BFFs: a bit from Flight Plan

I haven’t shared from this book yet. No idea why. Here’s one of my favorite scenes.


Naomi saw Serena’s feet first. A bare toe rubbed over the top step of the porch stairs beside her, and then Serena sat down while balancing bagels stacked on steaming mugs in each hand. She still wore nothing but the filthy camouflage sneak suit, and she smelled like garbage. Sleepy eyes gleamed at Naomi over a secretive smile. “I promised to go to bed,” she said. “But you’re on the way. Good morning.”

Naomi took a mug and let tears spill down her cheeks. “I love you so much.”

“It’s only tea, Naomi. It isn’t even good tea.”

“It’s more.” She wiped her face and sipped the perfectly acceptable black pekoe blend. “You don’t realize how much better you’ve been, the last few days.”

“Well, don’t get too excited. I’m still a moody bitch.” Serena wrapped her arm around Naomi’s waist. “I love you too, Bao-bao. You held me up until I could run again.”

Naomi put her head in the curve of Serena’s shoulder. “Whatever.”

Birds were peeping in the drooping evergreens somewhere, and the gray sky was lightening in advance of the sunrise. The breeze was light and cool. Naomi shifted the tea to one hand and took a bite of half-thawed bagel. While she ate, she went back to doing what she’d been doing before Serena arrived: wondering why Parker wasn’t freezing to death out on the lawn in nothing but a pair of cut-off sweatpants.

He squared his shoulders and flowed smoothly from one t’ai chi form to another. His balance never wavered as he pivoted to face them, but surprise came through: he hadn’t noticed Serena’s arrival. His attention went back to the exercise, and then he smiled.

Naomi couldn’t keep her lips from curving up, but she firmly put him out of her mind even as heat coiled through her. Boundaries were important.

“Why is ‘threesome’ the first thing every guy thinks when he sees us together?” Serena asked. She added loudly, “She doesn’t share, sorry.”

Parker came down flat-footed. Chest muscles and abs rippled when he took a deep breath, and his face flushed red. Serena hummed appreciatively.

Apprehension sputtered to life within Naomi’s heart as Parker turned away and got back on task. “Serena, I know you, and—please, let me have this? I can’t compete, you know I can’t.”

“No, no, no.” Serena kissed her on the ear. “Silly Naomi. Very much no.”

The cheerful emphasis was as confusing as it was a relief. Naomi went back to watching Parker. “Why not? You’ve been sniffing after him since you met.”

“Only because I could feel him, steady-safe like you at my center. Secure, not sexy. You and I don’t have sex.” A moment passed. “Together, I mean.” Another pause. “Except those couple of times way back when, but we were both stoned and drunk at once, so I don’t think they count.”

“Stop.” Giggles bubbled up. Naomi stifled them. “You are not helping.”

For a moment they were fifteen again, winding down from a night of harmless pranks and minor property crimes. They had been so young. So full of hopes and passion. Life hadn’t been perfect, but the future had been infinite. Their limitless reality had imploded, desperation had crushed them both into tiny futures with no room for dreams, and then even those unenviable lives had been torn to pieces.

This morning felt like rebirth.

Serena set down her cup to nestle closer, but her breath stank and so did the rest of her. Naomi pushed her away. “Dirty girl.”

“I am.” Serena was still watching Parker. “He is hotter than a chili pepper, and you haven’t even nibbled on him yet. What is wrong with you?”

Boundaries, Serena.”

“I can’t help noticing. He’s in the same place you are.” She rubbed a fist between her breasts. “Steady-safe, the pair of you. Like my heartbeat.”

“Notice away, but I will not talk about anything we do or don’t do. Ever.”

 


And because this one’s from a book that’s available for sale, the mandatory promotional link: mybook.to/Flightplan

Kindle, Paperback and Audiobook.

(audio available through iTunes, Audible.com and Amazon)

The devil is in the details

storysculpting header 2 brushes and paints

I love world-building. I hate being bogged down in lengthy explanations. Those two ideas seem to contradict each other, but they don’t. Constructing a whole reality idea by idea doesn’t have to mean burying the reader in excess information. It’s successful if it’s real. It works if it works.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how that gets done lately, and here’s the stream-of-consciousness result.

I like a sausage-making metaphor: massive quantities of information has to be smooshed into a compact, spicy form that looks, feels, and tastes nothing like the disparate ugly ingredients of its origin. I also like a phrase stolen from role-playing. “When in doubt, roll and shout.”

Research is critically important, but it isn’t narrative-friendly.  If I haven’t considered all the implications of every idea that I dream up, then I will write something idiotic or miss obvious contradictions. But if I don’t provide all that background I made up when I write about things that don’t exist, then the reader will drown in unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts.

It’s a tricky balance. Part of the problem is the difference between real life and narrative life.

None of us notice everything about everything in our daily lives. We take reality for granted. Most of us don’t ponder the intricacies of electrical power generation and distribution when we turn on a lamp. We don’t discuss historical origins and socio-political underpinnings of every news event. In conversation we don’t provide definitions to each other for nouns we use every day.

But stories are condensed life. Dialogue is more than conversation. Writers can make every interaction and description a springboard for adding information to the mix. But does can mean should? (NO)  How much of the sausage-making needs to be shown?

When I come up with some clever new idea, the first thing I must decide is, does it work? Do all the imaginary events, objects, people, histories, actions, and places I want to include in my world make sense together?  Then I have to decide does that idea need to be in this story? The last tricky hurdle: when I describe these ideas, do my descriptions feel plausible?  That isn’t the same as the descriptions being precise.  Far from it. 

There’s an art to achieving realism.  What’s the right amount of information to make a world feel real without boring the reader to tears?  Alas, the answer is it depends. There’s a spectrum of tolerance for raw information. Pleasing every reader is impossible. I wish there was a formula or even a rule of thumb, or an easy middle road, but there isn’t.

There are tricks & tropes to ease data delivery into a story: the newbie; the research montage; the fish out of water, the amazing discovery–there’s a whole kit of craft tools. (A new one I’ve learned: slotting critical facts around cliffhanger action.) But those still only cover the how, not the which or the  how much.

Texts thick with numbers, vocabulary, and dates leave me cold, so they aren’t what I write. I use the technique I like best as a reader: immersion. I describe my worlds the way someone living in them would experience them. Then I add the minimal explanatory material to that framework.

Enough and only enough: that’s my descriptive mantra.  Brevity entices the reader’s imagination and sets it roaming free.  If I’ve done the does it work part of my world-build properly I don’t need to show much at all. My readers don’t nee a treatise on economics with every passing place name reference.  I can even leave details vague in my own mind until I need to write about that place.

A last phrase I keep in mind when dealing with world backgrounds is one attributed to several classic showmen, “Always leave them wanting more.”  If I build my world in broad strokes and use sharp wordcraft on the little I let into my story, readers will know there is more and come back for seconds.

If the devil is in the details, then get thee behind me, details.

Weekly Snapshot: Nightmares

I made a new cover for this story, so this week’s excerpt comes from Nightmares along with a close-up of the picture I’m far too proud of making. Is it pathetic and amateur? Maybe. Probably. I loved the original and still do.  So why change it?  Because I crave change.  I rearrange furniture, re-organize dresser drawers and cabinets, and change out pictures. Not a shocker that I also get the itch to switch up book covers.

Not a huge surprise that I write about people struggling with disrupted lives, either. Enjoy this tiny little sample.



Amy said, “You don’t walk home alone, not wearing a pacifier around your neck. Want to leave with me, or wait ‘til last call and let Sergeant Jackass escort you?”

The dance floor was empty, and only a few tables were still occupied. Sgt. Coby and a T-series woman Kris didn’t recognize were deep in conversation in a booth. There was no reason to stay, and every reason to leave. “I’ll come with you, but I’m warning you now, it won’t work.”

“What won’t?”

“You’re going to spend the whole walk trying to talk me into transferring back. It won’t work.”

Amy grinned. “Smartypants. See why I want you on my team?”

They were nearly to the door when the plan fell apart. Two teleporters in uniform appeared back-to-back in the middle of the dance floor. One was looking straight at Kris.

“Locked,” she said, and the partner facing the other side of the room said, “Confirm lock.” The world turned inside out, and Kris sank knee-deep in snow.

Amy fell on her butt in a drift. “What the actual fuck?” she said, and the ‘porters disappeared.

A sphere of dim red light floated overhead, illuminating a fifty foot circle of snow well enough make out the crates stacked at the center. Kris’s breath clouded the air in front of her face, clearing when she took in a lungful of searing cold. Her skin automatically rippled and thickened in response, and she held her breath waiting until she was sure the pacifier collar  would not punish her for the protective reflex.

Alarm klaxons and sirens wailed in the distance. Lieutenant Akron’s voice shouted orders nearby in the dark. The lit circle had the look of a night operation in progress, but that was where familiarity ended. But I’m off-duty was Kris’s first thought, followed by, And I’m restricted. And this isn’t even my unit any more.

Confusion was no excuse for inaction. Kris turned to check her six. Sergeant Coby had been scooped up too. All around, porters popped in with passengers and out again. Most of the arrivals were as inappropriately dressed as Kris was. Pinpoints of light flared and disappeared far out in the darkness too: Marines ’porting into perimeter positions. It was definitely a major op of some kind. A lumpy object fell out of nowhere, and she automatically lifted her arms to catch it.

Beside her, Amy cradled her own bundle of boots, harness and weapons. A pale figure who looked like an albino fox in a uniform trotted past in the distant gloom. Amy took a deep breath and bellowed, “LT, what the fuck is going on?”

“Shut up, suit up, and pump up,” Lieutenant Akron called back. “Brief in five.”

“Aye-aye, sir.” Amy shook her head and started dressing.



Here’s a BIG picture of the new cover, plus one-stop shopping for the whole story collection:nightmare-play-cover2-web

Extraordinary: https://www.books2read.com/u/4N19e6

Powerhouse:https://www.books2read.com/u/3kZ1VW

 Nightmares:https://www.books2read.com/u/3yPExv

Lockdown: https://www.books2read.com/u/3GM2Xn