Saturday, March 31, 2012

'Paradise' A Bit of Fiction

 I've written hundreds of short stories over the years.  Paradise took second place in the Writers Weekly 24 hour short story contest and is still, ten years later,  my husbands favorite.

Katie tried to ignore the passersby as she hurried through the unfamiliar streets of the city.  A young woman, her face illuminated by a weak street lamp, looked at her and grinned; it was obvious Katie didn’t belong here.  She tried not to draw attention to herself, but it wasn’t easy.  “I will have to hide before daylight comes,” she whispered to herself, careful not to let anyone hear her speak.  It had only been four hours since her escape, but she was sure they would be looking for her by now.
She had never seen the city before, and the unfamiliar images that surrounded her were frightening.  Her fear, however, was outweighed by her excitement.  She was determined to find Benny’s Bookstore and inside, hopefully, the key to her destiny.  She glanced at the street sign above her head.  She was almost there. 
Katie dreamed of being someplace where she felt she belonged.  It certainly wasn’t this city, and, although the place where she lived was not necessarily a bad place, it wasn’t a home.  Her place of existence, as she liked to call it, was an institution: a sterile, white environment surrounded by medical staff.  She had been taken away from her parents at a very young age and sent to live with Dr. Bailey.  She had never understood why; no one had ever told her.
Dr. Bailey was very kind, as were the others that helped take care of her, but they were not family.  Rebellion became her way of coping.  She would not read what they tried to give her.  She played ignorant when they wanted her to speak.  If she knew they expected her to react one way, she acted just the opposite.  Her lack of cooperation had led them to assume that she was of low intelligence, incapable of learning even the basics.
But, Katie wasn't stupid.  In fact, she was extremely intelligent, far beyond what Dr. Bailey could ever imagine.
Katie had learned how to exit her locked room at night without being detected.  Because of her 'learning disability', no one ever suspected that she was capable of escaping after night call, so no one ever checked.  She knew the night nurses’ routines and could easily run throughout her home without any interference.  And on her own, she learned.
She had read every book in the library, some twice.  She had even managed to hack into Dr. Bailey’s computer and frequented the internet at night.  She often laughed at how sly she was, and how easily Dr. Bailey and the others were fooled.
Katie’s only knowledge of her family had come from information she had read in her own medical chart.  She didn’t remember them, being taken away at such a young age, and she wept when she read her own history.  Her grandfather had been an astronaut, one of the first.  Her parents worked for a major university, and after reading about them on the internet, she found that they were well respected in their field.  She had no brothers.  She had no sisters.  She had only Dr. Bailey, and her friend George, who truly was ignorant.
While she rarely pondered her dreams, Katie had been having the same one, every night, for several weeks.  She and George were on an island surrounded by palm trees.  Majestic mountains bordered their haven and a white sandy beach separated the land from the crystal blue of the ocean.  She was highly respected by the other inhabitants for her intelligence, and she openly shared her knowledge with them.  Astronauts.  Teachers.  Doctors.  It was a different world in her dream.  It was paradise.
When she told George about her dream, he had, as usual, quizzed her for every detail.  Katie called him Curious George, although he didn’t understand the meaning behind the nickname. George needed to be here, Katie thought.   
“It’s your treasure,” George said.  “Katie’s treasure!”

“Someday I will find such an island,” Katie told him. 

One summer afternoon, Katie and George sat together in the dayroom.  George played with the television remote control as Katie tried to concentrate on the various programs that appeared as the channels changed.  Suddenly, she grabbed the remote from him. 

She went back several channels, slowly, searching for something.  She glanced around to make sure no one was close enough to hear her speak.  “George,” she whispered, “Look!  It’s my island.  It’s on the television!”  They sat together in silence and watched as the wonders of Katie’s dream world unfolded before their eyes.

“Katie, you must find it.  You must.  Then you can come back for me.” George said as he gazed at the screen.  But Katie required no prompting.  She had already made up her mind.

She spent a week researching before she ventured out on her quest for paradise.  She searched the internet and found that there were several books about her island, but none were in Dr. Bailey’s library.  She sent messages to every bookstore within fifty miles of her home, looking for someone who had one of the books.  Three nights into her search, she received a response.

“Yes, I have one of the books you are inquiring about, but no one has asked for it in years.  I would be happy to reserve it for you.”  It was signed “Benny” from Benny’s Bookstore.  Katie wrote down the address and decided that her journey must begin there. 
Late the following night, after everyone was in bed, Katie dressed in the dark and left her tiny room for the last time.  She stole to the kitchen and collected provisions for her journey.  She went back to the area where she lived, opened George’s door, and kissed her sleeping friend goodbye.  “I will come back for you, I promise,” she whispered.  Then with one last look around, she escaped into the darkness, into the concrete jungle that she had only seen in books and on television.
Katie didn’t like the idea of breaking into the bookstore any more than she liked the thought of stealing the book.  But, as she stood in front of Benny’s she felt drawn to the dusty shelves inside.  She found a window in the back that had been left slightly ajar.  She was small and extremely agile and she managed to enter without a sound.
In the darkness of the old store, she relied on her night vision, which was exceptional.  She searched the shelves, reading the cover of each book.  After hours of searching, she was exhausted, both mentally and physically.  She sat on the floor beginning to feel as if her journey may have been in vain.  Some of the titles on the bottom shelves were difficult to read due to months, possibly years of neglect.  She began to wipe the covers gently, her last hope. 

And there it was.  What George had called her treasure.
She pulled the dusty volume from the shelf and quickly made her way to the antique cash register at the front of the store.  She had seen one similar to it before, and had no difficulty opening the drawer.  Forty dollars.  She grabbed the money quickly, thinking she may need funds for the next leg of her adventure.  She made a promise to herself that she would someday pay Benny back, and then darted out of sight, as a young man walked by the front window. 
She was anxious to begin the next leg of her journey, but knew once she started reading, she wouldn’t be able to stop.  She didn’t dare open the book.  Not yet.  Not here.  Holding the book tightly, she headed back into the night.


“Dr. Bailey?  Officer Scopes, here, NYPD.  I’m calling about the escapee you reported last night.”

“Her name is Katie.  Do you have her?”  Dr. Bailey had been up most of the night, worried about her alone in a strange world.

“No, no, I was just told to call you if I heard anything.  Actually, I doubt this is anything at all.”  Dr. Bailey noticed an aloof, almost jovial tone in the officer’s voice, which irritated him.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” he replied.

“Well,” the officer began, “Didn’t you say she was stupid?  I mean, she can’t read, right?"

“No, Officer, Katie cannot read.  Please, don’t waste my time. Do you have a lead on her whereabouts or not?”

“Like I said, probably not.  I picked up a drunk in the park this morning that swears he saw a monkey that matches her description.”  He paused. “He said she was sitting under a tree reading a book.”

“A book?” Dr. Bailey said. “What kind of a book?”

Officer Scopes words were barely audible through his laughter.  “Planet of the Apes.  What else?”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hoover Dam Stories: Double Ugly and the Glory Hole

One of my favorite aspects of historical writing involves the use of slang. It is challenging to find terms that not only were used during the time period you are writing about, but that would be used by your character in a specific circumstance.  But we all find them: in journals, dictionaries, books, letters and oral histories.    

Although I like to use slang to be as historically correct as possible in my dialogue, I also want the reader to actually understand what is going on.  For example, if you were a Hoover Dam worker in the 1930's, the following sentences would make perfect sense to you:

Double Ugly waited in the Glory Hole until the gaffer was on the monkey slide off to get a spot.  He eased out of his Cornbinder and blitted the juicer with a perverted banjo and a Joe McGee.

However, for a reader, three hundred pages of that would get old real fast.

So the question is, how much do you use?  I don't have an answer (that would be too easy), but I rely a lot on beta readers to question certain terms or phrases.  If I'm talking about a thirty foot high stiff-leg and they put a big question mark beside it, then I know I either need to lose that term, or explain that a stiff-leg is a derrick.

In writing Ragtown, I came across a lot of great slang that was used by the tunnel workers in the 1930's.  Some made it in the book, some didn't, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites:    

Banjo: A shovel
Big Bertha: a double deck transport, with a capacity of 150 men
Blit: To beat up, or annihilate a guy
Build it: A phrase meaning it was time to go back to work
Candy Wagon: a light Ford truck/a tool truck
Cornbinder: an International truck
Crutch: a long handled shovel
Double Ugly: a truck driver
Easy-Dough: a boss
Gaffer: another term for foreman or boss
Goldbrick: a guy who doesn't put out much work
Glory Hole: the area where the dam itself was being built
Juicer: an electrician
Joe McGee: a makeshift tool
King Kong: the government cableway, the largest in the world at the time, with a capacity of 150 tons
Monkey-slide: two cableways, one that traveled on the downstream face of the dam, the other which traveled on the upstream face
Perverted: anything broken or 'out of kilter'
Stooge: a man who catered to his boss
Stiff-leg: a type of derrick
Twirp: one of the girls
Twidgett: another of the girls
Whoopee: a Ford pickup
Wood-butcher: a carpenter

Any great ones you'd like to share?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wilde's Fire: A Bit of Krystal in Your Kate?

If you haven't heard me screaming from the top of the Stratosphere lately, Krystal Wade's first YA novel, Wilde's Fire, has been published and is ready for you to fall in love with.  Since Katriona Wilde is the young protagonist in this trilogy, I was very interested to know what bit of Krystal is in Katriona.  So I asked:

Krystal Wade:

Every now and then, people ask me if I incorporated any personal qualities into my characters. The first time I was asked, I quickly answered no. But I responded that way because until after the question was posed, I didn't realize how much of me is in KatrionaWilde. The unsuspecting, twenty-year-old heroine in Wilde's Fire loves nature. She adores horses, mountains, hiking, camping, and she enjoys doing these things with her family and friends. 

 My husband and I discovered Kate's home in Albemarle, Virginia many years ago. We were driving from Fredericksburg to my parents' house halfway across the country. Dawn loomed over the horizon, painting the sky with a light, gray hue. We traveled along Route 250 with miles and miles of white and black estate fencing bordering the road. The sun finally won its battle with the moon, and what daylight rewarded us with hasn't left my mind. Thousands of acres of horse farms, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in their back yards, rested on either side of the winding road. Driveways lined with flowering Dogwoods. Horses grazing in rolling, green pastures. Cows munching on grass. These images won't leave me, and I don't want them to.
A special place already existed in my heart for rural Virginia, but after seeing Albemarle, that part of my heart grew. Years before the drive that sparked my imagination and my passion, my husband and I were friends. Well, we were more than friends, but you know what I mean.

We gathered our camping gear, some hiking buds, and our dogs, and we spent a weekend on the trails off Skyline Drive. Kate and her friends visited these very same trails. She enjoyed watching deer chewing on flowers, just like my son and I had when we walked the North Fork of the Moormans River trail. When the sun drew sweat from our pores, we sat on the same rocks Kate and her best friend Brad shared when they were hot.

So, a tradition was born, and while my husband and I were usually the only ones to uphold said tradition, we didn't mind. One Valentine's day, when we were off-roading in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I wanted nothing more than my boyfriend to propose to me (my now husband). Not many women daydream of mud when they think of the perfect proposal, but we were in our spot, alone, and it didn't happen . . . until the next day when we were sitting on a group of boulders overlooking the Moormans River. I told him I was cold, and he offered me a shiny, bright diamond for warmth. No joke. He said it might warm me up. I nearly fell off the boulder!

So there you have it. Kate's happy life is my happiness. It's unfortunate I strip away all the good in her life. And, no, I'm not giving you any hints. You'll have to read to find out what I'm talking about!

By the way, Kate drives a Jeep. 

Check out the Wilde's Fire Trailer

Stalk Krystal here:

Twitter: @krystalwade

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dialogue: What's In a Name?

I like dialogue.  I like to read it, I like to write it.  For me, what a character says, and how they say it, can be more telling than any internal monologue.  A character's thoughts are their own, and therefore, it is how they perceive their own actions.  But what they say is how they are perceived by others.

Not just any dialogue, however.  I like good dialogue.  Good dialogue flows, doesn't bore the reader, doesn't take them away from the action of the story.  I've recently been editing manuscripts and one of the most distracting habits I have found is the overuse of names in dialogue and dialogue tags.

Consider this:

            "Jimmy, eat your dinner," Mary said.
            "But, Mom, I don't like peas," Jimmy replied.
            Mary slammed her fist into the table and raised her voice. "Jimmy, I said eat it. Now!"
            "Oh, Mary, leave Jimmy alone.  He's a teenager, they don't like peas," Bob said.
            Mary turned to her husband. "Bob, quit taking up for him."

How about:

            Mary sat the plate in front of her son. "Eat."
            "But, Mom..."
            She slammed her fist on the table. "Now!"
            "Oh, leave him alone, he doesn't like peas."
            "Quit taking up for him!"

Too simplified? Maybe.  But in a scene, you would know who is at the table: Mom Mary, teenager Jimmy and Dad Bob.  Removing the names from the dialogue, as well as some of the dialogue tags, makes the scene flow more freely and doesn't take away from the action, or in this case the tension of the scene. 

Less is better. 


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Toby Neal: "Blood Orchids" and PTSD

I've been doing a lot of research lately on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for my current work in progress And They Call Me Crazy. While most people associate it with combat, PTSD has many forms and can manifest itself in several ways, from symptoms that are barely recognizable to those that are totally disabling.  In Toby Neal's recently released Blood Orchids, her heroine,  Hawaii policewoman Lei Texeira, is also a victim of PTSD, and knowing that Neal works as a Mental Health Therapist, I was curious as to the development of this complex and interesting character.  I wanted to share Toby's story of 'finding' this character through personal experience with tragedy as well as her frank discussion of PTSD. 

                                                     Toby Neal: 
Blood Orchids is really all about overcoming Post-Traumatic Stress and my own experience with PTS inspired me to write it.  Blood Orchids was sparked as an idea by a tragedy that happened in my community—two teen girls were drowned. I was a grief counselor in the crisis team that went to the high school to work with the students in the aftermath. At first we were told they were victims of foul play, though later it turned out to have been accidental. The staff and students were hysterical and traumatized. For months after, perhaps because it was so intense to hear they’d been murdered and to work with their grief-sticken friends, I thought about it, and wondered what it would be like to try and solve such a crime in a small Hawaii community. You could say I was haunted by the drownings, just as Lei is in the book.

I’d tried to write novels before and always lost interest, but this time I started a story about a policewoman who’d been sexually and physically abused as a child… a woman with scars and flaws, but whose passion drove her to rectify things for others. I put it on my blog. Then I added chapters. And lo and behold, about 60 pages in, I realized I had a character I wanted to see grow and develop, a budding love story, and some great psychopaths to spice it all up. I was going to finish the book. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt, realizing I’d found a character I could write about forever.

You’ll notice I said “found” a character. In Jungian psychology, there’s an explanation of these discoveries as existing in the “collective unconscious” of humanity—a deep sea where universal themes, symbols, heroines and villains appear across every culture. To me Lei is a representation of one of these universal characters—the wounded hero(ine) who fights for justice.

In Orchids, Lei goes through therapy for her PTS symptoms, which for her take the form of intrusive negative thoughts, blocked memories that create anxiety and a sense of constantly wondering if she’s going crazy, compounded by “blackouts” where she can’t remember what she does (usually is sitting in a trancelike state for a few minutes.) She has hypervigilance about safety, bad dreams, and fear of intimacy along with bouts of self-injurious behavior when she cuts herself in order to express her pain.

Full-blown, untreated PTSD, whether from abuse, combat, traumatic exposure or a natural disaster, is very debilitating. Therapy combined with anti-anxiety meds can be very effective and are getting better all the time as we learn about the way brains store memory and process emotion.

About Blood Orchids (released December 2011):

Hawaii is palm trees, black sand and blue water—but for policewoman Lei Texeira, there’s a dark side to paradise.

Lei has overcome a scarred past to make a life for herself as a cop in the sleepy Big Island town of Hilo. On a routine patrol she finds two murdered teenagers—one of whom she’d recently busted. With its echoes of her own past, the murdered girl’s harsh life and tragic death affect Lei deeply. She becomes obsessed—even as the killer is drawn to Lei's intensity, feeding off her vulnerabilities and toying with her sanity.

Despite her obsession with the case and fear that she's being stalked, Lei finds herself falling in love for the first time. Steaming volcanoes, black sand beaches and shrouded fern forests are the backdrop to Lei's quest for answers—and the stalker is closer than she can imagine, as threads of the past tangle in her future. Lei is determined to find the killer—but he knows where to find her first.

Blood Orchids can be purchased at Amazon, and is the Kindle download is FREE March 3, 4 and 5th!  

About Toby Neal:

Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii. She wrote and illustrated her first story at age 5 and has been published in magazines and won several writing contests. After initially majoring in Journalism, she eventually settled on mental health as a career and loves her work, saying, “I’m endlessly fascinated with people’s stories.”

She enjoys many outdoor sports including bodyboarding, scuba diving, beach walking, gardening and hiking. She lives in Hawaii with her family and dogs.

Toby credits her counseling background in adding depth to her characters–from the villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous and vulnerable heroine in the Lei Crime Series.

Learn more about Toby and Blood Orchids at her website.