The web home of national best-selling writing couple, J. Steven York, and multi-genre novelist Christina F. York (who also publishes mystery as Christy Fifield and Christy Evans), between them authors dozens of published books.
A couple of important mystery announcements today: First, the third installment in the conversation between Chris and I discussing our respective mystery series set in the Florida Panhandle, is up over at her blog, ChristyMystery. Give it a read.
Second, I'm pleased to announce that I need to write faster. The master plan for the future of my "Panorama Beach Mysteries" series has been firmed up four titles in advance of the two already available in ebook (and soon, print) form.
My initial plan for the series was to write four individual, shorter, mysteries that I could eventually publish as one volume in both print and ebook form.
That's still the plan, though with both "The Best Devil Money Can Buy" and "A Breath Away from Dying" finished, the installments are getting longer, and I'm not sure how long parts three and four will end up. So I might end up with two volumes, or even three by the time I'm done (with those four).
The next two are were well mapped out, and I'm about to start writing number three, "The Beat of Angels Wings." Here's the pitch on that one. The actual setup has changed slightly since I wrote this, but it's close.
When Deputy Mustang Sawtell witnesses a
sight-seeing helicopter crashing into the surf just off Panorama Beach, it
seems a matter for federal investigators -- until it's learned that the pilot
died not from the crash, but from a gunshot wound sustained before
takeoff. With no crime scene, no
suspects, no witnesses, and most clues washed away by the surf, it seems an
But when a second dead body shows up with
helicopter connection, it's no coincidence.
To solve the crimes, Mustang will need to match wits -- and nerve, with
a fraternity of veteran Korean war air-ambulance pilots, united in war, divided
by secrets, and capable of delivering both mercy -- and death -- from above!
The wrap-up for the 1967 series is "By the Rocket's Red Glare." Here's my pitch (again, subject to revision): When an off-course Air Force test missile crashes in an undeveloped area of Panorama Beach, the resulting forest fire leaves more than ashes. When Sheriff's deputies are called in to help search the scorched forest for missile parts, Mustang finds a shallow grave with three skeletons, each with a bullet hole in their skull. Now, an old murder investigation is turning red hot, the FBI and the State Patrol are taking over Panorama Beach, and Mustang's enigmatic boss, Sheriff "Big" Bass, is the prime suspect! Can Mustang solve the murders, can he save Big Bass, and does he even want to?
I initially didn't have strong plans beyond that, except that those four would all take place in the summer of 1967, and the next series would cover the year 1968, a turbulent year in US history, and also an election year for Mustang's boss, Sheriff "Big" Bass. But while I was working on those two books in my head, I was thinking about Mustang's back story, and some of the things that made him the man he was in 1967. And out of that came another story, "Small Bones." This isn't actually set in Panorama Beach, so I may simply publish it as "A Mustang Sawtell Mystery."
The Pitch: Still reeling from the events of summer, Mustang receives a phone call from his old station in north Pascua County. The skeletal remains of a child have been discovered in his home-town of Pinodeoro, and they're believed to be those of his childhood best friend, who was abducted while walking along a highway when Mustang was ten. Stunned, he drops everything and goes to the crime scene, but after seeing the body, he is banned from the crime scene by the investigating officer. He's too close to the case. But Mustang can't make himself goes far, and moves into his shuttered childhood home to watch from afar, dealing with survivor's guilt, old ghosts, bitter memories, and probing the darkest shadows of his own past -- where he is certain a killer awaits!
And just the other day I came up with the a title I knew I'd use for a future installment, "A Fist Full of Sand Dollars." Then, later that evening, I realized where it would have to be set, and then the story just started writing itself. Here's what I have so far:
When a staged gun-fight at the Dodge City western town attraction in Panorama Beach goes horribly wrong, Mustang finds himself on a dusty western street with two dead bodies, two shooters, no doubt about who show whom, and no suspects at all. It's either a most unlikely accident, or a most elaborate murder. But who did it, how, and who was actually the intended victim? A candidate for either role, is the "Sheriff" of Dodge City, who was replaced in the gunfight at the last minute, and who is now a torn in Mustang's side. And as he investigates, Mustang will learn that although "Dodge City" may be as fake as a cigar store Indian, the politics, rivalries, and secrets it hides are as real as any, and that he may just have to draw down with the Sheriff to catch a killer!
So, that's the road map:
AVAILABLE Ebooks (And Coming Soon to Print):
The Best Devil Money Can Buy
A Breath Away from Dying
The Beat of Angel's Wings
By The Rocket's Red Glare
Small Bones (A Mustang Sawtell Mystery)
A Fist-full of Sand Dollars
Hope you're looking forward to them half as much as I am!
Chris (writing as Christy Fifield this time) and I both have new mysteries out. As it happens, both are set on the north Florida coast (though in different time periods). Let's examine, compare, and contrast, shall we?
First up, Chris has a brand new mystery series launching from Berkley Prime Crime, as I said, under a new pen name.
The "Haunted Souvenir Shop" mysteries, starting with "Murder Buys a T-Shirt," are set in the fictional town of Keyhole Bay, where Glory Martine has just inherited her late Uncle's gift shop, a place full of secrets, dusty memories of times gone by, a foul-mouth parrot, and literal ghosts, who just may be using the afore-mentioned parrot to communicate from beyond the veil! Can clues from the afterlife help her solve the mysterious death of a local sports hero?
If you like cozy mystery, Florida mystery, contemporary fantasy, humor, or southern cooking, you'll love this new series! You can order the Kindle book or paperback using the Amazon link provided, order the ebook directly from your favorite device, or pick it up at your favorite local or on-line bookseller.
For my part, I have the second installment in my "Panorama Beach Mysteries," series (after "The Best Devil Money Can Buy). This series is also set in a fictional Florida panhandle town, the resort community of Panorama Beach, but the year is 1967, when the relatively untouched, sugar white beaches are dotted with small hotels and colorful, quirky road-side tourist attractions which will provide backdrops for the stories.
Our hero is Deputy "Mustang" Sawtell, the youngest and newest lawman on the beach, an idealist with a strong moral compass given to him by his "Memaw," his late grandmother who raised him. As in "The Best Devil Money Can Buy," Mustang is navigating the dangerous political waters of his new assignment, from the questionable ethics and morals of some of his fellow officers, to others who who are unquestionably bad, to his dangerous and morally compromised boss, Sheriff "Big" Bass.
This time he answers a prowler call to the Aquarama aquarium, only to find the body of a dead mermaid, a performer in an underwater show. He's thrown off the case by a vindictive superior officer who quickly bungles the investigation and rules it an accidental drowning. So when, for his own reasons, Big Bass gives him another crack at the case, Mustang is eager to set things right. But he's in danger from all sides. If a murderer on-the-loose doesn't get him, one of his fellow officers just might!
Both Panorama Beach mysteries are available thought the Kindle link provided, or through all major ebook outlets. A third installment, "The Beat of Angel's Wings" will be out later this year.
With those words, a true American hero rocketed into space fifty years ago, aboard Friendship 7. A decorated Marine pilot, he became the first American to orbit the earth, and gained a permanent place in the minds and hearts of his country.
Years later, after a lifetime spent serving his country, he returned to space in 1998 at the age of 77, the oldest man to ever fly in space. When the shuttle Discovery lifted off the pad, we once again heard the iconic words, "Godspeed, John Glenn."
Today we offer the story "Godspeed" for free, in honor of a real hero, a man who has lived a life of service and honor, and who has served his country with grace and dignity for more than half a century. This is my tribute to a man I greatly admire.
Hero worship? You bet!
Godspeed, John Glenn.
If you prefer to purchase a copy of "Godspeed" for your electronic reader instead of reading it here, it is available for Kindle, Nook, iPad, and for other formats through Smashwords.
President John Glenn has Only Seconds to Change History... His Own!
Christina F. York
Copyright 2010 Christina F. York
January 28, 1986
This is Air Force One. There's
been an explosion; we're missing part of the left wing. We are going down."
Muffled by the headphones the president
had tuned to the cockpit, the pilot's voice cracked with stress. Strapped into his seat, surrounded by his
Secret Service detail, President John Glenn knew the end was near.
In the midst of the crisis, he was still
struck by the irony. A decorated combat
pilot, veteran of two wars, the first man to orbit the Earth -- and he was
about to die in what should be the safest passenger aircraft in the known
world. Annie, who had supported him
through all the dangerous undertakings, would be widowed by an accident that
should never happen.
Time slowed, stretching like summer
taffy. Each second felt like minutes, as
the presidential jet continued its plunge through the banked clouds, hurtling
toward the unseen ground below.
Around him, people moved in slow
motion. Shouted orders became a deep
hum, as voices slowed and time stood still.
Glenn glanced quickly around, looking
for any sign of movement. Everyone was
frozen in place in the dim cabin lights.
Everyone but him.
He had to move.
Obeying the reflexes that had saved him
so many times before, he tore off the passenger restraints and started toward
From behind him, a flash of golden light
bathed the dim cabin. For an instant, it
reminded him of the firefly-like lights he had seen on his first space
flight. Then the light faded, leaving
the cabin in shadows.
"That won't save you this time,
He whirled around, toward the sound of
the voice. There was a man, a stranger,
behind him. Glenn blinked, trying to
focus on the man, but he couldn't see him clearly. The cabin light was low, and it was as though
he were shrouded in fog, inside the
"Who are you?" Glenn demanded.
"Don't you know?"
"I can't see you. How could I know?" He wasn't afraid, but this stranger was
damned annoying, and he had much more important things to do than stand around
arguing with some guy in a fog bank. He
could save this plane, if he could just get to the controls in time. He knew he could.
"Yeah, you can save them," the
man said, as though Glenn had spoken his thoughts aloud. "But not in the way you think."
"Who are you?"
"Who I am isn't important. You can call me your guardian, if you need a
label. It's who you are that
matters." He gestured toward the
empty seat. "Might as well sit back
down, Colonel. No one is going anywhere
for a while yet."
The fog slipped lower, as the guardian
settled into a seat across the aisle from the empty seat.
"I know who I am. I'm the President of the United States. And I have my people to protect."
"Sit down." It was a command this time, in exactly the
tone to activate the retired colonel's military training.
He sat, assuming the rigid military
posture that had been a part of him for so long.
"At ease, Colonel." The guardian waved a hand - he thought it was
a hand - at him. "I told you, we
aren't going anywhere."
It was true, the plane wasn't going
anywhere, though it should have augered in by now. Instead, it hung inside a cloud, defying the
law of gravity.
"What do you want?"
"Like my name, what I want isn't important. The question is, what do you want?"
Over the years, Glenn had learned the
hard lesson of waiting out a question he did not want to answer. He sat ramrod-straight, and stared at the
shifting cloud. The heater fans hummed,
sending warm air swirling through the cabin, but the cloud around the guardian
After a moment, the guardian continued.
"Haven't you ever wondered how you
managed to survive all the missions, all the dangers, you've faced over the
years? You flew combat in two wars. You flew untested planes. You survived that first orbital flight, when
everyone thought you might burn up on reentry.
Did you think you were just lucky?"
Mission Control was hushed, as the 11th
scheduled launch approached. After
months of delays and reschedules, they were finally going to send a man into
orbit. Finally, with multiple orbits,
they would be back in the space race.
Unless the launch got scrubbed again.
From the capsule, Glenn was patched
through to his Annie, at home in Arlington.
Hearing her voice made his chest tight.
He tried to reassure her. "Hey, honey, don't be scared. Remember, I'm just going down to the corner
store to get a pack of gum."
"Don't be long," she answered.
His voice caught as he said, "I
love you." He was glad no one could
see his eyes at that moment.
Glenn heard Flight Director Chris Kraft
call a hold, with less than ten minutes to go.
It was the second in under thirty minutes. The Bermuda tracking station was having
trouble with their radar.
They had come so close this time. He was in the capsule, ready to launch. Would today be just another delay?
The silent seconds ticked by. For two long minutes, everyone waited for a
Finally John Hodge in Bermuda said,
The countdown resumed.
Familiar voices went through the
procedures they had drilled on for months.
Today it was for real. He waited,
listening, hardly daring to believe it would finally happen.
At eighteen seconds the countdown went
to automatic. For the first time, he knew he was going to fly into space.
Seconds later, the engines roared to
life, the holddown clamps released, and the giant rocket slowly lifted off the
Later, someone would play the film of
the launch, and he would hear the one thing he couldn't hear from the
capsule. In the launch blockhouse,
Capsule Communications - Capcom - was Scott Carpenter. As the rockets fired, he said, "Godspeed,
The flight of Friendship 7 was etched in Glenn's memory. The glory of the first sunset, the sudden
blinding brilliance of sunrise. The
fireflies, a swirling cloud of glowing golden lights around the cabin, which no
one had ever explained to his satisfaction.
There were other memories. Problems with the automatic attitude control. His irritation when flight control wouldn't
voice their fears about the heat shield.
The searing heat of reentry, not knowing whether the heat shield was
intact. Wondering if the capsule would
withstand the next minute. The elation
when the chute blossomed over him.
Everything had worked the way it was
supposed to. Or was there more to it?
The plane remained frozen in midair, as
the guardian waited for an answer. Glenn
shook his head. He was grateful for the
faith that sustained him in times of peril, and for his good fortune. But he had never questioned its source.
"The big guy likes you, man! Haven't you
figured that out by now? Think about
it. The flight controller says,
"Godspeed, John Glenn." That
pack stays in place, and you drop into the ocean, pretty as you please."
"I didn't even hear him,"
"It doesn't matter whether you
heard him or not. He said it. That wasn't the last time, either. Every time something went wrong, every time
you were in danger, somebody remembered the magic words, and you came back
safe. It was a ritual with your regular
ground crew, something the chief mechanic repeated on every Air Force One
"Every time until today."
They had left the ground ahead of
schedule, before the arrival of the regular crew. They were anxious to reach the Space Center
in Florida, where the stunned NASA engineers and astronauts were trying to make
sense of this morning's horrifying explosion.
As Air Force One climbed away from
Andrews Air Force Base, Glenn had watched the capital pass out of sight behind
them. He was one of the staunchest
supporters of the space program, and he worried about the opposition the
program would face when he returned.
Then he dismissed consideration of the
long-term problem, and focused on the next few hours. The grieving families of the victims would be
waiting in Florida, waiting for comfort from their president.
It was ironic that he would be the
one. It could so easily have been
another president, offering the meager comfort to Annie and his family. He knew, perhaps more than anyone, that it
could never be enough.
He hoped he could make them understand
how important the program was, to the country and to the individuals who had
given their lives for it. He believed in
a life of service, and the brave men and women of Challenger has believed it, too.
He prayed that their families shared
that belief, as Annie and David and Lyn did his.
"Do you mean--?" Glenn hesitated, hope rising within him.
"You can't change what happened
this morning," the guardian answered.
"Disaster is going to bring down Challenger, no matter what you decide, Colonel. But you can change what's coming. Not this year, and maybe not the next, but soon.
"They'll send up another shuttle,
and lose another crew. Discovery. A little thing, really. An access hatch blows off at launch, and
damages an engine. But, like I said, the
big guy likes you. He'll bring you home
"But if you're not there, that
disaster will end manned spaceflight."
The thought sickened Glenn. The work, the sacrifices, the lives given up
for the program. It couldn't end this
"What can I do?"
"Back? Back to where?" He looked around. There wasn't anywhere to go, except down - to
meet the ground and end in a ball of flame.
"Not where. When. Go back and take a
different path. Not the one that leads
to the White House, but the one that dead-ends in the Senate."
March 16, 1984
Super Tuesday hadn't been very super for
the Senator from Ohio. Beaten in the
primaries and caucuses across the country, he faced the inevitable with his
usual remarkable calm.
This wasn't his first disappointment,
nor, perhaps, his greatest. Alan Shepard
had beaten him into space. He had been
forced out of the 1964 Senate race by an injury. He had lost the 1970 Senate race to
He didn't lead a charmed life, not by a
long shot. But he had gained more than
he had lost. He still had Annie, his
kids, and his honor. He wouldn't trade
any of them for anything, including the White House.
When his Senate staff assembled, he
played a popular song for them. They
listened, as Kenny Rogers sang about the gambler, "You've got to know when
to fold 'em."
With his head high and his shoulders
back, he maintained his dignity in the face of defeat. He announced his withdrawal from the race at
a press conference in a Senate caucus room, declaring, "Although my
campaign for the presidency will end, my campaign for a better America will
Glenn was confused by the memory that
wasn't his. He had done well on Super
Tuesday, giving him the boost that earned him the nomination and the White
"That isn't what happened."
Glenn stared at the guardian. They were about to smash into the ground at
terminal velocity, and this guy was telling him he could go back in time and
He had never had a hallucination in his
life, even when he had truly gone where no man had gone before. But maybe he wasn't able to accept the end of
his life, and this apparition was his way of blocking it out.
"You're not crazy," the
guardian said, once again hearing Glenn's unspoken thoughts. "This is real, and the choice is yours.
"Go back. Make a difference. Ride the rocket again. You're the biggest hero NASA's got; they'll
find a way to let you go. And when
someone says 'Godspeed, John Glenn' - and they will - you'll all come back down
as smooth as can be. You can save that
crew, Colonel. The space program will
have a hero again, even if no one knows exactly what it cost you."
"There's got to be a catch..."
"You won't be in the White
House. You will have political trouble, and you'll never get farther than the
Senate. That enough of a catch for
"But I will always know I could have."
"Nope. Doesn't work that way. Once you go back, this never happened. You won't be able to tell anyone, because you
"Or you can go up to that cockpit
and try to bring this plane down safely.
You're missing half a wing, and even you
can't overcome that, but you're free to try." The fog swirled, as though the guardian had
shrugged inside his cloud. "Who
knows? You may make it, if you can
suspend a few laws of physics."
For a moment, he dared to hope. Maybe he could overcome the damage. But the program, the research and exploration
that he had given his life to, that he believed in, would be doomed. And six good people, people who shared his
love and dedication to the space program, would die.
January 28, 1986
The images of the exploding shuttle were
indelibly etched in the minds of every citizen.
The scene had been replayed endlessly, as a stunned nation watched,
unable to fully accept the disaster in the clear Florida sky.
Within minutes, questions were being
asked both in Mission Control and around the world. How could this happen? What was the cause?
Who was to blame?
The future of manned space flight hung
on the answers to those questions. For
now, no more Americans would fly in space.
A delegation from the nation's capital
was quickly assembled and shuttled to Andrews Air Force Base, where they would
depart for Florida.
A detail of Marines watched as Air Force
Two took off, carrying the Vice President to Cape Canaveral. Aboard the plane was one of their own.
As the jet turned south, one young
Marine said softly, "Godspeed, John Glenn."
"Is that where I'll be, if I go
"Yeah. Same airspace, different plane, different
companions. And a different
Compared to the loss of manned flight,
personal ambition was a petty concern.
There were things he could change, and things he couldn't. He hoped he had the wisdom to know the
January 16, 1998
Daniel Goldin, Chief Administrator,
NASA: "When someone who has risked
their life countless times for a space program and for our country comes to you
and says, 'I'm willing to take the risk of space flight and serve my country
again, because I think we can do more to benefit the lives of older Americans,
can I go?' you don't say no. I am
extremely proud to announce that John Glenn of Ohio, the first American to
orbit the earth, will get his long-awaited and much-deserved second
Glenn could feel a lump in his throat
when he considered the possibility of being allowed to fly again. It was a dream he had given up long ago, an
ambition for a younger man.
"Will they really let me go?"
"They will need you, more than any
of you will know."
Hope bubbled in his chest. The prospect made him light-headed with
joy. "And can I make a
The cloud moved slowly, as though the
guardian were shaking his head. His
voice was somber when he replied.
"Yes, you can make a difference, for that mission. There will be others, ones you can't
change. One person can only do so much,
you know, no matter how much the big guy likes him.
"But you can save Discovery, and you can save the people
on this flight."
Glenn took a look around. His Secret Service detail had been with him
since the campaign. He knew their wives
He knew the press secretary and two
speech writers who were working in the conference room, even though he couldn't
see them. One of the speech writers had
just moved her ailing mother into her home, where she could care for her.
For each of these people, he could make
a difference. If he could believe what
the guardian was telling him.
"It's the truth," the guardian
said. "Or at least a possible
truth. If you choose that path."
The T-38 rolled to a stop on the tarmac
at Cape Canaveral. Beside it were four
identical planes. Although he was
sitting in the second seat, John Glenn was once again flying a jet plane, and
preparing for a flight aboard the shuttle Discovery.
The guardian seemed to grow impatient,
his tone sharp as he asked again, "What do you want, Colonel? Do you need to see more?"
Glenn hesitated. Hope swelled within him, a dream rekindled by
the images the guardian had shown him.
Was that hope clouding his judgment?
Perhaps he could do more to protect the program from the White House
than he could from the flight deck of the shuttle.
He wished he could talk to Annie. For forty-three years she had been the best
advisor, the strongest supporter, he had ever had.
"This is your decision,
October 29, 1998
The day dawned bright and clear. It was as if Mother Nature herself had given
her blessing for the launch. But it
takes more than good weather to make a safe flight.
The countdown droned on, each second
ticking over as each member of the huge team performed their assigned duties.
Standing on the pad, the flight crew
looked up at the rocket that would carry them into space. They were tiny orange specks against the
massive machine, a few hundred pounds of bone and flesh facing a four-and-a-half-million-pound
behemoth with a million moving parts.
With five minutes to go, the countdown
stopped. Two small planes had entered
the airspace near the Cape, and would have to be removed.
Finally, the last few minutes ticked
away and the engines lit.
In Mission Control Scott Carpenter
repeated the magic words.
"Godspeed, John Glenn."
Glenn considered his choices. The cloud stirred impatiently.
"You said no one could help me
decide," Glenn said, his voice slow.
There was one thing he had noticed.
"But you have not addressed me once as 'President,' only as
The guardian was suddenly still,
impatience turning to wariness. As Glenn
suspected, the observation had been not only accurate, but significant. He had his answer to the last unspoken
"Send me back." As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew,
all the way to his bones, he had made the right decision.
The cloud stirred and Glenn thought he
saw the guardian nod. "You got
The light faded around him. He was dropping, weightless, through time and
space. As the darkness overtook him, he
looked back. The guardian's cloud had
become a swirl of tiny fireflies, just like the ones he had seen surrounding Friendship 7 on his first flight.
The cloud passed through the bulkhead,
swarming around the plane as they emerged into the darkness. Before they vanished completely, he heard the
guardian say softly, "Godspeed, John Glenn."
by Christina F. York first published in Time After Time, edited by Denise Little, DAW Books, 2005.
About the author:
Christina F. York remembers both of Glenn's spaceflights, and considers him a true hero.
of the Pacific Northwest, Christina writes
across several genres, including SF, fantasy, romance, and mystery, sometimes
in collaboration with husband J. Steven York. Her mystery novels are published as Christy Evans, and Christy Fifield.