You’ve Got Five Pages, #FortuneFavorstheDead by #StephenSpotswood, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

At last, we’ve got a fun one!

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.


Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

While Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood is not a new book, it is new to my library. It’s the first of a “hard-boiled” detective series featuring a pair of women (one with multiple sclerosis) solving crimes in the 1940s.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

When I read that blurb about the detectives, I just had to give it a go, and I’m so glad I did. No need for bait-and-switch prologues here! We jump right into character Willowjean Parker describing the first time she meets detective Lillian Pentecost: “The first time I met Lillian Pentacost, I nearly caved her skull in with a piece of lead pipe.” It’s a wonderful opening line that brings the classic game/film Clue to mind, and it got me hooked to see how these two would really interact. Just as Pentecost’s body language and dialogue share a lot about her, so do Parker’s thoughts one what she sees and reacts to (“I took the wire out of her hand and had the job done in ten seconds flat. I’d picked harder locks blindfolded. Literally.”) I’m already eager to see how the other two books in this series shape up, for if these opening pages are any indication, Pentacost and Parker are not a pair to pass up. 

No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

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

The Happy Benefits of #Rereading Old Favorites. #WritingLife #WritingTips


Welcome back my fellow creatives! In the midst of surviving Midwestern snow, rain, more snow, more rain, and a single epic sledding trip–

–my family and I find warm solace in rereading old favorites.

Bo explores his biographies of the Marx Brothers. Bash marches to battle in his Transformer books. Biff dissects the data of every Federation ship in his Star Trek encyclopedia. Blondie explores the Wings of Fire series yet again, pausing at various pages to create her own illustrations of the story.

Blondie won a blue ribbon for this at the local Art Fair!

Me? I returned to Longbourn.

“Why there, Jean?” you may ask. “Why not a Poirot or Howl or some other such series?”

Good question! First, Bo and I are already enjoying Poirot mysteries via the boxed set of television adaptations he got me for Christmas. It’s as much fun to watch David Suchet and Company bring these stories to life as it is to watch Bo enjoy them. Even my three B’s have started to pay attention. “Why hasn’t anyone died yet? Hastings is silly. Woah, the police are using phones. Wait, that’s radio? WHAT?”

As for Diana Wynne Jones, I’ve a goal to finish a series I started looooong ago for some critical reading here: The Dalemark Quartet. This actually also ties to rereading Pride and Prejudice, for both are influences of my lost-in-development-hell Shield Maidens series.

Lastly, I had come across a really cool YouTuber named Dr. Octavia Cox who does close reading of classic literature, and her analyses of Pride and Prejudice made me realize just much one can uncover when one sloooowly moves through the words.

So, let’s focus today on why rereading those old favorites can do a writer–and reader–some good.

Comfort food for the imagination. When reality is cold and bleak, why not escape to a time and place we love? Of course, trying new things is important, but just as we enjoy those warm, delectable comfort foods, so does our imagination enjoy a return to the familiar. We experience those favorite lines, interactions, and settings with fresh appreciation each time, even to the point where we must read them aloud to others. Bash is an avid fan of this–if a Transformer has made him laugh yet again, he’ll read through the whole scene to Biff and Blondie who then, of course, must read the entire story for themselves. When one person loves a story, one never seeks to hide it! As a writer, those returns can be a marvelous benefit to us as we develop our storytelling skills, too.

Worldbuilding. Because we “know what’s coming” in the story, we can pay more attention to all the periphery details and how those enrich the overall setting. Rereading Howl’s Moving Castle, for instance, helps a reader better see how everyday magic utilized by sailors, bakers, and even hatters in Sophie’s life. Rereading the lives of the Marx Brothers–or rewatching Poirot–reveals the surprising pieces of 1930s life that can easily be forgotten. Rereading Wings of Fire helps Blondie catch specific aspects of dragon culture depending on where those dragons come from. In this reread of Pride and Prejudice, I paid closer attention to second and third-string characters, like the Lucas family, so I could better understand life in the Regency period.

The more we study those social gatherings, the more we understand how important they were for folks to meet anyone potentially suitable for marriage; how a female’s talents in entertainment could lift her up in the eyes of the community, and how many dance steps you had to memorize (oh my GOODNESS I would have failed miserably in that period). One may gasp with Elizabeth when Charlotte accepts the simpering Mr. Collins’ proposal, but when one reads closely, one catches that Charlotte is 27 years old–on the far end of the spectrum when folks were expected to marry. Add the size of Charlotte’s large family and small fortune to the mix, and readers have a clearer understanding of the period’s pressures upon a single young woman.

[Charlotte’s] reflections were satisfactory. Mr. Collins to be sure was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. –Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.

Is it any wonder Mrs. Bennet was cheesed off at Elizabeth turning Mr. Collins down? In that time and place, such a life was a young woman’s best option. We as modern readers may not understand that at first, but the more we reread and revisit the setting of the story, the more we learn.

Foreshadowing. It can be so, so hard to catch the clues dropped early, can’t it? We are caught up in the current moment, eagerly anticipating the next exchange or event that alters the storyline’s progression. That was me with a lot of tales, whether they were mysteries like The ABC Murders or fantasy epics like the Harry Potter series. We can even use Harry Potter as an example here: in the first story, Harry talks to a snake he unwittingly releases from its zoo enclosure. At the moment, it’s a lighthearted moment, but in the second book, we learn that talking to snakes is not common at all; plus, it was a trait usually only seen in witches and wizards who preferred the Dark Arts. So is Harry actually a Dark Arts master in the making? Dunh dunh DUNH!

One of Dr. Cox’s analyses of Pride and Prejudice really got me thinking about this, too, in regards to Lydia Bennet. The youngest and wildest of the sisters, she is on the constant search for entertainment and isn’t shy about demanding it from her family and friends. She’ll flirt with a number of officers, demand balls, play betting games with cards–the girl loves risks in all shapes and sizes. It’s a sly bit of foreshadowing about Lydia’s character arc and the choices she’s capable of making. Jane Austen’s slyness continues when Lydia starts talking about Wickham more frequently; it’s timed just so that it comes after Elizabeth refuses Mr. Darcy and reads his letter of Mr. Wickham’s attempted seduction of Georgiana, Mr. Darcy’s little sister. Elizabeth has no desire in hell to listen any references of Wickham, but what happens?

With such kind of histories of their parties and good jokes, did Lydia, assisted by Kitty’s hints and additions, endeavour to amuse her companions all the way to Longbourn. Elizabeth listened as little as she could, but there was no escaping the frequent mention of Wickham’s name.

Because we’re focused on Elizabeth in our initial read, we don’t wonder why Elizabeth ignores Lydia’s ramblings. In the rereads, though, we better understand that all of Lydia’s choices fit her temperament and character, and when Wickham bolts his militia, it really isn’t a wonder for Lydia to bolt with him for a lark.

Not to mention the hardcore foreshadowing of Wickham!

Character Arc (one way or another). Let’s stick with Pride and Prejudice‘s Wickham here. In our first read, we share in Meryton’s positive first impressions of Mr. Wickham:

But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlike appearance.

That is, the dude’s hot.

Lydia’s making a point to flat-out run into this guy and his friend. Elizabeth’s aunt is hollering at the guy from her window. He’s got eeeveryone’s attention with his manners and looks. After a brief run-in with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Wickham starts probing Elizabeth as to what’s known about Mr. Darcy, and through the coming pages we find out that Mr. Wickham is pretty cool with bemoaning his fate at the hands of the prideful Darcy. Once Elizabeth reads Mr. Darcy’s letter, however, she comes to realize how “gentlemanlike” Mr. Wickham often broke rules of decorum by bashing Darcy at every opportunity. Mr. Darcy’s letter also foreshadows an important aspect of Mr. Wickham’s character–his womanizing. He’s not afraid of ruining a young lady’s reputation for his own interests, and while he failed with Georgiana, he succeeds with Lydia Bennet. Everything that was his character is revealed for an arc from “hot guy” to “womanizing jerk.”

Elizabeth Bennet is also a fine study for the character arc. Oh, she remains playfully witty from start to finish, but in the opening chapters of the ball where Lizzy and Mr. Darcy meet, she is just as prideful as he. She laughs it off, sure, but from that moment on she “willfully misunderstands him,” as Mr. Darcy himself put it during their time together in Netherfield. She refuses to believe such an observation, though, and continues feeling herself best and right regarding Mr. Collins’ simpering, Miss Bingley’s interference with Jane Bennet’s happiness, and more. While Elizabeth is right in some of her observations, she has to face her own mistakes later in the story when it comes to Wickham and Darcy. She has misread people, and she has to own up to it. It actually reminds me of Howl’s Moving Castle when Sophie realizes just how much she cares about Howl. She can’t even admit to herself that she’s capable of loving someone until a fire demon lures Howl into a trap. Readers love seeing characters grow into themselves, so having these rereads helps writers better catch when and how such moments happen.

Two People Finding Each Other.

Blondie: What are you reading?

Me: Pride and Prejudice.

Blondie: Who gets murdered?

Me: Nobody.

Blondie: Does anyone die or get blown up?

Me: Nope.

Blondie: Is there magical stuff in it?

Me: Nope.

Blondie: That sounds really boring.

Now when I was Blondie’s age, I would have agreed. I was immersed in fantasy and mystery at that point, so if someone wasn’t getting murdered, then something better be getting blown up. Now, though, as I reread Pride and Prejudice, I am reminded of something many of us seek in stories of any genre. Even the most violent thing I’ve ever studied on this site, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys, understood this important element of storytelling.

Boys members Butcher and Hughie are both transformed by love: Hughie struggles with a broken heart not once but twice, and Butcher’s descent into revenge begins with the rape and murder of his wife by a super “hero.” Early in their time together, they help two witnesses of a murder rekindle their relationship. Looking on, Hughie says:

What is it about love stories, you know?

BUTCHER: Two people findin’ each other.

Many of us yearn for that other soul that connects with us in a way no other can. There’s a reason romance alone can sell a story and that many genres include a romantic interest. Is it demanded? No. It doesn’t even have to be a love thing. It could be something as equally powerful as finding a friend or a family member. There is a unique joy as a reader in watching two characters come together, “finding” each other in spite of all story-world obstacles–even the barriers they themselves created.

So yes, there is much to enjoy and learn in a good re-read. What are you rereading during these dreary days? I’d love to hear. x

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

You’ve Got Five Pages, #BleedingHeartYard by #EllyGriffiths, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Well, I’m back with a mystery, but I’m not happy about it.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.


Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths

My curse on this podcast strikes again.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

The prologue of Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths is quite well-crafted and compelling and leagues ahead of the first chapter, which is an exposition dump detailing a separate character’s fast-track in her career with law enforcement. Now I can see that Griffiths herself is an avid mystery writer, winner of awards, etc., and the prologue shows me why. Writers would do well to study those first couple of pages to see how this first-person narrative shares a lot about the character without saying it directly. For instance, the first two lines read:

Is it possible to forget that you’ve committed a murder? Well, I’m here to tell you that it is.

This isn’t shocking necessarily, as the dust jacket alludes to the group of main characters committing murder during their school days. It’s how the paragraph ends that gets me:

…everyone [during the murder mystery game] would get drunk and forget the clues. This rather irritated me. I like following rules.

This speaks LOADS about the unique juxtaposition of character Cassie’s traits and morals, not to mention the way her mind works.

I was ready and willing to continue with Cassie, only the official first chapter just starts the story over again with a different character. Had Griffiths given us a bit more time with Cassie and smoothed that shift over to another character’s pov–ending a chapter with Cassie realizing this new character would be in attendance at a party, for instance–I think readers would be more intrigued to learn about her “friend” even if it takes sifting through an exposition dump to do so.

No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

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

You’ve Got Five Pages, #BeastsandBeauty by #SomanChainani, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

We interrupt this month of mystery with a dark fantasy recommended by my daughter!

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.


Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales by Soman Chainani

I had originally planned a mystery for today, but once I saw my selection directly tied back to a previous book without much context, I took my daughter Blondie’s offer to read Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani instead. I’m so glad I did!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

The illustrations of the first story, “Red Riding Hood,” are stark and bleak–a perfect balance with the vivid yet succinct prose that describes the story-world. Just look at this first sentence: “On the first day of spring, the wolves eat the prettiest girl.” That right there is intense and violent while also providing a sense of time and action. Even though the story is written in third-person omniscient, we as readers feel like we are a part of the story, watching the girl who never thought herself beautiful be chosen by the wolves for their meal. We watch her discard fear, take up her red cloak and knife, and enter the forest. We have heard this tale a thousand times, yet we cannot help but read on, for we don’t know where Chainani’s unique tellings will take us. His control over language is pure magic, and I cannot wait to see his imagination play with the story-worlds of Snow White, Peter Pan, and other classic fairy tale folk.

No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

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

You’ve Got Five Pages, #Haven by #EmmaDonoghue, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, my fellow creatives! After a bout of illness and some time writing for NaNoWriMo, I am finally back and able to read the opening chapters of various new releases at my local library.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.


Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Haven by Emma Donoghue

When I first grabbed Haven, I was admittedly hesitant because of my mixed feelings for her previous novel Room. Once I saw Haven is a historical novel featuring monks, though, my hesitation dissipated. 

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

I’m a big fan of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose and the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, so another mystery with monks? Sign me up! And as a writer, Donoghue packs a lot in those first five pages for readers. We open with an active abbey meal from the perspective of a young, hungry monk. We see the importance of the abbey to a community and the power the abbot enjoys. Yet there is an outsider visiting the abbey who, as the rumors say, is far more intelligent, far stronger, and simply far more blessed than any resident of that abbey, and this conflict reveals itself in a brief public interaction between the abbot and the outsider.

It’s a terrific setup for a number of possible progressions of plot, especially since we know from the book’s blurb three monks are going to essentially be stranded on a small island. Will that be by choice, or by punishment? The worldbuilding, too, is artfully done. I mentioned earlier that we can see the abbey is a central part of life, but I particularly dug how Donoghue utilizes the vocabulary of the period with her prose so that modern readers can use context to know what she’s talking about. This is one of the biggest challenges of historical fiction, and these early pages show that Donoghue conquered that challenge. 

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

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

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

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 12 Where Troublesome Neighbors Meet Their End. #Magic #ShortStories

Hooray, I got to write today! I wasn’t sure with lots of family stuff going on, but Barab NEEDED her revenge, by golly. I included just a little of the previous installment before jumping in.

Day 12, Story 3: The Bee Trainer’s Revenge

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. “I suppose not, but, erm, perhaps at the Registry we could—”

“Ah ah ah!” The suited man held his hand before Nacle’s face. “First, I must inspect.” He ran his hand through his grease-backed hair and stepped primly around Nacle towards the bushes, Clover Gardener not far behind, tittering, “As you can see, it is a very unique specimen. In all my years among the flora, I’ve not known anything like it!”

Nacle Themormo struggled to sip his tea—it took a moment to realize his hand was shaking the cup. The Plum Grower boy looked at the shakes, at Nacle. Nacle set the cup down with a cough. “Dear me, it must be this morning chill.” He watched the suited man hold a flower up to his monocle, his face scrunched in study. “I must beg your pardon, Sir, for an appropriate exit,” he tried once again with his voice to win the will of men, but his concentration faltered when a bee came round and landed on his arm. At least Bee Trainer took the bee when he yelped.

Clover Gardener wacked the suited man’s arm for him to respond. “Hmm? Exit? How you can you exit now? This is quite the discovery. Stay a moment, man, I’m nearly done.”

“Here now, Neighbor, you just need a fresh cuppa with some honey to steady yourself. I remember when I first told others I could talk to bees. I nearly fainted from nerves!” Bee Trainer pulled a small jar out of her apron. Her bee landed on her shoulder and cleaned her antennae lazily. “Freshly harvested. Just for you.”

Nacle gulped. He’d thought the Queen Bee just knew all those tricks with smokes and potions to control the animals. She actually talked to them? Then she’d know… “Really, Madame, n-no n-need for me.”

“Nonsense. There are these beautiful red threads through the liquid that I’m sure will create a flavor unlike any Pips Row has ever known. Perhaps you’d like to sample them, Exotic Plant Registrar?”

“Honey from these flowers? Well that is even more interesting.” Round the man spun with monocle to the eye. It sparkled as if glitter filled its glass while he looked at the jar. “Hmm, yes, interesting indeed.” Even the suited man’s chest started to glow behind the coat, a green glow that Nacle felt sure he’d seen before…


Nacle Themormo needed to run. He needed to bolt down Honey Street and never look back. But every family stood on that street, smiling at him, waving, talking about how “exciting” this new plant and honey were and they would not leave.

“I MUST BEG YOUR PARDON THIS INSTANT!” He shouted, but in vain. Save for the man in the suit, every male had little acorn plugs in their ears. If only he could dampen the pounding of his own heart like that!

“Exotic Plant Registrar, we already have a name for the honey, just so you know.” Bee Trainer held up the sketch of a honey jar label. “You’ll have to pardon the Strawberry Grower triplets—they’re a mischievous bunch. But Mormorus Lavendula could make for a lovely name for the plant, could it not?” She flashed a bright smile, and the man’s monocle flashed the same bright green as his chest.

Nacle paled.


And ran.



In the midst of claps and “We’re so happy for you!” and cheers and “YOU SHOULD BE SO PROUD!” Nacle shoved his way through cars and people that just seemed to multiply as the street seemed to grow and nothing seemed to be just a bloody normal street of a hick Gaptooth town. This should have been his street, his town, just like it should have been his bank—


Green ribbons of magic unspooled at his feet, but he leapt over them—amazing what adrenaline will do—and continued to the intersection, so close, so close to freedom from this accursed street—


“Argh!” A bee was in his ear, practically in his brain! Nacle slapped his head as he spun about, the buzzing incessant, he had to kill it KILL IT! He could feel legs and wings on his ear and he raised his hand to smash it—


The ribbons knotted about his wrists and ankles. “RELEASE ME!” Nacle cried as a final ribbon wrapped around his throat. Just like that, his voice was gone, the bee free to hover before his eyes with a curt buzzy buzz before returning to that insidious Queen Bee.

The cheers and applause continued right on as if Nacle wasn’t floating backwards to where he started. The ribbons placed him into his folding chair and locked him in tight.

All the while, the suited man held his Green Trench badge to his chest. “I always waited to play a bit of a snob,” he joked to Clover Gardener, who held out her hands for the runts earplugs. Now Nacle wished for his own pair as they whooped and screamed down the street, “IT’S OVER! YOU CAN TAKE THEM OFF!”

“You were marvelous,” she said. “But you see now why I warned you about your ears.”

“Oh yes.” The Green Trench tapped the monocle three times and it vanished in an explosion of green threads. “Turns out Nacle Themormo is quite the embezzler in multiple cities thanks to the ‘gift’ in his voice. I studied those cases in the academy. Only one image was ever recorded years back. Got to say, Nacle, you were a tad thinner then.”  Nacle growled. “Good thing you folks had a piece of his name and a bee to slow him down.”

Bee Trainer nuzzled the little thing and murmured. “She was so brave. But her family, Officer.”

The Green Trench nodded somberly. “The Flora and Fauna Recovery Squads are on their way. I’m hopeful for the bees, but we’ll have to destroy all the hives and inspect every crop on this street for contamination.

“Every crop?” Plum Grower’s face fell. The excited titters on the street dimmed.

“Better one season, Plum Grower, then all seasons,” Clover Gardener said. “I see your boy’s talking to a Trench now. May as well show them where to start.”

Plum Grower sighed and waved at Nacle. “Enjoy prison, Late Banker.”

Nacle growled and almost managed a “Nnnnot Llllate!” but by then another Green Trench appeared and took hold of the suited man’s ribbons.

The Bee Trainer watched the handoff and said, “Are you familiar with the small hive beetle, Officer?”

The Green Trench took off the suit coat and shook it out. With a puff of smoke it returned to its original state of the long Green Trench coat uniform. “Can’t say I do, Madame, but I’m not long in Pips Row myself.”

“When a hive is weak or ill, the small hive beetle can sneak its way into the honeycomb and lay larvae that will taint the honey. They can even cause some hives to collapse altogether.”

The families of Honey Street parted as more Green Trenches appeared in a circular formation. “Oh boy,” the Triplets cried, “They’re going to do an Arrest Working! Can I hold a badge? Can I? No, me, you always get to hold things!”

The new officer commanded Nacle Themormo’s chair to lift and carry him into the circle. All could see him fight and scream, but none could hear a sound.

The Green Trench nodded thoughtfully at the sight. “If a hive is weak, you say?”

The Bee Trainer cradled her little lovely and smiled. “If a hive is weak.”

Huzzah, they made it! Now I’ve got to work out which story to tell next. Oh dear, where to next?

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!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #HatchetIsland by Paul Doiron, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Hatchet Island by Paul Doiron

The opening pages of Hatchet Island is, sadly, a return to prologues. We meet a nameless character suffering insomnia, one who has simply given up on life in college and in general. After months of isolation, he finally ventures out into the world…only to throw himself from a bridge.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Now I’m sure some readers will be intrigued by what happened to this nameless character. Why did this character make that choice? Was it the birds and the birdkeeper he worked for that drove him to kill himself? How could living with birds do such a thing?

For me, though, this prologue put a sour taste in my mouth. I’m all for a good murder mystery, but when life is lost in a story, it should mean something. Like Colleen Hoover’s Verity, I felt like killing off a nameless person for the sake of shock value in the first few pages dulls the impact of any future loss of life later in the story. Plus there are so many other ways to show that time on an island has transformed a person for the worse: their habits, their language, their little actions. All these can steadily impact those around them and lead to other, bigger transformations down the road. I know not every writer feels this way, but I will always appreciate a chance to peel back layers to find the rot, rather than simply smashing the fruit underfoot to send that rot flying in bits all over the ground.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

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

The Hidden Wickedness: A Study of Rural Villainous Deeds in Holmesian Tales

Happy September, my fellow creatives! Fall is not too far away. School is starting for my three Bs while I tackle finals for the summer term. I was blessed to take my kids to see a beloved fellow blogger and friend, Peggy from Where to Next?, as she was traveling through the Midwest this summer. It was so wonderful to chat in person in the midst of Bash’s million questions! Our drive to meet her took us through a lot of rolling hills of bright green farmland, corn and wheat on the cusp of harvesting beneath sapphire skies.

Prologue: Life in Rural Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s countryside has always been near and dear to me, something I feel would be worth exploring in how other creatives like Michael Perry view it…but that’ll be a post for another day. Today, I’d like to return to something I once shared on this blog long long LONG ago about why I write stories set in Wisconsin.

The adventures of Sherlock Holmes resonate deeply with me for two reasons. First, they were dearly loved by my father, who would, on a rare evening when he could delay his church work, read a story aloud to me at bedtime. I still remember the thrill as he described Dr. Roylott’s fate in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” or the sadness in his voice when Watson discovers Holmes’ note by Reichenbach Falls. I devoured these stories, despite my mother’s attempts to interest me in more child-friendly works such as the Little House books. Nothing doing, especially after I read “Copper Beeches,” for that brings me to my second reason: our town, our state, really, fit the description Holmes gave of England’s picturesque countryside.Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably WAS a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns. Unless, of course, you went towards Wisconsin Dells, where the wilderness is trimmed and prepped and ready for its mandatory close-up before the tourist rushes to the proper civilization of water parks and casinos.

We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

As a child, I was always making up stories in my head about the farms we passed. I didn’t think true evil could be committed in them. Only as an adult did I learn better.

This knowledge of Wisconsin’s hidden evils gave me a new appreciation for the Sherlock Holmes tales I loved as a kid–not because Holmes brought truth and justice to light wherever he went, but because he didn’t just stay in London. Holmes himself knew just how dangerous the countryside could be in spite of its picturesque beauty. Let’s peruse a few cases to see just how the rural setting played a role in his cases, shall we?

Case 1: The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

A woman seeks Holmes’ counsel as to a job offer with a bizarrely high salary with equally bizarre requirements. The minor suspicion leads to a mystery of deadly deception.

So this is the story with the iconic train ride into the country and the conversation Holmes and Watson have about rural England. Here’s the majority of that exchange:

It was an ideal spring day, a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air, which set an edge to a man’s energy. All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and gray roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage.

“Are they not fresh and beautiful?” I cried with all the enthusiasm of a man fresh from the fogs of Baker Street.

But Holmes shook his head gravely.

“Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”

“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”

“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

Holmes strikes upon a critical point: isolation. Rural communities, then and now, are not nearly as connected as neighborhoods in the urban setting. Even with the internet and all our technological innovations, one can be very, very cut off in the countryside. I still distinctly remember visiting a friend at her farmstead many years ago, and feeling downright oppressed by the silence of the farmland’s night. Absolute, utter silence. No wind. No bugs. No cars. Nothing. The film Alien may have coined the phrase, “In space, no one can hear you scream,” but I put it to you that in the country, no one can hear it, either. That is partly why the villains of “Copper Beeches” were able to get away with shutting away their daughter and allowing her to literally waste away while they spend her money. Who could possibly hear her in the middle of nowhere?

This isolation can be a powerful tool for a writer, whether one’s creating atmosphere, parring down the “noise” and cast a busy setting requires, or even establishing influences that could drive characters to make certain choices.

Speaking of characters…

Case 2: The Adventure of the Silver Blaze

A famous racehorse goes missing, his trainer found dead out on the moor. The setting is a flat, barren land offering little to anyone without a horse. Few people, fewer hiding places. How could such a creature disappear where everyone knows anyone? The dog could tell you…

“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

A rural community is going to be a small community. In the case of “Silver Blaze,” there are two competing horse stables in the north of Dartmoor. When the landscaped is described to us–

Holmes and I walked slowly across the moor. The sun was beginning to sink behind the stable of Mapleton, and the long, sloping plain in front of us was tinged with gold, deepening into rich, ruddy browns where the faded ferns and brambles caught the evening light….

–I was reminded of the southernmost area of Wisconsin, where the ground has leveled out to very flat plains. Ideal for farming, of course, but for hiding? Not so much. So for something as large as a horse to go missing in a bleak landscape seems like an impossible puzzle.

Now any brain would look at those two competing horse stables and presume Silver Blaze has to be SOMEwhere in those stables. Even Holmes considered as much (“The fact is that I could not believe it possible that the most remarkable horse in England could long remain concealed“). It’s doubly concerning that the horse trainer was murdered the same night the horse went missing. In such a bare, quiet place, where everyone knows everyone. How could such two awful things happen?

Just as the beautiful countryside can hide secrets, so can its people. This is partly why, I think, cozy mysteries have such an appeal. In their sparse setting and cast, there must be hidden layers, things no one has learned that must come to the surface. The clue of “the dog did nothing in the nighttime” reflects that someone familiar, someone known in that tiny, tiny community, took Silver Blaze away from his training stable. From that clue we must dig deeper into those who interact with the horse, and that is where we learn the trainer has a secret life complete with 2nd marriage lived away from Dartmoor. That second life spurred the trainer to attempt laming Silver Blaze for money, and in that process, Silver Blaze kicked him in the head and fled, killing him in the process. The competing stable found the horse–who wouldn’t in such a bleak landscape?–and did the, well, the least criminal thing they could have done in that tiny, tiny community: they painted Silver Blaze so he looked like any other horse. Then Silver Blaze wouldn’t be able to compete in the coming race and they could still gallantly “find” the horse after the race and look good to the neighbors as they return it.

So those familiar interactions, those habits so well known to others…those, writers, could be a marvelous tool in revealing the truth to the cast and readers alike.

The rural setting, though, need not always be cozy.

Case 3: The Final Problem

On the run from Professor Moriarty, Holmes and Watson cut about the continent, finally isolating themselves as hikers among the mountains of Geneva. They reach the falls of Reichenbach. Watson is summoned away on a hoax of a medical emergency. When he returns…Holmes is gone.

As I was gathering stories for this study, it occurred to me that Reichenbach is one of the few settings where Doyle/Watson spend an extensive time describing the scene. So often in the stories we get a sentence or two of sensory details, and then we move on. Not so with Reichenbach Falls.

It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring forever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing forever upward, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour. We stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.

Doyle chooses not to have Holmes face Moriarity in some iconic spot of London. Doyle avoids any sort of city altogether. Two men of refinement are to face off where Nature is its most powerful, the force and height of the falls capable of slaying any man no matter how clever he may be. No law exists out here but for the laws of Nature, and Nature cares nothing for Man’s logic and cunning. Is it any wonder that when Watson returns, he sees his friend’s note and the footprints by the cliff and presumes Holmes and his nemesis are both dead?

It had darkened since I left, and now I could only see here and there the glistening of moisture upon the black walls, and far away down at the end of the shaft the gleam of the broken water. I shoulted; but only the same half-human cry of the fall was borne back to my ears.

It’s moments like this where I can see the appeal people have in reading/viewing stories where the sole conflict is Man Vs. Nature. You cannot reason with it or bargain with it. You cannot stop it. You can only survive it…if you are lucky.

And sometimes, we are.

Case 4: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes and Watson accompany young Henry Baskerville to Baskerville Hall to claim his inheritance. Mysterious goings-on have already begun in London—would they continue on the Grimpen Mire?

We had left the fertile country behind and beneath us. We looked back on it now, the slanting rays of a low sun turning the streams to threads of gold and glowing on the red earth new turned by the plough and the broad tangle of the woodlands. The road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet and olive slopes, sprinkled with giant boulders. Now and then we passed a moorland cottage, walled and roofed with stone, with no creeper to break its harsh outline.

Bo and I have watched many, many adaptations of this particular entry in the Holmes canon. It’s no wonder folks love telling this story over and over again–you’ve got a tight cast, a bleak, peculiar place. Strange signals in the night and suspicious residents. Forbidden romance and, of course, murder.

A particularly crafty move on Doyle’s part was to pull Holmes out of the story for a spell–oh, he’s watching from the Moors, yes, but as far as Watson knows, Holmes leaves him to watch over Baskerville while Holmes returns to London to investigate other avenues or some such excuse. Watson writes daily reports to Holmes and, being the romantic that he is, allows himself space to write about the landscape, too:

The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm…We found a short valley between rugged tors which led to an open, grassy space flecked over with the white cotton grass. In the middle of it rose two great stones, worn and sharpened at the upper end until they looked like the huge corroding fangs of some monstrous beast.

Such rocks remind me of the formations one can see in the western half of the state, where the hills grow tall and the wilderness is not so keen to have farmers for company:

A person could die trying to climb these rocks, but the difference between these Wisconsin rocks and England’s Grimpen Mire is that the Mire doesn’t look threatening. It’s merely a wide expanse with grass and mud like any other field…until one steps in it. Only then does one realize they are in a kind of quicksand they cannot escape. We are told early on of a pony that had wandered onto the Mire and was slowly sucked under, crying out and crying out, and then nothing. This hidden wickedness is not always thought of, however, for the Legend of the Hound is on everyone’s mind, including the killer Stapleton’s. By taking a large dog and starving it on the Mire, he’s created his own living murder weapon. It worked once on the elder Baskerville, but Henry Baskerville is protected by Holmes and Watson. The starved dog is shot, and Stapleton escapes to the Mire.

Somewhere in the heart of the great Grimpen Mire, down in the foul slime of the huge morass which had sucked him in, this cold and cruel-hearted man is forever buried.

In some stories, Justice will come by Nature, not Man.

Epilogue: the Lonely Land

There will always be those souls who revel in the city life: the dense gathering of peoples, places, and secrets will always provide writers with bountiful writing inspiration. But outside the city limits, in the dark, in the stillness, we wander and survive. We live in Countryside, Anywhere. We keep ourselves to ourselves. We keep Nature at bay (most of the time). We keep our wickedness hidden from the lackadaisical eye.

But if you, fellow creatives, pause…imagine…look…perhaps, yes, perhaps you will see us, and find us out.

“But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields…think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

–Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”


I’ve been listening to Nature a lot lately. Come take an explore with me through its own quiet music…

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