Friday, January 29, 2010

A Kill in Time: Part 8

The stars in the midnight sky blurred and rippled. Once. Quickly. Over in the blink of an eye, the undulation of the firmament disturbed no one. Only the crow roosting in the boughs of the ancient Lebanon Cedar sensed any alteration in the fabric of things; but even it simply ruffled its feathers, and sank back into slumber.

Beneath one of the tree’s gnarled branches lay a rectangular slab of granite, coated in decades of moss, its inscription obliterated by neglect. Another ripple in the atmosphere, and slowly, the slab scraped to one side, the vacant-eyed angel atop it making no protest against this irregularity.

A gaping maw appeared in the ground, blacker than the inky night.

But darker still was the shadow of the man standing before the open grave.

The silence of death is like no other. He paused, savoured it. Grief and longing and despair pulsed in the air; solid, present, but obscured from the senses of men by the gossamer veil that separated the dead from the living. These things could be seen, felt, tasted, if one only knew how to lift that veil.

How to shred it.

An owl screeched. Lispenard smiled.

Then he stepped down into the cold earth and vanished.


Behind the flare of torch light loomed a wall of shadow. Swirling, yet with the density of lead, it completely obscured the rear of the cavernous subterranean chamber. Lispenard’s heels clicked on the stone floor. Reaching the dark perimeter, he dropped to one knee and bowed his head.


The Master’s rasping voice sent a spike of pleasure through him, as always. He had made Lispenard who he was; the doctor’s gratitude was undying, and knew no bounds.

“Master.” Lispenard raised his head. The face of a man hovered in the black mist, pale and wizened, the forehead and eyes hidden by the folds of a dark cowl. Once, the Master had been as powerful of body as he was of mind, but now … Lispenard felt the familiar stab of long held guilt in his gut; pushed it aside, and asked, “What is your wish?”

A pointed tongue flickered over papery lips. “I require sustenance.”

“Of course.” Of course! Lispenard silently cursed his stupidity. Under his care, the Master had grown stronger, but was still far from his full potential. The end was nearing, and the Master would require every iota of nourishment in order to fulfill his destiny.

Lispenard rose. “I will order a demon to –”

“No. No demons. It must be a human who kills for me tonight.”

So soon? Yes. It made sense. When a human took the life of another, the essence release by that act - the alchemy of the killer’s rage and the prey’s terror - was so much more potent than when a mortal was slain by a soulless demon

“Shadow. This will be the last time I ask this of you. It is nearly time.” The serpentine tongue flicked again. “Two of our foes are in our power.”

The Master’s white hands floated upwards in the darkness. They fluttered, a pair of skeletal doves, and a hazy image resolved in the air between his fingertips.

Lispenard gasped. Nemo. Clarissa. On the floor of a dungeon, heads bent, bodies restrained by chains as thick as a man’s arm. Nemo’s red tresses and beard had been hacked off; Clarissa’s face, once a thing of beauty, was now a mask of crusted blood and bruises. Her teeth were smashed.

The Others are breaking. Lispenard’s heart sang.

“And soon we will have their secrets.” The Master clicked his fingers and another figure appeared; a human, a man, spread eagled against a wall and stripped to the waist, his chest scored with bloody welts, a ragged hole the size of a fist cut into his paunch.

The man’s lips constricted as he released a silent, endless, scream.

Another finger snap and the image disappeared. “When I am nourished,” the Master continued, his voice a glacial rumble. “And when I retrieve what was taken from me, what is rightfully mine …” Incandescent rage pulsed from every corner of the chamber. “The Others will wish they had never walked upon this Earth.”


Lispenard stood at the edge of the grave as the slab slid back into place, no different now to the endless rows of graves that claimed every spare inch of the cemetery.

This puny, flimsy world and its pathetic beings, he thought, curling his lip. The Others protected them as if they were something precious, ignoring the bounty that was there to be harvested. The Others were born with their powers; they took them for granted, and failed to make full use of them. Whereas the Master had earned his powers, had paid a price … and look what miracles he could turn.

A soft click, and the granite slab was secured, the stone angel once again contemplating the heavens above the Highgate necropolis.

Lispenard turned, stilled his body, and breathed deeply.

How lucky the Master had seen something in him. The Master had imbued him with the ability to rip time, but other than that, Lispenard’s powers were of the mind only, of suggestion. Nothing compared with the Master’s gifts, but still … he sniffed the air again. If a man’s undisclosed desires were of the right nature, Lispenard could make good use of them. Very good use indeed …

Such as Townsend’s father. A bark of laughter escaped his lips, sending the crow in the cedar fluttering from its roost. Ah, how it must have stuck in Townsend’s craw when Lispenard found the flaw that rendered Francis Tumblety, Townsend’s sire, capable of murdering his wife, Townsend’s mother … and then, at the hands of the Master, Tumblety had been wrought into a cloven-hooved demon, a minion whose only purpose was to kill for the Master, to harvest the essence released by the deaths of pathetic humans, like the Whitechapel whores. A mere servant, to be killed in service to the Master and reanimated at his pleasure, for eternity.

Lispenard felt a twist of exquisite pleasure. Guilt followed quickly on its heels. Lispenard’s manipulation of Tumblety had led to Townsend exacting a terrible revenge upon the Master - the theft of the Master's soul. But, in a balancing of their universes, Townsend had suddenly disappeared, leading to a stalemate these past ten years as the Others searched for their most powerful comrade while Lispenard nursed the Master back to a semblance of health. Oh, Lispenard may have found Townsend before the Others, but to his shame, he had been unable to break open his mind. All the while, skirmishes occurred between the Others and the Fellowship, but neither force had been able to best the other … until now.

Lispenard drew in a final draught of air.

1968. He raised his eyes to the star dusted sky. He had not travelled to that time before, but that was where the scent of latent depravity was strongest tonight.

Beneath the cedar, Lispenard shimmered, and was gone.


A soft knock sounded on the office door.

Seated behind the fake wood, formica topped desk, Lispenard tented his fingers beneath his chin.


The door opened tentatively. A handsome, dark haired young man poked his head in to the room.

“Oh. Sorry,” he mumbled, a red flush sweeping his cheek bones. “I was supposed to see Professor Worth. About my psych paper …” He swallowed, his nerves getting the better of him, and he began to back out.

“Theodore. Please come in.”

Lispenard’s use of his name stopped the young man in his tracks. Smiling genially, Lispenard motioned to a lime green, plastic chair beside the desk. “Sit. Professor Worth is not here, but we have much to discuss.”


It didn’t take long. The young man’s soul was already severely damaged by the circumstances of his life – raised by a violent grandfather; believing until early manhood that his mother was his much older sister; the addiction to pornography of the darkest, most violent nature; the rejection by women; his lack of any natural sense of how to get along with others – but when, in the course of their half hour together, Theodore confessed his earliest memories to Lispenard, it was clear he would have been depraved to the core no matter his upbringing. A three year old boy who took pleasure in surrounding his sleeping aunt with every knife from the kitchen drawer was ample evidence of this truth.

The young man rose from his chair. His bearing had a strength to it now; his confidence had unlocked, just as Lispenard had unlocked the man’s courage to indulge his innate perversities.

Ted would kill tonight.

And the essence released by that act – of death, insanity, rage, terror - captured by a demon and transported back to the necropolis, would be of such a quality it would sustain the Master for weeks. Not that he would need it to last so long. The end was nigh. The Master’s soul would soon be restored. He would destroy the Others. And when the world saw what hell on earth the Master could unleash – the unbridled chaos of humans, both the flawed and the pure, compelled to commit unspeakable acts against each other at a snap of his fingers– they would bow down at the Master’s feet, and the world would be his for the taking.

“Thank you, sir.” The young man's handshake was warm and firm.

Lispenard gracefully inclined his head. “My pleasure. Good luck, Mr Bundy.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Stubborn Scorpio Sticks it to the Stars

(Like that alliteration? LOL)

Today is a day of minor celebration - my three adorable kiddies all headed back to school this morning! I do love them, but ... YAY!!!

Right now, although the house is a complete mess, it’s EMPTY and - oh thank you, Lord - it’s QUIET. But wouldn’t you know; here I am, in my silent, serene house, and I find I have absolutely nothing to say.

Which kinda sucks, when it’s my day to blog.

So I’m just going to burden you with my neuroses instead, OK?

Since finishing my SFD in early December, I have written absolutely nothing (bar these blog posts, of course.) This abstinence has served a very useful purpose, in that it’s allowed my SFD to ferment, and grow all sorts of interesting, technicolour mold. But the time has come to slice through the rind and see - with fresh eyes - what lies beneath.

And I’m scared.

What do I do if I come to the conclusion that revising my book is impossible? That it’d be a waste of time? Do I chuck it all out, cry like a baby for a week, then start on the new story that's in the back of my mind, whining like a two year old for attention?

These thoughts – these fears - have been buzzing around my head for days now, like a huge, annoying mosquito I just can’t seem to swat into oblivion. And to top it all off, this was my horoscope for Tuesday:-

“Scorpio – It would be an exaggeration to say that, once you’ve set a goal, you never give up. But accurate enough that it’s understandable you might regard bidding farewell to one particular project as a compromise. On the contrary, you’ve recognized it’s not working and are making space for other, more promising ventures.”


You have no idea how big a twist my kickers were in after I read that. I don't give any credence to horoscopes - heck, I virtually never even read the damn things - but once I read those words, I spent a whole day obsessing ...

Am I really wasting my time, going down the path of revisions?

Would it be better to start the new book? I know so much more about writing now than when I started this manuscript; surely – surely – writing the second book will be at least a tiny bit simpler than the first? And better?

It’s tempting. Oh, so tempting. How easy it would be to start a new project, with all the freedom and wantonness it entails. Got a logical, compelling plot? Ah, I’ll work on that during revisions! All those repetitious scenes, the overwriting, the half-baked characters, the tangled morass of dialogue? I’ll fix it later!

No question about it - taking your Most Excellent new story on its first outing, in the form of a SFD, is one huge adrenalin rush of fun. The ideas are new, fresh, exciting, and best of all, no one expects a polished gem of a book at the end. Not the first time round.

I can see how addictive it would be, to get caught in an endless loop of starting new work, without ever finishing one properly.

And yet …

I’m going to thumb my nose at my stars. My new book will stay where it is - on the back burner. Because even if I decide, at the end of the day, that my current manuscript is not worth salvaging, I still have to put myself through the paces of revising it to within an inch of its life. Just as I’ve learned so much about writing – and, more importantly, about how I write – through the process of writing my first draft, the only way I’ll ever get a handle on revising and editing - and learn to spot my mistakes, in the hope of never repeating them again! - is to Just Bloody Do It.

So ner-ner to you, horoscope. Come Monday morning, this Scorpio will be breaking out her red pen and rolling up her sleeves ...

And, my questions for you:-

When – and why – have you ever decided a project was just not going to work, and shelved it? Or have you ever powered on with something you thought was a lost cause – and what was the end result?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The World the John Hughes Made

When John Hughes died it seemed like the end of something. He hadn’t –as far as I know- put out a movie in years, (decades even?) and yet he meant something to me. Something to anyone who was a teenager in the 80’s, I imagine.

The funny thing about my generation, Generation X, we wanted to live for something better, and yet we never were the ones who got off our butts and did something about it. We were/are dreamers of the first order. We wanted the fairytale, we believed in it. John Hughes had something to do with that, because he wrote our fairytales.

In John Hughes’s world, the outsider got her man because she was comfortable in her own skin, the popular prince (princess) found the courage to break free from the scrutiny of the click, and the geek was finally heard. Rarely did this happen in the real world, yet we all hoped, hoped we’d be the one that broke the mold.

And that’s the thing with fairytales; they inspire hope and dreams. Ordinary Joe in an ordinary life when, with a blink of an eye, he transcends the ordinary to become extraordinary. Life for the most part is mundane. That’s the way of things. But in movies, books, we’re transported. It’s why I became a writer, better than books, better than movies, I can fall into a world of my making, live the fairytale for a moment. By giving me the modern fairytale, John Hughes inspired me to dream.

My sister and I used pick who we were in relation to a John Hughes movie. Were we Watts, the super cool chick who didn’t give a shit and banged on the drums? (I wish), Andie whose best friend was the ultimate oddball and all the guys secretly loved (definitely my sister)… Me, I was Samantha, the soft heart who would help a geek, mooned over the hot guy yet when he talked to her turned around and ran the other way. LOL.

I wanted to leave you with what I consider the end all be all of John Hughes’ fairytale endings –Jake Ryan waiting for Samantha (yay!) Unfortunately, YouTube only had one clip of that and it’s a dubbed Spanish version, which actually cracked me up, so… enjoy.

Le Sigh. Even in crazy dubbed Soap Opera style Spanish I get chills. So, who inspired you? And, more importantly, what John Hughes character would you be?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is Third The Charm?

This week has been a bit hectic for me, so you'll have to excuse this bit of a fly-by post. My internet has gone all wonky at home, so I'm literally trying to pound this out before my neighborhood coffee house closes…in forty-five minutes. You'd think that would be plenty of time to blog, wouldn't ya? Not for me. I'm SLOW. J

I've been wracking my brain all day for blog topics and I keep coming back to our serial for some reason. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed writing this story with Rachel, Claire, and Kristen. Not only have I enjoyed it, but it's helping me stretch my skills a bit. I've never really written in third person…and I've certainly never used this "style" before. I'll explain in a moment, but I just want to say that while the serial started as a lark to fill up our Friday slot, it's turned into something that I'm really LOVING. Each week I look forward to what comes next, and I have a feeling that's only going to intensify as we move further along. YAY serials. J

Anyway…as you've seen, the serial is written mostly in third person. I don't 'do' third, so I'm really getting a kick out of being able to approach a story in a totally different way. If you know my writing, you know that I write in first person. And man, it's a wordy, voice-filled first person with a lot of attitude. Madison's voice literally jumps off the page right from the get go and you either love her or hate her. (Hopefully you feel BIG love. (g)) While my other MC's don't have nearly as much spunk as she does, they do each have a distinct flavor that sets them apart from one another. However, sometimes I grow tired of first… Not because I hate my books or my characters or feel they should be written any other way, but because it somewhat limits my ability to really stretch my writing to a new level.

When you write in first person, you're a bit limited in language. What do I mean by that? Well, you're inside one character's head. You have to use her 'language' and filter everything she sees, hears, smells, says, thinks, etc. through her unique perspective. Writing paragraphs of flowery prose about how the sun is slanting through the window is going to stick out in a first person narrative like a businessman at a Grateful Dead concert. It just doesn't work most times. I know it seems like an easy mode to write in…but honestly it's tough to tackle the same head over and over again and still come up with fresh ways to describe or say things without becoming overly repetitive.

Also, if you write in only one POV, you can very quickly see how this can become a bit limiting. I'm trying to write a mystery told completely from Madison's POV. There's no jumping into other peoples' heads to help the story along…to lay out clues or red herrings. It's a hard chore, to say the least…and yeah, sometimes I wish she would speak to me in third. Alas, she doesn't… LOL. That's okay, though…because for all of the trials, I love Madison and her crazy ass voice.

I digress.

What I've discovered through the serial is that I really enjoy third person, too. Why? Well, while first person is sort of like being in constant ZOOM IN, ZOOM IN, ZOOM IN CLOSER! mode, third allows you a little more breathing room. The extra space gives you the ability to see some of the big picture items… allows you to play with POV a bit more—you can definitely walk the line when it comes to whose head you're in—and helps give more attention to a scene and all of its players. And in the end, you can get a bit more poetic and flowery if you're so inclined.

Hmmm. Me thinks I will be writing a third person narrative soon… Not giving up on first person, mind. But definitely willing to stretch out in new directions.

What about you? Do you prefer one POV over another?

Until next week (when my internet will be back up), Your Girl Tuesday…OUT.

Burning desires

We've done a lot of talking around here about motivating yourself as a writer. In the end, no matter how many tricks you employ, no matter how much you beat yourself up to get the words on the page, there's only one thing that will drive your novel to completion- and that's your burning desire to see it finished. Whether you want it finished because you want it to sell, or just to prove to yourself you can do it, or to get a message out to the rest of the world, it makes no difference- one of those things must mean enough to you that you'll bleed, sweat and cry over your manuscript until it's done.

But this is not a post about finishing your novel.

This is a post about making sure the same level of burning desire runs through your story. I'm not talking about the author having an agenda, like I was a couple of weeks ago (a whole other burning desire- have you noticed there are a lot of those in fiction writing?). No, this time I'm talking about character motivation.

Have you ever read a novel that just didn't do it for you? Ever put one down halfway through because you didn't care enough to read the rest? I'll give you an example of one that left me cold within a couple of chapters (oh yes, I will name names!)- THE AUSTRALIAN FIANCE, by Simone Lazaroo. Here's an uplifting little excerpt.

I picked it up a) because it had a lovely cover (I admit, I'm a sucker for a nice cover); b) because she's a local writer, and I like to support local writers as much as I can; and c) because it was set during the Second World War, which is kind of my thing, as you know, and it was set in Singapore and Western Australia- both places I've lived and loved. It seemed to tick all the boxes.

The book tells the tale of a young Singaporean woman who is forced into prostitution after the arrival of the Japanese in Singapore in 1942, and is later rescued by a handsome Australian soldier who takes her home to marry her. But their wartime romance slowly loses its spark as they face up to their glaring lack of common interests, not to mention the ingrained racism of the husband's family and Australian society as a whole. It sounded interesting, but right from the start I found myself disengaged.

Why, I asked myself? Why did I find myself having to labour through half the book, reluctantly, and eventually give up halfway through without caring at all what was going to happen in the end? The writing was just stunningly lovely; the words were beautiful and the imagery was evocative (this may remind you of my comments about my own early drafts, from last week's post). But I didn't care about the characters, and to be honest they didn't seem to care all that much about themselves.

The fiance didn't get much of a look-in as far as character development was concerned- he was just another piece of scenery, really, so I didn't care at all about him. And if I didn't care about him, then it was virtually impossible for me to care about their relationship. The biggest problem, though, was that the main character, the Singaporean woman, lacked a driving motivation. The story was about her hooking up with this man who could save her from her old life and give her a new one. That's great. But she just didn't seem to care about him. Her motivation throughout the story was one of moving away from her past, instead of moving toward her future. There was nothing she cared about enough to develop good conflict. It wasn't like she absolutely had to go to Australia to save her family from their fate, and that her relationship was therefore an absolute necessity. It wasn't like she was having a baby, so she had to stay with the fiance at all costs, no matter how unhappy she was.

(Side note: Either of these things MAY have happened later in the story, but if they did it wasn't early enough to hold my attention).

I guess what I'm saying is, if at all possible, you want your characters moving forward, towards something they want instead of away from something they don't want. If they desire something passionately, then your reader will desire that too. They'll want to see your character fight and win. They'll stick with you right to the very last page because they'll be invested in the story, and they'll just have to know how it ends.

I'll give you another example of a book that works wonderfully because it has strong character motivation at the core. It's another Australian novel, just to prove that I'm not bashing the local talent for the sake of it (g). This one, which was sent to me by Our Rachel, is PAPER NAUTILUS, by South Australian Nicholas Jose.

It's a uniquely told story, also set in WWII. The structure of the story sees it begin in at the end, in the present, and wind its way back through time to the beginning. It's the tale of a man raising his brother's child after his brother dies in the war.

Now, the motivation in this story is not completely clear until the end, because of course the journey "starts", per se, on the last page. But I list it as a great example because regardless of the structure, the motivation of the main character leaps off the page right from the start. He is a quiet man, but he's fiercely, ferociously protective of his brother's daughter, and determined to give her a good, happy life. His whole sense of being is dedicated to this purpose. It's not until the last pages of the book that the reader understands exactly where that motivation came from, but by then it's more of an "ahhh, that makes sense" revelation. It's actually a very simple story, a very short novel, but a very powerful one indeed. Even though the story winds backwards, the character is always moving forward, always focussed on one thing, and completely emotionally invested in that thing.

I've struggled now and again with my character's motivation. I've had Bill going to London to escape his past, I've had him planning his own suicide because he can't live without Jared, I've had him trying to hunt down his missing son and restore balance to his world- but in the end, all of those motivations linked back to Bill running away from, or clinging onto, the past.

Now I've shifted my focus, not far, to Bill's grandchild, who is due to be born in London in the middle of a warzone. The future of his family. The only thing that will be left of his family before long. Not only does Bill want to make sure he does the right thing by his grandchild, but the child is in imminent danger from the Blitz air-raids, and his daughter-in-law is stubbornly refusing to get out of harm's way. This is guaranteed to raise conflict.

I'm still not totally sure I'm there yet, but right now it's working better than the backwards-looking motivations my characters had before.

Either way, I know that as long as my characters are passionate about what they want, and if their passions are threatened and challenged by circumstance, I'll be able to keep my readers invested enough that they'll keep turning the pages right to the end.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Poll Results

Well, the poll results are in for part seven of A Kill in Time, and it looks like we'll be following the evil Doctor Lipsenard on his "assignment" next Friday ... mwuhahaha!

Stay tuned.

Here we are now, entertain us

As promised - or threatened - more pics...

My base camp ...

Up close and personal with the seals ...

Checking out the sand dunes at Little Sahara ...

The crack in the rocks that is the only entrance to Stokes Bay, the most beautiful, isolated, beach I've ever seen ...

Stokes Bay
Children 2 and 3 "bonding" ...

The three wise monkeys check out the ferry ...

And while I was away, I got to thinking. One of the reasons I enjoyed this holiday so much was because our destination was a place we had never been before (well, just for the record, I visited the island, once, when I was ten … which makes that nearly thirty years ago, and my memory just ain’t that good. In fact, all I can remember of Kangaroo Island, circa 1981, is that the bedroom walls of our motel suite inexplicably stopped short of the ceiling by a good foot or so, and that the one souvenier I brought home was a lovely dose of head lice. Bewdiful, as they say.)

It was kinda exciting to set out each day to destinations we’d never been to, not quite knowing what was in store for us. The kids were definitely hyped up (and oh lord, do I have the perforated eardrums from their excited shrieks to prove it!) And that got me thinking … as writers, that’s the kind of reaction we’re aiming to elicit from our readers. We need to hook them, excite and intrigue them, by taking them to places they’ve never been before. And I don’t just mean by using new or unusual settings; it has to be more than that. A character with a job that is not run of the mill, or a character with a creed to live by that is 180 degrees different to what you’d ever expect, will go a long way to keep a reader reading.

OK. Examples.

The holiday house we stayed in had quite an eclectic collection of books (it ran the gamut from a bunch of Danielle Steeles to Steig Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, to Tim Winton’s Cloud Street and Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses). When the book I’d packed just got too heavy to read (and I mean that literally – Stephen King’s THE DOME is a monster of a book, and while I’m loving it, it was just too much of a pain in the neck to try to wrangle whilst lazing on pristine white sand … ahem) I chose a book from the shelves by an author I’ve been meaning to read for a while - THE HARD WAY, by Lee Child. It’s the tenth book in his series, but nevertheless I was sucked right into Jack Reacher’s world, right from the get go - a loner, a reluctant but principled avenger of wrongs who skirts the edge – and crosses over – the lines of legality himself, a man who has no home, no strings attached, totally of his own choice. I was totally engrossed by this man’s way of living in the world. New, different, compelling – and it kept me reading.

So, while we have to write well, we also have to develop characters who are believable, yet hold our interest and our attention by doing, saying, experiencing or thinking things that are not the absolute norm. As writers, we are conjurers, thought-provokers, sometimes philosophers, but bottom line, we’re entertainers, here to give our readers an escape hatch from the hum drum of life (for which, BTW, the French have a fabulous term – metro-boulot-dodo. Literally, “subway, work, sleep”, to sum up a pointless existence.) And to do this, we have to switch off our self-editors, and be brave enough to let our imaginations run free ...

So, what books have you read of late that really pulled you into unknown and new situations? And how do you do this with your own writing?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The posts that aren't ... this week.

It's Thursday, my day to blog.

I've travelled 160kms today (by car and by ferry), I am so exhausted I can barely type straight, the clock on my laptop tells me it's 10.15pm, and I have to admit defeat - there will be no writerly post from me today.

But what I can give you are a few snaps of the views I've been soaking up for the past eight days.

The family and I arrived home a few hours ago from eight days on Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia; these photos were taken from the holiday house we stayed in.

I really, truly, intended to work on a post while I was away, but as you can see, I was more than a little distracted ...

The view to the west ...

To the east ...

To the north ...

A little more of the east ...

And what I saw while I sipped my first cup of tea each day...


And while I'm being a complete slacker, I'll also have to beg a week's leeway to work on the next installment of our serial, A Kill in Time (especially as I haven't had the chance to read Kristen's chapter yet! LOL). So, stay tuned for Friday next week ... and tomorrow, I'll have a few more purty pictures, and maybe rustle up a few thoughts on writing. But no promises. (g)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Dialogue is Your Friend

This weekend I spent some quality time with my Kindle (which I am thinking I should take to calling my new BFF –my husband, however, has another name suggestion: the money suck. Ahem, anyway…) My BFF’s lovely WiFi store turned me onto a previously unknown (well, unknown to me, at any rate) gem: the free ebook –so there, Big H; it does not always suck money out of the bank account!* Unfortunately, one chapter in and I began to understand why this book might be free, or to be precise, I began to be grateful that the book was free, since had I paid for it, I’d be mighty ticked. It –to use a favorite out of the husband vernacular- sucked.

Determining why the book sucked was harder to pinpoint. The writing wasn’t terrible –and I’m talking about the writer’s ability to string words together; obviously if the book sucked, then there is something very wrong with the writing. The plot was okay. Characters…well, they were interesting enough. Certainly, there wasn’t anything glaring on these counts. But there was just something so…blah. I simply did not care. My mind wandered by page five and kept wandering. Why?

Two main reasons, I think. One: lack of tension. In fact, there were two books I picked up this week and promptly dropped because there was absolutely ZIPPO tension. But I’m not going to talk about tension here because we already have a few really good posts on tension (look up Jen’s, if you’re interested). Which brings me to the second glaring fault in my sucky ebook: bad and lacking dialogue. The whole of chapter one had about two lines of dialogue, the rest being line after line of droning internal monologue and descriptive but uninformative prose.

Now, I’ve read some really good books where dialogue is sparse. Here’s the thing, these pieces of craft we writers discuss: dialogue, prose, backstory, tension, character, emotion, showing, telling (leaving anything out here?), internal monologues, staging, they are all good devices to use, they are all necessary cogs in the machine –lose one element and you’re in danger of the machine grinding to a halt. Yes! All of these elements can be necessary; even telling and backstory, but, BUT they have to work together, and they serve different roles. One element may be a small cog, while others are more important. Often times, dialogue is one big ass cog in the story machine. Dialogue moves the story forward seamlessly. It engages the reader in a way prose never can. Or should I say good dialogue does all that.

I’ve heard a lot of writers complain/lament about writing dialogue. It is hard for them. They can’t seem to make their characters speak. I understand. Really, I do. So here area a few things to help:

Now good dialogue isn’t about showing us what YOU the writer want us to understand about the story. NO, it isn’t! That’s “you know Bob” dialogue. Good dialogue is about what the character wants –both to receive and to convey.

We learned to talk for one simple reason: to tell mom and dad, “Hey, I want /don’t want that!” At some point in our baby lives we grew frustrated with “baba-daba” while pointing to the pointing to the strained peas and getting more freaking strained peas, when really all we wanted to get across is, if you give me another disgusting jar of that goop I’m going to stick my spoon up your nose! Something was getting lost in translation and so the effort was made to communicate on a more sophisticated level. Hence words. “You know mother, while I appreciate your desire to give me a well-rounded diet, I really do detest strained peas.” And voila, bob’s your uncle. No more stained peas!

Which is a really long way of saying, we talk to convey our wants –in the simplest terms. Those wants are more sophisticated at times. We may want to tell someone in so many roundabout words that we care for them, or that we’re angry, scared, whathaveyou. Now, if your characters are adults, you also have to understand that adults have veered away from caveman bluntness of “no more peas. I want carrots…” to more subtle and subversive forms of communication (well, for the most part). Hence, “you know what vegetable is good too? Carrots. Not that I don’t like peas, these are… great, love what you’ve done with them, straining them and all. But have you ever tried carrots sautéed in brown butter? Awesome. You should try it sometime. I’ve got a recipe.”

Realistic dialogue not only conveys what the character wants but it takes into account that most people will not simply come out and say what they want (or are thinking).

Let’s take this bit of dialogue from my book West of the Moon. While it might seem straight forward, there is a whole other dialogue taking place here (which I’ll put in red) This is dialogue only; I’ve taken out all prose, tags, and staging.

“Do you wish to accept my offer, girl?” (Are you going to reject me?)

-silence on her part-

“Are you addle-brained or merely considering?” (now you’re starting to freak me out. Well are you???)

“M-might I see your face, my lord?” (Yeah, I’m considering.)

“You may not. If it were in my power, I would not have looked upon yours, for it fills me with despair.” (I’m afraid of rejection so I’ll insult you. Hey, it’s the fastest way to drive someone away. So if you’re going to go, it might as well be here and now.)

“Here, sir!” Father cried. “My daughter need not be molested! She’s an agreeable girl, willing to please... Only wanted to see who she’d keep her company with. No matter, no matter. We are both gentlemen, are we not?” (My daughter is a pain in my butt, we both know it but we had an agreement. You’re not going to kill me if she backs out, are you?)

“Neither you or I is a gentleman, Ellis. We both know as much. It was your condition that we meet. I told you I cared not for her appearance, only for what she could do for me.” (Yeah, I’ll make you pay if she does. I really do care what she decides but I’m not letting you two know that –I’ve got some pride, you know.)

“Well, girl, do we have an accord?”(back to the issue at hand, all right!)

“You may address me as Miss Ellis. Not ‘girl’ or ‘chit.’” (If I’m going into this marriage, I’m doing so with some hand. I’m not going to be a rug.)

Miss Ellis, I’ve little time or patience for dithering.” (Let’s see how much backbone you have.)

“Nor I for rudeness. I shall accept your proposal - with terms.” (oh, about this much backbone, thank you.)

“Name them.” (Oh, thank God, you’re going to do it.)

“Do not ever speak to me in cruelty again. And never forget, you came for me, not I for you.” (Maybe you should run for the hills, because I am a pain in the butt; please run for the hills.)

“I do not believe for a moment that you shall let me forget that fact, Miss Ellis. An accord, then.” (I’m going to enjoy this. And there is no turning back now. Don’t forget that.)

“Next Wednesday, is it?” called out Father weakly.

The only response was the sharp click of boot heels as Lord Archer faded into the night. (My lack of response indicates my utter disregard of you.)

Now, I might have simply had the characters say what they really meant. But not only is that unrealistic, it is boring. Good dialogue pulls the reader in by making them pay attention to both what is and is not being said.

The work of dialogue is multi-purpose. Yes, you the writer must convey information and move the story along with it; there is nothing worse then dialogue for no purpose. We do not want to read a ten minute long conversation about Bob and how he changed his tires that morning if it means nothing to the story. So yes, you the writer must pick and choose what you want to show in each scene. On the other hand, you must learn how to let the character impart that information in a natural way that is true to the character.

Claire had a really great post about using an exercise in which you follow a character’s stream of consciousness. Basically, you let yourself fall into the mind of your character and write down what he is thinking. No inner critic allowed: just write, as Claire suggests. This too can be done with dialogue. Difference being is sitting down, and letting your two characters talk. Write their dialogue as it comes, no tags, inserted prose, or action staging to slow your down. Just let them talk. I can’t tell you how many of my favorite scenes came about this way –okay, I’m thinking 80 percent of ALL my scenes came about by me simply hearing my characters talk, writing all that chatter down, then coming back and filling out the rest. I’ll reuse the scene from above –which is actually the first scene I wrote for Moon. It came in the form of voices having an exchange:

“Do you wish to accept my offer, girl?”

“Are you addle-brained or merely considering?”

“M-might I see your face, [no character names as of yet]?”

“You may not. If it were in my power, I would not have looked upon yours, for it fills me with despair.”

“Here, sir!” Father cried. “My daughter need not be molested! She’s an agreeable girl, willing to please... Only wanted to see who she’d keep her company with. No matter, no matter. We are both gentlemen, are we not?”

“Neither you or I is a gentleman, [btw, as Rachel has said, brackets are great for this sort of thing. Otherwise, you’re going to slow down/stop to try and come up with names and whatnot]. We both know as much. It was your condition that we meet. I told you I cared not for her appearance, only for what she could do for me.”

“Well, girl, do we have an accord?”

“You may address me as Miss [ ]. Not ‘girl’ or ‘chit.’”

Miss [ ], I’ve little time or patience for dithering.”

“Nor I for rudeness. I shall accept your proposal - with terms.”

“Name them.”

“Do not ever speak to me in cruelty again. And never forget, you came for me, not I for you.”

“I do not believe for a moment that you shall let me forget that fact, [ ]. An accord, then.”

Another point to remember, good dialogue allows for differences in speech. Not everyone talks the same way, so don’t make your characters do it. Dialogue should impart clues as to the person’s background and how they feel about themselves. Take Father’s words to Lord Archer.

“Here, sir!” Father cried. “My daughter need not be molested! She’s an agreeable girl, willing to please... Only wanted to see who she’d keep her company with. No matter, no matter. We are both gentlemen, are we not?”

His words should convey a few things: that he is of inferior birth to Archer, that Archer makes him nervous, BUT that he is used to selling a “product” –he is a merchant, after all. Archer and Miss Ellis’s speech have an elevated style. They’ve both grown up with money and education, Lord Archer, particularly. The way they speak must convey that. In actuality, your job as the writer in regards to dialogue and characterization is a lot like method acting. You can bring it to a higher level by living in the character’s shoes.

Which brings me to the last thing I’m going to mention about dialogue today (really, I could go on hours, lol.) Dialogue does not live in a bubble. The characters actions and interior monologue give us a world of information as well. Working in conjunction with dialogue, these things ought to give us the whole picture. So, I’ll leave you with our scene in its entirety. See how the exchange and the character’s feelings (especially Miss Ellis’s) change with added information. With it the subtext that I added in red shines through without my having to have them speak it. (erm, or it should, at any rate.)

“Do you wish to accept my offer, girl?”

I could almost hear Father’s silent pleas for mercy. But something within me refused to let the words come.

The outline of Lord Archer’s shoulders moved. “Are you addle-brained or merely considering?” he snapped.

A wave of heat washed my cheeks. I stepped forward and peered into the darkness. “M-might I see your face, my lord?”

He stiffened and pulled slightly away, falling deeper into shadow. “You may not. If it were in my power, I would not have looked upon yours, for it fills me with despair.”

The brittle ice of his words cut into me and I gasped.

“Here, sir!” Father cried. “My daughter need not be molested! She’s an agreeable girl, willing to please...” A distinct jab hit my rib. “Only wanted to see who she’d keep her company with. No matter, no matter. We are both gentlemen, are we not?”

“Neither you or I is a gentleman, Ellis. We both know as much. It was your condition that we meet. I told you I cared not for her appearance, only for what she could do for me.”

The icy cold that invaded my heart slid down my spine and I shivered. Lord Archer chose that moment to address me. “Well, girl, do we have an accord?”

Cold or not, I straightened. “You may address me as Miss Ellis. Not ‘girl’ or ‘chit.’”

Miss Ellis, I’ve little time or patience for dithering.”

“Nor I for rudeness. I shall accept your proposal - with terms.”

His dark frame grew before me. The bulk of a man before me seemed as though a great bear preparing to attack. “Name them.”

I leaned as far forward as I could, for Father had a good hold on my elbow and was pinching hard. “Do not ever speak to me in cruelty again.”

Father gasped in alarm. For once, I did not care. I pointed my finger in the direction of the lord’s chest. “And never forget, you came for me, not I for you.”

A terrible silence fell over the damp garden. I shrank back, suddenly aware of the sheer size of the figure before me, and the dark strength that emanated from him. His eyes bore into me with such intensity that for a wild moment I feared he was trying to delve into my very thoughts. My breath came out in small puffs, white and pure, before dissipating into the gloom.

Father shuffled beside me, ready to grovel, when a bark of laughter rang out, echoing on the wet brick walls. The sound of it bounced down the walk and for a moment, another flash of something long-forgotten rolled over me.

“I do not believe for a moment that you shall let me forget that fact, Miss Ellis.”

He moved and I jumped back with a small squeak. But he only turned away with a swirl of his cloak. “An accord, then,” he called over his shoulder. He passed beneath a gas lamp, highlighting the sheen of silver mist that lay over his silk top hat and black cloak.

“Next Wednesday, is it?” called out Father weakly.

The only response was the sharp click of boot heels as Lord Archer faded into the night.

So there you have it, a long rant on dialogue. :) Feel free to add any tips you've learned along the way.

*Hey, it’s an ongoing debate; I need to wrack up as many points as I can.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blogger's Choice Awards 2010

I interrupt your regular programming to bring you this announcement:

All the World's Our Page is in the running for the Blogger's Choice Awards 2010! We're candidates for the best blog of the year in no less than four categories.

If you're enjoying the blog, we'd love you to follow one (or hey, all) of the links below and send a vote our way. I think you need to sign up for a free account to vote, but it's pretty easy all in all, and we'd really appreciate your support.

At the time of writing, we're joint leaders in the Best Pop Culture Blog category.
We're also up for the Best Blog About Stuff;
Also Best Hobby Blog;
And, of course, the Best Blog of All Time :)

Thank you in advance for your support!

Going There

This post is really born from two different sources…

One, THE COURAGE TO WRITE: HOW WRITERS TRANSCEND FEAR by Ralph Keyes – a recommendation from Rachel, if you remember from our book giveaways. (Unfortunately, I only made it halfway through this one before I finally had to call it quits and give it back to the library. They were sending me all of these overdue messages for some reason. Greedy muthas. I'll get it again soon, tho. J)

Anyway, one of the bits in Keyes' book that really struck me is when he said that we, as writers, have to be willing to Go There. (I'm paraphrasing.) What did he mean by that? Well, he basically meant that we have to be willing to take our writing into certain dark places that perhaps we're a bit scared to show others. We could be scared because it too closely resembles our own life experiences, character traits, etc. and we really don't want to share because it's far too personal to us—or those close to us. It could be that we're scared because we're uncomfortable tackling a subject matter that might cast its shadow back on us. i.e. if we manage to convincingly write about an abuse victim, some people may believe we ourselves were once victims of abuse. Or even worse, if we can write about someone who molests young children, does that mean we secretly harbor such fantasies?

Uncomfortable yet? Well, that's really the point, right?

Two, I've been on this huge Stephen King kick lately. This past year had me listening to most of the Gunslinger series and several others, including THE STAND, which I'm in the middle of right now. If you've read any of his books, you know you can count on some seriously weird shit. I'm talking characters that disgust you beyond all measure. Characters that seem to have no moral compass and do completely depraved things. If you've read THE STAND, you probably remember Harold Lauder (sp?), the pimply, masturbating geek who just so happens to be a sociopath. Just reading about him makes my skin crawl a bit.

If there's one thing King does well, it's the cringe-worthy character. Just think about the father from DOLORES CLAIBORNE, the old witch from WIZARD AND GLASS, the Sisters from RITA HAYWORTH AND SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION…the list goes on. He is definitely not afraid to tackle seedy character types.

With Keyes' book in mind, I started thinking about how Stephen King is perceived by readers. I think most writers are able to distinguish the writer from his/her work. While I've certainly been made uncomfortable by some of the things King writes about, I've never thought to myself…oh man, this man is SICK. Obviously he has some pipeline right into the minds of twisted individuals. That must mean he's thought and/or done these things. That he uses his books to act out his fantasies.

No, I've never thought any of these things…but what about other people? I mean, who hasn't heard the myth that Stephen King sold his soul to the devil and that's why he's so successful? Pretty absurd, but given how long that particular gem has been floating around, is it really that farfetched that some people might equate his characters with the man himself? Makes you think, huh? I for one am extremely glad he goes there. His characters may be evil personified at times, but damn, I sure as heck remember them. They have made a mark and I applaud his nerve to take his writing There.

Now, just because I've focused on the "bad" doesn't mean the comparisons won't spring up in other areas. Let me give you one example I've experienced. LOL. When I finished the original FAKING IT, I gathered ALL of my courage and let a couple of family members read it. It has to be the most terrifying thing I've ever done – well, other than actually being in the room when people read and/or critiqued my work, but I digress.

My aunt finished it and I'll never forget her comments…or those of my mother. My mother said something along the lines of… "It's just SO sexual." And though she didn't say it aloud, it was fairly clear she assumed I had done all of the things (cough) my character had. My aunt said something like… "It was just so hard to read because I didn't want to picture my niece doing those things.

In their minds, Madison in bed = Jen in bed.


*smacks forehead*

What the heck would they think if I wrote a graphic sex scene? What about a rape? What about a murder? What about some petty shoplifting? What about masturbation? What about… the list goes on.

It's almost funny how quickly you could write yourself into a corner if you let fear of what others will think stop you from Going There. The truth is, you SHOULD be uncomfortable with certain things. Being uncomfortable means you're stretching yourself to new levels…new characterizations that you've never tackled before. Chances are if you're uncomfortable, your readers will be uncomfortable too. I'd almost venture to say that if you've never been made uncomfortable by your own writing, you're doing something wrong. Dig deeper. Go There.

Just some food for thought. (g)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Show, don't tell

I've been in high revision mode these last couple of weeks, which for me always means reading and re-reading what I've written in the past before starting on the new stuff.

As I've been re-reading my original work, I've come across something interesting. Most of the stuff I'm reading is fantastic, just IMHO. I'm impressed that I've managed to create those words. They're lovely, lyrical, and evocative. They're...

Wait, wait, hold up. What am I writing again? I'm writing a war novel, in which my main character is a rough-as-guts farmer with limited education. And the old writing is... lovely? Lyrical? Oh, Houston. We have a problem here.

The problem is both the intrusion of authorial voice, and an abundance of telling instead of showing.

What is the latter, you ask?

I shall explain. When I sat down to write the now-completed draft three years ago, I had my story all planned out. I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted the reader to respond. I knew which characters were going to be bad, and which were going to be good. And when I committed the words to the page, it was with great deliberateness. I wanted the reader to see everything that was in my mind when I imagined the scene. I wanted them to feel just exactly what I felt about the story. Essentially, I wanted to transplant my brain straight onto that page so that your reading vacation was taking place in my mind.

Sounds slightly logical, right?

Well, to a point- except that no matter how specific my details, no matter how evocative my words, I can't control what my readers are going to imagine when they pick up my story. I can't actually insert into their heads the image of the person I think looks most like Bill or Lionel, no matter how well I describe them. And unless I include a photograph of Edenvale Farm, people are going to be thinking about what they know when they imagine it.

If you try to control what people imagine by describing it too much, you can fall into the trap of what they call “telling, not showing”. What you want to be doing, ideally, is the opposite- SHOWING, NOT TELLING.

TELLING is where you explain emotions, descriptions, and actions where explanation is really not required. The explanation pulls the reader out of the story- it makes them remember they're reading a book, not living vicariously.

Bob was tired enough to feel all of his fifty-five years of age. He didn't think he could take much more of this crap.

SHOWING is where you present the reader with a fully-formed character, and enough description, dialogue, internals and action for them to fill in any blanks. You give them the opportunity to inhabit your character.

Bob slipped off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. Those sons of bitches weren't going to get his goat this time, no matter what they did.

(In this latter version, we get a hint of Bob's age from his glasses; we know he's tired by his actions; and his internal thoughts tell us all we need to know about his mood/ state of mind without the author needing to step in and explain)

Telling is fine at face value, except often the end result is that you have a painted vase- something beautiful on the outside, but hollow on the inside. You sacrifice real emotion and gritty inner turmoil for nice packaging. The only books I've ever put down mid-read have taken this approach. The words are lovely and the words are well put-together, but the characters are at best forgettable, and at worst just completely dislikeable. They either have no flaws, or so many flaws that they're past redemption. These are exactly the thoughts I (and my beta readers) had about my characters when I sent out my early stuff. Each separate section looks good in isolation, but when you put it all together it doesn't make a good story.

So, if you're writing in first person or in limited third person, try to really inhabit your characters, and show the reader what you're seeing through the characters' eyes instead of telling them what's in your own imagination. It's a subtle difference when you explain it like that, but it makes a huge difference on the page.

Have faith in your readers to fill in the blanks.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Kill in Time -A Jack the Ripper tale with a time traveling twist -part 7

Part of him wanted to stay still, wait and see if all that shimmering power within her burst forth. But he knew in the same instance that it would not; not if it was aimed at Frank. She’d always been close to Frank. So odd to think of them as lovers in this time.

The idea hurt him. Though they had just begun, Simon thought their love timeless. Had he been a hopeless romantic to believe it? Did she love him in other lives? Did he? Or perhaps he’d find himself intrigued by Midnight a millennium from now. The thought made him want to laugh. But if time moved in slow beats for him, it did not for the others and Frank’s lunging form was almost on top of Samantha’s.

Somber now, Simon lifted a hand and the man stopped, suspended in air as if a puppet on a string. The world around Simon slowed like a clock winding down, tick, tock, silence. He moved through the stillness, seeing Frank hovering in mid-air, the beads of sweat on his brow frozen like glass; Samantha’s look of horror carved on her face, the downy hair along her neck pale and utterly soft looking.

Midnight’s eyes tracked him, the only thing moving in her face. Should I blacken this sight?

Simon shook his head. No, let her see. She is one of us now.

He moved past Brahman, touching him with a brush of his fingers. The gentle giant moved as though a statue sprung to life.

“Pull him down,” Simon murmured. He could hold time as long as he liked, but the repercussions of doing so were always deep.

Brahman’s thick arms wrapped around Frank’s middle, and like plucking an apple from a tree, he pulled took Frank and set him on the ground. The body teetered awkwardly, rolling a bit as Frank had been in a half crouch when he’d lunched.

Simon saw a spark of awareness in those angry eyes, and a plea.

“I know,” he murmured as he knelt beside Frank. “I know,” he said again with blunt force. “And so do you.”

He tilted his head a bit closer, but would not touch him. Not until he saw the rage recede in Frank’s eyes. “Why do you push it away? I know you remembered with Lazarus, and yet you pretended that you do not.”

Suddenly anger welled up in his chest, a hot thick thing that suffocated him. “You know all of us. You know me.” His breath hissed out of his nostrils. “I’ve been chasing you down for years. And now your petty fear has taken— ”

A heavy hand settled on his shoulder, stilling his anger as if water dousing a fire.

Brahman’s black eyes were kind. “Don’t fall into that trap, friend.” He glanced at Frank. “His soul has more scars than flesh.”

Before them Frank did not blink, no movement marked his feelings, frozen as he was, but his eyes shimmered with pain all the same.

Simon took a deep breath and stood. “Aye.” He breathed again, and the fog of rage fully dissipated. “Aye, that it does.”

He glanced at Frank. No, he was not yet ready; the demon rage within him still seethed. But it was time set things to rights. With a flick of his hands, the room shivered with the force of time revived, but Frank remained locked in place –and safely away from Samantha.


He had done it again, turned her world frozen and senseless. But it was different this time. She could see him as he walked past her, moving as though a film in slow motion. The air around him, seemed to shimmer, rippling outward as he stopped to gaze up at Frank who dangled in mid-air like meat on a hook.

Oh, Frank. Her heart ached for him, yet there was fear, true fear of him; the man who had lunged at her was not Frank. Frank’s eyes had never been filled with such rage and hate.

They took him down and he rolled gently on the floor like a mannequin tossed aside. It sent a pang of despair through her. She knew how his helplessness would humiliate him. And then suddenly, she was free. Her lungs filled with air that she didn’t need –she hadn’t needed to breath in those strange moments, had she?

Simon’s keen blue eyes caught hers for a brief moment, assessing, penetrating, yet he said nothing as he straightened and smoothed out the lapels of his black overcoat.

“Midnight,” he said, his eyes now on Frank’s immobile form. “Our friend needs an escort.”

The lady’s red lips curled. “And as usual, I am the lucky lady without a date to the ball.”

Simon’s wide mouth twitched. “Safe house six,” he murmured. “We shall follow within three turns.”

When Midnight swayed over to Frank’s prone form, Sam found her voice. “What are you doing?”

“Leaving,” said Midnight crisply.

Her gloved hand clasped over Frank’s shoulder and Sam’s panic sharpened but before Sam could utter a word of protest, they were gone.

“Where did she take him!” Sam shouted, rounding on Simon. “What the hell is wrong with you people? You pop up out of the blue, freeze bloody time, and don’t answer a single question!”

Simon’s thick brows rose and Sam realized her slip. When did she ever use the word bloody? Something watery bubbled in her lungs, something very much like terror, and she suddenly realized how Frank must be feeling. Frank.

“Histrionics serve no purpose but wasting time,” Simon said simply. He unbuttoned the clasp of the long cloak he wore over his coat. “I will answer your questions. But not here. It isn’t safe. Now…” he pulled the cloak free and stepped close, “take this. You’ll need it to hide your modern clothes until we can get you new ones.”

The cloak settled over her shoulders, warm and smelling of wool and Simon.

“Modern clothes?” Her mouth felt full of cotton wool.

“We are going back,” he said with the same irritating calmness. “Midnight went first with Frank because we cannot all go at once. Either in pairs or alone, but never more than that.”

Sam watched him intently as his long fingers secured the clasp at her throat. “And you will bring me back?”

Simon’s eyes slid away. “No. I shall travel alone. You shall go with Brahman.”

“Why can’t I go with you?” Oh God, she sounded ridiculous, but the idea of being separated from Frank and now him caused her heart to seize.

He would not look her in the eye. “Brahman is…He is fully competent.”

She wasn’t so sure, but Simon’s reticence made her look keenly at him.

As if trapped by her gaze, he raised his eyes to her and his mouth flattened. “Go with Brahman.” The anger in his tone was unmistakable.

Simon moved to go but stopped, his fist curling at his side. “You will…you will be fine.” As if unable to restrain himself, he drew near and placed a quick kiss, no more than a brush of his lips against her temple. “Remember,” he whispered against her skin. Sam shivered at the contact, but he was gone before she could reply.

The silence he left behind overwhelmed her. She stood for a long moment, knowing that that great ox of a man, Brahman, was next to her, yet unable to do anything more than stare at the place where the other’s had vanished.

“He left me.” For a moment she wasn’t even sure which ‘he’ she meant. But her heart knew. And so did Brahman, apparently.

Brahman stirred, then shrugged casually. “His last trip did not go well, did it?”

“That is an understatement,” she muttered before the truth hit her. She closed her eyes in remorse. “No,” she said weakly. “It did not.”

He hadn’t wanted to risk her again.

“He thinks I am someone I am not.”

Brahman grinned wide. “And who does he think you are?”

Sam ground her teeth. Great, and now I get to spend quality time with the brain of the bunch.

“Livy, obviously.”

“And you are not?”

Jesus… She took a deep breath and searched for patience.


“Then who are you?”


His massive head shook slowly. “Sam is that body. That is not who you are.” When she opened her mouth, he raised one thick finger. “There is body and there is soul. Who you are is soul. What you imbue is body.”

Sam was certain her mouth hung open. The gold tooth winked at her once more, and for an instant, it felt stunningly familiar having Brahman grin at her.

“Do you think that I or Midnight or Simon live now? In this time and place? No. Our bodies are dust in the grave, yet still we live. The soul is forever. It travels from house to house.” He flicked a piece of plaster dust from his smooth muscled arm . “Yet soul, like time is always. Livy, Samantha, they are arms of the same soul.”

She frowned at him but the man, now freed, apparently, from his silence, was on a role.

“The soul is endless. It can live many lives all at once, learning, growing.”

“Like a spore,” she murmured.

“Yes, many parts, one whole.” His dark gaze held her. “But what it cannot do is fold upon itself. Livy could not come in contact with Samantha. Thus a sacrifice must be made.” His massive shoulders lifted. “As it was Livy coming to Samantha…that arm is the arm that must be cut. But it is pulled back in. The soul remains as it was –whole.”

“You know, that could all be new wave mumbo-jumbo.”

Brahman chucked low and deep. “But it isn’t,” he said. “You feel it. You feel it when you see Simon. One thing a soul cannot forget is love.”

Sam looked away. “What is happening to Frank?” It was easier to speak of him. God, she hadn’t even held him once. Suddenly she needed to. She missed him.

He tilted his head, considering. For a moment Sam feared he wouldn’t tell her, but then his face smoothed back into its familiar sereneness. “Ah, Townsend and soul is a different matter.”

“Townsend? Why?”

“You have noticed we all have in us particular talents?”

Sam gave an impatient nod.

“Townsend’s is particularly troublesome, for you see, he can steal souls.”

Ice ran through Sam’s veins. Heart in her throat, she heard the rest of his words as if through cotton bunting.

“And he stole himself a particularly nasty soul. Fool to do it, but he thought it the only way to save us all.”

“That thing’s…” her throat went dry, thinking again on that hideous creature. And it’s soulless eyes. That thing’s soul inside of Frank.

“Yes. And he wants it back.”

Sam closed her eyes and shuddered. What if that thing's soul took over? Where would Frank go? She had to talk to Frank. She had to tell him... tell him what? That she loved him? That she had the same soul as Simon’s dead love? It sounded ludicrous to her ears even now. But she felt unfaithful. Nor could she deny the yearning for him. Sam swallowed hard. Why? Why now, when Frank and her had been headed to such a close place. And why couldn’t she think of Frank without cold dread filling her lungs.

Brahman’s voice invaded her frantic thoughts. “You’ll know the right path when it opens up.”

“You know Brahman,” she said as her eyes opened wide, “I think I liked you better when you didn’t talk.”

He threw his head back and laughed, his great voice booming as he took her arm. And suddenly, they were gone.


Out of the darkest corner of Dr. Lispenard’s ruined office a shadow grew. It lengthened, pulling away and stretching until it took the vague form of a man. Onward it stretched, lifting from the floor, solidifying. Boot heels clicked over the parquet as the shadow turned to man.

He stopped at the spot where the succulent tart had been standing with the heathen. He took a deep breath and let the soothing image of his knife slicing open the tart’s wobbling breasts flow over him. Ah yes, so lovely. And much better than the frustration he'd been carrying upon his back.

Weeks now he had tried to unlock Townsend’s mind. Weeks of earning the pathetic bastard’s trust. For nothing. His memory was wiped clean as glass, and the possibility of reaching that soul just out of his reach. But now...Now Frank's mind was beginning to crumble.

Yes, Townsend had a stolen soul. And now he knew where they’d taken it. But how to proceed? Frank trusted him still, else he wouldn’t have come here.

Lispenard tapped one boney finger against his thin lips. The canny bastard Hunt would know him on site if he simply appeared. Delicacy was needed. Suddenly he smiled, though the action brought pain to his cheeks. Sweet, the pain. The lummox had been correct; Lady Monday and the tart were in fact one. Anyone who traded souls could see it; which meant she belonged to Hunt. And Hunt to her. Should Frank become aware of the attachment… Lispenard chuckled. Already that demon soul was eating the man from inside out. Soon one or the other must take rein of the body. All it needed was coaxing. And there was no better motivator for rage than jealousy.

Time to go home, for he had little doubt that the demon would soon follow. He must be quick, The Fellowship counted upon him above all others to retrieve their prize. The thought barely settled before a rasping voice filled his head.

“Yes, very good, Shadow, but come to me before you proceed. I have one other assignment for you.”

A delicious chill ran along Lispenard’s spine as he answered. Yes, Master.

My mad revision plans ...

So, I finished the first draft of my novel on the 3rd of December. Saved it, backed it up on my external drive and emailed it to myself … and have not opened it since. But I will, very shortly, in order to step into the world of revisions. I have to confess, I’m kind of excited about this next stage. I know there are a whole bunch of problems with my first draft (indeed, unless I’m very much mistaken, the entire first half will probably need to be torpedoed) and I’m looking at a whole lot of work ahead of me, but still, it’s kind of like being given the chance to re-take an exam, over and over again, and each time come out with a higher grade. What’s not to love about that? (g)

But I don’t want to be endlessly revising, either. So I’ve been reading everything I can about revisions and how to go about them … and I think I have me a plan. I may be wrong - I may, in fact, be crazy - but I think this is what I need to do.

First, I’m going to start with the big picture stuff, and do an initial read through – sitting on my hands, for no editing or re-writing will be allowed - to work out the answer to this simple, but crucial, question - what is the story I’m trying to tell?

Erm, should I not know this already? Well, see, this is the first time I’ve ever written a novel, and I didn’t set out with any concrete ideas or plans, or even the slightest clue what I was doing … consequently, I need to get a big-picture perspective on what I have written – what themes and patterns my subconscious has thrown on to the page without me noticing, which parts are good, which parts are complete and utter crap – mull it all over, and then be prepared to roll up my sleeves and make some big-time plot changes. In fact, I can see I’ll need to do a fresh outline (I’ve actually made a tiny start on this already), incorporating the changes that need to be made to really clarify this tale I’m trying to tell.

(N.B. This process may leave me wanting to go stick my head in the oven, but for me, this hard slog really does need to be done.)

Next on the agenda: to use my new outline to check that this new version of my book has all the structural elements necessary for a story. Act breaks, key climaxes in the right places, and so forth. Basically, checking that the story doesn’t drag or sag, and progresses in a logical, comprehensible and compelling manner. Once I've identified the problems, the scissors - erm, make that, the chainsaw - will come out, and the heavy-duty rewriting will occur.

Hopefully, after this I’ll have a MS capable of standing on it’s own two feet; and then it’ll be time to get a bit more specific.

Alexandra Sokoloff (a brilliant writer of suspense and a former screenwriter – check out her blog, here) advises doing a dedicated “genre” read-through of your manuscript, to check that it follows the precepts of your chosen genre. For suspense, for example, she suggests doing a read-through with the aim of amping up the suspense wherever possible - the chapter level, the scene level, the sentence level.

A pass through to analyse each character’s arc is also on the cards, to ensure their journeys makes sense, that they face compelling conflicts, and that the people on the page are interesting enough to follow around for a whole book. If not … time to throw more trouble their way, or show more inner conflict, or, perhaps, to cut certain characters altogether, if they’re not pulling their share of the story’s weight. Ouch.

When that’s all been attended to, it’ll be time to attack each scene. Are any scenes repetitive? Cut. Dragging? Boring? Amp up the tension or cut. Then down to the nitty-gritty of language. Paragraphs, sentences … cut, pare down and tighten wherever possible. And I’ll need to pay attention to dialogue, to ensure each exchange contains tension, conflict, and above all, is crystal clear.

Then I think it’ll be about time to fill in all those square brackets, those bits of research I left to do later. And lastly, a read through for the sake of continuity – to make sure those blue eyes on page ten haven’t turned brown by page fifty.

And after ALL this work is done, I suspect I'll look something like this -

Holy smokes.

Am I mad? Is there an easier way to go about all this? I don’t think so; but I’d love to hear how any of you approach revisions, to make sure I’m not going off on some insane tangent.

I’ll leave you with the quote I’ve taped above my computer, which I hope will inspire me enough to see this new phase of writing through to its end:

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

James A. Michener.

I wish. (g)