What I'm Writing Now

I've been hard at work on my next novel, Unforgettable, and I hope to finish it in the next few months.

It's a love story that takes place on both the Cape Verde islands and the Eastern part of the United States.

Here's a peek at the first chapter:

Her home, her entire world, would soon be entombed in molten rock. Smoke billowed out from the volcano’s cone, and red lava exploded upward in jets, crashing back down to earth in flaming balls. Peering past the old mango tree, she saw lava flowing down the hill toward the houses and shops that dotted her island village. Flames already engulfed the sports stadium, and hot, black ooze had already swallowed some of their neighbors’ homes.

 Celia pulled on her mother’s arm. “We have to leave the house.” The authorities had ordered them to evacuate a few days earlier. After dragging their two foam mattresses, the card table, and their two folding chairs to a nearby village, she had dragged her mother there as well. But this morning, when she awoke, her mother’s mattress lay empty.

Panicking, Celia ran for an hour, taking paths known only to the villagers, to where she suspected she would be, back at their house. Watching her mother water the mango tree with an empty bucket, Celia gulped air filled with the stench of rotten eggs. Could this be a nightmare? No, it was too real.

She had to convince her to leave, which wouldn’t be easy. Though Celia was full grown at eighteen, her mother was still taller and stronger, and now out-of-her-mind crazy.

“Mama,” she cried, choking from the taste of sulfur in her throat. “Do you want us to burn alive?” Powerless to stop the surge of living rock, she listened to the lava crackle and hiss as it rolled toward them. Though it only advanced a few feet per hour, it had already reached the edge of their property. Within minutes,  it would set fire to the beautiful trees they had nurtured since her childhood.

Their village lay within the ancient crater far below the volcano's newer cone. She had seen villagers and news crews observing from the rim of the crater a few days before, so she scanned the hills above her for someone to help, but from where she stood among the trees, she couldn’t see anyone. They were all alone.

Her mother stared at her with empty eyes, as if she spoke and walked in her sleep. “We can’t leave the crops," she said, sounding so calm, "It’s good, black soil here.”

Just two weeks before, when the earth first started trembling, her mother had been perfectly normal, preparing a new batch of crocheted doilies to sell to the tourists who came to hike the volcano. She’d always handled tragedy well. Even when Celia’s baby sister died eight years earlier, she had stayed strong. Now she reminded Celia of the woman down at the market who claimed to have given birth to a chicken.

Celia grabbed her mother’s arm again, pulling as hard as she could in her exhausted state. “Mama, this is worse than the other eruptions. Half the village is already lost. We won’t be able to save the mango trees.”

Her mother twisted free from her grasp again. “These trees need water. They haven’t had water in over a week!” She picked up a broken branch from the ground and held it threateningly over her head.

Celia backed away. She wished Manny were here to help. He would throw her mother over his shoulder and haul her over the hill to safety. “You may want to die for these trees, Mama,” she yelled, “but I promised Manny I’d be here when he gets back. I’m not going to stay here and wait for the lava to swallow me whole.”

Celia turned and marched twenty steps in the other direction, hoping Mama would follow, but her trick hadn’t worked. Mama still clung to the mango tree, and Celia couldn’t leave her. This was the woman who had sung her lullabies and taught her to sew. This was the woman who worked on the road crew to provide her with food and clothing. This was the woman who never, ever sent her to school with a wrinkly dress or a dirty face. Now this woman hugged her favorite tree, her face smashed against the trunk, sobbing. Whether this mental illness was temporary or permanent, Celia would not abandon her own mother. Barely five meters up the hill from her, lava crept forward.

Celia groaned. “Mama!” she yelled, anger welling up inside her as hot as the lava plowing toward them. “Come with me! Now!” She ran back and grabbed hold of her mother’s arm again, but the woman had such a tight grip on the tree that Celia couldn’t budge her.

“You can’t trust a man to come back for you,” her mother howled through her sobs. “Not after he leaves Fogo Island. That’s when you’ve lost your spell over him. He forgets how beautiful you are.”

Was she talking about Manny or Celia’s father? Yes, her father had forgotten them, but Manny wouldn’t be that way.

She pulled on her mother’s waist, then on her legs. But the woman slumped down, becoming a dead weight anchored to the tree. Celia tried tickling under her arms, and then on her feet.

Nothing worked.

Finally, she knelt down and took her face in her hands. “Please, mama, let go of the tree. I love you. Don’t make me watch you die!”

Time was running out. As the lava gained on them, a grape vine on the other side of the tree caught fire, and Celia did the only thing she could think of. She picked up the tree branch in both hands. Sucking in a breath, she closed her eyes and lifted the branch over her head, but she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t hit her mama.

The lava rolled ever closer—just a few steps away now. So close that the heat burned Celia’s skin. How could Mama not feel that?

“I’m sorry, Mama,” she said in her softest voice. “I’m sorry about the volcano.” Then seeing the far-off look in Mama’s eye, she had one more idea. Her hands shook as she pointed in the direction of the closest hill. “I think you’ve watered this tree enough. We have more trees to water on the other side of the hill. They’re all gonna die if we don’t water them. We’ve got to hurry!”

Her mother stared at her for a moment. Then, like a bird answering a distant cry from her flock, Mama raced out of their burning orchard, carrying her bucket with her. Celia followed. She didn’t look back to watch the lava roll through the front door of the only home she had ever known.


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