Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Meet Para Kindred author Suzanne Gabriel

We remain with all things Wraeththu today with Para Kindred author Suzanne Gabriel, who's dropping by to subject herself to a little Q&A. Welcome, Suzanne. Do tell us what you love about the Wraeththu Mythos?

I connected immediately with these stories as I have always been fascinated by how societies see the concepts of male and female. Boys don’t cry and love sports. Girls love pink and shopping. Boys are big and muscular. Girls are petite and graceful. Who makes up these rules?

Growing up I was a tomboy; I rescued earthworms (still do!), got muddy (I still do that too!), but I also loved ballet class, and make-up. When I was very little I decided that our spirits were not male or female and that gender/gender-identity must be something that was on a sliding scale; something fluid.

I also love that fact that the post-apocalyptic world is the result of the slow decay of humanity rather than zombies, or aliens.

Everyone’s story will have that spark that set the wheels spinning? What was yours?

So many people are so driven, so ambitious, and want to be the biggest, the best, and the most powerful. They allow their career to define them. They say they are happy, but sometimes I wonder. In the past few years I’ve seen a number of people forced to drastically re-evaluate their priorities due to job losses, or health, and sometimes relationship changes. I thought it would be fun to pull the rug out from under a career-focused har and see how he adjusted.

Without giving any spoilers, can you share a bit about your story?

Tobian is ambitious and driven healer who aspires to further his career, but after a sudden fall from grace he finds himself far from home and learning to adapt a new pace of life. He discovers that despite his elite training, he still has much to learn and there are still mysteries to explore.

Are there any underlying themes you visited?

Oh dear… I’m not sure. Resilience and adaptability? Curiosity and acceptance?

Then, a little bit about yourself and your influences.

My parents had wanderlust so I grew up in USA, Canada, UK, and back in Canada again. I’m always looking for a label so that I could more easily describe myself but since I’m a little bit main stream, a little bit hippie, a little bit science geek, history buff, … I can’t! When asked, my eldest says “the weirdest mix of dark humour, science, and new age hippie”. I have way too many hobbies and too many books on my ‘must read’ list. I’m such a skeptic that I am constantly questioning the things that I believe in.

Follow Suzanne on Facebook or check out her blog.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Meet Para Kindred author & co-editor Wendy Darling

 Today I hand over my blog to Wendy Darling, who's played a pivotal role in helping to curate and build the Wraeththu Mythos. Over to you, Wendy...

I first encountered Wraeththu far later than I wish I had – 2001 was the pivotal year – but thirteen years later, I feel like it’s something that’s been with me forever.

Para Kindred is the latest of many projects I’ve undertaken with Storm Constantine, exploring, expanding, celebrating, illustrating the world of Wraeththu. From this, the latest of three anthologies, to working with Storm on her novels, to the hundreds of fan fiction stories I’ve collected or edited (and those many I have written), I am deeply satisfied by the fact this world and its characters seems to go on and on, carried forward both by its creators and its fans.

My Stories

In coming up with my contributions for Para Kindred, I fell into the same pattern I had with the prior two anthologies: one story was either done before I started or came all at once in a rush, while the other was quite a bit of work, dragged out over time. So I guess it was like the mom whose first labor takes two days, an agony, and second labor happens so fast her baby is born in the car.

“Sea and Shore” was the story that came to me first and the one I started on first, but ultimately gave me some trouble. The kernel of the idea came to me when the theme was first suggested: mutants and enigmas of Wraeththu. What could have happened to some hara? What would be interesting?

I don’t want to spoil my story, so I’ll say that after I had my idea, of a particular mutation, I knew the setting immediately: coastal Maine. Not only did I grow up with that area as one of my favorite places, but only last fall I had a fantastic weeklong trip there with my mother. Images and sensations were still fresh in my head, and that helped me immeasurably when I sat down to work.

Unfortunately, having the setting and basic plot didn’t solve all my problems. My first struggle was point of view. I started out writing in the first person, which I usually do well with, but I felt like the tale was spinning out without getting to the point. Then I switched to the third person and decided I would alternate with the story of the other major character. But still it wasn’t working somehow. So I gave it a rest and meanwhile focused on all the submissions I had to edit!  For this collection I edited four stories, plus Storm’s two, so it did take some effort to get through the drafts and finalize those.

But one night, when I had a pause in between edits, I sat down to start writing “Sea and Shore” over, from the beginning. Only when I started typing, a whole different story came out! The first line sort of popped into my head as I was sitting down and I typed it out and kept going. I started out with a har talking to his harling, not knowing where I was going, but within the first page, I figured it out, and four hours later I had come up with a story I was very happy with, called “Dysphoria.” This story is more about “throwbacks” than it is about Wraeththu “mutants” and meanwhile also handles issues of gender identity, one of my abiding life interests. That it came so easily was a shock.

It was two weeks after that, and with the deadline clock ticking, that I finally started up on “Sea and Shore” again. Working on just a couple of chunks a night (one character section, then alternating to the other, then stopping), I finished it up in half a week. When I sent it to Storm to edit and proof, I was worried she would find it rough and disjointed, but to my surprised she said it sounded like it had flowed out of me without much effort. This was not the case but glad it gives that impression!

About Me

A Yankee who’s been based in Atlanta, Georgia, for a shocking  number of years, doing tech work, I have somehow managed a sideline as an author and editor of both Wraeththu Mythos fiction as well as non-fiction writing and other genre writing.

With Bridgette Parker, I was co-author of Breeding Discontent, published by Immanion Press in 2003 as the first Wraeththu Mythos novel. Over the years, I’ve been involved in Wraeththu in many different capacities, including editor of Storm Constantine's revised Wraeththu Chronicles, webmaster of the Inception and Forever Wraeththu fan web sites, and staff at several Wraeththu conventions. I also co-edited the two prior Wraeththu Mythos story collections, Paragenesis: Stories from the Dawn of Wraeththu (2010) and Para Imminence: Stories of the Future of Wraeththu (2012). Both anthologies include two of my own short stories, plus essays related to Wraeththu. I have undertaken other Immanion Press projects, including editing an epic fantasy and at one time working on the press’s web site.

My full time job is rather unrelated to this. I’m a web projects manager at Emory University, handling a ton of digital communications (web sites, blogs, social media, video) related mostly to medical research and discovery. Much as I actually love my job, I am completely helpless when it comes to engaging in side projects and hobbies, including photography, architecture and writing.  One of my side projects is a blog about Art Deco architecture that has a legion of Tumblr fans that I never dreamt possible.

To find out more about me, a few helpful profile links: 1) social connections on my About.me profile, 2) author/editor/reader profile on Goodreads, 3) micro-blog on Twitter and of course 4) Facebook.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Para Kindred: The River Flows

Today I'm going to chat briefly about my contribution to the Para Kindred anthology, a story entitled "The River Flows". At the time of writing I was revisiting the first of the Wraeththu tales, that I had last read in 2009, so much of the world-building was fresh for me. Consequently I felt the outsider's fascination with the Wraeththu. 

One of the facets of the Wraeththu Mythos that I find utterly fascinating was the status of women in the new order; how the advent of the Wraeththu had in a sense freed women from the tyranny of men. And that's when Eva came to mind.

She is the not-so-impartial observer who watches the changes unfold and, when her time comes, helps nudge more change into being. She herself takes on a role in the new world yet at the same time she is aware of her status as being an outsider. 

"The River Flows" unfolds in one of my favourite regions in southern Africa: the Cederberg, which is situated slightly inland from our West Coast. This is a semi-desert set within a mountain range cut through by lush river valleys. Many ancient rock art sites belonging to the bushmen can be found here, and the place itself is steeped in history. The contrast between the different landscapes within this region is awe-inspiring. One moment you'll be walking through verdant lucern fields or vineyards then you'll find yourself in a shale band of strange, twisted sandstone rock formations, or wandering across a sand flat covered in restios (reed-like grasses). Venerable cedar trees endure in the kloofs, and if you are lucky, you might find the rare snow protea on the slopes of the Sneeuberg or red disas flowering by a waterfall. Leopards still leave their spoor if you know where to look.

I spent many childhood holidays on a farm here, and there's a part of me that constantly wishes to revisit this world in my fiction (perhaps a subconscious need to escape from the routines of city life). Of course when I saw the call for submissions for the Para Kindred anthology, my plot bunnies began to hop about madly, and I had to ask myself: How would the farmers living in the Cederberg react with the downturn in socio-economic conditions preceding the rise of the Wraeththu? What would happen when the first Wraeththu came calling? Which of my favourite African myths can I work in? (A hint: I'm fascinated by tales of the watermeid.)

Africa is a harsh land, and those who wish to live in her more arid regions must be, by nature, willing to be hard. This is not always easy for those who are of a more sensitive disposition, and I wanted to show the conflict that arose between father and son. I also explored the sense of obligation a woman has to a family she has worked for her entire life. Eva is trapped by her sense of duty, and the Wraeththu Taym does more than enchant the farmer's son; he is the catalyst that allows her to cut her bonds and find her own path and make her own fate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Para Kindred anthology author ES Wynn #wraeththu

Today I've another Para Kindred contributor on board. A huge welcome to ES Wynn! 
What do you love about the Wraeththu Mythos?  

So much. Honestly. When I first started reading Storm's work, I was drawn by the elegance of these angelic, post-human beings, by the idea that we (as humans) could become something greater, something more than we are. The post-apocalyptic landscape appealed to me, but more than that, I think, it was the unique take on the post-apocalyptic idea that Storm puts forth which grabbed me most fluidly.

I grew up in a pagan household on one side and a wildly pentecostal household on the other, so powerful, ecstatic spiritual experience has always been a part of my life. Seeing that kind of ritual drama expressed so vividly in such a richly detailed post-human race is definitely one of the things which has drawn me to the Mythos most strongly– there's nothing else like it. Nothing else I've seen, anyway. It's that whole “the world has ended, now we can truly be who we were meant to be, and the world is so much wider and more wondrous than we imagined” concept that truly, deeply resonates with me.

Everyone’s story will have that spark that set the wheels spinning? What was yours?  

One of the things I've always found most tantalizing about the early years within the timeline of the Wraeththu universe are the hints and stories which indicate the role that medical experimentation might have played in the creation and spread of the Wraeththu. As a writer, I've always been drawn to the creepy side of sci-fi, the sort of dark, transformational lab experiences where technology which offers such hope and promise for the future is bent toward sinister ends. Story seeds like that are always fun and exciting to explore, and so when I received the notice that Para Kindred was open for submissions, I saw a wonderful opportunity to create something which delved into that darker side on one hand, and into the more dream-like, spiritual side of Wraeththu on the other.

I was also in the final stages of completing a book called Like Oceans of Liquid Skin (which features an antagonist as “fluid” as the main character in Wolf) when the call came in, so I'd mark that as an inspiration as well. I have a soft spot in my heart for skinwalkers and creepy, fleshy shapeshifters.

Without giving any spoilers, can you share a bit about your story?

I like to think that Wolf reflects my favorite aspects of the Wraeththu universe. It's a story of awakening, of transformational experience with its roots in the ashes of the material world and its branches in the sky of a dream-like after-world. It's the story of one being's journey of self-discovery while the world of man and the world of Wraeththu spin on without stopping. In the story, we follow the main character through some of the most recognizable ages of the Wraeththu, but events unfold at a distance, as Wolf is not a central character to change. Wolf is rather something more like an observer, lingering in the hinterlands, with a wholly unique story to tell.

Then, a little bit about yourself and your influences.

When it comes to influences, I am a sponge. I read everything I can, and try to dissect and understand the writings of other authors across any and all genres. My biggest influences are probably Storm Constantine (of course) Cormac McCarthy, Peter Grandbois, Damon Knight and Samuel R. Delany.

As for myself, I like to keep my bio simple. I'm a huge fan of sci-fi and of the surreal. I'm the author of over fifty books and the chief editor of a number of web journals through Thunderune Publishing. I'm always working on something new.

Catch up with ES Wynn here...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meet Para Kindred author Maria Leel

Today I'm pleased to have fellow Wraeththu Mythos Para Kindred author Maria Leel visiting for a quick Q&A. Welcome, Maria. What do you love about the Wraeththu Mythos? 

The books that comprise the original Wraeththu trilogy, now the Wraeththu Chronicles, have been my constant companions since late 1989 when, during a lunch break from work, a copy of The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit mugged me in Hammick’s bookshop and insisted on being purchased. I confess I wasn’t terribly productive for the rest of the afternoon when I returned to the office. The trilogy has moved house with me more times that I can count; it has travelled around the world with me and to this day still occupies a prized spot on the bookshelf nearest to my bed. If you had told me then that I would have the opportunity to contribute stories to that world I loved so dearly I simply would not have believed you.

I have been fascinated with the ‘post-apocalyptical’ genre since childhood probably because I’ve been at odds with the dominant human culture from a very early age. I grew up in the 70s at the tail end of the hippie era surrounded by beautiful people with long hair and glam rock... And then you give me a whole trio of books set in a post apocalyptic Earth filled with amazingly beautiful creatures with long hair... Well, there was no hope for me!

Everyone’s story will have that spark that set the wheels spinning? What was yours?

Two things really. At the time the call for submissions to Para Kindred went out I was studying some of the work of Dr Paul Stamets, a pioneering American mycologist (check out his TED talk), specifically his work on fungi’s ability to clean up contamination. I mean, did you know that there is evidence at Chernobyl of slime moulds siphoning radiation out of the air and using it as their own power source? That and fungi’s role as a great underground information and resources network in primary forest; a genuine living phenomenon which for me had great resonance with the Na’vi’s ‘deity’ in the film Avatar.

I was reading Paul’s book Mycelium Running and my brain was literally pounding with the possibilities.

Around the same time I happened to re-watch a film called Raise the Red Lantern about a young girl who willingly becomes a concubine in the oppressive household of a wealthy warlord. I found her story both depressing and compelling.

Then the call for submissions came in and I was left wondering how I was going to bolt together a bunch of mushrooms and dynastic China into a workable story... without resorting to something hallucinogenic...

Without giving any spoilers, can you share a bit about your story?

The story centres around Chenga who lives in the dynastic territories of the Far East where ritual, protocol and tradition are valued above all things. Despite this, Chenga enjoys an almost blissful childhood thanks to his hostling, Lian, and his human teacher, Master Deshi-Tu. Chenga is fascinated by herb lore and enjoys a rare ability to hear the whispering chatter of the fungi that grow in abundance in his forest home. Master Deshi-Tu promises to teach Chenga the secret of the threads when he comes of age.

But Chenga’s childhood is tragically cut short and he is sent as a child bride to become the tenth consort of a wealthy and powerful dynastic overlord. Depressed and desperately unhappy, Chenga finds the overlord and the regime of his household cruel and divisive and he longs for freedom. Eventually the threads call to him again and he begins to see how escape might be possible.

Are there any underlying themes you visited?

Primarily the complexity of the living world – we really don’t understand how it all works and we mess with it at our peril. It’s all about relationships.

Oppression is another major theme. The dynamics of controlling and abusive relationships are both hideous and fascinating both in the case of an individual species’ abuse of a natural community and that of a single individual’s abuse of another. Stories need conflict and inevitably oppression is a good source for that.

I also think that literature is a particularly good medium for exploring the dynamics of abuse and bringing this hidden form of warfare into the light.

Then, a little bit about yourself and your influences.

My first degree was in Ecology and much of my work has been in the field of conservation so my stories all have strong link with natural systems and the landscape.  I have travelled widely and lived in some pretty isolated places and those experiences tend to weave their way into my writing whether I wish them to or not. I am deeply grateful to Storm Constantine for welcoming contributors to the Wraeththu mythos and allowing fledgling authors to test their wings in the world of published writing.

I come from a family of dancers steeped in the folk traditions of England. My extended family are Morris dancers and from an early age I was surrounded by people with painted faces, dressed in wild costumes, bearing an assortment of curious instruments. This has led to a fairly relaxed attitude to the unorthodox.

Originally from the flat Fenlands in the east of England I now live on the hilly Welsh borders with my husband, two geriatric cats and a varying number of chickens. We have recently taken on a large urban garden which we are in the process of turning into a permaculture paradise. We’ve just put in a mini orchard and our next challenge is to convince our neighbours to allow us to bring in a couple of piglets to tractor up the patch where we plan to put the forest garden. Wish us luck with that one ;)

See my author page with Immanion Press is where you can also find details of my Wraeththu novel Song of the SulhI can be found on Facebook.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Storm Constantine on Para Kindred

Today I am honoured to host Storm Constantine, who joins us to discuss her latest release, the Para Kindred anthology of Wraeththu Mythos short stories, which features original fiction not only by her, but also Wendy Darling, Martina Bellovičová, Ash Corvida, Nerine Dorman, Suzanne Gabriel, Fiona Lane, Maria J Leel , Daniela Ritter, E.S. Wynn. 
Welcome, Storm... 

One of the best aspects of compiling Wraeththu short story collections, such as Para Kindred, is that it gives me the opportunity to revisit the half-completed Wraeththu stories I have, some of which date back thirty years or more. For this latest anthology, I wrote one completely new story, and then turned to one of the ‘oldies’ for my other contribution.

The first, ‘Painted Skin’, was inspired by an image I remembered from a folk tale – that of a fairy woman who’s a beautiful and bewitching creature from the front, but whose back is hollow and that of a rotting tree. I can’t even remember where I first came across this image, although my friend and fellow writer Tanith Lee also remembers it, and thinks it might have been in a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. I’ve not yet trawled through my big collection of his stories to find out. I did discover, via a Danish friend and subsequent searches on the internet, that there is a Danish myth about the Elle folk, whose females were as described above, but whose males were hideously ugly and could spread pestilence. Both genders were not actively malevolent, as far as I could gather, but objected strongly to humans reacting negatively to their appearance. Once riled in such a way, through unintentional laughter or horror, they could turn nasty. The idea of the hollow woman has always fascinated me, and the idea came to me how to include it in a Wraeththu story. ‘Painted Skin’ was the result.

I began the other piece, ‘Without Weakness’, way back when writing the original Wraeththu trilogy, not long after I’d completed ‘The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit’. It features two characters from the trilogy – the Kamagrian Kate and the harish Ashmael. A human enclave has managed to survive in the wilderness of Megalithica, despite attacks from rogue Wraeththu tribes. Nicholas, the youngest son of the Ferniman family, is particularly threatened by these enemies, not least because of his innate unusual abilities, not generally found in a human. The barbaric Wraeththu want to claim and incept him.

Ashmael and Kate, representing the more advanced tribe of Gelaming, seek to help the humans, and overcome their hostility. Initially, I planned the story to be a kind of romance, with love conquering all, but when I revisited it, so many years later, different ideas came to me. I had things to say about those who claim to ‘know what’s best for you’, when really all they know is what they consider best for them. In particular, this applies to medical professionals, who are often blinkered to say the least, and prone to promoting the latest fad or obsession. In the story, this involves the subject of inception – is it ever ‘necessary’, and if professional therapists consider it so, are they right? ‘Without Weakness’ was an interesting story to write, even if it was rather more difficult to produce than ‘Painted Skin’, which poured out without much effort on my part. Originally I’d planned for it to be a novella, and despite choosing to make it a shorter work, it still came in at 40 pages or so when it was finished.

Both stories were very enjoyable to write in their different ways. I hope to compile another Wraeththu story collection in the future, again with the help of other writers, to explore other aspects of the Wraeththu Mythos.

After seventeen years of being professionally published, Storm decided that the only way for her books to stay in print for any length of time was to publish her back catalogue herself. With Immanion Press, she intends to rectify the typical fate of books, which is to have the "shelf life of a magazine".

Storm underwent a cursory art college education, but found it too restricting creatively. After a series of mundane jobs, she began writing seriously, and her first book, "The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit" was published in 1987 by Macdonald Futura. Storm has written approximately 1.5 books a year ever since!

In the 80s and 90s, she frittered away some time managing bands, and caught the publishing bug from producing fan club magazines. After giving up the musical distraction, Storm embarked on the fiction project, "Visionary Tongue", which was a regular magazine of dark fantasy/fantasy/sf stories. She enlisted the help of several writer friends to act as editors, so that up-and-coming writers would have the chance to work with a professional, and pick up tips about their craft and the industry.

Immanion Press is undoubtedly an extension of what Storm began with Visionary Tongue. As well as her own work, and the back catalogue of friends and writers she admires, Storm is keen to promote new talent. As to what she's looking for, she says:

'It's difficult to define what I like, but it has to be different. I admire a slick style, believable characters, vivid yet economical description and an engaging story. I also like a certain level of quirkiness, as long as it isn't too self-conscious! A few of my favourite writers are Alice Hoffman, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance, Steve Millhauser and Jonathan Carroll, which might give people a potential idea of what appeals to me. I will edit the books that most appeal to me, but we also have a team of other editors who are all very thorough at what they do. I am known as rather a task-mistress with authors I work with, though - so be warned!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Featured author: Maria Imbalzano

Today's featured author is Maria Imbalzano, who's here to tell us a little bit more about herself and her novel, Unchained Memories (for which there's an excerpt at the end of this blog post). Welcome, Maria, and over to you!

I was born in Trenton, NJ , in the heart of Chambersburg, the Italian section of town. My father was a barber and my mother, a State employee, who also taught me to jitterbug at the tender age of four. We loved to dance in the living room while watching American Bandstand. Hardly star material, but I was driven nonetheless.

The product of a Catholic School education, I learned the basics, and took for granted  I would be successful doing something, even if it entailed cutting hair. I attended Rutgers University as a psychology major, but after three years decided I liked political science better.

My first job led me to Manhattan where I worked as a paralegal for four years before attending Fordham University School of Law. There I learned to think like a lawyer, write like a lawyer, and speak like a lawyer, all while living like a pauper in the city of my dreams. Living in New York City, albeit on a tight budget, allowed me to indulge my love of ballet, art museums, and theater. Did you know you could walk into a theater after intermission and no one checks your ticket? I enjoyed the second half of many plays as well as ballets.

My love of reading dates back to my childhood when I would borrow at least four books from the library every week. During the summer, I would sit in the house and read, until my mother, totally frustrated, would send me outside to play and lock me out. I always found my way back in.

However, I must confess, I hated to write. In every English and writing class throughout college, I dreaded trying to be creative. As a friend from law school so aptly put it, “The reason why we’re here is because we don’t have a creative bone in our bodies.” I agreed.

Despite my dislike of creative writing back then, I embraced legal writing, and was first published in Volume 5 of the Fordham International Law Journal. My article was entitled “In re Mackin: Is the Application of the Political Offense Exception an Extradition Issue for the Judicial or Executive Branch?” I would advise you against reading it, for you will surely fall asleep.

Following law school, I returned to central New Jersey and took a job at a local law firm, where I have been a partner for many years. My area of practice is divorce, and while emotions run high and clients are living through the worst time of their lives, I find the practice very satisfying.  In addition to litigation,  I have added mediation and collaborative divorce to my repertoire, which are much more civil ways of dealing with issues in family law cases.

In addition to practicing law and raising two daughters, I’ve been working towards my second career.  Memoranda of Law and Legal Briefs, although fascinating, pale in comparison to writing romance/women’s fiction. So how does one transition from divorce lawyer by day to romance writer by night? That’s the beauty of having two distinct passions.

As a rising medical malpractice attorney, Charlotte Taylor believes in standing up for the injured, giving them a voice, and advocating for their rights. She couldn't do it for her mother, so she does it for others, even if it means losing the love of her life.

Dr. Clayton Montgomery believes in working hard and playing even harder, until he reconnects with Charlotte. Barely noticing her crush when he tutored her ten years ago, Clay has a chance to make up for lost time when the beautiful lawyer comes back into town...until he discovers her chosen career path.

Now, philosophical differences soon become a reality and Charlotte is faced with the choice of representing a client against the hospital and against Clay. Will Charlotte give up her career and her tribute to her mother for a second chance with the man who got away?

Find Unchained Memories on Amazon, or check out Maria's website. Follower her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, and friend her on Goodreads.

EXCERPTRed. Hot. Sexy.
Like magnets, Clay’s eyes clicked on Charlotte, unable to repel the force holding them. Her chestnut hair was held up in a loose, sexy do that had him itching to pull the pins to release it. Her strapless dress showcased a long neck and creamy shoulders that called out to be kissed. His involuntary focus on her lovely traits throughout the evening had made him a rude dinner companion; unable to answer even the easiest of questions.
He had come here tonight to socialize with the powers that be at the hospital, to talk up the ER, to lay the groundwork for future requests. But his concentration had been directed elsewhere. Since he’d squandered his opportunity to network, he should leave. But here he was at the bar at ten-thirty, waiting for a scotch and soda. The band was heavily into their Motown set and many of the revelers packed the dance floor.
Across the room, Clay zeroed in on Charlotte talking to a group of men, her red gown like a flame in a sea of black. He smiled. She sure knew how to turn heads. His included.
But he knew her better than those clowns. He knew the sweet, tough eighteen-year-old who’d lost her parents within hours of each other. The broken girl whose emotional health had worried Dr. Collins, their Chief of Surgery, much more than her physical wounds.
As the band segued into a slow song, Clay covered the distance between them. “Excuse us, gentlemen, but the lady promised me a dance, and I’d like to claim it now.” He deposited his drink on an empty table and guided her toward the dance floor.
“I don’t recall promising you a dance.” Her beautiful face held the hint of a smile.
“You don’t? I must have dreamed it.”
He pulled her into his embrace, and moved with the music around the floor, feeling like one of the luckiest men there. Although she hadn’t promised anything, she glided around the room, following his lead. Her perfume intoxicated him more than any drink ever could, and the  movement of her graceful body against his had his heart palpitating.
Little Charley Taylor had certainly grown up, and he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to know her now. As an adult. Ten years removed from the time their lives had intersected.