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.

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Eight

A mad dash back from Richmond so I could get to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waynesboro for Sunday service and lunch afterwards. I missed my local region’s write-in at JMU’s Rose Library, which has a Starbucks in it! But I spent the afternoon and early evening writing. In between watching the NASCAR race, of course.

Today’s word count: 2,606, and an eight-day total of 24,137. So close to 25,000, but I didn’t have 863 more words in me.

So, I’ve upped the angst and the tension. Today, I upped the sappiness:

“How long have I been out?” he asked.

“About twelve hours,” she said. “You have to have an operation. Your ribs are pretty bad.”

“You’ll stay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, then added, “Jinksy’s orders.” She saw his eyes shift to disappointment. Well, damn. Nelson had said he could get morose. “By the way,” she said, leaning closer. She pressed her lips against his and said, “That’s from Nelson.”

“I’d prefer it was from you,” he said.

“This one’s from me.”

She kissed him again, let her lips linger. His moved beneath hers, parting slightly. The roughness of his beard reminded her of the first morning they’d woken together, and finally it was a pleasant memory here.

Mai broke off the kiss. “They’ll be in soon to get you ready for the surgery,” she said.

“Tell me something before they do,” he said.

Mai frowned and said, “What?”

“That you believe I called and left a message with O’Saidh.”

“I’m almost there.”

“How far is almost?”

“More than half. I need to close the loop with O’Saidh, but here’s the thing. Why didn’t you call the broker in Paris and cancel the reservation?”

“Because I barely had the time to call you before I had to leave. I’d pre-paid, and since I thought you weren’t going to show up, she would never have known we weren’t there.”

“I still had the key.”

“She probably would have contacted me at some point about that,” he said.


“I have friends who are women, whom I haven’t slept with. Look, you’ll have to update Nelson on my condition. Ask him.”

“He’s the reason I almost believe you. Look, Alexei, they’ll be in soon. Let’s get this over with, and when you’re better, we’ll talk some more. All right?”

“All right. What did you do with my overnight bag?”

Of all the things. “It was at my house, but I brought it here this morning. Why?”

“There’s something in it for you. A small package wrapped in green paper. Open it while I’m being cut up,” he said.

“I’ll wait until you’re awake,” she replied.

“No, please. I want you to have it. In case…” He broke off and gave a one-shoulder shrug.

“Look here, mister, there is no ‘in case.’ You’re going to be fine,” she said, feeling the sting of tears again.

His eyelids drooped, but he managed a smile. “Lady Fisher has declared it so,” he murmured.

“If necessary,” she said. She started to put the oxygen mask back over his nose and mouth.

“One more kiss,” he said.

“You’re incorrigible,” she replied.

She kissed him and put the oxygen mask back in place.

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Seven

Good thing I had several 3,000+ word days earlier in the first week of NaNoWriMo because today took me hours to eke out 1,747 words. Lack of sleep last night, a long day today, and I wasn’t terribly productive, at least for my own standard.

The good news is I made it to 21,531 total words, almost halfway!

A brief excerpt tonight, with the tension ramping up:

“And all I could think about while I sat there in Paris wondering where you were was what your ex said to me, and even though you think you’ve explained that to your satisfaction, she certainly didn’t portray it that way,” Mai said.

“I told her before she left that she was welcome to make me the bad guy. I guess she did,” he said. “Normally, when I’m coming through Heathrow, I keep a better eye out for her.” He gave her a very Alexei-like smile. “I suppose I was distracted,” he said.

“Please,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Mai, you have to tell me. Are you sleeping with this Brent fellow?” he asked.

Mai disengaged her hand from his and sighed. “No, I’m not.”

“But that was going to change tonight, wasn’t it?”

“He thought so, but no,” she said.

He studied her face, frowning slightly. “Were you playing him?”

“Bukharin, you are not read in on my work,” Mai said.

An alarm sounded on his monitor, and Mai studied it. His temperature was 102.9.

“I can’t see the monitor,” he said. “What is it?”

Mai laid her palm on his forehead. “You’re burning up,” she said.

A doctor and a nurse came in, the doctor freeing a stethoscope from his lab coat’s pocket. “Let’s have a listen to your chest and check for a little pneumonia,” he said.

The doctor flipped back the covers from Alexei’s chest. The nurses had stripped him down to only his briefs, and now Mai could see the extent of the bruising on his right side. The boot-print plus numerous fist-sized bruises covered half his chest. Mai gripped the bed rail and couldn’t take her eyes off the bruises. She felt the brush of Alexei’s hand against hers, and she shifted one hand to squeeze his. She looked up into his eyes, and she almost gasped.

For the first time since she’d known him, she saw emotion there. Alexei Bukharin was scared to death.

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day 6

All writing today was done in the evening because of a weekend trip, but it was a productive evening. The couple of Jack and Cokes at dinner may or may not have had anything to do with it.

Today’s word count: 2,380. Total to date: 19,784. No excerpt today, but the tension is building to a breaking point, let me tell ya.

More tomorrow because I’m hoping to break 20,000 words this weekend!

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Five

A great day today with 3,629 words; 17,404 total. I’m finding it hard to not focus on the thriller aspect of the romantic thriller or thrilling romance. I need to be focusing on the romance, baby!

Today, the plot thickened:

When the phone rang in the foyer, Finnoula O’Saidh used the extension in the kitchen to answer. She gave the soup she was making a stir, lowered the heat, and wiped her hands on her apron before she picked up the receiver.

“Fisher House, O’Saidh speaking,” she said.

“Ms. O’Saidh, this is Alexei Bukharin. May I speak to Mai, please,” came the accented voice.

O’Saidh pursed her lips. “Lady Fisher is at her place of employment and won’t return until between six and seven this evening,” she said.

Silence, except for the man’s breathing, and he certainly sounded a bit breathless.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Would you take a message for her? It’s very important.”

Finnoula snagged the pad and pen near the phone and said, “Go ahead.”

“Please explain to her I have an emergency trip for my work, and I won’t be able to make our date in Paris. Tell her I’m very sorry, but it can’t be helped and that I’ll be in touch as soon as a I can. Do you need for me to repeat any of that?” he asked.

What does he think? That I’m an eejit?

“You’ve been called away for your work and can’t make it to Paris. You’ll be in touch as soon as possible,” Finnoula repeated.

“Yes, that’s it,” he said. “Thank you.”

“A shame. She’s been looking forward to her birthday trip,” Finnoula said.

“I have, too. Again, please tell her I’m very sorry, and I’ll make it up to her,” he said.

“Of course, I will,” Finnoula said.

“Thank you again, Ms. O’Saidh. Give her my best, please. Good day,” he said and hung up.

Finnoula hung up the phone and looked at the message. She’d dutifully written down the date, time, and the man’s name, as well as the details he’d given. Herself would be disappointed. She’d talked about this trip constantly for two weeks, had practically bought herself a new wardrobe. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but she’d definitely gone shopping.

She looked from the message to the phone and picked up the receiver again. This time, she dialed a number in Dublin, Ireland, a private line.

“Fanny, what is it?” asked Roisin O’Saidh.

Finnoula explained what had just happened, all the while studying the message she still held in one hand, and she told Roisin what she thought she would do with it.

“I think you have the right idea,” Roisin said. “Better a little heartache now than a mess to clean up later.”

Finnoula hung up again. She tore the message into the tiniest possible pieces she could, placed them in the trash bin, making certain not a single scrap of paper had escaped. Though the trash wouldn’t be taken up for two more days, she removed the plastic bag from the bin, tied it closed, put it in another bag, and tied that one as well. She thought about putting it in the larger trash bin at the rear of the house. Instead, she put the plastic bag inside a spare paper bag, made it as small as she could, and tucked it away in the tote she brought back and forth between her flat and the house.

She washed her hands and went back to the soup.

NaNoWriMo – Day Four

Cruising along on auto-pilot almost–3,947 words today; 13,775 total. A good cushion in case I don’t get in any writing time on Friday or Saturday.

So, yesterday I introduced a little angst in this romantic thriller or thrilling romance. Today, then, a little sappiness:

“How much whiskey have you had?” he asked.

“Enough that I miss you. A lot,” she said, and hated that she’d said it the second she did.

“I’m flattered,” he replied.

“So, I hope I didn’t inconvenience you,” she said. “You know, interrupt anything?”

It’s the whiskey talking, she told herself. She needed to hang up and soon.

“Only my dinner,” he replied. A pause, then, “Mai, if you want to ask if someone’s here, ask it.”

“None of my business if she, it were,” she said.

“I’m alone,” he said, “eating leftovers from last night’s dinner, which I had alone as well.”

“Look, sorry, I shouldn’t have asked,” she said.

“No, Mai, it’s all right. Don’t ever hesitate to ask me something you want to know,” he said.

Who the fuck is Pamela Higgins and why did she warn me about you, she thought.

To him, she said, “I won’t.”

“Did you get the key to the flat in Paris?” he asked.

“Yes. It came the other day. I know that area. Should be lovely,” she said.

“Good. You can get there first and let me in. I’ll come bearing gifts,” he said.

“I told you not to bother,” she said.

“It’s an expression, but what flowers do you like?” he said. “I mean, just in case I want to employ another Valentine op cliche.”

“It’s Paris, Alexei. Has to be roses,” she said.

“Roses, indeed.”

“You know, you really are rather sweet,” she said.

She heard his soft laugh and wondered why he hadn’t laughed in front of her.

“And you’re drunk. You need to sleep that off or poor O’Saidh will have to hold a cold cloth to your forehead in the morning,” he said.

“More like hold me head while I puke,” she said.

“Lovely image, dedushka, and here I was, wishing I were there,” he said.

No, she told herself, don’t say you wish he were here, too.

“I wish you were, too,” she said. Damn.

“Somehow we’ll have to muddle through the next couple of weeks until Paris,” he said.

“We’ll always have Paris,” she said.

He laughed, full-throated and uninhibited, and she so wanted to see it. “What’s so funny?” she said.

“Nothing, nothing at all, just you making drunk transatlantic phone calls to tell me you miss me. Get some rest, and I’ll see you soon. Take care, Mai, and remember what I told you about taking Holt’s shit.”

“‘Bye,” she said, but it was already to the carrier wave.

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Three

I’m building up a little cushion because I have to go out of town (again) this weekend, so 3,655 words today. That puts my three-day total at 9,828. Man, just seventy-eight from 10,000!

Our little romance was progressing so sweetly, I figured it was time to throw in a little angst. Here’s an excerpt from today’s work (unedited, of course):

Mai decided not to pass up the loo before the ride back to London, and when she emerged from the stall, she saw a British Airways flight attendant standing by the sinks. Mai gave her no heed and began to wash her hands; then, she sensed someone close. The flight attendant was now next to her, practically in her personal space. Mai straightened and pulled some paper towels free to dry her hands.

“Do I know you?” Mai asked, her eyes taking in the uniform and the name tag. Lots of piping, so a senior flight attendant, whose name was Pamela Higgins. Mai judged her to be mid-thirties.

“I thought I should warn you,” Higgins said, her accent the one trained into flight attendants who served first class passengers, one good enough to fool Americans or anyone else but easily recognized as affected by the English.

“Excuse me?” Mai said.

“The man you were with, Alex Burke,” Higgins said.

Alex Burke? No, wait, that’s his alias, Mai thought.

“I think you should know something about him,” Higgins said.

Mai sucked in a breath but caught her reflection in the mirror. She was betraying none of the sudden turmoil churning her guts.

“Like what?” Mai said, surprised at how calm and normal her voice sounded.

“I dated him for more than two years,” Higgins said.

Past tense, Mai noted. Dated.

“And when he’s done with you, you’re dropped like a bleeding hot potato,” Higgins said, bitterness leaching away some of the sophisticated accent. Her face had twisted a bit, but it softened. She gave a slight smile and said, “You’re so young. I never thought it was— I mean, I never realized it was because he wanted someone younger. My god, are you even twenty, honey?”

“None of your fecking business,” Mai said. “And that’s ‘Your Grace,’ not ‘honey.’” No, Mai, you’re not sounding so calm now, if you’re falling back on that bloody title to score points.

“I won’t apologize,” Higgins said. “You need to know he can talk a really, really good game, but he’s not relationship material. I found out the hard way, but there’s no need for you to.”

Mai tossed the towels, which she’d used so roughly they were now mostly tatters, into the trash can.

“Don’t you have a flight to catch, Ms. Higgins?” she said.

“I just got off one. Look, let me buy you a coffee and—”

“And what? We’ll compare notes? Not bleeding likely,” Mai said. She wanted to turn and run to her car, but for some reason she wanted the high ground. “You delivered your message. Run along,” she said.

All those centuries of class consciousness won out. Pamela Higgins almost curtsied before she left the loo, hauling her roller bag behind her.

Both arms braced on the sink, Mai took deep breaths. You knew this about him already, she told herself, why are you letting it get to you?

Because she hadn’t wanted it to be true, because she wanted to believe him when he’d asked for a chance to prove the rumors wrong.

“Silly git,” she murmured, garnering a frown from a woman who had stepped up to wash her hands.

By the time Mai reached valet parking and claimed her car, she’d already chalked the weekend up to a character-building experience. Nothing more.

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Two

Two sessions today. One in the morning at home. The other at my regular Monday afternoon write-in. A total of 3,270 words today; 6,173 words total. That’s a good pace and gives me plenty of breathing room in case I don’t get any writing done on Saturday, when I have to go to a meeting in Richmond. So, woo-hoo, 43,827 to go!

Here’s an excerpt from today’s writing (just remember, unedited):

Mai closed the pocket doors to the library and walked to her desk, O’Saidh trailing her. Mai thought about sitting behind the desk but decided to lean against the front of it.

“I’m certain you’ve called Roisin to tell her I had company last night,” Mai said.

“She should know,” O’Saidh said, her chin coming up.

“It’s my fecking house. In fact, all of it belongs to me, including the house she lives in. The lot of you need to start remembering that,” Mai said.

O’Saidh flushed, but Mai couldn’t read if it were embarrassment or anger. Bukharin would have been able to tell. The man could pass for a mind-reader.

“I’ll have whatever company I want,” Mai said. “Mr. Bukharin is staying the weekend, so tell Roisin that if you must, but it won’t change anything. And you can have the weekend off.”

“That’s not necessary, ma’am.”

“Well, I’m not having your disapproving puss everywhere I look, O’Saidh, because himself and I’ll be having sex. A great deal of it, and we’d prefer not to have an audience who’ll report stroke for stroke to my business manager.”

“I would never—”

“Of course you would. It’s your job. Your weekend off starts now,” Mai said.

“All any of us have in mind is your happiness, Mai. You know that,” O’Saidh said, her tone easing.

“Right now, I’m happy. That’s all you need to know.”

O’Saidh had to purse her lips to keep her comments to herself, but eventually she asked, “So, we’ll be seeing a great deal more of himself, then?”

Would they? Would she? No, he’d as much as said he didn’t bother with relationships. This was exactly what she expected it would be, a weekend of great sex. Nothing more.

“No, I suspect after this weekend, you won’t see much of him at all.”

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day One

If it’s November, it must be National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and if it’s NaNoWriMo, I must be participating. Of course, I am!

This is my eighth NaNoWriMo. My first one was in 2008, when I still had a full-time job. A full-time job, which sent me on travel for thirteen of the thirty days in November. Somehow, I managed to write just over 50,000 words in seventeen days. It was my first attempt at linked short stories, and it pretty much sucked.

But I was thrilled with the NaNoWriMo experience. I’ve “won” all previous seven years, and several manuscripts, which I’ve edited and revised to the point I feel no qualms sending them out to agents, are, well, waiting for me to send them to agents.

This year, I’m mixing it up a bit. I’m taking my usual spy characters and changing the back story of how they met, and, well, I guess you’d call what I’m writing a romance because I’m focusing on the relationship and not the missions. So we’ll see if I can be a romantic without my jadedness coming through. I’m calling it a “romantic thriller” or a “thrilling romance.” We’ll see.

So, word count for today: 2,903. A good start, which included a great write-in with members of Shenandoah Valley Wrimos at a local Panera.

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote today, and bear in mind, it’s not edited:

The kitchen was a complete surprise, well-equipped and well-stocked. He accumulated the makings for a florentine omelette and set to work. Mai perched on the counter and watched him, asking questions about why he did something a certain way.

“You don’t cook at all?” he asked.

“Why? Is that a deal-breaker?” she replied.

“No. I don’t mind cooking, but what if O’Saidh were to quit?” he asked.

“The O’Saidhs can’t quit. Family business and all that. I personally think how the families are intertwined is some big, dark secret that I’ll only get told when I become chair of the board when I’m twenty-five. And I make a decent bangers and mash.”

“That’s it?” he asked, though he gave her a sidelong smile.

“I’m hell with a French press,” she replied, grinning at him. “Wait until you taste my coffee.”

“Bangers and mash and coffee?”

“Well, I’m certain I can follow a cookbook,” she said. “Enough about my lack of upbringing. So, you don’t cook breakfast for all your bed partners?”

The question was not particularly out of left field, as it were, though he wanted to answer it in a way she wouldn’t think him a total libertine.

“Only when I want to prolong the experience,” he said, and studied her face carefully.

“Good answer,” she said.

“English may be my second language, but I’ve invested in understanding the nuances. Breakfast is ready.”

She slipped down from the counter and handed him the plates before she went to the French press and strained the coffee. She poured two cups of dark, foamy liquid and brought them to the eat-in table in the kitchen. She paused before she set them down.

“Unless you’d rather dine formally in the dining room, Mr. Bukharin,” she said, her tone teasing.

“I left my tux in the hotel room,” he said. “This is fine.”

He had divided the omelettes between the two plates, and he waited for Mai to sit. The table seated four, and instead of sitting across from her, he sat to her right. She poured a generous amount of cream into her coffee, and again he opted only for sugar. The coffee was dark and strong, not at all bitter, and he liked it a great deal.

“You, indeed, are hell with a French press. I confess despite having quite the gourmet kitchen at my apartment, I have a rudimentary coffee maker,” Alexei said. “How’s the omelette?”

“Absolutely incredible.” She leaned toward him. “Excellent in bed, and he cooks. Why is there no Mrs. Bukharin?”

“Not the best kind of work to try to maintain a family life,” he murmured. He wondered if he should tell her about his son. “I, well, I was married in the Soviet Union,” he said.

“You had to leave her behind when you defected?” Mai asked, nothing except polite curiosity behind it, he could hear.

“Not exactly,” he replied.

The memory, which he could never fully repress, returned. The bodies covered in sheets lined up on the sidewalk outside the smoldering factory, the policeman flipping back a sheet to reveal a body covered in blistered flesh, parts of her hands, feet, and face cooked off the bone.

“Let’s talk about something else, shall we?” he said.

Again, her hand came to rest on his arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to touch on something you’d rather not think about, but, for my own conscience and the fact I don’t really want to go to confession along with O’Saidh, just assure me you’re not married.”

“I’m not,” he said. “She died before I defected.”

Her hand came up and brushed his cheek, her fingers lingering for a moment, as her thumb traced his chin. Then, she went back to her breakfast. That unraveling of something inside his chest happened again, and he didn’t want to think what it meant.