Time for yet another summer hiatus

How did it get to be the end of June already? Or maybe a better question is how did so many days pass in succession, as they do, without me noticing? Good grief, the year is half over!

Yes, I have been writing. And thinking, and taking notes, which is an important part of my writing process.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading. Plowing through novels in my TBR pileup, of course, as well as reading a bit of non-fiction and catching up on bookmarked articles and blog posts in my RSS feed. There are days I feel as if I’ve read the entire internet. Which I guess helps explain how time has passed without me taking note of it.

Either that or someone has indeed invented time travel and it has all gone horribly wrong, speeding us involuntarily along past potential moments of productivity so not only does no one get anything done, none of us have clear memories of the time lost.

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What’s that? It’s just me?

Yes, well, I suspected as much. Clearly, I need to hit the reset button on my work habits and be more mindful of how I waste spend time.

I’ve been told there’s a writing thing in July — and April, apparently — called Camp NaNo. An extension of the more popular and well-known NaNoWriMo in November. Their website proclaims:

“Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writer’s retreat, designed for maximum flexibility and creativity.”

I’m not planning to participate officially. Mostly because I’m contrary and really bad at following along and obeying rules. But I’m a member of a small group of writers over on The Book of Faces and someone there proposed we have our own informal “retreat” in July, stating our goals in a similar fashion and cheering each other on. So I’ll be doing that.

My goal is to finish the revision of the story I drafted in April. I really hope it won’t take the entire month, since most of the heavy thinking is done and now I just need to write the rest of the words. Then again, the way time is passing, in three days it will be Thanksgiving and 15 minutes after that, Christmas. Unless my A/C breaks down, then roughly a dozen years will pass before summer is over.

Anyone else have big plans or goals for July? Deadlines? Vacation? Long stretches of indolent wave-gazing at the beach?

I’ll be over here trying not to read the entire internet every day, doing my best not to read anyone else’s words at all. Not even the one-word-at-a-time lure of WWF with my youngest sister. *sigh* In fact, other than email and semi-regular goal check-in and whip cracking with fellow writers, my plan is to be internet-free for July.

Ignoring the internet like . . . well, like a cat with a mouse on its head. Probably you can imagine how long that lasted.

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Wish me luck. And determination. I’m going to need all the help I can get.

 

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When the end is not the end

In my last post, I said I was worried that people hated the ending of the A to Z story [link to beginning] posted here on my blog. If you’ve been reading the comments, you know some of us have been discussing the issue. I’ve also been discussing it privately with a few people.

Truth is, regardless of what anyone else thought, I hated that ending. Just took me a while to realize I did. And why. Here’s part of one comment I made:

“I’m honestly feeling very undecided about the whole VR thing right now. The classic Hero’s Journey begins in the normal world, adventure ensues, and ends by returning to the normal world with the character somehow changed. This story didn’t do that. It finished in a world the reader didn’t know existed. There’s a difference between a plot twist and a betrayal of story premise. After a lot of thinking, I realize the latter is what I did here.”

So, due to the power of editing, that ending no longer exists. Didn’t happen. That entire “Z” post — POOF! Gone from the book. The story does not end that way and does not happen in a VR game. Never did. It was a figment of your imagination. Or mine. Whatever.

You make mistakes, you fix them.

Not that I have anything against VR games or stories about them — I still think that’s a cool concept — but that’s not what this story is. This is a story set entirely in a world where there are dragons and magic. Period.

Interestingly enough, once I made that decision, new stories and new adventures in this world started to tumble around in my brain. In fact, even while I’m refining and fleshing out Zoey and Anton’s story, I’m having to pause occasionally to take notes about the next story pushing its way up into my consciousness. It’s pretty exciting.

But for those of you who LOVED the original ending, no problem. You can still believe that was how it ended. Just, um, maybe don’t ever read the final version I’ll be publishing. Or only read up to the last chapter or two. You’ll be fine.

As for me, lesson learned.

This is the real reason you shouldn’t write fiction, in real time, on your blog. Not because you’re worried about what people might think of your rough unedited writing. Not because people might think your unvetted ideas are ridiculous or that you’re being unprofessional and taking stupid risks. And certainly not because it makes you feel uncertain and vulnerable and afraid– those are good things for a writer to feel.

No, the real reason you shouldn’t do this is because most readers don’t realize just how drastic the editing process can be. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to. Readers get vested in a story and its characters, and that’s good. You want that to happen. Sure, you can go back and change minor details, add a few things here and there. But change the entire ending? That’s a problem.

Once you tell a story, it’s damn near impossible to convince someone it didn’t happen that way.

With that in mind, I’m going to delete most of the “Z” post over here. Not the entire thing, as I don’t want to also delete the comments, but most of the text. Believe it or not, I’m still getting new blog followers every day [hello and welcome!] and it occurs to me it might be a good idea to limit the damage to those few who have already read the story with the crappy regrettable ending. So, I’ll be doing that.

Never fear, I’m hard at work on the final version. I’ve written most of the new ending and I think it’s a vast improvement. I hope you all will agree.

Also, I have an online appointment with a cover artist in a couple weeks. She is amazingly talented and I’m excited about working with her. Except . . . we all know how well I do with anything related to arts and crafts. Probably I should hurry up and finish the story before then. In case she decides to reduce me to ashes.

 

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A to Z Challenge: Reflections

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]The people behind the A to Z Challenge are asking participants to post their reflections on the month-long effort. What worked and what didn’t, what you liked, whether you’d do it again.

This was my first experience with this challenge. It might well be my last. That is not a reflection on the challenge itself or the way it was organized or whether it was worthwhile. All those things were great. It’s a reflection on the type of challenge I opted to tackle.

If you’re reading this, probably you know I decided to write a piece of fiction, a complete story, during this challenge. Yes, I am well aware of what a bad idea this was, and also experienced enough to know better. I had my reasons.

Someone asked in the comments about my process during the month. I replied that there was no process– it was sheer panic. That’s absolute truth.

I know a good deal about plot and story structure and pacing and character arcs and motivation and scene/sequel and genre expectations and . . . a thousand other things that make for good story. During this challenge, it felt like I took all those things and rather gleefully threw them out the window and just went at it. And left a huge mess to be cleaned up (working on it).

I’d write a post and get to the end and think, “Now what?” Or more accurately, “What were you even thinking here?”

When I wrote the first scene on the beach and there were bats flying in the dusky sky, I was pretty sure there was a cave. I mean, clearly, bats live in caves. But I had no idea when I mentioned those bats that there was also a dragon in the cave. And when I wrote the next scene in the dark of the cave, when I realized there was a dragon, I didn’t know anything about the dragon other than there was one. And it was much later when I realized they weren’t bats after all.

None of that was planned.

When I introduced the ermine character, I called him “Ermie” because I HATE naming characters. I wrote,

“He’s an ermine. Claims to be a royal prince of some country with a name we can’t pronounce, so we call him Ermie.”

I purposely made it ambiguous about whether it was the country or the ermine that had an unpronounceable name. And two weeks later, when Prince died and I realized what I’d written, I was stunned. Some things defy explanation. So I added a small tribute of my own toward the end of the letter V post and hoped it was subtle:

Her thoughts were interrupted when they arrived back at the cliff, where everyone greeted them with cheers and relief. Even Ermie was there, dashing rather frantically back and forth along the cliff edge, getting splashed by an occasional wave. He seemed to be watching Bubbie, now a mere speck on the horizon.

“Is he . . . turning purple around the edges?” Zoey asked.

Ferraro glanced at the ermine. “Only happens when he gets wet. You should see him when it rains.”

Sam diverted Zoey’s attention then, giving her a big hug. The girl was beside herself with excitement now that she knew Zoey was safe.

Most of the “magic” in the story wasn’t planned either. It came about because I’d written myself into a tight spot and in retrospect needed something to make sense. It was like writing an outline in reverse.

And when I wrote the scene where Ferraro tells Zoey to leave, I sat here shaking my head over how stupid that was. I mean, I’m telling a story solely from her point of view and I just ejected her from the story. It was insane. Who does this?

My daughter was reading along and would text me after reading each installment during her commute home from work. After that scene, she said:

DD: NO!!
DD: I do NOT approve!!

Me: What?

DD: You know what!!!!
DD: I suppose this is one way to tell that your story is having the desired effect on readers

Me: I’m delighted that you care about these made-up people!

DD: Sam better stand up to Mr Meanie-head

Me: Maybe Mr Meanie-head had his reasons…

DD: Like what?

Me: I have no idea.

And I honestly had no idea. I then had to come up with something that would not only explain his reaction, but that would not make him look like a total jerk and would also convince Zoey to stay.

Geez. Talk about pressure.

The entire story was full of situations like that where I just wrote my way into it and hoped for the best, trusted that I could make sense of it later. There was no way to go back and edit things after the fact or delete stuff that didn’t make sense or foreshadow anything.

As nightmarish as all that was, it wasn’t the truly scary part. The worst part was that I had no idea what came next. Several people commented on the cliffhanger aspect of the posts, said they couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Yeah, I was right there with you, wanting to know.

I did know, almost from the beginning, how it was going to end. I knew the “twist” ending, which was the premise for the story. And that helped. Except when I worried that people were going to hate it. I’m still worried that people hated it.

I almost always finished writing a scene with no idea of where things were going from there. No idea of how I’d resolve some ridiculous new problem I’d just created on the fly. I didn’t know from one day to the next whether I could salvage things or I’d have to just give up and say, “Sorry, everyone. I screwed up and can’t see how to fix it. There’s no more story.” It was terrifying and exhilarating, telling a story in real time, in public.

I have to say, this is perhaps not the best way to write a story.

Please note: No one over at A to Z suggested this was a good way to write fiction. That not-so-bright idea is all on me.

In terms of the A to Z Challenge, I can’t say I regret taking part. It was exhausting and terrifying and relentless. Never have I looked forward to Sundays with quite so much desperation. The writing wasn’t even the time-consuming part. It was the editing and polishing needed before posting. The constant focus and thinking: now what?

There were times the need to use an alphabetical prompt word was helpful. It added things to the story that might not otherwise have been there. Like the Chinese junk for J. And there were times it was truly inconvenient. Some of the letters were just difficult, especially since I was writing a story and the word had to fit in.

At times, it seemed like the month would never end, that I’d run out of story ideas long before the 30th. But toward the end, I discovered the opposite problem. There was too much story left and not enough time to do it justice. So, for those of you interested in reading the final version once I finish, don’t be surprised if the last half is significantly . . . expanded. And yes, there will be more dragon.

Looking back at the month, the effort served a purpose and was a great incentive for me at a time when I sorely needed it. I’m grateful for that. I am so damn glad I did it. Would I do it again? Too soon to say. Ask me again next year.

But strictly as a strategy for writing fiction? No. I can’t say using the A to Z Challenge is the best approach for writing a novel. Don’t do that. Unless, you know, you’re hopelessly stuck and doubting your abilities and on the verge of giving up on writing entirely. In that case, I highly recommend it.

 

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A to Z Challenge: Z

ZPart Z, the last in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

Zoey was drifting in the void, trying to hold on. She wasn’t ready to go, didn’t want it to be over.

She heard his voice calling her through the darkness and fought even harder not to let go. She didn’t want to leave this place. Not yet.

“Zoey love, are you all right?”

No, she wasn’t. She wasn’t ready for it to end.

“Zoey, c’mon. It’s okay, let go.”

She sighed and opened her eyes, giving in to the inevitable, and smiled up at the handsome familiar face leaning over her.

 

EDIT TO ADD:

This used to be a post containing 1750 words and the ending of a story. I’ve deleted almost all of those words for reasons I talk about HERE.

The TL;DR version is that I hated this rough draft ending and have changed it, drastically, in the expanded and edited version of the story I’m planning to self-publish. If you’re new to reading this blog and haven’t yet read the regrettable ending, I don’t want you to get that old version stuck in your head.

Tough decision, really tough, because it seems like a giant tease to delete it (even though it was available here for almost three weeks). But I’d rather do that than leave any more readers disappointed with an ending that just doesn’t work.

If you’d like to be notified via email when the revised story is available, you can sign up here for my mailing list.

 

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Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, just for fun

A to Z Challenge: Y

YPart Y, in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

Zoey vaulted over the edge and scrambled down the cliff, reaching Anton within seconds.

“Damn you, Ferraro, don’t be dead. I won’t forgive you.”

She checked his pulse and it was strong, he was still breathing. But he was out cold and his shoulder was bleeding. She felt around the back of his head and it was bloody, so he had a head wound. She hoped it was from the fall and not a bullet.

She pulled his shirt away from the shoulder wound. It was high, the bullet hadn’t hit bone.

She touched her comm unit, “Man down. Target taken. All report.” There was no reply. She repeated her command. Nothing. The thing was dead. She realized she hadn’t heard any chatter since before the scene in the library. Damn it. The kidnappers must be using jammers.

She hadn’t taken the time to get a replacement phone from Ferraro and was now regretting her oversight. She’d bet money those things couldn’t be jammed. She had to go after Sam, now, but couldn’t just leave Ferraro unconscious and oozing blood all over the beach. No telling when the next high tide might rush in.

She needed help. Even as she had the thought, she felt a hard shape in his shirt pocket. His phone.

Great, except it wasn’t programmed to work for her. She pulled it out anyway and brushed sand off the face. It was slightly larger than the one he’d given her, but also lighter weight. Then she frowned. There was a slight dent in the screen. From a bullet? If so, it had saved his life. What was the thing made of anyway?

She was absently running her finger over the dent, her mind racing through options, when the screen suddenly lit up. Was it a glitch of being hit or was it working?

“Call Benton,” she said. It chimed.

He answered. “Yes, sir.”

“It’s Zoey. Ferraro’s been shot. He’s unconscious, on the beach. They took Sam and I’m going after them.”

The man didn’t even blink. “Go. On my way.”

Zoey bent down and pressed a quick kiss to Ferraro’s forehead. “Don’t you dare die before I get back.” And then she ran to the beach shed.

She hoped someone had retrieved the jet ski and put it back inside. Apparently they had, but they’d also locked the door. And Zoey had no idea where the key was– probably at the bottom of the cove after her misadventure with the squid. She could break the window, but it was too small for even a child.

“Damn it,” she said, slamming her fist into the door. “I need a key.”

She heard a chime and looked down at the phone she still held. There was a small golden bar of light extending from one end, maybe an inch long. She stared at it. “No. There’s no way.” But she grabbed the lock with one hand and pushed the bar of light into it like a key.

The lock clicked and fell open. Either Ferraro’s phone was malfunctioning or– “Are you programmed to accept my commands?” she asked, not expecting an answer.

A message popped up on the screen: Yes, Ms. Prescott.

Well then. “We’re going to have a talk about this later, Ferraro,” she muttered under her breath, strapping his phone to her arm.

She pulled the jet ski over the sand and into the water, checking the charge meter as she raced over the cove in the dark. Just under twenty percent. She hoped it was enough.

She’d been up close with the huge white rocks and knew the jet ski wasn’t going to fit between them. They were more like a solid wall under the surface, no breaks. She could see the dark outline of a ship further out. She needed to get to it, fast, and it was too far from the rocks to swim.

The tide was high enough that the powerful motorized raft had skimmed between the tops of two boulders. She didn’t think the ski had that kind of power. She was going to have to jump and hope the landing didn’t destroy the machine. Or kill her.

She calculated the angle and velocity as she raced in a tight circle, creating a wake. Then she took a deep breath and headed full speed straight at the space between two rocks, lifting up with all her strength at the last minute, using the water as a springboard.

She cleared the rocks and shoved the ski to one side just before she hit the water, hard. Losing teeth on impact with the handlebars was not in her plan. She swam over and got back on the ski, ignoring the ache in her shoulder, racing toward the ship that was still anchored a ways out.

They’d had plenty of time to make way. Why weren’t they moving? Was there a problem with Sam? She’d been limp in the raft, so they’d either drugged her or knocked her out. Had they miscalculated and hurt her badly?

She came alongside and secured the ski as best she could, using a mooring line that hadn’t been coiled properly. Sloppy, she thought. These people might be deadly, but they were careless.

She quietly climbed over the rail and hid in shadows, listening to a small group of heavily armed men gathered several yards away, engaged in a heated argument.

“I say we take the easy money, same as always.”

“The client promised more, we just need to hide the girl. Couple weeks, he said.”

“I don’t trust him. Don’t seem right in the head.”

“Cap’n come around yet?” a third voice asked.

“Still out cold. That bastard Ferraro throws a mean punch.”

“I still say we sell her like the others. The sister offered a bonus.”

“Cap’n won’t like it. He made a deal with the brother,” said the third man. He almost sounded reasonable.

“Money’s money. I’ll take your share, you don’t want it.”

“His share of nothin’ ain’t going to buy you a single pint, idiot.”

Zoey clenched her fists, still furious about the cousins’ treachery. She hoped they killed each other and saved everyone the trouble.

It sounded like the argument wasn’t ending any time soon. She needed to find Sam and get her off the boat. She made her way across the deck and to the hatch, figuring the girl was being held below.

She paused at the bottom of the ladder, not sure where to start. It wasn’t a huge ship, but time was a factor. She heard a faint tapping and smiled. Morse code. Zoey was going to have to reconsider her stance that Sam spent too much time with lessons.

Sam had been dumped in a cramped storage room, gagged, her hands tied. Her eyes flashed with rage until she realized who had entered the space. Zoey saw the bruise and swore softly, but gave thanks the girl hadn’t been drugged.

Zoey quickly freed her, whispering to her to keep quiet.

Sam let out a small sob. “Zoey, I’m so scared. They were t-talking about s-selling me.”

“Shhh, Sam, it’s okay. I’m going to get you out of here.”

They made their way back on deck and Zoey lifted Sam over the rail and helped her onto the jet ski.

“Sam, you know this thing can only carry one of us.”

“I’ve never ridden one, Zoey.”

“It’s easy, I’ll show you. I want you to steer toward the big white rocks, okay? Wait there for help.” Zoey was certain her team wasn’t far behind at this point.

“What about you?” Sam’s voice was low but frantic.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. You can do this.”

Sam threw her arms around Zoey in a rather desperate hug. “You be careful,” she said, her voice all quavery.

“I always am,” Zoey reassured her. “Now get moving, nice and easy. You’ve got this.”

Zoey stood there watching for a few seconds, making sure Sam was underway. Then she climbed back up over the rail. She was going to sink this heap and every bastard on it.

The crew was still arguing, passing around a bottle of whisky now. A few were sounding a bit subdued, but a couple of them were getting more belligerent. She heard the voice of the third guy, trying to convince them to wait for the captain to come around.

Zoey made her way below, looking for anything she could use as fuel. She found what she was looking for in the hold. And then some.

Holy shit, she thought, staring at the crate full of automatic weapons she’d just opened. She opened another crate full of military grade explosives. This sure complicated things. Who were these guys?

If she had her team, they’d apprehend these idiots and recover the cargo. But she was on her own and didn’t have time for that. She unstrapped the phone from her arm. Best she could do was record the evidence before she destroyed it.

“Camera,” she whispered. The phone obliged and she took several shots. She hit “send,” hoping the images were going somewhere she could find them later.

Now she needed a detonator. She hadn’t seen any in the crates. Either these guys were too smart to store them with the explosives or too stupid to know how the stuff worked. Or their supplier was too clever to give them both. She’d bet on the latter.

She’d exhausted the possibilities and was thinking she’d have to load a couple of the guns and shoot her way out. Those odds weren’t in her favour, but it was looking like her only choice.

“I don’t suppose you have a handy detonator in there,” she murmured to the phone, only half kidding.

The screen lit up and a message appeared: You mean like this?

It flashed again and an image popped up. Zoey just stared, not sure at first she was really seeing what she thought she was seeing. How was this even possible? She touched the screen and two small metal prongs extended from the base of the phone, the screen changing to show a timing device.

“Ferraro, I’m falling hard for you here,” she whispered, and got to work. She paused just before she set the timer, realizing this option would destroy the phone.

Another message flashed, briefly, as if it read her mind: It’s just a phone. I have more.

Then the screen went back to showing the timer. Zoey gave a soft laugh and set it for two minutes, figuring that gave her enough time to get off the boat and away from the blast. Her finger was poised over the final screen to arm it when she heard a soft voice from behind her.

“Appreciate if you’d hold off on that, brat.”

She was so startled, her finger touched the screen.

“Alex,” she hissed, “what the hell are you doing?”

“Cleaning up a little inventory problem.”

“You’re on a fucking mission here?” she said, furious. “And you didn’t think I needed to know?”

“Classified,” he said, giving her a familiar cocky grin.

She swore under her breath. “I am going to kick your ass, sailor.”

“Did you just arm that thing?”

She nodded and looked at the screen. “One minute, fifty.”

“Plenty of time.”

“Did your guys get Sam?”

“Jake and Marcus have her.” He held up one hand, listening to an earpiece. “Roger that. Got a change of plans here, hoss. Ninety seconds and this thing blows. Get everyone clear in sixty. That means you too, Zach. Out.”

He reached over and ruffled her hair. She was going to kill him and then kick his ass.

“C’mon, brat,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

They came up on deck to the remnants of a fistfight. The bad guys were losing, but there were a few stragglers. Alex shoved a life jacket at her. “Put this on and stay behind me.”

“Oh please,” she mumbled, shrugging into it. Zoey turned in time to see bad guy number three coming up behind her brother. She laid him out with a kick behind the knees and had his combat knife in her hand before the guy knew what hit him.

“Jesus, Zoey,” said Alex, shaking his head. “He’s one of mine.”

The man levered up off the deck into a fighting stance and growled.

“Farley, you hit my sister, you’re a dead man. Time to go.”

Zoey grinned and tossed the knife back to Farley and the three of them took off, side by side, and went over the rail at a dead run.

She felt the first bullet hit the back of the life jacket. No problem, it hit at an angle and missed her. The second one grazed the back of her thigh and stung like a son of a bitch. The third hit her left biceps. That was going to be a problem.

She heard a stream of vicious curses from the men on either side of her just before they all hit the water. She let the momentum of the dive carry her a good distance and surfaced to the sight of flashlight beams searching the water, hard male voices calling her name. She gave a sharp whistle and, when the beams hit her, pointed at the boat and then her wrist. The count she’d been keeping in her head was ticking down.

She resumed swimming, hard and fast, away from the boat. Saw her brother’s team doing the same. She was tiring too quickly, slowing down, and knew she was losing blood. Damn it. She wasn’t far enough away.

She executed a shallow dive, fighting the life jacket’s buoyancy, and kept swimming. The blast came exactly when she knew it would, muffled through the water. She felt debris rain down around her and swam harder, holding her breath.

The next time she surfaced, she was fading fast. She paused, glanced back at the glowing wreckage and, in spite of her injuries, felt a huge rush of satisfaction wash over her. It was done.

All the bad guys had been exposed and defeated. Sam was safe. Anton was alive, she could feel it. Her brothers had backed her up, just like they’d been doing since the day the Prescotts took her in.

“Mission accomplished,” she said softly.

She drifted in and out of consciousness, bobbing in the waves, weightless and detached. She felt the warm glow of sea glass on her chest and heard the slow flapping of massive wings. She smiled as the magnificent dragon swooped down, claws extended, and then felt herself being plucked from the sea and soaring through the air.

She came to again on the hard black sand beach, people crowded around. She searched for the one face she wanted, needed to see. She had to tell him.

“Ms. Prescott. I would be most grateful, in future, if you would take care to avoid all these little problems.”

Oh, that wonderful voice.

“No more problems, Anton,” she managed, her voice weak. “Just an answer. Yes.

He lifted her gently, cradling her in his strong arms, his mouth close to her ear. His quietly fervent words for her alone. “With you, Zoey love, it’s always been yes.”

And then there was nothing but total blackness.

Y is for Yes

 

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