#WriterinMotion: The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

rahul-pandit-CDrP01O2n-w-unsplash resized

I thought I would keep writing about process and tools for the rest of the week, but once I let my character’s speak, the draft consumed. It’s long and could be much longer. I see this idea like a House of Sand and Fog meets child services and the now of crazy, but it’s just a tiny draft of a story that I will need to find a pearl in if I will get it down to 1,000 words next week. Some strange and unexpected things happened during the draft and I look forward to hearing what people think. This is a very rough draft. Please keep that in mind. Here it is:

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot (first draft)

I had never seen a man’s face change so quickly. When he finally opened the door, only wide enough to step one foot over the threshold, completely blocking our view inside, the turquoise hills reflected in his bright eyes and the morning sun glistened playfully on his lips. He was still laughing at something his son had said. I could smell fresh herbs and fried oil. I imagined his son at a small roughly-hewn table, his small hand still not completely in command of the fork, dropping bits of wilted greens and chips of roots and bark as he tried to shovel them to his mouth inside that one gray room.
The man stopped laughing when he saw Josette with her clipboard held like a shield, large soft-sided briefcase on a long strap slung across her chest. Then he saw me and the sun on his face was blocked by cloud-shadow, darkening with a raging storm.
“You he said,” pointing a grimy finger at me. “I thought I told you to stay off my land. What are you doing back here? These are not the herbs you’re looking for,” he said making an odd gesture with his hand. Then, he slammed the door.
I could hear him banging pots and talking softly with his son.
“Who is it, Daddy?”
“Just that rude trespasser from the other day. Let’s tidy up. Then we’ll go play outside.”
Josette turned and looked up at me. She scowled. “Rude trespasser?”
I must have flushed. I wasn’t feeling as sure of myself as I had been last week when I called her office. “I t-told you,” I stammered. “I discovered the situation while I was out collecting herbs for my shop. I didn’t know anyone was living here. I was quite surprised.”
Josette had a way of sounding very condescending without even saying a word. “No, really. I saw those white flowers from the trail, back there.” I turned and pointed, but Josette didn’t turn. “Anyway, they are actually a flat blade fern, acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. It has medicinal properties. The trees over there, green ash, you can make a tea from the leaves that are also medicinal.”
“Yeah, what do you cure with these ‘medicines’?”
I got the feeling Josette was mad at me. Something had changed since we had a nice coffee in town this morning. “Me? I’m not a physician. But my remedies do help with all sorts of aches and pains, fatigue, swelling, infections. Lots of things.”
“Right. Well, now I have a job to do.”
Josette had appeared plenty glad she had brought me along when I showed her the tiny dirt road her small SUV bumped and swerved along, windows slapped by brush and branches. “How far out here is this place?” she had said. She seemed delighted when I pointed out a good shady spot to leave the car where it wouldn’t be seen. “Wow, this place is even more wild than I imagined,” she said, “How can someone live out here?” She also acted quite pleased when I directed her past the red shutters–paint peeling, and seeping into the once lemon-yellow walls along with the black sill paint, running along the mold and moss covered walls creating deep orange hues as well as if that hole meant for seeing out had become a festering sore of blood and rot—around the short side of the small rectangle to the steep side with the view of the turquoise mountains and the small, wood-slat door, its gapes showing a tapestry or old carpet hanging behind it. “This is no place for a child. You were right to call me,” she said. But now, since she saw the man and heard the child, I got the distinct feeling she wished she hadn’t brought me along.
She balled her wide, dark hand and hammered the fragile blockade, but it barely made any noise as it was not secured firmly and did not resist her touch.
“What?” the man yelled like an axe hitting a tree trunk.
Josette used a voice I hadn’t heard before, deeper, very formal, calm. “Mr. Palmberg? Mr. Eugene Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. I’m here on official business from child protective services. I am here to evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”
“Are you kidding me, lady? You sicked social services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” Eugene’s voice had changed as well. His was higher, tight like a rubber-band pulled to its limit.
I started to say I only want what’s best for the child, but Josette raised her creamy, deeply-lined palm in front of my face.
“Mr. Palmberg, it will be best for everyone if you take a deep breath and open the door.”
My pulse began racing. She had some brass telling that man to take a breath. I half expected him to roar out of there with a raised axe, or to just poke the barrel of a shotgun through one of the gaps in the door. The curse of a vivid imagination, I jumped an inch off the dirt when I heard him undo the latch.
He pulled the door in slowly. The worn carpet draped over the top of the wood creating a canopy over the dew on Josette’s bald head. I had to duck into the dark room. I reached out to the wall to steady myself, cool and clammy like entering a cave. I couldn’t see anything, but heard scratching, scuttling, clawing sounds. I imagined a bear or a mountain lion at the back of this cave. Suddenly, I saw a square of light on the floor in front of me and lines and shapes grew out of the darkness.
“That’s Horace,” he was saying. He’s a sweet, old things. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, apparently, but Ely adores him.”
He had opened the shutters letting lots of light into the room and the sound I had heard was a dog, just a dog. Josette was seated on a cute carved settee with pumpernickel and coffee striped upholstery. Somehow she already had a cup of tea in what looked like a toile china pattern.
“Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”
“Alyssum? Hi, I’m Eugene. We’ve never properly met. Can I get you some water? It’s stream water, I boil it and let it cool. It’s really tasty. Or I have green ash tea. That should make you feel better.”
The man suddenly sounded like some sort of gentleman out of the historical fictions I like to read. Okay, I wasn’t thinking historical fiction, I was thinking about the romance novel and noticed how tanned and muscular his arms were.
“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Nice to meet you. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said. I don’t know why I thought to tell him my last name, like he would know my family or people I knew, like somehow that explained me; I guess I wanted to sound professional too. I sat heavily next to Josette.
This whole trip I hadn’t noticed how nice Josette smelled, like baby powder and jasmine, fresh like lemongrass but with the lovely calming sweetness of orange blossoms. You would think, with my nose for herbs, I would have noticed it right away, but coffee is pungent and then I was so focused on getting here and making sure the man got what he deserved for being so ferocious and mean, I mean making sure the boy was safe.
He handed me a lovely tea cup. I admired the indigo images of children fishing and playing on white, white china background. It looked so ordered, so clean and somehow, by some twisted juxtaposition of fate and devastation, it was here, at home here in this hovel. I looked up. He was watching me, seated across from me. He didn’t look angry; he looked sad, searching.
“Eugene was just telling me about all the work he’s been doing on his grandfather’s property, since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known. “His wife was wealthy. He signed a pre-nup. She ran off with an even richer lover who didn’t want his son. This is all he has left.”
The dog put its head in my crotch. It made me think of how I smelled when I was sweaty, and made me incredibly uncomfortable when Eugene smiled.
“He likes you,” he said.
I tried to make it look like I was petting him as I pushed him toward Josette. “Nice doggy,” I said.
Josette, legs closed, pet Horace who pushed me aside to place his head on her thigh. I sat pinched against the arm of the chair as she said, “I wish this had never happened, but since this situation was brought to my attention and paperwork has been filed, I’m afraid you’re in the system. I’ll make sure I’m assigned to your case for all future visits and we’ll make sure to check all the boxes as we go. As long as you keep up improvements and Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school and gets regular check-ups—I’ll make sure you have all the lists of expectations—
“But,” Eugene tried to interject.
“And we’ll be contacting all of your character references and other living relatives—”
“I’m sure there won’t be any problems, as long as you can prove that you can provide a stable home, which—”
“Josette, stop. I don’t want to be in the system. I don’t want to be checked on and mandated and commanded and timetabled. Can’t you see that Ely and I are finally making our own system that works. I thought I would home school him for a while, let him learn from nature, from the land, have a more traditional upbringing.”
I didn’t think Josette could turn red, but she definitely flushed. “Traditional? You think living away from everyone but you and having to eat weeds and bark is his tradition?”
“Bark? I mean—”
Josette jumped off the settee, startling the dog and me. The dog ran over to Eugene who had pushed back in his chair. I got up and took my tea cup to the plastic basin that served as a sink and watched from a still uncomfortable distance. Her voice had changed again, higher, faster; I could see her diaphragm pumping. Her words clicked against her teeth making me wonder if she had a tongue ring like my girlfriend in college, making we wonder about her in a way I hadn’t before.
“You mean? What could you mean? You go from mansion to hut and suddenly you are Native American? You’re a share cropper? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and I felt the smallest, the most worthless I had ever felt. How did my good intentions turn so ugly. I had heard that saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I thought that was only for corrupt politicians, not me, not these good intentioned people.
“Uh, Josette, I think I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged this man and his situation mostly on the paint on his house and the nature of his land. That’s my fault. He’s not causing any harm and his son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”
Josette turned on me, a rage in her eyes. “This is my job. You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove to let you yellow and turn me into a failure. You started this, but it is so far from your hands now, you will never see it end. “
She spun back on Eugene. “You are now, and will always be under my thumb. I’ll teach you tradition. Your tradition is reporting to me. Your tradition is having supervised visits. Your tradition is visiting your lawyer. Your—”
Horace barked.
“Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound just like Mommy.”
The tiny body in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face. I had wondered where he was. How did he get outside? I wondered if he crawled out the window when the shutters opened, or if there was another entrance to his cave. Josette used a new voice. This woman had many voices. I thought about the time my mom told me I had many voices when I talked to her. It scared me, like I might not be who I thought I was. Josette’s new voice was strangely sweet, subtle, but with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside.
“Hello, you must be Ely,” she said. “Nice to meet you. I was just having a nice conversation with your dad about how happy you are here. Are you happy here?”
Ely stomped his foot. “You’re a liar. I don’t like liars. Quit lying to me. Dad tells me the truth. He didn’t choose this, but he loves me. Go away!” Ely turned around and ran back outside.
Josette whirled back on Eugene. “There. Do you see what your idea of tradition has done to that child?”
Eugene took a big breath and smiled. His voice changed. It was deeper. It resonated. It was warm and full. “Yes. He’s so beautiful. We had to go through a lot of rejection and neglect to get where we are. Part of that beautiful boy had to grow up quickly facing the hurt his own mother poured on us, but that little brilliant soul is finding peace here and is going to get to be a kid. He’s going to play and feel loved and appreciated and protected.”
He turned, stepped toward me and I backed toward the door. He opened his palms to me. “Don’t be scared. I’m not mad. I want to thank you. I was so frustrated and full of anger, I took it out on the first person I thought had crossed a boundary, but I get the whole “forgive me my tresspasses thing.” I want to forgive you. You helped me see how important making this a home is for me and Ely. I was so involved with my own hurt, I stopped believing I could trust anyone to help us, but I had blinders on. So thank you.
Josette was on me. She pushed my shoulder. “We’re leaving.” She pushed me out the door.
I couldn’t stop staring at him. He had such a peaceful look on his face. I wish I had understood.


How to write the point of no return #NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 6


Day 6 (2017) is The Point of No Return

My protagonist definitely wants to refuse his call to adventure. How will he try to wriggle his way out of a request from the police? I highly recommend working through today’s prompts. They inspired me to explore new areas of character development.

#vss365: trim
He had feared this call would come, but trimming the budget wasn’t as bad as losing the job all together. He would have to lose the new hires, but where else could he cut corners? In this business, if he cut the corners too sharply, someone could die.

Today’s Simple Task

Show your Main Character’s greatest weakness. Put him or her in a moral dilemma.

What is Kirk’s biggest weakness? The guilt he feels over his brother’s accident? Or is there something else?

Warm-up Exercise

Set your timer for 10 minutes. Write about the last thing your character would ever want to do. Then write a scene forcing your character to do the last thing they would ever want to do. – inspired by prompt from Josie (NaNo poster)

This is a great prompt for me today. The last thing my character would ever want to do is set foot on the property where he grew up, but that is exactly what he has to do.


Word Of The Day

quixotic: adj. extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable. 2. impulsive and often rashly unpredictable.

His movements appeared quixotic, but he was controlling his world.

8 Action Verbs:

Receiving the coroner’s report, didn’t add much new information, but it finally activated an official murder investigation.

Shawna felt he was telling the truth, but his answers were stilted, calculated. He was leaving something out.

Kirk appeared to have contracted something flu-like on the plane. His throat was burning. Until he could get some throat lozenges, he was sucking down breath mints.

He had often wished life could be edited.

Her questions guided him closer to the dark place he didn’t want to face.

She lobbied for more time, but the sheriff was ready to move on. “Wrap it up,” he said.

She told herself if she could just hold on until he retired, she would finally get promoted.

They shared a history, but their memories of those times couldn’t be more disparate.

Awesome Sentence Challenge

Explore connotations: Choose a word (may I suggest one of the active verbs or the word of the day) and look it up in your thesaurus (thesaurus.com). Pick one synonym that has positive connotations and choose one that has negative connotations and write a sentence for each one. Read the sentences aloud. Do the particular connotations of your chosen word influence how you write the rest of the sentence?

I chose contracted because it has a lot of different, interesting meanings.

As they tore down all of the trees and developed every acre of land, they forgot to widen the roads.
His thoughts were disordered. He had trouble putting events in a timeline that worked with  his reality.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey:

I didn’t get to my refusal scene yesterday, so I’m going to explore the refusal again.

The refusal card: Strength
MC’s biggest fear about the Call to Adventure: Five of swords
The responsibilities that can’t be abandoned. It is why he can’t refuse: Six of wands

My interpretation: My MC’s refusal is rooted in his idea that he has overcome his inner challenges and obstacles and found his inner strength. He fears facing what he left behind and worries he will find conflict, hostility and aggression awaiting him. But he can’t refuse his call to adventure because he has found strength and is confident and proud of what he has become. He needs to face where he came from to completely win his battles.

Because my example from 2017 went off-book, I went back to the book and took a look at the Refusal section. There, I took a look at the Story Template and decided to fill it in. Here’s what I have so far:

My hero, Kirk Bumke, started out in a world represented by the four of coins. Now he has been called to adventure by the five of wands. But he refuses because he doesn’t want his fortunes to change. He has finally overcome his challenges and found his inner strength. The worst thing that could happen if he goes is he could lose the natural gifts he has used to tame his world . The worst thing that could happen if he doesn’t go is his past could come back to bite him.

Happy Writing!

I hope you find some inspiration in these exercises. See you tomorrow.

#NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 4: Exploring the antagonist

What is that shiny liquid

This morning, because my story is about an abandoned property, I had some fun taking pictures of settings and things that make me say: What is that and what is that for? Like above: What is that pan for and what is that shiny liquid and what is that random hose for? If these objects were described in my story, how could they be used by my characters later on?

Changing things up

Yesterday, I enjoyed doing all the sentence exercises. I put them straight into my draft and figured I would write around them. That did not go exactly as I thought it would. It actually took extra time to reorganize things, extra time that took away from writing, so I’m going to approach this a little differently.

First, I’m reorganizing the prompts. I know me, I get started and then get side-tracked, so I’m going to start with the main prompts: Today’s simple task and the Warm-up Exercise.

I try to do Morning Pages (inspired by The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron)  in my journal every day, and I tend to come up with new ideas more readily when I’m writing by hand, so I’ll combine these prompts and my morning pages to use my time efficiently. Then, with my scenes for the day already started, I can move on to the sentence exercises and hopefully focus them toward today’s efforts instead of all over the story like I did yesterday.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey isn’t as interesting to me this year because I already have a pretty good outline, so I’ll move it down to the bottom of the list. I may still find unexpected ideas in the cards.

So here’s day 4, starting with another exploratory image:

What is that chicken soup can for

What is that can? Chicken soup? What is it doing there hanging out with a short piece of PVC and some great gnarly branches?

Day 4 2017 is the antagonist’s call to adventure. Set-up, catalyst, debate.

My antagonist’s call to adventure is the discovery, but also that his brother has come back to town.

I like the idea that my antagonist would keep a detailed journal and that his brother finds it.

#vss365: crop

He was startled by voices and gravel-kicking footsteps. He hid behind the shed. A new crop of the morbidly curious had arrived, phones out, talking, but not to each other.

Today’s Simple Task

Show antagonist’s goals, needs and desires.

I started listing my antagonist’s goals, needs and desires and ended up writing a very important scene that defines my antagonist’s behavior. This was a great exercise.

Warm-up Exercise

Set your timer to 20 minutes. Write a scene where your protagonist and antagonist share a meal. – from Anna C. (NaNoWriMo poster)

I’ve written this scene in all of my novels which makes sense because my protagonists and antagonists tend to be in the same family unit. Today’s meal is going to be different, however. I’m thinking fast food in a car.

Word of the day: After the accident, his temperament completely changed. He became bellicose, angry at the smallest perceived slights.

Action verbs:

What had he truly achieved by running away? He could have made commercials here. He might have even found real director’s work across the border. No he had achieved stability, sanity, the bit of normalcy he had always longed for.

Kirk hadn’t budgeted for an over-priced plane ticket and an extended stay, but he would have the pay for the last commercial when he got back, so a little debt wouldn’t hurt.

The last time Oren had contacted him, he had begged him to come home. He had said something about finally defeating the shadow man, so now he could come back. Kirk had blocked the number even though it was probably not Oren’s phone.

Oren had documented everything. Kirk could see that now, but it was some sort of visual, personal language he couldn’t decipher. He would need Oren for that.

He governed his temper, but Kirk could see anger boiling behind his eyes.

He listened. This time, he listened. But he didn’t hear anything new.

She processed his story like an inspector on a factory floor, diving in to pull out the flaws before they passed by on the conveyor belt.

He could see now that he had served a purpose in the family and when he left, he broke it. It couldn’t work anymore. Not even for one day.

Awesome sentence challenge: Sentences do four things

  1. Make a statement:declarative sentences
  2. Ask a question: interrogative sentences
  3. Make a command:imperative sentences
  4. Make an exclamation: exclamatory sentences!

Let’s explore this a bit. I’m going to start simply then try to expand on the idea. A basic statement: The water was shut off while they still lived there. His parents didn’t seem to care. They sent him to the lake to fill the tubs twice a day. First, simple.

  1. The water company shut off the water.
  2. Did the water company shut off the water?
  3. Pay your bill or we’ll shut off the water.
  4. Shut it off!

Now, instead of using the same sentence concept, let’s try them in a series to get the whole idea across.

  1. Oren was used to not having running water.
  2. How did he get water to drink and bathe?
  3. Stop prying into our business.
  4. Answer the question!

I’m finding the difference between the command and the exclamation a bit thin. So I went over to Grammar Revolution and did a refresher. So I think my exclamations were actually commands. The noun is the understood you. In the first set I could exclaim, “I want hot water!” and in the second example I could exclaim, “How rude!”

Let’s try one more in a series:

  1. His parents didn’t care that the water was shut off.
  2. Were they insane?
  3. Go fill up the tubs in the lake.
  4. I hate cold water in the morning!

Though I would need more declarative sentences to turn those into paragraphs, it is a good exercise in varying ways of getting an idea across. Using commands and exclamations is also a good way to show emotion instead of telling it.

Word Crawls

Today I thought I would do a Word Crawl. Sadly, when I clicked on my link to Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Crawl, it went to an error page. The new NaNoWriMo site did not preserve the old forum topics, and that particular one does not appear to have made it to the wiki either. That got me thinking about creating personal word crawls. I need crawls that get me moving during breaks and crawls that get me practicing and working on my sewing projects, so I may try my hand at creating a couple word crawls this month.

Until then, I chose a new one to try: The Hunt for your Muse

Mapping the Hero’s Journey:

Call to Adventure: Judgement

What is happening when the call comes or your MC’s goal before the Call to Adventure:  Nine of cups

Why your MC would consider the Call to Adventure: The Hierophant

My interpretation: This reading works for my antagonist’s call to adventure. He thought he had conquered his demons and moved on, but then the family secret is found and he believes he will face final judgement. He considers his call to adventure as a sacred quest to defeat an evil presence that has resurfaced. He may have a confused history with religious symbolism that could come up in his journals.

Preparing for editing along the way:

I mentioned filling out the scene cards as we go. Today, I thought about filling in the Story Grid (by Shawn Coyne) as we go as well. I already have a Story Grid spreadsheet. I can take a minute to fill in each scene I finish. How great will it be to have a finished spreadsheet to glance over at the end? I can make sure I hit the mandatory scenes for my genre as well.

Happy Writing!

I hope you find some inspiration in these exercises. See you tomorrow.


#NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 2: Playing with all my prompts

fairy flying in the garden

Photo by Maria L. Berg              Fall is the perfect time for photographing fairies

Happy National Novel Writing Month! How did your first day go? Unlike last year, I’m healthy, relaxed and in a quiet state for writing.

Until this morning, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do here at Experience Writing during this NaNoWriMo. I took a look back at what I’ve done over the years and realized that I want to follow my 2017 prompts. I did so much work and research to create all of those prompts, I figure I might as well benefit from it.

This year, I’ll be posting every day with my own responses and ideas inspired by 2017s daily prompts. And, of course all my new discoveries as I wander through my writing experience.

Since I didn’t do this yesterday and Saturday’s a good day for a double dose of prompts, let’s take a look at both Day 1 and Day 2. They also go together because they are about the characters’ ordinary world.

Day 1 prompts:

Opening Image/ theme: My prep really helped me with this. I had already filled out a save the cat beat sheet, so I had an image in my head of what my opening scene would look like and I had notes about who would state my theme. I hadn’t done this in my previous novels, but this one worked in the opening scene when my detective was speaking to the county sheriff.

Sensory information: I brought in some distinct smells and plan to have smell bring up a memory in today’s scene, but I think I’ll go back to my opening scene and bring in some textures. It will be more of an observed visual texture, instead of a feeling of texture. Oh, I could also bring in how a disgusting smell becomes a taste. Ick.

#vss (very short story):  I looked at #vss365 lead this month by JD Stoxx @banjomediocrity on twitter. The prompt yesterday was fuse. My construction foreman in the first scene has a bit of a short fuse, I could emphasize that more.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey

Protagonist’s Ordinary World: Four of coins
What he loves about it: Four of swords
What he believes is lacking: Six of wands

My interpretation: This works for both the protagonist in my opening scene and the protagonist of the whole novel. He knows what it’s like to be poor both physically and emotionally and is holding on tight to what he feels he has earned through hard work. He likes that the battle is over and he can rest, but he feels that he is not given enough praise and appreciation for what he does.

Ask Your Character

These are great questions, but I worry answering them here, could give away something that becomes important later, so I’ll answer these in my notebook each day as part of my character’s backstory.

Word of the day:

The sheriff appeared to be an autodidact. Bill was finding him hard to respect.

8 Action Verbs:

Time accelerated. He wanted to hold onto the seconds, but they kept flying by.

Nothing felt balanced. Everything was off-kilter as if any moment something would fall and smash.

He consolidated everything in had left of his childhood in a small shoe-box that he had tucked in the back of his highest closet shelf. He looked up at the shelf. He couldn’t see the box. That was how he liked it.

They discovered the body on a Wednesday. The news had spread across the country by early Thursday.

A murder of crows had gathered on the rim of the huge, blue dumpster. They cawed angrily as he approached.

He didn’t need to be lectured about how bad this looked.

He presented himself to the county sheriff’s department as had been requested. They made him wait in a cold tiled lobby on a hard plastic chair.

He scheduled the earliest flight. He wanted to get to the site around dusk and no matter when he got in, traffic would be a nightmare.

Poetry Prompt:

I like that there are poem prompts and plan to write a poem each day, but because most literary magazines won’t take poems that have been published on a blog, and I can’t seem to write more than one poem a day, I’ll go ahead and write my poem in my notebook.

Awesome Sentence Challenge

My main character had a difficult childhood. His parents weren’t educated past high school and were crass and violent. So when he escaped and left his past behind, he wanted to disguise his upbringing. I think he over-compensates and tries to speak like he thinks really smart, wealthy people talk. But when he gets panicked or angry, he slips into crass, bullying language. He threatens and digs into others like the words in his head he can’t forget from his childhood.

Today’s Simple Task

I definitely described an important object in the opening scene, but maybe I can come up with another one or two. I forgot to bring in the press.  I could have the news van drive up in the first scene and have that be why my character leaves.

Warm-up Exercise: My character wants to put his past behind him. The first thing he will do to get that is to ignore the news reports and pretend he is not connected to his old family home.

Day 2 prompts

The ordinary world for the antagonist: Though I am mostly focusing on my protagonist today, my antagonist is in his thoughts, so thinking about and making notes about the antagonist’s ordinary world is a good idea for today as well. My antagonist is unstable, living in his truck, but returning to his childhood home often, so his ordinary world is constantly in flux. It’s about daily survival. A reactionary existence.

“My definition of my own art is experience. I think the scariest thing for an artist to do is stare at a blank canvas and think about what they’re going to say in their work. ” – Alex Rubio

The #vss365 prompt for today is cuff. This is definitely my antagonist. For him, everything is off the cuff, and since he wears all of his dad’s old clothes and his dad was much bigger than him, he is always rolling cuffs on his sleeves and his pant legs.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey

My antagonist’s ordinary world: Page of coins
What he likes about his world: The Lovers
What he doesn’t like: Judgement

My interpretation: I’m not quite sure what I think of that yet. I get that he is always looking for ways to meet his human needs, and that he’s sick of earthly judgement and is focused on spiritual judgement, but I’m not sure how the Lovers card fits. I’ll have to think on that.

Word of the day:

Oren always seemed to be in the middle of an imbroglio. He kinda wished he knew why.

8 Action Verbs:

Kirk was an accomplished director, of pharmaceutical advertisements. Not exactly the glamorous life in pictures he had imagined, but it paid the bills.

He believed he was there to be briefed by the sheriff, but he ended up in an interrogation room with a female detective answering questions for hours.

The manufactured home had been poorly constructed to begin with, but he hadn’t expected so much deterioration.

They hadn’t even distributed missing person posters.

The find had generated a lot of interest in the property.  Ghost hunters were flocking in from as far as Alaska.

The footpath led him behind the mobile home which on the far side looked like it had burned, and to an area of trees. He saw a fire pit and a torn sleeping bag. It looked like someone may have been sleeping here.

The way she presided over the questioning, he got the impression that she was really the person in charge.

She said they had thoroughly searched the property, but there was so much overgrowth, he doubted that was true.


The poetry prompt was about symbols. I need to think about symbols for each of my characters and how to use them.

Awesome Sentence Challenge:

Similes and Metaphors: I’m surprised I hadn’t really thought about this during my prep. I love good similes. This goes well with thinking about symbols. I’m definitely going to be using animals like rats, vultures, jackals and other animals that survive on death and carnage. I’ll also be thinking about the blind and naive, the symbols of a community that ignores the truth of what they let exist when they pretend they are too busy to see, like an ostrich with its head in the sand, like a horse with blinders on, like a person who can’t walk because he refuses to use a cane.

Today’s Simple Task:

I’ve been trying to figure out how to start today’s scene. I want my protagonist to be in mid-action when he gets the news. Maybe I can make it thrilling and scary. He is doing something dangerous and becomes distracted. This could still be so many things, but I have a better idea of how I want to introduce him.

Warm-up Exercise:

My protagonist wants with every bit of his being to not be who he was born. He wants to be the self that he created, but now his past has found him. He is choosing to continue as if nothing has happened as long as he can, but he has a couple of things he knows he has to do before they find him.

Scene Cards:

I have something to add that I didn’t have in 2017. I made scene cards for my editing process. This time I can fill out my scene cards as I write my draft. They will be ready for the editing process the moment I’m ready to start my re-write. I’m ready to fill out my first two scene cards, but I’m not sure how I want to color-code them. I have five colors. I have two or three POVs; I have two or three major settings; I don’t know. Any thoughts?


Something happened to me this year. I don’t know if it was all the journal reading for The Planner Project or all the rejections because of The Planner Project, but I haven’t been reading novels or any books like I usually do. It could also be that I don’t trust a book anymore because I overdosed on not-so-great novels and recommended novels. It could be that I’ve tried to learn from everything I read that makes it not fun anymore, but I don’t think so. My passion for writing came from the advice–Write the book that you want to read, but can’t find. That is what I do, but it also brings me back to my original dilemma of genre. I can’t find books in my genre that I want to emulate. Why? Because I want literary fiction with the fun characters and excitement of thrillers and mysteries. Will I finally get there? I can only hope.

Do you have suggestions that aren’t on the Best Thrillers/ Best Suspense lists?



Beware The Creeping Nouns


I am reading A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work by Jack Hart. Though it is geared toward journalism,  the information is useful and inspiring for my fiction.

One sign of a skilled writer is avoiding redundancy. Mr. Hart uses the analogy of felling a a-writers-coachtree. The skilled woodsman takes efficient strokes and controls where the tree falls, but the “city slicker” hacks away, exhausting himself and endangering his neighbors.

Sharpen Your Axe

During your first draft, you don’t want to think about word choice, you just want to get your ideas down, right? But what if, some of those overused words, those pesky redundancies and expletives never got on the page? It would save you a ton of time during editing.

This Halloween, you are sharpening your axe for a monster hunt. You are hunting E.B. White’s “leeches that infest the pond of prose” and Jack Hart’s parasites that live alongside them in that pond. Once you are trained to recognize these monsters you can stop them dead before they get to your pages!

The Leeches and Parasites


Leeches –

Expletives are more than the beeps we hear on TV. The word expletive also means any syllable,word, or phrase conveying no independent meaning,esp inserted in a line of verse for the sake of the metre (from dictionary.com).

Make sure to hack away at “it is,” “it was,” “there is,” “there were,” and “there are.”

Creeping Nouns are nouns that attach themselves to other nouns but add nothing but dead weight. Mr. Hart believes that if we avoid unnecessary use of “situation,” “field,” and “condition,” we could eliminate half the creeping nouns published. Here are a couple examples from A Writer’s Coach.

. . . and one source said the Cincinnati Reds manager faces a possible suspension for gambling activities.

Gambling is already the activity causing the possible suspension. Activities is redundant.

Officials are saying the combination of millions of dying trees, the seventh year of drought conditions and . . .

Drought is the condition thus conditions is redundant.

Hart’s other examples of creeping nouns you should include on your monster hunt are: field, industry, profession, concerns, event, experience, facilities, situation, and status.

Remember: these aren’t words you want to eliminate from your writing, they are words that can become creeping nouns that create redundancy when they cling to other nouns.


Parasites –

To avoid parasites, you want to avoid over using qualifiers. A qualifier is the same as a modifier – a word, phrase, or sentence element that limits or qualifies the sense of another word, phrase, or element in the same construction.(dictionary.com)

Mr. Hart calls these parasites “petty modifiers” and “needless qualifiers.” The monsters that should see the sharp blade of your axe before they mangle your writing are: rather, somewhat, generally, virtually, pretty, slightly, a bit and little.

And don’t forget the pernicious overused words: very, like and just!

Happy monster hunting and happy #Writober.


To finish what I begin – Tips for finishing a draft

In you go

With all of the kids spending as much time in the lake as they could before heading back to school, I must have become nostalgic for a moment because I suddenly remembered something from my blue bird (tiny campfire girls) days — “to finish what I begin.” It really stuck in my head so I looked up where I thought it was from, the Blue Bird wish:

“To have fun.

To learn to make beautiful things.

To remember to finish what I begin.  

To learn to keep my temper in.

And to learn about nature and living outdoors.

To have adventures with all sorts of things.

To make friends.”

from alicemariebeard.com/campfire/memories.htm

“To finish what I begin” is my focus in my writing life right now, but a good dose of “to learn to keep my temper in” and fun and friends could definitely help me make beautiful things.

Tips for finishing a draft

1. Jump around – Ideas for scenes don’t usual come in a logical linear order. Don’t let ideas pass you by because they doesn’t happen in the scene you’re working on. Get into it. Write the ending. Write some dialogue that you have no idea where to put yet. I like to use red text to write in a general idea of what I think will happen in the places I skip, so when the idea for something I skipped in chapter one, because I was writing the ending, finally comes to me, I have a quick visual cue telling me exactly where I want to start.

2. Push through – Getting the words and ideas down on the page is the most important part of finishing your draft. Even if the words aren’t feeling quite write, or flowing the way you would like, keep going until you finish the scene, or get to the end of the idea. Don’t give up. Don’t get frustrated. The rewrite is when you get to drive yourself nuts striving for perfection.

3. Be Patient – Though it is good to push through when you have an idea, but it doesn’t seem to  flow the way you’d like, you don’t want to force things. When I want to finish a project, but it’s coming along more slowly than I would like, I often here the mean voice in my head speak up with things like, “I don’t even like this anyway,” or, “Nobody’s going to read this. What’s the point.” That is when I am very grateful I have a supportive friend who says, “Be patient with yourself” and “Tomorrow’s another day.” Some ideas just want more time than others, so be patient.

4. Ask for Help – Any story can be improved by some good research. Reading and looking things up on the internet can add a lot of fuel for ideas, but can also be a time suck leading you down a rabbit hole that somehow ends in useless celebrity gossip. When you really get stuck for story inspiration, ask for help. Think of someone you know who might know more than you do about a certain topic and give them a call. It’s a great break from writing and people really like being appreciated for their expertise. I’m always happily surprised by the solutions people come up with that I didn’t think of.

5. Focus on One Piece at a Time – When you have most of your story on the page, but it’s time to put all the pieces together and get rid of all the red skipped sections, yes, read through, thinking about everything that you have left to finish, but then just focus on one of those sections at a time. Listing everything you have left to do can be overwhelming and make you want to put it aside and do something else. Don’t. Just pick one scene you have left to finish and start with any writing technique that gets you writing. I like to start with dialogue: You may like to describe a setting or a character to get you into the scene. Often times, the little skipped parts in your draft only need a paragraph or two to tie things together, but once you get started, something that once seemed sticky as tar may flow like a river.