Keep writing…or die trying.
Charlene Vanderberg is a bestselling author whose world is turned upside as she experiences writer’s block for the first time. She now faces a deadline to redeem her career after her last book, a sappy romance, flopped. Charley had only wanted to try her hand at a different genre, one with a little less murder and mayhem, but had ended up creating some disgruntled fans. That’s when the words disappeared, and Charley found herself unable to write a single sentence.
After being plagued with crippling writer’s block for months and about to hang up the towel, Charley’s agent Pamela has convinced her that a change of scenery would help get her creative juices flowing again. She sends Charley off to a cozy lake resort and has enlisted some protection for her in the person of Nick Capra, a detective who is running from his own demons, has no desire to babysit the famous author but finds himself unable to stop developing feelings for his charge.
Famous for writing chilling tales, Charley isn’t prepared for the nightmare in store for her. The sleepy lake community where nothing bad ever happens begins to see a string of grisly murders. Charley discovers these murders were meant to inspire her to write her next novel. A copycat killer is reenacting scenes from her bestsellers. No one is safe from this killer—not even Charley.
Reader advisory: This book contains incidents of alcohol use, violence and murder.
General Release Date: 20th July 2021
“You can’t possibly be serious?”
“I am, and it will be good for you. I promise. You need to trust me on this.”
Charley—also known as Charlene Vanderberg, a bestselling author—was currently experiencing writer’s block for the first time. The words were there, locked somewhere in her mind and refusing to come out when she sat down every night to free them. Nothing. Just a blank page staring back at her, taunting Charley with the blinking cursor of where words should form. It had been months since Charley had written anything that hadn’t ended up on the wrong side of the delete button. At this rate, she feared there might never be words again.
“It’s the perfect solution,” Pamela beseeched.
Her agent was a force of nature and had the manipulative power of getting her way. That’s why Charley had agreed to sign on with Pamela Mansfield once her second manuscript had been complete. Charley had needed someone fierce to land her a book deal and steer her career in the right direction. Rejection letters didn’t help her fragile writer’s ego, and it was challenging enough to be recognized by any publisher without an agent. That’s why she needed one like Pamela. That woman knew her way around the publishing world and had seen something in Charley.
Her advice and encouragement had pushed Charley and ultimately launched her into the success she was now enjoying. Over the years, they had become good friends, almost like family. Charley had learned a great deal from this tiny woman who was set on building a brand and empire with the clients she represented. Pamela only worked with the best, most talented people in the industry, and Charley still couldn’t believe she was among them. She didn’t want to disappoint Pamela and worried that if those words didn’t start making an appearance soon, there would be some ugly consequences. They both had reputations to uphold.
Charley eyed Pamela curiously from across the table, half-hoping to break her agent’s resolve. It wasn’t going to happen, and they both knew that. The unwavering but tender stare as Pamela held her ground on what a great idea this was showed Charley that it truly was in her best interest.
“So, you honestly think by shipping me off to some lake resort in the middle of nowhere, I’ll really get this book done? That magically all of my creative juices will start to flow again because you’ve got me locked up in some hillbilly cabin?” Charley scoffed. “Sounds like all the makings of a Stephen King novel, and we both know how those go,” Charley teased as she poked her straw at a bobbing ice cube in her sweaty glass of water.
“Not just any cabin, Charley. My nephew owns the cutest little resort in Crescent Lake. The best part is that it’s only a few hours from here. Just imagine, all these quaint cabins around that gorgeous lake. Besides, you know very well that you give Stephen King a run for his money.” Pamela winked and turned her attention to the plate in front of her. “I thought nature was sort of your thing? Aren’t you some kind of country girl?” Pamela countered playfully as she stabbed her colorful salad of varied bright leaves and vegetables.
“It was. I mean, I like it well enough, but I’m hardly a country girl,” she answered with a touch of sophisticated sass.
“That’s right. You’re a famous writer now and living in your fabulous apartment with a perfect view of the Seattle skyline.” Pamela smirked with her fork to her lips. “Too good for the great outdoors?”
“What I meant was that I haven’t done anything remotely outdoorsy for years.”
“Then you’re long overdue.”
“I just don’t see how it will help.” Charley shook her head and looked away. The restaurant with its elegant lighting and décor was filled with patrons all sipping wine and dining on extravagant dishes. Her writing had afforded her this lifestyle. Maybe I’m a little out of touch. The years of success and landing movie deals had pampered her with opportunities she’d never dreamed possible, especially for a girl who’d grown up on a rural farm town in the middle of Washington. She gazed back and saw a peculiar flicker in Pamela’s hazel eyes.
Pamela squirmed ever so slightly in her seat and bit her mauve-painted bottom lip. All the playfulness abandoned her face and was quickly replaced with something else. Charley studied her and tried to figure out exactly what it was. She could sense her agent’s nervous energy.
“They want that book before fall,” Pamela stated bluntly as she gently placed her fork down.
“And if they don’t get it by then?” Charley asked. Her belly began to do anxiety-induced flip-flops. So many what ifs ran through her mind that her sense of reason started to trip over them.
She clasped her hands together in prayer form. Pamela exhaled but kept her eyes locked on Charley. Through a forced smile, she calmly replied, “Let’s just focus on getting this book done.”
“Nothing like a little pressure to add to my already-growing problem.” Charley nibbled on a dry piece of skin on her bottom lip.
“You need a change of scenery and a little quiet inspiration then that ridiculous writer’s block will be gone. Every author goes through this at some point,” Pamela reassured Charley but nervously twirled a strand of her chestnut hair between her fingers. “I’ve had clients who’ve been down this road before.”
“I haven’t ever had this problem,” Charley confessed in a near whisper. “I’ve never had an issue with writing—like…ever, Pamela.” Charley’s heart beat a little faster with a sudden pang of anxiety. “The stories always kept coming, the characters made their demands well known and now poof, they’re gone. Writing is what I do—what I did.” As the words left her mouth, Charley realized the severity of her problem. If she didn’t pull it together and find a way to get her writing mojo back, Charley didn’t know what would become of her career. By the look on her agent’s face, it definitely wasn’t good. “Fine… I’ll go to your nephew’s little resort.” Charley defiantly speared the lemon wedge that rested on her perfectly cooked salmon. She no longer had an appetite as her brain developed images of her impending failure. She could lose it all—her swanky apartment, ridiculously expensive SUV and her famous name. It could all be gone.
Pamela smiled. “Don’t worry. We’ll get this book done and you’ll be back on top again. Everyone wins.”
Charley hoped Pamela was right.
* * * *
Charley had been sitting in front of her laptop for hours. The remnants of cold coffee in her favorite mug sat forgotten next to her. Her butt had gone numb and she’d lost track of time as she stared at the stark white screen with no words. Her fingers rested on the plastic keys, waiting and ready to pounce at the first hint of an idea. Charley was beyond frustrated. She moved her neck in slow, gentle circles, hoping to release the tension that seemed to have stuck around long after her lunch date with Pamela. Charley felt even more stress than before, which definitely wasn’t helping the words come any faster. How will a trip to some lake town really solve this? Charley had her doubts about being holed up in a cabin all alone. She’d seen movies like The Shining and Misery, and she knew how those tales went. No thanks. Why can’t these words just find their way back to me? Charley rubbed her temples and begged her brain to come up with something. Anything.
“It’s useless. I’m screwed,” she muttered in defeat in the silent space. The room was mostly dark, except for the dim light of an old lamp near a large bookcase. She glanced over at the cherry-stained bookcase containing all her books, words that had all magically turned into bestselling thrillers. My words. Deliciously wicked stories that had somehow sprouted from the dark crevices of her mind. Tales that no one could believe had come from a perky and happy-go-lucky girl like her.
She’d had a nice childhood, better than normal by anyone’s definition. Her parents still lived in the charming farmhouse she’d grown up in with her older brother and sister. So, where had all these twisted and demented stories of abduction, murder and crimes so gruesome stem from? Maybe she had been a serial killer in a past life. The notion caused her to giggle loudly.
Charley knew exactly where all the vivid images and horrific ideas had come from…real life. Charley had taken a job as a reporter for a fairly large newspaper in the Seattle area. For her, it had been a ticket out of the sprawling hay fields and sleepy town she’d become tired of. That opportunity had offered her a chance to do something exciting with her life and to see how different the rest of the world was. Little had she known how in just the few short years she’d spend covering the homicide beat, it would implant story ideas into her brain, shifting her world completely.
Being a journalist wasn’t exactly what Charley had planned on becoming. Her love of books as a child and having spent all those nights reading until the words had become blurry had been just the start of what had become a secret passion. She had then begun writing short stories and poems. Charley had always wanted to capture and create that same magic her favorite authors had done for her. They all had put her under a spell spun from their words, charming her to believe they’d taken her to faraway places and introduced her to so many incredible people.
Those short stories and poems Charley had written soon found their way into the hands of overly impressed teachers. With a little prodding from them, Charley had agreed to write for her high school newspaper. The creative outlet had only spurred her passion as she had become an even better writer, honing her craft and, unbeknownst to her, shaping her future. The only drawback had been having to cover stories ranging from the awful cafeteria food to Friday night football games.
Charley had discovered that she was actually quite good at reporting—and so had the local newspaper. They’d offered her a job right out of high school and it was there that she had begun her life as a small-town reporter. She had gone from covering football games to town hall meetings. Nothing too scandalous had ever happened in their farming community, other than maybe a few cows wandering out of their field. Charley had grown bored with just reporting the facts of this simple life. The itch to write bigger and better things had always been there but it had intensified as the years had gone by.
She’d tinkered with the notion of writing a novel and had even begun to work on a few rough drafts of a silly romance story. Then an opportunity from out of nowhere had knocked on her door. She’d just about reached her breaking point in her mundane career and jumped at this once-in-a-lifetime chance with gusto—only it hadn’t quite turned out to be what she’d hoped. It had ultimately been the start of her fabulous new life, but the nightmares that haunted her had clung onto Charley. The stories she’d covered—the awful news of kidnappings, murders and a slew of violent crimes she’d reported—had shaped her into the writer she’d become. She’d turned into a successful one who’d grown into an overnight sensation by retelling all those awful events with her own personal twist.
Her books were now found on nearly every bookstore shelf around the globe. She’d risen to fame quickly with her descriptive encounters of sinister minds and plots so demented that it had been no wonder Charley found herself being offered movie deals and opportunities to write for television. Part of that success was due to Pamela being the pit bull that she was, but those ideas had all come from Charley—or rather the criminals of the Pacific Northwest.
So, where were those ideas now? Was Charley drained of all her inspiration because she was no longer a reporter and a witness to the cruel and evil nature of humans? Something had definitely changed, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The last book her publisher released had flopped, big time. It hadn’t even hit any of the bestseller lists. She’d wanted a break from the gore and had tried her hand at a sweet romance. Her fans had been blown away by her new release—and not in a good way.
It was no wonder her publisher was after her to write something more like her previous work. Her fans craved storylines with not-so-happy endings and lots of blood. Charley had tried to revisit those ghosts and had hoped a new bestseller would magically appear. She’d never seen this struggle happening in her career. She knew other authors had gone through it, just not her.
Charley banged her head lightly on her desk. “Why, God?”
Being an author wasn’t only about the actual writing. There was a whole other animal involved—marketing and sales, keeping relevant and engaging with fans. It was never just about the books. Charley had learned that rather quickly and found herself immersed in the social media frenzy that was now part of her everyday life. Whether Charley was posting pictures of her morning coffee or sharing videos of her typing away on her trusty keyboard, she had to let readers know what she was up to.
Tweets and posts were only a small portion of it, though. Charley had to go on book-signing tours and radio shows to promote herself. She also had taken it upon herself to personally answer emails, messages and letters from fans and readers. It was important to Charley to stay grounded and not forget those who had given her this lifestyle. Charlene Vanderberg wouldn’t be where she was today if it weren’t for all those readers. But those readers had been so quick to turn on her when she’d tried to venture outside her norm. The only way to gain their love again was to go back to telling those horrific stories. Charley felt like a misbehaving child who was suffering some kind of deserved cosmic punishment.
Charley yawned and reached for her phone to check the time. It was late, the time when she’d normally be so utterly consumed with words dripping from her fingertips. Those small hours during the night before the sun robbed the moon of its glory was that magical time when the world sleeps and creative souls work best. In those quiet moments of darkness was when artists painted masterpieces, writers and poets found the light of their words to illuminate the world around them and the hours when the soul was most honest. It was the time when imaginary monsters were safely keeping watch under beds and hiding in closets while the innocent dreamed. Those precious late hours were when the real monsters were lurking in the shadows, strangling life or causing it to bleed away. Only now, for Charley, those monsters were tucked away somewhere, keeping themselves hidden, not letting their heinous deeds be seen for her to tell those hungry readers. She gently closed her laptop. Another night with no words.