NaNoWriMo 2020 Planning Journey: Sneak Peeks Part II

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I wanted to share a few more of the scenes I’m writing in preparation for NaNoWriMo.  Again, these are fairly rough (just drafted, a very quick copy edit, and with placeholders and inconsistencies intact) but I hope that won’t detract from them too much.  I’ve really enjoyed writing about all my characters for the last several weeks and I hope you enjoy meeting them and getting a sneak peek at the novel I’m writing for November 2020.

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Meet Prince Dominique

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[Dominique is 15 in this scene.  It’s summer, several months before he goes to the Royal Academy.]

Dominique was bored.  He was always bored.  He was so far down the line that no one really cared what he did as long as he looked good, behaved well, and showed up.

He couldn’t even remember what today’s event was supposed to be.

His brothers walked into the room first.  They generally proceeded in age order behind their father and sister.  Dominique had been given the option to stay behind since he was still only fourteen, but he’d have been even more bored there alone.  At least with Father’s events there was important discussion going on so people left him alone.

When they walked into the hall it was more sparsely populated that Dominique was expecting.  Only about a dozen others standing around the long table.  It wasn’t until he saw the Vizier that Dominique remembered what event this was.  His father was being social for once.  He’d invited the Vizier and his top four clerks to bring their families for dinner at the palace.

“Archibald, it’s good to see you tonight,” Dominique’s father greeted the Vizier.

“It is always a pleasure, your majesty,” the Vizier replied formally.

“Come now,” the king said with a laugh, “no need to be so formal tonight.  “It is Josselin for tonight.”

The Vizier just smiled and nodded.  He was far too smart a man to allow himself to use such informality with the king, even when invited.  He was only a commoner after all, even if his family had been serving as clerks and Viziers for hundreds of years.

Dominique followed his brothers down along the table to take their seats.  He was at the end, as per usual.  But that meant he would be sitting next to someone other than his brother, so there was a chance of a conversation, even if they were usually boring at these events.

The Vizier and his wife were seated beside the king, across from his sister and eldest brother, and the four clerks and their wives sat on that side, he assumed in rank order, which put Dominique across from the second clerk.

Dominique glanced sideways when someone pulled out the chair two down from his.  It was the Vizier’s eldest, Benjamin, who was pulling out a chair for his sister, Catherine.  After seeing his sister seated, Benjamin took the seat beside Dominique.  He was a little more than two years older than Dominique, and very rarely had much to say on the few occasions they’d met.

He’d known he was going to be bored.

As soon as everyone was seated the servants began bringing out the first course.  Dinner conversation was almost always boring.  Today was no exception.  Dominique tried not to sigh and ate his food quietly.  There was no reason to be talkative if no one addressed him.

There were seven courses, which was a little excruciating, and by the end all Dominique wanted to do was get up and stretch after sitting for so long.  He knew better though.

As the food was finished and the servants began to clear away dishes real conversations began.  The clerk across from Dominique actually got into a fairly complicated discussion about fiscal policy with Benjamin.  Dominique only understood about half of it, so once others began to get up from the table, he quietly excused himself and walked away toward the far end of the room.  He stepped over to the window that looked out over the garden.

“Were you as tired of sitting as I?”

Dominique only just kept himself from jumping at her soft words.  He turned his head slightly to find Catherine already standing at the window.  She was standing at the far corner, partially in shadow.

“I am glad for the chance to stretch my legs,” Dominique replied.  Never complain, that was one of the rules of etiquette his mother had drilled into them all.

Catherine laughed softly.  “It is always a pleasure to get to see your gardens,” she said, her attention still on the window.

“They are lovely,” he replied.

“Do you ever go exploring in them?” Catherine asked.

“We don’t often have the opportunity.”  Which was a shame.  They were lovely, and he’d always like wandering the gardens at the summer palace.  He had more freedom there, and his father tolerated him talking with the garners and occasionally designing a new planting.

“Do you think they’d let us tonight?” she asked.  “Maybe if your escorting a guest no one will mind you taking time in the garden.”

Dominique actually turned to look at Catherine.  She was nearly a year older than him.  Surely she knew how inappropriate her suggestion was.  She was an unattached female, and a commoner at that, it would be scandalous.

“What’s that look for?” she asked, smiling again.  “I’m sure someone would insist on accompanying us, or sending a servant along or something.”

“You’re very forward,” Dominique said.  She was.  She was asking a prince to take a walk in the garden, and she wasn’t even a noble.

“I just know that this evening is much more about casual conversation of official things than it is anything else.  It’s also a reward that I’m sure everyone appreciates, but for us children it’s just another boring dinner.  Why can’t we go explore the gardens?”

Dominique met sparkling hazel eyes and found himself nodding.  He turned slightly and offered her his arm, as was appropriate when escorting a woman, even if they were still both under age.

Catherine beamed at him and placed her hand gently on his arm, allowing him to walk her back into the room.

“Try Mistress [clerk 4],” Catherine whispered.  “I know she loves gardens.”

Dominique duly walked over to where the indicated clerk’s wife was standing near her husband.  She looked horribly awkward.

The woman dipped a curtsey when she saw them approaching.

“I was just offering to show my companion the gardens,” Dominique said.  “She suggested you might enjoy the chance to see them as well.”  Even though it was all Catherine’s idea, he had to take credit for it as a proper gentleman.

“I would love to see the royal gardens,” Mistress [clerk 4] said in a soft voice.  “I thank Miss Verity for thinking of me.”

“Not at all,” Catherine replied, smiling at the woman.

“Please, lead on,” Miss [clerk 4] said motioning them toward the door.

Dominique escorted Catherine with Mistress [clerk4] following behind.  When the servant opened the door, Dominique informed the man of his plan and continued down the hall.

They didn’t talk as they paced down long corridors to the formal parlor that let out into the gardens.  If he were alone, he’d have used a back staircase and a servant exit, much to the family’s dismay, but he knew better than to take a short cut with guests.

“These are truly beautiful,” Mistress [clerk 4] said as they walked down the steps into the rose garden.

“The family takes pride in its gardens,” Dominique replied.  He more than most.  They had skilled gardeners and highly educated herbalists.  He’d learned a great deal from them over the years despite his mother’s disapproval of his interest in plants and being out of doors when he was younger.

“I’ve never seen roses so large,” Catherine said softly.

“They’re a special variety,” Dominique replied.

“Oh, in what way?” Catherine asked, with far more interest than anyone in his family ever had.

So Dominique told her.

Catherine asked questions, and so did Mistress [clerk 4] and somehow Dominique found himself giving them a complete tour and talking almost the entire time.  It wasn’t until a servant came up to let them know that Master [clerk 4] was intending to depart soon, that Dominique realized how late it had become.  It was almost sunset.

Dominique escorted his two companions back to the hall where the meal had been served, seeing Catherine into the care of her brother almost as soon as they walked into the door.  He moved over to stand with his brothers, hoping he hadn’t overstepped by taking the two women away for so long.

When the last of the guests had departed Dominique sighed softly.  That was the least boring social dinner he’d ever been to.

“You did well tonight,” Josephine said softly as she stopped beside him.

He looked up, not having expected a comment, let alone praise.

“It’s important to entertain one’s guests,” Josephine said, smiling down at him.  “The two ladies obviously enjoyed their time with you.  Where on earth did you take them?”

“They wanted to see the gardens,” Dominique replied.

“Ah, that makes sense,” she said.  “It explains why you looked so much happier too.”  She patted him on the shoulder, laughing softly as she moved away.

She didn’t see his interest in plants as unseemly like their mother had.

Dominique sighed again as he followed his brothers out of the room and back toward their own suites.  It would be another boring evening studying subjects he wasn’t as interested in.  It had been nice to not be bored for once.

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Meet Catherine

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[Catherine is 12 at this point.]

Catherine enjoyed the chance to go to a party with her brother.  No one seemed to like letting her go by herself, so she only got to accept invitations that included Benjamin.  Today’s was being hosted by the family on the estate just north of theirs.  They were a noble family, but didn’t have much standing or much wealth.  She heard father say that they were jealous of the Verity family’s success and a little resentful because they were only commoners, but for some reason she and Benjamin were always invited to the parties they had.

Benjamin helped her into the carriage in her pretty dress.  It was the simplest of her party dresses.  She knew better than to show off by wearing something that would be fancier than her hosts could afford.  She’d seen the daughter of the family in a very similar style dress at the last party, so this might even be seen as a complement or copying her style.  Catherine hoped so.  Olivia was nice.  Catherine wished they could be friends, but whenever she tried to talk to Olivia their brothers seemed to get in the way.  Olivia’s first usually.  He was always wanting to talk to her.

When they arrived at the house, the family was there to welcome them, and Catherine made sure to smile when Olivia greeted her and be properly polite to everyone before Benjamin escorted her into the parlor to mingle with the other guests.

Thankfully they already knew everyone here, so they didn’t have to do any of the awkward introductions.  Catherine hated introductions.  Especially with nobles.  They were always polite to start with, but by the time Catherine and her brother had finished saying their names they would often turn subtly insulting.  The Verity family was invited to a lot of functions hosted by the nobility, but they were also often looked down upon because they weren’t nobility themselves.

They talked briefly with a few of the other young people and answered all the inquiries from the adults about their parents’ health and the family and all that.  Catherine used the answers mother taught her.  She’d tried being honest once and mother had been furious, so she wasn’t going to do that again.

Catherine tried hard not to show her relief and excitement when everyone had arrived and they were led from the parlor out into the yard where tables had been set up with delicious treats and awnings had been strung between trees to create a cool and shady spot for the adults to sit and talk over their food.

Benjamin let Catherine out of his sight for a little while which was a bit of a relief.  Catherine made a modest plate of small bites, again like mother had taught her, and milled about slowly, trying to see where Olivia had gone.  When she saw the other girl surrounded by the other noble girls at the party, Catherine decided today wasn’t the day to try to become friends.  She didn’t want to look pushy and rude, and at least one of the noble girls was from a family that very much disliked Catherine’s and none of the family members where shy about it.

She walked past where all the adults were sitting at little tables under the awning looking for her brother when Olivia’s brother found her.

She didn’t dislike Pascal, but she didn’t particularly like him either.

“You’re looking scrumptious today,” Pascal greeted her.

“Thank you,” Catherine said, holding her plate in one hand so she could lift one side of her skirt as she dipped a curtsy.  She was to always be polite and respectful of the nobility.  It was the proper way for the family to behave.

“Why don’t I show you around,” Pascal said, brushing the back of his fingertips down her arm.

“I do enjoy your family’s lovely gardens,” Catherine replied.  She didn’t need to be shown around.  She’d seen the place often enough since her first invitation when she was eight.  It was rude to say that though, so complementing something she already knew was a good strategy.

“Then I will have to take you to see them,” Pascal said, actually taking Catherine’s hand to place it on his arm so he could escort her.

That was very forward, but Catherine didn’t want to be rude, so she went along, still holding her plate with one bite-sized morsel left on it.

Pascal walked them sedately across the lawn to the entrance to the garden path that wound through a variety of decorative plants from small delicate flowers to large hedges.

The sound of the music and talking of the party faded as he led her down one of the paths lined with hedges.  It wasn’t as pretty as some of the others this time of year.  In the fall when it was just warm enough to have outdoor parties they would be covered in brightly colored berries, and Catherine found them quite pleasing then, but now they were just a large wall of green.

“You are enjoying the party?” Pascal asked.

“It’s been delightful so far,” Catherine replied.  Even if she was slightly bored and no one was paying her much attention, she must never say that.  Her mother would be furious.

“Why don’t we sit for a moment and you can finish your morsel,” Pascal said, guiding her toward a bench between two hedges.

Catherine let him lead her over and she sat carefully when he released her hand.  She had been saving this bite for last because it was a tiny berry tart and those were her favorite.  She glanced sideways at Pascal as he sat beside her.  His sleeve brushed her arm and she could feel the heat of his leg through her skirts.

Not wanting to comment on his closeness, Catherine ate her tiny tart, setting the plate on the bench beside her temporarily.  She didn’t want to leave it, because that would be unkind to the servants who would have to hunt for it later, but it was nice not to be holding it for a moment.

The tart was just as delicious as she’d hoped.  The berries were bright and tart and the cream was smooth and rich and the crust was buttery and gave substance to the bite.

“Perhaps I can have a morsel now,” Pascal said softly.

“We’d have to go back,” Catherine replied.  “But they are quite good.”

Pascal just laughed, reaching over to brush the back of his hand down her arm again.

Catherine faced forward, not turning to look at him.  She wasn’t used to being touched by other people.  Her parents, while loving and supporting, weren’t terribly demonstrative, and her brother always seemed to be trying to play the perfect model of their father, so he didn’t hug her like he used to when they were children.  Only Emma touched her much.

She did keep an eye on Pascal in her peripheral vision, so she saw him lean in closer for a moment.

Catherine remained very still.  People didn’t get close.  She had no idea what to do when she felt her hair move as Pascal leaned very close to her.  His face was practically in her hair and she just couldn’t seem to move.

“I was wondering where you’d wondered off to,” Benjamin said as he walked up.

Pascal moved away very quickly, sliding further down on the bench too.

“I wasn’t hiding,” Catherine protested.  Benjamin was always accusing her of hiding these days.

“Just enjoying the gardens?” Benjamin asked.

“You know I like flowers.”

“Then you should see the other path,” Benjamin said, his smile sharper than usual as he glanced at Pascal.  “There are more flowers there this time of year.”

“I’d love to,” Catherine said, smiling at her brother.

“Will you escort us?” Benjamin asked, staring hard at Pascal.

“Don’t let me impede your enjoyment,” Pascal said, getting to his feet and walking off.

Benjamin watched him go.

Catherine picked up her plate from the bench beside her and got to her feet.

“You need to be more careful,” Benjamin said as he held his arm out to her.

Catherine took his arm, her hand resting lightly just above his elbow.  “About what?”  She’d been very polite and she wasn’t leaving the dish for the servants to miss.

“About being alone with a man,” Benjamin said.

“Pascal isn’t a man yet,” Catherine replied.  He was only just fifteen.

“He’s not sixteen, but you shouldn’t be alone with a boy over twelve either,” Benjamin said, leading her down the path toward the flowers.  “It’s not safe.”

“What do you mean?” Catherine asked.  “We’re at an estate.  How is that not safe?”

Benjamin sighed.  “How about this,” he said.  “Promise me you won’t be alone with any males for the duration of the party and Emma and I will explain it all when we’re home.”

“Why would Emma need to be there?” Catherine asked, frowning.

“Because she’ll be able to explain it in a way you’ll understand without anyone being embarrassed,” Benjamin replied.

“Alright, I promise,” Catherine said.  She knew her brother hated being embarrassed and wouldn’t dream of embarrassing her if he didn’t have to.

Benjamin patted her hand on his arm and they had a nice little walk before returning to the other guests.  Catherine was able to get one last tiny berry tart before they left too.

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.

#

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.

Camp NaNoWriMo July 2020 Week Three

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It’s been an interesting several months for a variety of reasons.  I kept my Camp NaNoWriMo July 2020 goal fairly low to allow for that.  I’ve been able to maintain a word count a little above my part for most of the month.  I’ve had a couple 3k days, which spiked me up but I’ve ended up plateauing a bit right after each of those, with some days with less or even no writing happening.  I’m back to fairly close to par again.

I’ve been playing with a brand new idea for July and completely pantsing it to get back to my comfort zone for a while.  I haven’t given up on the plotting experiment, I’m just taking a break.  The idea I’ve been working on grew out of a series of image prompt responses that will be posting in September, October, and November.  So you everyone can look forward to a little sneak peek of how my pantser projects usually start.

It’s this strange combination of modern fantasy and semi-apocalypse science fiction.  There are Fae and magic crystal fueled magitech but there are also cell phones and laptops and normal people.  It’s set in the UK, with the original image prompt posts taking place in Wales and Scotland respectively.  Eventually the whole thing lands in London and in theory the motley cast of characters will pull together to solve the problem and pull the British Isles back out of the stasis the Fae put them in to stop the actual apocalypse from happening.

We’ll see how this goes.  For perspective, that’s the level of planning I usually do before I start writing in earnest.  It may start with a scene idea or a character idea and a little writing (like I did on those image prompts) and then it will grow into a little paragraph of plot summary while more writing happens and things sort of spiral out or (or into) control from there.

So that’s what my July project has been, and I’ve written most days so far, and I’m feeling reasonably good about the project as a whole.  We’ll see if I still feel good about it a week from now when camp is over.  If so, I’ll probably keep working on it.  If not, it will join the large list of files (and notebooks and printouts and loose pages…) containing abandoned ideas that I mayor my not every return to.  That’s something I’ve found most writers have.  But that’s how you get better at all this, but practicing your craft over and over and over, even if you don’t finish every single piece you start.

If you’re doing the Camp NaNo thing with me, I hope your project is going at least as well as mine and continues to come along as we near the end of the month.

Image Prompt 066 – The Pixie Horse

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I chose the image of the Image of the horse statue for my twenty-minute sprint this time.

 

The Pixie Horse:

Kylie ran from the front of the store all the way to the back every time they came to the book store.  Valerie still didn’t know what was so important about the metal statue of the horse with wings and a little stick figure on its back with a book, but Kylie insisted on greeting it every single time they arrived.

“Hey, Valerie,” Mercedes said from behind the counter.

“Hey,” Valerie replied, smiling for her favorite store employee.  She was in a lot, with and without Kylie, and Mercedes was by far the best bookstore employee she’d ever seen.  Mercedes could ask anyone three questions and then recommend a book they’d love.

“She off talking to the pixie horse again?” Mercedes asked.

“Pixie horse?” Valerie asked, stepping over to the counter.  She could see Kylie by the statue from here so she wasn’t worried.

“Yeah, that’s what the owner calls it,” Mercedes said.  “Seems to think it has some kind of magic for attracting children and authors.”

Valerie laughed.  “Well, I can see some evidence of that.”

“Your Kylie is certainly taken with it,” Mercedes agreed.

“How’re things?” Valerie asked, watching Kylie finish her animated greeting with a soft pat to the statue horse’s nose and then move off into the children’s section to pick out her next book.

“Sales are doing well,” Mercedes said.  “And we’ve got three signings this month, so that’s nice.  We always get a little extra business on those days.”

“Let me know if you need any temps to help with those,” Valerie said.  She was currently living off her severance package, but didn’t want to rely on it forever.  She had applications out with a few local companies, but hadn’t heard back yet.

“I’ll leave a note for George,” Mercedes said, referencing the old and eccentric store owner.

Valerie nodded.  She knew for helping last month that George liked to be in complete control of the signing events.  He picked who worked them, how many tickets there would be, whether there would be signing of books before or after, and whether you needed an extra ticket to get your book signed.

“It would be nice to work with you again,” Mercedes said.  “Come to that, Ashley is leaving in another month.  If nothing else works out, we could use your help here.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Valerie said.  “I do like it here.”  She’d come here after the severance with her old company because her brother was here and she adored her niece, Kylie.  He and his wife had been amazing, letting her take over the guest room, and refusing to accept rent because Valerie was always watching Kylie for them.

Speaking of, Kylie came bounding up with two books in her hand.

“I thought your dad said you could only get one at a time with the way the account was set up,” Valerie said.  “Do you need help deciding?”

“I’d really like to get both,” Kylie said softly.  “I could definitely read them both in a week.”

Valerie didn’t doubt that.  The girl read faster than most people she knew, and the kid was only eleven.

“What do you have then,” Valerie asked, crouching down so she could look at the books with Kylie.

“This one is the next in the series,” Kylie said, holding up a fiction book in the fantasy mystery series she was currently obsessed with.  “And this one is non-fiction,” she said, holding up the other.  “It’s real stuff about all the historical things in the fantasy books.  I thought it would be neat to learn what’s real and what they’re making up.”

Valerie took the non-fiction book and glanced at the table of contents and the back cover.  It actually looked pretty good.  She flipped through it and found a diagram explaining how a water wheel worked.  It wasn’t dumbing things down just because it was children’s non-fiction.

“That one’s really good,” Mercedes said.  “They get their facts right and they do it in a way that’s accessible.”

“How about this,” Valerie suggested.  “We can get both today, if this one, is part of your birthday gift from me for this year.”

“But my birthday isn’t for another month,” Kylie said, frowning.

“That’s why it’s a deal,” Valerie said.  “You get part of it early and get two books today, but that means you also get slightly less on your birthday.”

“Okay,” Kylie said.  “I bet the fairy horse will be okay with that idea.”

Valerie felt her eyebrows furrowing at that statement.

“I think she would,” Mercedes said, smiling down at Kylie.  “She’s a very understanding horse,” she added, winking at Valerie.

“Alright then,” Valerie said, taking the other book from Kylie as well and setting them up on the counter.  “This one on the account, and I’ll pay for this one,” she said to Mercedes.

“It’s nice to see someone who appreciates good books for kids,” Mercedes said as Kylie wandered back over to the statue.

“I love books, always have,” Valerie said, watching her niece lean in and whisper in the horse’s ear.  For a second she could swear she saw the ears move.

“You’d be amazed how many people who love books don’t share them with the kids in their lives,” Mercedes replied.

“That’s just sad,” Valerie said.

“Yeah,” Mercedes replied.  “Oh, and apparently the pixie horse does approve, the register gave you a discount.”

“What?” Valerie asked.

“It’s something George is always saying,” Mercedes said.  “I think it’s just the register being old and occasionally running errors, but when it happens, he always tells us to give the customer the discount, because the pixie horse must approve of their choices.”

Camp NaNoWriMo July 2020 Edition

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It’s that time again!  Time for Camp NaNoWriMo!

I’ve talked about NaNoWriMo a lot over the years because their events and their commitment to stories and creativity really speak to me.  I participated for the first time in November 2009, in their original challenge, which is to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch in 30 days.  It’s kind of insane, but also a lot of fun.  I didn’t discover that there were regions, forums, or community around the challenge until my second year.  I didn’t discover that Camp events were a thing until 2013.  But that means I’ve participated in one of the three (November, April, July) NaNoWriMo events twenty-five times over the last twelve years.  I haven’t always drafted a brand new novel, or even been drafting at all, but that’s a lot of words, time, and energy I’ve spent during these months working on my writing.

NaNoWriMo has also been an amazing place to meet new friends.  I’ve made lasting connections with other writers and found a group of local friends that are supportive and amazing.  I owe a lot to NaNoWriMo, which is one of the reasons I’m always talking about them and their events.  I want others to share in my excitement and hope that they will make lasting connections while working on their writing as well.

I get that the full challenge isn’t for everyone.  November might be a busy month, or deadlines might be paralyzing rather than motivating.  Or you might just think you’ll never write fast enough.  Not that any of those should keep you from trying it out.  The point is to try to develop a daily writing habit and find community, winning is entirely optional.

Camp NaNoWriMo might be a better place to engage if you don’t feel ready for the full challenge.  You get to pick your own goal, so it can be something that feels more realistic for you personally.  You can also choose to track something other than words (they’re working on the site functionality for that, but you can do a conversion on your own).  I’ve tracker hours (not my best decision as 30 hours in a month is a lot), minutes (which has always gone well), and words during my past Camp NaNo attempts.  The only one I didn’t meet my goal for was the 30 hours of editing in a month.  One, 30 hours is a lot, and two, I really don’t like editing, so that was a struggle.  I did minutes the next time I tracked editing and was able to meet a more realistic goal for me.

That’s all a very rambling way to say that even though it’s the third already, It’s not too late to join the fun and try Camp NaNoWriMo out for yourself.  All you need to do is sign up (or sign in if you’ve tried any NaNo events before) at www.nanowrimo.org and then go to the camp page to get all the details on camp.  (Signing in should be optional for viewing the camp information, but if you’re thinking of trying it out you might as well make your account.)

If you do decide to join me for a Camp NaNoWriMo challenge this July, I wish you the best of luck!

The Plotting Experiment: Progress So Far

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If you’ve been reading along for a while, you may have seen me talk about this before, but for anyone new, I’ll start with a little bit about what my writing process has usually looked like.

For most of my life, drafting has been a wild ramble that started with a character or a scene and expanded from there.  Plot and structure have always been fixed and molded after the fact.  Some call this discovery writing, some call it pantsing (because I’m flying by the seat of my pants) and I’ve just always thought of it as writing or drafting.

This method of writing has led to a very labor intensive and often excruciatingly hard editing and revision process.  During work on my second book, this led to breaking down the entire thing by scene, looking at what that scene was supposed to be doing and then culling any scenes that weren’t essential.  That led to a scene list and a plot outline and a complete rewrite of everything.  I kept a bit of dialog here and there, and most of one scene, but other than that, I was writing everything from scratch to fit the new scene outline.

This lead to an attempt to write the outline first, and then do the drafting.  It was the first time I’d ever tried it.  Even back in school when outlines were required, I would work ahead and draft the whole paper, so I could then reverse engineer the outline.  I’ve never liked them and always found them confining and creativity-reducing.

But I needed to redraft book three, which wasn’t finished, and the outline had worked for book two, so surely I could make this process work again.

It’s sort of worked.  I have most of a draft of book three.  I have a bunch of versions of the outline (including one that does a seven-point plot breakdown of the overarching plot and each subplot).  I have most of the plot relevant scenes for the major overarching plotline.  My subplots are a mess.  Part of the problem might be that I’m trying to insert subplots that relate to certain characters who are not very important to the main plot, and thus it’s hard to add those scenes in a way that feels relevant.  Part of it is that for seventy-five percent of the book half my characters are not interacting with the other half.  I’m still working on how to make that structure work without confusing or boring readers.

It’s not a failed experiment, it’s just not as successful as I wanted it to be.  I’m still struggling with the outline itself.  I still struggle to write the scenes the outline calls for.  The closer I get to the end, the harder it has been to write.  This may have nothing to do with the outline process (the world is more insane than usual right now) but it’s hard to separate it out and remind myself that there are confounding variables.

This latest experiment wasn’t a fully from scratch project.  It’s the third book in a series, which has its own difficulties, and it was about 50% written before I started working on the outline for the redrafting.  I’ve been making progress.  Pretty stable and consistent progress even, but it doesn’t feel the same.  I’m not excited about the story or the characters or the ideas in the same way I was when I was originally drafting the first version, or the way I usually am as I draft a new project for the first time.

Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m realizing that writing is work.  For the first fifteen years or so that I was actively writing, it was all just for fun, and just for me.  I didn’t share my work much.  I was praised for the work I did share, and that gave me confidence to keep writing.  I took creative writing classes in high school, I took creative writing seminars in college, and even audited one in grad school because I missed it.  (I’ve never loved writing short stories, but I do love being in a critique group or a workshop environment.)  Now that I have one book out, and two more in revisions with the goal to publish them, it’s more than just fun and experimentation.  Writing is work.  And sometimes work is hard.

I’m going to keep pushing forward with the experiment and keep working on this draft so I can finalize book two and then book three and work on getting them in shape for publishing.  I welcome any and all tips from those who learned to outline or those who always have.

Image Prompt 065 – Children in Snow

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I chose the image of the snow-covered patio furniture for my twenty-minute sprint this week.  This incorporates characters (all my originals) from my fanfic, so if anyone found me by way of that, you may recognize some of them.  Also, the inspiration to write with them again was all Manda’s fault 8-P.  (But I love her for it, so it’s fine.)

Children in Snow:

Síneag pushed the curtains back from the sliding glass door and was greeted by the brightness that came after a snow storm.  The world had turned white, and their patio furniture was covered in fluffy snow.  It looked like they’d only gotten four or five inches in the end.

The children would have fun playing in the snow later, she was sure.  Jenn had said they were all going to come by late morning to see Síneag and let everyone visit.  She’d been looking forward to it for weeks.

Leaving the curtains open to allow the light in, Síneag went about cleaning everything up and making sure anything that wasn’t child safe was carefully put away or out of reach.  She double checked that the basement door was locked as well.  As much as Ira loved the children, she knew he wouldn’t want them to see him during the day.  They might be very familiar with vampires, but that didn’t mean they needed to see one that appeared dead.

By the time she had everything cleaned up and child-safe, it was already after ten.  They would be there soon.

Síneag could hear them before they even made it to the door, which just made her laugh as she headed in that direction, opening the front door and watching Jenn, Jess, and Kim struggle to keep the children headed toward the door rather than out into the snow in Síneag’s yard.

“Don’t you want breakfast first?” Síneag called.  “I’m making French toast,” she added, knowing the children loved it.

There was a chorus of cheers as the three barreled toward the front porch.

“Snow stays outside!” Jess called after them.

The three tumbled to a stop on the porch, the twins stomping their feet to get the snow off them and encouraging their tiny sister to do the same.

“Close enough,” Síneag said to the three when they’d knocked most of the snow from their boots.  “You can leave your books here by the door,” she added as she stepped back to let them in.  It was such a delight to see the twins quickly deal with their own boots, and then help their sister before their mother and aunts even made it up the steps.  They shed their coats as well and headed for the kitchen.

“Thank you for inviting us,” Jess said as they walked in.  “They’re going to have such fun sledding in the back yard.”

“It’s always wonderful to see you and the children,” Síneag said.  “The twins are growing up so fast I feel that if I blink I’ll miss it.”

“You and me both,” Jess replied.  “It’s been surreal.”

Síneag nodded.  The three had rather unique heritage, and that led to some very interesting talents and growth even as young as they were.

Síneag made everyone breakfast and it was a bright, lively time.  Her kitchen was full of laughter and she loved it.  Things could be so quiet during the day while Ira wasn’t with her.  She was getting spoiled since they moved here.  She had far more friends and more chances to interact with others than she had while they were still living in hiding.

Once everyone had eaten their fill, the kids ran back to the entryway to pull their snow gear back on.

“Mom, do you think we could shift after sledding?” Jess’s little boy asked.

“If Auntie Síneag thinks it’s safe, you could shift in the house and then go out to play in the snow,” Jess replied.

“They’re still small aren’t they?” Síneag asked.  “As long as they’d be easily mistaken for dogs, no one in the neighborhood will think anything of it.”

“They’re still small enough,” Jenn said.  “But probably not for much longer.”

The twins cheered at that pronouncement.

“But only after you’ve had your fill of sledding and your sister is done too,” Jess said.

“We know,” the twins chorused.  They loved their little sister, so Síneag had no doubt they’d make sure she was completely exhausted from too much fun.

Síneag bundled up as well and lead them all out through the garage so they could gather the sleds and go out the side door that was inside the fence that surrounded the back.  They had a good bit of property, but they’d fenced in enough of the yard to make it safe for the children to play and for the occasional shifter to take their animal form where they would be safe.

Kim ended up on the hill with the children, helping them get settled on their sleds and pushing them off down the kill.  Jenn and Jess stayed on the deck with Síneag, brushing the snow off a few of the chairs so they could sit.

“You’re sure the neighbors won’t think anything is amiss?” Jess asked softly.

“They look like black German shepherds,” Síneag replied.  “Besides, with us here with them, no one is going to think of anything before they think dog.”

“Relax,” Jenn said, reaching over to rub her sister’s back.  “The kids are safe here.  And if anything major were going to happen, Kim would be sure to tell us.”

Jess nodded.  She had such faith in her sister.  So did Síneag when it came down to it.  That’s part of why they’d bought the house.  Kim had seen them happy here.

Image Prompt 064 – Plans for the Winter

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I chose the image of the shop at the Carolina Renaissance Festival for my sprint this week.  It started out as the usual twenty-minutes, but then the idea sort of got away from me, so this is a bit longer than usual, and might be the spark of a new book idea.  We’ll see how that part goes.

Plans for the Winter:

Garret double checked the displays one last time as he heard the opening cannon fire from the front of the festival grounds.  It was the last day of the renaissance festival as well as the last day of the season.  It had been a pretty good year.  The shop had done well at all the fairs and festivals they’d gone to, and there hadn’t been any extra health issues for his mom.

“Do we need to pull out anything from the back?” his mother asked as she came in from sweeping the porch of the little house their shop was set up in.

“I think we’ll be good until lunch,” Garret replied.  They didn’t usually get quite as many customers on the last few days.  Folks tended to save up for the bigger items on final day when vendors would sometimes give additional discounts.  Garret and his mother sold jewelry and a few little decorative things, so they usually did more sales at the beginning.

Garrett heard boots on the porch, so he made sure he had his hat on and a smile on his face.

“Good mornin’” came a cheery male voice Garret recognized.

“Good morning to ya,” his mother replied, smiling brightly at Toby, one of the festivals most loved performers.

“Morning,” Garret said softly.  Toby was everything Garret had wanted to be back in high school.  Tall, handsome, outgoing, and popular.  Garret was just glad he’d figured out he didn’t actually want to be most of those things before it was too late.

“How fair things with my favorite jewelers?” Toby asked.

“Lovely,” Garret’s mother replied, laughing.  Even she knew Toby called everyone his favorite.  “How was the crowd this morning?”

“Boisterous,” Toby replied.  “And it was a good size, too,” he added.  “Have you decided where to winter yet?”

“We’ve got it down to a couple places,” she replied.

“Still thinking about Georgia?” Toby asked.

“It’s on the list.”

“It’s a good place to winter,” Toby replied, glancing over at Garret.  “I can tell you all about the good places.”

Garret just raised an eyebrow.  Toby was nice to everyone, and friendly with everyone, but they’d never interacted much outside the festival.  From what Garret heard, Toby was often out late partying with the other performers or various vendors.  Garret wasn’t usually invited along, not that he’d have gone if they had asked him.

“My people are in Georgia,” Toby said, his southern accent slipping out over the ye olde style of speech everyone affected for the festival.

“I’ll have to chat with you about the place we’re looking at,” Garret’s mother said.  “But I’m guessing you don’t have time for that now.  Your shows start early don’t they?”

“That they do, my lady,” Toby said, sweeping an elaborate bow in her direction.  “I’ll be sure to find you after closing tonight.”

Garret’s mother just laughed and waved as Toby made his exit.  “He’s a nice young man,” she said to Garret.

Garret just shrugged.  Nice didn’t usually have much to do with it.  And Toby had been looking at him a little more intently than Garret liked.

#

It had been a great day.  The shop was practically bare.  They’d gotten a rush in the morning, so Garret had hauled in all their extra stock to fill the displays back up a bit before lunch.  Things had remained steady after that, and there wasn’t much to pack up now that the festival was officially over.

“Why don’t you work on the exterior things since there’s so little to pack up,” his mother suggested.  “We’ll just get in each other’s way in this little space.”

“Alright,” Garret agreed, stepping out onto the porch.  They brought their own signage and a few extra decorations for the house, so he worked on pulling those down, setting them on the table just inside the door.

“Packing up already?” someone asked from behind Garret.

He turned to find Toby standing there, his signature feathered hat held in his hand and his tunic unlaced and hanging open over his loose shirt.  He’d completely dropped the ye olde accent he used during the festival, so Garret hadn’t recognized his voice right away.

“We always start packing up right away.  Usually stop when it gets dark.”  It wasn’t worth the risk of injuries tripping over something, especially carrying any of the merchandise.

“Want some help?” Toby asked.  His southern accent was really thick and Garret wondered if it was authentic, or if Toby played it up like he did the ye olde one.

“Sure,” Garret replied.  Extra hands were almost always helpful.  “You have anything ready to haul back to the trailer?” Garret asked his mother through the open doorway.

“Got a few done,” she said.

“Well, someone offered slave labor, so we can start carrying,” Garret said, grinning over at Toby, who laughed.

“It’s the least I can do,” Toby said, following Garret in and picking up one of the plastic tubs Garret pointed to.

“After working all day?” Garret’s mother asked.

“Well, I came to ask y’all a favor, so the least I can do is help cart things about.”

“A favor?” Garret asked.  He didn’t know Toby well enough to know if that should be worrying.

“Yeah,” Toby said actually looking a little sheepish about it.  “I talked to my Mom at lunch, and apparently she’s having to move in with her mother for a while.  She was asking if I knew anyone who might be willing to watch the house.  You’d mentioned wintering in Georgia, so I thought I’d make the offer.  She’s actually willing to pay someone if she needs to, but I thought maybe rent free, and you cover utilities while you’re there would be a pretty good deal for everyone.”

“Oh,” Garret’s mother said, her voice full of worry.  “Is your grandmother alright?”

Garret smiled.  Of course that’s what she was worried about first.

“She’s got some vertigo issues, needs someone around for when the world gets spiny,” Toby said.  “Other than that she’s in great health actually.  Mom just wants to be there for her, and they live in the same town still, so she’d been just going over a lot.  But it’s wearing on my mom, so she’s looking to just move for a bit.”

“Why don’t you have her call me,” Garret’s mother said, plucking one of their cards from the holder she hadn’t packed up yet and a pen from her apron before scribbling her number on the back.  “She and I can talk through everything and see what’s what.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Toby said.  “In the meantime, I’ll help with the boxes.”

“Why thank you,” she said with a smile.

Garret picked up a box and lead the way out toward the exit gate.  There was no sense wasting daylight.

“I hope it works out that y’all can come down,” Toby said as they walked.

“Yeah?” Garret asked.  ‘Why?’ would probably be rude.

“There’s a really great maker community in town, and I think you and your mom would get along well with them.  Our moms would probably get along well too at that.  And I might actually get a chance to say more than six words to you.”

Garret almost tripped on his own feet.  Why did Toby want to talk to him?  He tried to come up with a response that didn’t make him sound like an idiot.  What did you even say to that kind of declaration?

“I’m not too picky about where we winter,” Garret said, hoping he hadn’t been silent long enough to make anything awkward.  “So if our moms work something out, I don’t mind.”

“I’m sure they’ll work something out,” Toby said.  “I know how important it is to save money in the off season and it will be a huge help to my mom.”

“If she’s looking for people to be in the house that means you don’t stay there during the winter,” Garret said.  A lot of rennies stayed with family for the month or two they weren’t traveling between festivals and other shows.

“No, I haven’t stayed at the house in years,” Toby said.  “When I came out, my father made it clear I wasn’t welcome.  He’s been gone two years but it hasn’t felt right going back, you know?”

“That must have been hard,” Garret said.  His dad died before Garret came out, and his mother had always been supportive.  She probably knew long before Garret ever thought to categorize himself.

“I had family who took me in, and my mom did what she could to make sure I knew she still loved me, but wasn’t in a place to go against my father about it.  It’s worked out alright.”

“So you still stay with family then?”

“Yeah,” Toby replied.  Garret could just make out his smile in the quickly fading light.  “Moved in with my aunt and uncle to finish school.  My cousin and her husband have the house now, and she insists that my room will always be mine.  I think it’s just because I’m free babysitting whenever I’m home.”

“Never underestimate the power of free babysitting,” Garret said.  He’d never been around little kids much, but he knew parents were always desperate for babysitters they could trust, free or not.

“True,” Toby said as they arrived at the trailer.  “But I also know Cally loves me to death, so it’s all good.”

“I’m glad you have good people,” Garret said, setting down his bin and getting the key out of his pocket.

By the time they got the two bins stowed away where they belonged, Garret’s mother had arrived with a few bags and told him the shop was all packed up, they’d just need to pack up the boxes in the morning.

“How early can my mom call you tomorrow?” Toby asked.

“I’m up by about dawn most days,” Garret’s mother replied.  “But I’ll also be up for a few more hours if she wants to call tonight, get things settled.”

“I’ll call her shortly then,” Toby said.  “I’m around tomorrow if y’all need any help hauling things,” he added.

“That would be much appreciated,” Garret’s mother said.  “If you meet us at the shop by eight I can feed you.”

“I never say no to a free meal,” Toby said, giving an exaggerated bow.  “See y’all then.”

Garret just watched as Toby walked away.

“Interested?” Garret’s mother asked.

“What?” Garret said, quickly turning to look at her.

“He is rather handsome, and he seemed interested in spending time.”

“I have no idea,” Garret said.  “I barely know the guy.”

“Well, that’s likely to change this winter.  We could use a break and free lodgings, even with utility costs, would be a big help.”

“I know,” he replied.  He wasn’t going to object to staying at Toby’s mom’s.  The margins were pretty close when you had your own business and you were traveling all the time.  A few too many vehicle repair bills this year had left things tight for their winter budget.

#

Two days later, they were driving up to Toby’s mother’s house.  Apparently they weren’t even being charge for all the utilities.  His mom had agreed to pay $150 a month to cover most of the utilities, and that they’d mow the lawn if it needed it, which apparently in Georgia, even in winter, wasn’t uncommon.

Garret was glad that Toby wasn’t going to be here when they arrived and moved things in.  He had another show before he was done for the winter, so he’d be down again in six days and had promised to stop in and say hello.  Garret still hadn’t sorted out how he felt about Toby’s sudden interest in getting to know him.  He’d have a chance to find out next week.

Image Prompt 063 – Finally Together

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I chose the image of the Cornwall coast for my twenty-minute sprint this week.  I’m returning to Kyran and Neal, who I created for Image Prompt 23, just to explore that snippet a bit further.  I’ve been reading back through some of my old Image Prompt responses lately and finding interesting kernels to continue exploring.

Finally Together:

Kyran stood beside his car, looking down at the beach below.  It was still fairly cool, so there were only a few people down at the beach today.  No one he knew.  No one that would know him.  He hoped none of them would know Neal either.

“I hope you haven’t been here all night,” Neal said as he walked up beside Kyran.

“No,” Kyran replied.  “I left to find a place to sleep.”  Neal didn’t need to know what meant a place to park his car where it wouldn’t be seen and he could sleep in the back seat.

“Good,” Neal said.  “I didn’t bring my car,” he added.  “It doesn’t make sense to have two if we’re going to be strapped for cash.” Continue reading

Image Prompt 062 – First Sight of the Ocean

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I chose the image of the light house on the coast of Ireland as my prompt today.  I’m borrowing characters from another image prompt I wrote a while back (#20).  I’ve continued playing around with that story and what happened next, but this is more just a little side moment with Ian and Ailill, the characters in that image prompt scene.

First Sight of the Ocean:

Ian watched the crowd moving around then, marveling at how effective Ailill’s magic was at hiding what he really looked like.  It probably helped that blue hair wasn’t as weird as it used to be.  Anyone could dye their hair blue these days.  But the wings disappearing was always a little weird.  Ian was so used to seeing them.  He wondered if they were really gone, or if Ailill was just hiding them from sight.

“Have you ever been here before?” Ailill asked, trying to lean to see around some of the people in front of them.

“Yeah, I had an engagement photo shoot here a few years ago,” Ian replied.  “I thought you might like the views.”  Ailill had told him recently that he’d never seen the ocean before.  This was a pretty nice spot to show what the coast was like.

“That’s sweet,” Ailill said, turning to smile up at Ian.

Ian smiled back.  He couldn’t help but smile when Ailill was smiling. Continue reading