What is the most exciting part about launching a new book? The Cover Reveal and its colorful conclusion? The buzz of anticipation among my fanbase? The contest? (Coming soon) The reviews? The sales?
Those are all lovely and exhilarating, but for me, my favorite part is receiving the books themselves. The big order from Amazon; the arrival; the unboxing; that first glance at the pile of shiny new covers which, by now, have become so familiar to me. Taking the book in my hand, feeling the weight of it. Opening to the title page and envisioning in-person book events where I’ll be signing my name right there. Looking through the chapters, enjoying the text font and cat images my savvy editor picked out for me. It’s that finally done, complete, and ready to go out into the world moment that I love best.
That, and readings.
I can’t do a reading for you just yet, unless you happen to be a cat at the shelter where I volunteer, but I can give an excerpt. Here, for your enjoyment, is Chapter One of Ghost Cat on the Midway.
Chapter 1 – The Cove County Fair
Camelia Collins stood on the little patio, breathing in the smell of fried onions, cotton candy, and horse. Though the fair didn’t officially open until the next day, the grounds were already buzzing with activity. Carnival workers were setting up the side stalls, concessions, games, and big rides. Volunteers from the community were arranging the exhibit halls. Judges were mulling over last-minute entries in the various categories: art, photography, crafts, floral design, and foods. Youngsters from the 4-H led goats, lambs, ponies, and pigs from their stalls to the judging arena, hopeful for the big win.
Camelia hadn’t been to a county fair for ages. Her mother had taken her when she was a child, but as the city of Portland grew and the farms and ranches dwindled, so did the fairs nearby. Last time she’d attended, it wasn’t much more than a venue for concessions and sales—hot tubs, aluminum siding, vegetable slicers, cell phone plans. Camelia had not been tempted to go again.
How different this was! The Cove County Fair, set by the sea on the outskirts little Ocean Cove, Oregon, felt just like the ones back in the day, the ones where chickens and livestock, amateur paintings, cakes, pies, and canned pickles were the stars.
Tomorrow the place would be amok with bustling crowds, shouts, screams, and laughter; calliope music from the midway clashing against the zippy tunes from the stage show; and over it all, the droning loudspeaker announcing the day’s events. Even at Camelia’s age, she couldn’t help feeling a shiver of anticipation.
Once again, Camelia thanked the Powers That Be she had left the big city and made Ocean Cove her home. Camelia wasn’t the first person to pick up stakes and move to the coast, nor would she be the last, but she was among a unique demographic—those over seventy years of age. She may have been older than some, but she figured she still had plenty of good years ahead to enjoy her newfound lifestyle.
Volunteering to help out at the Kitty City Cat Rescue booth fit right in with Camelia’s plans. Kitty City, Ocean Cove’s answer to a humane society for cats, offered both shelter for strays and adoption opportunities to the local public. The little rescue ran with no paid staff, if you didn’t count the tax accountant. It was a labor of love, and the booth at the county fair where they sold homemade pie by the whole or slice, as well as an array of home-crafted cat toys, was their year’s biggest fundraiser.
Camelia loved cats. She’d felt an affinity with the feline species for as far back as she could remember. She’d cared for many over the years, but now there was only the one, her dear tuxedo boy Blaze.
That’s not quite true, Camelia reminded herself, a chill icing down her back. There was another cat who traveled within her sphere. She couldn’t say lived, because the black cat with the emerald green eyes was no longer alive and hadn’t been for over a century. Soji was a ghost.
One of the first things Camelia had noticed when she moved to her new home was a huge river stone in the back yard engraved with the words, “Now Gone to her Tenth Life, Beloved Soji.” She was surprised but not shocked. A fitting tribute to a family cat, she’d assumed at the time. It was when Beloved Soji suddenly appeared in Camelia’s living room that she realized her property came with something more than she had bargained for.
At first Camelia was understandably frightened, but Soji had quickly convinced her with love blinks and paranormal purrs that, although not of this world, she was benign. Camelia, who had seen her share of unexplainable phenomena throughout her lifetime, enthusiastically accepted Soji’s appearances and even took a bit of private pride in the fact her house was haunted by the fabled Ghost Cat of Ocean Cove.
But Camelia hadn’t seen Soji for quite some time, not since a thief had violated the gravestone and a cold-case murderer had been apprehended nearby. All the way through the investigation, Soji was paws-on, but once the killer was caught, her visits abruptly ceased. Had Soji fulfilled her mission and gone to her final resting place on over the Rainbow Bridge? Though Camelia hoped Soji was at peace, she missed the odd little cat from beyond the veil.
“Camelia!” someone called from across the patio, bringing the woman out of her reverie.
She turned to see a scrawny woman in a Hawaiian print house dress rolling up in a red mobility scooter—Camelia’s friend and next door neighbor, Vera Whitcomb.
Vera came to an abrupt stop, grinning like a cat. “I’m going to have to get me one of these things!” She patted the scooter’s red enamel frame and gave Camelia a wink. “Way better than that old walker. This is the most fun I’ve had in ages.”
Camelia smiled, noting the twinkle in Vera’s dark eyes. The crinkly gray hair was disordered but in a carefree way that made the old lady seem more devil-may-care than disheveled. “It looks good on you,” Camelia admitted. “Maybe I should rent one too. I had no idea a little country fair could be big!”
“Ha-ha! Wouldn’t that be a hoot?” Vera giggled. “I can see us drag racing down the midway.”
Camelia laughed. Yes, she could picture it too.
“I’m going to take a run over to the horse barns.” Vera shot a look toward a row of low wooden buildings at the edge of the fairgrounds. “See if I can find Yui Smith. She’s got a pony in the competition, you know.”
“Oh?” Camelia knew her teenage neighbor was all about animals, especially the equine kind, so it came as no surprise she’d entered her horse in the contest. Spitfire? Lightning? She couldn’t remember its name. “When is she showing?”
“They haven’t told her yet. I’ll let you know. You going to be here all day?” She nodded at the colorful cat rescue booth where a girl in a blue apron was pinning pictures of available kitties to the back drape. Another sifted through plastic totes, pulling out baskets of hand-sewn cat toys. It was hard to believe that mess of bags and boxes would be transformed into an attractive and efficient shopping place anytime soon.
“For a while. Then I need to go home and bake some pies for the sale tomorrow. That’s the big draw, so they tell me.”
“Yum! Put me down for half an apricot.”
“I sure will.”
Vera made a sweeping circle and gunned away in the direction of the barns. “See ya!” she waved behind her.
Camelia smiled as she watched the woman zip down the lane, the skirts of her house dress flapping in the wind. What a character, Camelia thought to herself, not for the first time.
Ocean Cove was full of characters. From the very first day Camelia arrived at Love Cottage, her new home, she began meeting them. The rich folks on the hill, husband from old money and wife from across the tracks; the young techie who’d recently taken over her mother’s antique shop as a second job; the couple who ran the general store in the center of town but lived on one of the bleakest bluffs Camelia had ever visited. Then there was Ellery, the artist. Of a similar age to Camelia, the two had hit it off at first sight.
Everybody knew everybody in the small, close-knit community, and for the most part, that was a good thing. Occasionally, however, that camaraderie became cloying, when someone ventured a bit too close into someone else’s business. Camelia frowned, remembering a recent run-in with one of the staff at the library who liked to point out people’s shortcomings, publicly and not at all in a librarian’s softened tone. Then there was that new boy Tycho Bane who worked at Al’s Garage. Pale skin, tattoos, and a sullen manner, she seemed to see him everywhere she went. And she couldn’t forget the people staying in the rental across the street from her—the landlord was usually so careful about choosing his guests, yet this newest group gave her the willies.
“Well, I really should be getting home,” Camelia said to no one in particular. “Those pies aren’t going to bake themselves.”
But still she lingered. There was something about the prelude to a big event that fascinated her. As with rehearsals for a play, she found the behind-the-scenes activity to be as interesting than the show itself.
I’ll just take a little look around before I go, Camelia determined. Without overthinking it, she began to meander.
Camelia headed in no particular direction, following the whim of the paths that wove around the booths and little wooden structures. She strolled through a long building open at both ends where a pair of women were hanging big paintings of varying quality, then breezed by the barn that held poultry and rabbits.
“Phew!” she muttered as she passed.
“Wait ’til the end of the show,” chuckled the middle-aged man in khaki coveralls who was mucking out the cages.
“Miles,” Camelia said, realizing she knew the man. “I didn’t know you were the… what should I call it?” Camelia considered. “Chicken concierge?”
Miles pulled off a long brown glove and shut the gate on a very fat, very fluffy Rhode Island Red. Leaning his arms across the top of the cage, he smiled. “That’s me, Ms. Collins. Miles-of-all-trades.”
Camelia could believe that. When she first moved into Love Cottage, she’d needed a gardener who could tame her wilderness of a yard. She picked Miles’s card off the bulletin board at the grocery store, arranged an interview, and hired the lanky man with wayward black hair on the spot. He’d struck her as honest and trustworthy, though he could do with a bit of more attention in the appearance department. His clothes were clean but old and always wrinkled. His face sported the stubble of a few days without a shave, though it never progressed to a true beard. Still, many men who relied on physical labor for an income shared the same traits. A pair of dark, brooding eyes were overpowered by a quick, bright smile and easy manner. Camelia had liked him from the start.
Camelia left the handyman to his labors and continued through the grounds, enjoying the air of pre-show excitement—¬around a grassy spot hung with fuchsia baskets and ringed by box bushes that smelled faintly of cat pee, past the ornate edifice that fronted the floral building, and finally toward the midway. Ahead were the spires of the brightly colored tents and the golden peak of the merry-go-round. Above them, like a sideways crown, loomed the ring of the Ferris wheel.
“Oof,” Camelia exclaimed as her foot smashed into something hard and unforgiving. Peering down, she saw the culprit, a small set of metal steps jutting from a caravan right out into the pathway. Bending to rub her bruised toe, she felt a burst of annoyance at the obstacle, so rudely placed in the lane, but as she straightened again, she realized the blame was on her.
Somehow she had strayed between a row of trailers and the backsides of the display booths that ringed the causeway. This was a personal area, reserved for the folks who would be tending their wares. Coolers, camp stoves, and even a string of laundry flapping from a line marked it as private property.
Her gaze turned back to the caravan, elaborately painted in gold, purple, and black. Curlicues framed a large image of a tiger. Unlike the rampant, seething beasts usually depicted for circuses and fairs, this tiger was sitting quietly—regal, wise, and watchful. Camelia was instantly drawn to the kind and solemn expression in the cat’s amber eyes.
“Lovely,” she exclaimed out loud.
Camelia’s habit of talking to herself was so ingrained in her persona, she didn’t even notice until she heard a sound from behind her. The sound came again, a sort of snuffle and grunt. She turned to see what might be making such a noise, and froze.
There she was, just as her portrait had depicted her. Tall, statuesque, regal, gorgeous, and absolutely terrifying—the tiger!
Camelia stared at the commodious cage with its dangerous inhabitant. Her blood ran cold. She couldn’t get her voice to call for help. Her breath came in gasps, then it didn’t come at all.
The cat peered at Camelia, round pupils dilating. She took a step toward the fearful woman on paws the size of cantaloupes. Camelia knew what those soft-looking paws concealed—giant, razor-sharp talons that could rip open prey with a single swipe.
The tiger chuffed again, then gave a wide yawn, showing teeth as lethal as the claws. Camelia might have been enthralled by the beautiful beast if not for one thing—only a bare few feet lay between herself and the deadly predator, and the cage door stood open.
Preorder Ghost Cat on the Midway today and have it in your inbox on August 29th! (Kindle only)