October 29, 2011

A Collection of Beautiful People

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten the rest of the questions on You Haven't Got an Appointment! I'm looking forward to doing them (I believe Yaasha Moriah's first question is next), but I thought I would take a break and do my monthly Beautiful People post.

This month Georgie and Sky, the organizers of Beautiful People, are doing something a little different in preparation for NaNo. Unfortunately I am not participating in NaNo this year, so I took up the other part of the challenge: answering all of the questions to date for one of my characters. I had planned to do Darkwood from The White Sail's Shaking this month, but doing all the questions would have given too much away about him; so instead I'm focusing on the character who has given me the most trouble in this story, Tip not excepted...

marta rais

What is her full name?

Marta Clara Kilpatrick, but she goes by Mara Rais (her mother’s maiden name) or by Roy Martin.

Does her name have a special meaning?


Does your character have a methodical or disorganized personality?

Marta is very methodical.

Does she think inside herself more than she talks out loud to her friends? (more importantly, does she actually have friends?)

Marta has always lived a secluded life with her mother; she spent her childhood playing with rocks, makeshift dolls, and petals from the rose bushes outside her Syracusan home rather than spending time with children her age. Perhaps as a result of this, she is very private and does not confide easily in others; she also has a tendency toward snobbishness.

Is there something she is afraid of?

Seamen. Rats. Ghosts.

Does she write, dream, dance, sing, or photograph?

None of the above, though her mother was an excellent singer.

What is her favorite book? (or genre of books)

Marta likes to read, but she has not had enough access to books while growing up to have a favorite.

Who is her favorite author and/or someone that inspires her?

See number 7.

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

Marta has never had ice cream. If she did, I think she would like black raspberry (gross!).

What type of laugh does she have?

In her current situation she does not have much reason to be amused, but when is she has a very soft, shy laugh.

Who is her best friend?

The only friend she has at present is Tip Brighton.

What is her family like?

Marta’s mother was an actress, but she left the theater to marry Kilpatrick, a British officer, and to raise Marta. Both mother and father are now deceased and Marta is on her own. Her father’s family lives in England, but she knows nothing of them.

Is she a Christian, or will she eventually find Jesus?

Difficult to say…

Does she believe in fairies?

I think not.

Does she like hedgehogs?

Marta has never met one herself, but she has heard about them and finds them far enough away from rats to be acceptable.

Favorite kind of weather?

She likes stormy days when she is safe inside by a fire. Also springtime. Her impressions of each season is formed by her mother’s rosebushes.

Does she have a good sense of humor? If so, what kind? (Slapstick, wit, sarcasm, etc.?)

She does not have a very well developed sense of humor. Tip’s love of irony and his strange laugh confuse her.

How did she do in school, or any kind of education she might have had?

Marta’s mother taught her the basics—reading, writing, and basic arithmetic—as well as how to keep house. She has a studious personality and did well.

Any strange hobbies?


Favorite season of the year?

Winter, until she goes to sea and finds that winter equals storms.

How old is she?

Eighteen and nineteen over the course of the novel.

What does she do with her spare time?

Plays the spy, a very unlikeable pastime.

Does she see the big picture or live in the moment?

Somewhere in the middle, I believe. She is not one of those people who can take something in with a glance, but neither does she fixate on what is happening now.

Is she a perfectionist?

Not wholly, but she is much more concerned with neatness and accuracy than Tip.

What does her handwriting look like? (round, slanted, curly, skinny, sloppy, neat, decorative, etc.)

Marta prides herself on her neat penmanship.

Favorite animal?


Does she have any pets?

No, she has never had a real pet. As a child she used to put out crumbs for the birds to eat, and she liked to pretend they were her pets.

Does she have any siblings? How many? Where does she fit in?

Marta is an only child.

Does she have a 'life verse' and if so what is it?

Psalm 4:8 is the best I can come up with on the spur of the moment: “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Favorite writing utensil?

A pencil stub, but she rarely manages to procure one.

What kind of music does she like?

Marta doesn’t listen to much music, but she has enjoyed the snatches of operatic pieces she has heard.

Does she like to go outside?

Yes, but she likes to know that she can go home whenever she likes.

Is she naturally curious?

No, but she becomes curious by necessity. She would rather keep herself to herself.

Right or left handed?


Favorite color?

Dark red.

Where is she from?

Syracuse, Sicily.

Any enemies?

She considers everyone to be a potential enemy. And for the most part that isn’t paranoia: just common sense.

What are her quirks?

She is bitter because her father loved the sea (and his family’s good opinion) more than he loved his wife and child and thus thinks of all seamen with contempt, yet she is also proud of the British and looks down on the Americans. Above all, she is fiercely Sicilian.

What kinds of things get on her nerves?

Tip’s laugh, although she becomes used to it, and Charlie Bent’s snobbery. Also, half-answers, seamen, and being called British.

Is she independent, or does she need others to help out?

Marta likes to think of herself as independent, but she really isn't.

What is her biggest secret?

She has two: the first is that she is a girl, a fact only Tip knows, and the second I can’t say.

Has she ever been in love?

No, never. She has never had anyone to be in love with.

What is her comfort food?

Anything but hard tack with worms in it.

Does she play a musical instrument? If so, what?

Marta can play the piano forte, although she has not had a chance to practice in some time.

What colour are her eyes? Hair?

Marta has light brown eyes and very dark brown hair.

What is her favorite place to be?

In her home in Syracuse by the fire.

What are some of her dreams or goals?

Her goal is to get to England and find her father’s family; her dream is for them to accept her.

Does she enjoy sports?


What is her favorite flower or plant?

The red rose.

What is her biggest accomplishment?

She does not consider herself to have accomplished anything yet. Making it as far as Gibraltar was something, but that didn’t end well.

What is one of her strongest childhood memories?

Sitting in her mother’s lap in a big rocking chair on Christmas Eve, listening to the rain outside and her mother’s singing. Also, playing dress-up with trunk-loads of her mother’s old dresses.

Does she believe in love at first sight?

No. Marta regards the idea with scorn.

What kind of home does she live in?

Currently she is living on board the schooner Enterprize, but she has no permanent home.

What does she like to wear?

Playing the part of a seaman means that she is forced to wear uncomfortable, baggy, ugly clothes; her only article that she likes at all is her black cap which she wears all day every day (which gets a little old for her). She likes to think about all the beautiful dresses and hats she will buy in England, and all of her mother’s jewelry and clothing that she might have owned.

What would she do if she discovered she was dying?

She would break down in tears and want someone to hold her as if she were a child again.

What kind of holidays or traditions does she celebrate?


What do your other characters have to say about her?

Lewis would say she is a nuisance, with a few other words thrown in. Charlie says she is pretty much worthless as a seaman and distrusts her instinctively. Tip alternately thinks that she is horribly Mediterranean, a redhead at her core, and rather pretty in her own way.

If she could change one thing in her world, what would it be?

Beneath her bitterness, Marta has too much faith in Providence to truly desire to change anything; but she does sometimes wish that her mother were still alive.

Does she have any habits, annoying or otherwise?

She tends to pull her cap down over her eyebrows, which Tip, who likes to look people in the face while he talks to them (and thinks Marta’s eyes are lovely), finds irksome.

What is her backstory and how does it affect her now?

Marta has always been very close to her mother, a Syracusan beauty, and though she did not inherit Clara’s looks, she does have her Mediterranean blood and her love of Sicily. Her mother’s death has left her withdrawn, for she no longer has anyone with whom to talk freely. Her father’s neglect bred in her a distrust of seamen; she is convinced that when a man falls in love with the sea, it becomes his one obsession.

How does she show love?

Marta’s love is difficult to win, but once it is won she will stand by that person until the day she dies. She isn’t shy or stand-offish, so she doesn’t mind giving or receiving kisses.

How competitive is she?

Marta is quite competitive, somewhat irrationally so at times.

What does she think about when nothing else is going on?

The “ghost” that haunts the Enterprize. What she will do when she is discharged and how her father’s family will receive her. How very irritating Tip Brighton’s laugh can be. And what kind of a name is “Tip,” anyway?

Does she have an accent?

Marta has a very smooth voice and her English is impeccable. If it weren’t for her looks (and her temper) you might not know she was Mediterranean.

What is her station in life?

Neither she nor her family has any pretensions to greatness, although her father’s side is wealthy. She is nothing more than a common seaman on the Enterprize.

What do others expect from her?

Her superiors expect her to do her work and not to desert. Tip expects her to be unexpected, although what he hopes about her is another matter. Lewis expects her to keep her mouth shut, and Charlie expects nothing from her because he rarely thinks about her.

Where was she born and when?

Syracuse, Sicily, October 23, 1785.

How does she feel about people in general?

She considers Americans to be arrogant and crude; she thinks the British are arrogant and refined. Otherwise, she deals with people as they come into her sphere and not in generalizations.

October 25, 2011

She Thought Her Heart Would Break

Question number four (-ish) on You Haven't Got an Appointment! was put by Londongirl, who asked

How do you write a sad, emotional scene without making it seem sappy or forced?

First of all, I'm flattered that you thought the scenes in The Soldier's Cross met this difficult hurtle! Emotion can be a very hard thing to capture, but, when done right, it also provides some of the best dramatic scenes; done incorrectly, the scene becomes melodramatic instead. So how does one manage to convey emotions, whether it be fear or anger, tension or sorrow, without falling into the trap of being ridiculous and cliche?

Probably the most important element of writing emotion is knowing your character. I won't go so far as to say that the whole issue boils down to that one thing, but I will say that if it boils down to anything, that's what I would expect to find left in the pot. Individual characters will react differently to traumatic events, just as individual people in real life will; there is no cut-and-dry solution which allows you to say, "If the event is a death, the main character will feel this way," and, "If the protagonist is insulted, he will react like that." In every story you write, you should find the protagonist a little different from the one in the novel you wrote previously. Get to know your character; this may mean filling out pages upon pages of interview questions, or it may mean simply continuing to write and learning by trial and error. When you begin to understand what makes that person tick, you'll be better able to write those dramatic scenes.

As to the nuts and bolts of writing an emotion-packed scene, these are a little more difficult. I wouldn't venture to give a dogmatic answer, but I can give some suggestions that you may or may not find helpful - hopefully you will! First off, recognize that in the early scenes of a story, you probably won't get the character's reaction quite right on the first try. I wrote a good 40,000 words of The White Sail's Shaking before I had a handle on Tip's character, and I had to go back and rewrite the early chapters. Don't deceive yourself into thinking that you won't have to edit, and you'll begin to realize that there is no point in being too hard on yourself the first time through. Relax.

Second, as you write (or before you write, if you like to warm up before you start in on a scene), put yourself in the place of the character to the best of your ability. What would you feel like if someone were coming at you with a knife? Or, to use the example that Londongirl did from my own story, how would you react if someone told you your brother was dead? Try - again, to the best of your ability - to see things with the eyes of your character. K.M Weiland on her blog Wordplay frequently emphasizes the importance of using all five senses in description (not all at the same time) - smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling as well as seeing. It might help to consider each of these as you write out a scene, then hone in on the ones you feel are most important.

Third, don't forget the little things. I mentioned in a post some months ago how marvelously Rosemary Sutcliff conveys emotion through small things. You may be inclined to think that in the midst of something traumatic a character wouldn't notice details, but this isn't always the case; the mind often fixates on strange details like an odd smell or a particular color. Incorporating something like that to a highly emotional scene helps to set off the character's emotions without forcing the author to relate his or her feelings point by point.

And then, of course, look beyond the cliche! Think about how you can describe reactions and emotions in a fresh manner. Give the old phrases a new twist or look at an emotion from a different angle, and see what you come up with when you do. After all, isn't that part of the fun of writing?

October 21, 2011

Tempus Regina

I was very pleased to get a couple questions on You Haven't Got an Appointment! dealing with my planned novel Tempus Regina. Melody Joy got the first one in:

What is the plot idea of Tempus Regina? I tried looking around here the other day when you posted The Dragon's Eyes but I couldn't find much about it.

As I said, I was very pleased. But at the same time, Tempus Regina is at that stage where it is difficult to talk about coherently, which is why I have not yet written a plot summary for My Books page; it is still developing, and right now it has just a little more than bare bones. However, I will attempt to formulate a synopsis.

First off, Tempus Regina involves time-traveling, so it does not have a set time period. It begins in London during the Victorian Era, probably in the 1840s or early 1850s. The main character, Regina, is nineteen; she and her little brother Tommy have been on their own since the death of their mother some five or six years before the novel begins. Regina's life revolves around taking care of her brother and earning enough money to keep them both alive in the London slums. A job as a temporary maid at the house of an eccentric gentleman is one of the less grueling tasks she has had to undertake, and she looks forward to it with relief.

When she arrives at the house on her first morning, the housekeeper informs her that she is to begin by cleaning out the garret - a very eerie, untouched part of the building, full of dust and curiosities. One of the latter is a wooden trunk inscribed with strange markings, and inside it Regina finds a beautiful gold pocket watch in the shape of a dragon's head and inlaid with garnets for eyes. Opening it, she finds it has stopped; she tries to set it to the proper time, but when she presses the dragon's eyes she finds herself thrown into the middle of London, circa 400 B.C. And the watch won't turn forward to let her go back.

Without the missing piece of the dragon watch Regina cannot return to her own time, and she made a promise to her dying mother never to abandon Tommy. The secret of the watch and the symbols inscribed both on it and on the old trunk in the garret lie in a place that exists only in legend, and to find them Regina is forced to seek the help of an assassin who knows more than simply how to kill.

Lilly asked what I could tell about the Assassin, who kindly featured in the excerpt "The Dragon's Eyes." Unfortunately, the answer is, "Not much." The Assassin is an enigma, and is meant to be so. Regina herself knows little about him, only that he is a hired killer and that he is disturbingly well-versed in lore and, she suspects, alchemy. Beyond that...well, the story will tell!

October 20, 2011

Advice and Other Wise Things

...that is, we hope they're wise things. Today I'll be answering one of Carrie's questions on You Haven't Got an Appointment:

Is there any general advice you can give to young author-wanna-be's, who may be on the brink of setting out on the adventure of publication?

People are usually pretty shocked that I've gotten a book published by the age of fifteen, and fellow writers out there of my own age often ask me how I would suggest they go about doing the same thing. But there are a few things that must be kept in mind as you consider submitting your stories for publication, and I admit that they aren't all particularly cheering.

First off, don't be too inspired by the fact that other people have done it. By this I mean that you shouldn't be so excited that you forget to consider, as objectively as possible, what stage your own writing is at. It's easy to fall into the trap of obsessing over publication until you think that as soon as you finish a novel, you should start submitting it to agents or publishers. This isn't a good idea. As a young writer, your focus should probably be just on writing and reading, practicing and learning from example. It's a process that will last all through a writer's life and it is to be hoped that you won't ever reach a stage where you feel like you have arrived, but as a young writer it is particularly important. Never put the cart in front of the horse.

Second, when you do start wondering if you're ready to start sending off query letters, get someone else to read your writing and to give their honest opinion. Don't choose someone who you expect to be crushing, but also don't give chapters to your eight-year-old sister who thinks everything you do is fantastic (although I suppose an eight-year-old sister could be pretty crushing, too). It does not, however, have to be a non-family member, just so long as you can trust them to give you a good critique. It is a bad idea to try to be the judge of your own writing one hundred percent of the time, and especially when you're trying to decide whether to attempt getting it published; you will either be too hard on yourself or too lenient.

Third, don't be too sanguine and don't be too depressed. It is hard to get published - no two ways about it. If you go in thinking you'll be accepted by the first, second, or even third publisher you query, you will likely be disappointed. Expect to have to work hard before your book is published, while you're trying to get it published, and after it is published. On the other hand, don't lose heart; starting young means that you have a greater chance of being accepted and getting your works out there than you would if you started in middle-age. Keep plugging away, writing stories and getting a little better with each one. You're never guaranteed success, but at least you're doing something you enjoy. Through the ups and downs, I wouldn't trade being a writer for anything.

October 18, 2011

Well, Why Not?

For those not in the know, I am doing a series of question-and-answer posts: you ask the question, I (hopefully) invent the answer. If you have one to ask, you can just drop a comment on this post or on You Haven't Got an Appointment. Rachel got the first comment in with a couple of inquiries, but I'm going to take her last one first:

Do you disagree with Sarah Stanley from The Story Girl [L.M. Montgomery] in the thought that if you're going to the trouble to make up a character, why not make them good-looking?

What a fun question! First off, I will say that so far none of my characters have been either very good-looking or horribly ugly. In fact, I rarely describe his or her appearance in detail; the pictures that the reader gathers are based on other characters' comments and the main character's actions. In The Soldier's Cross there are only a few comments made about Fiona's lack of any striking beauty; in Wordcrafter it is not much that Justin is ugly, but rather that he pales in comparison to Ethan. Nor is it so much that Ethan is handsome, but that he is so full of life that one forgets he isn't handsome. Tip of The White Sail's Shaking is a very awkward, clumsy fellow, not hideous, but plain and stiff and not exactly a lady-killer.

[Charlie] lowered his drink again and swished it, replying with a clever sidelong look at Tip, “Aye, and it’s not as if you have any looks to recommend you. Anyhow,” he continued, “at least you scared those women away. There is some advantage to your clumsiness.”

That being said, my main characters' looks were not intentional. They just showed up that way. Personally I think that, in moderation, Sarah's remark is true: if you're going to create a character, I see no reason why he or she shouldn't be handsome. One can either go too far to one side and have the character be ridiculously beautiful, or too far to the other and have them constantly bemoaning the fact that they're so hideous. I like a mix of both pretty and plain, and I think the best way to go about it is not to spend too much time fretting about the character's looks. The more you say "his grave and handsome face..." or "her beautiful sad eyes," the more the reader will be annoyed and dislike the person.

I remember reading several of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence novels and absolutely loving the characters, and then noticing a phrase like "Tommy's homely face..." My first thought was that Christie had gotten it wrong, because I always thought of Tommy as very good-looking. She had never described either him or Tuppence before, but I created a very pleasant picture of each in my head from their actions and attitudes. So less is more, as the saying goes.

October 17, 2011

You Haven't Got an Appointment!

'I say. Look here. You stick to us in a devil of a manner,' said Barnacle Junior, looking over his shoulder.

'I want to know--'

'Look here. Upon my soul you mustn't come into the place saying you want to know, you know,' remonstrated Barnacle Junior, turning about and putting up the eye-glass.

'I want to know,' said Arthur Clennam, who had made up his mind to persistence in one short form of words, 'the precise nature of the claim of the Crown against a prisoner for debt, named Dorrit.'

'I say. Look here. You really are going it at a great pace, you know. Egad, you haven't got an appointment,' said Barnacle junior, as if the thing were growing serious.

'I want to know,' said Arthur, and repeated his case.

- Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

Some days I feel about like Barnacle Junior with my heaps of books and papers, but I like to think I'm not quite as scattered and brainless as the people of Dickens' Circumlocution Office. And unlike Barnacle junior, I like to be asked questions and to have people wanting to know, you know (so long as they have an appointment). Therefore, I thought I would follow Jenny's example and gather ideas for posts by asking you lovely readers to post your questions about my stories and writing. Naturally questions like "Does the main character of Wordcrafter die?" are taboo and I shall reserve the right to not answer any questions that would give away spoilers and other such nasty things, but anything else is quite open; you can ask about

the soldier's cross
the white sail's shaking
tempus regina


sunshine and gossamer

So feel free to come into the place saying you want to know - just post a comment with whatever you would like me to answer. And have fun!

October 13, 2011

Glimpses of Greatness

I just did a post a couple weeks ago on first impressions and some of the opening lines of my favorite stories, the kinds of opening lines that grab you and enchant you into the story. But there is something that creates an impression even before the prospective reader gets to the first page, and it doesn't get nearly the emphasis that "hooks" do: the title. (The cover, also, but writers don't have much say in that department.)

The title, I would venture to say, isn't quite as important as the opening chapter - people tend to be attracted to the cover first, then the first line - but if it is something catchy it will help to grab the interest of the reader. Take, for instance, a few of these:

roll of thunder, hear my cry

gone with the wind

out of the silent planet

towards zero

pride and prejudice

a wrinkle in time

the mark of the horse lord

I don't remember particularly liking Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when I read it, but that title is one of my favorites. It sums up the feel of the story, but it also has perfect cadence; it (pardon the pun) rolls off the tongue. It's a stirring title.

Then there's Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, one of those books that readers either love or hate. I haven't read it yet - it's sitting on my shelf, waiting for the day I feel like I can stomach Scarlett O'Hara - but I've always liked the title. It doesn't have the same cadence of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, but it does capture the melancholy of the novel and sums up the disappearance of the Old South after the Civil War in a classic way.

Out of the Silent Planet (C.S. Lewis) flows, and it also gives me a thrill and a sensation of mystery every time I see the cover on my shelf. One wants to know what the Silent Planet is, and what it means to come out of it. Towards Zero is one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels and I am currently rereading it, which is perhaps why it made its way onto the list; Agatha Christie has so many good titles that it is hard to pick just one. Towards Zero is a great one, however, because it ties in with the way the story is written to "count down" to the murder, at zero hour.

Pride and Prejudice uses alliteration to great effect, as Jane Austen also did with Sense and Sensibility. Alliteration is a tricky business, though, and often comes off sounding like a children's board book, so it has to be handled with care. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is another favorite (there's so much to love about this book); it has rhythm, starts with an article other than 'the', and makes the reader want to know how time can be wrinkled. And then there is The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff, yet another one that gives me a shiver. Apparently I tend to like titles that have "of the" in them.

A lot of people have difficulty coming up with good titles, though perhaps that's because they try too hard. It's amazing how many obstacles you make for yourself when you try too hard. Titles are usually the kinds of things that have to come to you, but if you are still struggling for something to call your story, a few things to keep in mind are cadence (does it sound good?), applicability (does it fit the story?), and subtlety versus the obvious (do you want to use an underlying theme in the story, or something more blatant?). For instance, my novel Wordcrafter was originally going to be "The Wordcrafter," but I chopped out the article because simply calling it "Wordcrafter" was more powerful. I briefly toyed with the idea of calling it The Thousandth Man, but I kept Wordcrafter because I liked the single word title and because I felt that it embodied the story better.

Try to come up with something different that will stick in people's memory, and also preferably not too long - the longer it is, the more likely it will be forgotten. Of course The White Sail's Shaking is fairly long, but I have been debating whether or not to change the title due to the fact that it is a little hard to say. We shall see.

what's the title of your work in progress?

October 7, 2011


Those of you who have done or are planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year will have already observed, probably with an impending sense of doom, that there is less than a month left until November. (Actually, even those of you who are not doing NaNo will have noticed that there is less than a month until November...) And if your mind is as obsessed with the fact as I daresay it is, you may have noticed that there has not yet been a single mention of the 2011 NaNoWriMo on this blog. The reason being that

I won't be doing NaNo this year.

Horrifying, I know. I feel a bit like a traitor even mentioning it. For those of you who don't know what on earth I'm talking about, National Novel Writing Month is an online organization where participants attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. That is, from 1:00 am on November 1 to 12:00 pm on November 30, when you cannot submit anymore wordcount updates to your account. You are not allowed to start the novel before November 1, although you can do outlines, character sketches, and the like, and the goal is quantity, not necessarily quality.

It sounds painful, but in reality it works out to 1,667 words a day, which is not as huge a number as it might appear. I've done it two years in a row (three, actually, but the first year was a failure, so we'll just forget about that), in 2009 with The Soldier's Cross and in 2010 with The White Sail's Shaking. I enjoyed both immensely, even though the results from last year were mostly horrendous and I barely squeaked by with 52,000 words on November 30. In fact, I'm so used to getting ready for NaNo that now that the weather is cooling down, the leaves are turning, and I'm pulling out my autumn clothes, I'm starting to get that expectant thrill as the countdown to November begins.

But I won't be doing NaNo this year. There are a number of reasons, none of which would likely be accepted by the organizers of NaNo but all of which I consider to be very good. The first is that I'm still labouring to complete the first draft of White Sail's, the trouble child that I have been attempting to get into shape since last November (although considering what bare scraps of plot I began with, I have to say that this story is in surprisingly good form). I am not one of those people who can juggle several stories at once; though I may write bits and pieces of a Tempus Regina or a Sunshine and Gossamer as I approach the end of my main work in progress, I have to give at least 98% of my energy to one novel at a time.

True, some writers do participate in the NaNo Rebellion and work on stories that they have already begun or that do not fit into the broad guidelines of the normal NaNo, so I could do that with White Sail's. But I'm near enough to the end of the story that I don't think I have 50,000 words left in it, and at any rate, last November taught me that this novel is not the sort that can be written quickly in a single month. The characters are all pig-headed to one degree or another, the history takes almost daily in-depth research, and my inspiration likes to up and desert me without warning. It's just not a good sport where NaNo is concerned. This is not an excuse acknowledged by the founders of National Novel Writing Month, but I think it is a valid one; some stories won't be rushed. They are the ones that are more like poetry:

"Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you.
And all you can do is go where they can find you."

(a. a. milne, winnie-the-pooh)

I learned this after thirty days and 52,000 words, and I intend to learn from my mistakes and never ever do that again. There are novels that can be NaNo'ed, and there are novels that can't. And that is the way things are.

The second, not so grand or philosophical reason is that I just don't have the time this year. Of course the whole point of NaNo is to get people to stop saying that, but in this case I am going to stick my tongue out at the wisdom of NaNo and declare again that I haven't got the time. It's a combination of Geometry and...Geometry.

And the third reason is that after doing NaNo about three years in a row, I think that, little as I might be inclined to do so, it would be good for me to take a break. All things in moderation, after all.

But for those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo this year, whether for the first time or the fifth, I hope that the month will go splendidly and that you won't imbibe too much caffeine. If you are getting geared up for the fight, how are the battle plans coming along? Do tell!

...And I'll try not to be jealous.

October 4, 2011

The Dragon's Eyes

The White Sail's Shaking having decided to hit a minor snag, I decided to turn my nose up at it and write some of my novel Tempus Regina, which I have not yet properly "begun." Depending on its cooperation, this story may be the one next on my list after White Sail's is complete.


She could only guess at how long the house had been abandoned, and as she struggled toward it at the Assassin’s side it seemed too decayed to still be standing. In the moonlight it crouched half-lit and ghostly, eaves sunk like an old man’s brows, door hanging ajar to reveal a black grinning mouth, and Regina would have frozen on the step if her hand had not been so tightly grasped in the Assassin’s. As it was she pulled back with a burst of panic, crying out, “I cannot go in there!”

“Nonsense,” he returned flatly, drawing her on. “It’s perfectly safe.” He set the door open one-handed and led Regina into the blackness on the other side; there he let go for just a moment, leaving her horribly alone with no sight, no idea where she stood or what might be around her, no assurance of having a living companion. Behind her the door groaned—like an opening skull, she thought—and the dark was complete, but then something scratched twice on her right and five small flames burst upward to light a circle around them. Regina turned gratefully toward the fire, ready almost to catch it up and cradle it, but as she saw the flames she shrieked and the sound echoed shrill through the room.

The Assassin caught her mouth in his left hand, flashing the fingers of his right, and the red tongues that danced on them, before her eyes. “Hush!” he snapped. “I said the house was safe; don’t put it to the test.” He waited a moment longer, then withdrew his palm and straightened slowly.

Regina could not pull her eyes from his burning fingertips, but with difficulty she managed, “You—you are a sorcerer.”

“Maybe. Now come along.” He took her by the elbow and, holding up his hand to light their way, brought her across the chipped and broken tiles of the atrium to a fountain long since dried up. At its base he crouched, dug his left fingers into a jagged cut between one tile and another, and wrenched one up to reveal a huge, rectangular hole; a pungent smell rolled up and choked Regina, but when she backed away, the Assassin caught her hand once more and made her stand still. “Well,” he said, curling a weird, firelit smile, “after you.”

She was too dazed and frightened to hazard a verbal protest, but she shook her head mutely.

The smile dropped off the Assassin’s face. “If you want me to help you, you must do as I say. If you don’t want me to help you, you can leave—by yourself. I don’t have time to waste carting you about. Move along.”

Regina caught her breath and struggled to keep back the scream that was mounting in her chest. It was a nightmare, she thought, a horrid nightmare made more awful by the knowledge that it was real and that she could not wake up from it. One step, then another, and she was on the edge of the hole with all that darkness at her feet and the light only dancing on its surface. She sank one foot into the shadows and felt stairs, froze again, then forced herself to go on. Down, down, down, her fear struggling with her pride as the light grew farther and farther away and the emptiness surrounded her. The stairs seemed to go on forever, never turning, always descending straight as though into a tomb.

Suddenly light flared up behind her and she turned round on the steps, half expecting to see some further sorcery; but the Assassin had merely put his fingers together and lit a torch that hung by the opening, brightening the tunnel in a warm flash of yellow on marble. Then he help up his hand and blew out the fire on his fingers, took down the torch, and nodded to Regina to go on. She did not like turning her back on him, but she shivered and continued as she was ordered.

There were three more steps left before she came down onto smooth tiles whose chilliness swept up through her body and seemed to invade her soul. It was so cold, so cold and empty, and miserable like a huge, unlit grate, and when the firelight danced down the stairs and through the chamber, Regina was too glad for it to care where it came from. She glanced over her shoulder at the Assassin and the torch he held, then turned her gaze back to the room.

It was not large; the blaze of light filled it easily, glimmering on the mosaic pattern of the floor and on the close dirt walls, and she thought it looked as though the man who had paved the chamber had grown bored and left the rest as it was. That awful smell was thicker than ever, and as she looked a persuasive sound nudged at her consciousness—a bubbling, chortling sound, unnervingly low, underlying both the stench and the other sounds of the room. She followed it and in the corner behind the steps she saw a rude wooden table and a steaming flask, and on the ground beside it, a place where the tiles had been torn up to create a fire pit.

“What is this place?” Regina whispered, and her breath seemed to thread its way through the room.

“I live here,” the Assassin replied bluntly, driving the shaft of his torch into a bracket on the wall; a chunk of dirt fell from it and spattered at his feet. He grabbed a rough chair and shoved it toward Regina, adding, “Sit.”

Regina put her hand on the object’s splintered back, but she did not sit, only stood watching the Assassin’s movements uneasily while he tossed off his cloak and went to the table. He removed the flask from it, which did not lessen the stench, and kicked back the ashes in the pit until Regina could see twin red glows like dragon eyes—like the dragon eyes on the watch. Impatient, she raised her voice and demanded, “Why have you brought me here?”

He put the flask on the little spark of a fire and tucked it in before turning to her again, and his coolness made her angry. “For privacy,” he repeated. “You carry an odd thing there; you’re a fool to wear it so openly. Why do you not sit?”

Regina gripped the chair harder. “I do not trust you,” she said distinctly.

“Why not?”

“You are an assassin; you kill for money. Why should I trust you?”

He quirked a little smile and for the first time she saw humour in his eyes as he replied, “There is no money in the case. And it would have been easier to kill you in the street; I would hate to bloody the tiles. Bring the thing here to the table.”

Regina did not trust him a jot more than she had before, but she obeyed because she had to, drawing the chain over her head and shaking back her hair as, fingers still on the metal, she showed the dragon to him. This time his face did not change as he put out his hand to it, but she saw that he was tense, almost to the breaking point, and his breath came a little heavily; he touched it, caressed it, then said, not unpleasantly, “May I?”

She let him take the watch, but she kept a finger on the long chain and watched his movements jealously. The Assassin explored the crevices of the dragon-head, not seeming to fear, as Regina feared, the garnet eyes or the snarling mouth, and then he clicked open the lid. His eyelids jerked and the dark eyes beneath them glinted and darted more quickly over the face of the watch, so that Regina tightened her hand on the metal. But he merely looked up at her. “Why,” he said, “have you brought me this?”

He was not resisting her death-grip on the watch, but Regina felt as though they were playing a stupid, childish game of tug-of-war with it. She thrust her jaw out and replied, “I was told you might be able to help me.”


“This. I come from the future—” Regina’s head swam as she said it “—and I must get back, but the watch—the watch won’t let me.”

For a long time the Assassin regarded her without expression, and she found his gaze as hypnotizing, in its own way, as the dragon’s. At last, though, he broke the spell with the remark, “I see. You say the watch will not let you; do you know why?”

“No. The hand won’t turn forward, I’ve tried. But I must get back!” she burst out, beginning to tremble. “I have a brother—I must take care of him. I can’t stay here.”

Her words rang in the silence, striking the marble tiles with slap after slap of desperation. The Assassin did not seem to care: foolish, Regina thought dully, to think that he would. He was considering the watch again, running his forefinger over the markings, and presently he said, “This is an old language, and a very curious one...” Then, eyeing her: “Who told you to seek the Assassin?”

“A woman.” He crooked an eyebrow at her, and she ground her teeth and added, “I don’t know her name.”

“You shouldn’t talk to strangers.”

“And what are you?” Regina lashed back, losing the frayed remnants of her temper. “Don’t tell me who I can talk to. It’s my business, isn’t it? Mine! I must go home—I must! I’ll do what it takes to get there; you can’t stop me. If you kill me I’ll haunt you—I’ll haunt your conscience, I’ll haunt your dreams! I won’t let go, not till you mind is broken and you can’t remember your own name. You’re the only man who can help me—please! For pity’s sake!”

Her voice had risen to a wail and then a scream, and she felt empty and dry and old as the words died away. She had nothing left; the room blurred and danced before her, all darkness and fire. Then it cleared and she saw the Assassin’s face and his hands toying with the watch. He felt again the symbols in the gold, then looked up under his brows and fixed his eyes on hers.

“I will help you.”
meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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