FAQ

Can you tell us the chronological order of the Bobbie Faye trilogy?

A: It’s confusing, at first glance, since the first two books of the trilogy were released as trade paperbacks, with different titles, and then later re-released with new titles, covers and in mass market form. I really wish there had been a way to alert readers (besides just having it here on my site on the “books” pages) as to the changes, but sometimes, those needs aren’t as obvious until after they’re a need.

First off, the first two books were originally released as:

Bobbie Faye’s Very (very very very) Bad Day

and

Bobbie Faye’s (kinda sorta not-exactly) Family Jewels

When it came time to think about the release of book three, St. Martin’s Press had begun to feel that the covers of the trade paperback versions just weren’t quite working. I can understand their frustration, as we had all banged our heads against the metaphorical walls, trying to figure out how to market a trilogy which was pretty rough-edged, high octane, with a thriller structure… but funny. How do we let the readers know what it is? Not an easy thing to do. As you’ll know, when you walk into a book store, there’s really not a comedy section for fiction, so figuring out a cover became a nightmare.

SMP decided that they wanted to try something new to see if they can better convey the nature of the books. To that end, they re-vamped everything, including the titles (and truly, it would be very difficult to put those long titles + my name + artwork on a mass market size cover).

So book 1 became:

Charmed and Dangerous

Book 2 became:

Girls Just Wanna Have Guns

And then book 3 came out as:

When A Man Loves A Weapon

I loved both covers (old and new) for different reasons, and so far, fan mail has been running about 50/50 as to preference.

 

Do you have a preference?

A: My preference is for the mass market versions, not because of the covers, but because St. Martin’s Press graciously allowed me to add material to the first two books, which made me a very happy writer.

 

Is there going to be another Bobbie Faye book?

Eventually. I’m not exactly sure when. I DO have some Bobbie Faye short stories, including a really whacked out novella, which will be published ASAP. (I will put links here as soon as I have them.) I DO plan another short story or two for the interim while I’m working on other projects. I really really love all of you Bobbie Faye Fans and want to give you more of her world. I’m peddling as fast as I can. (grin) So please hang in there, with me. If you want to know when something is out, please sign up for the newsletter. The button to take you to the quick-and-easy form is at the top of every page.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished up a very dark southern-gothic suspense, and I honestly think it’s the best work I’ve ever done. It was the most difficult, emotionally, especially with what happened with my brother over this last year, and when I was really feeling like I couldn’t write again, he sort of kicked me in the butt and made me promise that I wouldn’t quit. I lost him on December 18th, 2012, and I miss him every single day. This book is for him. I will update this section when I know when and where it will be available. For more about Mike, see this and this.

Currently, I’ve started to adapt a screenplay I wrote a while back that is the script that just wouldn’t die. It’s a romantic comedy/caper, and it’s been optioned for film more times than I can count. Ironically, it never occurred to me to write it as a book until this year, and I’m sort of flummoxed as to why I didn’t think of it before. It’s the script that I wrote that absolutely everyone loved, and big name stars were attached to. (Which means next to nothing in Hollywood, but it was fun to imagine it.)

I’m also co-writing a secret project with CJ Lyons for middle-school kids–very fun, caper-type story. More on that when we’re done.

When those two are done, I’ll think about a Bobbie Faye spin off. So many people (in the thousands) have either emailed me or voted in my poll, and several characters are pretty well tied for “give them their own spin off series,” so I’ll have to figure out which to focus on, first. The beauty is, you’ll see Bobbie Faye in the background of these, and she might just boss her way into having another book or two herself. We’ll see.

I hope to do one light and one dark book a year. I’m not sure how realistic that is, and I’m not the world’s fastest writer, but that’s the goal. I reserve the right to laugh hysterically at this later and delete it. (grin)

 

 

 

How do you get started writing for pay, for both non-fiction and fiction?

A: One of the real perks of this job is that we hear from fans, and oftentimes, those fans want to start writing, or have started a story and aren’t sure how to continue on toward publication. I love love LOVE getting letters, and I answer every one, (so a note here—if you wrote me and didn’t hear back, please re-send-sometimes things get lost if the week was particularly insane).

One such letter came last week and it’s something I’ve been asked many times and I really really need to create a FAQ for this, because it’s such a great question. What makes it difficult to answer is that every single person asking is at a different stage/level of writing, so there’s no “one size fits all” answer that will apply. Even so, I think there are a number of things a new writer can do in order to jump into this vocation. I really wish someone had broken some of this down for me, oh-so-many years ago. In honor of those questions and in light of the fact that I just realized I’ve been publishing for 25 years this year (in May), here are a few things (and this is not a complete, definitive list yet) that I think might benefit a new writer to do and/or think about.

1) Do you absolutely NEED to earn money FAST with writing? If you’re going to spend extra time doing something, MUST it earn money in order to makes ends meet?

Now, it might surprise you that I ask that question first, but I want to get this concern out in the open and addressed, because I understand the desire more than anyone knows: you have a talent that people have encouraged-whether it was a teacher somewhere along the way, or family or friends… and for reasons all too common, you have to earn extra money, but leaving the house to do it is damned near impossible. Maybe it’s because of having kids at home, or maybe it’s because of where you live or the high unemployment rate, but you’d really like to earn money quickly, and you’d like to do it from home.

If this describes you, then you need to look at NON FICTION as a potential solution. Back when I started, our local newspaper still took on freelancers for various sections. The pay was not great—$75 per article, and, ironically, $75 per photo. I learned pretty quickly to include photos. It was a very happy day in the household when I had worked my way up to a whopping $150 per article and $100 per photo, because I was writing two or three articles a week by that point, and making a pretty good side income.

Here’s some how-to tips and things to keep in mind:

Even though the local newspapers on on the decline (and seriously, they’ve laid off staff right and left, so it’s going to be difficult—but not impossible—to land a freelance assignment there), keep in mind that many many places have their own websites now, and they may benefit from additional local coverage/articles. You have to think outside the box a bit more to find these places and to pitch them, but keeping a site updated with frequent content is very time-consuming for a local business or corporation, and if someone can solve that problem for them, fairly cheaply and with good quality writing, that person can end up creating a niche for themselves.

Finding the market: Obviously, finding those businesses and sites (even regional and national sites) takes research. It takes looking at every site you cross, every local business web page with an eye to what you could do to make that site more of a “destination” site. Why would they need you? What could you bring to the table that would be interesting to their customers? How frequently would they need the content updated?

Pitching: There are two general ways to pitch—one is a query letter, and one is to provide a sample, which we call “writing on spec” (speculation). While the former is the generally accepted method of approaching most businesses, I have to say that a simple cold query is almost never going to work for non-fiction. They’re going to want to know what you can do, and this is where you’d include samples of your best writing. If you don’t have any samples because you’re just getting started, then the best thing to do is write the article you’re pitching to them. Show them what you can do by doing it, and doing it so well, they really want to use it. On the upside, if they want it, it’s already done and you’ll get paid a lot faster. On the downside, you could put a lot of research into something and end up not making a sale. Never fear, though—because that article might be able to be slanted toward another market. I made several sales by taking an article that had already been written, looking at the needs of a different publication, slanting a rewrite toward that publication and then selling it there.

What do you mean, slant? To “slant” something is to be aware of the demographic and/or the attitudes and needs of the publications’ audience. In the approach to a business, you want to be aware of who their target customer is. For example, let’s just say there’s a local Bed & Breakfast near you, and you realize that people who travel to the B&B might want to read about other sites to see and venues to visit near said B&B, and the B&B’s website is pretty static—nothing new there about what’s going on locally or how awesome the area is. Or whatever they have is the same thing they’ve had up for a year. So you want to pitch them a series of articles where you cover local attractions from the point of view of a local—great places to hang out that are off the beaten path, etc. You wouldn’t write this article with a lot of slang and angles on where to go skateboarding, because the audience is likely going to be older—couples—from retirees to newlyweds—not teens. You’re also going to see more middle-class visitors than wealthy, and many of these would be interested in saving money while seeing the sites, so you’d feature the more affordable things to do in the area. However, you could take that same information that you found while researching and pitch it to bigger hotels in the area, or restaurants, or travel guides or the local paper’s travel/fun section, etc. In non-fiction, research only used once is a missed opportunity. You can often rewrite the article to slant it toward different audiences, thus making more money for the same research.

(I once sold an article about relaxation and endorphins to Redbook, and then turned around and used the same information to create a fun quiz for Madamoiselle.)

Querying official markets: By “official” I mean the standard markets you’d think of for non-fiction: magazines and newspapers and some of the bigger news/magazine websites. MOST but not all of the requirements of the paying sites are going to be included in a publication called WRITERS MARKET. There’s a print version (usually) available in most libraries. There are other sites as well, such as publishersmarketplace.com—but I used WMalmost exclusively for my non-fiction forays and I think it’s been around the longest.

There’s a huge non-fiction section to these sites and specifically in WM, and you can look up the publication to see:

  1. what they need
  2. what they pay
  3. how to contact them and a contact name

FOLLOW. THEIR. GUIDELINES.

In every case, I would call the front desk of the magazine just to verify that the contact name was still at the publication. People move, get fired, etc., and you don’t want to send in a query for the new person’s predecessor—it’ll be obvious you’re not that great at research, if you do. You also, however, NEVER try to pitch these people over the phone. Ever. EVER. ON PENALTY OF DEATH. Okay? Because you will tick whoever that person is off, right then, and anything you send it later will be thrown away.

Then you’ll follow their guidelines. Even if they say “snail mail only.” Because they are grumpy and you’re trying to get money out of them, eventually, you want them to think well of you.

And please note that in order to approach the bigger markets, like national magazines, where the pay is much nicer, they’re going to want to see “clips” (published examples, taken from the source, or a pdf copy thereof) of your work for other paying markets. You can graduate quickly to a larger market, but having these clips is essential, so you’ll need to start either locally or regionally.

Do not ignore the off-beat magazines which have a very specific following. For example, you may not normally think about writing a golf piece for a travel magazine, but if you live near a world-renowned golf course, there may be an angle there that you could pitch. Or, for the golf magazine, you might pitch a round-up of favorite local eateries for the people who will be traveling in to enjoy a major golf tournament to enjoy. I dunno-this is where RESEARCH of the market is VITAL. It’s a good rule of thumb to read the last few issues of a magazine to see their TONE and APPROACH to topics, but also to see what they’ve covered in the last couple of years. Yes, two years, minimum. Most editors will not want to repeat a topic (celebrity stuff excluded, obviously) unless you can present a really new slant on that topic. Women’s magazines, for example, might have covered anorexia a year ago and won’t want to cover it again… but if you’ve heard about a new treatment or research or a myth-busting truth has crossed your path, you might be able to sell it. It’s got to be a fresh take, though, for them to be willing to bite. There are all sorts of odd, off-beat places and ways to get started.

Keep in mind that sometimes, you have to give a little to build a reputation. Here’s a good example. My oldest son, Luke Causey, is an outdoorsman when he’s not working, and he loves camping/hunting/fishing, etc. A while back, he wrote a free review of a knife he’d purchased and posted it on a website where reviews were invited. His review was well received, and he reviewed more and more—to the point that knife makers would send him a knife for review and he was able to keep the knife. He ended up with enough positive reactions from his reviews that he started reviewing other equipment for a website called Woodsmonkey.com; his payment was that he could keep the item he reviewed, which, for him, was great. I’m very proud of his articles—he’s professional, easy-to-read, fun, and you can tell he has a sense of humor. He also does great “how-to” articles about how to improvise something you might need. The kid’s a regular MacGyver (along with his dad and brother), so it’s a perfect use of his talents. As a result of his articles, he’s been invited to contribute articles—for pay—to a new magazine that’s starting up called Pathfinder, which is founded by Dave Canterbury, who stars on the Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival Show. In this internet world where so many people blog for free, you may have to write a while and demonstrate that you have a knowledge base or a particular take on a topic that is unique and helpful or entertaining in order to prove to the paying markets that you deserve to be paid.

Non-fiction books: Also, keep in mind that non-fiction is the lion’s share of books sold, so if you have an expertise in an area… or you know someone who does have an expertise… you may be able to break in with a non-fiction book. There are a lot of websites and information out there about how to do this, but the bottom line is, you have to do a tremendous about of market research to show why your book is needed. If you’re following a trend, you’re probably already too late—by the time the trend happens and “hits” big in the public conscious, there’s already a glut of those books sitting on editors’ desks, because everyone else has noticed the trend, too. You’ll need to find an angle about the subject that hasn’t been done, and a reason why the audience would need that information. How is it going to make their lives better? How is going to help anyone? Why does it fill a void the other books out there haven’t filled? How big is that demand? (Meaning, how big is that void? Is there a big enough audience to warrant the cost of publishing the book?) If you want to go this route, don’t start writing the book until you’ve really researched the how-tos.

The writing itself: You might be thinking, “Well, I’d like to do this, but how do I know if I have what it takes?” And my answer is going to sound snarky, but it’s not meant that way: you can read. If you’re going to be a writer, it’s your job to read read READ read READ READ READ and DISSECT dissect dissect DISSECT the hell out of what you read. Look at a website you love and see how they do it. Ask yourself stuff like, “how do all of the articles start… with an anecdote? with a hook? with a fact? with a bold statement?” and then ask, “what is the style of this publication? is it breezy? snarky? factual? dry? sardonic?” etc. Write a few sample articles and get friends/peers to read and tell you if they remained interested throughout. Find out if you have confused them anywhere along the way. Did you make a point? Did the person care about it once they were done? Did you impart information that the person wouldn’t have known already? Did you give them a glimpse into something they couldn’t have ordinarily seen just surfing factual sites on the web? And so on. If you want to go this route, there are several writing books on the subject out there which will help you with the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself. Writer’s Digest almost always puts out excellent books on the subject, and their magazine had great articles on how to approach non-fiction markets. (I’m assuming they still do, though I haven’t read in a while.)

The pay: Is almost always on publication now except for some of the really big markets, but if they’re a local business and/or are not going broke, then you might be able to negotiate payment upon acceptance. Check out markets of similar size in the Writer’s Marketplace to get a fair idea of what you should charge, if you’re pitching to someone “outside the box.” And it’s always a smart thing to present the “outside the box” types with an invoice once they’ve accepted the article for publication. That way, should they forget, you can remind them without looking like a fluffy bunny who’s just doing this for free.

(There are good reasons to do something for free—blogs, for example, have obviously taken over the world and they’re free and they offer a zillion viewpoints and bits of information, but if you’re going to write for someone else, they need to pay you, or be able to give you some sort of in-kind-trade, where you benefit financially.)

2) “No no,” you say, “I don’t want to write non-fiction. I want to write my own stories. My own worlds. I just don’t have a clue how to go about getting started.”

For what it’s worth, I said this sentence at some point in my non-fiction writing career, when I really wanted a change and I wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. The fiction world is SO BIG and SO AMORPHOUS and holy cow, there are about a billion ways to Oz, and I kept hopping from one path to another because I didn’t even really realize I was on a path, until about four or five paths later. So in order to help you keep from meandering in the wilderness for forty years, here are a few of the general things I’d suggest you think about and/or do to get started.

The genre you love to read: Here is the very best place for you to start. Why? Because whether you realize it or not, you know a lot about it already. You know what the reader expectations are for that genre, because all you have to do is ask yourself, “What am I looking for when I pick up this type of book? What is it that I’m craving? What type of experience? What works for me? (Make a list.) What doesn’t work for me? (Again, make a list.) Ignore stuff that the author had no control over, like the back cover copy and the cover… focus on the story: do you like dark thrillers? do you like them to have romance in them, or not? if not, why not? (There are no wrong answers. In fact, you MUST be really honest with yourself here if you want to be successful.) Do you like light romances? Do you like a lot of angst or stories with more twists in the plots? Pull out your top ten or twenty favorite books in the world… the ones you’d read over and over again. What is it about these books that you love? Look for genre, but also look for commonalities: what is it about them that’s calling to you? Is it subject matter? Theme? Tone? Or a type of experience? Setting? Type of plot?

When people give the advice to “write what you know”—it doesn’t necessarily mean for you to write about your experiences in your life… it means, write the kinds of stories you know how to tell, that you’d love to read and watch. Write something that you grasp the meaning to, the nuances and the lifestyle of, because you’re going to need that understanding to get you through the long slog. However, be aware that what you understand can apply to many other life situations. You may never be a spy, but you might have a grasp on cut-throat tactics and livelihoods at stake, and you might have access to a bunch of people in the spy business who would be willing to talk to you and you might have an understanding of what it is to be immersed in a world where you have no one you can trust, and if you put those things together, you could write a spy thriller. Especially if you love the spy thriller genre and you’ve read just about everything classic that everyone references as well as the new turks taking over the genre—then you’ll know if what you’re doing is good and original.

The writing itself: There are a billion choices for you to go through to create that work of fiction-and each one of those can be overwhelming when you’re new. Things like “should I tell this in first person? or third?” have ramifications far beyond just using the word “I” a lot. Suffice it to say, those choices are too huge for this one blog. I have a few pieces of advice about how to write:

  • read. READ READ READ. And then, READ.
  • DISSECT. If you can’t figure out what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it, then you can’t utilize the technique. Now, you may dissect subconsciously, or you may be the type who pulls out highlighters and makes copious notes or you may fall somewhere in between, but good writers read with an eye to how the author accomplished what they accomplished. And the rare times I’ve read a book where I’ve gotten completely immersed and have forgotten to read with that eye, I go back and figure out where the author drew me in, and how.
  • write write write write write. PRACTICE. Do not whine to anyone about how you don’t want to abandon your first book, that you think it’s got what it takes to make it and “those people” just wouldn’t know great writing if it hit them in the face, because I—and all the other professional writers around you—will want to bop you on the head. Unless you are a very speshul snowflake, you’re probably not going to sell the very first book you write. Or the first full-length fiction (if, as it was in my case, a screenplay). You may, however, show enough promise to get encouragement from peers and other writers, or place in some contests. You may even get some encouragement from some agents. But you need to be aware that just because you can type, or just because you’ve read all your life, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to automatically spew out a perfect novel that everyone clamors to read, one which will—if not make you wealthy—will at least solve your financial problems. It’s unrealistic. I don’t care how talented you are, it’s unrealistic. The one-in-a-million that it happens to is a fluke, and if you get so lucky? Well, good, I’m glad. But don’t go into this thinking that’s how it works, because it doesn’t. Plus, you will annoy the writers around you who could have offered you useful advice on how to improve, except if you’re all whiny about how great you already are, nobody’s going to want to help you. (Um, yeah, pet peeve. Moving on.)
  • Peer review/critiques/feedback/beta reads… You will need these, in the beginning, at least. Again, there are rare people out there who are so talented, they may not need any feedback, and if you’re one of those people, congratulations, we all hate you. However, most of those people find out they are those people because they’ve already written stuff and submitted it and wowed everyone, or peers read and were blown away, etc. If you’re writing something and you hand it in to your critique group/peers, etc., and they are dying DYING dying to know what happens next, then you may well not need the critique group’s input.
  • Finding a peer review group is a blog unto itself, but my caveat here is to find people who love the same genre in which you’re writing, or you’re going to get a whole lot of advice that sounds great and is logical and makes sense and may even resonate with you… but which could derail the story you’re trying to tell because it negates the very conventions of the genre of your story. And this derailing won’t even be intentional… but I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times.
  • Classes. I actually think taking classes is a beneficial thing—if it’s being taught by a really strong teacher. Please note that sometimes, really strong teachers aren’t always bestsellers themselves, which may have a helluva lot more to do with the vagrancies of the marketplace or something beyond their control. Conversely, there are also a lot of bestselling authors who don’t really teach well. And some who do both. Ask around, get suggestions from others who benefitted from the class.
  • Don’t just take every class you hear about. Target your weaknesses and focus on classes for those things. Read how-to books, also. But mostly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, READ BOOKS that do well whatever it is you feel is your weakness and analyze how they accomplish what they do.

Polishing: Before you send out your book, please take the time to go back through it and polish it. Not just spelling and grammar, but look for logic holes, look for inconstancies, look to make sure your characters stay in character and aren’t just doing something you need them to do for the purpose of the plot, etc. Look at how you’ve told the story and ways to improve that. You only get one shot per agent to prove that you have the chops, and that agent is not going to care if you were writing this on the weekends and in the mornings and you have a really big mortgage and you’ve fallen behind and you need a quick sale. If that were the case, thousands of books would be bought instantly without being read, because the economy sucks and people are hurting everywhere, and there are all sorts of medical/family/work problems that a little extra income would solve. Agents can’t take that into consideration. They need to be wowed by your book, in order to pick it over all the other books on their desks or in their emails, and they have to be wowed enough to take you on as a client. If you’re lazy about polishing, they’re going to notice, and frankly, there are a lot of other people out there willing to put in the work to polish, so why should they choose you?

Submitting: There are entire books and blogs devoted to this topic. Read them. As many as you can. Look up agents on QUERY TRACKERor ABSOLUTE WRITE and always check to see who the scam artists are from PREDITORS AND EDITORS (that is how they spell predators; I don’t know why). P&E has a very good database of the scum to avoid. You can find out all about who’s sold what lately, and who represents what you’re writing through various other sites, include publishersmarketplace.com.

  • Do your homework. Look up the agent’s website and look at their submission guidelines. FOLLOW THEM. If they don’t want an attachment, and you try to be the exception, they’re going to be annoyed. Do you really want to annoy the person you’re trying to land as an agent? If they want 50 pages, don’t send them 100, or the whole manuscript. (Now, if your chapter ends on page 51, send that, too—find a logical place to stop.) Pay attention. This probably means keeping records, making yourself some sort of file/spreadsheet, so you can keep their requirements straight as to who wants what. It’s just part of the business end of the vocation.
  • Do your homework. Figure out who would be right for your book based on what they’ve sold and who they represent, as well as what they state their preferences are in the various places where those things are posted. If they don’t represent S/F/F and that’s what you’ve written, don’t clog their in box and waste both your time and theirs.
  • Do your homework. Write an amazing query letter. Don’t know how? Welcome to the club. There are about a zillion of us, but everyone’s got to do it at some point and there are some great resources (on the first two links in the “submitting” graph above) which has examples or threads discussing how-to, and there are books and there are agent blogs (quite a few now) which express how to and while it’s overwhelming, basically, it’s your job to learn it. Your goal here is to entice them to read your book. It’s the hook that they very well may turn around and use with the editors they submit to. If it’s well done, that same hook will be used by the editor to pitch it to her publisher to get the deal, and some variation will be used to pitch it to marketing and sales. So think of it like the back cover copy, or think of it in the way you’d tell a friend about the book, when you want to hook them into reading it. What is it that makes it different than other books out there. Mostly, why should we care?

Landing the agent: Once you’ve got things out on submission, you’ll either start getting form rejections, rejections with personal notes (those are great) or requests for the full book. (This is why you have the full ready, by the way, which wasn’t mentioned above, but I’m emphasizing it now. Unless you have a lot of credits elsewhere that proves you can write a novel, and write it well, they’re going to want to read the whole thing before signing you.)

It is not only okay, but necessary, to query more than one agent at a time. Do not send form letters-personalize each query. (Again, that’s your job.)

Once you get an offer of representation in, it’s customary to give all of the other agents who have requested partials or fulls a heads up that you’ve gotten an offer and you’d like to know if they’re still interested. Some will automatically say no (there’s too much on their plate at the moment). Some will read quickly and still decline (a zillion different reasons, but it’s often just not their thing or they have a client writing something too similar, etc.). One or two may say, heck yeah, we want it, too, and then you are in the enviable position of getting multiple offers and you get to decide who to go to prom with. Congratulations.

Agent submission/sales, etc.: This blog is long enough, but suffice it to say that not everything that gets agented sells. (Oh, if only.) So don’t go spend your savings yet, don’t quit your day job, and don’t assume. Anything. There’s a lot that goes into the selling and the publishing aspect—that’s a whole other blog for maybe next time, but for now, I want to end this by address money, for the same reasons I started it.

The money: People often want to write a book because they think it’s a quick, easy way to make a lot of money from home or out on their deck. (I will pause here while writers everywhere finish laughing… and crying….)

Money is paid out as an advance. They are assuming they’ll sell your book, and they know you need to make something while the publication process grinds forward, and they’ll pay you about what they think you’ll book will earn. They’ll base that figure off what other books like yours have earned, whether or not you’re well known, or whether or not you have a huge commercial hook, or whether or not your second cousin is Oprah and she’ll endorse it, or whether or not they had great sex that morning. In other words, it’s a mystery as to why some books get bigger advances than others, and while it’s a business, it’s also a guessing game because the publisher is trying to predict the future as to what you might earn.

They will then take that advance and divide it into three. Sometimes, they will divide it into four, but three is more common, I think, still. They will then give you 1/3rd of that money on signing of the contract, 1/3rd on what they call D&A (delivery and acceptance), which is the point where you’ve done whatever rewrites/polish the editor wanted and they have accepted it and you’re then moving on to the copy edit phase. And then they’ll pay the last third on publication.

If your book sells more copies than they anticipated, they will eventually owe you royalties—but it’ll be more than a year, very likely, from the point of publication, before you see those royalties. (Again, that’s a whole other blog entry.)

So, keeping the above in mind, the average advance is said (by those who gather that type of statistic) to be between $5K and $10K. That’s not a typo. That’s five thousand to ten thousand. Divide that into thirds, and subtract the standard agent fee of 15%, and keep in mind that it takes about a year from acceptance to publication, and you’re looking at maybe making between $3500 and $8500 for the year. Not including the time it took you to write the actual book, which, let’s be real, for a first book is probably about a year to two years (actual writing time, not calendar time.)

Now, you may get lucky and be above average, but most of the sales I see on Publishers Marketplace are for what they call “nice” deals, which is about $25K, but that’s often for two books, or three. It’s not completely uncommon for a new writer to get an advance of $25 to $50K, but it’s not the norm.

I tell you this because (a) it’s a fact of the business and therefore, that information is out there and (b) if you’re going into writing because you need the money, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, financially. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me they’re going to supplement their income—and this, when they’re already up against terrible stress—by writing. It’s not fast and it’s not easy.

If you’re not doing this for the love of it, if you’re doing this for the money, then you might want to consider another field.

Because those of us who write, can’t not write.So if that fits your take on the world, welcome to the nuthouse. The crackers and cheese and wine are on the bar. Please don’t run with scissors, except on Thursdays, when it’s scissor day, and by all means, feel free to bring cupcakes or brownies.

Now, a very brief comment about e-publishing… especially if you read Konrath’s blog. I know of several established writers who are now starting to put their new works up themselves, and are making some money off it.ports When I first published this guide, others’ results weren’t what Konrath is making, and I think that’s partially because Joe’s got a great following on his blog—and has had that for years—and that following has helped him get the word out about his ebooks. In other words, he spent a tremendous number of years promoting the hell out of his books, and that put him in (what I believe to be a rather) unique position to reap the benefits of the ebook market… because the same problem that faces authors with editors and publishing houses is multiplied exponentially when you go straight to ebook, and that is, “How will the customer find you? How will they know you’re there? How will they know who you are?” However… since I originally published this piece, it’s been a couple of years, and ebook publishing has skyrocketed, with a tremendous number of people making a decent amount (helps to pay the bills), and a decent number of people actually doing really well.

That said, I’m not an expert in epublishing. If you want to know everything about it, go to CJ LyonsNo Rules, Just Write link and do the happy dance, because if it’s important, she’s got it. (Send her a thank you, if you do, please.)

When A Man Loves A Weapon

COVER -- WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON Living in her trailer was great for a time. But now Bobbie Faye’s officially engaged to, and has purchased a home with, the hottest FBI agent on the beat: Trevor Cormier. Even though she has no idea what he really does on the job, Bobbie Faye has never been happier… until Trevor gets called away on an urgent assignment and leaves her in the care of bodyguard-slash-babysitter, Riles. As it turns out, Bobbie Faye could use a little extra security. The man she helped put behind bars, the murderous Sean MacGreggor, has escaped from prison… and is dead-set on revenge. With still no word from Trevor—who was only supposed to be gone for three days—Bobbie Faye finds herself reluctantly turning to her detective ex-boyfriend Cam for help. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to protect Bobbie Faye… so long as Trevor stays out of the picture. For good
 

Read the excerpt HERE!

 

Girls Just Wanna Have Guns

COVER - GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE GUNS

Bobbie Faye Sumrall just landed in a mess of trouble. It started when she agreed to help her diva cousin, Francesca. Turns out Francesca’s mom, Marie, swiped a fortune in gems from Bobbie Faye’s uncle, who’d swiped them from someone else. Now there’s a hit out on Marie, and Bobbie Faye is racing to find her—and the jewels. Plenty of people would shoot Bobbie Faye for a stash of diamonds. Hell, some would pay for the privilege. But now Bobbie Faye has other distractions—including Trevor, the drop-dead-sexy FBI agent who may or may not be the real deal, and Cam, her steamy (and steamed) detective ex-boyfriend who’d do anything to keep Bobbie Faye out of harm’s way… and get her back into his arms.

Read the excerpt HERE!

 
 
(This book was originally released as Bobbie Faye’s (kinda sorta not exactly) Family Jewels in trade paperback format. The publisher decided to reach out to a larger audience by re-releasing it in mass market size and at a smaller price. The upside? I was able to add content. The downside? The title was so long, plus my three names, and the publisher decided it was just too much type on the front of the smaller paperback and wouldn’t work. They opted to rename it, and unfortunately, that’s not crystal clear from the new covers. It is the same book, slightly enhanced, and better in the mm and online version, in my opinion. I am very sorry for the confusion this has caused some readers. I had asked that Bobbie Faye, Book 2, be put on the cover, but alas, that did not happen.)

Reviews:
“Cajun beauty Bobbie Faye Sumrall is back…Causey roared into the book world withCharmed and Dangerous and now takes readers on another thrilling roller-coaster ride in this fast, feisty, and ferociously funny novel.” —Booklist (starred review)

“The folks of Lake Charles, La., are still recovering from Bobbie Faye Sumrall’s first explosive adventure, Charmed and Dangerouswhen Francesca Despre, Bobbie Faye’s cousin, demands her assistance in recovering valuable diamonds Francesca’s eccentric artist mother, Marie, hid before vanishing in this rollicking sequel. Supposedly, Emile, Marie’s estranged husband, has put a hit out on Marie in the event the diamonds aren’t recovered. The Department of Homeland Security is also interested—ditto assorted international criminals. Reluctant to get involved, Bobbie Faye winds up getting abducted by some thugs and is later rescued by the dashing Trevor Cormier, an undercover FBI agent. Meanwhile, Det. Cameron Moreau, Bobbie Faye’s old boyfriend, investigates the shooting of a local jeweler that could land Bobby Faye in jail. Though the pace is almost too fast and frantic, Causey’s masterful depiction of Cajun country and Bobbie Faye’s irrepressible spirit redeem this colorful caper.” —Publishers Weekly

“Toni McGee Causey doesn’t just write. She takes prisoners. She grabs you by the heart and the funny bone and carries you off into a world of captivating characters, that are a whole bunch of crazy and twice as much fun. Don’t try to sleep—you’ll be laughing too loud.” —Marshall Karp, author of Bloodthirsty and The Rabbit Factory

“If you’re a fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, this is a treat for you. Bobbie Faye is another wise-cracking gal with a knack for getting in trouble. The novel is fast paced, while the mystery keeps you guessing. If you’re up for a fast-paced book, however, this is one you won’t want to miss.” —Romantic Times, 4 stars

“If you’re in the mood for something fresh, edgy—and often downright hilarious as Bobbie Faye shares her take on life, love and the world in general —then you won’t go wrong with Girls Just Wanna Have Guns. It’s a sassily written, high-spirited caper brimming with marvellously eccentric characters, crackerjack plotting, non-stop action and plenty of regional Cajun flavour, a spicy blend that will leave readers begging for the next installment.” —Book Loons “I’ve sufficiently recovered, loosely translated that means I’m not doubled over and light-headed from all the laughing I did while reading Bobbie Faye Sumrall’s most recent adventure. I can now speak without gulping air, but I must focus on curtailing said laughter when I think about Girls Just Wanna Have Guns. What’s the hilarity about? Toni McGee Causey’s wild, wacky (quirky doesn’t do it justice) wonderful world of Bobbie Faye, that’s what.” —Armchair Interviews

“Girls Just Wanna Have Gunsis a fast-paced, can’t put it down novel full of great chase scenes, lots of gun play and steamy scenes between Bobbie Faye and her new maybe boyfriend, FBI agent and bodyguard for Emile. The chases are as frenetic and chaotic as a heart-pounding action movie and yet the plot moves seamlessly from one scene to another. The dialogue is quick, witty, sarcastic, and laugh-out-loud funny… A cross between Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry, Toni McGee Causey has a unique style that is a blast to read. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next adventure starring Bobbie Faye.” —Romance Junkies

“Bobbie Faye Sumrall is BACK! The Contraband Queen’s life is barely returning to normal, whatever that might be, when she is caught in a shoot out as she’s trying to talk a sweet little old lady out of buying a gun. Narrowly able to escape without adding a few extra holes to her body, she is nabbed by a would-be kidnapper. When the would-be kidnapping process is repeated more than once, Bobbie Faye is more than peeved. She’s ready to kill someone! Toni McGee Causey has brought back the ever-crazy Bobbie Faye and taken her to new heights (literally)! Once again chaos meets laugh your pants off humor, in the very best of ways. I can only say that I hate (CAN’T WAIT) to see what Toni (and Bobbie Faye) are up to next!” —Romantic Inks

 

Praise for Girls Just Wanna Have Guns

What they said:

“Cajun beauty Bobbie Faye Sumrall is back…Causey roared into the book world withCharmed and Dangerous and now takes readers on another thrilling roller-coaster ride in this fast, feisty, and ferociously funny novel.”
—Booklist (starred review)

“The folks of Lake Charles, La., are still recovering from Bobbie Faye Sumrall’s first explosive adventure, Charmed and Dangerouswhen Francesca Despre, Bobbie Faye’s cousin, demands her assistance in recovering valuable diamonds Francesca’s eccentric artist mother, Marie, hid before vanishing in this rollicking sequel. Supposedly, Emile, Marie’s estranged husband, has put a hit out on Marie in the event the diamonds aren’t recovered. The Department of Homeland Security is also interested—ditto assorted international criminals. Reluctant to get involved, Bobbie Faye winds up getting abducted by some thugs and is later rescued by the dashing Trevor Cormier, an undercover FBI agent. Meanwhile, Det. Cameron Moreau, Bobbie Faye’s old boyfriend, investigates the shooting of a local jeweler that could land Bobby Faye in jail. Though the pace is almost too fast and frantic, Causey’s masterful depiction of Cajun country and Bobbie Faye’s irrepressible spirit redeem this colorful caper.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Toni McGee Causey doesn’t just write. She takes prisoners. She grabs you by the heart and the funny bone and carries you off into a world of captivating characters, that are a whole bunch of crazy and twice as much fun. Don’t try to sleep—you’ll be laughing too loud.”
—Marshall Karp, author of Bloodthirsty and The Rabbit Factory

“If you’re a fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, this is a treat for you. Bobbie Faye is another wise-cracking gal with a knack for getting in trouble. The novel is fast paced, while the mystery keeps you guessing. If you’re up for a fast-paced book, however, this is one you won’t want to miss.”
—Romantic Times, 4 stars

“If you’re in the mood for something fresh, edgy—and often downright hilarious as Bobbie Faye shares her take on life, love and the world in general —then you won’t go wrong with Girls Just Wanna Have Guns. It’s a sassily written, high-spirited caper brimming with marvellously eccentric characters, crackerjack plotting, non-stop action and plenty of regional Cajun flavour, a spicy blend that will leave readers begging for the next installment.”
—Book Loons

“I’ve sufficiently recovered, loosely translated that means I’m not doubled over and light-headed from all the laughing I did while reading Bobbie Faye Sumrall’s most recent adventure. I can now speak without gulping air, but I must focus on curtailing said laughter when I think about Girls Just Wanna Have Guns. What’s the hilarity about? Toni McGee Causey’s wild, wacky (quirky doesn’t do it justice) wonderful world of Bobbie Faye, that’s what.”
—Armchair Interviews

Girls Just Wanna Have Gunsis a fast-paced, can’t put it down novel full of great chase scenes, lots of gun play and steamy scenes between Bobbie Faye and her new maybe boyfriend, FBI agent and bodyguard for Emile. The chases are as frenetic and chaotic as a heart-pounding action movie and yet the plot moves seamlessly from one scene to another. The dialogue is quick, witty, sarcastic, and laugh-out-loud funny… A cross between Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry, Toni McGee Causey has a unique style that is a blast to read. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next adventure starring Bobbie Faye.”
—Romance Junkies

“Bobbie Faye Sumrall is BACK! The Contraband Queen’s life is barely returning to normal, whatever that might be, when she is caught in a shoot out as she’s trying to talk a sweet little old lady out of buying a gun. Narrowly able to escape without adding a few extra holes to her body, she is nabbed by a would-be kidnapper. When the would-be kidnapping process is repeated more than once, Bobbie Faye is more than peeved. She’s ready to kill someone! Toni McGee Causey has brought back the ever-crazy Bobbie Faye and taken her to new heights (literally)! Once again chaos meets laugh your pants off humor, in the very best of ways. I can only say that I hate (CAN’T WAIT) to see what Toni (and Bobbie Faye) are up to next!”
—Romantic Inks

Charmed and Dangerous

COVER - CHARMED AND DANGEROUS

 

Bobbie Faye is looking forward to the Lake Charles Contraband Days Festival with balloons, booze and babies in pirate costumes. Instead, her trailer’s flooded, her no-good brother’s been kidnapped, and the criminals are demanding her mom’s tiara as ransom.

Soon Bobbie Faye is committing (unintentional) bank robbery and (fully intentional) carjacking to retrieve her family heirloom. Along comes the hard-muscled, impossibly sexy Trevor, the guy whose truck she just took hostage. Luckily, Bobbie Faye knows how to outsmart angry bears, drive a speedboat, and handle a gun. As for handling Trevor? No gun-shyness there. Now, if only that pesky state police detective, who also happens to be a pissed-off ex-boyfriend, would stay out of her way…

Read the excerpt HERE!
Watch the book trailers HERE!

 

 

 
(This book was originally released as Bobbie Faye’s Very (very very very) Bad Day in trade paperback format. The publisher decided to reach out to a larger audience by re-releasing it in mass market size and at a smaller price. The upside? I was able to add content. The downside? The title was so long, plus my three names, and the publisher decided it was just too much type on the front of the smaller paperback and wouldn’t work. They opted to rename it, and unfortunately, that’s not crystal clear from the new covers. It is the same book, slightly enhanced, and better in the mm and online version, in my opinion. I am very sorry for the confusion this has caused some readers. I had asked that Bobbie Faye, Book 1, be put on the cover, but alas, that did not happen.)
 
 
Reviews:

“Causey’s hilarious, pitch-perfect debut chronicles one day in the life of 28-year-old Bobbie Faye Sumrall. Causey doesn’t miss a beat in this wonderful, wacky celebration of Southern eccentricity.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This hyperpaced, screwball action/adventure with one unforgettable heroine and two sexy heroes is side-splittingly hilarious. Causey, a Cajun and a Louisiana native, reveals a flair for comedy in this uproarious debut novel, the first in a three-book series. Readers who like the humor of Harley Jane Kozak’s Dating Dead Men, Lisa Lutz’s The Spellman Files, and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series will be thrilled to meet Bobbie Faye. A most entertaining addition to any fiction collection.”
—Library Journal, starred review

“It’s about time women had an Amazon to look up to… Bobbie Faye is a hurricane-force heroine who makes this novel the perfect adventure yarn.”
— The Tampa Tribune

“There are many things to love about this book — the plot, the pacing, the dialogue — but my own favorite element is the characterization… But if you want a short description of this great novel, think Die Hard in the swamp. And Bobbie Faye? She’s a titanium magnolia.”
— Bookreporter.com

“If you like Janet Evanovich, if you’re looking for a lot of unlikely action (when is the last time someone you know escaped a burning boat by lassoing an oil rig?), or if you’re simply having a bad day, go out and find Bobbie Faye. She’s an outrageous hoot.”
—The New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Move over Stephanie and Bubbles you’ve got major competition tracking north from the Deep South. Bobbie Faye might have had a very bad day but Toni McGee Causey is going to have a very good year. With Causey’s debut novel (A Griffin Trade Paperback Original), Charmed and Dangerous, Bobbie Faye Sumrall is out to capture both the hearts of spunky women everywhere and the minds of men ready for a challenge.”
— Deadly Pleasures

“This is an action comedy novel that will delight fans of the Ya Ya/Sweet Potato Queens genre. The pacing of the book will take your breath away.”
— The Advocate

“Heroine—or superheroine? Bobbie Faye, Southern, eloquent, kick-ass, highly accomplished and just plain nuts, is a magnet for the most colorful collection of riff-raff and the most sexually compelling males south of Minneapolis. Throw in an unlikely MacGuffin and you’ve got a very, (very, very, very) entertaining book.”
—Harley Jane Kozak, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity award-winning author of Dating Dead Men and Dating is Murder

“Hold on for the ride, Bobbie Faye is 100% pure adrenaline! Toni McGee Causey’s exceptional debut novel is a page-turning, side-splitting, hilarious caper, complete with mama bears, explosions, double-crosses, an evil villain, a sexy whip-wielding model, a hot cop, a hotter hostage, and a smart, sassy, crazy heroine. Causey has penned a laugh-out-loud nonstop thriller. Charmed and Dangerous is really (really, really, really) good!”
—Allison Brennan, USA Today and NYT Bestselling author of The Prey, The Hunt, and The Kill

“Bobbie Faye is a true original and Toni McGee Causey a true talent!”
—Melissa Senate, author of See Jane Date and Love You To Death

“I love Charmed and Dangerous by Toni McGee Causey. The tears are still running down my cheeks from laughing. Oh, my. What talent. What verve. What NERVE!”
—Gayle Lynds, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Spymaster

“If there’s such a thing as “screwball suspense”, Bobbie Faye is its new pinup girl. Charmed and Dangerous is so funny it should come with a warning label: “Do not attempt to eat or drink while reading this book.” A winning combination of an eccentric yet charmingly sassy heroine, a sexy yet baffled hero, slambang action, and page-turning mystery (what will Bobbie Faye destroy next?) make this the perfect book for anyone who enjoys Jennifer Crusie or Janet Evanovich.”
—India Edghill, author of Queenmaker and Wisdom’s Daughter

“Bobbie Faye can get into more and funnier trouble faster than Kinsey Millhone, Stephanie Plum, and that chick who drove the bus in SPEED combined, and there’s nobody I’d rather have for a friend, because you just know that if The Bad Guys were holding you prisoner somewhere and the odds were a hundred to one, Bobbie Faye would still come bust you out. She’s the go-to poster girl for action-adventure chicklit, and even her enemies like her.”
—Rosemary Edghill, author of Bell, Book, and Murder and Met by Moonlight

“An incredible ride with one very determined, sassy, cussing, southern trailer-trash gal. If you think you are having a bad day, you won’t once you read about Bobbie Faye’s! The adventure starts in the first paragraph and does not slow until the last page. I loved this refreshing, extremely funny and sexy story and I know that everyone who reads it will agree with me.”
Romance Junkies

“This hilarious debut is an absolute must read. I couldn’t stop laughing. Bobbie Faye is fantastic and fun.”
BookBitch

“Bobbie Faye is a strong, feisty woman with an attitude who has absolutely no luck but manages to scrape by (barely) and stay alive (barely). She’s a one-woman disaster (it’s not her fault things just happen) who turns more than a few male heads. She’s got a mean, payback attitude, a foul mouth and the heart of an earth mama. In short, DO NOT miss reading Charmed and Dangerous. Oh, and remember to breathe. The action is so fast, the characters are hilarious and the laughter so rampant that you really do need to remind yourself to breathe.”
—Armchair Interviews

“Toni McGee Causey will have you laughing out loud as her insane characters take you on a ride of pure chaos. This book could only be described as a rollercoaster ride with dynamite! You’ll want to keep Charmed and Dangerous around for any bad day you might have!”
—Romantic Inks

Book 1

“If you like Janet Evanovich, if you’re looking for a lot of unlikely action (when is the last time someone you know escaped a burning boat by lassoing an oil rig?), or if you’re simply having a bad day, go out and find Bobbie Faye. She’s an outrageous hoot.”
—The New Orleans Times-Picayune

charmed_cover

Bobbie Faye is looking forward to the Lake Charles Contraband Days Festival with balloons, booze and babies in pirate costumes. Instead, her trailer’s flooded, her no-good brother’s been kidnapped, and the criminals are demanding her mom’s tiara as ransom.

Soon Bobbie Faye is committing (unintentional) bank robbery and (fully intentional) carjacking to retrieve her family heirloom. Along comes the hard-muscled, impossibly sexy Trevor, the guy whose truck she just took hostage. Luckily, Bobbie Faye knows how to outsmart angry bears, drive a speedboat, and handle a gun. As for handling Trevor? No gun-shyness there. Now, if only that pesky state police detective, who also happens to be a pissed-off ex-boyfriend, would stay out of her way…

Buy the book here: IndieBound   Amazon    Barnes & Noble 

 

Read Chapter One below…

(This book was originally released as Bobbie Faye’s Very (very very very) Bad Day in trade paperback format. The publisher decided to reach out to a larger audience by re-releasing it in mass market size and at a smaller price. The upside? I was able to add content. The downside? The title was so long, plus my three names, and the publisher decided it was just too much type on the front of the smaller paperback and wouldn’t work. They opted to rename it, and unfortunately, that’s not crystal clear from the new covers. It is the same book, slightly enhanced, and better in the mm version, in my opinion. I am very sorry for the confusion this has caused some readers. I had asked that Bobbie Faye, Book 1, be put on the cover, but alas, that did not happen.)

 

Book One Excerpt edited in PE

 

Excerpt

 

Chapter One

“You know how some people are born to Greatness? Well, Bobbie Faye Sumrall woke up one morning, kicked Greatness in the teeth, kneed it in the balls, took it hostage and it’s been begging for mercy ever since.”
—a former Louisiana mayor after Bobbie Faye accidentally ran her car into his office, knocking pages of fraud evidence into the street, which helped land him in Federal prison.

Something wet and spongy plunked against Bobbie Faye’s face and she sprang awake, arms pin wheeling. “Damn it, Roy, you hit me with a catfish again and I’m gonna—” Whoa. Everything was dark in her cramped trailer. There was no catfish, no little brother Roy pretending innocence. Of course she’d been dreaming, because Roy was twenty-six now, not ten. Still a complete pain in the ass, though.

She swiped at the cold rivulets of wetness running down her face. “What the fuck was that?” she muttered to no one in particular. “And why the hell am I wet?”

“You gots a s’imming pool inside.”

Bobbie Faye squinted in the half-dark and focused on Stacey, her five-year-old niece, whose blond pigtails were haloed in the blue bug light emanating from just outside the trailer window. Then she peered at the wet Nerf bat Stacey dropped to the floor.

Check that. A Nerf bat floating a good two inches above the lime green shag carpet.

“Shit!” Bobbie Faye stood, flinching as the icy water covered her ankles. “Fuck. Damn fuck fuckity shit.”

“Momma says you shouldn’t cuss so much.”

“Yeah? Well your Momma should quit drinking, too, kid, but that ain’t likely to happen either.”

Shit. That was evil. She checked Stacey’s reaction, but her niece was preoccupied with the soggy Nerf bat again and hadn’t seemed to hear. Thank God. She didn’t mean to harm the little rug rat. And how was she supposed to remember to be nice at four-freaking A.M.? Who the hell would expect her to be nice anyway? Lori-freaking-Ann, that’s who. Her pill-popping, wine-swigging lush of a little sister whose plastered-on Grace Kelly smile made her look efficient and serene, even when she wobbled into a wall and fell on her ass.

Bobbie Faye never got to look serene.

Sonofabitch. And today was the day the Social Services lady was scheduled to come by. At four-thirty that afternoon. To judge whether Bobbie Faye was providing Stacey with a safe and stable home Bobbie Faye shuddered as the icy water lapped at her ankles. Somehow, she was supposed to fix. . . whatever the hell this mess was. . . in time to preside at the opening ceremony of the Contraband Days Festival and get back before four-thirty to prove she could be a good foster parent while Lori Ann was pulling her court-ordered four-month drying-out stint at the Troy House.

Oh, flipping yippee.

Water splashed against her knees, and she looked down at Lori-Ann’s little ankle biter stomping on the carpet as they squish-squished their way down the hall.

“Your hippos are swimmin’.” Stacey laughed, pointing at the glow-in-the-dark hippos dancing across Bobbie Faye’s thin white cotton PJs. Then the monster child jumped again, hard, splashing water up to Bobbie Faye’s elbows.

“For Christ’s sake, Stacey, if you hop around one more time, I’m gonna turn you into a frog.”

Stacey giggled, but at least she stopped jumping.

Bobbie Faye stood in front of the cramped utility closet of her tiny, dark trailer and glared at the culprit: her washing machine, run amok. Water geysered from somewhere behind the vibrating piece-of-crap appliance. If she’d had a gun, she’d have shot it. Several times. Happily. She twisted knobs, pressing buttons broken so long ago, there was no telling what they had originally been meant to do.

She wanted to stomp or snarl that this was so not happening to her, but she was awake enough now to be mature in front of Stacey. She could do mature. She was twenty-eight years old, the oldest sibling and the one the other two constantly turned to when they screwed up; of course she could do mature. And solve problems. She was a paragon of problem-solving, and she slammed her fist down on the machine, hoping to dislodge whatever it was that was causing the crisis. The machine shuddered, the water gushed higher, and in that moment, seriously mature went straight to hell. Bobbie Faye hauled off and kicked the machine, then yelped and squirmed in pain because frozen toes do not take too well to sudden impact with metal.

Bobbie Faye squeezed her eyes shut, hopping on the other foot and biting her lip to keep from spouting a new stream of expletives. Way to use a brain cell, genius. Stacey took one gander at the hopping and went straight back to jumping with the enthusiasm of a five-year-old on a post-Easter morning sugar high, soaking everything in her path.

And this is the kid who throws a tantrum if I even look like it’s time for her bath.

There were two things Bobbie Faye knew for certain. One, a day without disaster would be a day in someone else’s life. And two, she was going to kill her brother Roy for not showing up to fix the washing machine like he’d promised.

She sloshed through the kitchen to the back door and opened it, hoping the water would rush out; it barely trickled. The trailer floor had already sagged below the threshold, turning her ancient trailer into a bowl.

Wonderful. The bathtub leaks, the trailer doesn’t.

Bobbie Faye slumped a moment, barely resisting the urge to pound her head against the door frame. This was her one day off. She’d worked extra hours all week just to be able to relax this morning and take her time to get ready for the festival’s opening ceremonies. She hadn’t thought anything could top the thunderstorm that blew through on last year’s opening day and knocked a tree onto her truly first pretty car, a slightly banged up purple NISSAN 300ZX. Sure, it was used, high mileage, and pulled heavily to the left, but it was shiny, with only two rusts spots. The tree could have fallen any other direction and nothing would have been damaged. Of course, that would mean this was someone else’s life. It didn’t help when she learned she had, just that day, received a cancellation notice from her car insurance. (Not a single person, not even her friends, ever believed she really hadn’t seen that fire-truck barreling through the intersection with all of its lights on and sirens blazing. She thought the fireman was clearly at fault, though she did feel pretty awful when, to avoid hitting her, he slid into a light pole, knocking it through the roof of the grocery store on the corner.) Her insurance company paid all of the claims. And cancelled her.

The bastards.

But this year? It was going to be different; she was going to have a pleasant, peaceful day if she had to maim and kill to get it. There were no storms, the insurance was paid up on the rickety cracker-box-on-wheels Honda Civic she’d bought to replace her cool little sports car, she had planned to have plenty of time to get ready and avoid the traffic jams, she had washed her clothes last night and all she’d had to do was toss them into the dryer. . .

So of course, she was standing in two inches of water inside her trailer.

There was no way in hell she was bailing all of this by herself. Roy was going to get his sorry ass over here and help. She went to the phone to call him, flipped on the living room light and gasped. Waves rippled across the floor. Water slapped at the bottom of the more shabby-than-chic sofa and chair and filled the video bay of her ancient VCR set on the low shelf below the TV. And on the carpet near the sofa where she’d left it was her mom’s Contraband Days scrapbook. Drowned.

Bobbie Faye’s face hurt with the strain of holding back tears. Her mother had kept that scrapbook for more than twenty years. When Bobbie Faye was seven, her mom had let her glue on a pirate eye-patch on the cover, denoting the history the festival. Well, her mom had been drinking and hadn’t really seemed to notice the eye patch and sequins until a few days later, but she let Bobbie Faye keep them on there and showed them proudly to her friends, so that was almost as good, especially when her mom made her an eye patch to wear to that year’s pirate costume contest.

Pirates, Bobbie Faye had learned the way other kids learned catechism, had found the multitude of bayous and marshlands in south Louisiana perfect for transporting loot and contraband into the growing territory. The pirates had hidden in south Louisiana for the same reasons the Cajuns had fled there from Nova Scotia: sanctuary. It was a place to be whoever the hell you wanted to be. A close-knit, family sort of place, where watching your neighbor’s back was as standard as having a nodding awareness that they just might be crazy as loons, and that was okay, too.

After years of digging up half of Calcasieu Parish in a vain attempt to find the buried treasure, the locals eventually, reluctantly, gave up. Well, not entirely. Bobbie Faye remembered when she was a kid and learned there was a place named Contraband Bayou which was said to have been the home of a few pirates who supposedly hid jewels and gold somewhere back where the bayou ended. She tagged along when Roy and Lori Ann’s dad took them fishing because he was going to go right by the famous bayou and Bobbie Faye was sure if he’d just let her out, she’d find that treasure. All she got for her trouble was a bad case of poison sumac and a good view of a bunch of deeply dug holes. So much for history.

As it was, history settled lazily into myth which eased along into celebration and the Contraband Days Festival was born. It was a crazy, lively festival where everyone dressed up as pirates for twelve days in May for parties, music, dancing, and all sorts of events. Tractor pulls! Races! Parades! Buccaneers! There were “official” pageants every year, but Bobbie Faye’s mom (and her mom before her, and so on) were the unofficial “Queens” – a title started so far back in time, no one really remembered how it was handed down generation to generation. Bobbie Faye’s mom had kept a scrapbook of all her Contraband memories… and gave it to Bobbie Faye just before she died, when she had also passed her the duty of being Queen.

Bobbie Faye pulled the scrapbook out of the water, her heart sinking as she slowly turned the first sodden page. Spidery scrawl ran in an inky river, washing most of the words to nothingness; the water had faded the old photos to murky shadows and all of the mementoes were a soggy mess. The once dried petals of a rose her mother had worn on her last parade fell apart under Bobbie Faye’s touch.

Fury slammed her adrenaline up another notch; at any moment, the back of her head was going to pop clean off, especially as the cold water wicked farther up her PJs. The scrapbook was Bobbie Faye’s hold on a tenuous place, the ‘before’ as she liked to think about it. Before her mom started wearing the big floppy hats when her hair was getting inexplicably thinner and thinner, before she started wearing the weird combination of clothes and her morning eggs smelled just a shade more like rum than eggs ought to smell, before Bobbie Faye recognized her mom was a little too dancey-happy most days, jitterbugging on the coffee table (before it broke), before Bobbie Faye knew what the word cancer meant. She looked back at the destroyed scrapbook she held. If Roy had shown up like he promised and fixed the damned washing machine, this wouldn’t have happened. Bobbie Faye stared out her front window, past the gravel road, and fantasized briefly that she could zero in on wherever Roy was with a laser intensity that would fry his ass on the spot.

There was just no telling where he was, and getting him on the cell phone would take an act of God. Check that. It would take an act of some willing life-sized Barbie type. He could be anywhere. His fishing camp south of her trailer park, where there were hundreds of little bayous and marshy wetlands (or as Roy put it, plenty of escape routes). Or just north of her trailer park, hiding in a hole-in-the-wall bar somewhere in the muddy industrial city of Lake Charles, a place Bobbie Faye thought of as the kind of cranky, independent southern town that had never really given a rip what its image might be, although if someone had labeled it “home of the hard drinkers who make Mardi Gras revelers look like big fluffy candy-asses,” it might have staggered to attention and saluted. Knowing Roy the way she did, she figured he wasn’t anywhere near his own apartment in the heart of the city. Probably in some stupid poker game or, God help him, at one of his many girlfriends’ places. He can run, she thought, but he can’t hide.

#

Hiding was exactly what Roy was trying to do right at that moment. He slammed on his jeans and then squirmed his six-foot frame into a large, dusty compartment under the window-seat situated in the bay window of his married girlfriend Dora’s house. He wriggled silently to try to ease the contortion, but his toes were already starting to cramp. The layers of dust inside the seat tickled his nose and he pinched it to keep from sneezing. He squinted through the decorative tin grill on the facing of the window-seat and saw two sets of Muscles of the steroid persuasion barge into the room. Dora, his very tanned, very bosomy (bless Jimmy and his penchant for giving his wife all the plastic surgery she wanted), very blonde girlfriend who was sitting above him on the window seat, shifted her legs to block the view into the grating, to better hide him.

“Where’s Roy?” the smaller of the two sets of Muscles asked Dora.

“I ain’t seen Roy since he left the bar. Besides, I’m married. What would Roy be doing here?”

“Same thing he’s been doing ever since your Jimmy’s been out on the oil rig,” the shorter man said. He peered around the room and allowed himself a small shudder. “You get attacked by lace or something? This is a fucking nightmare. No wonder Jimmy’s always gone out on the rig.”

Roy knew without being able to see her that Dora had poufed out her collagen-enhanced bottom lip, pouting.

“Nice doorknobs, though,” the larger man said, and Roy grimaced. If he was in a bar, and really really drunk, he’d fight a guy that size for mentioning Dora’s boobs. Even if you’re boinking another guy’s wife, there was a certain etiquette to maintain.

“I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Roy,” Dora insisted.

“You know where he is,” the smaller of the muscles said. “Roy’s got something we want, and we know he came here.”

“Yeah,” the other mountain of muscles chimed in. “He always comes here. Don’t he, Eddie?” He broke into a giggle, and although the Mountain was almost double the smaller guy’s size, Roy pegged him as younger and a little simple, maybe; despite the fact he lost at poker every other Friday, Roy considered himself a pretty good judge of character. Whoever they were, they couldn’t be here for his bookie debts because he was kinda sorta caught up, and the three he still owed usually didn’t send knee breakers until you were more than a couple of months past due (he still had eight days). And he was pretty sure the guy who bought that boat hadn’t figured out that Roy hadn’t owned it in the first place. No, these guys had to be here about something personal. Nothing he couldn’t talk his way out of. God knows he’d done it a hundred times before.

Roy saw Dora’s calf contract as she inhaled quickly. Past her very fine calf, Roy could see that the smaller set of Muscles, apparently named Eddie, had a gun aimed at her.

The seat creaked as Dora shifted above him, and dust fell into his twitchy nose just as Roy’s cell phone, adjusted to maximum volume so he could hear it in the bar, vibrated against his jean pocket and trumpeted the LSU fight song. His heart ramped up three billion beats in .02 seconds as he frantically tried to slap the phone off.

And managed to turn it on so everyone in the room could hear Bobbie Faye’s shout, muffled, but not nearly enough, by his jeans.

“Roy! You sonofabitch! You promised you would fix this washing machine for me and I even paid you already! Now get your ass—” He slapped it off and stayed very still, pretending to himself it hadn’t really happened and no one heard it.

Bedroom light flooded into the window-seat as the lid snapped open and Eddie bent over, grinning, his horribly disfigured face inches away. Roy flinched at the grotesque features where his nose zigzagged from having been broken too many times and his right side of his face looked slightly caved in and sagged lower than his left.

“H’lo, Roy. I know somebody who wants to see you.”

“Uh, well, um, thanks. But see, that was my big sister on the phone and I gotta get over there and fix that thing, or she’s gonna kick my ass.” Roy eased out of the window-seat, trying for nonchalant, until Eddie pointed the gun at his chest.

“Seriously, guys. She’ll kill me.”

“If there’s anything left of you when we’re done,” Eddie said, “we’ll pay to watch.” He jammed the gun into Roy’s side and Roy turned to Dora with a pleading gleam.

“Babe? Can you call Bobbie Faye and tell her I might be running late?”

“No calls,” Eddie told her. “You stay quiet, we don’t need to come back. Got that?”

Dora nodded, clutching her robe around her as they hustled Roy out of the room.

“Man, I hafta call her,” Roy said, turning his charm smile onto full wattage. “You have no idea how crazy Bobbie Faye is.”

“That’s the least of your worries,” Eddie said.

“Hmph,” Dora said, following them down the hall, “Y’all don’t know Bobbie Faye.”

#

By five in the morning, as she banged a wrench against the shut-off valve of the washing machine, Bobbie Faye was beginning to feel like the poster girl for the “Pissed Off and Deadly” crowd. She had pulled the machine away from the wall and partially into the hallway in order to get to the pipe; the water had not only not shut off, it spewed at a rate that would make a fire fighter putting out a five alarm fire proud. It also happened to be a rate matched only by the speed of new swear words she’d been muttering under her breath.

There was an odd, rubbery scrunching sound behind her and then the watery echo of waves rippling against the walls. Bobbie Faye turned around to find Stacey hell-bent on “rafting” on her plastic Big Bird floatie, her butt dragging on the floor as she scooted it down the hall.

“Stace. For. The. Last. Time. This is not a swimming pool. Go find your sand bucket like I told you to and bail the water out the front door.”

“What’s ‘bail’? Mamma says you bail Uncle Roy outta jail a lot.”

Aaaaaannnnd it was official: they had screwed her up by age five, a record even for the Sumrall family.

“Well, kiddo, it’s kinda the same thing as scooping up water and throwing it out the door. It’s getting somebody outta trouble and Aunt Bobbie Faye ends up broke before it’s done.”

After settling Stacey to scoop out water at the front door, Bobbie Faye had the distinct impression that everything around the perimeter of the room sloped toward the center. She walked to the middle of the room, and sure enough, the water was deeper there – nearly four inches versus just two near the door. This little funhouse event definitely fell into the oh fuck category.

Bobbie Faye decided she wasn’t going to panic. Not at all. There would be no panicking in the Sumrall household. Which was when she noticed the trailer starting to make creaking and groaning noises. So not helping with the whole not-panicking decision.

As the daylight ripened into actual morning, Bobbie Faye ventured outside to see if there was any other way to cut off the water. It struck her that the trailer looked swollen, and with the floor sagging on sad little piers supporting the structure, it looked like a bloated PMSing woman forced to wear stilettos.

No word from Roy. No clue how to shut off the stupid valve. No choice.

She was going to have to call the emergency line at the water company. Which meant talking to Susannah. Who still blamed Bobbie Faye for the entire Louisiana State University hearing Susannah lose her virginity to the Assistant Dean of Accounting when Bobbie Faye inadvertently left the intercom system turned on in the Dean’s office during an extremely brief stint as a student-worker. (And really… who knew accountant types could be so loud?)

It didn’t help that Susannah’s parents were faculty and heard everything first-hand.

But this was a certified emergency, and Susannah was just going to have to dispatch someone.

#

The larger of the two sets of Muscles, which Roy had silently nicknamed The Mountain, zip-tied Roy’s hands behind his back and then shoved him into the rear seat of an all-black TownCar. By the time they had hit the interstate heading east, Roy’s arms ached, his nose itched, and he was starting to think these guys might be worse news than pissing off Bobbie Faye.

He leaned forward a little, scanning from Eddie, who was driving, to The Mountain, whose stomach was growling in the passenger seat.

“Is this about Dora?”

Neither of the men answered.

It was unlikely; Jimmy was a roughneck, but he was also pretty straightforward, and if he had suspected Roy of boinking Dora, Jimmy wouldn’t have wasted good money on goons. He’d have just beat the hell out of him.

“Ellen?” No answer. “Or . . . Vickie? Thelma?”

Still nothing.

Maybe it was the thousand bucks Roy owed Alex after dodging out of the last poker game. But . . . as much as Alex might want to kill him, Roy knew Alex didn’t want to have to deal with Bobbie Faye again. Ever. And hurting Roy would mean lots of Bobbie Faye in Alex’s face. The other guys at the poker table had made Roy promise not to mention Bobbie Faye any more because every time he did, Alex twitched, and nobody wanted a gun-runner twitchy.

As Eddie and the Mountain drove Roy towards Baton Rouge, Roy pondered his ever-growing list of ex-girlfriends and their husbands who might want him hurt (or a little bit dead) if they’d been able to find him, but he couldn’t see any of them going to this much trouble and expense when a good rifle and a bateau were enough to drop him to the bottom of some little-known bayou.

#

Bobbie Faye grabbed her cordless phone and dialed the water company’s emergency number.

When Susannah heard Bobbie Faye’s voice, she hung up.

Fifteen minutes later, Bobbie Faye managed to force her to stay on the line and listen to the problem.

Susannah laughed.

And called the local radio station.

When she finally got back on the line, the DJ could be heard on the three-way conversation as he broadcast her latest disaster, and Bobbie Faye knew Susannah was enjoying her revenge. To make it even more fun, Susannah’s big helpful advice to Bobbie Faye was to shut off the water at the valve.

“Well, duh. I did everything but sacrifice chickens to get it to budge. If God Himself tried to turn it, He’d get an inferiority complex.”

“Fine,” Susannah said, a bit too happily. “I’ll send someone out. They’ll be there sometime between noon and three.”

“I can’t wait until three for someone to show up. You ever see The Titanic? Nothing. Nothing compared to this, Susannah. And I can’t turn off the main valve—there’s a lock on it and the lot manager is gone for the wee—”

Click.

She looked at the dead phone and then at the base unit perched on the arm of her more-shabby-than-chic sofa when it struck her that the lamp was off. And the hall light. She growled her way past Stacey, who had not only ceased to scoop out water, but had somehow found not one, but two, frogs, and was letting them swim around the living room.

Something clinked and rattled outside on the side of her trailer.

She sloshed her way through the sagging living room to her front door, pulling the wet and now clingy PJs away from her body, knowing she ranked skankier than a nutria straight out of a mud pit, but if it was who she suspected, she didn’t have time to waste changing into clothes. Sure enough, there on the gravel drive, facing out, its engine running for a fast getaway, was a Gulf-South Electric Utilities truck.

She hurtled down the stairs and around to the electric meter. The utilities worker saw her just as he clipped the red tag-wire onto the metal box, preventing her from rigging her meter back on when he left. He cringed as she marched toward him, using his clipboard to shield his face, then his groin (then his face, then his groin; he finally chose his groin).

“Good choice. Which is not going to help you one little bit to keep that,” she gestured, “area. Safe. If you don’t turn my electricity back on.”

Before she could launch an actual attack, he looked at her and then blushed, thoroughly, from his over-sized collarbone to the tips of his rather large and now crimson ears. Then, pointedly gazing away from her, he thrust a letter into her hands.

“I’m sorry, Miss Bobbie Faye. But your check bounced.”

She snatched it, read, and fumed.

“How in the hell am I supposed to come up with a deposit of two hundred and fifty bucks when I obviously couldn’t come up with one-freakin-eighty-seven for the bill in the first place?”

He had inched a step back with every word she spoke, still not meeting her eyes. “I’m really sorry. I wouldn’t do this to you for anything in the world, you being the Contraband Days Queen an’ all, but, you know, it’s my job. They would fire me.”

“You work for dickheads, you know that? I can’t get this money until later, but I’ve got to have the electricity on so I can borrow Nina’s wet-vac to suck up the whole freaking lake in there.” She gestured at the trailer and he gaped a moment at the small trickle of water leaking from one of the bottom seams. “See that? You gotta cut me some slack here. I’m supposed to be at the festival’s starting ceremony in just a couple of hours!”

“I . . . I just can’t. I’m really sorry!” He turned and fled, climbing into his truck before Bobbie Faye could catch up.

“Coward!” she yelled as he peeled out. “Come back here and fight like a man!”

She examined the bill he’d handed her and made a mental list of items she might be able to pawn to cover it, then remembered she’d already pawned them to help pay for her sister’s stay for her “sobriety mummification” (Lori Ann was ever the positive thinker) in a decent detox addiction center.

Bobbie Faye stood in front of her trailer, water dribbling from the front door. The good news was, as bad as things were, at least they couldn’t get any worse.

#

Roy’s stomach dropped a little when the Town Car veered into the industrial heart of Baton Rouge, where the black-water Intercostal Canal intersected the roiling Mississippi River. They parked behind a plain brown stucco building which squatted with all the glamour of a working-class hooker, bland and scarred and ignored by most of the city passing by. Cast-off broken-down desks and chairs, many from the sixties, were piled in haphazard stacks, filling the lobby, and it looked more like a government-surplus auction center than an office space. The acrid scent of stale body odor mixed with tobacco clung to the stained veneered walls of the ancient elevator.

They stepped out into the tenth floor, where a utilitarian sitting area was lined with rickety metal chairs listing in row. Eddie didn’t bother to press the call button beside a door whose green paint was chipped and mottled and looked as though it had leprosy; instead, he reached below the last broken chair to a lever. A hidden panel beside a dusty plastic fichus swung open. Roy thought that might be a big bloodstain under the fichus, but he wasn’t about to ask. His balls retracted a little (only a little) when they stepped into the room beyond the leprosy door. His adrenaline jumped and his sense of balance wobbled as though he’d stepped through some sort of portal. A line of sweat beaded just above his collar and the air froze in his chest acted like it hadn’t a clue how to escape back out again.

This might be something I can’t talk my way out of.

The foyer sported an impressive imported rug, rich in honeys, golds, and russets. Sculptures perched on granite pedestals and were specially lit from above. There were fancy paintings on the wall, and Roy started wondering just who in the world he had screwed whose dad might have been in the Mafia. This place reeked of money, and not the kind the IRS knew anything about.

They walked through the foyer and into an even more sumptuous office. A thick blue tarp covered yet another expensive rug. Roy looked from the tarp to Eddie.

“Please tell me that’s ‘cuz y’all have a roof leak.”

The Mountain clocked him on the side of his head and Roy crashed down on the tarp, jamming his shoulders when they caught the brunt of his weight, sending waves of pain through to his toes and back again. Nausea spun through his stomach and swam upward, and then the Mountain yanked him up, planted a fist into his face, and this time when Roy hit the tarp — well, once the black dots cleared from his eyes — he saw the toe of an expensive wingtip inches from his face.

“Tie him in the chair, boys,” a baritone voice purred from somewhere above the wingtips. “We have a phone call to make.” He leaned over Roy, his face looming in Roy’s clouding vision. “You’d better hope you’re sister’s home, dear boy.”

#

Roy didn’t remember blacking out, but coming to was far more painful than anything he’d experienced after a drinking binge, and pretty much everything on his right side was fuzzy and dim.

He was tied to a chair and positioned in the middle of that blue tarp. The ropes cut into his arms.

Something… someone asked him something. Slowly, noise seeped in. They wanted something Bobbie Faye had.

“I… uh. Why’n’t you ask Bobbie Faye for it?” he slurred, squinting through hazy vision in one eye (the other swollen shut) until the angular face of a well-dressed man came into focus. Roy guessed him to be mid-forties, maybe, and oddly happy. He wore a flawless silk suit, perfectly tailored, which almost managed to give him an appearance of sanity and stability.

He introduced himself as Vincent.

“You see, dear boy,” Vincent said, “We don’t want to kidnap a Contraband Days Queen. There would be far far too many questions, especially with her associations with the police. And your niece? Cute little blonde-haired five-year olds get the Amber alert, and the country would pay attention. As a last resort? Yes. However, you?” Vincent leaned down, filling Roy’s blurry vision. “You are expendable. You’re always disappearing, hiding out from one girlfriend or another. No one will even believe you’re missing until days later, when it no longer matters to us.”

Roy noted the playful tone, the warm smile, and pondered how he was going to charm Vincent. Everything about the man struck Roy as pointy: a chin sharpened to a razor edge, angular eyes, pinched nose, a slash of a mouth, and thin, clothes-hanger elbows. Realizing it was unlikely Vincent would know his way around a John Deere backhoe didn’t cheer Roy up like it usually did. Vincent might be a challenge.

#

Bobbie Faye approached the steps leading to her front door at the same moment Stacey was dragging something not quite above water level toward the trailer door.

“Your purse was ringing.”

“Stacey! For crying out loud.”

Bobbie Faye jogged up the steps, dug into the damp purse for a cell phone, and scanned the last caller’s ID through the condensation forming on the cell’s small screen. Roy’s name and number flashed, and Bobbie Faye resisted the urge to project her frustration with him onto the phone by squeezing the phone to death. She glanced back at her soaking wet niece splashing and laughing just inside the door.

“Stacey, honey, go find something dry you can wear to school and bring it here.” As Stacey scampered back to her room, Bobbie Faye hit the dial-back feature and got Roy’s voicemail.

“Dammit, Roy, it looks like the Mississippi River just decided to detour through my trailer. You better call me back or I’m going to rip your head clean from your shoulders. You got that?”

She snapped the phone off and steamed. It wasn’t humanly possible to be any more frustrated until she glanced down and made a startling discovery: the silly glow-in-the-dark PJs she’d bought just to make herself laugh were transparent when wet. She thought back to the electricity guy’s blush and realized she’d flashed him. Completely. She wasn’t entirely sure which was worse—to have exposed herself, or to have done it with yellow and pink see-through hippos over her boobs. She would have prayed for a lightning bolt to put her out of her misery, but with the way her luck was running, it wouldn’t kill her, just maim her and give her bad hair for the rest of her life.

Her cell phone rang again and she snatched it open. “Roy. You asshat. I don’t care what bottle blonde or redhead you’re with, if you’re not over here in five minutes—”

“I’m sorta tied up right now,” Roy said, his voice husky and muffled.

Bobbie Faye pulled the phone from her ear, stared at it a second, then slapped it off for fear of what she might say to him. After all the times she’d bailed him out of trouble, hidden him from girlfriends, hidden him from armed and ticked-off girlfriends’ husbands . . . she wanted to kill him. No. Wait. She’d just take out an ad in the paper with a list of all his girlfriends and watch him run. Carmen might go after him with a meat cleaver again, but the idiot almost deserved it. In fact, she might just plan a surprise party for Roy and give all the girlfriends their choice of weapons at the door. As she tallied the list of his exes she could call, the phone rang again and Roy blurted, “Emergency! Don’t hang up!”

“You have got to be kidding me,” she said, gazing back at her trailer, which was now making grating, rumbling noises.

“I’m serious, Bobbie Faye, they’re gonna kill me.”

“Hmph. Like I’m buying that again.”

“I swear, it’s true.”

“Right. Ask ‘them’ if they need any help.”

#

With his left eye swelling, Roy could barely make out Eddie and The Mountain in the shadows of the room where they relaxed in deep leather chairs. The Mountain snored. There was a niggly part of Roy’s brain—the part that usually warned him to get his pants on and get the hell out of the window just in time—sending out bursts of alarms. Two knee breakers this casual might just be used to way more violence than Roy had first suspected. This could be a world of bad. Best not to think about that. He tried, instead, to stay focused on Vincent, now holding Roy’s own cell phone to Roy’s bleeding ear and leaning in close enough to listen to Bobbie Faye’s ranting.

“You,” Bobbie Faye was venting over the cell, “are the lowest human scum, Roy Ellington Sumrall, so don’t even try to con me.”

Vincent eyed him and Roy shrugged, saying, “I’ve sort of used the old ‘life or death’ thing a couple of times before.”

“A couple of times!” Bobbie Faye shouted, mistaking the point as being directed to her. “Try a couple of dozen. Just get over here and help me. Now!

The cell clicked off again, and Vincent drew it away from Roy’s ear, tut-tutting him the way he might a child who’d plunged his hand too often into a cookie jar.

“So much for sisterly love, dear boy,” Vincent said, and Roy shuddered at the finality in Vincent’s mock-sympathetic tone. “Maybe I should dispose of you and find someone she cares about.”

“No, really, she cares. I swear. She’s a good sister. You know, when she’s not all batshit crazy. Let me call her back. I’ll convince her. Really.”

Vincent considered Roy for a moment. Roy tuned up his most earnest expression, hoping the swollen lips and bruised eyes didn’t subtract from his attempt at charming Vincent. Vincent laughed and shook his head. At that, Eddie stood up and withdrew the largest blade from the largest sheath Roy had ever seen.

“I believe, dear boy, that you’re trying to stall. Truly, I admire you chutzpah, Roy. A few more years, and you might have managed to elevate it to the level of artistry.”

Vincent nodded to Eddie, who moved closer to Roy, turning the blade so that the light glinted off of it and into Roy’s eyes.

“In fact,” Vincent continued, “I like to think of myself as an artist, too. It takes a true ability to con the conmen when you deal in black market artifacts and expensive stolen art. And while I admire your attempt, dear Roy, and in another situation I might have even taken you under my wing and trained you, right now, I simply have too much money invested in this venture to waste any more time.”

Eddie moved forward and Roy strained to hop his chair away from the men, but the deep plush pile of the rug beneath the tarp kept him from being able to actually hop.

Eddie chuckled. “You havin’ a hernia or something?”

“I promise,” Roy told Vincent, “she really loves me. She’ll give it to you. Easy. I have always been able to count on Bobbie Faye, even if she is certifiable.”

Roy gritted his teeth, trying to hold his “charming” smile. Vincent studied him, then surveyed the desk, the painting on the wall, and the nearby statue on a black granite pedestal, until his gaze rested on a yellowed, water-stained handwritten journal lying open in a glass box in the center of the desk. Then finally, slowly, he turned back to Roy.

“Last chance.” Vincent hit re-dial on the cell phone and held it to Roy’s ear. “No excuses.”

As soon as Bobbie Faye answered, Roy asked, “Have you got a newspaper somewhere around you?”

“Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, Roy, you promised you wouldn’t drink before noon.”

“On Mom’s grave, Bobbie Faye, I swear, I have not been drinking. I need your help. Please . . . do you have a paper?”

#

On Mom’s grave? He had better not be lying and then swearing on Mom’s grave. Bobbie Faye, who had shrugged into a robe in between calls, peered out the door and saw a newspaper on old man Collier’s front steps next door, still rolled in a rubber band. She stomped over toward it.

“Yeah, I’ve got one,” she said, picking up the paper.

“Look on page A-five. Top right photo.”

Bobbie Faye wedged the cell phone between her ear and shoulder as she walked back toward her trailer, keeping an eye out for Stacey. The trailer made more worrisome groaning sounds, and as she opened to the right page, she pulled the phone away from her ear and shouted, “Stacey? Honey? Come out here where I can see you, okay?”

On the page in question, there was a photo which showed a blue tarp over a body, and judging from where the hands and feet stuck out from under it, the body had obviously been dismembered.

Bobby Faye recoiled and dropped the paper. “What is that? And what the hell are you showing me that for? Are you nuts?”

“Not ‘what,’ Bobbie Faye. Who.”

She recognized something in his voice she hadn’t noticed before: fear. Real fear, trying to be brave, but not doing so well.

“Remember cousin Alfonse?” he asked.

“The one who used to dress like a chicken mascot down at the Pluck & Fry or the one who used to grow moss for a living?”

“No, not them. The one in jail.”

“Roy, they’re all in jail.”

“Right. I mean Letta’s son. That’s him.”

“No way.”

“Way. He got out early.”

“Oh, bullshit, Roy. This could be anyone. I don’t have time for whatever game you’re playing—”

“I’m serious! Remember when he tried to set the alligators free at the zoo?”

“Oohh. He was missing half of. . . ” She peeked down at the photo on the ground, at the arms and legs sticking out from under the tarp, with one foot definitely a stub. Bobbie Faye’s knees wobbled, a bit watery, and she leaned hard on the railing to her stairs.

“Roy. He’s dead! Oh, geez!” Her stomach flipped and seemed to want to do toe-touches. “What’s this got to do with you?”

“He got out a month ago. These . . . um . . . people here . . . Bobbie Faye, they wanted something and he said he could get it, but when he didn’t, well. You see?”

Bobbie Faye stood outside her creaking trailer, trying to breathe evenly, struggling to comprehend the reality of bright morning sun, water turning her living room into a lake and now, murder. Nothing seemed to fit, as if someone had tossed hundreds of random jigsaw puzzles together, thrown five pieces at her, and expected her to make some sort of finished picture.

“God, Roy, I really don’t have any money,” she said.

“It’s not money, Bobbie Faye. They want . . . ” she heard the pause, and her stomach knotted. “They want Mom’s tiara.”

Bobbie Faye stood dead still, her head echoing with his words, the normal sounds of the morning — the birds, alarm clocks from nearby trailers, a pick-up crunching up the gravel drive — all assaulted her senses, rendering her displaced, disoriented. Anger battled fear, and she wondered if she was being had again.

“You,” she said evenly, “had better be kidding. Mom gave that to me. It’s the only thing I have left of hers.”

“I swear to you, Bobbie Faye. I swear. I don’t know why, but they want it. Real bad.”

“Roy, the last time you conned me out of the tiara, it was so you could wear it to some stupid Mardi Gras parade and you damned near forgot it at a bar in the French Quarter!”

“It’s not like that!” His voice had risen, like he was in pain, and Bobbie Faye could hear him breathing faster. She could also hear the trailer now making bizarre moaning sounds. As she talked, she hurried to the doorway to scoop up Stacey, who was sitting on the threshold tying her wet shoelaces.

“Do they know that tiara’s not worth any actual money?”

“I don’t know. They just want it.”

“But it’s only an old silly thing of Mom’s. She used it for fun, for the Contraband Days parade. I use it for the parade. Anybody could’ve taken it during the parade, easy. Why do this now?

“Besides, it’s not even worth the cost of the safe deposit box. Hell,” she said, moving away from the trailer with Stacey on her hip, “if Lori Ann hadn’t been drinking again and stealing everything Contraband Days-related to sell on e-Bay, I would have just kept it here.”

Stacey face screwed into in a concentrated frown, absorbing the insult to her mom.

“Sorry, kid.” She hugged her niece.

There was a scraping metal-on-metal sound behind her, and Bobbie Faye whipped around in time to see the front half of her trailer’s floor sag from the enormity of the water weight. The trailer burst open and the piers pierced through the floor until the front half rested on the ground. It knelt there like a dying behemoth, the sloshing water forcing it off-balance. Then it slowly leaned away from Bobbie Faye, moaning until it collapsed to the ground with a great metallic ripping and grinding. Water sloshed out everywhere as it died.

Bobbie Faye dropped the cell phone to her side in shock, forgetting the call for a moment. All her brain could process was, “Ohmygod. My trailer. My trailer. Shit. Holy shit.”

“Bobbie Faye?” Roy shouted, his voice dim and tinny from far far away.

“My trailer. Geez, Roy. It’s . . . it’s . . . ”

“Bobbie Faye? I need you to focus, sis!”

“Focus?” She held the cell phone away from her like it was an alien device and then slowly, remembering, put it to her ear.

“Bobbie Faye? Are you there?”

“Yeah.”

“You sound weird.”

“Don’t mind me. I’m just having an aneurysm.”

“Oh. Okay. Good. So you’ll bring the tiara?”

The tiara. She snapped back to the problem. “Yeah, Roy, I’ll go get it.”

“You can’t contact the police or tell anybody.”

“Like someone would believe me.”

“They said they’re watching you. They’ll know if you call anyone. And they want you to be subtle about it, Bobbie Faye.”

Bobbie Faye frowned at her flattened trailer. “I’m all about subtle right now, Roy.”

“As soon as you get it,” Roy continued, rushed, relief in his voice, “you gotta call my cell. Okay? And then they’ll tell you where you’ve got to take it.”

“Get the tiara, be subtle, call you after. Check.”

The call clicked off and Bobbie Faye glanced from her cell phone to her flattened trailer to Stacey on her hip.

“Is Uncle Roy okay?” Stacey asked.

Bobbie Faye hugged her. Roy was the closest thing to a father figure the kid had ever had. “I’m sure he is, Kiddo.”

“Mamma says you can fix anything.”

Hmph. Bobbie Faye could imagine the sarcasm dripping off Lori Ann when she said it, but the hope in Stacey’s expression squeezed her heart; Bobbie Faye wondered how in the hell she was supposed to live up to that hope. There were people holding her brother hostage, threatening to kill him, and she had no idea where he was.

That’s when she felt it: that fire in the pit of her stomach, that knot of big-sister determination in her chest that had nearly gotten her killed more times than she could count. There were people. Threatening to kill her brother.

Which just fucking pissed her off.

“You gonna fix Uncle Roy?”

She hugged her niece. “I’m gonna give it a helluva shot.”

From Charmed and Dangerous by Toni McGee Causey. Copyright© 2009 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.