Holiday Snippet – December Round Robin

This month, the round robin participants are regaling everyone with snippets from their own work that highlight the spirit of the season. Some may even give a short story or flash fiction and I’m delighted to check out what they have in store.

For me, I’ve chosen an excerpt from my novel Persona, a novel about Megan Shepherd as she is thrust unwittingly into the middle of Nazi Germany. While the snippet is more somber than I’m sure many of the other works will prove today, I chose it because, at its heart, is a woman who misses home.

As a veteran, I deeply respect the sacrifice that takes family members away from home during whatever holidays they normally celebrate. If there’s an empty space at your table this year, I hope you find some comfort in those who are able to gather with you, and I hope your loved one comes home soon.

Happy Holidays.

Persona – Chapter Five

“You’re such a quiet little thing,” Schuler remarked.

He sat across from her in their little train car, his newspaper momentarily forgotten on his lap. Megan pulled her gaze from the window to look at him. He sat uncomfortably in the barely-padded seat, his lanky frame folded in awkward angles. Megan had dozed off and on since leaving Wilhelmshaven, but it was a light sleep that couldn’t satisfy her exhaustion. The train jostled along its tracks, rumbling through the seat so loudly that it never failed to wake her.

And, of course, her mind would not leave her alone to rest either. As grateful as she was to be leaving all signs of the Navy behind, it was increasingly evident that she was travelling deeper into Germany, deeper behind so-called enemy lines, and her tension was growing.

“At first I thought it was because you were sick,” Schuler said thoughtfully. “And then because you were worried about what sort of future Germany had in store for you. But now I think it’s just your nature. You’re quiet.”

Megan shifted in her seat, feeling stiff, angry muscles stretch with the sudden movement. She felt exhausted all around, like she could melt into a little pool of nothingness and still never recover from the past weeks. And yet she had to recover, and quickly because the curiosity on Schuler’s face was not going away. She gathered up the threads of her lie, reminding herself yet again that she was Klaudia Volk, orphaned and lost, relying on the kindnesses of men she’d just met.

Feeling terribly small and exposed, Megan smiled at him, knowing full well how strained it must look.

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” she said. “Did you want conversation?”

“Well, perhaps a little, Klaudia,” Schuler said with a smile that was far more gracious than her own.

It seemed safest to keep the conversation on him, so she searched for a neutral topic.

“Have you known Captain Von Buren very long?” She asked.

“I’ve known him for several years, yes,” he said. “He’s a very good man. The best I’ve ever known. Though I think he should have warned you about his house.”

“His house?”

“Yes,” Schuler said, folding his newspaper. “I wouldn’t describe it as a mere house, Klaudia. It’s very large. His property takes up several acres, though the … shall we say, manor house … sits near the center.”

The word “manor” made her stiffen in surprise, and then she chastised herself for the reaction. He was a Von. He had history and title to him. Of course he lived in that history.

“Most of the rooms are closed off, I’m sure,” Schuler went on, tapping the folded paper in his lap. “But I still can’t see you feeling comfortable there. That house is enough to swallow me whole and I’m used to a certain level of luxury.”

“Is it his family home?”

“Oh yes. The Von Buren’s have lived there for several generations. They trace their lineage back to kings and barons,” Schuler said. “Not that such a lineage says much these days. Still, I think there might be a guest house on the property. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you chose to reside there instead.”

Kings and barons, Megan thought. The image fit Von Buren very well. He had the air of aristocracy and the firm, unyielding command of a man bred to lead. And now that she thought about it, he had told Albrecht that his estate was large. This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

“Where did you grow up, Klaudia?”

Megan looked to the window again and tried to mask her panic. It appeared she would not be able to keep the conversation from her person. She took a deep breath and stared at the blurred passage of shadowed trees and buildings outside.

Stick with the familiar, she thought.

“Neuss,” she said. “My father owned a barley farm.”

Her mother had come from Neuss, so she was confident any digging around Schuler might do would bring up the name Klaudia Volk. Of course, that name was tied to a ten year old girl just prior to her leaving Germany with her family but at least it was there. And she was fairly certain Uncle George had mentioned a barley farm, too.

But maybe it was wheat.

She prayed Schuler knew less than she did about agriculture.

“Ah,” Schuler said. “That explains the quiet nature, I think. No doubt you’ve had more excitement the last few years than you’re used to.”

“Yes,” she said, grateful to be telling the truth again.

“Well, I’m certain life will quiet down again for you in Ulm.”

She smiled at him, a genuine smile this time. “I certainly hope so.”

They lapsed into silence and Megan turned her attention back to the window. The landscape seemed to have flattened, giving her a clear view of open fields stretching far into the horizon. Here and there the rounded curve of a hill interrupted, its grassy face somehow dull in the winter light and the sky above looked pale gray bordering on blue, as if the elements themselves felt it necessary to display a dreary and foreboding day. Megan let the images blur, choosing to focus on the foggy windowpane instead.

She’d missed Christmas.

Or she was about to anyway.

Schultz had informed her they’d made harbor on the twenty-second of December, and it had been a day later before she’d met with Albrecht.

Christmas Eve, she thought, suddenly understanding why their train was so full. Soldiers and families were desperately trying to close the distance, to congregate in central locations for a celebration or two. Megan smiled, her mind drifting to home, to the sharp scent of pine and colorful packages ringing the tree.

Mother had always loved Christmas, both the traditions of her homeland and the ones her father had insisted upon. The month of December generally created joyous mayhem in the Shepherd home, starting with the Advent wreath and moving through Saint Nikolaus Day where their clean shoes would be left outside the door overnight so that Nikolaus could fill them with treats. But on Christmas itself the celebration came to a climax with big dinners and thoughtful presents and Megan couldn’t stop the sudden wash of homesickness as it rushed over her.

Heaven help her, she missed her mother so much.

Megan took a deep breath, banishing mother from her mind. She knew where those thoughts would lead, could sense the dark hospital room encroaching on her memory, and forced herself back into the present. Schuler had returned to his newspaper, his brow pinched in displeasure at whatever he was reading. A part of her wanted to draw him out again, to ask what had his attention and start another conversation, but he would inevitably ask more about her person and she wasn’t ready for that.

She had the ridiculous thought to write down her story as she’d told it to Schuler and Von Buren, just to keep it all straight. But she couldn’t risk someone else finding it, so of course that would not do. Frustrated, Megan turned to the window again and tried to get some sleep. It would be some hours before she reached Ulm and she imagined she would need all her wits about her when she got there.


Check out some other holiday inspired snippets and free content from my fellow authors here on the round robin…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1qI
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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NaNoWriMo 2018 Results

Even with a holiday visiting my mother – on the other side of the nation, I might add –  I managed to make it passed the 50k mark and win NaNoWriMo. The rest of the year will be spent finishing this novel about ghouls and goblins and dragons. It has been great fun to write Pru’s story, though I did have to drift away from hand writing and start typing the thing.

Wrist cramps are a thing. And sometimes my fingers get sore when I’ve spent too much time writing by hand.

That being said, I am pleased with the results for this year. As soon as I have the entire book completed (which should happen on the 31st of December, if not before) then it will be tucked away until April.

Also this year I had my son participate. While his goal was not 50,000 words, he was assigned to write 200 words a day and for the first half of the month he did this beautifully. But then the laptop died and with it, his means of typing.

It was a joy to watch him work. Around the third or fourth day that he came to me, wide-eyed, and said; “I get why you like writing now. Anything can happen!”

My heart swelled with so much pride in that moment, I feared it would burst. I look forward to including him in future National Novel Writing projects when I’ve secured a personal laptop for him.

To those of you who participated and made your goals, I applaud you. Imaginary confetti is dusting your shoulders as you read this.

To those of you who participated but missed the mark, I still applaud you. Writing is a frightfully dangerous endeavor. As my son says; “Anything can happen!” The fact that you braved the blank page and started to fill it tells me you’re the courageous sort and I truly believe you’ll finish that story no matter what.

Costs and Rewards – November Round Robin

After that fateful assignment in the sixth grade that spurred me into the writing life, I confess the road has not been easy. Two years later I started writing a fantasy novel based off Dungeons and Dragons characters. My cousins were involved, as well as my brother, and I allowed my mother to read a bit of my work.

I remember the piece because I was particularly proud of how I’d delved into the mindset of a traumatized woman. My life to that point had not been terribly traumatic so it was a stretch of the imagination to get there.

My mother’s response was that if I wrote things like that, people would think I’d experienced something like it.

I didn’t believe her until a year later. Bored with a spelling assignment, I decided to stretch those imaginative muscles again. The assignment was to use specific words in a sentence and I wove a short narrative to entertain myself. This was of a darker nature, which I blame on my reading pile at the time, and resulted in the teacher sitting down with me and the counselor.

I had to explain that I was just playing with the assignment and hadn’t experienced anything of the sort – I think I had the narrator watch someone fall off a cliff, but can’t quite remember – and that all was well. The teacher and counselor both seemed uneasy but satisfied by my answers, and it was then that I realized how different I was.

Sadly, I was not self-aware at the time, but I have come to understand that the main difference between myself and the majority of the world, is that I don’t just see people for who they are. I see them for their potential, both good and bad. And while that serves me well as a writer, it has often brought about complications in my personal life.

Because while I see the potential for bad, I strive to help them reach the good, often at great cost to myself.

Not so in my writing. There I explore how bad things can get, and willfully cross the threshold with my characters until there is no turning back .

The rewards of writing far outweigh the cost for me. They are much the same as the rewards from reading in that I am able to visit new worlds and cultures, experience jobs I would otherwise never encounter, and touch on that deep vein of humanity that courses through us all. The difference being that as a writer, I am submerged within the storytelling, privy to all the character backstories and world building that is only shallowly represented in the completed work.

This is my happy place, where I exist in tandem with the stories I tell. And if I’m a bit daydreamy to friends and family, I am comforted that they love me in spite of it. Or, in the case of my husband, they love me because of it. In this I count myself the luckiest woman in the world.

See the costs and rewards for my fellow authors in this month’s Round Robin discussion.

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1qD
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

WE Master Class – What’s the Point of This Anyway?

For those just joining me, I started going through the Writing Excuses Master Class several weeks ago. I haven’t posted every entry of homework and the like, so this week’s post jumps forward into story structure. I’ve done this because, well, who wants to see every bit of someone else’s homework? And because I would rather point emphatically to the Writing Excuses Podcast and encourage authors to go try this for themselves.

That being said, let’s jump in.

The first episode regarding story structure is a bit of a mesh between what I want to call theme and fuel. Theme defined as the overall purpose of the novel, and fuel being defined as the way in which you encourage readers to keep reading the book.

I say this because much of the conversation questions what the book is about and what the author is aiming for, which would be the theme. Now, having done this writing thing for a while, I can admit that when I deliberately hunt for a theme at the beginning of the writing process, I constantly fall short. Maybe it’s the discovery writer in me, but I have to get the rough draft down first and then I can spot the major themes of the novel.

Something that I took away from the class, and that I will be using in my current editing project, is asking what answers the reader will be looking for in the next chapter. Doing this deliberately, chapter by chapter, is sure to have an effect on the novel as a whole and I am excited to put it into action.

The assignment from this particular episode is rather involved and required that I go out and choose a favored book/movie/show and reverse engineer the plot structure, paying close attention to questions asked and answered and any subplots that ran throughout. I did do this, but I am not going to share it here because… Yeah. Who wants to read my homework?

 

Keeping Tension – October Round Robin

Welcome to another Round Robin discussion! This month we’re focusing on keeping up the tension in a book from start to finish.

After several years writing books, I can sense when a scene is slacking now. It derails me and I pick up my crystal ball (no, really, I have one) and start hashing things out using three “writer’s tools” from my personal toolbox.

If you haven’t heard of the writer’s toolbox, I suggest reading Stephen King’s On Writing, as well as frequenting the Writing Excuses podcast. Both are invaluable.

So!

There I am, writing along, when… ugh, this scene is dragging. Why is this taking so long for me to write?

Because we know that if it isn’t interesting to the writer, then it certainly won’t be interesting for the reader, right?

First tool in the box – POV.

Basically, I have to ask if I put the right Point of View character in this scene. Are they too competent for the situation?

For example, if we have a broken down car, we obviously want a mechanic there to fix it. But that’s not drama, that’s not tension, we need someone incompetent in there to see what they do.

Second tool in the box – Stakes.

Oftentimes, when a scene is slacking, it means I need to up the stakes for them. This doesn’t have to be life or death stakes, it can be something smaller. And really, it’s the smaller things that help ground us in the character anyway.

For example, if the character is lost in the middle of a town because somehow your plot got them there. Not only do they want to figure out where they are, but we give them another want as well… like, say, a burrito.

I’m sure we can all share the frustration of being lost in an unfamiliar town, and we can share the feeling of hunger. These aren’t huge stakes, but they are stakes, and the character’s repeated mantra to find a burrito adds some humor.

Third tool in the box – Meshing.

This one is simply the realization that we can combine two scenes together to make a stronger narrative. I use this one quite a lot in the editing stage. When I do my first read-through, I mark each chapter by color based on their strength. Anything yellow can be combined, and I’ve found the book as a whole benefits.

And that’s it! That’s a peek into my writer’s toolbox. Check out what my fellow authors have to say in this month’s round robin.

Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1oh
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Book Review – Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

Our family started the Temeraire series on the road trip to New England and we were excited to see where the story went in this third book. Laurence and Temeraire are now staples in our household, to the point that we’ve taken to nicknaming our cats after the dragons.

(Nicknames only, because to me they will always be Pest – for constantly sitting on the back of my chair while I’m typing – and Nuisance – for his equally disruptive behavior while I am writing with pen and paper.)

It is particularly delightful to see my ten-year-old son getting involved in the narrative. He enjoys Temeraire’s confusion with humanity, and more important to this novel, his conversations with Lawrence regarding the treatment of dragons in human society.

There wasn’t as much battle in this one, but the tension is still there. Without spoiling the novel, there was a lot of flying to be done and intrigues that had to be averted as the greater war against Napoleon took a huge step forward.

We’ve already snagged the fourth book and will be starting it soon. If you’re a family that enjoys reading, and particularly reading together, then this is a series I highly recommend. The narrative is beautiful and the characters are memorable.

Plus, dragons.

 

September Round Robin – Reading is Cool!

A couple of years ago my son informed me that he hated reading. Being an author, this made my heart hurt and I set out to fix this viewpoint by writing a story for him. I kept it short because he is young, but I did not spare him in language, plot, or character.

41SPrUMbf+LI even published it myself so that he could have a real book to read in his hands, something he could point to on Amazon. The novelette featured a man cursed into wolf form by an evil witch and it’s titled Torven. You can find it on Amazon if you’re really curious.

But I also had my son involved in the making of it. So he heard the rough draft as it was written, chapter by chapter. I paused frequently so he could ask questions, which often turned into suggestions. It amazed me how much he wanted to be part of the process, as opposed to simply reading it.

I’d written him into one of my novels once already, and that had him at least partially interested. Mostly he wanted to hear the parts of the story that featured his character, but at least he listened as I read it.

When it came to Torven, though, he was really excited to tell me where he thought the story was going and we ended every session with a conversation. He asked how Torven was cursed, and I reminded him that this was part of the story and if he wanted to know then we had to keep reading.

And when we met the witch, he wanted to know if Torven killed her. Again, I told him he had to keep reading to find out. But with this one, he adamantly informed me that Torven HAD to kill the witch or it wouldn’t be a good story.

Interestingly enough, he also went into how the witch became a witch. As an author, I like to twist things around and see how wicked people were good once and got corrupted, but in my son’s view, there was never any good there.  If I recall correctly, he said the witch was born from a bog.

That never made it into the book but I remember praising him for such a creative backstory. The image of murky, stagnant water boiling and swirling until the deadly witch rose from its depths has always stuck with me and I may ask him for permission to use that one day.

As for other people in my life who claim they either don’t have the time or don’t like to read, there isn’t much I can do. It seems to be popular to hate reading these days, people shrugging the task off and saying they’ll watch the movie when/if it comes out. I’m sure all writers find this attitude disheartening, but that doesn’t stop us from creating novels.

Happily, I married a man who enjoys reading, and my son is warming to the written word. In the grand scheme of things, I think I’ve done all I can to remind my family that reading is cool and creativity shouldn’t be underestimated.

Check out what my fellow authors do to help encourage reading in this month’s Round Robin:

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ly

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/

A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)

Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com