Outside looking in

This year marks the first time since 2009 I am not participating in NaNoWriMo. I admit, it’s a bit weird. Then again, 2016 has shaped up to be weird for me anyway. The loss of my job in July has landed me on paths I have not tread since I first started working. I’m feeling out of sorts over it, plus other life-related matters. It’s part of why I’ve chosen not to join the writing frenzy. The other reason has to do with the quality of the content I’ve produced.

With the exception of one story, almost all drafts born from NaNo did nothing but sit in a folder. None were salvageable. Sure, I might have plucked a line or a character or two from them, but overall? Underwhelming. I’d re-read the story and identify parts where I was just writing to fulfill a word count. Now, I understand first drafts aren’t going to be good. I’ve said this to other writers struggling to get words down. First drafts, by definition, ARE going to be all over the damn place as characters and plot lines change. The thing with me is I have a set way of writing: if I suddenly have an epiphany about something, I drop EVERYTHING to make the necessary changes. My brain has trouble adjusting to the ‘fix it later’ mentality needed to complete a first draft. I’m working on overcoming this hangup. It’s prevented me from finishing so many drafts lately. I think I stop, drop, and edit out of some fear I’ll forget the tiniest detail and it will bring the whole story down. It’s stupid because I’m the only one who will notice but I obsess over it anyway. I am my own worst enemy.

Which brings me to the aspect of NaNo I miss most: the community. I really need to start branching out and looking for other readers. I’m going stir crazy on my own. Maybe join a writer’s group. I can’t let the one bad one I participated in color my perception of them all. How bad was it, you may ask? It was run by a guy who pretty much used the time to ramble about the lengthy sci fi trilogy he was working on whether you wanted to hear about it or not. Not exactly a fair exchange of ideas.

I’m still writing, of course. I’m currently working on a ghost love story as I break from updating content for PANDEMONIA as seen on Channillo. I hope to have chapter four up soon. In the meantime, if you’re participating in NaNo, good luck to you, and may we all overcome our personal writing demons to achieve our goals.

 

Sample Chapter Sunday: To Be With You

Greetings, all, and welcome to another installment of Sample Chapter Sunday! Cue fanfare, whoo! Today’s offering tells the story of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who, after losing his wife on their wedding night, begs Osiris to reincarnate him in order to find his dead love. I first wrote this back in 2005. It’s my first true attempt at romance. I also owe its creation to both my love for ancient Egypt and Yu-Gi-Oh’s central character, Yami Yugi. Of course, my main character does not resolve differences with card games, have pointy hair, or inhabits the body of a teenager. My lead has enough problems.

So, without further ado, allow me to share chapter one with you all. Please feel free to leave comments if you like what you’ve read and you’d like to see more. Thank you!

***

To Be With You: Chapter One

Memory…

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  The Egyptian king expected to be strolling down the corridor, his new wife on his arm and the cheers of his court echoing at his back as he retired from the wedding ceremony.  Never had he imagined he’d be racing down this same corridor, the joy of having found someone to spend the rest of his life with replaced by terror.

 

He glanced down at the woman in his arms, concern highlighting green eyes outlined in kohl.  Long, reddish brown hair fell past her shoulders, some strands sticking to her pale face due to the perspiration there.  The cool metal of the wesekh at her neck pressed against his chest, severely contrasting to the heat radiating from her skin.  Eyes slowly opened, revealing honey-brown hues dulled with exhaustion.  Her lips moved, as if to speak, when all at once she gave into a severe coughing fit.  After it passed her head drifted to the side, allowing him to see bright drops of blood staining the front of her linen dress.

 

“Aurelia, please, just hold on,” he whispered, bringing her close so he rested his cheek against her head.  Aurelia’s response was a wheezing gasp of his name, then nothing as she slipped into a faint.  New fear swelled within him, and he increased his pace.  He was racing against time now.

 

After passing several astounded palace guards, his grand vizier and hysterical cousin Arsinoe, the king appeared in the doorway of his chambers, bellowing for the court physician.  He then made his way across the spacious, airy room until reaching the bed, where he gently deposited Aurelia.  The frenzied response to his orders went by unnoticed as he settled beside her.  Hunched over, her small hand enclosed within his, his ringed fingers caressing the surface of her skin, he bent his head.  Tears he wanted desperately to fight rolled down his cheeks, splashing onto their joined hands.  He asked the gods again how it had come to this.  One minute she was at his side, her cup raised in mutual toast of their marriage, the next on the floor, coughing and trembling.  His hand tightened on hers.  Please…please don’t take her away from me.

 

Aurelia’s eyes slowly opened then, as if drawn from the darkness by the power of his prayer.  He gazed down into the pained brown hues of her eyes, swallowing past the lump in his throat.  She managed a small smile as she lifted a trembling hand toward him.  He grasped it, holding it against his cheek.

 

“Menmaatre…”

 

“Don’t talk, my love.  Save your strength,” Menmaatre murmured, his voice thick with anguish.  Aurelia’s expression became pained when she suffered through another coughing fit, a long, shuddering sigh following.  By this time the court physician arrived, accompanied by two young apprentices swathed in long, linen skirts.  The physician nodded to his king, then inspected Aurelia.  The sorrow that lit his eyes confirmed Menmaatre’s worst fears, and he turned his attention back to his wife when she gently squeezed his hand.

 

“I’m so…cold,” she said in just above a whisper.  Menmaatre gathered her slight frame in his arms and held her close.  She shivered uncontrollably in his grasp, prompting him to secure her head in the hollow of his shoulder, one arm sliding around her waist while the other kept her upright.  He closed his eyes, his heart feeling as if it were slowly breaking apart.  He could feel death in the air, hovering overhead with the intent on taking his beloved.  Menmaate’s arms tightened around her.  No.  Never.

 

When Aurelia gasped his name Menmaatre pulled away, looking down into her drawn features.  Even though she still shivered the smile returned to her lips.  Her hand extended upward, her fingertips barely grazing his cheek.

 

“All I ever wanted…was to be…with you…”

 

“Aurelia,” Menmaatre choked, fresh tears spilling from his eyes.

 

“Let the last thing…I feel…be you…” she implored softly.  Menmaatre could not deny her, nor the sudden fear he saw come to life in her eyes.  He captured her mouth with his own, willing his breath- his very life– to pass onto her so she would live.  But after a moment her body seized, her head’s sudden shift breaking the kiss.  Menmaatre watched, heartbroken, as Aurelia gave into one last coughing fit before falling slack in his arms.  He stared at her numbly, his eyes tracing the path a tear made as it rolled down her cheek, before gripping her to him.  His chest heaved, his throat tightened just as his arms did around her body, when all at once he threw his head back and released an anguished scream.  It ended with a wounded cry of Aurelia’s name, followed by intense, painful sobbing.  Everything else of consequence faded, dragging Menmaatre into a deep well of despair that greedily seized him up…

***

June, present day…

The sound of the television blaring roused him from the all-too familiar dreams, resulting in his rolling over onto his stomach and groping for the remote control.  Lightly bronzed, tapered fingers met not with the remote but a soft, insistent head pushing against his palm.  He lifted his head and glanced over his shoulder.  An orange tabby cat sat beside him, the remote control tucked at her feet.  She mewed before rubbing against his hand again.  He gave a soft groan.

 

“I’m sorry, Bast.  It’s past your breakfast, isn’t it?” he murmured, reaching over to scratch under her chin.  Bast mewed in response, then turned and leapt off the bed, disappearing around the edge of the door he always left open for her.  Once she was gone he took hold of the remote and switched the television off just as the news announcer began a segment on the weather.  In the silence that followed, twenty-seven-year old Dante Taylor heaved a sigh and tossed the remote aside before rolling onto his back.  As soon as he did that a beam of light blinded him, resulting in an incoherent moan as he laid his hand over his eyes.  Upon hearing Bast’s yowl from the kitchen Dante resolutely climbed out of bed, yawning as he made his way across the floor and out the door.

 

As soon as he entered the living room Dante was again blinded by sunlight that streamed in from between white curtains that swayed gently in the breeze.  Grumbling slightly, he walked past the twin bookcases set facing the window, rounded the ivory couch opposite the flat screen television that had been a gift from his parents, before coming upon the kitchen.  Bast sat on the white linoleum floor, gazing up at him expectantly.  Dante bent over to retrieve her food bowl, placing it in the sink and switching the faucet on.  Bast coiled herself around his legs as he washed it out, and when she stretched up on her hind legs to dig her claws into his calf he knew her patience was running out.  The bowl washed, Dante filled it with a mixture of hard and soft cat food before setting it at her feet.  Bast happily dug in, the sound of her purring indicating she was content.  Dante followed up by giving her fresh water, his stomach’s rumbling testament to his own hunger.  Food could wait.  He was more interested in a cup of coffee.

 

A few moments later he sat at the small round table in the middle of his kitchen, the dark color of the wood a severe contrast to the lighter shades of his countertops and cabinets, a steaming mug of black coffee in his hands.  He stared at his distorted reflection, sighing at what he saw: disheveled black hair, traces of stubble lining his jaw, and green eyes outlined in red thanks to a restless night.  He ran his hand down the length of his face, wincing at the remembered images of the dream.  It had been a very, very long time since he last dreamed of Aurelia’s passing, but given the events that recently transpired it was no wonder all Dante reflected on was death.

 

Memories of the dream brought on memories of a more recent tragedy, one that still left him feeling out of sorts.  It had all happened so fast: the call he received late that night, followed by the rush of finding his suitcase, passport and booking a flight to London practically all in the same day.  He could still hear his mother’s anguished voice over the phone: Your father is dying.  You have to come here now.  It was all he thought about on the flight over, at Heathrow as he waited to pass through customs and collect his baggage, in the cab that took him to his parents’ residence.  The last time he had seen them, which was just this past holiday, Julian Taylor was in perfect health.  Dante was not prepared for the sight of his father lying in bed, all evidence of his former liveliness gone.  And then, just a few days after Dante arrived, Julian died.

 

Dante downed some of the scalding liquid in an attempt to quell the urge to weep.  The doctors later confirmed the cause of death was heart failure.  After the service Dante remained in London, comforting his mother as best he could.  Eventually the overwhelming memories of the townhouse became too much, which in turn resulted in him returning to New York.  Leena herself had no wish to remain in London without Julian, and although she had practically begged Dante to come to Alexandria with her, he insisted he couldn’t.  The only thing he could do was promise Leena he’d visit.  What his mother did not know was that Alexandria was the last place he wanted to be.

 

Dante finished his coffee, leaving the empty mug on the table as he rose and headed toward the bathroom, intent on spending a good, long time underneath the hot water when the intercom buzzed.  Curious, he went to the front door, pressed the green button on the white device and greeted the person below.

 

“I was wondering if you’d ever see fit to rise again,” remarked the softly amused voice of Dante’s uncle.  The sound of that rich Arabic tone immediately lifted Dante’s spirits, and he depressed another button that unlocked the door.  A moment later Tahir Mahmood entered, greeting his nephew with a fond embrace and tender endearments over his loss.  Dante thanked him, then pulled away.

 

Tahir was a few inches taller, possessed of a frame that was thickening due to Tahir’s love for a fine meal, short black hair, and dark brown eyes shaded by thick brows set in a rounded, pleasant face.  He was dressed impeccably in pressed khakis, a white dress shirt and tie, indicating he had spent the morning teaching his class.  A renowned professor of Egyptology at the Institute of Fine Arts, Tahir had enjoyed many years of success.  He was also the only one who knew about what Aurelia meant to Dante.

 

Seven years ago, when Dante was entering his second semester of university in England, he and his class went to the British Museum to participate in seminars that focused on the later dynasties of Egypt.  Some recently discovered artifacts had been on display, one of them being a perfectly preserved cartouche unearthed from a tomb located in the Valley of the Kings.  Dante looked at it, then found himself subjected to a series of imagery that sent him fleeing from the premises.  He managed to make it back to his dorm room, where he sat on his bed and trembled.  Shortly after Tahir entered, looked at his nephew with understanding, before explaining that he had been expecting Dante’s awakening.  He, too, retained his memories of his life in ancient Egypt, and that life had been spent in service of the king.  Ever since then Tahir had been an irreplaceable source of information, comfort and support.  He helped Dante establish his antique store, which was more or less a front in the search for items that pertained to his former life, and transferred to New York so he could be closer to him.  Tahir had also been responsible for obtaining the cartouche from the museum, which Dante kept secured with the rest of his collection in the storage room of his store.

 

“Did you just wake up?” Tahir asked, his eyes raking over Dante’s white boxers and tee shirt.  His nephew nodded, the motion causing a stray hair to fall over his brow.  He stepped back, gesturing for Tahir to enter.  Tahir smiled slightly before placing a hand on Dante’s shoulder.

 

“You have a seat.  Let me prepare breakfast for you.  Or would it be brunch, considering the time of day?” he commented with a wry smile.  Dante didn’t bother hesitating; his own meals weren’t fit for a stray animal, as Bast’s continued indifference indicated.  Tahir, long familiar with the layout of the kitchen, began working as Dante settled back into his chair.  Bast chose that moment to jump onto his lap, Dante absently caressing her as the scent of sizzling bacon wafted into the air.

 

“How was the service?” Tahir asked, setting a glass of orange juice before Dante and taking Bast from his lap in the same instance.  Once deposited on the ground Bast gave Tahir a displeased look before trotting to the couch to assume her normal perch on its back.  Dante folded his arms on the table and heaved a sigh.

 

“Very depressing,” he murmured.

 

“I wish I could have been there, but I was unable to schedule a flight to London around my classes.  Semester’s end is always a busy time for me.”

 

“Mom called you didn’t she?” Dante interpreted with a small smile.  Tahir bowed his head.  He turned away from the counter, placed Dante’s meal down and eased into the chair across the way.  Dante began cutting up the eggs and mixing them with the bacon as Tahir spoke.

 

“Indeed.  After she blistered my ears about my refusal to join the rest of the family she did mention that she was thankful you had me here.  Will you be returning to work today, or will you wait?” he asked.  Dante took a bite of his meal, chewed, swallowed and downed about half of the orange juice.  When he placed the glass down he glanced over at his uncle.

 

“I’m opening up today.  I can’t sit around and think over what happened,” he replied, then heaved a sigh.  After a moment he added, “I dreamed of her passing again.”  Tahir’s eyes reflected both sympathy and understanding.  Dante fixed his gaze on his plate.

 

“I keep seeing Mom gazing at the chair my father always sat in at dinner, at the empty side of the bed they shared for nearly forty years…it gets harder and harder for me, Tahir.  Sometimes I feel like such a fool,” he sighed.

 

“Osiris did not promise this would be easy for you,” Tahir softly pointed out.  Dante ran his hand through his hair, more a gesture of exasperation than a necessity.

 

“I know, but do you have any idea how disheartening it is? To wake up every day, only to be continuously haunted by her face…” he trailed off with a sad shake of the head.

 

“Your father’s recent passing has deeply saddened you.  It is understandable why you would feel this way,” Tahir said quietly.  Dante sprang to his feet and turned away, folding his arms across his chest.  He stared at the dual calendars on the wall- one in English, the other in Arabic- as he spoke.

 

“This isn’t like when I first found out, Tahir.  Back then I felt a sense of excitement, even a little uncertainty, but I was undaunted.  Watching my mother weep as she did at Father’s service…it made me realize just how much I need Aurelia with me.  I need her now,” Dante added, his voice thick with anguish.  Silence followed his statement, then he heard the sound of the chair scraping against the linoleum floor.  A moment later Tahir’s hand was on his shoulder.

 

“Your happiness is paramount to me, and by the grace of Osiris I was sent here to help guide and advise you.  My advice is this: come with me to Egypt next month.  I am treating a group of my top students to a trip to Cairo and Alexandria.  Seek comfort from your homeland,” Tahir suggested.  Dante bowed his head.

 

“No- you asked me that before…I can’t go back.  It was one of the reasons why I refused Mom,” he rasped.

 

“Would it be better to remain here, unhappy and unsure?” Tahir continued, falling silent when Dante shook his head furiously.

 

“I- I just can’t,” he said, his voice soft and laced with sorrow.  The hand at his shoulder tightened, indicating Tahir’s silent apology.  After a moment Dante sighed and turned to face his uncle.  He implored him with sad, tired eyes.

 

“It hurts so much.  I hurt so much.  I’ve been looking for her for ages…tell me, Tahir- will I ever find her?” he asked, swallowing past the lump in his throat.  In response Tahir drew Dante into a one-armed embrace.  He held fast to him.

 

“Trust in the gods, nephew.  That is all we can do.”

 

****

 

Further down Fifth Avenue, Celia Rourke also questioned whether or not she’d be able to find what she sought.  She sat on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an open book on her lap that she was supposed to be reading, yet she had been unable to focus.  After a moment of realizing she’d read the same sentence three times Celia lifted her head to watch the commotion of the street as she took a sip of water from the bottle at her feet.

 

She was twenty-two years old, with short brown hair that fell to just above her shoulders, and gold-lit brown eyes set in a heart-shaped face.  Freckles dotted her pert nose, especially now during the summer months, contrasting her pale skin and revealing her Irish heritage.  Her clothes were that of a museum employee’s, navy in color with a white undershirt poking out from the v-necked collar of her suit jacket.  The nametag she was supposed to wear around her neck was removed, stuffed into her purse to indicate to any who thought to ask her a question that she was off duty for the moment.

 

Celia’s gaze shifted from the busy streets to the book at her lap once more, then sighed.  While she loved the subject of ancient Egypt, her current mindset was not on timelines or historical records.  Instead she thought about the pharaoh who often visited her dreams, a man whose face she never saw clearly but mere presence comforted her.  A blush tinted her cheeks at remembering what nearly transpired the last time she saw him, and in spite of the adolescent need to hold the man in high regard, something else whispered to her that he was more than he seemed.  What exactly that was had been an ongoing debate with herself, as well as the few friends she told.

 

It was at this time a giggling child ran by her, attracting her attention the moment the little boy managed to knock over her water bottle.  She let out a surprised gasp, reaching over to pick up the bottle before everything inside it spilled over, losing hold of her book in the process.  Another gasp escaped her lips at this, for the book had landed face down.  She hadn’t marked the page she was on.

 

“You really need to learn to read someplace away from the front entrance,” remarked an amused voice behind her, causing Celia to look over her shoulder.  A smile came to Celia’s lips and her dismay over what happened left her.  Behind her stood her longtime friend Adrienne Hayes, whose blue eyes sparkled with excitement.  Her long blonde hair was pulled back into a bun, with some loose strands coming down on either side of her face to give her an impish look.  Adrienne wore a pair of shorts that left nothing to the imagination, and a halter top that accentuated her bosom.  A gold necklace adorned with a cross sparkled at her throat, a gift Celia knew had been given Adrienne as a graduation present.

 

“I was going to read in the cafeteria but it’s such a nice day today I felt like sitting outside.  Besides, it’s not as hot as it was yesterday,” Celia said, scooting over so Adrienne could sit beside her.  After she settled on the step Adrienne laughed.

 

“Are you kidding? It’s hotter today! Honestly, Celia, I sometimes think you don’t live in the same world as the rest of us.”

 

“Well I do, contrary to what you and everyone else believes,” Celia replied softly.  Adrienne leaned in closer, eyeing her friend before understanding lit her gaze.

 

“You dreamed about him again, didn’t you?”

 

“Yes,” Celia admitted, reaching over to pick up her discarded book and place it on her lap.

 

“You’ve been having this dream for what, seven years now right?”

 

“I know what you’re going to say, Adrienne.  ‘Isn’t it time that Celia stop taking a dream so literally?’” she said, self-mockery in her tone.  Adrienne shook her head.

 

“That’s not what I was going to say, and you know it.  So some cute Egyptian pharaoh has haunted your dreams ever since you were fifteen.  In a way, I’m a little jealous.  I didn’t have that kind of inspiration for me,” she went on, smiling devilishly at Celia’s surprised gasp.  After a moment she laughed, thankful for Adrienne’s presence.

 

“Didn’t you tell me that you wanted to also become an Egyptologist because you hoped for the same thing?” she remarked.  Adrienne grinned in response.

 

“Actually I wanted to become one so I wouldn’t miss out on the day when your dream pharaoh walked into your life, and I think it’s about time that’ll happen.  Don’t ask me why I think that, but I do,” she continued.  A small part of Celia hoped that her friend’s gut feeling was true, while the more reasonable part scoffed at such notions.

 

“I guess it’s a good thing we’ll be going to Egypt next month.  Did you tell your parents yet?” Celia asked, turning the topic of conversation to one less personal, and less unrealistic.  Adrienne gave a slight shrug.

 

“I did.  At first they were hesitant, but then they relaxed after I gave them the whole itinerary.  They also like Professor Mahmood, especially since he saw fit to pass me,” she replied, Celia not missing the flash of admiration in her friend’s eyes at the mere mention of him.  Ever since the first day of their senior year Adrienne had become more and more interested in the intelligent, easygoing professor.  Celia knew better than to tease her friend about it, not when she herself crushed on a dream figure, but even if she had Adrienne wouldn’t have minded.  She reveled in the image of her and the professor as more than friends.

 

“My parents were the same way, especially Papa.  After Mom talked some sense into him he relented.  Oh, I meant to ask you- were you going to do the extra credit assignment about art in the Greek Dynasty?”

 

“Had it been during the reign of Nefertiti I might have said yes.  Any luck on finding research material?” Adrienne asked.  Celia shook her head.

 

“None.  I mean, the museum here has a few pieces, but it’s not enough.  I also don’t feel like going to the Brooklyn Museum, and since visiting the British Museum is out of the question I don’t know what to do,” she sighed.  Adrienne tapped her chin in thought before a smile lit up her face.

 

“Wait a minute, didn’t Professor Mahmood say his nephew ran an antique shop on Fifth Avenue?” she said.  Celia thought back to the last day of class, and the professor listing reference books for the various projects being done.  His mention of a nephew was almost an afterthought, something Celia hadn’t really acknowledged since her attention had been divided between him and something Adrienne said.  But he had been smiling in her direction as he spoke.

 

“Yes,” Celia replied.

 

Adrienne beamed. “And most of the antiques are focused on the Greek Dynasty.  I think we need to visit that store after you get off.  What do you say?” It was Celia’s turn to smile.  While she might not have ready answers for her dream, at least she could resolve the issue surrounding her project.

 

“That sounds great.  I’ll have to stop home and get my notebooks.”

 

“I’ll do it right now.  They’re in your room, right?” Adrienne asked.  At Celia’s nod she smiled and clapped her hand on her friend’s arm.

 

“There, see? The professor came through for you again.”

 

“What do you mean again?”

 

“Remember how much trouble you were having in finding information surrounding the Ptolomies that reigned between 100 and 135 B.C.? Didn’t he help you with that?” her friend continued.  Celia was about to speak, then fell silent.  Professor Mahmood had indeed aided her many times.  Suddenly she smiled.

 

“Maybe he’s interested in getting to know me better,” she remarked, grinning when Adrienne made a face.  The two friends shared a laugh, Celia leaning over to give Adrienne a playful nudge.

 

“I hope his nephew isn’t some uppity guy.  I swear, some people think they’re all that just because they have a shop on Fifth Ave,” Adrienne grumbled when their mirth passed.  Celia smiled in understanding.

 

“I don’t think so.  The professor is such a nice, friendly man.  Why would his family be any different? Besides, he’s always telling us that Egyptians are a hospitable people, and not to let the media’s views on Arabs sway our judgment.”

 

“Oh don’t get me started on the American media,” Adrienne muttered, shaking her head.

 

Again, Celia smiled. “You would have made a great political major, too.”

 

“Maybe, but that professor isn’t nearly as handsome as ours,” she replied, giving a start before reaching into her pocket and withdrawing a cell phone.  Celia caught a glimpse of the time before gasping.  She hastily began gathering her things, accidentally elbowing Adrienne as she did so.

 

“Damn! My break’s over.  I hope the gift shop isn’t too busy,” Celia said in a breathless rush, rising to her feet so quickly she ended up dropping her book and purse.  Adrienne smiled as she gathered her friend’s fallen items and handed them back to Celia.

 

“Did you want to meet by the information desk?”

 

“No, we can meet out here.  I’m getting off at five and we have a group coming in at the same time.  They’ll have the whole lobby bottled up,” Celia replied, hooking her purse over her shoulder after digging out her identification badge.  Adrienne nodded, then gave her friend a quick hug before descending the stairs.  Celia turned and darted up them, avoiding the people seated there until passing through the front door.

 

As soon as Celia entered the lobby she shivered due to the change in atmosphere, serving to remind her that it was rather hot today.  She waved to the people seated behind the circular information desk on her way to the gift shop, which was tucked behind the wall across the way.  A table was set up alongside the entrance to the gift shop, where three people sat helping patrons sign up to become members of the museum.  One of the girls there waved toward Celia as she passed by.

 

“Julie’s been looking for you, Celia!”

 

Celia gave her a quick nod of acknowledgment before darting behind the wall, making a quick move to the right, then left until she came upon the main floor of the shop.  It was especially crowded today, and it seemed every station had a customer to tend to.  Celia, who worked in the book section, made her way there as swiftly as she could, nearly colliding with a woman pushing a stroller.

 

As she neared the back she could see Julie at the register, the angled glasses set at her nose reflecting the lights from above as she nodded to whatever her customer was saying.  She was neatly dressed, her dark hair wound in a bun set atop her head that showed off a slender neck accented by a silver choker.  She was only two years older than Celia, but her knowledge and responsible manner earned her a supervisor position, one that Celia felt would be fitting if Julie remembered that people weren’t perfect.  That statement proved itself true when Julie looked her way, displeasure entering her gaze at Celia’s hasty return.  She made a nod of apology as she took her place behind the counter.  After depositing her belongings on the shelf at her feet Celia adjusted her nametag, then called the next customer in line.

 

The rush took precedence in Celia’s mind, chasing away everything save taking care of one customer after another.  By the time it ended, and the salespeople on the floor drifted around the tables to rearrange the books there the expected confrontation with Julie took place.  Celia had just finished ringing up a customer when Julie approached, beckoning her over with a mere glance.  Celia sighed inwardly and followed.  Julie walked toward the back, where a single employee stood re-shelving books before speaking.

 

“This is the third time this week you’ve returned late from your breaks.  I understand you have a lot to do in preparation for your trip next month, but you also have to remember your responsibilities as an employee of the gift shop” Julie began, her calm disposition only making Celia more nervous.  At length she sighed.

 

“I’m sorry, Julie.  I really am.  I’ll try to manage my time better.”

 

“I certainly hope so.  I would think that someone as intelligent as you would realize that timeliness is important no matter what profession you take,” Julie said, and by the hint in her tone Celia knew better than to say anything.  Instead she nodded.  Satisfied with how their discussion ended, Julie turned and strolled away, vanishing around a table.  Celia leaned against the bookcase at her back, heaving a sigh as she crossed her arms.  She knew she shouldn’t be aggravated at Julie- the woman was her supervisor after all- but she had some nerve insinuating that Celia wouldn’t be responsible.

 

At hearing another’s approach Celia looked, smiling a little at the sight of the dark-haired young man.  He walked with an easy grace, one that displayed his devil-may-care attitude, and his brown eyes gleamed with the promise of mischief.

 

“Got yelled at again by the frau I see,” he remarked humorously.  Celia giggled behind her hand at his usage of the nickname Julie had been given.

 

“There, that’s better.  You shouldn’t look so down and out,” he went on.  Celia looked up at him, seeing more than just concern in his eyes.  She knew he was sweet on her, but he had never asked her out.  It was one of the oddities about his behavior that she found curious, as if he knew she’d say no.  It didn’t stop him from standing up for her, or going out of his way to make her smile.

 

“You try not feeling this way after being treated like a slave,” Celia commented.  David gave a nonchalant shrug.

 

“My people know all about slavery, Celia.  You should follow our example and fight against the oppressors,” he replied, Celia not missing the remark about his being Jewish.  She laughed.

 

“I rather like getting a paycheck, as meager as it is.  Did you hear her though? She basically insulted me,” she said, frowning as she glanced back in the direction Julie disappeared.  David leaned his elbow against the bookcase, his hand angling close to the top of Celia’s head.  She could feel the tips of his fingers brushing the strands and put some distance between them.  He didn’t seem to notice.

 

“People like her believe that everyone should behave in the exact same manner as she would.  They make poor managers, but their ability to kiss ass knows no bounds,” he said thoughtfully, making Celia laugh at the image it painted in her mind.  She turned to face him then, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Are you saying you’d be better?”

 

“Me? No way.  I can’t kiss ass to save my life.”

 

“But you’ll charm them,” Celia deduced, smiling when he gave another shrug that indicated she had been correct.  He leveled his gaze on her.

 

“Charm doesn’t seem to work on you though.”

 

“It depends on who does the charming.  Don’t you have some work to do?” Celia asked in a chiding tone.  He glanced over his shoulder, then turned his attention back to her before giving her a smile that would have made any girl’s heart flutter.

 

“Is that your nice way of telling me to get lost?”  Celia laughed and gave him a playful punch on the arm.  He made a little gasp, then wore an expression of mock sadness as he turned away.  Celia remained there a moment more, shaking her head at him before returning to the front desk.

 

****

 

It was five fifteen by the time Celia and Adrienne left the museum.  Just as Celia had predicted, the lobby was filled with the people scheduled for the tour, and making her way to the front door had been reminiscent of going through a gauntlet.  Now, as she strolled alongside her best friend nibbling at a soft pretzel all the trials of the day went right out of Celia’s head.  She listened to Adrienne’s bubbly recollection of their graduation party- something Celia had very little memory of thanks to someone spiking her fruit punch with vodka- before the antique shop came into view.

 

It was located on the first floor of an old-fashioned two story building, its display window boasting the name of the shop- Recollections of the Past– as well as vases, statuettes and other items that made Celia’s eyes widen in fascination.  The entrance, which was situated on the right hand side, featured the name of the shop done in a font she recognized as Papyrus, along with a cute caricature of Anubis standing over the phrase ‘Beware of Dog’.  The second door, which faced them directly, looked to be an entrance to the second level, and when Celia glanced up she assumed someone lived above the store.

 

“Wow.  You know, as often as I’ve passed by this place I never bothered to look inside,” Adrienne breathed in awe.  Celia agreed with a smile, then pushed open the side door.  A small bell ringing overhead greeted their entrance, but as soon as Celia stepped onto the landing the interior drew her immediate attention.

 

Dark wooden panels that reminded her of a distinguished gentleman’s study lined the walls, while tables of artifacts were set around the room in what could be best described as a maze.  The carpet was dark green and bore swirled patterns, some areas looking more worn than others, and there was a slight incline near the right-hand wall.  Adrienne brushed by her with a soft exclamation, the silver chess set having captured her fancy.  Celia chose the opportunity to step further in, her gaze drawn to every item that spoke of ancient Egypt.  There was a great deal of it, and she wondered how long the professor’s nephew had been collecting them.

 

Once she made it past the scattered tables a counter came into view, a cash register propped on the right hand side.  A portable CD player was on the opposite side, what Celia assumed to be some kind of ambient song playing.  She smiled her approval, for she was a great lover of peaceful music, before the appearance of an orange tabby cat leaping onto the counter drew her attention.  The cat walked three steps before curling up beside the register.  The cat’s swishing tail knocked over a cup that contained a series of pens, Celia bending over to collect them.  As she gathered the pens in one hand a golden one caught her eye.  A smile touched her lips at recognizing it.  The pen was shaped like a pharaoh, and was a favorite among patrons at the gift shop.  She wondered if the professor’s nephew was a regular visitor to the museum when the chime from the front door bell drew her attention.  A cry of glad surprise passed her lips at seeing who it was, and Celia barely remembered to set the cup back on the counter before rushing to greet the man.  Adrienne was there first, having captured him in an embrace that drove the breath from him.

 

“Professor, I didn’t expect to see you here!” Adrienne gushed.  Tahir Mahmood chuckled as he freed himself from Adrienne’s embrace.

 

“I should say the same for you.  Now, Celia here, I expected.  I see you decided to take my advice.  How are you, girls?” he asked, accepting a more normal hug from Celia.  Celia glanced at Adrienne, taking note of her friend’s sunny smile and sparkling eyes, grinned a little before answering.

 

“We’re fine.  This shop really belongs to your nephew? He has such amazing artifacts in here,” Celia remarked, casting another glance around the room.

 

“Indeed it does, but he didn’t get all of them by himself- not that he’ll tell you as much anyways.  Now where is that nephew of mine? Dante! You have customers!” Tahir bellowed, causing the girls to giggle at how much he sounded like a disapproving parent.  A moment later a man dressed in a pair of black pants and a pale golden shirt appeared, looking both apologetic and amused at Tahir’s comment.  The smile from Celia’s face slowly faded, replaced instead with an expression of awe.

 

He was definitely of Tahir’s family, but instead of the characteristic roundness his face was slender, softly accented by a straight nose, green eyes offset by dark, slightly arched eyebrows, and thick, black hair that parted in the middle.  Strands hung over his brow, adding to his unkempt, rushed appearance.  The smile he gave Tahir lit up his entire face, and Celia felt that if he ever looked at her that way she’d melt.

 

“Customers? All I see are two girls on each arm, gazing at you with a great deal of admiration,” he remarked, his voice pleasant to the ear and lightly accented.  Celia shot a look at Adrienne, who turned red to her earlobes and giggled.  Tahir’s nephew approached them, extending his hand for Adrienne.

 

“I’m Dante Taylor,” he introduced.  Adrienne shook it, informing him of her name with amazing aplomb in spite of the redness on her cheeks.  Dante smiled, then turned to Celia.  Celia slid her hand into his, doing her best not to allow the shock of their contact show in her eyes.  She merely told herself it was the warmth of his hand contrasting with the cool air of the shop.  At least that’s what she would have liked to believe, had she not seen a brief expression of confusion enter Dante’s eyes.  After a moment it vanished, and Dante shifted his attention to Tahir.

 

“Adrienne and Celia.  Aren’t they students in your class?”

 

“Yes, and they’re part of the group who will be traveling to Egypt with me,” Tahir replied with fond pride.  Celia saw something else flicker in Dante’s eyes, something she read as sorrow, but just as before it was gone.

 

“It will be an exciting trip for them.  So tell me, what brings you here?” Dante asked, glancing at Adrienne, then Celia.  Was it just her imagination, or did his gaze linger on her far longer than it should? This observation managed to defeat her powers of speech, something Tahir noticed and thus replied in her stead.

 

“They’re here because I told them that this was the best place for artifacts on the Greek Dynasty.  Celia’s something of an expert on the period.  She’s writing a piece on the art from it, and when I heard that I knew that you’d be able to help her,” Tahir explained.  Dante’s expression revealed surprise, followed by interest.  He leveled his gaze on Celia.

 

“Is that true?” he asked in wonder.  Celia nodded, her love for the subject surfacing in her voice and eyes.

 

“Oh yes.  It’s my favorite dynasty.  After all, a great deal of things happened during the reign of the Ptolomies, particularly Cleopatra and the growing influence of the Romans,” she replied cheerfully.  Dante exchanged glances with Tahir, then smiled and gestured for Celia to follow him.

 

“Why don’t you take a look at what I have? If you have any questions, feel free to ask.  I’m something of an expert myself,” he said.  Celia interpreted that as his being a scholar of the time period and nodded, smiling.  She followed him to the left side of the store, which featured an amazing array of artifacts.  Celia gaped at them open-mouthed, sliding a glance Dante’s way.  He stood beside her with his arms crossed, a smile of pride tugging at his lips.  In response Celia turned to face to him, opened up her notebook and steadied her pen over a blank sheet of paper.

 

“Well? Start explaining,” she instructed with a smile, causing him to laugh.  She furiously scribbled as he detailed each item, amazing her anew with his knowledge.  She had filled five pages with information before being forced to give her wrist a break.  At seeing Celia move her wrist to relieve it from pain Dante gave her an understanding smile.

 

“I’m sorry.  Am I going too fast for you?” he asked.  She shook her head.

 

“No.  It’s just been so long since I last handwrote anything.  All during college I typed up my reports,” she replied.  Dante nodded, then took her notebook and pen from her.  He propped the book up, scanning what she already had down before writing.  Nothing but the echo of the pen scratching the paper echoed between them until Dante returned the book to her.

 

“I wrote up explanations about the rest of the items here to give your poor, underused wrist a break,” he said with a smile.  Celia returned it, finding that she enjoyed being in his company.  Aside from his personable manner and good looks, there was something else about him that spoke of familiarity.

 

“How did you manage to obtain so many pieces?” she asked.  Dante shifted his gaze to Tahir, who was immersed in an energetic conversation with Adrienne about the upcoming trip.

 

“Having an uncle who is as respected in the field of Egyptology as mine certainly helps,” he replied.  Celia nodded thoughtfully.

 

“I see.  But some of these are museum quality,” she pointed out.  Dante smiled, the interest she saw in his eyes earlier growing.

 

“You’re very observant, Celia.  They’re on loan from various museums.  A few are for sale, while others are strictly for display,” he replied, reaching for a wedjet eye lying next to a vase.  He stared at it for several moments, the initial cheeriness he demonstrated when they first were introduced fading.

 

“Are you all right?” Celia asked softly.  Dante looked at her, as if remembering she were there, before placing the item on the shelf and shaking his head.

 

“Just remembering how much my father liked that piece,” he replied.  Celia wanted to question him further, simply because he looked so sad, when the front door bell chimed.  Dante looked over, a slight smile tugging at his lips at seeing the stately old man enter.

 

“Ah, the ever impatient Ernest Sellers.  If you’ll excuse me,” Dante said, Celia nodding to him.  She remained where she was, watching him walk away to greet the man, who replied with a disgruntled snort followed by a complaint of his being kept waiting.  Adrienne joined her a moment later, pulling Celia aside so that they were out of sight.  Once they were safely concealed behind a bookcase Adrienne flashed a grin at her friend.

 

“Well?”

 

“Well what?” Celia asked, unable to keep from a nervous chuckle.  Adrienne rolled her eyes.

 

“You know very well what! Dante’s a cutie, isn’t he?” she commented.  Celia peeked around the bookcase, watching Dante listen as Ernest went on about the necessity of the large vase in the display window.  Dante’s green eyes met hers for an instant, causing her cheeks to flush and resulted in her hasty retreat.

 

“I guess so,” was all Celia offered.  Adrienne crossed her arms.

 

“Your blush tells me otherwise.”

 

“Oh stop it, before I tell the professor you like him,” Celia threatened.  Adrienne wagged her finger in her friend’s direction.

 

“You’re not going to turn this around on me, Celia.  Come on, tell me what you think!  I saw the way you looked at him,” she said with confidence.  Celia heaved a good-natured sigh, knowing there was no fooling Adrienne and answered.

 

“Fine.  What I think is that he’s very intelligent.  He knows what he’s talking about, and it makes me wonder why he’s not teaching at a college.”

 

“Maybe he likes being surrounded by old things from the past.  If he does then he’s becoming more like you by the minute,” Adrienne remarked.  Celia recalled how her bedroom was decorated and grinned sheepishly.  Tahir approached them a few minutes later, requesting if they’d be interested in a gentleman escorting them home.  Adrienne chuckled, commenting that Tahir only wanted to be seen in the company of attractive ladies.  Tahir winked in response, sending Adrienne into a fit of giggles.

 

“But I wanted to ask Dante some more questions,” Celia said, glancing over at him.  He had his head down as he rang up Ernest, who still complained about the vase in the window.  Tahir gave her a pleasant smile.

 

“Oh, I think you’ll see him again,” he replied simply.  Celia furrowed her brow at his curious remark, but soon she found herself being urged to the front door.  Before she left she managed to catch sight of Dante watching her, his green eyes expressing definitive interest, as well as reluctance to see her go.  The next thing she saw was the door closing, and the caricature of Anubis looking up at her.

 

 

Routine check in, plus other stuff

Once again, I have emerged from the vast Ocean of Real Life to update this thing. Yes, I’m terrible at maintaining a steady online presence. But I am always here. I am ninja like that.

The Summer of Surgeries has passed, and my sister and I have settled back into a routine. She’s on the mend, which is good news. Her appetite is back and better than ever, and she’s been putting on weight. Our first test as to her stamina was a hot and humid day at Musikfest, which was followed by a cooler (figuratively and literally) experience at Retro Con. I met Michael Bell, the man whose voice touched damn well every 80s show I grew up with. He’s a funny and feisty old man. It was an amazing experience. I had him sign a few things and got my picture with him. I apologize for the blurry quality. I am rocking an iPhone 4. Also met a Deadpool and had some fun with him.

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3

On the writing front, I made the drastic decision to junk all existing versions of my sci fi, Renegade, in favor of a complete overhaul. This was, as my sister put it, a brave move. It’s easy to see why she’d say that. This story had been in its current incarnation since 2005. The biggest thing to happen to it between then and now was a title change (it began life as Key of the Zabeldi, then became Key of the Xabeldi). I admit, it’s been a little hard separating the two. The overall plot remains the same, but the characters needed to be re-evaluated. To do this, I looked into character profiles. I needed to solidify their goals, fears, wants, etc. before anything else. I found a comprehensive list of templates at the following page. All vary in detail depending on your needs:

It’s been instrumental in fleshing out my three main protagonists. See, one of the things that didn’t work in Renegade was the characterization. The fault for that is squarely on me. I developed its plot before anything else. The characters were more or less archetypes without any real life to them. The fact I believed it was the best version of the story makes me shake my head at my own ignorance. Still, all the changes got me fired up about the story again. The profiles ask questions you wouldn’t consider otherwise. It makes you think of the characters as real people, and not just proper nouns doing actions in narrative. I highly recommend the exercise, be it for an existing story or a new one.

October is here, which means NaNo is right around the corner. Super excited for the chance to play with new characters and in a new world. I’ve never written middle grade, so it’ll be a nice challenge for me. I’m going to be giving these characters the profile treatment once I’m done with my sci fi. Happy writing, all!

Not for lack of trying

Writer’s Relief rejected my submission based on limited markets, but they encouraged me to submit to their short story open submission. Unfortunately, I do not have anything to offer so I have resolved to move on. I didn’t expect to be accepted; they take on less than 2% of all submissions. However, I do appreciate that they took the time to read it, and that they said my writing was strong. Good news all around, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve decided to take a step back from The Shadow Conflict to focus on other things, such as finishing Lifeline, catching up on my reading, and hunting down outlaws in Red Dead Redemption.

photo(149)

Whenever John Marston isn’t too drunk to shoot outlaws, that is.

I shall, as they say, carry on and persevere. Every rejection is a learning experience.

If at first you don’t succeed…

…apply the lesson as seen in this clip from The Swan Princess.

 

To those who have seen the movie, the scene depicts Prince Derek sharpening his skills so that when he finds the Great Monster, he’ll save Princess Odette, and live happily ever after. This can be applied to writers, too, except the Great Monster is the dreaded synopsis, and you must defeat it in order to get the princess agent. I have way more experience completing novels than I do with synopses. I can bet every writer feels the same way, but it’s a skill we need if we’re to have any success in getting repped. Fortunately, the internet offers a wealth of tips, tricks, do this, not that, and samples for books that went on to be published. The one I found the most helpful was written by Susan Dennard. Just head on over to her How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis and see for yourself!

Why am I bringing this up? Well, aside from needing the practice, hehe. I am looking to submit the first fifteen pages of The Shadow Conflict to Writer’s Relief for their client list consideration. They offer proofreading and editing services, but also extend invitations to writers during open submissions. Since I need my synopsis to shine, I decided to use Renegade as the springboard, while utilizing Susan Dennard’s method. My first draft clocked in at almost 600 words. The short synopsis must be less than 500. I managed to get it to 481:

Synopsis
RENEGADE
By
Serena Gulledge

Millennia have passed since the end of the Xabeldi/Nureni war. Now banished to the farthest reaches of space, the Nureni prepare to exact vengeance.
Xabeldi outcast Xargun, imprisoned by the Nureni and biologically changed into a human, wants one thing: freedom. To get it, he must go to Earth to capture Autumn Welles. She possesses a power the Nureni and Xabeldi covet.
Xargun’s first hour on Earth turns violent when he encounters three members of the Xabeldi Special Forces. Taking the name ‘Simon’, he tracks down Autumn to a parking garage. Autumn proves to be a handful, and her desperate bid for freedom escalates into risking their lives when she veers into traffic. Simon nearly kills her for it, and is tortured by the control device implanted in his body.
After another close call with Xabeldi agents, Simon flees in a stolen aircraft with Autumn. A surprise attack by the Xabeldi Special Forces captain, Arxon, destroys the ship. Simon is injured; when faced with the odds of her survival, Autumn abandons her plans to escape and helps him. An accidental touch awakens her sleeping power, resulting in telekinetic bursts when she’s agitated. Simon suspects something else is going on.
Arxon finds them and, after leaving Simon for dead, takes Autumn to his ship. Simon infiltrates the ship, but the sleeping agent Arxon used on Autumn threatens her life. Simon saves her, and in her panic she slaps him, and siphons some of his power. Exhausted, they retreat to a motel. Autumn reveals she can now hear thoughts, and she strikes a deal with him: she’d go with him if he swore to bring her home. Arxon attacks the motel, and captures Simon and Autumn when they try to escape on the road. Arxon takes them to the Xabeldi home world.
Once there, the truth becomes clear: Simon and Autumn contain one half of an ancient Xabeldi’s power. In order to restore it, Autumn must absorb the half Simon carries through touch. The Nureni take over Simon’s body using the control device, and he goes on a killing spree. After ‘Simon’ saves Autumn, he claims he was never taking her home. Devastated, Autumn expects to die.
The Nureni force Autumn to touch Simon. Armed with the ancient’s power, the Nureni prepare for rejuvenation. Simon frees Autumn, kills the Nureni and steals a ship, but is mortally wounded. Autumn heals him while they escape. Arxon’s attack cripples the ship. Simon sends Autumn home through a teleportation gateway, then jumps in after her. The ship crashes, but Arxon doesn’t think Simon is dead, and swears to find him. Meanwhile, Simon has appeared in the cargo hold of an isolated outpost, where a Xabeldi waits for him.
Six months later, Autumn tries to resume her normal life while balancing her telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Something tells her she’ll see Simon again. It’s not over yet.

The weird thing is that once I got the hang of the process, it became easier for me to narrow it down to the basics. The key here is flow. I’m not saying this is the best I can do, but hey, it’s a start. I’ll practice next with Lifeline, or perhaps try my hand at Renegade‘s sequels, Exile and Savior. Lifeline will be slightly more challenging for me since there is no clear cut antagonist. All the conflict exists in Gabriel himself, which he must overcome in order to resolve the main plot. Whatever I do next, I have until April 10th to submit to Writer’s Relief. Here’s to hoping my final result is my best!

 

Nom de plume

Years ago, a female author had to adopt a pen name in order to get published. That’s not the case anymore, though some authors have adopted other identities for books. I used to read a lot of Madeline Baker’s stuff back in high school; one of my faves (read: guilty pleasures) by her was a book called ‘Sunlight, Moonlight.’ She had written it as Amanda Ashley.

Here is the part where I admit that was what planted the idea of a pen name into my head. Couldn’t be further from the truth. I thought my real name sounded too harsh when read aloud, so I wanted something prettier. Something that rolled off the tongue. Something that elicited an air of mystery. (Hey, I was a hell of a pretentious teen XD) That eventually led to the creation of Jonquil Aries. It was inspired by my astrological sign, and the flower it ruled. Oddly enough, I ended up using it as an online alias, or as my signature on a piece of art I drew. As years passed, I adopted a secondary online alias, Saronna Rouge. I ended up naming a character in Renegade Saronna because of it.

I have to laugh at thinking that kind of anonymity was important to me. Then again, I’ve had plenty of time to appreciate myself as a person. I’m more than a name. 🙂