Back on the Chain Gang: Heart to Heart

This round of the blog chain has gone all creative-writing-assignment.

The topic, chosen by Jessica Verday:

I’ve chosen to put all of you writers to the test and am throwing down the challenge to…WRITE! I want a short story. (Mine is 250 words. Feel free to write one hundred, three hundred, five hundred…whatever! words)

Mary Lindsey was before me and I’ll be the last link this round.

Now the last time I wrote a short story, was the last time I actually had a creative writing assignment. Read: high school. Short stories are not my medium, but here goes:

Shape of a Heart

Brice patted the lump in his jacket pocket as his eyes darted to the entry once more. Any minute now. A drizzle of cold perspiration crept down his right side. Maybe he should have rented a tux, but then Desiree would guess for sure and Brice would never live that down.

He threw back the rest of his gimlet and then sucked on an ice cube as he waved at the waiter for another drink. The waiter whisked the empty glass away just in time.

Desiree stood posed in the entryway, the slender straight-away of her long legs drawing his eyes to the gentle slope of her hips. She slid soundlessly across the room, her dark curls barely daring to bounce. At the table next to Brice’s, a man made a hollow sound and bent to rub his shin, revealing familiar daggers in the eyes of the woman who’d done the kicking. If Desiree hadn’t told Brice herself that he should propose, he would never have believed she’d say ‘yes’ to someone like him. But she did tell you, he reminded himself, so what are you so nervous about?

Brice leapt to his feet to pull back her chair as she wafted towards his table. “You look beautiful as always.” He kissed her cheek and adjusted the chair as she settled into place.

Her lips permitted a slight curve. “That hardly gives a woman cause to make special effort.”

He cringed as he slid into his own seat. “Now, honey, you know that’s not what I meant…”

“Especially when her boyfriend shows up in the same brown designer knock-off suit as every Friday night for the last six months.”

“I thought you liked this suit.” His collar had shrunk at least an inch. He wiped his hands on his pants.

Her large diamond pendant flashed candlelight in her cleavage as she leaned over to look through her lashes at him. “I said I liked you out of that suit.”

He smiled as he shifted in his seat. “Well, this is a nice restaurant. They require pants. So we’ll just have to wait until after dinner.”

“So let’s order.”

He exhaled as her eyes disappeared behind the menu. All he had to do now was keep her in a good mood until dessert.

*

Brice hardly touched his chicken piccata. Actually, he didn’t care for chicken; he’d just gotten used to ordering whatever was inexpensive. Desiree raised one dark eyebrow like the blade of a scythe as she wriggled her seafood fork deep in her lobster tail. She’d be ready for dessert soon. Slipping his hand into the lumpy pocket, he felt the soft heart-shaped velvet box roll into his palm. He perched his fist on his knee and his fingers clamped until his knuckles hurt. His tongue felt too big for his mouth and he took a gulping sip of his wine.

Desiree’s eyes settled on his loaded plate. “If there’s something wrong with your food you should send it back.”

“No, it’s fine.” Brice stabbed a large hunk of meat and packed it into his mouth. “It’s delicious.” He struggled to speak normally with his lips stretched tight over his full mouth. “Perfect,” he meant to say, but the meat lodging in his windpipe snuffed the sound. Not now! He forced a smile as he twisted his fingers into an “OK.”  No way was he coughing that thing out in front of Desiree… especially not with her engagement ring in his lap. He kept the ring out of sight as he shot to his feet and Desiree’s eyebrows rose almost as quickly. Fighting the burning tightness in his throat, he held one finger aloft and nodded towards the restrooms before walking away.

He could feel Desiree’s eyes searing the back of his head as he entered the men’s room. Deserted. His chest and belly spasmed as he gave in to the urge to cough. Silence. Setting the velvet heart on the counter, he caught his own wide eyes in the mirror as his shoulders shook in silent convulsions. His face was red as his tie. Balling his hands into fists, he plunged them into his belly, pushing up as hard as he could, but the chicken wouldn’t dislodge. He felt dizzy. His face blazed purple. He fingered the cell phone in his pocket, but how could he call when he couldn’t talk? His eyes darted to the door, still stubbornly closed. Didn’t anyone ever use the bathroom in this place?

He knew he should return to the dining room where someone could help him, but Desiree would never let him forget something like that. He had to find a way to get it out himself. His lungs were filling with sands and pin-pricks swarmed over his legs like fire ants. He couldn’t make it back to the dining room if he tried. The edges of his vision faded to black as his gaze tunneled on the heart-shaped box clamshelled open with the 4-carat ring inside.

Desiree had said three carats minimum. The same day she suggested he switch majors from music to business. His vision narrowed to a pinpoint on the flash of the diamond, the clearest diamond the jeweler had available. But even under the jewelry store lighting, the stone hadn’t sparkled like this and that’s how Brice knew he was dying. He grabbed at it like a toddler at a soap bubble. Each facet reflected images from the last few months: his guitar in a box for Goodwill, the look in Boomerang’s eyes when Brice left him at his brother’s.

Brice wondered how long it would be until they found him, dead on the marble floor with the ring in his fist. He pictured Desiree’s face smooth like powdered sugar when she saw him. “Such a shame,” she’d say as she reached for his hand. “This wasn’t what I wanted at all. The cut is all wrong.”

Enough! What am I thinking?

Pushing against the cold porcelain of the sink, he hoisted himself from his slump. He staggered towards the hazy charcoal lines that he knew must be the bathroom stalls, dropping the ring box at the base of the commode. The toilet seat seemed glued in place as he ripped it up and then belly flopped, driving the edge of the toilet seat into his diaphragm. He heard a slap and a plink as the ball of chicken bounced against the wall and landed in the toilet. Sucking in the sweet coolness of air, he leaned against the cold metal wall of the stall, panting. He pulled a few sheets of toilet paper from the roll and mopped his forehead. “That was close.” His voice scratched.

The wheeze of his cell phone echoed through the bathroom. Brice wiped his watering eyes with the heel of his hand and read the Caller ID: Dave.

“Hello?”

“So are you and your hottie girlfriend engaged yet, bro?”

“Nope.” Brice cleared his throat. “And I don’t think we’re going to be.”

“What happened? Chicken out again?”

Brice’s eyes darted from the box, its jaws open like a carnivorous plant, to the ball of meat in the toilet. “Yeah. I guess you could say that.” He grinned. “I chickened out.”

Brice chuckled quietly as he hung up. Then laughter shot out of him with more force than that stupid piece of chicken. Chicken out… it was ridiculous. He pounded his fist against the wall of the stall as his whoops bounced off the walls. When he finally managed to stop laughing, he smoothed his jacket and straightened his tie. Desiree would be ready to pitch a fit he’d kept her waiting so long. Reaching for the ring, he snapped the box closed and tucked it back into his pocket. He couldn’t wait to see what kind of fit she’d pitch when she found out he was leaving her.

Maybe he’d show her the ring first.

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An Open Market: Back on the Chain Gang

So someone needs to start off the next round for the blog chain gang.

So all of us on this blog chain gang have worked feverishly on what needs to be done before a novel gets published. Some of us are quite close to publication, including the next link in our chain, Jessica Verday whose debut novel The Hollow will be released later this year. But lately I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to the work that needs to be done during and after publication.

Besides writing new stuff, of course.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about marketing.

Now, many aspiring authors I’ve encountered dread the idea of marketing. So you might think I’m getting ahead of myself, but I see this as sort of like wedding planning.

I mean, after all, I’m going to notify all my family and friends of the date when I’ll finally be able to walk down the aisle (of the bookstore) and hold my handsome love (whom I’ve been seriously involved with for a year or two) in my arms.

So why wait until I’m officially “engaged” to start planning?

But seriously, I don’t think it can possibly be too early to start thinking of ways to market your project. Although certainly a publisher might have different ideas and choose to go in another direction, but it can’t hurt to have your own plan developed and ready to go.

So, blog chain buddies…

What plans do YOU have to market your novel? How will you make sure the public finds your work?

(Pssst, gang… this would be an ideal time to show us your book trailer, if you have one)

Naturally, I plan to use the tried-and-true marketing methods (guest blogging, conferences, maximizing my online presence, bookmarks, etc.), but I also have a couple of ideas I’m very excited about that are specific to The Edge of Memory.

First of all, my novel features a silver charm bracelet, which my protagonist discovers with the hidden letter from her birth mother. For a contest prize, I would like to create a similar bracelet. I would also have some less pricey prizes available. To enter the contest, people would have to view my book trailer.

Speaking of book trailers, I already have a mock-up one:

When the time comes, however, I will produce a professional version. And I’m especially excited about that, as my diverse group of test readers includes photographers, actors, musicians, make-up artists/stylists, and an amazing videographer. They might even give me a discount. 🙂

But the idea I’m really excited about doesn’t involve flashy trailers or prizes. It involves a concept I think will help generate interest with a specific group of readers: book clubs.

Book clubs usually involve three main activities: reading the book, discussing the book, and EATING. So all the better if I can create a food connection to my novel, right?

My protagonist Beatrice cooks when she’s stressed… and I gave her a lot to stress about. So there are a few dialogue passages where she’s preparing a meal during the conversation.

A friend of mine runs a fabulous cooking blog (seriously amazing… more drool-worthy pictures than most mortals can handle) and has graciously agreed to some guest blogging with recipes for the meals my character prepares.

How much fun is that? I’m anxious to cook them myself.

Anyway, I’m excited to hear how the rest of the gang envisions themselves marketing their novels. And our next blog chainer will have extra cool insights, since marketing her debut novel is not just a fantasy for Jessica Verday.

You’re Almost There, With Much at Stake: Back on the Chain Gang

This round of the blog chain was started by the soon-to-be-famous Leah Clifford.

Her question:

What do you do to amp up the conflict?  What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls?  How do you torture your characters???

Leah was also sneaky enough to postpone answering her own question, leaving me to get this topic rolling. Which is tricksy.

Naturally, an engaging novel needs conflict and lots of it to keep a reader’s interest and provide the impetus for your character to truly evolve during the course of your novel.

The trials a writer forces their characters to endure, and the characters’ reactions to those trials are the essence of what a novel really IS. So regarding the specific pins in my characters’ voodoo dolls, I’m tempted to say, “You’ll just have to read my novel to find out.”

But this topic does bring up something I’ve been thinking about lately.

There’s a line in the movie Funny Girl, when Fanny receives a telegram from Ziegfield asking her to audition. “No, this is too easy! I haven’t suffered enough.”

That’s the bit I’ve been pondering on lately… when have your characters suffered enough?

As writers, we pile on the stressors: murder, rape, job loss, relationship troubles. When I was writing the first draft of The Edge of Memory, there was a phrase that kept running through my consciousness as I closed in on the climax of my novel.

It’s a silly quote, from a silly movie, but that phrase represents knowing when I’ve finally pushed my characters to the breaking point. It captures for me the build to the frenzy of the climax, the character’s exhaustion, and the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

The movie?

Jumanji

By the climax of the film, the characters have fought carnivorous plants, wild animals, and a man who hunts people. The two adult protagonists are trapped and one of the children is dying from a poisonous dart.

The quote appears on the Jumanji game for Sarah’s last turn.

“You’re almost there, with much at stake. And now the ground begins to quake.”

Yes. That’s exactly what I want to achieve. My character at the breaking point for all she’s endured to that point, out of time, with everything on the line… and then the final blow to light the powder keg.

Next up in our chain is the fabulous Jessica Verday, so be sure to pop over to Jibberings tomorrow and see what she has to say.

You’ve Got a Friend: Back on the Chain Gang

Hello, bloggy peeps! Another blog chain in progress, this time chosen by our own Terri Rainer.

Leah Clifford had the link before mine and Jessica Verday will be up next.

I’ll be answering the “Alternative Question” Terri posed:

Alternative question: Do you brainstorm with a friend when you are plotting, or do you prefer to be the only one who knows what your characters are going to do?

Well, I have to say… I am quite grateful that Terri chose this topic. Because up until now, I have never properly acknowledged the awesomeness of my BFF Clara.

Although I do a LOT of pre-writing plotting, there are always the detail issues that come up along the way. Whenever I find myself sinking into a plot hole or running into a wall, I torture poor Clara by making her hear all about it.

Seriously, she is the best listener ever. She doesn’t tell me what to do or suggest something can’t be solved. If I give a possible solution(s), she simply tells me whether or not she thinks it will work or which solution might work better.

At risk of jinxing myself, I have always solved my plot problems within 48-hours of talking to Clara. The solution may not come during our conversation (in fact, it usually doesn’t) but talking it through with someone encouraging, but not leading, really helps me organize my own thoughts.

God bless BFF’s. Seriously.

And a ginormous  to Clara, the best BFF ever.

Just Keep Swimming! (Back on the Chain Gang)

Time for another link in the blog chain! The current topic was selected by Elana at Mindless Musings.

Leah Clifford had the post before mine and Jessica Verday will be up next.

This week’s topic is a two-parter:

When you’re in a pool of writing funk, how do you get out?

What favorite funny and/or thing makes you happy?

First of all, let me just say that being “in a pool of writing funk” makes me think of this:

Which actually sort of holds the answer. If you remember Ghostbusters 2, the premise was that a river of negativity had been created under New York City and anyone who came into contact with it turned mean-and-nasty. To counteract the effects, the ghostbusters had to coat the victims with positively-charged slime (why does it always have to be slime?).

It’s pretty much the same thing. Yes, the economy stinks and publishing is especially hurting. Yes, it isn’t easy to find a way to “Published” under the best of circumstances. So you have two choices: you can wallow in the negativity, or you can make the effort to coat yourself in positivity.

Find people to support you. Accept that things won’t necessarily happen on your internal deadlines. Start new projects. Incubate ideas. Develop your craft.

I know maybe now isn’t the best time… so I’m trying to use this time to PREPARE for the right time.

And now for something completely silly:

I also greatly enjoyed this post from Kelley on Elvis, Elves and Chocolate Chip Cannoli

My favorite excerpt:

For me, this news is all rather like being a runner in a marathon. The gun has just gone off and suddenly a voice comes over the loud speaker.

“Sorry,” it says. “There’s been a little glitch. The finish line? At mile 26? We had to move it to mile 48. Nothing we could do. Good luck.”

Well. That sucks. The problem, however, is I’m already running the race. I got up at the butt crack of dawn to be here, dragged my family and friends out to cheer me on. I even have my number safety-pinned to my back, for pete’s sake. And did you see my shiny new hot pink sneakers? Vair sweet.

I Say WIP it… WIP it Good! (Back on the Chain Gang)

Time for another blog chain posting. This chain topic was selected by Abi.

Leah Clifford wrote the previous link and Jessica Verday (whose book cover was just revealed!) will be up next.

The questions are:

  1. What writing related things have you done in the past?
  2. What WIPs are you working on now?
  3. Do you have anything brewing for the future?
  4. Are you setting any writing goals or resolutions for 2009?

What writing related things have you done in the past?

I’ve done a variety of writing projects. In high school, I was the editor-in-chief of our school newspaper. I also won creative writing awards, primarily for my poetry, but also for a few other things, including a script for a comedy called Feuding Families where “Sudden Death” took on a sinisterly literal meaning.

In college, I continued to write and publish poems in our school’s literary magazine.  Once I started medical training, my writing took a more technical turn as I compiled case presentations and lectures.

And, of course, THE EDGE OF MEMORY is currently out on submission with several agents.

I also posted my first book (THE TWO FLOWERS) here on my blog for your amusement.

What WIPs are you working on now?

My current project is suspenseful women’s fiction, tentatively titled “Enter Like a Needle.” It’s the story of a pediatrician (like myself) whose kids are being secretly harmed by a patient’s mother who is out for revenge. The doctor’s trying to figure out who’s responsible and protect her kids, but everyone– including her husband– think she’s the guilty one.

Do you have anything brewing for the future?

Of course. But I think I’m going to be cagey about that. 😉

Are you setting any writing goals or resolutions for 2009?

Why, yes! As a matter of fact, I just posted some writing resolutions that you can actually KEEP on the new QueryTracker.net blog. 🙂

I’m not making any resolutions about finding an agent or getting a contract, because I have very limited control over that. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep working my tail off to achieve it.  Meanwhile, I keep stewing on marketing ideas. I have lots of marketing plans for THE EDGE OF MEMORY, and it sure would be exciting to put them into action!

A Few of My Favorite Things (Back on the Chain Gang)

For the holidays, my blog chain gang decided to try something different… instead of each of us posting in turn on a topic chosen by one of us, we would each choose our own topic and post whenever  inspiration struck. Make sure to check out the Jingle Bell Blog Chain posts for Archetype and Abi.

Now settle in, gang, cuz I’m about to go all Oprah on you.

No, I’m not about to endorse any fake memoirs or lose/gain 20 pounds in 30 minutes. But I am going to mention a few of my favorite things.

(Almost) Every Friday, I feature something I love or am grateful for in my weekly In Deep Smit posting. These are generally things I discovered or rediscovered during the week before I post them.  But there are many other things I love… things I’m surprised to find other people don’t know.

So, I present a haphazard collection of obscure or underappreciated things that I love.

  1. They Might Be Giants— the sound of their music is certainly not for everyone but their clever, funny-yet-deep lyrics are beyond awesome. (And for me, music is mostly an appealing vehicle for conveying lyrics into my consciousness).  My personal favorite (though hard to choose) is Ana Ng, where the singer suggests that if there is, indeed, one perfect soul mate in the world for everyone, then (with his luck) that person would be on the opposite side of the world. If you’ve never enjoyed “Dinner Bell” or “I Palindrome I”, you can listen to some TMBG on my playlist on imeem (although sadly, Ana Ng is only on imeem as covered by Self).
  2. Diane Wakoski— I love many of the big poetry stars… Sylvia Plath, Alan Ginsberg, etc.  But my single favorite poem seems to be much less widely known, Blue Monday.
  3. The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread— One of my favorite books growing up and recently back in print. 9-year-old Morris Bird the Third decides to prove his self-worth by journeying across Cleveland to visit his best friend and arrives just in time for the Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion.
  4. The Cinnamon Bear— My father grew up listening to this holiday program on the radio every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s a bit sappy, and some of the songs are downright insipid, but it is nostalgic good fun, nonetheless.
  5. www.ereader.com — In the hoopla over readers like the Kindle and Sony Reader, it’s easy to forget that lots of other devices can allow you to read electronic books. On my palm pilot this very moment I have dozens of books, from the classics, to modern works, to manuscripts I’m critting for my writer buddies.

To everyone who’s joined me in this first year of blogging here on Trying to Do the Write Thing… I wish you a 2009 filled with health, good fortune and lots of your favorite things.