NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Twenty; “The End” but Not Really

It’s always a defining moment when you reach the point where you type “The End” at the bottom of a manuscript. Especially in NaNoWriMo, you’re happy and you’re sad, and, more importantly, you know it isn’t the end. Not really.

After NaNoWriMo comes editing, revising, cutting, inserting, moving chapters around, taking chapters out, or even the dreaded re-writing. For me, because this romantic thriller or thrilling romance genre is so new to me, I’m going to turn first to beta readers familiar with the romance genre and get an indication of whether I should even bother. If I don’t have what it takes to write a cogent romance; then, I’ll go back to my plain old thrillers. We’ll see.

But it was fun, a lot of fun to turn characters on their heads, to muck around with their established back story. Hey, if it works, I can always change the character names and query agents who specialize in romance.

Now, because people have been reading snippets of the work on a Facebook group and here and who were aghast I killed off the male romantic interest, this should make you feel better:

The reception area of the clinic was empty except for Ekaterina Bukharina, in her doctor’s lab coat now. Such a place on a large, busy collective should be packed with minor injuries and illnesses.

Mai turned on Natalia when they entered. “Look, enough of all this subterfuge. If I don’t find out what  is going on here, why you brought me here right now, I’m leaving,” she said.

Ekaterina put a hand on Mai’s arm. “Come with me, and everything will be explained,” she said.

Ekaterina led her down a hallway to an examining room. She held the privacy curtain aside and motioned Mai to enter.

Not caring that the woman saw, Mai drew her gun, brought it up to the ready, and went inside.

On the bed amid tubes and IVs and monitor leads, Alexei lay, thin to the point of gauntness, his head shaved but sprinkled with scabs and scars, his skin showing he hadn’t seen the sun in a long time. Those eyes, those incredible, blue eyes shifted toward her, moisture leaking from their corners.

What was it Olga Lubova had said? That Mai would find what she’d lost.

“So,” Alexei said, “deduskha, are you here to kill me or kiss me?”

The End

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Nineteen

I managed 1,188 words today in between napping, coughing, and blowing my nose. I have the ending scenes sketched out in my head. At 52,565 words, I have a solid, rough (very rough) draft.

I recently reflected to a romance writer friend that this genre was difficult for me. I’ve always written strong characters, but I always made sure there was an intricate plot involved with lots of action. This work is a lot of talking heads, but that’s okay, I was told, because in a romance it’s all about the relationship. Still, little hints of intrigue kept trying to work their way in, and I’d have to put them back in the closet for another time and a different project.

Without further ado, here’s today’s excerpt:

Nelson knew when Mai wasn’t on a mission, she spent her time tracking down who had provided the bit of intell, which had led to Alexei’s betrayal. She’d hit many a dead end, but none of that had dissuaded her. The doggedness was something he could admire, and unlike Alexei, she kept it and her official work well separated.

File folder tucked beneath one arm Nelson strode the corridors of an organization he was quickly coming to recognize would be his some day soon. Because he’d made himself approachable in contrast to Nigel’s aloofness, people stopped him for consultations or, in one case, a women he’d been seeing for a while. Too long, really. That needed to end soon. He made some excuse about not being able to be in his quarters tonight, exchanged some suggestive banter, and moved on to Mai’s office.

Mai might be an operative now, but her office work ethic hadn’t changed. The desk, the floors were covered in bits and pieces of paper, she strolled about bare-footed, but she rarely French-braided her hair anymore, except on a mission. He couldn’t ignore the calendar this morning. Exactly one year since he’d come here with the news her world had imploded.

“Hard at work as always,” he said from the doorway.

She looked up, her face expressionless, her dark eyes flinty. “As always,” she said. “I feel like I’m close, that it’s just beyond my fingertips, just out of my reach.”

“Don’t rush it,” he said. “It’ll come, probably when you least expect it. In the meantime, I have a job for you.”

He handed her the folder, which she took and skimmed. She looked at him again, a skeptical eyebrow raised. “You want me to go to Ukraine and buy a horse?” she asked.

“Well, that’s your cover story. Take a look at the name of the collective,” Nelson said.

She flipped through several pages of the folder. This time the skepticism was deeper when she looked up again. “What’s this for?” she asked.

“Maybe some obscure Cossack mourning ritual,” he said. “It’s been a year.”

“As if you had to remind me of that,” Mai said.

“Well, yes, but the request came from Natalia Shevchenko-Bukharina, a request to meet, finally, the woman so important to her son, Alexei Bukharin,” Nelson said.

“How would she even know about me?” Mai asked.

“They had a way of staying in contact, and I made sure she was advised when we lost him,” Nelson said.

“Why a year later?” Mai asked.

“Well, you can ask her, can’t you? In the meantime, you’re going there as Maitland Fisher, equine aficionado, to look at the Shevchenko-Bukharina horse breeding operation,” Nelson said.

Mai closed the folder. “I don’t want to do this,” she said.

“Well, funny, but you don’t get to refuse assignments,” he replied.

“Nelson, I’ve reached the point where I’ve pretty much put it behind me. Encountering his mother is too much. All it will do is set me back,” Mai said.

“Look, knowing the wily old woman, she wouldn’t ask for such a meet unless she had a good reason for it. I’m curious to know what it is,” Nelson said. “So, you can—”

“Ask her when I see her,” Mai finished. Nelson heard the controlled sigh. “All right. Might as well get it over with. I’ll leave in the morning.”

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Eighteen

Sore throat. Sinus headache. Nagging cough. I’m just glad they stayed away until after I’d passed 50,000 words because today was basically unproductive. I did manage 1,271 words to bring me to 51,377 words total. That’s a better cushion; sometimes when you upload your MS to the NaNoWriMo site to verify the word count, words get “lost.” Of course, I want to win.

This rough draft of my first romance (well, that remains to be seen) should be done with another half-dozen or so scenes, which will end with a set-up in case I get it in my head to do a sequel.

So, yesterday’s excerpt revealed I killed off half of the sweet couple (or did I?). Since then, Mai has made a discovery (a diamond ring Alexei had bought for her) and decided on a career change (from an analyst to a spy). This excerpt takes place about a year after Alexei’s death (now 1980) and after she has been “fully operational” for a while.

She had tracked this specific tattoo artist down to a tattoo parlour in a seedy area of Amsterdam’s De Waalen. The neighborhood was nothing but filth, but the inside of the parlour was bright and sterile, the floors scrubbed, and the whole place smelling of disinfectant. The heavily tattooed woman behind the desk was in her fifties and, but for the tattoos, looked like a babushka in a butcher’s shop. She explained the process, showed the sealed needles, indicated the needle gun in an autoclave, and explained the tattoo’s cost would depend on what she wanted. When the tattooed woman placed notebooks with samples on the counter, the other woman waived them away.
“I know what I want,” she said.
The woman behind the counter brought out her pencils and sketching paper. “Tell me,” she said.
The customer shook her head. “I want Arkady to do this,” she said.
A short, thick man emerged through some black curtains and looked her over. “I don’t tattoo women,” he said. “Yevgenia does.”
The woman held up an incredible amount of money and described what she wanted. The Russian barked something to Yevgenia, and she came from behind the counter and exited the tattoo parlour.
Arkady gave the slight woman before him a skeptical sneer. “Go away, little girl,” he said, shaking his head. “That is assassin’s tattoo. I only put it on those who deserve it.”
From the large tote bag on her shoulder, she took two file folders with black slashes across them. She opened each to pictures clipped to a page. The burly Russian studied them for a long time, closed them, and handed them back to her. He took the money and counted it. The bills went into his jeans pocket. He held the curtains open and nodded for her to go to the back of the shop.
In his small studio, which was as clean and pristine as the outer area, he asked her, “Where did you see this tattoo?”
“On someone who meant a great deal to me,” she replied.
“Only one other person I have put this art on,” he said.
“I know. That’s why I found you,” she said.
Arkady spent a good half-hour on the drawing, not letting her make any suggestions; then, he showed it to her: a black hammer and sickle with a white skull impaled on the sickle blade, through the eyeholes; blood dripped from the blade to form a word beneath the skull. CMEPT, smyert, the Russian word for death.
“Yes,” she said, “that’s it exactly. On my back, over my left scapula.”
“You will be first non-Russian I have put this on,” Arkady said, “but for you, for him, I will make exception. Take off your blouse and brassiere.”
She did so, folding her arms over her breasts. He shrugged and said, “I am homosexual. Your breasts do nothing for me.”
She kept her arms where they were. On a silver chain around her neck was a diamond ring, at least a carat in an intricate platinum setting. The light from his lamp glinted off it. An easy thing to slip from her neck, but she saw where he looked.
“Touch that, and you won’t be able to fuck for a month,” she said.
He shrugged again and pulled on surgical gloves. “Lie down on your stomach,” he told her, and arranged his needles and inks. “I will not go easy because you are woman, even his woman.”
“Please don’t,” she said.

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Seventeen

Back in 2008 when I decided to try this thing I’d read about, this National Novel Writing Month, where you write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days, I was still employed full time in a job which typically saw twelve- to fourteen-hour days, six or seven days a week. Still, at 1,667 words per day, I felt it was doable.

At the end of October 2008 I was assigned two trips which would encompass thirteen days out of the thirty. The 1,667 words per day became 2,941 per day, but, hey, I easily knocked 5,000 or 6,000 words for congressional white papers on a near daily basis. Still doable.

In seventeen days in November 2008 I wrote 50,000-plus words. Some days were 4,000- and 5,000-word days, but I did it.

In seventeen days in November 2015, I’ve written 50,106 words and won my eighth NaNoWriMo, but, hey, I’m going for ten. Two of those much-edited (very much-edited) NaNoWriMo novels are now being reviewed by a publisher, so worthwhile? Definitely. If you’ve been wondering if you should give it a try, do it. It’s fun, exasperating, challenging, frustrating, and just about any other positive or negative adjective you can think of.

Oh, and this year’s novel? Not finished yet. Thank goodness I have thirteen days left to clear up all these dangling plot threads. And because I wasn’t done with the angst, here’s a mind-bending excerpt. Remember, I mentioned it’s not done yet. ;)

Mai hadn’t abandoned her usual method of analysis. Her papers, maps, and transcripts were scattered about her office, and she walked among them, barefoot, sleeves of her blouse rolled up, pencils poked into her braid like pins in a cushion. Grace Lydell got to the doorway, then turned to Nelson.

“I can’t do this,” she mouthed.

Nelson moued his displeasure at her and walked around her to the open doorway. He tapped on the door.

Mai looked up, her smile bright. “Oh, dear, my boss and my boss’ boss. Whatever have I done?”

“Mai,” Nelson said. “Sit down.”

She frowned, and Nelson read her expression. She knew but she wanted to deny it.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Sit down,” he repeated.

“No, you tell me what it is,” she said.

Nelson sighed and took a deep breath. He found the news he was about to deliver as incredible as she would.

“It turns out the intell we got on that Nazi was a trap, a KGB trap,” Nelson said.

“You’re talking, but you’re not saying anything,” she said. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that he’s gone,” Nelson said.

“As in back to Russia?” she asked, though he read the disbelief. Much as he had when he’d heard the news, she was grasping for any straw within reach.

“No, kiddo,” he said. “Alexei’s…”

How could he put those two words together to tell her and himself what they’d both lost?

“Alexei’s dead,” he said.

“How?” she asked.

“Just accept that he is,” he replied.

“How?” she persisted.

“Fuck it, Mai. You know the KGB better than any of us do. How do you fucking think? They walked him into a cell in the basement of the Lubyanka and put a bullet in his head,” Nelson said.

If her desk hadn’t been behind her, she would have hit the floor on her ass. Grace finally found her gumption and went to Mai’s side, embracing her.

“I want to see,” Mai said.

Nelson shook with anger, not at her ultimately, but for the enemies he was no longer physically capable of fighting. “The KGB doesn’t send the bodies back to us,” he said. “They have ovens for that.”

“Nelson, Jesus Christ,” Grace said.

“She asked, Grace. She’s a big girl,” Nelson said.

“And you don’t have to be a fucking bastard about it,” Grace said.

At first he thought Mai was going to handle it like a trouper, but a sound filled the room, one he’d only heard once before and never wanted to again. For the British once he’d observed an IRA funeral, and the woman had made this same noise, a high-pitched, ululating wail.

Mai had sucked in a deep breath and keened for her lost love. When she had finished, her face eased then hardened into a mask he recognized all too well.

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Sixteen

Although I made steady progress this weekend, I didn’t post an update here. I thought that events in Paris on Friday were far more important than writing about word counts and write-ins.

I did go to a great write-in on Saturday. My Shenandoah Valley NaNoWriMo group had an in-person meet-up with another NaNoWriMo group from the far northern end of the Valley. We started in a coffee shop in Winchester, moved to a Denny’s in Strasburg, a Panera in Harrisonburg, and ended with an online write-in for the evening. It was great to meet people you normally only “see” online. Lots of talking about writing, but lots of writing happened, too.

Today was an epic writing day. I wrote a bit at home this morning, went to my regular SWAG write-in at a local coffee shop at lunch time, and wrote more this evening. Even I was a bit shocked when I added up the total words for the half-dozen or so scenes I wrote today: 6,045. That brings me over 45,000 (45,167) and puts winning NaNoWriMo in the near future. Tomorrow perhaps.

The story is not quite ready to end, though. I’ve gotten the two lovers through some ups and downs, and they’re on the same page about their future. But… I can’t help it. I have to throw a wrench in the works and maybe leave it with a cliffhanger. Not usually done in a romance, but I’ve ever been one to turn things on their heads.

I’ll set today’s excerpt up a bit. Alexei has decided he wants to move to London so he and Mai will have plenty of face time to determine if they are, indeed, in a relationship. Mai comes to America for a visit and a test of living in proximity. Nelson, Alexei’s former partner and now his boss, offers Mai a job in America, but she wants to take it for the right reason, and that may not be Alexei. She wakes him up in the middle of the night to give him her answer:


“Mmf,” he murmured, then brought himself awake. “What? What’s wrong?”

“If I moved here, I’m not living here. It’s too small,” she said.

He rolled over and looked at her. “Okay,” he said.

“And I’m still finishing my masters, and I’ll go back to England to fulfill my RAF obligations,” she said.

“No problem.”

“And I have to have a life beyond you,” she said.

“Nelson works us all too hard to have a life,” he murmured.

“Be serious and listen to me. I can’t do this for you. I have to do it for me,” she said.

“I think I said that earlier,” he replied.

“Well, yes, but you were trying to convince me to take the job,” she said.

“Are you going to take the job?” he asked, and held his breath for her answer.

“And if we don’t work out, we’ll have to be professional enough to work together,” she said.

“Of course.”

“You’re saying what I want to hear so you can get back to sleep,” she said.

“Mostly. Are you going to take the job?”

“Can the paperwork hit Holt’s desk by the time I return from hols?”

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Twelve

In some ways NaNoWriMo writing is like any other writing, aside from the whole 50,000 words in thirty days thing. You come up with an idea, you plan the project down to the chapter and scene (loving the Scrivener), and, wouldn’t you know it, a whole minor plot line involving the protagonist’s relationship with his almost-grown son pops up and demands attention, to the tune of 3,754 words.

Yet, it isn’t useless because I gained deeper insight into the male lead: He wants his personal happiness but not at the expense of his son’s, whom, because of his employment, he’s had to leave in a boarding school for the children of spies. Oh, and he hasn’t informed the female main character he has a son because he doesn’t know how she’ll react to the fact she’s only four years older than the son.

Wow! This romance stuff can be almost as convoluted as a spy tale.

Today’s word count brings me to a total of 35,398.

By the way, if you’re reading the excerpts and thinking to yourself, or aloud maybe, boy, she really does use a lot of dialogue tags, rest assured it’s merely an increase-the-word-count artifice. They get edited out later.

So, without further ado, here we have an excerpt from the end of the father/son discussion:

“Do you love her?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know that, yet. I honestly thought after your mother, I’d never feel anything for anyone again, but this woman… The first time I was with her,” Alexei said, lowering his voice, “it felt like something which had been happening a long time.”

Then, he flushed, glancing at Peter, as if embarrassed, which Peter was, a bit. He’d never expected to discuss such things in such detail with his father.

“I’m sorry,” Alexei said, “I don’t mean for this to be uncomfortable.”

“I never thought I’d be discussing, well, this with you,” Peter said.

“Me, either, but remember if any of this bothers you, I want you to tell me, and I’ll not see her again,” Alexei said.

“And have me be the excuse for your unhappiness?”

“I didn’t mean it that way. You’re practically an adult, but you are my son, my only family here, and your comfort with this situation has to come first,” Alexei said.

“What about her? What does she think of your having a son?” Peter asked.

His father looked away again. “She doesn’t know. Again, if the relationship isn’t going to work, why burden either of you with…”

“Critical details about the existence of each other?” Peter asked.

“You know she exists. She doesn’t know about you not because I didn’t want her to know but because you are my son. You deserved to know this is going on in my life first,” Alexei said. “She is secondary right now.”

“Papa, that attitude will not get you far with her,” Peter said.

His father gave as close to a full smile as he could get. “You may be right,” he said.

“If she makes you happy, why would you worry what I think?” Peter asked.

“Because even though I’ve not been a very good father, I don’t want to be a thoughtless one,” Alexei said.

“How long since my mother died?” Peter asked.

His father frowned, no doubt because he knew Peter was well aware of that statistic. “Almost sixteen years ago,” Alexei murmured.

“And what would she want for you?” Peter asked.

“For me to get on with my life,” Alexei said.

“I think you have your answer, Papa.”

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Eleven

First, my thanks to all veterans on Veterans Day, especially my father, MSgt. Frederick W. Duncan.

Another day of non-writing obligations, but I managed to get in 1,878 words this evening, thanks to my great on-line writing group, Shenandoah Valley Wrimos. We had sprints and challenged each other. Great fun.

That knocked me over 30,000 words; 31,644 to be precise. I’m looking forward to the in-person write-ins on Saturday. I’m sure we’ll get lots of writing done. Sure we will.

No excerpt tonight because my head needs to hit the pillow, but I ended on a good note tonight: a sex scene. Heh, heh, heh.

New Trilogy Debut – Book One: Mark of Four

Any student of ancient history knows science in its earliest iteration posited that everything around us was made of earth, air, fire, and water. Scientific progress has shown us the elements now number more than one hundred, but what if (oh, that favorite prompt for a writer) in a future dystopia the manipulation of earth, air, fire, and water are so important the government sends adolescents to special schools to hone their skills?

A teen, or Elemental, usually exhibits a talent for one of the four elements but can be taught to manipulate them all, though not to the same degree as their primary element. It’s rare that a person can manipulate all four equally, so rare, in fact, the person who can do that is marked for death. There’s a hunt for a mysterious object (or person?) called the Vale, a bad guy who makes you believe Voldemort is back and worse than ever, and a young woman experiencing all the usual struggles with her parents but has them amplified because of her burgeoning ability with the elements.

That’s a quick and dirty outline of the very complex Mark of Four, book one of the Guardian of the Vale series by Tamara Shoemaker. Shoemaker puts every writer to shame. Earlier this year saw the debut of book one of a different series by her, Kindle the Flame, which has, wait for it, dragons. Really cool dragons. And this from a person (me) who previously thought Tolkein and Anne McCafferty were the be-all for dragon-writing.

MoF CoverMark of Four is a quick read, though unfulfilling in the sense that when you reach the end you’re left wanting more. For me, because I’m not a big YA reader, the amount of teenaged boyfriend angst was a bit much, but the writing is crisp, concise, and comely. The story flows smoothly, and Shoemaker delivers a helluva punch at the end. If you’re into urban dystopia with a good mixture of urban fantasy, this is a series you’ll want to start.

This is where I pull you aside for the disclaimer. Shoemaker is a friend from a local writers group, but I asked to review Mark of Four and do an interview with Shoemaker, and she provided me a free ARC. Also, I recently hired her to do a line-edit on a novella of mine, and, well, her maiden name is Duncan, so we’re probably many times removed cousins. But, frankly, I only do reviews for people I know are good writers. Otherwise, it’s awkward.

So, on with the interview.

Just Who is Tamara Shoemaker?


Tamara Shoemaker

Well, a writer, of course. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, three children, a few jars of Nutella, and a never-ending carafe of coffee. She authored the Amazon best-selling Shadows in the Nursery Christian mystery series and Soul Survivor, another Christian mystery. Her fantasy books include the beginning of the Heart of a Dragon trilogy: Kindle the Flame, as well as the upcoming Guardian of the Vale trilogy, of which, as I said, Mark of Four is the first book. (Oh, and it’s out today, by the way. Once you’re done reading here, shift on over to Amazon and buy it.)

The Interview!

MD: Earlier this year saw the release of Kindle the Flame, the first book in the Heart of a Dragon trilogy. Now, we have Mark of Four, book one of the Guardian of the Vale trilogy. What about the trilogy structure do you find appealing? How do trilogies fit your writing style?

TS: I love a good challenge, don’t you? Sure, it’s difficult to put a book together complete with character arcs and plot lines and no holes and no how-in-the-world-did-THAT-happen going on, but it’s a thousand times more challenging to extend that arc over three (or more) books. Each book has to have some sort of resolution or you’re going to have a very unhappy reader, and you still have to have enough unanswered questions to hook the reader into continuing to the next book.

I find it super hard to make all these elements flow together seamlessly, but the exhilaration that comes when I feel like I’ve completed it successfully is hard to beat—similar to the birth of my children. The high at the end qualifies the struggle.

Plus, I get so involved in my world-creation that I just can’t stop building the story. No one wants to say goodbye to a good friend. My characters live and move and breathe right next to me, day in and day out and through the nights for the entire writing process, so when it’s time to put the book down and declare it done, I miss them—they leave a hole in my life where they had lived so continually before. So I can’t confine them to only one book. Even keeping them within three books is pushing it.

I’m sure I’ll probably be one of those authors that has a million spin-off books about the same world as the main trilogy, mainly because I miss my characters so much.

MD: Mark of Four to me read dystopian, with elements of fantasy and sci-fi; Kindle the Flame is pure fantasy. What is the allure for you in writing both types of fiction? Which is “easier” or more seamless? Which genre makes you “stretch” as a writer?

TS: I’ve always been a fantasy reader. When I was a kid and making my way through C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and later, when I dove into Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, I was laying a foundation for myself that absolutely cemented my love of the magic, the edges of reality, the worlds apart from ours. Who wouldn’t want to open their closet and step into a snow-filled winter wonderland?

The thing I love about writing fantasy, whether it’s dystopian or urban or pure fantasy is that the limits are non-existent! The only rule is that that the story must make sense within itself. Anything can happen as long as the world you’ve created accepts it. There are no do’s and don’t’s—Well, if you’re going to have a homicide scene, there’s got to be a medical examiner; oh, you don’t want to include a medical examiner? Well, then you’ll need to cut the scene… and on and on.

I keep looking at the differences between Kindle the Flame and Mark of Four. I wrote Mark of Four first, a couple of years ago, and Kindle the Flame, I wrote last November. I’ve had beta readers of both tell me that while Kindle the Flame was the better “technically-written” book, Mark of Four produced a better concept and connected with them more. It may have been just a matter of preference, I don’t know, but both of these writing styles challenged me dramatically. Kindle the Flame was my first foray into pure fantasy, and Mark of Four was my first into urban/dystopian. Either way, I grew as I built on the foundation I’d laid for myself as a writer and as I figured out how to build a world beyond the one in which we live.

MD: When writing on one series, have you ever gotten it confused with the other? Have you extensively outlined each series? For example, I find myself having to go back and refresh myself on the sequence of events or character appearance, etc., constantly in my series. How do you keep them straight? Do you have a mental technique for “checking out” of one series while you’re working on the other? Do you miss one set of characters while concentrating on the other set?

TS: I have to laugh. I’ve found, countless times, my ability to be working on a book, and suddenly stumble across a section where I drop my main character’s name in favor of another book that I had been recently working on. It never fails. When I was working on Mark of Four, I kept inserting “Rayna” instead of “Alayne.” (Rayna had been my main character in Pretty Little Maids.) When I was working on Kindle the Flame, “Alayne” from Mark of Four kept cropping up in place of “Kinna.” Before I complete any manuscript, I have to do a search for out-of-place names to make sure they don’t make it onto the final pages.

That said, I don’t really have a tried-and-true method to check me out of one series and into another. Often, I will spend the first fifteen minutes of my writing time reading back over the chapter on which I’ve been working to get me back into the mind-set, but often that elusive “I’ve arrived” point where the words just flow from my fingertips doesn’t come until I’ve been writing at least an hour. And in my life, at this point, an hour of consecutive writing time is hard to come by. For months, I feel like I’ve written piece-meal. I don’t care for it, but I do what I can until I can figure out how to get life to calm down a little.

Not that it’s going to. My three children ensure that. However, if I can get these fantasy trilogies down and published, I’ve decided to only do one project at a time after that. This coming out with two fantasy trilogies simultaneously is equivalent to birthing two sets of triplets at the same time. It’s… terrifying. :)

MD: Which writers are your fantasy influencers? Dystopian influencers?

TS: I fell in love with The Hunger Games trilogy, and I really enjoyed Divergent, though I didn’t like the second two in that particular trilogy. A lot of the elements in Mark of Four were inspired by some of what I enjoyed in those books. Primarily, though, Harry Potter has been my main inspiration in any fantasy I write. There was something so fascinating and epic about the interwoven, complicated back-story of Harry’s past. Tolkien will always be an inspiration to me; the world-building in his trilogy has forever fastened itself into my imagination, and grappling hooks couldn’t remove it. So, here’s to you, Tolkien, Collins, Rowling, and Roth.

MD: In both series but in Mark of Four in particular, you have characters making the transition from the YA age group to the New Adult age group. What about this age and the transition appeals to you? What, if any, are the drawbacks to writing that age group?

TS: There’s something about stepping into a new stage of life as a fresh-faced innocent that really appeals to me. High school into college is a huge deal; you’re essentially putting your eggs into the world’s basket and jumping off the cliff hoping for a perfect omelet at the bottom. The Guardian of the Vale trilogy spreads a little over two years, so by the time it closes at the end of book three, Alayne is nineteen, and in the two years of the story has lived a lifetime. I love the journey and the discovery of maturity–from the fresh-faced to the wisdom of experience. It’s riveting.

If there is a drawback to writing YA, I’ve felt, at times, that it would be so much easier if Alayne could just settle down a little, use a head that has had thirty years of experience thinking through things, but that’s not who she is. So she pulls me into her seventeen-year-old mind, and I get to relive the ups and downs and angst and flip-flops of that period of my life all over again.

But it makes it more real to the reader. It would be hard to connect to a seventeen-year-old who carried the wisdom of an elder. There’s something about the silly, shallow, sometimes flighty roller-coaster of it that connects to my past (and even occasionally, my present, but don’t tell anyone). :)

MD: In your words, what about your work makes it appealing to those of us much older than the age group you write about?

TS: One of the things I love about the reviews I’ve gotten on Kindle the Flame thus far and the advance reviews on Mark of Four are the ones that say, “I don’t normally read fantasy, but I loved this one.” Something in my work appealed to these people that didn’t particularly seek out this genre or the age group that is the target audience. I like to think there are themes that resound with all of us, young, old, and in between—the confidence that comes when you figure out who you really are, the importance of things like family and friendship and loyalty and love. When those themes are in my books, even when they’re being experienced by a teenager, older and younger will still connect with those themes, because they’re an experience of life, throughout life.

MD: Mark of Four, for me, had elements of both the Divergent series and Harry Potter. Was that a deliberate homage or a happy accident?

TS: Haha, you got me! When I wrote the book, I had only recently read Divergent, and of course, I’m a life-long (or at least years-long) fan of Harry Potter. After I read Harry Potter, I thought, whimsically, if I were to ever write a book, I’d want to put a school in it. Hogwarts, to me, was the fascinating place that was the center of Harry’s story, and I wanted to create a school that would be the central crux of whatever story I was going to tell.

Of course, my story went far wide of Hogwarts, and took on a new shape as I explored the possibilities of what it would be like to have “Elementals” control one of the four elements (air, fire, earth, water), and a school that would train these fledgeling teens how to perfect their craft. It was loads of fun to come up with class names (Points of Motion-Stop, Water-Currents, Throw-Casting, etc.) and the settings for them.

MD: Without giving too much away, what is the take-away message from Mark of Four and the Guardian of the Vale series?

TS: When Alayne enters the story at the beginning of Mark of Four, she’s a clueless seventeen-year-old who has a strained relationship with her mother and is struggling with identity. Who is she and why is she who she is? By the end of book three of Guardian of the Vale, confidence has bloomed within her. She knows who she is and her purpose for being there. She’s met her fears head-on and has conquered them.

To me, that’s one of my favorite parts of her character arc; it’s inspiring. It inspires me to be confident in who I am, and I hope, at the end of the day, that Alayne can be an inspiration for her readers.


Shoemaker’s characters and her writing are inspiring, as is her work ethic and how she juggles her writing with a growing family. She is a writer worth getting to know.

Follow her on social media:

Twitter: @TamaraShoemaker

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Ten

Lots of outside obligations today and not much writing, but I did manage 2,264 words for a ten-day total of 29,766. So close to 30,000, so that’s tomorrow’s goal.

And here’s an excerpt from today’s work:

There was something refreshing about coming into an empty house. No questions to answer. No disapproving looks. She tried to feel sorry for Finnoula O’Saidh but knew Roisin would put her in charge of something appropriate. As long as it wasn’t Mai’s life, Mai was fine with whatever sinecure Roisin provided Finnoula.

Someone had been taking in the mail, though, but a note in the Library from Roisin explained that. Roisin had remained behind for a few days. Mai went through the house. No sign of Roisin’s having stayed here, and for that she was grateful.

Mai had started up the stairs with her bag when the front doorbell rang. She hesitated for a moment and smiled as she remembered she now had to answer her own door. My, didn’t that feel all grown up?

She didn’t expect to see Travers Brent there, but, then, she hadn’t called him the next day after the dinner fiasco, had she?

“Oh, god, Trav, I’ve been too busy to call. I’m so sorry,” she said. She stood back, opening the door wider for him to come in.

He stepped in, gave a look around the foyer, and stood for a moment in silence.

“So,” he began, as Mai closed the door, “has the cad won?”

“I’m afraid he has. I promise I was going to call you to have lunch. I wanted to tell you that much face-to-face,” she said.

The smile he gave her was genuinely sad. “Old girl, I think we would have been good together. Perhaps not at first, but we’d have grown into it.”

“That’s a horribly old-fashioned attitude, Trav, and one I’m not much in favor of. And, Trav, I know about your father’s money troubles,” she said. “I know that’s what it was about.”

“It was, indeed,” he said, and she hadn’t expected the honesty, “but I did discover I do like you. A great deal.”

“And you became likable, too.”

“But nothing more than that?” he asked, his smile even sadder.

“No, nothing more than that,” she replied.

“Well, then, I suppose we can’t call him the cad anymore, can we?” he asked.

“I’ll keep it in reserve, just in case,” she said.

“Excellent idea. Well, I stopped by to ask you to dinner, but I’ll just keep that in reserve.” He smiled at her, a nice smile, lighting up his handsome face. “Just in case.”

They shared a laugh, then a hug, and a light kiss, Mai breaking it off when he became insistent. She stood in the doorway and watched him jog down the steps to the Bentley with his driver waiting at the curb. Poor Trav, she thought, knowing it wouldn’t be a Bentley but a paddy wagon he’d be riding in next.

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Nine

I know you’ve heard the expression “phoning it in,” meaning you’re so detached or uncaring you do a superficial job at work or relationships or, in my case, writing. My NaNoWriMo word counts were good over the weekend, but all I could think about was a snarky email from someone with whom I serve on a volunteer board. I’d sent an email without his “permission,” and I found my psyche back in freaking middle school. So, my writing probably reflects that attitude, but that’s the whole point of NaNoWriMo: You write now, in the moment, and you refine it later.

Then, bless Facebook and its endless streams of memes, because one resonated with me today:

The only people who are mad at you for speaking the truth are those people who are living a lie.

Keep speaking the truth.

You see such things sprinkled all over Facebook, and, mostly, they make you want to gag, but this? This brightened my day. I wish I’d seen it on Friday when I got my ass chewed as if I were an adolescent.

And today I was much happier with what I wrote, all 3,365 words of it. Oh, it still needs badass editing, but at least it flowed easily and seamlessly. I wasn’t forcing it past negative feelings put in my head by someone living a lie.

Today’s word count brings my total to 27,502, well past the halfway mark on Day Nine. It’s kinda downhill from here, in a good way.

We’ve had angst and tension and multiple does of sappiness, so today we have our female protagonist being a bit of a badass herself in this excerpt:

“I’d like my desk,” Mai said.

Roisin scurried from behind it, and Mai thought she might like being in charge once she turned twenty-five if so few words could get people scurrying. Mai seated herself at her desk as O’Saidh came in with the tea tray, which she settled on a butler’s table near the desk.

“Shall I be mother?” she asked.

“Leave it for now and sit. Both of you,” Mai said.

The two Irishwomen exchanged a glance but seated themselves in the matching chairs before the desk.

“How was your stay with Sir Travers?” O’Saidh asked.

“Why would you think I was staying with him?” Mai asked.

“Well, the lovely dinner, and then you were gone. I just assumed…”

“Will there be an announcement soon?” Roisin asked.

“An announcement of bloody what? My engagement to someone I’ve been seeing for six bloody weeks?” Mai said.

“You’ve known him a lot longer than…”

“And hated his guts. If you’d delved deeper on him, and I know you looked, you’d have found he’s practically tapped out, keeping up appearances, and looking for a wife who could bail him and his father out of their shady deals,” Mai said.

Roisin’s spine stiffened to the point Mai thought she heard a crack. “Actually, I did know that, but his family is a good one…” Roisin said.

Mai laughed, and Roisin frowned.

“What?” Roisin asked.

“Nothing. Watch the news in a few days. We’re not engaged. We were never going to be engaged. I’m twenty years old, and I’m not interested in providing heirs yet. Enough about Travers Brent. Now, on to why I’ve called you here.” She shifted her gaze to Finnoula O’Saidh. “I’m going to ask you a question, and I expect a truthful answer. If you’re not truthful, I’ll be able to tell, and in the mood I’m in right now, you do not want to lie to me. Understand?”

“Of course, but…”

“A few days before I was supposed to go to Paris for my birthday, did Alexei Bukharin call here?” Mai asked.

Finnoula and Roisin again looked at each other. “Finnoula!” Mai said. “Don’t look at her. I asked the question. You answer me.”

Both women blinked, though Mai could see a hint of a satisfied smile on Roisin’s lips.

“Did he?” Mai asked.

Finnoula clenched her own fingers until her knuckles were white. “Yes, he did. You weren’t here.”

“Did he leave a message for me?”

“Yes, he did.”

“Why didn’t I get it?”

Finnoula didn’t break eye contact, and that made Mai’s anger ease somewhat. “Because I threw it away,” Finnoula said.

Mai looked at Roisin. “That came from you, I suppose,” Mai said.

“No,” Roisin replied. “It was Finnoula’s idea, but I supported it.”

“Why was it any of your business?” Mai asked.

“Because you are our business, in every iteration of that word,” Roisin said. “Your mother would want someone to keep you from making such a mistake.”

“Why? What’s wrong with Alexei Bukharin? He’s not Irish?”

“He’s shady, for one thing,” Roisin said. “I know that when I see it, and he’s much older than you. He’s Russian, for God’s sake.”

“Actually, he’s an American,” Mai said.

“Well, worse.”

“Here’s something every O’Saidh needs to understand,” Mai said. “I’m my own person. I decide whom I sleep with, and if it turns out to be a mistake, it’s mine to make and learn from. Inform the rest of your family that where I’m concerned, they need to remember you bloody well work for me. It’s not the other way around, and, by God, if this interference in my life doesn’t stop, when I turn twenty-five and claim my CEO birthright, I’ll find some way to unravel the O’Saidhs from the Maitlands, if it costs me every penny I have. Am I clear?”

Roisin didn’t hide her admiration at all. Well, damn, Mai thought, if throwing a hissy fit would have accomplished this earlier, what was I waiting for?

“Of course,” Roisin said, echoed by Finnoula.

“Finnoula,” Mai said, “you’re going back to Ireland with Roisin. Roisin, send someone else to be my personal assistant. If this one doesn’t work out to my satisfaction, I’ll hire someone from a service.”

“That won’t be necessary, Mai. Someone suitable is available,” Roisin said.

“Actually, why don’t you send me several possibilities, along with resumes. I’ll decide,” Mai said.

Roisin smiled even wider. Bloody hell, the woman was proud of her.