As always, he has an insightful post, plus an excerpt from his new book and a giveaway. So read on and enjoy...
The Blue Heron
Recently I was able to resume my lunch-walks at work. Aside from getting drenched on one particular excursion—and I mean wringing, dripping, soaking wet—I was able to get away from the office for an hour or even an occasional two hours each time. This is the time during which I plan the next chapter in whatever book I’m working on, and it’s exactly how I wrote my newest release, Don’t Let the Wind Catch You, which features most characters outdoors on horseback, cantering over farmer’s alfalfa fields or in the deep woods. Mind you, I am also fully immersed in nature when I walk, and each of the details that surround me end up in one scene or another in my mysteries.
You might wonder how I slipped away from work so easily. I know, it sounds terribly irresponsible and unlikely. But chalk it up to me finally making up for numerous skipped lunches. I was due. Overdue. So I took advantage of the late June days that hovered in the low eighties to change into my shorts and tee shirt and get with nature.
I walked closer, scuffing my feet.
Why doesn't he fly away? Can't he hear me?
I scraped my sneakers against the gravel again. He slowly turned his feathered head and looked directly at me.
"What are you doing here?" I asked. (Please don’t judge me, I always talk to animals.)
He continued to stare, his eyes the color of Black-eyed Susan petals. I stepped a little closer and took a dozen photos with my camera phone. Oh, the quality is terrible, but I captured at least a faint image of him. I meant to bring my good camera that day, but in the haste of that oh-so-urgent need to escape the world of technology and feel the sun on my face, I left it on my desk.
He stood regal and aloof. His gray blue plumage seemed healthy, full. He stepped with confidence, swinging his head slowly from side to side.
I spoke to him, again. "Aren't you afraid of me? Why don't you fly away?"
I moved closer, but he only walked a step or two along the path, as if keeping pace with me.
"Are you ill? Do you have a nest around here?"
I didn't dare close the gap further, since his beak looked long and sharp. Instead, I took a path into a pumpkin field and marched along until I hit the woods. On the return trip, I looked for him, but the bird had vanished. Relief whooshed through me.
He must be okay.
My mind started to spiral.
Was it a sign? Was this rare and close encounter perhaps my father's spirit, come to visit?
It's been sixteen years, but I still long for my father's company. I imagine conversations with him. Okay, I’ll admit it. I hold conversations with him. I know he listens, and I often sense his presence. At risk of embarrassing myself, I will admit that I love letting my mind wander in these preposterous ways, even though I know deep down it's farfetched. But walks alone in nature tend to foster such thoughts in me, and I enjoy the fantasies. Not that I'd admit that out loud to anyone. (Except you, of course.)
I returned to the trail, camera in hand, hoping to see my friend.
I found him, but not as I had hoped. The poor bird lay on the trail, curled and still.
It saddened me. I considered taking his picture, walked past him, covered another hour of dirt roads, and returned.
Should I? Could I? Wouldn't it be disgusting? Gross? Crass?
But I did take his photo, and it was almost a reverent thing. Because even in death, his form held beauty and elegance.
In my usual self-comforting ritual, I started to imagine that perhaps this was a wise old bird whose time had simply come. Perhaps he'd led a full and resplendent life, soaring over lakes and swooping down to skim the water with his feet. Perhaps he'd caught a thousand silvery fish, balancing on long spindly legs while catching his handsome reflection in the mirror surface of the creek.
How fortunate was I, to have been graced with his startling presence in his last days on earth? I was blessed to have met this feathered friend, in spite of his untimely demise.
I imagine he’ll show up in one of my books these days. But I think I’ll let him live. Maybe he’ll find a mate. And maybe they’ll have babies. Okay, the wheels are turning. I’d best get back to writing that next chapter.
Remember, try to get outside as often as you can. Soak in the beauty that surrounds you. Every aspect of nature is a gift from God, and as I often suggest to my readers and friends: when life gets tough, take pleasure in the little things.
Don’t Let the Wind Catch You by Aaron Paul Lazar
When young Gus LeGarde befriends a cranky old hermit in the woods who speaks to an Indian spirit, he wonders if the man is nuts. But when the ghostly Penni rattles tin cups, draws on dusty mirrors, and flips book pages, pestering him to find evidence to avenge her past, things change.
What Gus doesn’t understand is why his mother hates Tully, until his relentless investigation uncovers a hint of scandal about Tully and Gus’s grandfather, Marlowe Wright.
On horseback, Gus and his friends ride through woods overlooking Conesus Lake to Tully’s abandoned house, reportedly still infected with the Genesee Valley Fever from the 1700s. Unafraid, they enter and find shocking evidence that could rewrite history.
Can Gus convince his mother to forgive Tully? And will the proof he found free Penni’s spirit?
Gus summons courage beyond his years in this poignant and powerful telling of the summer of 1965.
We crept toward the old shack on our bellies, crab-crawling over moss and oak leaves. Elsbeth breathed softly to my left, just out of sight. Siegfried took the lead, several feet ahead of me. Behind us, the horses stood tethered to maple saplings; they munched steadily on the sweet leaves with a rhythmic crunching sound, their tails swishing against the sting of deerflies.
"Gus?" Elsbeth's whisper glanced off the air. "Do you think anyone lives here?"
I pressed a finger to my lips. "Shh. I think I heard something." I was glad I'd left Shadow at home. That little beagle would've betrayed us, running all over the woods baying at every new scent he found.
Siegfried raised a hand, signaling us to stop. He'd heard it, too. It was a keening sound, a high-pitched wail that was speech but not speech, closer to song, but with no melody I recognized.
Ice crawled down my spine and tingled in my toes. My heart pounded against the soft earth beneath me. I chanced a look at Elsbeth, whose eyes had gone wide with what some people might think was fear. But I knew better. Excitement lurked behind those big brown eyes. She didn't scare easily now that she was eleven.
Wood smoke escaped the chimney in a lazy tendril, spreading into gray softness that filled the air with the aroma of campfires on cold winter mornings. Whoever lived inside this remote, ramshackle cabin must have just started a cooking fire, for the scent of wood smoke was soon followed by the clanging of a cast iron pan and the distinctive scent of bacon.
Siegfried glanced back at us, motioning toward a tumbled-down stone wall. He hopped to his feet and scrambled toward the cabin, chest tucked tightly to his knees. Although I was a full year older than the twins, I often let Siegfried lead. He was the one with the compass and the navigational skills, and took us on excursions into the forests behind the Ambuscade.
While we lay on our bellies watching the cabin, I couldn't help but remember snatches of Mrs. Wilson's history lessons last year. Even though we'd often played around the Ambuscade Monument, which was back in the field we'd just crossed, I really hadn't appreciated the importance of the area until she started telling us the story.
She said Washington sent John Sullivan and his men to fight for the settlers in 1779. They'd attacked the Indians, and had burned villages, cut down apple orchards, and destroyed families. It had been a real slaughter.
But it was hard to know who to root for, because some of Sullivan's men had been later ambushed by British troops and some Iroquois Indians. Fifteen men were massacred very close to where we lay. Two of the officers, Boyd and Parker, were captured and tortured in Little Beard's village in a town we now know as Cuylerville.
A plaque stands there today, marking the spot where they were tortured. Now, in 1965–a hundred and eighty-six years later–I stared at it in fascination whenever my father drove us past it on the way to Letchworth State Park.
Siegfried poked my side and pointed to the house, where a shadow crossed the window. I nodded and watched.
Elsbeth lay snug against me behind the stone wall. She nudged me in the ribs and whispered so close to my ear it tickled. "Someone's in there!"
A one-sided conversation had started up inside the cabin. I strained to hear, trying to calm the heartbeat in my ears that pounded over the words I couldn't make out.
I listened to the deep male voice. Gruff and playful, he seemed to be discussing plans for the day. But no one answered him.
I scanned the area. Siegfried noticed and followed my gaze. No telephone poles or wires. No electricity. Unless he had one of those walkie-talkies like they used in the war, he must be talking to a mute person or to a very soft-spoken person.
I noticed several cracked windows and wondered why the man inside hadn't fixed them. The front door looked solid, made from rough planks, but the roof dipped and waved near the chimney. I imagined when it rained it probably dripped from the ceiling into buckets. Globs of tar and different colored shingles plastered the roof in various spots. A beat-up Ford pickup was parked under the trees in the back.
Siegfried crawled around the edge of the wall. We followed him, creeping closer to the side of the shack until we were right under the window with two cracked panes.
Now we could hear better. The man's rumbling voice gave me chills.
"Why don't you want me to go?"
"Okay. So come with me. What's the big deal?"
The man groaned. "Nobody will see you. You can wait outside."
The twins and I exchanged puzzled looks and moved closer to the window.
The deep voice spoke again. "What? Who's outside?"
Siegfried's eyes grew round as fireballs. I tensed. Elsbeth grabbed my arm and squeezed. Heavy footfalls thundered across the floor and the window above us flew open. The blast of his voice came milliseconds before his head poked out.
"What in tarnation are you kids doing?"
Frozen in place, we stared at the man, whose grizzled face twisted in fury. A tangled white beard hung six inches beneath his chin, resting on a red-and-white checkered flannel shirt. Black suspenders looped over his shoulders, and his gnarled hands batted the air in front of his face. He yelled louder this time. Three crows cawed and abandoned their perch in the giant cottonwood overhead.
"Well, speak up! What the hell's going on here?"
Elsbeth spoke first, shocked into her native language. "Es tut mir leid."
When the man squinted his eyes in confusion, she recovered.
"Um. Sorry, sir. We didn't think anyone lived here."
We scuttled backwards on our hands and feet, our backsides scraping the earth like bouncing bulldozers. Siegfried jumped up and pulled his sister to her feet.
I stumbled back against the wall, ramming my spine against the stones. I winced, scrambled to my feet and stared at the ground. "We're sorry, Mister. We were looking for a fort."
The sound of a rifle cocking made me look up again. A long barrel poked out the window, aimed at my chest.
"If you kids aren't gone by the time I count to five, you're dead meat. Now scat!"
I don't know if he actually counted or not. The blood rushed in my ears and drowned out all sounds. We raced to our horses, swung onto their backs, and galloped down the woodland trail to safety.
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of three award-winning mystery series and more, Lazar enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at lazarbooks.com and watch for his upcoming release from Twilight Times Books, SANCTUARY (2013).
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/aplazar2
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Aaron-Paul-Lazar/e/B001JOZR2M/
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