Danielle Hanna

Hearth & Homicide Fiction

Category: Excerpts from My Books

Long Sleeves: An Excerpt from Mailboat

A novel set in Lake Geneva, WI, and based on the real-life Mailboat, Walworth II

Mailboat CoverI have only one word of introduction for this scene: You’d better appreciate it.

I’ve been trying to talk my character Tommy, captain of the Mailboat, into doing a guest post here for a long time (like Bailey did a few months ago), and he keeps saying no. He’s been very reluctant about sharing his part in Bailey’s story. But Bailey will be quick to tell you … he is her story.

Anyway, Bailey and I finally convinced him to let us share a scene from their upcoming suspense novel, which is operating under the working title Mailboat. (We’re trying to ease Tommy toward the reality of publication day. Wish us luck.)

* * *


Ordinarily, I have no qualms about the weather guy predicting sunny and eighty-five. Today I did. My long-sleeved tee shirt was already miserable. But I didn’t have a choice.

DSC01835 (640x480)My heart sank with jealousy when I walked up the pier to the Mailboat and saw Tommy dressed in shorts and short sleeves.

He unlocked the Mailboat, then turned and eyed me up and down. “Hope you brought something cooler. It’s gonna be warm today.”

I shrugged. “I’ll be fine.”

“What, are you chilly?”

I nodded.

“Catch cold after falling in yesterday?”

I nodded again. Nice of him to provide lies for me so I wouldn’t have to make them up myself.

Tommy laughed. “When you fall in, you fall in. How’s that black eye of yours doing?”

I shrugged. “Still pretty.” I knew he still didn’t believe I’d hit my face on the Mailboat while missing my jump yesterday.

“Well, I can see that. Is it still painful?”

I shook my head. “Nah. It’s good.” By comparison. Other parts of my body hurt worse.

DSC02208 (2) (640x480)Tommy picked up the stack of newspapers sitting at his feet on the pier and lead the way into the Mailboat. I dropped off my backpack up front then headed for the rear. At the skinny little cupboards near the bathrooms, I grabbed the paper towel and the window cleaner.

As I reached up, Tommy came behind me and leaned over my shoulder like he wanted something on the next shelf higher. Instead, in a sudden change of direction, he grabbed my sleeve and pulled it up to my elbow. The two red welts on my arm, already turning yellow and purple and blue, stared out at the world, blinking in bewilderment like a couple of yellow and purple and blue things.

Tommy gave me a cold, hard stare that made me wish I could fit inside the six-inch wide cupboard. It was bad enough being belted by Bud last night. Making Tommy upset was, like, a kajillion times worse.

“Come here.” Tommy jerked his head toward the stacks of plastic chairs. He grabbed a couple from the pile and set them in the middle of the floor.

I stood where I was like a zombie. A zombie with a bottle of cleaner in one hand. I managed to eek out one word. “Windows?”

“It’s not even seven o’clock yet. Sit down.”

I slid into the chair opposite Tommy, clinging to the window cleaner as if it might bring me good luck.

Tommy leaned his elbows on his knees and stared at me hard. I looked to see if he had anything like a belt or a broomstick in his hands. I don’t know why I needed to check for that. I couldn’t ever picture him actually decking somebody. But I just … I had to check. I’d never really seen him angry before. And the fact that he was angry at me made me want to throw myself into the lake. And get tangled in a nylon rope all over again. And drown this time.

“This is the second time you’ve lied to me,” he said.

His hands weren’t balling into fists or anything. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t gonna hit me. But he sure as heck was gonna fire me. I told myself to be a big girl and not cry.

Yeah right.

“I want a straight answer from you this time. Who hit you?”

My mind raced. What kind of story could I make up that he might actually believe? Between panic and a bad imagination, all I managed to do was stare at him blankly.

“Was it your foster dad?”

My throat tightened like a venus fly trap snapping shut. How did he know? Not just about Bud decking me – but that I was in foster care at all?

A tiny little voice wanted to say Yes it was my foster dad, but my big girl voice told it to shut up. You know what’ll happen if anyone finds out. You already blew it by letting Tommy see your bruises. DON’T let this go any further. Failure ISN’T an option.

I found myself shaking my head.

“Then who did it?”

Again, like the brilliant orator I was, I sat and stared.

Tommy frowned and shook his head. “Why are you protecting this person? If someone’s hurting you, you need to stand up for yourself. You need to say something. Your social worker can help you.”

I tried not to flinch, but I did. I flinched. The words “social worker” instantly conjured a number of faces I’d known over the years. They were all pretty nice, for the most part.

But I lived in a sort of fear vortex, the operative words being “social worker.” They could drop down on you at any moment, smile sweetly, and tell you to pack your stuff. “It’s moving day,” one of them told me once, and I’ve hated the phrase ever since. “Moving day” usually happens every two or three years. Maybe every six months. Sometimes the move is for the better. Sometimes for the worse. It’s a coin toss. Once, it meant moving back in with my mom. She held me tight and promised they’d never take me away again.

They came for me two months later. It was the last time I ever saw her.

“Bailey? Aren’t you going to say anything?”

I wanted to say a zillion things, and they all wanted to be said at once. I didn’t know where to start. Or if I should start at all. I wanted him to understand. To understand why I didn’t want “help.”

Because “help” would mean “moving day” again. And “moving day” could literally mean to anyplace in the county. It could mean, like, not Lake Geneva anymore.

It could mean no Mailboat anymore.

It could mean no Tommy anymore.

I didn’t care if Bud blacked both eyes, both arms, both legs, and knocked out all my teeth—if it meant I could keep Tommy. He was the first person in my life who felt … permanent. I mean, geez, he’d been showing up at this boat at seven in the morning, every morning, every summer for, like, fifty years. If that wasn’t permanent, what was?

DSC01849 (480x640)When I still failed to provide an answer, Tommy sighed, sat up, and rubbed his thighs. He changed the subject slightly. “What happened to your parents?”

Oh, god, I hated this question. Usually asked by nosy kids at school who would proceed to torment you about it till the day you died. But in the grand scheme of things, it was actually less painful right now to talk about my parents than to entertain the possibility of “moving day.”

“My mom’s dead.”

“And your dad?”

I shrugged.

“Oh.” Tommy looked down.

Yeah. ’Nuff said on that topic.

“How long have you been in foster care?” he asked.

“Since I was five.”

“Five?” He looked at me incredulously. “Why aren’t you adopted?”

‘Cuz I’m pathetic, I wanted to say. “I wasn’t available until after my mom died. When I was twelve. No one wants to adopt a twelve-year-old.” I passed the bottle of window cleaner back and forth between my hands. Like it didn’t matter.

“Oh.” Tommy frowned. “So …?”

“My mom was in prison.”

“Ah.” He rubbed his thighs again. “I’m sorry, Bailey.”

I shrugged and kept playing ping-pong with the spray bottle. But actually, it was the first time anyone had offered condolences on the sheer patheticness of my life. It was kind of awesome, as if I hadn’t deserved all this crap. And that was just so weird, I didn’t know how to respond.

“Her name was Kalli.” I don’t know why I said it. The words just kinda slipped out. But now that I’d started, I kept going. “With a k. I always thought it was a really pretty name. I kinda wish she’d named me ‘Kalli,’ too.” I stopped and glanced up at Tommy. “I guess that’s dumb, though, isn’t it?” Yeah, it was dumb. When would I ever remember that opening my mouth was a universally bad idea?

Tommy shrugged. “It used to be done a lot. Naming a daughter after her mother.”

I tilted my head. “For real?”

“Oh, a long time ago, back in the olden days. You still see it now and again.”

Tommy would know. He knew tons about “the olden days” – including, like, every last thing there was to know about the history of Lake Geneva, probably right down to everybody’s name. I liked that he didn’t think it was dumb that I wanted to be named after my mother.

“Bailey’s a pretty name, too,” he said. “And she gave it to you.”

I’d really never thought of that before. But now it dawned on me … it was the only thing I had from her. I’d lost a lot of crap between all those moving days. I didn’t have a single thing left from my childhood.

Except my name. The name my mother gave to me. And Tommy thought it was pretty.

Something inside me glowed. Something that hadn’t ever glowed before.

Tommy stirred, like he was about to get up. “If you, ah … If you change your mind about how you got those bruises, you can … you can talk to your social worker. Okay?” He stood up and walked away, leaving a plastic chair staring at me blankly.

Um, that was kinda weird. But by now, I was pretty much used to people peeling off at random. I didn’t dwell on it. But talking to my social worker?

Yeah. No. That wasn’t gonna happen.

* * *

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And if you’re interested in becoming a beta reader for Mailboat, just leave me a note in the comments! Beta readers are eligible for free, early copies of the book in exchange for your personal comments and critiques. Your edits may make it into the final draft of the book! I’m particularly interested in finding beta readers who live in or around Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. But all are welcome! Just leave me a comment!

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A Walk Through the Hills with One of My Characters

The following is an excerpt from my book, Journaling to Become a Better Writer. New Zealand historical romance author Jude Knight summed the book up nicely for me in her review:

Hanna has written a ‘how to’ book, and illustrated it with compelling excerpts from her own life. The book can be read on several levels: as her personal story, as a guide to writers on how to improve their craft through journalling, and as a guide to everyone on how to use writing skills in their journal to improve their self-awareness and get a better handle on their personal journey.

Chapter 1:

Pages from My Journal

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“The Hills,” where Molly and I loved to walk every day.

Gorgeous morning. Thick fog, heavy frost. Took my dog Molly for a walk in the Hills, better known as Sunset Park. Perched between the edge of town and pastures full of grazing cattle, it’s more of a wilderness area than a city park. The fog was so thick this morning, you couldn’t see the horizon. Eventually the sun came out, and then everything was dazzlingly white—every tree branch, every blade of grass.

I felt a presence hovering in the void between worlds—my world and Story World. As a rule, the characters from my stories rarely visit me in my world. Except for one.

I stopped and called out to the hills. “C’mon, it’s a beautiful morning in North Dakota, and are you going to miss it?”

I felt Ian step into my world. With his forest green parka and his silver-white hair, he could have been birthed from the landscape itself. He was smiling. No, he said, he wouldn’t miss it for anything.

DSC02580 (640x480)We stood in silence a moment and gazed over the winterscape.

“What a clean, bright start to a new year,” Ian commented.

“Mmm,” I agreed. Sentimental, maybe. But Ian rarely spoke. Only when he really felt like saying something.

“You’d be proud of me,” I said. “I prayed this morning.”

God and I really haven’t been talking much lately. Most of the time, I’m just yelling at Him. Really, the only time I talk with Him at all is after a walk through the Hills with Ian, and only then because Ian nudges me.

Sometimes I wonder why the only person I have to talk to has to be so Christian.

We started walking.

“I was proud of you,” Ian replied. “What did He say?”

Ian already knew the answer. How? I’m not sure. Because he’s Ian. Because he spent most of his career in law enforcement, and you couldn’t sneak a paper clip past him. Then again, I should already have known God’s answer, too. This morning, I closed my eyes and asked God the question that had been on my mind these past two days: When Nancy goes part-time at the humane society, what do I tell our boss? Should I take on more hours, or ask for less, like I’d been planning? Much as I love my job there, I don’t see how I can make a living off it. With the oil boom in North Dakota, housing is just too expensive.

“He said, ‘Just write.’”

Ian nodded. “Then I guess you better.”

“I guess so.”

It wasn’t until recently that I’d discovered some writing careers could actually turn a good profit. Freelance writing. Copywriting. Grant writing. Ghost writing. Why had no one ever mentioned this to me before? Clearly this was the answer.

Even though the deepest nook of my heart was still with stories. I lived stories.

Ian was evidence of that.

DSC02581 (480x640)He took a deep breath, as if he found the winter air vitalizing. “Well. Your road’s laid out for you. God’s giving you everything you asked for, and more. An income. A job you love.” He gave me that stare—that unnerving Ian Hunter stare that cuts straight to your soul and reads all your secrets. The stare that turns back the clock and makes him twenty years younger and a chief of police again. “But there’s something else on your mind.”

I nodded. I turned on my heel and walked backwards to watch my dog. She was sniffing a tuft of grass that stuck out of the snow. “This one’s all about her. Where on earth are we gonna go?”

Ninety-pound dog. Half German Shepherd and half Rottweiler. Best-behaved dog in the world. But you’re lucky to find an apartment that allows a thirty-pound dog. A trailer park might be the next option, but they sometimes limit dog size, too. And what about Juliean, the brown tabby back at the shelter? She hates her life out there, but she’s so crabby, no one would ever think of adopting her. Except me.

“Adopting Molly was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” I said. Then I smiled and shook my head at my dog fondly. “And the smartest.” Despite all, I would never—never—want a life without her. About the same time I began to recognize the level of my parents’ dominance over me, Molly had walked into my life. She gives me a reason to keep on going. Her life is bound to mine and mine to hers. All my dreams are about a future for me and her. She’s the only thing I love.

Ian fell silent, his bright green eyes searching the horizon with a depth and intensity I knew well. With no outward indication that he’d latched onto the thought he was looking for, he suddenly spoke.

“A freelance career is the answer to all your prayers,” he reminded me. Then he nodded at Molly, now trotting past us toward the next interesting smell. “So was she.” He looked at me. The corners of his mouth were twitching and his eyes twinkling.

Of course. How could I have forgotten? My mother had been firm against me bringing home a 90-pound dog. She was afraid of dogs. I had spent an entire summer loving Molly … and knowing that she would eventually be adopted by someone else.

In a flash, I knew the entirety of Ian’s object lesson. A warmth like hope wafted up in me, starting in my feet and climbing all the way to my face.

“What was it you used to pray?” Ian asked.

I remembered now. “‘Either give me Molly, or patch my broken heart when she’s adopted.’”

Ian looked again at my girl-o. “And He gave you Molly. Against all odds … your mother changed her mind and God gave you Molly. She’s been a part of His plan all along. He won’t forget her now. Just keep listening to His voice. He’ll tell you where to go.”

I’d been so focused on the problems Molly had generated for me, I’d forgotten about the miracle that had made her mine at all. Why on earth had God given me a dog? Such a pathetic thing to ask for. And yet, He had. Knowing full well that she would not only fill in the love that felt lacking, but also be the final barrier between me and my freedom. The only conclusion I could draw was that He was eliminating all the obvious housing situations in order to bring me someplace special. God was up to something.

I smiled at Ian and slitted my eyes. “So, can you tell me one more thing? Is this the year I move out?”

He chuckled. “Only God knows that. But now your goals and your dreams are in your hands. Your future is closer now than it’s ever been. Just keep listening to God.”

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About the Book

Book Cover: Journaling to Become a Better WriterWhat do your novel-in-progress and your journal have in common? Maybe more than you think. Your life, after all, is a story. The tools you need to take your craft to the next level may be hiding right under your nose.

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