Post-Thanksgiving Friday Fictioneers

I cooked turkey, roasted veggies, and made two pecan pies yesterday while watching a James Bond marathon–and even managed to do a little editing/revising–and my Thanksgiving doesn’t happen until Saturday. Because of in-law obligations and custody agreements, Saturday is only time when my family and friends can get together. It works well, the chaos is a bit lessened, and those who are so inclined can take full advantage of all that frantic shopping.

Friday Fictioneers LogoSo, despite all the warm and cozy feelings of the season, likely brought on by copious amounts of food and drink, I went to dystopia for today’s Friday Fictioneers prompt. What can I say? Dystopia is my go-to genre for short fiction. Don’t know why, but it works for me. I suppose it’s because sustaining dystopia for novel-length fiction is difficult (believe me, I’ve tried), and for me short fiction can handle all the angst dystopia implies. Today’s story is “Puzzle Pieces,” inspired by a great photo by long-time Friday Fictioneer Ted Strutz. The perspective on this amazingly composed photo seems to push toward infinity, and is it a lakeside restaurant or the dining car of a train crossing a bridge? Frankly, it can be anything you want when you write fiction, and it was certainly inspiring today.

As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title in the paragraph above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

That Post-NaNo Letdown

Since this is the first time I finished NaNoWriMo with ten days to spare, I’ve had to resist the temptation to start revising that 94,000-word rough draft.

Why not, you ask?

Well, it’s too fresh in my head. I had that whole scene-by-scene outline before me as I did all that frantic writing, so I’d be too tempted this close to the rough draft to say, “Ah, this is fine. It follows the outline perfectly, so why mess with a good thing?”

Now, I’m not saying that rough draft isn’t a good thing. It’s a complete rough draft, and that’s the accomplishment. Frankly, anyone who goes into NaNoWriMo thinking he or she will have a complete and final novel draft in thirty days, and some unfortunately do, is deluding him- or herself and lowering the bar for indie authors.

I know that within that rough draft is the kernel of a good story; otherwise, I wouldn’t have written it. I wouldn’t have put my butt in a chair for eight to ten hours straight for too many days in a row just to write a piece of crap. Right now, that draft is fulsome, i.e., overdone. It’s full of unnecessary words, too many dialogue tags, and long jaunts inside characters’ heads.

To make certain the non-elective surgery to come is successful, I need to let it sit awhile, let it get out of my head, which is hard because it’s book two of a three-book series; I’m already plotting and planning book three. What’s more, I left a major issue between two characters unresolved at the end of the rough draft, and that’s driving me nuts trying to figure out how to address it.

In the past I’ve put a rough NaNo draft aside for up to six months before I’ve delved back into it. That may seem like a long time, but that has worked in the past for clearing the deck in my head and allowing me to take a look at the draft with a fresh perspective, or rather, an editing/revising perspective. I’m much more likely, after that interval of time, to cut those unnecessary words and extra dialogue tags, to turn the internal musings of a character into dialogue or action.

Writing is a process, a long, convoluted, and sometimes painful process, but the first step is having a draft to work from. Regardless of the critics of National Novel Writing Month–we call them “NaNo Haters”–having that draft kicks the process off, and it’s all uphill from there, uphill as in working hard and making the climb to reach that apex of a polished, readable, publishable draft. And that’s a good thing.

1 Photo, 50 Authors, 100 Words

Flash Fiction Anthology CoverThis anthology, which contains my 100-word story, “The Elusive Pursuit of Perfection,” is now available in eBook form for Kindle, and it’s only 99 cents.

All the stories in this collection of flash fiction are short, sweet, and oh, so good. This is a little book with big writing. You’ll enjoy it.

To purchase your copy, click here; then you can go to Authorgraphs and get a digital autograph from me (as Phyllis Anne Duncan) for your copy.

My Generation’s Day of Infamy

If you’re my age or older, even a little younger, you will remember exactly where you were on this day fifty years ago, what you were doing, what went through your mind when the news flash came from Dallas, Texas. I won’t go into detail about my feelings and reactions here because I’ve done that on my political blog, and you can read that by clicking here.

What I will say was this was an act we young babyboomers in some way never got over. It snatched our innocence and optimism away. If hope for the future could be taken from us so quickly, so easily, then what did the future hold? It was a despairing time, and I can still remember it with obscene clarity.

Friday Fictioneers LogoWhether she intended it or not, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who manages all of us Friday Fictioneers flash fiction writers every week (an admirable job because organizing writers is like herding cats), picked a photo with the briefest of echoes from that day. After you read my story, “A Conversation at the Site of Jennifer Juniors,” you may think it’s a stretch, even a long reach, but I just call it dramatic license. As usual, if you don’t see the link on the story title above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.

By the way, I was thrilled my story in the upcoming anthology “1 Photo, 50 Authors, 100 Words” was voted by the other contributors the best along with Rochelle’s story–we tied. It’s an honor to be in her company not only in the anthology but as a top story as well.

NaNoWriMo – Day 20, and Done

Twenty days, thirty-four chapters, and 93,446 words later, and I’m finished with NaNoWriMo for 2013. Well, there are a couple of ends to tie up. Namely, I need to donate to the Office of Letters and Light, so they can do this again next year, as well as do all the things they do between Novembers to encourage writers, particularly young writers, to write. Then, when the time comes in a few days to verify the word count to “win,” I’ll need to upload the rough draft to their word-counting bot. I think 43,446 words is a good cushion over the 50,000 goal, don’t you?

And lest we forget, later, a few months from now, comes the editing and revising piece. Though I don’t do a lot of research for a NaNoWriMo project while I’m writing, I do some perfunctory research to verify dates and events, so there’s a lot of work ahead of me to dig deeper than Wikipedia for some things.

Today’s word count was “only” 2,177, which also happened to be the “least productive” day of the twenty days I spent writing those 93,466 words. I averaged more than 4,600 words per day, and in terms of the quantity of the output, this has been my most successful year of NaNoWriMo. The quality, of course, remains to be seen after revisions.

Today’s final chapter was Chapter 34, The Lady or the Sheik. Before I post the excerpt, let me thank everyone who began following the blog, who retweeted Tweets about this NaNoWriMo experience, and who commented on or liked specific excerpts. Those are the things which keep me writing.

Here is the final excerpt:

Then, the tunnel widened into a larger “room,” but before she entered, she held up a fist to stop Yuri and Kolya. They had switched on the lights attached to their rifles as well. She pointed to herself then to her eyes, then pointed forward, telling Kolya she would go see. Rifle up, she entered the room and saw Abdullah struggling with someone then she heard Alexei’s voice telling Abdullah to leave him alone.

She put her light on Alexei, now barely ten feet away, and looked upon a stranger. Then, a shadow shifted as an AK-47 nosed past her. A rifle barked twice, a figure fell back into the dark, and she left it to Kolya to figure out. She lowered her rifle.

“Alexei,” she said.

His eyes slid away from hers, a hand came up as if to ward her off.

“Alexei, it’s me. I’m here,” she said.

“Do you have to haunt me in the daytime now?” he said. “Leave me alone to get the revenge you seek.”

“I’m not the one seeking revenge, and I’m not a ghost,” Mai said.

From Kolya’s or Abdullah’s radio or both, she heard, “Daisy, Daisy.” They had twenty minutes to live or die.

“Look at me, Alyosha,” she said, then harsher, “Look at me!” She took a step toward him then saw his finger move to the trigger of his AK. “Alexei, shoot me, and I will fucking haunt you.”

Mai moved until she could look into his eyes, the only thing about him she could recognize. The lean, lined, bearded face seem to belong to someone else, but the eyes were his.

Abdullah moved to Alexei’s side and began to murmur to him, low so only Alexei could hear. The flat glare Alexei gave her didn’t waver.

“Look, you bastard,” she said, interrupting Abdullah, “I haven’t cut throats and shot Taliban over half this country to stand here and have you think I’m a fucking ghost. I clawed my way out of hell with the sole thought you were waiting for me, and where the fuck were you? Spending Russian money on mercenaries and who knows what else? I get shot, I meet your girlfriend, I find prisoners Dostun murdered, and piss off the Vice President in the process, and you stand here and won’t even speak to me. Well, fuck you, Alexei, and fuck your bin Laden vendetta. You put that gun down and talk to me, or, since we’re in a Muslim country, I’ll get an Islamic divorce, right here, on the spot.”

Something flickered in his eyes, and she knew him well enough to know he was processing her words, balancing her presence against his emotion. Abdullah murmured to him again.

“All I have to do is say it three times,” she said. “I divorce you.”

He didn’t lower the gun, and Mai heard Kolya, of all things, praying in Russian.

“I divorce you,” she said, taking a step closer.

His eyes slipped away from hers again, but he lowered the rifle. He glanced around, his expression uncertain, as if he were unaware how he came to be in this place at this time. When he looked at her again, his expression was wary.

“In Islam,” he said, “that only works for men.”

“That figures,” she replied.

 (c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 19

I was down and out for most of the day with a really bad sinus headache. I finally gave in and went back to bed for a while then woke with some energy–enough, I thought, to finish the novel’s rough draft. I anticipated two more chapters to wrap it up (with a cliffhanger, of course), but I only lasted through one chapter.

So, 3,110 words today for a word count total of 91,269, and today’s new chapter is Chapter 33, The Heart of a Mujahideen. Here’s an excerpt:

She clenched her teeth, as she always had, at the next phrase, and resumed, “I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a Mujahideen! I have fought here before, in the time of the Shurovee.” They didn’t need to know she’d fought for her life against the Mujahideen. “Like you, I scorn the outsiders, the Egyptians, the Yemeni, the Saudis, or any other not of this land who dare invade the borders of this realm. Rather than that dishonor to the people, I myself will take up arms. I will be a general, a judge of the evil ones, and, as Saradi has promised, a rewarder of your virtues and bravery. Today, enshallah, we might make the journey to where the springs run with clear, cool water, where the date palms drop their fruit at our feet, but before that we will make the outsiders, the non-believers, fuel for hell!”

Alexei wasn’t the only one who could quote the Quran, she thought. More cheers erupted, but no one stirred to charge up and over the hill.

“Today,” she began again, “by your valor in the field, we shall have victory over your enemies, the enemies of Afghanistan, the enemies of Allah!”

They sat or stood enraptured, yes, but not exactly what she had hoped for. Again, her love of history brought her the answer, a story even an illiterate farmer had heard a mullah tell.

Aila, the favorite wife of the Prophet—probably because she was the youngest and prettiest in his old age—had rallied her ailing husband’s armies by stripping off her veil and using it to wave the men into battle then fought, her hair unbound, at their sides.

“Our enemy lies between us and Saradi,” she said. “Let us show Saradi our hearts, our mind, our blood, our…” Her words caught briefly, then she continued, “…our love are his!”

She turned and dashed up the remainder of the hill, making her team and Burdette’s men scramble to keep up with her. At the crest, she stood, waif-like against the backdrop of the White Mountains, her black clothing making her a perfect target. A bullet struck at her feet, but she didn’t move. Several of her team returned fire.

Mai dropped the bullhorn then reached with her left hand and pulled the keffiyeh off, and the breeze caught her hair and splayed it like a halo around her head. She held the keffiyeh aloft, like a flag and saw hundreds of men rise to their feet. Abdullah appeared at her side and held the radio at her lips. Her strong, clear voice echoed in the hills.

“Allahu ackbar!”

She charged over the hill, an army at her back.

(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 18

The end is in sight, perhaps just a chapter or two away, seeing as I wrote three chapters today for a count of 7,175 words. And even though the inner editor is supposed to be quiet, she shrieked at me all day until I did some chapter rearranging. I couldn’t go forward until I did that, so I let Inner Editor have her way, just this once.

So, yesterday’s Chapter 29, Another Undisclosed Location, is now Chapter 30; the “new” Chapter 29 is entitled The Woman Who Fights; Chapter 31 is Ghosts and Efreets; and Chapter 32 is At the Top of the World. Oh, the total word count is now 88,159.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 32:

She heard a footfall she’d come to recognize—Brian O’Keefe. He settled close enough to her she could feel the heat his body generated from climbing to her position. She shifted closer to take as much of it as she could.

“What did your recce find?” she asked him.

“The good news is we cross that valley below us and we’re with the main group of the U.S. Forces, the CIA forces, and the Northern Alliance,” he said.

“And the bad news?”

She saw his teeth flash in the darkness. “No one puts anything over on you, do they?”

“Not for a long time,” she said. And the only one who could do that was, apparently, her own husband.

“The bad news is, there’s a group of about thirty Taliban in the valley. Abdullah says if we go south around them, we encounter too many Taliban and al Qaeda. We go north, we’ll be two days behind the American’s big push,” he said.

“Do the Talibs in the valley know we’re here?”

“Unlikely. They’re sleeping. Resting up for the battle, Abdullah says. He and I have different ideas about how to handle it.”

Meaning she would have to decide, but that was her job, wasn’t it. “All right,” she said, “let’s have a team meeting.”

She led the way from the outcrop, and they gathered in the small cave they’d found to shelter in, a single, small flashlight for illumination. Mai stayed as close as she could to the entrance, to block the light and so she wouldn’t be too far inside.

“All right, Abdullah, what is your plan?” she asked.

“There are thirty of them, eight of us, but we have stealth and darkness on our side. We each take three or four. Use knives. Quietly,” he said.

Mai translated for O’Keefe and her team.

“Brian?” she said.

“We take an hour to study their position in depth, see who’s sleeping, who’s on guard. I take Hat, Adams, Salim, and Coop, and we take out the guards. The rest of you stay up here with silenced guns to pick off anyone who tries to run,” O’Keefe said.

Kolya had translated for Abdullah, who then said to Mai, “That risks someone using a radio or getting away in the dark. My way takes care of them all.”

“What did he say?” O’Keefe asked, and Mai explained.

“And my way keeps half us in reserve in case something goes wrong,” O’Keefe said.

Thirty men between her and Alexei. Thirty men who wouldn’t hesitate to kill her, after they did unspeakable things to her. She looked at Kolya and spoke in Russian.

“What do you think?” she asked him.

“Abdullah is right,” he said. “Can you, so soon after…” She held up a hand to cut him off.

So what does Mai decide to do? Hmm, I guess you’ll eventually have to read the whole book. 😉

(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 17

Today was Silent Auction day at my Unitarian Universalist fellowship. I scored a lot of great social events with my friends from there, and a cute little antique table. Oh, and the minister won the silent auction items I offered–copies of my three books. Uh oh. Do the Unitarians excommunicate you?

This afternoon I passed the 80,000-word mark on the word count–woo hoo–by writing 2,882 words. Not the best word count this month, but the stack of dirty laundry has demanded to be put through the washer, the clean dishes insisted upon being put away, and the toilets have indicated that if they don’t get cleaned soon, there will be a revolting revolt.

I started and finished a new chapter today, Chapter 29, Another Undisclosed Location, and here’s an excerpt:

Delbert Stodden dozed in the rear seat of the black Suburban as it sped along the country lane. He liked being shuttled from safe house to safe house. First, it meant, in the scheme of things, he was far more important than the dunce of a President he’d helped to elect. Second, it meant he didn’t have to spend evenings with his wife. Her docile, compliant act while they dated had suckered him in—that and she could suck the chrome off a car bumper. They’d married when she was a sophomore, and she presented him with his first disappointment in her: She had finished her degree, then gone for a masters and a PhD. As a result nannies had raised their two daughters, both born within the first two years of their marriage and after which he and his wife had moved into separate bedrooms. 

The nannies were probably why the younger girl was queer. He loathed the fact he had to pretend to accept the way she lived, to pretend to enjoy the presence of the dyke she lived with at family events. If his wife had been out of the picture, he’d have sent the little faggot to a church that would have beat the queer out of her.

When he’d contacted Security Solutions for an “aide” to augment his Secret Service detail—Kennedy and Reagan had both been shot on their watch, after all—he’d been pleased with Dan Burkholder. Burkholder was a man’s man, someone who would kill without asking a lot of questions or having qualms, and Stodden had regretted dispatching him so soon after engaging him. He was pleased, however, that Security Solutions had quickly supplied a replacement just as good or better than Burkholder. The new guy, Dominick Gross, had reviewed the Secret Service’s plans for Stodden and found weaknesses, which he bolstered. The Secret Service resented that, but Stodden had called the head of the service and suggested he tell his men to shut up and deal—and do exactly what Gross told them to do.

Gross looked like a professional body builder, but his eyes showed he had no soul. That suited Stodden just fine. Gross made him feel in control.

“Excuse me, sir,” Gross said. “We’ll be arriving in two minutes. I just got the pictures of the team in the safe house. Don’t leave the car until I confirm them, please, sir.”

“Of course, Dom,” Stodden replied. “Have you heard from Dan about that issue I told you about?”

“The CIA woman? Dan is very thorough, sir. He’ll take care of it and do what he needs to do to make certain he gets free and clear. I suspect I’ll hear from him in a day or two.”

“How do you think he’ll do it?” Stodden asked.

“Dan is quite innovative, sir. Given where they are, he’ll probably make it look like the Taliban punished her for being a sinful woman.”

Stodden liked that thought. “You know, the Muslims have the right idea about women.”

(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 16

One of the most fun aspects of National Novel Writing Month is you don’t do it alone. The instigators of NaNoWriMo encourage writers to meet during the month of November and write together in libraries and coffee shops and book stores, both to have the camaraderie and to showcase the fact you’re writers, writing.

The country is divided into regions, and my region, Shenandoah Valley Wrimos, is quite active. We’ve had some great on-line write-ins, but the best was today’s face-to-face meet-up at Panera in Harrisonburg, VA. Fellow Shenandoah Valley Wrimos Allison Garcia, Rebekah Postupak, Susan Warren Utley, Margaret Locke, and myself did word sprints (there were prizes), had some great food, and talked writing, writing, and more writing. I only got around 700 words done, but the company made the event.

Back home, I added around 2,900 more words for today’s total of 3,630 and one more chapter written and finished–Chapter 28, The Bad Guy. Here’s an excerpt–and a warning here, for it refers to someone planning a rape and murder.

Burkholder threaded his way amid the makeshift tent city, his boots quiet in the sand. When he reached the tent he wanted, he saw the light still on inside. He took up a spot where he could watch without being seen or challenged by any patrol. Even if he were, his ID and passes were in order. He was one of the construction workers, and he couldn’t sleep, just going for a walk. 

Burkholder had been a sniper first in Delta Force, then discovered he liked close quarter killing better. There was something incredibly powerful about being able to look someone in the eye when you took his or her life. The eyes reflected such a panoply of emotions at that moment—denial, fear, bargaining, anger, acceptance, almost as if in those scant nanoseconds the victims went through all the stages of grief for the life Burkholder would end. Unlike some of his colleagues in Delta and now in Security Solutions, he had no qualms about the killing of women. Women were the best, the way they struggled, the way they seemed to offer him their bodies in exchange for their lives. He would take their lives and their bodies, too, sometimes as they were dying, sometimes after.

With Fisher, he wanted her alive when he had her, wanted her to feel her failure intensely as she died, his hands around her throat, his penis in her. He wished he had the time to tie and gag her, to make the rape last a while, but he’d have to be satisfied with a brief intensity, which could be just as satisfying in its own way. Too bad, too, he couldn’t have the light on to see her eyes, to see her realize she’d been conquered. For him, that was a powerful aphrodisiac, better than Viagra.

Her silhouette showed him she sat on her cot, writing—her report, no doubt on Dostun’s prisoners—but he could have infinite patience. He wouldn’t smoke, so there’d be no evidence with his DNA on it. His boots were like thousands of others in the immediate area, and he was careful not to touch anything. He saw the light go out and still he waited, for her to sleep deeply and soundly.

Some five hours after his satellite phone conversation with the Vice President, Burkholder tugged on a pair of leather gloves. Most of official Washington, DC, would be finding its way home through rush hour, but just after midnight here in Kabul, he looked forward to a different kind of rush.

(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Midway Point

Believe it or not, NaNoWriMo is half over. For me it’s been a long two weeks and a day, with some marathon writing sessions I never thought I’d accomplish. I’ve got to get back on some sort of normal schedule, though–I’m running out of clean clothes!

A nice, round number for today–4,440 words, and I even made a pot of homemade soup and a loaf of homemade bread. (Yes, just call me an over-achiever.) The total word count is an unbelievable 74,472, and I have about eighty percent of the manuscript done. I added a scene to Chapter 26 to complete it, and made a good start on Chapter 27, Dostun’s Prisoners. It’s a pretty harrowing chapter, based on a real event, as you’ll see from the excerpt below:

O’Keefe drove the borrowed Humvee, and Mai took shotgun. Two soldiers accompanied them; one manned the fifty cal machine gun, and the other sat with the rest of her team and exchanged war stories and jokes. He wasn’t happy when she asked him not to smoke.

The authorization Frank had procured got them past the airport checkpoint, and they prowled the far end of the runway, around the old Aeroflot hangars, slowly and mindful of land mines. The cargo containers were right where Salim’s brother-in-law indicated, and even before they exited the Humvee, she smelled what they would find. For a second, it took her back to the Balkans, back to mass graves she’d found and catalogued for later exploration.

She had heard the rumor. Dostun had marched into Kabul with hundreds of prisoners the Americans allowed him to ransom back to their families. By the next day, all the prisoners were gone, and many people didn’t think it was back to their families.

O’Keefe used a crow bar on the closest container then stepped back when the rusty door swung open.

Then, they looked into Hell.

Dozens of putrifying bodies, caught in their final throes before suffocation, hands formed into claws, mouths agape. They were piled on top of each other at the doors, fused together so they didn’t spill out onto the ground.

“Holy Christ!” one of the soldiers muttered. The other turned away and puked.

Mai saw Yuri cross himself, and Salim began a prayer.

“Open them all,” Mai said, “and take pictures.”

Mai turned her back on the scene, walked a few feet away, and took out her satellite phone. Frank picked up almost at once.

“Yeah, what did you find?” he said.

“We found Dostun’s prisoners,” Mai replied.

 (c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan