#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 4 with an Undercover Cop and a #Mystery. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 4 of National Novel Writing Month! We’re still with Private Miks Tavus on his sting operation to take down a dragon-egg smuggler. I didn’t get as far as I wanted with this one, but we are ramping up the tension, which is good.

Day 4, Story 2: Never Say Your Name

What’s the hag with the turban want?

Well, “hag” was as strong word—Tavus could see that now that the dusty lamp over his table lit her features. Sure, she had a few rivers of shadow on her face, a wart or two, but nothing out of the ordinary for an older woman…especially an older troll. Between the turban and all the sparkly garb, no one’s gonna look at her for more than a second.

IF she was the troll. Not enough evidence. Need more evidence.

With a sneer and a hitch-up of the pants, Farmboy straddled on back to his stool at the bar, but there was no more hee-hawing to be had from that pair. Fine.

“May I join you?”

Tavus motioned to the battered chair while Waitress came over with his stew. “And some fresh coffee for my guest here,” he ordered with a smirk. “Though frankly, Ma’m, I can’t imagine you want to socialize with the likes of me.”

No one else did. The loner’s posture had gone stiff. The pair of legit Trade Couriers were hissing something back and forth—hopefully not a hex. Not an uncommon thing—Couriers are damn competitive for clients. But a hex could cause Tavus’ badge to light up in deflection, and there goes this operation, right down the crapper.

The wind twirled in the snow outside leaving frozen curls upon the diner’s window, its whistle long and lonely. The Waitress tisked, wiped the counter. “Way past that wind’s bedtime. You two ought to send it home to its momma.”

If farmers love to talk about anything, it’s the weather.

“I was ready to give that wind a spanking last week. Fella blew my hay bales all over…” Off those two went, competing for the worst dealings with wind, judged by Waitress.

Tavus dared to sigh, just a little, and faced The Turban. “So what can I do for you, Ma’m?” He took care to let the broth dribble down his chin while he ate.

Turban looked back on her rock-still servant. Whatever she saw, Tavus guessed she didn’t like it. The lump of a servant hadn’t moved much in the two hours they’d been here. Sick, maybe? Turban’s jaw shifted, and her eyes flat. “Serving, or seeking?”

Typical opener for hiring a Trade Courier—good, I’m actually selling this. Tavus sucked the spoon thoughtfully before letting it clang loudly in his bowl. “Bit of both. Hoped to help a partner of mine tonight with his job, but this storm, think it held him up.”

Turban’s finger traced the swirls of ice on the window. “Seems we’re all held up tonight. Pity.”

“There is the Inn, you know,” Waitress lobbed the words over. “Pearl’s Price, just down the block. The night watchman would let you in.”

“I thank you, Waitress, but I am sure the storm will be parting soon.” She pulled out a thin pipe from the folds of her coat. “Is that why you didn’t approach my table? Your colleagues certainly weren’t shy when they first arrived, but I prefer not to employ occupied Couriers. You’re a greedy lot as it is.”

Contact, this could be my contact. “Right you are, Ma’m. We burn through money pretty fast.”

A wince—right at “burn.” She has to be the troll I’m looking for. But where are the dragon eggs? Hidden in her robes, by the servant? Dammit, I should have cased her better when she came in. No bags or cases. She’s gotta keep them someplace warm. And if she could fit a pipe that long in her clothes, she could probably stash an egg or two.

The wind howls angrily at the cold, cold night. Snow drifts start to reach up the diner window. It was going to be damn hard to maneuver out there without magic now. Even the Gaptooths were eyeing the snow anxiously. The walls of the diner pressed in, close, mingling everyone’s stink of the day. Tavus was certain he could hear the loner’s heartbeat from across the room.

“Traveling by moonlight—is that a problem?”

“Not at all.”

“Even on western roads?”

“Even then.”

“Then let us shake, Alexander, and mark your service.”

Alexander? Tavus raised an eyebrow. “Courier will do, Ma’m.”

“Nonsense. I loathe vague references.” She rose and held out her gnarled hand streaked with tobacco and ash. “You are an individual who deserves identity, even a false one. When the job is over, you are released from the name.” No human could smile the way she did then.

Something is very, very wrong. Miks better be careful, or he’s apt to lose more than his cover…

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

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 3 with an Undercover Cop and a #Mystery. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 3 of National Novel Writing Month! I do so love a good police procedural, and wanted to try one of my own. Let’s see what life is like for a Private on a sting for the local law enforcement known as the Green Trenches.

Day 3, Story 2: Never Say Your Name

Half past eleven, and the troll still hadn’t showed. Private Miks Tavus rubbed his left temple and glared at the snow clinging to the diner’s window. If those plaid Gaptooth hicks at the counter hee-haw about the spotty cornstalk and diary girl one more time, I will blow my cover just to shut them up, he thought.

Which would be a pity, because Tavus had worked pretty damn hard on it. Picked up a clawed leather coat and bloodstained pants from the morgue. Used his day off to forge a new ID at the Records Office (probably shouldn’t have done that, but if he makes this collar, it won’t matter). Even gave himself a black eye and bloody lip to complete the look of a Trade Courier down on his luck. Just another loner on the roads, hunkering down in this random farming town until the snow blows over…

…when in reality he’s on his first undercover assignment for the Pips Row Green Trenches.

“And then the girrrl told the wife, ‘those ain’t his moles, lady, them’s—”

“Ack, Farmboy, you’re gonna make me gag,” the waitress groaned as she smacked one of the farmers with her notepad. Her curves looked none too comfortable in the drab grey dress most hospitality folks where in these parts, but she glided easily enough among the smoke and dimly lit tables. Only a few others sat in the diner besides Tavus and the Gaptooths: a couple legit Trade Couriers with their sacks tucked under the table, some old sequined hag with a turban and her servant, and another loner.

That one…something off about him. He sat in the far corner with his back to the wall. He never took his bushy scarf or hat off, even to slurp his broth. Squat and wide, like many trolls, and he could be keeping his hat on to hide the giveaway plants that grow atop troll heads instead of hair.

But why hide it? Pips Row sees its share of trolls and elves and goblins and were-folk like any other town. Maybe less, because of the Gaptooth hicks, but still.

Trolls aren’t for trapping themselves, either. If they can get at the dirt, they will escape you no matter what power your badge wields. And that was the last thing Private Miks Tavus wanted. If he was to catch the Dragon-Egg Smuggler, he needed his suspect to reveal the route before another piece of the downtown caught fire.

If he only knew what his suspect looked like.

“Waiting for someone?”

Miks Tavus’ eyes shifted from the window to the waitress. Not a young thing, but still looked good in those heeled boots of hers. One strand of her green hair peeked out from her white snood.

“You been sitting here a solid two hours drinking Merl knows how much coffee. How about a little beef stew? Farmboy over there brought the meat in fresh this morning.”

Dammit, I’m obvious. “Sure.” Tavus leaned back, scratched his chest. “Snow’ll freeze me up fast enough once I’m back on the road…” Double-dammit, don’t look at her chest for a nametag. “…Waitress.”

Names. People protected them in Pips Row like they were gold. For some reason, the moment any kid around here got their apprenticeship, you stopped using their names and went by profession instead. Old Corporal down at Headquarters once said it had to do with a sorceress gathering names up, doing some sort of Tampering with them years back.

Just one more thing Miks Tavus had to learn for himself after being assigned to this weird intersection of the country.

Waitress gave him the once-over and saw the blood on his pants. Good. “Not easy out there.”


“Where ya headed?”


The hee-hawing stopped. Both Gaptooth Farmboys peered over at Tavus from the counter. “Them’s the wilds, Courier. Geese territory.”

Just stare at your coffee, Miks. Don’t give’em the fightin’ eye. “Yup.”

Tavus could hear the groan of the bench as one Farmboy straddled over. The smell of manure and magic churned Tavus’ stomach, but he remained still, even when Farmboy leaned over to growl in his ear: “You rile up another Gaggle, I swear to Merl I’ll get my hounds and—”

“Good Farmer, if you please.”

What’s the hag with the turban want?

What DOES she want? Will we find the troll or the smuggler?

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

#NaNoWriMo2022: Day 2 with the Goose King. #Magic #ShortStories

Day 2 of National Novel Writing Month! Let’s see what happens with Scraps and the dreaded Goose King.

Day 2, Story 1: The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island

Scraps’ little fists shook as he glared at me. “No. It’s not the same. I’m gonna get that stupid Gaggle!” And off he stomped, right through a ball game and into the school. He spoke not a word the rest of the day as he tore apart his number crunchers and dust bunny hunters and pea soup freezers. In fact, the only creation he did not destroy was one decoy duck walker, the only one that quacked. He kept staring at its insides, comparing pieces, tossing pieces, adding new things. He grabbed string, rulers, scissors, pencils, and lots of metal bits from all over the classroom, dumped them on his table, and proceeded to push the entire table out the classroom door. “Where are the holiday flags?” He hollered at the lot of us all staring through the windows.

What can I say? We wanted to know what he was doing, so I sent some students to the storage cupboard for all the flags while I sent another group to sing the Ballad of Pip Whistletooth to the Headmaster in preparation for the Founder’s Festival next month. By the time we came out with our arms full of flags, Scraps was tying roads and hammering pegs and who knows what else in bizarre angles all over the school yard.

“Will these do?” I asked as his classmates held up the rolls.

Scraps grinned. “They’re perfect!” His inner magic was practically glowing out of his fingers and curls as he flew about his contraption, tying and measuring and hammering. Then he ran out behind the kitchens and returned with a cart of crates and broken engine parts. Only when he asked for the school’s old Volumizer did I fully comprehend the boy’s goal.

You see it yourself, down there on Goose Island.

By midday the Headmaster had heard enough of Pip Whistletooth and the Hags of Shadowkeep, and out he waddled to see what we’d been up to. The man was so shocked, he dropped his peach juice.

There, towering at least ten feet into the air, was a Scrap Goose. Rods and sticks and broken breams, string and nails and old tin plates created a rough skeletal frame covered with every holiday flag for the school and Pips Row Square. Upon the feet and along the beak of old boxes were lines of metal chips sharp enough for…well, they looked sharp enough for anything. Behind the half-shaped head of Veg crates was a little seat, and on that little seat sat Scraps. He waved, then disappeared behind the head. A hum and a whir, and the lower jaw of the beak dropped. There was the Volumizer.


More whirs and conks and little clouds of steam, and the legs, tall as me but as reedy as Scraps, shuddered and and shifted.


How Scraps drove that monstrosity, I’ll never know. His inner magic is all I can reason—all the Headmaster could reason, too. No artisan had ever constructed such a machine in such a time in such a way, never in all of Pips Row history (and trust me when I saw I know a bit of history, having met old Pip myself). All we could do was follow that concoction of garbage, knots and holiday cheer along with all the other kids who whooped and shouted with glee. When we reached this spot—yes, this very spot!—a Gaggle flew out in formation, ready to rob us for all we’re worth.

“HOOOOOONK!” Scraps gave the highest, shriekiest honk to ever honk, sending the Gaggle into balled mess of feathers into that tree. That is how it got knocked up. Nothing to do with the goblins on ash boroughs, at least this time.

On Scraps marched to the bottom of the hill, right up to the river bank.

We dared to follow. We dared to see the Goose King.

Here, I must show you. See here, the marks of their battle on the shoreline! Oh, that Goose King was a nasty creature. He was four foot tall with wings that could even encompass the headmaster, and there’s no doubt in my mind that beak of us could pull off a child’s face. His eyes were red through and through, and his feathers bore streaks green and black. He darted his head which way and that and launched from the island, hissing like an angry troll. But Scraps aimed the Volumizer at him and honked his shrill honk, sending the Goose King hurtling to the shore. The school children cowered behind the Headmaster and myself as we gathered acorns for the duel.

But Scraps was ready. “You took my sugar bread!” he cried. “You’re mean!” And he extended the mock-goose’s wings. Holidays blocked out the sun and cast such a frightening shadow over the Goose King I thought a dragon was sizing us up.

The Goose King hissed to his guards, but the lot of them remained huddled on the island shore with all those poor captured goslings.

“You’re so mean the other geese don’t like you!” Scraps stomped the monstrosity closer to the Goose King. “Go away or else!”

But the Goose King was crafty—oh, he was crafty! He stopped hissing and started slowly backing towards the shore. The children cheered, and Scraps lifted his hands in victory.

“Wait, Scraps!” I yelled. But too late—the Goose King feinted and dove right for Scraps’ giant goose legs! The broken garbage broke again, and the legs buckled.

But the outstretched wings of holiday banners caught the wind, and Scraps’ goose was lifted up. He was flying offshore—and towards Goose Island!

The Goose King laughed as only a goose can laugh, and launched himself yet again towards Scraps to collapse the monstrosity’s body.

But the wind was on Scraps’ side that day, and tickled the flags of the giant belly to make Scraps on that goose neck tip down and forward—and the giant beak of metal teeth caught the Goose King in the process, sending both crashing into Goose Island’s shore. Leaves, pebbles, feathers, bones—all was everywhere and anywhere. But no little boy.

“Scraps!” the children called out while the Headmaster and I used the acorns in a Working to build a bridge between the shores. The guards kept their distance as I ran across the bridge, its roots wavering over the river with little promise for holding me as I called Scraps’ name. He was not answering, and I just…oh, those moments were the worst in my life. “Scraps!”

At last, I got on shore, where a few goslings peeped at me to follow them. Past a few shrubs stood a giant, hollow tree, and there Scraps stood, back to me, shoulders drooped. All the sugar-bread in there was molding and splattered with dung. No surprise to an adult, but to a child…

“They wrecked Papa’s good shopping sack and pooped on my sugar-bread.” Little tears splashed onto the leaves about his feet.

One of the goslings at my feet ran into the hovel, plucked a clean bread off, and brought it to Scraps’ feet.

Scraps shook his head. “Thanks anyway. You can have it.” And he turned to me. “I know, I know. I’ll clean up.”

But the gosling shook its head. Many more goslings were beneath Scraps’ giant goose by now, staring up in admiration. The guards even preened the leaves off its banner feathers.

That is why you see it still, wings outstretched to protect the innocent of Goose Island. I can still see a bit of the Founder’s Day orange under all the mud from the last storm, but those banners, that scrap…it has a whole new life over there. The mottled mess that was the metal beak and Goose King have long since been dismantled by the Gaggle, who would rather steal sugar-bread for themselves, if they can get away with it. But is the Goose King really dead, or did he escape down Chresto’s Tears? Well, that we may never know.

As a reward for Services to Pips Row, Scraps was given a Medal of Creativity and a lifetime supply of sugar-bread. At long last, Pips Row saw what I could see, what the children could see: that every Scrap, no matter how small or inconsequential, had potential beyond imagination.

Tomorrow we’ll see who else resides on the streets of Pips Row. A starkeeper, perhaps? A witch? A troll? Or perhaps something else entirely…

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

#NaNoWriMo2022: Getting Back into the #WritingLife. #Magic #ShortStories

Well, it’s certainly been a spell, my fellow creatives!

Partly this was due to health–a nasty sinus infection knocked out my voice and energy for much of October. But the other part came from a serious reflection inspired by dear creative kindred Pam Lazos, who asked me if I needed a break from blogging and podcasting. Turns out I did. My new position in the university, while exciting, also means doing more with research and scholarship, and that initial realization sucked the joy out of any writing for a spell.

But while trick-or-treating with my kiddos yesterday, I realized that I cannot let academic life drown out my writing life. I must find a way for both to co-exist.

So here we are with my first try. No more analysis for the time being. And the podcasting will, I think, return in December. For now, the writing here will be fictional, fantastical, and most of all, fun.

Rather than the pressure of a novella or novel, though, I’m going with the short fiction route. I already wrote one story for this peculiar place some time ago, and now it’s time for us to return to this land of homegrown magic, where sorcery is as everyday as the harvest.

We will begin with a boy, as many stories do…

Day 1, Story 1: The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island

If one were to ever bother traveling west of Pips Row—and few of the city-sort ever do—one would see nothing but farms and forests. How very dull to a city-sort’s eye! To the country eye, one may see a bit more in the promising harvests: grains to promise safe relations with the goblins, vegetables to promise stable transport and roads, fruits to promise means of celebration and good weather. Magic grows in every seed and every root, as any down-to-earth soul knows.

But even country folk don’t travel too far west if they can help it, for they’ve not worked out the best magic to promise safe relations with the birds.

Geese, in particular.

You may smile now, thinking all those fingers and brain cells make you somehow smarter than a goose. That is only because you’ve never met a goose from our part of the world.

Here we stand at the western edge of Pips Row. A quiet place, nowadays, now that our resident sorceress has been silenced! This road is named Chresto’s Way, and it leads to the river Chresto’s Tears. You can see it there, beyond the orchard of Fruit Seller and hives of Honey Weaver. It’s the thinnest of silver ribbons from here, but I promise you, the river stretches and shrinks in all sorts of peculiar ways as it flows through this countryside down to the Marplen Sea. Whoever Chresto was, their path ended with that water long before Pips Row was founded, and it is water that shows no kindness.

Which makes it no surprise, then, that the Goose King settled there.

Never heard of the Goose King? What a strange soul you are. Surely you’ve heard of Scraps and Goose Island, at least.


That settles it. Grab yourself an apple—not for eating, but for protection. I’ve a few corn ears and a week-old biscuit, but we best include a sack of cheese sticks and cocoa muffins, just in case.

Mind your feet, this road’s not used enough to warrant paving. It’s mud and dung all the way, I’m afraid. Let’s see, where to begin…

In my days as a tutor for Pips’ Pupilry, I helped many children find the special seeds with which their inner magic bonded. Some had a way with oranges, some with carrots, some with rhubarb, and so on. Once every moon or so, a child’s inner magic would not bond with a seed, but with an ore, and that’s how Pips Row has its own unique collection of artisans.

Once, and only once, did I meet a child who bonded with neither seed nor ore. His name was Mycroft.

But everyone called him Scraps.

The boy did not come from a family of any, well, worth, you see. The father delivered parcels while the mother polished the words of the Council before they were sent off to the Capitol Businesses for evaluation. Being neither farmers nor artisans nor business, their place in the town was of a lowly sort, so Scraps was not treated like other children in Pips’ Pupilry. His clothing was secondhand and stitched, and his toys cast-offs from the Scrap Bins of alleyways.

Yet of all the children I have tutored—and may I note that number is high, indeed—no child was ever as happy as Scraps. His smile could shade the sun whenever he made a new discovery. “Look, Professor Hastlot!” He ran to me almost every day before school with something in his hand. One day I was sure it was the maw of a beaver, but this day it was a broken pitcher mold. “You’ve been near Silver Smith’s again.”

Scraps held the broken mold up to my face. A little fellow of wiry frame and curly brown hair, his long fingers somehow dodged every sharp point on that rubbish. “It’s the perfect piece.” Everything was “the perfect piece” for Scraps.

“Perfect for what?”

“You’ll see!” And at his corner table, away from all the soil pots and miniature forges, Scraps would send the classroom into awes and giggles every day with whirlybird messengers, decoy duck walkers, dust bunny hunters, pea soup freezers, and even whole number crunchers. (A particular favorite on Arithmetic Assessment days.)

It was clear to any child and tutor like myself that Scraps’ inner magic had bonded with, well, scrap. But because it was neither seed nor ore, the Headmaster preparing to expel the boy. Imagine, being expelled merely for shining at being yourself!

That, my friend, is where the Goose King comes in.

We’re a bit closer now to Chresto’s Tears—let’s stop by this knocked tree so you can see it down this sloping hill. Such a dark, mysterious blue! I’m certain something lives in those depths. But it’s the island I want you to see especially. It’s not particularly big—a few school buses long, I’d wager. All trees and wild brush, nothing tenable for a farmer. No clear ground for good trips or mining. But there in the center you can see it, yes? A giant among all that brush with its wings outstretched, its muddy, colorful feathers eternally fluttering in the wind.

The Goose King ruled that island with an iron beak. Guards circled the island constantly. The infamous Gaggle would fly out and return with whole loaves of sugar-bread soley for him to devour. Any stray goose caught by the guards would be forced to give up their goslings to the King. Those who defied the Goose King were left outside the Butcher’s back porch. The Goose King would sit atop the tallest dead tree, as wide and tall as an old sow, and honk the terrible honk of tyranny.

On the day in question, Scraps did not come running up to me in the school yard. His hands were empty, and his eyes were downcast.

“Whatever is the matter?” I cried. “Did the Scrap Truck beat you to the construction site?” Those were Scraps’ very kind of bins, particularly because the Green Trenches tend to arrest adult trespassers for digging through them.

“No.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Yesterday Papa went to buy me the last sugar-bread for a treat because my corner-cleaner-upper helped Mama so much, but the stupid Gaggle mobbed him and took the bread and he had no money for any more!”

A knot formed in my throat. Sugar bread may be another child’s everyday snack, but for Scraps, that would be a special treat, indeed. “Then I will go with you to the baker’s during Play Period to get some,” I said, holding up a coin as a promise.

Scraps’ little fists shook as he glared at me. “No. It’s not the same. I’m gonna get that stupid Gaggle!”

Whew! Okay, time to take care of children. But I can’t wait to return here tomorrow to see what Scraps does next!

Perhaps this year, National Novel Writing Month may be the light you need to find your way back to the Writing Life. If you’re involved this year, I’d love to hear about it! It’s only Day 1, but I’m determined to be here on Day 30 and beyond. x

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

#NaNoWriMo #Remix of #Music and #Inspiration (Because I’m Stuck Grading)

Well, bugger.

I had planned on exploring the fun of writing humor with you today, but the torrent of finals has not yet subsided. As my husband Bo reminds me time and again, it is VITAL to respect my limitations. The finals will soon be graded, and then I can return to sharing more than story cuppings with you.

(I think I’ll spend November sipping more indie brews. I hope you’ll join me!)

In the meantime, let me share some music and one of my favorite stories from Diana Wynne Jones about her writing life. I first shared these posts back in 2015 when I participated in National Novel Writing Month. Six years later, this music still grips me and these words still inspire me.

Take heart, my fellow creatives! Whether or not you join in thirty days and nights of literary abandon, your stories will always be there inside you. You will find the time to write them, and you will find a way to share them.

We all will. x

Originally Posted November 1, 2015

National Novel Writing Month is upon us. You’ll have to pardon me as I wish to dedicate my time write–feeble as it is–to the challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days.

So rather than blog, per say, I shall share music I find useful for various elements of story. For starters, a starter: music that marks the beginning of adventure. James Newton Howard’s score for PETER PAN has an excellent bit of fantastic to inspire you: a light giddiness that builds into the dramatic departure of the known for the unknown.

Are you ready to embark on Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon? Don’t be afraid. Let your story hold out its hand. Take it, and fly.

Originally Posted: November 8, 2015

In celebration of passing the 15,000 word mark, some music.

There’s something blissfully cool about the first meeting of two companions, be they friends or moreso. John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon has one of the most beautiful themes ever created in the spirit of friendship, and that this friendship transcends the ordinary makes it all the more powerful. Treat your characters to a first meeting that is nothing short of memorable.

Originally Posted November 15, 2015

John Powell again? You bet.

In celebration of reaching the halfway point of my story, I think it’s time for a chase. Any story, especially one with murder, kidnapping, and other intrigues, has got to have a chase. Plus, this chase from BOURNE SUPREMACY has some excellent percussion/string sequences for fighting. Now, set a fire under those characters and set them a’runnin’.

Originally Posted November 22, 2015

At some point, I hope, your characters seek something that will help fulfill a goal, or quest, or what have you. In my case, my characters are seeking a member of their group who’s been taken. Stakes are always high in such situations, and it gives a writer the challenge of laying clues that readers MUST be able to see without feeling obvious, for characters to drop verbal clues without sounding like they’re being dropped. It’s a delicate balance, not often achieved in a single draft. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t try, and if a little bit of mysterious air can help, all the better. Let Alexandre Desplat’s music from the final Harry Potter story help provide the necessary ambiance for the mystery woven in your plot.

Originally Posted on October 27, 2015: “Just Bash on and Do It.”

With National Novel Writing Month just a few days away, I think it’s worth pausing my own nonfiction and lessons from my favorite writer until December. However, to help those who also revel in the Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon, I shall continue sharing Writer’s Music posts throughout the month.

That said, I wanted to talk about something from Diana Wynne Jones’ Reflections that feels especially appropriate on the cusp of NaNoWriMo.


In 2011, Charlie Butler interviewed Jones in her home. At one point he asks about her writing process, and if others, such as editors, see the work in progress. Jones is very clear that this is NOT how she works:

hate being edited, because my second draft is as careful as I can get it. I try to get it absolutely mistake-free, and absolutely as I feel the book needs to be. Then some editor comes along and says, “Change Chapter Eight to Chapter Five, take a huge lump out of Chapter Nine, and let’s cut Chapter One altogether.” And you think, No, I’m going to hit the ceiling any moment. Then I call for my agent before I get my hands round this person’s throat.

Thank God it was the days before computers. I said, “Send me the typescript back and I’ll see what I can do.” So she did, and I cut out the bits she told me to alter, in irregular shapes, then stuck them back in exactly the same place with Sellotape, only crooked, so it looked as if I’d taken the pieces out and put new pieces in. And then I sent it back to her, and she rang up and said, “Oh, your alterations have made such a difference.” And I thought, “Right! Hereafter I will take no notice of anybody who tries to edit my books.”

Now while I can only dream of having this woman’s confidence and ability to write sideways and backwards and ALWAYS create something awesome (such as Hexwood), she still marks the point that it is the SECOND draft she makes perfect. Her first draft was always written by hand, and she accepted that chunks of it would need to be done over: “If you want to make your story as good as you can get it, you have to go over it and get it right.”

For some of us, who are on draft #8 (ahem), “getting it right” in only one or two rewrites still sounds like a miracle. But it is nice to know that one whose plots knot every which way and still produce these beautiful woven works does not expect it to be right the first time. Yet another reason NaNoWriMo is so wonderful for writers: it forces us through that first draft–in Jones’ words, “Just bash on and do it.” Then, with the time crunch gone, we can take our time, pick the story threads apart, and concentrate completely on “getting it right.”

I hope you enjoyed that little trip back in time! I’m still lost in the past myself, as my 2019 crack at NaNoWriMo resulted in the start of a story that transcends seasons, a tale of bloody magic set in the deadly quiet snows of Wisconsin’s northern wilderness. All Hallows Eve may have passed, but Winter is on Wisconsin’s doorstep. It is only a matter of time before snow and spirit meet…

Just in case you’re interested, those NaNo chapters can be found in my Free Fiction section.

All right, back to grading. When we return, let’s enjoy a chat and a laugh before I put my daughter Blondie to work. 🙂

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

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 7th #chapter

Only a few days of November remain, my friends! Clearly this novella won’t be done by then. For sake of time, then, I think I’d like to jump, just a smidge, to another critical moment. (If you need to catch up, here’s a list of current chapters for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die.)







Sal and Chloe flew through the sliding doors. “We have to close these,” Sal called to Thomas, “NOW.”

“What happened?” Thomas was almost lost to the darkness of the room, too far for the firelight’s reach. Only his eyes glowed to Chloe, wide with fear when he saw the blood on her hand, the panic in her face.

The fear locked Chloe’s jaw but she fought it as the men fought time and warped wood to close the doors. “A b-b-body, Dad. They ch-ch-chopped someone up.

Laughter: Reg hopped up, a smile so big on his face you’d think it was Christmas Anywhere-But-Here. “It’s done!” He clapped and leapt over the sofa to hug his sister tight. “It must be done done done! The signs, they worked!”

But Chloe ran to join Sal at the doors. Stuck. So damn stuck. The wood groaned, denying them. “The Sumac guy and the doctor–” 

CRACK. Thomas’ side splintered free above him. He slammed his side to the center and said, “I knew that damn plowman was no good.” He came to help Sal and Chloe, but his strength only made the wood louder, louder, its moans surely echoing throughout the Crow’s Nest. “Get furniture. We’ll block the rest.”

“What about your mom?” Chloe asked Sal as they took the ends of the sofa.

“It’s her bloody curse.” Sal grunted under the load, faltering after only a few steps. “Let her face it.”

Thomas rushed to Sal’s side and shoved him towards Chloe. “Ang, come on!”

But Angela’s shape stayed to the window, her darkness one with Reg’s, her fingers spread out upon the glass.

The caws.

Oh, the caws.

It began as one, lone but strong. Then another. Another. Another. And in a heartbeat it was a chorus of murder ringing through the air. A cloud of black feathers beat the windows as the crows flew by. Their song seemed to wrap around the house, filling its rooms and all their hidden spaces–


The walking shroud of Madame Yana Perdido stood, hands upon her cane, in the last space of the sliding doors. 

Sal dropped the sofa and stood, empty and limp as a scarecrow after a storm. Reg let out a cry and buried himself in Angela’s arms.

Only Angela held her chin high…though she did not move one inch from the window. “Mother.” The word fell, small and hard, into the air.

The grandmother’s head slowly swiveled from adult to adult until at last she stopped with Choe. “Has the sign been made?” That the sofa was but a few inches away from blocking her entry apparently meant nothing.

Chloe pointed at the pile of drawings about the desk. “Reg has made a hundred, all right? You need to get in here before that doctor–”

Thock. “He means nothing. Did you make the sign?”

“We need to call–”

Did you make the sign?!”



Not a caw.

Not a groan.

Not a flutter.

Only a single, long, growl. Very deep. And very near.

Word Count: 513 Total Count: 12,324

Gah, I didn’t get to my part yet! Here’s hoping the kids behave well enough tomorrow for me to write before we venture off to another Grandmother’s house… xxxxxx

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

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th #chapter, part 3

I’m still alive! Pretty sure, anyway… Yes, I’m back, if only for a moment, to try and finish this scene. It’s too damn important not to. I’ll share my past week’s misadventures another time. xxxxx

“…no use at all. The medicines did nothing.”


Chloe jumped at the sound of the axe on some unseen chopping block. A few fat snowflakes flew in through the crack of the open kitchen door to die upon the woodpile.

Sal held his arm in front of Chloe, ears red as the veins in his eyes. 

“What did you even give her?”

He didn’t have to tell Chloe to be quiet. She clenched her jaw to keep from chattering, and dug her fingernails into her palms. How could she pretend like they didn’t hear? What was she even hearing?

“Who knows? What’s clear to me is that she knows where it is and she is not telling.”

WACK.  “Not telling you, you mean.”

A lone, fat drop of blood broke from the rabbit pelt by the butcher’s block and struck the ground with a sound too loud, too obvious. Sal started pushing his arm against Chloe, his breathing shallow and fast under his plaid shirt.

“Don’t get started with me.” 

Chloe took a step, but…but she couldn’t quite go. What was the big deal, really? Sumac worked for Chloe’s grandmother. The doctor would be here often to treat her.

Not that he sounded pleased about it. “That bitch has cost me too much time already. I want that seed, and I want it now.” 

Sal stopped nudging. “Seed?” he mouthed silently. His lips formed the word, over and over as he hunched his gangly body forward and lurched further into the room. The balls of his feet wobbled as he crept, his fingers outstretched to grab anything, anything that could keep him from falling.

“Hand me the last of that meat, will you? My perimeter’s just about done.” Sumac sounded very much at ease, almost relaxed despite the axe work. “My point, Sir, is that she may have told one of her children.” WACK. “Or maybe she’ll tell the granddaughter. You said she liked her.”

Well. Chloe needed to follow now. She followed Sal’s cue and took to all fours, her knees fastly cold from old snow and blood. They kept close to the butcher’s block, the only real cover in the kitchen. 

The two men’s shapes walked before a window, and stopped.

Chloe and Sal just made it between the butcher’s block and the fridge. They were hidden.

And trapped.

Chloe dared to peer with one eye around the edge, hoping the rabbit pelt would do enough to cover her head. 

A small red something flew into the snow. “Could the girl be bribed, perhaps?” 

WACK. “Damn joint.” A large, crooked something flew like a heavy boomerang before the windows. “Maybe. If the parents don’t get in your way.”

Dr. Artair laughed a jolly laugh. “Ah, but these are parents who want what’s best for their child. I’m sure I can bend that to my advantage.”

A drop of blood fell and splattered atop Chloe’s hand.

WACK. “If you say so.” WACK. “All I know–” WACK. Sumac grunted and stepped, stepped, stepped. “–is I’m not cleaning up any more of your messes tonight.” The kitchen door swung wide, groaning in the cold. He stopped in the doorway, holding a hand up to the light.A bloody, pale stump of a forearm and hand, adorned with a watch and a shredded purple sleeve. Sumac pulled the shredded fabric off and held the watch to his ear.  Always wanted a Van Doren.” With a smile he gave the bloody hand a high five and returned to the doctor, the meat, and the snowy night.

Word Count: 596 Total Count: 11,811

Hmmm. Not quite what I was planning here, but it’ll do for now. 🙂

Click here for a complete list of posts for my novella What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die. And until tomorrow…

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

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th #chapter, part 2

Hello, friends! So, I’m not alone with my writing today–Biff’s getting over a fever. Oh, he seems okay, much more animated and energetic than yesterday. Still, I don’t need a relapse in the midst of my panicking university students and sub teaching gigs, so here we are, home together, him wondering why I won’t let him watch tv all day and me…um…wondering I won’t just let him watch tv so I can get some writing done. 🙂

Where were we, again? Oh yes. Let’s try to bring the family back together.

Writing Music: Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall

“Thomas!” Angela clung to the sliding doors as her body hung forward, face as fearful as any caught animal. “Thomas, you let Chloe go up there?” Her feet moved for the stairs, yet her hands would not let go. “Did she talk to you?”

Chloe and her father moved as one to meet her at the base of the stairs. Chloe wrapped her arms tight around her momma, murmuring, “I’m okay, it’s okay. She’s just creepy, is all.” 

Thomas’ long, powerful arms held them both close to his chest. He kissed the tops of their heads, then rested his own on Angela’s. “It’s almost midnight. Doctor said she’s in her last few hours. It’s almost over.”

“Over.” Angela’s face was but a few inches from Chloe’s, and yet Chloe felt like her mother couldn’t see her at all. What could she see? “C-can it really be over with…without…”

Sal knocked on the sliding door to get their attention. “Ang. The crows. Do you hear them?”

Just like that, Angela’s focus sharpened on her daughter, husband, brother. She pulled away from her family and ran into the living room and its windows. Chloe followed, keeping her distance from Reg whose back was to them all. He sat at the small, plain desk not far from the hearth, its surface lit just enough by the fire’s light that he could draw in great, dramatic strokes. Papers littered the floor about his dusty chair.

Papers filled with crows.

No one spoke but the fire. No one moved. From somewhere came a ticking. From somewhere came a thock. Thock. Thock.

“You must make the sign,” the grandmother had said. The crows upon the floor had outspread wings and open beaks, long talons and wide eyes. They stared at Chloe from the paper, stared like those hidden golden eyes on the bookshelf–

From somewhere came voices, beastly and strange.

“Isn’t that plowman supposed to be feeding the crows?” Angela asked. “We can’t lose them, not now.”

Sal nodded. “I’ll go check.”

You must make the sign…

But Reg was already making plenty of signs. What difference would a drawing by Chloe make? And Chloe’s stomach still rumbled, and her father was giving her that “we have to talk” face while touching her mother’s shoulder. Damn, he’s going to bring up the radio job to get Momma’s mind off crows and witch-mothers. She had to separate them…but no. Not when her mother looked ready to jump out of her own skin. And unlike Angela, Chloe’d already seen the bloody kitchen.

“I’ll come with you.” Chloe practically skipped over to Sal’s side. “Uncle Sal.” Anything to put off “that talk” until we’re in the car. Hell, I’ll talk the whole way home about it if it means not doing it while Momma’s like this.

“You sure?” Chloe’s father asked. He sure wasn’t.

But the scribbling noise from Reg and the tappingof Angela’s fingernails on the laced table made the bloody silence of the kitchen sound like a sanctuary to Chloe. That, and the ginger scarecrow that was Sal felt like the least threatening thing in this house. “Mmhmm.”

“We’ll just be a moment,” said Sal, and led Chloe out.

The foyer felt far colder than a moment ago. Little whips of wind lashed the back of Chloe’s stockinged legs. The lights flickered once, twice. But no black laced shapes loitered on the stairs—not that Sal looked up to check. He was all too happy to share a smile with Chloe instead.

“Thanks for this. I hate walking around here by myself. When I saw Reg at the front door, I just…stayed with him by the fire until you came.” They paused by the display of crow skeletons. One skeleton was posed to look outward, right were Sal stood. “It’s always felt…safest, in there.”

Chloe shuddered. “Should I ask where you guys slept?”

Sal swallowed. “No.”

The cold had been coming from the kitchen. The back door stood open, just a sliver. The dead rabbit was gone.

So was the axe.

Word Count: 675 Total Count: 11,215

Consarnit! I can’t wait to share the next moment with you, but I teach all day tomorrow, so there’s a good chance I won’t be posting. Stay tuned!

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

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th chapter

Hello, friends! I know I’m slowing down a bit with this scene, but I did so want to give a bit of history and had no idea where else to put it. (If you want some context, check out the complete list of current contents for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die.)

Writing Music: Philip Glass, Metamorphosis

Chloe’s father blocked her halfway down the stairs. Light from the grandmother’s room faded against the second floor corridor until it was just as dim as the rest of the foyer. The grandmother’s presence, however, hadn’t faded, not at all. Go to the desk near the fireplace downstairs, she’d said. Take ashes from the hearth, and with your own fingers make the sign. She refused to watch Chloe or her father leave, eyes still transfixed upon the window where the owl and clawed its own mark. Do it now, before he finds a way inside.

Not that the owl’s mark made much impression on Chloe’s father. Already he was grumbling about Chloe’s love of music. “Your momma got you that job to help jumpstart your journalism career, not to write songs other people are gonna sing without even mentioning your name.”

Chloe slumped to a seat on the stairs. “I didn’t want it to be like this,” she said, voice hardly above a whisper. She clutched the hem of her skirt, so carefully sewn by her mom to help Chloe to look like someone who was on campus to learn, not serve. “I wanted to surprise you both. Play the radio and tell you, ‘I wrote that. That’s my song Brenda Holloway’s singing.” Through the rails of the bannister Chloe looked down upon the crow bones on display, the hung feathers, the child drawings. How many had been pinned to those places and left, unmoved, for years and years? “Some friends at WNOV, they’re going to set up a meeting with representatives from Motown after New Year’s.”

“Song writing. Jee-sus. Chloe, I…” Thomas Watchman bit his lip, breathed deep. Chloe knew exactly what he was doing: he was looking at her as if she was a clock refusing to wind. “When you reported what happened at the Black Student Strike in Madison to the Milwaukee campus, your momma and I, we were so, so proud of you.” He knelt upon the stair to see her eye to eye, to hold her hands in his calloused palms. “You were in living history. Do you have any idea how powerful that is? How important that is to preserve for your own kids and grandkids?” 

Chloe swallowed back a hard lump of fear. So chilled, these stairs, like the sidewalk Chloe fell upon that day. The car horns, the words hot as acid on Chloe’s ears…Even Gwendolyn Brooks, a Black woman white men awarded, was almost run down while talking to the students. Yes, Chloe wrote a report and shared it on Milwaukee’s Black radio. But the real fire came in the words Chloe wrote after, words for a song, a song to hear with a piano and a microphone in a smoke-filled room, where tables are sticky with booze and old stories and the floor doesn’t care whose shoes walk its boards.

Thomas Watchman gave his daughter a little smile to tug her back into the present. “You’ve got the words and the soul to take on all those white men who think they know what deserves to be recorded and read by our eyes. Well they don’t. You.” He brought their held hands up to Chloe’s chin for a gentle nudge. “You do.”

Word Count: 542 Total Count: 10,540

The Black Student Strike was a real thing at UW Madison, as was Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks nearly being run down by a car. In this age of outrage and vitriol over merely not liking a YA book, let’s just take a moment to remember there are plenty of real battles worth fighting for.

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

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 5th #chapter, part 3

Hello again, my friends. Not gonna lie–it’s been a helluva week, and the finals from students are nowhere near over. Let’s see if we can at least learn a little something from Yana Perdido and Chloe both before it’s too late.

Writing Music: Greenred Productions, Dark Cello Music

Dr. Artair laughed, his hands up in surrender. “Very well! Madame Yana, I shall take my leave–for now.” He gave them a curt bow and left, his laughter echoing up and down the foyer.

“That man is insufferable.” The grandmother picked up the tea left by the doctor and held it up to her veil. “Hmph. Medicine, indeed.”

Thomas Watchman shared a look with his daughter to head for the door, then said, “I’ll tell your children you’re–”

“Not yet.” The grandmother shuffled around the bed, thocking as she went, still holding the cup, still hmphing under layers of black lace. “Tell me, what do you know of crows? Apart from the laws.”

“Excuse me?” Chloe could see her father’s grip on the leather arm bond tighten, though his voice remained cool. A bit too cool. “I don’t hail from the South.”

The grandmother shuddered and gasped. It took a moment for Chloe to realize she was laughing. “Is sin limited to the South? I may be old, but I am no fool.”

No, she wasn’t. Chloe watched that gnarled hand carefully balance the cane against the wall, and reazlied that this woman practically read Chloe like a book in just seconds. “Crows eat garbage. Roadkill. Scavengers.”

“Did you know they are also extremely protective?” The grandmother pointed to a painting on the wall behind Chloe and her father. It was as massive as the ornate, gilded bed: a painting of crows flying after a lone owl, its eyes shut as it flees. “If there is a predator looming near a crow’s nest, a signal is called out, and all crows in the vicinity will work together to drive the predator out. Kill it if necessary.” She unhooked the brass latch of the window. Tendrils of sparkling night air curled into the room as she tossed the doctor’s tea out the window—

Screech! Harsh, sharp, grating, the sound came higher and higher. The grandmother cried out, tripping over her own shrouds, dropping the cup and shattering it with her cane. Chloe’s father ran round the bed to prevent the old woman’s fall—

A shape flew to the window. White, black, silver, wings stretched like the arms of a ghoul, eyes golden, too bright, too bright, Chloe can’t stop staring back, the refrains of a thousand songs filling her ears when she sees that gold, that gold—

Thomas slammed the window shut and latched it shut. The creature’s talons scratched at the glass, its beak clamped down on the window frame, but neither gave. Its feathers pounded the glass as hard as any blizzard, and the night air now in the room seemed to answer the feathers back, rising in the room, causing all three to shiver.

Not that Thomas Watchman was one to openly show fear. He put his nerves into his fist and pounded the window, yelling “Back! Get outta here! Out!”


The shape had flown away—no. No not yet. It hovered in place a few feet back at Thomas and Chloe, who’d joined him by the window. That can’t be the same owl from the truck, Chloe wondered. And yet its stare, it felt so familiar…

The owl lunged for the window, but not with its feathers. Screeee. It dragged three sharp talons against the glass right in front of Thomas’ face. Then it flew back into the snow, and the dark, and the quiet.

Chloe’s grandmother staggered back just enough to sit back down on the bed. Her words came out with what sounded like a froth brewing in her mouth. “Owls are the worst of the predators. They will hunt for crow’s nests. They will eat the weak, the young.” Chloe handed the old woman her cane, which she promptly thocked to steady her withered, laced nerves. “Owls are the boogeymen crow mothers and crow fathers warn crow children to beware.” The veiled face turned up to Chloe. “You, you must make the next sign. You, must, beware.”

Word Count: 666 Total Count: 9,998

Gah, two words short of 10,000! But supper calls, and family, and grading, and, you know, life. 🙂

For a current list of installments for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die, click here.

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