How to Intensify Conflict & Deepen Characters—The Wound

Here is a fantastic post on the WHY behind your character’s actions!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 10.17.54 AM Hmmm, what’s the story behind THIS?

There are all kinds of arguments about which area of craft is the most important for creating great fiction. Plot? Character? Voice? Theme? My opinion. They’re all organs in one body. Our brains will still work if our lungs have bronchitis, but maybe not at an optimal level. Similarly, there are people with brain injuries who have a strong heart. A body can “live” without everything operating in concert, and so can any story.

It’s ideal to hone our skills in all areas, and our goal is to be skilled at all of them. Can we be equally skilled? That’s another debate for another post.

I will say that plot (skeleton/brain) is very important. Our characters (heart) are only as strong as the crucible. Ultimately, all stories are about people. We might not recall every detail of a plot, but we DO remember characters…

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For Writing’s Sake

For many it is that glorious threshold attained that leads to success, and for many, it is seen as a bar of success for writers. For others it is that tantalizing tease like a carrot before a horse that never seems to swing any closer from its string no matter how long it strives. For others it is written off as corporate and sacrificed for something more readily attainable.


For me, it has always been a goal and dream since I began writing seriously in college. This lofty achievement that might prove I was a decent writer. For me, self-publishing has never been an interest, though I don’t knock it in any way. I have always been a reader who reads hard-copy books he picks up in dusty used book shops, and for me, that’s where I’d like people to pick up my own work. Also I’d rather have someone else to do my marketing so I can just write. But that’s an aside.

I’ve been querying a book awhile now, without luck, and it’s got me thinking.

With a growing list of rejections it might be easy to get discouraged and perhaps give up, yet I still love writing, and I still have stories begging to be told. There was a time I once thought I would try to sell this one story when I finished it, and if not, I’d probably give writing up and move on to Big Kid Life. But the longer I write, the more I realize that the writing is for me anyway.

Once, simply finishing a story was the goal. Then, publication next. But now, more and more stories are coming to me and, though I would love to be published and would also love to end up on a bestseller list someday (who wouldn’t?), that is increasingly being revealed to me as Not the Point.

The point is the writing itself. Being a storyteller and telling a story to the end. The creation process from first idea to scenes made manifest to writing that closing line. All of it is therapeutic and life-giving and wonderful, and despite increasing rejection from the publishing world, I still love it and want to keep writing.

If publication comes, I can guarantee I will welcome it gladly. But it is not the be all end all. It is not the point at all. The point is to write because I am a writer and I have to. Beyond that, we’ll just wait and see.

So keep writing, fellow writers. Keep telling stories and getting better at your craft.

Whoever will read will read.

Until then, we must write.

Keeping Things Plot Specific

Revision Reflections Part 2


In the early drafts of my novel, The Lingering Shadow, there were various elements to the story which I found very interesting, but as I was revising and redrafting, found that they slowed down my narrative significantly. Especially when I needed to trim things down. There is no better microscope for unneeded material than the need to trim down the manuscript.

Word count is a tricky thing. For established writers, I think, it is much less of a worry. Stephen King and J.K. can write for as long as they want, and sure they have editors, but they can pack a lot more into a story. For those of us still waiting to break out, word count is a constant worry. Our respective genres have expectations, and we, as newcomers, are a financial risk to publishers. My novel is YA sci-fi / fantasy. Most sources I’ve found give a general WC expectation of 80-100,000 words. Anything longer than that and agents and editors alike worry before they’ve read a word of the book. So, large as my plot is, I have striven to remain within that range. Here are some suggestions from my latest revision that have helped me keep things trimmed down.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

There is a main plot line for your story. There will be smaller secondary plot lines for various characters, and you need these, because, even in first person, the story does not only belong to your Main Character. Everyone needs to be in the story for a reason, not a body count. Each character needs to WANT something, and being striving to obtain it, just as your MC is doing. Some writers keep things too simple, and everything pertains to the MC, and the secondary characters become nothing more than extra bodies in a scene. Don’t do that. However, if a character, plot line, or event is not driving the larger story forward, it can probably be cut.

For example, in my story, Taylor, my MC, originally begins the story with a boyfriend. Early on they break up, providing tension later on in the story, and between her and her good friend, Darien, who is secretly in love with her. I considered cutting the ex altogether, but found that I needed him for some tension at key points in the story, even though he doesn’t play much of a part in the larger story. But he was needed. However, I did NOT need the relationship shown in the story. I was able to cut scenes of his and Taylor’s relationship, and make him the ex from the start. Those scenes, I found, were not missed at all. I needed the ex in the story, but I didn’t need the relationship, just knowledge of it. This simplified the story and got it going much quicker, while maintaining needed tension.

Keep the STORY Moving

You need tension dripping from every page. Things can’t go your MC’s way. That’s boring. The WANTS of your characters need to clash, causing conflict. However, tension for tension’s sake is not good either. The best tension arises from those conflicting wants of your characters. Other tension drags down the story.

In early drafts, Taylor was a recovering alcoholic, who turned to drinking after her mother and sister died, and her family system fell apart. Taylor’s alcoholism was very interesting to me. I loved writing from that perspective and seeing Taylor deal with that throughout the story. However, I found that it really didn’t add anything at all to the larger story. It added some great tension early on, and then, when the bigger story comes to the forefront, it actually hindered it. I would still love to investigate the struggles of a teen alcoholic, but this wasn’t the story to do it in. I had too many other things going on that were more important. I could either keep it, and have be insignificant later, which would be a low blow to teens (or anyone) who struggles with alcohol abuse. Or I could cut it. Which I did.

This cleared up scenes and helped me keep the main story moving and at the forefront of my narrative.

Raise the Stakes

My novel is filled with several significant events that bring certain characters together and introduce the larger story (yep, I said it again). In an early draft, Taylor is attacked by a pair of drunks and a mysterious stranger named Rogue comes to her rescue. Originally, the drunks were merely a device for her and Rogue to meet. It was interesting enough, but it didn’t have anything to do with the larger story outside the meeting of two characters. But what if those drunks weren’t drunks at all, but actors, or better yet, since I’m writing about a race of humans with supernatural abilities, what if the actors were also shape shifters trying to draw out (spoiler) Taylor’s not-so-dead mother? Now that is a lot more interesting, and kept the main story at the forefront, and introduced the antagonists from the get-go, while also introducing Taylor and Rogue when Taylor is in danger, significant to their relationship and a mind connection they share, which is revealed later.

I’ll say it again, keep the larger story, the main plot, always in view. We need those secondary story lines and characters, we need that tension throughout, but it will always be more interesting if it also has to do with the real plot. This also keeps things trimmed down, and helps with that dreaded word count.

Moon of Vanishing Stock Dams

When the writing comes difficult, sometimes exercises are helpful. I learned the MOON creative non-fiction exercise in college. A moon correlates to a season of life. Here is one of mine:

It was one of the driest and hardest summers for ranchers in South Dakota and it brought more trials and back-aching work than I’d ever experienced. I was nineteen and felt like I was fully grown. I had worked for a full year out of high school and, though I wasted most of the money I made on DVD’s, a Burton snowboard, and fast food, I felt like I owned the world. I knew everything then and no adult held any wisdom for me. It was impossible because I, too, was an adult. I suppose most kids feel that way straight out of high school. That summer I decided to spend one final summer on the ranch before heading to college and, old as I felt, I grew up more that summer than any other period in my life.

The ranch was not my family’s, but belonged to a close family friend. Larry ran the ranch along with a kid’s camp held during the summer. He knew a lot about ranch life, but it was not from him that I learned, though he played a good part. I worked alongside my best friend, Clint, and he also played a part, but he was there learning beside me.

No, I learned from the elements that summer. I learned from hours spent in the scorching one hundred-ten degree heat, from rising at four in the morning, from watching a horse die in my arms.

Clint and I awoke every morning at four, a can of Mountain Dew in each hand as we rolled out of bed and down to the barn. We had to bring the camp horses in to water because their dam had dried out the previous summer. The dry winter and years of drought left only two dams on the ranch. So we took the horses to their pasture to graze every night and brought them into the corrals early in the morning to water. After they’d drunk we brushed and saddled all twenty of them. Clint spent the day leading camp rides and I did everything else, depending on the day. I built fence, painted barns, moved cattle, drove tractor, led sporadic rides, trained horses. And every time I finished a job, Larry had three more ready for me. The days were long and extended into the nights. Clint and I would crash onto our bunks at eleven and wind down, talking and drinking Mountain Dew. The caffeine had no effect on us at night, because we were sound asleep by eleven-thirty.

It was not just a summer of hard work. It was also a summer of mountain lions. Several neighbors – which, in the country, includes anyone within forty miles – had spotted them, and when Clint and I found one-hundred yards of fence down while bringing in the camp string, we knew that it was a lion’s doing. The horses had trampled the fence after being spooked in the night. I’ll never forget the crimson stain on one of the fence posts. One of the horses did not clear the fence in his panic and impaled himself.

We rounded up all the horses and led them back to the corrals. The young injured horse, Eagle, hobbled in the back. He was not bleeding, but he had a clean one-inch gash in his left flank and dark stains down his entire leg. Eagle was frightened and probably in shock, but we thought he would be fine. When we reached the corrals, he started bleeding again. It gushed like water from a well, and hard as we tried we couldn’t get it to stop. Larry came out and told me to take Eagle to a smaller pen, while he called the vet. Eagle’s breaths were wheezy and he moved slowly. His eyes were wide and I feared he had bled out far more than we had thought during the night. I led him into a small pen that led into our cattle shoots, used during brandings and injections. I left Eagle and went to find Larry again.

When I came back minutes later, Larry close behind me, I found Eagle in the narrow shoots, collapsed in the dirt. I had forgotten to close the shoot gate. The next half hour was a blur of motion and anxiety as we tried to help Eagle out of the pen. But he had no strength left to move. I hurried with water, hoping to revive him. But it was useless. Soon he couldn’t even drink. I held his black head in my arms and poured water in his mouth and over his body, but as soon as I saw him in the pen I had left open, I knew it was over. Eagle let out his last desperate breath in my arms. And I cried.

Larry took me for ride in his John Deere and told me that Eagle probably would have died regardless, that he had lost too much blood during the night. He said it was a mistake and I would learn from it, but to never forget that horse. And I haven’t. I thought I had the situation under control that day. I thought I could save that horse. But I couldn’t. I left a gate open. And Eagle died. That day I learned that the littlest decisions can have large consequences. And there was much I had to learn, not just on the ranch, but in everything.

But I also learned that life moves on, and so did that summer. I was determined to work my hardest and to do my best. My horse that summer was Whispers in the Darkness. She was a Thoroughbred ex-racehorse with a white “6” emblazoned on her right flank. I rode her diligently every day for hours. I taught her how to turn a direction other than left. I introduced her to cattle for the first time, of which she was terrified. A week later she moved them like the best of the ranch horses. I broke my first horse that July, a yearling red roan. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more accomplished than when I climbed into the saddle in that round pen. Larry watched me silently and cheered when I got on. He called out his wife, Robin, and said what a good rider I was becoming. And I was proud, because I had worked hard and succeeded and Larry didn’t dish out compliments readily. He meant it. I was changing.

In August, Clint and I rode up to the gate of the East Pasture to find a group of muddied, panting mares and their colts. Our second dam had gone dry. We let the yearlings out and went to check the dam. It was all but dry, a pit of mud with a small puddle in the center. Within the mud lay a chestnut mare, sunk up to the middle of her chest in gumbo. We tied a rope around her neck and attached it to Clint’s saddle. His horse knew what to do and pulled with all his might as Clint and I, waist-deep in mud, tried to help her out. After minutes of pushing and pulling and yelling, the mare lost all strength. We nearly gave up, and I dreaded the thought of telling Larry that another one of his horses died. We gave one more exhaustive attempt, grunting and straining and screaming “Come on, girl! Come on! You can do it!” And that mare, with one final burst of adrenaline, stepped out of the mire that engulfed her and ran off to join the others who had reached water by then. Clint and I had a victory that day. In a way, it felt like it made up for the failure earlier that summer.

The rest of the summer flew by and I went off to college and have only been back to the ranch a couple, brief times. It was not my first summer on the ranch or my first experience with hard work, but it is the summer I remember most. I can see those muddied yearlings, the yards and yards of fence to be fixed, the rickety diesel tractor, clouds of dust coming off of horses’ hooves in the dehydrated pastures, that yearling red roan beneath me. I remember empty cans of Mountain Dew covering the floor of the bunkhouse and working beside my best friend. I remember my Thoroughbred as we flew through the plains on her legs built for speed. I remember Eagle’s dying eyes and that mare’s triumphant ones. I remember sweat and bloodied, calloused hands and determination. I remember making mistakes and doing things right. But most of all, I remember not being the same after that summer.

The Opening (novel revision reflections – part 1)

Writing the opening of a novel might well be the most daunting part of the entire beast. It is the part I have re-written more than any other as I have drafted my YA fantasy novel THE LINGERING SHADOW . It is the sample you send out to agents when you begin the even-more-daunting querying process. As I have combed through my manuscript these past few weeks, preparing for my first round of querying, I have learned many things I will share. The first is on the use of backstory in the opening of a novel. This is my humble opinion, so take it as you will.

The question is always how much backstory to include right away. We want readers to know something, and probably they need to as well. But too often the first chapter becomes this wandering, convoluted heap either of day to day events that give us a feel of the MC’s life before conflict strikes, or a barrage of info-dump in between bits of action. Neither are very helpful, nor likely very attention-grabbing for readers (or agents for that matter).

In my latest revision, my only goal was to trim down the manuscript of anything I could bear to let go of (there was a lot of it, and I was trying to write succinctly already in that draft). One area I found a lot of dross was my opening chapter, filled with little snippets of information about Taylor (my MC) and her life. Much of it was already pretty plot-specific, and important (her mother and sister were killed mysteriously in a city where crime was largely eradicated). But much of it could go, or be saved for later.

If you’re not sure, kill it.

There is no right answer, but I decided, if there was a part of me that questioned whether a paragraph was important enough to keep, I would kill it anyway, even if it was a paragraph of prose I was quite fond of. This worked. When re-reading the chapters after those cuts, I never missed the things I cut, even when I wasn’t positive about them initially. Trust your instincts when editing. Kill your darlings, too. Those elegant descriptions are probably beautiful, but they are probably over-written anyway. Save the long descriptions for something really important (not the soothing effect of a day-to-day shower… oops!).

Keep the action moving.

The opening is when you are grabbing your readers attention for the first time. If the info is not pertinent to the initial action, probably it can go, or be saved for later, when we are already invested. In Taylor’s case, when a pair of shape shifters come after her in my opening, readers didn’t need to know every detail of what happened to Taylor’s mother and sister months before, or the political and social structure of her world, and they definitely didn’t need to know about her everyday life. Just enough to know strange things were happening in Taylor’s world. Trust your readers to build with the key pieces of information you give them off the bat. Sometimes a flashback or significant chunk of backstory is needed for the story as a whole. Those can wait. Pull us in with tension first.

Start at the beginning.

Like I said, we don’t need those chapters of day-to-day life, introducing as many significant players as possible, or info-dump laying out the intricacies of the world, or the landscape, etc. If it’s needed, keep it brief. I cut whole chapters (and prologues) this way. Let the action later introduce us to the world and the people in it. Start your story where the action starts. Identify the inciting incident (the thing that happens to your MC that propels her into the action of the plot), make sure it happens in your first chapter. For Taylor this is when she meets a young man named Rogue, when the shape shifters come after her, and he rescues her. In my first draft this didn’t happen until chapter 5. Now it happens within 7 or 8 pages. You’ve got a lot of story, and not a lot of word count to spare. Save a few hundred, or a few thousand, words for later and start with the inciting incident.


Good luck with your own writing and editing!

Stephen Andrew


Read the opening to my novel (here), and let me know what you think.

Leave a comment about what you think makes a good opening.

Planning to Write (overcoming block and busyness)

inkFor several years now I have been “actively” writing. That is, upon being struck with a killer idea and taking a class that forced me to produce something on a semi-regular basis, I have now been working on some sort of manuscript ever since. However, those years have been filled with long lulls of inactivity and un-productivity, most commonly known as either writer’s block or just plain ol’ busyness of life (other classes, getting married, graduating, going overseas, paying the bills, hanging with friends, etc.).

At times, the writing comes easy, and I’ve been able to overcome the busyness, and have shelled out large chunks of work in short periods. And then, the newness of the writing gets worn off, or the story itself stands still, or I begin to wonder where things are going, or I’m just overwhelmed by the gravity of a certain pivotal scene in the story, which I want to get just right. Eventually, the writing fades, and as a result I completed the first draft (though there were other partial drafts before it) of THE LINGERING SHADOW over the course of about two years-ish, an abhorrently long period for one draft, even if it does clock in at 100,000 words.

I never wrote with goals or on a schedule before, unless I was taking a writing class with deadlines (in all honesty, that was the only reason I took the classes, so that I would be forced to work on my precious MS). I wrote the first half of the book over the course of maybe six months, when I was motivated and had a critique group (I’ll blog about those soon) keeping me producing regularly, though six months is still slow for half a book. Then, I got stuck. I wasn’t sure how to pull off a big transition in the narrative. And I got busy (don’t the two always come hand in hand? Block and busyness?). I almost completely set it aside for four or five months. Then, I got going again. Though I wasted loads of time editing things I totally threw out in the second draft (I’ll blog about that soon as well), I moved forward again for a few more chapters and got stuck again. I didn’t write for nearly nine months (Planning a wedding is a real time-sucker, let me tell you!).

Then, winter storm ATLAS struck the Midwest, and I was snowed-in for three days with a wife who needed to catch up on homework. And so I, with nothing better to do, all excuses gone, picked the book up again. I decided that, rather than spend time editing to build back into the flow of the story, I would just try jumping right back in. I’d been reading over what I’d written over the previous few weeks, trying to find the time to write again, trying to get the voice and the feel back. But I just went for it. It was a little shaky, but I got it, and I wrote a monumental couple chapters during that blizzard.

I was so excited I set a goal to keep myself going. I had been longing to finish the book for so long, so I could finally see if it went anywhere. Finally, with a third of the book to go, and the end in sight, I vowed to be done by New Year’s Day, two and a half months away. I got real busy again, once the blizzard passed, and I had to go back to work and to life. But the goal suddenly was always somewhere in the back of my mind, haunting me. And I met the goal. I finished on New Year’s Eve (I spent the whole day writing the final chapter).

But finishing, I realized, was only the beginning.

Perhaps you too have struggled to stay consistently productive. I’ve read several books on the process of writing, but they often come from the perspectives of professional writers, who it is their full-time job to write. Most of us don’t yet have that luxury. Here are my suggestions, which helped me finish my completely re-worked and re-written second draft in under three months. This is no formula. Only some suggestions.

Set a Goal for Yourself

Really this applies to anything in life, but certainly for writers, for we seem to have a procrastinate tendency. Set a goal for yourself, make it attainable within your schedule. Tell yourself you want to write 5 or 10 or 20,000 words a month, and make adjustments in your life to meet that goal. The only key is to write. And, I believe, the quicker you can get the story down, the better. Long months or years or writing give you time to forget things in the story, or why you’re even writing it at all. Hold onto the initial fire and excitement, and make yourself keep going. Staying regularly in the story is also very helpful to avoid block (not a cure, but it helps). Things stay much more vivid in your mind.

Rearrange Your Schedule

There are a lot of lazy (and unpublished) writers out there. There are many who consider themselves writers, who dream of publication, or even just of having a completed story, but don’t take the necessary measures to accomplish their goal. You probably have more free time than you realize. Turn off the TV a bit, stay off the Internet, and use that time to write. It may mean saying no to those season tickets, or to going to the bar Friday night, or whatever it is. If you’re not published, you are more than likely working full-time, and/or parenting full-time. I get it. Life is busy. I know. But with your goal set, now you’ve got to take the next step. Don’t give yourself an excuse. Use you time wisely. Wake up earlier. Stay up a little later. You can’t mess around. I look at the beginning of each week and plan the windows I know I can get some writing done, and I do it. I pack that time.

Establish a Distraction-Free Environment

This seems obvious, but since we live in a multi-tasking, technological age, it is always so tempting. Turn the radio off, unless music helps you ( and then more power to you). Resist the Facebook and Twitter temptation to announce to everyone that you are #writing right now as you post. Duh. Go into full-screen mode. Go somewhere alone where it’s quiet. Coffee shops are often not the best for real productivity. Get up before the kids, or stay up after they go to bed. Or set them in front of a movie. Whatever it takes. Get rid of those distractions, and write!

Write, Write, and Keep Reading

The more you write, the better you get. It doesn’t end once you finish a manuscript. There are more drafts and a crap-ton of editing to come. And that’s before you get an editor, and the real work begins. Keep setting writing goals for yourself. Make writing a part of your weekly routine. And keep at it. And just as important, keep reading good books. The best way to know good writing is to read lots of it, and it will start to bleed into your own.

Good luck out there. Leave a comment and let me know what your process is.

Chapter 1 – Unwanted Visitors (excerpt from THE LINGERING SHADOW)

Taylor rode the aerotrain alone to the party, her thoughts fixed on vengeance. She disembarked the electromagnetic car at the waterfront station and pulled her shawl tight over her exposed shoulders. The spring air was sharp like cold teeth on her skin, stirring up shivers that crept like insects from her skin.

Her skimpy dress had been foolish, perhaps, and her intentions a bit childish, but it would be worth it to see his face. His beautiful, idiot face. Chad Michaels: Taylor’s great, stupid love.

Who was she kidding? It had never been love. Not really.

Love endured wrongs and, perhaps, even betrayal. But there was nothing enduring in Taylor’s mind tonight. The thought of Chad seeing her — watching him fight to hide that unmistakable look of longing she used to be so fond of — caused a sinister smile to crease between her lips as she reached her destination.

Taylor took the lift to the highest floor of the tower along Waterway. The glass doors opened into the den of the suite, an extravagant affair as was customary for the penthouses. However, Taylor was deterred from the extravagance by a formidable hand at the entrance.

“I don’t believe I’ve seen you here before, miss,” said the doorman dully. “Name?”

“Taylor Grey.”

The doorman surveyed a pad in his hand. “I’m afraid I am not finding a Taylor Grey on Miss Bandon’s guest list, miss.”

“Oh?” said Taylor, nonplussed, cocking her head to the side in a cutesy, befuddled manner. “Perhaps you should check again, good sir. Our friendship goes back ages.”

The doorman rolled his eyes, doubting it, but nevertheless, he checked. To his evident surprise her name was indeed there at second glance. Or, at least, he thought it was. “My mistake,” he said, bowing her into the room.

“Not at all,” said Taylor, hurrying in, and then, once she’d passed, “The mistake was all mine.”

At an early age, Taylor had found that she had a near irresistible charm that had a convenient way of getting her out of trouble and, in this case, into places she’d not been invited. It was almost as though she were able to implant her ideas into others’ heads. It didn’t work on everyone, though. It had never once worked on her mother — back when she was still around.

Lauri Bandon had held nothing back tonight. A full-service bar was erected in the kitchen delivering blue and red spirits on the coin of Lauri’s parents. A dance floor had been set in the great room, where a tuxedoed quartet strummed dance numbers and lovers (and lusters) waltzed sensuously. Here, Taylor expected to find the Ex.

It wasn’t that Taylor wanted Chad back. That was emphatically over. But the decision had been his and, in her own way, Taylor needed the last word on the matter.

To her dismay, Chad was nowhere in sight. So Taylor made for the bar.

Ordering a vibrant green nitrous, she shed her shawl and took a seat, eyes panning the masses. When the nitrous arrived, she didn’t drink it. She stirred the ice cubes with her finger, testing her self-control.

“Ah, look who’s all lonely-face,” sneered Holly Madison, strutting over, flipping her dark hair to the side.

Of course, thought Taylor, sighing.

“Don’t you have better things to do, Holly? Friendships you could be blundering? Oh wait, how stupid of me. You’d have to have friends to do that.”

Holly glared. “Back to the spirits, I see, Grey. Got wind Chadsy-wadsy’s on the rebound, did you? Come to see it live?”

“Go to hell,” snapped Taylor. Her charm had never worked on Holly either.

“You’d be joining me soon enough, anyway,” gloated Holly, eyeing Taylor’s drink. “Shall I alert the med units now? Save them the trouble? They might not make it in time, this time.”

“At least she’ll go out in style,” said Sophia Cosme, joining them, admiring Taylor’s dress up and down. “Yowch! You on the other hand, Holly… you know this is a party, right, not some dismal funeral?”

“Or a seance,” said Taylor.

“At least you’re not wearing those Parliamentary robes your mother is so fond of,” said Sophia.

“Those might be better, actually.”

“Screw both of you,” Holly muttered and huffed off in her billowy black evening gown with even billowier shoulders.

“We’d rather you didn’t!” Sophia called after her, and Taylor and Sophia laughed.

“Thanks,” said Taylor.

“I enjoy any opportunity to ruffle her little moth wings.”

“Bat wings.”


They laughed again and hugged. It was a banter they had begun in primary school, built off a mutual distaste for Holly Madison. One petty insult building off the last.

“Seriously, you look scorching,” said Sophia. Which meant something coming from Sophia. Her parents owned Belle Fashion, and Sophia left nothing to be desired in the beauty department. Her smooth bronzed skin and shimmering ebony locks were the envy of all the girls at Postremo, and the desire of the rest.

Taylor had always been told she was a pretty girl, but she knew it was not in a Sophia sort of way. Taylor’s blonde hair had a propensity for chaos, mushrooming off her slender body in angry curls she despised taming. Her fashion-sense was often in need of coaching — she preferred jeans and walking barefoot in all honesty. She was charming, but Taylor’s charm had proven the kind to be admired, or despised, from some degree of distance.

Taylor’s was an enigmatic sort of pretty.

But tonight, she was scorching. And this was just what she wanted to hear.

“It’s good to see you out again, Taylor,” Sophia said, touching Taylor’s arm sympathetically.

This did not please Taylor.

“So you must be, I mean…” Sophia glanced at Taylor’s drink. “You’re doing better, then?”

Taylor was also a troubled sort of pretty. She smiled a practiced, enduring smile. Reminded that the reason Chad had left her was the same reason her old friends found it hard to talk to her. She was the Trouble-Girl now. One Incident was all it took.

“I’m doing much better now, yes.”

Sophia, as usual, once the banter and laughter was over, had little more to say to Taylor and was all too relieved when her boyfriend came over, greeting her with a squeamishly intimate kiss and whisking her off to dance. There was a delicious glint in both their eyes.

Love, happiness, desire.

Alone and frowning, eyes scouring the crowd without luck, Taylor remained at the bar and twirled the ice in her glass some more.

The longer she spent hoping to spot Chad, the more enticing the nitrous was becoming.

Perhaps he hadn’t come.

Perhaps he was with another girl.

Perhaps, perhaps…

Her eyes followed the crowd.

Taylor recognized everyone in the suite from Postremo Academy. Everyone except for two older boys standing by the balcony doors. They looked nearly the same, both wore pleated khakis, average height, dark hair. They were not Postremo students, she felt fairly sure. Though there was a Postremo-esque arrogance about them standing off on their own. One smirked when he caught her looking and Taylor glanced away.

“Still clinging on to the tattered thread that is your social life?” teased a familiar masculine voice, making her forget entirely about the boys.

“Darien,” said Taylor brightly, hugging her friend. She shoved the glass of nitrous away, and Darien didn’t so much as glance at it. “How’d you get in here? Lauri doesn’t invite colonials.”

“She doesn’t invite tattered threads, either, I don’t think.” Darien smiled amusedly.

“Invited myself.”

“Well, then, so did I. You look ravishing, by the way. Any particular reason?”

Taylor blushed briefly, and then glared. “Sweet-talking’s not becoming of you, Darien Hannigan. And you could have dressed up yourself, if you were planning on blending at a penthouse party.”

Darien wore denims and a plain white T-shirt, looking like the colonial he proudly was. He shrugged.

“If you wanted to get out, you could have just asked me or Mischa, you know. We’re much better company than this clown show.” Mischa was another colonial, and next to Darien, probably her truest friend these days.

“These are my friends, here, too,” said Taylor.

“Whatever you say,” said Darien, but his sentence was cut short.

Lauri Bandon was coming their way, looking horrified. Taylor and Darien both ducked their heads.

Lauri hurried past them, her butler following after. They went straight for the strange boys by the balcony doors. A crushing silence fell upon the room.

“What do you think you’re doing here? This is a Postremo party. Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“We came with Lief. That boy, the one dancing.”

“I know who Lief is, and I don’t care if you came with him or not. This is a Postremo party, and it is by invitation only!”

“We aren’t trying to cause any trouble.”

“Wilfred, show them the way out, please!”

“Come on, boys, you heard the young lady. Don’t make me involve the Constabulary. Let’s go.”

The Bandon’s butler led the unwanted visitors through the crowded great room, opened the lift doors, and shoved them in. Though not too violently. For that was the way of Ocean City, and that was the future of the New World.

Violence was never the answer.

Even the Constabulary peace officers carried nothing more violent than a small club.

Lauri scuttled past the bar again, muttering: “Think they can let themselves into any old party. Unbelievable!” She shouted at the doorman for letting them in, and he insisted he hadn’t seen them enter, but apologized deeply for his error all the same.

“Maybe we should get going,” said Darien.

“I only just got here,” Taylor complained.

“Well, we should at least move somewhere less for-all-to-see then.”

“Fine,” she said, a little annoyed, and quickly losing hope of stirring up remorse in Chad Michaels.

Darien took her arm and led them across the great room, along the edge of the dance floor and out the glass doors to the balcony. Pulling the curtains back across, he safely secluded them from the eyes of Lauri Bandon. And from Chad.

Perhaps it was best.

Taylor leaned out over the balustrade taking in the cool wisps of night air. The fog was creeping up from the Sound into the Ocean City harbor. The moon illuminated the waterfront in a lovely silver glow. If not for the chill, it was a beautiful, romantic sort of night.

Not long ago, she would have been out here with Chad Michaels. He would have nipped playfully at her lips, and she would have nipped back, and lingered, and then taken him all in — his sweet lips, his mussed up athlete’s hair, his muscular neck…

But Taylor had lost her charm with Chad as well.

“So you going to tell me what this is all about?” said Darien.

“What what is all about?”

Darien eyed her up and down, smiling. “You, here, looking like that.”

“It’s nothing, it’s stupid.”

“No, he’s stupid,” said Darien. “You’re not… trying to win him back or something, are you?”

“God, no. I just… I wanted him to regret it a little. Wanted to feel like the decision was as much mine as his. It was stupid, I don’t need you to tell me.”

“Well, then I won’t.” Darien put his arm around her shoulder and scooted closer. The wind swept through his golden-red hair, ruffled his shirt to define strong muscles.

Taylor missed the way things had been. Back when her life was together, her family together. When her best friends were still colonial-borns, but it was by her choice. Before encounters with Sophia had become awkward. Before someone like Chad Michaels had helped her feel less lonely. Before everything changed.

Before the tragedy.

“Why’d you come here, Darien?”

His eyes were warm, a semblance of sadness and love. He gave her a half-smile that said, You know I’m here for you.

Darien was never one for heartfelt words. The things he felt were stowed behind locked doors inside him, but they shone through in his eyes, his gestures, his risking public embarrassment to be here with her.

However, Darien’s inward nature was not the reason he never answered why he’d snuck into Lauri Bandon’s penthouse party.

Noise from the great room blared suddenly and out stumbled a lip-locked couple, hands exploring each other’s bodies, tongues imitating the sounds of waves crashing.

Darien cleared his throat.

And Taylor gasped.

Chad Michaels jerked away from the girl, nearly dropping her to the ground.

The Gateway Drug (on ‘escapist fiction’ and the beginning of a writer’s blog)


“Fiction is a gateway drug to reading… Once you learn that [reading is pleasurable], you are on the road to reading everything” – Neil Gaiman


This is my first post on this particular site; as a writer you may guess that I’ve written elsewhere. And that quote is one of my favorites from one of my favorites, addressing critiques of ‘escapist’ stories for children.

Writers of fiction, particularly speculative fiction, and even more so, children’s fiction (I am guilty of all three), regularly seem to come under criticism from snobs and intellectuals, who I imagine read nothing but Stephen Hawking, history textbooks, etc., and perhaps for some light reading, breeze over Plato’s Five Dialogues. Who needs stories, when we have facts, right?

For snobs, if fiction is to be tolerated, it sure had better be literary, whatever that really means (when I hear literary, I immediately think of my college lit classes, and blaring sirens go off, “Boring, boring, boring!“). For writer’s like me, (YA fantasy, specifically) it seems that we are constantly forced to justify our work, because it is seen as lower, dumber, etc. than aforementioned literary literature that generally has to have over-the-top dialect, which makes for an excessively tiresome read, as well as very little action (tension) present throughout. In my college writing classes (where I began my now-completed fantasy) my imaginative work was often thought of  as “B-movie” material, a plot about a race of humans with super-human abilities set in a rebuilding, post-apocalyptic earth had little literary value in comparison with the memoirs and largely boring scenes of dialogue, dealing with unwanted pregnancies, etc.

Granted, my writing probably wasn’t great. Actually, I know it wasn’t, but I was only beginning, give me a break. It took me years of lots and lots of writing to get to where i am now: decent. But for me, my idea was original, and it was mine. I was creating a world from scratch, and I was loving it, and I was getting flack from the ones whining about their childhood all day in their writing.

But there is something to be said about the real world in speculative fiction, I think. If nothing more, it is pleasurable, as Gaiman says, and as I discovered as a child. It is not escapist fiction. We may not be the best writers on earth (we speculative children’s authors), but our kind is widely read and enjoyed world-wide. And the snobs are probably just jealous that that sort of dribble is what sells.

I’d rather be read by ordinary folk anyway, than by the literary folk. Perhaps, another day, I will expand on the College Literary scene, which I find detrimental to YA/ children’s writers like myself. But those classes also got me started. They helped me waste a lot of time, trying to refine my writing, and make it more “literary, etc.” when I should have been completing the story (story always comes first, and then the writing can be made better — but NOT literary, when that is not your intended audience!). But I digress.

I’ve been writing for many years now, and I now have a project called “The Lingering Shadow” that is completed, after multiple drafts. I am currently revising and trimming it, and then it will be beta-reader time, and then, it will be querying-an-agent time.

Until now, all I’ve done is learn from others how to write and get better, but as I move into a new realm (seeking publication), I thought I would begin sharing what I’ve learned, and continue to learn along the way.

Stephen King was once asked why he wrote horror (and he is a master at it). He replied that he didn’t see why it was assumed he had a choice in the matter.

That is often how I feel with what I write. It is a part of who I am. I loved children’s books, and continue to love them to this day, particularly those of a speculative fantasy nature. I find they have more to say about the world than many other ‘higher’ forms of literature. How could I write anything else, but what I enjoy?

If I could begin this blog with any advice to other writers, it is this: Write what you love, and ignore anyone who would try to belittle it.