NaNoWriMo

Who is doing National Novel-Writing Month this coming November? 1414872206879I have decided to try it for the first time. Since one is allowed to continue an existing project (provided 50,000 words are written in November), I’m planning to keep working on Ready-Made Grave, my #3DNC novel. Here’s the story.

12010569_10207630660587505_3619537982960083159_o* I have just about 30,000 words right now, from what I wrote over Labour Day weekend and what I’ve done since.
* If I write 1,000 words a day in October, that will serve as a sort of NaNoWriMo warm-up and will bring me to around 45,000 words (allowing for Sundays and a few other emergency days off, since I’ll be traveling to Massachusetts to help my Mom, who is still recovering from heart surgery).
* If I write 2,000 words a day in November (still with Sundays and the occasional day off), that should be an easy 50,000 in that month, bringing the total to 95,000 — a good solid novel draft.
* Then I would like to edit it down to 80,000, which should make a tighter, neater story.
* I’m well prepped for at least the first half of the novel, since I did all that before 3DNC, and again afterwards, when I did a massive plot re-organization. I’ve got my nice Moleskin full of notes, my fancy Excel spreadsheet of events, and my glorious Scrivener file with all of that in. I’m good to go — until I get halfway through, when my planning will give out.
* So it would be a good idea to do more planning beyond the halfway point, if I can; but I’m not sure I can. See, the death occurs halfway through. I think I need to let my characters do their thing up to that point, and only then start planning the next half. That’s when they get locked into the cemetery overnight and sit in a mausoleum trying to figure out whodunnit.
* I’m also working on a synopsis for the NaNoWriMo website, and I’ll post a draft here soon for your feedback.Whodunnit_ABC

Do share other thoughts! What prep are you doing? Have you done NaNoWriMo before? Leave me a link to a blog post about your experience!

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Alternative openings to “Ready-Made Grave”

angel-court_horizontalAt our most recent Ekphrasis meeting, Richard shared what he has been learning from a book called Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go.

The main premise was to write an opening sentence that introduces the story-worthy problem that the book will deal with, to create tension already in those first few words, and to set up the ideas that will be important throughout the book. So then we read part of the first chapter of my novel-in-progress Ready-Made Grave. And here’s what I had for the first paragraph:

It was a bright and shiny day. There was a soft crunch: a bird’s nest fell on the gravel inside the tall gates. Vera cocked her head, sending her hair in a waterfall over one shoulder. Shadows curled and crooked all over her poised figure. The shade of one spike touched the naked hatchlings, whose beaks hinged wide, panting. Vera gazed at the chicks, then turned away. Her silver dress was still; a violin at her feet was quiet in its case. She turned her cool glance down the street.

So, I still like that opening, because it sets up most of the important themes of the novel. And the first sentence is, as maybe you gathered, a joke: the opposite of the infamous It was a dark and stormy night. But not everybody present at the meeting got the joke, which meant that to them, that first sentence was really lame. I’m not willing to take the risk that upwards of 50% of potential readers will find my first sentence boring. Therefore, I am toying with new first sentence options, and I would like your opinion on them. Each of them would, of course, lead to a new whole first paragraph. I’ve got a few priorities with this first sentence. I want to:
woodlawnwinter_36– set the stage, physically (outside the tall gates of a cemetery) and emotionally (there’s a stark contrast between the beautiful day and gorgeous setting
vs. the dark turmoil of the characters’ psyches and the fact that the beautiful place is FULL OF DEAD BODIES).
– The opening is supposed to be a genre cue hinting: Murder Mystery!
– focus on place, not people. So I don’t really like the options that name or even mention Vera too early, because (1) she’s not the main character and (
2) it’s really not about people yet; it’s about place and (3) the cemetery is the main character.

Here, then, are the options. Please leave a comment telling me which ones, or which parts of which ones, you like best!

  1. The tall gates were the only way in, and the only way out.
  1. The cemetery’s tall gates were the only way in and the only way out.
  1. On top of the tall gates, an angel thrust his first into the air, nearly overbalancing.
  1. A stone angel poised on top of the tall gates, his fist thrust into the air, his massive bulk teetering over the quiet girl who stood in his shadow below.
  1. Into the glorious summer sun, there fell a soft crunch: a bird’s nest had fallen on the gravel inside the tall gates.
  1. The naked baby birds lay dying in the sunlight.
  1. The naked baby birds lay dying. Sun and shade clashed together over their nest, their grave.
  1. A quiet girl stood in the shadow of the tall gates, watching a nest of baby birds dying in the sunlight.
  1. As Vera stood motionless in the shadow of the tall gates, there was a soft crunch: a bird’s nest fell on the gravel beside her.
  1. As Vera stood motionless in the morning sunlight, there was a soft crunch: a bird’s nest had fallen from the first of the stone angel far above, teetering on top of the tall gates.

Sharon’s #3DNC: Scene 1

Sharon wrote an entire play over the Three-Day Novel weekend! Here is scene one of Love’s Labours Happily Ever After

 

ACT [1]

SCENE [1]

(The field surrounding PRINCE KIT’S castle. The entrance to the castle is UR. PRINCE KIT is preset gripping a glass slipper. PHILIP and EUGENE enter dejectedly. PHILIP is helping the blind EUGENE, who is holding a long braid of golden hair. They take a few steps, unbeknownst to KIT, and EUGENE’s feet gets tangled in the hair, causing him to trip and fall to the ground. The noise gets the attention of KIT.)

PHILIP:

(helping EUGENE stand)

Are you alright?

EUGENE:

Fine, fine. Who’d have known something so pretty could get you so tangled up? Must be why people tell you to stay out of their hair.

PHILIP:

I wish you’d let me carry it for you.

EUGENE:

No. No, thank you. I can manage, but maybe we should wrap it round like a scarf or something.

KIT:

Welcome, travelers. Where do you come from?

EUGENE:

Who’s that?

PHILIP:

Prince Kit if I’m not mistaken. It’s an honor to meet you, Your Highness. I am Prince Philip, son of King Hubert.

EUGENE:

Eugene.

KIT:

You look worn and weary. What brings you to my kingdom?

EUGENE:

Philip.

PHILIP:

We seek refuge, Your Highness. Strange things are happening in our lands, and we both have suffered great loss. The entire castle of my betrothed has been put under an enchanted sleep. Rumor has it that she has hired an evil fairy to cast the sleeping spell so that she would avoid marrying me. I met Eugene as I tried to search for her. He was stumbling in the forest from a newfound blindness that had been inflicted upon him for pursuit of the woman who once bore the weight of that hair.

KIT:

Why do you not go to the land of your father?

PHILIP:

He too is under the spell.

(PRINCE FERDINAND enters carrying an apple with one bite taken out of it.)

FERDINAND:

Well met, gentle friends! It is beyond hope, but is there any chance that you know the whereabouts, the most glorious whereabouts, of my true love whose beauty is beyond compare? Lips red as the rose. Hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.

PHLIP:

What is her name, sir?

FERDINAND: (pause)

In truth I don’t know. I was so caught up in the life changing moment of meeting her, that I didn’t ask her name.

EUGENE:

But she’s your true love?

FERDINAND:

The moment I saw her one love possessed me, thrilling me, and now my heart keeps singing of my one love, constant and true, only of her.

EUGENE:

How come you don’t know where she is if your love is so constant?

FERDINAND:

(holding up the apple)

Do you see this?

EUGENE:

No.

PHILIP:

It’s an apple, with a bite taken out of it.

FERDINAND:

Yes. A dreadful, fateful bite has taken my love from me. After our hearts joined across the stone courtyard, she disappeared. I’ve been in search for her ever since. Finally, I heard of a woman with lips red as the rose, hair as black as ebony, and skin white as snow that was enshrined in a coffin wrought by skilled dwarves, waiting for a prince to break an evil spell cast upon her. A long journey lay ahead of me, but I was spurred on by the hope that she – my true love – was waiting for me to free her.

EUGENE:

Let me guess, she wasn’t waiting for you.

FERDINAND:

Alas, no. When I arrived the Dwarves told me that she and the coffin had disappeared. The only thing they had left was this apple, the cause of her demise.

KIT:

It was a ruse. A ruse to wound you and leave you alone.

FERDINAND:

A ruse? Who are you to say such slander against my true love?

KIT:

Prince Philip has a tale of a woman going to desperate tactics to prevent wooing. I too could tell my own tale of feminine jilting, and I imagine this man has a similar story –

EUGENE: (interrupting)

Women don’t jilt me. They can’t resist the smolder.

KIT:

It is clear to me that we have been dealt cruel blows under the guise of damsels in distresses. Fate has brought the four of us together to give us an opportunity to learn from our weak-hearted ways. Together, let us forgo the profitless war of love and make war over our passions and desires.

FERDINAND:

A noble quest perhaps?

KIT:

We will devote three years to live in the living art of contemplation.

PHILIP:

But what if the maidens are in fact damsels in distress? Doesn’t it seem strange to you that all the women we have sought after have been unexplainably taken from us.

KIT:

There is nothing unexplainable about a woman running away from you, leaving nothing behind but a glass slipper to haunt you. No, friends. There is no magic involved to explain away the answer.

PHILIP:

And King Stephan’s castle? It may be true that the Princess Aurora herself used magic to keep me away, but what about my father and the other innocents trapped behind the wall of thorns? Do we leave them to their fate?

KIT:

Make this pact with me and I swear we will find a way to free them. Finding a way to overcome the thorns will be a part of our study.

FERDINAND:

I have yet to go on a true quest with companions of valor. I swear to follow you…

KIT:

His Royal Highness, Prince Christoph Henry Edward the 4th. You may call me Prince Kit.

FERDINAND:

I swear to follow you Prince Kit. Till death.

EUGENE:

Three years of contemplation and study isn’t likely to involve dying.

PHILIP:

If you promise to help me free my father from the spell, I’ll give you my oath.

KIT:

(to Eugene)

And you sir?

EUGENE:

Why not?

KIT:

There will be strict rules. No pursuit of romance, no seeing of women, fasting once a week, and little sleep so that we can dedicate ourselves completely to remaking ourselves.

EUGENE:

I hope you mean we’ll be feasting once a week.

FERDINAND:

No, indeed. There is no growth of gallantry without attacking the vice of gluttony.

PHILIP:

It does seem a bit hard. What is the end of this stringent study? Fasting won’t break a spell, will it?

KIT:

To know which else we should not know if we did not study. To be our own masters, free from the torments of women.

EUGENE:

Well then, I swear to study to know the thing I am forbid to know; such as food, sleep, and the torments of women.

FERDINAND:

Will you take back your word? You swore against these things. Have you no sense of honor?

EUGENE:

The way I see it, I swore to three years of contemplation, Kit the 4th here added all the other things afterwards, so I didn’t give my word to any of it.

KIT:

Women, food, and sleep hinder study.

EUGENE:

You need to not put all your arrow in one quiver. Are you really going to give up on love because one woman lost her nerve and a shoe?

KIT:

I won’t be made a fool again. She left me at the ball where I was to choose my bride, the clumsy thief who could not steal a woman’s heart but instead was robbed of his own heart. She left this glass slipper on the steps of my palace as a hope that I would be able to find her again, but the search proved to be a torment.

EUGENE:

Isn’t that a bit dramatic?

PHILIP:

And harsh.

FERDINAND:

Whatever it is, it was beautifully said.

PHILIP:

If you are so intent on forsaking women, why do you keep the slipper with you?

KIT:

To remind myself of the pain that I can avoid by focusing on to pursuit of knowledge rather than the pursuit of love.

EUGENE:

Mind if I hold it? I’ve never heard of a shoe made out of glass before. It’s beyond me how anyone can wear that and not get shards of glass stuck in their foot. I’d like to feel it if you don’t mind.

(KIT hands him the slipper. EUGENE slowly runs his fingers around it.)

Amazing. Not a single sharp edge. This etched design is very intricate.

(He rubs the sides several times trying to get a sense of what the design is)

It feels like… A sword… Maybe?

(There is a poof and a flashing of light. The FAIRY GODMOTHER enters and plops to the ground to sit.)

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Fairy dust! Give me a moment for my head to stop spinning, then I’ll help you. Right now there are four of you. Best wait until I only see one.

PHILIP:

But Madam, there are four of us.

EUGENE: (whispering)

Who’s there?

PHILIP: (whispering)

A fairy.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Oh. In that case.

(she stands and brushes herself off. When she catches sight of the glass slipper she snatches it out of EUGENE’S hands.)

Where did you get this?

EUGENE:

From Kit the 4th.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

And where is this Kit that I may inquire of him?

KIT:

I am Prince Kit. Tell me who you are and how you came to be in my kingdom.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

I am a Fairy Godmother and was brought here by the rubbing of this glass slipper, which I demand you explain your possession of it.

KIT:

Do you know the woman who wore this slipper?

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Know her? I gave her that slipper to attend your ball. What have you done to her?

KIT:

Nothing, besides dance with her. Barely ten minutes had passed before she ran away. This is all she left behind.

EUGENE:

That and his broken heart.

KIT:

I would you were mute instead of blind.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

You must have done something to frighten her off.

KIT:

Nothing, I swear.

PHILIP:

Perhaps you can help us, Madam. We’ve all been separated from our true love.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Where are they?

 

PHILIP:

We lost them.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Lost them?

PHILIP:

We’ve lost our true loves.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Women don’t vanish into thin air.

PHILIP:

But ours have. We each of us have searched for his true love, but all we have left are these trinkets of remembrance.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

A slipper, a bitten apple, and long rope of hair. What is your trinket, sir?

PHILIP:

A walk, once upon a dream.

FAIRY GODMOTHER: (sighing)

 

Let me see the apple.

(FERDINAND hands over the apple to her, and she examines it closely.)

FERDINAND:

Hold it gently, I pray you. It is a precious reminder of her whose lips are red as the rose, hair as black as ebony, skin –

EUGENE:

We know, we know. Snow white.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

This apple is poisoned.

(going over to EUGENE and examining his eyes.)

And your blindness is not natural. At least that can be easily fixed.

(She waves her wand in front of his eyes)

EUGENE:

(Catching sight of KIT first)

You look as pretentious as I imagined.

PHILIP:

A long time ago, an evil fairy roamed the lands of King Stepen named Malificent. She hasn’t been heard from for sixteen years, but I could believe she is behind these strange happenings.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

That is a name I hoped to never hear again.

(Beat)

Well, come along then. Let’s go find your lady loves.

KIT:

But our vow.

EUGENE:

Your vow.

FERDINAND:

We all vowed.

PHILIP:

Surely our vow to chivalry negates a misinformed vow taken in haste.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

What vow?

KIT:

To forsake the company of women for three years.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Fairy dust. What prompted you to that foolishness?

KIT:

I thought we had been jilted. Perhaps I was mistaken, but a vow is still a vow.

FERDINAND:

There may be a way to fulfill both our vows. If our illustrious Fairy Godmother will bring the maidens to us, we can protect them here in your field without needing to interact with them. Thus, being both chivalrous and free to focus on study.

PHILIP:

What do you say milord?

EUGENE:

I say it will never work.

KIT:

Very well. Bring the maidens here if they are willing, and we will protect them if they are indeed damsels-in-distress.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

I’ll see what I can do. If I was them, I wouldn’t want to be protected by men foolish enough to forswear love. (She exits)

EUGENE:

I’m telling you, once the women arrive our vow will be forgotten.

FERDINAND:

I will elicit the help of the Seven Dwarves to keep guard over them! (Exits)

BLACKOUT.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapters 1 & 2 of “Demae’s Story” by Betsy Gahman

Chapter One

Ilyya crossed her legs primly and smoothed her skirt. The cherry blossom petals overlapped to create an elegant dress that smelled faintly of the fruit they could form. She trilled before beginning her song.

“Where the wind blows

I follow with my nose,

The shining sun

Cannot escape or run,

Ilyya I am:

Great huntress of the wood!”

A chuckle erupted from under her branch, and Ilyya peered through the leaves. A Faerie wearing a suit of pine-needles lounged in a particularly large hollow left by a broken branch. He stood up, stretched, and flew to sit next to Ilyya.

“Very clever, sister. Do all your songs end in such a self-glorifying way?” Ilyya felt her cheeks grow hot as she retorted,

“At least I sing what is in my head, instead of borrowing the words of others, Hneus.”

“Ah, but I don’t just use others’ words. You should give me more credit; I work very hard at my songs. Listen:

You use your nose

To find people when wind blows,

The bright bold sun

Wishes that you would run,

Ilyya, sister:

Leave and improve our mood!

See? I can – Ow!”

Ilyya left Hneus to rub his burning cheek and flew farther from the center of the Forest.

“What a smart-mouth! Who is he to tell me what to do? I am a full two seasons older than him, and he presumes to tell me how to praise the Designmaster! One day Looren will hear of his silliness and then he’ll be sorry.” The vehemence of Ilyya’s internal tantrum fueled her wings and she continued zipping past trees until the edge of the Forest loomed in front of her. Pulling up short, she gazed out at the foreign world.

“I wonder what the air tastes like out there. The people are all so strange and hurrying. Not like Looren. He walks slowly and talks to anybody who wants to. So many of those people out there don’t even look at each other! Strange, strange people, living in brown and grey. Don’t they get tired of those two colors?”

She looked past the tall buildings and steamy air, and felt she could see the rumors she had heard of; wide open spaces with noble mountains rising before buffeting touch of the wind.

“What would it be like to fly in the wind and sunshine with only the peaks for company? I love my trees,” She placed a hand on the branch next to her, “But sometimes I can’t play with the wind as freely as I want. They get in the way, and only move if they feel like it.” She sent a withering frown back into the Forest and addressed the trees. “Maybe if you would play with me, I wouldn’t want to leave the forest. But I don’t want to become Witless. Why is it one or the other, Designmaster? Why can’t I leave the Forest and keep my Wits?” The gentle whispering of the wind was her only answer, and Ilyya turned back to gaze at the outside world.

Beings, humans, people, walked past the Forest without so much as giving it a glance. Ilyya had noticed that for the past three hundred years, or so, humans didn’t seem to want admit that the Forest existed. But there it stood. They could ignore it, but it wasn’t going away. A lilting sound caught Ilyya’s ear and she searched the crowd for the elusive hum.

“There! That girl there! She’s singing!” So few of the humans sung that Ilyya always watched those who did with particular attention. Singing was the very reason that Faeries existed in the Designmaster’s plan. Humans who sang must be something special. The girl seemed huge to Ilyya, although humans would think her a bit small. Rebellious black curls escaped from the simple hat the girl wore, letting the wind tug them different directions as it blew by. Her clothing was simple, just a pleated skirt with a blouse and sweater. Sturdy shoes and stockings matched the dull brown color of the rest of her clothes. Ilyya knew from watching humans before that this meant the girl was of the middle class. People above the middle class wore very fancy clothes, and people below the middle class wore very holey clothes.

“Why do humans separate themselves from each other? How can they talk and listen to each other if they make each other so different? They don’t make any sense. Surely the Designmaster didn’t tell them to do that.” Desperate to hear the human’s song, Ilyya began flitting along the edge of the Forest.

The massive wood was circular, and stood at the center of Comm City. People were forbidden to go into the Forest, but they were all so afraid of it that no enforcement was needed. Fear of the Old Religion was ingrained so deep that no one had tried to enter the Forest in over 250 years.

“That was so scary. I’m glad Looren was here to protect us!”

Ever since, the humans had kept their distance. That did not stop them from walking near the Forest, however. In fact, it would have been difficult to avoid it. After the fall of the Old Religion, the very first City Council had deemed the Forest harmless and issued the first edict that it be left as a reminder that all false teachings are doomed to abandonment. So they continued building the city that had sprung up around the Forest, and now people from all walks of life walked within two hundred feet of the very place they feared. Ilyya kept just inside the shadows of the Forest as she followed the girl. The human had been humming before, but now she began a soft refrain.

“The one who makes life is,

The one who gives life is,

The one who takes life is,

The ruling king is and will be here forever!”

“A human singing about the Designmaster! They have not worshipped him since before was born!” Ilyya flittered in excitement, dancing from leaf to leaf. Picking up the tune, the Faerie began to hum along as she continued to follow the girl. In all her time watching the humans, Ilyya had never hear one mention the Designmaster, much less sing his praises. Without warning, the girl stopped and peered into the Forest. Ilyya froze, gazing back at the human. “What does she see? Hopefully she didn’t see me. Maybe she heard my humming. I should have sang with her instead of humming; then she wouldn’t have heard me.” The Faerie

continued to wait, tiny body tense and still, for the human girl to end her inspection of the Forest. The words caught in Demae’s throat when she heard a sound come from the Forest next to her. Stopping in her tracks, she peered at the mysterious wood, trying to see past the thick screen of brush and bushes that tried to hide the trees looming over them. Nothing met her gaze.

I was sure I heard something. She blinked slowly. It sounded like a little voice. It was humming with me. Her scrutiny of the Forest didn’t yield a sight of anything, so Demae turned to continue her way home. Spirits above, I must have been imagining things. Although it did feel like someone was watching me. But who would be in the Forest? Surely the tales of goblins and sprites living in

there aren’t true. Nonetheless, Demae moved a little quicker and soon found the street that took her away from the Forest and toward home.

Comm was laid out like a giant ring. The perfectly circular Forest in the center was the middle of the ring, and everything was organized in a circle around it. The original town that had sprung up around the Forest had largely been torn down when the first City Council designed the new plans for the City. There were several main roads that formed larger rings around the Forest, and then hundreds of smaller side-streets ran East to West and North to South, providing practical connections for the larger roads. Not a single road ran through the Forest. Even with the latest technology, no one considered passing through the enigmatic wood a good idea.

This meant for people like Demae, who lived in the East Side but worked in the West Side, that the shortest way to get to work was to walk to the Forest, around either the North or South edge, and then continue the way they needed to go. Unless they had the money for the trolley, of course. Many didn’t. So every day, Demae would make the two hour trek to work before the sun was ready to wake, and then as the sun was going to bed. She was one of many, though, and did not feel any injustice in her difficulty. It was just the way it was. The brown-paper package in her hand felt light, but Demae knew that her mother would make the meat stretch for the whole week. The trimmings from the hog had cost a whole eyring, a week’s wages, but Raema, Demae’s mother, thought meat was nutritionally important for children. The Researchers had just begun studying nutrition in the past twenty years, but the idea had caught on very quickly. The Middle Class had latched on to the idea as something they could claim as their own; the High Class didn’t care what they ate, as long as it tasted good. So Demae had grown up eating lots of nutrition-based meals. Never mind that almost anything could be said to have nutritional value; everyone had an opinion about what it was they needed nutritionally. It can’t be helpful to just eat what you think will help you. Demae mused. Maybe one day there will be Researchers who specialize in nutrition and will help people decide. But what does that matter? As long as we have food to eat, I’m happy. Demae earned her part of the family’s bread by working in Comm’s largest makeup factory. It was an industry fueled by religion, and it was a steady job, guaranteed. She worked in the eye-shadow department, putting palettes of complementing colors together. It was one of the more difficult jobs in the factory; Demae was required to be able to remember which colors went where on each of the forty separate palettes, and had to place them precisely without disturbing the valuable powder. If there was even a hint of a fingerprint in one of the colors, a customer was bound to complain.

The customers. Demae snorted. The only people who have time to wear makeup are the High Class. The snooty High Class. They are only High Class because of their bloodlines. They rule over us, make us work, and then spend all day making themselves look beautiful, eating, and dancing. What good is it to be beautiful when you treat the people below you like they are inferior human beings. Just because we have different ancestors. By the Spirits above I sometimes wish that I lived in the Shadow Times, before the Purifying of the Blood. Then there would be none of this Class nonsense.

Like Comm, the Class system had been set up by the first City Council after the Purifying of the Blood. The Prophet of Doom had appointed the members of the City Council to create order out of the chaos caused by the Purifying. They were, in turn, under the leadership of the Lords, who were answered to the High Spirits. A Lord hadn’t visited Comm for many years, but Demae had heard it was quite an event whenever they did visit.

While the City of Comm did have a corner on the makeup market, it was located in the far South of the known world, and therefore was inaccessible for seven out of the ten months, due to the heavy snowfall that blocked the passes through the Southern Mountains. This meant that the three months in which travel was an option, the merchants paid a handsome sum that monopolized the trade routes so they could move their wares out of Comm, and then come back in time with all the supplies needed to keep the City on its feet during the next seven months of isolation.

The main import to Comm was food and clothing. The soil surrounding the City was not rich enough to support crops, and therefore any grains or natural textiles had to be brought in by the merchants. Comm did have a bustling live-stock market, which helped to bolster the city’s economy when the makeup market took a dip. Demae had heard stories of animals raised in Comm and sold to cities North of the Southern Mountains lying down and rolling in the grass when seeing it for the first time.

She wasn’t sure what to think of the tales of grass. There were many people who claimed to have seen the stuff, but not many who could actually describe it to her satisfaction. Everyone either says that grass is a nuisance or a piece of art. And that it is sometimes soft and green. How can it SOMETIMES be soft and green. What is it when it isn’t soft and green? Well, there’s no point in thinking about it, since I probably won’t ever see it for myself.

With this thought, Demae turned onto her street and began the last quarter mile walk to her home.

#3DNC Journal

Please don’t read this. If you do, you will think we are all 7 years old.

 

3DNC 2015

Friday, 4th September

 

7pm    Sorina & Betsy arrive at the Coffee Pot

Welcome back to the lush mossy carpet & vaulted ceiling of leaves! Welcome back to the brook singing to itself, to the fire that leaps up in greeting. Welcome back to the work & the madness, the music & the silence, the fellowship & the competition. ~SH

 

7:?? Je suis le monde. ~SH

 

7:??pm

Q: How do you know when your bagel is done toasting?

A: When it bursts into flame. ~SH

 

8:32pm

The bugs are murdering me this year. ~BG

 

9:08pm

“Nothing is wrong with a little cleavage.” (Sorina) The camera promptly focuses on my chest. ~BG

 

9:10pm

It was a bright and shiny day. ~SH

 

9:10pm

“I don’t suppose you’d be the best person to ask for death metal quotes?” (Sorina) ~BG

 

9:28pm

Sorina has checked off one square out of 585 on her novel-planning spreadsheet. ~BG

 

9:30pm

“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single box in the spreadsheet.” (Sorina) ~BG

 

9:52pm

“Let’s listen to the Jupiter Symphony after Angry Birds. Never thought I’d say those words!” (Sorina) ~BG

 

Saturday, 5th September

6:36am

Woke up. ~BG

 

6:37am

Me too. ~SH

 

9:58am

Oh, come on, characters; it’s too early in the morning to be using such profanity. ~SH

 

11:47am

Went on a walk up the powerline, bathed in the creek, put up the screen house, and are now eating lunch and getting back to writing. ~BG

 

12:10pm

“Don’t say that! That’s really dirty!”(Sorina to a character) ~BG

 

12:20pm

Not enough verbs. ~SH

 

12:21pm

“Last year, Marian & I were talking about donuts and men…” (said Betsy) ~SH

 

1:30pm

Finished Chapter one! ~SH

 

1:51pm

Heard from Nadine that my Mom is in the hospital again. ~SH

 

5:20pm

Mom is home. They didn’t find anything wrong. ~SH

 

5:24pm

Finally finished one page of my spreadsheet – 39 out of 585 little boxes. 7,845 words. 42 pages. Not bad, I guess. Today’s goal: 10,000 words, 3 chapters. ~SH

 

5:31pm

Scrivener random name generator – almost as much fun as the Benedict Cumberbatch parody name generator. ~SH

 

5:30pm

Started a stir-fry for dinner. ~BG

 

5:57pm

“Hyphens are my favorite endangered species.” (Sorina) ~BG

 

6:02pm

We complain about characters getting off-topic. ~BG

Sorina complemented me on my biceps. ~BG

 

6:49pm

About getting bitten by mosquitos:

“Maybe you are getting sweeter.” (Sorina)

“If only to reduce bugbites, I would not want to be any sweeter.” (Betsy)

 

7:00pm

Marian arrives! ~BG

 

7:15pm

Marian’s Awkward Existence Part 2 ~MB

 

7:23pm

Marian’s Awkward Existence Part 1 ~MB

 

7:25pm

“I want more flames.” (Sorina) ~BG

8:15pm

Finished chapter 2. 9,323 words. 43 of 585 squares. ~SH

 

8:48pm

*Marian grasps the air in frustration*

Sorina: “What?”

Me: “I had a word…” *it comes back* “got it!”

Sorina: “What was it?”

Me: “Snort.” ~MB

 

9:07pm

“Is Sorina tap-dancing on the porch?” ~MB

 

10:13pm

“Because everything’s better with sex.” ~BG

 

10:14pm

“Ok. Hamlet.” (Marian) ~BG

 

10:50pm

Marian applauds ~BG

 

11:36pm

Bedtime for all ~BG
11,110 words today. ~SH

 

Sunday, 6th September

7:47am

Everyone up! ~BG

 

8:08am

Non-sequitur? We try to figure out how it’s spelled. ~MB

 

10:15ish am

Went for a walk to the waterfall. Discovered a dead frog and an old lady. One was pleasant. One was not. ~MB

 

2:30ish pm

Sharon arrived! ~SH

 

4:00pm

Sorina, Marian, and Betsy go for a swim in the Deep Hole. ~BG

 

5:50pm

“My characters are doing horrible, creepy, unexpected things!” (Sorina)

“Fry them.” (Betsy)

“I will kill them soon” (Sorina) ~SH

 

7:14pm

Marian finishes reading Piccalilli & Sharon declares that illustration is a different skill set. ~SG

 

7:15pm

Marian is a heathen in the morning. ~SG

 

7:17pm

According to Sharon, Avatar has “See-a-jor-oujie” Weaver in it. ~MB

 

7:23pm

Marian: You can’t live up to everyone’s standards.

Sharon: I can’t even live up to my own. ~MB

 

8:07pm

Bandaged vs. Brandished ~BG

Sharon asked what’s the word for waving a sword around. “Brandished,” we said, & after the brandishing comes the bandaging. ~SH

 

8:13pm

“Cats and Commas” is an alliteration ~SG

Marian is wearing a shirt that says: “Let’s eat kitty. Let’s eat, kitty. Punctuation saves cats.” My two favorite things: Cats & commas. ~SH

 

8:48pm

Lobster ~BG

Betsy is going to boil her feet like Lobsters. Sorina tells a story about her relative not being able to cook a lobster because her son was attached to it. We discuss the reason why lobsters must be boiled alive — because they’re poisonous otherwise. ~BG

“It he tries to kill me even after he’s dead, then I don’t care if it’s a horrible death!” (Betsy) ~SH

 

8:51pm

Sharon hushes us for the first time ~BG

 

9pm

Sharon tells us something sappy she & Robbie do: “That’s about as sappy as we get. We’ve gotten more sappy as we get more married.” ~SH

 

9:30pm

I wrote 20,000 words! ~SH

 

9:55pm

20,000 words! ~BG

 

10:09pm

1st Draft of Love’s Labor’s Happily Ever After finished. ~SG

 

10:15pm

“I would be offended if you didn’t come if I didn’t invite you.” (Sharon to Betsy in regards to her play reading) ~SH

 

22:30pm

Conversation about Old Testament rape laws ~SG

 

22:45pm

The door’s name is Carina – Marian’s dubbing. ~SG

 

Monday, 7th September

 

8:05am

“We’re here to write, not look pretty.” (Sharon) ~BG

 

10:06am

Sorina and I return from a lovely walk and finally get to work. ~SG

I had a dream last night that I met Benedict Cumberbatch at the Underground. We had such a lovely conversation about his performance of Hamlet that he invited me out for tea so we could continue the chat. ~SH

 

1ish pm

I’ve always thought that groundhogs end rather abruptly. ~SH

 

1:30pm

Finished Demae’s book! 24,800 words. ~BG

 

2:50pm

Finished reading K. M. Weildman’s book on novel structure. Gearing up to put all my parts into an outline and check them for what I’ve learned. ~SG

 

3ish pm

Marian: “I apologize for my crass language, sullen disposition, & for making you cancel Ekphrasis.”

 

5:23pm

27,005 words ~SH

 

5:52pm

Sewing is not about fashion. Seamstresses know how to put a garment together. Fashion is about knowing how to put an outfit together.” ~MB

 

5:58pm

“Okay, let’s go bathe so we don’t be stinky anymore.” (Sharon) ~MB

 

Sørina’s #3DNC Chapter One

IMG_2594Here’s the first chapter of the 27,005 words I wrote over Labor Day weekend. Comments are welcome (especially if they are dripping with flattery).

READY-MADE GRAVE

by

Sørina Higgins

Chapter 1: Abandon All Hope

It was a bright and shiny day. There was a soft crunch: a bird’s nest had fallen on the gravel just inside the tall gates. Vera cocked her head, sending her hair in a smooth waterfall over one shoulder. Shadows fell from the wrought-iron scrollwork, curled and crooked, all over her poised figure. The shade of one spike touched the naked hatchlings, whose beaks hinged wide, panting in the white summer light. Vera gazed at the chicks, then turned away. Her silver dress was still in the dappled morning; a violin at her feet was quiet in its case. She turned her cool glance down the street.

Three people were strolling towards her, the train station at their backs fading into city smog. Her face never moved; only her eyes flicked across them. Chloe, lithe as a panther. Zita, all colors and scarves and big gestures, all talk and heart. Kyrksen—Kyrksen Royall, stocky, portly, with wild brown hair and a wilder brown beard and… a kilt. He swaggered towards the cemetery gate, slapping one hand into the other palm as he leaned towards Zita, making a point. She nodded vigorously, several times, taking quick short steps to keep up. She rolled a little suitcase behind her, and it bounced and jumped at each of the sidewalk’s uneven seams. Chloe strode behind them.

As they neared the gate, Kyrksen waved, and Vera tilted her head. The cascade of her hair rippled over the other shoulder. As Kyrksen hitched himself into place just by the entrance, guarding it with his bulk, Zita fell a little back and continued talking to Chloe.

“Then we got to the part when my client says they came back to haunt her—her murdered children, like clouds, like copies of her babies in mist, like images in a dark mirror, and I will never, never forget that. What she says, what pictures it gives into my mind, do you know? How can I say—like the images has been painted into my brain, and they will stay just right there forever. And I has to write that, with the ghosts in the night, and she is crying, and I am crying, and I don’t know how I can do this job for her, the writing, the telling of her story as if it is my own.”

Chloe shook her head, put her hand on Zita’s shoulder. Vera stood motionless in the speckled shade, watching.

“Hi, Vera,” Kyrksen grinned. “Nice day. That’s a pretty dress. Hope you’ll be comfortable enough to work. It’s going to be a scorcher,” he said as he looked up at the heavy white sky.

“I am always comfortable,” Vera said. “And I can always work.”

“Huh,” Kyrksen grunted. “Must be nice.”

*

Kyrksen leaned against the sandstone wall, unfolded a much-creased, grubby paper, and pulled a pencil out from behind his ear.

“Vera Oka-Shan, violinist” he said, checking off her name. “Here early, as usual. Did you take the train, Vera?”

But Vera was looking down at her violin, still quiet in its case, and didn’t answer.

“Your parents dropped you off, didn’t they?” he persisted. The fingers of her left moved rhythmically, but otherwise there was no answer.

“Are you even old enough to drive?” No answer.

Kyrksen shrugged. “Okay, then. Chloe Crawford, dancer. Check. Zita Soto, artist, ghostwriter. Check.”

Looking up from his list, he watched a rusty Ford Taurus pull up to the curb. A boy unfolded his limbs from the backseat, bumping his head and dropping several pens and pencils in the process. Just as he bent sideways to retrieve a pen from under the car, the man behind the wheel started forward. Kyrksen reared himself up off of the wall and lunged towards them. But the boy jerked his lanky bones out in time and swayed in the general direction of the gate, greasy hair swinging. He slouched into the shadow of the gate, dumped a ratty backpack on the ground, and pushed his shoulders high up against the wall. He stood alone, staring at the dying baby birds. Kyrksen shook his head and turned away.

“Axel Hirsch, uh, video game designer? Check.”

A little man bustled up, pouring a stream of words into his cell phone. He nodded at Kyrksen, who looked him over as he marked off “Aubray Romano El-Hirsi, photographer” on the list. Aubray was tiny, just under five feet tall, but powerfully built. His huge biceps and pecs triangulated with his dainty waist and hips, tapering off to slender legs and delicate feet. He had gleaming black hair that fell in waves to brush the collar of his ^__ shirt, which he wore unbuttoned to show off a necklace tattooed on his impressive chest. Just now his figure was encumbered with camera bag and laptop bag, slung crosswise. He walked back and forth inside the gate, gesturing with one hand as he gave orders into his phone, all about times and places and patrons. He nodded to Zita, nodded to Vera, bowed to Chloe, and walked past Axel—ignoring him on several passes.

“Hey, man, where did you park?” asked Kyrksen. “I was hoping for a glimpse of that gorgeous Jag.”

But Aubray was shouting into his phone now, apparently accusing his PA of double-booking him for a client dinner and an opening night cocktail party.

“You know I’ll be with them until after nine!” he shrilled. “I always give my clientele exclusive personal attention, and these things can’t be rushed. How long have you known me, Susan, and you can’t understand the necessity of the personal touch. What? Well, he should move his opening, then. He can’t have it without me there. I mean, I’ll supply half the reviewers there with copy. Oh, fashionably late, that’s what you think? What is this, the twentieth century?”

“He probably got dropped off by his chauffeur person,” said Zita, pausing in the full flood of her tragic story.

“Yeah, probably,” said Kyrksen.

A girl trailed along behind Aubray, a guitar slung over her back. Kyrksen waved to her, but her head hung down as she shuffled along. A bag trailed from one hand. Kyrksen sighed as he studied her. She was still all in black, as usual, with fishnet stockings and short-shorts, combat boots and Victorian-vampire blouse. Kyrksen marked off “Fay Winterville, singer/songwriter,” then turned to Chloe.

“Chloe, here’s Fay. What do you think? Is it just me, or is she looking paler than usual?”

Chloe gazed calmly at Fay.

“Perhaps. All the dark eye-makeup and black hair-dye makes her look paler, of course, and she always was a milk-faced white girl.”

“Thou cream-faced loon,” muttered Kyrksen.

“What?”

“Sorry. Shakespeare.”

“Oh. She is rather a cream-faced loon, the poor girl.”

“A loon?” Zita cut in. “Isn’t that a bird?”

“Yeah,” said Kyrksen, “but it also means crazy person.”

“Who you calling crazy, sweetheart?” Zita snorted. “Not that sad little girl who need a good mama?”

“I’m sure she does,” said Chloe. “Don’t we all.”

“And here’s another two who needs a good mama—or a good paddling, that one,” Zita pointed. A pudgy boy and a girl in a handmade dress were coming up the road, and they were met on the corner by a skinny red-headed young woman who promptly ignored them even though she was walking their way.

“Hello, friends!” Zita shouted. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood! Come on down!”

Kyrksen smirked at Chloe over Zita’s exuberant head.

“Mit Silke, er, saxophone player? I guess?” he murmured, marking him off. “Keela Conwell, actress and model. And Dorcas J. Wesley. What a name.”

Kyrksen look at Mit: a rotund little man—teenager, really, with a kind of bustling self-importance that always entered a room belly first. He had short, tight gray curls all over his head (“Like a old lady with a perm,” Zita whispered to Chloe), and he bounced on the balls of his feet with every step. His delicately-fingered hands were wandering ones; most of the girls in the group had slapped away those hands at one time or another. He carried a saxophone in its case on his back.

Keela was a proper Irish colleen, a scrawny freckled beauty with an astonishing explosion of ginger hair. She strode along, texting as she walked, tossing her head, loose-hipped and leggy. (“That girl, she need to put some clothes on,” Zita whispered to Chloe. “She has legs like a stork, and the boys don’t need to see all that. It’s not like she’s at work right now.” Kyrksen winked at Chloe over Zita’s disapproving head.)

And then there was Dorcas J. Wesley. Her hair was hidden under a white mesh cap, and she wore a poufy dress in a flowery print. She was carrying a huge backpack that dragged at her shoulders and clinked as she moved. As they approached, Mit offered to carry it for her, but she declined.

“What is with that dress?” said Zita. “That pattern wasn’t in style a hundred years ago. It has puffed sleeves, for goodness’ sake, and what is all that—how do you say?—around the waist?”

“Those are ‘gathers’ at the waist,” Chloe smiled.

“If it can be called a waist when its purpose is to conceal that element of female anatomy,” Kyrksen snickered. “And all the other elements, too.”

“Like you should talk,” said Chloe in a level voice, glancing down at Kyrksen’s kilt.

“Good point,” he grinned.

“Keela!” Zita called, hustling up to her and giving her a hug. “I’m so glad you came, honey. You look beautiful. That’s such a cute summer dress!”

Chloe and Kyrksen exchanged looks.

“And Mit,” Zita offered him her hand. “Good to see you. You doing any good work these days, sweetie? Writing music, I hope? Just like Mozart?”

“Oh yes, oh yes,” he bobbed his curly gray head. “I’ve got this new score, it’s epic, practically Wagnerian, all about passionate love and tragic death. I think you would like it, Keela—” he sidled towards her. “It’s got this fiery passion to it, and there’s this one melody—”

Keela made a gesture of rejection and moved away from him. Fay tramped over.

“I might like it, Mit,” she said.

He turned away.

“Dorcas,” he said, “have you ever heard this tune?”

And he started whistling, as Dorcas stomped away.

Kyrksen moved to greet them all, but his eye was caught by another figure coming down the road from the train station lost in the smog. This newcomer was a huge man, tall and muscular. His hair was in long dreads down his back, and he marched with a swing in his step. White women crossed the street when they saw him coming.

“Crofton!” Kyrksen called, lifting a hand in greeting.

Crofton shaded his eyes and saluted back. Zita turned at the sound of the name and hustled to meet him, taking his hand and calling him “Pastor.”

“What would we do without Zita,” Chloe murmured.

“She has recruited nearly half our little group,” Kyrksen agreed, as he crossed “Crofton Fishburne, slam poet” off his list. “In fact, I think Vera and Aubray might be the only people here she didn’t recruit—ah, and here’s one more.”

They both turned and gazed at the man who was driving a shiny silver BMW past them at that moment. They stood silent, the chatter of the others behind them and the distant noises of the city in front of them, until he came walking back around the corner a few minutes later, pocketing his keys.

He was a young god, golden in the morning sun. He had the physique of an Olympian (“Doryphoros,” Chloe murmured. “What’s that?” Kyrksen asked. “The perfect male form,” Chloe replied. “The ideal model for heroic sculpture.” “Don’t forget you’re married,” Kyrksen teased as he elbowed her. “Oh, I won’t, I won’t,” she sighed.)

Leo Philippides scanned the group as he approached. He took Chloe’s hand briefly, said “good morning” to Kyrksen (who marked “Leo ^Philippides, sculptor” off his list), then headed straight towards Aubray. Keela struck a pose at him on his way by.

“Don’t go pointing your hips at him, girlfriend,” Zita said. “He’s way too old for you.”

Keela tossed her head and ignored Zita.

“Hello, Leo.”

“Hello.” He tried to walk on past, but she insinuated herself into his path.

“Good to see you.”

“Good to see you too, Keela. Say—”

“What are you working on these days? Anything beautiful?”

“You know everything I work on is always beautiful. Like you. You should come pose for me sometime.”

“I’d love that,” Keela said, her voice deepening. “Really, I would.” Her fingers played with one strap of her dress.

Kyrksen looked at Chloe and shook his head.

“You’re doing a lot of head-shaking this morning, my friend,” she said. “I hope your head doesn’t fall off.”

“Me, too,” he sighed. “I hope this day goes well. I thought it was such a great idea—come here to this beautiful place, spend a day outdoors among the lovely architecture and landscaping and flowers and things, get inspired.”

“It was a great idea,” Chloe assured him, laying her hand on his arm.

“Yeah, but I hope everybody doesn’t get into messes with each other. We’re here to work, to write and dance and draw and paint. We’re not here to flirt and fight.”

“Sometimes flirting and fighting come before great art,” Chloe said, furrowing her brow. “Or at the same time. Or they are the great art.”

“Don’t do that to your beautiful face,” Kyrksen laughed, poking her forehead with one stubby finger.

“Don’t forget I’m married,” she smiled.

“Oh, I won’t, I won’t,” he said. “So am I.”

They both looked around, listening to the various conversations and watching the sky. The sky was overcast, and there was a strange sound in the air, like a high-pitched note somewhere high up and far away. Vera’s head was thrown back as she listened.

“What’s that?” Chloe wondered.

“Dunno,” said Kyrksen. “A bird? An engine somewhere? An electric high-tension wire? Something happening at The train station?”

Chloe shook her head. “No, it’s too constant for a bird, too—well, don’t laugh. Too spiritual for any of those other things.”

“You always were something of a mystic, weren’t you?”

“Was I? I don’t know. And you haven’t known me every long at all, Kyrksen.”

“That’s so.”

They fell silent, watching their friends. Zita was chattering to Keela, who was flirting with Leo, who was trying to catch Aubray’s attention, who was talking on the phone. Mit was flirting with Dorcas, who didn’t notice and was talking to Axel, who was gazing off at Fay, who had her head down but was standing near Mit, who was flirting with Dorcas…. Vera stood perfectly quiet in the dappled shade, motionless except for the rhythm of her left fingers against her silver dress.

Kyrksen looked at his phone.

“Well, it’s almost quarter past ten,” he said, “and that’s everyone who RSVPed on the Facebook event page. So let’s gather together these loons, cream-faced and otherwise, and get started, shall we?”

“We shall,” said Chloe.

Kyrksen stuffed the grubby list into his sporran, the wallet that hung in front of his kilt. He strode forward through the gate.

“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” said Aubray, slipping his phone into the pocket of his skin-tight jeans.

“What’s that?” asked Zita.

“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” said Leo and Kyrksen at the same time.

They grinned at each other.

“The words written over the gate of Hell,” said Aubray in lofty tones.

“Hell! Well, isn’t that lovely?” said Zita. “I certainly hope not.”

“Okay, everyone!” Kyrksen called. “Gather around!”

They did, sort of, jostling and maneuvering for positions advantageous to their various rivalries and attractions.

“All right then,” said Kyrksen. “Thanks so much for being here, everybody. I’m so thrilled you came. I hope this will be an important day in the so far relatively short history of the Tri-State Consortium of Artists and Writers.”

“Its history is shorter than its name,” Mit said, elbowing Dorcas. She edged away. Kyrksen glared at him.

“May I continue, please?” Kyrksen said.

“Oh, lay off him, Kyrk,” said Axel.

Kyrksen’s face turned red.

“Shut up, Axel,” he growled. “Nobody calls me that. Nobody. Never. You got that?”

“Okay, okay, keep your skirt on,” Axel replied. “I’m just joking with you.”

“Kyrksen,” said Chloe, laying her hand on his arm again.

“All right, Chloe. Don’t worry, I’m not going to murder the greasy bastard. Not yet, anyway. Too early in the morning for murder. Okay then. All right, everyone, here’s the deal.”

He puffed out his chest and belly and continued.

“The cemetery staff have been very kind in allowing us to come in and use the grounds today for our artistic field trip. They have been extremely accommodating, and they deserve our thanks. In return, and due to the nature of this location, I ask you all to have the utmost respect in all your actions here today. Please remember this is a burial place—”

“—and a burning place,” muttered Crofton. “I don’t hold with burning people. They should be buried decently and in order.”

“Waste of good material, seems to me,” Dorcas whispered.

Kyrksen glared at them.

“Sorry, boss,” said Crofton. “You go ahead.”

“So don’t do anything you wouldn’t want somebody doing on your grave, or your loved one’s grave. You know, like don’t sit on the grave, don’t put food on them, don’t pick the flowers, that kind of thing. Here’s a list of rules.”

He hunted around in his sporran until he dug up another grubby, creased piece of paper.

“Okay. Here are the rules. Please be attentive while I read these.

“Visitors shall only use avenues and paths to gain immediate access to a gravesite. Lawns shall not be disturbed for any purpose. So don’t walk on the grass.

“Children under fourteen… well, that doesn’t apply to any of us, right?”

He glanced at Vera, then went on.

“About the ornaments and flower vases on the memorials. This doesn’t apply to us, but I’ll read it anyway.

“The use of boxes, shells, toys, metal designs, ornaments, chairs, vases, glass containers, wood items, iron cases, or artificial flowers is prohibited. Religious artifacts, statues of saints, rosary beads, vigil lights, and other sacramental objects are not allowed on graves or lots.

“So better not do any praying or anything while here either. Just kidding.”

Zita tsked and Crofton rolled his eyes.

“Loitering, playing, making noise, or any boisterous behavior within the Cemetery or any of its buildings is prohibited. Please ignore the error of grammatical construction in that sentence.”

Leo snorted, with equine grace.

“Throwing of rubbish anywhere in the grounds or in the buildings is prohibited. Carry in, carry out.

“Now, ordinarily, eating and drinking are not permitted in the cemetery, and also photography, movie-making, and music-making are also not allowed—but I have gotten us special permission—” he flourished yet another grubby paper—“to do all of the above. But note! We are only allowed to eat around the lake. So we’ll meet there at, say, one o’clock for lunch, and again at seven for dinner. And do not let your artistic endeavors bother the staff. There won’t be any other visitors; our permit means they’ll be closing the gate behind us any minute now, and the public aren’t allowed in. We’ve got the whole place to ourselves. The staff will be around until five to let you in and out, but don’t bother them! They might take other private visitors in to look at their loved one’s graves. Don’t talk to them, don’t get in their way, don’t take pictures of them or the places where they are, and, I don’t know, Vera, play softly.”

“And carry a big stick,” grinned Crofton.

“You, too, Mit,” said Kyrksen with a sideways smile at Crofton. “If you blow your own horn, try not to be obnoxious.”

“I’d be happier if someone else blew it for me,” Mit said, and Keela cringed. Dorcas stood there, oblivious.

“Mit, please,” said Kyrksen. “Save it for—just save it.”

“But that’s no fun,” Mit whined.

Kyrksen put up his hand.

“Dude. Enough. Okay, I just have to end with this official statement, and then you can all go and make great art. I hope. Ahem.

“The cemetery disclaims all responsibility for loss or damage from causes beyond its reasonable control, and especially from damage caused by the elements, unavoidable accidents, thieves, vandals, strikers, malicious mischief makers, explosions, insurrections, riots, revolutions, terrorism, or an act of God.

“I think that should about cover it.”

“You made that up,” laughed Chloe. “They never said that about riots and revolutions.”

“I didn’t!” he protested. “Here, look! It’s printed on the back of the rules.”

Kyrksen was just handing Chloe the paper when a bus pulled up and a man jumped down and sprinted towards them.

*

“G’day, mates,” he called out in unadulterated Australian. “Is this here the three-state something-or-other of writers and such-like artsy kinds of blokes and sheilas? Sorry, am I late? I’m Erroll, Erroll Wanless, fresh off the boat as you might say, or the airplane really. Looking for some big-game hunting or, alternatively, some intellectual stimulation. Or—” as he caught sight of Keela— “some other kinds of stimulation as available.” He whistled. “You, my dear, are a beaut. Y’all are a fine-looking bunch of all feathers. Hello, sir,” nodding to Crofton, “hey, Darlin’,” doffing his panama hat to Chloe, “hello, mate,” flicking Leo a little salute. “So,” rubbing his hands together and turning in a circle, examining them all. “Are you the fearless leader?”

He thrust a hand at Kyrksen, who took it limply. The group stood staring at this breezy adventurer in breathless silence. Keela cocked her hips in his direction.

Erroll Wanless was a whipcord of a man, all muscle up the whole length of him. He wore long tight jeans, cowboy boots up to his knees, and a khaki shirt. A huge bowie knife hung from his belt. Slender power rippled in every limb as he moved. Roped veins ran along the backs of his hand. His face was tanned, his hair sandy.

“Who’s this story book guy?” Zita whispered to Kyrksen. “Is he on your list?”

Kyrksen shook his head. “Nope. There were twelve on my list, and we were all here before he arrived. But I don’t mind….”

He turned to the newcomer with a huge smile on his flaccid face.

“Welcome, Erroll. We’re glad to have a little spice in our adventure today.”

Erroll guffawed.

“So, er, ah, who are you, then? And how did you find out about us—to what do we owe the pleasure of your presence today?” Kyrksen asked.

Mit rolled his eyes.

“Always buttering up the new guy,” Axel muttered.

“It certainly is a pleasure,” crooned Keela, crossing her ankles.

“Well, I—” Erroll began, but just then one of them cemetery staff came over and plucked Kyrksen by the sleeve. He turned away, and Erroll was absorbed into the group. Zita began pummeling him with questions about his life—where are you from, how old are you, what do you do, how did you get here, do you have any brothers and sisters, are your parents still alive in Australia? Chloe hovered, watching him with her usual level gaze. Keela gazed at him with hungry eyes, tossing her flaming hair and batting her eyelashes. Aubray looked him up and down, then nodded in approval.

Kyrksen watched all of this out of his peripheral vision while the staff member confirmed the details of the day with him. Yes, they could eat and drink and take pictures and make music, so long as they observed the other cemetery rules and didn’t bother other cemetery visitors. Yes, they were staying after the gates were locked at five p.m., and he would send someone along to let them out at ten. Here was the office phone number and another number that would ring the cell phone of whoever was on duty when he called.

“Cell signal is pretty spotty in here, though,” Kyrksen observed, “so I hope we don’t have to call.”

The man assured him that he would not have to call. Someone would be waiting for them at the gate at ten.

“And finally,” he said, “we would love to see any work that is produced by your artists from this day. Any books, photographs, anything you make, we would love to see. It is not a requirement, let me make that clear, but the cemetery organization is always happy to know about work that our lovely location inspires, whether scholarly studies of the architecture or historical studies of the people buried here, or artistic creations inspired by our landscapes and sculptures. Here is my card; do get in touch at some point in future if any of your group produce successful works.”

Kyrksen thanked him with some haste, eager to get back to his group before they all made love to Erroll or tore him to bits.

But he need not have worried. They were all gathered around that new celebrity, talking, laughing, touching.

All except Mit, who was pouting, and Axel, who was still standing inside the gate, scrunched up against the wall, greasy hair curtaining his face.

Zita sidled up to Kyrksen. They stood together, watching the swirling human pool. Each droplet, each individual, merging with the others, then breaking away and recombining with others again.

“What are those two up to?” he said suddenly.

Zita looked where he pointed. Dorcas had stomped over to where Axel still stood alone, watching the baby birds in the fallen nest. They were dead now, shriveling in the hot morning sun. Dorcas crouched down, dumping her big backpack on the ground with a huge clatter. She stooped over, shot out one hand swiftly, grabbed the little corpses, and stuffed them in her bag.

“What are you going to do with those?” Axel gasped.

“I’m going to make them beautiful.”

Axel recoiled.

“What?” said Dorcas. “I take something everyone else thinks is ugly and is going to be thrown away, and I make it beautiful. I think I’ll put bat’s wings on this one, color it all black—”

“You know songbirds are illegal,” Erroll drawled.

Dorcas jumped, then blushed.

“What’s illegal?” Axel asked.

“Mounting songbirds. Taxidermy?”

“Oh,” said Axel.

“You are talking about mounting them, aren’t you?” Erroll asked Dorcas.

She looked up at him, defiant.

“Well, yes.”

“Don’t worry, little girl,” Erroll laughed, patting her head. “I won’t tell. I’ve got a pair of elephant tusks and a zebra-skin rug at home that just maybe don’t have exactly the entire pile of paperwork that the big bosses say they ought to have. But I bagged them myself—had help on the elephant, of course—and it was all fair and clear. So no worries. I’m no squealer.”

“And I’m no little girl,” she flared up.

“No, no, of course you’re not. But I don’t know too many Amish taxidermists. Seems a bit violent for somebody of your creed, innit?”

Dorcas J. Wesley sighed. “I’m not Amish. I’m Mennonite. We—”

“Still pacifist, eh? But don’t mind making war on dumb brutes. This one time I was in the Amazon, and this bleedin’ great gorilla comes lumbering towards me—”

“Excuse me, everyone!” Kyrksen shouted suddenly, as he watched his little solar system orbiting around someone else. “It’s really high time we get to work. Remember, we are here today for one purpose, and one purpose only: to make art. So go write, practice, dance, draw, paint, or whatever you do. I expect everyone to have something to show at lunch. Lunch at one at the lake. Ask at the office if you need a map. Remember, we are staying late, and the gates close at five. So don’t go out to Starbucks and get yourselves locked out. Be back at the lake again at seven for dinner. I’ll remind you at lunch. If you decide to leave early, please, please tell me! I need to know that there’s not somebody missing when we check out at ten. You all have my number? Good—although cell service is quite spotty in here. So go and do good work, don’t harass any of the other visitors, respect the place, don’t litter or vandalize or pick flowers, and don’t do anything illegal—or at least, don’t get caught. Cheers.”

He turned to Chloe with a sigh as the group began to disperse, moving further into the cemetery grounds—but Aubray came over and shooed Chloe over to join Fay, Vera, and Keela.

“A twittering flock of beauts,” Erroll drawled to Leo. “What’s the bloke going to do to them?”

“Take photos, I imagine,” said Leo. “He’s an amazing photographer, actually. Quite skilled and visionary. Both qualities in one photographer are rare. He’s got the eye and the chops. He’s got a show opening in the city in a couple of weeks; you should go if you’re still in town. And he knows how to pick out the beauties, that’s for sure, at least in his work.”

They stood looking at the four young women as Aubray waved them into position on a white marble dais. Kyrksen watched the two men watching the girls, then he turned and saw Dorcas standing off to one side, looking frowzy and unbrushed.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Zita sympathized, patting Dorcas on the shoulder. “I guess you and me are too ugly for that boy’s pictures. Don’t you let it worry you.”

But Dorcas was watching Axel as he loped away, and Mit was watching Dorcas as she watched Axel loping away.

“This could get dramatic,” Zita said to Kyrksen.

Not Quite a Novel: Sørina’s #3DNC Report

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The Coffee Pot.

The three-day novel contest is over again for this year. We survived, happily, with deeper friendships and great work accomplished. I at least am amazed that we have managed to make this dream come true three years in a row in the face of enormous obstacles. And, as is usual for me, the work is barely beginning. Here are the stats of what was accomplished, a narrative of the weekend, and a plan for what to do next. 

8 Ekphrasians participated in some permutation or other of this intensive writing retreat, composing well over 100,000 words collectively! These words were written in community, alone, in the woods, in a cabin, at a retreat center, at home, in various states of euphoria, inspiration, or drudgery.

IMG_2594* I began a new novel, a murder mystery. I wrote 27,005 words, but only got about 15% of the way into the plot. The story takes place over a 20-hour period, and I only got my characters through the first three hours. They kept doing things that weren’t in my notes!
 * Sharon wrote an entire play. It is called Love’s Labours Happily Ever After, and it blends fairy-tale characters with Shakespearean plot lines from Love’s Labour’s LostMidsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and As you Like it. She completed a full draft at 17,000 words. She also worked through a book about structuring fiction and wrote her outline for her next book!
* Betsy
roughed out the entire plot of her novel, Demae’s Story, writing what she calls the skeleton of the story at 24,000 words.
* Steph is the only one who paid the fee and entered the contest for real. She wrote most of the story she had planned.
* Jeff spent the time working on a play called “Hail Mary.”
* Andrew worked on a novella and wrote about 18,000 words.
* Marian wrote a complete children’s story, called “Piccalilli.” (Which I love, by the way). She wrote a journal, did lots of homework, practiced her lines for two roles she’s got in upcoming plays, and edited some of Aakroveil, the novel she completed earlier this year.
* Devon planned to spend the weekend editing her personal narrative.
If this year goes like previous years, most of us should have complete manuscripts by Christmas, then spend any number of months or years revising, revising, revising. (I also plan to start The Four Senses, my 2013 #3DNC production, over again from scratch. Sigh).

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The situation room, with a map of my cemetery setting.

Unfortunately, most of us had a very interrupted weekend. I traveled up to Massachusetts on Monday to be with my mother, who had unexpected heart surgery. I did get home late on Thursday, and Betsy and I made it up to the cabin on Friday evening, but we didn’t really start working until Saturday morning. Marian got cast in two plays and had rehearsals until late Saturday afternoon, so she arrived Saturday evening. Sharon got cast in one play, is directing another, and had both a funeral and a wedding to attend on Saturday. So she and Betsy worked at home on Friday, then Sharon joined us on Sunday. We all left by 7 on Monday evening. Next year, we all want to join the official contest, get up there earlier, start right at midnight on Friday, end at midnight on Monday, and leave on Tuesday. I plan to develop a plot for a novella that can be completed within 30,000 words.

But what a beautiful time it was! The Coffee Pot, the cabin owned by Betsy’s family, where we have the retreat, is an idyllic location. We enjoyed it thoroughly. We didn’t push ourselves, sleeping eight hours a night, going for long walks, swimming (and washing) in the creek, having hour-long intense conversations. Sure, we could have written more words if we hadn’t taken those mental-and-physical-health breaks. But I think we are happier people for those times. And now we have all those words there, ready for the adding and editing. Stay tuned for selections and for posts by the other Ekphrasians!

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