Hello from Heart Beat Books!
Thanks to everyone who has signed up for our book giveaway: print proofs of Crimsy in paperback (basically glorified rough drafts); advanced reader copies (ARCS) of The Fires of Lilliput; and for a few lucky winners, copies of bestsellers about Mars. Send an email to marketing at heartbeatpublications.com to enter our giveaway! Includes Media Mail postage to US destinations.
It's early holiday season, so I thought I'd post some excerpts from my books that reflect the new beginnings and freedoms Chanukah and Thanksgiving celebrate.
In this excerpt from The Fires of Lilliput, Shosha Mordechai and her family have fled the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto -- destroyed by Nazi commander Jurgen Stroop -- for the suburb of Praga across the Wisla river. Though their travails are far from over, their new surroundings are a peaceful respite.
SHOSHA STOOD AT AN open door watching steam rise from a white clawfoot tub. Water—warm water and this much of it.
She had not seen this much water in over two years and it was all hers. The steam from the tub looked like it was rising from a cloud.
She closed the door and slipped off her robe. She tried not to look at her body, but she saw her face in the mirror. She turned away—she had not looked in a mirror for months and when she caught herself touching her cheeks or mouth she would stop and lower her hands.
She placed her foot in the tub then pulled it out. She put her hand down and felt the water.
She put her foot back in. She watched it penetrate the surface and descend until it touched bottom. She put in her other foot. With both feet touching the white metal bottom, she brought herself around and bent down to sit, but it was hot and she stood instead.
She stood and looked at her feet in the water and watched the steam rise around her. She brought her arms up to cover her ribs. She clasped her hands under her chin. She stared, down at her feet and the water. She closed her eyes. The rising steam warmed her and she felt sleep.
THE MORDECHAI’S “NEW” HOME, off Targowa Street in Praga, had two stories, three bedrooms, a kitchen, a bath, and a cramped sitting area off the front door.
It was in a “good” neighborhood, close to the Wilenska Railway Directorate, near the park, zoo, and shops. When they first stepped across the threshold, Shosha sighed. Plaster lay crumbled on the floor; paint peeled from the walls; rust ran from the taps; and an acrid odor of fuel and fire lingered.
Rebekah was more sanguine as she went from room to room.
“We can fix this up. I’m sure Madame Krushenski’s sons will help.”
“You’re in no shape to be renovating an old house,” Shosha told her mother.
“But I will be,” Rebekah said. “And so will you.”
They rented the home with an option to buy it and with time, they started work—on themselves and the building.
Both women gained weight. The walls gained plaster. The color returned to Rebekah’s face. Shosha’s bones receded and coloring returned to her cheeks.
They painted the walls, inside and out. They painted rouge on their lips, laughed, and wiped it off. They brought things together.
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patients at Charity Hospital, aka "Big Charity."
WATER FILLED THE CITY like a bathtub, flooding Big Charity’s basement and taking out the large, stationary generators.
The staff switched to portable diesel-powered generators, rationing fuel, water, saline, and every other life-saving fluid they could conserve.
A private helicopter ambulance evacuated some patients, while a few others made it out by boat. But mostly the hospital remained a lonely island in a sea of despair.
Dr. Harper joined nurses and security guards and attending physicians tagging about four dozen patients in the emergency room—red tags, yellow tags, green tags, from most to least serious—for their move to higher ground, the second-floor auditorium.
It was miserably hot and humid, New Orleans in August.
Media reports and Charity’s isolation—cell phones didn’t work; the wind brought down landlines—sparked rumors of crime and debauchery in the hospital corridors.
Black Hawk helicopters delivered a surprise wave of Special Forces to put down a rumored sniper.
But they rescued no one.
The only rescued people Dr. Harper could see were at Tulane Hospital next door, where evacuation choppers flew in and out day and night. She slept on Charity’s roof with other docs and nurses to keep cool. The heat dissipated somewhat from up there, as night fell with the eeriest silence everyone said they had ever heard.
Except for flashlights, spotlights, torch flames, and on clear nights, the stars, the night brought utter darkness and the sound of water, flowing, cresting, crashing, swirling.
Gunshots, screaming, yelling, crying, nearby and in the distance punctuated the stillness. The only air moving was from convection currents. Dr. Harper could feel the heat rise, from the roof toward the sky.
“Ben.” Cyndee almost screamed into the cell phone. She was dialing from the roof and somehow they connected.
“Where are you?” he said. “Are you still at the hospital? Are you all right?”
“I am! We are. We’re still stuck, but the water’s dropping and more people are getting out. They’re moving patients to Tulane. People are showing up with boats.”
“What people?” Ben said. “How do you know it’s safe? We’ve been hearing about looting, a sniper downtown.”
“That’s crap. People here have been so cool.” She caught her breath. “At least here.” She sighed. “This sucks, Ben. It really, really sucks.” Ben could hear tears moving in on her voice. “But I gotta say, I’m lovin’ my peeps more than I ever thought humanly possible.”
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” he said. “Your mom’s been calling, asking how we are. I’ve been vague. I told her we were fine. Made it to high ground. She keeps wanting to talk to you, but I told her you were with the busiest people in the city, doing what you love.”
“Thank you. Thank you my loving, darling husband. Are you okay?”
“Fine. We’re cleaning up,” he said. “Wasn’t that bad, actually. Busted windows, lots of tree limbs, a couple crushed cars, but way better than anyone expected.”
“Listen: I’m gonna give my phone to some other folks up here,” Cyndee said. “We’re on the roof. It’s like manna from heaven to get a cell signal. Can you stay on the line? Pass along some messages? I don’t want to risk losing you.”
“Yeah, sure. Hey.”
“Be safe and come home,” Ben said. “I love you.”
About one hundred of the four hundred patients trapped at Charity were rescued between Monday and Friday afternoon, when the hospital’s evacuation began in earnest. Cyndee helped load a patient whose life she saved, a young Black man with a bullet wound in his leg, aboard an airboat Friday afternoon, five days after the hurricane.
As the jets and fans roared and water blew around the boat, Dr. Harper held his hand and watched Big Charity recede. She did not take her eyes off the place until it disappeared across the water.
A white-knuckled scientific adventure begins on a suspenseful note in this excerpt from Crimsy, Chapter 3. The MC, a University of Washington graduate student named Jennifer, narrates.
I WAS TAKING MY final set—ever—of brain-frying final exams when MarsMicro launched, so I didn’t get to share the excitement of live takeoff at Cape Canaveral. But I was there, at Mission Control with my brothers David, Brian, and Mom, when MarsMicro landed.And when the rover got stuck the next day.On touchdown eve, we were seated on lawn chairs in the cool, desert air outside the Jet Propulsion Lab with an audience of mission staff and media, watching closed-circuit big screens of the action inside Mission Control. My anxiety peaked when the chief flight engineer started pacing the floor. He peered over shoulders, made hand signals: thumbs up, thumbs down, a wave, three fingers, one finger, a stare, a frown, a tentative smile.“We have a heartbeat,” I heard. Tones from the landing craft let Mission Control know signals were coming through. More applause. Lots of smiles. All eyes on the flight data.
. . . .
“Heartbeat tones continuing. Navigation systems engaged.”
“Three minutes to entry.”
Altitude 402 miles.
Mom squeezed my hand and lay her head on my shoulder. Parada waved with two fingers and a grin. The rest of our team was spread around in lawn chairs, faces in the crowd.
“This is too cool,” Brian said. David leaned over and gave me the biggest smile.
Entry. Descent. Landing. Those three words pulsated on our screens, while flight engineers called out MarsMicro’s progress.
“EM thrusters now online,” we heard. “Still getting heartbeat tones. Everything looking good.”
The camera panned Mission Control again. Dr. Levitt was focusing intently on a monitor.
“Coming up on entry. Engaging live feed.” Minor applause.
“Approaching entry interface. Starting guided entry.” Bigger applause. A few woo-hoos.
“We are now receiving data.” Cheering.
. . . .
“We have atmospheric clearing and live video.” Big applause. And there was MarsMicro, on all of our monitors and the 3D imaging ports at each flight navigation station. I shivered in the warm air.
“Parachutes deploying.” Mom’s hug grew tighter, as we watched the parachute—that symbol of safe landings—expand.
. . . .
“We have canyon.”
That’s when the goosebumps hit and hard, as the vast and this time, real walls of Valles Marineris opened up. And the first notes of that Straussian homage to Stanley Kubrick—The Blue Danube—waltzed off with our emotions.
“Oh my god!” my mother chirped, as the rover and the landing crane glided into the canyon. Brian and David just stared. In fact, no one moved. Not in Mission Control, not out here. Even the chief flight engineer stopped pacing to stare.
It was an awesome, awesome sight.
The waltz faded as the voices returned.
“Descending at 0.8 meters per second. Sky crane holding.”
“Hover engines engaged. EM Drive stable.”
“TRN takin’ us in.”
Down, down. Lights getting brighter, illuminating the canyon wall.
Then suddenly, unexpectedly, “Touchdown Coprates site. We are safe on Mars.”
In unison out here and inside, we jumped and cheered and fist-bumped and high-fived and high-tenned.
Brian kissed mom. He kissed me. He kissed David. Mom was hugging me so tightly it almost hurt and she grabbed me around the neck and whispered into my ear. “I’m so so proud of you,” she cried.
And I almost cried. I’ve never felt anything so crushingly joyous.
“I wish your father were here to see this,” mom said.
I saw Parada standing, all six plus feet of her, looking bewildered. I pushed through the crowd. “Parada.” She turned and we hugged.
“That was amazing,” she said.
Thank you for reading! Until next time,