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.

Getting Ready for Tinker Mountain

TMWW logoI’ve made my to-do list for the next week so come Sunday afternoon, I can hit the road and arrive in Roanoke for this year’s Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop. It’s the tenth anniversary, with a lot of extra workshops and new instructors. As usual I’m nervous, excited, and, well, nervous.

The past two years have been very positive experiences. Last year, for example, led to having an agent review a manuscript. (He turned it down but said lots of positive things.) The first year I attended was the first time any of my MSS had been critiqued by total strangers, and they liked it, they really liked it. This year is the first time a portion of one of my genre MSS is being critiqued by strangers. The workshop I’m attending is “Crafting High Quality Genre Fiction,” and the instructor is Laura Benedict. She also happens to be the spouse of my first Tinker Mountain instructor, Pinckney Benedict.

The forty pages I sent in comes from an MS titled A War of Deception, which is loosely based on the Robert Hansenn spy case from the early 2000s. I say loosely because it started out as a fictionalized version of that event with my U.N. spy characters in the mix. It turned into a study of revenge when what I intended to be a subplot became the main plot. The title comes from a Sun Tzu quote in the Art of War, one of my favorite books: “All warfare is based on deception.”

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my love affair with the Art of War before. I had the audio book on my iPod and listened to it every day on the way to work. It was that kind of workplace at times. Plus, Sun Tzu has a lot to say about spies and espionage which resonates today.

Anyway, the nervousness comes from having my genre fiction workshopped. It’s a first, though the material workshopped in my first Tinker Mountain visit was a speculative fiction piece I submitted because I didn’t have anything else ready. However, I don’t consider myself a speculative fiction writer. A lot of my flash fiction falls into that genre but only because I’m not sure I could sustain a full-length spec fic novel, even that particular manuscript. It seems I inadvertently channelled Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale when I wrote it for NaNoWriMo a few years ago. When Pinckney encouraged me to work on that MS, I explained about the striking similarity to Atwood’s dystopian piece–“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he said. Ms. Atwood may not think so, however.

This year’s MS is one of my “historical thrillers,” to borrow a term from Alan Furst, a writer of espionage fiction I hope to emulate. It’s got a mole in the FBI, sex, violence, marital discord, and two mysteries to be solved. I hope I have a third great experience. Even if the rest of the workshop hates it– Ack! Let’s not put that in my head!

So, off to do laundry, water plants, and pack, etc., and be ready for a worthwhile week of workshopping, craft lectures, and writer friends that is Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop.

The Company of Writers

You love your family and enjoy your time with them, especially grown children and, if you’re lucky, grandchildren. You look forward to time with friends, old and new; after all, who knows you better than a life-long friend? You approach each of these reunions with anticipation, and the time spent together is some of the best. With grandchildren you get the added joy of giving them back, but I digress.

When you’re a writer, there’s nothing quite like spending time in the company of fellow writers. They talk your language; they understand your ups and downs; they have quirky senses of humor. Socializing with other writers makes you a better writer because you’re part of a community stretching back to the first Cro Magnons who drew the story of a hunt on a cave wall.

Yesterday, several of us from an online writing group planned to get together to celebrate our NaNoWriMo success. The group is the Shenandoah Valley Writers, and it’s a great, supportive, eccentric, and talented collection of writers of many genres. The only issue is, because the Valley is such a big place and we come from the head and tail and all throughout it, we rarely get together face-to-face. For the post-NaNoWriMo celebration, we selected a spot close to the mid-point, the long-lived Johnny Appleseed Restaurant in New Market, VA. Trust me, this restaurant, which I’ve been going to for more than forty years, is a legend in the Valley and beyond. It’s worth a drive-by to see the Johnny Appleseed statue.

For me, it’s around forty-five miles away. Not a big trip, except when you’re traveling on I-81 on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. But I’d looked forward to this for more than the month of NaNoWriMo–I’d looked forward to it since our similar get-together from last year! Nothing was going to keep me away, so I navigated the kind of traffic which had compelled me to leave Northern Virginia just so I could spend time with writer friends.

Writers are always going to talk about craft, but when the dinner conversation turns to how to kill someone, or someone missing a family event because they’re in jail, or dragons, you get some interesting looks from the other patrons–to the point where we had to announce, loudly, we were writers. Of course, that’s the fun part about it, and, hey, I’m sure at least one of us will write about that occurrence.

The point, however, is, when you have a great writers community, you’ll do anything, including braving holiday traffic, to have face time with the members. So, when a round-trip drive which normally takes about eighty minutes takes nearly two hours, you know you’ve done it for something important to you. I’m lucky to have two great writing groups–a virtual one and one where we meet face-to-face once a month. The wonderful aspect of a virtual writers group is you can meet and interact with writers from around the world or from right up the road. Consider finding and joining one, virtual or real.

An off-shoot of Shenandoah Valley Writers for the past year is a weekly flash fiction contest called Flash! Friday. This week is the one-year anniversary, or, since we’re writers who make up words sometimes, the Flashversary. To celebrate our community of writers, there is a special contest, with real prizes, including the possibility of being published in an online magazine. I’ve judged this contest several times over the past year, and there are some wicked excellent writers who participate. I even gave up judging so I could submit a story for the Flashversary Contest. For submission guidelines and other information click here, and consider giving us a try.


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.

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