Book Launch, a Bookversary, and NaNoWriMo

Hidden Agendas

Today, Hidden Agendas, the sequel to Who Watches the Watchmen?, launched. Yeah, it’s rather lost in the hoopla over National Novel Writing Month, but I wanted it out before the first anniversary of last year’s election.

These two novelettes aren’t exactly historical fiction but more current events or… How about “current political thrillers”? That works.

Both novelettes were certainly cathartic for me to write, and I hope they are for the readers, too.

If you’d like to take a look, go to my Amazon Author Page, and you’ll find them there.

Celebrating The Yellow Scarf

The Yellow Scarf was one of my first novellas, and Facebook just reminded me it came out two years ago.

This novella started out as a 5,000 – 6,000 word short story, which I workshopped at Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop. My fellow writers in the workshop and its instructor, Edgar-Nominated Laura Benedict, suggested that it needed more backstory, that perhaps it was too much of a story for a short story.

Armed with their suggestions, I added the backstory, beefed up a character, inserted the imagery of a yellow scarf throughout, and extended the story over the period of a year. The result? A novella based on real events in the Balkan Civil Wars. It’s a story I’m particularly proud of and am glad it’s out in the world.

To celebrate its second birthday, The Yellow Scarf will be on sale for 99 cents Friday only. Again, go to my Amazon Author page (link above) to have a look and buy a copy if you like.

It’s NaNoWriMo Time!

It’s the mad month of November where several hundred thousand people around the world write a 50,000-word novel rough draft in 30 days. Crazy, right? But we’re writers, so it’s expected.

I guess you could say the novelettes, Who Watches the Watchmen? and Hidden Agendas are prequels to this year’s project, A Squalid Procession of Vain Fools. Again, this will be a current events political thriller with some family angst mixed in, just to make it interesting.

This will be my 10th NaNoWriMo, and this year I’m a co-municipal liaison for the Shenandoah Valley region. My municipal liaison and I have lots of online and in-person events planned, and if you’re local to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, come join us. Check out our Facebook page, Shenandoah Valley Wrimos, for times and places.

I kicked us off last night right at midnight with an online write-in, and, boy, I was up way past my bed time! But it’s great fun with great writers.

I’ll also be occasionally posting about my project here, including some (unedited) excerpts, but if you follow me on Instagram (@paduncan1), you’ll see some NaNoWriMo-related graphics along with my other posts.

If you’ve never tried NaNoWriMo, give it a go. No pressure. Well, there is pressure: 50,000 words in 30 days, but for a type A personality like me, bring it on!

Cover Reveal, Pre-Order, and NaNoWriMo

A couple of weeks ago, I teased the cover of the upcoming sequel to Who Watches the Watchmen?, and now, it’s time to show the whole thing!

Hidden Agendas

HA Kindle Final

And here it is, the cover for Hidden Agendas!

Lots of secrecy and hiding implied there. I found the graphic of the hand and eyes on pixabay.com, where you can download and use public domain images for limited commercial use.

I’m no graphic artist, but I’m becoming more adept at using Canva to design covers for some of my smaller work. For my upcoming series of novels, A Perfect Hatred, I’ll be using professionals!

Pre-Order

Pretty cool, and even more exciting is it should be ready for pre-ordering for your Kindle by Monday, October 16, 2017.

As I explained in the previous post, this sequel details a significant change for The Directorate. I didn’t know it at the time I wrote it, but Hidden Agendas perfectly sets up the story I want to write for this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo

This year’s NaNoWriMo project has a working title of A Squalid Procession of Vain Fools.

I love it, right? But where does it come from, you ask?

I recently finished re-reading John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Toward the end of the book, the protagonist, Alec Leamas, is having a heated discussion with his former lover, who questions the ethics of spies. Taken back by her naiveté, Leamas says,

“What do you think spies are: priests, saints, and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists, and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.”

That second sentence stood out for me, and I decided it was a perfect working title.

What do you think?

NaNo Cover 2017And if I have a working title, I should have a working cover, right?

This cover holds a certain amount of symbolism as well. The final scene of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold takes place at the Berlin Wall in the 1960s. The public domain image I used for the cover is a portion of a photo of graffiti on the Wall before it came down.

I’m ready for November!

 

NaNoWriMo 2016

I haven’t updated at all until now about my progress for National Novel Writing Month 2016, mainly because it went so smoothly. I reached 50,000 words on November 13. A record for me, by the way.
I don’t know why the words came so freely this year, other than I had a solid idea in September and fleshed it out (notes, not an outline) in October. Some things that had happened in my past had long been waiting for a way to express themselves, and it turns out the idea for this year’s NaNoWriMo was the perfect medium.

Some Characters Return

In 2012 I wrote a piece of flash fiction, which was well-received on a site where I posted short fiction in response to a photo prompt. The flash fiction piece was about a young woman hiding the body of a baby in the wall of a half-finished house. Almost every commenter said, “You have to tell the story of how that happened.”

In November 2012, I did, and the result was Supreme Madness of the Carnival Season, a literary novel about a successful author (so, not autobiographical) and her husband who find a baby’s bones in the wall of a room they’re renovating. The author, who’d suffered a stillbirth some years before, wants closure for the abandoned baby and sets out to find who put the baby in the wall.

The novel’s working title was “Amontillado,” from Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” which involved burying someone alive in a wall. As the story moves back and forth in time between roughly present day and 1944, the author has to face reality about her life and her marriage, but the twist comes when she discovers whose baby ended up in her wall.

I intended for it to be a standalone, but as someone who beta-read the MS pointed out, I left something hanging.

For NaNoWriMo 2016, I brought some of the characters from 2012 back, put them solidly in 2016–more or less–and had a new secret dumped in the lap of the author, another mystery for her to become involved in.

This one is more of a “real” mystery–I think–though like Supreme Madness the death in question occurs some years before, it’s pretty obvious who did it, but there’s a twist at the end.

This year’s working title is, Mournful Influence of the Unperceived Shadow, taken from a line in another Poe story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Yeah, I have a Poe thing. In fact, he watches over me as I write.

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Edgar Allan Poe, watching from his perch atop my bookcase. 🙂

Hitting a Brick Wall (No Pun Intended)

I’ve met (exceeded) the word count goal for NaNoWriMo this year (60,521 words) and have been working on winding up the story. I’m down to the last few chapters and scenes, and for some reason I’ve put off drafting them. I know where I want the story to go, I know the ending, but I’m stalled at getting there and didn’t know why.
The recent turning back of the clocks means I’m waking at 0630 (really 0730 to my brain), a time just before dawn when there’s some light in the sky–enough to wake me–but it’s still quiet before neighbors get moving off to work. The last few days I’ve used that time to lie in bed, run through the story thus far, and think about how to get to the ending.
This morning I realized I was putting off writing the ending because I abhor stories where the resolution is that the female protagonist is in danger and has to be rescued by the male protagonist. This isn’t a new thing. I’ve always hated it.
When I write my spy stories, my female protagonist never hesitates to face danger because, hello, she’s trained to deal with it. This year’s NaNoWriMo story features a strong woman, but she’s an author and former English professor–not a kick-ass heroine. The male protagonist is a former Army Ranger turned private investigator.
Ideal set-up for the dreaded, female-in-trouble, man-comes-to-the-rescue ending, right?
That, I realized, is why I hesitated–no, couldn’t summon the wherewithal to write it. I would be going against my authentic self as a writer. And with that epiphany, came the ideal solution to the dilemma.
What is it, you ask?
Wait and see.
Yes, I’m evil that way.
P.S. If you want to read some excerpts, go to my Facebook Author Page or to my Instagram account, paduncan1.

No Sophomore Slump for this Romance Author

Romance author Margaret Locke got me to read not only one romance but now two, both of them hers. I reviewed Locke’s debut novel, A Man of Character, in this post from several months ago. Now, Locke has released the next in her series, A Matter of Time, a Regency-era, time-travel romance.

Talk about genre mash-ups, but this works. No sophomore slump for this romance author whose work turns formula on its head.

A Matter of Time tells Eliza James’s story. Eliza is the character from A Man AMatterofTime.FrontCoverof Character who wanted her best friend, Cat, to use her magic, medieval book to send her back to the period of her literary idol, Jane Austen, and into the arms of a duke. We’ve seen in A Man of Character that Cat’s magic works, and Eliza finds herself in Regency England at the estate of Deveric Mattersley, a handsome duke with a tragic past and an interesting family. Eliza finds out that, of course, wishes and reality can be two very different things. How she overcomes being a fish out of water, or, rather, a woman out of time, and how her duke overcomes his fear of commitment makes for an engaging read.

So, let’s find out a little about Margaret Locke.

Romance Reader at Ten

Margaret

Margaret Locke

A lover of romance novels since the age of ten (shh, don’t tell mom!), Locke declared as a teen that she’d grow up to write romances. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to do grown-up things, like, oh,  earning that master’s degree in medieval history, not penning steamy love stories. Turning forty cured her of that silly notion. Locke is now happily ensconced back in the clutches of her first love, this time as a definite up and coming author as well as a reader.

Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fabulous kids, and two fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window); she’s come to terms with the fact that she’s not an outdoors person.

The Interview

Me: A Regency-era, time-travel romance—wha? Seriously, how does that work?

Locke: Uh, that depends on whom you ask. For me, it was simple: Jane Austen-loving, romance novel junkie Eliza James’s best friend Cat has a magical manuscript that can bring love interests to life. Eliza thinks this is the greatest thing ever and asks for her own personal romance hero in Regency England, since it’s the era she’s loved for so long. Cat figures, what the heck, if she’s got the power to do one kind of magic, maybe throwing time-travel into Eliza’s story would work, too. And, lo and behold, it does!

But really, the long and the short of it is, a modern-day Jane Austen fan finds herself in Regency England, through * jazzy hands * MAGIC! * jazzy hands*. That’s the power of fiction, folks.

Me: You’ve alluded to the fact that this is Eliza’s story, but what do you think was Eliza’s biggest challenge of one second being in modern times and the next in an era she’s studied but only fantasized about until now?

Locke: Truly comprehending the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s one thing to read about chamber pots and class systems and roast turtle and serious restrictions on women. We think we can comprehend them, but I have the sneaking suspicion that unless we’re there, in the thick of everything, we can’t.

The same is true for Eliza. She wants to imagine it all Jane Austen and FitzWilliam Darcy, but real life in Regency England, like real life now, is so much more complicated and layered than any novel or movie can ever portray (and of course I didn’t include numerous things I could have, given I was writing a happy romance, not a gritty tell-all.)

Plus, Eliza suddenly realizes just how much a fish out of water she is, for no matter how much she’s studied the culture, as anyone who lives in a foreign country experiences, she soon realizes there’s so much she never knew about, or hadn’t fully considered, or wanted to pretend she didn’t have to deal with.

I remember feeling that way when I lived in Germany: similar Western cultures, and, yet, there were things I experienced there I never learned in all my studies of the language and the country, and never could have “gotten” without actually being there, such as nuances of humor. I imagine the same is true for Eliza venturing to a different time period, probably even more so.

Me: What was your greatest challenge, as a writer, in putting a modern woman 200 years in the past?

Locke: Wanting to make her believable, both to her Regency peers, and to a modern reading audience. It’s actually a little easier to stick a modern woman back into Regency times in some ways. She can behave as independently as she wants, and it rings true. Whereas, as much as we love the kick-ass heroines dotting many a Regency romance novel, and while there were strong, independent, feisty women in that period, the reality is the restrictions placed on women were more stringent than they are today and a far cry from what many 21st century women would accept.

The other biggest challenge was getting the historical details right, and I’m sure in spite of my research, of reading books and scouring blog posts and querying members of RWA’s Beau Monde, that I still got some things wrong. It’s not my culture, my language, my time.

On the other hand, I could write a depiction of modern society someone else would view as completely skewed or wrong because everyone experiences the world through his or her own lens, in different ways based on upbringing, experiences, etc. Therefore, I’d like to think as long as I get most of the details right, the rest falls under artistic license. 😉

Me: In contrast to your first book, A Matter of Time has a large and complex cast of main and supporting characters. How did you keep them in line, i.e., getting them to “wait” for their stories to be told?

Locke: I’m not sure I did! In truth, I’d sketched out the Mattersley family before I’d even finished writing my first (at that point unrelated) book, A A-Man-of-Character-V7bMan of Character (Eliza’s character arc and subsequent travels were a later addition!). I’d always known I wanted to write Regency romance and that I wanted to write a series about siblings in the vein of Sabrina Jeffries, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James. So I made up a cast of characters and even tidbits about what, and when, their stories might be. I tried to drop small hints in the pages of A Matter of Time, alluding to future stories. We’ll see if I did so effectively.

At one point in the revision process, I did end up drafting a spreadsheet listing each character and important information about them, because I worried I was repeating or omitting things. Hopefully, I struck the right balance.

And, well, Deveric’s two sidekick friends, James Bradley and Morgan Collinswood, were late additions, stuck in during a moment of NaNoWriMo lunacy, and then developed further because I fell in love with them!

Me: I know this book introduces characters, who will appear in later works dedicated to their stories. That’s fun, but it has to be scary, too?

Locke: Absolutely. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to keep all the information from the previous stories straight, if I’ll get it right in future stories, if I’ll be able to keep dropping hints about the various other tales in the stories to come. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but all I can do is move forward. I’ve read the masters, I know how successfully they’ve done this, so when in doubt, I’ll go back to the sources, the Triumverate of authors mentioned above, and study up again.

The key, I think, will be making more of those character spreadsheets, to try to keep everyone and everything straight. On the other hand, I believe it’s Julia Quinn who laughs about how one heroine’s eye color changes three times over three different books. So, well, there’s potential room for error, right?

Me: What was your greatest fear, again, as a writer, for the publication of your second novel?

Locke: That people won’t like it. I’ve been delighted and surprised by the positive response to A Man of Character. I can’t believe how much some readers have raved about that story. So the question is, can I do it again? Will those readers follow me along to a new story set in a different era, a romance that’s more traditional in structure/plot? Or will I hit sophomore slump, lose readers, and have this be the end of my career?

The fear is still there, every day.

Me: What about the second novel was easier? Harder?

Locke: I think I felt more confident in my ability to actually complete the sucker, and it felt easier to be following a more familiar pattern. I won’t say formula, because that has negative connotations, but like any genre novel, romance has familiar steps in the dance, points at which certain types of things happen, etc. With my first book, since it wasn’t a typical romance in terms of having the hero identified from page one, I flailed about a bit more while figuring out how to structure the thing. A Matter of Time was easier, in that regard.

Harder, again, was the fact that I was suddenly writing a historical novel, and even though that’d always been my plan and is what I want to do, it was daunting to realize just how challenging getting the history “right” (or at least “right enough”) is. It’s one thing to read historical fiction; it’s quite another to write it, and as a trained historian, all I can think is, “I’m missing details, I’m leaving stuff out, I’m probably getting this wrong!”

Luckily for me, I wrote the first draft of this novel well before A Man of Character was published, so though I’m frightened now of its reception, I wasn’t frightened when I wrote it. Which is a good thing, since I’m in the middle of writing book three, A Scandalous Matter, and am painfully aware that the thing is a big old mess, but one that I’m going to have to figure out how to fix and get into shape enough so that people will want to read it, because people are already telling me they want to read it!

Me: What about the second novel has surprised you, compared to the first?

Locke: The second novel, while it has its moments of levity, too, has a few plot points that are more serious in tone. Both Eliza and Deveric have experienced great losses, and those losses come into play, influencing thoughts, emotions, and actions at various points in the story. So I wrote some scenes that were, for me, heart-wrenching, more so than anything I wrote in A Man of Character. I don’t mind that; I want my novels to evoke feelings, though I hope to keep the fun, witty verbal exchanges that delight me so much!

Me: Is the whole novel-writing/editing/revising/publishing process somehow easier the second time around? Do you anticipate each successive novel will be easier or harder?

Locke: I’m guessing certain parts will get easier and certain harder. I hope, with each successive novel, to do a better job from the start in constructing a solid story, so that revisions are less extensive. If I’m studying my craft and learning from my mistakes, this would seem to be a natural progression. Please, let it be so! I don’t like editing. Not that I’m saying I’ll ever write a perfect first draft, no one does, but I’d like to feel I’ve gotten the elements (character development, plot, emotional arcs, etc.) more in balance from the beginning.

On the other hand, I fear the pressure will mount. I now get why published authors say it never gets any easier. I used to think, “What do you mean? You’ve got thirty books out! Surely by now you realize how good you are!” But I think what they mean is, every new book is a chance for failure, for rejection, and that’s scary. We all know famous movie stars who’ve made flop movies, which have changed our perceptions of them. Nobody wants to be a flop writer.

Me: There’s a sweet little Easter Egg toward the end of A Matter of Time about Jane Austen. Was that fun to include or a little tear-jerking?

Locke: Both! I really, really loved how that scene came together, though I fear true Austenites might challenge my portrayal of certain people/things. It makes me giddy every time I read it. And yet, well, in 1812, Jane Austen only had five years left to live, and Eliza would have known that. That part made me sad but not sad enough to cut the scene. It is one of my absolute favorites.

Getting in Touch

Locke likes connecting to her readers, so if you’re not already following her on various social media or subscribing to her newsletter, and you should, here is how you can connect:

Website/Blog: http://margaretlocke.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/AuthorMargaretLocke
GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/MargaretLocke
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/Margaret_Locke
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Margaret_Locke

Both of Locke’s novels are available as paperbacks and ebooks from Amazon:

Click here for A Man of Character
Click here for A Matter of Time

 

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Day Thirty and A Fine Finish!

Fifty thousand words in thirty days. A challenge to be sure. I hit 50,000 words on Day Twenty but continued for the rest of the month to complete a rough draft of the novel. That meant going back and filling in scenes I’d only made notes about and adding some back story to flesh out the characters.

Then, after thinking this was so far out of the cannon I’d established for these characters, I went back and bookended it with an opening scene and closing scene (let’s not call them prologues and epilogues) so that it could drop into the cannon I’d created.

The final word count: 73,956 words. (I always was an over-achiever.) The fun part will be in the editing to see if I add to that or cut mercilessly.

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I got so much support from several online writer groups: Shenandoah Valley Wrimos (great in-person and online write-ins!), SWAG Writers, and NaNoWriMo Divas.

Of course, the rough draft only has a working title, A Future Stretching into Infinity, (yes, different from the one in the photo; I’ll make the change) and it’s yet to be determined if I can write romance. (Beta readers are going to let me know in January.) Overall, once again, I had great fun, with the writing, with the interaction with other writers, with the concept of plunking butt in chair before the computer and writing every single day.

Not to mention NaNoWriMo gives me a fresh, rough draft of a project to work on in the new year.

Am I glad it’s over? Yes.

Am I sad it’s over? Yes.

Will I do it again next year? Of course!

And a little P.S. here. For people who wonder why we do this or what comes of the drabble we write for those thirty days: We edit, we revise, and, on occasion, we start all over again and rewrite. What could possibly come of that, you ask? Consider this: I have two manuscripts, which began as NaNoWriMo rough drafts (one three years ago, one four years ago), now with a publisher, who is reviewing them. Look for some news (positive, I hope) on Wednesday afternoon.

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:

“Alexei?”

“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?”