The Gut Reaction

I do it every time. I get to a point while writing when I don’t quite know what to do next. Now, I always have a bit of an outline under my belt. Nothing terribly detailed, but enough of a Point A to Point B to Point C that I’m not completely flailing around in front of my laptop. But then I have to fill in the details, maybe tackle a miniature sub-plot that sprang up from out of nowhere. And that’s when the arguments with myself begin.001

Surely, this scene needs more conflict.

Wait, maybe this one needs less.

Maybe my villain needs to be more villainous.

I should have this character do that thing, since that’s what I see happening in other books of this sort.

And that’s where I realize I’ve gone wrong. When I start comparing my books to others, when I start worrying about how other authors before me have done things, when I start to check the established “rules” about how stories should go, that everything tumbles down around me.

In my current work in progress, I worried that the last act didn’t have enough conflict, that in other books of the genre there’s usually some last, big “showdown” type scene from which someone needs rescued or there’s a fight or there’s… something. And that something is showy and would look great in a movie (or at least the movie I create of it in my mind). Someone needs to be kidnapped, or discover they’re pregnant, or ACTION ROCKS FALL EXPLOSION CUDDLY KISSES AND A VOLCANO WITH MONKEYS AND BANANAS.

But I didn’t have any of that. I have two characters, both of them dealing with their own internal demons (one fighting loyalty to the memory of her family, and her attempts to break free of that, and the other dealing with the guilt of wasting his life and accidentally killing someone in a fight) and overcoming that. That’s it. No swordfights. No carriage chase. Just characters growing and realizing that they’re responsible for their own actions. AND THEN A DRAGON-

No. No dragons.

Just character growth. And realizations. And FEELINGS.

Okay, and maybe a little bit of sassy OH NO YOU DIDN’T dialogue. But definitely no dragons.

Because no matter what I think I’m supposed to do with these stories, whatever template I’m under the belief I have to adhere to, I need to ignore all of that and go with my gut. My gut says, let these people grow and be healed, let them realize that they’re strong enough to walk away from the people hurting them, and… that’s it. Story over. No more unnecessary complications.

And this has happened with other stories, too. When doubt comes in, telling me that I need to do something differently, that I need to shape a scene a certain way because it’s how people will expect it to be shaped.

Again, no. I have to go with that first urge I had, that inkling from the very beginning that said, “Do this and forget everyone else!” (Okay, so the inkling might use a bit more forceful of word beginning with an “F” than “forget”) because it’s almost always right. And if it isn’t right (which is a rare, rare thing) then that’s for me to fix in edits down the line.

But I have to go with my gut. Because that’s when I’m the most honest, when the words are truly mine, before I’ve gone and tried to shape them into what I think they should be. Or, to paraphrase:

That’ll do, gut. That’ll do.

 

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Monday, Another Short Story, also Monday. Always Monday.

It was a busy week last week, a busier weekend, but I’ve come out of it with a child who is now six years old, a houseful of groceries, the new Beauty and the Beast movie watched and enjoyed, a lesson learned that I should not give my three-year-old son M&Ms at any movie theatre for the foreseeable future, and too much ice cream cake and pizza consumed in the last 36 hours.

And here I am, trying to get back into the usual Monday routine. Dishes, schoolwork with the kids (we learned about clouds and condensation today, and Freja wrote a “commercial” for her latest favorite book, Penguin and Pinecone), and baths for everyone (and hopefully a quick shower for me).

I have a few more in-depth posts slated for later in the week, but to make sure I don’t slip away and forget to leave my mark here, I’m going to post the third werewolf short story I wrote recently. The prompt for this one was to focus on the transformation into a werewolf, and the word count limit was cut from 2000 words to 1500, so I had to be fierce in cutting out what wasn’t necessary. I have another story set in the same world in the works for the weeks ahead, and with a longer word count (2k-5k) so I should be diving into that one before the end of today or tomorrow.

For now, enjoy Pale for Weariness, and I’ll be back soon.

(If you’d like to read my previous short stories about Lady Drummond and Mr. Muir, you can check out Dust and Silver and Sleet and Shadow.)

Palefor Weariness

Pale for Weariness

At the bottom of the stairs, the candle gutters and nearly goes out. I turn my head in anticipation of a noise that will lead me onwards. But there is nothing. The thump that pulled me from my bed is proving itself an aberration, and I fear I’ve come all this way to find a mop slid down from its place or one of the children tucked into the housekeeper’s room, sneaking a midnight helping of jam. 

I could return to my room. My feet are bare, the marble floor that leads a checkered path towards the vestibule like a block of ice against my skin. But curiosity will be my downfall. The candle sheltered behind my cupped hand, I scurry further along the corridor, chasing shadows that remain always a few paces beyond my reach.  

Several steps more and the gun room lies ahead, along with the doorway that will lead me down to the kitchen and the laundry rooms at the rear of the building. Still, I hear nothing aside from the pulse of my own blood through my ears, the click of my jaw as I swallow over a lump of apprehension that wasn’t there moments ago. I steer myself towards the gun room. Like a fool, I’ve left all manner of weaponry upstairs. If I’m to venture further, a defense greater than a dripping candle will be needed to lend some manner of self-assurance to my search.

I open the door and step inside. My gaze dances across shadows that I recognize, the polished wood of shelves and the shine of glass in cabinet doors. I could arm a legion of men with the armaments on display, but they’re all beyond my reach. For between myself and the nearest pistol or sword or mace, lies a figure sprawled across the rug. Continue reading “Monday, Another Short Story, also Monday. Always Monday.”

Writer’s Block, Finding Your Muse (and Then Kicking Her in the Shins)

DSCN1103Since the beginning of this year, I’ve written over 50,000 words. For me, that’s fairly significant. Last year, I had a baby (#4), I moved up to homeschooling two of my kids (and I began some preschool work with #3 after Christmas). I did quit my job teaching dance, and gave myself about a month to flail around and figure out what on earth I was going to do with this sudden influx of free time. (Laundry. It’s always laundry.)

Slowly but surely, I began to write more. First, only a few hundred words a day, barely five hundred, and each of those words like the proverbial pulling of teeth. And if my main work in progress gave me a problem, I simply walked away from it for a day or so to tinker with something else.

But then I was struck with a new problem. Sure I was getting words, but every time I pushed aside that main story for something else, it became easier to keep pushing that main story farther and farther away until I was distracted by the shiny of this other story. And when that one hit a rough patch… Well, why don’t I just push it aside for another? And so on and so forth. Until I had more unfinished manuscripts than I could count.

So I’ve learned a few things about my own process when it comes to writing (that is, since January). Which is startling since I’ve been at this for years and years, and am still making discoveries.

First: There is no muse. There is no inspiration. Sitting down and waiting for it to strike will lead you to being one of those crotchety writers of yore who drinks a lot and maybe grows questionable facial hair. Do you know what makes me write more words, what inspires me to keep working on a story? Working on the stinkin’ story. I learned that the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write, the easier it was to write. Those chipping-at-concrete few hundred words became a thousand, sometimes several thousand in one day. I’d snap on my headphones, put on some Paw Patrol for the kids once their schoolwork was finished, and listen to ten minutes of Mozart or Moulin Rouge while pounding out as many words as I could in that short snippet of time. Get up, load the dishwasher, do it all again. And again.

Second: Don’t be distracted by the shiny. If I became stuck, I couldn’t let myself turn to another story (at least not unless I’d already added at least a page or so to the story that was giving me a problem). I had to write through the wall. Even if I didn’t like the words I was putting down, even if I knew I would have to fix them later, forcing myself through that block made the words come easily again. Because the wall wasn’t a permanent thing. It wasn’t a thick, impenetrable structure. A few swift knocks and I was through. But I had to be persistent. I couldn’t let doubt assail me.

Three: Forget doubt. These are my stories. I can tell them. Only I can tell them in the way I want them told. Your stories are the same. They are yours, they belong to you, and only you can give them their voice, so make them heard.

Now, let’s see if I can finish this manuscript before the end of next month…

 

 

“Mark and Seal”: A short story

It’s Sunday, the snow is melting, and my brain is busy mulling over the next scene in An Unpracticed Heart, my latest and main work-in-progress. I’ve not much more to report than that. The kids are bopping around, their antics spurred on by too much cabin fever. We’re having sloppy joes and cauliflower (What? I like my cruciferous vegetables) for dinner. Tomorrow is Monday and schoolwork and laundry (ALWAYS LAUNDRY) and shuttling the kids to their extra-curricular activities. The usual suspects.

So to prove that I am actually accomplishing things – occasionally – I finished another short story/scene-let, but instead of werewolves in Victorian-era London, I have a scene that’s been in my head for some time. For those of you who have read The Half Killed, I do intend to write its sequel (at some point… when my children are grown and off to college, most likely). This story takes place about six months after the main events in The Half Killed, and sets up the continuation of Dorothea and Julian’s story in The Sparrow Falls.

It was also brought about because of a story prompt set up by a few author friends of mine, K.S. Villoso (who writes amazing Filipino-inspired, diverse fantasy fiction) being one of them, Julie Midnight (as she’s known on Wattpad) being another. (If they make theirs public at any point, I will link to them here.)

It is a little dark, and there is some mild language. Just getting that much out of the way before we go any further. And if you do proceed, I hope you enjoy it.

“Death has set his mark and seal
On all we are and all we feel,
On all we know and all we fear…” Percy Bysshe ShelleyMarkandSeal

Mark and Seal

The birds close in, black feathers sweeping against a backdrop of white. Footsteps track through the fresh fall of snow, though it’s still pristine in some places, soft mounds and drifts over the horseshit the sweepers have yet to clear away. Nearer to the first of the bodies, the blanket of white devolves into a slurry of muck and slush, and it’s not until Trevor moves nearer that the splatter of blood becomes discernible from the drip and splash of other things.

Continue reading ““Mark and Seal”: A short story”

The Firstborn’s Hero: Lord Haughton

Writing heroes is always fun. I never set out with a perfectly formed character in mind. I usually have a scene, or even a scene-let, with a few lines of dialog, maybe a bit of action, and that’s it. But it gives me enough of a springboard that I can start building a story around this guy.

And a lot of the time, he’s definitely not the most likable character. Alexander_Jakesch_-_Old_History

Take Lord Haughton, or Finnian, as he’s more familiarly known. He’s the hero of my next book, The Firstborn, and at first introduction, he’s not exactly someone you’d immediately warm up to. He’s stuffy, he’s stubborn, he’s worried about keeping up appearances.

His younger brother, David, has gone and sired a son out of wedlock. It’s a scandal, or it could be if it’s not kept under wraps. And Finnian, being the oldest son and the one with the weight of the title on his shoulders, has to take on the chore of cleaning up everyone else’s messes.

Finnian moved towards his desk, the neat stacks of invitations, of previous days’ newspapers, of filed and folded documents pertaining to the care of his family’s estates proving only a minor impediment as he shifted a few things aside and produced a sheet of vellum. “A simple thing, really. I merely offer her the money she would certainly come to claim at a time when it would be more inconvenient for me. A fixed sum, enough to ensure the child will receive the proper care and guidance he deserves as my brother’s offspring.”

“And in return?”

“In return,” Finnian brandished the document. “She does not interfere. She does not leave her tiny cottage. She does not set foot in London. Nor does she attempt to contact myself, my brother, or any other member of our family, except within the terms laid out for her.”

Winston let out a long, low whistle. “And do you think she’ll agree to that?”

“I’ve found that most people will agree to anything, if the proper incentive is offered.” Finnian glanced down at the document in his hand. He felt a mercenary twinge in his bones that did not agree with him, but the fact of the matter remained: he could not allow this woman to gallivant about the country with his brother’s illegitimate offspring in tow, no matter her attempts to keep up appearances to the contrary. Their father, the previous marquess, was barely cold in his grave, and now such a scandal threatened to destroy the family’s name.

Man, he’s just so warm and charming!

But surely, you think, he’ll show his softer side once he’s faced with a bouncing bundle of joy, his own nephew, and the woman who’s been caring for him!

“Very well.” He shifted forward in his chair, until both of his elbows rested on the tabletop and the position of his hands matched her own. “I would prefer that you agree to several conditions before this matter goes forward to my solicitor. First, that the boy never takes his father’s surname.”

“I see.” Sophia licked her lips, her mouth having gone uncommonly dry at the sudden change in the tone of the conversation. “Pray, continue.”

He drew in another deep breath. “You are to make no claim, public or otherwise, on the boy’s parentage. No one is to know the identity of his father, and should word arrive to me that you have done so, then any and all payments towards you will immediately cease.”

“Hmm.” Her gaze drifted down towards the table, her focus concentrated on a knot in the wood. She suspected that if she dared to look into the man’s face while he continued to speak, she might be tempted to do him physical harm. “Anything else?”

“You are never to come to London, or to any of my family’s estates throughout the country, unless first issued an invitation to do so. Failure to comply with these conditions will mean—”

“—an end to the promised annuity,” she finished for him. “Yes, yes, I understand.”

She continued to breathe, measured breaths that required her to count three seconds for each inhalation and three seconds for each exhalation, or else she thought she might be ill.

“So…” His voice sounded from the other side of the table. “Mrs. Brixton, are there any comments or questions you may have for me before we move forward with this?”

One.. two… three… “Only one thing,” she said, her voice tight as she attempted to speak between clenched teeth. “My own condition, actually.” Her eyes met his. One… two… three… “And that is that you must leave this house. Now.”

Goodness. His people skills are outstanding. Truly.

But it was with these first few scenes that set the stage for the character I wanted to create. Yes, I wanted him to be a bit of a jerk. But then, this is a man who’s had the shadow of responsibility looming over him since birth, a father who instilled in him the idea that no scandal should ever besmirch the family name, and a younger brother who has given him doubts that there are still a fair number of people in the world who aren’t simply looking out for their own interests.

Yet he also wants to be proven wrong. And that’s where the fun begins. He wants to find those other people who will stand up for themselves, who won’t back down when something easier comes along. Sure, there are the folks who are swiftly dispatched with some money or other material goods. But without him even realizing it, he wants to be surprised. He wants the human race to show him something – someone – better.

And when he happens to find it, it might just turn his world upside down.

***

The Firstborn will be available in ebook and paperback May 9th, 2017!

Don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads book list!

 

It Was a Week (And Another Short Story) (And a Release Date) (Woo-Hoo!)

Yesterday was Tuesday. Somewhere in my brain, I knew it was Tuesday, and yet another – much more optimistic – part of my mind kept trying to tell me it was already Friday. That I had already survived a week that had begun quite inauspiciously with a severe stomach bug (nothing like spending your Sunday night/Monday morning curled up in the fetal position on the living room floor), with my oldest daughter and then my husband catching the same bug (to lesser degrees than me, but of course I was hit the hardest because I’m awesome like that), and with the weather changing its mind every five minutes.

So because of that, this is going to feel a bit more like a weekly round-up type of post, when in reality… It’s Wednesday morning.

Now, to sum up. First, my next book, The Firstborn, has a release date! On May 5, it will be available in both ebook and paperback! I’m excited about seeing this story that began as a failed attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) find its way out into the world.

So it will have its own shiny new cover (the only cover I currently have for it is a placeholder that was used for its time on Wattpad) and you’ll get to hear me expound on all things about it here over the coming weeks. (Yes, please. Contain your excitement.) And to start things off, I’ll give you the description of the story (like what you would read on the back or on the jacket of the book):

Sophia has sacrificed everything for her younger sister, Lucy. She has removed them from the only home they ever knew, taken on the care of Lucy’s illegitimate son, George, and even assumed the role of a widow and mother in order to erase all hint of scandal from the boy’s birth. But rumor continues to follow them like the darkest of clouds, and Sophia must adapt to her new existence as a false widow with no prospects beyond the doors of her small cottage.

Lord Finnian Haughton will stop at nothing to prevent the slightest hint of scandal from tainting his family’s name. When he learns of his younger brother’s latest indiscretion-one that leaves a bastard child in his wake-Haughton rushes across the country to offer the boy’s mother a comfortable living in exchange for her silence about the child’s true parentage. But he arrives only to have his generous offer thrown back in his face by Sophia Brixton, a sharp-tongued and sharper-witted woman who proceeds to toss him out of her house. But just because he is banished from her home does not mean he is so easily banished from her life.

Also, I wrote another short story since I last posted in here. This one also follows the adventures of Lady Drummond, when she encounters someone on the streets of London who may not be quite what she seems…

Sleet andShadow

 

Sleet and Shadow

There is nothing for it. I am alone. In a city teeming with life, the mingled breath of thousands rising upwards as their waste drains away beneath my feet, there’s no one to protect me. I have only myself, a pitiful blade tucked within my sleeve, and a rapid prayer remembered from my childhood, the words falling from my lips with a greater speed than the strike of the sleet on the cobbles around me.

Water runs into my eyes, ice stinging my forehead and cheeks as I press my back against the wall behind me. There is no shelter from the weather, and so I can do little more than lower my chin to my chest, my breath coming out in brief, steaming gasps as I close my eyes and listen.

There are no carriages. I will wonder at that later, but for the moment, I cannot decide whether to praise or lament the lack of traffic. From a distance, the sound of a horn reaches my ears. From the river, I think. But it’s far to my left, if the weather and the cold and the abnormal absence of pedestrians haven’t disturbed my sense of direction. I breathe again, reveling in my renewed orientation, and on the exhale, there is a step. Continue reading “It Was a Week (And Another Short Story) (And a Release Date) (Woo-Hoo!)”