Focus by Holly Bargo
Professional photographer Dana Secrest has a secret and doesn’t even know it. When she storms from her best friend’s home on Christmas Eve—not the wisest decision she’s ever made—security contractor Sam Galdicar follows her to save her from her own hot temper and impulsive action. Upon arriving home, Dana discovers her apartment has been ransacked. Then an attempt is made on her life. She doesn’t know who’s trying to kill her or why, but Sam is determined to protect the woman whose eyes don’t need a camera to see the truth.
Advanced Read Excerpt
I sighed. “I suppose you have a dossier on me and know pretty much everything about me.”
“Of course,” he replied. “I’m extremely good at what I do.”
“And so am I,” I retorted. For an insane second, I wished I had my camera so I could capture him: The Arrogant Male at Breakfast. With that square jaw, those twinkling eyes, and that proud expression, he would have made a fortune gracing the covers of romance novels. I could see him doing particularly well garbed in period costume.
“Do you have any tattoos?” I asked.
His eyebrows went up, a sign that my question had surprised him. I wanted to preen at the accomplishment. Then his small smile broadened and his gaze turned sultry.
“Wanna see them?”
I kept my cool demeanor and met his gaze without melting. “There’s a studio in the city that specializes in custom cover art for a couple of the big publishers. If you’re looking for a side gig, you’d do well as a cover model.”
“You think I’m handsome?”
I huffed. “You know you’re pretty.”
“Pretty?” he echoed, looking offended.
“Pretty,” I said with a curt nod, pleased to have disconcerted him. He wasn’t the only one who could needle someone. I’d die before admitting that he made Henry Cavill look like a troll.
“I don’t need a ‘side gig,’” he muttered under his breath.
About two weeks ago, I saw a video posted by a kill buyer in Tennessee. A big man was riding a small horse (a pony, really) along a country road. An 18-wheeler eased by. The pony gave the truck the hairy eyeball and stepped aside, but otherwise kept its cool. No meltdown. I was impressed.
What a comparison to "the monster," who's being advertised for sale on EquineNow.com and Dreamhorse.com and, yes, Craigslist. I have had to admit defeat with Diva. She's simply more than I can handle.
So ... Saturday, April 18, my husband and I drove to Cleveland, TN. That's a bit over 400 miles one way, which makes for a long, long day of driving when you consider the round trip. We left at 6:00 AM and returned home a little after 10:00 PM. There was some difficulty in getting there at all. I could drive the entire way in my car, but would have had to return without the pony. That would have meant paying board, which there's no need to do as I can feed the critter at home. I asked a couple of other people I know to do the hauling, because our truck wouldn't get far on only three wheels and an unpredictable operational issue which my husband thinks is related to the fuel tank. But he's not sure and I'd rather not take that risk.
Neither alternative worked out for good reasons. I certainly wasn't angry. Disappointed, but neither angry nor upset. However, we did prevail upon our brother-in-law to loan us his truck. Gotta say, Bill's Chevy towed "the anchor" like a champ. (Our 3-horse trailer is steel, not aluminum, and extremely heavy, hence the nickname "the anchor.")
We picked up the pony whom I have named Teddy and checked on him periodically through the drive home. He spent the night in a stall. The next morning, we woke up to gunky eyes and swollen lymph nodes. Uh-oh. I called the veterinarian on Monday to schedule a farm call and thought I'd have to beg, plead, cajole, and promise my first grandchild to get a veterinarian out to check up on Teddy. Luckily, I did not have to promise my first grandchild.
We renewed an old acquaintance with Walnut Grove Veterinary Services. We soon confirmed that Teddy had an eye infection and strangles, a nasty, highly contagious bacterial infection. We've been treating him for over a week now and praying that the other two horses don't catch the disease.
Ugh. Teddy's going stir crazy being cooped up in the barn apart from the other horses. He has become thoroughly disenchanted with the new humans in his life. His calm, easygoing nature is disappearing as he begins to recover from infection, which proves that I have an eye for a pretty horse, but not necessarily for a good disposition.
So ... meet Teddy.
Anybody want to buy a Morgan mare?
Preferences change. Just take a look at fashion throughout the centuries or even just the past few decades. What was considered cool and hip in the 1980s and 1990s draws snide laughter now. The same goes for literature.
Way back in the 16th century when Miguel de Cervantes was penning The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, only a minority of Europe’s population could read. That minority was split into three factions: the (slowly) rising merchant class who read primarily for business purposes, the clergy (who read for religious purposes), and the nobility. (Let’s not get into gender, because we all know that education was considered wasted on females.) Of them, the nobility read for leisure.
For those who had the sublime luxury of leisure, novels became a dubious pleasure. Women dared not read too much for fear of weakening their vision or being considered overly cerebral. High society did not appreciate literate intelligence in women. Aristocratic males, however, could and did read whatever they pleased and, true to genetics, they enjoyed tales of grand and perilous adventure with themselves as the heroes.
This little history lesson has a point, so bear with me.
Women as novelists remained scandalous well into the 20th century. It just wasn’t respectable. With literature being written mostly by men for men, female characters tended toward certain ideals and stereotypes according to their categorization of heroine or villainess. For female readers seeking tales of derring-do with female protagonists, the pickings were slim.
Fast forward a few decades into the 1970s and 1980s when the effect of Women’s Lib rippled through Western society. Long venerated stereotypes were smashed left and right. Women demanded equal agency, and “assume the position” did not mean “wait for rescue.” Heroines could be the rescuers.
But I digress. This is not a diatribe against male authors and old fashioned stereotypes.
To return to the original concept of this article, the composition and preferences of readers changed. The radical concept of education for all ignited the change. Readers wanted stories that did not take winding, circuitous routes from beginning to end across several volumes. Their valuable and limited leisure time demanded stories that stayed on track and got to the point.
This led to changing preferences. In the first half of the 20th century, novels typically ran 40,000 to 60,000 words. Enter Ernest Hemingway with his pithy, succinct storytelling that set the world on fire and set a new standard for effective storytelling.
Societal tastes in storytelling changed and students dreaded having to read the classics. From Charles Dickens to James Fenimore Cooper, the long, leisurely novels that could be savored over weeks or even months fell into disfavor. The plots wandered and disappeared beneath a deluge of author commentary and seemingly irrelevant subplots. Archaic phrasing and old fashioned characterization further buried the plots which readers no longer felt obligated to unearth.
The most obvious example of this phenomenon that I can think of is The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. It’s a thrilling tale, once you’ve dug it out of the heaps of extraneous other stuff in which it’s buried. I love the story, but never managed to slog through the entire book. I always bogged down and quit because I couldn’t endure more of all that unnecessary stuff. (For what it’s worth, I have the same complaint about everything Charles Dicken wrote.)
As novel writing matured and evolved through the centuries, the reading public’s expectations also evolved. Literature separated into genres, then began to span genres once again. Standards for “good” writing and “good” storytelling evolved, primarily set by publishing house gatekeepers and partially influenced by the book-buying public. That which sold best was deemed well-written. Commercial success became a pseudo-objective standard for quality, with Stephen King and Nora Roberts leading the charge.
Back to the classics.
We return to them time and time again. Those stories don’t die, because there’s gold in them thar hills. Buried beneath tons of dross--which could be otherwise described as expository description, tangential subplots, verbosity, purple prose, and other flaws that deliver the kiss of death to novels today--lies the elusive gleam of a golden story. Whether it’s the tale of a man’s obsessive revenge (see Moby Dick by Herman Melville) or the Gothic Victorian melodrama of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, the essence of a grand story shines through and rewards those who dig. That’s why filmmakers return again and again to these stories: they know they can rely upon the fabulous tales of yore if only they stick to the meat and cut out the fat. And it works every time.
Today’s savvy authors know that: stick to the meat and cut out the fat.
Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.
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