Sørina’s 1st NaNo narrative

PrintHere we are, half way through December, and I haven’t blogged about my NaNoWriMo experience yet. Here goes.

This was my first attempt at NaNoing. I was working on Ready-Made Grave, the same novel I began over the 3-Day Novel Contest weekend (Labor Day). My goal was to begin November with 45,000 words and end with 90,000.

I started with 41,829 and ended with 76,685.

CoverAh, well. That’s not total failure. Here’s what happened. I was trotting along, writing the 1,667 words or more every day with ease. I was on track for complete success. However, there was a nagging thought in the back of my head that had been there since I first began work on Ready-Made Grave. See, it’s a murder mystery, but the death doesn’t happen until at least halfway through. Up until that point (as this synopsis makes clear), it’s 13 artistic-type people wandering around a cemetery, trying to make art. So I didn’t have one “story-worthy problem” to drive the narrative forward, nor one through-line to connect the 13 characters to one conflict.

Then on Wednesday the 18th, I had a brilliant “Eureka moment.” I figured out my story-worthy conflict! Here it is: the leader of the artists’ group springs a surprise on them: after they’re all gathered in the cemetery, he announces that they are all locked in, and he won’t let them out until they show him an art project that’s good enough. They’re trapped.

I loved this idea, and for the rest of that week, all went well.

But then I got stuck. I couldn’t figure out the logistics of how to move material around to accomplish this grand new idea. And then I had a huge academic project to do. And then 3 days straight of cooking and traveling for Thanksgiving. Finally, on Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving (when I woke up two hours before anyone else), I got unstuck. But by then it was too late to make the NaNoWrMo word count.

Oh, well. Quality over quantity, right? Now I’m at 78,254 words and making good progress. Plus I’ve been working on two short stories and a poem recently. And that huge academic project I mentioned. So there’s been plenty of writing going on at Higgins’ Croft these days — just not 50,000 words on one thing in a month. Maybe next year!

 

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NaNoWriMo synopsis

Here’s a little synopsis I wrote up for my NaNoWriMo novel. Your suggestions for revision are welcome.

SYNOPSIS:

On a sunny day in July, twelve members of the Independent Creative Consortium of Collaborative Artists and Writers gather at a beautiful cemetery for a day of work and inspiration. They are an eccentric group: a silent violinist, a man in a kilt, a rogue taxidermist, a gorgeous Greek godlike sculptor, and others of various media and madnesses. They joined at the last minute by an Australian adventurer. Throughout the day, they work, talk, weep, flirt, and fall apart. Their tensions, alliances, and enmities rise as the temperature gets hotter. Some are struck by inspiration; some are just stuck. It’s a wild time of sex, drugs, and poetry as they make music, make love, and meet ghosts. At the end of the day, exhausted, inspired, or in agony, they troop back to the gate—only to find that they have been locked into the cemetery. There is no cell signal in there. The walls are too high to climb. A thunderstorm is rolling in. And just then—one of their number is found dead, lying in a ready-made grave, forehead smashed as if with a blunt instrument. Torrential rains begin, and the twelve remaining artists gather in the huge communal columbarium for shelter and investigation. They spend the rest of the night interrogating one another, arguing, accusing: locked together in a house of the dead, seeking out the bringer of death. Will they discover the killer by morning?

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!

#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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Betsy’s 3DNC plans

10636080_700398716697654_7053503100358359142_nThe first time I heard the phrase, “Three Day Novel Contest”, my blood pressure skyrocketed. Just the thought of writing an entire work was terrifying, without having to do it in three days. But here I am, planning my third Labor-Day-Weekend getaway for that very same event. Let me give you some of the reasons I am able to survive this, and want to continue participating every year I can.
1. I have a great support system. In particular, the three friends I do the getaway with. We range from single, college-age to married college professor, but we all share one passion: writing. We offer each other encouragement, make each other take breaks when one of us is stressing, and even dish out some tough love if necessary (this usually manifests itself when one of us has had enough of the others’ shenanigans and needs to be isolated for a few hours).
2. We go to a relaxing location. Everyone has a different definition for “relaxing”, but for me it means my family’s cabin in the Pocono mountains. There’s no wi-fi or running water, and very spotty cell-power. This makes it impossible to be distracted by the ever-present internet, and allows us to fully enjoy the woods that surround us. I like to think the gurgling creek, the whispering of the wind, and the occasional wildlife we see all serves to inspire our writing in different ways.10556413_700398973364295_7621822969054447400_n
3. I have a plan. Or, half a plan. This year I did a full outline of the entire novel I am going to be working on. It isn’t very complicated, just bullet-points of what needs to happen in each chapter, but it will keep me on task and remind me of where I’m going in the story, should I get lost. My end-goal for the book is for it to be somewhere between 50 and 60 thousand words. I’m aiming to get around 30,000 written over Labor Day Weekend. I tend to have a very short attention span, so I work in spurts, broken up by tending the fire, making food, catching crayfish, etc.
I do plan to actually enter the contest eventually…this year I was intending to, but we decided to start Thursday night of Labor Day Weekend because of Sharon having a wedding to go to. I didn’t want to waste all that extra time, so did not pay the fee. Maybe next year.
I look forward to this year’s 3DNC, and hope all the others who participate have as much fun as I will!