NaNoWriMo 2020 Planning Journey: Sneak Peeks

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As I mentioned in my last planning journey post, I’m writing out scenes that happen before the novel as a way to get to know my characters better before November and starting the actual novel.  Today I wanted to share some sneak peeks and a few of the scenes I’ve written so you can see exactly what I mean.  These are fairly rough (just drafted, a very quick copy edit, and with placeholders and inconsistencies intact) but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

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Meet Emma

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 [Note: nine years old, arriving at Verity household]

Emma waited until the coach had come to a complete stop before jumping down from the seat on the back.  She stepped around the side and waited for her cousin, who had been driving it, to tell her what to do.  She wasn’t entirely sure how she was supposed to know what to do now that she was here at the Verity’s ancestral home.

“Alright?” her cousin asked softly as he stepped down from the driver’s seat.

Emma nodded.  Being on the seat at the back meant she could move around a lot more than if she’d had to ride inside with their passengers.

“Just stay there and look dutiful for now,” he whispered to her before opening the coach door.

Emma shifted slightly so she was standing with her back to the coach wheel and faced the mansion.  That at least gave her something to look at as she stood quietly, hands folded against her belly like her mother taught her.

The mansion was huge.  Mother had told her that the family didn’t all live here anymore, and that they didn’t even use the entire mansion, but it was still intimidatingly huge.  It was four stories tall, taller than any building she’d ever seen.  Even the clock tower in town was only three stories tall.  The mansion was made of some kind of smooth white stone that practically glowed in the late evening light.  There were huge windows on every floor with real glass in them, not the thick bubbly kind like they had in the town hall back home, but the smooth clear kind.

She was going to be some kind of maid now, and she really hoped it wasn’t the cleaning kind.  Mother had taught her everything she might need to know.  How to clean, cook basic things, follow recipes she didn’t know, properly serve at table, dress and undress a noble lady in all the fancy clothes that were impossible to get into by yourself, style and care for hair, and assist a woman with basically any every day need.

Mother had also taught her how to be properly deferential to her employers and anyone of rank.  Emma worried about that part the most.  She was used to interacting with her mother and her younger siblings and the other families in their little town.  She’d never even seen a noble before.  Not that the Verity family were actual nobles, but she was supposed to treat them as if they were because they were her employers.

Emma continued studying the mansion as her cousin helped the two passengers from the coach and assured them their luggage would be delivered to their rooms presently.  She never turned her head as she watched the two young men walk away from the coach and up the three steps to the grand door of the mansion, which opened for them.

Once they had disappeared inside, two other men walked out, dressed in matching outfits.  Brown slacks with sharp creases, white shirts, and sharp brown vests that matched their slacks.

“Well met,” the taller of the two said, offering his hand to her cousin.  “I hope the drive wasn’t too awful.”

“The weather held the whole way, so it was fairly pleasant,” her cousin replied, laughing as he clasped hands with the man.  “This is my little cousin, Emma,” he continued, turning and beckoning her forward.

“Please to meet you,” Emma said, dipping a curtsy when she stopped beside her brother.

The shorter man laughed.  “They said you’d have good manners,” he said with a smile.  “No need to be so formal with us,” he added, smiling down at her.  “I’m Neal and this is Owen,” he continued.  “We work here, just like you, so you only have to be formal with us when we’re in front of a Verity or a guest.”

“Thank you for letting me know,” Emma replied.

“You’ll get a uniform,” Owen said, “which will be the same as all the other women employed in the house proper, and we’re wearing the uniform for men in the house proper, so you’ll be able to easily tell who the other servants are.”

Emma nodded.  That was useful information.

“Let’s get the luggage in first, then we’ll take you in to see Hollis, who can tell you all about your new job.”

“Should I help?” Emma asked.

“You can get little things,” her cousin answered.  “There are a few boxes in the coach under the seat.  If you can gather those, we’ll get the trunks.”

Emma nodded and turned back to the coach to gather things.  She would be polite and helpful.  Mother had stressed that, even when interacting with her fellow servants.

It didn’t take them long to carry everything inside, and other servants came to take everything away to the right rooms.  When they were done, Emma stood beside the empty coach unsure what to do next.  Her cousin went down on one knee so he was the same height as her and gave her a hug.

“You’ll do fine here,” he told her.  He’d been working as one of the family’s coachmen since he was twelve.  Emma was only nine.  “Just remember what your mother taught you and everything will be fine.”

Emma nodded and hugged him tight before he could stand up again.

He laughed and hugged her back before getting to his feet and reaching up onto the top of the coach.  He lifted down her little bag of belongings and handed it to her.

“I’ll see you when I come through,” he told her, patting her on the head before getting back into the driver’s seat and clicking to the horses.  He needed to see them safely to the stables and get a fresh pair for his next journey.

“This way then,” Neal said to Emma.

Emma followed him back into the house and then through a side door she hadn’t even noticed before—it was very well concealed—that lead into a narrow hallway and then into a large pantry room.  At least she assumed it was a pantry based on the lack of cooking facilities and the preponderance of vegetables and other food stuffs.

There were three women at work in the room, but only one, the oldest based on her gray hair, turned when they entered.

“Ah, this must be young Emma,” the woman said, smiling over at them.

“It is indeed,” Neal replied.

Emma dipped a curtsy even though they’d told her she didn’t need to.  If this was Hollis, then she was the head maid, which meant she was in charge of Emma and all the other maids in the house.

“She taught you well, she did,” Hollis said.  “Remember your manners in front of the family and guests, but we don’t stand on ceremony and such when we’re back in the working parts of the house.”

“Yes, mistress,” Emma replied.

“And you can just call me Hollis,” she added.  “In public you generally shouldn’t actually respond to me with more than a nod and curtsy.  We’re generally to be seen as little as possible and not heard if it can be helped.”

Emma nodded.

“Let me show you where you can put away your things and then introduce you to your new charge,” Hollis said, waving Emma forward as she turned toward the other door on the far side of the room.

This lead to the kitchen, which was bustling, but also incredibly clean.  It helped that they had the fancy steam powered cooking machines her mother had described, rather than a fire.  It meant no soot and ash to worry about.

Hollis lead her through the kitchen and out the other side into what appeared to be a dining room.  From there, they went into a wide and airy hallway and through another cleverly hidden door into another narrow hallway lit by some kind of indirect glow.  Emma wasn’t sure if it was sunlight coming from hidden windows, or if there were some sort of fancy advanced lighting somewhere.  Mother had known about the cooking machines, but didn’t know much about the other technologies the nobles and the richest commoners had access to now.

At the end of the long narrow hallway, Hollis took a right and walked all the way down to a narrow set of stairs that took them up to the second floor, where they went right again before exiting through a door Emma was worried she wouldn’t even be able to identify on her own.  They walked across another large airy hallway and into a suite of rooms.

“This is Catherine’s suite,” Hollis told Emma.  “She’s just turned nine years old, so a little bit younger than you are.”

Emma’s birthday was seven months past.  It was only the day after that they’d gotten the notice about when she would start work at the Verity household.

“You’ll be her personal maid,” Hollis explained.  “You’ll stay in this room,” she continued, opening another carefully concealed door that led into a tiny chamber with just enough room for a bed, a chest of three drawers with a pitcher and wash basin on top, and a candle in a holder.  “You’ll spend most of your time attending Catherine, but may occasionally be asked to help with other tasks if she’s away or while she’s in her lessons.”

“So I’ll assist her with anything she needs then?” Emma asked.  She knew what was expected of a lady’s made to an actual lady, but what did a little girl need?

“Yes,” Hollis replied.  “You’ll assist with bathing and dressing and the usual things, but you’ll also bring her meals if she takes them in her room, attend her if she is ever ill, and generally keep watch on her health and wellbeing.  You won’t be primarily responsible for the cleaning of her suite, which happens twice a week during her lessons, but you will make up the bed in the mornings and change linens as needed between cleanings, and deal with any messes that need immediate attention.”

Emma nodded.  That all made sense.

“You will also attend her whenever she asks,” Hollis added.  “Catherine has always been a fairly solitary child, so I don’t know how much she’ll ask of you, but if she wishes to go out into the gardens or take walks, she may ask you to accompany her.”

Emma nodded again.  So she was possibly a bit of a companion as well as a maid.  That made slightly more sense given how young she was.  Her mother hadn’t been given a place until she was twelve, and had only left it when her back was injured and she could no longer do the work.  Thankfully her father was able to support them both until her mother was well enough to take in sewing work.  Emma had helped with that for almost as long as she could remember, but they’d always known the Verity family would offer Emma a place.

“If you ever have any questions, you can come see me about them.  Catherine should be back from her lessons momentarily.  I’ll return during dinner to show you where everything is that you’ll need in her suite, tomorrow during her morning lessons I’ll show you where everything else is.”

Emma nodded again.  She hoped Catherine was a nice girl.  Her mother had warned her that not all nobles and rich commoners were kind to their servants.  Emma hoped perhaps a nine-year-old like herself wouldn’t have learned to be cruel yet.

Hollis led Emma back out of her little room and Emma closed the door behind them.  She glanced around the sitting room, which was actually quite large.  It had a couch, a chaise, and two chairs grouped around a fireplace with a low table between them.  There was also a writing desk in one corner of the room with a few books stacked on it and several quills in the stand with the ink.

There was only one door leading further into the suite, so Emma assumed that would be the dressing room with Catherine’s bedchamber being beyond that.

“Do you have any questions before Catherine arrives?” Hollis asked.

“What is the proper address for her?” Emma asked.  Catherine wasn’t a noble, so she wasn’t Lady Catherine, but she was Emma’s employer’s child and Emma’s charge.

“I recommend starting with Miss Catherine,” Hollis replied.  “She will let you know if she prefers something else when you are in private, which you can use whenever it’s just the two of you and other servants to hear.  In front of the master and mistress of the house, you should always address her as Miss Catherine.  Master Verity and Mistress Verity will be your normal address for them, and any other family members in the house should be miss or mister and their first name.  At present there are [a dozen?] members of the family staying here.”

Emma nodded.  That was a lot of names to learn.  “If I don’t recall someone’s name, would a simple miss or mister be appropriate?” she asked.

“That should suffice,” Hollis replied.  “You shouldn’t be seeing them much outside Catherine’s company, and she’ll likely supply names for you during conversation.  She’s incredibly polite and tends to make fairly formal greetings even among her own family.”

Emma nodded.  That would be helpful.  She’d learn all the names soon enough, but having help at the start would be good.

The door opened then, and Emma quickly resumed her proper posture, hands folded across her belly and looked over at the door to see who walked in.

The girl was almost a hand shorter than Emma with a delicate build, a tumble of brown curls loosely tied at her neck, and hazel eyes that sparkled as she quickly surveyed the room.  She smiled when she saw Emma and Hollis standing off to one side.

“You must be Emma,” she said, walking over to them.

“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Catherine,” Emma said, dipping a curtsey.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Catherine said, actually curtseying back to Emma.  “You can just call me Catherine.”

“Of course,” Emma replied.

“I’ll leave Emma to help you get ready for supper,” Hollis said.

[Notes to self: If I ever use this scene formally, go back and fix things so that the first thing Emma does is get her uniform and a few spares, and then be taken to C’s rooms.  She’d have needed a bit of cleaning up from the dirt of the road since she traveled outside on the back of the coach.  Also dinner is noon meal and supper is evening meal.]

“How can I assist you?” Emma asked after the door closed behind Hollis.

“I’m supposed to wear the nicer dresses for dinner, and mother likes my hair up,” Catherine said.  “For day wear I have simpler dresses and I can get away with wearing my hair like this as long as I don’t have something scheduled that involves mother.”

Emma followed Catherine across the sitting room and into the room beyond, which was a quite elaborate dressing room.  In one corner, perfectly placed to have the best light, there was a vanity with a stool in front of it and a large and elaborately framed mirror on a swivel mounted to the vanity.  The opposite corner was sectioned off with a folding screen and beside that was a long rack full of dresses and other clothing hanging neatly.  A few items where shrouded in white cloth, so Emma assumed those were the most costly and elaborate dresses.

“Do you have a preference of dress this evening?” Emma asked, glancing at the options.  There were a few dozen similar to the one Catherine was currently wearing in a variety of pastel shades, which Emma assumed were her day dresses.  The next set seemed to be in slightly darker colors and richer fabrics.  They also came in a wider variety of styles.

“Nothing too elaborate for supper at home,” Catherine said.  “When we have guests someone usually sets out the dress mother wants me to wear, and she supervises the packing when I travel.”

Emma nodded and went to the rack to quickly assess the dresses available.  She found one in a medium blue that was fairly simple except for the more elaborate bustle and the decorative trim on the jacket.  She stretched up to remove it from the rack and hang it on the hook on the outside of the folding screen.

“Is this acceptable?” Emma asked.

“Yes,” Catherine said, “that’s exactly right for supper.”

Emma smiled and dipped a curtsy, happy that she’d selected something appropriate based on Catherine’s instructions.

“Do you have a preferred routine before supper?” Emma asked.

“Unless I’ve been outside, I usually just need my hair done and to change,” Catherine replied.  “If I’ve been outside, I might need to a bit of a wash depending.”

“Would you prefer I do your hair before or after taking off your day dress?” Emma asked.

“After would be lovely,” Catherine said, smiling at Emma.  “It’s nice to get out of things for a little.”

Emma nodded and smiled back.  Catherine was very well spoken and sounded so much like an adult.  Emma hadn’t done much playing in the past several months, but she didn’t remember the other children being so formal when she’d had a chance to play with them back in town.

Catherine stepped over to the screen, standing next to a panel that Emma noticed had an empty hanger on it for the dress.

Emma followed and began to unbutton the back of Catherine’s dress.  The buttons were small and covered with the same cloth as the dress was made out of so they blended in with the rest of the dress.  There sure were a lot of them though.  It was a good thing Emma had nimble little fingers.  Once all the buttons were undone, Emma gently eased the dress off Catherine’s shoulders and bent down so it would pool around Catherine’s feet.

Catherine stepped out over the skirt and moved toward the screen, slipping out of her shoes as Emma stood and hung up the dress.

Emma left the day dress hanging on the screen for the time being.  She’d need to ask Hollis what the procedures were for caring for Catherine’s clothing.  They likely wouldn’t need to be laundered every time Catherine wore them.  When she turned back, Catherine had already seated herself on the stool by the vanity.  Emma noticed that her feet didn’t touch the ground.  Catherine was still rather small for nine years old.

“Do you prefer simple styles or elaborate ones?” Emma asked as she stepped up behind Catherine and carefully untied the ribbon holding her curls back from her face.

“I prefer simple styles like this one,” Catherine said, “but mother prefers more elaborate styles.  For supper at home, I can get away with something simple, but up and contained.  For guests or when we travel, you’ll have to learn the elaborate ones.”

“I know a wide variety of styles,” Emma replied, pulling the box of hair pins closer to the edge of the vanity so she could reach them easily.  “But I am always eager to learn more,” she added, realizing she might have sounded rude.”

“I don’t even know how to braid,” Catherine said.

“I could teach you,” Emma offered as she began to pin Catherine’s curls into place.  She would do a simple pile of curls at the back of Catherine’s head tonight, something up and contained, but that would show off the volume of beautiful hair Catherine had.

“Really?” Catherine asked, starting to turn, but stopping herself short.

“Of course,” Emma replied.  There was no particular need for Catherine to know how to braid, but Emma’s mother had told her that if she could do little things to please the person she served, it would benefit her later, and this was a very small thing.

Catherine’s smile was huge as she looked at Emma through the mirror.  “No one else has ever offered to teach me anything.”

“I’m sure it simply didn’t occur to them that you would wish to know,” Emma replied.  Catherine’s hair was incredibly soft and a joy to work with.  It took the pins easily and actually stayed in place.  Curls were often easier to deal with that straight hair, because they had texture to them.

“Maybe,” Catherine replied.

Emma quickly finished pinning up Catherine’s curls and picked up the hand mirror so she could show Catherine in the mirror.

“Oh, I like this one,” Catherine, said, smiling.  “It looks fancy, but doesn’t take long to do.”

“Your hair is a delight to work with,” Emma replied. 

Catherine just smiled and nodded, so Emma put the hand mirror back on the vanity and pushed the hair pin box back to where it had been.

“When do you need to be ready for supper?” Emma asked as she took a step back from Catherine.

“Not for half an hour,” Catherine replied.

“Would you prefer to dress now, or closer to supper time?” Emma asked.  Catherine had mentioned liking to be out of the layers earlier.

“This is fine for now,” Catherine said, sliding off the stool and moving toward the door leading further into her suite.  “Let me show you my room and tell you about things,” she said, waving Emma after her.

Emma followed when Catherine opened the door to the other room, which was Catherine’s bed chamber as expected, but it was also a bit more than that, she realized.  There were bookcases between the windows and two large upholstered chairs in one corner near the window that looked out on the south side of the house.

“These are my books,” Catherine said, turning to smile at Emma.  “I’m allowed to loan them out if I want, so you’re allowed to read them as long as they stay in the suite, which includes your room.”

“Oh,” Emma said softly.  She could sort of read.

“Do you like to read?” Catherine asked, hopping up into one of the chairs, which looked incredibly plush and comfortable.

“I don’t know,” Emma replied.

“Oh, can you read?” Catherine asked.  “I didn’t even think to ask, I’m sorry.”

“I can a little,” Emma replied, taking a few steps into the room.  “I don’t have much formal schooling.  Mother taught me enough to read a shopping list or sound out the words on directions left for me, but we didn’t practice it much.”

“Oh, well, you’ll have to practice while I do the work my tutors give me,” Catherine said.  “I love having someone to talk to about what I read, so I’d love it if you’d practice so you could read stories with me.”

“If it doesn’t interfere with my duties, I’m sure I can do that,” Emma replied.

“Oh, it shouldn’t,” Catherine said, smiling happily.  “Hollis said you’ll have very little responsibility aside from me, and I don’t take much work except before dinner.  Besides, you could think of it as part of your work if you needed to.  It’s something you’ll do so you can be a better companion for me.  Mother and Father said that’s the primary reason they wanted you specifically, because you’re a distant cousin and my age and we can be good companions.”

“I’d like that,” Emma replied.  Hollis had mentioned that Catherine was a solitary child.  Maybe that wasn’t entirely by choice.  It sounded a lot like Catherine wanted a friend, and Emma was more than eager to be a friend to Catherine.

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Meet Nadine

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[Note: Nadine is 13 at this point.]

Nadine stood as still as she possibly could while her mother’s maids dressed her and did her hair.

Her own maids had been deemed too young and inexperienced for the task today.  Her mother hadn’t explained why yet.  Nadine very rarely knew why things were happening.  Nadine knew that if she was being fussed over this much, then whoever they were seeing today was important and Nadine needed to be on her best possible behavior.

“This will have to do if we don’t want to be late,” Nadine’s mother said after the maids had spent hours tweaking every possible aspect of Nadine’s appearance.

When the maids stepped away, Nadine very slowly stepped forward toward her mother, being careful not to disarrange anything the maids had spent time on.

“Come,” her mother said, turning and walking out of the room.

Nadine held in the sigh and followed at a properly sedate pace.  If she moved too fast she was sure her hair would come undone and her dress would fall apart.  She felt ridiculous in the overly fancy thing.

When she followed her mother into the formal dining room to find her father conversing with the king and the Royal Vizier, Nadine began to understand why her mother had made such a fuss.  A royal visit was indeed worth fussing over.  She wasn’t sure why she was being included in one, but that was beside the point.

Nadine followed her mother and played the perfect miniature lady as she was introduced to the king and his party.  No one was named for her, because she was expected to know everyone in the royal family on site and any of the important person surrounding them.  She knew the vizier was Archibald Verity, a commoner from a family with a long history of filling the role, and that it was the king’s second son and third child, Corentin, who stood quietly beside his father.  The royal consort wasn’t with them today, and neither was the heiress, Princess Josephine.  This was expected as the royal consort had been quite ill for the past few months.

It was a relief when supper was announced and they could all take their seats.  It turned out to just be the six of them dining, so Nadine ended up on her father’s left, next to Prince Corentin, who sat on his own father’s right.  He was very polite and even pulled out Nadine’s chair for her.

Nadine thanked him in an appropriately mild tone and volume, as her mother had always instructed her.

The meal was filled with talk of the kingdom and matters of state.  Her father was an active member of the court so he, the king, and the vizier did all the talking.  Nadine listened politely.  She had listened to her father talk enough that she knew what was happening at court and could follow the conversation well enough.

It wasn’t until the dessert course was served that the conversation seemed to die away.

Nadine could feel her mother’s eyes on her.  She wasn’t doing what her mother wanted, but she’d been given no directions or instructions, so what was she missing?

Nadine glanced at her father and then her mother.  Her mother was indeed staring hard at her, but Nadine could do nothing but return her gaze with a polite expression.  If her mother wanted something, she needed to tell Nadine.

All through dessert, her mother stewed and Nadine remained quietly polite as she enjoyed the fresh fruit and cream.  It wasn’t her fault her mother never told her anything.

After supper, as was the family’s custom when guests had joined them, her father led them out through the large glass paneled doors on one side of the dining hall and onto the gracefully appointed patio that lead out into the family’s famous rose gardens.

Prince Corentin approached Nadine, bowing gracefully.

Nadine curtsied back, unsure if that was the proper response.

“It would be a pleasure to escort two such lovely ladies through the garden,” Prince Corentin said.

“It would be my pleasure as well,” Nadine replied, curtseying again.

When the prince offered her his arm, Nadine glanced sideways at her mother, and seeing a real smile on her face for once, Nadine gently placed her hand on the prince’s forearm.

He walked sedately, and even engaged them in a polite conversation about the garden.  Nadine was able to reply back and even managed to occasionally ask a question or two to keep the conversation moving.  She wasn’t the best at this, and she had very little chance to practice.  Her elder brothers were always the ones going with her parents to functions.  She was usually left at home.

By the time they’d made a complete circuit of the garden and returned to the patio, it was time for the prince to leave with the king and the vizier.

“It was lovely spending time with you this afternoon,” Prince Corentin said, gently taking her hand from his arm and bowing over it, his lips barely touching the back of her hand.

“It was a truly wonderful afternoon,” Nadine replied, barely managing to keep her tone even.  She’d never had anyone kiss her hand like that, and he was a prince.

He smiled at her before turning to follow his father and the vizier back into the house.

Her father went with the, but her mother stopped her from following.

Nadine sat down on the bench beside the door and waited while her mother paced up and down the patio.  It had been quite a while since she’d seen her mother so agitated.

“Well?” Her mother asked as soon as Nadine’s father reappeared in the open patio doorway.

“We’ll be meeting tomorrow to finalize the details,” her father replied.  “It’s all settled except the signatures.  They’re already aware of the dowry and he’s amenable to my desire for the wedding to happen after she turns eighteen.”

Wedding?  Nadine frowned.

“Splendid,” Nadine’s mother said, looking positively and radiantly happy.  She barely even glanced at Nadine before sweeping back into the house and calling for her chamber maid.

“What was agreed upon?” Nadine asked softly.  She didn’t usually question her parents, but she felt this had something to do with her.  She didn’t have any sisters, so a dowry probably meant her.

“Tomorrow I will meet with the king to finalize an agreement for you to be wed to Prince Corentin in the year following your eighteenth birthday,” her father replied.

“Oh, I see,” Nadine replied.  Wed?  To a prince?  She was going to be betrothed to a prince?

“He seemed rather impressed with your gentility this afternoon,” her father said.

“I’m glad,” Nadine replied softly.  Her mother was happy.  That’s what mattered.  When Mother was happy, Nadine was left to herself more and her every action wasn’t picked to pieces for flaws.  This was a very advantageous match after all.  Her father was heavily involved in the court, but their family didn’t have the long standing prestige and pedigree that normally lead to a royal betrothal.

She didn’t know what to think.  Her conversation with Prince Corentin could have happened with any noble anywhere.  There was nothing personal about it.  She knew nothing about him personally and tomorrow her father would sign that she was to marry him?  Oh dear.

Image Prompt 069 – Our Most Reliable Navigator

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I chose the image of the bridge and the remains of an older bridge on the Tay as viewed from Dundee, Scotland.  This is actually a continuation of last month’s scene.  I was having so much fun with the idea I wanted to keep going.

Our Most Reliable Navigator:

Valerie and Dr. Harrison arrived at the University’s camp site on the Tay just as dusk was fading into night.

“Who goes there?” The guard posted at the gate called.

“Harrison…and…Tavish,” Dr. Harrison called back between huffing breaths.  “Bravo…Six Niner…and Hotel…Niner Niner,” he added.

“Get in, quickly,” the guard said.  “We’re in the process of locking down for the night.”

“Why do you think we’re out of breath?” Dr. Harrison asked as they dismounted their bikes and wheeled them through the gate.  “It was a hell of a trip.”

“Go get cleaned up and settle your gear,” the guard said.  “I’ll send someone to let Dr. Avery know you’ve arrived safe and will report to her before turning in.

“Thank you kindly,” Dr. Harrison replied, motioning for Valerie to lead the way.

She nodded to him, still too winded by the headlong rush to get to the camp to respond properly to anyone.

By the time they’d secured their bikes along the wall and found the tent reserved for the research team, she was breathing easier and the stitch in her side had subsided to a dull ache.  Everything had gone smoothly for the first day of the trip north, but on the second day, they’d stopped for supplies near Edinburgh, and gotten on the road with seven hours to make the six-hour trip.  Then found the Edinburgh bridge had been destroyed in the three months since they’d last been through.  It took an extra hour and a half to go around, so they’d pushed themselves as hard as they could to make it all the way to the Dundee camp before dark.

In retrospect, she should have recommended they diverge north toward Dunning and take the extra day to get to Dundee, but they’d made it, so at least she didn’t have too guilty about it since Dr. Harrison seemed less winded than she was.

She followed Dr. Harrison back out into the night and across the camp to the planning tent that was set up in the center of every University run camp.  It made it easier for everyone to find and report into their superiors.

“I was beginning to think something had happened to you two,” Dr. Avery said as soon as they walked in.  “Tavish is one of our most reliable navigators.”

“We hadn’t gotten word the bridge was out,” Dr. Harrison replied.

“What?” Dr. Avery snapped, standing up from her folding chair.  “Which bridge?”

The bridge,” Dr. Harrison replied.  “Edinburgh bridge.”

“Damnation,” Dr. Avery spat, followed by a colorful stream of cursing that was inventive enough for any historical sailor.

“Is this your first word of it as well?” Dr. Harrison asked softly.

“Yes,” she said, slumping back into her chair.  “We had another crew arrive back only a week ago, and they didn’t mention anything about the bridge.  Almost everyone resupplies at Edinburgh, so it’s the most used route to us.  Someone must have figured that out finally.”

“Just make sure the word gets out,” Dr. Harrison said.  “It was almost everything we had to make it before the gates closed.  We had an hour to spare, but closer to two would have been more comfortable.”

“You did well,” Dr. Avery said, including Valerie with eye contact and a nod.  “I’ll get word out on the network about the bridge so others can plan for the detour.  We may need to move the supplies to a better location as well.”

“Other than our travel mishaps today, everything went to plan,” Dr. Harrison said.  “Valerie has been indispensable as always, and we’ve got only one device left to install.”

“That was faster than anticipated,” Dr. Avery said, actually looking surprised.  “Dr. Davis had estimated two weeks for installation for the southern sites.  He’s only just now finished his three.”

“As I said, she’s been invaluable,” Dr. Harrison replied.  “I’d never have gotten it done in twice the time without her.”

Valerie could feel herself blushing.

“We’re all very aware of how important Tavish is to this project,” Dr. Avery said softly.  “Why do you think she’s the only student who always gets her first pick of research partners?”

Valerie glanced between them.  What was that supposed to mean?

“Don’t go scaring the poor woman,” Dr. Harrison said to Dr. Avery before turning to Valerie.  “We’ve noticed that you request to work with me and I’m very aware that it’s because the two of us make a very efficient team and you value efficiency.  It’s why I’ve always requested you in return to ensure you get your first choice.”

“I do value efficiency,” Valerie said softly.  It was too embarrassing to say that she also preferred working with Dr. Harrison because he cared enough to explain things as they worked.  She learned more with him, that’s why she really wanted to work with him so much.

“Why don’t you head to bed,” Dr. Harrison suggested.  “I’ll give our report and then we can head out to the Tay first thing in the morning and see if the boats survived.”

“Yes, get some rest,” Dr. Avery urged.

“Thank you,” Valerie said before leaving the tent.

Image Prompt 069 – Blue Ridge Parkway and Tay Bridge

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 069-002 - Dundee05-03-25 005-Tay Bridge

Image Prompt 069-001 - Blue Ridge Parkway08-10-12 053

NaNoWriMo 2020 Planning Journey: What Does Prep Look Like?

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If you’ve been reading along for a while, then you already know that I participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every November and try to write a brand new 50,000-word novel in 30 days.  I encourage anyone who likes writing, or hanging out with other writers, to give it a try and find your local NaNoWriMo community (online) this November.  It’s a great place to meet friends and an amazing challenge to try to get a draft down on paper while ignoring your inner editor and perfectionist.

You may also know that I tend to be what the NaNo community calls an Pantser.  Which is the opposite of a Planner.  Planners have outlines or scene lists or beat sheets, or in some way plan out what their novel is going to look like.  Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants.  This can also be called discover writing in other spaces.  While I’ve been experimenting with planning and plotting in advance (or at least between draft 0 and 1), I’m not very adept at it, but I still do NaNo prep every year.  So what does that look like?

It can look like a lot of different things depending on what kind of world I’m writing and what kind of story.  I’m going to take a couple posts to talk about what that’s looking like this October.  It’s only the second day of the month, so not a lot of work has happened, but I’ve started a process that I plan to continue, and we’ll see how it develops.

I have this history of writing a lot of story before the story starts.  A beta reader told me to cut the first 100 pages of book two, and they were right.  Last year, someone said I’d get an idea the week before NaNo and spend the first 6 days writing back story before I got to the actual story.  That was pretty close to what happened.  (And this was the same person in both cases…my friend really knows me well as a writer.)  So this year, I’m leaning into that.

I have an idea that centers around a female MC, who is going to be important because of the relationships she builds with the other characters.  I haven’t quite worked out why, but that’s not really important because the idea is to track her slowly building up a large group of friends and admirers who each want to be her most special person (whether that’s as a favorite sibling, a best friend, or a romantic partner) and how they jockey for position to be closest to her.  The idea developed from a reverse harem anime I watched recently.  It was just so genuinely nice.  The MC was sweet and caring and genuinely nice to everyone, and the characters in her harem were also genuinely nice people who for the most part liked each other too.  That’s the vibe I’m going for at any rate.

So in order to prep for that, I have to get to know all the characters.  I’m taking them one at a time and writing little scenes that would have been formative for them.  What gave them their life’s ambition?  When did they first meet the MC and what impact does that have on them?  How do they relate to the other characters around the MC?  What was they family or childhood like?  Those sorts of major developmental scenes.

Writing these scenes is also letting me play with the world building.  What sorts of technology is there?  What is magic like?  How much technology do I want?  What is the aesthetic of the world?  Is it a highly class based society or more egalitarian?  What kinds of clothes do people wear?  So far, I’m leaning toward slightly Victorian inspired clothes, a fantasy world with magic but also a hint of steam punk aesthetic with some tech and travel related things, and a definite class hierarchy (at least between nobles and commoners).  I’ll know more about the world as I keep writing and adding details.

Once I have enough of the characters planned out, I’ll start thinking about what order I want to focus on the secondary characters.  When does the MC meet them?  How does the MC feel about them?  When does each SC realize they want to be the MC’s most special person?  When does the MC clue into this?  Does the MC clue into this?  So far I’m writing her as intellectually fairly quick and studious, but socially a little but clueless, so she may not pick up on the hints the SCs are dropping, or at least not interpret them correctly.

I’ll report back in late October about how all this is going, and maybe give a few more sneak peaks at what I have planned so far.  I’ll also let you know what amount of outlining or scene listing I’ve been playing with.  I might actually try out planning each SC’s relationship arc with the MC (to a point at least) and then see if I can interweave them together in a pleasing way that gives the MC a coherent arc as well.  We’ll see how that actually goes, and if I even get to that point.  But stay tuned for more on how I’m prepping for this November.

Next week I have an image prompt and then the week after that is a response, but be sure to check back in on the 23rd for an update, and likely another on the 30th.

Happy prepping, planning, and writing, to all my fellow WriMos out there!

Introspection in Images: Fascinated by Decay 007

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I have always been fascinated by the decaying remains of human structures.

That sounds weirder when I say it out loud, but I always knew I was weird.

I love to take pictures of stone buildings being overgrown with ivy, old gravestones, wooden houses being reclaimed by nature.  Old monuments.  Mossy stones set up by ancient people.  It all fascinates me.

My first digital camera probably took more pictures of things like that, than it did people.  I have hundreds of photos from trips around town and around the world of the things humans have built that are now wasting away.

Today, I’ll share a few of them with you.  And I expect in later posts I’ll share some more.

I hope you can see the beauty in them that I do.

Image Prompt 068 – The Common Sense on the Team

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I chose the image of the statue (which I think it supposed to be either Atlas or Hercules) with the gorgeous tree behind it for my twenty-minute sprint this time.  I took this photo on a backpacker’s tour called the Welsh Dragon, which may have colored my response.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Common Sense on the Team:

Valerie was crouched at the toolbox when the cursing started again.  At least she assumed it was cursing.  Dr. Harrison was letting out a stream of angry words that Valerie assumed where in his native Welsh.  Even living in Cardiff for three years, she wasn’t usually fluent enough to catch one word in ten, and usually those were the numbers or articles anyway.

She stood up and looked back at the statue they’d set up around.  Dr. Harrison had actually climbed up on the pedestal and was using one hand on the head of the figure to balance while positioning the device over the sphere at the top.

Valerie saw immediately why he was cursing.  He’d gotten the device positioned properly, but couldn’t let go of it or the head of the statue without sending the device and likely himself, crashing back to the ground.

Valerie bent down again to grab the screwdriver she’d come for and hurried over to the statue, actually using the ladder they’d put up on the tree-side so they could reach the top of the sphere.

With quick, deft motions, she tightened down the screws that would stabilize the device and keep it in place on her side.

“I’ve got the device,” she said, making sure she had a solid grip on it with her free hand.  “Here’s the screwdriver,” she added, holding it out over where his hand was braced on the statue’s head.

“You’re a lifesaver as always,” Dr. Harrison said, laughing as he reached over to take the screwdriver with the hand not braced on the statue’s head.

“That’s because I’m just down to earth enough to plan my next move properly,” she replied, grinning.

He laughed so hard he almost fell off, but he still managed to finish with the screws and secure the device in place.  He leapt down as soon as he was done, whipping tears from his eyes.

“It’s not that funny,” she said primly as she came down the ladder.

“That’s the thing,” Dr. Harrison said, smiling over at her.  “It’s not funny at all, it’s true.  The other researchers and I have our heads so focused on the problem and the solution we’re trying to test, that we get a bit lost.  You’ve been our saving grace this entire project because you actually take a moment to look before we all leap and remind us to use safety measures and practical things like ladders.”

“I’m learning a lot,” she said, “so I don’t mind being the voice of common sense while I’m here.”  She was a few months of dissertation work away from being Dr. Valerie Tavish, but she kept putting it off because of the project.

“I think that’s everything for this site, isn’t it?” he asked as he returned the screwdriver to the toolbox in its proper place.  He was Valerie’s favorite of all the researchers on the project because he was willing to take the five seconds needed to read the labels and return tools to their proper homes.  It was so much easier to work when you could find all your tools without even looking.

“We should do a test start,” she suggested.

“Of course, of course,” Dr. Harrison replied, moving over to the Diviner Source Crystalline Matrix (or DSCM) that was positioned at the bottom of the statue and bolted to the sidewalk.

He flipped a few switches and there was a soft hum from the DSCM and then a sharp whine from the devise on top of the statue.  It glowed a soft green before Dr. Harrison flipped another switch and the color faded.

“That’s a success then,” he said.  “Where’s out next stop?”  He started packing away his books and returning the remaining tools to Valerie’s toolbox.

“Next is up in Scotland,” Valerie replied as she started carefully folding the ladder.  They would be back in her home turf, near where she’d completed her undergraduate degree and not far from where she’d grown up.  Not that there was much left of either place.

“It’ll be a few days’ journey then,” he replied, lifting the bags he usually took charge of during their trips.

“We can probably make it in two if we plan the route right and leave at first light each day,” Valerie replied.  She knew the paths, and all the shortcuts between England and Scotland, and she was fairly sure Dr. Harrison knew the same between Wales and England.  The could combine their knowledge and cut out a considerable amount of travel time.  Especially if they could avoid getting too close to London.  You have to travel much slower around the remains of the capital to remain unnoticed.

“I see you have some shortcuts in mind,” he replied with a laugh.  “I can get us to the border in about half a day of riding if we take the shortest route.  We won’t be able to stop at the primary University base for resupply if we got that way.”

“There’s a supply depot near the ruins of Edinburgh,” Valerie offered.  “I think our supplies will last a good four days, which gives us a buffer.

“Let’s get back to camp then and collect the bikes and the rest of our gear,” Dr. Harrison said.  “We’ve got a good four hours of daylight left, and there’s a good camping spot about three hours ride down our route, might as well get a head start.”

“Let’s go,” Valerie replied, following Dr. Harrison.

Image Prompt 068 – Heroic Statue and Brookgreen Gardens

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 068-002 - Brookgreen Gardens 2013-03-08 (294)

Image Prompt 068-001 - Welsh Dragon05-05-07 097

September Means It’s Officially NaNoWriMo Prep Season Now

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In my defense, I’m a Municipal Liaison (ML), so I’m planning for the actual events side, not just my novel project.

But yeah, it’s NaNoWriMo prep time.

Not for my novel, that happens the last week of October in a good year, November 1 most of the rest.  This will be my 10th year participating in the November writing challenge to create a 50,000 word novel from scratch in the 30 days of November.  It will be my second year doing so without attending in-person writing events.  This year NaNoWriMo HQ has (wisely imo) decided to not allow the organizing or advertising of in-person events associated with NaNoWriMo to protect everyone’s health and safety during the pandemic.

My very first year participating, I didn’t even know there were online forums, let alone actual human interaction events to attend.  I probably would have been too scared/shy to show up anyway.  But year two I found both, went to a Kickoff Party, and got to meet some people.  It’s been an amazing journey since then.  Some of my dearest and closest friends I’ve met through NaNoWriMo.  And I owe it all to my bestest friend and biggest fan, who actually got me started on it in the first place.  (I love you for it so much!  You know who you are.)

So what does NaNo prep look like in September?

I’m sprucing up our Discord server.  One of the other MLs in our region is running daily productivity hours.  I’m flexing my lunch hour a bit so I can join for at least part of them and either write or work on ML tasks.  We have an ML meeting coming up to lay out the plan for all of October and November and start divvying up tasks.

To be perfectly honest, it’s also never not NaNo prep season for me.

I’ve been collecting writing prompts (short phrases, sentences, or ideas heard in the wild) since December 1.  I have over 175 of them waiting to share with my region.  I expect it to be over 200 before November.  I’ve been keeping a list of ideas for November for a few months.  I randomly discuss ideas with other WriMos and my fellow MLs whenever they occur to us.  I’ve been chatting with the national ML team on the forums and Discord basically non-stop since I joined both spaces (admittedly Discord was only this past year).

In addition to all the ML NaNo prep, I’ve been thinking about how to prepare myself as a writer for the challenge.

Writing has been a bit of a struggle lately (there’s a reason last week’s post was about motivation).  My solution was to stop working on the project that was making me struggle, and return to some editing and copy editing for some old fanfic.  The original site it lived on went down, so I decided to repost it elsewhere and clean it up in the process.  I reconnected with a few old readers from the original site in the process of reposting, which really helped me remember why I write in the first place (to share a good story).  That led to drafting a bit on an incomplete story in the fanfic series.  I’m hoping this will be a nice rejuvenating palate cleanser project and then in November I can get back to original stuff again.

And that’s the current state of NaNoWriMo prep happening in my world.  I expect you’ll hear more about various aspects of it over the next couple months, and then it will be November, which I’m already excited about.

Who else is ready for NaNoWriMo?

Finding Creative Motivation Amidst Stress: 4 Things to Consider

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It’s a stressful time for almost everyone right now.  I’m not going to get into the why or even what’s specifically causing me stress right now, but I did want to talk about some of the strategies I’ve been using to retain my motivation to write during these stressful times.

I’ll be talking about a few strategies today:

  1. Make sure you’re meeting basics needs first.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up about things outside your control.
  3. Refilling your creative well. (Idea courtesy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.)
  4. Find (or engage with) your community.

I wanted to start with Making sure you’re meeting basic needs because it’s something that folks often forget to consider when thinking about their creative side and/or their hobbies.  We don’t always remember that if we aren’t meeting basic needs it’s going to be that much harder to try to be creative or productive outside of that.

What do I mean by basic needs?

There’s the oft mentioned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the first two levels of which cover most of what I mean by this.  The primary being food, water, shelter, and other basic necessities of life.  This includes things like financial security, general safety, and health and wellness.  In the current world situation, this may be something that you’re struggling with that is new or different.  Suddenly being without a job may mean you have a lot more time you could spend writing or being creative, but it may also come with a massive amount of financial insecurity and stress.  Having a job right now may come with unique and different job related stress, whether that’s worry for your health (if you are public facing) or trying to navigate doing your work remotely now.

Meeting these basic needs is important.  Your general and overall wellbeing can be effected if any of these needs are being met, and that’s going to affect how much time and energy you have to devote to being creative.  How you meet these basic needs may be different for everyone.  We all have different thresholds for tolerating stress or lack in these areas.  But if you find yourself lacking the motivation and energy to be creative, look at these basic needs and see if something is missing.  If so, how can you shore that up?

That leads me into my second thing to consider.  What is outside your control?

If meeting these basic needs is outside your control, don’t further stress yourself by being negative about your lack of ability to be creative right now.  If you’ve lost a job and are unable to find a new one (a situation many find themselves in right now) that’s largely outside your control.  Do what you need to do to keep looking for that next job, but don’t stress the fact that this is taking away from other aspects of your life.  That’s normal.

This, again, will look differently for many people.  You may still be working, but have additional stress from your new work situation.  This can be just as detrimental to your ability to be creative.  Don’t add extra stress berating yourself for not doing enough to be creative.

Basically, this point boils down to “be kind to yourself.”  Be understanding about where you are and what’s going on in the world and cut yourself some slack when you need it.

Full disclosure: This part is something I’m still working on.  I’ve had a few really bad weeks recently where I wasn’t writing and wasn’t doing anything to refill my creative well, and was seeing extra stress at work and in life, and I was getting on my own case about not writing and not spending time on my creative endeavors.  This was not helpful.  It only added to my spiraling stress levels.  It took a pretty epic stress episode for me to realize that I wasn’t taking this into account.

So be kind to yourself, be understanding of yourself, and look at the why.  If you can identify the why, then maybe you can address it in some way to get back that creative motivation.

Refilling your creative well.

As I mentioned, this idea (and possibly this exact phrasing) is something I encountered during my attempt to go through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with a few of my writer friends.  We all had varying and mixed results.  I had some very strong reactions to the way she presented material in a few of the chapters and ultimately stopped reading when one chapter just rubbed me entirely the wrong way.  But all that aside, this idea has been very helpful.

What this means, is to remember to consume the things that give you creative energy.  This may mean taking more walks to be out in nature.  This may mean spending time with art of some description.  It may mean spending time with the creatives in your life that you admire.  For me, this is about consuming stories.  Reading is the best way for me to do this, but watching a show or movie, attending a play, or playing a story-based video game can give me the same creative well-filling effect.

This doesn’t necessarily lead to direct inspiration.  It’s more that seeing how others are telling stories activates the right parts of my mind to think about and consider how I tell my own stories.  At least that’s how it works for me.  Sometimes the way an author does a certain thing (like werewolves, or time distortion, or non-linear storytelling) will give me a direct idea for how to write or rework something I’m working on, but it’s not always that simple and directly.  It mostly manifests in my being noticeably more productive and energized around my writing when I’m reading regularly.

Engaging with others who are pursuing similar creative goals also helps me.  If I’m writing, talking to other writers about my story, their story, or anything related, can help refill my creative well.  If I’m working on sewing projects, talking to my friends who sew can help me find inspiration and energy to work on my projects.  And that leads to my next point.

Find (or engage with) your community.

I’m very lucky to live in an area with a very active NaNoWriMo community.  Many of the regulars in this group have become my personal friend group over the years.  I also recently discovered the CosTube community (that’s the costuming community on YouTube) and have plugged in with a few newly created (or newly discovered) Discord communities relating to that.  So that’s the community experience I’m going to be talking about, but yours might look different.  Mine has too over the years.  This could be just your normal social group.  This could be your roleplaying group.  This could be people you only know on the internet or people you see in person all the time.

Connecting with your community may be harder than normal right now, but I would encourage you to find way to reach out and make this work for yourself.  I’ve had reasonably good luck with digital solutions in this area, but I’m also an early millennial who grew up with above average technology access, so I’m a bit more plugged in and willing to engage over the internet than the average person my age or older.

To be clear, I don’t mean social media, or at least not just social media.  I’m using a variety of tools depending on the group: Slack, Discord, Zoom, online forums, group text messages, real phone calls, etc.

For my writing group, I’ve found that my natural limit of focus for an online meet up is about two hours.  So I’ve been planning those accordingly.  I used to do an in-person writing meet up every Sunday for three hours.  I transitioned it to online and recently cut it back to two hours instead of three, because I wasn’t able to sustain it for the extra hour anymore.

Finding the CosTube community has reinvigorated my interest in sewing generally, and making my own clothes and costumes specifically.  I’ve had several projects hanging out in my WIP (works in progress) pile for months or years that I’ve actually made some progress on recently.  My engagement there has been combination of watching YouTube videos and seeing pictures others are posting (which arguably is part of my well refilling) and engaging directly on Discord with other sewing and crafting enthusiasts I came into contact during a recent CosTube event.

Having other people to talk to about your project or ask advise or questions can be incredibly powerful.  Heck, just being in the same “space” with someone while working can be incredibly motivating.  That’s the general idea behind the writing meet ups, surrounding myself with others who are also writing, and that extended a bit into my sewing space as one of the Discord servers I joined dose “sewing sprints” which are based on the popular NaNoWriMo writing sprints.  Basically it’s just time spent together on the Discord while working on your sewing project.

This community engagement can be really powerful, but do be careful that it doesn’t become competitive (which can be a turn off for many) or toxic in any way.  Things can be toxic because the people aren’t kind or become condescending.  A group of people that look down on you for being a beginner isn’t going to help you improve any.  There is also such a thing as toxic positivity, though it can be much harder to spot.  Find a community space that is about the community and helping and uplifting the whole group, not one that devolves into competitions or cults of personality where certain members are just there for the attention.

Do what works for you.

Ultimately, you’ll have to find what works best for you, but these are a few things I find helpful that I wanted to share to help you along the way.  If you have other ideas or suggestions to share related to this, I’d love to hear them.  Where do you find your writing community?  How do you refill your creative well?  How do you keep the motivation going?

I hope you’re all able to find and keep your creative motivation no matter what’s going on in the world around you, but either way go out and be kind to yourself and others along the way.

Image Prompt 067 – Giving Thanks

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I chose the image of the pumpkin pies and recyclable cans for my twenty-minute sprint today.  We’re a little ahead of season for fall squash pies, but oh well.

Giving Thanks:

Cary finished washing the last of the dishes from making the pies and set everything on the towel on the counter to dry.  They’d already filled the drying rack and Cary hadn’t had time to dry anything yet.

“Pies in the oven?” Kelly asked, peeking in through the window in the over door.

“The pumpkin ones anyway,” Cary replied.  “I promised Mom I’d make a pecan too.”

“Ooh,” Kelly said, her eyes bright and wide as she looked over at Cary.  “The normal or the chocolate one?”

“Probably both since I know you like the chocolate better,” Cary replied, laughing.  His little sister loved sweets of all kinds, but especially anything chocolate.

“You love me,” she said, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing his cheek.  “I’ll help if you want,” she added as she let go.  “I can be a dish troll or help measure things or whatever will allow me to be supportive and not throw off your flow.”

“Let’s start with drying dishes,” Cary said.  “I’m running out of room and I’ll need some of this for the other pies.”

“Yes, sir, ma’am, sir,” Kelly said, actually snapping her heels together and saluting him before grabbing the dish towel from its hook over the sink.  “You’ll have to help me remember where you put all this stuff, but I can at least get it all dry for you.”

“Just stack it all on that counter,” Cary said, waving to the one furthest from the stove.  “I’ll need some of it left out anyway.”

“So when is David getting home?” Kelly asked.

“Hopefully in time for dinner,” Cary replied.

“Is it a deadline again?” Kelly asked softly.  “Or something else?”

Cary’s husband David worked for their local newspaper.  It was the kind of small town paper that still put out editions on holidays and on the day after, so David very rarely got an entire holiday off.

“He volunteered this year,” Cary said.  “So his counterpart could drive up to see her parents.  It’s a fourteen-hour trip, and she only asks every other year.”

“Aren’t there other people that can be acting editors during holidays?” Kelly asked.

“There are,” Cary replied.  “But they’re all more senior than David, and not as nice.”  Secretly, Cary thought the Editor in Chief always asked David first knowing that David would volunteer and then he could take advantage.  He didn’t think it was because David was gay, just that David had family that was local and didn’t appear to mind missing big chunks of the holiday time.

“Does he mind?” Kelly asked.  “I mean really?  I know he doesn’t let his boss know if he does.”

“I don’t think he does,” Cary replied.  “He liked being helpful, and letting others have the time and space to visit with family.  It probably doesn’t hurt that he doesn’t see his family, so this gives me some alone time with you all, and keeps him out of the way while I’m cooking.”

Kelly laughed.  “Yeah, one person invading your kitchen is plenty, right?”

“You aren’t invading,” he said, giving her a one armed hug as he passed her on his way to the pantry to start gathering ingredients for the next set of pies.

“It helps that we can come down for the whole week too, huh?” Kelly asked.  “So we still get to see a lot of him even if he’s working half days most of the week.”

“I’m glad you can take so much time,” he said.  There had been a few years when she hadn’t been able to get any time off at the holidays, but now she was a senior designer at the firm and she could take time whenever she wanted as long as her projects stayed on time.  She was amazing and efficient, so it gave her a lot more flexibility.

“I’m glad you’re in a job that lets you now too,” she said.  “I was worried you were going to stay in retail forever.”

“Yeah, no,” Cary replied.  He’d started working at the local bookstore when he was in high school, and kept with it through college and after.  He’d been the store manager, second in authority only to the owner by the time he’d finally found something he liked better.  He’d loved the owner, and he still loved the bookstore, but the stress and rush at the holidays was excruciating.

Now he was the executive assistant to the vice president of human resources at a staffing firm.  He worked from home 75% of the time, because when she wasn’t in the office, she didn’t need him to be.  She took at least a week off for each holiday, and as long as he kept her schedule up to date for the week after and had all her expenses turned in on time, she encouraged him to take extra time at the holidays too.

“Look who I found?” their mom said as she breezed into the kitchen.

She had their cat Oliver in her arms and David trailing behind her.

“You got out early,” Cary said with a smile.

“Three of the staff writers insisted on staying late to help finish the layout and editing so I could,” David said.

“You’ll have to take them goodies in thanks,” Cary replied, stepping over to give his mom and the cat a quick hug and then kiss his husband.  “You’re all welcome to stay as long as you park yourselves at the bar and stay out of my cooking space,” he said with a broad smile.

David laughed, and slid onto his favorite barstool.  He rested his chin in his hand with a smile.  He’s spent half of their dates the first year watching Cary cook dinner.