Monday, August 22, 2016

"Voices in the Wind" by Judy Bruce

Voices in the Wind
(Wind Series Book 1)
by Judy Bruce

This is the second in a special series on author Judy Bruce. Today we feature Voices in the Wind, the first book in the Wind Series. You can read an excerpt from the book, as well as my review and an interview with the author. Also available: Alone in the Wind and Cries in the Wind.

For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on Death Steppe: A World War II Novel.

The story is set in western Nebraska in the American Midwest. A young attorney accepts a job at her imperious father’s law firm, which forces her to confront tragedies old and new, and leads her into a harrowing fight for survival and the transformation that brings forgiveness and a new perspective.
Along the way, the heroine, Megan, must deal with a crooked attorney, a tornado, lots of root beer, a blond stud, voices in the wind, heartbreak, a lunatic with a shotgun, delicious pastries, isolation, and lies.
This rugged High Plains land of Megan’s hometown is the desolate, windblown, harsh land of the pioneer, American Indian, and cowboy. Even in adulthood, it stirs a strange yearning in Megan, as she deals with the pressures of a law firm and a new love, as well as her attempts to unravel the haunting mystery surrounding her mother. Meanwhile, a disturbed neighbor seeks vengeance against Megan and her friend, driving them into the darkness of the rough land in a test of her wits, fortitude, and resourcefulness. Ultimately, her greatest challenge is to forgive.

Chapter 1
I wasn’t ready to go home. I needed more time to think about the decision that would set the course of my life. Yet I was forced to go now, for the funeral was tomorrow. So I let my Camry take me onto Interstate 80, out of the trees and green, rolling hills of Omaha, westward into the flat dullness of the Great Plains. Cornfields rolled by. Should I take a position at my father’s law firm? Wheat. He’d been prepping me for years—maybe my whole life. Grain silos. Or should I accept the job offer in Omaha I’d received only yesterday? Soybeans. A job in my dinky hometown of Dexter, in the middle of nowhere, meant leaving David behind. Center pivot irrigation. But Uncle Bill and that big ole house I loved were west—just about as far west as you could go in Nebraska. Black Angus. I received the Omaha offer because of all that I already knew, all that my father had taught me. Scrub brush. Did I owe him? Did I belong there? Buffalo grass. Was I brave enough to deal with all that haunted me—the voices in the wind?
When the Rocky Mountains punched through the land in the west eons ago, it thrust the land to the east upward, creating the High Plains. My anxiety rose with the elevation. The commerce of the region changed from grain-reaping to hoof-bearing—I was getting close to home. What should I do? Dealing with my father was a must. And I needed to find out why my recent search yielded no official record of my mother’s death. My stomach cart wheeled.
I looped off the interstate southward onto Highway 51, proceeding past the ditches of green weeds and crunchy brown grass interspersed with purple prairie clover, white aster, and pink smartweed. Bluffs, the big chunks of land left after a bazillion years of wind and water, rose out of the ground on both sides of the roadway. Harney Street, located a half mile north of town, came much too quickly. And my father, Frank Docket, was much too eager to see me. He must have timed my trip, including my stop for a sandwich at a truck stop in Grand Island, then left work early.
I stopped my car in the double driveway of my home, a stately red-brick two-story with white trim, black shutters, and three attic dormers, and gazed at my father and my uncle who had joined him on the front steps. Juxtaposed, they created an amusing impression—Uncle Bill, age fifty-four, was the robust rancher, weather-hardened and built solid, with a Husker cap covering a thick head of brown-gray hair; next to him stood the equally tall but thin man of fifty-seven years, with the paunch of an office worker and receding brown hair, grayed at the temples, in a white shirt with his navy tie still tight against his neck, bearing a disruption of the face that was meant to be taken as a smile. Uncle Bill greeted me with a bear hug and a big grin. My father thanked me for coming home on short notice then patted my shoulder once as I ascended the front steps into the house. Uncle Bill followed me up the main staircase and plopped my suitcase and garment bag down on my denim comforter.
A strange, fleeting thought struck me—how different would my personality, my life be if Uncle Bill was my father?
“Megan, this has hit your dad real hard,” he said. “Not that he would ever talk about what he’s feeling. Be nice, okay?”
“C’mon, give me some credit.”
“Well, get unpacked and come down. I’m glad you’re here, Shortstuff.”
Of course I would be kind. Neither of us possessed cranky dispositions, apart from those two days last summer when our air conditioner died. Even then, we were fine once the new unit was installed. But my father possessed a distinct personality. As an attorney, he was so many things—respected, formidable, reserved, prudent, immutable, and successful. But as a father he disappointed me with his inadequate, unresponsive, grave, imperious demeanor. We rarely argued, but when we did, Uncle Bill made an effort to get a ringside seat. My uncle always said I could go toe-to-toe with his brother like nobody he ever met—including himself. I think he enjoyed watching his big brother get taken down a few notches.
The key was to never get drawn into an impulsive spat. When I knew we had a confrontation coming, I thought out my attack and planned my counterattack to the points he would raise. After my boyfriend moved in with me in my Omaha apartment, my father said he wouldn’t “subsidize a slacker.” My ready response was a check refunding part of my allowance for rent. I countered his bishop with my bishop, his queen with my queen. The result was usually a draw, though I was smart enough to remember his deft moves, his choice words, and his good advice. The dispute often ended with both of us promising “to think about it.” But now, as I sat on the edge of my bed, I knew I wasn’t ready for all that lay ahead.
I roused myself by checking my texts and phone messages. I left a quick message for David to let him know I’d arrived. Then I located a cleansing cloth in my bag to wipe the travel from my face. After I brushed my teeth, I descended the main staircase to find my father waiting with a large glass of foamy root beer.
“You got the good stuff,” I said after I took a long draw.
“You bet. Beulah says to come by when you can. Now come sit down.”
I followed my father into the family room. As if on cue, we both stopped then moved together to the window to marvel at the sudden dark clouds. The panhandle had been baking—unusually high temperatures and twenty-seven days without rain had everyone worrying about a drought. Together we looked over to Bill who was grilling steaks on the patio as he watched the sky. The plate stacked with corn on the cob made me wonder if I’d brought floss. My father’s voice broke the silence.
“I put new carpet in your office.”
I turned to my father. His eyes were softened and his face was slackened with expectation. I knew what he hoped I’d say.
“Father, I just can’t think about that tonight. What time is the visitation?”
“Seven to nine.”
“So, had he been sick?”
“No. It just happened.”
I’d heard my father give cogent closing arguments worthy of Atticus Finch, but I would need to ask Uncle Bill for the details regarding the brain aneurysm. For a moment, I thought he was ready to say more, but he turned back to the window. Why was he so closed off with me?
“How’s Mrs. Whitfield?”
“Not good.”
Then we heard the rain. At first, the sparse drops just dislodged the dust from the windows in streaks, but then it came down with a whoosh. I ran into the mud room to help Uncle Bill. Before I dashed out into the rain, I stopped my father from following me.
“You’ll need to take that suit to the cleaners. You should stay in.”
I ran out onto the brick patio, certain my father wouldn’t follow after I’d raised such a sensible point. Ever since I had arrived, he’d looked at me with big basset hound eyes—a man most people would liken to a Doberman pinscher. Would he play the good old family dog—obedient, patient, and hopeful—until I said yes?
At supper, we laughed at the moist steaks and the wet corn then became somber for the two hours at the funeral home. Were those soft eyes for me or for the loss of his good friend and law firm partner? I went to bed listening to the rain and wondering about my father.
I awoke early the next morning, my mind and body still on Central Standard Time. With my destination clear in my mind, I donned my watch and tied my brown hair into a pony tail. While I was eating a bowl of Life, Patty White Horse arrived. Patty was our Jane-of-all-trades—our housekeeper, cook, grocery-shopper, counselor, and confidante. At age forty-one, she no longer shot baskets with me, but had remained staunchly loyal to my family for the past thirteen years. Tall and knock-kneed, she was three-quarters Oglala Lakota Sioux, yet an “Apple” as she called herself—red on the outside, white on the inside. She’d spent the first half of her life denying her heritage, the last half embracing it, and the past ten years trying to forget the marriage my father and uncle helped her escape. My father drew up the divorce decree and Uncle Bill pounded her husband after Patty came to work with a black eye. The townspeople considered my uncle a genial man and a good storyteller, but he had a wicked right hook that made me proud.
“Hey, Megan! Glad to see ya. Whatcha doin’ up so early?” Patty said as we embraced.
“Ah, just antsy, I guess.”
“Congrats on passing the bar exam. Your dad says they’re tough.”
“Somehow I managed it.” I loaded my bowl and spoon in the dishwasher.
“You’re gonna be a good lawyer just like your dad.”
I smiled at her then looked out the window.
“Well, I know you, so it’s no surprise where you’re headed. I won’t keep you.”
“Yeah, we’ll talk later.”
“Might be much later. I volunteered to help over at the church with the funeral luncheon.”
I headed out to the plush green lawn my father worked hard to maintain. With one step, I went from dense green fescue to brown scrub grass, still damp from the night’s rain. The south wind pushed at my back, urging me onward as it whipped around the house. I continued north onto the dense patches of the gray-green curly leaves of the buffalo grass. Once the main source of food for the great herds of bison from the frontier days, the hardy tufts still provided forage for white-tailed deer, rabbits, and prairie dogs. This was the rugged land I loved—too full of ravines, gullies, rocky hillcrests, and scrub brush for cattle, vehicles, or people, as my father always contended. But I knew every crag, cranny, and crevice in every hill, butte, and bluff within miles. Along with our concrete basketball court beyond our green ash, this had served as my playground since I was a toddler.
As my feet took me onward, I thought about Patty’s compliment. I did want to be a good lawyer. The law was important—you determined the facts then you applied the law. Humans had always tried to make sense of the chaos of our world. God gave us meaning, laws gave us order. So people like my father, and soon me, sought to make right what accidents, criminals, and human weaknesses tore apart. Laws made justice on earth possible. Laws were rational, I was rational.
And yet.
As a toddler, I had been frightened by the jagged shadows the ditches and rocky mounds cast at twilight, though nothing scared me more than the wind. Ever in fear of blowing away, I stayed close to the house. Later when I ventured into the rough land, I imagined I heard sounds in the wind—a cry like that of a woman and moan like that of a child, one trapped in a barrel or a closet. As the voices weren’t threatening, I grew up listening, waiting, wondering about what I heard. In time, I dismissed the sounds as imaginary. I decided the child’s voice was mine because it seemed to age as I did; later, the deepening of the voice confused me. The woman’s voice was surely my longing for a mother. Never did I tell anyone about the sounds that didn’t exist. Only on this land did I hear the voices—no other place was so forceful, so haunting.
After I crested a hill I had nicknamed Rufus, a voice stopped me so abruptly that I stumbled to my knees. This was a new voice, a woman’s voice, calm and steady and powerful. I looked around for someone who could be speaking, but saw no one. I jumped to my feet and ran back toward the house in a panic. I stopped when I heard another voice, that of a young man, the one I’d heard since childhood. This utterance—never did the voices make words—seemed as if it came from inside a well. I staggered forward only to be halted by the sound of woman’s voice that always accompanied the young man’s.
Nope. I hadn’t heard anything. Yet the memory of the new voice kept me walking at a quickened pace. I checked my watch and was shocked that my brief walk actually took an hour. My mind had traveled farther than my legs. Questions swirled around in my head, but I needed to set them aside and prepare for the funeral.
The next few hours passed slowly. I decided to forgo the pink goo Uncle Bill plopped on his plate in the buffet line of the church’s social hall. Instead, I opted for a limp salad with a dollop of French dressing to go with my sandwich of cheap wheat bread, turkey, and a large slathering of mustard, the strong kind they serve at roadside burger joints. I took a glass of iced tea from Glenda Purvis, my former second grade teacher, now retired and sporting recently permed hair tinged with lavender. I sat down with my uncle, while my father stood erect, just behind the shell-shocked Kathy Whitfield and her sons, Zach and Zane, as they greeted the funeral guests entering the hall. 
Although I needed to talk to my father about Zach, his inadequate junior associate, I felt bad that his father had died. That must feel terrible. I lost my mother when I was three years old, so I didn’t remember her. She existed only in a few photos buried in a dresser drawer. The yearning to know her haunted me always.
Needing to think, I roamed the hallway outside the Sunday school classrooms. This trip home was different, but how? Did my sadness feel stronger? Was there something I needed to understand? No, discover. Wait, why did I think that? Was something hidden? The response to my longing had always been passive—was I now to act? 
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Having grown up in Nebraska, I found the settings realistic and the characters fascinating. The plot grabs you and keeps you wanting to turn the next page and not put it down. The ending surprises the reader ... Can't wait for her next book!" ~ MP on urglassesgirl
"Voices in the Wind will intrigue readers everywhere. I loved Judy Bruce's way of showing us what happened and how it happened. The story drags readers in from the beginning and won't let go until the read it all. This is the first novel in the Wind Series by Judy Bruce and I loved it. I can't wait to read what happens next inside of her second novel, Alone in the Wind." ~ Danielle Urban
"I love all the details in the book. I could not put it down." ~ Carla Kelman
"A story of loss, heartache, and ultimately forgiveness, Voices In The Wind is a great book for fans of human drama and hauntingly beautiful landscapes." ~ Johanna Bouchard
"Overall, this is a beautiful story of the resilience of the human spirit and its ability to forgive those who hurt us most. I can’t wait to read the next in the series." ~ N. N. Light

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
At its heart, this is the story of three families - the Dockets, the Wilsons, and the Eldritches - bound together by tragedy. Megan Docket returns home to Dexter, Nebraska, for the funeral of her father's law partner, and she decides to stay and work in her father's law firm. She encounters numerous obstacles along the way, as well as romance and a family secret even greater than she imagined. Through it all, she hears voices in the wind that sweeps over her father's land. And, as her housekeeper Patty says, Megan "feels things". Even the Lakota Indians dub her "The Woman Who Feels". 
Voices in the Wind is a mixture of romance, mystery, paranormal, historical, literary, family saga, and even thriller. The story is full of the minutiae of daily life, and the author shows a comprehensive knowledge of legal proceedings, medical conditions, computer security, and even funeral arrangements. There are a lot of characters and a lot of details, and it's difficult to know whether every storyline is relevant to the story as a whole, or just a minor subplot. The landscape itself is also a character - or even several characters - in its own right, with parts of the land even having been given names (e.g., Rufus, Miss Gulch, Big Leo) by Megan and Derek when they were children.
Even though this is the first in a series, this story is complete - no cliffhanger here. I'm interested to see what the rest of the series holds.

Interview with the Author (originally featured on the author's blog)
What inspired you to write this book?
On my way from my home in Omaha to a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains, we stopped in western Nebraska for a break. This area of the High Plains, with its ruggedness and relentless wind stirred something inside me. Yes, the Rockies are spectacular, but this feeling of yearning and eeriness stuck with me. I don’t think I can describe how my mind then jumped to the creation of the characters and story. Like my protagonist, Megan, I’m a law school graduate. Spoiler: I’ve never killed anyone. And thankfully, I don’t find trouble like Megan does. I’ll never write a memoir – I’m much too boring.
Do you plan on writing more books (with these characters) (on this topic)?
This is the first book in a series set in the Nebraska panhandle. For now, I plan on 8 books in the series.
Where is your favorite place to write books?
I write in my home office, but I know that many of my ideas will come while I’m on the exercise bike or in the shower or during supper, so I keep paper stashed in every room of the house. It’s these collected ideas that make up the bulk of my books. Inspiration can strike at any time - I try to be ready for it.
Did you outline this book first? Or just start writing?
Oh, I always write and outline and separate my notes according to a three-part structure. I know that I will veer from the outline and the story will sometimes take its own direction, and I go with that, but the outline helps me to get where I need to end up. An outline also helps to remind me where I’m going, so writer’s block is not a problem for me.
What was your favorite scene or chapter to write and why?
There’s a life and death chase in the darkness across the rough land that was great fun to write. If anything, writing should be fun and exciting.
What was the biggest challenge in bringing this book to publication?
My first draft didn’t work, so I set it aside and went on to other writing. Then one day, a few years later, I knew just how to fix it. So I rewrote it. I found an agent, but she retired due to health matters. So I found a small publisher on my own.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Oh, my writing is always better when a have a big mug of Starbucks Double Chocolate hot chocolate next to me. It has 3 grams of dietary fiber! And the cocoa beans are "ethically sourced". I have no idea what that means, but it sounds good.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’m a law school graduate; I was working as an attorney-negotiator for an auto insurance co. when I needed to stop working full-time and stay home to tend to my profoundly autistic son. I was working part-time as consultant when it occurred to me that I ought to write down some of the stories I always had floating around in my introverted, middle-child noggin. So I came to writing late in life (I was forty).
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Aside from family activities, if I’m not writing a first draft, I’m developing my next story or revising the last one and dreaming of writing the next one.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Study your craft - structure, characterization, plot, etc. And learn grammar! Agents and publishers expect it (if you know grammar, then you’ll be more successful at finding fun and creative ways to destroy it). There’s a whole industry out there to help you develop storytelling. I’ve found Writers Digest to be a great tool.
Also, feed the storyteller inside you. I don’t like to read other writers when I’m writing, but movies can stir ideas. And don’t limit yourself to one area - explore comedy, war, Japanese anime, classic Hollywood, action, foreign, anything, even if it isn’t your area of storytelling.
Revise! Then revise again and again. Even if I don’t change anything major, there’s always stuff to smooth out, tweak, polish, whatever you want to call it. Make sure it’s perfect before you submit it to agents or publishers.

About the Author
Judy Bruce is a novelist and screenwriter. In addition to her acclaimed novel, Death Steppe: A World War II Novel, three stories have been published from her Wind Series: Voices in the Wind, Alone in the Wind, and Cries in the Wind. Her novel, Fire in the Wind, will be published in the fall of 2016 by Merriam Press. Judy maintains a website and a blog. She is a wife, mother, and sister residing in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Creighton University law school graduate. Her autistic son keeps her in touch with her quirky side.