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

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

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

 

 

Interesting Characters – WE Master Class

For the last several weeks I’ve been undergoing the Writing Excuses Master Class put out a couple years ago. If you’re not familiar with the folks at Writing Excuses, I highly recommend them. They don’t require a ton of your time (15 minutes long, though it does sometimes stretch to 20) and even if they talk about things you already know, it’s a discussion that might open you up to something you hadn’t heard before.

A prime example is their conversation on interesting characters (Episode 10.5).

This concept was not new to me. I knew about character agency and stakes and accountability walking into it, and yet I was able to glean a little bit more from them. While this series of blog posts are supposed to be focused on a new novel (fictional characters body snatch people via a new reader’s app) and I have been having fun working within that venue, I found this episode helped one of my other works in progress more.

Castle of Three Kings follows Kevin Campbell, a sixteen-year-old boy who finds himself stuck in this cursed castle. The world is interesting, the reason for the curse is solid, and the major players are all colorful or tragic, but Kevin is… well… boring.

Somehow I managed to write 3/4 of a novel with a boy who has only the vaguest character arc, tons of agency (he doesn’t want to die), and zero personality.

Part of me wants to blame this on the fact that I typed the whole first draft instead of doing it by hand (my preferred method). Whatever got me into this position, I’m here now and when I start editing next month I will be concentrating on his arc using some of the methods from this class.

In particular, I’ll be playing with the sliding scales of competency and proactive and likability. These were discussed in other podcasts they’ve done, but they mention it again in this one.

To learn more about the Writing Excuses Podcast and its lovely, talented authors, you can go here.

For kicks and giggles, I’m going to go ahead and put a snippet of the new novel here. This is one of my character auditions from the last lesson.

Kenzie Graham knew the voices in her head weren’t real. She’d lived twenty-three years without them yammering about violins and villains and she was damn well going to live another twenty-three without them. Preferably more than twenty-three, but at this point she was willing to bargain.

She strode down the hall, clutching her Jefferson’s School of Technology computer pad to her chest and avoiding eye contact with fellow students. It wasn’t that she was shy, or even the fact that she was scared – well, petrified – that kept her head down.

No, she couldn’t look at anyone because anytime she did it seemed to trigger Sherlock.

Yes, Sherlock, as in Mr. Holmes himself, the fictional detective that should have stayed fictional. He leaped to vociferous life whenever she locked eyes with someone, running through a list of deductions faster than she could blink. Which in some cases was helpful, he did bark to life in time to warn her away from a spiked drink, but after thirteen hours of his incessant badgering, she was quite done.

Professor Hildon’s experimental app had a major glitch and no amount of extra credit was going to keep her quiet.

“Woah, Kenzie, wait up!” A familiar voice called from behind.

She turned on instinct, surprised and pleased that Cory Miller would seek her out. But Sherlock roused, she could sense him stirring, and as Cory sauntered up there was the familiar barrage of insights; tousled shirt, fraying at the hems of his jeans, sand on his shoes, and the faint odor of decomposing seaweed.

Underachiever, Sherlock said. You can do better.

Kenzie tried for a smile. “Hey, Cory.”

“You bailed early last night,” Cory said with an easy grin.

Please, there’s nothing easy about that grin, Sherlock said. Look at his eyes, he’s worried.

Gritting her teeth, she told Sherlock to stuff it and looked away from Cory. “Yeah, I had homework to do.”

“Oh, right,” Cory said, sounding disappointed.

Crestfallen, my dear. The word you want is crestfallen. HE obviously wanted to spend time with you.

Kenzie held tighter to her computer pad, one part elated at this news and the other part damning Sherlock to hell. Or wherever fictional characters go when they die.

Assuming one believes in an everlasting soul, I should say I don’t have one and therefore don’t qualify for either heaven or hell. But chin up, Kenzie, if he is so distressed, it means he couldn’t have been the one to spike your drink.

“Well of course he didn’t,” Kenzie said, and to her mortification, she realized she’d said it out loud.

Cory blinked at her. “Are you OK?”

“Not really,” she said, going for the truth because why the hell not? It wasn’t unheard of for software to go bonkers, especially in its developmental stage. But she had signed an NDA before taking the extra credit, so there was only so much she could impart without jeopardizing her academic career. “Have you seen Professor Hildon?”

Character Auditions – WE Master Class Blog

Two weeks ago I mentioned the Writing Excuses Master Class put out a few years back. This is a free class that you can access via audio or transcript on the Writing Excuses website and I recommend it to anyone and everyone who enjoys the writing process.

Moving along in the course, I have my initial idea: a new app that can be downloaded directly into our consciousness goes horribly awry. Famous fictional characters bleed into our victim’s minds and take over, bringing new life to some of the more heinous creations in literature as well as the heroes meant to catch them.

I recognize that I’m going to be reading a lot of classics to widen my scope of literary characters I can choose from. The low-hanging fruit, in this case, would be Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty and I think I’m going to go ahead and use those two, if only as introductory players that help the narrative get moving.

The next assignment was character auditions, which is a new concept for me. Normally the character comes before the idea, and the plot grows out of what I know about them. This is an organic process that I have enjoyed over the last decade of writing, but I’m going to admit that I enjoyed doing character auditions.

The act of trying different voices helped broaden my understanding of the idea as a whole. From the surly detective who has to figure out which character is infecting which avid reader, to the dirt-poor boy who hacked his way into downloading the app, I was able to explore different ways this story could go.

In the end, I was stuck between two choices, which I will share now.

Detective Josephine Margot, first person POV. When writing out her first 500 words, I got a Blade Runner/Johnny Mnemonic feel to the narrative that I liked. She’s a cynical woman who gets called to a murder scene on a prominent college campus, which she is equal parts annoyed about and relieved to be working. Because as long as she’s on this case, she doesn’t have to be downtown at her brother’s wedding.

Makenzie Leeds, third person POV. When writing her first segment, I got a lot more humor, which I enjoyed because I always enjoy humorous voices. Also, I grabbed the low-hanging fruit and had her infected with Sherlock Holmes. In this scenario, she’d downloaded the app as part of an extra credit assignment and found herself plagued with an additional voice in her head.

I may bounce between the two before I settle, depending on what the assignments show me in the coming weeks. Until then, I’ll play around with Jo and Kenzie and see if maybe I can blend them together.