Friday, November 30, 2007
I recently ran an interview with debut author Miralee Ferrell. Now I'm offering you a chance to win her book, The Other Daughter. (I'm just full of contest announcements lately.)
Simply comment on this post to enter. I'll draw a winner next Friday, December 7.
About the book:
When a young girl shows up at Susanne Carson's door, claiming to be her husband's daughter, everything she thought she could trust is thrown into doubt. If her husband had an affair, what does that say about his Christianity?
Susanne and David's marriage had never been ideal. He's a Christian, she's not. She drinks, he believes drinking is wrong. Susanne is often left feeling like the "bad guy" in her marriage. But the presence of the waif on her doorstep speaks of secrets and lies in David's past. This is a blow her already shaky marriage may not survive.
The reader is thrown into the middle of this dilemma from the first page. Miralee Ferrell delivers a strong story with an emotional punch.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
A special announcement from mother-daughter writing team Sherrie Ashcraft and Christina Berry:
We co-write books about relationships. We are a relationship. We want to dominate the relationship brand. And we want to have at least 500 subscribers to the Ashberry Lane Newsletter by the first of the year. Should we expect you to sign up and work hard at strong-arming your friends to sign up while you get nothing out of the deal? No way!
Compassionate as we are, we've worked up a HUGE new incentive. How better to promote our relational fiction than featuring other fiction that focuses on different types of relationship? Why don't we give our supporters a chance to win EIGHT autographed books? What a great Christmas present that would be! Or what a lot of Christmas shopping done for you!
Without further ado, we present, with a booming voice,
For the Friend Relationship: Roxanne Henke's After Anne
One of our absolute favorite books. As you watch Olivia and Anne struggle through a difficult challenge, you'll want to be a better friend.
How many of us have walked away from what our father wanted for us? Or away from our Father? This story will remind you that the you can go home again.
In the first of this frontier series, Ruby must deal with her new "inheritance" while protecting her sister from its influences.
A heart-rending story of a man trying to keep his family together.
Don't let the title of this book scare you away. There is no glorification of the demonic, but an enlightened fresh look at what History means.
A truly terrifying story of woman who married Prince Charming and discovered he wasn't.
You'll laugh. You'll relate. You'll be impressed with this debut novel from up-and-coming author Camy Tang.
EIGHT books. ONE winner. Here are the ways to win:
Current subscriber and previous referrals are already in the hat. Any new subscriber or referral will gain another entry.
Publicize this to your homeys through newsletters: one entry.
Blog about the contest: one entry. (Email us if you need what to post.)
Include it in your Christmas cards: two entries.
Tuck it in the gift bag with the fruitcake you'll be leaving on random doorsteps: five entries.
Subscribe! Spread the word! Flood the blogosphere! Take over the world!
Monday, November 26, 2007
(This is an excerpt from the middle of the book. We saw an early chapter here.)
No letters were exchanged in the weeks that followed. Maggie didn’t have time. Kirkhaven’s annual summer festival, held in early July this year, was about to take place and she was in a flap to get ready.
Claire, Davy, Jack, Douglas, Callie, and Hannah all arrived Friday before the festival to attend the evening events, which were mainly a barbeque and field games in the village. Claire stayed with Maggie to put the finishing touches on her berry concoctions to sell at the farm stand on Saturday. Callie and Hannah squabbled over who would win first prize in the fancy dress contest.
With a steady summer rain making a mess of the football field, the Friday night games were canceled, bringing Davy and the boys back to the farm with nothing else to do but help pack pies and jam jars into crates. Ian thought Davy was even more disappointed than the boys were. [Establish POV sooner. Although maybe it wouldn’t be an issue if I was more familiar with the characters.]
He was a different man, his brother in law. Ian had spoken to him a number of times since the spring, since he returned home to his family in
Saturday morning, the smell of breakfast cooking met Ian as he climbed the drive to the main house. He spent the night at the cottage, giving up his room to Claire and Davy. Maggie’s voice carried above the clamor as he entered the kitchen, calling for someone to find another girdle for her scones. She was nearly bursting, never happier than when she had a houseful to feed.
Ian groaned at the staggering pile of kippers on the table, fried in butter until crisp, and rashers of bacon mounded in another heap on the bunker. Claire stood over a bubbling pot of porridge, stirring with Maggie’s old, blackened spurtle.
“Ian, here—take this over to the bunker. Don’t drop it.” Claire smiled.
He heaved the gurgling pot across the kitchen with a loud groan. “What’s in here, stones? It weighs more than you do. No wonder you can’t lift it.”
“Funny. I wonder where you’d get an idea like that. No, it’s just oats and water this time. Don’t fash yourself; I’ve kept a sharp eye on it.”
Davy sauntered in, hooked an arm around Claire and kissed the top of her head. She looked up at him with a playful frown, then smiled and slipped an arm around his waist. It was good to see that.
Ian turned away. The simple endearment implied an intimacy that tugged at his chest, tugged hard. Without warning, Jamie’s warm eyes and tender smile came to mind.
[I think I’d skip the line “It was good to see that.” To me, it sort of contradicts his turning away. “It was good to see that” leaves a warm, cozy feeling. Then he turns away and the affectionate gesture is tugging hard at his heart. That’s a switch of emotion. Leave it more to the reader to interpret how he felt by his reaction.]
“Ian!” He turned and Davy tossed him the truck keys. “The truck is parked out back, mon. All ready for Maggie’s . . . uh . . .” Davy held up a jar and frowned at the clotted contents, then turned to Ian and mouthed, “What is this stuff?”
Ian grinned. “Jam, I’m almost certain. Let’s load it up then.”
“What’s that?” Maggie whirled around and glared in Davy’s general direction. “No! Not ‘til ye’ve had breakfast. Drop that crate, David Kendal—did ye not hear me?”
How Maggie knew Davy had a crate in his hands was anyone’s guess.
Maggie continued scolding as she scooped the girdle scones into a basket. Only two landed on the floor. Not bad.
Footsteps thundered from the stairs in the hall, growing louder until Jack and
“It’s just a joke, ma.” Jack grinned at his scowling brother. “Dougie knows I’m first.”
“Pish! There’s plenty, no need for all that. Eat now, laddies—ye’ve loads to do!”
Claire left to round up the girls. Ian dished up a plate and edged himself in at the table next to his oldest nephew. Jack spied the truck key the moment Ian laid it down and turned to Maggie.
“I’ll drive the truck to the village for you, Grannie,” Jack said around a mouthful of food.
“Och, will ye now?”
Maggie was surprisingly fast for a nearly blind old woman. From the corner of his eye, Ian saw her hand reaching for the key, but another, smaller hand coming from behind him was quicker. The sound of giggling brought Ian spinning around in his seat. The giggling was coming from behind Claire, who dangled the truck key above Ian’s head. Smart woman; she’d learned quickly while Ian was away.
“Ian and Davy can take the truck and Jack and
Maggie planted her fists on her hips. “I’ll go where I fancy. It’s my truck.”
More giggling erupted from Claire’s backside.
Ian winked at his sister and cleared his throat. “I heard there’s some very serious competition at the fancy dress contest this year. It’s a shame there won’t be any faeries.”
Callie slipped out from hiding behind her mom with a giggle and scurried away to get her breakfast, but Hannah emerged in a heartbeat and darted over to Ian. “No, look—I’m a faerie princess, Uncle Ian. Look at me, see?” She twirled in her gown to prove it.
He snickered. “You’re just a wee a lass in a purple frock. What happened to your wings, princess?”
Hannah’s mouth fell open and she turned pleading eyes to Ian. He lifted her to his knee and turned to
“Do you have faerie dust, Uncle Ian?” Hannah asked, eyes growing wide.
Jack and Douglas hooted.
“No, but I know where you can get some. They have some very special faerie dust at the face painting booth, just for you.”
Claire, who had been watching this exchange with a smile, cocked her head at Ian.
“Is it purple and sparkly?” Hannah asked.
“Aye, extra sparkly.” he said with a chuckle. Above his niece’s head, Claire’s eyes glistened.
“Well I’ll get my face painted too then,” Callie chimed in. “But no sparkles—I’m a pirate.”
[Some cute moments there. But I have to ask, does this scene move the story forward? You can answer better than me. It’s hard to judge, cutting into the middle. But it seems like a few incidents without much focus.]
The entire family helped get Maggie’s booth set up and ready for business, then they found a spot near the fountain in the center of the village and watched the parade together. The girls waved and giggled. Their excitement was contagious and Ian wondered how Jamie would like this. He’d watched her with her students, and knew she would have as much fun seeing the awe and delight bubbling out of these girls as he did.
The girls would adore her. They all would, actually.
After the parade, Jack and Douglas checked out all the food booths while they waited for the next round of field games to begin. Ian joined Claire and Davy as they took the girls around to the different game booths in the school yard. Claire let Hannah and Callie talk her into getting her face painted along with them.
As he and Davy waited for the girls, Ian’s thoughts returned to Jamie. It was so easy to picture her here, a part of this quirky, loving family. It was also easy to imagine her with kids of her own.
He tried to listen to what Davy was saying, but the stirring image wouldn’t leave, suddenly wouldn’t let him breathe.
That’s what I want. To share a life with Jamie. To give her the family and everything else her heart desires. That’s all I want, Lord. She’s all I want.
What did Jamie want? What were her feelings for him? There had been a number of times when a hint, a promise of something very tender in Jamie’s eyes gripped his heart and held him fast.
At that moment, he’d give anything to see that look again. Just once.
“Hey! Didn’t you hear me?” Davy grinned at him. “You’re somewhere else. Aye—I know the look.”
Ian frowned. “What?” He glanced at his watch. It was in
Davy chuckled. “You’re trolling across
“The boys go fishing with you now?” Ian asked.
“Aye. Every time.”
Davy leaned closer and spoke low. “Neither of them catches much. I don’t know why they keep wanting to go.”
“Don’t you now? I think maybe you do.” Ian turned his gaze to the booth where Claire, Callie and Hannah were. They were all giggling at Claire’s new tiger face, which she was viewing through a small mirror.
Davy turned and studied at Ian’s face for a moment, and then said, “Aye, all right, I suppose I do. You were right about that.” He shook his head. “Kids—they don’t care what their da brings home; they only care that he comes home.” He turned to watch his wife and daughters and his voice dropped, low and strained. “That was hard, at first. Without a job, I hated to look them in the eye.” He squirmed, shifted his position against the tree. “I didn’t think they needed me. But I realized I was wrong, that was selfish. I was wrong, mon, about a lot of things.”
“Wrong about what? You finally figured out what a tiger you married then?” Claire asked as she and the girls joined them. She snarled, wrinkled her little black nose and whiskers, and planted a full nose-to-nose kiss on her husband.
The girls giggled.
[Again, I enjoyed what I read, but I can't see what it's doing to move the story along. Just some thoughts of the love interest. The structure isn't very much like a scene. Nothing really happens--it's over before it begins. No hook to the next scene. It needs to continue so it can tie into something bigger.]
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I’m sorry for the lack of posts this week. I actually have things to post, but I was sick as a dog all weekend, and so far this week. Right now I’m seeing things through a mental fog. I can only pray I’m making sense.
Below you’ll see the rules for my contest. I not only wanted to expand and clarify them, but I wanted a separate post to refer to in later weeks.
Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I’m still sick, let’s just call it a week. I’ll come back Monday—Lord willing—strong as ever.
May your Thanksgiving be a time of blessing with friends and family.
I’m giving away a brand new copy of “Self Editing for Fiction Writers” by Browne and King. If the winner already has a copy, the prize will be a $10 Amazon gift certificate.
Here’s how to enter:
- Refer someone to this blog. If they leave a comment on any post, between now and December 31, you’ll receive an entry.
- Anyone new who sends me a chapter for critique—this is anyone I haven’t critiqued before—will receive one entry. Plus, if you referred this person, you’ll receive another entry.
- And, why not… Even if I have critiqued you before and you send another chapter or excerpt for critique, you’ll get an entry.
The contest ends December 31, and I’ll be announcing the winner January 2.
Friday, November 16, 2007
I think it's wonderful that Ireland has so much money that they can pick an email address at random and give away over a million pounds sterling. Now, a normal lottery works by having people put money into it. But someone in Ireland is so prosperous they can just give away huge amounts of money to strangers. From other countries.
My troubles are over. I haven't figured the exchange rate, but it still has to be a lot of money. Published? Who needs to be published? I'm rich. Think of all the things I can do now.
If you didn't catch the sarcasm in my starry-eyed rambling, you don't know me very well. I think I'm intelligent enough to know that this was a scam, even if I hadn't read an article about it just the week before. It's illegal to participate in foreign lotteries, as far as I know. Which is probably why this email stated that my address was selected at random.
The email didn't ask for any information that would immediately arouse suspicion--if it hadn't already been aroused. But I know that if I had responded, they would have asked me for a check to cover some fees. Then, I could have sent them a legitimate check for $5,000 or so, and they'd have sent me their bogus check for over a million pounds.
I forwarded the email to email@example.com. If you receive any kind of email scam, please do the same.
The part that really makes me mad is that they sent it to this email address. The one I reserve solely for this blog, and the contacts I make through critiquing.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
(red = can be deleted; blue = my additions and comments. I liked this scene so well I formatted my comments differently. Only two are in the body, the others are marked with a number and appear at the end. I wanted to keep the flow of the piece intact for the most part.)
The chief sheathed his knife again and held up his hand for silence. When it came, he pointed to the sky, then swept his hand over his head. His face was now calm, devoid of any hatred, as he spoke, and pointed straight up before letting his hand fall to his side again. The warriors waited a second, but the chief had finished his speech. They resumed their dance, their cheers and screams louder than before.
Raisa backed away from the square, creeping along the house. Once she was out of sight of the circle, she paused to think about what she had seen. The chief was calling his warriors to war. They would attack tomorrow, at . She listened to a loud voice rising over the tumult of the war dance. She didn’t need to know Karki to hear the anger in the voice.
A hand closed over her mouth and strong arms pinned her arms to her side. Her heart leapt to her throat, but the hand over her mouth was unnecessary; she didn’t have enough breath to scream. Then her fear spurred her to action and she fought, kicking her feet, struggling to get her arms free. Warm breath tickled her ear as a voice whispered, “Do not struggle. I will not hurt you.”
All the fight went out of her upon hearing her own language spoken. For a moment the person holding her waited. Then he picked her up and carried her away from the long houses, into the darkness. Fear knotted in her stomach. She shuddered and tried to struggle again. Her captor put her down, but didn’t let go of her arm. His hand was firm and gentle on her wrist as she jerked away. She turned to face him, twisting her wrist in an attempt to free it.
His bare chest was a shock to her and she moved her eyes upwards, to his ivory medallion. Her eyes widened as she realized that this was a Karki prince. Then her gaze met his. His eyes were dark brown, watching her steadily, but there was no anger or hatred in them.
Neither of them said anything as they looked at each other.  Raisa’s heart pounded as she studied his face. She made herself breathe evenly, think deeply. Then he glanced up at the sky, for the clouds were shifting, sliding away from the moon.
She lunged at him, raking her free hand down his face. He jerked away, releasing her wrist as he raised his arm to protect himself. She turned and ran as hard as she could. By the light of the crescent moon, she could see well enough. Silence no longer mattered; her fear gave her feet wings, though she’d always been a fast runner.
Footsteps pounded beside hers. She swerved without slowing her pace, darting around a tree. He followed her easily. She dashed through more trees, dodged and turned back the way she had come. He was right behind her. Her breath came in fast gasps. Then her foot landed in a hollow in the ground, twisting under her. She pitched forward, landing hard, and lay like a fish on dry land, gasping for breath. Vaguely she knew that he was beside her, waiting.
She was scared. Slowly her breathing returned and she sat up, looking at him warily, noticing that while she was breathing hard, his breathing was as even as though he’d only been out for a relaxed walk.
“You are a fast runner,” he broke the silence. Raisa was so surprised to hear her language spoken by a Karki that she didn’t notice the note of admiration in his voice.  Her eyes darted to his face, waiting for a moment when his guard would be down. Though his posture was relaxed and easy, he was tense, ready to spring should she try to escape.
“So are you,” she returned breathlessly. What did he want with her? She pushed that thought away. Fight, run, her mind screamed. Her fear rose as she tried to think. She swallowed hard, wishing she was as calm as he looked. She mustn’t show him how scared she was.
“You are Oren,” he said. She said nothing,  dropping her hands to her side to hide their trembling. They brushed the ground. He opened his mouth to say something. Before he could speak, she flashed her hand forwards, spraying his face with sand. As she did so, she leapt to her feet and ran.
Suddenly she found herself flat on her back, her breath knocked out of her for a second time. The Karki warrior stood above her, looking down at her. She gasped for air as she stared at him. He dropped to one knee beside her and drew his knife, pressing it against her throat. She froze.
[Give us some indication of how she fell. Did he grab her? Trip her? How did she end up on her back?]
“I do not want to hurt you,” he spoke slowly, his eyes on hers. “I want to talk. When I have said what I want to say, you will be free to go.”
What did he mean? She remained where she was, unable to move. Her eyes met his for a moment. Then she rolled to the side, jumped to her feet, and backed away. He stood and faced her, sheathing his knife. The moon slid back behind a cloud, leaving them in darkness again.
“I only want to talk,” he repeated. She stood where she was, watching him. If he wanted to talk, he could talk. If not, she would fight.
“I am Karki,” he said, his words slow and measured. “You have been to our village and know we are planning an attack.”
She didn’t respond,  but kept her eyes on his face, straining to see his expression in the darkness. Everything in her shouted that she shouldn’t listen to him. A quieter feeling told her she could trust him.
“I do not want a war,” he went on.
Her mind went blank in surprise, and she blurted out the first thing she thought of. “The Karki are warriors.”
“Yes. They cry for war and they will have it, unless something is done to stop them. I know only one way to stop them.” He looked at her. Even in the darkness she felt the intensity of his look. She knew what he meant and looked away.
“Tell me,” he said. Her eyes flickered to his face and away again. “Do you want a war between my people and yours?”
She looked at him, then at the ground. She knew he would know the answer even before she shook her head. She glanced at him again as she answered, not trusting him enough to keep her eyes off him.
[A little too much movement of her eyes throughout this dialog. It became a distraction to me. Trim a couple of those and think of another action to show what she’s feeling.]
“No.” Somehow she felt as though she had just cast aside all the age-old traditions of her people and was now a partner  with this Karki. For as long as all time, there had only been hatred between the Oren and the Karki. Yet here she was, admitting to a Karki prince that she wanted peace, not war.
“Then will you help me? Will you warn your people, so that they will leave before our warriors can attack?”
“If you let me go back to them.”
She heard amusement in his words as he spoke. “I said I only wanted to talk, and then you could go. But first, you must know what to tell them. You reached our village; what did you find out?”
“That you’re to attack our camp tomorrow at .”
“You are smart. Yes. The warriors want prizes. Fifty warriors are to attack from the south and lead the Oren warriors away from the camp. Another fifty warriors are to attack the camp itself, while it is unprotected.”
A wave of horror swept over her at his words before another thought occurred to her. “How do I know that you aren’t lying to me?”
There was a moment of silence. “You do not. You will have to trust me. I swear by Tilon that I speak the truth.”
Raisa frowned, puzzled.
“I forget. Tilon is the god of peace and winter,” he explained.
“El Shaddai is the only God.”
“No.” The prince shook his head. “Tilon is the god of the Karki, and El Shaddai is the God of the Oren.”
“El Shaddai is the God of all people,” she argued.
“Perhaps that is what you believe, but I believe in Tilon,” the warrior said. “If you do not like that, I shall swear by the stars in the sky that all I say is true. Leave it at that,” he added,  seeing that she did not approve of this either. “Go back to your camp and tell your people. Tell them what you know. I speak the truth. I do not want a war.”
Raisa looked at him, wondering if he meant what he said. He stepped back. She turned and walked a few steps, then broke into a run.
 When you give a character an action instead of dialog, it isn’t necessary to tell your reader they didn’t say anything, or didn’t respond. It’s obvious.
Also, you have the prince speaking, and Raisa’s actions in the same paragraph. I think only the speaker’s actions should be in the same paragraph as his words. When you shift to her, start a new paragraph. That’s not an absolute rule to follow, but a good guideline.
 Since we’re firmly in her head, if she didn’t notice something, we shouldn’t know about it. You can say that both the language and the admiration in his tone surprised her.
 Partner might be too strong a word at this point. It states a level of trust I don’t feel yet. Maybe say they had a common goal, or leave this sentiment until later.
 Dialog tags. You’re too good to let something like this weaken your writing. When you say explained or argued, those things were already obvious from the context of the dialog. “Said” is invisible. Said should be used when it’s needed. An action beat is even better when you can slip one in inconspicuously. In other words, don’t have your characters making all sorts of odd gestures just so you can avoid said. But if an expression or movement can deepen the emotion during dialog, put it in.
For example: where I marked the 4, instead of “he added” you might try something like this. “…all I say is true.” He raised his hand, seeing that she didn’t approve of this either. “Leave it at that. Go back…”
Those things are all easy fixes. If the rest of the book holds up as well as this first chapter, I for one hope to see it in print in the near future. I was even more impressed when Bonnie told me she wrote this ten years ago, when she was 14.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
First, that particular construction stands out because years ago hack writers used it to death. So sentences like, "Straightening his tie, he entered the office for his job interview." have become less desirable. "As" does the same thing. "As he entered the office, he straightened his tie."
There's nothing wrong with those sentences. If they're not overused, they're perfectly fine. It's mostly overusing them that causes a problem, for two reasons.
First, variety. Sentence structure should vary to keep it from feeling repetitive. This avoids putting your reader to sleep. Variety makes the writing lively and interesting--makes it sing.
Second, these sentences have dependent clauses in them. That makes part of the sentence less important than the other. The fact that this guy straightens his tie could be a character trait--such as being a perfectionist--or it could show that he's nervous. Put into an -ing construction, that fact becomes incidental. The force of the sentence lies with entering the office for the interview.
So if it's not very important, the sentence is fine. But if you want to emphasize it, "He took a moment to straighten his tie before entering the office" will give it more impact. And because these are dependent clauses, too many of them will weaken the writing. Half of what you're saying isn't really important. It's just a minor fact you can relegate to a dependent clause.
Another problem often comes up, mostly with beginning writers. An -ing sentence is meant to show two things happening simultaneously. But sometimes it'll slip into a sentence that's meant to show a progression of events.
"Climbing the stairs, he entered the house." How can he enter the house if he's still walking up the front steps? "Putting the hat back on the shelf, she walked through the rest of the store." She'd have to have a mighty long arm to walk through the whole store while she's still putting a hat on a shelf. That's the number one thing to look for. Are these two actions something that can happen at the same time?
I think I covered all the bases.
I used to overuse -ing sentences. It was my favorite way to build a sentence. Mostly because it was an easy way to avoid starting every sentence with "he" or "she". And because it was such a problem for me, I paid special attention when I read this in "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers". So I was able to give all these reasons without consulting a book. I absorbed the information.
As in everything, moderation is the key. Putting the -ing word in the middle of the sentence will help disguise it so it doesn't stand out so much. But even at the beginning, it's fine every once in a while.
Now, on to the contest. This question made me think of how valuable I've found the book I mentioned above. It's something every writer should have. And so I'd like to give away a brand new copy of "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King.
How can you enter? Refer people to this blog. If they leave a comment telling me you sent them, you'll receive one entry. And if the person you refer sends me a critique request, you'll get another entry. If a new person--someone I've never critiqued before--sends a chapter, they'll get their name in the drawing. I'll run this contest through the rest of November and December. I'll announce a winner January 2nd.
If you win, and already have a copy of the book, I'll let you choose a different book of comparable price.
Monday, November 12, 2007
(red = can be deleted; blue = my additions and comments)
Chapter One - The Warning
The Oren camp lay in silence and darkness. A few stray dogs roamed between the tents, searching for bits of meat or an extra bone. One or two fires burned outside tents, created spots of light. Smoke rose from other fires inside the tents, drifting in steady streams up into the dark, cloudy sky.
Raisa walked down a path between the tents, her bare feet silent in the hard-packed dirt. She paused for a moment on the edge of the camp, her eyes sweeping through the darkness. Then she slipped away from the tents, dodging among the bushes like a shadow. She knew where the sentries were posted and avoided them. Once she was past them, she relaxed, moving swiftly and silently.
She didn’t know the land on this side of the
The wind brought a sound to her, and she stopped, listening. A slight frown creased her face, and she stood, looking around. [Be careful of descriptions that sound out of POV. She can’t see her face creasing.] She knew where the camp was, for even if her sense of direction wasn’t unerring, she could smell the smoke from the fires and see it rising against the sky. [This is a dark, cloudy night. I don’t think there would be enough light for her to see the smoke. The light would have to come from the fire itself, and if she could see the firelight, she wouldn’t need to mention the smoke.] Having assured herself of that, she crept forwards again, more quietly and stealthily this time. It didn’t take her long to find the Karki village. She crouched in a clump of bushes and stared out at it. The huge fire burning in its center lit up all the long houses.
She’d never seen a Karki village before, but she knew it, and she knew the war cry. Her hands clutched the branches in front of her as her mouth grew dry and her palms sweaty. She had heard this war cry before and knew what it meant.
Fighting. Death. Everything she hated.
It had been during a battle with the Karki that Her father had been killed during a Karki battle. [Word economy and avoiding repeated “had been”.] He had stood nearly a head taller than all the other warriors, and his knife had been sharper, his arms faster. He had been older, smarter, and stronger. But though she waited for him after the battle, he hadn’t returned. Her last memory of him was watching his back as he strode away from her, a four-year-old girl held in her mother’s arms so that she couldn’t run after him.
Now, she lay listening to the tribe who had killed him. If their tribes hadn’t been fighting, her father wouldn’t be dead. She scowled at the village. The war cry meant more fighting, but not if she could help it. [You already stated what the cry meant. Just stick with the idea that there wouldn’t be more fighting if she could help it.] If her tribe knew of the attack, they’d cross the river, back to their own territory, and the Karki would leave them alone. She knew that. Jubal had said they would only stay here if it was safe to do so, if the drought really hadn’t affected the Karki and the Karki weren’t in a war-like mood. But apparently they were.
With that thought, she pushed herself forward. The clouds shifting across the sky provided her with a cover of darkness. She placed each step carefully, staying crouched over and moving slowly as she felt her way through the darkness. Trees stood like dark sentinels against the clouds, and she paused, wondering if there would be sentries posted about the village.
Fear caught in her throat and left her crouched beside a log, her brown eyes darting over the shadows around her. Was there a sentry hidden there? She shrank back against the log. She shouldn’t be here. This was enemy territory; she should never have ventured this far away from camp. She would go back, tell Jubal about the war cry, let him worry about the attacking Karki.
Even as that thought came to her, she dismissed it. Her brother would never believe she’d gone this far from the camp. He’d laugh at her, say she was making up stories, that if the Karki really were chanting the war cry the sentries would hear it. But the sentries couldn’t hear it; she was way past the sentries.
She stayed where she was, her eyes darting from the village in front of her to the comforting darkness behind her. She’d heard all the stories of the Karki, how they hated her people. She knew that the only reason her tribe had crossed the river into Karki territory was because of the drought. Now her fears were coming to life; the Karki would attack the Oren for trespassing and more warriors would die. Perhaps even Jubal.
That thought spurred her forward. Jubal might not listen to her, might mock her and tease her, but he was her brother, and she wouldn’t lose him to the Karki as she’d lost her father. She’d come this far; she could go further. She’d gotten past the Oren sentries; she could get past the Karki sentries – if there were any. She made a careful survey of the land around her, studying each shadow. A tree branch bobbed gently in the wind, but it was just a tree branch. Maybe all the Karki were dancing around the bonfire and no sentries had been posted.
She lifted her hand to her throat, to a necklace her father had made for her. He had died fighting the very Karki she now approached, but he had faced them boldly, to protect his clan, and so could she.
She slid her foot ahead without making a sound and moved to the cover of another tree. She used her hands as well as her feet to keep from being seen or heard. She inched forward, never running. Jubal had taught her how to walk without making a sound. He had also taught her that if she ran, anyone sitting or lying on the ground would feel her footsteps and know of her approach. Step by slow step, she approached the village. The war cry pounded in her ears, growing louder with each step she took, making her heart pound to the same rhythm.
She held her breath and took the last few steps, then pressed her body against the wall of the long house. The rough walls were firm and strange, the shadows dark and protecting. She waited, her eyes darting about. She had reached the village without being discovered. Now what?
She had to learn something of the attack. She couldn’t understand a word of Karki, if that was what the warriors were shrieking. She’d have to get close enough to see their gestures, to decipher their sign language. Her hand strayed to her neck again and she peered around the corner of the long house. At the end of the long dark street between the houses, she saw the glowing fire and the Karki warriors. Fear filled her at the sight of the wild dance, making her breath come in shallow gasps, but she had to go on.
[When you say fear filled her, you’re telling when it’s not necessary. You show it quite well. Shorten to “Her breath came in shallow gulps at the sight of that wild dance, but she had to go on.”]
Falling to her knees, she crawled down the street, keeping close to the long house. She reached the edge of the shadows and dropped to her stomach, pressing herself against the ground. She watched the feet pounding around the fire, the fur-clad legs jerking, propelling the warriors through the dance. She tilted her head back. Sweat glistened on the warriors’ bodies, for most were clothed only from the waist down.
[That paragraph contains a lot of –ing sentence structures. Most can be eliminated. “She fell to her knees and crawled down the street, close to the long house. At the edge of the shadow, she dropped to her stomach and pressed flat against the ground. The warriors’ feet pounded the earth, their fur-clad legs jerking, propelling them through the dance.”]
She forced herself to study the dance, to try to find any gestures that would tell her what they were planning. Fierce faces and harsh expressions swirled in front of her, sending her shrinking back into the shadows. The stamp of their feet and the pitch of their shouts gave her a headache, but she had to stay there, to watch. She had to find out what she wanted to know.
A motion beyond the warriors attracted her attention and she watched as a man rose to his feet. The warriors stopped their crazed dance and turned to face him, waiting for him to speak. In the sudden silence, Raisa found herself holding her breath. She studied the man, sensing the respect the warriors held for him.
His face was lean and leathery, his eyes hard. His shoulders were stooped slightly. An ivory medallion hung on a cord around his neck, accompanied by many teeth, stones and carved bones. Raisa had seen medallions such as that brought back in prizes after battles. Jubal said that the chiefs wore special medallions, and the teeth and bones were symbols of bravery.
Her eyes returned to his face as he began to speak. His words were harsh and quick, his hands jerking in rapid gestures. She couldn’t understand the words, but she saw the effect they had on his warriors. He was stirring them, awakening the battle lust in them. His right arm extended, pointing to the east, to the Oren camp. She was glad she couldn’t hear whatever accusations he was bringing against her tribe. [That sentence breaks the mood and doesn’t seem necessary.] With his other hand, he drew his knife, slashing it through the air. A cheer burst from the warriors’ lips, drowning the chief’s words for a moment.
A word about “she knew” sentences. Mostly they aren’t necessary. We’re in her head, so she can simply state the things she knows as facts, skipping the phrase “she knew.” Also, something I didn’t bother breaking in to point out—when you say the stamp of their feet and the pitch of their shouts gave her a headache, it falls flat. First of all, it’s telling. You could show it by saying her head pounded in rhythm, or each shout knifed through her skull. But this is a tense scene, so I think it would add more to the tension by showing what it’s doing to her nerves.
Putting aside the technical, the story and emotion of the piece carried me away. Most of the suggestions I made were things I found on a second and third read-through. I can see a lot of talent in the writing. It just needs some polishing.
I’ll have part two posted Wednesday.
Friday, November 9, 2007
By Deborah Kinnard
The new-minted Lady Jessica slept that night, when she slept at all, in a wall chamber adjoining Lady Alys’s solar. Though Alys’s serving maids slept wherever they could squeeze their pallets on the solar floor, Alys had not allowed Jess to do so. She insisted that a “highborn” guest must occupy a guesting chamber. Thus it was that Jess found herself stuffed naked into a cupboard bed built into the chamber wall. The room itself felt dank with moisture from the thick stone walls of the manor house. A well-banked fire in the small hearth provided welcome warmth and its own aroma to add to many others. Her tick smelled of straw and past occupants. Though the linen sheets seemed clean, they abraded her skin. She turned and turned on the goose feather pillow, covered in the same scratchy linen as the sheets. Sleep would not come, not that she had expected any. At odd times she fought rising hysterical laughter, remembering feeling jet-lagged twenty-four hours ago, and now staring at a rising fourteenth- century sliver moon outside a wood-shuttered casement.
The atmosphere in her chamber warmed slowly, gradually stopping her shivering. Though at times she shuddered from purest fear, Jess realized she must make the best of her situation. And carefully, too. She must watch every word, and never, no matter how dire her need, tell any of these fanciful, credulous people the truth.
The truth would smack of sorcery. She’d have to walk the thinnest possible tightrope. Surely, surely this experiment wouldn’t last long. After a few days, something would happen and she’d be back at the Mossock she knew—or even home. She wanted only to return to her own time and figure out how to incorporate her bizarre experience into her research. She nearly moaned in anticipation at the possibilities, but until she went home, she had no desire to run afoul of their sensibilities.
Father God, why did You pick me? David Graber or the Millards know this era. Any of them would’ve been a better choice than me. This isn’t even my time period. Not that I know what year this is. I’ll have to find some way to ask without asking…
She turned over and tried to punch the pillow into a different shape. It resisted and gave off a faintly dry smell as air puffed out. Panic surged up again. She beat it down with as little effect as she’d had on the pillow. If finding out what year she’d landed in were her only problem…if only. She could foresee a dozen, a score, a hundred different pits into which she could fall, a stranger in this strangest of lands. Her hair was too short. Her attempts to speak the language were off-base, if Alys’s occasional puzzled expressions were any indicator. Her teeth were too straight, thanks to Dr. Banks and expert orthodonture. Heaven forbid anybody should glimpse her lone filling. What would they make of her appendicitis scar?
“That’s nothing,” she could see herself blurting out. “Just modern surgery.”
They’d tie her to the stake and hurry off for kindling.
She rolled again onto her back. Like any avid historian, at times she’d speculated on what it would be like to live in the Middle Ages. The reality, at least the first twenty-four hours, was nothing like her romanticized version. She’d never imagined the hardships, the dust, the lack of conveniences, the everyday odors they all apparently took for granted. Even Lady Alys, higher-born and cleaner than the rest, smelled of skin and sweat.
For Lady Jessica de Lindstrom, one-hundred percent liar and fraud, the smell of fear.
Sounds. She awakened to the manor beginning to bustle. Grainy-eyed, Jess stretched and yawned. Then found herself without sleep shorts or tee shirt, and remembered. A sick feeling socked her in the gut like a fist. Yesterday she’d been in
She sought water to wash, and found it in a small basin on a stand near the door. Very little water. She did her best, splashing her face many times and furiously scrubbing her teeth with a finger and the hem of her undergown. Donning her single outfit took no time at all, but pulling the tangles out of her hair with her fingers defeated her, and she went downstairs to the hall as she was.
Alys, already up, greeted her warmly. “Maude, bring my second best comb.” She did Jess’s hair while chatting about the day’s plans. Mass first, of course, and then sewing. Alys had some stuff they would make up into a gown just Jess’s size. After fastening the linen coif over Jess’s braids, Alys handed over the comb.
“It is made of sandalwood,” she said. “It will impart its aroma.”
“Lady, no, I can’t take your comb.”
Gently, firmly, Alys closed her hand around it. “It is my gift to you. Do not say me nay.”
The manor folk trooped after Jess and Alys out the big main gate and across the road to the village church. Jess found it unnerving to have the villagers bow to her or tug their bangs—no, forelock, she reminded herself. A sign of respect for the gentry of whom she made no part. She tried not to gape at the village that lay just beyond the round-towered church. The homes looked like hovels and smelled worse, each one low to the ground and thatch-roofed. From some of the house windows, a sheep or a placid ox peered out.
Mass, then. Jess felt equally challenged not to rubberneck the interior of the building. Older than Mossock, its architecture called the eleventh century to mind, rather than the thirteenth. Round-headed arches formed the doors and tiny, high-set windows. Two great candles smoked with a vaguely sour smell, competing with wisps of smoke from a censer the priest jerked through the air like a pup on a leash.
The villagers stood aside until Alys, Jess and the manor household filed into church. The church held neither bench nor chair, so everyone stood to hear the service. Children whispered, shushed by their parents. Whitewashed walls instructed the faithful with brightly colored paintings of the Virgin, Christ Triumphant, several anonymous and uncomfortable-looking saints, and the harrowing of hell.
The mass, at least, she understood. She’d learned medieval Latin well enough to say the mass herself, and the priest’s chanting sounded almost familiar. His rusty brown robe showed many mended spots, and short brown curls around his tonsure jiggled when he moved his head. Alys whispered, “Father Stephen. He is new here, and I do not know him well, but he seems a good man.”
The good father ran through the liturgy quickly, enunciating without inflection. Overall, he didn’t appear to be in a good mood. She took an instant disliking to his small, alert eyes. His stomach made most irreverent hungry rumbles, like Jess’s own.
After mass Maude served breakfast, consisting of another jug of wine, some stewed fruit and a large meat pie. Too hungry to worry about cholesterol or the strangeness of pie for breakfast, she consciously aped Alys’s table manners and dug in.
Before they’d finished, Maude returned with the aggrieved expression Jess had already noticed. She didn’t seem to approve of Mossock’s house guest. Or was it her own paranoia, since she was truly not what she seemed? Maude and Alys had a quick exchange in the tongue Jess didn’t understand. Cornish? English, but a dialect they didn’t teach us? I can’t get a word of it.
Maude finished up, gave a stiff little bow and left them alone. “Good news,” said Alys. “Kei—my husband’s master-at-arms—has returned this morn. My husband is but a day’s ride away. By vesper time tomorrow he will be home.”
Jess smiled approval, though she felt only trepidation. What would Sir Geoffrey de Tallac make of her? Would he offer her the simple, open-hearted hospitality Lady Alys gave? Or would he demand a better story, a more plausible explanation of how a woman had come to be lost and alone? Would he look skeptically on her half-story of untruths?
She lifted another bite of pie on her borrowed eating knife and prayed heartily for Sir Geoff’s horse to throw a shoe.
I like the scene where Jess is lying in bed and reflecting. It again shows her fears, as well as how uncomfortable the era was. Everything scratchy and rough, cold and damp. I can feel it.
From the time she wakes up, though almost the whole scene is an ongoing summary. Nice description of the church, but it doesn’t feel like a scene. Not much was in the moment. I'd like to see more interaction with others in the second scene, especially after a scene that’s pure reflection.
Other than that, finish this quickly, Deb and get it published.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
“Where is it?” she whispered. She grabbed a fold of skin at the back of her hand and pinched, hard. Nothing changed. She wasn’t dreaming. Where is Mossock?
A woman—not Sheila—emerged from a doorway adjacent to the hall. Jess gaped some more. She wore long tunic-over-tunic garment in a grayish blue color, and its fit showed the lines of early pregnancy. Her hair was hidden, wrapped in a dun cloth. Unlike the oaf with the barrow, she wore scuffed soft leather shoes. Lifting her skirts, the woman picked her way between the hens and through the ruts to approach Jess.
“God, help. This can’t be happening,” she whimpered under her breath
She hated whimperers.
The woman stopped several feet short of Jess, inclined her head with lifted brows, and said something quick and questioning in an unfamiliar language. Jess made a two-handed gesture she hoped communicated, I don’t understand you.
The woman frowned more deeply and repeated her question in French.
Jess gulped a breath that didn’t have enough air in it. Her brain would not produce words, so she answered as best she could. “Je suis perdu.” I’m lost. She hoped her approximation would do, for she could not think or remember, or feel anything but terror.
The woman clucked her tongue. “You poor thing. And such clothing! How did you come to be lost?” Though Jess understood the archaic language, she couldn’t produce an answer. The woman scanned her up and down and appeared to reach a decision. “Come inside,” she said in a tone of command. “Mossock has ever offered its welcome to those in need. You must take wine, refresh yourself, and tell me what has befallen you.”
Apparently thinking her tongue-tied, shocked or stupid, she led Jess by the wrist as if reluctant to touch “such clothing.” Jess followed, mute, fighting rising nausea.
This isn’t Mossock. Well, it must be—the great hall looks the same. But so different. This is Mossock, but not the house I saw last night.
Indeed, the hall had changed. Where last night it had stood empty, populated only by dust-motes and sorrow, today the hall bustled with people. In the enormous corbelled hearth, a merry fire snapped and sent high flames up the chimney. Along one wall, plainly dressed men set up a long trestle-table. With impatient gestures, a middle-aged woman urged them to haste. Across the end of the room near the fireplace, a second, shorter table had already been set up and covered with white cloths. To this table the woman tugged her. “Maude! Bring sweet wine.”
The older woman left off harrying the men and hurried to obey. Jess sank down upon a long bench. Lord, help me. These people wear medieval clothing. They’re setting up a great hall for a morning meal, and they’re going to bring me wine, not coffee. This lady who greeted me isn’t Sheila. She isn’t anyone I know. She belongs here, and this is her time, not mine.
Oh, Lord, I’m going to faint.
Jessica closed her eyes and got ready. But that easy way out didn’t happen. Muttering under her breath in sharp disapproval, the woman Maude brought a goblet of white metal with carving on the bowl. Jess sipped, more to gain time than because she wanted anything with alcohol in it. The wine, however, tasted light and sweet, and it refreshed her. The younger woman, sitting at her side and watchfully waiting, apparently saw she was doing better.
“First,” she said kindly, “your name, s’il vous plait.”
“Jessica.” Her voice had no tone, so she tried again. “Jessica Lindstrom.”
The woman tried it. With the soft French J her name sounded foreign and somehow comforting. “Unusual. How did you become lost?”
“I wish I knew.”
That caused another frown. Jess tried again. “You’re very kind. I thank you for the wine, but I should go and try to find my—” She choked. My what? My people? My own century? How on earth do I find that, when I can’t guess how I got here?
The woman apparently saw her distress. With a kind pat on the hand, she began to speak in the low, soothing tones one uses to a frightened child. “You must not worry. You will bide here, in safety. When Geoffrey returns, he will send to ask after your husband and family.”
“My husband,” the woman explained patiently. “Geoffrey de Tallac. Surely you have heard of him. Forgive me—I did not give you my name. I am Alys de Tallac. We hold Mossock and many other honors. My husband is vassal to Lord Michael Veryan, who is highly respected at court.”
Jess grabbed for her goblet and drank, more deeply this time. The wine-buzz permeated into the shock flooding her mind. At court. Whose court? Not
Alys let out a chirp of laughter. “Not unless my hair has turned color in the night.” From under her workaday headdress she pulled a thick dark braid and held it out for inspection, then tucked it back away. “Not yet, it would seem.”
“Forgive me. I mis-spoke. It seems I heard a tale…”
Alys’s eyes widened in what could only be delight. “This night, while we and the maids sew, Lady Jessica de Lindstrom, you will tell us this tale.”
Jess gulped. “I know but part of a tale, not the whole. I do not know the ending.”
“Even better. We will tell it in the manner of a round-tale, and make one.” Alys clapped her hands. “Now, come above. We must have you properly dressed.”
Upstairs in a busy solar, Jess endured the open-mouthed stares of Alys’s maids. Alys reprimanded them in stern tones, telling them they must serve her guest, Lady Jessica, as they would their mistress. Though Alys pulled gown, undergarment, and soft leather shoes out of her own wardrobe trunk, Jess insisted on a private chamber to replace her own “strange clothing” with Alys’s. The last thing she wanted were questions about her zipper, Reeboks or bra. In these superstitious times, it might be one short step from stranger to witch.
“Your hair,” Alys said. “Where is your veil?”
Jess poked at her curling light-brown do. What once had seemed a stylish layered cut, falling just below her shoulders, now seemed garishly out of place. “I must have lost it.”
Forgive me, Lord. Help me. I’m way out of my depth here. I’m a historian, but I have no clue what to say or do. Just help me fit in as best I can, ‘til I can find a way to get home. Her eyes filled.
Seeing, Alys offered a quick and bracing hug. “Do not weep. You are frightened, naturally. You miss your people, but for sure your husband will soon come for you.” She put a finger under Jess’s chin. Miserable, Jess raised her eyes. “Such odd coloring, and yet so fair. I am sure he misses you sore, and will make all haste to find you.”
Do I tell her I’m single? At my age? Girls married young in these times, and I’ll be an anomaly. “I have no husband.”
Alys winced in consternation. “Ah. The mortality. I understand, and I will speak of it no more.”
The mortality? I came to a year sometime after 1349? No, Lord, that’s not my period of study. Jess cast her eyes down, hoping silence would let her hostess draw her own conclusions. Alys chattered of domestic issues, praising the rich curling mass of Jess’s hair, as she sat her down and began to braid. Jess’s hair, never obedient, was no match for a determined medieval matron, however, and Alys soon had it tamed and hidden under a starched white coif. “There. You must feel much better.”
If I must, I must. “Thank you.” Jess scanned Alys’s solar for a mirror, and found none. The off-white chemise itched, and fit too big in the chest and too long in the hem. The shorter overtunic, cut away at the sides to show the chemise, was a dark mossy green in color. Apparently an everyday garment, it lacked ornamentation and was twin to the one Alys wore. She gave a shrug. If Alys was pleased, she must look normal. Whatever a twenty-first century historian was to make of that…
Unbidden, anticipation bubbled under the fear. However this happened, I’m here. I didn’t ask for this, Lord, despite what Sheila thinks. I’m scared spitless, but if You want me in this century for some reason of Your own—let’s accomplish it, together, as fast as we can.
* * *
Good scene showing her shock and fear. I like the descriptions and the way a clue is given as to the approximate time period. It’s nice to be acquainted with someone who knows what a trestle table is. :o) I like the bit of humor where Jessica gets ready to faint.
The only thing I’ll pick on is, even though she’s in shock, a couple of the thoughts feel repetitive—this isn’t Mossock, and that’s not Sheila. I realize she’s repeating things to herself in disbelief, but it still stood out to me. I also think it would be a nice touch, as long as she mentions
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I want to update you on my October goal. I didn't make it. I was trying to finish a 50,000 word rough draft, and only made it to 42,000. The end just wasn't ready to be told. In fact, that's where I'm still sitting.
But I don't feel bad for not hitting my target dead center. Setting that goal in the first place spurred me to write 42k on a draft that had been sitting for a year with only 2 pages completed.
My final goal hasn't changed. I want to have a decent manuscript by the end of February. One that's at least ready to show my agent.
The last two months have taught me why it took me so long to get started on this project. First, the family situation. This is based on a true story--an aunt all my relatives admired. I'm afraid when they read it, they'll be expecting my character to be Elsie.
I named my character Emma, and Emma may do some things and make some choices that Elsie never would have. But Emma has successfully become a character to me. I'm finding out what issues Emma has to deal with. I don't yet know her as deeply as I should, but I'm getting to know her.
So I have to put thoughts of disappointed relatives aside and think of a larger audience.
My second problem is that the time period spans more than three years. Large chunks of that first year have to be skipped over to move to story along. The last two years includes a romance. When I had the idea for this book, I didn't know it involved a romance, but I'm happy it does. This is set in a prison camp and a romance will add a hopeful element--something for Emma to look forward to each day.
But look at the typical romance formula: Meeting, conflict and friction, and finally realizing their love. I don't want to make this overly formulaic, but it's a pattern to follow. How do I stretch that out over two years so that they aren't in conflict for too long, and they're not all cozy and romantic for too long?
So you can see I have a lot of work to do. I don't have all the plot points figured out yet, but I'm a lot closer than I was two months ago. Now, off I go to plug away at it again.