Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

May your New Year bring love and happiness, contentment and adventure!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Survival Wednesday - Secret Signals

In the second book of my Shades of Hope series,we meet Ruby Dawn and her love interest who happens to be a DEA agent.  

In honor of the handsome and charming Tom, as well as all things clandestine and shady, today's post will be about secret signals to another person.

As many of you are aware, I own quite a few unusual books that I use for research. One of my favorites, the one I used the most for Tom's character layering and quirks, was The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception by H. Keith Melton.

I created for Tom, a love of magic that stems from an incident as a teenager. He also loves the cloak and dagger way of doing things. 

Because of this, I had the opportunity to research some interesting facets of old school signaling...some that are still in use today.

Let's say that two people have to work together, but cannot contact each other by traditional means because they might get caught...

There are four critical criteria for signals used in the spy trade:

  • It cannot be unusual. 

This is why the whole, "Flower in the Buttonhole" was so popular in old movies and fiction.  Nowadays it might be a certain baseball cap or phone case.

  • You must be able to see it instantly.

Once glance should be enough. You don't want to make the other person stare at others like a might give them away.

  • It has color and color attracts attention.

Again, its imperative that your signal be easy to pick out of a crowd.

  • In an of itself, at that time in history, wearing a flower had no significance. 

Wearing a larger than normal flower, or a specific color flower set you apart from all the other gentlemen...or in this era...a red baseball cap or bright green sneakers wouldn't be all that strange.

Perhaps you don't want to wander around in a crowd, or simply don't need to meet face to face. Maybe you just need to send a quick message.

Some ingenious ways I've learned about are in plain would never notice.

  • A wrapped package with the twine in a specific pattern. You have information to pass on.

  • A row of pens in a pocket, red, for instance to show you think you've been made.

  • Your tie in a specific way, untied, hanging over your shoulders, tucked in a signal an emergency extraction.

  • You might have something specific missing, a shoelace, or an earing. 
All of these signals can be explained, marked as coincidence, or simply missed UNLESS you're looking for them.

Strange skills are a great way to layer a character and add to the plot. Some simple research may open your eyes to a whole new set of ideas and conflicts to enliven your story.

What are some things you've learned specifically for writing a character?

Until next time...Go Write!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Ghost I Found That Night Belonged To Me...

Personal Blogfest Day!

In celebration of Monday I submit to you the first chapter of my second book in the Shades of Hope series...Ruby Dawn.

Imagine the love of your life disappears after a tragic accident. What if he bursts into your life ten years later bringing with him a dangerous secret from your past...

Ruby Dawn
Chapter One - San Diego California

I should have known to stay away from dark corners. Nothing good ever happened to me in them. But it was my job to look and it was a good thing I did because the ghost I found that night belonged to me. In retrospect, the asphalt and the blood seemed fitting, considering my start in life.
A broken child found abandoned in a bus station. I was eight years old and newly born. I lay unconscious for two days in the I.C.U. No memory of who I was or who hurt me so badly ever came. I simply blinked into existence one morning. The nurses named me Ruby Dawn, after the color of the morning sky the day I opened my eyes.
I grew up on the streets outside various foster homes. Never quite comfortable in the unfamiliar houses or with the well intentioned, I often stayed out until it was too cold or too dark to remain under the sky. I don’t think I ever left the streets I roamed as a child.
I wander them still.
That is how I came to be outside the old brownstone this frigid winter evening. The last stop on my daily route, I parked my beat-up sedan against the curb. Peeling back the duct tape that held my glove compartment closed, I reached for my flashlight. Catching sight of myself in the rear view mirror, I frowned. I tried to tuck my long, dark brown hair back into a ponytail and smooth out my bangs. My blue eyes looked pale and tired. My shifts as an ER resident coupled with my time running the free clinic were taking their toll.
I wasn’t sure how long I could keep this up.
I rubbed my eyes and got out of the car. I pulled some donated coats from the passenger’s side seat and started down the sidewalk. Munch and Joe, old men ravaged by life on the streets, huddled close to a trashcan set ablaze in the alley. They recognized me walking toward them and hid their liquor. It was their version of cleaning up for company. Joe smiled at me with vacant gums, and Munch waved. His gravely voice echoed in the filthy alley like a kicked tin can.
I forced a cheerful smile onto my face. “Hey Munch, Joe, how’re you guys holding up tonight?”
Joe shrugged in his layers of suit blazers and sweaters. All his clothes eventually took on the same color as the asphalt. He was shivering but smiled. “Aw, you know.”
“You guys should get to the shelter. It’s going to be an all-time low tonight. The weatherman said.”
Munch waved his hand dismissively. “Weatherman…only job on earth you get paid for bein’ wrong most a’ the time.”
I smiled. “We should all be so lucky, huh?”
Joe craned his neck to see what I was carrying. “Whatcha got there, Ruby?”
“Couple a winter coats. Thought you guys might want them.”
Munch wrinkled his nose at them. “Nothin’ wrong with what I got on.”
“No, you’re right about that. I was just thinking that come morning, if you want, you can take these to the thrift shop for me. I could use the favor.”
Joe shrugged, but I saw his tongue snake out and lick his cracked lips. He was interested. He wouldn’t take charity, but he’d take a wage for a job.
“I have so much to do, and you guys usually head out that way anyway, right?”
Munch wrinkled his nose again. “Aw, that store only gives out food vouchers for clothes.”
Actually they paid cash, except to people I sent in. Anyone that came in with something marked with my initials, got vouchers for food, not cash. I wasn’t interested in supporting the local liquor store.
“Well, I hear the shelter is setting aside something special for the food voucher customers.”
Joe’s eyes lit up. “Special, how?”
I shrugged and made a mental note to drop off a case of something special at the shelter tomorrow night.
Munch smacked his lips and took the coats from me. “I’ll bet its pudding. Man, I love that chocolate pudding. Those cups don’t need no fridge.”
I nodded. “Maybe.”
Something at the far end of the alley crashed against metal trash cans making me jump. The movement in the shadows looked human. I thought I saw a prone figure flail in the shadows. Concerned it might be a kid in trouble, I looked closer.
“S – Stay here, guys.”
I pulled my heavy steel flashlight from my backpack and shined the beam down the alley. The light bobbed with my shaking hand. I crept forward. A man writhed on the ground holding his side. I flashed the light back up to the top of the fence he must have just scaled -- No one there. I walked towards him, gritting my teeth to quell the fear bubbling in my chest.
“Hey, Ruby, don’t get too close.” Munch called from behind me.
I turned to shush him, and then the man moaned.
“P-police…call,” he gasped between groans.
“Uh, you need an ambulance, not a police car.”
He reached a hand out to me; it was covered with blood. My heart thumped in my chest. I took another step towards him, the flashlight beam quivered across his body. He lay on his side, his face bruised and covered with grime.
“No…I’m on the job.”
I gasped. “You’re a cop?”
He nodded and tried to sit up. I yelled back down the alley at Munch and Joe.
“Call 911! There’s a phone in my car, hurry!”
I leaned in to help him, and then the beam of light hit his face. I pulled back reflexively.
Green eyes under dark brown eyebrows stared back at me with shock. “Ruby?” he stammered.
I grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him into a hug. Breathless, I laughed nervously. “Tom, where have you been? What happened to you?”
He groaned in my arms, and I looked at the pain on his face and let go. He smiled at me, and it looked like it took all of his strength.
“Well, for starters, I’ve been shot.”
I wiped my eyes and helped him to his feet. We staggered to the mouth of the alley. The officer that patrolled this neighborhood pulled to a stop in front of us after only a minute. In the habit of checking on me, Officer Farrell must have been close by when he heard the call. I waved him over, panting under Tom’s weight. “We’re almost there, Tom. Stay with me.”
Tom groaned with the effort.
Officer Farrell rounded the front of the cruiser and pulled open the back passenger door. Covering the top of Tom’s head with his hand, he helped me guide Tom onto the back seat.
“Dr. McKinney, are you okay?” Officer Farrell asked me. His eyes ran over the blood on my hands and shirt.
“I’m okay, but I need to get this guy to my ER. He’s losing a lot of blood.” I caught Officer Farrell’s arm with my hand. “He’s a cop.”
Tom’s gasped from the back seat. “I can’t go in under my own name. Call it in, but don’t use my name. I’m DEA.”
Officer Farrell nodded. “Buddy, I have you covered.”
Tom turned to me, his face pale in the car’s interior light. Breath ragged, he held his hand out to me from the back seat. I climbed in next to him, and Farrell slammed the door shut. We tore off toward the emergency room with lights flashing.
Tom’s eyes fluttered closed for a second, and my chest tightened, panic soaring through me. I shook him and he started. He gritted his teeth and looked at me.
“You know I never said sorry,” he breathed.
I shook my head and pulled my scarf from around my neck. I wadded it up and used it to push against his bullet wound. Sticky warmth oozed between my fingers. Sobs welled in my chest.
“Don’t start.” My voice cracked.
He reached up and ran his finger down the bridge of my nose. He’d done it a thousand times before, a lifetime ago.
“I shouldn’t have left like that. I shouldn’t have just disappeared.”
I wouldn’t look at him. I couldn’t, without crying.
“You did what you had to do.” I pushed on the scarf.
He winced through the pain. “Do you still hate me?”
I looked at him then. I wanted to yell and cry and shake him for all of the heartache he’d caused me, but I didn’t. Instead I frantically slapped the mesh that separated the backseat from the front.
“Hurry, Farrell, hurry please!”
Tom moved in my arms and I leaned in and whispered with a shaking voice. “Just concentrate on not dying. I only yell at healthy people.”
“I am sorry, Ruby. I…”
Tom’s eyes fluttered closed mid-sentence.
Praying desperately, I held him in my arms while we flew through the streets. Lights flashed past the windows, and my heart ached so bad, I struggled to breathe. Tears trailed down my cheeks and landed on Tom’s dirty wool cap. I cried because I’d lost him before and couldn’t bear to do it again.

That is all for my first chapter. I hope you enjoyed it and, as always, I welcome feedback.  Until next time...Go Write!

Photograph by Jelleprins.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

It is my prayer that you know your worth in His eyes and give thanks with a joyous heart. 

Merry Christmas and Blessings in the New Year!

In Him,

Friday, December 24, 2010

Emotional vs. Intellectual - Which is The Stronger Conflict?

The ENDING is happily ever after...not the middle.

In romance, the ONLY reason to keep turning the page is the romantic conflict.

This is a tenant for all writers of romance.

The emotion, tension, and pull the characters have for one another has to exist OUTSIDE the plot.

These two people have to be attracted to each other and have a problem with that attraction whether they meet in the Sahara or in  a submarine.

Leslie Wainger in Writing a Romance Novel, explains the two types of conflict and how to manipulate them to best capture and captivate your reader.  Here are a few examples, but I urge you to pick up her extremely helpful book.  The relationship observations would help a writer of any genre.

There is EMOTIONAL conflict and INTELLECTUAL conflict -- the two used together can create great tension for your fictional sweethearts. But the first is the conflict that will be most effective in the romantic genre.

Many writers struggle with separating the two...and use the weaker reason to their story's detriment.

  • Emotional Conflict is borne out of feelings.  They just are...Emotion colors how you feel about yourself and your family. "There is no logic and therefore can't be reasoned away."

  • An Intellectual Conflict comes from the mind, from opinion. And like most opinions, there is more than one side. How a person thinks about an issue can be interesting...but in romance, you want to capture the heart of the reader...not just the mind.

    Here's an example of how emotion can change your whole romantic paradigm...

    Let's say that Molly MC is shuttled from foster family to foster family, and eventually ends up on her own at a young age. 

    She is likely to be self reliant, slow to trust, aloof, have job where she answers to herself. She may live in a secluded area, value her privacy, and keep to herself.

    Now let's imagine Molly MC as the youngest child in a large and loving family. She has several older brothers, her parents loved each other, and she is protected in life...maybe too protected.

    She makes friends easily, is confident, and bright, but may doubt if she can stand on her own. She has job that allows her to prove she is capable and tough...maybe a police officer.

    How does this change the emotional vs. intellectual conflict in your story?

    A man, the same man, may give each one of them pause for the same intellectual reasons...He is causing problems in their work or personal sphere, he is mysterious and therefore suspect, he has a flaw that is dangerous to them at first glance...

    These are intellectual conflicts. These can be explained away easily. That is why intellectual conflict is not as strong in a romance as emotional conflict.

    We eventually find out that the reason for his behavior, while at first may seem dangerous, is a result of the plot.  He is under cover, falsely accused, had a change of heart..whatever you choose to explain away the notorious first impression and make him a suitable hero...the intellectual conflict is easily fixable.

    But each woman will react emotionally to this man in a different way - because emotional conflict comes from who we are.

    • The first woman - the one with the rough childhood: She may not react well to this man or doubt his feelings because she feels unlovable. After all, years of people failing her and leaving her drove that home.  

    So the emotional conflict, the one that underlies the intellectual reason for not trusting him, is deep rooted in who she is.  

      • The second woman - the one with the large, overprotective family: She may fear being smothered by love, romantic love in particular. Losing one's self in someone else is terrifying if you've fought for years to become an individual.  Acts of chivalry may be insulting to this woman. 

      Her reaction to the same personality, the same scenario, will be vastly different because it is her emotional past that will inform her romantic reaction.

      Whatever the intellectual reason: He seems to be hiding something, he is under investigation, he is rebuffing her advances...the emotional conflict will be deeper and resonate more with your reader.

      And in order to get them together, the hero has to be able to overcome her particular doubts and fears in order to win her heart. Emotional conflict makes for all kinds of great scenes and angst...the push and pull of a romantic arc are enhanced.

      Romantic fiction or not, the interplay of characters is a key component to any story. What do you do to build up the emotional tension between your characters?

      Until next time...Go Write!

      Wednesday, December 22, 2010

      Survival Wednesday - No Such Thing As Untraceable

      So today we explore the concept of survival in the field of Private Investigation

      For my first book, Purple Knot, in which the heroine is a detective, I did so much research that I started to scare my family. 

      Not really, but they were impressed by the tricks of the trade I shared at dinner.

      Something that really baked their noodle was the concept of untraceable cell phones not really being all that...well, untraceable. 

      In the movies, sure, you get an ominous call from a stalker or a kidnapper and its just like it came from way to trace it, right?  

      Uh, maybe not.

      Part of my research took me to a great book by Steven Kerry Brown called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Private Investigating. As a jumping off point for your research into the ins and outs of trade, this is a wonderful place to start. Of course, its just an overview, but the book offers some great myth busting along with facts.

      One such myth is the Untraceable Cell Phone.  In fact it just might be easier to hit *67 than go to the trouble of buying a "Throw Away" cell to make those calls...if you were a fictional bad guy, that is.

      Here are the reasons why...

      • Let's say you paid in cash, so they can't trace you, right?

      Well...that's a start, but really, that's not enough to cover your tracks. If you make a call with the phone, even to those who have no caller ID, law enforcement can get a record of numbers that called a victim's phone.

      • So they have your what? I paid in cash, so no name. I'm in the clear.

      Well, not so much your name...but where you live and what you look your anonymity just went down a few notches.

      Retailers keep track of the phones they sell via an Electronic Serial Number (ESN) programmed into it.  The cell company that activates the phone knows which ESN number went to which stores.
      • So what, you say? Thousands of people shop at that particular store. They wouldn't be able to know who bought the cell phone or when...I'm safe.


      Cell phones require activation at the time of purchase. Look around your store next time...see any cameras? Guess who is on a time-coded recording?  Now guess who now has the cell number, where you bought it, when you bought it...and now, a photo of you buying it?

      • Its just a picture of a random person who paid cash. No one knows who I am...I'm still one step ahead of the good guys.'re not, really.
      If you called anyone else on that phone, all they have to do is show a picture of you (the one from the store) to those people...and unless you hang with criminals - which is possible, you are a fictional bad guy - someone will tell them your name.

      • My den of thieves will never reveal my evil identity!

      They don't have to. Because every time you turn on that phone, if law enforcement is monitoring your cell number...they can pinpoint the cell towers you are pinging off of.  So they wait to see the area...and they come armed with your picture and ask...and wait...and sooner or later --- You're toast.

      Now since this is all for fiction writing purposes only, we can take liberties with technology. Diabolical minds are able to outwit these types of moves by law enforcement thus ratcheting up the conflict and tension. 

      **Remember, your main character has to stand out from the rest...their own unique ability or approach or insight are what saves the day.**

      If you use the facts to set up an impossible situation, then getting out of it and out smarting the villain is all the more sweet.

      Keep in mind that knowing how the system works helps to open up the imagination to ways around it. As always, research is a key component to writing a great story.

      Until next time...Go Write!

      Monday, December 20, 2010

      Bad Coffee and Worse Company

      Today is Monday - Personal Blogfest Day!  I decided to take a break from my current WIP, Bayou Blue, and post an excerpt from the book that started the series. 

      Purple Knot is a romantic suspense about a private detective who is forced to work with her ex-fiancĂ© to solve her best friend's murder.  As their romance rekindles, so do the memories of their tragic undoing. Can their fragile love survive the dark secrets revealed by Reyna's investigation?  
      Reyna "Rain" Cruz is the main character, Jimmy is her ex-fiancĂ©, and Summer is Reyna's best friend and Jimmy's twin. 
      This is the first chapter...

      Purple Knot
      Chapter One

      I lurk in the shadows of the normal world. A recorder of sins, I dwell in the grey of secrets and lies. I capture images of infidelity, and follow the printed trails of stolen promises. Nothing stays hidden from me, no matter how deeply you bury it. I am a purveyor of all that is protected, and I am very good at my job.
                  That is how I came to be on the fourth floor of an abandoned carpet warehouse with my camera on its tripod and a Styrofoam cup of coffee in my hand. A client of mine, for whom I’ve done numerous jobs, asked me to keep an eye on his business partner. For the last four weeks I’d tracked balding, middle- aged, Norman Bower from his lunch meetings to his handball matches and back to the office. I’d snapped images of him buying shoes, awkwardly flirting with a waitress way too young for him, and sneaking cigarettes in the parking garage before heading home to his wife and kids.
      My client was convinced Mr. Bower was passing information about their sealed job bids to a rival company and wanted proof of cavorting with the enemy to use in a take-over. Unfortunately, Mr. Bower’s only vice was that he was incredibly boring. Still, I was on retainer, so I took a few more shots of Mr. Bower seriously testing the strength of his sweat suit material while trying to achieve the downward dog position in his beginning yoga class across the street.
                  My phone buzzed in my pant’s pocket, and I answered it while packing up my equipment. There’s no way Bower would try to court a client while sweating like a junkie and fighting off a heart attack. I was done here.
                  “Reyna Cruz,” I answered.
                  “It’s me.”
                  My heart sank when I heard Summer on the other end. I recognized the way her words sounded through a busted lip, and I grit my teeth, willing myself not to get upset. Summer’s husband was an animal.
                  “Yeah, Summer. How are you?”
      I shoved my camera into the case and rubbed my eyes.
      “I’m at the hospital. Jimmy wanted me to call you.”
      Jimmy was her brother and the only decent male in her life. He wasn’t a cop, but monitored the chatter on the sheriff’s frequency whenever he could. Jimmy listened for domestic dispute calls almost compulsively. That he happened to wind up hearing his sister’s was only a matter of time, really.
                  I was not shocked. Summer was married to a prominent pharmaceutical executive who happened to consider beating his wife a valid form of communication. She was also eight months pregnant.
                  “Which hospital?”
                  “Don’t worry about it. He just wanted me to give you a call.”
                  “The name, Summer. Are you in Woodside?” I pushed.
                  “I’m not staying,” she said. “It’s nothing.”
                  “Did your lip need stitches?”
                  “How did you…?”
                  “Where is he Summer? Did they arrest him?”
      I refused to say his name. I refused to grant evil the courtesy of the familiar.
                  “Jimmy made the sheriff haul him in. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
                  Her voice cracked, and I knew she was trying to hold back tears.
                  “You press charges is what you do.”
                  I’d lost count of the times we’d had this conversation.
                  “It’s out of my hands,” she said. I heard her blow her nose. “Jimmy lied to them. He said he pulled up in his car and saw Parker hit me, but it was all over by then. Now Jimmy’s gone and made it worse.”
                  I said a silent thank you for Jimmy. He loved his sister and put his job on the line for her. She was always too afraid or felt too guilty for upsetting Parker to file charges against him. Maybe this time something would finally change.
                  “You shouldn’t wait for him to use you as a punching bag to defend yourself.”
                  “Rain, I don’t want to get in another argument with you.”
      She and Jimmy were the only ones that called me Rain.
                  “I’m not trying to argue.”
                 “I know you don’t like him, but he’s my husband. I had a part in all this. I fought with him, and it just got out of hand.”
      I ground my jaw.
      “Oh, you fought with him. I see. How many stitches did Parker need? Did you crack one of his ribs?”
                  She didn’t answer me, and then I heard her sniffling. I felt like a jerk. The last thing she needed was for someone else to make her feel like she was in the wrong. I took a deep breath and tried again.
                  “I’m sorry Summer. I just…I hate that he does this to you. It’s going to get worse. I know you don’t want to hear it, but one of these days he will kill you.”
                  “I can handle it. I don’t need you barreling in here trying to fix things for me. But I do appreciate that you care. I really do.”
                  “Whenever you need me; just call and I’ll come and get you. I have plenty of space for you and the baby.”
                  I heard her laugh in her quiet way; like she used to do when we were kids.
                  “Are you at work right now?”
                  “Yeah, I gotta make my nut for the month.”
      I rested my head against the metal warehouse wall, a headache coming on.
                  “Oh sure, must be hard keeping up all those properties.”
                  I had invested in lake-side cabins all over California when my business had taken off. A company took care of maintenance and rentals for me. I’d done well over the past ten years and now took clients by referral only. My five figure retainer kept me in a nice building in the Mission District of San Francisco. A brass plate with Rain Associates was the only evidence of my professional life. Discretion was my bread and butter.
                  “You know you could take one of them over.”
      I was desperate to convince her.
      “I have a cabin at Lake Gregory near Lake Arrowhead. It’s cozy and there’s a little town a half mile down the road. I know its not what you’re used to, but…”
                  “I’m fine, but thank you.”
      Her voice was tense, defensive. Defeated, I heard another voice in the background, and then the phone changed hands. I was talking to Jimmy.
                  “Hey Rain.”
       I heard Jimmy’s laid back drawl and his crooked grin flashed behind my eyes. Originally from Louisiana, he and Summer had moved with their family to Seattle when they were fourteen. They were twins and my very best friends in the world. Jimmy, at one time, had been much more than that.
                  “It’s Reyna. Rain was my nickname in grade school,” I said sternly.
                  He ignored my comment.
                  “Summer has a fat lip and I’ll bet her wrist is sprained. Talk some sense into her. Tell her to go and visit you for a while.”
                  “I already tried that. Did they book him, Parker?”
                  “I made sure they did.”
      I could tell he was looking at Summer by the way he emphasized his words.
      “You coming up here, Rain?”
                  “Probably not.”
                  “Why not?”
                  “Why not, Jimmy? Are you serious?”
      I said it a little too loudly. My hands shook and I fought for control.
      “I can’t go and see her face all bruised up and be able to make out Parker’s fist print. I just can’t. Do you know how many times I’ve had to read her pain medication bottle for her because her eyes were swollen shut?”
                  “I can’t do this any more. I’m tired of trying to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.”
       I was angry. At Parker for being who he was, at Summer for being a victim, and at myself…for thinking that way. Jimmy was silent. I looked at my phone to be sure I was still connected.
                  “You probably have to go, so I’ll give the phone back to Summer.”
      I could tell he was mad. Jimmy never gave up on anything, ever. I had disappointed him. I could hear it in his voice.
                  “Jimmy, I’m still here for her. I just can’t run out there every time she lets him hurt her.”
                  “It’s not a ‘letting’ thing, Rain. Do you really think that?”
                  I hesitated. I didn’t want to fight with Jimmy, but then again, I did believe that.
                  “Jimmy, on some level, at some point, she needs to stop letting him do this to her by leaving. I have places for her to stay. I have money. I’ve even researched OB/Gyn doctors here. But she needs to take the first step and she won’t. Short of dragging her here by the feet, I don’t know what more I can do.”
                  “You can try again. You can be here for her.”
                  “Like you’re there? Heck of a lot of good that’s done her.”
                  Jimmy was silent. I could imagine him grinding his jaw on the other end. I sighed. This wasn’t his fault.
                  “I understand what you’re saying Jimmy. But I’m done for now. I can’t take this anymore.”
                  He didn’t answer me. I just heard him say something to Summer and then the phone was back in her hands.
                  “What did you say to him? He stalked off.”
                  My stomach twisted.
      “I told him I’m not coming down.”
                  She was quiet for a moment and then she whispered into the phone.
                  “I’m sorry I keep disappointing you. You’re the last person in the world I want angry with me.”
                  My eyes filled and it felt like I was stepping across this widening chasm, away from Summer and Jimmy.
                  “You don’t disappoint me, Summer. I just love you too much to watch you self-destruct like this.”
      “Right as Rain.”
      “You always did do the right thing, instead of the easy thing.”
      She used to say that to me all the time in high school. It still made my heart ache.
                  “I love you, you know that right? I’m here if you want. Anytime of the day or night.”
                  She was silent on the phone, letting what I’d said sink in.
                  “Will you come and see the baby? When he or she’s born?” She said finally.
                  “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”
                  I don’t know if I would have said anything different had I known that it was the last time I would ever 
      hear her voice. 

      That's it for chapter one. As always, I love to get feedback. Until next time...Go Write!
      Photograph by Mikeblogs.

      Friday, December 17, 2010

      Have You Tested Your Premise?

      James Scott Bell in his book for novelists entitled, The Art of War for Writers, has an interesting chapter on testing your novel's premise.  

      Or in other words...your BIG IDEA for your book.  Is it different, fresh, does it have a new twist...all the things that will push you to the top of the pile?

      Bell puts forth a sort of check list for you as a writer to weigh your book's premise upon and see if you are wanting or on target. I'll paraphrase them to you, but I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Its an extremely easy read, yet packed with helpful tidbits for taking your novels temperature during the writing process.

      • Is your lead character someone real to you? Can you "see" them in your mind's eye? Do you think about them when you're not writing...not the plot...the lead?  

      If not -- then what is missing?  Sometimes a free write or dialogue with the character introducing themselves to you, the writer, is helpful.

      • Is there anything HEROIC about your character? Any qualities whether potential, hidden, or evident that would make them stand out?  

      Define them -- can you?

      • Who is the antagonist...and are they STRONGER than your lead in some way?  

      They must be formidable at the very least, wily and diabolical are nice too.  If they're just irritating and slightly inconvenient to your MC...then fix them.

      • Define the "Imminent Danger" that looms over your lead. 

      Is it death, their sanity, their future?

      • Can you see a climactic battle, won by your MC?  

      What conflict do you throw at them? What must they overcome and how is their mettle tested?

      • What is the CHANGE that occurs in your MC?  What did they learn, how did they grow? 

      Start at their end point and work back -- how does the conflict they face move them toward that change?

      Bell uses an example from film for this final point on CHANGE...

      "At the end of Lethal Weapon, Riggs gives up the bullet he's saved to shoot himself.  He has learned that life is worth living and that love from friends is worth accepting."

      Writing reminds me of inventing. You have to constantly tinker and test and rework to make it the best it can be...but once you're done...its magnificent.

      Until next time...Go Write

      Wednesday, December 15, 2010

      Survival Wednesday - Alligator Attack

      My current WIP, Bayou Blue, takes place in the fictional Bayou La Foudre, a sleepy parish in southern Louisiana. A large portion of the action scene near the climax occurs in the swamp. 

      To celebrate spine-tingling adventure in the muck...I decided to make todays post about surviving an alligator attack. Get your notepads out, my friends, because you may someday need this stuff.

      In The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook, by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, they give some great tips on how to avoid being in the situation all together.  

      And of course, never try to wrestle an alligator in real life...All this information is for fiction writing purposes only. I am not an expert and neither are you.

      But, lets say, for argument's purposes, that your hero is in the dank and dripping dark of a bayou swamp, face to giant snout-full-of-teeth with a bull alligator. The gator charges, the low rumble of his roar spiking the hair on your MC's arms....what does he do?

      • Well, first of all, I would run screaming and probably pass out from fright, thus becoming lunch.  HOWEVER, the book says to try to get on the alligator's back if you're on dry land.  Sort of a bull-riding defensive move I guess.

      • Then you are supposed to cover the alligator's eyes because apparently, that makes them docile.  Clearly, Peek-A-Boo has its uses outside of confusing your infant.

      This next piece of advice yanked a disbelieving snort-laugh out of me...

      • If its jaws are closed on something you wish to remove -- like your arm -- then "tap" or punch it on the snout.

      I'm not the expert here...but "tapping" seems inadequate. I doubt I'd be that polite anyway. I tend to panic.

      • Seek medical attention, even if for a scratch. There can be infection. 

      I'd like to add that losing buckets of blood is also an indicator that medical help is a good idea.

      The best way to avoid this scenario is to not swim where there are NO WHERE, in Florida.  Also swamps named "Dead Man's Gulch."  Don't dangle your limbs from boats. Don't harass or touch the alligators - they frown upon that kind of disturbance. Don't pick up their babies for a photo-op.

      Alligators are beautiful, precious, and ferocious animals. They're wild. Leave them alone and give them space.  Unfortunately, my MC does everything right and still has an unpleasant encounter...but that's the fun of fiction.

      Until next time...Go Write!

      Monday, December 13, 2010

      What Lurks in the Swamp

      It's the beginning of another week and that means Personal Blogfest Monday!  Today I submit an excerpt from my current WIP, Bayou Blue. This chapter occurs just after last week's installment,where Riley and Jake happen upon the body of a suspect.  

      Chapter Twelve
      The Beast

       He flew through the swamp on the airboat, his hair whipping with the damp air, the smell of blood deep in his lungs.  Bitter adrenaline filled his mouth and his heart thumped painfully in his head.  His wild laugh gobbled by the wind as he sped away.
       He shot a look over his shoulder, at the place of death, his eyes narrowing to see if they followed him. No movement, nothing but the swaying of the branches and the angry tear of his craft across the water’s surface.  He slowed, easing his foot off the pedal and pulling the steering stick toward him as he banked onto a tangle of floating saw grass.
      He waited without moving. One minute, then two; listening for the sound of the sheriff and his deputies coming for him. Nothing.
      Eyes wide, taking in the dim light that bled through the canopy of the swamp, he licked his lips and tasted the copper of blood.  Startled, he wiped his mouth with his hands and they came back mottled with swamp slime.  He stared at his hands, at his clothes covered in the mud and a little giggle escaped his lips.
      He’d been right. The swamp warned him. Told him to act and he’d obeyed.  Dauby LaRoche, a thorn in his side for weeks now, was finally gone. No longer sucking the life out of him like a parasite…like the nightcrawlers that slithered in the dark wet under his feet.
      He felt alive and strong. Looking down at the sludge on his hands, he smelled the stench of decay and moved his fingers watching the ooze drip down onto his feet. Lifting his hands to his face, he smeared he muck on his cheeks, his neck, his hair and breathed in the rot reveling in the primal order of things.  Danger and aggression, release and relief. He smiled and tilted his face to the heavens.
      A far off cry, an egret, snapped him back and he remembered the woman.  Where was she? He teetered on the airboat, twisted around looking for her. She’d been right behind him, ran after him after she’d struck the sheriff and then…what?
      He didn’t remember. The slime fell into his eyes and he let out a yelp as it stung. He leaned down and splashed the swamp into his face, rubbed the grime away and heard a low growl. The deep chambered roar of a bull alligator.
      He froze, eyes searching for the animal, but the darkness of the swamp masked the predator.  He righted himself in his craft and scanned the water. To his left, not ten feet away, the slow s-shaped ripples of a swimming gator disturbed the surface of the water. He watched the predator and their eyes locked. And the man felt the power of the beast and knew it was in him as well. The bloodlust and violence. The man roared back at the bull and the gator broke away, slicing through the water in a silent retreat.
      Heart racing, the man licked his lips again, this time savoring the flavor of his victory. 

      As always, I welcome feedback. I got a lot of great tips and catches from you all last week. Hope you enjoyed the sneak-peak!

      Until next time...Go Write!
      Photograph by Krossbow