Today’s Guest Chocolate is historical author Denise Eagan. Keep reading all the way to the end, because she’s got a special giveaway as well as an excerpt from her book Shadows of the Soul. Welcome Denise!
Thanks to Chocolate Box Writers for having me here! I’ve been looking forward to it. So today I thought I’d talk about writing and music.
First of all, you have to understand that I am tone deaf. Seriously, terribly, tone deaf, the kind of singer that makes people pull out their hair and run away screaming. When I was young, though, I didn’t believe that. As a teenager I even taught myself to play the guitar and I wrote songs. The problem was I never noticed when the guitar was out of tune, much to the torment of my poor, suffering family. Then one day a friend of mine told me, as were were singing in the car, that I had actually hit all the notes. She was cheerfully amazed. And very drunk. Point drilled home.
After that, the only time I questioned my tone deafness was when my first son was born and I sang him to sleep with the theme to Gilligan’s Island. It was the only song I could remember all the lyrics to. Besides “Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale” is kind of writerly. And it worked! Like a charm. Quickly. Very quickly. Insanely quickly. As in, I never got anywhere near the fateful crash part quickly. In later years my son claimed he went to sleep in self-defense. Rotten kid.
I tried, but never managed it, with my youngest son, who cried from the moment he was born until he could speak. His first complete sentence? “Something’s wrong.” Yeah, kid I know, I know. I gave up. These days I only sing in the car with the windows rolled up.
So, with that kind of history, you might think music wouldn’t matter to me. But that is dead wrong. I love music. I have a Sirius subscription. I use it in all sorts of ways, like as motivation. How can a person hear Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” and not want to do great things? Or Katy Perry’s “Roar”? I use music to exercise by, too, like Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath” both for content, and for the tongue in cheek joy of it. I have playlists for long drives, and playlists for romantic dinners. I even have cooking playlists, which for reasons I can’t explain include Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Mostly though, I use music to write.
It’s a little perplexing, I know. Even I thought so until one day my husband and I were discussing a song we both loved. For me it was about the song’s message. He, however shrugged, and said he liked the melody but had never listened to the words. Wait? What? People don’t listen to the words? But. . .but then why bother?
And then I had an de-epiphany (in that I’d had this epiphany many times before, in different ways): I may like a song’s melody, but what I key into is the lyrics. To me songs are just poems put to music, and poems are, to quote one of my favorite authors, Mary Stewart, “the best words in the best order” (Nine Coach’s Waiting). Good lyrics inspire me. I have a playlist for every book I’ve written, which I put on repeat until the songs melt into the background. When I’m stuck or going off track, I’ll pause for a minute, focus on the music, and it centers me in the story once again. For my current release, Shadows of the Soul my playlist is 8 songs long:
“Iris”—Goo Goo Dolls
“I Knew I Loved You”—Savage Garden
“Crash and Burn”—Savage Garden
“How You Remind Me”—Knickleback
“Against All Odds”—Phil Collins
“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”—Aerosmith
Like all the songs in all of my playlists, these hit certain aspects of the book for me, or brings out certain emotions. “How You Remind Me” is very tortured-hero. “Against All Odds” is the black moment in this book. “Iris” is quintessentially how the hero, Luke, feels at the beginning of the book. As a child he was psychologically tortured, leaving him feeling disconnected with people in general and himself in particular. His character arc is about him becoming in touch with himself and his own humanity.
The plot however, is most captured by “I Knew I Loved You”. Basically Shadows of the Soul—set in Iowa 1871–is a story about the sister of a small-town preacher who discovers that her imaginary friend is real. Only, however, after he’s used their telepathic connection, which she is not fully aware of yet, to seduce her. Considering that her childhood obsession with her imaginary friend has earned her the term “mad” in her small town, she’s less than when Luke finally confesses:
“And other people? Can you read them, too?” Beth asked.
Luke blinked, hesitating for a second. “No. Only you.”
“Only me.” Her mind churned along, trying to grasp something important, just out of reach. “How long have you known this?”
“How long?” He stared over her shoulder into the distance as if he thought to find an answer there. “From the beginning.”
Pictures flew through her mind as that “something” came closer—of the fire, of the boy in the corner—“Since you came to town.” But that wasn’t true, either. . . .
He shifted his gaze to meet hers, his eyes narrowing. “Before that.”
“Before that? But how—” The boy in the corner, crying—a memory. But only of the mind, not from experience. She was a little girl again, alone in her room crying over her Pa’s death when suddenly she had a vision of a blond boy in a corner. He looked ever so sad, ever so alone, in need of a friend. Death’s pall hung over him—and over Beth. Their pain crossed the distance between them—not a room, or a street, or a town or a city, but over a thousand miles, almost half a continent. Why, oh why had God taken Papa from her?
The boy who her imagination created spoke in her head. Oh, she’s so pretty!
Who? Who are you? Who’s talking to me?
You can hear me?
I can hear you. I can see you. Why are you crying?
I miss her so much.
I miss him, too.
Later, much later, other voices followed, real voices, attached to the taunting faces of very real children. “You’re mad—Beth Hartwell’s crazy, a loony, loco—” And Jo’s voice, stern: “You can’t talk to people with your mind, Beth.” And David’s voice, kinder, but just as firm: “It’s your imagination, Bethany. You may have an imaginary friend, but you must keep it to yourself.” Followed by the children again— “She’s crazy. Don’t play with her—she’s crazy . . . crazy . . . crazy.” It echoed in her mind. A chill ran across Beth’s skin and the hair on her neck rose as she came back to the present, staring into the eyes of her imaginary childhood friend, full grown.
“It’s you. Oh my goodness, it’s you. You’re real!”
Luke peered at Beth, marking both awe and bewilderment in her blue-gray eyes. He would open his mind to read her thoughts if it wouldn’t in turn make her privy to his. He couldn’t risk it. She’d come near enough to the darkness already; any nearer and he might lose her.
“Why?” she sputtered. “How? Where did you come from? No . . . this isn’t real. It can’t be! I made you up. Everybody said so. You’re not real!”
His heart seemed to lodge in his throat. He swallowed several times, but it refused to settle. “I am.”
“But you can’t be! How could I talk to somebody over a thousand miles away? Oh no, you’re lying, I know you are. You talked to people in town and decided . . . decided . . . to use that information.”
The awe faded and lines of tension formed around her mouth, her eyes. Why? Did she feel hope also? Joy from meeting him at last? Confound it, he couldn’t tell. “I don’t know how. All I know is that we did. We do.”
She peered at him for a minute, then shook her head. “I don’t believe you.”
Her voice was flat, final, and Luke flinched. She might as well have said she didn’t believe in him. For a few heart-stopping seconds he deliberated the truth of it, as if he might be only a figment of her imagination. Ah but not possible, for he’d left behind hundreds of dead bodies as proof.
Closing his eyes, Luke summoned up images from his childhood, after Aunt Millie’s death and before the war, when he was yet innocent of true wickedness and dead-set on proving Aunt Vicky’s ravings to be false. Wasted efforts, wasted time. “You had a doll with a gingham dress. When you turned nine you wished to embroider a blue rose on it despite your future sister-in-law’s counsel against it, for she said that everyone knew that blue roses didn’t exist. You told her you didn’t care, that there ought to be blue roses and that God had made a mistake. You vexed her so much that she sent you to your room and bade you copy Bible verses until you learned not to question the wisdom of your Maker.”
Beth’s lips quivered. “Jo told you that.”
Holding her gaze, he continued. “Instead, you scribbled a full page ranting about Jo’s tyranny, in which you included every cuss word you knew.” He smiled. “Chiefly such things as dirty and muddy and poopy, since you didn’t actually know any cuss words. It made me laugh, which made you laugh. Afterward, you burned that sheet fearing that if Jo or David found it you’d fall deeper into disgrace. Then you copied the verses.”
Tears trickled down her face. “That same year,” he said, “you decided to share our connection with your family and friends. They did not respond enthusiastically, or even amicably, as you expected. Instead, they insisted that you’d created me. You refused to denounce me, but you did decide that as my creator you could name me. Your brother was reading you A Christmas Carole by Dickens at the time and you named me Timmy after Tiny Tim. I hated it.”
“But you wouldn’t tell me your real one—”
“Because I hated that more.” Lucas, for Lucifer. Devlin, for Devil. Wilson had been right.
“Sometimes,” she said, “it felt like you were there right next to me, like you were part of me. Whenever I was downhearted or cross or lonesome I’d call on you. You always brought back my cheer. But then you left.” She wiped a sudden tear. “You left me all alone.”
Her anguish seized his throat and squeezed. “I had to,” he said in a voice so low he almost couldn’t hear himself speak.
“They said I was mad.”
“I told you they were wrong.”
“You left and I had no choice but to believe them.”
“I vowed to return. I made you that grass ring and you gave me your oath that you’d wait for me.”
“Wait for you!” she yelled. He winced. “Wait for you! Luke that was ten years ago!”
“I’d no notion of how long it would take.”
“I thought you a figment of my imagination. At times I thought I was crazy. Did you not know that? Couldn’t you feel it? You left and I tried to reach you again and again and again.” She was truly crying now, and the pitch of her voice rose with rage, yet was marbled by pain.
“Beth, I couldn’t. I had to discover—”
“Where have you been all this time? Why didn’t you come? Why didn’t you tell me—Dear Lord!” She sprang up and away from him. “You did come. You’ve been here a month. You’ve known all along who I was, but you never mentioned it, not once. You knew and you didn’t tell me.” Her eyes widened and Luke clenched his teeth. He’d no need to read her mind to trail after her rushing, writhing thoughts. “And then last night you planted all of that in my mind.” She held a hand to her throat. “You used our connection, our years of friendship, everything you knew about me to . . . to seduce me. Had you told me the truth about yourself, I’d have been prepared, I might have resisted it. You knew that, too.”
He was losing her. It didn’t make sense. This was their destiny; shouldn’t she understand? “No, that’s not what I meant.” He stood. “Let me explain.” He stepped toward her.
“No!” She backed away. “Don’t touch me! Don’t you dare touch me! You’re not real.”
“Beth, honey, you’re confused. You’re not thinking clearly.”
“Yes, I am! For the first time since you arrived my mind is crystal clear. My thoughts are my own thoughts. Not yours, but mine.”
“Bethany? Luke? What’s going on here?”
Luke whipped around. David was walking toward them, stepping around gravestones as his eyes, somber as a judge’s, flickered from Luke to Beth. Marking Beth’s tear-stained face, David’s expression softened. He pushed by Luke and drew her into his arms. “You’ve heard, I take it. I’m sorry. I hoped to tell you myself.”
Beth leaned into him and Luke’s chest tightened. Damn David! And damn her for accepting solace from David while rejecting his efforts. How easily she forgot David’s complicity in her so-called madness!
“Heard what news?” she asked, as Luke glared at them.
David offered her his handkerchief. “About Janice Whitcomb. Isn’t that the reason you’re weeping?”
“Janice?” She stared at David. “What’s wrong with Janice?”
“There’s been another murder. Janice Whitcomb is dead.”
Yeah, I should mention there’s a killer on the loose too! So, are you inspired by music, too? Are there songs that you use to cheer you up? To motivate you? That help you sort through difficulties, or are just so wonderful you belt them out when you hear them? Leave a comment and register to win an e-copy of Shadows of the Soul and an Amazon $10 email gift card. Make sure to leave contact information!
What happens when you find out your imaginary friend is real?
She thought she’d imagined him. . .
Beth Hartwell is a little bit crazy. Or so her hometown of Mayfield believes, due to her long-ago obsession with her imaginary friend. Although in 1871, at the age of twenty-two, Beth has long since forgotten him, the phrase sticks to her like prickles to wool. If she’s ever going to be normal, she must marry a nice, normal man, have nice, normal children and live a nice normal life. She’s one reluctant yes away from accepting the only man who’ll take her, when handsome, mysterious Luke Devlin comes to town. Upon touching him, visions of fire beset her, along with a deep, unexplainable familiarity. . .
But he was real. . .
Calamity and suffering follow Luke everywhere he goes. An orphan from birth, Luke was raised in the shadow of a mad aunt who insisted that he was evil incarnate—Satan’s son. After years of seeking proof that she was wrong, he finally accepts her ravings as prophesy. To fulfill that prophesy, he must claim his “dark angel,” the little girl with whom he had a telepathic relationship as a boy.
Trapped between love and a prophecy
Unfortunately Beth, a midwife and sister to the town’s preacher, is hardly “dark.” In order for Luke to win her, he must use everything in his arsenal, including seduction, lies and trickery. In order for Beth to pull him out of the shadows, she must uncover the secrets behind his sad, dying eyes. As the battle lines are drawn, however, a murderer strikes in Mayfield and the town accuses Luke. . .
If you can’t wait for the giveaway, no worries. You can purchase SHADOW OF THE SOUL for Kindle right now by clicking here. To read more excerpts from this and Denise’s other titles, visit her website at www.deniseeagan.com