National Novel Writing Month called to my imagination with the promise of storytelling in spite of all life’s commitments. Thousands take up the challenge, so why can’t I? And I was realistic about this, too. I knew 50,000 words was impossible, but surely there could be SOME way to accomplish a meaningful amount of words. I’ve done it before, and dammit, I could do it again!
But if you saw my banner for November, you might already know what changed the course of my plans.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t the motherhood. I managed to turn Biff’s day of fever into a quick morning of writing.
No no–it was the teaching. Yeah, the final projects from my University students were once again a big drain on time, but those at least I knew how to manage. The subbing among six different school districts, however, was constantly unpredictable. A small agreement of a three-hour stint would change into a six-hour haul among several different grades. I’d show up expecting to work with a special needs kid only to find out I’m actually teaching 1st grade math to kids more eager to stab each other in the eye with pencils than to just sit the Godfrey Daniel down. (You can decipher that bold phrase if you channel your inner WC Fields.) This doesn’t even include the 5am phone calls of, “Can you come in today? All day. There are notes here for your duties, I think. We’ll look when you get here.”
It was a busy month. Busy, and rough. I’d be rushing from hours spent with a kid who refused to use kleenex and therefore had a steady stream of mucus running from his nose into his mouth while eating his snack and then coming up to hug every single adult and myself and to give us high fives with those same boogery hands and I had to prevent myself from gagging all over this kid OLD ENOUGH TO USE A FRICKETY FRACKIN’ TISSUE and then get my own kids, NOT let them hug me so I wouldn’t spread whatever germs are smeared in green on my person, and grade finals.
And the typical bits of motherhood don’t vanish,do they? Blondie needed to work on her piano. Biff and Bash needed to do their homework, and they needed to attend their occupational therapy. All three needed to be fed with actual food, not just, you know, dog bowls on the floor. (Though that would be SOOOO much easier.)
At the beginning of November, I was certain I could use the same tactics I had in previous years to write while parenting and teaching. And if my life’s course was still just motherhood and teaching online for the university. it could have worked.
But this fall, the course of my life changed when I added the substitute jobs. The river no longer flowed in the way I understood it. It went from this…
I missed writing so much.
I wanted life to continue its typical course with my writing floating atop. I might row for ten miles one day, just around the bend the next. But at least I’d be writing again.
Yet at least two weeks of November passed with no writing at all.
I had failed.
“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”
That failure hung on me like twin boys determined to make me a tree. It hung on me like the face my daughter used to make when I’d say time and time again, “Not now.” It hung on me like the words my husband couldn’t say because I had to work. I had to do more. There was always more to do.
And that, Dear Friends, is when it’s time to stop.
You may think you can walk upon the river’s stones. You may think you can continue on your course your way because you are you.
That’s what I thought. I put on my sensible shoes and figured I could portage my writing across the rapids without *too* much trouble.
I was so bloody determined to carry my writing through these unpredictable waters that I failed to look on what I had done as any sort of accomplishment.
I had written 12,000 words of a new story and shared share every one of those words with you.
It’s so easy to get caught up in what we fail to do, isn’t it? We get daily notifications of a gazillion new authors all hot’n’fancy with readers we’d LOVE to have for ourselves. We check out the new best-seller brew-ha-ha and wonder what on EARTH inspires people to spend money on such’n’such garbage when there’s *our* stuff ready and waiting. We hear of yet another remake/re-imagining/reboot/re-whatever and wonder why no one notices the bounty of fresh fiction we create.
We look so longingly at the accomplishments of others that we forget what we ourselves have accomplished. No, I didn’t finish my story, but I did work to help keep Blondie in music and Biff and Bash with their therapy. No, I didn’t finish my story, but I did inspire my daughter to start her own. No, I didn’t finish my story, but I did get to split my sides laughing while Biff and Bash shared their favorite quotes from a Captain Underpants read-a-thon (Seriously, Biff sat and read an entire novel out loud with Bash silently listening. It was AMAZING.)
So Friends, please don’t dwell on what wasn’t finished. There will always be a course to travel, and it will always be a mystery beyond the bend. What matters is that you take a step, then another, then another. One day you may take one hundred steps, the next one thousand, the next, just one. Every single step–every single word–is something to be proud of.
~Stay Tuned Next Week!~
I’m going to start posting on Sundays instead of Thursdays, so now you have to wait until next Sunday for some awesome writing music, updates from Blondie, and perhaps some writing craft study on an old holiday favorite. More author interviews are underway as well, so be sure to stop by and see who’s on the hot-seat in the coming weeks!
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.
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?!”
“NO I DIDN’T MAKE NO DAMN 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
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.
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. 🙂
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. 🙂
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
“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!
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.)
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.”
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.
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
“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.
“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.
Writing Music: Kronos Quartet, “Little Blue Something”
A lone caw cried out in the dark snow. Chloe couldn’t see into the night, not with snow spinning in circles outside like toy ribbons from a parade. “My family,” she said curtly.
Thock went the grandmother’s cane. Yana Perdido pointed a gnarled finger at Chloe’s chest and said, “No. This family has already been claimed. What, is, yours?”
Whimpering downstairs. Cawing outside. Muffled voices, closed doors, silent snow, golden eyes, and all beneath the tap tap tap of Dr. Artair’s ring as he sits, watching like all the white men who think they have the right to see her as less, as worthless, just some sooty the dean needs to throw out with the trash, all the snickers and the jabs and the tossed books and the mud kicked at her legs and the noise and the noise and the noise, Chloe has to cover her ears to keep out all the damn noise—
“Music!” She was panting. Why was she breathing so hard? Sweat streamed down her back and chest. Her heart wanted to collapse from running, running from all the stupid whiteys who think they own the world but they don’t because of “Music.” There. She could speak without panic now, without that clawing on her brain. She slowly ran her palms down her skirt to dry them. “I write songs for the radio.”
“Since when?” Chloe’s father filled that decrepit doorway with his body and his voice. “That job at the station is for school, not–” he paused when he saw Dr. Artair in the corner and realized the grandmother was sitting, unveiled, and staring.
It takes a lot to unnerve a man like Thomas Watchman. The grandmother’s face came damn close…until he saw Chloe’s frazzled face. He clenched his jaw as he towered over the old woman on the bed. “Make my wife or daughter a jabbering mess like that son of yours downstairs and I’ll use your own tools against you.” He pulled out the leather arm bond he found in the foyer and held it to the lamp. The large buckle flashed light in the old woman’s eyes, reflecting little back. “Understand?”
“Oh dear, oh dear.” Dr. Artair wore the face of a Santa Claus reading a naughty list. “Perhaps, Yana, it is time to make amends with your children. Should they not be compensated with–” “Treasure?” Thock. The grandmother recovered her face with the veil, and she stood, a black spectre once more. “You think you can drug me enough with your silly medicines that I’ll reveal its hiding place, do you? Get out, you fraud.” Thock. “Out of this room, and out of this house.”
Word Count: 446 Total Count: 9,332
CONSARNIT! Sorry, folks, but I have to cut it here so I can grade before another teaching gig. Here’s hoping a little more time will come my way tomorrow.
Hello! I am Blondie, as you might know already. Right now I’m writing a book called An Expert’s Book On Dragons. It has all the information you need when you go out dragon watching! It includes facts and drawings of dragons you need to look for! Included on this blog post is pictures of the cover, introduction, and first dragon in the book!
This is the words of the introduction and first dragon:
So, people who are reading this book, I, the author, will pose as Firewing, a fire type dragon that ”wrote” this book. Inside this , there will be facts about the dragons,their habitats, and their tracks!
Firewing (and yes, I am a dragon that can write)
A shark dragon can spread up to a mile in length, and up to half a mile in width; one of the largest dragons. It can swim in water swiftly. It has webbed feet and 2 fins to help it swim. It lives near the U.S.A., China, and Japan. It has tracks like a duck, but WAY larger.
Did you know that shark dragons are omnivores?
-Shark dragons are often mistaken for giant sharks near California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Florida, and other seaside states.
-Shark dragons only eat once a month.
-Shark dragons never eat humans. they normally eat fish and plants and other stuff.
-Shark dragons can talk.
-If you save a shark dragon’s life, it will devote it to you and you can tame it.
I have made one other new book and I will update you on that soon! I hope you like this blog post!
My daughter was so excited to share this post with you! This ol’ mom’s heart is all squishy with love’n’pride. 🙂 Now, let’s see if I can jump back into my own story and nudge protagonist Chloe to reveal truly matters to her. I hope you’ll join me!
Hi!So a day’s break from writing allowed a serious question to hit my face: What does Chloe care about? Here I’ve got this girl in the main crew of characters, we’re with her practically every step of this journey, and….I have no clue what matters to her. And if I don’t know, you sure don’t know, you awesome readers, you. So let’s see if this veiled grandmother can work a little narrative magic, as it were, so we can all learn what’s up with Chloe. (And for those who feel a little déjà vuwhile reading, it’s because I’m recycling some setting details from an earlier brainstorm shared in October.) Let’s go!
“Yana, what ever are you doing out of bed?” Dr. Artair wagged his finger at the old woman and pointed at the wall. “Back to your room, my dear. I’ve brought your medicine as well as your granddaughter for a little chat while the others calm your son.”
“‘Son.’ Hmmmph.” The veiled grandmother thocked the floor with her cane as she hobbled to somewhere on the left. “Refuse of the orphanages, they were, all of them. I knew he wouldn’t want them.”
Refuse? Refuse?! Chloe’s throat burned with acid and anger as she stomped up the stairs, nearly knocking the toadish doctor over. “My mom isn’t garbage.” She pounded after the woman, glaring down at her veiled back. “She’s smarter than any white man at her university. She knows more about the world than you ever will, and she’s smart enough to stay the hell away from you!”
A slow, gurgling cackle shook the old woman’s shoulders. Chloe should turn back. She should run. This woman can’t be human, not really. She’s a monster under all that lace, and that’s why Reg is practically foaming at the mouth. No wonder, no wonder Chloe’s mother never ever wanted to set foot in here and was ready to sleep out in the car in the middle of a blizzard.
“And yet, she has returned.” The grandmother turned, slowly, straightened, slowly. By the time she faced Chloe, her head was high, almost regal. The outline of a face floated behind the veil, with two holes where eyes should be. “Why is that?”
Chloe clenched her jaw. “To help her brothers, obviously. A minute with you and one’s crying crazy.” Why WERE they there, really? They didn’t have to come here. Chloe’s mother could have hung up the phone and left it all alone…no. Chloe didn’t know as much about her mom as she’d like, but she knew one thing for sure:
Angela Perdido Watchman could never leave any past alone.
“Now now.” Dr. Artair blocked the doorway out. They were all in this grandmother’s room, Chloe in the middle. “Let’s not start off on the wrong foot.”
“And which foot would you prefer, you fraud?” The grandmother stiffly sat on the edge of her bed. It stood high with wooden globes for feet, globes carved into precarious connections along the frame and headboard. The blankets on the bed looked like cast-off ball gowns, all bright colors in expensive fabric stitched with gold. “I will take no more of your supposed medications. You’re simply here for money. You will get your dues in the post from my attorney, just like Dr. Caden.”
Dr. Artair chuckled as he set the grandmother’s tea on the bedside table. “I only wish you to be comfortable, Madame. But, if you prefer to be in pain…” He took an orange shroud off a heavy, ornate lamp, throwing a hard, yellow light upon the room. “…then so be it.” The light added dark cracks around his smile.
Thock. “You care nothing about my pain or anyone else’s.”
Chloe had to blink, readjust her eyes. Everything, everything was golden–crucifixes, mirrors, even the very fireplace opposite the bed had gilded edges. So did the two wooden chairs framing it, right down to their scrolls carved with wings and talons.
Thock. “Sit, child.”
And lose her ability to look down on this witch? “No, thank you.” Chloe folded her hands primly in front of her.
“Well I should very much like to sit,” Dr. Artair said, and did so, “if you don’t mind.”
Now the way out was clear, and Chloe sure as hell wasn’t going to give that up. Only a couple more minutes before her father will come to rescue her. She would not end up like Reg downstairs. Chloe kept her face a mask, her heart calm. This heap of old lace won’t make her a wreck.
The grandmother certainly was staring at her enough, looking for something until thock. “Hmph. You see all the gold, but you do not stare at it. You are not here for treasure.”
Chloe felt like the woman was digging through her head. Chloe’s mind raced through childhood, pausing only a couple times: listening to Etta James for the first time,her father pulling out a gilded but broken timepiece from a dumpster, a wall of golden records, her mother sitting with her in the Public Museum, gazing upon the Egyptian mummy encased there, telling Chloe tales of archeological sites in the Far East and what an adventure it must be to dig through time. Then the memories became a blur, a spinning blur, a blur like a carousel ride in chaos and Chloe would surely get sick all over this witch—
Dr. Artair’s ring loudly rapped the arm of his chair. “Oh, this really is so exciting, seeing distant family brought together at last.” And he shooed with his fingers at Chloe to make her look upon the grandmother again. “Go on, go on. Pretend I’m not here.”
The old woman had removed her veil. Her sickly skin was as peeled and cracked as the woodwork downstairs. But her eyes—those weren’t holes at all, but dark, night-dark, and they looked hungry for anything Chloe had inside her. “You are Angela’s child. That stubborn stare confirms it.” And she nodded, approving. “You would fight the world to protect your own, would you not?”
The sweat between Chloe’s fingers made her folded hands slip a little. “Yes.”
“Tell me, child.” She leaned forward, hair long enough to touch the top of her cane. “What is your own?”
WORD COUNT: 925TOTAL COUNT: 8886
Gah, we didn’t get to Chloe’s motivation! Well, we sort of did. I bet you caught the hints. 🙂 Ah well. Let’s try next time, shall we?
Good morning, my friends! As promised, I have a lovely author interview to share with you while I run off into the snow to teach high school calculus (yes, you may giggle). Meet the amazing writer of mystery thriller and dark fantasy, Daniel Kuhnley!
First things first! Tell us a little about yourself please.
Sure. My name is Daniel Kuhnley, pronounced like “coon lee.” I’m a Christian and an author, but I don’t write Christian fiction. I enjoy all sorts of activities, including music, movies, disc golf, working out, programming, and writing. I’ve been married to my wife for 22 years. Wow, it doesn’t seem that long! Just this last weekend my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. That’s quite remarkable in this day and age. There are no children or pets in our household (my wife is allergic to both!) I have three siblings and six nieces and nephews.
What is your favorite childhood book, and how would you say it influenced your own passion for storytelling?
This is a tough question. How far do I go back? Perhaps a few examples would be good. I loved The Monster at the End of This Book, The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree, and Where the Wild Things Are when I was young. All three of them have a fantastical and sorta scary story. I think those led me on to books like A Swiftly Tilting Planet. This book opened my eyes to a new world where I could escape from everyday life as I read it. The characters and world and adventure stole my heart and made me want to write stories of my own. There were many other books as well.
I see you enjoy writing in two different genres: mystery thrillers, and dark fantasy. What draws you into these different writing-worlds?
Passion for the genres. I absolutely love Dean Koontz and the thrilling and mysterious books he writes. Old Stephen King ones too, like Cujo and Firestarter. What really drew me into fantasy and wanting to write it was Terry Goodkind’s series, The Sword of Truth. The first book, Wizard’s first Rule blew me away with the characters and depth of story. I’d never really read anything like it before. I knew I had to write character-driven stories like his. So, each genre is a different challenge. With fantasy, you get to create anything you can imagine. Worlds full of unique characters and places. No one can tell you it’s unrealistic. However, mystery thrillers allows me to delve into the human psyche and tell tales of sick and psychotic characters that fill nightmares. It’s fun to imagine how people like that think and what drives them. It’s even more fun to write about flawed heroes and heroines who are trying to stop them.
World-building is often one of the most difficult elements of fantasy writing: how far back should a writer go in creation? How much should be shared with readers, and what can be left in the notebook? What’s safe to rework from reality, and what’s got to be built from scratch? (You don’t have to answer my rambly rhetorical questions , but I am curious about your world-building process in creating Centauria for your Dark Heart Chronicles.)
World-building is a tricky thing. There are so many factors that go into it, and it can be the crowning achievement of a series or its downfall. A robust magic system is a must. It doesn’t need to be overtly complicated, but it should be a reflection and a driving factor of your world and its characters. Whether or not to include a language of your own is also another question to solve. I’ve read many books without one and it takes nothing away from it. I chose to create one for my world just for uniqueness. As far as creation of the world, you can go back as far as you want for its history or treat the moments your characters are living in as its beginning. I know many fantasy authors with tomes of history and backstory on their world and characters and others who have little to none. Personally, I find it far more interesting to understand the history of a world, its cultures, creatures, landscapes, and everything else that is part of its make up. I think if you’ve got some history to your world it creates a depth to it and your characters that you might not otherwise have. The readers will never know and understand everything about the world and its characters. The reason for this is that you never know when you might want to create another series based on some of that information. It could also spoil the mystery of the stories if the reader knows everything about your world and the characters. I’d say 70% of the information gets left in the “notebook.” It can cause issues though, too. Often I’ll be talking to my wife about something that happens to a character in my story and she’ll stop me and ask where that information was relayed to the reader and I’m sitting there thinking it’s somewhere but quickly find out those details are only in my head or “notebook.” As far as what can be reworked from reality vs. what should be built from scratch, that’s entirely up to the author. You want authentic, fresh worlds but readers also expect familiarity. If there’s no familiarity, it can cause the reader to have trouble picturing your world. There are obvious things that cannot be drawn from reality like unicorns, dragons, and other fantastical creatures. The hardest part for me in my world is describing the flora and fauna of the landscapes. I see them in my head, but I’m no expert in what those types of trees and plants are.
So I’m a HUGE fan of writing with music. I’ll even build up playlists to match up with major plot points as I write. What scores/composers would you like to recommend and why?
For me, I MUST listen to music while writing. It keeps my mind focused. However, I cannot write to music with words. I’ve tried and find myself singing along and not writing. As far as recommendations, my absolute favorites are Epic North, Audiomachine, and Brand X Music.
All three of the produce movie trailer and movie score music. Epic North has some great music for writing battle and physical conflict scenes. I’ve got a little over 500 of their songs in a playlist that I keep on repeat. I never get tired of listening to them. I love some of the music from Two Steps from Hell, but it’s difficult sifting through their music because they do have quite a few songs with lyrics. Some of the music I listen to does have chorus chanting but its in Latin, Italian, and other languages I don’t know, so it doesn’t bother me.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Outlining. I pantsed my first book and it took me 12 years from start to publication. With the second book, I pantsed the first half of it and outlined the second half. It took about 14 months from start to publication. Those time frames may seem quite drastic, but I had lots of time where I didn’t write anything. I put the first book away for 7 years after writing the first 70 pages. I loathe outlining, and I’m sure my wife loathes helping me with the process as well, but it’s a necessary evil. After outlining my third book, The Braille Killer, I wrote it in 2 months. That book went from start to publication in 6 months. So, outlining is both my kryptonite and my timeline shortcut.
Your Dark Heart Chronicles tell the tale of three unique characters: a family man, and twins bonded in magic. Do you find it difficult to shift between their points of view? What advice can you share with writers who struggle with writing multiple points of view?
I’ve gone back and forth through many ways of dealing with the character perspective changing over the years. Honestly, it just depends on the day. Sometimes it’s nice to switch between characters when I’m feeling blocked with one character. Other times, when I’m really in the flow of one character, I might just write multiple scenes from their perspective across the entire book. If a writer is struggling with multiple points of view, I suggest they take each character who has a unique POV from their novel and just write their story. Once they do that, weave those stories back together in editing. It sounds daunting, but it’s really not that bad. The most important thing is to get the story down, whatever the means. Piecing it together is far easier (at least for me).
Your mystery thriller The Braille Killer also carries a unique writing challenge: writing from the perspective of another gender. What was the writing logic that led you to share this story in first person from the perspective of Detective Alice instead of, say, Detective Alan?
Well, all of my novels have female POVs, so it wasn’t too difficult writing a novel strictly from a female POV. Stories come to me in a unique way. It always starts with a character’s name, like Alice Bergman. As I thought about her more, what she looked like, how old she was, etc., I began to get an idea of what her story might be. Initially, I never thought she’d be a homicide detective or have the challenges that she did, but it just felt right. Alice could never be an Alan. I have a friend who is blind, so I often talk to her about her challenges and fears, and that led me to Alice’s story.
What would you say has been the most difficult scene to write in your novels and novellas, and how did you overcome that challenge?
For me, there are two things that are difficult. The first is fighting/war scenes. I never served in the military, nor have I studied wars, so writing about them can be challenging. That’s what I’m working through in my current WIP, Rended Souls (Book 3 of The DarkHeart Chronicles). I’m also no fighter, so blocking fight scenes can be tricky. It’s best to literally act them out to get a feel for what makes sense and is physically possible for a given character. The other issue I struggle with, especially as a Christian, is how far to go with language, violence, and sexual encounters. I’ve learned to just write it all out in the first draft, no matter how vulgar, sexual, or violent, and then tone it down (if needed) in the editing phase. Because I’m writing dark fantasy and mystery thrillers about serial killers, my books can be quite violent and bloody at times. There is mild cussing in all of my books as well (depending on the reader’s view of what that means). Although not vulgar and explicit, there is also scenes of sexuality in all my books as well. Humans are…human. It’s difficult to have compelling characters without exposing their flaws as well. No one is perfect, and I hate reading books where all the characters are wooden and sinless.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
To be honest, it goes both ways. There are times where the writing is flowing really well, and I’m excited to get the story down and discover what’s happening with my characters. But then there are the times where I feel writing constipated. The words are in my head, but I can’t seem to push them out no matter how hard I try. This third dark fantasy novel has been that way. I know the story and all the events that must take place, but I’m struggling to get the words out at a decent pace. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and focus on something else for awhile. I’ve done that, and I’ve finally started making progress again.
That’s wonderful news to hear, Daniel, and congratulations on the release of your latest!
An evil dragon. A powerful mage. An ancient realm on the verge of a devastating nightmare…
Nardus is terrified he may have doomed his kingdom. Instead of resurrecting his beloved wife and children, he brought forth a malevolent winged-monster who is advancing on his people with a mind-controlled army. And now his last hope of redemption lies in discovering an age-old magical secret.
Twins Alderan and Aria’s hostile history delivered them to opposite sides of a brewing war. And as Alderan struggles to master his abilities while torn between loyalties, Aria’s growing powers could hold the key to the kingdom’s fate. But faced with an enemy that controls his sister, Alderan has no choice but to outsmart a manipulative wizard and a centuries-old dragon.
As the battle lines are drawn, can Nardus and Alderan claim their rightful place to rescue their world and save Aria from herself?
Rended Souls is the third book in the riveting The Dark Heart Chronicles epic dark fantasy series. If you like dangerous magic, page-turning adventures, and headstrong characters, then you’ll love Daniel Kuhnley’s spellbinding tale.
Buy Rended Souls to enter a clash of conjuring today!
How about we close this chat with some encouragement for those who are participating in National Novel Writing Month? I know I could use all the support I can get. 🙂
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three different years and have yet to “win” it. However, I encourage everyone to think of it as more of a launching point than a “gotta get it all done this month!” panic. Not winning hasn’t stopped me from finishing novels and getting them out to the world. In the last two years, I’ve released 4 novels and two novellas. The key to success is to keep going and finish the job, no matter how long it takes. So many people give up right in the middle. Don’t do that to yourself. Keep pushing forward, and best of luck with NaNoWriMo!
Thanks again for sharing your writing life with us, Daniel! Folks, you can connect with Daniel in all sorts of places. Why not stop by and say hello?
A collection of book reviews by Patricia Skalka — A Chicago native, life-long reader and author of "Death Stalks Door County," "Death at Gills Rock," "Death in Cold Water," and "Death on a Ferry," the first four volumes in the Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series.