#LessonsLearned from #NaNoWriMo2022: Start the Story with Conflict, Not Contemplation. #Writetip #ShortStories

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Good afternoon, my fellow creatives! May your words be flowing free to the page this National Novel Writing Month.

I was doing so gosh darn good at getting the story out every day. Sometimes the installments here were dialogue-heavy, other times detail-heavy, but the stories did come.

And then I got stuck.

This may be partly due to choosing a story inspired by my daughter Blondie. An amazing writer in her own right, she has not stopped asking, “When are you going to write about me?” Ever since I used her little brother Bash for “The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island.” When the kid actually knows she’s a muse, she gets, um, a bit assertive about it (“Will there be dragons? Can I ride dragons? When do dragons show up? YOU HAVE TO HAVE DRAGONS!”). At this point, I had alluded to the presence of dragons in the world where Pips Row resides, but if their eggs are illegal to carry, then how on earth could I have dragons buzzing about the town? When I did hit upon something she’s genuinely worried about that would make for a compelling story…well, now she doesn’t ask what I’m writing about.

And that stung a bit.

And I got more than stuck–I was downright stucker.

The first installment I shared about Choosing Day still feels like the best path to take, as we all relate to what Soffire will be dealing with: the expectations of society vs. our own dreams. Blondie’s feeling that now as she creeps closer to the time of high school and those expectations society puts on teens: get a job! get straight As! be on social media! start dating! do what other people like so you fit in! be amazing at everything you do, especially in front of other people!

I initially liked starting the story “Graduation Glums and Glamours” at the Choosing Day ceremony. That’s in the moment, right? That moment of pressure, of a townwide amount of things to look at and see. Lots of action, right? Plus it’s relatable–many of us have experienced some form of a graduation ceremony in our lives. Plus it reminded me a little of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, or some of those other Young Adult dystopian books that love the whole “I choose” kind of ceremony. But to me, The Giver route was more important, as we need to consider that not all characters can simply buck what society says.

And frankly, isn’t that what we expect as a bored reader at this point? The defiant teen feels as cliche as the “cop who doesn’t play by the rules.” Let’s not do that.

But as a writer, that put me into the very real conundrum of how to move the story forward. Do I walk through the entire Choosing Day ceremony? That could be fun worldbuidling, but that’s not where the story is. I tried writing a second installment of Soffire’s classmates helping her calm down by sharing their own worries, but the story isn’t about them, either. Both chapters had to be scrapped–they just grind the plot to a halt.

And that got me thinking–why start with the Choosing event? Was it because I wanted that scene from The Giver a little too much?

So I pulled back and thought: where does the story REALLY start?

Soffire dreads Choosing Day. Why? Because her dream is to go to a university in another town and study dragons. But Pips Row graduates are designated to jobs in Pips Row. No one leaves Pips Row for university.

Well no one’s going to know that if I start with the Choosing Day ceremony. Sure, I could flashback later, but why? Plus, this is a short story. Bouncing around timelines is tricky. I already did that a little in “The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island” because the character-narrator is telling the story. We have no such speaker here.

Where does the story REALLY start?

Short stories need to do the same job as a novel but with far less time and far fewer words. I needed to get Soffire’s inner conflict established immediately, or any of the other conflicts–with her mom, her town, etc.–just wouldn’t make sense. She’d just be another Defiant Teen to readers, and that’s the last thing I want for this character, this fictional piece of my Blondie. Readers need to see what Soffire wanted so very badly and why this Calling Day was, in Soffire’s eyes, the end of her dreams.

So let’s try starting this again.

~*~*~ Another Try at Story 4: Graduation Glums and Glamours ~*~*~

Calling Day. Her Calling Day.

“Soffire?” A quick two raps on the door—her mom was getting impatient.

Soffire straightened out the shoulders of her long white robe. It looked ready to hide her…or drown her. Both, maybe.

“Soffire, did you hear me?”

“I know, I’m getting my shoes on.” But those were already on. Soffire had to look one more time, just once more, at the University’s catalog. She pictured herself walking through its campus on Ford’s Bluff along the sea. Imagined meeting other teens who wanted to keep learning amazing things they could never understand in their own stupid little towns. Stuff about inter-being relations, the science of Workings, the geography of the Land Between Existences. About dragons.

Especially Dragons. All the best pilots, warriors, explorers—they all began with Dragon Studies.

One rap. “Young lady, I will vanish the door if you don’t open up.”

Soffire slammed the catalog shut and threw it under her pillow in time. “Sorry.” She opened the door with a small smile. “Sorry,” she said again.

Her mother sighed as she straightened Soffire’s plain woolen headband to keep her while curls out of her face. Her own mother’s wild hair had long since tired into a drab bun on the back of her head. “We have got to get a move on or you’ll be late for the processional line.”

“I know.”

Even Soffire’s mom caught the sadness in her voice. She cupped her daughter’s face and stroked her cheek. “Calling Day is scary for everyone, and I mean everyone. No one knows what comes after school until this day, but everyone finds their place in Pips Row this way. And your place is going to be special,” she said with a kiss on Soffire’s forehead, “I just know it.”

Soffire just didn’t have the heart to tell her mom the last thing she wanted was to grow old in this town like everyone else. Now more than ever, Pips Row felt like a prison she’d never get out of. Calling Day was just the final sentencing.

~*~*~ End Scene ~*~*~

This is still a work in progress–it is NaNoWriMo, after all–but I feel this opening scene of just a mom and daughter allows the inner conflict of my protagonist to actually be seen. No mysterious allusions to her shattered dreams like I had in the first go at this story. Here readers see the representation of what Soffire wanted for her future as well as what she has to do: bury it and walk away.

No one ever wants to bury their dreams.

This is something all readers can relate to, and I think such a start adds more weight to the Choosing Soffire will be given later in the story. Yes, this erases the “mystery” of why she was sad at the ceremony, but that mystery is not the point of this tale.

I just need to have a better way to segue away from mom-and-daughter to the ceremony. I don’t like telling readers, HEY, THIS IS WHAT THE PROTAGONIST IS FEELING. So, still some kinks to work out, but much happier and less stuck than I was before. 🙂

Of course, now I don’t know how to end this post, so I’m going to reshare something I posted two years ago from Donald Maass’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction. This excerpt fits perfectly with my new conundrum, so I’m going to ponder this and see what I come up with over the weekend.

This excerpt comes from the chapter “Inner versus Outer” discussing that ever-nasty writer problem of showing vs. telling.

Writing out what characters feel ought to be a shortcut to getting readers to feel that stuff too, shouldn’t it? You’d think so. After all, it’s through characters that we experience a story. Their experience is ours. Actually, the truth is the opposite. Put on the page what a character feels and there’s a pretty good chance that, paradoxically, what the reader will feel is nothing.

Here’s an example: His guts twisted in fear. When you read that, do your own guts twist in fear? Probably not. Or this: Her eyes shot daggers at him. Do you feel simmering rage? Meh. Not so much.

Such feelings fail to excite us because, of course, we’ve read them too many times. Those daggers have dulled. What gets readers going are feelings that are fresh and unexpected. Yet those feelings also need to be real and true; otherwise, they will come across as contrived–they’ll ring false and fail to ignite the reader’s emotions. ….

Human beings are complex. We have emotions on the surface and emotions underneath. There are emotions that we minimize, hide, and deny. There are emotions that embarrass us, reveal too much, and make us vulnerable. Our emotions can be profoundly trivial or so elevated that they’re silly. What we feel is unescapably influenced by our history, morals, loyalties, and politics.….

We’re clear. We’re vague. We hate. We love. We feel passionately about our shoes yet shrug off disasters on TV. We are finely tuned sensors of right and wrong, and horrible examples for our kids. We are walking contradictions. We are encyclopedias of the heart. ….

With so much rich human material to work with, it’s disappointing to me that so many manuscripts offer a limited menu of emotions. I want to feast on life, but instead I’m standing before a fast-food menu, my choices limited to two patties or one, fries or medium or large. …They work only with primary emotions because that is what everyone feels, which is true, but this is also a limited view.

So how does one create emotional surprise? …

Be obvious and tell readers what to feel, and they won’t feel it. Light an unexpected match, though, and readers will ignite their own feelings, which may well prove to be the ones that are primary and obvious. third-level emotions. That’s the effective way of storytelling.

Have you encountered any conundrums this NaNoWriMo? I’d love to hear!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 14 With a Teen Awaiting Her Doom at Graduation. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 14 of National Novel Writing Month. Time to move on from reflection and back to writing! This one’s taking me some time to feel out, but I think–I think–I can see what (mis)adventures await teen Soffire. First, though, we’ve got to get through graduation, much to her shagrin.

Day 14, Story 4: Graduation Glums and Glamours

Calling Day. Her Calling Day.

Soffire stood at the end of the line of graduates waiting to cross the garland entry into Pips Row Town Square. Every year, the entire town shut down on the Winter Solstice to celebrate the graduates of Pips’ Pupilry, and once again, the town really put out. Every multi-colored banner from the lamp posts glittered with golden dust for the occasion. Enlarged holly berries and ivy wound around and between every post to celebrate both the Graduates and Winter Solstice celebration. Goodwill and Congratulation streamers hung over every shop window of the Square alongside wreaths of straw, fruit branches, silver, and gems to reflect the specialties of the town. If a town could be a birthday cake, this is what it would look.

Soffire preferred a good chocolate muffin. Alone. Away from human beings.

Not that such a thing was possible on this annoying clear, balmy December day. All cars and carts were pulled from the square to make room for rows upon rows of chairs. Everyone in Pips Row would be here. Everyone wanted to see where the thirteen-year-olds of the town would continue their studies. Farming? Tooling? Smithing? Everyone wanted to know who was Called where.

All those eyes…even the idea of those eyes on her weighed Soffire down as much as the heavy white cotton robe all graduates wore. Why couldn’t they wear the hoods? At least she could hide her face when they call her name and say:

Soffire of the Wool Makers, you are hereby Called to the Dung-Gathering Department of City Cleanliness.

Something like that. It was going to be something like that, she just knew it.

“Good good GOOD morning, Graduates! The Elementals worked especially hard to make this day a beautiful one for us. I really must send them a thank-you card.” Professor Hastlot bustled by Soffire, all bear and lists and spilling coffee. “Let’s see, let’s see. Thirteen robes, good, thirteen graduates, good.”

Maybe Soffire could alter the course of the graduates over a manhole cover so she could disappear.

“Thirteen chairs in the square by the podium, thirteen diplomas on the table by the chairs and the podium, good.”

Maybe Soffire could will the threads of their robes to come undone and leave them all in their PIP PUPIL, PROMOTED! shirts and shorts the school had gifted them on their last day of class. Her inner magic didn’t have terrific control over fabric, but that specialty was in her family line, so she could probably make something happen. Make all winter hats explode? Cause all pants to explode? Could be worth it.

“Wait, where is the Volumizer?! Ack!” Just like that, a little smoke erupted from his ears. “Not the Volumizer! Stay here, Graduates. Do NOT cross until I tell you.” The smoke from his ears swallowed him up in an instant.

Typical crisis for a Calling Day.

I can’t wait to see how Graduation will turn out! Hopefully Soffire won’t cause too many fabric explosions…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022 Update: #WritingMusic that #Inspired Some #Magical #ShortStories

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Happy Sunday, fellow creatives! I hope this November has been kind to you. For those participating in NaNoWriMo, do you feel comfortable with where you are in your writing goals? I’m jazzed to the moon and back I’ve passed the 10,000 word mark. That may not sound like much for the novelists, but for someone whose creativity has been floundering, writing three short stories in the midst of academia and parenthood is a HUGE accomplishment.

For those who know me here, music often plays a HUGE role in my writing. Take “Never Say Your Name”: the isolation of a few supposed strangers in an unassuming public space while the elements imprison them required the music of Il Maestro, Ennio Morricone. His scores for The Thing and The Hateful Eight were always on when I needed to sit alongside Green Trench Miks Tavus and help him carry out his sting against the dragon-egg smuggler.

(Check out my Writing Music area for a bunch of other composers and compilations!)

Originally, “The Bee Trainer’s Revenge” was going to utilize the bees a LOT more. Both primary characters were going to exhibit how they’d control the bees as they themselves duel for the rights to the hives. But the more I listened to the village-inspired themes of Midsomer Murders, I kept thinking more and more of how everyday people manipulate and plot against one another. It was just a matter of adding magic to the mix.

(I share a few other thoughts about this score and series, in case you’re interested.)

Yet when it came to writing “The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island,” I really didn’t utilize composed music at all. My son Bash inspired me plenty with his schemes for removing the geese from the local park. Between his ideas and the sounds of nature, I had plenty of inspiration.

And now here we are, wondering where to go next. My pantsing attitude doesn’t even let me see how many more stories should be in this collection. Three? Four? The important thing is to keep the conflicts, plots, characters–everything is rural small town. Let those big-city folk have all their fancypants urban fantasy “the universe is at stake!” attitude. We’re just trying to prevent the witch next door from hexing the pie and transforming our guests into emus.

Starkeeping. Based on my other son, Biff, and his love of all things space. Still wondering about this.

Public park problems. Some towns clearly love their parks; others, not so much. I’m wondering which camp Pips Row falls into.

Dragons. You know my daughter Blondie and her love of dragons. My dragon girl must make her appearance, but I don’t know if this should be its own tale or connected to “Never Say Your Name” somehow.

That one weird house everyone avoids. Every town has one–that one house that can’t possibly be inhabited, yet it never falls apart. I wanted to explore this idea without rehashing my “Blue House Dare” story, but how?

So I’m giving myself today to reflect and see where I want to go tomorrow. What music has been helping you with your projects lately? I’d love to hear some recommendations!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 11 with a Troublesome Fence and Even More Troublesome Neighbors. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 11 of National Novel Writing Month! I was so bummed I had to stop writing this morning to attend my university’s conference! Argh. So we’ll have to finish this story tomorrow. The Bee Trainer’s revenge is officially in the works!

Day 11, Story 3: The Bee Trainer’s Revenge

Another bright and glorious morning.

A loud morning! Birds chirping, bees buzzing, dishes clanging, voices chattering and laughing—from inside his house! No one ever laughs in his house!

Nacle Themormo rolled out of bed let out a loud and hit the rugged floor with an indignant “Umph!” Donned in his black silk bathrobe and most dower of expressions, he burst through his bedroom door and bellowed, “Show yourself, intruders!” down the stairs.

“No no, Peach, we should set the dishes over there. Oh! Good morning, Ex-Banker!” Bee Trainer appeared, her overalls and yellow shirt smeared with dust and dirt. The cheeriness of her eyes beneath that ridiculous sunhat churned Nacle’s stomach. “And here I had hoped we could finish our surprise before you woke.”

“Surprise?!” Nacle nearly tumbled down the stairs, in such a state was he. From his meager front hall, he could see at least one man on the floor checking the floorboards in his parlor while a child peered in every book upon the shelves. Even the Strawberry Triplets moved in and out of sight, always with a few of his dishes. “Let’s make sure we give those cupboards a good scrubbing!” someone said from the kitchen.

And all the while Bee Trainer—Queen Bee, more like—stood before Nacle with an innocent smile he was all too keen to wipe off her face. “Madame, you and your co-conspirators are trespassing!” He hadn’t rumbled like this since the Board of Governors dared prod him over those extra emergency funds.

“Nonsense! We are simply being good neighbors. You know what they say, ‘one good turn’ and all that, ha ha!” She motioned to his folding chair outside the front door. “When I told everyone about those beautiful new flowers you grew for a fence, they were thrilled as can be. That old fence had been such an eyesore, you know!” And before Nacle knew it, that squat bee woman was nudging him to his chair and had him seated so he had to look up at her, the sun creating a halo round her face as it shown through the hat’s weaving. “You just sit and have a nice cup of tea while we do all the work to make sure your house is ready for the cold months. Winters can be awfully harsh in Pips Row.”

“GOOD MORNING, LATE BANKER!” Plum Grower poked his out the parlor window with what was surely an aeronaut’s helmet and goggles.

Has this town gone mad?!

“WE WANTED TO MAKE SURE YOUR FLOORS DON’T HAVE ANY ROT! DANGEROUS THING, ROTTEN BOARDS! DID YOU KNOW A FEW BOARDS ARE LOOSE? I’LL CHECK FOR ANY DAMAGE AND REPLACE THOSE STRAIGHTAWAY, SHALL I?”

Nacle blanched. Yes, there were loose floorboards. He made them loose for those extra emergency funds. “Plum Grower, you must listen to me and leave those floor—”

Nothing but a blank smile on the bastard’s face. “YOU’RE WELCOME!” Back in he went to ruin Nacle’s floor.

“Good morning, Ex-Banker!” The woman from his kitchen huffed. Four different baskets full of jars hung heavily from her arms. “I am so glad the children and I are cleaning your kitchen. Did you know your cupboards had hardly a scrap of proper food in them! I found all these toxic powders instead. Don’t you worry—I’ll be sure to label every one of them POISON lest a child comes to visit. Can’t be too careful with these precious creatures!”

On cue, the Strawberry Triplets tumbled out with armfuls of paper, paper from Nacle’s study. Oh no.

“Precocious creatures, more like, wouldn’t you say, Pear Grower?” Bee Trainer laughed.

“MISS BEE TRAINER LOOK!” The boys plopped the papers at Nacle’s feet. At last, up close, Nacle could see why they shouted: each boy wore wax earplugs with little acorn caps on the ends. Nacle’s voice—and magic—shriveled in his throat. “HE HAD PICTURES OF BEES THAT LOOKED LIKE YOUR BEES SO WE MADE SURE THEY LOOKED DIFFERENTER.””

Nacle stomped on one pile and crushed it under his folding chair. “Oh dear, these are but, but scribbles, ideas your bees gave—”

“Why Ex-Banker, you should have said something!” One Triplet looked particularly proud of the sketch he handed Bee Trainer. It depicted a honey jar with MORMO HONEY. THEY’LL ALWAYS ASK FOR MORE MO! The honeybee in sketch, which already had a spoon and apron, now also had a giant mustache, googly eyes, and fart gas. “I would be happy to guide you in the honey trade if you’d asked. Have you always had an interest in bees?”

Nacle could feel all his blood pool in his feet. “Well, um, I, er—” He didn’t get a chance to finish. Fruit Seller’s truck pulled up to Nacle’s home and parked. Out hopped that blasted Clover Gardener bubbling with words to the passenger departing after her: a peculiarly formal man in an ill-fitting suit polishing a large monocle.

“And I told Bee Trainer I said, ‘Surely Pips Row has never seen such a breed of flower before, it could be from another land altogether!’ And Bee Trainer, she was so worried for Ex-Banker’s lovely new bushes that she felt it important to check with you at the Exotic Plant Registry lest the frost ruin what surely is a priceless investment for that dear, kind man.”

And just like that, the blood rushed right back up Nacle’s bulbous body and pressed against his temples. He rose, straightened his robe. “Oh dear, I’m not nearly so, so properly attired. Please give me pardon, Sir, so I may ready myself for this meeting.”

For a moment, it looked like Nacle had an impact: The suited man’s knees bent a bit, and his face went slack. But only for a moment, since that cow Clover Gardener grabbed the man’s arm and practically shouted in his ear, “ARE YOU ALL RIGHT, EXOTIC PLANT REGISTRAR?”

The suited man tapped his monocle to his temple. Sparkles erupted from the frame and settled about the prissy man’s head. Tiny whisps of smoke twirled from his cheekbones and ears as he righted himself. “We shall see. I have very, very high standards.” He held the monocle up to his eye and stared hard at Nacle with his now-giant eyeball. “Your name, Sir?”

Plum Grower’s boy appeared with a tea tray, of which everyone primly took a cup. “In this town I am known as Ex-Banker, Sir,” he said with a polite chuckle. “Retired, you know.”

The glass of the man’s monocle flashed with the sun as he hmmm’d and moved on. “So I’ve heard. But if we are to name the breed, it should be done with your name, should it not? Or would you prefer ExBankerus Levandula?”

Well that did admittedly sound a bit silly, even to Nacle.

Who is this peculiar man in the ill-fitting suit, and is Nacle going to find fame after all? I honestly had no clue the story would take this turn a few days ago, but now I see the end in sight and am super excited to reach it tomorrow.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 10 with a Troublesome Fence and Even More Troublesome Neighbors. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 10 of National Novel Writing Month! I wasn’t even sure I’d get this in before teaching tonight. So thankful I did! Bee Trainer Barab Oowi needs help, and thankfully, the residents of Honey Street are there for her.

Day 10, Story 3: The Bee Trainer’s Revenge

Cradling the sick honeybee in one hand, Barab Oowi worked a glove on with the help of her teeth so she could pluck one of the unnatural lavender plants from the bush. She did not dare touch it with her hands; if the pollen affected her little lovelies so severely, she could not imagine what it’d do to her if it touched her own skin. She reached for a particularly large, nasty blossom where the red streaks through the black petals looked like blood from a wounded animal. The tiniest, faintest flecks of red dotted the inner flower—her bees had definitely been there.

Clover Gardener heard the frantic knocking on her back door and quickly shooed her son (with wax earplugs securely in) to go visit Strawberry Growers across the street. “Coming, coming!”

But Barab Oowi didn’t wait. She burst through the door and slammed it just as quickly. Her nightgown was hardly on at this point—granted, honeycomb flannels were hardly scandalous, but it still wasn’t like the Bee Trainer at all to invade another home like this. “He’s poisoned my bees, Clove! Look what he’s done to my little lovelies!”

Clover Gardener took one look at the black blossom in Barab’s hand and let out a low whistle. “Well that can’t be good.” She grabbed a salad tongs out of the pile of drying dishes and plucked the blossom to hold it close. “I recognize the shape of this lavender flower.”

“Yes. Yes, just like my lavender bushes alongside my house. Only these are so much bigger, and their smell and color are all wrong.”

“Was he snooping around your house lately?”

“No…” Barab sat at the kitchen table, her finger gently stroking her sick bee’s back. “But I did include sprigs of my lavender honey jars. I needed to cover up the look of the wax plugs.”

“Yes, yes, I get it, but you gave him a piece of you, don’t you know.” Clover Gardener set a mixing bowl between them and dropped the black blossom into the bowl. “Your bees count on those lavender bushes, and you count on your bees. His Tampering broke that connection.”

The connection broken? How could anyone dare come between Barab and her bees?! It all felt like an impossible nightmare. The little bee in her palm was so still, so weak. “Will my lovelies—” she choked. “Will they—”

“Die?” Clover Gardener had never been a subtle person. “I don’t think so.” She grabbed her trusty trowel and a handful of dried clover before sitting herself down before the bowl. “First I’ve got to learn what he used to curse the plant. Why don’t you see if some proper clover helps that bee? If it’s good for one, it could be good for the hives.”

Barab nodded and headed out back to leave Clover Gardener in peace. Deciphering another’s magic is already a tricky business, rather like undoing the stubborn knot of a shoelace. Deciphering an illegal Tampering is like untangling the ten balls of yarn the Strawberry Grower triplets threw about their living room when playing Spider.

But if anyone was more stubborn than a Tampering, it was Clover Gardner. Barab Oowi had to give her a chance.

So Barab sat down next to the biggest patch of clover in the yard. “All right, little one. I need you to be brave.” She cupped the bee next to some clover flowers, and thought. Thought hard. She felt the pain of the bee in her hand, in the hive. She tapped down her own fears, and called forth her own strength, her own magic. Whispered the words only bees know into her hands. Whispered to the wind to come gently down and pull free the poisonous pollen from the bee’s legs. The peculiar smell left with the wind, and Barab whispered anew to her little one to stand, to flutter her wings, to try the clover. She flew a little higher, a little higher, just above Barab’s hands, just over the clover, just onto the clover. She landed!

“I knew you could do it!” Barab gleefully said through her tears. “Take the good pollen, remember what good pollen is.” The bee laughed as it dug into the clover. “Yes, that’s my lovely. You’ll be all right. So will your brothers and sisters. But oh dear, we’ll have a lot to do. Start from scratch, I think.” Barab sat up and looked warily through the yards to her own. Yes. Whatever honeycomb, whatever harvest could be found in those hives—all would have to go lest old honey taint a new crop. “Perhaps Clover Gardener will find an antidote from the Tampering. Then you can all get stronger faster.”

“I’VE GOT IT!” Clover Gardener ran out with a cloud of black dust trailing behind her. One would think it was a science experiment gone horribly wrong, but then, most Tamperings look like that. “It’s the red lines on the black petals. They’re veins of Ex-Banker’s blood. He put his own vitriolic temperament in the lavender to ruin the bees.”

Barab watched her bee hop carefully from clover to clover. “But why? We’ve done nothing to him.”

“Except put a stop to all the men of Honey Street doing his work for him,” Glover Gardener tisked. “A man like that’s used to getting his way.”

The buzz of the healing bee stirred up the righteous anger in Barab’s heart. She rose, her eyes bright like honey in the sun. “Well then. Let’s see that he gets it.”

Uh oh. There’s something about Barab’s words that makes me wonder what she envisions when giving the Ex-Banker Nacle Themormo “his way.” I’m almost scared to find out! But not quite. 🙂

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 9 with a Troublesome Fence and Even More Troublesome Neighbors. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 9 of National Novel Writing Month! Bee Trainer Barab Oowi is about to see how Ex-Banker Nacle Themormo handles people who get in his way.

Resolving this conflict may take a few days, just so you know. I’m also attending a big conference this week, which means several hours of each day must be dedicated to presentations. Blech. Still, for this NanoWriMo Writer, the goal is to get into writing every day, whether it’s just a few hundred words or a few thousand. Thank you for your support as I work towards this goal!

Day 9, Story 3: The Bee Trainer’s Revenge

Another bright and glorious morning.

A late morning!

Bee Trainer Barab Oowi stumbled out of bed, mind in a panic. Had something happened to her bees? They were so quiet!

Sunbeams cut through her shutters and blinded her as she fumbled for her bathrobe. Never minded slippers, never minded tea, she flew open the door to her backyard to see what’s what.

At last, she heard a buzzing. Only it was eerily subdued, as if she had smoked her entire yard to put the bees to sleep. Barab fell to her knees and crawled among the hives, searching for invading wasps, invading slugs, invading anything. No signs of struggles or predators, but every sleeve of every hive revealed sluggish bees, quiet bees, unhappy bees. “Little lovelies, are you are all right?”

One worker bee managed to fly from her place in the honeycomb to land in Barab’s hand. The little thing looked so tired! Her hind legs were colored with a pollen Barab had never seen before—a blackish kind of pollen, with a few tiny flecks of red. Surely no such pollen came from Barab Oowi’s small herb garden. The Peach Growers next door had no such pollen, either. Perhaps down the street?

Or…

Barab stood, mouth agape, at the monstrosity. In place of the rundown wooden fence between her home and Ex-Banker, there now stood the tallest, fattest lavender bushes she had ever seen. Their stems reached several feet, their flowers up to her nose. But their scent wasn’t kind and sweet at all; rather, they reminded Barab of the cleaning potions used to tidy up sick on one’s floor. And the coloring! Wrong, all wrong. Coal-black petals? Even in Pips Row, black flowers are not natural, let alone with streaks of read running through the stem and petals.

A large, sweaty hand peeked above the bushes and waved.

“Why hullo, Bee Trainer! Such a pleasant morning, wouldn’t you say?” Ex-Banker chimed through the greenery. He moved as he spoke, forcing Barab Oowi to pass every unnatural flower. The worker bee in her hand attempted to flutter out of her hand, but barely reached a bush before falling. Barab fell to the ground and caught the bee just in time while Ex-Banker droned on and on. “I simply must thank you and our neighbors for all your lovely hospitality. Such dedication to Nature, such beautiful bounties! You all really did inspire me to do my part. What do you think of this new little border I concocted? So much nicer than those rotting logs. You know what they say about good fences, ha ha!”

Now he was in view by the front walk, donned in a city-person’s absurd idea of country flannel and khakis with leather boots. Barab Oowi scrambled upward (not easy in a bathrobe) and over to meet him. “Indeed,” she said, trying to hide her gasps for breath, “I believe I’ve heard the saying.”

Ex-Banker pulled a pipe out of one of those dozen different pockets upon his vest and tapped it with a thoughtful eye on the bushes. “Yes, yes, a fine first attempt, if I say so myself.”

“F-first attempt?” Barab held the poor bee to her chest. It must have looked like she was praying, for that look of victory on Ex-Banker’s face cut her deeply.

“Why of course,” he said placidly. “I am a resident of Pips Row now, am I not?” He stepped right up to the border, just enough to block any sunlight from touching Barab Oowi’s face. “You know, I must confess I didn’t see it at first—the wealth of potential in all you people grow here. But I do now.” The spark of his match transformed his eyes into black pits as he lit his pipe. “Good day, Bee Trainer!” And he waddled into his home and out of sight.  

Ack, not the bees! Well this is one fence that needs more than a mending. What will Barab do? Let’s find out!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 8 with a Troublesome Fence and Even More Troublesome Neighbors. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 8 of National Novel Writing Month! It’s time for the neighbors to start their fencing…in more ways than one. 🙂 This may take me a few days, though–I’m also attending a big conference this week, which means several hours of each day must be dedicated to presentations. Blech. Still, for this NanoWriMo Writer, the goal is to get into writing every day, whether it’s just a few hundred words or a few thousand. Thank you for your support as I work towards this goal!

Day 8, Story 3: The Bee Trainer’s Revenge

It was not uncommon to see the Bee Trainer Barab Oowi gift small jars of honey to the families of Honey Street. On this particular occasion, each jar contained a delicate woodland strawberry flower with some slivers of pear mingling with her golden specialty. In the twine wrapping she often included a few of her own lavender sprigs and acorns for decoration…at least, they were acorns for the jar marked Nacle Themormo. They lonely looked like acorns on all the other jars, when in reality they were little wax earplugs inside acorn caps. Barab counted on this as she braced herself to enact her plan. With her absurdly large sun hat’s peach ribbon tied flamboyantly beneath her chin, she set out down her front steps.

Ah, the sunrise was glorious that day! Yet the wind was a bit chilly, as midsummer mornings often are in those first hours. Dew still sparkled her walkway and front lawn, and even the rundown fence between her and Nacle’s plot gleamed as a woodpecker knocked a beam for its breakfast.

“Good morning, Ex-Banker!”

Nacle Themormo paused in his fiddling with the folding chair. He’d yet to wile anyone out of their breakfast, and he simply must have a good mug of coffee and cream with strawberries in order to perk up. “Morning, Bee Trainer,” he grumbled as he wondered where the blasted Strawberry Grower triplets were hiding. All boys, that lot, and easy pickings for his magic.

“Dear me, you sound a bit down.” Bee Trainer could feign concern with the best of them. “Perhaps you’d like a bit of honey for your morning tea?” She plucked the jar with his name on it from the basket and held it over the fence.

Nacle Themormo blinked. He waddled a bit closer to the fence, but his eyes narrowed at the little jar. “But…I didn’t ask for any honey. Why are you giving it to me?”

“I do love sharing a bit of my harvest with everyone time and again,” Barab held up her basket, the gold of the honey reflecting the sunlight right into Nacle’s face. “Let’s me know how my little wonders are doing.”

Nacle waved away the light with one hand and snatched the jar with the other. “Oh! Oh. Oh I see. Don’t see.” He held up the jar. “It’s just honey.”

“Yes.”

“Nothing else?”

“Nothing else.”

“No bread, maybe, or pot of tea?”

Barab blinked. “Afraid not, Ex-Banker. Well, off to catch other families at their breakfast tables. Perhaps your tea is just inside, Sir? Good morning!” And with a tip of that gargantuan hat she was off to the next house, politely knocking on their door.

Nacle Themormo stood next to his chair and watched Bee Trainer buzz from house to house with her basket, always handing over a jar to some unknown person behind the door. If only a man or boy would peek out! Surely those triplets would embrace this blasted bright summer morning soon. Nacle pulled his flashy wool sweater back down over his bulbousness, and sat. Surely, someone would come. The honey jar grew sweaty in his hand as he waited.

At last, the Strawberry Grower boys! The three tumbled out their front door higgledy-piggledy, laughing over some sort of prank with mouse poo and raisins.

Nacle: Good day, Boys! (His voice reminds one once again of a yawning dog.) Strawberry Lads, hullo!

No answer. How rude! They ran down the street and out of sight, surely going where there were other delectables they should be bringing to him.

Strawberry Grower himself stepped out with his spouse, both armed with sheers, baskets, and smiles.

Nacle: Strawberry Grower, I must speak with you!

No answer. They had the audacity to walk to their backyard without a glance!

Plum Grower brought his truck out to the road and parked. He and Fruit Sellar stood by the truck bed, pointing to various spots.

Nacle heaved himself from his seat and waved, waved like he had never waved before. Fruit Sellar, Plum Grower, hullo! I must speak with you urgently!

Attention! The glint of the sun in the honey jar had caught the men’s attention. They looked at him. Then each other. Then back to him.

Nacle smiled his best banking smile with his arms open wide.  Please, gentlemen, I require your attention over here!

Fruit Seller shook his head. He shook his head! “MARKET DAY!” He shouted loud enough for the words to echo down to the end of the lane, where Bee Trainer stood with a jar in hand.

Plum Grower nodded vigorously. “GOT TO PREPARE THE TRUCK! GOOD DAY, LATE BANKER!”

Never in all Nacle Themormo’s years had he dealt with such rejection! Well, that is, except for when the Bank’s leadership was replaced with that obnoxious horse of a woman. How dare she think she could tell him what to do! Now Nacle was dealing with that same rejection all over again, watching others carry on in their lives as if his wishes didn’t matter. He was ready to throw that stupid jar of honey from Bee Trainer at the ground in disgust. That disgusting woman with her phony grin next to Clover Gardener, that cow…Nacle pulled back, ready to throw the jar as hard as he could at Bee Trainer’s house and all her noisy, annoying bees moving about her bushes.

Paused.

The houses Bee Trainer had visited—those were the ones where men and boys no longer heard him. Something about this honey…a magical Working against him?

Well. Two can play at that game.

Eeeeee, what’s he going to do? I can’t wait to find out, and I’m writing this thing!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 7 with a Troublesome Fence and Even More Troublesome Neighbors. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 7 of National Novel Writing Month! Today it’s all about the dialogue, so there is very little detail here. Still, hopefully there’s enough for you to understand how these neighbors feel about each other. 🙂

Day 7, Story 3: The Bee Trainer’s Revenge

A bulbous fellow, rather like a potato, Nacle Themormo would plant himself in a folding chair at the edge of his porch and watch everyone and everything on Honey Street. Within the first few weeks, the folks of Honey Street learned why: Nacle Themormo’s magic lay in the power of his words in the ears of other men. On his chair he’ll sit until he sees others in their yards. If they are in earshot, he’ll start his Workings like…well, here’s an interaction with the Plum Grower family.

Nacle: Good day, Plum Grower! (His voice reminds one of a yawning dog.)

Plum Grower: Good morning, Late Banker.

Plum Grower’s Daughter: Why is Banker Late, Papa?

Nacle: Oh no, child, I am retired. May I speak to your father? I must speak with you, Plum Grower.

Plum Grower’s Daughter: Papa is helping me check for bad bugs.

Plum Grower: Hush, Child. Retired Banker must speak with me. (Now his voice mimics the cadence of a yawning dog, too.)

Plum Grower’s Daughter: But Papa, we promised Mama to be done before lunch!

Nacle: Dear me, your child is quite the upstart, Plum Grower. You should send her inside so we can talk.

Plum Grower’s Daughter: I am NOT an upstart! We have work to do!

Plum Grower: Child, you are upstarting me. I should send you inside so I can talk to Late Banker.

Nacle: I am NOT late, I’m…oh bother, come over this instant, Plum Grower, with a basket of your finest plums.

And so it would go. Men of Honey Street sat dazed and confused over how they could have been sweet-talked into selling their best produce for a pittance to the Outsider Nacle Themormo. Boys of Honey Street were soon cleaning Nacle’s yard, painting his home—even serving him their own suppers!

What of the women and girls of Honey Street? Oh, you can bet they told off Nacle in no uncertain terms. One such interaction is a particular favorite of mine, caught when Clover Gardener followed her son, supper still steaming on his plate, to Nacle’s abode.

Nacle: Why good evening, Clover Gardeners! What a lovely supper you have there. It is always nice to share one’s blessings, Boy.

Clover Gardener’s Son: Yes, it is always nice to share one’s blessings. I have blessings to share. (He’s got his plate ready for Nacle’s fat fingers, but his mother deems otherwise.)

Clover Gardener: And I have some words to share, Ex-Banker. My son is not to share any of his time, talents, or food with the likes of you.

Nacle: (not to be fussed by some buzzard of a woman) Dear me, we do have some sort of misunderstanding. Hear I thought your son was showing some neighborly kindness to a poor, old, lonely man like myself. (and his potato-ey frame does indeed look rather pathetic in that folding chair while he reaches for the boy’s plate anyway)

Clover Gardener: (not to be trifled with by a human potato, ogre, giant, or even a Goose King) There is nothing poor about the likes of you, Ex-City-Person. I saw my son bring an armful of our clover here without pay only for you to sell it to some other suspicious-looking City Person in a motor. No. You will not have my clover, my food, and especially my son. And if I must summon the Green Trenches to file a Restraining Work on you—

Nacle: MADAME! (the dog whines, not yawns). No, no no no no no. No, madame, police are never needed in friendly neighborly trifles. I see that your son’s time is, erm, as precious as your own. I will miss his company…

Clover Gardener: (glares)

Nacle: …erm, but, yes, he clearly must attend his duties at home and school first. Boy, you simply must go home with your mother.

Clover Gardener’s Son: I must go home with my mother.

Clover Gardener: (glaring even more, and closer to Nacle’s face, too) And his ears will never hear you address him again. Right? (holds pruning scissors in front of Nacle’s mouth for good measure)

Nacle: Ahem, yes, well, of course. And boy, you are never to listen to my voice again.

Clover Gardener’s Son: And I am never to listen to your voice again. (blinks) Can we go home, Mama?

Clover Gardener: Indeed we can, Son. (with sigh of contempt) Good. Day. EX. Banker.

Nacle: Erm, yes, Good day, Madame. I suppose, the plate, perhaps? A bit of supper for charity’s sake? Hellooo?

Needless to say, Nacle Themormo did not have supper that night, unlike Clover Gardener’s son (finally!). And wouldn’t you know that the tiny witnesses of this whole exchange went buzzing to the backyard and told Barab Oowi all about it as she cleaned the hives of excess wax, wax that quickly gave her an idea…

Eeee, I am really stoked to keep this story going! It may be a strange balance of exposition and dialogue, but at least the framework will be there for revision after NaNoWriMo.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 6 with a Troublesome Fence and Even More Troublesome Neighbors. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 6 of National Novel Writing Month! Now that we’re starting a new story, I’ll need to explore a bit here, so be forewarned: this may be more setting establishment than story, per say.

Day 6, Story 3: The Bee Trainer’s Revenge

From the very start, Pips Row has been known as a farmer’s kind of town. The entry gates from the farmlands are as numerous as the spokes on the typical wagon wheel. The small but bustling Town Square has all the essentials a farmer does not grow or conjure. And every resident has their own connection to the land, be it through their work out on the farms, the forges for tools to use on the farms, or their own little gardens planted about their homes. This mandatory “down to earth” kind of life does well to ward off those without love of dirt or hard work.

Nevertheless, there will always be a bad apple or two, even in the most prosperous of seasons. You used to find one such apple down Third Southeast Way, also known as Honey Street. Quite a few folks tend fruit trees and wildflowers in this neighborhood, and you can bet your Saturday sugar-bread that they count on the bees of Barab Oowi to pollinate their plants in the warm months. Only there was one year, not too far back, when the bees were led astray, and a street of sweet crops lost to poor taste and ambition.

We’ll begin with Barab Oowi, known as Bee Trainer about the town. Small, strong, and stout, Barab rarely spoke above a hum, her gestures speaking volumes for her instead. Barab never shied from the tough jobs Nature and Neighbors brought to her door, you see. One day she’s carrying barrels of apples and oranges one day for Fruit Seller, the next hexing a wasp’s nest out of a child’s treehouse. In return, her Neighbors often shared meals and tools, and children gave her floral wreaths to wear. Parents of Honey Street were particularly thankful, for there was no better place to send a bored child to than Bee Trainer’s home. There was always a new honey blend to taste, pots to paint, candles to trim, or bees to serenade.

That is, until Nacle Themormo moved in.

How to describe Nacle…well, he was from the capital. That should tell you a lot right there. A banker, apparently, so one who never bothered with the hard work, only the profits earned by it. Fruit Seller had heard he made enough coin to retire to the country, but that didn’t make any sense, for it costs far more to live workless in the country than the city. This mystery added to the distrust of Ex-Banker Nacle, but what could any of us do? The Green Trenches don’t arrest ex-bankers, let alone lazy people.

Of which Nacle most certainly was. A bulbous fellow, rather like a potato, he would plant himself in a folding chair at the edge of his porch and watch everyone and everything on Honey Street, especially when it came to his next-door Neighbor, the Bee Trainer. Within the first few weeks, the folks of Honey Street learned why: Nacle Themormo’s magic lay in the power of his words in the ears of other men.

Hmmm. I think we’ll just stop here for now. I want to keep brewing some ideas of how Nacle and Barab are going to interact so we can see how a simple fence and a hive of bees can throw the rhythm of an entire neighborhood asunder.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 5 with a Cop and a Troll in a Showdown to the Death! #Magic #ShortStories

Day 5 of National Novel Writing Month! It’s time for the conclusion of Private Miks Tavus’ sting operation. Will he capture the dangerous dragon-egg smuggler?

Day 5, Story 2: Never Say Your Name

A smell of piss struck Tavus’ nose as his mind reeled back to the Corporal’s talk about names. Names. Something about names people take versus the names people receive…His badge warmed in its place against his chest. This name thrown at him—it was not alone, and whatever came on that name was trying to get through. He could feel little pricks and pokes in his ears and against his mind. Were it not for his badge, it would be in him, and he’d carry that brand of Alexander until she deemed to release him. Likely at death.

But if he acted like he was free, then she’d know he was a Green Trench and all of this would be for nothing.

So Tavus gritted his teeth. He let the sweat come (not like it needed help). He fumbled with his stew bowl, knocking it to the ground, but he let his eyes hold firm. “And what name do you give yourself, Ma’m?”

Her inhuman smile did not flinch. “Bell.”

Something hissed and rasped and gargled behind them. The legit Trade Couriers dragged their table and goods further along the wall with a groan. “Damn, lady, that is sick.” “I think that lady is sick.” Even the loner in the corner stood up as Turban’s servant shook in her piss-covered seat. The wind howled even louder, in pain, the ice battering the window and everyone’s ears and—

“L-l-la!” The servant’s head craned towards the ceiling as she pulled at her own jaw to open her mouth. “B-el-la!”

“Silence!” Turban waved her pipe at the servant, sending her down to the floor in a cry of pain. The Gaptooth Farmers tried to stand, but Waitress stabbed each of their hands with meat forks, pinning them to the counter while hexing their legs into wood. Her headcap fell as she nodded towards Turban, revealing a head of long grass for hair. “Out back!” she cried. “Go!”

TWO trolls. Dammit, where are the eggs?!

And Turban wasn’t moving either. Her empty hand reached for Tavus. “Not without a new vessel. Come, Alexander. A regal name, an ambitious name for an ambitious man.” The name dug into his temples, his mind.

The servant continued to writhe and gasp on the floor, gargling “Be-duh-don—”

“Quiet!” Turban flicked the pipe. The servant’s back crooked too, too far backwards, yet she lived and breathed with enough strength to hold her own mouth open. “Be-be—”

“Come, Alexander. Taste royal spoils and divine wines.”

And Tavus could taste them, faintly, so sweet and beautiful and lovely and eternal and light and kind and—

—and down he went when the other Trade Couriers plowed him over to make for the door. “Out of our way!” Only the wooden chairs were no longer chairs. Round the Couriers’ legs they twisted and groaned, leaving the pair in a heap in front of the door. Waitress stuck a fork in that wood, too, for good measure, then eyed the loner in the corner. “Give us any trouble, old man, and you’re next.” She eyed Tavus on the floor. “Him, a vessel? He’s no elemental like the other one.”

“No, but he’s strong enough to hold my cloaking spell when I return to the nests. We won’t need a blizzard then. Come,” the command sung around him and through him.His hands felt stiff, strange, his body, hardening, smelling of cedar.

Except for his chest. The glow of his badge warmed and dulled the name’s points. Its green glow peeked through his clawed coat.

“COME ALEXANDER.

Ribbons of green magic unspooled from Tavus’ badge across the diner. They pulled Tavus upright, cleared his vision. He could see Turban now, unsure where to direct her pipe, looking to his chest, to Waitress. “Guess I wasn’t the only one waiting for my partner. Bella.”

The name threw Turban back into the window, her own hold on the servant now weakened. But not broken. The name was not complete.

A shriek and shine of metal flew for Tavus and his badge’s ribbons, but he dodged and rolled in time. Waitress landed next to Turban, eyes black and wild as Turban’s grin.

But now Tavus was next to the loner, whose own green ribbons were coming forward, wrapping with Tavus’. Not that the loner seemed to notice, his focus on the broken woman heaving one last breath. “Doooooona!” Her fight was gone.

Loner nodded and rose. All battered garb remained upon the ground, the bright green trench coat in their place.

Private Miks Tavus pulled out his badge and held it aloft. “You are under arrest!” The ribbons spun and wove as they circled the trolls.

“No badge will take me alive!” Turban’s pipe let loose a stream of ash that singed the green ribbons while Waitress threw a fork at the counter. The counter itself folded and folded, revealing a ground of cold clay. Dammit, not the dirt!

“Corporal!” Tavus pointed and lunged to block the pair’s escape. His badge grew so damn hot to hold but he kept it aimed up and at them to increase the magic’s unfolding. More, more green ribbons pooled out to hold the Waitress in place just a few feet away and knock Turban’s pipe from her hand. But then she dropped her own cloak, revealing dragon eggs—plural—banded to each arm.

She laughed Death’s laugh as she grabbed one. “Never alive, Green Trenches, never alive!”

BELLADONNA!” Corporal’s voice rumbled through the diner with such force the street-facing wall cracked. A million shards of glass fell to the street, revealing three more Green Trenches outside. Turban screamed as her body locked still under the green ribbons of the law. “YOU ARE UNDER ARREST.” With a nod to Tavus, the Private pocketed his badge and carefully unstrapped the dragon eggs from the troll’s shoulders, all the while her eyes glared at him with such curses that, if she’d had any power left, he’d certainly be dead.

But he wasn’t.  They had her name, and with it, her power.

Still, he couldn’t help giving one more “Ma’m” as he took the last egg and handed it over to the second squad that magicked the snow away for a clear removal of the criminals. No one needed those trolls to step on soil before they reached the transport.

Corporal ordered the last Green Trench to tend the Couriers and Farmers while Private Miks Tavus watched the Transport take off over the rooftops for Headquarters. The wind had finally gone to bed, the moonlight turning the snow into fallen stars.

Corporal stepped up alongside him. “You’re damn lucky, Private. That elemental was hollowed down to the last bits of rib bone. Takes even less time for a troll’s magic to do that to a human.”

“How’d you know I would be here?”

Corporal tapped his badge. “Brothers of the Badge always know, especially when we seek by names freely given.”

Tavus nodded. He had never thought of his name as a gift, let alone a lifesaver, until now. “Thank you, Sir. I’ll remember. For all my Brothers of Pips Row.”

“I know.” Corporal smirked. “Get some sleep, Private. Tomorrow, we start again.”

“Yes, Sir.” Tavus smiled inside and out. Damn straight we will.

Another story of Pips Row complete! Now who should we meet next? Perhaps another who dares hold a dragon in her hands? Or perhaps a keeper of stars? Or perhaps a wizard in a dispute over fences? We’ll just have to find out!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!