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Blog « Sandra Brannan: Author of the Liv Bergen Mystery Series

Secret To Success…

What a wonderful country we have! 

I have met so many people across America — happy, successful people from all walks of life — since I first became published three years ago.   From 2010 to today,  I’ve met people with such colorful stories and intriguing lives that my mind is swimming with memories.  Everywhere I go, the smiles are plentiful.  

I started thinking about what all these happy, successful people have in common and I narrowed it down to three things they share as the secret to their success: 

1)  They work hard at using their God-given talents.

2)  They are overflowing with gratitude.

3)  They celebrate each day by sharing their joy and kindness with others.

To all of you who I’ve met at conferences & convention, at book signings & book clubs, and in libraries and lounges, thank you all for teaching me so much!

May Day is Loyalty Day

Everyone knows today is May Day.  But did you know it’s also National Loyalty Day, a special day designated by our Congressional leaders to remind us to reaffirm our loyalty to the United States of America? Today I will genuinely recognize my heritage to freedom as an American. Because of people like my dad and my husband, not to mention all the family, friends, and ancestors who have fought to keep us free.

My father, an 88-year-old WWII and Korean War vet, calls all his friends on this day each year to celebrate May 1st.  All of us enjoy receiving the call where he enthusiastically says “Hurray, hurray, the first of May!” He says his list is growing smaller.  Sad.  They are great Americans.

Loyalty Day reminds me why I flew half way across the world to adopt my youngest, driven to be a mother (of course) but also desirous of lifting one child from the clutches of communism to live free as a capitalist. And I have never met a more grateful, patriotic American in my life than my son!

Generations of Freedom

As a writer, thank you for giving me the power of speech. I take that right seriously and work to entertain through the stories I tell. If along the way I open some windows to a world some may not realize exist, well then fabulous!  Every time I sit at my keyboard, I reaffirm my loyalty to the heritage of American freedom.

Bottle A Mother’s Love For All Things New This Season…

Although my books have a terrifying premise, I always work toward a happy ending, finding a way to make all things new again. The Easter holiday season is about making everything new. Spring is here, grass is sprouting, flowers budding, animal babies being born.

I remind myself every year during this beautiful holiday to renew my commitment to my children, to those I love, and to my connection with a power beyond this world. To my God. Many of us become parents sometime in our lives. What a gift! Even if you’re not a Christian, the scene in The Passion of Christ where Mary watches her son suffer is a poweful testament to the bond between mother and child. The expression on this actress’s face, the raw emotion she brings to this scene, reduces me to tears every time I watch. Maybe it’s because I was blessed with the best mother in the world or that I have sons and unfortunately understand the loss of a child. But mostly, I know it’s because the bond between a mother and child is so incredibly powerful that the most horrifying gnaws to a mother’s heart is suffering inflicted on her child.

No matter your religion or spirituality, make all things new this Easter season and believe in everything beautiful. Especially you! Reach out this holiday season and hug a mother.

We could change the world if we could only bottle a mother’s love.

Graves Are An Angel’s Footprint

I lost my son 20 years ago today.

Lucky me to have met an angel on earth. My other sons gave me a personalized calendar for Christmas with a quote for each day in 2013 and knowing the week proceeding their borther’s death is difficult for me, they shared wonderful and inspirational messages for me this year, like Heny Wadsworth Longfellow’s quote, “He spake well who said that graves are the footprints of angels”.

I thank God for flicking me onto this path 20 years ago today. I know my son is safe and warm and waiting for me. I appreciate the sons I have, hug them every day, and tell them I love them every chance I get. I love life more than I ever believed possible. And I write so I can manage the monsters who haunt my nightmares. So lucky me, scaring you each day with my Liv Bergen Mystery Series and hopefully my future thriller series, should my wonderful agent John Talbot, find me a home.

The best part about giving birth to an angel? They send me beautiful sunrises on special days like today.
Hold Little Ones Near.

Have You Seen The Liv Bergen Trailers?

I remember as a kid being asked if I’d ever seen a Norwegian trailer, only to follow for minutes, thinking I was being led outside to see some innovative fifth wheel with a tow bar that was painted in really cool Nordic ice stripes. But being Norwegian and eager to trail this guy, it would be no surprise to you that I was the Norwegian trailer. Fastforward and here I was being asked by my publicity team if I wanted a trailer created for the Liv Bergen series. I bet they wondered why I dug in my heels and said, “I’m not falling for that again.” In response to my bristling, they were patient enough to explain that trailers were a wonderful way to showcase the book in a mini-movie format, designed to entice potential readers to pick up the book. (They don’t get paid enough to work with someone like me.)

So enjoy the latest “trailers” for the Liv Bergen Mystery Series:

First Book, 2010 IN THE BELLY OF JONAH
Second Book, 2011 LOT’S RETURN TO SODOM
Third Book, 2012 WIDOW’S MIGHT
Fourth Book, 9/3/2013 NOAH’S RAINY DAY

… and although Liv Bergen is Norwegian, I promise not to ask you to follow me all around the internet with no other purpose than to tease you. Unless you consider it teasing you to buy the book!

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

How fun is this? A blog hop! And to think three years ago I had no clue what a blog was. As the daughter of a devout Irish woman, I thought blogging was some cool variation of clogging, which we’ve performed at family events. Thank goodness for the first Bloggers Convention in May 2010 where all these wonderfully talented bloggers explained what this world was all about.

Fast forward to January 2013… authors tag other authors to blog as a virtual event that helps readers discover new authors. The first author tags five others whose work he or she admires, then each of those authors tag five more, and so on and so on. Kinda like a 21st century version of the chain letter from when I was a kid in the sixties.

This event is already so widespread, covering so many genres and amazing authors, that I was asked to be tagged by several authors, so I’m going to mention all of them here so you can check out their wonderful work as well as adding several other authors I admire for various reasons. I am so lucky to be part of this cool movement to encourage reading!

I’ll tell you THE NEXT BIG THING in my world this week by answering the blog hop questions, then I’ll shout out the fabulous authors I have discovered in my journey who also happen to be fabulous individuals in real life. Check out their websites or those I tag for January 23rd blogs.

1: What is the working title of your book(s)?

NOAH’S RAINY DAY releasing 9/3/2013

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

My ideas largely come from issues that irritate me. For instance, IN THE BELLY OF JONAH was inspired by a very famous artist’s rendition of his nanny. The painting bothered me so much, I wrote an entire story around it. LOT’S RETURN TO SODOM was inspired by my irritation that outlaw motorcycle clubs get away with so much. I wrote about the quiet heroes who monitor the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally where I live, when 500,000 bikers ascend on a town of 5,000 in South Dakota and where 10% of those bikers are gangs. WIDOW’S MIGHT arose from my anger at how so many alleged “do-gooders” take advantage of our aging population and it thrilled me to make the widow in my story the ultimate heroine. Geez, I’m generally a happy-go-lucky person so I wouldn’t want fans to think I am easily irritated.

3: What genre does your book come under?

Mystery – Gritty and Suspenseful

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ll leave that to the experts, considering I would have never cast Tom Cruise as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Being a ‘Reacher Creature’ fan since Lee started releasing the Jack Reacher series, I can honestly say I was shocked and surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie. No reason not to follow Lee’s lead and let the experts do what they do best. Look what it’s done for him? Besides, how lucky would I be if someone decided to give Liv Bergen a chance at the silver screen?

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Assuming new readers would want to start from the beginning, IN THE BELLY OF JONAH could be described as… A window cut into a woman’s body sets off a desparate search for a killer with an artistic bent.

LOT’S RETURN TO SODOM… Unlike Lot’s Wife, Liv Bergen doesn’t look back after she commits to proving her brother’s innocence, even when she herself becomes prey for those with murder on their minds. And the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a great place to hide a body or two.

WIDOW’S MIGHT…A vengeful killer with a crooked sense of justice threatens Liv Bergen and those she loves most. And who would bother to throttle an octogenarian as she lies dying in hospice anyway? I loved making this old ranch woman the hero.

But THE NEXT BIG THING? On September 3, 2013, NOAH’S RAINY DAY releases and ooh, baby, hold on through this one! A child is abducted from DIA on Christmas Eve and the only one who knows where he is can’t speak and can’t write. Meet Noah, a twelve year old with severe cerebral palsy. It’s a race against time for him to communicate what he knows… before it’s too late. And the coolest part? Rick Hoyt has endorsed the book. Check out two real heroes who are Team Hoyt.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

The Liv Bergen Series was published under a hybrid model of traditional publishing and self-publishing at Greenleaf Book Group. My new thriller series with Malarkey Carrigan is represented by an agent. And I really like him!

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I wrote nine books before I wrote the first book in the series IN THE BELLY OF JONAH. It took me about a month to write the book after a year of thinking about it. I like to have the story pretty well thought out like a movie in my head before I start writing. I’m quirky that way. Editing is where most of my time is spent on the keyboard.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

One reviewer likened Liv Bergen, my main character, as the love child betweeen Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone. I’ve also been quite kindly compared to Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson, although I know much better since I read all four of these awesome authors. Just happy to be published and have fans write me, comment, and post reviews. Thank you!!

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I am an engineer with an MBA and work in the mining industry. But a 9th grade English teacher saw something in me that I didn’t and encouraged me to write by nominating me for a $500 creative writing scholarship. I won and spent it on engineering school. So guilt motivated me, thanks to a high school teacher.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My protagonist embodies life as a westerner living in the mountain states. She’s a miner and fans describe her as someone you want to have a beer with. But the most interesting thing is how booksellers around the country have named two of my first three books as ABA Indie NextList winners. That’s like their top twenty picks of the nearly 30,000 published in that month. I am so grateful to booksellers for that!

My 2013 release NOAH’S RAINY DAY features a wonderful tweenager hero who witnesses a crime but struggles to overcome the challenges of CP to communicate where the young boy is being imprisoned before it’s too late. Love the concept and NOAH’S RAINY DAY is my favorite book so far! Hope booksellers and fans like it as much as I do.

Meet these wonderful authors who I know personally or have met along my journey…

First, Sparkle Abbey write the Pampered Pet Mysteries which are cozies. Thanks for tagging me, ladies, and thanks for always sharing your margarittas with me! Oh and by the way? Laughed until my stomach hurt when I read DESPERATE HOUSE DOGS.

J.T. Ellison writes the Dr. Samantha Owens series and is such a great writer, fans travel across the country to see her. I know because I ran into one of them from my hometown in Rapid City, SD down at Nashville and he was there to see J.T., not me. Couldn’t hold that against him once I met J.T. She’s hillarious and doesn’t have a phony bone in her body. Check out this bestselling author.

Another author sure to rise is Jennifer Hillier. Her CREEP and FREAK are powerhouse psychological thrillers that are sure to stay with you.

Have to tell any of you who cut your teeth on Travis McGee novels that you must buy Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. He’s the quintessntial modern-day Travis who you can’t help but hate to love. But I do so love Jack Reacher. And Lee’s books are all bestsellers worldwide. By the way? Lee’s a class act, such a nice man.

Nora McFarland is the up-and-coming Janet Evanovich, but mostly I think she’s a sweetie pie and I am lucky to call her friend. Lilly Hawkins is someone you’ll want to meet, so pick up Nora’s latest GOING TO THE BAD.

Your life is simply not complete if you haven’t met C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett. C.J. writes about my neighboring state of Wyoming and I’m thinking Liv Bergen might be related to Joe Pickett. Maybe a second cousin. C.J.’s a great guy and his books are so much fun to read. Bestselling author with high APF in his stories.


1) Hilary Davidson’s DAMAGE DONE was an amazing debut and Hilary is an equally amazing woman. She is incredibly kind and full of grace and can write her toosh off. She’s most certainly one to watch as her career climbs. TAG, YOU’RE IT, HILARY!! Check out the NEXT BEST THING Ms. Davidson is working on in her January 23rd Blog Post.

2) A.J. Scudiere is one of the coolest people I’ve met in my writing journey. She’s a young, kicky go-getter and if she writes anything likes she lives, you’ll love her books to. I’ll let you in on a secret. The worst part of writing is having less time to read and some authors deserve to be read, like A.J. But I know her stories will reach through the pages and grab me once I find the time to read again because her fans call her “awesome, incredible, unafraid”. I’M TAGGING A.J. BACK BECAUSE SHE ALSO TAGGED ME. Check out her blog on her NEXT BIG THING at her Smart Chickens blog.

3) Never read Deborah Grace Staley‘s Angel Series yet, but check out her blog on January 23rd. I’ll be learning right along side of you what her series is about. It’s like tagging a kid on the playground you’ve never met before. TAG, DEBBIE! From what I hear, the Angel Ridge Series is sweet contemporary romances in the tradition of Debbie Macomber. Located in the mountains of East Tennessee, Angel Ridge is a town you want to visit often.

4) TAG, YOU’RE IT, REAVIS WORTHAM. Convince them in your blog why they should read your books, you newbie you. This guy is fabulous, another class act, and THE BURROWS was a great read. I’m hooked! Can’t wait to go back and read THE ROCK HOLE. Rev’s Red River Mysteries are making a beeline to the bestseller list, just you wait and see. Check out Reavis Wortham’s NEXT BIG THING on his blog post January 23, 2013.

And how did the last line of the old chain letters read? Something ominous like… and if you ignore this letter you will die a painful and firey death. Well in a virtual blog hop, I don’t think the same fate awaits if you don’t check out all these fabulous authors. But I can promise you that your life will be richer if you do!

Granite Island, Amber Sea Anthology Release

Thank you Black Hills Writers Group for creating a wonderful anthology of short stories and poems about South Dakota. I love my home state and offer my first short story as a contribution. Enjoy THE BRIDGE and please buy your copy of GRANITE ISLAND, AMBER SEE today to learn more about the Black Hills and plains of South Dakota…

THE BRIDGE by Sandra Brannan

If he squeezed his eyes tight and opened his lids in a squint just enough to see light seep through his lashes, he could almost see the Black Hills in the distance. The trees were a different shade of green. The roar of the river behind him commanded his attention, whereas the comparable stream back home was nothing more than a taunt, forcing him to listen harder to the activity around him. He imagined himself sitting on the banks of the Cheyenne River staring at the bluffs south of his home in western South Dakota near Wasta. His father would be wondering why he wasn’t helping get the baler ready, mumbling about how when he had been a boy, he would have already had the mower put up for the season when his daddy asked. And his mother would be shuffling around the house in her soft moccasins, baking fresh biscuits for breakfast.
His stomach reminded him why he should have eaten all his C-rations last night, even if the thought of eating one more forkful of meat and potato hash was nearly unbearable.
Of course, he knew he was far from home.
The uneaten biscuits from his morning B-rations yesterday weighed heavily in his shirt pocket as a painful reminder of just how very far he actually was. Two worlds apart. Might as well be a million miles away. And he knew his back was not to the Cheyenne, but to the Rhein. How he’d yearned to hear the whoop of his father calling for him or Cotton, his little brother, to start another day of working the fields.
He prayed to God to let him go home, making a solemn promise that if God allowed him to, he’d never dawdle at sunrise or wile away the daylight hours wishing he were fishing, rather than helping his folks.
He prayed to God to let him walk through the front door and muster the courage to hug his father, tell him how much he loved and appreciated him, an act of bravery he’d never attempted in his life.
He prayed to God to let him touch his mother’s cheek, wrap his arms around her stout frame, bury his nose in her soft hair that smelled of freshly baked pie and strong coffee, and smile as he’d watch her remove the two small American flags she’d hung in their front window until they arrived home safely from the war.
He prayed to God to let him see his brother again – just one more time – so he could tell him how sorry he was for all the pranks he’d played on Cotton throughout their childhood, for telling their father that his little brother was the one who’d broke the pulley in the hay loft, and for blackmailing him to clean the horses’ stalls in exchange for keeping a secret from their mother about the pinup calendar stuffed under Cotton’s mattress.
He prayed to God he would live to see another South Dakota sunset. Or the rest of this day’s dawn.
But he didn’t think God was listening.
He’d been staring at the foothills to the west near the town of Bonn, the Germans gathering as thick as flies on manure on the opposite banks, preparing for the third attack in that many days. His company’s numbers were dwindling and their clear, unmistakable mission to hold the bridge – orders from the boys in brass – was becoming as cloudy as his head from lack of sleep. All they had to do was hold the bridge until help arrived. They were expecting relief, a new company or two.
But help hadn’t arrived.
At least he was on this side of the river. He worried about the captain of the combat engineers who had designed the floating bridge for the company to cross in an unexpected location down river. The commander had assigned him this position on the opposite side of the bridge, away from his buddies, away from what was left of his company. Despite his protests, the captain reminded him that he should remember that everyone played a key role in strategic positions, just like playing safety on his Rapid City High School’s football team had been important, hanging back as a last resort to prevent the proverbial touchdown by the Nazis. The captain ended the conversation by commanding him to take up his position with pride and purpose, without another argument.
The company commander had gathered the troops and described his plan three days ago, before the first attack, encouraging all of his men to hold their positions, rotate posts to afford sleep, and protect that bridge at all costs. No matter what. The captain was determined to be the last to cross in the event the enemy overtook them on the other side of the river. He described everyone’s purpose and explained that his job was to blow up the bridge to prevent the Nazis from overtaking yet another strategic crossing they were rumored to dominate up and down the Rhein. And if he failed, Dakota would be the one to stop them. That’s what the captain called him. Dakota.
But the radios had gone quiet for hours, the breeze eerily still in the coming daylight.
On reflection in his solitude on the protected side of the river, he didn’t remember ever mentioning to the captain that he played safety. Or that he even played football.
He set his M1 Garand on the ground beside him, leaned back against the rock, and stretched out his legs. No bath in days; he cupped his hand and filled it with a splash of water from his nearly empty canteen. Dirty fingers rubbed at his tired eyes and over his thick whiskers and the mirage of being back home and of playing high school football evaporated like the morning dew. He fished in his pocket for the small tin of powdered coffee, pinched some between his fingers and crammed it between his lip and gum. He rummaged through his pack and realized he didn’t have any food left except for the bouillon and some caramels. The caramels were extras from Teddy Halston – “Nevada Two” to the captain, since there had been two men from Nevada in their company – in exchange for his pack of government-issued cigarettes.
Both Nevadas were assigned advanced positions several blocks in from the bridge. Closer to the enemy line. He suspected neither Nevada would survive the attacks.
He felt the tanks before he heard them, the ground rumbling beneath him. He snatched his rifle and scrabbled to his knees to peer over the rock behind which he crouched. They were coming straight for the captain and his men on the other side of the Rhein.
Straight for the bridge.
He tossed the strap of the rifle over his head and steadied himself against the rock, ready to defend that bridge with every ounce of energy he had left.
Strange thoughts filled his head. First, he wished he was a smoker and hadn’t traded the 4-pack of cigarettes for the caramels. Second, as if he were standing right beside him, he heard his brother’s voice. “It’s a good day to die.”
Just as the first German panzer appeared between buildings a block from the bridge, men shouted and gunfire erupted. He leaned into his position, ready to shoot anything that crossed the bridge that wasn’t supposed to. He wasn’t the star, but he played a solid safety. And he did not agree with his brother. It was not a good day to die. Not today.
As he watched the commotion on the far bank, a prickling sensation touched the back of his neck and he couldn’t resist the urge to pull his eyes from the sights for a quick glance over his shoulder. Incredibly, he saw a soldier walking effortlessly, fearlessly toward him. American soldier.
“Get down!” he shouted, motioning to the soldier to hit the ground.
The man ignored the warning, his stride familiar, the grass at his feet parting with every deliberate step.
“Get. Down. Now.”
More gunfire erupted, spitting dirt at the American’s feet. He wondered if the soldier was dazed, war-crazed, or had simply grown mad from having to huddle in the same position for three days and from witnessing his friends drop to the German soldiers’ domination. He’d heard about men who lost their senses in the field, but he didn’t have time to question or console. He had a job to do. And the best way to protect this distraught soldier was to fight back until the man reached cover.
He flipped back around, firing across the river, using the rock to steady his trembling. Drawing in a deep breath, his aim became sure and steady, his focus clear.
Until a hand gripped his shoulder.
“What the –”
As he shrugged off the soldier’s grip, the man shouted, “Brother, listen!”
He turned instantly to confirm what he already knew on some primal level. His finger froze on the trigger, his grip loosened, and his knees grew weak. He could hardly believe his luck. He hadn’t seen nor heard from his little brother since they both joined the Army nearly two years ago.
Letters from home confirmed both had been dispatched to Germany. Ever since he had received one emotional letter this spring from his mother, describing how Cotton was one of the few from the 29th Infantry to survive at Normandy last summer – what the captain called Operation Omaha – he’d searched the faces of every passing soldier, any new company whose path he crossed, searching for his little brother.
And here he was.
He hugged Cotton’s neck, bullets hissing and spitting nearby. His brother pulled him behind the rock and they sat hard on the ground, back turned away from the river and the fighting.
His brother was still and unhurried, yet Cotton’s words held an incongruent urgency. “We have to get out of here.”
He studied his young brother’s face. His eyes. Agedness lurked somewhere deep in Cotton’s gaze, something that hadn’t been there when he boarded the train at the depot in Rapid City two years ago. And although he was elated to see Cotton here, he wondered how deeply the ravages of war had affected his brother’s young mind.
He held his little brother’s stare and said, “We have to hold our position. The bridge.”
Mortars exploded on both shores and shrapnel whizzed by the men, the exchange of fire and screams muted by a deafening explosion nearby.
Cotton’s steady gaze was unnerving. “Let’s get out of here.”
“No!” he shouted at his brother, snatching up his gun, scrabbling back to his feet, and returning fire.
His ears numb, his eyes watering from the smoke that filled his nostrils, he scanned the riverbank for the captain. The carnage was almost too much to comprehend. The captain’s words echoed in his head. “It’s up to you, Dakota. Don’t let them cross this bridge.”
He could use that cigarette right about now.
Men were scattering near the bridge, some in brutal hand-to-hand combat, a panzer barreling toward where his captain used to be. He reloaded his M1 Garand, his fingers trembling. With a hard swallow, he felt the pinch of coffee clog his throat and work its way to his unsettled stomach.
He felt Cotton’s fingers brush against his neck and a shiver of cold skipped down his spine. He felt the snap of his dog tags against his throat as Cotton yanked on the chain so forcefully, his head snapped back and his gun clattered to the ground at his feet.
Before he could protest, his brother dragged him away from the rock, away from the riverbank toward the line of nearby trees. The trees that were the wrong color green. He clawed at the chain around his throat to relieve the pressure of the garrote, his fingers glancing off his own dog tags. What little oxygen he had left to fuel his mind fixed on an image of himself beating the snot out of his little brother once Cotton turned him loose, a scrap worthy of their best efforts as kids.
His head cleared enough to recognize the horrifying scene unfold, the rock near the bridge where he was crouched moments earlier, the position he was assigned by his captain to protect at all costs, was under fire. As his heels kicked and bucked against the ground, his bulging eyes filled with an apocalyptic fireball as the TNT strapped on the structures of the bridge detonated and mortars simultaneously exploded on both shores in an unbelievably glorious finale. The bridge disintegrated, fire and debris sailing skyward with the smoke, as the captain completed the mission.
And as the shock wave of the explosions hammered into his chest, the acrid smell of burning carnage filling his nostrils, he felt the chain around his neck loosen.
Squeezing his eyes nearly shut to protect himself from the black smoke and intense heat, he saw the rock along the riverbank where he had stood only seconds earlier.
And his world went black.

He heard chirping and felt the warmth stroke his cheeks.
He lay with his eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the forest around him. The chirping must be birds singing. The gurgling must be the nearby river running. He felt a slight breeze and imagined the boughs bending overhead, the thick winter wheat dancing in unison all around him. Occasional shadows interrupted the stream of light against his lids and he assumed it was the trees twisting and bending above, blocking the rays as the sun’s tendrils touched his face.
The captain had beaten the Nazis.
They had lost the bridge. But held, accomplished the mission. No enemies had crossed.
A joy so intense filled his aching chest that any other pain he might have had from other injuries was not apparent. He didn’t want this moment to end so he lay still, smiling. As he raked his hands up and down his body slowly taking inventory of all his digits, limbs, head and bones, his mind imagined the field nearby the banks where he lay. The intensity of the blue sky, the starkness of the white clouds as they interrupted its perfect, monochrome canvass. The wheat grasses around his head. At once, the thick golden wheat reminded him of laying on the banks of the river with his brother as teenagers, napping in the noonday sun with no admonishing parental glances, and of the privacy fence in his back yard in Rapid City, his wife and kids protected from nosey neighbors’ prying eyes.
“Brother, listen.”
His brother had saved his life. They were both alive. God had answered his prayers after all. Surely they would both go home together and watch their mother ceremoniously remove the flags from the front window.
His eyelids fluttered open and he saw Cotton’s face staring down at him. The cloudless sky behind him was as blue as he imagined. Peace flooded his still body as he reflected on his good fortune, to be with his little brother, to bask in the sunlight, and to listen to all God’s creatures as they performed for nature’s orchestra.
Cottom smiled.
He reached up to touch Cotton’s shoulder, to thank him for saving his life. When he did, he saw his own hand. Something was wrong. His hand and forearm were shriveled and frail. He held out his hand, turned his wrist and elbow from front to back, studying the skin and deciphering the amount of damage, the level of pain. Maybe it had been damaged by mustard gas, the Japanese weapon of choice. But he was in Germany. Maybe his deformation was caused by a reaction to a WP, the white phosphorous used in signaling devices. He saw much but felt nothing.
The skin was wrinkled and thin, spotted with a bruising he had only seen on his grandmother’s hands.
Wife and kids? Had he equated the field of wheat grass to a fence in his backyard where his kids played? Where the hell was he?
Cotton peered down at him and whispered, “We have to get out of here.”
There was no urgency, no anger.
He blinked and saw a line snaking down his skin-damaged arm. He followed the line to the edge of his bed beyond the rails. Beyond Cotton. The plastic bags to which the line was connected hung on gray hooks, boxes with flashing lights and dancing electronic lines. The gurgling and chirping noise he had heard. Beyond the equipment, the sun streamed through the hospital windows, reaching his face. And in the chair in the corner, his wife was curled and soundly sleeping, keeping vigil.
He had had a wonderful life.
It was all rushing back to him in a tidal wave of appreciation. His wife had been his high-school sweetheart. They’d married between him serving in World War II and the Korean War. They had raised five children, hard-working adults with happy families now. And they had gathered with all the grandchildren and great grandchildren – so many he’d lost count – at least twice a year. Everyone had returned to celebrate he and his wife’s seventieth wedding anniversary last month. His parents hadn’t lived as long as they might have, considering their waves of grief, furled and snapped with the South Dakota prairie winds along with the black and white MIA flag flying beneath the red, white, and blue on the pole outside their farmhouse. When mother died, father following her within six months, the single American flag still hung in the picture window. He had taken great care in removing it in preparation for the estate auction.
That flag was framed in a shadow box with Cotton’s picture and was hung on the wall nearest his recliner in the living room of their two-bedroom house. His baby brother hadn’t changed a bit from that photo anymore than he did the day Cotton saved his life. Two days after Cotton was officially reported missing and presumed dead in a battle similar to his along the Rhein.
His brother looked no different than he did standing over him at this moment. And Cotton still wore the uniform.
His only regret in his ninety-one-year-old life was that he hadn’t been able to share with his brother all the beauty life had held for him in the last seventy years.
His twenty-year-old brother grabbed his hand and squeezed, repeating, “We have to get out of here.”
The croak in his throat shattered the steadiness of the hospital background noise. “We have to hold our position. The bridge.”
Cotton smiled again, only this time it was impish. “I am the bridge.”
“Then it’s a good day to die.”
His brother helped him sit up in his bed, never letting go of his hand. With Cotton beside him, he sat for a long moment staring at the woman he loved, who slept as soundly as he had seen her sleep in years. She had celebrated her ninetieth birthday last month and was stronger than most women thirty years her junior, probably destined to outlive all five of their children.
He would wait for her, arms outstretched to hold her again when she was ready.
His brother held something out to him. Saying nothing, he took them from Cotton and measured their weight and coolness in the palm of his hand. And he knew what he had to do.
As his brother steadied him, he rose to his feet and walked over to his blessed wife, bent to kiss the top of her head, and dropped what he had in his palm in her lap. His dog tags.
Then he and Cotton walked out of the hospital room and into the richest field of wheat grass he had ever seen in his life. His mother and father stood waving to them on the other side of the river.
Across the bridge.

The Power of Story…

Sandra Brannan with William Joyce, the brilliant creator of 2012 Oscar Winning Short Film “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”

With the release of WIDOW’S MIGHT in August, I’ve been touring across this great country of ours on weekends to say ‘hi’ to friends — old and new — who call themselves fans of the Liv Bergen Mystery Series and to thank as many of the independent booksellers for loving books so much. Because of the booksellers’ willingness to heft debut authors like myself onto their weary, yet very broad shoulders, I having been riding a wave of success so beautiful it’s almost hard to believe. I can hardly find the words to properly thank the members of the ABA Independent Booksellers Association for awarding my newest book, WIDOW’S MIGHT, the Indie NextList pick for August 2012.

I can never put in words how much the booksellers and librarians mean to me as beautifully as William Joyce said it in his Oscar winning short film, “Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” by Moonbot Studios. If you haven’t watched it, please do. Indulge yourself in this 15 minute love affair between us book lovers and the incredible power of story.

So grateful to all of you for spending time with me in bookstores during my 2012 Book Tour. See you next year! (Psst… spread the word about the power of buying books)

My Hard Hat’s Off To The Indies…

The word is out and a series is born!

Widow’s Might, the third in the Liv Bergen Mystery Series, is on the shelves in book stores near you, thanks to the wonderful book sellers across this country who love Liv so much. I had no idea how incredibly lucky I really was in receiving an ABA Indie NextList Notable in September 2010, thanks to several booksellers who appreciated In The Belly Of Jonah, the debut of the Liv Bergen Mystery Series. A special thanks to Maria Uprichard from Boswell Books in Shelburne, MA for the nominating comments. I had heard the Indie NextList was a way for booksellers to pick the top 20 or so of the 12,000 – 15,000 newly published books each month back in 2010. What a thrill to be named as a runner up, a Notable, for September 2010!

Fast forward two years to Widow’s Might. The number of new books published each month has grown to a staggering near 29,000. Can you imagine the effort the bookseller must exert trying to decide what should be carried in their stores?

Honored beyond belief that so many of the independent booksellers would nominate my book once again for an ABA Indie NextList for August 2012. A special thank you to Jo Gilley, Blue Ridge Books, in Waynesville, NC for the kind comments. I’ll be at Blue Ridge on October 10, 2012 at 6:30 pm to say thanks so come join us in Waynesville.

So believe me when I say, “Thank You!” to ABA, the American Booksellers Association, and all the independent booksellers across this great country of ours for naming Widow’s Might as one of the top 20 for August 2012. That makes me a lucky 1 in 1,500 authors to recieve that honor for that month. Crazy, when I think about it.

And overwhelmingly humbled by the support of all the wonderful booksellers.

A Hero Dies – A Dedication To Retired FBI Special Agent Mick Sherer

The world is not as safe after the death Monday, September 3, 2012, of retired FBI Special Agent Mick Sherer. Losing his battle against dimentia, Mick Sherer slipped away from us at age 78.

FBI Special Agent Mick Sherer in the early 1980’s before he retired.

I am left without my best friend and consultant for the Liv Bergen Mystery Series. I’d changed the order of the series, moving forward Lot’s Return To Sodom, the second in the Liv Bergen series so Mick could know readers and fans had seen the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally through his eyes, the eyes of a dedicated law enforcement officer concerned about the safety of innocent tourists and bike enthusiasts. Some fans did not enjoy the story as much as they did my other mysteries. I understood some wouldn’t, considering how harsh and unflattering the Sturgis Rally could appear from an L.E.’s view of motorcycle gangs who also attend. Yet, I thought his story should be told. And I hope because of Lot’s Return To Sodom and my attempt to show what FBI and other L.E. people do that you’ll appreciate the men and women who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep our streets safe while we party the night away in our leathers riding our motorcycles.

Special Agent Mick Sherer spent decades tracking the most wanted and the most despicable criminals who seeped out of the sewers every year to blend in with a half million bike enthusiasts who come to enjoy the Black Hills. Mick had actually attained Top Tenner status by nabbing a Most Wanted criminal back in the 1970’s, a feat most agents only dream of doing. And Mick could have easily found himself a federal case study statistic in 1975 during the American Indian Movement where his friends and coworkers, FBI Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams, were wounded and executed by a lawless thug taking refuge amongst honorable and innocent people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The inspiration for the fictional FBI Special Agent Streeter Pierce, Liv Bergen’s love interest, certainly arose from my view of a real hero, Special Agent Mick Sherer, and the people like him who are always there for the rest of us. And my world is a little darker knowing he is no longer here with me.

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