Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Creating a PI Protagonist - Marlowe Black is my Outrage.


Marlowe Black is my outrage, my anguish, but wasn't meant to be.

I have read that a writer's protagonists and, too, his antagonists, are all facets of the writer's personality. While I willingly accept the former, I stand in clear denial of the latter.

The internet age had become a living entity, self-replicating and layered to a depth and height that no one person could experience. It bled time like a gunshot wound bled life. I wanted to experience something different. I needed to escape.

Because, despite the good the internet offered, all of the same trite garbage humanity slammed and adored, worshiped and abused, for centuries had not lessened, but exponentially expanded.

I suppose my expectations that human emotions might somehow evolve into civility while riding the crest of available and nearly unlimited knowledge was the shrill voice of the optimist baying at the full moon of wishful thinking.

Therefore, I selected a decade in American history that I often thought of as ideal.

Then, to take me there, I created Marlowe Black, as a way to lament those simpler times when solving crime standing on the edge of the law was easier than it is now when it's nearly impossible.

Yet Marlowe quickly became more. He became my outrage, my anguish. I created him at a time when life surrounded me with unforeseen, and too often painful, unfathomable events both personal and not.

Suddenly, Marlowe's character defined itself as he led me through his time in history, a time I know of through research and by conversing with people who lived it. Oddly, for me, it turned out that the 1950s were far from simple, far from ideal.

The only significant differences, excluding technology -- although much of what we have today sunk roots back then -- are medical advancements, and societal changes such as civil rights and more equal rights for women.

In the 1950s, women and minorities were poorly treated or worse. After exposure to this type conduct as a cop, Marlowe decided there was something seriously wrong with any such behavior even when the actions or words he came to deplore were on rare occasion his own.

He quit the police force and went private, causing him to become something of a societal outcast, yet he managed to earn respect and friendships.

Marlowe also learned that any woman he became involved with would be a target for the type of criminals he hunted. In his world, hunter and hunted could change places without warning. Victims too often were those caught in the middle. When that occurred, the result shredded slices off his humanity.

The one companion he knew shadowed his actions was death. It waited for him to make one grievous error, then closed in like a starving wolf.

When a killer murdered his fiancée, his emotional world collapsed. Death had hobnailed across his soul and he would never be the same man as before. He was a WWII veteran who witnessed battlefield deaths, but back home it was always different, and too often much too personal.

For Marlowe, some truths were self-evident, especially the ones that blew out of the hot barrel of his Colt .45.

Yet, the compassion that often surfaced laced with his sardonic self-deprecating sense of humor carried him through the type of crisis other men did not survive.

Marlowe walked with his head up, did not wallow in regret, and when time for vengeance arrived, always made certain that vengeance was his or the victim's he fought for.

Additionally, he sought justice for people others believed did not deserve such attention. However, he always questioned his own motives as he delved into the murky, often slime-layered depths of the criminal mind. He suspected he would often fail to understand, and then perhaps be too late, but he also knew justice hovered within the tendrils of smoke leaking from the barrel of a gun when all else failed.

There was tenderness in him that he denied,and when it revealed itself, he reacted, embarrassed by what he thought exposed only weakness. Perhaps that was the part of his character that attracted women; both the tenderness he displayed and his reaction to the emotion.

He was not the type of man who, if you met him on the street, would be either rude or unfriendly. He tipped his hat to women, took time to give directions to lost newlyweds, helped out the needy, the homeless, and then went about the business of serving justice on behalf of those who could not get impartiality any other way.

Marlowe Black was the answer to so many "What ifs." Now that I know him, I can only wonder where he will lead me next.



Copyright 2009 Larry Schliessmann. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the written consent of the author. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Faith is not Religion

Periodically, I beat this drum. It seems especially appropriate now, with Christians waving teabag banners declaring that if you cannot afford it you do not deserve healthcare. These being the people who claim they follow the teaching of Jesus, a man who healed the sick for free, who hated capitalism as he watched it bleed the poor into chaotic despair and utter ruin.

Faith is not religion.

Although the two are often confused, faith can be found outside of religion. Religion cannot be found outside faith, or if it can, then that religion is the raving ranting of politics.

I spoke with a man who claimed he found God. Strange idea, I thought, as if finding God took nothing more than scanning his surroundings with the equivalent of a spiritual metal detector. Perhaps God was a glint of light, a diamond chip lodged in the bottom of his soul he'd not discovered earlier. Suddenly there was God waiting just for him alone.

When I asked how that occurred, he said he found God in his newly adopted religion. He made it sound as if God existed nowhere else. The longer we talked, the clearer it became that this was a man transformed by his discovery. He reminded me of a drug addict or alcoholic, transfixed after the first huff or drink.

I asked how this transformation made him feel. Unbelievable, he said with wide-eyed wonder. Reborn, he added confidently as he examined his hands as if they were not the same hands he bore at birth, his true birth.

For him religion was like a spiritual aphrodisiac. He could stroke it and find satisfaction, arousal, deeper and stronger than anything physical. I wondered if he would survive the first test life dropped at his feet, a tragedy, serious challenge, or would his shelter shatter like stacked crystals.

We walked different paths after that day. I chose the path of faith. He chose religion. You may not yet see or the understand difference, but faith is like a spiritual cloak. Once it's wrapped around you, you do not remove it. You cannot, nor will you want to, open a door and walk outside of faith. Faith is lived each minute, not just a few select hours each week.

Religion is like a trench coat. If life “rains” on you, you hastily don it. Yet you don’t really trust it completely so you pop the umbrella of readings. When you leave your House of Worship, it’s okay to take the trench coat off, set it aside, place it on the night table maybe, hang it up to dry.

Sometimes religion is dictated by leaders who demand more of you, or that you perform deeds you are unwilling to do. Yet a true follower feels compelled to obey, drinks from the glass that reads “Drink This” and wonders why nothing changes as a result but everything seems or looks distorted.

Faith makes no demands. Faith is understanding; accompanied by the desire to prosper spiritually. There is no guidebook for faith; no lesson plan, none is needed.

Religion is laid out in books, road maps that must be read repeatedly to be followed and understood. Without daily immersion, one might drown in misunderstanding, leave the path of dictated behavior, and make decisions for oneself. Frightening thought, making decisions for oneself without religion's God to blame, or to seek succor or solace from.

Faith-guided living becomes a teacher. Such a life requires self-examination. It promotes healing oneself as the first step to healing others. Accepting one's own flaws leads to understanding the actions of those around us. Forgiving ourselves directs us to learn the skills needed to forgive others.

Years passed before I heard from the man who found God. He had abused his body through poor eating, drinking, and too much sun. In the end, I wondered if he refused the medical care that might've saved him because of religious conviction, or because he decided to give up. Perhaps the two were interchangeable.

Religion offers guidance based on the words of men lost to history, words written and rewritten until the ink faded into the obscurity of politics, which was when religion began representing government not faith.

Faith is guidance. Words are unnecessary; action propels the faithful to make the decision best for their spiritual self. And the path lies open, lit by inner light seen by the faithful alone, carried along though eternity.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Searching the Valley


I looked down into a valley filled with stones. A light breeze rustled my hair, lifted odors of dried and freshly cut flowers to surround me with the mystery of their presence.

I think life occasionally demands more than we feel we have to give, filling us with doubt, stripping away encouragement leaving us soul-naked to stare into the blank blue sky and seek answers that can only be found by looking within. Yet we do not know where to look in those dreadfully frightening moments and reach outward instead.

We go about the task of living, envisioning ourselves as if standing above the fray, examining nuances, seeking ever seeking. Interaction with people, places, objects, animals, all seems somehow shallow, as if the surface of life was peeled away revealing a different, but identical surface that is now a mirror reflecting time but not us.

We stroke through bewilderment, as if we're swimming against rip tides, loosing but unwilling to lament, to relax, and think through what we are experiencing, why we experience it.

It is not until we tire to the point of spiritual exhaustion that we fall, fail, and finally understand. Life does not demand more than we have to give. Life teaches us how to learn to give anew. It is not about doors opening or closing, time passing or standing still. It is about whom we are, our choices, our paths, and why we make them, why we walk them. The message was not hidden except when bombarding words cluttered the air to obscure our thoughts and vision.

Then the waters flowed around us and flooded the valley with new life.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Vampire Life Part 7: What to do with the Ghoulish remains.


Your vampire lover has been busy, gorging himself on local, well, prime rib. Now, it's up to you to clean up; after all, no vampire worth his canines would be caught alive with leftovers on his hands, or worse under his neatly manicured mother-of-pearl fingernails.

Let's face it, not every hunt ends with a convert. Often, the need to feast and the ultimate pleasure that courses through otherwise depleted veins may blind your vampire to the aftermath of his meal. If this continues, night after night, as you might suspect, the bodies do tend to pile up.

Of course an unused mineshaft nearby would prove beneficial, but even with that available, daily burials would eventually either fill it up, or the stench would alert the authorities. And a water-filled quarry would require weights to drag the leftovers to the bottom.

Oh dear, now what, you think. I must remove the evidence, protect the one I love, or some mindless nitwit from law enforcement tipped off by a nosy neighbor will ring the doorbell in the middle of the night and either arrest me due to what he found in the backyard and garage, or he too will become one of the leftovers.

Either way, your otherwise blissful life with your vampire lover would be trashed.

So, allow me to present a practical solution. Zombies, Goblins, and Ghouls. That's right, you read correctly. All three are easy to train, and move slowly so you do not need worry about being crushed by a fleeing mob of leftovers if something should alarm them and cause a stampede.

They are unduly nervous. Oh well, maybe that is understandable.

Your vampire lover can turn them easily if he chooses to, and...what? You didn't know he had the skill? Where did you think Zombies, Goblins, and Ghouls came from? Really, and I thought he was your lover. I guess he was unwilling to tell you every little secret.

So here's what you can do to help if your vampire is unwilling to reanimate the leftovers. All you need is his spit. A drop or two per leftover will be sufficient.

Collect it while he sleeps, or immediately after his finishes recharging his energy levels with a drink of warm blood.

You know he always drools, but until now, you've been hesitant to admit it aloud. Embarrassing a lover is not proper etiquette. But really, how fast can he swallow six to eight pints without needing to draw a breath?

He will not notice you while he feeds, so don't worry about him making a mistake and feeding on you too.

Now that you've gathered a pint or more of spit, you will need to spread out his leftovers. Shoulder to shoulder is preferable. This will make your task easier and faster.

Use a turkey baster or some other type of dropper and walk along the row, staying above the tops of their heads, and insert one drop of your vampire lovers' spit in each eye. Yes, the eyes, which mythology taught us are the windows to the soul. Obviously that was correct.

If you have more than thirteen leftovers, by the time you reach the last one, the first will have begun to feel the effects.

Stand back in the shadows as they ghoulishly struggle to their feet while examining their surroundings. If they move too fast during the first moments after reanimation there is the possibility you may wear bits and pieces of them that you really don't want on your body. Disgusting.

Finished? How did you do? Are all of them animated? If yes, congratulations! If no, try another application of spit and if then you failed to get the response you needed, dig a deep hole and drag that particular leftover into it and bury it before dawn.

You will need to lock your Zombies, Goblins, and Ghouls in the garage during sunlight hours, but once night falls again and your vampire lover is out hunting, you can either release your animated leftovers into the night, or begin training them to obey your commands. Then, you can order them to find their own hidey-holes in local cemeteries, which rids you of the problem.

See, now wasn't that easy?
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunset Orange Water

A .32 caliper pistol found at the scene with the victim's fingerprints on it. The medical examiner declares that the victim, Marlowe Black's pregnant fiancé's, death was caused by suicide.

Two of his friends are seriously wounded shot on different days hundreds of miles apart while Marlowe stood within ten feet of them both.

Marlowe discovers evidence of twenty-four prostitutes killed but not reported missing. Where they lie buried is unknown, that they are dead is not.

The mystery shooter keeps Marlowe on the run, while he attempts to resolve who killed his fiancée and why. Who attempted to take out two friends; who sent several hit men to three different locations to end his life; who killed the prostitutes and where do they lay buried?

All Marlowe needs to do is stay alive long enough to outsmart a man who easily outsmarts him repeatedly until the last gunshot is fired.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Only the Moment


I stood with my back against the front door, attempting to barricade the entrance to my home.

Certainly, I thought, this will do nothing in the long term, but it'll give me a last minute feeling of control. I laughed humorlessly and added, one final last minute.

I should have listened to what other people told me about the man, years ago when I made the decision to trust him and move my life eight hundred and fifty miles from home.

They warned me; saw something I was unable to while blinded by his generous offer; an offer he never fulfilled. I think friends and family were more familiar with the Post Office ad that states, 'if something sounds like it's too good to be true, it probably is', or they at least understood what the phrase pie-in-the-sky means.

Each of them said, "Don't trust him," or "Think it through," or "Get something in writing."

My response, however, was clear. "I'm a forty-year old man from New York," I told them. "I've been around. I know when someone's out to screw me."

What I did not know was that my new employer knew little about the company he purchased and did not care to learn more. Add to that his age--seventy-five--and his failing desire to communicate openly, a serious medical crisis at home, and a time consuming effort to "save a wilderness area" that just happened to coincide with his vested interest in local water rights and you can see the 'In retrospect' problem.

At first, the transition seemed simple enough. I was to help them set up the company after it relocated to Bluffton, South Carolina, then go home.

However, the new owner had to make an offer too good to refuse. He talked the talk and I listened as if he recited the Gospel according to...well, live and learn.

I tried for four and a half years to influence him to change his business practices, invest in his new company's future and failed, which brought me to where I stood, back pressed against the door, out of work, and soon out of a home.

I leaned heavily and yelled, "It won't help to knock," and hoped my words would carry through the wooden panel as I heard footsteps land on the front porch.

They knocked anyway, and my heart jumped as if seeking an escape route that might not necessarily require the rest of me to follow, and shouted, "Damn it!"

The door moved against my back; the people outside began to force it open.

"What I like about America," I shouted, "is that the people in authority don't really give a damn about whom they hurt. They just blindly follow orders as if the person on the receiving end were less than human."

I turned my head and shouted louder. "Throw in a canister of poison gas crystals! Break a goddamn window and climb in with a can of mace! No, no, better yet, stand back and raze the place with AK47s. Who would gives a good goddamn if you kill everyone? It'll be easier for you after that, you'll only have corpses to drag out and dump with the rest of the remains of my life on the frigging front lawn."

I was breathing rapidly by the time I finished.

What the hell's wrong with me? I thought then. I trust the bastards of the world because they say what I want to hear, when I need to hear it. How many good, simple people have died because of that over the last several millennia? Well, at least I'm not alone, I informed myself as if accepting the consolation prize for the 'World's Biggest Chump' was the same as winning the lottery. I can do the stoop-shouldered shuffle on a bread line, tin cup in hand, begging for a place to sleep...a prelude to a better tomorrow.

"Oh well," I muttered as I opened the front door. "Come on in."

Two of them, one male, and one female, garbed in the county's finest tan and brown uniforms, pushed passed me. They boot stomped into the living room, heads swiveling like robots examining an alien enclave seeking what, for them, would be the easily detectable (we all know androids have infrared-sensitive vision) cache of paraphernalia.

I didn't have the heart to tell them that all they'd find was the last week's dirty briefs.

Tears welled, pushed toward freedom as I watched my belongings unceremoniously dumped on a pile at the foot of the driveway.

I asked them if they needed a match.

"Just burn that shit. Isn't that what you people like to do to the helpless?" I sat on the porch. "Here!"

I cursed as I pulled off my shoes and tossed them out on the roadway. Item by item I stripped until I stood bare-assed and angry alongside the pile they continued to build from the things I had kept in my life.

To my surprise, they did not give a damn that I had violated one of America's most sacred taboos, that I committed the heinous crime of indecent exposure.

And to make matters worse, to my utmost humiliation, the female Gestapo agent stopped and patted my stomach and informed me, "Need to lose a little weight, my man."

Sighing as loudly as possible, I dressed in whatever I could find, and ended up with only one sock and one shoe, different feet of course. I climbed in my car.

My old Audi was the only thing left to offer me shelter. I pounded on the steering wheel until my fists ached, then moved to drumming the seat.

By the time the agents from hell had finished trashing my home, leaving it all in a mound for the rats to nest in, my anger had abated. Fear slithered in to fill the void, but found itself shouldering a long lost, dark companion, Depression.

"Hey," I said to the once buried, now resurrected emotion, "I haven't seen you in a while."

Depression snickered, "About twenty two years, nine months, six days and three hours since my last visit."

Then it sounded hurt, and added, "but who's counting? Certainly not you."

"Listen," I said, trying to speak kindly; after all, it meant well and probably thought I needed to be depressed. "As I remember it, your last visit was an occasion I'd rather not relive...if you don't mind."

Depression was quick to retort. "I had a great time. Do you remember the shuttered windows? Not eating for days on end? Moreover, how about the self-esteem bashing? Crushed that little bastard half to death didn't we?"

Depression glowed with pride and a sense of accomplishment as it wedged itself between Sadness and Fear.

Sadness would be the clear loser, I could see that much. Fear was powerful, shoving, poking, and doing its best to stand its ground.

"Hold on! Wait a minute!" I talked aloud to be heard over the three of them while they jostled for position. "It took me years to recover from my last bout with you, Depression. I'll skip the entire visit this time, thank you very much." Before either Depression or Fear could get a chance to respond, I heard Sadness take a final breath, shudder, and succumb to the pressures the other two had exerted on its life force.

Without wasting an erg of energy, I seized the small advantage gained by Sadness' passing, jumped out of the car and went to my stuff.

Carefully I sifted out what was important, filled my car, backseat, trunk, and front seat with as much as I could cram in, and then squeezed into the driver's seat.

The steering wheel looked a little out-of-round. Shrugging, I started the car and braced myself for a renewed onslaught of negativity. Depression and Fear remained silent, although in waiting for an opening. Sadness was dead of course, and so for the moment I felt rather victorious.

And in the end, isn't it just the moment that counts?

Copyright 2009, all rights reserved. Larry Schliessmann

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Looking at the parts of Convergence : dissecting a short story

Now that it is finished, it is time to separate the pieces, and take a look inside.

First, what are the parts of a story?

The most basic are opening, middle, and ending.

The opening should have a hook to make the reader want more. Let the reader know enough about the central character to make the person seem real and interesting. The writer should also give the reader a glimpse of what upsets or intrigues that character into action. Where all of this takes place helps establish an anchor point. When it happens, may or may not be relevant. Lastly, the why of it all, the conflict, leads directly into the plot.

In Convergence, I used Stephanie's curiosity and her husband's secretive nature. This primary conflict made her act in an unusual way.

After six paragraphs, the reader glimpsed both personalities and discovered the dilemma their intersection created. The reader knew who Stephanie was, where she was, what upset her (again the conflict) and even got a glimpse of how she wanted to resolve the issue: (Across the middle of the page in unfamiliar masculine handwriting, she read: Friday, 8:00am rear parking lot 1111, 63rd Street.).

The middle. The story should build steadily leading the reader to the pivotal point where action carried the protagonist, Stephanie to make one decision that sent the story over the edge to conclusion.

In Convergence that point was: She threw out her hands, but her head slammed into the pavement and she collapsed, blacked out.

I used the middle as a turning point. The pace now must build more to reach conclusion.

The ending: First and perhaps most important, the protagonist should change. She cannot be the same person she was in the first sentence. The theme of Convergence is: sometimes getting involved in an event you would normally avoid may land you in a place or situation you were meant to be in. Had she not decided to investigate what her husband did, Stephanie would not have become the new Dragon Master, which became her destiny.

The ending should tie together all of the component parts, and resolve or answer any questions readers had as they went through the story.

The first clue that something extraordinary would happen was the blood on the paper. Blood usually dries quickly on paper since paper acts like a sponge. This blood was still tacky. The second was: an older brick three story that seemed dwarfed by its modern ten-story plus surroundings.

What was it? A portal, but it blended into the city. Any city you visit will always have several buildings that seem leftover from previous centuries, like churches, or residences. These are fine locations for strange events.

Then there were the cobblestone alley, and the bricked up windows and finally a fenced in courtyard. Not a backyard, a courtyard, and in the center was a depression that held a pool of blood, not dried blood.

When Stephanie confronted the guardian of the portal, he was a dirty gruff man who frightened her, threatened her, and treated her as she expected when caught trespassing.

The guardian needed to be rough to keep out the unwanted. I hid his identity to keep from spoiling the surprise once Stephanie awoke. Although, I did hope the reader would understand his purpose after her location became clear.

Throughout the story, I tried to use dialogue to create tension and conflict, and finally resolution. A goal I did not meet was 40% dialogue, which is a good average, or minimum amount of a story.

For what I desired to do with the story, I would have needed several more characters to achieve 40%, which I did not want. Sometimes too many characters confuse, and convolute the plot. I felt this story was one of them.

What was the plot?

The plot for Convergence: Stephanie spies hotel stationary in a drawer that is usually closed. She cannot resist temptation and examines the paper, discovers a tacky smear of blood, which she at first believes is lipstick.

After reading the address written on the paper, she worries that her husband may be in trouble and decides to investigate.

When she arrives at the address, she walks into a situation that changes everything she believes and alters her life.

A brief confrontation with a man who seems upset by her attempt to enter his property ends with her knocked out.

When she awakens, Stephanie learns she lies in a wooden ship's hold. She believes she is alone, sees distant lights, but when she examines the lights, she learns she is in a place she thinks could not be on earth.

A stranger who seems to appear magically with a candle that emits enough light to illuminate an area around him only then confronts her.

The confrontation ends when he pierces her hand with seven special teeth, and transfers his essence to her making her the new Dragon Master.

I think that is everything, conflict, action, dialogue, imagery, and resolution.

Questions? Did I leave something out? God, I hope not.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Writing a story from conception to completion: part three the conclusion.


As it worked out, not knowing the end when I started this story allowed imagination to dictate conclusion. In addition, for me, writing is about imagining people, places and things, so this worked out in the best way possible.

I think a story should build from an idea, a vision, a picture, or even overheard words. If I envision an ending when I begin writing, fine. I will try to reach that ending, but know along the way something might happen to alter it some, or even completely.

It's all about the story, period. Writing is a joy. Therefore, here is the complete first draft (thanks to my wife's suggestion that Stephanie wake up and find herself in a ship's hold) with but one read through. I'll tinker with this some later on, and try to do a story anatomy by breaking Convergence down to link its components together beginning with the title.

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Convergence (2462 words)

Stephanie walked barefoot to the bedroom door. As she passed the bed, the partially opened drawer in her husband's nightstand made her pause. Since her husband was very secretive, she grew curious and attempted to peek inside. She felt a quick tingle of trepidation as she reached for the small brass knob.

A glance over her shoulder let her see that the bathroom door stood closed, yet she still felt the need for caution. She pulled her hand back.

As she turned away, trying to decide whether to look or leave the room, she saw her reflection in the mirror over her dark oak dresser. The frown pinching her thin blonde eyebrows into steep arches changed her mind.

Once she heard the shower running, she quickly slid open the drawer, lifted out a white sheet of hotel stationary and saw what she believed was a ring of lipstick halfway down its right edge.

Jealousy lanced her heart, brought a sob to her lips, but when she held the paper under the light, she realized that the red smear was blood. Hesitantly, she pressed her fingertip to the surface. The stain felt slightly sticky as if it had not dried completely. Stephanie looked at her finger, saw nothing on it, but wiped it against the edge of the drawer.

Across the middle of the page in unfamiliar masculine handwriting, she read: Friday, 8:00am rear parking lot 1111, 63rd Street.

Glancing up, she attempted to picture the address mentally but failed.

Abruptly, the shower shut off. Her heart skipped and she tossed the paper in the drawer, closed it completely and lay back on her side of the bed with her eyes closed while she wondered, where did the blood come from? And who is he meeting?

She opened her eyes enough to see him as dressed in shorts as he slipped under the sheet, and seconds later, she heard his steady breathing.

Waiting until she felt certain he would not waken, she left the bedroom, and dressed in the laundry room. With her shoes in her hand, she went outside, sat on the white wicker porch chair, and slipped them on. Five minutes later, Stephanie drove into town.

63rd Street wound through the central business district. Stephanie parked near the corner where Peterson Avenue bisected 63rd. She fed the parking meter, and glanced up at the street entrance of the building next to her.

"1001," she read under her breath, and walked to the next building, found it was 1013, and continued until she confronted an older brick three story that seemed dwarfed by its modern ten-story plus surroundings.

A narrow alley ran between 1111 and 1121. When she entered it, she discovered a well-worn uneven cobblestone path. The modern stone and steel wall to her left was lined with windows shaded by vertical blinds.

The brick wall on her right had three windows, two of which were bricked up. The last was at the rear corner, and behind it, she saw soiled curtains that obscured the interior.

Enough sunlight lit the alley that she felt confident that she might find some answers. As she reached the back corner of the building, the alley opened into a small fenced in courtyard.

Woven wooden fencing stood five feet tall and blocked access to the property. She approached it, lifted onto her toes, and peered over the top.

"Oh my God," she said louder than she wanted, when she spied what she believed was blood, gathered in a depression about fifteen feet away.

Determined to learn what her husband had gotten involved in she boldly looked for an entrance, saw one directly behind the brick building, and made for it as stealthily as possible.

She raised her hand to press the latch, and heard scuffing behind her, felt a hand grasp her upper arm tightly enough to force her to cry out.

"I'm sorry," she cried. "I just wanted to--"

"Nothing," a deep male voice demanded. "You will do nothing but turn around and leave here."

"Okay," she agreed and struggled to get free, glancing down at the fingers squeezing her arm and saw that his nails were raw and dirty, stained red.

"My husband is coming here soon." As soon as she said the words, she knew she'd made a serious mistake.

"Why would he come here?" The hand grasping her arm, twisted hard, forcing her to lean into it to avoid serious pain.

Nearly on her knees, looking up into his shadowed face, Stephanie gasped, "You're hurting me."

"Answer my question or you will know pain." He twisted again.

She felt her knees press into the stones yet he did not release her.

"I don't know why," she cried. "I found it written on a piece of paper and there was blo--" she stopped abruptly.

"There was what?" He leaned applying enough pressure to grind the bones in her elbow.

"Blood, there was blood on it!" Stephanie screamed.

He lifted her and then shoved her hard, releasing her arm at the same time.

She threw out her hands, but her head slammed into the pavement and she collapsed, blacked out.



Stephanie opened her eyes to pain and darkness. She thought she heard creaking wood flooring over her head. She reached out, touched the cool surface below, drew her fingers across it, and knew she felt wood.

Using her arms to lever her up, she sat and stared into the blackness, blinking when she thought she saw glittering lights like a mirage, or a distant city. The white-yellow pinpoints winked bright then went out.

She heard male voices shouting, but could not distinguish their words. The headache pounding behind her eyes worsened when she turned onto her hands and knees and struggled to her feet.

"Oh my God, where am I?" she whispered, hearing the flat sound of her voice as if she were in a small chamber with sound deadening walls.

Placing her hands against the nearest upright surface, she leaned to rest, and felt movement through her palms. She turned, pressed her back against the wall, and still felt the vibrations of movement.

Ignoring the headache, the soreness of her muscles, she sidled along the wall in the direction of where she believed she'd seen the lights.

Five minutes of slow progress brought her to a perpendicular wall. She stood in the corner. Directly in front of her, she saw a long split that appeared to be a separation between two hand-hewed timbers.

Forgetting her pain, Stephanie leaned close enough that she could see through the crack as if there was nothing before her. What she saw sucked the breath from her lungs.

"My God, I'm on a boat," she whispered. "But where is this place?"

She stared at the shoreline and realized that the lights she saw flickered because they were flames. Along the docks, and lining the streets leading into a small city of one- and two-story buildings, torches lit the way for the people she saw moving about.

"This doesn't make any sense," she said, shook her head, thinking, I must've gotten a concussion. I'm imagining this place. There is nowhere on earth like this.

She turned away, closed her eyes, took several long slow breaths, and turned back. Something had changed, but not what she wanted to see.

Drifting about fifty feet above the long ancient looking dock, a large red dragon, a least a hundred feet long she guessed, flew by with slow wing strokes. The beast opened its mouth as if to yawn, and spit out a thin spiral of flame that hissed into the water beneath its massive nearly translucent wings.

"Oh this isn't right. These creatures do not exist," she cried, covering her mouth with both hands. She felt her eyes open wider when the dragon acted as if it had sensed her presence, turned its gigantic head in her direction, and then lifted its wings high, their tips turning inward slightly, pushed down forcefully and flew right at her.

She felt a scream tearing at her throat, fought hard to swallow it. Don't let it know you're here, she warned. Please God, please don't let it see me.

The dragon flew nearer. Stephanie used both hands to stifle the scream she could not stop from escaping, and then when a second dragon, a black giant nearly twice the size of the red, dropped from above where she could see, her effort was lost.

Stephanie's scream sounded loud to her, as if it squeezed through the split in the wooden wall and echoed off the surrounding waters.

The black dragon fell onto the red dragon's back, driving them both into the sea. She saw wave boil up as if the two fought to keep each other below the surface.

Then, as one, they reappeared heads first, and like enormous arrows flew straight up and out of sight.

Stephanie felt her knees weaken as she sank to the floor. She crawled back to the place where she woke up, and stopped when her hand landed on something familiar, her Blackberry.

"Thank God," she said as she felt its surface with her forefinger, found the power button and pressed it on.

The screen lit, but displayed nothing more than one line of two words. "No service." There was one other thing she saw in the light from the screen. Blood. The tip of her finger glowed deep red.

I didn't wash after touching the paper Jacob had in his drawer, she realized, and then knew, He hadn't cut his finger, he didn't kill someone or even witness an accident. This is dragon blood.

She held her hand up to eye level, blew on her finger and a moment later heard the bugling sounds of dragon cry. Not one or two dragons but many as if the scent of blood off her finger lifted onto air currents and as fast as time itself, alerted every dragon within a thousand miles of her presence.

"That's perfectly ridiculous," she said disgustedly.

"And why would you believe that?" a deep male voice asked.

"Who are you?" she cried still holding her finger up.

"You sit there with your finger in the air, calling dragons and you did not expect me?" A tall thin man walked to where she sat. He held a lit taper. The flame flickered as he walked to her, illuminated his long narrow face, golden eyes, and flat ears that ended in sharp peaks. Around his neck, she saw a gold chain. On the chain hung a twisted knot of ancient runes that surrounded a single emerald the size of her thumbnail.

She nodded and said as sarcastically as possible, "And you would be the dragon master of course."

"Clever girl," he said, lifted his feet, crossed his legs, and floated to the floor. "So truth be told, you have no idea who I am or what you are doing here."

Stephanie felt foolish. "Well, no actually I don't know either." She sighed and looked at her hands now resting on her lap.

"Your headache is better I assume?" He asked wisely.

"What? How could you know, oh of course. You're a magic elf and once you knew I was in pain, you waved your hands in the air and magic dust fluttered down onto my head and voila, my pain was gone."

"Well they did not tell me they planned to send us a cynic. That makes my task much more difficult."

"Since you obviously do not intend to answer my questions up until now, how about this one? Exactly what is your task?" She leaned forward enough that the illumination from the candle lit her features.

He pulled his head back slightly as if she was too close for comfort. His wide thin lips pinched together as if he needed a moment's contemplation and then he nodded solemnly.

"My task is to train you to replace me." As she opened her mouth to protest, he raised one hand to silence her. "I admit I was expecting a man, but women have been in my shoes in the past so there is no reason that you will not be able to fulfill your ambitions."

"My ambitions! My ambitions, did you say?"

"Well of course you are sitting here in the hold of the Silversmith's ship anchored outside the City of Silver Mountain, home of the world's last silver dragon, are you not?"

She frowned, narrowed her eyes as if she planned to burn him with her glare, and then she thought, Oh my God, this is all a joke of some kind. Jacob is getting even with me for snooping.

"Okay," she said. "You win, tell Jacob I'm sorry and that I will never look at his papers again, and--"

"Jacob? Who is he? Should I know him?"

His tone of voice was like a spike of ice that melted in her chest turning her blood cold.

"Can I touch you?" she asked sounding almost shy.

He shrugged and held out his hand.

Stephanie's fingers looked small resting on the back of his hand. Gingerly, she brushed his flesh. It felt leathery, yet soft and pliable. The hair on his hand was wiry, and moved as feathers might.

She glanced up at his face. "You're not human are you?"

"Did someone tell you to expect a human?" he sounded both annoyed and curious. "We all begin as such, but to fulfill our destiny, well, remaining human would be ludicrous at best, now wouldn't it?"

Then, he dropped the taper and grasped her wrist. Although she struggled to pull free, before she could, he lifted her hand to his mouth and bit the mound of muscle and flesh at the base of her thumb.

Stephanie yelped, "Ow damn it, you're hurting me," and then heard dragons trumpeting outside as if they knew it was time to rejoice.

When he dropped her hand, and picked up the taper, she examined the spot where his teeth penetrated her flesh. Seven small perfectly round holes drilled deep into her muscles, and as she watched they healed, weaving runes between them that matched the pendant she saw on the gold chain around the elf's neck.

When she looked up eyes filled with wonder, she discovered she sat alone. The taper remained standing as if it had been mounted into melted wax accumulated by hours of burning. On the ancient wooden floor, lay the chain and pendant, which she knew belonged to her.

Bravely, she lifted it and draped the gold chain around her neck, stood, waved her hand over the taper, extinguishing the flame, and with a nod and a blink, stood on the forecastle of the Silversmith's ship.

Around the ship and over the city where she now saw hundreds of torch-bearing people walking towards the docks, dozens of dragons filled the sky bellowing their pleasure as dawn rose over the mountains, and a new day of Silver was born.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Drop Dead Cadillac Cover Blurb


A red 1951 Cadillac half underwater, the bodies of a man and woman drowned in the trunk, one rapist, a reporter and his sister, a mobster and his father-in-law who's a Brooklyn Don, all tied together by one crime.

Add to that the return of the man who killed Marlowe Black's fiancée. And of course, some women. Oh, and a world famous writer who hires Marlowe Black to unravel and tie up the loose ends by discovering who killed the two in the trunk and why, after the writer witnesses their death throes late at night.

Did I mention a dancer who only eats food cited in the titles of popular songs? Oh, and a man who loves his dog more than he loves his wife even during their divorce, which happens after the dog died?

The "what" and "when" is a matter of history. The "why" it happened might even sound easy. The "who" that committed the crime and "how" it was done and covered up might prove more difficult to learn.

Before he discovers the answers, Marlowe Black makes a couple of new friends, but needs to shoot his way through a few new and old enemies first.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Writing a Story from Conception to Conclusion: Part 2


My plan was to present the written story. Now I'm not because I cannot decide how to end it.

Knowing the end is the second part of story writing, the first being the original idea.

Since I failed to conceive an ending before, or soon after the plot idea gelled, the plot is dangling precariously over the precipice.

Due to this, I'm presenting the story as it stands now, and will let it sit for a few days until I invent an ending I feel is satisfying.

Rather like biting into a chocolate bar and discovering that the raspberry filling is delightful.

So here is the story so far. I would of course be interested in comments and even ideas of how this should end.

Please keep in mind that this is an incomplete first draft only. Stephanie may need to, and probably will, go though more difficulties and life changing events before I'm finished with this fragment of her existence.



Convergence (847 words and counting)

Stephanie walked barefoot to the bedroom door. As she passed the bed, the partially opened drawer in her husband's nightstand made her pause. Since her husband was very secretive, she grew curious and attempted to peek inside. She felt a quick tingle of trepidation as she reached for the small brass knob.

A glance over her shoulder let her see that the bathroom door stood closed, yet she still felt the need for caution. She pulled her hand back.

As she turned away, trying to decide whether to look or leave the room, she saw her reflection in the mirror over her dark oak dresser. The frown pinching her thin blonde eyebrows into steep arches changed her mind.

Once she heard the shower running, she quickly slid open the drawer, lifted out a white sheet of hotel stationary and saw what she believed was a ring of lipstick halfway down its right edge.

Jealousy lanced her heart, brought a sob to her lips, but when she held the paper under the light, she realized that the red smear was blood. Hesitantly, she pressed her fingertip to the surface. The stain felt slightly sticky as if it had not dried completely. Stephanie looked at her finger, saw nothing on it, but wiped it against the edge of the drawer.

Across the middle of the page in unfamiliar masculine handwriting, she read: Friday, 8:00am rear parking lot 1111, 63rd Street.

Glancing up, she attempted to picture the address mentally but failed.

Abruptly, the shower shut off. Her heart skipped and she tossed the paper in the drawer, closed it completely and lay back on her side of the bed with her eyes closed while she wondered, where did the blood come from? And who is he meeting?

She opened her eyes enough to see him as dressed in shorts as he slipped under the sheet, and seconds later, she heard his steady breathing.

Waiting until she felt certain he would not waken, she left the bedroom, and dressed in the laundry room. With her shoes in her hand, she went outside, sat on the white wicker porch chair, and slipped them on. Five minute later, Stephanie drove into town.

63rd Street wound through the central business district. Stephanie parked near the corner where Peterson Avenue bisected 63rd. She fed the parking meter, and glanced up at the street entrance of the building next to her.

"1001," she read under her breath, and walked to the next building, found it was 1013, and continued until she confronted an older brick three story that seemed dwarfed by its modern ten-story plus surroundings.

A narrow alley ran between 1111 and 1121. When she entered it, she discovered a well-worn uneven cobblestone path. The modern stone and steel wall to her left was lined with windows shaded by vertical blinds.

The brick wall on her right had three windows, two of which were bricked up. The last was at the rear corner, and behind it, she saw soiled curtains that obscured the interior.

Enough sunlight lit the alley that she felt confident that she might find some answers. As she reached the back corner of the building, the alley opened into a small fenced in courtyard.

Woven wooden fencing stood five feet tall and blocked access to the property. She approached it, lifted onto her toes, and peered over the top.

"Oh my God," she said louder than she wanted, when she spied what she believed was blood, gathered in a depression about fifteen feet away.

Determined to learn what her husband had gotten involved in she boldly looked for an entrance, saw one directly behind the brick building, and made for it as stealthily as possible.

She raised her hand to press the latch, and heard scuffing behind her, felt a hand grasp her upper arm tightly enough to force her to cry out.

"I'm sorry," she cried. "I just wanted to--"

"Nothing," a deep male voice demanded. "You will do nothing but turn around and leave here."

"Okay," she agreed and struggled to get free, glancing down at the fingers squeezing her arm and saw that his nails were raw and dirty, stained red.

"My husband is coming here soon." As soon as she said the words, she knew she'd made a serious mistake.

"Why would he come here?" The hand grasping her arm, twisted hard, forcing her to lean into it to avoid serious pain.

Nearly on her knees, looking up into his shadowed face, Stephanie gasped, "You're hurting me."

"Answer my question or you will know pain." He twisted again.

She felt her knees press into the stones yet he did not release her.

"I don't know why," she cried. "I found it written on a piece of paper and there was blo--" she stopped abruptly.

"There was what?" He leaned applying enough pressure to grind the bones in her elbow.

"Blood, there was blood on it!" Stephanie screamed.

He lifted her and then shoved her hard, releasing her arm at the same time.

She threw out her hands, but her head slammed into the pavement and she collapsed, blacked out.

--

To be continued.
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Vampire Life Part 6: Protecting Your Vampire Lover


Keep in mind that the first requirement for vampiric transformation is death. With that knowledge, one must reevaluate the title Vampire Slayer. To slay is to kill, meaning the final product of slaying is a corpse.

Well of course, if you begin your slaying by killing the dead, you can understand the confusion. How does one kill what is already dead?

Therefore, how do we define the efforts of those brave men and women who cast aside fear, dark scary places, and numerous spider webs to slay what is already dead?

Before we do that, let us step outside the parameters of such unreality and examine the vampiric transformation process itself with a brief story.

Joe Bledsoe walked casually along a narrow southern country lane on his way to his local church. He carried with him a well-worn bible and around his neck hung a hand carved crucifix he received for his baptism. Joe was pleased with himself having accomplished so much in such a short number of years. As the Parish's newly appointed pastor, his flock looked up to him for his spiritual guidance and wisdom. At 27, he knew his life path was established with the security of Divine Guidance.

A rustling in the trees to his left, slowed his step. "Hello?" he called confidently. "Do not be afraid, brother or sister."

He allowed a note of optimistic compassion into his voice to encourage the stranger to step from the obscurity of hiding and onto the moonlit path, which Joe trod with the footfall of the blessed.

The rustling came again, only this time the sound was behind him, not to the front as the noise had been a moment earlier. Joe, feeling a lance of trepidation spear into his chest, lifted his free hand to grasp his crucifix rubbing the pad of his thumb over the well-worn surface.

When a heavy cold hand landed firmly on his shoulder, Joe gasped out a sound like a squeak and turned to look at the man now standing directly behind him.

"I didn't hear your approach, brother," he said, hearing a note of excitement in his voice and wondering why the pale stranger made him feel so elated rather than afraid.

"You would not have, brother Bledsoe," the stranger's rich sonorous voice told him. "Nor will you resist me as I relieve you of your earthly coil."

"My earthly coil?" Joe asked sounding confused as he watched the man lower his head, saw him curl back his lips to expose twin incisors as they touched and then pierced the flesh of Joe's neck.

Joe died standing, feeling all that he had been moments before evaporate into memory that, too, blinked out and left him standing in a spiritual void.

Now, for this example to work as I wish it to, the vampire must revive Joe so he becomes a member of the living dead.

Oh, you noticed that the crucifix did not deter the vampire? Nor did the Bible, it seems. Well, not all myths are firmly grounded in reality.

The vampire lowered Joe's body to the dusty earth, and kneeling alongside him, suddenly understood the irony of the moment. With a blood-dripping grin, he used one long fingernail as tough as a knife's edge, to slice his own wrist. Carefully peeling open Joe's lips, prying down his lower jaw, the vampire allowed his reconstituted blood to drain into his victim's mouth.

Joe's eyes popped open as the strangely potent life reviving fluid worked its magic and the vampire withdrew. His wound healed instantly.

Okay, now Joe is a member of the living dead, yet he left something behind. Well, other than his life. He left behind his beliefs, his emotions, and his desire to live a productive existence. After all, he is now a member of that rare breed of humans known as vampires.

I wonder how much we'd fear vampires if they only killed the worst criminals -- oh sorry, I grew distracted.

You see, vampires must feed just like the rest of humanity. The difference being that living humans feed on animals and plants they kill, and vampires live on animals and humans they kill. Hmmm.

Of course, living humans still deal with conflicting emotions, striving for success in their daily activities so they feel accomplishment. After all, life is a gift, right? A gift so stupendous, to waste it might be the worst criminal act a living human can commit.

"Really," said the vampire curiously. "Is that so? Humans do much to enjoy wasting time, hours a day watching TV, online, texting, chatting. Why, I say, that's just criminal."

Yet, the living dead have shed the burdens of emotional entanglement, except for an occasional attraction, or need for companionship. Perhaps immortality confounds immortals.

Living humans know of their finite existence, despite their best efforts to ignore death's carnage and flee its approach.

So where or what is the line that separates the two "life" forms: Living humans from the living dead?

I think it might be that immortality thing again. Did Joe Bledsoe think while he lived, Should a vampire be granted everlasting life here on earth when I am not and will never be?

The only recourse is to encourage those pesky, vampire slayers.

Living humans kill humans with the death penalty right, so why should this be different? Killing the living dead is just repeating that action to make sure it takes the second time.

Therefore, we return to the problem of slaying a human who is dead. Some slayers have reported that a few vampires invite the end with relief. They attempted to starve themselves, but slipped into a "blackout" the way alcoholics do and fed anyway. Heartbreaking really.

Tis better to select a victim than kill randomly unless you dread the procedure.

Now, how does this help you protect your new vampire lover? Well, understanding your opponent is the first step to a successful defense.

The slayer feels driven by normal human desire that is tweaked, not to be mistaken for tweeted. Of course, not every human believes that killing is good. Some despise the death penalty. However, the vampire slayer is not one of them, but instead believes in an eye for an eye.

Think of approaching the living dead and succeeding, ending its existence. The slayer can only safely kill during daylight hours.

Yet what happens if you are with your lover while he sleeps? You can protect him. Use a Taser to stun the slayer and then tie him up. When your vampire awakens, well you understand the consequences and your vampire will feel deeply grateful.

Of course, there is the rare vampire who does not need to avoid sunlight. Unfortunately, he may not be interested in companionship, unless you are willing to be Turned. I know, there is that immortality thing again. However, what would you do to protect and keep your lover happy? Immortality, here you come.

Good luck and happy hunting!
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Show Me Don't Tell Me How-To


Writers hear those words frequently, but rarely will the phrase be accompanied with an example.

One of my favorite sayings is "Keep it simple." I am sure you've heard it spoken.

I am going to write an example of Show me, don't tell me and do my best to keep it simple.

Here is my Tell me.

Jonathan stood at the edge of the cliff and peered into the valley. A spark of light caught his attention. The light came from the end of a scope mounted on a rifle held by the sniper he tried to escape. He knew if he could sneak up on the man, he might disarm him and become the hunter.


He nearly fell, but did not and dropped to a ledge below where he crouched, found an animal trail, and carefully made his way down to the floor of the valley. The sniper must have heard him or saw him, and approached warily.

Jonathan drew his own gun and when he thought the sniper was close enough, stood and shot him.

Now, here is my Show me.


His foot slipped, sending loose rocks tumbling over the cliff. Jonathan waved his arms frantically, as he began to fall. Movement about two-hundred feet below him that seemed in reaction to his stumble, flashed like a mirror's reflection.

He groaned as his elbow hit the rocky surface, as his fingers dug in scrabbling to stop his fall.

Damn sniper, he thought as he heard a rifle's report, and felt his legs dangle over the edge.

Rock shattered around his face, sent razor splinters into his left forearm. He cried out in pain, but refused to quit, refused to die.

Finally he stabilized, but instead of pulling up, he lowered himself down, nearly panting with fear, knowing the next shot might be the last sound he heard.

After a quick glance, he saw a ledge covered with boulders and let go of the cliff, dropped fast and hard. He hit, rolled, and collided with a huge stone that hid him from the sniper.

"Hope you think you killed me," he muttered, crept around the end of the boulder, and spied a narrow goat path that wound downward.

After examining his wounds and deciding they were superficial, Jonathan low-crawled to the start of the path. A glance down showed him that the terrain would offer him shelter with an occasional opening that might leave him vulnerable if the sniper saw him as he crossed it.

He painfully crab-walked the first one hundred fifty feet, stopped before crossing an open area, searched for his adversary, did not see him, and then stood and ran. His ankle twisted as he neared the bottom, as his foot landed on loose stones. Jonathan threw out his arms, stopping his fall, and knew he was safely down.

However, he heard approaching footsteps. They sounded steady and determined. Reaching behind him, his fingers fumbled with the hold-down, forced open the snap and lifted out the short barrel .38 he carried in a waist holster.

Waiting, holding his breath, Jonathan braced for confrontation. Stones tumbled about ten feet to his left. He flipped off the safety, stood, and blindly fired three shots.

Two echoed off stone. The third hit something soft sounding as if the bullet had passed through water.

He heard a loud clatter, a heavy boneless thud, and then silence. Jonathan held his handgun in front of him, walked over and looked down on the sniper's corpse. The arteries on the right side of his neck pulsed out the last of the snipers blood.

Jonathan kicked the scoped rifle aside, and sat on the nearest large stone with a flat surface, and ran his hands through his thinning brown hair allowing his heart to slow before phoning for help.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How-To-Write a story from conception to completion

I begin with a mental image.

Rule number one for me. Let the image write the story. I do not force it, or attempt to direct its flow. If I am stuck, I will stop and find something else to do. The story will usually pull me back.

The following example began when a misplaced sheet of paper in my office grabbed my attention. As I walked past, I saw the color red and printed words.

In my mind, this developed into an image of a sheet of white paper in a drawer with writing or printing on the paper and a red smear that appeared to be a fingerprint.

The paper could’ve been from any source. The printing or words might’ve been a note, a message, or something else. The red might’ve been lipstick, strawberry jam, or something ominous like blood.

I like ominous best.

At first, I considered that the drawer was in a desk, and then moved it to a nightstand.

The printing on the paper became hotel letterhead.

Now, it was used hotel stationary in a nightstand. This was a beginning, but lacked tension.

The red could be lipstick, but then it runs the risk of cliché. It could be paint, which sounds terribly mundane. It could be jam left by a child‘s fingers.

Hmm, a missing child? Something to consider.

By that point, I had what I felt were two workable plot ideas. Since I really enjoy mysteries, be it murder or horror, blood won out.

Therefore, I now had hotel stationary in a bedside nightstand with a smear of blood along one edge.

What I needed then were people. Otherwise, no one found it, and no one cared that the paper was in the drawer.

I decided that a couple would work best. You can adjust gender according to how the plot develops. For my first attempt, I went with husband and wife. The wife finds the paper, and this is the initial result.

~
She walked towards the bedroom doorway. As she passed the bed, the slightly opened drawer in her husband's nightstand caught her attention. Curious as to what she saw, she stopped as she was about to step into the hallway and returned. Since her husband was normally somewhat secretive, she felt a quiver of trepidation as she reached for the small brass knob.

A glance over her shoulder told her that the bathroom door was closed, yet she still felt the need for caution.

As she turned away, deciding whether she should look or leave, she saw her reflection in the mirror over her dark oak dresser. The frown pinching her thin blonde eyebrows into steep arches changed her mind. She couldn't understand exactly why, and decided she would think about that later.

Once she heard the shower running, she cautiously opened the nightstand drawer, lifted out a sheet of hotel stationary with what she believed was a lipstick stain on the edge.

Pain lanced her heart, but when she held the paper under the light, she realized that the red smear was blood. Hesitantly, she touched the surface. The stain felt slightly sticky as if it had not dried completely.

The water shut off. She dropped the paper in the drawer, closed it completely and lay back on her side of the bed with her eyes closed while she wondered if he'd gotten a paper cut, and if not, how the blood came to be on the paper.

She could not recall seeing any cuts on his fingers or hands, but since he'd just returned from a business trip, climbing into bed at 5 am, she had not had the opportunity to look with the light on.

~
That takes care of the beginning and the basic plot foundation. Except there is an important element missing, plausibility.

A story must be plausible from the first sentence. Break the flow of plausibility and the story collapses.

In this example, I now asked, "Why would her husband bring hotel stationary with a smear of blood on it home and place the paper in his bedside drawer?" Of course, we know he is secretive, and believes the drawer is private.

The solution could be one of several. However, I decided to add, “printed across the middle of the page, she read a day, time, and location (in the actual story, I'd use a real day, time and place, which can be fictional).”

One more consideration. What I've written of the actual story so far can be "fleshed out" using the protagonist's five senses. The wife is my protagonist.

Here is an example:

Quickly, she lifted the paper to her nose, intentionally staying away from the blood. What she smelled was not what she expected. The odor seemed masculine, not feminine like perfume, and was not the familiar scent she knew belonged to her husband. As she moved the paper, the odor of blood confirmed her worst suspicion. What did he do? She wondered feeling a flutter of fear stir in her chest.

Using this technique, the 289 words I've written of the story, can become four hundred or more, but never overdo description. If your protagonist is walking or driving through a town or city, go easy on the travelogue, unless you are trying to write a fictional guidebook, which already sounds non-fictional.

Too much descriptive narrative becomes an obvious attempt to add to the word count. You will not fool your readers. Keep your characters anchored in place with just enough detail, but always remember it’s the plot and characterization (action and reaction) that tells the story.

The wife in my example faces a conundrum. Should she confront her husband? Should she follow him or be certain she is at the location and well hidden when he arrives for his rendezvous?

She's not about to call the police and perhaps feels nervous about confrontation. That might produce an unwanted result, like his denial, or even anger that she looked at his private papers. We know he is secretive.

In my opinion, her logical choice is to do nothing or be on site when he arrives to meet the man who wrote the note. We also know she is curious, so it is quite plausible that she will spy on him to assuage her concern.

The writer now has several excellent options. The man he meets might assault her husband, or the two men might plan a crime, or discuss how to cover up a crime. The husband might kill the other man. Whichever, the wife will discover that her husband is not the man she believed him to be (character development).

I understand that this is a well-used plot, but that does not mean it cannot be used again as long as the story does not read like any other developed from a similar plot device.

Regardless of how the plot develops, the writer must weave in ideas and clues from the start of the story. Make the blood smear important in the men's discussion. Ultimately, that should help define the story's conclusion.

Finally, the story must end by answering any questions that the plot presented, and add a nice nasty twist if possible.

Next, I'll write a first draft of the story.
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