Can't wait to share it with you guys! It's a cool, creepy story... but that's all I'm going to say right now. I don't want to give away too much. :-)
Just validated my word count for Camp NaNoWriMo. Over 31k words edited and revised in April for my upcoming Young Adult novel, In the Middle.
Can't wait to share it with you guys! It's a cool, creepy story... but that's all I'm going to say right now. I don't want to give away too much. :-)
On July 22, 2011 I met Claire Darling for the very first time. At the time, Claire was an 18-year-old high school student by morning, horse trainer by every spare hour after that. She quickly became a friend of mine because she's sarcastic and self-deprecating, a good soul. Two-and-a-half years and three books later, she and I are pretty tight. I've fought for her to fall in love and I cried with her (over and over) when her heart was shattered into pieces. She's struggled and she's endured. She's no Super Woman, but that's why she's real. Well, real is a relative term, but you know what I mean.
Over the past couple of years, I've come to adore good guys Liam and Graham. I've loved to hate all those shady characters--Rayna, Rowan, and Maureen. Maybe you've found the strings of your emotions tugged by one or more of them, too. If that's true for you, then I thank you for investing yourself in my humble words.
There's so much I want to say, but so much I can't because I don't want to give anything away. That, and I'm so overwhelmed by the day that I don't know where to begin and where to end.
Maybe Liam says it best in the last paragraph I wrote today that brought the third and final novel to a close:
"With any luck, tomorrow his big heart will eclipse anything he lacks. At least, this is what I pray as I stare out at the stars strung in the deep blue. I want him to find his own place to belong, because I’ve found that place for myself, a home, and I’m homesick."
Like Liam, I've found a home in Hope Creek and I'm already homesick.
Thanks, guys, for everything you've given me. You'll never know what you've done for me.
I press my lips together and follow him as he leads the way toward the nuns in the back. He’s so focused he doesn’t realize a soft doll slips from one of the bags under his arm and falls to the ground.
“Liam!” I call out. “You--”
A girl with brown ringlets framing her round cheeks runs toward the doll before I catch Liam’s attention. She looks both ways to be sure no one sees her, then snatches it up and into her arms. The doll fits perfectly in the crook of her arm and a smile brightens her face.
“Hey! Little girl!” I say.
She freezes and clutches the doll tightly to her body. Her fearful blue eyes dart to me and back to the doll as I step toward her.
“Hey!” I repeat, coming closer. From a few yards away I can see the tremble in her shoulders. The little girl drops the doll and runs from me.
I stoop down and pick the doll up from where she’s landed in a heap. There’s a smudge of dirt on its plastic cheek and I wipe it away with my thumb. Liam’s over talking with the nuns, and he glances my way.
“That girl--who is she?” I ask when I reach them. I don’t wait for introductions. One of the nuns, the younger one with round spectacles and a pointy chin, looks like she really wants to give me a quick lesson in manners.
“I’m sorry, dear?” The older nun says, wrinkling her forehead beneath her habit.
“There was a girl, maybe four years old. Curly brown hair, blue eyes--or at least, I think they were blue.” I scan the yard as I describe the little one.
The older woman smiles, bouncing the child on her hip. “Ah. You must mean Daphne.”
Do I mean Daphne? I have no idea.
“She ran from me. Do you know where she might have gone?”
The thin, bookish nun nods towards a strand of trees near the rear of the property. The trees are short and sparse, obviously very young, and don’t offer much shelter. A little form huddles at the base of the one in the middle, facing away from us.
I peel back the corner of the foil around the cookies and grab a couple, then hand the tray to the young nun. When I reach Daphne’s hiding spot, I find her with her knees tucked into her chest. Tears streak her face, which she presses to her knees.
“Can I join you?” I ask. I don’t expect an answer, and she doesn’t disappoint. I sink to the grass, leaving several feet between us. “My name is Claire. They told me your name is Daphne.”
She remains quiet except for a soft shudder.
“Daphne’s such a pretty name,” I continue. “A pretty name for a pretty girl.”
The little girl raises her head to glare at me. Blossoms of crimson burn at her cheeks. “Go away.” She hides her face again.
I place the doll next to her gently, so gently I’m not sure she knows I’ve done it. “That’s a nice doll you have there.”
Daphne brings her head up again and starts to say something angry. Our eyes connect and I glance down at the doll laying next to her. She looks down, too, and then back at me.
“It’s okay, pick her up.” I say. “I brought her for you. I knew you would take very good care of her.”
The girl scoops the doll into her arms again and snuggles her little cheek against its plastic face. Her eyes squeeze shut in joy. When she opens them again, I smile. “Would you like a cookie?”
She nods and tentatively takes the cookie from my outstretched hand. Daphne reminds me a lot of Taran--flighty, suspicious, and upset. Like Taran, I don’t push her. I eat my cookie as she eats hers. When it's gone I stand up and slip away. She doesn’t follow behind me like the horse does, but that’s okay.
I'm guilty of turning on an album and leaving it on repeat for days. Months, even. My husband hates this about me because he and I tend to have very opposite tastes in music (him: Anything Country. Me: Florence + the Machine, which is totally a genre, by the way!). Though it's not working at the moment, we had an iPod jack in our room where we could plug in our iPods or phones and play our music over speakers in the ceiling or on the porch.
At some point while Moe was sick, I turned on Right Away, Great Captain and left it on. I remember walking away from his still-warm but lifeless body on the grass and wandering back to the house wondering what could possibly be left without him. The only thing to do was crawl into bed in the middle of a sunny day and cry. Right Away, Great Captain crooned me to sleep on that horrible, beautiful day. I let it play on in the days to follow because it held Moe and I together, this thread of mournful music.
Tonight I'm getting ready to say good-bye to one of my characters and I don't want to because it's like letting my boy slip through my fingers again. My heart hurts and it feels right to play Right Away, Great Captain! again to pull myself back into the grief.
It's no more than two lines into the first song before I can see him stumbling and feel his slick neck against my cheek. The curl of dread tightens in my belly as I watch the vet check his pupils and slowed breathing over and over and over until he is satisfied and I know it's done. I'm broken, with pieces that will never go back together quite right.
Sixteen months and it surprises me how sharp the pain still is and how little it takes to bring me back to that good-bye. That is the power and wonder of art.
Oh. How will I ever do this?
When I finally felt steady enough to rejoin Alfie, he'd moved on to replacing a broken fence board in one of the paddocks. He didn't say a word about my breakdown, and I’m thankful for it. I helped him in silence, holding the plank steady as he secured it to the fence post with a hammer and several nails. Alfie was getting on in years, he shouldn’t be doing this work on his own.
He took a breather after the next board was up, and stared off towards the few horses still living here.
“Tell me about the horses, Alf. It’s nice to see you, but they’re why I’m here.”
Alfie swiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand then gave a short nod. “I hated to bring you back, y’know, but with Rowan out of the picture, I didn’t know who to ask. Besides, you always were better with the horses than him. He’s got a wicked temper, that one.”
“That he does.” I agreed.
We walked down the fence row until we stood in front of one of the few occupied enclosures. “We’ve got six horses still here, but no one with any horse sense at all wants to help with them, especially the one mare in particular.” I turned my head in the direction he's looking, toward the rear of the paddock to our right. When she noticed us watching, the dark horse inside snapped her body into alert, her head high, eyes wide, and ears pricked. Minus her sun-bleached coat from living outdoors, she was a nice-looking horse and would make someone a fine jumper. The bone structure was all there, I could see it, but so was the fear. The longer we stared, the more her terror echoed back. Without taking her eyes or ears from us, she shrank back against the fence.
I scrunched up my face. “Tarantula? Like the spider?”
“No, no. Tarantella. It’s a dance--Spanish, you know?” Alfie hummed a tune and snapped his fingers as he crossed and uncrossed his arms a couple of times and shuffled his feet. It looked like no dance I’d ever seen or probably would ever see again, thank heavens.
With a shake of my head, I said, "You'd better stick to horses, Alf."
He chuckled and stopped dancing, "Anyway, Tarantella... she was going by the name ‘Taran’, but some of the kids started on with calling her ‘Spider’, so you’re not so far off.”
Spider wasn't a friendly kind of nickname. I wasn't sure what to think about that.
I unlatched the gate to her paddock and walked inside. Taran pinned herself up against the boards of the fence in response, but otherwise regarded me with curiosity. “She looks all right,” I said, fastening the gate closed behind me. “So, then, what’s the problem?”
It happened then, quite literally, with the blink of an eye. The dark horse studied me for all of three seconds before blinking her eye and charging after me. There was no time to fumble with the gate--she’d be on me before I could have made it that far, anyway. My only option was to climb the fence, and with any luck I would be faster than her. With thundering hooves at my back, I launched myself at the fence and scrambled over. Taran clamped her teeth around the heel of my boot before I could swing it over. The old man was doubled over laughing at me dangling in a rather unpleasant position, with one leg in safety, the other in a wild horse’s mouth, and my crotch somewhere in the middle.
“That,” He sighed, wiping the tears from his eyes, “is our problem.”
I couldn't tell you what it is about the forest that calms me. Maybe it isn't the forest, at all, but the murmur of the river against the time-worn pebbles. Or maybe the melody of the birds flitting from branch to bank, the cicadas joining in with their staccato rhythm. Perhaps, even, the aroma of pine sap, damp earth, and moss drew me here--especially on days like today. Mostly, I liked the quiet. No one offered me advice or asked for my help out here. No one spoke at all unless you counted the babble of the water, and I didn't.
Tally snorted and took a tentative step from the shore and into the edge of the creek. I patted her shoulder as she took another swishing step, thankful for the distraction. I'd fought so hard to keep him from leaving, but, in the end, none of it mattered.
7/31/13. In the middle of the night, I typed the last sentence of my Young Adult novel "In the Middle". I celebrated and felt free and easy for approximately half a day, then I flipped back open my laptop and fixed a section that didn't feel exactly right. Because that's what writers do--they always feel like something could be fixed or rearranged for more impact. It's a sickness. A strange and wonderful sickness.
The beginning of August marks the end of July's Camp NaNoWriMo, 31 days of writers worldwide creating. Campers are encouraged to pick their own word count goal (mine was 26,364 words, oddly specific because that magical number brought my novel to 50k words) and go for it. I rounded out July with 38,406 words (62028 words in total), 12k above my goal. I'll take it.
In March I began this journey with Lucy, an orphaned teenager burdened by the weight of her parents' deaths. Lucy was angry and unpleasant, scarred and in pain. She wasn't the only one in the little town of Mitte who struggled with loss and regret. In the Middle forced me to look at death and remorse from a handful of angles, mourn with each person, and then offer a bit of hope. Perhaps it will never be published, let alone read and understood by an audience, but recording their story took me on a journey I will always remember.
To Lucy, Oliver, Jasper, Perdita, Letty, Duke, Magnolia, Tessa, Johanna, Norman, Millie, Sadie, Angus, Sal, Bud, Vera--even Derek and Tanya... Thank you for waking me up.
In the wee hours of the morning--3:14 a.m. if we're getting all technical and stuff--I finally brought my current manuscript to 50k words, the length of an average novel (or so the peeps at National Novel Writing Month tell me). This story, best described as a young adult paranormal thriller, woke me up one chilly morning this past March. I read a lot of paranormal fiction, but it's nothing I really had any desire to write until this story shook me by the shoulders and demanded I pay attention.
In April I tried to take this particular story (currently titled In the Middle) from about 13k to 50k by participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. For those of you not familiar with the way NaNoWriMo works, allow me to explain. The other NaNos want you to write a 50k-word novel in one month (typically November), with emphasis on daily word count goals. If you've got a a big enough stash of junk food and are good at disciplining yourself and/or know how to blacklist most of the Internet from your computer, you will sit down at a computer, write for a month and magically a book appears at the end of it. You grin like a maniac and shake your aching fists in the air proclaiming your triumph over evil--I mean, words! Words! Then you quickly realize you haven't showered in a week (or three), clamp those armpits shut again, and wander off to tell your family they can call off the Search-and-Rescue mission.
If you're not so good at the whole NaNoWriMo thing, nothing happens. You probably have a social life, a job, a family who still likes/recognizes you--all bonuses. The most social we get during NaNoWriMo months is usually comparing word counts on our latest word battles. On Twitter. That's, like, not even a real website. That's people simultaneously yelling their opinions into a crowded room. #yesI'mtalkingtoyou. Sometimes I write on my porch just to remember what the air feels like on my albino skin.
Why do I do this to myself, again? Oh yeah, because I really, really love it.
All kidding aside, the lovely, caffeinated folks behind NaNoWriMo have inspired a staggering number of people to write books. Most of the time, that's a good thing. And, no, I'm not talking about you, E. L. James. Stopit!
The beauty of Camp is the ability to pick a goal for your month of concentrated writing that fits in with your life instead of 50k, which used to be the only option (go big or go home!) Optimistic, or possibly sadistic, I aimed high--That ended up too ambitious of a goal when it all boiled down to it. I lost a horse to old age and arthritis and gained two more within the same month. Historically, I'd say I'm pretty crappy with change, especially change involving the equine species. Emotional upheaval doesn't usually lend itself to my creative process unless you consider my creative process eating a ton of chocolate and threatening to move away because, and I quote, "y'all are crazy!"
I managed six-thousand words that month. That's, like, 1/8 of my goal. Or something. I'm bad at Math. Numbers aside, it was no bueno. My main character stuck in the middle of something big, something that changed the whole storyline... and I couldn't write myself out of it because I lost it all. Poof! The passion that woke me out of hibernation on a frigid Saturday morning fizzled away, even though I knew I had a story worthy of bleeding onto the page. I began to feel anxiety that I would never rescue poor Lucy from her predicament. I feared In the Middle would get buried in the old files on my laptop, never to see the light of day again.
A similar thing happened to me last July (and August. And Septem--do you see where I'm going with this?) while working on the second draft of my first novel. I'd lost my horse and best friend of 19 years to colic and the devastation wiped my mind completely clear of everything, including my creativity. My main character, known for her sarcasm, couldn't think of anything funny to say. For months, literally, I stared at my laptop screen all day, lucky to work out a couple sentences in all of that time. The whole thing seemed pointless and discouraging. I finished the redraft of that first novel only days before NaNoWriMo started up in November. When NaNoWriMo began, I started the sequel to my first novel, which I eventually finished up on January 15th of this year. Can't win 'em all, they say, but I won when I didn't give up. The second book was just the icing on the cake. (Did someone say cake? It is NaNoWriMo again, which means JUNK FOOD! It's for the books, I swear!)
Life, and death, runs in cycles--and I guess it is my Kryptonite, all this grief. And I need to learn to deal with it like Superman does. On second thought, no, probably not. Kryptonite renders him a whiny cry-baby. Dang it! That's the only comic book analogy I have!
Thankfully Camp NaNoWriMo occurs each July, too, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me because it is the worst possible month for a mom of four to accomplish anything beyond brushing her teeth each morning (and often that is questionable). But they didn't design their calendar around me, so I just have to deal. Camp is the perfect excuse to push myself to get back into the habit of writing a lot, so I went for it. This time, I set a goal of 26,394 words to bring "In the Middle" to 50k words. At 3:14 this morning, and six days before my deadline, I hit my mark.
The novel's not completed, as much as I wish it was, but the finish line is so close I can almost taste it (have you ever noticed how much I talk about food? I have.). Now I'm pouring my focus into getting as close as possible to "The End" before July reaches its end. This month's success is the total opposite of last year's July paralysis
Being trapped inside your own head trying to figure out how to heal is not pleasant. Being able to look back and see how far you've come and realize you really CAN do anything is a feeling beyond words. Three-fourteen this morning found me staring at a blinking cursor and the word count screen with my heart bursting full of allllllll the emotions. No one can possibly know what it feels like unless it is your struggle and your triumph. Today I feel very powerful, kinda like the opposite of Superman hugging a bar of Kryptonite. I think the analogy worked that time!
Now back to the story...
**Special thanks goes out to my writing doula, Courtney, whose enthusiasm (or, at least facade of enthusiasm) keeps pushing me to press on even when my eyes are bursting into flames. Thanks to the Camp NaNoWriMo crew, of course. Also, a humungo shout out to the dude who wrote Write or Die! I don't know what it is about that red computer screen that makes me want to type complete gibberish just to make it go away. And, as always, a big "whaddup!" to my muses, Ish and Moe. Keep it up, boys. Mama needs a new pair of riding boots!
My favorite exchange from tonight's writing. Enjoy!
None of Derek’s buddies wanted to turn on him--they had their social standing to think about. I got it, but, thanks, guys. No, really! I’m fine here under 175 pounds of misguided hormones.
If only Tanya had given in when I’d begged her to come with me to the afterparty, then Derek would be all up in her business instead of man-handling me. None of the rumors at school on Monday morning would be about me, at least. But, nooo... She had to go and catch the flu and leave me here with Mr. Grabbyhands. I was calling her first thing in the morning to tell her to dump this loser, that is, if he didn’t suffocate me first.
“Lulu,” Derek slurred.
“That’s what I said!” He insisted, showing every single one of his pearly whites. “Liesl.”
“Now you’re just making it up.”
“You know who you are and you know you want to take this party somewhere more... pirate.” He suggested, his hooded eyes way too close to mine. In case I hadn’t caught his meaning, he brought his foul mouth back to my ear and proceeded to stick his nasty tongue in there. Ewww. Who did that?
As enticing as his slobber was in my ear-hole, I’d had enough. “It’s ‘private’, you moron! And you seriously need to get off of me right now.”
Here is a snippet from the novel I began earlier this year. I'd hoped to finish it up in April, but April was a trainwreck. Camp NaNoWriMo began today, and my goal is to add an additional 26k words to this novel to bring it to 50k and, hopefully, completion. For those of you following along, here's my progress today. Meet Lucy, the main character of "In the Middle".
Being slow as a turtle—even slower than that, it seemed—wasn’t my norm. My body was aerodynamic, thin and sleek. My legs used to reach outward with the grace of the gazelle, bounding me forward with ease. They said I would go places, that I’d have my pick of colleges. Coach lined up college recruiters for our biggest meets, all I had to do was show up and let go. My heart would do the rest.
I missed the wind in my face and the teardrops that collected in the corners of my eyes as the world blurred behind me. I missed the crunch of pebbles beneath my shoes. I missed the tickle of my ponytail grazing the back of my neck with each swaying step. I missed pushing through the burn in my lungs and deep within my legs. Faster, faster, faster. I missed every single shin splint and weeping blister. I missed running so hard the world spun behind my eyes, struggling to catch up. Heck, I even missed throwing up in the grass because I’d pushed myself to my limits. Even the worst day on the track paled in comparison to what my life looked like now. This was not life at all.
They said I would go places. Somehow I doubted this is what they meant.
I bit my lip to keep from sobbing as I continued forward at my numbingly slow pace. The forest around me fell silent except for the low crunch of the pine needles under my feet. The sulfuric air grew thicker and so heavy that it pressed on my chest and I had to stop to draw in a really good breath. My throat burned with the effort, and I coughed. The fire was close, and so was my rescue.
The pines crowded close together ahead with branches intertwined in protest. Even the forest wanted to keep me stranded in this pit. I knew following the trees until I could find a large enough opening to squeeze through would mean going to my right or left instead of forward. Sideways was frustrating to me. Sideways wouldn’t get me away from Oliver or Mitte, two things I wanted more than anything. It was not one of my brightest ideas, but I gritted my teeth and pushed forward into the arms of the pines. The needles welcomed me, sliding across my skin like feathers. The tang of pine tar overtook the smell of soot and destruction. Maybe this wasn’t so bad, after all. Spreading the branches of the tangle before me, I smiled. Yes, this plan would work. Adios, Oliver!
Almost as soon as I’d thought it, the needles turned against me. Pins made contact with my face, pricking my lips and drawing tiny beads of blood.
“Ouch!” I yelped, trying to bring my arm up to shield my face, which only made me more of a human pincushion. No one came to help me, even though it was pretty obvious that I was stuck.
Oliver left. He left.
He didn’t owe me anything, and I figure most of the messes I’d found myself in since fate dumped me in Mitte had been his fault. Not even two minutes ago I wanted as far away from that boy as humanly possible. Finally, something had gone my way. From where I cowered, shrouded in flesh-eating vegetation, I couldn’t bring myself to feel happy he’d gotten around to taking a hint.
If Dad was here he’d have torn himself in two to protect me. There was no way he’d let me wander off alone into the wilderness, no matter how much I kicked and screamed. Dad would have kicked and screamed right back at me, and then, when he’d had enough, thrown me over his shoulder and carried me back to safety. I would have hated him every step of the way, as much as I loved him. He knew never to give up on me, but it didn’t matter anymore. Even Dad had abandoned me as the dragon drew near.
A flood of anger surged through me, and its intensity vibrated wildly across my skin like a bolt of lightning. Feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t do a single thing except kill me faster. I was no damsel in distress, and this was the furthest thing from a fairy tale. Death would track me to this forest, one way or another. A man couldn’t stop the inevitable. I felt it as sure as the pulse pounding in my veins. Wiping the blood from my mouth, I forced myself further into the green. Goosebumps sprung on the back of my neck and rippled down my arms. What in the--? The frantic rhythm slamming through my body crushed the breath from my lungs.
My grandpa suffered his first heart attack right in front of me as I blew out the candles on my birthday cake on my tenth birthday. I’ll never forget--his eyes bugged out of his head like he was a fish out of water, gulping for air and finding none. Yeah, my life sucked.
The random things that cross my mind go here...