The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Two

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Two

Episode Two: She Only Sees What She Wants To See

When we last joined Moxie Sharpe she was wondering aloud if she had blood on her hand . . .

“How doth it smell? It holds the appearance of the sauce of the Turkey Leg.”

“I am not going to smell it,” said Moxie wrinkling her nose.

“Prithy, how doth it taste?”

“I am not going to taste it.”

“Shall I taste it for thee?”

“No. That’s gross.” Moxie lifted her fingers closer to her nose. It did smell like a sweet barbecue sauce.

Moxie rubbed her hand with her skirt then offered it to her companion. “Okay. Now that I don’t think this lute is a deadly weapon–Hi. I’m Moxie Sharpe.”

He did not take her hand. “Oh, you can call me Nettles as I am known by all in the realm. Simon Nettle is my given name, as was provided in your preparatory materials. I hope you are prepared. The parade piece is rather lively.”

“No worries. I’m a professional.” Moxie went back to tuning the lute.

“Moxie Sharpe is an unusual title. But it seems to be apropos. That A-string is certainly sharp.” He laughed at his joke.

Moxie’s jaw tightened as she held her tongue. She thought the name Nettles very fitting as well.

“My duty to the king extends beyond leader of the Midsummer Minstrels,” he said. “I am also her ladyship’s jeweler. I am the shaper and setter of semi-precious stones. I made the Queen’s crown and necklace. If e’er you want to add some sparkle to that glare of yours, I am at your beck and call. My servants run the booth betwixt the costumes and the hair braiders.”

Moxie ran a hand through her own hedgehog-esque coif while wondering how Nettles thought she could tune and listen to him at the same time.

“Oh, don’t worry. It’s cute. The pixie cut, right? Or is it elfin?”

Moxie’s jaw began to ache. She found herself wanting to slap someone for the second time this god-awful, early morning.

“I’ll leave you to your warm-ups then. Sir Ryan and Lady Megan will meet us at the parade line up in,” he pulled a small watch from his pocket, “twenty minutes. They will undoubtedly be sprinting and out of breath. They have a habit of barely making it, in all things. Don’t forget to take off your watch. Wouldn’t want to frighten the peasants with contraptions from the future.”

“No worries. I don’t wear a watch.”

“Then how wilst thou knowest when to line up for the parade?”

“It’s twenty minutes, dude. I can figure it out.”

“Perhaps I should tarry.”

“I think I’ll be more prepared if you leave.”

“Thus, I take my leave.” Nettles bowed and took his leave.

Moxie figured he was standing directly outside the plywood door, but at least he was no longer talking. She removed her music from the large manila envelope labeled “Midsummer Minstrels Parade Music” in Old English calligraphy. The other envelope, labeled “Midsummer Minstrels Joust Music”, she put on the music stand. As she did so, her fingers ran across something rough in the metal.

She took a closer look at the music stand. Something was scratched into the thick black rectangle (the music stands were probably “borrowed” from the local high school) but only enough to be felt and not seen. She traced her fingers over two letters S and N. She checked the other music stands. None of the others had any marks. This must be Simon’s, she thought. I wonder why the lute player was using it. I guess Simon didn’t want it anymore.

The four selections looked straight forward enough, a lot of A and D, simple repetitive lines. She wasn’t sure which one Nettles had referred to as the lively parade piece. They all looked like dirges to Moxie—not a thirty-second note in the lot. While playing through the liveliest looking bit for the second time, she noticed a very slight incorrect shape to one of the notes. Is this hand written? she thought, now that is obsessive behavior. Oh Nettles, you need to find yourself a ren-friend.

The entrance to the Kingdom of Scandium

Feeling confident the Minstrels wouldn’t be throwing her any musical curve balls, Moxie left for the parade. She opened the door slowly expecting to hit Nettles, but he was nowhere to be seen. The eerie silence of the joust field and lower theater worried her, so she quickened her pace. At the top of the hill she heard the rumbling of parade preparation and relaxed. Nettles waved from the front of the line near the fair entrance. It appeared that the Midsummer Minstrels played directly behind the King and Queen.

Nettles positioned her behind the King and then went back to his conversation with a jester lined up behind them. Moxie stared at the thick textured faux-gold pattern in the long train of the Queen’s gown and pretended not to listen to the heated argument in progress in front of her. Moxie couldn’t help but overhear the angry whispers between the Lord and Lady.

“You can’t keep doing this,” said the Queen. “People don’t respect you or your IOUs in the real world. When they catch up to you, we could all be out on our asses or worse.”

“What the hell do you expect me to do? We’re all in too deep,” said the King.

“You could at least pay closer attention to who you take behind the castle for a little grab-ass. The woods aren’t sound-proof you know.”

“Yeah, I really messed up this time.”

“This time?”

“The show must go on. We’ll talk about this later. No one can hear us once the joust starts. Here we go.”

At that moment people began to stream in the front gate. Suddenly Moxie heard panting. As Nettles predicted, Ryan and Megan barely made it. They didn’t have time to introduce themselves before Nettles said, “One two three, four five six,” and the Midsummer Minstrels started into the “lively” parade music.

Moxie felt incredibly clumsy at first. Playing the lute was bizarre enough, but walking in a long skirt, on uneven ground, while stumbling through new music, was hazardous. She felt she was getting the hang of it when she had played through the melody a couple of times, so she looked up and saw the costume dresser smiling at her. She smiled back.

She heard a scream and turned her head just in time to see Megan falling forward onto the Queen. Megan had stepped on the train of the Queen’s gown causing the Queen to choke and then fall. Moxie bumped into the back of the King. Ryan grabbed her arm in an attempt to stop his own fall and pulled her to the ground. Moxie instinctually held the lute above her head. Luckily, the people behind her were able to stop in time to avoid a catastrophe.

During the commotion, Moxie saw something glimmer through the dust cloud. She thought she saw Megan rush forward and grab the Queen’s necklace and crown and hand them off to Ryan. Nettles had said they were semi-precious stones; they must be worth a lot of money. But when the dust settled, Ryan was helping Megan up from the ground. The Queen stood, dusted herself off and straightened her crown and necklace.

What in the world just happened? Moxie thought.

“One two three, four five six,” said Nettles.

Moxie plucked the strings of the lute and the parade continued its path to the joust.

It seems there’s something sinister happening in the Kingdom of Scandium. Was Moxie seeing things? What were the King and Queen fighting about? What has Pearl gotten Moxie into? Tune in next week for the electrifying continuation of Moxie’s startling, amazing and weird misadventure!

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The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode One

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe serial banner

Episode One

She Only Hears What She Wants to Hear

 

Moxie Sharpe felt increasingly uncomfortable as a young costumer pushed and prodded her breasts into the highest possible cleavage while tightening laces through each layer of metal holes. Pearl had messed up before, but this time was the worst.

“Take a deep breath.” The girl grabbed her reigns and yanked.

“You know I’m going to slap you once I figure out what the hell is going on,” said Moxie.

“Now I do,” she said. “Usually, this is why women pay for this costume. I’m just doing my job. Enjoy the faire, me lady.” She curtsied.

Moxie saw herself in the mirror. Damn, that girl knew how to make cleavage. “Sorry,” she said as the girl strangled her with a large necklace and handed her a claim check.

“You can keep the costume, but we have your clothes and we know where you live,” she said.

The script did not move the costumed.

The dresser whispered, “I know who you are. You are Moxie Sharpe. Would you sign my hands? Like, ‘These touched Moxie Sharpe’. Here’s a marker. I won’t tell. I mean, I will, I won’t be able to help it if you sign my hands.”

This costume rental comp didn’t make up for anything. After signing the girl’s hands, Moxie left the building cursing Pearl, human beings in general, life on any planet, the universe, and skirts. She was not costumed for the show she was prepared for and she did not walk into the world she knew. She especially did not walk into Scandrum–The largest rally for all motorcycle enthusiasts, not to be confused with Scandium the largest medieval larping excursion.

It is a fact that renaissance fairs, if well costumed, are all about great boobs and cleavage, so the pawing was not what upset Moxie. Moxie was upset because she was at a renaissance fair. When Pauline Pearl, Moxie’s mentor and seriously overworked agent, said Moxie was going to play Scandrum, Moxie jumped at the chance. She had dreamed about being the headliner at Scandrum since she was tall enough to compete in the bike-o-lympics. Her dad had taken her to the annual rally every year when she was little and she continued to go even after he split. She believed one day she would run into him and he would explain why he left without saying good-bye. She thought he would congratulate her the first time she won the bike-o-lympics, or maybe the fifth time. Now, up on the huge stage, he would have to see her. And how could he not be proud? Sure, she was only a stand in—The bass player for Sex With Helmets had crashed his Harley through the wall of the Wild Boar Saloon just three days before the largest gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in the country. It had been all over the news—but it didn’t matter how she got there. It was the big show.

Moxie would have known something was wrong if she had looked at the music when it was sent over, but she knew Sex With Helmet’s set list. The bass player liked to bang away on open strings which made stepping in a breeze. This was important since he was also accident prone. Before this latest crash, she had stepped in when he had drunkenly stumbled into a bull and then again when he accidentally took a dangerous cocktail of controlled substances and tried out his new gliding suit. His foray into urban skydiving chipped some bricks in a downtown building and his front tooth. Luckily, the band name was a reference to the fact that he always wore a helmet. He never took it off.

Moxie also might have known something was wrong if she had been asked to provide her own instrument, or organize her accommodations, but Pearl had taken care of absolutely everything for Moxie since her first band hit the charts when she was sixteen. Moxie finally noticed something was wrong when Pearl sent a car without a trailer for her bike. Pearl explained that the misunderstanding wasn’t completely her fault when Moxie finally got her on the phone.

“I never said you were playing Scandrum. I got you the gig at Scandium before Sex With Helmets called about their unfortunate accident. I was having trouble finding you anything and then this job fell in our lap. The lute player for The—”

“Did you say lute?”

“Yes, the lute player for The Midsummer Minstrels had mysteriously vanished the Tuesday before opening weekend. They were desperate for an emergency replacement. And you seemed so excited when I called. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by how happy you were.”

“Pearl, I don’t play the lute. Why would you take that gig. Can’t we back out and get Scandrum. I want Scandrum.”

“No. They already went with Shayla. Besides, you always tell me you can play anything with strings. A lute has strings, right? I’m really asking. A lute’s kinda like a mandolin, right?”

“Yes, Pearl. But that doesn’t make this any better.”

“You’ll be fine. Plus, that lute player might show up and you can come home. You get paid either way. It’s a cushy gig. And you love camping.”

“Camping?”

“Yes, a big fancy tent set up on pallets in the woods. It will be magical. You might even meet a wood nymph. Who knows? There could be mini-dragons.”

“You are nuts Pearl. You know that? Fine, but I’ll need a couple rehearsals.”

“The fair opens tomorrow early.” She hung up.

Pearl was known to get confused sometimes. And shiny things like motorcycles and knights in shining armor can be incredibly distracting. But Moxie had to admit she might have heard what she wanted to hear.

Moxie couldn’t get a full breath without the bodice biting into her ribs. Despite her discomfort and devastating disappointment, Moxie was surprised to feel a little excited. She wasn’t sure if she was lightheaded from lack of oxygen or if it was the bright sunlight slanting through the thick green trees combined with the dust kicked up as she walked the sawdust covered path, but she felt a little dizzy in a good way. She passed the wenches setting up their food booths along the center path and the fool setting up his slack rope at the small theater as she continued down the hill to the joust field.

The moment she reached the bottom of the hill, her nose stung and her eyes watered, her senses overcome by sweaty horse and man. She covered her nose and mouth and ran around the jousting field to the faux castle at the far side. At the back of the plywood building she gasped for air and was rewarded with the fresh scent of pine.

“Good morrow, me lady,” said a man holding the door open and beckoning her inside.

I guess my character will be mute, thought Moxie, because I am not going to talk like that.

“You must be Sir Gerald’s replacement. He’s been amiss these four days. Your lute awaits. Follow me.” He beckoned and Moxie followed.

The Midsummer Minstrels’ main job, he explained, was to entertain the king and queen during the joust, once mid-morning and once in the afternoon. They were also part of the parade in the morning and evening. Moxie was sure she would be fine during the jousts because she could read the music, but during the parades she would really be winging it.

Moxie should have known she couldn’t be mute, not even for a minute, she was too curious. “What do you think happened to Sir Gerald?” she asked.

“I assuredly do not know. Though his eye doth wandereth upon the wenches.”

“Hey, man. Can you cut the crap. The show hasn’t started.”

Moxie’s companion looked shocked. “One should express oneself in language of the day every moment one is upon the grounds.”

“Wow. My bad,” said Moxie. She sat down and picked up the lute.

The instrument was badly out of tune. The first tuning peg felt gritty and sticky. She slowly let go and looked at her fingers then held them up. “Is this blood?” she said.

What happened to the lute player? Is there something sinister lurking in the forest? Can Moxie play the lute? Tune in next week for another pulse-pounding episode of daring misadventure.

Read to Write: Conflict and Suspense

Studying conflict and suspense

My selection of books to study conflict and suspense

Improve your writing while you read

Experience Writing is all about bringing you along on the roller-coaster of my writing life. Changing my focus from my writing life to yours means I need to let you in on my plans, so you can join me, right? To do that, I typed up my plan of action for studying conflict and suspense.

Plan of attack

I consulted my notes from several books on writing and laid out a plan of questions and exercises to explore while reading a selection of novels. I included identifying conflict in character, setting, dialogue, and story beats. Each section includes exercises to apply to our writing. If you would like to join me on my quest for knowledge, or are curious to see what I came up with, you can download my action plan.

I want it button

 

Poll results show you like book reviews, so

For a quick primer on writing conflict and suspense, I recommend:

conflict and suspenes

The ideas are clear and well explained with many useful examples and exercises. I like the idea of creating a personal actors stable to audition for your characters, but did not include it in my study plan as I didn’t see that helping me with my study of suspense. I created a different character conflict chart for our action plan.

Please let me know what you think. If we find the exercise satisfying and worthwhile, I can imagine creating this type of Read to Write action plan for many aspects of writing.

Don’t forget to tune in on Sunday for the first episode of The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe. I’m excited to see what Moxie gets into. Oh, the suspense!

 

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe: Conflict and Suspense in Practice

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe serial banner

 

My current area of interest is conflict and suspense. How do I write scene after exciting scene to keep my readers turning pages?

I realize that to become a better writer, I can’t just read about writing suspense and read suspense novels, I need to write using the techniques I learn.

So, for our enjoyment, starting next Sunday afternoon I will be writing a weekly serial called The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe. Each Sunday I will post a new installment of Moxie’s story with all the conflict and suspense I can muster and cliff-hangers to keep you coming back for more.

For inspiration, I spent some time on archive.org checking out the great trailers for the old serials like Radar Men from the Moon, Zorro, and Mysterious Doctor Satan. If I manage to apply my studies and follow their example, you can look forward to:

Moxie Sharpe in a punch-packed, lightning-paced, sensational adventure of world-shaking importance. She will dazzle and surprise and her courage will thrill and chill. Each episode will be filled with pulse-pounding, jet-propelled excitement. And as Moxie’s electrifying, explosive adventures unfold, we’ll have a lot of fun and hopefully learn something about writing page turners.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Experience Writing Newsletter. I filled up this first one with useful information and techniques for getting to know your readers. You also get a free conflict and suspense study plan!

I want it button

I am planning a detailed explanation of my Read to Write: Suspense, Conflict and Tension study on Wednesday.

Oh, I can’t wait! The suspense is killing me! Right?

Conflict, suspense,tension: Keep readers reading

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Build tension within and between your characters. What do the three minor birds (characters) have against the lead bird? Are they ganging up for an attack, or is the lead about to turn and show her dominance? Every second they swim closer, the tension builds.

 

What keeps readers’ eyes on the page? What makes a book that you can’t put down?

These are the questions I’m exploring to start the year. It’s an important topic so I’ll be covering different aspects each week this month. As usual, I’m reading, watching, and listening to everything on the subject. I am also using my notes from Story by Robert McKee and Elements of Fiction Writing:Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell. If you have suggestions of other books and posts on the subject, please let us (me and other readers) know in the comments.

According to Robert McKee, a story is a design in five parts:

  • an inciting incident
  • progressive complications
  • crisis
  • climax
  • resolution

Four out of the five parts scream conflict to me. So, how do we come up with all this conflict?

Before you even think about plot, scenes, action, or dialogue, you can create tension and conflict within and between your characters.

Think about yourself and your close friends. Think of a moment when you thought wow, I’m a hypocrite, or s/he’s a hypocrite. Why do you think that? Usually, it’s because you, or someone you know, does something that they say they will never do or complain when others do it. These don’t have to be major events like murder or joining a cult, but by the time we’re done learning about conflict and suspense, they probably will be.

Those times that you accuse yourself or others of hypocrisy, you are perceiving dual nature. It’s what makes for well rounded characters and also creates inner conflict.

 

For instance:

A performer who has social phobia and gets sick before every show.

A person completely against standardized testing in schools who takes a job scoring and later teaching others how to score standardized tests.

A developer who says we need more trees for clean air and people need space and privacy for mental health.

 

You get the picture. Why would people do things that make them sick? Why would people take jobs that are completely against their values? Why do people say one thing and do the exact opposite? It happens every second of every day and it is conflict–the stuff that readers can’t put down.

Try this exercise by James Scott Bell:

Create a background for your character that is in conflict with his/her current social setting. His version was cliche, but when I applied it to my work in progress, it made sense.

 

You can’t help but put yourself in your writing and reading, so why not start with you?

Here are a couple of James Scott Bell’s exercises (with my little additions):

1.What issues in life really make you mad?

Make a list

Choose the most important and write about the issue from both sides (like you’re in debate class). It’s hard, but that’s the point. Get outside of yourself and put yourself in the opponent’s shoes.

2.Make a list of the ten things you care about most.

Write a paragraph or two about why these things matter to you.

Now write from the perspective of someone who is opposed to these things, or stopping you from doing these things.

I was going to finish this up with a chart and a poll, but it published itself when I thought I was saving it as a draft.

So happy writing and I’ll write more about conflict and suspense next week.

Please sign up for my Newsletter (If you have signed up, check your junk mail for the confirmation letter). I’ve put in a lot of juicy information about getting to know your reader.