completely covered in murals depicting hundreds of famous faces. All of the great minds in science, literature, music, film - even politics and religion, mingled in rooms artfully rendered to mirror the one I stood in now, alone. The detail and perception of depth was nearly perfect. I easily recognized J.F.K. leaning into the shoulder of Plato, as they apparently discussed the merits of whatever Buddha was expounding to Elvis Presley. At the back of one painted room, I could make out Randy Rhoads mingling with Albert Einstein and Mark Twain.
The third wall's mural was half-complete, stopping at a rough-in of a woman who, -even without the details of her face, would obviously be Diana Spencer.
"Incredible, isn't it?" The whiskey voice came from immediately behind my left shoulder, making me jump. I spun to the side, nearly tripping over my suitcase.
The man behind me was tall and sturdy, with an open face and a slightly sheepish looking smile. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." He ran one hand through his dark hair, tucking it behind his ear. The surfer-boy haircut and beach bum stubble were just two more casual anomalies in this strange, eclectic oasis. "Can I get you something?"
It took a moment to absorb the apron he had tied around his waist. This must be the bartender.
"The murals are spectacular!" My voice sounded too loud in the empty room.
"Worth a damn sight more than I'm paying for them, that's for sure." He called it over his shoulder as he headed for the bar. "Local guy. Starving artist." The chuckle was more like a cough, but I didn't understand the irony. "So what's your poison? We're a cafe and a pub, so you can have just about anything your heart desires."
"Rye and coke, please."
He cocked one dark eyebrow at my faux-leather suitcase as he poured. "Visiting, passing through, or running away?"
"Still deciding." I pursed my lips to keep from saying any more.
He placed the drink in front of me, sky-blue eyes inviting me to tell him more. He even seemed mildly disappointed when I took my drink and battered suitcase to the table in the corner, beside Charlotte Bronte, Van Gogh and Johnny Cash. I seemed to be in the right company there.
As I sipped, I continued to pick at the wounds. Here I was, sitting alone in the corner of a bar, crying into my drink like some poorly written, country-song heroine. A pathetic cliché, I'd become something even worse than what I let Brice make of me. How I prayed for my Mom's serenity and poise now! But all Mom had ever wanted for me was to find my own strength. Daddy and Nana too. First, I'd have to get past the trepidation and bitterness. I shoved the tears away with the back of my hand, resentful of their weakness.
The bartender ambled over then, a roguish smile forming in one corner of his mouth. "If you keep refilling your own glass, I'll never get you to buy another. May I suggest-"
"No! You may not!" I forced through my teeth. I must have looked like some kind of mad ventriloquist. As he shrugged and turned away, I was run over by another epiphany. Nana was right! I was carrying my "stuff" around. The poor bartender had done nothing to warrant my wrath. I waved him back.
"Still hungry?" His lips were pulled tight. "Need an arm or a leg to go with my head?"
"I'm sorry. I really am. I'm a little punchy and I - I took it out on you."
His eyes flashed to my left hand, taking in the pale strip of skin where my engagement ring used to sit. "Trouble in paradise, huh? Been there. I hope it blows over for you."
"Not likely. I've had enough of being someone's possession."
"Shit, did a real number on you, eh?" His smile was more genuine now, but I hated that it was tinged with pity. "Well, on behalf of decent guys everywhere, which I am if you ask just about anyone, I'm sorry. Some guys just can't help screwing up a good thing."
"I'm sure you are." I couldn't help smiling a little. "A good guy, that is. I seem to have a lot more baggage than I thought."
"Oh, you won't have any trouble getting someone to help you unpack, Missy." Again with the ironic chuckle. I studied his face, trying to figure out who he was. It was handsome enough face, but it didn't trigger any memories. Two apologies in five minutes felt like one too many. He was too composed and confident. I wasn't ready for this yet.
I forced myself to meet his eyes. The pupils expanded, nearly eliminating the blue ring around them. When my glass toppled over, my heart leapt against my ribs. We were both on our feet before the first droplets of rye and coke hit the floor. I wasn't quick enough to prevent getting one sleeve of my dress out of the way, but otherwise I was undamaged. While he produced a towel from nowhere and mopped up the spill, I was mentally kicking myself. The only way I could have knocked over the glass, was by leaning toward him while I stared into his eyes. Body language like that could send all the wrong signals. The last thing I needed right now was to give the impression I was interested in anyone.
At least now I could study his features without him knowing. It could have been a square face, but for the way it narrowed to a prominent chin complete with subtle cleft. His long, narrow nose angled slightly to the left, making his face just disproportionate enough to be fascinating. Eyebrows neither too thick, nor too thin rode low on his brow near the bridge of his nose and high at his temple; I knew women who would kill for their shape, if much thinner. His lower lids were just the right bit of puffy to give him a constant look of intense concentration. He'd be able to pacify the toughest misandrist with a stare if he wanted, and he could be dangerous if he knew it.
As if he'd read my mind, he looked up at me and winked. "Figure it out yet?" My face started to burn as he stood.
"I'm so sorry, but how do I know you? I can't bring myself to remember."
"Awe, that's alright." His smile disappeared, belying his words. "Not many people around here do. I was pretty-much invisible back in high school. Seth Burstrom. Nice to meet you again, Missy Shuler."He held out a hand that completely engulfed mine when I shook it. His grip was firm, but gentle, the way one holds an egg they're afraid of dropping, but don't want to crush. Suddenly, it seemed wrong for him to call me by the same nickname Brice had used with such passive aggression.
"Please, call me Mel. I'd like to leave Missy in the past, where she belongs."
His jaw tightened in unison with his grip. The abrupt anger was frightening, but it passed as quickly as it came, and I could breathe again. Now he just looked sad.
"Yup. A real number. " He scrunched his eyes shut. "Asshole." I don't think he meant to say it out loud, and he didn't seem to notice that I'd heard him. "Would you like a replacement? It'd be on the house."
"No. Thank you, Seth, but I really should get going, anyway."
"Take a rain-check, then."
Before I reached the gravel road that would take me to Daddy's house, I stopped to simply lift my face to the sun and enjoy one, last, soothing lungful of the apple blossom air. It felt so good! I closed my eyes and revelled in it for a minute.
I nearly jumped out of every layer of my skin, when I heard a click and a whirring sound! Even though my eyes had been closed, the glare of sunlight had me seeing spots when I opened them.
"Don't move!" The man had a voice, but no face for the moment. He took several more pictures as he talked, crouching down on the edge of the road. "God, you're beautiful! Like you've stepped out of time to visit. The dress, the hat, the suitcase, you could be a ghost from the past, or an angel! Just one or two more shots, please?"
"You never asked if you could take the first twelve. Why ask now?"
"Ah! The vision speaks!" The clicking stopped and he chuckled. "You're right, though, I should have asked. I'll delete every picture if you say so, but please don't!"
His face was finally coming into focus. There was something familiar about the arch of his brow and crooked smile, but I couldn't place it. His hair shone golden in the sun, and his grey eyes were dancing with mischief. He hopped over the shallow ditch, took a few steps closer , and flopped on the ground, looking up at me. Setting down my suitcase with a sigh, I sat on it to keep my dress from getting grass stained, on top of the rye and coke splash.
"Do I know you?"
"I doubt it. I wouldn't forget meeting an angel." I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, barely.
"Name's Travis. I grew up around here and somehow I keep getting sucked back." He nodded at my suitcase-seat. "It's a nice enough place to visit, though, if you don't get duped into staying."
"Well, Travis, I grew up here too, and I've never been so happy to see it again. You can have the rest of the world. I'm just happy to be home."
"Awe crap, there I go sticking my foot in it again!" He had the decency to look ashamed. "I didn't mean nothin' by it, I'm just feeling the wanderlust again. Used to be I could just take off whenever I wanted, now I have obligations." The way he said it made obligations sound like an incurable disease, but I couldn't help snickering at his boyish pout.
So, why don't I remember you? We must have gone to school together at some point. I mean, there was only one public school and one high school in my day." He looked to be between twenty and thirty years old.
"Ha ha! In your day! You sound like an old woman. What are you, just twenty?"
"Twenty-three, actually, but I'll take that as a compliment."
"Well, Miss ... what is your name anyway?"
"Melissa. Melissa Shuler." He scrunched up his face and stared up into the apple tree above him, as though it would tell him more about me. Then he shook his head.
"I've heard the name Shuler, but I don't remember a Melissa. I was never good with names, though. Well, Miss Shuler, I'd have ditched Joseph Littlestar before you graduated from Yellowhead Public, so it stands to reason we wouldn't remember each other."
"Mel, please. I suppose we wouldn't."
"What brings you back to Arzinacky, Mel? Did you come back for the reunion?"
Ugh! I forgot about the reunion! Daddy had passed along the invitation months ago, but I'd never responded. The last thing I wanted to do was go to a party where I wouldn't remember anyone, and everyone would be judging me. It did make another good excuse to come home for a bit, though. A much better motive that running away from another failed relationship.
"That's one reason. Nana had a nasty fall last week, and Daddy needed some extra hands to take care of her. I'm not sure how long I'll be staying. Are you back for the reunion, too?"
"Awe hell no! He rolled his eyes and his face scrunched up again as if he'd smelled something foul. "I dropped out, senior year, so I don't really count as one of the alumni. Hey! Now I know where I've heard the name Shuler before! You must be Marie's granddaughter. Mrs. Shuler who lives across from the Taps'n'Caps"
"Yep! The one and only."I glanced at the sun. It was getting lower in the sky. I was going to be too late for a decent dinner if I didn't hurry.
"Well, Mr. ... Travis. I'd better get going. It was ... interesting, meeting you." I stood and picked up the suitcase again. He was on his feet and snatching it out of my hand before I could stop him.
"Here. Least I can do to make up for my assumption is walk you home. It can't be far, or you'd be wearing better shoes for walking." When I flushed, he chuckled at me. "Besides, I want to talk to you about the pictures. I want to paint you."
"With your permission, of course! I haven't done a real canvas portrait in a while, and I think a series based on these pictures could be gallery quality stuff, if I do it right." He spread his hands out to display an imaginary marquee, 'A Hitch in Time'.
If I could have run away, I would have. The few steps I took to cover my confusion and embarrassment weren't enough to make a proper escape. They were just enough to bring me to the edge of the ditch, where one heel sank into the damp earth and sent me tumbling forward. If he hadn't thrown an arm around my waist and pulled me back into him, I'd have landed head first in the mucky bottom.
"Oh, no you don't! Can't have your triumphant homecoming covered in mud and algae.
I would have laughed at the perception of running home with my tail between my legs as triumphant, if I wasn't trying to swallow my heart back down from where it was lodged in my throat. Gaining my balance, I pulled myself out of his arms as quickly as I could. It was impossible to tell if he was flirting with me, or just being friendly.
"You smell just as pretty and old-fashioned as you look. What is that perfume?
This time I did laugh. I cackled so loudly that a flock of starlings startled and flew away. A grey squirrel chattered at me from a maple on the roadside. I laughed until my eyes began to water, and more when I rubbed away the blurred vision with the heels of my hands, to see Travis standing with his hands on his hips. He had exactly the annoyed expression and body position Nana always got when I started one of my hysterical giggling sessions for no obvious reason. If I squinted really hard, I could picture him in a housedress and apron, which only served to make me laugh even harder.
"Are you on drugs?" He didn't sound at all amused.
"No?" I finally managed to squeak out. "My p—." I took a deep breath and tried to pull myself together. "My p—pft! Oh, Lordy! My perfume is-is crowded bus, rye and coke and Mr. Cl-clean!"
He blinked twice in rapid succession and calmly asked, "Original or lemon?" He added his own laughter to mine, and helped me over the ditch.
Now, jumping in from a bit further along in the book, let's wander into Seth's pub, Taps'n'Caps, and see if they're talking to me today, shall we?
Sin: "Hello, boys! Care to help me out with a blog I'm taking over?"
Seth is standing behind the bar, eyeing me warily, but Travis looks welcoming enough.
Travis: "Well hello, boss-lady! Aren't you looking fine, today?"
Sin: "You might want to save your charm for the single, fictional ladies, Travis. I'm too old, too married, and know you too well."
Travis: "Well, so you should, and you should know I can't help being flirty with the women. Hell, you wrote me this way, so it's your own fault."
Now Travis is pouting. I'll never get him to cooperate if he gets into one of his funks. I can see Seth trying not to laugh at the pair of us. Maybe I'll have better luck with him.
Sin: "That's the thing. See, I want to do an interview with the two of you. Do you think we could just pretend I'm not the writer of your stories, so you could answer a couple of quick questions?"
Seth, (rolling his eyes): "Writers! You're so weird."
Travis: "Hey you're the boss. (He shrugs) Fire away."
Sin: "How about we start with Melissa, since this book is her story. You've both had a chance to chat with her. First impressions?"
Seth is scrubbing at a clean spot on the counter and pursing his lips. I can almost hear the wheels turning while he thinks about it.
Travis: "Pretty girl, Mel. A bit old fashioned, but I think she's a pill I could swallow."
Seth: "He means just like medicine. Travis, here, seems to think Mel can cure him."
Sin: "Cure him from what?"
Seth: "Jealousy, unrequited love, frustration...pick one."
Travis: "Don't mind Seth. (He winks) He's got a few of those symptoms, himself. He's just pissed I have an eye on the same cure he's got in mind." (Travis is laughing as he ducks the wet dishrag Seth pitches at him.)
Seth: "Mel isn't someone to play around with, Trav. She's deeper than you think she is." (Seth turns to me). "I went to school with Melissa. She was kind of troubled then, and kept to herself mostly. I hadn't seen her in a while, until the other day. I'd guess she hasn't changed a lot, except for ditching the semi-goth, grunge phase."
Travis: "Whoa! Was she really a goth chick?"
Seth (to Travis): "Semi-goth. Pay attention, bro. (Back to me.) Anyway, when she came in here, she was leaving her ex and heading back home. Looks like he really messed with her head, and she's still working it out."
Travis: "So that's why she's got us both dangling like a pair of fish on a stringer?"
Seth: "She's not dangling. She's been pretty clear about needing friends more than romance. But, you know, Trav, if the hook fits the large-mouth...?"
Sin: "So it's kind of Angela Fletcher all over again, then?
Both men whip their heads around to glare at me.
Trav: "Let's not go there, okay?"
Seth: "Mel is nothing like Angie." He's grinding his teeth around the words. "She doesn't have an agenda, or claws. What Angela did—"
Travis, (interrupting): "Is something I really don't want to talk about, right now. Next question?"
Sin: "Okay. If Melissa does figure it out, and starts dating, who's it going to be?"
Travis: "Well me, of course."
Seth: "How do you figure?"
Travis: "Because I'm more fun than you, more persuasive, and more flexible. You're tied to this place, and that gives me a lot more time to spend with her than you."
Seth (raises one eyebrow at Travis): "We'll have to wait and see about that. I think she'll make her own decision, and we'll have to respect it. If she's happy, I'll be good with whatever she decides."
Seth looks up at the clock.
Seth: "Listen Sin, I've got to prep for the dart league coming in soon, and I'm going to need Trav to pitch in. Can we wrap this up?"
Sin: "I could always just write the league to another night for you..."
Seth (raising one brow at me, this time): "Don't you think you meddle enough, already?"
Sin (sighing): Right. That should be enough to whet a few appetites. Thanks, boys. I'll catch you a bit later, when I get back to writing. You're going to love what I've got planned for you now!"
Sadly, I don't think they believed me. I had to duck a new, wet rag and a handful of balled-up, paper napkins on my way out.
Before I run away to write, I'd like to thank Sabina for letting me run rampant through her blog today. She's been such a great supporter of me, my fellow indies, and the Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing ink-family. I hope we can continue to entertain and inspire her.
Thank you SO much for taking over my blog today Sin. It was a blast to get to know you better, not to forget Seth and Travis! I can't wait to sink my teeth into Parting Burden!
Now my friends, Sin has been so very generous to put up TWO books with bookmarks. Here, take a look at the awesomeness:
I'm getting all kinds od jealous over here!! :-D Want a package? Just enter the rafflecopter, you've got ONE week.