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I spent November deep in National Novel Writing Month, and "won" it by completing a novel rough draft: 67,515 words in 26 days. So, I'm ready to publish, right?

Not even a little.

No, there's a reason why they call it a rough draft. Revisions, edits, polishing--the process will go on for weeks. When it's absolutely perfect, I'll hand it over to my wife/editor Emily, who'll find all the mistakes I missed. Then I'll edit and polish it again. Then (unless I decide to self-publish) I'll send it out, either to literary agents if I don't have one by then, or directly to publishers.

If the very first publisher I query buys it, you'd see my new book online and hopefully at your local book store ... in about a year and a half, more likely two. And the fun part is, it's very unlikely for the first submission to be successful.

One author's first novel was rejected thirty times before a publisher finally took a chance Stephen King's Carrie.

So no part of this story will be seen for a very long time ... except by you. My entertainment for you this time is part of the first scene of the book, which except for the first few lines has been seen by no one else at all. I haven't titled it, and it might be fun for you to guess what it's about based on a few clues in this segment (you may already know, since I mentioned it in my blog). Its genre? Well, it's kind of a mutt: mystery, adventure, fantasy, and a bit of a heist story, all rolled up. Let me know if you like it!
Since I do still have to sell the soap, remember that our newest book, More Slightly Off the Mark, is up and available in print and e-book at Amazon and on our website. We also lowered the prices on some of our older books, since we pretty much all need a break in 2020. Find our stuff here:
 
"What are you writing, huh, huh? Wait--I can't read!"

CHAPTER ONE

LILLY TAKES THE CASE

 

Years later, after all the bodies had been buried and the reports written, there would be times when Lilly McCray told people she was the first black woman ever to kill a Nome.

It would always be in a bar, after a few drinks, which explained why she would ignore their expressions and patiently explain she meant Nomes, not Gnomes—then she'd carefully spell it out. Sometimes, on a really bad day, she would then add that not all Munchkins were short.

At that point someone would usually make fun of Lilly’s own height, and that's when they'd find out Lillian McCray was a mean drunk.

Lilly blinked, and looked around the Director's office. Where did that come from? Like—a memory of something that had never happened. Also, she was a respectable five foot six. Also … Nomes?

Agent McCray?” For the first time since she entered, her boss glanced over his glasses at her. “Did you just say something?”

I—” She was pretty sure she'd murmured, “Nomes?” which seemed like a terrible thing to admit. “Sorry, sir—I just had a thought.”

Hm. Well, let's hope you continue those in the future.” Special Agent in Charge Brayden Hunter glanced back down at the contents of the manila folder on his desk, but Lilly knew he wouldn’t let her stew for long. “So, you’re off probation, and ready for your first case all on your own.”

I hope so, sir.” Four years of college, three years on the streets as a cop, training and then a year and a half probation with the Federal Bureau of Investigations … yes, Lilly was ready to be on her own.

Well, I’ve been SAC here at the Albany office for a few years, and I’ve never seen anyone do as well as you.” Hunter dropped the folder, pulled off his reading glasses, and settled into his upholstered office chair. Lilly seldom saw him anywhere except his office, yet he had the looks of someone who worked outside, hard—a lined, tanned face, hair bleached out by the sun, and a squint to the eye that might make someone believe he was trying to be intimidating. Once you got to know him, you realized Hunter didn’t need any help with that.

Now Hunter squinted for real, at the morning sun slanting through his window. “Yes, you’ve been exemplary … and that worries me.”

It does?” Lilly realized they were dressed almost exactly the same: dark blue suits just one shade from Men in Black, except she wore a matching tie and his was an unabashed striping of red, white, and blue. Lillie knew FBI agents didn’t wear suits as often as it showed on TV … but she still felt oddly uncomfortable in business casual. Not to mention the suit jacket hid both her sidearm and the folded multi-tool she always kept in her hip pocket.

Have I ever told you about the dumb, embarrassing mistakes I made as a rookie?”

Lilly couldn’t imagine it. “Um, no.”

I’m not going to, either—I want you to always picture me as perfect, and bigger than life.”

No problem.

You just don’t seem to make those mistakes. Even your paperwork—every T crossed, every I dotted. No complaints from the public or fellow officers, shoes shined, every hair in place. Yeah, you’ve had to be guided through some things, but overall you’ve been exemplary.”

Her boss didn’t just hand out compliments. “Well, sir, I’m a black woman in a male dominated organization.”

Hm. Okay, so you have to be perfect.” Hunter moved his shoulders, as if trying to relax his muscles. “But you’re a human being. You are a human being, aren’t you? I mean, not full of clockwork parts with a mechanical brain?”

I am.” She smiled despite herself, which might have been what he intended.

Well, I’m just worried about how you’ll handle it if you make some kind of major snafu in the field. It’s a strange and wonderful thing to be worried about, Special Agent McCray.” At that Hunter himself smiled, and it didn’t quite break his face.

I’ll try not to get overconfident, sir.”

Call me Brayden.”

What?” It was the last thing she expected to hear.

You’re one of my people now, not a rookie. We don’t stand on ceremony around the office—in public is different.” Picking up the folder, Hunter leaned forward to place it in front of her. “I understand you know a bit about gemstones.”

And that was the second to the last thing she expected him to say. “Um, my father and sister are both gemologists, sir—Brayden—this is going to take some getting used to.”

Gemologist, I thought that was just a word someone made up.”

No, it’s a real branch of geology. I took some courses in that area, but most of my knowledge comes from being around them.”

And you were around them a lot.”

Yes, well … yes.” Dragged around, that’s what she was. To classes, conferences, conversations around the house, and those long, long field trips. “I guess I know more than the average person.”

That’s good enough.” Hunter gestured toward the folder. “This fell into my lap just in time to be your first case—but the truth is, I don’t know if it’s a case at all.”

Lilly opened the folder, and felt her eyebrows rise. “Gem smuggling?”

Maybe. Maybe not. Let me show you something and get you up to speed.” Hunter reached to the computer monitor on the side of his desktop, and spun it around so she could see the screen. “Wamego, Kansas, a few days ago.”

Wamego?”

Little town, west of Topeka. There’s a jeweler there, and somebody came in to sell him a stone—an emerald.”

Lilly rifled through the file, and found the initial report. “Not fake, it says.”

No, but the guy was positive it was. The seller offered it to him for pennies on the dollar—said he just needed a little cash. Our jeweler friend went over every molecule of that rock, and much to his surprise, it was on the level.”

But then—?”

It was a nice stone, but not huge or anything, so he thought nothing of it. The next day two more people come in: a tall, skinny man and a little girl wearing a party dress, that’s how he described them. And they offer him a bigger emerald, in return for the one he has and a little cash.”

No photos,” Lilly murmured, as she turned over the pages. “Oh, here’s his statement. ‘A little blonde girl in a green party dress, and a tall, skinny idiot’. Huh. What kind of scam is this?”

 
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