The Sapper’s Plot

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This week’s Thursday teaser is from Book 2 of the Master Sergeant Harper series

By M.L. Doyle

I was afraid of him. It was irrational, I knew. He hadn’t threatened me. In fact, he’d tried to be funny, charming even. Still, his voice, his accent drenched me in memories that left my insides feeling liquid. Dropic was just a guy trying to do his job and had nothing to do with the brutal nightmares I carried with me after my time in his war-torn country. He didn’t resemble the men who had attacked me, the men who had brutalized me, held me prisoner and almost enslaved me.

He didn’t resemble the man I had killed.

My rational mind knew all these things, but it didn’t matter. Upon meeting him, his voice, his accent had stirred up memories still too vivid, too raw to ignore. It didn’t help that he smoked the same damn cigarettes they had smoked. The smell of the unfiltered Camels, the sight of the red package in his hands was enough to make me tremble. God, I hated the smell of those things.

The exhaustion I felt now, the exhaustion that seemed to have settled in my bones so deep I sometimes felt like I could curl up and sleep for weeks, stemmed mostly from the fact that, almost nightly, I’d jerk awake at three a.m. with the smell of horse, hay and those damn cigarettes in my nostrils, the nightmares so vivid I relived the experience over and over again.

None of that was Dropic’s fault, but every time I heard his accent, every time I smelled the cigarette smoke that seemed to cling to him like a second skin, I couldn’t help but blame him for it. Why the hell did he have to be Bosnian?

I moved to the back of the truck where Dropic hiked his battery utility belt around his waist and snapped the fastener in place. I steeled myself for the confrontation, freezing my liquid insides to hard ice.

“That is an American soldier. You will not shoot video of his body.” I said.

The steady and commanding sound of my voice surprised me and stoked my confidence. When he ignored me, some of that confidence leaked out. He continued to gather his bulky equipment. He attached a small light to the top of the camera and plugged the attaching wires in place. His glance flicked to me for a moment, then he reached into his bag and grabbed a handheld microphone. I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to still my shakes. He wasn’t going to make this easy. At a murder scene like this, I thought it unlikely that any soldier would be willing to talk to him, but evidently he intended to try to get them to talk. A dark smirk played at the corner of his mouth as he hefted the gear from the truck. I stopped him with a hand on his arm and felt his considerable muscles tense. His smirk became a glare. He looked eager and ready to argue his point.

“You can’t stop me,” he said.

“Yes, I can.”

“What happened to freedom of the press?”

“This isn’t America.”

He opened his mouth to say something, then stopped, realizing what I said was true. After a moment, he shook his head as if to brush an insect away and tried to step around me. I stepped in front of him, putting my hand in the middle of his chest.

“Shooting video of dead American soldiers is not permitted. Ever.”

“You can’t cover this up,” Dropic said in frustration. “This is news.”

“It won’t be in a week.”

About The Sapper’s Plot

The last thing Master Sergeant Lauren Harper needs is another difficult mission. Her ordeal in Bosnia left her traumatized and worn out. But a soldier doesn’t get to say no to official orders.

At least this time she’s embarking on a humanitarian mission. What could go wrong?
Turns out, just about everything.

Harper travels with a group of Combat Engineers, also known as Sappers, to the tropical jungles of a Honduran village, only to find a gruesome murder. Cut off from the main base because of the hostile weather, Harper and a man she hoped she’d never see again, CW4 Fletcher Mayes, are forced to take charge of the investigation. Lurking in the shadows are sketchy-looking locals, insolent Sappers and an aggressive TV news team looking for a steamy scandal.

In the midst of it all, the arrival of Sergeant Major Harry Fogg provides some much-needed solace but also muddles her concentration.

Harper begins to think danger will find her wherever she goes, even in the deepest jungles of Honduras. At times, she feels her slightest movement will send her tumbling over a cliff—and heights are about the only thing Harper fears.

Get it on Amazon.

M.L. Doyle, military mystery, erotica and urban fantasy

M.L. Doyle

calls on her years of serving as an Army Reservist to write about women in combat boots. She co-authored the memoirs of two brave soldiers to ensure their stories keep their proper place in history. Her work with Spec. (Ret) Shoshana Johnson, an African-American POW of the Iraq War, was finalist in the NAACP Image Award. She also co-authored with Brig. Gen (Ret.) Julia Cleckley the story of her rise through Army ranks from humble beginnings and despite great personal tragedy.

Mary has written the three-book Master Sergeant Harper mystery series, and Limited Partnerships, a four-novella erotic romance series. Her latest release, The Bonding Blade, is the second book in her Desert Goddess urban fantasy series.

Mary’s essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in The War Horse, The Wrath-Bearing Tree, The Goodman project and O-Dark Thirty.

Check her out on Facebook.com, or Twitter @mldoyleauthor, and you can read excerpts of all of her work on her website at www.mldoyleauthor.com.

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Writing inspired by travel

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This week, we begin a series of posts by bestselling authors answering about being inspired by travel.

By Scott Bury

The Falls of Makahiku, sometimes called the Necktie Falls, above the Pools of ‘O’he’o, west of Hana, Maui

Wherever I go, I find inspiration for stories, or at least settings. But inspiration is not enough to create a book. From time to time, I travel to the places where I set my stories to make sure I get the details right.

Camping is a good example. Camping with my younger son inspired a mystery/thriller where his skills and personality would drive the story from the ignition point to the resolution. I wrestled with a plot, but somehow it just never made sense with the setting in the boreal forest.

Author Toby Neal (left) met with me in Maui and discussed the first draft of Torn Roots.

Then, bestselling author Toby Neal invited to join an Amazon initiative, where authors would write novellas based on the universe of her Paradise Crime novels. Suddenly, when I set the story in Hawai‘i, it just flowed easily.

Story roadblock solved

Because my main character was based on a real person, he was a geologist. Which meant he was doing geological work on Maui. And that was the first roadblock:

I knew nothing about Maui’s geology.

Research at the library and online didn’t give me the firsthand details I needed for a good novel set in such an evocative location as Maui. I had to go there.

I got lucky again. My wife and I were planning a vacation, but hadn’t settled on a destination. We were thinking about Prague. I did some quick checking, and found that flights from Montreal (closest airport that would serve both Europe and Hawai’i) to Kahalui, Maui were about the same price as flights to Prague!

So we decided on two weeks in Maui, and put off Prague for a couple of years.

Of course, accommodations in Hawai’i are much more expensive than in the Czech Republic, as are food, drink and just about everything else.

But I found wonderful details that added so much richness to the story.

A huge flower on beside a shop in Makawao, Maui.

Things like bamboo forests rising over our heads, to the majesty of the pools at O’he’o, to just how dense and lush is the rainforest on the southeast side of the island. High waterfalls and warm water. The delicacy of the plants.

The terror of the driving on the twisting, narrow Highway to Hana. The way it rains almost every day.

The unbelievable beauty of the Pacific Ocean.

The mouth of the Pools at ‘Ohe’o, which I incorporated into a scene in Torn Roots.

These are little details that I worked into the story that eventually became Torn Roots: A Hawaiian Storm.

The trip, the expense and the time were well worth the effort. They allowed me write a story that is much more real to readers.

A blaze of inspiration

Another trip that literally inspired a book again involved Toby Neal. She invite me, among others, to attend her first writers’ retreat in Russian River, California. My wife, Roxanne and I made it into another vacation.

We started with a few days in San Francisco, and then headed north. We planned to take a tour or two in Sonoma County, wine country.

It happened in September 2017. The car rental I chose had a TV in their office showing wildfires that were sweeping across Sonoma and Napa Counties, and describing how state police had closed a number of highways.

We drove toward Russian River, on the west side of Sonoma and in no immediate danger of fire. As we listened to the news on the car radio, we realized that we would not be touring any vineyards or wineries on this trip.

But as we drove, Roxanne said, “You should write a book about this. About someone here in Sonoma during the wildfires. And it should be about a woman, for a change.”

So I did. Yes, world, a man listened to his wife at least once in history. The result is my first Wine Country Mystery, Wildfire. It’s about a young single mom who moves to California, and finds a temporary job just before the wildfires force mass evacuations. When she gets back to her home, she’s pulled into a mystery.

As we drove through Sonoma County, the smoke in the air kept getting thicker. This was taken at around 5:00 p.m.

Again, it was the personal experience on the ground that helped me describe the setting, the feeling of being there, the continuous smell of smoke in the air, the ash that fell like snow, the reactions of the people around me.

Sunset from the summit of Haleakala, the south/eastern volcano of Maui. This is not in Hana, nor mentioned in Torn Roots, but I love this picture.

Inspiration looking for a story

Eventually, Roxanne and I did go to Prague. It’s a beautiful and inspiring place (and remarkably affordable, too!). I would love to write a story that deserves this wonderful, friendly, historic and mystical space. I just haven’t figured it out, yet.

Porto, Portugal is another inspiring place we visited. Its Livraria Lello, or Lello Bookstore, inspired J.K. Rowling to imagine the staircases at Hogwarts. Today, it’s far too crowded with people who just want to see it to be inspiring on the spot, but there are many other places in Portugal that spark the imagination.

The narrow pedestrian-only streets of Prague seem to ooze stories.
The Church of Mother of God before Týn in Old Town Prague.

Porto, Portugal is another inspiring place we visited. Its Livraria Lello, or Lello Bookstore, inspired J.K. Rowling to imagine the staircases at Hogwarts. Today, it’s far too crowded with people who just want to see it to be inspiring on the spot, but there are many other places in Portugal that spark the imagination.

The staircase at Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal.
Me on the staircase (which didn’t move). The book is in Portuguese, on the history of Portuguese discoveries.

Everywhere I go inspires story ideas for me. I just wish I had time to write them all.

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