Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Musings on setting, Part 2

So, a couple of weeks ago I posted about how there’s no need to limit yourself to using only real parts of real settings in your book. If your story requires a church or a street or cinema or a train station or whatever, and nothing in your real setting cuts the mustard, then invent away!

But … to pull off this fakery, you first need to have immersed yourself in your real life setting, so you know where you can successfully fake it and where you simply can’t.

I don’t doubt there are a million different ways to go about this, but here’s what I’ve done to marinate my brain in nineteenth century Paris and hopefully ensure my made up bits seem as authentic as the real city:-

(N.B. And just a word of advice – NEVER throw away study materials. I studied nineteenth century French History at university. You’d have thought that when I began to write my book, I would have had ample material at my fingertips to ensure my setting - and my invented parts of Paris - were as accurate as possible. Erm, no. Ten years ago, and before I ever contemplated writing a novel, I threw out my university books and notes in a massive cleaning frenzy - every single one of them. Idiot!)

Novels: To gain a real feel for the general layout and everyday life in Paris, as well as glimpses of its sights, smells and customs, I’ve read many books by nineteenth century French novelists - Emile Zola, Gustave Flaubert, George Sand, Eugene Sue, to name a few. They’ve given me insights that straight histories of Paris just don’t include.

Journals and diaries: My university library, and online, Project Gutenberg, have been fabulous for tracking down hard-to-come-by contemporary travel guides of Paris, as well as journals recording British tourists’ experiences of the city. The latter have been particularly invaluable in helping me to understand how my main character, an Englishwoman, may have viewed and experienced Paris in 1864.

Art work: Paintings of Paris by artists of the day are another great way to get a feel for the city. I have a good collection of Monets, Manets, Degas, Renoirs – erm, books containing prints of these artists’ works, I should point out, NOT the originals; otherwise I’d be typing this aboard my luxury yacht moored off the Bahamas. (g) And web sites such as Bridgeman Art have tons of fine art images, too, and are searchable by subject matter as well as artist.

Blogs: Much of the architecture and lay out of nineteenth century Paris still exists, so I subscribe to quite a few blogs by foreigners living in Paris in order to catch a glimpse of the older sections of the city in the photos they post. Paris Parfait, O Chateau, Secrets of Paris, The Paris Blog, Invisible Paris are but a few of these blogs … but the best of the lot is “Peter’s Paris”. This blog is maintained by “Peter” (obviously), a retired Swedish photographer whose first language is very much NOT English (g)). He lives in Paris, and the lucky gentleman gets to wander its streets taking and posting stacks of brilliant photographs of many of the older parts of the city… and, from the point of view of a writer who has to know exactly where things are in a setting, the very best thing about this blog is that Peter shows the precise location of all his subjects on arrow-marked maps. No more guess work - brilliant!

And of course, in my quest to know Paris from afar,Wikepedia and Google have been my very dear friends. Aren’t they yours, too? (g)

So, what do you do to immerse yourself in your settings? And is there a different approach with contemporary settings? I’m curious!

And a short addendum …

I lost my writing buddy last weekend. Tex, our cat, died on Saturday after succumbing to irreversible kidney failure. It’s a sad time in our house … but lightened ever so slightly by the imminent purchase of two new kittens: two new playmates for the kids, and two new writing buddies to lounge in my study and offer telepathic support as I write (once the tail-chasing, kitten hyperactivity abates!)

Vale, Tex. Writing was a much less solitary pursuit because of you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It’s Not About the Idea, It’s About the Expression

Hey all, I'm back with another dose of Copyright. I'm excited. Are you excited?? (Just say "Yes, Jen, I'm excited," K?)

In truth, I AM excited about this week's post because it starts diving into the stuff that we as writers are most concerned about:

Our ideas!

Once again, disclaimers to boot.

Disclaimer: If you're expecting high-faluting terminology here, turn back now. I'm going to speak in as non-lawyerly a fashion as I possibly can. For one, I don't want to confuse myself. Second: I went to law school, yes, but I never took nor passed the bar. I am not a licensed attorney. This is not legal advice, and should not be taken as such. Should you base any of your future actions on the information included in this post, you do so at your own risk. Blah blah blah, yada yada yada. Got it, fu?

Allriiiiiiiiiiiiighty then.

So, you have an idea? Great. Wanna know the hard truth about that great idea?

It's not protected by copyright.

WHOA….cool your jets. I know you're probably screaming at your computer at this very moment. "What do you mean it's not protected?!?! What the hell, Jen??? Are you telling me any Joe Schmoe off the street could come along and steal my ideas and not get in any trouble??"

Well, yeah…that's what I'm saying. Sorry. But but BUT!!!! There's a caveat involved here.

They can steal your ideas, yes… but they can't steal your expression of said ideas.

Let me explain with a little illustration.

Let's take a well known story…Hmmm…Annie. You know, orphan Annie… cute little red-head gets saved from the evil clutches of Miss Hannigan by the rich and powerful Daddy Warbucks.

*We now interrupt this program for a brief musical interlude*

Jen Sings: The sun will come out tomorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tooomorrow, there'll be sun! Just thinkin' about tomorrow…clears away—

Ahem – Sorry. Where was I?

Okay…so we all know the basic story, right? The truth of the matter is that I could decide tomorrow (pun intended) to write a story about an orphaned girl who gets saved from an orphanage by some money-bags who one day realizes he wants to play Daddy. To make it fun, I could throw in a spinster lady who tries to capitalize on the deal. One who just so happens to HATE children. Heck, I could even throw in the shaggy dog. All LEGAL, to a point. Tacky, yes….but legal.

The thing is…while we all love little Orphan Annie, the story itself isn't all that original. I.e. the IDEA isn't original. I could use that idea—write it ten different ways—and still not violate any sort of copyright. However, there is a pretty thick line in the sand that I wouldn't be able to cross.

That's where the EXPRESSION of this idea comes in. That is what's protected under copyright.

So…how does the story go?

We meet Annie in an orphanage. She's sad, wants a family…and is sorta terrorized by the lady running the orphanage. A woman, given her job, who should probably love children, but doesn't. Annie meets Daddy Warbucks, a emotionally shut-off millionaire who doesn't have children. There's instant chemistry between the two and he wants to adopt her. Miss Hannigan has other plans, though, and mayhem ensues.

There, of course, are a lot of other little details involved. The music, for one. The dialogue. The sequencing of events in the story. The characters themselves. They all combine to create a story that is completely original to its author/s (It was a book first, of course…later a stage musical…later a musical on the big screen… Lotsa authors involved. J).

So, I come along and write a story based on the same idea. And hot damn if I don't start off in an orphanage with a bunch of singing orphans, bemoaning how hard life is. Instead of It's a Hard-Knocked Life, I start off with a little number entitled "Life's full of Hard Knocks, but thems the breaks, kid" and have a drunken Miss Flannigan interrupt and shoo them all off to bed…only to have one little girl—a Shirley Temple look-alike—go off alone and start singing "The Clouds are Gonna clear up the day after next"… and so on and so forth.

If I were to write a story that mirrored the original so closely that you'd instantly say to yourself…My goodness, but that sounds a whole heck of a lot like ANNIE, I've likely violated copyright. I've hedged TOO closely to the previous author's EXPRESSION of this story IDEA.

In Summary:

The Idea: NOT protected.

The Expression: PROTECTED.

Ya with me so far? Any questions?

And now…for your musical enjoyment.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Manic Monday, and Mona Lisa

Ack! I will start remembering that I am the new Monday Gal. I will, I will! Geesh.

Erm, as my house has been overrun with little kids on Spring Break, I will have to postpone the second half of my *cough* sex scene post. I might be able to come back later tonight. In any event, I've had a visit with Ms. Persnickety. Having read a new book, she wanted to share her thoughts on it with you all. :)

Ms. Persnickety:

I picked up Mona Lisa Awakening, by Sunny, off Amazon through some searches for “Goth” and “romance” and was drawn in by the non-cheesy black and white cover art. I think that distracted me from the other category it was labeled under of “erotica”. Whoops!

Mona Lisa is a nurse who can heal with her hands and diagnose and stuff, but who feels like there is more to her “powers”. Enter Hunky Man #1: Gryphon. Gryphon is in the hospital with a stab wound he got leaving his last paramour Queen Mona Sera who turns out to be Mona Lisa’s mother! It’s so day time drama that I can’t help like it. So Gryph tells Mona Lisa all about their people who descend from a race of total sex freaks ON THE MOON. Well in so many words.

She basically dumps her old life to follow Gryph to the court of the Queens, because guess what people, she is a queen. And what do Queens of MonerĂ© (that’s the name of the Moon people) do? Get freaky with all their men that they rule. This all happens by chapter 2. Mona Lisa doesn’t waist any time at all.

Enter Hunky Man #2. He is a warrior who is giant, fierce and intimidating at over six feet tall with bulging muscles. His umm… unit is giant to match. So big that Mona Lisa wraps her hand around it and her fingers don’t touch. YIKES. What is this bear of a man’s name you ask? Amber. That’s right, his name is Amber. Why are these guys never named Bob or Steve? Here are some other names in this yarn: Chami (short for Chameleon), and Aquila (also a dude). Yeah.

Moan Lisa is a strong woman who takes her queen mantle with ease. Strangely so. Here is what annoys me about her: she goes from normal sounding 21st century woman to sounding like a noble woman from the 17th in a few short pages. She continues to flip flop like this through out the book. Kind of annoying. But she does cut off a dude’s member and then crush it under her heal after she finds him raping a servant girl. Nice one Queen ML!

Poor Mona Lisa can’t decide between Hunk #1 and Hunk #2 so does what any MonerĂ© queen would do. Take them both! Not at the same time you sickos! She is very timid and shy so she agrees to a schedule of being with one of her hunks every other week. Like a lady. BWAHAHAHA!

The adventure and legend of the MonerĂ© is actually interesting. The sex scenes leave nothing out and frankly made my cheeks red. Well some of it was a bit much like when she talks about her “quivering inner sheath”. Give me a break.

This would be a great saucy beach read. Just don’t leave it around for anyone to pick up.

Rating scale:

Blech : would never read it again or recommend you share in my torture of having read it

Meh : would read if I was stuck in an airplane for 5 hours with nothing else to read

Huh!?! : better than expected and would happily pass on

Wow! : will make you read it even if you say “I don’t really read Romance”

I give Mona Lisa Awakening a solid: Huh!?!

Friday, March 26, 2010


I'd like to swap to Thursdays, she says. Mondays are way too busy in my world and I never get my blog post done in time, she says.


Well, future Thursdays are likely to be less crazy than this week, as I'm in the middle of a run of first birthday cakes I promised to make for friends. Yes, it's birthday season in a big way. This does not leave me much time for writing or blogging.

So! A short post for my first Thursday, and this one on a topic I was reminded of recently when I had my burst of good writing progress. Gangplanks.

No, I'm not talking about that suicidal feeling you get when you decide your writing isn't working. Nor the method of escape you contemplate when life gets in the way of your writing aspirations.

I'm talking about the way you begin your scenes, your chapters, and even your story itself.

There has been a bit of discussion at the Books and Writers forum about the idea of a gangplank in the past. The idea is this: instead of putting huge pressure on yourself to get your opening sentence/ paragraph/ scene/ chapter just right- well, just write. You probably know where you want to start in any given scene, so just do it. Don't worry about whether it appears on the page just as you imagined, because with the magic of editing, your gangplank can be left on the dock, so to speak, when your ship sails.

I can't say it any better than the marvellous Beth Shope, who wrote a fantastic blog post about gangplanks, doorways and bridges, which you can find here. In her words:

It's perfectly OK to write gangplanks; it's not OK to keep them.

And that's the important part. While jumping straight into a scene without the encumbrance of worry can help the creativity flow, you need to be able to recognise a gangplank, and you need the objectivity to cut it out and drop it in the sea.

Anyway, encompassing the true spirit of this principle, I like to start my own scenes not just with a gangplank in the writing itself, but also with a couple of sentences of direction to myself. As I'm writing, I'll routinely check back and use those sentences to remind me what was important in the first place.

I'll give you an example from a recent chapter. First up, I've literally written in capital letters:


So, there you go. Then I've added a couple of ideas about what I want to achieve in the scene:

[With all the boys gone, including Tom and Len, Bill and Kit begin to rebuild their relationship brick by brick. Bill and his dad struggle to keep the farm going and he’s sure he’s made the right choice. But then word arrives that Tom has been killed in action, and it all falls apart. Bill is shocked and guilty and decides the only thing he can do is sign up and go fight.]

I don't always stick to the initial ideas once I start writing, but it's good to remind myself of what I wanted to achieve.

In a scene like the one mentioned above, it's not full of action. Bill has chosen not to sign up to fight in World War I, while his best friend and his brother and almost all the other young men his age have. He's fighting a major inner battle about it, and he and his fiance are also recovering from the aftermath of a violent assault on her person. But where to start it?

In the previous scene, everyone left for the war, leaving Bill and Kit alone to sort out their relationship troubles.

In the next scene, I can start in a range of places.

I can pick up right where I left off and show them arriving home after farewelling the troops.
I can pick up the next day, when they've had a chance to absorb the goodbyes and accept that it's just them left.
I can pick up a week later, and show them struggling on their own to cope with all that's happened.
I can pick up a month later when they've already had a few awkward conversations and things are looking up.

In short, there's no hard and fast rule to where I'm going to start that scene. And in fact, I might start it in all four of those places at different times, just to try it out. Any one of those could be the gangplank that leads me to the real deal, and they'll all be worthwhile to me because they all "happen", even if I only choose to leave the last scene in the final story.

And to finish, I'll say that just as a ship needs a gangplank to get the passengers off at the other end, I also add extra little comments to myself, and also often write a little extra to finish a scene.

That's probably about that for now- I find it a very useful technique to take the pressure off starting the scene "just right".

And now I'm off to apply that advice to my installment of AKIT, in which we're finally going to catch up with Nemo...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Working hard at working less

We’ve all heard it before: you can’t sit around waiting for your muse to strike. Before the magic can happen, you have to do the hard work of writing when you don’t feel like it, when your inspiration is at rock bottom and all you can churn out is utter shite. And this is absolutely true; a ton of crappy writing went into the making of my first book (I know this because I’m now editing it all out!) but with the crap there are the gems, and that’s what we keep, and that’s what keeps us going.

BUT. I also believe that when writing becomes a total chore and you feel nothing you write is any good, day after day after day, then it’s time to step away from the computer and give up.

I have a writing schedule I try very hard to stick to. Five days a week I aim to sit down at my desk by 10.30am, and write through to 2.00pm. This doesn’t always happen; like last week when I had to down tools and dash to school with Child #2’s spare glasses after he broke his good pair; or the week before, when I spent a whole Thursday cheering the kids at their swimming carnival. But in the main, I stick my butt to the chair three hours a day and write, ignoring the house work and screening my calls and avoiding the lure of email and blogs and Facebook.

Except that for the last two weeks, writing has been frustrating and HARD. Like threading a needle with a wet noodle, hard.

I know what’s at the root of all this; I’ve hit a patch in my life where everything is more than a little overwhelming. Kids with ear infections, a largely absent and stressed husband, the fact that the mother of Child # 2’s best friend called to apologise for the fact her son had shown my son some porn on his iPod last weekend (!!!!!!) … and, topping it off, our dear old cat is seriously unwell. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to make THAT decision, soon, and given the husband’s manic work schedule I fear I’ll have to deal with saying good bye to the furry, practice-child, alone.


I’ve had all the above running through my brain, distracting me terribly, when I sit down to write. And today, I’d simply had enough. I opened up my manuscript and the sight of my writing made me ill. My brain began to throb and I knew I just couldn't go on. So I switched everything off, rose from my chair and walked away, without writing a word.

I felt like a kid ditching school - relieved, but oh so guilty. But the relief won out. I was simply sick of being in my house doing something that only made me want to smash my head on the desk when outside, the sun was shining, the birds were singing …

So I got in the car and got the hell out of dodge. I had no idea where I was going; I just followed my nose and drove around for an hour with Red Hot Chili Peppers on repeat and turned right up.

Then it happened. Out of nowhere I heard the very words I needed for my scene, words that had refused to show up despite all the pounding on my keyboard. And after that came the images - a book bound in a blood-red, marbled cover; a shattered pane of glass; a scalpel, fallen behind the drapes and into the wrong hands …

And I learned anew the lesson I seem to need to keep on learning: that the only way I can hear those messages that lurk in my subconscious is if I back away from the keyboard and do something that allows my purpose-driven, conscious mind, to switch off.

I know this. Until life got crazy-busy, I’d walk most mornings and come back brim-full of ideas to solve my writing problems.

I have to start doing that again. Plus, a walk is much more environmentally friendly than hooning around in a honking-big 4 wheel-drive for hours on end.

So, what do you do when you’re stuck? Walk? Hike? Bike? Cook? Scrub the mold from the bathroom grout? The list of possible activities that allow your busy brain to go to sleep, and your subconscious mind to pipe up, is endless … and that means I have no excuses.

From now on, I’ll be working hard at working less.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hands Off, That Belongs To Me!

First off – I apologize for getting my post up so late today! I was the one saying, "Nah, I'm cool with Tuesdays…you guys change around, but I'm good," and here I am, LATE. LOL!

Good news is that this morning I had NO idea what to blog about, and then I listened to SECRET WINDOW, SECRET GARDEN by Stephen King and BAM…instant topic. Or rather a reminder that I promised to talk a bit about copyright.

If you've read the short story…or if you've seen the movie, you know why I remembered my earlier promise. For those of you who haven't (Do you live in a cave?? Johnny Depp starred in the movie! Kidding. Sort of. J) , here's the basic gist: A well-known novelist is approached by a man claiming that said well-known novelist stole one of his short stories. The novelist (played by Johnny Depp in the movie) doesn't have any idea what this man is talking about because he's never seen him before in his life. Not that it makes much difference to the guy—he threatens him and much violence ensues as Johnny tries to defend his work—and later, his life.

Okay, as writers, that's probably one of the scariest things we have to deal with. Not the psychopathic killer intent on stealing our work (though fo sho that's scary)—but the idea that we may inadvertently swipe an idea, some lines—whatever—from another author. No one wants to be known as the writer that can't come up with his/her own original material. And NO ONE wants to be sued for plagiarizing the work of another person!

Let me begin by saying this: If you're not intentionally copying someone else's work (and I'm pretty sure you would know it if you were), it's not likely that you'll ever be sued for copyright infringement. Well, you COULD be sued, but if you ever are, most likely that means you're a millionaire who has sold a shit-ton of books and you have a gaggle of lawyers at your beck and call…and most likely the claim is a bunch of malarky made up by someone trying to latch on to your creative coattails. Got it?


And so begins Copyright Lesson #1 a la Jen.

Disclaimer: If you're expecting high-faluting terminology here, turn back now. I'm going to speak in as non-lawyerly a fashion as I possibly can. For one, I don't want to confuse myself. Second: I went to law school, yes, but I never took nor passed the bar. I am not a licensed attorney. This is not legal advice, and should not be taken as such. Should you base any of your future actions on the information included in this post, you do so at your own risk. Got it, fu?

Hehe…that was kinda fun.


(Feel free to ask any questions, by the way. I won't be able to cover everything in one post, so tangents are welcome.)

I think one of the most important questions on a lot of minds is when copyright begins. I can't tell you the number of writers I've interacted with through the years who are Freaked Out about protecting their stories…who are FREAKED OUT that someone will steal their ideas… I, too, was one of these writers at one point in time. But let me tell you some reassuring news:

The moment your pen hits paper…or your fingers tap those keys…you're covered by copyright.

Prepare yourselves for a legal moment.

By statute, §101 – a work is created when its first fixed in some tangible form.

To break that down, putting your words down on paper is putting it into a 'tangible form.' If you were a singer or a songwriter, making a recording of your song would be a 'tangible form.' Or writing down the music and lyrics…or just the lyrics… be it on a napkin, a post-it, a shopping bag, or the back of a candy wrapper – THAT is a tangible form.

Putting words on a blog is giving you copyright of the material. For instance, A KILL IN TIME? It belongs to Rachel, Kristen, Claire, and me. It's ours. (Hands off.) If someone tried to copy it, we'd have grounds for suing them. Those waters are a little bit muddied by the fact that we're each writing different sections and not collaborating on the story as a whole, but that's something for another day.

The point is: if it's in a 'tangible form,' you're covered by copyright.

You may be saying, but what if it isn't in a tangible form? And just what IS a non-tangible form? If you are, you get a gold star for skipping ahead of the class..

Here's an example of something that you may have created but wouldn't necessarily be given copyright protection over. Say you stand on a street corner and start making up a story about the people passing by. You verbalize the story for all of those in earshot…and hot damn if it isn't a GOOD story. Only problem? It's not written down. You've just spouted off enough creativity to sell a million copies, and some dude named Chuck down the street could rip you off – legally -- by jotting it down on the back of a paper napkin.

Think of an improv troupe. (They're so much fun to watch!) WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY is too funny for words, and what those guys do is AMAZING. The guys on that show could be covered because the show is on video – there's something tangible to say MINE. That's MINE. But if they were doing a live stage show, and no such recording took place, someone else could come along and rip off their funniest lines. Greg Proops may later say, BUT I SAID THAT! but he wouldn't necessarily have an actionable case against the low-down, dirty thief. (tee)

To bring it back to SECRET WINDOW, SECRET GARDEN, if Johnny had written his story in his head—and even if he knew it word for word and could recite it perfectly upon request, he wouldn't be protected. It isn't in a 'tangible form' and therefore doesn't qualify for protection.

Make sense?

More next time. I'm having law school flashbacks and must go recover now.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Sex, Honesty, and Mary Sue

Hey all, as life is never predictable, we're going to do a bit of a change here. Claire is moving to Thursdays, Rachel to Wednesdays and I am taking over the Monday spot. Jen will still be on Tuesdays. Anyhoo...

Spring is officially here in the States. And for those of you who are finally seeing the sun and feeling some warm, let’s all shout a collective ‘Who hoo!’ As it is now spring, I thought I’d kick it off with that most beloved of topic, The Birds and the Bees, or SEX scenes. Dun, dun, dunnnn.

The thing is, a lot of us are terrified of these scenes. For one, the potential for embarrassment is high. What if my mother reads this? Friends? Neighbors? It can feel as if the whole world is sitting on your shoulder reading along with a snirk. And then there is the technicality of it; what goes where? Should A follow B?

Oh, let’s face it, the reasons for avoiding these scenes are as varied and endless as there are reasons for being a writer.

And yet, I’ve noticed that there are A LOT of writers out there who are telling stories in which sex comes into major play. A bit of a pickle if you as a writer have no clue how to approach these scenes. Now, I will not call myself an expert on writing sex scenes, but I have written them, and they DO come (pardon the pun) easily for me. So I’ll share what I’ve learned with you. :)

First off, let’s call them love scenes, shall we? Because, as I said before, it really isn’t about sex, it is about emotion. Further, a good love scene can occur without much physicality even happening between your characters. In Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase, there is a particularly hot scene in which all the character does is remove a lady’s glove. Go read it; it is highly enlightening.

Now, there is no way I can get this all down in one post, so today I’ll talk about character, next week, the technical aspects of “the scene”.

The truth of the matter is, a love scene is about character. Which is why learning to craft love scenes can really help a writer out. :)

In writing we have character development and plot development. They go hand in hand but they can be approached differently. Character development is a particularly difficult challenge for a writer. It depends on going beyond your analytical self. Writing for character is akin to method acting. You’ve got to go beyond what you ‘think’ the character should do and feel, and actually think and feel along with that character. In short, you become your characters.

One of the first things to do when approaching a love scene is to get into character. For me, it means reading a bit of my story to reconnect with my characters. What are their fears, desires, what are they confident in? Are they timid? Forward? What?

A love scene is about wants. The truth is, revealing our desires and/or feelings for another person is not a thing most of us take lightly. Getting physical with a person is a huge step in boundaries. It changes everything.

So what does each character want in this scene? Do both of them want to kiss? Don’t want to kiss? Touch but not kiss? (g) Why? Why not? What pushes them onward? More importantly, what are they willing to risk? These are the things that drive a love scene. NOT what the writer thinks might be sexy or hot.

Writing for character is about honesty. Honesty in what the CHARACTER would do in a certain situation –NOT what you would do in a certain situation. This is important in a love scene because you’ve got to disconnect from your brain and get into the character’s.

Now the funny thing about readers (and we all know this from our own reading experiences) is that the reader always catches on to a writer’s dishonesty. Ever read a love scene that feels off? I’m sure you’ve read plenty of them. Particularly in crit groups. We recognize this as a product of the Mary Sue syndrome. Somehow we (the reader) know when the character is doing what the writer would like to do. How that is, I’m not sure. It’s a strange phenomenon. Regardless of how the reader picks this up, the reasoning behind it is simple: a character becomes a Mary Sue when the writer controls the character.

Now, of course, we have to draw on experience when writing a love scene. But there is a difference between using what we know and using the character to create our own little fantasy, isn’t there?

In fact, one good exercise to rid yourself of that Mary Sue trap is to write a love scene –eh, make it a simple kissing scene in which the characters react to said kiss in a way that you the writer would never do. Don’t like kissing in public? Let your characters do it. Hate a man with a mustache? Have your heroine kiss a guy with a great big fuzzy one and love it. Yes, this is you controlling the situation but as an exercise you are going out of that comfort zone and learning to lose control.

SO… to sum up. Start by getting into character. Learn to leave yourself at the door. Practice stepping outside your comfort zone.

Next week, the actual building of a scene and those oh so fun technical bits and pieces (pun intended)

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Kill in Time -A Jack the Ripper tale with a time traveling twist - Part 12

And from the annals of "oh crud, is it my turn?" comes the latest offering of A Kill in Time ...

(E.T.A. and there's also a bit of unpleasant language. Be warned ...)

Sam sagged against the waist-high wall that fenced the flat roof of the safe house, her chest burning in the aftermath of her blind flight up four turns of a twisted staircase. She sucked in a breath: chimney smoke and dampness and foul wafts burned her lungs and she coughed violently, expelling the poisonous air, and with it, the anger - the fear – that had made her flee that room.

After a moment her lungs ceased their spasming and she wiped her sleeve across her eyes. Bloody hell. It was too much. She gripped the damp brickwork before her. She should be on the couch, Frank beside her, with beers and Chinese take out between them. A knot tightened beneath her breastbone: she wanted to go home, to 2010 where things were normal and right and real.

Turning to face the world beyond the rooftop wall, Sam’s lips thinned to a grim line. She could not be further from home if she tried. In the distance, the face of Big Ben, a pale echo of the full moon above it, the tick of its workings loud in her ears as the waters of the Thames gurgled and bubbled below it. And closer, louder: the creak and groan of the rickety houses crammed cheek to jowl, the chaos of sound from the taverns and the narrow alleys. And closer still, the rattle and clank of horse and trap; a dog’s howl; a woman’s shriek, cut dead.

London, 1888.

It was like the opening of a shutter to the morning light.

It’s real. All of it.

At once she saw everything anew. She felt a strengthening of her body and her mind, malleable clay now fired to hardness. No more denial. No more fear. She, and all that she could do, was real.

Sam heard him before he spoke. “Simon,” she said softly. She concentrated, focused, and above the noise in the streets she found the thrum of his racing heart.

“Sam. There is something I must ask –”

“I’ll do it.”

A pause. His boots crunched on the filthy roof as he stepped close. The heat of his body warmed her, through her clothes. “You don’t understand what it is you say.”

She turned her back on London and faced him. Only him. His face, pale as milk in the starlight, blonde hair shimmering.

“I do. Oh, I do. I heard you. Magda, Lazarus, Brahman.” Her mouth tilted sadly. “Peter.” The name sounded so wrong on her tongue. “He can’t remain as he is. I’ve got to remove those souls. And then they must be destroyed.”

Simon flinched. Emotions warred on his face. But Sam had never felt so sure, so right. Her strength filled her to her very core. She placed a hand upon his cheek. So soft. She slid her hand to the nape of his neck, fingers threading through his hair, and with a sigh of acceptance of everything, she drew him down to her mouth.

He did not resist. His lips pressed hard on hers, his tongue probing, hungry. He feathered his palms down her ribs until they settled upon the dip of her waist; his thumbs skimmed the undersides of her breasts and she met him, pressing herself into every cell of his body as they kissed.

It was a surrender, a melding. A claiming. When finally they parted, Sam tilted her face to Simon’s. He looked …


She pressed her fingers to his lips, stopping the words he tried to speak. “There’s nothing more to say,” she whispered. “Send for the others. I know what I must do.”


Magda, Brahman, Lazarus, Simon. They stood together on the rooftop, beneath the star dusted sky, encircling the one who must be saved.

Peter sat in the heavy, high-backed chair Brahman had carried to the roof. He held perfectly still, boots planted firmly, forearms resting on the thick, carved arms of the chair. Sam stood before him, studying the face pale oval of his face. His fingers curled. Then he nodded.

Sam turned. “Magda?”

Midnight stiffened a moment, then walked with the bearing of a queen to her lover.

From the arms of the chair hung two broad, leather straps; two more snaked from the fore legs. Without pause, Magda cinched and buckled a strap over Peter’s unresisting left wrist. Her sharp breaths rasped loudly in Sam’s ears but she did not falter, attending to Peter’s right wrist in the same efficient manner before kneeling in the grime to secure his ankles.

She was done. But she remained on her knees, head bowed.

“My love.”

Magda raised her head. Sam could not see her face, and was glad of it.

Peter smiled gently. “I will see you soon. I promise. And then, maybe, we shall see about rectifying your hair …”

Magda shivered. She reached out and cupped Peter’s face, gently sweeping her thumb over his lips. “You bastard,” she said, the ghost of a smile in her voice. “When this is done, I shall dye my locks tangerine, just to spite you.” Then she wrenched away and strode back to her place.

Sam cleared the thickness in her throat as Simon came to her. He took her left hand and solemnly slipped a thick silver band on her wedding finger. Their eyes met, and for an instant she weakened and allowed herself to believe the ceremony meant something else entirely … but then the ring began to glow. It was Olivia’s, Simon had explained; it was the chamber in which a soul must be captured before it could be destroyed. Sam had seen one before – the one Lazarus had tossed to Frank in the alleyway behind the police station, a lifetime ago when she’d thought Frank was a cop, and she’d loved him.

Sam snatched back her hand. Simon placed his hands on her shoulders, his brow creased with a thousand worries.

“Are you sure?”

Sam took a deep breath and slipped from the safety of his hands.

This is real.

She flashed him a smile that made her cheeks ache. “Let’s get this party started.”


The wind keened through the cracks in the rooftop wall, whipping Sam’s hair above her head as she stood, as she must, before Peter. Suddenly the core of strength that had sustained her this past hour was not enough. Her stomach roiled. This man – these people – would die if she was not up to the job. If she wasn’t good enough. She squared her shoulders. Fuck it. With all she’d seen and done, what was one lousy exorcism?

Peter, still desperately pale, mustered another smile. “That’s a girl. And if you’re quick about it, I’ll shout you that martini at … Retro’s wasn’t it?”

Her heart squeezed. “Deal.”


Sam stilled herself. Her breathing became shallow. She closed her eyes, and opened her mind.

This time she was prepared. The white heat boiled up inside her, just as it had in the parking lot, but instead of allowing it to consume her Sam remained above it, using it to probe outwards.

She found Peter. Ever so carefully she began to slice; down through Peter’s conscious mind, deeper and deeper. Love. Magda. The Others. Down to a throbbing centre that glowed in her mind’s eye like a sun. His soul. And then she could go no further. His soul had solidified to contain the two evil ones that lurked within it. Sam bit her lip; pulsed out, harder, listening, listening ..

Then she heard it. The Ripper’s soul, vile and hateful and crooked:

Let me out you bitch you whore I’ll slice out your innards your eyes your tits your CUNT!

The words hit Sam like blows and she staggered back. She opened her eyes. Peter jerked in the chair, limbs straining against the restraints. His spine arched; his jaw contorted, opening wider than humanly possible, as if on a hinge … and then there was blood, everywhere, pouring from his mouth, down his face, soaking his coat, his shoes.

“Now, damn you!” Magda’s cry shook Sam from her shock and she raised her left arm before her, flattening her fingers at Peter. The ring flashed diamond-bright, the energy within her roared and she let it go.

Power shot from her, splintering the night air with the sound of a thousand mirrors smashing. The next instant a shock wave raced back up her fingers, cold and hard and stinging. It took all her strength to keep her feet as her hand began to burn. The ring flared and -

Nothing. Everything stopped; the blood, the crashing in her head. Silence cloaked the rooftop.

Sam shivered, her hand a block of ice. She looked at Simon, but he was intent on Peter who hung from his restraints like a marionette with cut strings. Magda rushed forward with a stifled cry, placing her hand to Peter’s pulse. She shot Sam a look of naked hate.

“He’s alive. No thanks to you.”

Brahman rumbled. “God’s eyes; she did it.”

“Not all of it.” Lazarus spoke low and fast. “Hurry, girl. Peter’s defences are breached, the other soul may yet break free.”

Sam thrust her left hand to the stars and balled it into a fist. The white heat in her thrummed again, but this time Sam forced it to travel the circuit of her body, faster and faster, until a whirlpool of energy spun out from her fingertips, a foul, oily vortex that writhed and spun, gaining speed. A boom rang out. Sam blinked. The vortex had vanished. Nothing but starry sky and the smell of burning flesh remained. Sam let out her breath.

“It’s gone.” Simon spoke through whitened lips. “One more time, Sam. Quickly, now.”

Sam leveled her left arm at Peter once more. Closed her eyes. Suck out the fragment of Manish’s soul and this nightmare will be over. Sam sent out a pulse, down through the stratum to Peter’s soul, listening, listening.

Hello, Samantha.

A slither of blackest fog appeared in her mind. It undulated, turned, folded in on itself, a lazy amoeba.

Sam swallowed. Manish?

The fog bent in two. Almost a bow.

If you so wish; though I do prefer the moniker that sucking toad Lispenard coined for me. “The Master”. It has a certain je nais se quoi about it, hmm? There came a rasping laugh. Then: Regardless, it is only proper we be introduced before you fuck with my soul.

Sam’s eyes flew open and she swung round. Brahman, Lazarus, Magda, Peter, Simon… they were all frozen in place. No. Simon was moving, but so slowly. And his face … it was all wrong, his features flowing unnaturally …

Big Ben sounded the hour, twelve strikes. But it went on sounding, again and again and again. The hands of the great clock ground against their gears. Stilled. Then began to sweep backwards.

“What’s happening?” Sam cried.

What was always meant to be! The voice lashed the inside her skull. Peter stole a fragment of my soul. I retaliated … stole his memory, everyone’s memory, and replaced them. Even Lispenard’s.

Sam cut her glance to Peter. He was as immobile as the others. The voice in her head wasn’t coming from him, not like the Ripper's soul. This voice was here. On the roof top.


That, my dear, is when Nemo came to me.

Sam spoke, heart thudding in her chest as she turned in a slow circle and scanned the roof top. “Nemo would never -”

What do you know of the great Nemo, little girl? Peter snatched the fragment of my soul because Nemo wished to destroy it and weaken me forever. And I want it back because it is MINE!

The roof top undulated beneath Sam’s boots. The stars vibrated. Panic spiked in Sam’s chest: where was he? What was he?

But my soul was lost to us both, locked inside Peter while he did not know who he was, forgotten by everyone. So Nemo came to me. And we dealt, he and I. A gentlemans’ agreement. He wanted us to keep the status quo: Peter and the Others and my cohorts were never to regain their memories, while my soul would live within Peter … and Nemo, ah, he would give himself to me. The Fellowship with a weakened leader; the Others with none at all. Both sides neutralized. His precious humans saved.

He should have known better.

A sound like the grinding together of giant stones ripped through the air. Sam turned her head, horrified, as the hands of Big Ben sped up, the grinding growing louder and higher pitched until it was the whine of a turbine. The clock’s hands ran backwards, faster and faster so they became a blur. But in the distance she heard a scream, cutting above the whine of the clock; then another, then ten, then one hundred, a thousand, a million. Now, in the streets below the safe house, men, women and children ran out into the night, hands stopping their ears as they screamed and screamed and screamed.

Sam moaned, clutching her head as the dreadful noise stabbed through her skull.

“Stop it!”

Oh no. This is what must happen, Sammy girl. I’m winding back time and erasing the memories of a nation so all they will ever know is a world created by ME. And they are just the start of it.

Big Ben’s chime rang out, scratched and raw as a seventy’s vinyl.

And I have you to thank, Samantha. Your little Ripper investigation in the twenty-first century ignited the series of shocks that finally made Peter remember who he really was, and what he carried inside him. You unlocked my soul; and now, I’m taking it back.

Sam forced herself to swing round. Peter writhed in his chair, face and limbs contorting. Manish was stealing back his soul. She staggered to the chair. Teeth clenched against the horror in her mind, Sam thrust out her left arm and pulsed into Peter.

Laughter rolled in her head. You think you can best me, when even the great Nemo could not?

An invisible force hit her, knocking her down. Her head cracked upon the ground, snuffing out the white heat of her anger. Dazed, Sam lay in the filth, the screams and the screech of the clock clawing at her brain.

This is real, girl. REAL!

Sam shook her head, dragged up to her knees and turned back to the chair.


Simon had ripped free of his invisible bonds and was running towards the chair. Peter shimmered, blurred, began to fade. Simon leaped, grabbed the arms of the great chair as a brilliant light flashed across the sky.

They were gone.

“You bastard!” Sam’s anger roared to life. White heat pumped through her veins and she thrust her fist to the sky.

The world shattered. Sam slammed back against the rooftop wall, pinned there by a roaring force that kept coming and coming, so hard she felt her bones begin to bend beneath it.


Silver hair flashed. A white hand caught at her sleeve. Sam felt the air gather and swell. Then an explosion ripped across the rooftop and, limbs entangled, Magda and Sam pitched head first over the wall.

And over to you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Musings on setting

In between the chaos that seems to have descended upon my household (ear infections and a poor husband who is so busy with work he's now referred to around here as "the ghost who walks") I’m still working on revisions. Lately, I’ve been considering my book's setting.

My story is set in nineteenth century Paris (and a couple of other places, but mainly Paris.) It’s a fabulous city to work with as a backdrop to my story; indulge me, a moment ….

We have the grand boulevards such as the Avenue de Champs-Elysees ...

The sprawling park on the western edge of Paris, the Bois de Boulogne;
The fetid back streets and slums of the nineteenth century;
And, best of all, deep beneath the city streets we have the Catacombs, created in 1786 when the overflowing graveyard, the Cimetiere des Innocents, had to be emptied.

So much to work with! But therein lies two issues.

First, what I call "the travel guide syndrome".

Last year I read a book by a favourite author, and while the book is good, it is not her best. IMO this is down to the fact her descriptions of the setting of her story – nineteenth century Turkey – go on and on and on. And on. She was obviously enamoured with the place, but IMO it got in the way of her story. I started to skim the (many) passages of description to get to the meat of the story; or I’d lose interest altogether and put the book down. Not the reaction you want to evoke in your readers!

The problem is that some writers - and I’ve been guilty of this - can be obsessed about including in their book every little shiny, sparkly detail about a place they’ve fallen in love with; essentially, their love affair with a city or landscape renders them unable to judge what is truly necessary to include for the sake of the STORY. And when this happens, it bogs … the ... whole … book ... down … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ....

Don’t get me wrong; a healthy dose of accuracy and detail is needed when it comes to setting. But what you choose to include, and how and when to use it in your story, calls for careful judgment and an objective eye, otherwise you run the risk of your novel sounding like a travel guide, and putting your reader into a coma.

This leads to another issue about setting – how far should you go with being accurate about it? And are settings more accurately evoked when a writer has actually been to them - walked the streets, breathed the air, seen the sights?

See, I’ve never been to Paris. Many writers take trips to research their settings, and while I would wet my pants if given the chance to go to Paris, it’s just not going to happen. But I wonder – would my book be better if I robbed a bank, hopped on the next flight to Paris and spent a month absorbing the details and the atmosphere of the City of Light like a sponge?

I’d argue yes – and no.

“Yes”, in that being able to see and hear and inhale my setting could not possibly hurt in the slightest, and would be a quick and intensive way in which to steep myself in the atmosphere of all things Parisian in the hope it will flow out on to my page.

But also, “no”. I write historical fiction; my book is set in 1864, and unless someone invents a functioning time machine I can never, ever, visit the true setting of my book. Ever. And I find that this is actually a positive. It means I’m free to do what we writers love best of all – use our imaginations. A level of accuracy is required with setting, absolutely - readers need to feel you have a handle on the backdrop to your story or they won’t find anything you write to be credible - but you don’t have to be anal. IMO, choosing some specifics and getting them right – major (and easily checkable) things such as the names of roads, directions, seasonal changes, well-known land marks – gives your reader a solid foundation of place, from which you can leap off and … well, fake it.

Where my story has needed it, I’ve invented twisting alleys, imposing mansions, brothels and gambling dens, crumbling tenements, theatres, churches ... none of which exist anywhere but inside my head. IMO there’s nothing wrong with massaging a city or a town or a landscape to fit your story - we’re writing FICTION, people, and there’s an understanding that not everything on the page is factually correct (and there’s always the Author’s Notes to address any lingering misapprehensions (g)). And at the end of the day, doing what best serves your story is all important.

But to pull of this fakery you first need to have absorbed all you can about your setting, so you know where you can successfully bend the rules and where you simply can’t … and since I’ve rambled on long enough, how you do just that will be the subject of another post. But for now, when it comes to setting, use it as a tool to aid in the telling of your story without bludgeoning your readers with it, and don’t be afraid to make up a version all of your own. IMO, that’s one of the very best parts of writing fiction.

So, what settings have you used in your books, and how much of your setting have you invented?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Paddy's!

It's Wednesday...riiigghhhttt.... That'd be my day to post, wouldn't it?

And as much as I'd love to enlighten you with my words of wisdom today (snort), it'd be St. Patrick's Day today, don't ya know. So in honor of me Da's favorite drinkin' day, and bein' as I'm gettin' closer to that lovely time when I pour meself a pint an' call it a day... I'll leave you with these lovelies. From the funny to the utterly lame to the ahem...

ETA: maybe it's the Guinness talking but I'm seriously considering putting this song on
my answering machine...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Watch. Listen. Learn.

Ahhh…. Good Will Hunting. Whatta great movie. This scene in particular because there ain't nothing like a rich, white kid being put in his place. J

This scene is also great because it helps illustrate the point of this post. Especially this line:

(In fifty years you're gonna start doing some thinking on your own and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life…)

"Two. You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fucking education you could've got for a dollar-fifty in late charges at the public library."

BAM. Love that line.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, recently some writer friends of mine were talking about taking a workshop with Donald Maass. You've probably heard of the guy. (grin) To be honest, I barely tuned into the email conversation. One, because I know there's no way in heck I can afford to take one of his classes—not on my take home... And two, because it's probably the last dang place I want to be right now. i.e. locked inside a room with one hella smart agent, his blue pencil aimed squarely at my MS.. And to PAY for the ordeal. No thank you.

That said, I will admit that I mostly tuned out because Jen Wanna Go. Jen Wanna Go Bad.

I'm like everyone else. I want feedback. I CRAVE feedback… kinda like an addict. But when I boiled it all down, there's really no need for me to go to such a workshop at this particular point in time. Quite frankly, there's a point when feedback becomes repetitious. Either in a positive or a negative way. And put simply, there's a time you have to stop meandering around with classes and workshops and what not and you have to sit your ass down in a chair and work on your writing. NO classes required. No money required.

When I first started writing, one of the greatest things about it was that I had no flippin' clue what I was doing. I couldn't even use quotation marks correctly for dialogue. I had NO idea what the 'return key' was for and had pages upon pages of writing without so much as a break. (I could go on forever. It was like someone had shaved down a Neanderthal who could barely speak and set her in front of this weird contraption called a computer.) Yeah, it was a bit FUBAR, but I was learning…one step at a time, I was learning. When I thought I had taken things as far as I could go (which, let's be honest, I didn't – there's no way I explored all of the literature, etc. about writing), I took it to another level by joining Compuserve. Ah, immediate feedback. It was wonderful, and my skills set jumped up several pegs. Still free. Just more time-involved. I've been there for several years, and man, the education has been excellent.

I'd like to note that in all this time, I've read exactly…hmm….2 and ¾'s (total) of writing books. I've attended one conference, yes…but mostly so I could be with friends and have face-to-face contact with a stellar agent. (Erm, she has a lot in come with KristEn (g)).

In other words, I paid for my education through writing. I paid for my education by reading and critiquing the work of others. By first participating and then helping to run the writing exercises at Compuserve. This I've done for free—the cost: paper and ink. And time.

I sometimes worry when I hear about people trying to buy fixes for their manuscript. It's very easy to fall into that trap, for one. I start thinking.. what if THIS workshop WILL fix my book…will somehow magically inspire me to sit my butt down and work on this beast of a book. What if I miss out and then fail?? What if they're right and forking over my duckets was the only thing standing in my way of greatness?? Oh the neurotic freak outs can last for days. In the end, one word:


You can pour money into your book. You can attend conference after conference, workshop after workshop… you can hire a private editor. You can read book after book about writing and learn how this person does it…and that person does it….and fill your head with so many damn 'rules' that you tie yourself into a big ole' knot of worry. Or you can sit your ass down and figure these things out yourself.

I vote for the latter. J

Conferences and workshops are great—I don't want anyone to think that I'm somehow devaluing their benefits. Just be clear on why you're attending them. Is it because you need another dose of positive feedback on the ten pages you've been showing everyone for years now? (Do it online, it's cheaper.) It is because you want to rub elbows with agents and editors who will love you so much they'll want your book? (Save your money. These people may like you a great deal, but that doesn't mean a damn thing if your book isn't stellar.) Is it because it will be Just The Ticket to spur you on to finishing? (Dude, no one and nothing can do that but you. Though of all the reasons, this one makes the most sense.) Do you think somehow you'll find the Miracle of what makes a book work and sell big?

My answer is simple.

Go to the library.

Now, How do you like them apples? J

Monday, March 15, 2010

Calamity and disaster

I've been thinking a bit this week about calamity and disaster. My life is full of it at the moment, as you get when you're running a household full of kids and pets.

This week has gone a bit like this:

Saturday night, halfway through having friends over for dinner, I came down with a particularly violent bout of gastro. Within an hour, I was collapsed in bed, unable to do anything except clutch my bucket and moan.

By 2:30am, my one-year-old joined the party. We heard her crying on the baby monitor, and when we went to check we discovered she'd managed to return all of her dinner, milk, hell, probably her breakfast and lunch too, to the proverbial light of day, and had neatly rolled herself aaaall over in a mixture of partly-digested blueberries and lasagne to boot.

Last night, she was disgustingly perky and happy, but still passed out with unusual rapidness at 6pm and slept through to 7am this morning. But I didn't sleep a wink, because I was still busy rolling around groaning- nope, no quick recovery for me.

Today, she couldn't go to daycare, because 48 hours has to have passed before they're happy to have her back after gastro. And we're off on a holiday on Wednesday, so my husband absolutely can't have time off work- he still has eight million things to do before we go anyway. Which left me looking after a completely recovered, but still pretty clingy and cranky, child while I still feel like death un-warmed.

First up this morning- the dog decided she needed to relieve herself. On the carpet in my bedroom, naturally. And I'm telling you, she had to have been holding that one in for about three days, because man. It took a lot of mopping.

Next, I find the toddler wandering around with a pair of scissors, because I'm an awesomely attentive parent. I snatched them off her, thinking disaster was averted, but no- although she didn't nip off any of her rosy little fingers, she'd managed to cut a huge hole in her lovely embroidered shirt.


The last straw of the day was when the cat, who had been observing all this with her usual smug amusement, sat up from her perch on the back of the couch, stretched- and then proceeded to barf in a neat arc calculated to cover as much of the furniture as possible.

Which I needed. Like. A. Hole. In. The. Head.

I'm not sure the dog, the cat, or the kid had ever heard so many four-letter words strung together at the same time.

There have been other little piddling disasters, but I don't care anymore. If I wasn't sick as a dog, I'd be halfway through a bottle of red right now.

Now, what the hell relevance does this have to writing, you might ask?

Firstly, it's about all I can manage right now. But secondly, before the dreaded gastro hit, I'd already been thinking about calamity and disaster. I'd been thinking about it because I've been working through the first section of BETWEEN THE LINES, and when I sat down and noted down the major plot points as part of the February Exercise over at CompuServe, I discovered that pretty much all I had was exactly that- disaster after heart-breaking disaster, downhill all the way.

Now, technically this fits the fictional ideal of "upping the tension", but at the same time it's just... depressing. Worrying a little about that, I Googled "bleak books", and discovered this list of the ten most depressing books ever written. And though I *should* have read several of those, I actually haven't read any- probably in part because I avoid utterly bleak books like the plague. I can't stand reading something that has no inkling of hope.

I don't think I'm heading in that direction, because it's just the first of four sections, and the point of the story is that the last two sections reverse the trend of hopelessness- Bill goes from losing everything, to gaining everything. Fabulous!

But the point of this post is, if the particular time you're living through is consistently bleak, then it's exhausting. That's why the best books temper scenes of disaster with... quietness, at least, if not complete positivity. The reader needs a lull in the storm to catch their breath, or else they'll do what the character would love to be able to do- they'll put down the book and go find something better to read.

So, I consider the last few days a good reminder of that- sure, you need to up the tension with worst case scenario on worst case scenario, but you also need to give the reader a glimmer of hope that there's a point to it all.

Here's looking forward to discovering the meaning of my life in the next day or two!

A Kill in Time -A Jack the Ripper tale with a time traveling twist - Poll Results

Well, the votes are in and it seems Sam is destined to fail in her attempt to use her powers to save Peter. Sigh. The poor girl. Surely something has to start going right for her, soon.

Until Friday ....

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Kill in Time -A Jack the Ripper tale with a time traveling twist - Part 11

Memories, they are what makes us who we are. Memories form the very fabric of our minds. Past present, even future -all of it tied up with memory. Our sense of right and wrong, self-preservation, what would it be without that trigger of memory, that flow of information stored someplace that says, this line you shall not pass. In truth, a mind cannot properly function without memory. Walk through a room, lift a glass of water to your mouth…without memory would you be able to finish the task? Without knowing why you are doing what you are doing would you be able to function? That is memory. It is who you are. Every single fucking thing about you is memory. Whether your own, or someone else’s. Frank stared at the ceiling watching the half-crown spin a silver arc into the air before hurdling back down toward him. He caught it up and tossed it high again. Over and over. All the while contemplating memory.

It came down to memories. He knew this. He knew this. And it made his stomach roll, his skin cold yet sweating. The bed beneath him seemed to sway, the room to spin. He took a bracing breath, concentrated on the coin. Fuck.

The coil hovered at the precipice of its flight, a silver disk hung in time. Remember. Images flashed through his mind. Blood, flesh, pink coils of intestine. God! The room whirled around him like a top. Going down. Sinking. Fear. Malignant eyes of dun brown. Yellowed teeth bared in a smile. That woman, the curvy one with the brown hair and green eyes…who… Sam? Green eyes shimmered into silver. Silver like the coin. Silver eyes, a cloud of silver hair tumbling down a slim white back. Deep red lips smiling as the words formed a name. What name? He could almost hear that name. She called it, her back arching, high firm breasts, silver nipples glinting in candlelight. Frank shivered, running hot and cold. Bile rose in his throat. A dark shape against green fog, the snap of coattails. Almost there. Must stop it. Green eyes. Silver hair. Love you forever. Mine. Yours. Ours. Pain. Such pain. And hate. Computers. Badge. Pictures of young girls. Green eyes. Silver eyes. He swallowed hard, the coin striking him hard on his check. Like the clanging of a bell that incongruous coin stuck something deep within his soul and he could almost feel the thin tether of his sanity snap.

He lunged up, screaming. Screaming. A name.



Like that, they were back at the safe house. Sam forced her arms to slip from Simon’s warm neck. Her legs felt like rubber. In truth, she could sleep for a week and not be bothered. A wild urge to beg for a bed rose in her mind but she pushed it down, settled for folding herself onto the settee by the fire. It was hard and smelled of must and wool. She missed her apartment. Missed her ignorance.

Simon moved to a heavy mahogany sideboard. “Drink?”

She almost wept. “Please. And a lot of it.”

His wide mouth curled as he poured her a generous helping of some amber liquid.

She took the proffered glass as he sat down next to her, the weight of him making her roll slightly into his large frame. She sat straighter, tucking her feet under her, and took a stiff drink. Sticky sweet fire burned her throat. “Gah, what is this?”

His teeth flashed. “Port. I assumed you were a drinker.” Another smile, bigger this time. “Would you have preferred sherry?”

Sam gave him a speaking look. “I would have preferred vodka. This stuff…” She shuddered.

Simon chuckled. “I shall remember that next time.” His fingers brushed against hers as he took her glass and Sam felt heat to her toes. Good Lord.

The coal fire settled behind the grate sending off a hiss of warm steam. In the hall, a clock chimed, the sound of it echoing through the darkness. For a moment it all seemed so normal. Then the image of death and violence surged forward. Ruthlessly, she tapped it down. Not now. She needed a moment of peace. And sitting her felt so normal. It was a much needed relief.

“Do you do this often?” she asked, if only to break the silence.

“Drink?” Simon’s blue eyes twinkled.

“No.” She resisted giving his broad shoulder a teasing push. Just barely. “This…” she waved her hand helplessly. “Saving strange girls, flitting through time, monsters…” her words trailed off as a delicate shudder ran down her spine.

“Ah.” Simon took a drink, the thick column of his throat moving beneath his white collar. Absently, he caressed the edge of his glass with his thumb. “Nemo. He is our mentor,” Simon explained with a glance at her. “He came for me when I was five.” His shoulders moved beneath his coat as if they suddenly itched.

Simon turned to gaze off into the fireplace, his Patrician profile as clean and strong as a stamped Roman coin. “I think I’d been stopping time before that age. But five was when I remember doing so with deliberation.” Firm lips curled. “I broke my mother’s favorite vase and I was terrified. Suddenly everything stopped. God, I thought I was dreaming, and then I thought, well if it is a dream, then I shall have some fun. So I swept up the shards and placed them at my older brother’s feet.” He turned, his deep blue eyes gleaming with emotion. “And then I thought ‘go’. Everything just started up again. Mother thrashed my brother for the vase and I…” He looked off, swallowing.

“You felt guilty.” Sam could understand that.

He pinned her with his gaze. “No.” A sad smile pulled at him. “I felt powerful.” Simon played with the frayed edge of the upholstery. “And it scared the hell out of me.” He made a sound, something near humor but filled with pain. “Nemo came to us the next week.”

“Your family contacted him?”

“Why would they? They never knew what I did.”

Sam shifted, her high heels snagging against the silk.

Simon shook his head slowly, sending a lock of glossy blond hair over his brow. “There is a ripple effect when the normal course of the universe is altered. Nemo felt it and tracked the source. I remember him standing in our doorway like it was yesterday. Flaming red hair, bone white skin and his eyes. The eyes gave him away. They flicked to mine and I swear I saw my whole life flash before me. I tried to tell my mother ‘here stood danger’ but she shooed me away.”

“What did he tell her?”

Simon rested his arm on the settee back. The movement brought them face to face, their knees close together. “He told her she was going to send me away to school. That is was a wonderful opportunity –we were poor, you see- that she had inherited a great deal of money from an uncle she didn’t know she had. Then she would pack up and move to Mayfair. Whenever she saw me again she would never ask questions, only accept whatever I told her.” His long fingers threaded through his hair as he rested his hand on his head. “And there was my mother, in a trance, her head bobbing in acquiescence with ever command he uttered. And I thought, here is a magician. Just like me.”

“A regular Harry Potter,” she mumbled.

Simon’s straight brow rose in question. Sam waved her hand. “So Nemo took you, taught you, I suppose?”

“Yes. There has always been Others. Those whose talents can be used to save humanity from the evils of the world. It saved my life to be a part of it.”

“And the others?” Frank?

“Midnight came to us soon afterward. She was a snarly little girl of seven, I believe. We got on well,” he said fondly. “Braham, Lazarus, and Clarrissa were in their teens when Nemo found them. And Frank…” Simon frowned. “I believe… Yes, that’s right, he was twenty, and not too happy to be with us for a time.” He gave a huff of nervous laughter. “Can you believe I forgot for a moment when he came on board?”

Frankly, no, she thought, surprised as he. Simon’s memory seemed impeccable.

But Simon had moved on, and by the haunting look in his eyes, she knew of whom he thought.

“Livy…” Simon swallowed. “She was last. We’ve only been together, that is she has only been with the group for five years.” He caught her eyes and his head tilted as though waiting for her to remember perhaps, or perhaps he simply wanted to see her reaction.

Sam took a deep breath. Tentatively, she reached out to him. Their fingers touched, only the very tips. She felt the same bolt of heat, the unnerving sense of need and rightness. The desire to pull away was as strong as the desire to thread her fingers with his. She didn’t know which desire to follow so she let her hand still. “Simon,” she said as his blue eyes locked with hers, “I am not her. You must understand this.” She fought for her voice. “I can’t do this and feel I must live up to something I am not.”

Simon made the decision for her, linking his warm fingers with hers. “I know you are Sam,” he said quietly. “And I would not have you feel that you must compete with a ghost.” His grip tightened. “But I know there is more to us than what we see.”

She opened her mouth to protest and he spoke over her. “Have you ever met a person for the first time, yet it feels like you have known them forever? Like they are already part of you?”

Yes. She didn’t need to voice it, or say whom. She was staring right at the man. He knew. She knew. His thumb caressed the back of her hand, sending little shivers along her skin.

“I felt that when I met Livy.”

Sam’s stomach plummeted. She moved to break free of his grip. He held tight. “I felt it even more when I met you.”

“You’re eyes,” Sam whispered. “I remember them. Like a dream.” She frowned, struggling to explain.

The thumb upon her hand made lazy circles. “Our senses are everything.” His voice was like the fog that danced against the parlor windows. “And nothing. Touch…” his thumb tapped her, “taste, smell, sound, sight…” He closed his eyes for a moment. They turned the color of cobalt when he opened them again. “If I did not have use of them would you sit before me?”

Sam cleared her throat but could not pull away. “Of course I would.”

He leaned forward, his sculpted features like a Bellini saint. The oddly familiar comparison stuck her as he spoke. “But would it matter to me? My reality is based on two things, my senses and my memory.”

“I could not have said it better, Hunt.” The masculine voice, at once familiar and utterly British cut between them.

They were on their feet, Simon with a sword in his hand. Sam hadn’t even seen him carry one.

A man stood within the parlor doorway. For a moment Sam thought she saw Frank standing their, the image flickered like a hologram then snapped away, leaving only an unfamiliar threat. Tall and broad as Simon, the man looked much like his brother, except where Simon’s hair was the color of burnished gold, this man’s was the blackest night, thick and lustrous, framing a chiseled face. If Simon was a Bellini saint, here was Michelangelo’s David. Sam’s stomach dipped as a memory tried to gain purchase.

A thick black brow quirked. “Are you not going to say hello, Si?”

The sword in Simon’s hand faltered as he swayed. His skin had gone ashen gray, glistening with beads of sweat.

The man took a step forward, his hands up and out as if to show no ill intent. He glanced at her. “He’s almost there.” Again, that voice, so like Frank's but clipped and precise, as if he were Prince William. What the hell?

The sword clattered to the floor as Simon grabbed the back of the settee.

“Frank?” It was a thick rasp.

Sam gasped. “Frank? This isn’t Frank.” She grabbed Simon’s shoulder in concern before glaring at the man. “What did you do to him?” Her hands came up, shaking, ready to do…something! “What the hell did you do to him?”

He spared her another glance then focused on Simon. “No, almost. Reach for it, Hunt. You’re better than this.”

Simon swallowed, his whole body shaking, and then like something within him snapped. “Bloody sodding hell! Peter?” He sank to the settee, hitting it with his knees.

“Who the hell is Peter?”

Peter, whoeverthehell, looked at her with a flicker of sorrow and yes, wonder. “Sam? Yes, I see Sam.” He took another step, his booted feet clicking on the parquet. “Yet I see Olivia as well. Like a flicker of both. A…what did we call it in your time?” Black brows furrowed before going smooth. “Ah, yes, a hologram.”

Simon looked at her, his eyes wide as if seeing for the first time. “He is Frank.”

“What the hell is going on!” She was on the verge of a very childlike and very violent tantrum. “Tell me now!”

Peter/Frank, whoeverthehell, glanced at Simon. “Where is Magda? The rest. Get them here now.” It brooked no argument.

Simon closed his eyes, his expression going smooth and serene. “They come,” he said at last.

The words were barely out of his mouth when a flurry of movement flickered in the hall. A cloud of silver hair and then they came into the room. Midnight stopped short at the sight of this strange new man. Her silver skin went an ugly shade of pearl and for one long moment her mouth hung open until a gurgle left her.


His smile was the sun. Slowly, he opened his arm. With a small shout, she ran to him, flinging herself into his arms. “Peter.” It was a sigh.

His hand came up to lightly touch her silver bouffant. “Good lord, woman, what have you done to your hair?” was all he said, though his eyes filled with tears.

She made something like a sob/snort. “Do not ask.”

Sam stood there gaping like an idiot. They all did for a moment, then Brahman and the man Lazarus walked further into the room.

Midnight and Peter parted, but he kept an arm around her slim waist.

Sam jumped within her skin at the touch of Simon’s hand. He looked at her with sorrow, yet his hand claimed hers as though to shore her up.

Peter spoke again. “Do you remember now?”

Midnight nodded, her checks went, yet it was Simon who spoke. “The alley. We tracked Townsend down. He had slashed the girl. You caught him and then…” He shook his head.

“You turned,” Midnight said. "You became him." Disgust twisted her features.

Lazarus leaned against the settee back, his rumpled frame weary. “We tried to contain you and then something happened.”

“Manish was there,” Peter said, his voice hard.

“Bloody sodding hell,” Simon and Lazarus said together.

Peter/Frank, whoeverthehell graced her with a look. “We, all of us, have a talent. You know Simon’s well by now, I assume. Midnight can block out the senses,” he said with a proud glance at his woman –that much was crystal clear. "Brahman controls nature’s forces, Lazarus raises the dead…”

“You steal souls?” she prompted.

He smiled, and for a breath-stealing second, the gesture looked so much like Frank's that her eyes misted. Frank, where did you go?

“Yes,” he said. “And Manish, our friend Manish has the most terrible power of all. He can take your memories.” He took a step toward the fireplace as if he needed its warmth. “That night, last night actually, Manish was there. I stole the soul of a terrible killer, a demon, and Manish came to claim it.”

“Manish is not like us,” said Lazarus. His soft voice stole over the silence. “He is both soul sucker and mind- ”

“Fucker,” Midnight snapped succinctly.

Lazarus’s sharp cheeks flushed. “Quite.” He looked at Sam. “We battled him, Peter managed to pull part of his soul free. To incapacitate him.”

“A more foul soul, I cannot fathom,” said Peter.

“But Manish is stronger than we knew. Simon tried to make an avenue of escape, open a portal. I remember is a pulse of light and then…” Lazarus shrugged.

Peter’s black eyes moved over the group. “You all went down. I managed to jump through the portal that Si opened up but Manish did his damage first.”

Simon took a deep breath. “He panted false memories in all of us. Made us think that Peter was Frank Townsend, that he had turned rouge years ago. He made us forget the true face and name of our friend.”

“But it did not fully work, did it?” Brahman said. His massive arms crossed in front of him. “We remembered the essence of you. That we must find you, and where you had gone.”

Sam’s feet felt like lead, her head fragile as glass. One more blow and she might shatter. Her hand, intertwined with Simon’s firm grip grew damp. “But what of Frank?” Frank, the man she loved. Where the hell was he? She didn’t believe the guy for a moment.

Simon gazed steadily at her, his words soft and slow as if she were an infant. “Frank Townsend is a killer.”

“No. My memories weren’t affected. I’ve known Frank for two years.”

“We always jump in two-year increments,” Peter said in the same irritating tone. “Time stayed the same here, but moved on there.” A flicker of something much like guilt flashed in his eyes. “His soul took over my own and for two years, I lived like the damned. My soul fighting with his, my memory trying to gain purchase, fighting both Frank's and the dark blight of Manish’s.” His hand slipped away from Midnight. “Sam. God.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I…I see you. I see the lover I turned to as Frank, and my good friend Olivia.” He shook his head as if to clear it. “It is… I know it is hard. We shall talk…”

“I don’t know who the fuck you are,” she snapped, her voice harder than she felt. “But you are not Frank. You don’t even look like him!”

“I looked like Frank when I believed I was Frank.” His hands spread wide. “If the mind believes strongly enough the flesh will follow. Can you not see a glimmer of the man you knew in me? That is the man that cared for you.”

Cared. Not loved. She felt sick. And yet, yes, she could see it, a flicker in the eyes, the timber of his voice.

“I’m going to be sick.” She could not take it anymore, she wrenched free of Simon, who had stood like all of them, like a fucking statue of pity.

No one stopped her as she brushed past Peter, ran from the room. Likely they didn’t care.


Peter’s hand came down on Simon’s shoulder. “Let her go for now.”

Simon hadn’t been aware of moving, only that his heart broke for Samantha. He saw her breaking. How did they expect her to survive this? She wasn’t used to the world turning upside down. Not like they were.

“You should have broken it to her more gently.”

Peter nodded but his stubborn chin remained high. “Most likely. Yet we don’t have time for such luxuries. And I’m damned tired of being confused.”

Undoubtely. Simon couldn’t imagine when Peter had been through.

“Are you well now?” He still couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of the false memories. They clung to him like cobwebs. “Are the souls contained?”

Peter’s dark eyes flashed. “As much as they can be. But I feel them trying to break free.”

Midnight stepped forward, her hand coming to Peter’s chest. They’d been lovers for so long. God’s teeth, what would this do to Sam? Simon grit his teeth against the sudden desire to punch Peter in the face. None of this was his fault, but damn him all the same for getting involved with Sam when his mind was not right. He had to have known that much.

“Can you hold them off, love?” Midnight asked.

Peter gave a short nod. “But not for long. I needn’t remind you all that Manish is connected to me. It is only a matter of time before he or his snail Lispenard tracks the soul down.”

“Manish himself was in the future,” Brahman said. “We did not recognize him then, but yes, the cloven feet, the smell of death, was his.”

Peter shivered, his dark eyes flashing yellow for a fraction of a second. No, they were not safe. Even now, that soul from hell struggled to break free.

“We’ve got to get those souls out of you.” Simon flinched for even stating the obvious and Peter’s wry glanced nettled, but Peter didn't know of Nemo.

“Nemo is captured,” Simon explained and Peter blanched. Right he should. Only Nemo had the power to suck and destroy an unwanted soul that Peter had managed to capture.

“Shit.” Peter’s jaw tightened. “Shit on a stick.”

Midnight quirked a silver brow. “A bit of twenty-first century slang, my love?”

He ignored her. She can do it,” Peter said, glaring at the floor. His eyes met Simon’s.

Simon’s heart clenched. “No. She doesn’t know how.”

The familiar black eyes were uncompromising. “Olivia did, and she is one with Olivia. Hell, even I can see her in there.”

“No. We cannot ask her. She’s been through too much.”

Lazarus regarded him with understanding eyes. “Yes, she has but the alternative is our utter annihilation. And hers. She will remember. You must teach her. You and Peter. Tonight.”

Midnight nodded. “Remember, she unleashed that power in the parking lot.”

Simon felt the weight of their combined will. He turned from it to pace. He was the second-in-command, their leader while Nemo was captive. And his personal feelings were failing them all. “If she does this,” he paused, hating himself for what he would do to Sam. “If she tries and that power falls out of her control we will all die.”

“If she does this thing without perfect accuracy,” Peter interpreted, his expression bland, “every part of me will be annihilated. It is a chance we must take.”

Midnight clutched Peter’s black overcoat, but she nodded with defeated acceptance.

Brahman stepped forward. “Any one of us could die.”

Peter shook his head violently. “We are not all needed. The rest of you go to save the others. I will stay with her. I can guide her as well as any.”

“If you think I am leaving her, you are utterly deluded,” Simon said, his eyes pinning Peter’s.

“As are you, if you think I will leave you,” Midnight added.

Lazarus stood. “I will stay.”

“We will all stay,” said Brahman. “We are stronger united. We do this and we move against Manish, and the rest. Together.”

Peter knew when to accept defeat. His shoulders slumped on a sigh. “Go to her Simon, prepare her.”

Simon’s soul felt like lead. “I will go. But know this, you will have that talk with her. You will not harm this woman with your distance.” Simon loved his friend like a brother but he knew Peter’s weaknesses well. He would seek to slip away rather than face the uncomfortable situation he caused.

Peter frowned. It was the look of a boy who must face the schoolmaster’s whip, but he gave a nod of acquiescence.

With a heavy heart, Simon went to the door and to Samantha. God help him. God help them all.

So now, Samantha must use her untrained powers to destroy the evil souls within Peter. But all will not go well. It is up to you to decide: