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.

 

 

Back from the proverbial dead

I know I have said this before, but I am the absolute worst when it comes to keeping track with this thing. It might be due to the fact it’s not my go-to springboard into the internet, or I’ll update only when I have something worthwhile to say. Given that we are approaching the April Camp NaNoWriMo, I’m gonna go with the latter.

As I was not able to participate in April’s Camp last year thanks to some writing doldrums, I am looking to do something this year. At first I thought about dredging up an old middle grade fantasy to work on. I’ve a great fondness for fantasy adventure (sans political wrangling), and MG is the best place to do it. However, I think I am going to stick with Mermaid’s Courage, my July Camp project. Aside from the love I have for the story and characters, I have spent the past month or so readying it for entry into the 2015 HNS New Novel Awards contest. Participants have until April 1st to enter the first 5K words, along with a 500 word synopsis. Because I was looking to make more of an impact for this contest- my YA fantasy didn’t place in the contest I entered it into late last year- I knew professional editing was a must. I chose Scribendi because their prices were far more reasonable than some of the others I came across. One writer wanted close to $500 for their services. This was pretty much my reaction.

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After receiving the results from the free sample edit, (the suggestion to make the opening sentence really shine helped immensely) I sent the first 5K over. The suggestions the editor provided were very helpful, and the story is all the better for it. I have way more confidence about the story’s chances. Now all that’s left is to get my submission to the required word limit and away it goes!

For April Camp, I will be working on the second half of Mermaid’s Courage. I don’t foresee any difficulties in getting back into the story. I still have a lot of love for the characters, and they still intend to have their way with me. I’ve already changed some plot elements because of them. Just goes to show that you are never truly in control of your creation.

To all those planning to join Camp this April, good luck, and I look forward to hearing about your progress!

Abusive relationships ≠ romance

I usually don’t like to drag out the soapbox for things, especially when it comes to sharing thoughts online, but this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Most of you know I’m working on a super sappy and tender, albeit tragic, romance for my July Camp NaNoWriMo project. While I am reveling in using every romantic cliche known to the genre, the one thing I am not is a misconception that plagues some popular titles nowadays. If you’re thinking my answer has to do with the subject title, you’d be right.

The 50 Shades trailer recently dropped (no, I will not link it here- Google is your friend in this regard), and already it’s gotten more views than anything else. People are just clamoring all over themselves to see their favorite couple fuck each other senseless on the big screen. Oh, and it’s set for February 14th, 2015. Let me rephrase: a movie, glorifying not a healthy or even correct representation of bondage, but one about abuse, is opening on Valentine’s Day. A day generally reserved to show appreciation for a loved on. A romantic holiday, if you will. The key word here is romantic. That shit that happens in 50 Shades? That’s not romance.

Oh, they want you to believe it is. They shove the series next to Harlequin titles. The characters are in lOOOooooove! She gave him her virginiteeeeeee He wants to make loooOOOoooove to her. All that stuff is part and parcel of romance!

Yeah, it is. I’ve read and written plenty of romances to know that’s the case. But it’s not for this particular title. And we need to stop trying to sell it as one.

I get it. The whole book is one, big sexually charged fantasy. I’m not talking about the sex in this book, or the kinky stuff. That’s a separate issue, one that I know has been addressed- repeatedly- by the insulted parties. I’m focusing on the false romance. Think about it: little old plain girl with low self-esteem suddenly finds herself whisked away by some drop dead gorgeous guy. What woman WOULDN’T want that? It’s the stuff romance novels are made of, right? Wrong.

Take Phantom of the Opera, for instance: Erik is obsessed with Christine, and he does all he can do make her love him. How? By lying to her. By taking advantage of her innocence. Most versions show Christine leaving with Raoul, but Susan Kay’s take showed that theirs was a true love that couldn’t be broken. Christine goes back to Erik and (spoilers) gets pregnant with his son that she passes off as Raoul’s. She perpetuates the lie. To make things worse, Raoul starts to see that Charles isn’t his, but he says nothing. You could argue he was weary from the situation, and accepting was the price he paid for peace. To me, that isn’t a healthy relationship. Raoul should have gotten out of that mess when he had the chance.

As a kid, I thought Erik was the better man for Christine. I mean, he so obviously loved her and would do anything for her. That’s good, right? That’s what people do in relationships. Now that I’m older, I see this so-called true love for what it is. I can excuse Susan Kay’s version because Erik demonstrates actual remorse for what he’s doing. That doesn’t excuse his behavior, mind you. But when compared to the “literary hero” (seriously, that’s how Christian Grey is described in the novels) in 50 Shades, Erik is a damn saint. Grey offers no remorse, no apologies. Just strict adherence to command. And woe if any of his tenants are broken. Ladies, this isn’t the man of your dreams. The man of your dreams loves you for who you are, warts and all. He won’t do anything to change you, or force you to be something you’re not. And he certainly will not try to control you. If you think that’s love, you need your head examined.

3s6nk8

 

 

 

 

The show must go on

I received a sincere and honest rejection for Renegade yesterday. She said that while she found the story interesting, she didn’t fall in love with it. I value honesty about my work over anything else. It’s arrogant to automatically assume everyone will adore your story, and they’ll be falling all over themselves to sing its praises. I certainly haven’t fallen in love with every book I’ve read over the years. I think I’ve spent more time lamenting books rather than recommending them. It’s all a matter of taste.

Progress on Mermaid’s Courage is slow but it’s definitely going. I have taken to writing in my notebook or using the Notes option on my phone during the work week, and I dedicate my weekends to adding this content to the main document on Word. I have just over 12K words now, which would probably send me into fits of panic were this November. I do enjoy the relaxed atmosphere for Camp NaNo. I don’t feel like there’s a clock following me around ticking off minutes while watching me eerily.

I always feel like somebody's watching me...

I always feel like somebody’s watching me…

I’m also not worrying too much about reaching my goal (35K) by the 31st. I fully expect to continue working on this until November. The natural progression would be, ‘Hey! Let’s write a sequel to it!’ Yeah, no. This is a stand alone project. I have no idea what my November project will even be at this point. All my focus has been on cramming this with as much sugary sweet cliches that both satisfy and frustrate me because of the joy they bring. It’s so freeing to let go like this. Sometimes a writer has to indulge in literary pleasures. Finding satisfaction in other books usually doesn’t work the same way. Sure, there’s plenty of tragic romances out there, but none of them are mine. We as writers need to remind ourselves that trying to write for everyone usually ends up in disaster. Write for you. You may find a very receptive audience.

Not dead, only sleeping

I have this nasty habit of making regular appearances online before I drop off the radar like some eccentric actor compelled to try life on an island, or some such thing. The truth is my reasons for vanishing since late April aren’t quite as fantastical as that. That thing called Real Life and the Stress It Sometimes Brings is largely to blame. Between difficulties at work, home, my family, and feeling very underwhelmed by my own writing, I took to other pursuits. I watched some movies (Old Boy, Frozen, The Lego Movie, among others). I re-read my fave book (Gone With The Wind) I played Skyrim. Lots and lots of Skyrim. It’s amazing how therapeutic games are. I can stop being me for a few hours and traverse a wild, untamed land aided by my wit, skills and my trusty follower (who may or may not die in a blaze of glory, but I digress).

I haven’t been totally sitting on my laurels regarding my writing, however. Probably right around the time of my last post, I submitted Renegade to an agent. I haven’t heard anything back from her thus far (she says it takes at least six weeks for a response), so I tried my hand at working on its sequel. But wouldn’t you know it, all the changes I made to its predecessor rendered over 80% of its existing content null. Frustrated as I was with my writing at the time, I didn’t think I had it in me to more or less redo its entire plot, so I shelved it for the time being. Then I turned to Lifeline, and while I fared better with the revisions I made, I wasn’t feeling it any more than I was Exile. So it, too, was shelved. Now, I’m the sort of person who feels a day without writing something is a day wasted. This led me to trying my hand at one shots, maybe craft some of Simon’s earlier exploits, or a flashback for Gabriel. Nothing. I went back and re-read some of my older writing in the hopes that, hey, maybe something would snag my attention. And lo, one did.

Back when I first wrote my Voltron fanfic (I say this loud and proud), I wrote a series of little, romantic spin-offs that were as sugary sweet as they were tragic. The two characters, my own Azura and Voltron’s Sven, became something of a guilty pleasure for me, as well as my go-to couple when I had the urge to write sappy romance. While the piece I wrote wasn’t great, they provided the outlet I needed to get my writing back on track. I was content to go on writing one shots where I could let all my romantic impulses go wild. But there I was at work one day, when inspiration struck: I was going to write a completely new, completely original story about them. Not as they were in their original forms, obviously, but alternate versions. Best of all, I could work on this idea for July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. The subject matter for the idea, which pits my two lovers against the backdrop of World War II, also lets me indulge another passion of mine: research. Double bonus because it’s for history.

The excitement I have for this project is like a tonic, and also a reminder that sometimes all I need to get the juices flowing again is a new idea. That energy sustained me through Lifeline all throughout its creation. I have no doubt it’ll do the same for Mermaid’s Courage.

Superfluous Sex Scene

I bet I grabbed your attention by the title alone.

That was my intent all along.

That was my intent all along.

What do we always hear, whether we are a creator or reader/viewer/listener? That’s right: sex sells. I direct your attention to the overwhelming (albeit questionable) commercial success of Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s garbage. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. It’s garbage. I don’t have to read it to know this. But despite its shortcomings, it sold like hotcakes. Readers didn’t care if the main characters were relatable. They were in it for the smut. For them, it must have been like sneaking a porn mag into class. The hotter it got, the more they loved it. The reader in me wouldn’t touch that stuff with a ten foot pole (I prefer my books to be intelligently crafted, not reworked Twilight fanfiction); however, the businesswoman in me applauds the effort. If E.L. James was looking to cash in on something everyone already loves, then I tip my hat to her. She’s the one laughing all the way to the bank.

Now, I have nothing against the sex in my media. I read plenty of romance novels in my adolescence, and let me tell you, I lived for those scenes. Even the creepy scene at the end of Flowers In The Attic (you wanna talk controversial, hoo boy) would make me giggle. Ha ha. They’re totes making out, lol. A lot of my earlier writings were replete with phrases like ‘velvety softness’ and ‘his tongue plunged into her mouth’. Too bad most realistic sexual encounters aren’t quite so flowery. It’s for this reason alone that I believe romanticizing the sex act will probably always be a lasting fascination to us. The same could be said for fantasizing about dating/wedding/bonding with vampires, werewolves, witches and the like. But I digress.

My problem with sex scenes is when it feels foisted upon me. I cannot tell you how many books I’ve read or movies I’ve watched where, for whatever reason, the writer finds it absolutely necessary to include it. Now, I’m not talking about romance or something with a romantic subplot. I’m talking about a story that was clicking on all cylinders when bam! The main character is suddenly and inexplicably possessed with the desire to copulate with his/her co-character. Why? Why not. I mean, who doesn’t like reading about bumping uglies?

hadesWell, for starters it’s jarring. Why the hell would the MC who, up until that point would be hard pressed to brush up against someone by mistake, suddenly overcome that anxiety? Sure, you could cite lots of reasons: possession, alcohol, drugs, evil twin/clone, dream etc etc. Maybe the plot depends on it. Maybe your character is fighting against an inner demon and giving into it that one night results in an otherwise weird scene. The difference here is that those actions have legitimate reasons for being. It’s not just hastily slapped together because hey, the narrative is dragging a bit, LET’S GET NAKED.

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I also bring this up because I have attempted the inclusion of sex scenes, and by doing so, the characters involved ceased being who they were. Case in point: early drafts of Renegade featured my two leads hooking up at the end. It seemed to make sense at the time. They’d just escaped the bad guys, were headed back home, the danger was over. Why not celebrate survival by some gratuitous skin on skin action? Well, when I wrote the scene, it never, ever felt right. It wasn’t that it was poorly written. It’s just that my female character wouldn’t be willing to give herself to a man she hardly knew (and an alien at that). My male character had spent his entire life keeping everyone at arm’s length; for him to go against it would require a LOT of character development, which the plot for the novel didn’t allow. I eventually removed the scene. What had originally been a romp on the floor was now a somewhat awkward, but grateful farewell. Perfectly in character for both. I had always planned for them to get together, but much, much later in the series, and after a lot of plot-related elements took place that shaped them both. There would be sex, and only when they were ready. It would be more rewarding for them, and the reader.

Chris and Sarah2.0

Look at him, all sexy and stuff. What a jerk.

When I first came up with the trio leading the charge in Lifeline, it never, ever occurred to me to slip in some unresolved sexual tension between Gabriel and Evelyn, let alone getting them together in the end. Well, whether I was driven by curiosity or a burning desire to envision Gabriel’s face/body model, Chris Noth, in an intimate setting, I decided to give it a go. I slept on the idea, but when I re-read it I felt like I had betrayed my characters. Gabriel has so much emotional baggage committing even to a one night stand would be asking too much. Evelyn cares for him as a friend, sympathizes with his pain. Plus she knows that his emotional and spiritual attachment to Maria has pretty much warped his ability to maintain a normal relationship.

Do I have plans to have someone take pity on poor Gabriel? Not at the moment. He has to sort through his own feelings before he can consider opening himself up to someone else. These are issues I plan to focus on for the sequel, Skies More Blue, which also happens to be the subject for my Camp NaNoWriMo project. I admit, its experimental status will have me playing with my favorite cliche: the love triangle. Oo, I get excited just thinking about it.

The point I am trying to make is that yes, we all have a soft (or hard, if you wanna be THAT guy) spot for sex. Embraced, shunned, scorned or altogether avoided, it’s everywhere we look, and on multiple levels.

You didn't think this post would avoid the most in your face but subtle romantic subplot EVER, did you?

You didn’t think this post would avoid the most in your face but subtle romantic subplot EVER, did you?

However you slice it, the fact remains that It can be appreciated as a romantic endgame or as the ultimate fantasy. Just please, please make it worth your while, and something your reader will care about. You want them to clutch the book to their hearts and wail about how much they hated it but loved it because it hurt so good (readers of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars seem predisposed to this reaction). Don’t encourage them to do this.

tumblr_mjwdt1m3cQ1s8uzeno8_r1_250Thanks for reading!

Update: NaNoWriMo 2013

After a somewhat slow start this past weekend, I have broken 8K tonight. It’s funny: you go into a story with a basic idea of what to do, yet the scenes unfold in completely different ways. The characters discover their voices and start telling you what’s up.

I was not quite ready for just how emotionally vulnerable Gabriel was. He’s showing me that despite his somewhat stand-offish behavior, inside he’s so broken he may never be the same. A lot of his pain is self-inflicted thanks to his decisions. The trials he is set to face as the story progresses will threaten his integrity even more. I would not be surprised if I end up wanting to protect him, even as I continuously throw him into the heart of the fire.  What he thinks of as the source of all his woe is in fact his salvation.

Gabriel Belmont and his wife, Marie, from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Gabriel Belmont and his wife, Marie, from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also cannot be helped but be somewhat influenced by the tragedy of the characters above. Hell, they even share my characters’ names. If that’s not a sign as to where Gabriel’s characterization is going, or his true relationship with Maria, I don’t know what is. Plus I have a soft spot for tragedy. I love it. I’m good at it. And, according to my boyfriend, my characters ‘shouldn’t be alive, cause all I want to do is make their life hell.’

To this I say it’s a writer’s prerogative, nay, DUTY, to throw the characters into the frying pan. Stories of suffering tend to stand out in a reader’s mind versus an endlessly happy one, especially when the author allows for some triumphs. It gives the painful ordeals meaning, even closure. It’s not just the tragedies of Gabriel and Maria that drive this story: it’s Evelyn’s, it’s the story behind the ghost boy, it’s the families of all those affected by this haunting.

Oh my. I have this terrible feeling I’m going to end up crying myself through this NaNo.

 

 

Other writings

I will be adding a tab dedicated to this subject, but I thought I’d share the link with everyone on my main blog as well. I have a page at Scribd.com where I have posted some of my favorite works. All the stories featured here are projects I hope to return to the near future; of the three available, only The Shadow Conflict: Book One is complete.  Tainted was the subject for my 2011 NaNoWriMo. Enjoy!

The Shadow Conflict: Book One

“She was heiress of Light. No matter where she went, people would love her. He was heir to Shadow. No matter where he went, people would hate him.”

Caeher, a world where the very elements are revered through representatives called elemental tamers, has viewed Shadow with great misgivings. Lady Helena’s rule sees them oppressed, stripped of hope and status, all in her crusade to keep her ancestor Lailie’s decree alive. But the mistreatment fuels Shadow’s cause, thrusting Caeher into another war.

Seventeen year old Harmony, heiress of Light, is sole champion of the shadow people. Defying her mother, she has made it her duty to see the elements reunited. This culminates in her love for Braeden, the heir of Shadow. With the elements banding together against Shadow, the two young people must overcome years’ worth of mistrust if their love is to survive.

Fallen Star

Seventeen-year old Lucas is studying to become an astronomer like his father, but when he and his little sister, Jewel, discover the body of an unconscious girl lying within a crater, everything he knows about stars changes. Charged with protecting Star, the siblings embark on a journey not just beyond their imaginings, but of self discovery as well.

Tainted

“Forsaken and forgotten wife of the liar. The path ahead of you is as twisted as he, and will bring its darkness upon you. Forsaken and forgotten not, but tainted forevermore.”

When Catherine Chandler married Thomas Caine, she had every hope that her life would change for the better. However, tragedy soon strikes: Thomas is murdered, and she succumbs after losing their unborn child.

But this is only the beginning of her plight. For upon her death, she learns she has been sold into eternal servitude to the gods by her own husband, who is revealed to be none other than the trickster god, Loki.

Heartache turns into desperate determination as Catherine seeks to make Loki pay for his deceit, heedless of the cost it will be to her own soul.