I met Elizabeth (via Facebook) through the daughter of a very dear friend. I’m delighted to know this lovely young woman and I hope you will be too. Sit back, enjoy the excerpt from her novel, Secondhand Shadow, and read a bit about her at the end.
“…hardly the Dread Pirate Roberts, Dad. Can you really see him ripping someone’s throat out with his teeth?”
I froze outside my English professor’s office door, and decided I did not want to interrupt that conversation. My hand didn’t get the memo and knocked anyway. I snatched it back and bit it, but it was too late.
From inside came silence, then Dr. DiNovi’s voice. “Come in.”
I debated running away instead. Or waddling away, since the U.S.S. Third Trimester wasn’t achieving warp speed anytime soon. But I opened the door.
We all do dumb things.
Dr. DiNovi was sitting at his desk in a perfectly normal way, which was all wrong. Dr. DiNovi was a feet-on-the-desk, head-in-the-clouds kind of guy, not a feet-on-the-floor, head-in-his-hands kind of guy. I’d never seen his bald spot before, peeking out of dark hair like a moon on a cloudy night. Maybe he grew the beard to compensate for the bald spot. He looks good with the beard, in a professorial kind of way.
The other guy in the room did not look professorial. He looked grim and dark and scruffy and altogether Strider-like. All he needed was a cloak. The leather jacket, I decided, was a satisfactory modernization.
Of course, if he was Strider, I was apparently a Ringwraith, because he was looking at me like he couldn’t decide whether to run away or run me through. I fully expected him to snarl.
“Ah, Naomi,” Dr. DiNovi said. “Come to throw your term paper on my tender mercies?” His voice was casual and cheerful and did not match the way he kept glancing from me to Strider.
“Yes, sir.” It was hard to look away from Strider, but easier than continuing to look at him. He reminded me of a firework my grandfather lit once, that sizzled and smoked and then went quiet — just before blowing up in his face and burning his beard off. So talk quick and get out of here before he explodes. “I need an extension, sir. Please.” Dr. DiNovi was not famous for cutting anyone a break on deadlines. I had marshalled all kinds of arguments to cover the fact that I flat forgot about my term paper. I could not remember any of them now. Please, sir, I’m very pregnant. I cry easily, and if you make pregnant women cry you go to hell. I’d hate to see that happen to you, sir.
Dr. DiNovi gestured at Strider. “I don’t know if you’ve met my son, Ga—”
“Damon.” His voice was rough, as if he’d been screaming. Without meaning to, I looked back toward him, and he flinched. So did I. He seemed to burn my retinas.
“Damon,” Dr. DiNovi continued, “this is one of my Brit Lit students, Naomi Winters.”
“Naomi,” he repeated, his voice even more choked, as if my name were razors in his mouth. He glanced at his father. “I have to go.”
I was still standing more or less in the doorway. I tried to dodge him, and he tried to dodge me, and my shoulder bounced off his. He hissed — seriously, hissed, a sort of gasp between clenched teeth — and was out the door and gone.
I bit my lip and glanced at Dr. DiNovi, my cheeks going hot even though I hadn’t done anything. That’s why I always got in trouble when my little brother broke something. “Guilty” is my default expression.
Dr. DiNovi was not looking at me, but at the doorway his son had disappeared through. He looked happy as a clam, by which I mean confused and worried. That’s how I’d feel if I was a wad of snot living in a seashell.
“Sorry,” he said after a second. “About Damon. He’s had a rough…” He looked at me as if I’d turned to blinking neon. “Oh. Oh. I guess that might explain it. Red hair, blue eyes… hmm.”
“Sir?” I must have sounded as confused as I felt, because he went back to using full sentences.
“I’m sorry to cut our conversation short, Naomi, but I need to talk to my son.”
“But — my paper—”
“Yes, of course. I understand your situation. Just try to have it by Monday.” He stepped out the door, hardly waiting to see if I followed, locked it behind us, and headed for the stairs. “Have a nice afternoon, Naomi!”
So, aside from Weirdos from Middle Earth, I guess my day is looking up. I had gotten an extension out of King Deadline, meaning I had five nights, rather than two, to cook up a twelve-page term paper. I squinched my eyes and tried to remember what topic I had decided on, after my initial proposal — the role of dogs in Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice — was rejected on the basis of there being no dogs in Pride and Prejudice, though I distinctly remember a Harlequin Great Dane in the movie version. Beautiful dog. My second proposal was something else with Rebecca and Jane Austen…
I unsquinched my eyes as it dawned on me that I was not alone in the corridor.
Except I was. Nobody in sight.
“Well,” I murmured as I rubbed the top of my Wonder Tummy, “one advantage of pregnancy is that you’re never quite alone. Not that you’re much of a conversationalist.” He turned under my hand. Or she, who knew?
Could it be the baby that Strider — Damon — had reacted to so strongly? Plenty of people still disapproved of unwed pregnancy here in Ilium, Alabama, never mind that I was wed when Wonder Tummy began. But I was twenty-two, for crying out loud, not exactly a teenybopper; there was no reason to assume I was unwed. Besides, such disapprovers were usually fifty or above. Seemed odd that a guy my own age, whose father had no problem with me, would treat the tummy like a Black Plague pustule. But if it wasn’t the baby, then what? Dr. DiNovi had said something about my hair and eyes. I turned around to look at myself in the window of Dr. DiNovi’s door. He had it covered over with clipped-out comic strips, and my reflection was a thin layer over Garfield, Snoopy, and Hobbes. Red hair, long and windblown, hanging in my face. Blue eyes. No make-up. Baggy gray sweater flopping down over my hands. Third Trimester had killed my wardrobe, but I couldn’t believe that would make anyone hiss at me.
Whatever. I had to walk home and change into my uniform before work. If I left now, I could take my time and get there late enough that I’d have to hurry to work. If I put it off, I’d walk fast and get home early, which meant facing the mountain of dishes in the sink. Dawdle, dawdle, like a mouse, dawdle or you’ll have to clean the house…
I started down the hallway toward the elevator. Dr. DiNovi’s office was on the third floor, and I’d taken the stairs to avoid the English building elevator, known affectionately as the Tomb of the Unknown Student. My first day at Ilium U, I’d heard the story of the murdered student in the elevator shaft whose vengeful ghost liked to trap people in the elevator. I had a nightmare about it that night, and had avoided the blasted elevator for weeks afterward, before… Tyler convinced me to get on it with him.
Ow. The only thing worse than reminding myself of bad times with Tyler was reminding myself of good times with Tyler. The elevator had been a good time. We rode up, we rode down, we rode up, we rode down. We heard later that it got stuck minutes after we left.
All right, Elevator Ghosts of Various Metaphorical Layers. Me and Wonder Tummy have had enough stairs for today. Make way. I marched — waddle-marched — down the hall, pushed the Down button, and stepped into the Tomb.
I jumped when a hand shot between the silver doors just as they slid closed. They popped back open, and Dr. DiNovi’s son stepped through.
He didn’t jump at me with a knife. He didn’t even snarl. He just stared at me as the doors closed again. I felt my face heating up, but I set my teeth and stared back. I was in the stupid elevator first. This was my turf.
He didn’t look so very Strider-like after all, I decided. No stubble, and his face was too narrow. He had the hair, dark and tangled and hanging past his chin. But his eyes were green as a cat’s and sharp as claws. Again I had the sensation that they might burn me.
“So, who do I look like?” I said.
He jumped, as if he hadn’t expected me to have the power of speech. “What?”
“Either I look like someone you never wanted to see again, or I smell bad. Since you got in an elevator with me, I’m going with Option A.”
He continued staring a moment, then opened his mouth to speak.
And the elevator shuddered to a halt.
Elizabeth Belyeu is 30 years old and lives in Texas, where she supports herself, her wifi bill, and her steadily growing TBR pile as a library assistant. She graduated from Troy University in 2008 with a bachelorʹs in English (Creative Writing minor). This is her first novel, but she has been writing since she could hold a pencil, and plans to continue until she is too senile to type.
Fans can find me at elizabethbelyeu.wordpress.com!
What is your book about?
Damon is a Shadow; he has to bond with a human to survive, but he sure doesn’t have to be happy about it. Naomi is a broke, pregnant college student with quite enough on her plate already, without adding a grouchy Shadow. Can this marriage bond be saved? More importantly, can Naomi be saved from the serial killer whose attention Damon’s managed to attract?
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
I started it immediately, actually! I was trapped at my sister’s house with nothing to do, so once I had the basics of the story blocked out, I wrote my first attempt at the first scene that very day.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
The idea for Shadows arose from thoughts about Anne McCaffrey’s dragons and dragonriders, and other such “bonded creature” stories, and wondering… what if the bonded creature was human in appearance? Wouldn’t that be a gamechanger? And then as I sketched out how that universe might work, I also started the see all the ways it could go horribly wrong, if a Shadow ended up with a bad bondmate… and poof, Damon came into being!
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
There’s quite a bit of me in Naomi; she’s definitely the most like-me character I’ve ever written, though we still have a lot of differences. I would say a lot of my “cute” traits got put into Naomi, while my snarkier side came out a lot in Paris!
Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?
I hate the word ‘favorite’ because it implies that everyone else is not my favorite… I feel like all my characters are my favorite in different ways. In this book, the main characters are Damon and Naomi. Naomi is my favorite because she’s just cute and silly and so much stronger than she thinks she is. She’s fun and easy to write. Damon is my favorite because he’s had so much pain and struggle and come through it with a determination to help other people deal with what he had to deal with alone. He’s tough and practical but he feels things very deeply and there’s a sort of poetry to his soul that I love. So they’re both my favorites!
Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?
Paris seems to be a lot of readers’ favorite because he’s so sarcastic, the sort who says outright what everyone else is thinking but too polite to say. He’s probably the most unusual as well, since he’s a grown man trapped in a body that looks to be about ten and of uncertain gender. He’s had a lot to deal with in life.
How long did it take you to write your book?
I started it in 2007 and finished the final edits in 2014; however, I wasn’t working steadily and unceasingly on it during that time, not by any means. For instance there was a good two years in there devoted to finding an agent and waiting for the agent to find a publisher. The complete first draft took… maybe a year? Of course that was only the beginning!
How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?
I’m an outliner to the max. I always have at least a basic map of the plot, start to finish, before I begin. I’ve tried to just “wing it” and it doesn’t work for me at all – I can’t get started unless I know where I’m going! That said, it’s not unusual for the plan to change a lot along the way… but there is, at least, a plan.
Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)
Oh, tons! Naomi is pregnant in the story so I did a lot of research into pregnancy and childbirth for her. Also, let’s see, Las Vegas divorce regulations, neonatal hospital care, red blood cell lifespans… there’s a lot of odd things that come up along the way! Setting research mostly involved wracking my own memory, since the college town where it takes place is based on where I myself went to college (Troy, Alabama). Most of my research was via Internet ’cause that’s easiest and quickest, but I also looked at a few pregnancy books.
Where are your books available?