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HiDee Ekstrom



Fear of death is the CHANGE used in the opener. Flies everywhere, and Mary Lou not answering Sam’s calls for three weeks, are signaling the CHANGE Sam is about to face.

Sam is fighting his dread (fear) that something has happened, followed by horror and disbelief (core need of love/connection) for Mary Lou to be safe.

This opening caught my attention because of the voice and the situation.


Sam went around the back of the house, looking for the kitchen door and praying that he was wrong, praying that Janine, Mary Lou and Haley had gone to visit Mary Lou’s mother in Northern Florida, and that an animal–a raccoon or a skunk–had gotten into the house and, trapped there, had died.

But Jesus, there were flies covering every window, even in the back of the house. Especially in the back. Whatever was dead in there was bigger than a skunk.

Sam knew he shouldn’t touch the doorknob in case there were fingerprints on it. He had to call the authorities.

Except, he didn’t know for sure that anyone was dead.

Yet the fact that Mary Lou hadn’t returned his call for three weeks–three long weeks–suddenly seemed telling. He’d assumed that she wasn’t calling him back–not that she couldn’t.

Please God, don’t let her be dead.

He lifted the clay flowerpot that sat on the back steps–Mary Lou’s favorite hiding place–and sure enough, there was a key beneath it.

The lock on the kitchen door was right on the knob, and he knew he could unlatch the door by inserting and then carefully turning the key. He didn’t need to touch the knob and therefore wouldn’t add to or subtract from any fingerprints that might be there.

The lock clicked as it unlatched, and he gagged. Jesus. Even just the inch or two that he’d opened the door was enough to make his eyes water from the unmistakable stench of death. Sam quickly pulled the collar of his T-shirt up and over his nose and mouth and swung the door open.

Oh God, no.

Mary Lou lay face down on the linoleum floor–although, Christ, she’d been lying there so long in this heat, she probably didn’t have much of a face left.

Sam couldn’t bring himself to look more closely.

He saw all he needed to see. She was undeniably dead, her brown hair matted with blood and brains and, shit, maggots. She’d taken what looked like a shotgun slug to the back of her head, probably while she was running away from whoever had come to the kitchen door.



The CHANGE is that she will be testing her belief that ghosts don’t exist. Derek has purchased a haunted house. She sounds like she’s trying to convince herself ghosts don’t exist, but if she’s working on renovating a haunted house, she may have to revise her beliefs!

She feels disbelief, some frustration, and maybe also some resignation at the news Derek shares with her. I think all of the above fall into the uncertainty category of need.

This opening caught my interest because it had a touch of humor. I like the voice, too.


“There is no such thing as ghosts,” I said firmly.

“Glad to hear it,” my partner in grime answered.

I squinted up at him, suspiciously. Not only is he quite a lot taller than me, but I was kneeling on the floor of my Second Empire Victorian cottage, putting the finishing touches on a chair I was reupholstering. He lounged in the doorway, scuffed boots crossed at the ankles and sculpted forearms crossed over his chest. “Why is that?”

He grinned, causing crinkles to form at the corners of his cornflower-blue eyes. “Because you won’t freak out when I tell you I bought a haunted house this morning.”

“You did what?” I said, right on cue. He chuckled. I rolled my eyes. I love the guy – sort of – but his sense of humor can be a little trying at times. Those times when I’m the brunt of the joke, like now.

Derek Ellis and I had been business partners for just a few weeks and romantically involved for a few more. I had known him longer, but it had taken us a while to get to the point where we wanted to be this close.

Our joint venture, which had started out as Derek’s venture, was a home repair and renovation business headquartered in the small town of Waterfield, Maine. We both lived there, although not together. I had inherited my aunt’s house the previous May, while Derek lived in a converted loft above the hardware store in downtown. It has exposed brick, concrete kitchen counters, lacquered Scandinavian cabinets, and a whole lot of other things he won’t allow me to put into Aunt Inga’s house because it would mess with the original 1870s mojo.

When I first learned of Aunt Inga’s death and my inheritance, my plan had been to renovate the house and then sell it, and take the money I made back to New York to start my own textile design firm. But during the weeks I had spent in Maine getting everything ready, I had fallen in love with both the town and with Derek. So instead of going back to Manhattan at the end of the summer, I stayed in Waterfield. Ever since then, we had been keeping an eye out for a property to buy and renovate. Now, it seemed, we’d found one.


My Ah-hah! moment for lesson two was “Someone is affected by it (CHANGE).” It’s important to see our main character affected by the change, right off the bat. I have a tendency to want to include backstory, rather than showing how the CHANGE is affecting my main character right now. Definitely food for thought!


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