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 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 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.