Where the Muse Leads

HeavenScribe-2cIf you’ve read my past releases–and I certainly hope you have–you know I enjoy writing contemporary fiction with quirky characters and lots of humor. Often the books are set in small towns, and one or more of the characters has a romantic interest.

My latest series is a bit of a departure.

Heavenscribe is my first major foray into magical realism. The stories are meant to be read in order; the entire plot will unfold over hundreds of pages. Heavenscribe: Part One was released this week and will be quickly followed by Part 2 on May 26th. Part 3 will release in June, and 4 in July.

If the early reviews are any indication, readers are hungry for a story that delves into the deeper meaning of life, and the spiritual experiences we rarely talk about publicly.

What impressed as comments arrived during the book’s beta stage? In private mail, many of the readers mentioned they’d experienced out-of-the-ordinary, even spiritual encounters at some point in their lives. Most admitted they do believe in angels–in active, heavenly messengers capable of interacting with people on a daily basis. Other readers shared personal stories of female intuition that proved startlingly accurate or the hunch that protected them from harm.

From Chapter One:

Knowing sparks in my blood.

The pulsing heat of the Milky Way spills through me, the image so vivid I can nearly touch the spinning mass of stars and planets moving at breathtaking speed. Just like that, I’m plugged into the cosmos. Who has plugged me in, or why, remains as mysterious as the star-studded images unfurling before my eyes. Carefully I park the Camry before the here-and-now disappears altogether, and I have an accident. Why I’m plugged in—why the visions are becoming more intense—is beyond comprehension.

They’re taking over my life.

The whirling slows, and the familiar sight of the solar system fills my brain. Jupiter shimmers in a rainbow of colors. It’s a showstopper compared to Pluto, a boulder twirling in black seas. Earth isn’t much larger, a blue dot gliding in a noble path around the sun’s whipping fire. The sight of my world sends pangs of affection surging through me.

Too quickly, I’m ripped away. An invisible force pulls my consciousness from the solar system, back into a larger configuration of stars. With misgiving I lose sight of earth. The solar system fades quickly, the stars dimming and the planets sinking from view. I’m left with a void as deep as eternity, and the anxiety over what will come next.

The knowing.

What will it reveal? My skin grows clammy with apprehension.

I’m an unwilling soothsayer of future events, a reluctant diviner of the past. I don’t understand why I carry this burden. It’s not like my friends know, or anyone else. Instinct has kept me from sharing the facts surrounding my unusual powers with all but one confidante, now dead.

There’s nothing in the Camry’s back seat but library books and a sleeping bag. Yet an unseen force as sharp as a blade’s tip prods the back of my neck.

Pay attention.

Shutting my eyes, I cut off the car’s engine.

I can’t recall a time when these sneak peeks into the past and the future weren’t embedded in my DNA. They aren’t useful. Sometimes they’re embarrassing. Three years ago, during my first week at Shaker Heights High, I was struck by a vision of the football coach lubing up in his shower. A chest matted with hair long enough for a sheepdog, and he was lathering up, taking too much time in his sudsy privacy. I understood with alarming certainty he was fantasizing about me.

The vision arrived while I was walking to second period Geometry. I ran smack into a wall.

The play-by-play melted away in seconds. Not that it mattered. For the rest of freshman year, I skipped sports assemblies for fear of running into the coach.

Today the knowing isn’t random or embarrassing or just plain bizarre. It’s immediate and dangerous. I resist the message.

A failed effort. The truth zips across my synapses. Inside the house, war has broken out between my mother and her flavor of the month.

The image rolling through my brain knots my stomach. She’s clawing Gus’s cheek with red lacquered nails. Thankfully he isn’t fighting back. Entering the house during a skirmish never ends well.

At last the knowing subsides. The here-and-now returns. Swallowing gulps of air, I try to get my bearings.

Spend the night at a friend’s house? I study the shadows lapping at the skinny lawn. I’ve been a nomad since Black Gram’s funeral. Eight days of crashing on friends’ couches, working nights at the vintage clothing store, sneaking into the house to throw clothes through the wash while Mom and Gus drink at O’Malley’s. I don’t miss my bedroom as much as I miss Gram, but I’m tired of living like a Bedouin.

Gram is irreplaceable, an amputation of the heart. The memory of her love blends with the grief shading my thoughts.

Miss you, miss you, miss you.

Across the street, a dog barks at the sliver of moon etched in the sky. Night air licks my face. I glance at the house with weary confusion.

Go inside? Senior year finals are three weeks away. Statistically speaking my socioeconomic status, or lack thereof, should indicate a neglectful attitude toward academics. It’s not a stretch to argue that my background should earn me a slot in prison by my twenties, or a corner in East Cleveland strutting my stuff. But I had a guardian angel as bright as the constellations that, at unpredictable intervals, revolve inside my head. She’d made Southern dishes like shrimp and grits, and brewed rose water distilled from buds gathered in the Eden she’d planted in the midst of Cleveland’s concrete jungle. She’d amassed books the way her neighbors stockpiled guns. Thanks to her loving navigation, I’ve sailed through school on calm seas.

Which makes the decision easy, if unpleasant. The homework can’t wait. Hoisting the book bag onto my shoulder, I trudge to the back door.

The kitchen smells like fried onions and the weed Gus smokes. He’s backed up to the counter, easy quarry for the demon before him. His unibrow plunges over slitted eyes. Blood sprouts on his cheek.

At the screen door’s slam, Mom wheels around.

One strap of her slinky top dangles free, revealing too much breast. A bruise purples on her chin. Her black, frizzy hair looks like the result of an electrocution. A few strands dangle from Gus’s fist.

I drop my book bag on the table. “What’s up?”

She leaves Gus stewing by the counter and corners me. “I’ll tell you what’s up. It’s Wednesday. Why the hell didn’t you take out the garbage? Now we have to wait another week. There’s shit all over the house.”

I regard Gus. “Let’s hope she isn’t speaking literally.”

The unibrow twitches, signaling his incomprehension. “Whatever.”

“Leave him out of this! I ought to make you drag garbage bags to the dumpster behind the vintage shop. Toss it in when no one’s looking. If you don’t, the house will smell like crap for another week.”

“Mom, it’s Tuesday.”

“Like hell.” Confusion skirts her face.

“How do you hang onto the cashier gig if you mix up the days? If I were your boss, I’d fire you.”

She throws her shoulders back. Her left breast nearly drops free. Reaching out, I slide the strap back into place. She murmurs her thanks, and for a thin second her features relax. Gus, still oozing blood, senses a change in the atmosphere beneficial to his welfare. Ducking past her, he snatches a napkin on his way out.

She mutters oaths at his back before returning her attention to me. “You can’t keep shirking your duties,” she warns. “If you do, I’ll raise your rent. Don’t think I won’t.”

The threat returns the tension to the room. “If it’ll make you happy, I’ll take out the garbage a day early,” I reply, wanting to diffuse it.

“Not even close. C’mon, Zobie. Enough with the fancy footwork.”

Self-preservation sends my combative gaze to hers. We aren’t talking about domestic chores. I’m not that lucky.

She reaches for the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray by the sink. “Why must I ask? The black witch left you something. Why haven’t you told me?”

“Are you finished? I’ve got homework.”

“I’m sure you do, Miss Perfect.” She sucks on the cigarette, exhales. “Do you think I’m stupid? She had money. She had the first nickel she ever made.”

“Hell, yeah. Her first penny, too. I’ll bet she never had to make a mortgage payment or buy shoes.” The temptation to mention Black Gram’s many examples of largess nearly pops out. Instead, I add, “Of course, food is free.”

“Stop playing the smart ass. You look like a nun trying to talk gutter. Stick to your Miss Prim routine.”

There’s no refuting the observation and so I say, “It’s late, Mom. I have to dig into homework. Can we go into this later?”

She rolls her shoulders, and I pray for a reprieve. The prospect of this interrogation, more than anything else, has kept me drifting from one friend’s house to another. Black Gram did leave me a boatload of cash. I still can’t believe how much.

Seventeen thousand dollars. More, actually.

She’d stuffed the bills, mostly hundreds, into a large manila envelope. On the front, in violet ink, she’d written Zobie in buoyant cursive.

The weird part? Something that important, I’d expect to get the knowing beforehand. A vision of sitting bedside at The Cleveland Clinic with machines whirring and Black Gram trying to cheer me up with stories about her childhood in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, the soft dampness of pluff mud surrounding her toes as she watched the shrimp boats sputter out of Shem Creek with nets at the ready. How she missed the camellias blooming at Christmas and the salty tang of the Atlantic on her tongue, even after all these years. How she made me promise to visit the city of her birth. Founded on slave blood and avarice, Charleston is rooted in my genealogy like tarnished royalty, a great lady battered by war then reborn again, in Gram’s lifetime.

Snot-nosed, I was crying rivers when she asked me to fetch her purse. She’d rolled the envelope like a tube, banding it tightly with three sparkly ribbons tied with floppy bows.

The hard edge of Mom’s voice splinters the memory. “Stop zoning out. You know how it pisses me off.”

“Sorry.”

“Well? Did the bitch have a mattress stuffed with cash? Stacks of greenbacks for her perfect granddaughter?”

The taunts fly like wasps, stinging and cruel. “Don’t call her a bitch.” I channel an Arctic stare. The flimsy defense doesn’t soothe the throbbing mass of my heart. “She’s the best person I know.”

My mother barks out a laugh. “Not anymore. She’s six feet under. I should throw a party.”

“You could’ve at least gone to the funeral. She was good to us.”

“What? To show my respect? I’d rather eat glass.” She exhales a plume of smoke in my face. “You haven’t answered the question. Don’t make me ask again.”

The lie sticks to my tongue, but I force it out. “I didn’t get an inheritance.”

“Bullshit.”

“I got my paycheck from Vintage Rags.” I dig tomorrow’s lunch money from my jeans and place it on the counter. “That’s all I can spare.”

Dodging further interrogation, I yank open the fridge. There’s nothing inside but the chicken I made last week, a greening casserole on its way to becoming sludge. Mom’s gaze burrows into my back. She’s determined and relentless in her pursuit of what’s rightfully mine. How quickly would she run through the money, wasting it on hooker-wear and nights out? She’d replace her prehistoric Honda with something nice; maybe she’d take Gus on a cruise. They’d duke it out on the high seas with pit stops in Jamaica and the Bahamas for bar hopping and weed.

An edgy feeling climbs my spine. Not a premonition—a vision of the universe signals the onslaught of knowing—but I heed the sensation just the same. A dizzy sort of desperation amps my pulse as I shut the fridge. Stick around the kitchen much longer, and my mother will ferret out the truth.

Retrieving my book bag from the table, I make a path across the living room.

Mom hurls a string of curses. Coming to a dead stop before my bedroom, I’m tempted to join in.

The door is gone.

Removed. From the hinges. In disbelief, I peer through the hallway’s tube of grey air. Like big game taken down on safari, the door leans against the wall by Mom’s bedroom.

Other surprises are equally disturbing. Books trail from the closet. Dresser drawers hang open. The vintage outfits I’ve purchased by working long shifts at the store lay in heaps on the floor. They’re mixed in with cheaper shirts and grease-dotted jeans. One edge of the bed’s mattress droops toward the carpet, heaved out of position by a crazed detective.

The rampage marks a new low. Lava-hot anger bubbles inside me. I step into the maelstrom; rage threatens to erupt.

No eruptions.

Measured speech, relaxed muscles, calming breaths—channeling rational behavior keeps me in the here-and-now. Lose my cool, and I’ll trigger the crystal ball inside my head. I’ve never had a premonition while zooming down the highway at 70 mph, or defending a premise on the high school debate team. There have been close calls, times when an argument with my mother escalates and knowing throttles through me. In seventh grade I lost my temper in front of Mom and my English teacher, Mr. Harrison. The error nearly revealed my secret. I’d stayed after school to tutor three of the peewee third graders, something I enjoyed. Mr. Harrison was enthusiastic about the experiment, pairing his best students with small fry who couldn’t get a handle on reading. My mother, in typical Mad Hatter fashion, had mixed up the days. Thinking she was scheduled for a 5 PM parent-teacher conference, she rolled into Harrison’s classroom on a cloud of whiskey and perfumed sweat. As Harrison pointed out the scheduling snafu, she went into seductress mode, draping herself across his shoulders like a blanket he couldn’t shake off.

In the vicinity of three gawking peewees, I abandoned common sense. Rocketing across the classroom, I bellowed something about humiliation and idiot parents—the typical angst of a kid new to armpit hair and weird-me-out hormones.

In a flash, the floor fell away.

My voice evaporated. The image of my beet-red mother and flabbergasted teacher vanished. I found myself walking across a star field of diamond brightness. Just like that, I was a god strolling the outer rim of the cosmos.

By the time I snapped out of it, Harrison was dragging my mother away from me. She was screaming with such ear-shattering fervor that the youngest of the peewees had crumpled to the floor, sobbing. It took a battery of medical tests and a series of visits with the school psychologist to convince Mom that I wasn’t harboring a brain tumor or mental illness.

Blinking away the memory I retrieve The Complete Shakespeare from the floor. The last thing I need tonight is another premonition.

Should You Write In Kindle Worlds?

Writing in Kindle Worlds, a blog post by bestselling author Christine Nolfi.Unless you enjoy constant bestsellerdom you are, like the rest of us, sweating bullets during the monthly check of sales numbers. Between the deluge of free books and the competition to secure ad slots on sites like BookBub, gaining the attention of readers isn’t getting easier.

Kindle Worlds isn’t a silver bullet. In 2015 silver bullets don’t exist, although hard work, the production of excellent stories and sound marketing practices go a long way. But the KW program does have obvious benefits—and subtle rewards. You’ll find some of the subtle benefits in this post.

The basics regarding Kindle Worlds:

  • Authors write stories, usually between 10k – 30k inside a licensed World.
  • The World is based on a bestselling series like Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series.
  • By writing in a World, you grant binding rights. Familiarize yourself with the contract before you begin.
  • You won’t set the price of your work–Amazon will.
  • As of this writing, authors outside the U.S. must use third parties to participate (Eden Baylee comes to mind). Amazon is aware of the hoops these authors currently jump, and plans to streamline the program for international authors, hopefully by the end of the year.
  • Your sales aren’t visible in your normal KDP account. Approximately two months after the publication of your first KW story, royalty information will appear in your Author Central Account > Sales Info > Kindle Worlds Royalties

My first KW novella The Shell Keeper appeared on April 9th in a debut lineup for the launch of Toby’s Lei Crime World. The novella appeared as #1 in KW Contemporary, a position the story has held on and off for a month.

Here’s the important part: on release day, my Author Rank jumped to #6,436 and has continued to stay under #50,000 since then. My average rank during the last month has been #22,000. In April, readers purchased 200 of my stand-alone ebooks during a cycle when I’m writing, not promoting (these sales are on top of my April KW royalties, which arrive in June).

Compare this to February when I pulled back on writing to promote heavily during a BookBub for my perma-free Treasure Me, netting 500+ downloads of my $3.99 ebooks.

Like most of you, I’m a one-woman army. During heavy production months, I can’t spare time to chat endlessly with readers, organize time-consuming promotions or interact constantly on social media. Over the past four years, this “feast and famine” strategy has led to a loyal readership and a healthy backlist. I may not publish as quickly as I’d like, but my novels consistently garner high reviews. If a reader discovers one of my books, chances are she’ll buy another. Needless to say, April’s sudden upsurge in sales was welcome.

Should you write in Kindle Worlds? Only you can make the decision, of course. Why I’m grateful Toby invited me to help launch her Lei Crime World:

  • Amazon Editorial is supportive and just plain fun to work with. The spirit of camaraderie they engendered fired up the authors lucky enough to launch Toby’s World.
  • Many (all?) of the World authors work tirelessly to cross-promote. Personally I know some of Toby’s  fans have purchased The Shell Keeper (they took the time to send mail) and it’s clear from comments in my reader group that Toby also secured new fans. For her World, she’s simplified the process by putting together Author Resources.
  • The opportunity to work with the other #LeiCrimeKW authors pooled our readerships, allowing each of us to drawn in new fans for our stand-alone works. Lei Crime KW promotions led to several new members in my private reader group.
  • Producing a novella isn’t a major time commitment. I took a break from writing my new series Heavenscribe to write Shell over a three-week period. If you’re thinking about experimenting in a new genre, why not do so in an established World in the same genre? Or if you’re deep in a novel that won’t appear for another six months, why not publish a shorter KW to stay in front of readers?
  • Many of the World authors have or will implement quarterly launches with all stories appearing on the same day. Participating authors can easily promote together, lifting all boats. Toby’s next quarterly launch is July—and most of the debut authors have already begun work on a new story. I’ll release part two of The Shell Keeper at the July launch.
  • The days of easy visibility are over. Writing in a World gives you the opportunity to put your best work in front of readers that may never discover you otherwise.

Do you have additional questions? Susan Stockman has kindly offered to discuss the program with interested authors. You may reach her at amazon publishing-pr@amazon.com

Two other posts worth reading: Steven Konkoly and Venture Galleries.

 

 

 

 

Contest Winners

Kindle World novella by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi.

My heartfelt thanks to all the participants of The Shell Keeper contest. I'll contact each winner by email. Grand prize winners, $25 Amazon Gift Card: Karla N. Caren N. Second place winners will receive the Kindle ebook of their choice from … [Continue reading]

The Foolproof Trick to Publishing Success

Foolproof trick to publishing success by bestselling author Christine Nolfi.

No author-publisher leaps into the fray with the thought, “I’ll publish, no reviews will appear, and my novel will sink like a stone to the bottom of the swamp.” Authors want success. They crave 5-star reviews. They dream about fat royalty checks, … [Continue reading]

New Release, New Contest!

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Need some extra cash in your pocket? To celebrate the release of The Shell Keeper, I’m giving away two $25 Amazon gift cards (grand prize, two winners) plus a Kindle book of one of my past releases to 10 additional entrants (winners choice of which … [Continue reading]

Indie Recon Virtual Event

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Yesterday I taped a Creative Round Table with fellow authors Roz Morris and David Penny that will air during Indie Recon at the London Book Fair. Roz is an author, editor and writing coach with more than 4 million books sold as a ghostwriter; she now … [Continue reading]

Writing in Toby Neal’s Lei Crime @KindleWorlds

Essay by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi with photo of bestselling author Toby Neal, about to launch the KindleWorlds for the Lei Crime novels.

As many of you know, I've been deep in the writing cave since Christmas working on my spring release, a five-part series entitled Heavenscribe. Well, I brought more work into the cave after receiving a fabulous offer by bestselling author Toby … [Continue reading]

Winners of the Paperback Giveaway

free paperback books via bestselling author Christine Nolfi

Thank you to everyone who entered the Liberty Series paperback giveaway. The winners are Karen Kenyon Miller, Deborah Blanchard, Sue Tinge and Lori R. Ladies, I'll contact each of you directly to ensure I'm sending the paperback you'd like to … [Continue reading]

Liberty Paperback Giveaway

Treasure Me

Would you like to win an autographed paperback from the award-winning Liberty series? Four winners will be randomly selected from the comments, below. To enter: 1) Please name your favorite character in any of the four Liberty novels, and 2) List … [Continue reading]

Choosing the Right POV Characters

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Last weekend I spent eight frustrating hours attempting to pummel a scene into shape. Throwing out paragraphs, revising others, sharpening the character’s internal dialogue—nothing worked. Finally, the proverbial light bulb sputtered to life above … [Continue reading]