The novel I’m now working on – Truth to Tell (TTT) – has surpassed all my other books by having the longest gestation period on record. I conceived of the idea over two years ago when I wrote a couple of scenes, then stalled and put it aside to work on other priorities. Months later I picked the project up again and realized that I had a good character, but the story needed work.
I brainstormed TTT at a Red Door retreat with with the PenWarriors, and came up with a story that seemed fine–but I didn’t touch it again for months. When I did finally return to TTT, I realized my heroine needed a completely different story – and finally the story caught fire for me.
OK, now we’re cooking!
Part of the problem has been that in my other life as a university faculty member, I’d become involved in a long-term project that took most of my writing energy. A continuing stream of time-sensitive tasks had exhausted my creative energy.
On August 1st I started a 1-year research and program development sabbatical, which should mean that I have time for both R&D AND writing. My husband and I decided to take this chance to tour some parts of North America we’ve wanted to see, complete with my books and computer but away from my telephone so that I can focus on both the R&D and my writing.
It worked pretty well during August. I finished and published a new short story, The Broken Gate, and formulated a plan for the last few chapters of TTT. September I devoted to R&D tasks and getting started on our trip. October–
Hmm. October wasn’t looking so good last Friday when I tried to set some goals for the next week. They looked something like this:
Read and critique a story for a writer friend
Write four modules for the course under development
Write this blog
Get back to TTT
Once again, I realized, my writing had fallen to the back of the queue. When would I get time to finish TTT?
The horrifying thing was that back in mid-August when I was working on the book, I came up with a new title that was a much better fit – and I’d forgotten what it was!
I feared TTT would never get the attention it needed, but items 1, 2, and 3 were time-sensitive commitments that mattered. There was ALWAYS something urgent to get in the way.
Staring at the list I’d written, I could see that I’d fallen into the time management mess Steven Covey talked about in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where long-term projects of importance get pushed to the back of the queue because they are not as urgent as more short term and often less important tasks.
The trouble was, back when I read 7 Habits, I didn’t have a time management problem, but I certainly do now! I get a lot done, but things that are very important to me get neglected – like TTT, the book whose new name I can’t remember
First things first, says Covey’s 3rd Habit. If I don’t put long-term-core-value things that reflect my purpose and values first, they’ll never get done.
The solution: turn the task upside down. So, last Friday I rewrote the list of this week’s goals:
Every day, first spend half an hour on TTT. Use a timer.
Read and critique the story
Complete one module for the university program each day
Write the blog for Monday
Almost magically, my task list became manageable.
When would I get TTT written? First thing every day.
I’m on day 4 now and I’m amazed – it’s working! I get up early and walk the dogs with my husband, then happily settle in to work on TTT (this is my time!) – which, my Scrivener file tells me, is now tentatively retitled Necessary Lies. I give myself an hour, because 30 minutes felt too rushed. Then I make a cup of coffee and start working on R&D – I’ve completed two modules in four days, slower than my goal, but I should be able to get the targeted 4 done this week.
I read and critiqued the story Friday evening – great story. I enjoyed it. Now here I am Monday doing the blog. I just realized I’m one day late on that, because this is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and I got Sunday and Monday mixed up.
I’m in touch with my book, I’m getting other tasks done, and afternoons and evenings I still have time for some sightseeing and other odds and ends – like posting character name searches from my 60,000 name database to my Twitter feed. A habit doesn’t get formed in only four days, but I’m committed – and not to a mental institution!
First things first. This week the system works for me.
I’ve got my A-I-C (a-ah-butt in chair) and it’s fun. Necessary Lies is alive for me and I don’t feel guilty about the other stuff. I realize that my time management has been suffering from “first things last” for a long time. This feels like a miracle!
Check out the free sample of my short story, The Broken Gate
This story will also be appearing in the upcoming PenWarriors anthology of short stories, It Happens at Midnight
I read Telling Lies for Fun and Profit in the early 1980s, a couple of years after I’d decided to put aside my attempts to write a publishable fiction novel for a while.
I knew I wasn’t done with writing and that I would give it another try sometime, but it wasn’t until I picked up Block’s book of essays about writing that I decided it was time to write again. In friendly conversational style, Block gave me glimpses into a writer’s world that seemed accessible and answered many of my questions before I’d even asked them. Can you name real places in a novel? What about using a pseudonym? With practical musings on a host of subjects, Block’s ramble through the territory of writing gave me an inside view that told me it was time to pick up my dream of being a novelist and dust it off. The result was my first published novel, Pacific Disturbance.
Thanks, Lawrence Block, for giving writers a hand!
A great book for writers and anyone thinking about being a writer! This book continues the collection of gems from Lawrence Block’s 10 years as a columnist for Writer’s Digest.
Block’s style is friendly and casual, often irreverent – and filled with gems for the creator. Definitely a keeper for the writer’s bookshelf, and a great read for anyone who is curious about writers and how they do (or don’t do) it. I read this book years ago, and often return to it.
Check out the last two books in the “Lies” series: “The Liar’s Companion” and “The Liar’s Bible” View all my reviews
Yesterday I received the almost-ready-to-publish-as-an-ebook file of If You Loved Me, a novel of mine originally published by Zebra Bouquet (Kensington Books). I love this story and I’m so pumped to know it will soon be available once again!
Originally I wrote it for Mills and Boon Harlequin, but my editor there wanted me to
make the heroine younger (she was in her late thirties), and
change the father of her son to someone else
The whole story was based on the premise that Emma’s son had gone kayaking in the wilderness with a friend, and was now missing. Changing Emma’s age would have made her either a child-mother, or a negligent one for letting her pre-adolescent son head into the wilderness without an adult. In addition, it was unlikely she would have achieved prominence as an orthopaedic surgeon at the ripe old age of twenty-something.
My editor was reasonable about Emma’s age because of the negligent mother issue, but wouldn’t budge on the identity of her son’s father. I decided not to change the identity of the father of Emma’s son, because that would change a crucial decision Emma had made in the past – and my plot would make no sense at all. So I withdrew the novel and went on to write several other books for Harlequin.
A few years later I learned that one of the Kensington editors was looking for 70,000 word stories for their new Bouquet imprint. I decided to submit If You Loved Me. I would need to add an extra 10-15,000 words, but that would be a pleasure as I’d been challenged to fit it into M&B’s 55-60,000 word limit when I first wrote the novel. I sent off an email query and received a phone call from Kensington within a few days. If You Loved Me became the first of four novels I wrote for Kensington, and I enjoyed the scope the extra length gave me.
I laughed when my new Kensington editor told me that one of the things she loved about the book was the boy’s parentage – the exact thing that had caused me to withdraw the book from M&B. Go figure!
Last year I applied to get the rights back to my four Kensington novels, and when I received the reversion documents I was thrilled because I could have all four novels available as eBooks for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks before the end of 2011.
So here I am with the “e” equivalent of galleys, ready to start the final edit. Unlike the world of print books, I have the opportunity to make any changes I like before the book goes out to the world – and I get to work with my own cover artist on a design! Kensington does great cover art and I liked the covers of my four Bouquets, but being in on the creation with a cover designer like Angela is a real joy.
So while my husband and I continue east on our road trip across the North American continent, I’ll be enjoying a final read through If You Loved Me before it goes to e-press on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks!
If fictional characters had to pay real dollars for therapy, a few of mine would be bankrupt and suffering from multiple identity disorder.
Even I’m confused about the identity of the hero of my seventh published book. Andrew, Takeover Man‘s hero, stormed into town to reorganize his aging father’s life and ran into Maggie, a female harbormaster with an attitude. Maggie knew who she was from the instant she flashed onto my computer screen, but Andrew wasn’t so lucky. If I’d been writing this book in the days when authors slaved over typewriters and had to retype the manuscript with each draft, Andrew would have managed to hang onto his name—too much work to change it. But when I read through my final draft, I decided that the name Andrew just didn’t evoke the image of a takeover man. So my last act as his creator was a search-and-replace, wiping Andrew out of existence and substituting Michael.
Looking back now, I’m not sure Michael sounds any more take-charge than Andrew. It seemed important to me at the time and, who knows, maybe I was right … or wrong.
One way or another I’ve spent a lot of time naming my characters.
Like many writers I’ve collected a host of baby name books over the years. After years of trying to find the perfect name book, in the late 1990s my husband and I developed a computer names database, and a few years later, my son Cameron enhanced and expanded it into MuseNames. I keep adding new names as I find them and the MuseNames database has now grown to 60,000 names. I know it’s crazy to think I need 60,000 names, but I love exploring the names and their meanings as I create my characters. With all those names at my disposal, I could write forever and never repeat a hero or heroine’s name.
Well, not exactly.
When my twenty-third book was accepted for publication, the editor suggested I change the name of Strangers by Day’s hero from Allan to something more masculine. Perhaps Max, he suggested.
I’ve always been fond of short, simple masculine names. If I couldn’t have Allan, there was no reason Faith couldn’t fall in love with a man named Max—it was exactly the sort of name I might give one of my heroes. I did another search-and-replace and Allan became Max.
Oops! Max was the hero of my very first book, Pacific Disturbance.
Oh, well. The two men will probably never meet. Max #1 (Pacific Disturbance) is a West Coast software developer; Max #2 (Strangers by Day) is a cattle rancher in the interior of British Columbia. I should be safe, unless they both turn up in Vegas on the same weekend and their wives get to comparing heroes.
EC Sheedy’s blog postings always make me think, and her latest Penwarriors.com posting is no exception
EC’s “THE SIDE EFFECTS OF WRITING” got me thinking once again about the universe of publishing, writing, and the tangle of “empowerment + uncertainty” that the explosion of indie publishing has brought to modern writers. I replied to EC’s post earlier today with a bit of a ramble about my own discomfort with marketing, and a few thoughts about traditional print publishing as an unsustainable business model in 2011 – not to mention being environmentally unfriendly.
As J A Konrath and a host of others have demonstrated, when a writer takes control of her own destiny by using channels like Amazon.com and Smashwords to epublish her own work, the results can be tremendously exciting. Over the last year conversations about indie publishing (print on demand and epublishing) have grown more common among writers everywhere. But as EC reflects, many of us are uncertain of how to tackle the new realities of promotion intelligently, gracefully and – most importantly, without drowning in a flood of social media options that suck away our writing time.
This evening the dogs and I went for an oceanside walk with a good friend who is not a writer, and she told me she’s just read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. She told me that one of the books’ premises is that the old business model of “Pushing” products and controlling customers no longer works. I certainly believe this and from my friend’s description, “The Power of Pull” is based on the law of attraction rather than manipulation of others.
I got quite excited listening, because there’s too much “pushing” going on these days – in politics, in business, in the administration of education. And yet it seems to me the history of the Internet has shown that offering control to the “market” (i.e. Internet users) is what works and draws people to a Web site, to a product, to an idea. Certainly it has been a factor in the success of communications in our modern world of Twitter, Facebook, Google, and our multitude of many-to-many communications.
I’m off to do a little exploration of “The Power of Pull” – and as with most books I buy these days, I’ll avoid slaughtering a tree by purchasing it online. I’ve searched out the book online and have read one rather critical review that claims the book is “old stuff” and not news in the business management world, but I happen to know that a lot of wisdom is “old hat” that “everybody knows.” But knowing and putting into practice are two different things. I notice that very few businesses actually apply this modern wisdom. In short, I’m sceptical of the scepticism of the review LOL.
I’ll give the book the benefit of the doubt because it’s worth it to me to spend a few hours in the hopes I’ll gain some clarity as to how I might navigate the world of promotion a bit more intelligently, and find a way to avoid promotion taking up the mental energy that I need for creating.
I’ll let you know if I learn anything – or if I don’t!
Last week, sitting in Oxford University’s atmospheric Bodleian Library, Dr. Diana Bishop and I brushed fingers over an ancient manuscript … and slipped into the compelling enchantment of Deborah Harkness’s “A Discovery of Witches.” Harkness drew me more deeply under her spell as she threw each new challenge at her compelling heroine, Diana, a witch in denial who has turned her back on her family heritage. In “A Discovery of Witches” the author weaves an ancient complex mythology of witches, vampires, and demons linked both by DNA and centuries of a covenant that allows them to cohabit uneasily without attracting human notice.
The true beauty of “A Discovery of Witches” lies in the complex relationships of it’s characters — the growing complexities of love between Diana and the fifteen hundred year old scientist Matthew; the tangled love and pain of Matthew’s relationships with his fierce vampire mother, his dangerous brother, and his beloved sons both living and lost; between Diana and the ghosts of her parents who sacrificed their lives for her and left a mysterious chain of clues to her true destiny; between all these people and an ancient order of knights.
As I neared the end of Witches I wanted to hurry, to find out what happens to these wonderful people – and at the same time an unwillingness to reach the end. I’m not about to give any spoilers for those of you who haven’t yet read Deborah Harkness’s beautiful, exciting, and very satisfying story. I’ll just say that I love the way this book ended and was thrilled to realize that the ending was not an ending, but a door to a new beginning. A visit to the author’s website confirmed that A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy.
Hats off to a new mistress of storytelling, world building, and fantastic fiction. When book two comes along, I’m first in line – wand thank the Goddess for eBooks because wherever I am, I know I’ll be able to purchase it in the e-niverse
For a second, as she came through the door into the unadorned office, she had the impossible thought that the man behind the counter was David. The illusion was fleeting, a product of that first glimpse of the stranger’s dark, luxuriously curling hair.
When he looked up, her heart slowed. Of course it wasn’t David. The stranger’s shoulders were harder, broader, and he would be taller when he stood straight. David had been dark and tall and sleek, competent in city ways, but this man belonged to the strange wild and the outdoors.
“What can I do for you?” He sounded busy, but friendly. The eyes were black, not David’s warm brown, and he was tougher, the lines of his face cut deeper by the easy smile.
He liked women. That was in the smile, in the black eyes as they scrutinized her tailored tan slacks and her tweed jacket. He took in her hazel eyes, her soft auburn curls. She had an uncanny feeling that he knew she went to the salon every month to have the hair carefully trimmed to shoulder length. Did he know she would come just to his shoulder if she stood close beside him?
His inventory paused at her black audit bag. Too big for a briefcase, too small for a suitcase. City girl, the black gaze said, seeming to emphasize that he was a northerner and she wasn’t. She stiffened a little despite his warm interest, although she admitted to herself that if she were staying around in this hick town, and if he asked her out to dinner, she might just accept. There was something about him that made a person want to say yes.
She shrugged that discomfiting thought away and put down her small suitcase. “I’d like to charter a seaplane to the Queen Charlotte Islands.” She shifted the audit bag, saw him notice that she didn’t put it down.
“Not likely this afternoon.” His voice was mildly regretful, pleasant. His pen shifted and he glanced down at a large sheet of paper filled with numbers. As soon as she turned away, he would be working on those numbers again. Not money figures, she knew that. Some kind of inventory records? Behind him, a speaker crackled and a youngish man hurried to pick up a microphone. The man who reminded her of David said, “Where on the Queen Charlottes? We’ve got a scheduled run to Masset tomorrow at ten. If you want, I’ll put you down for tomorrow’s sched.”
“I have to get there today. Queen Charlotte City, not Masset.” He frowned and she felt the day’s frustration mounting. More delays. Things had gone wrong ever since dawn, and she simply must get out to that little village before the sun set—today!
“I’ve got to get there today! I’ve already missed—” She quelled the rising desperation in her voice. It was so unlike her, but today had been a disaster from the beginning. She made herself smile at the man behind the counter and was amazed at how her spirit warmed when he smiled back.
His eyes passed behind her as a door opened. Heavy footsteps crossed the floor while on the other side of the counter a young clerk approached with efficient purpose.
“Jesse?” The clerk’s voice was eager, younger even than his face. Not-David gave a formless sound of acknowledgment and the voice rushed on, “Dalwyn says they can get those parts to us by Friday.”
“Good. Place the order.”
Jesse. She filed his name in her mind, somewhere between the details of tomorrow’s audit procedures and the telephone number for the woman who cleaned her apartment every Wednesday. He belonged there, not with David’s memories. Behind her, a man cleared his throat just as a telephone rang. Interruptions loomed everywhere.
Crystal smiled persuasively at the man named Jesse. “I know you don’t want to hear the story of my frustrating day, but I really have to get to Queen Charlotte City today.”
He shrugged, his eyes going to the man behind her as he said, “You’d be better to wait for the sched tomorrow.”
She took a tighter grip on the audit bag while pushing a frantic hand through her hair. His eyes caught in the auburn richness of her curls, but she didn’t notice. “I don’t—Look, can you just tell me if there’s any way you can get me there today?” Her voice was biting in its frustration. Damn. She hated being inefficient, but the way things were shaping she was never going to get to this audit review. “If you can’t take me, I’ll go check the other seaplane companies. I’m not worried about the cost, I just—”
The door opened again. A quick, slender man burst through. “Express consignment for the Julie II.”
“Good. We’ve been waiting for it.”
The courier pushed a paper across the counter. The dark man gave the parcel a comprehensive glance, then quickly signed the waybill. Through the open doorway a rising noise filled the air and made conversation impossible. Crystal swung around in time to see an amphibious airplane taxiing through the water towards the floats on the other side of the road.
“What about that plane?” Her voice was rising, attempting to organize a situation that seemed to be frustratingly out of her hands. “It’s just coming in, isn’t it?” She swung back. The courier was gone, dashing back out the door and into a small van. Jesse whatever-his-name’s black eyes were hard, as if she were pushing when he did not like being pushed. “Can’t I go to Queen Charlotte City in that plane?”
“You can’t afford it,” he said flatly. His voice had lost the friendliness.
“How would you—”
“Bruce, what’s the charter rate for the Goose to QC City?”
The clerk punched some keys on a calculator and came up with an answer that made Crystal swallow.
His voice softening, Jesse said, “Look, the Goose is too big for a single-passenger charter, and Queen Charlotte is a hundred miles away.” He frowned, then shrugged and said, “Give me some time and I’ll see if we can dig up something for you. You’re sure you can’t wait until tomorrow?”
His eyes dropped to the audit bag, seeming to lump the black mystery of it with her cool certainty. She could see the heavy shoulder muscles bunching under his shirt as he turned away. “Why don’t you go back to your hotel. You’re not a local, are you? Leave a number and I’ll call if I have anything available. It’s kind of late in the day, but you never know.”
“Hey, Jesse!” The voice that boomed out behind her was big and deep. “While you’re at it, could you get me out to Kitkatla tonight?”
She jerked around and found herself facing a massive man dressed in jeans and a checkered shirt.
“No problem, Victor,” said Jesse. “I’ve got a Cessna coming in any minute now.” He picked up the small parcel from the counter. “I’ve got to fly this part down to Butedale for the Julie II. Shouldn’t be any problem to tack on a run to Kitkatla.”
She couldn’t believe her ears. “Kitkatla is okay, but not Queen Charlotte? What does it take to get service around here? I suppose if I had a beard, I’d have no problem?”
The two men’s eyes met in some kind of silent communion. She groaned. Here she was hundreds of miles north of Vancouver, away from the city, and the macho males were closing in against the little woman. She felt her anger grow cold as Jesse said, “Leave your name. I’ll call you.”
Crystal knew that if she left a name and number, if she went to a hotel to wait for his call, she would never get to Queen Charlotte until the scheduled flight tomorrow.
Behind her, Victor said, “What’s MacDougal’s problem? Is he broken down in Butedale?”
Jesse nodded, said over her head, “He called for a new water pump, and we just got it in. If we get it down to him today, he can get out fishing while the salmon opening’s still on.” Then he turned to her and asked, “What’s your name?”
“Why?” She wavered a little under his black gaze, but kept her voice firm and cold. “Why do you need my name? I’m paying cash. And I’m staying here until you’ve got a plane for me. A small plane.”
She was aware of the heavy presence of the man behind her. In front of her, Jesse’s dark eyes flashed beneath unruly dark hair. “Because,” he explained patiently, “in case of a crash, the office needs to know whose name to give the officials.”
Laughter boomed out behind her. She swung around and stared at the burly Victor. For a second she felt uneasy, until she took in his warm eyes and friendly grin.
“Are you going to give me your name?” persisted Jesse. “Or do you want to cancel the request for a charter?”
“Crystal Selwyn.” Her own dark eyes flashed as she said sweetly, “I hope you enjoy having a joke at my expense. Do tell your boss that I think you’ve got a lovely sense of humor.”
Victor said in gruff tones, “Lady, Jesse is the boss.”
Damn. He would be. She didn’t know what perverse devil had made her start this silly scene, but she felt like an idiot between these two men. “Look, can I get a plane or not?”
“Maybe.” Jesse looked suddenly tired as he turned away. “Bruce, what’s on for that Cessna after I deliver the part to MacDougal?”
“Nothing tonight. Tomorrow morning it’s booked for a pickup at Bella Bella.”
“Okay then, Miss Selwyn, the Cessna’s due back in about twenty minutes.” He glanced at his watch. “Another twenty minutes to refuel, then I’ll fly you myself if you don’t mind taking a detour. I’ve got to drop Victor at Kitkatla, then a parcel in Butedale, before I can take you.”
“Thanks, Jesse,” growled Victor at the same time as Crystal said, “It’s Ms Selwyn.”
He smiled at Victor and ignored Crystal, turning away to tell the clerk, “It’ll be dark not long after I land on the Charlottes. I’ll lay over there, do the Bella Bella pickup tomorrow on my way back.”
He wrote something, then snapped the book closed. “Any objections?” He was smiling again and she thought that after the flight he just might ask her out to dinner, if the little town they were heading for had such a thing as a dining room. Crazily, despite her recent irritation, she felt sorry that she would be too busy to accept. This evening would be spent working with her partner, catching up today’s missed hours, getting her working papers in order for tomorrow’s heavy work load.
She said, “I appreciate your rearranging things for me.”
He turned away, and there it was again, that fleeting resemblance to David.
She took one of the uncomfortable seats for waiting passengers. Her hand went to her audit bag, then fell away as she remembered. In keeping with every other event on this hopeless day, her laptop computer had somehow not taken a full charge when she plugged it in last night. On the plane from Vancouver she had taken it out and settled down to work her way through the hour-long flight, only to find the low-battery indicator flashing at her. She had turned then to preparing new working papers, but found her automatic pencil was out of leads and the spare leads were mysteriously absent.
If she knew how long it would be until her flight, she could take a taxi to an office supplies store, if this town had and office supplies store.
On the other hand, if she left, the man named Jesse might just fly away and leave her trying to reschedule a week’s work because of one missed plane.
So she sat still, listening to the sounds of a charter seaplane business and hiding her impatience. She could hear static from a radio somewhere behind the counter, bits of conversations only partly sensible. Pilots checking in with the base … the young clerk seemed to do most of the radio work …
Jesse’s last name was Campbell. Jesse Campbell. He had a confident voice, the friendly ease of his tones concealed efficiency. Bruce, the clerk, relayed a pilot’s message about a mechanical failure. Jesse Campbell had the situation organized instantly, a spare part put on another flight, a phone call placed to the pilot’s wife to let her know her husband was safely stranded in some unpronounceable bay for the night, but was warm and comfortable in the fishing camp bunkhouse.
Someone came in through a back door. From the conversation she overheard she assumed it was the pilot of the Goose she had seen landing. He was finished for the day and heading home. Like everyone, he seemed on friendly terms with his boss.
A waste of time, sitting here listening to the chatter. She twisted, looking for a receptacle to plug her computer in, but there was nothing. The man who looked too much like David was talking on the telephone now.
“Lucy?” His voice warmed, dropping so that Crystal could barely hear it. “Listen, I’m going to be away tonight—No, Queen Charlotte.” He laughed, said huskily. “I won’t, I promise. I imagine I’ll stay at the Sea Raven overnight. Look after the girls for me, will you? And I’m sorry about dinner.”
Crystal got up quickly and left the building. Behind her, the wind caught the door and it banged loudly. She was uncomfortably aware that her face was flushed. Thankfully no one knew how intensely she had been listening in on Jesse’s private conversation.
It might have been a girlfriend, but it was probably his wife who was to look after the girls for him. Crystal would remember that, and if he did ask her out to dinner, she would freeze him dead.
The cold wind hit her with a shock. It had been warm in the waiting room, but outside was an icy fall day. She was crazy to feel so angry at a man who had smiled as if he were attracted. He probably smiled at all the women like that. With his deep black eyes and the lush curly hair, smiles could only be good for business.
It made no difference to her if he was married. She was passing through, and men were a poor second to her career. For Crystal, the warmth and the love were in the past.
She crossed the street and walked down to the floating docks where the planes were tied. Victor was there ahead of her.
“Friends in Queen Charlotte?” he asked, towering over her with both height and bulk.
“No.” The monosyllable seemed terribly abrupt here in the open air, with the bustle of seaplanes and people all around, the cool blue autumn sky overhead. “I’m going over there on business.” She never liked explaining her job. People tended to become nervous of her, or to ask uncomfortable questions.
This man didn’t ask, but simply said, “You’ll like the trip. Pretty country.”
Except for the seaplanes and a few buildings, all she could see were untouched mountains. She thought of flying alone with the pilot through all the wilderness to a remote village somewhere between Prince Rupert and Japan, and felt uneasy.
“There’s the Cessna,” said Victor, shielding his eyes against the sun.
She turned to follow the direction of his gaze and spotted a tiny plane on floats. She swallowed nervously, wondering if it was big enough for the three of them.
“Ever been on a seaplane before?”
She shivered and said tightly, “No. Just jets.”
“Jesse’s a good pilot. The best. You’ll be fine.”
She had better be. She turned away, concentrating on the larger twin-engine planes that were big enough to take a couple of dozen passengers. Unfortunately, it would cost a fortune to charter one for the trip, and she didn’t have a fortune. She simply had to get to work before tomorrow morning, and there was no other way. No roads. No jets except the one she had missed from Vancouver this morning. A ferry a couple of times a week, but not today. It had to be the seaplane.
She watched the pilot tie the Cessna’s pontoon to the wharf. A lanky, blonde man started to put fuel into a tank in one of the wings. She had never been on such a small plane, but she tried to tell herself that her stomach felt queasy only from hunger.
She had skipped lunch on the jet from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, too tense from the nonsense of missing her scheduled flight to the Queen Charlottes. She had spent most of the morning trying to find some other way to fly to the place she had to go and being frustrated at every turn. Then some bright travel agent had come up with the idea of flying to Prince Rupert and chartering a seaplane. An insane notion, obviously.
When she got back home to Vancouver, she was going to buy two alarm clocks, and set both of them every night.
She watched the refueling operation absently, her auditor’s training noticing that it would not be hard for someone to steal fuel without it being traced.
“If you want to come up to the office, Ms Selwyn, we’ll get the paperwork out of the way.” It was Bruce, a pencil stuck behind his ear and a denim jacket zipped against the cool afternoon.
She followed him to the office, paid, and got a receipt for her expense claim. With professional interest, she watched the paperwork Bruce processed. Whoever had set up the control system in the office had done a good job of it, better than outside.
All in all, she thought that this charter company was an efficient operation, although she could give the owner a few tips that would—She shrugged the thought away, wondering if Murray wasn’t right after all. She was so involved with her work that she had lost touch with herself, with Crystal the woman. Murray insisted that her love life was non-existent, that the men in her life were meaningless to her, cast off whenever they threatened to touch her real, vulnerable self.
She shrugged her absent friend’s words away and went back outside. By the time she got down to the docks, Jesse Campbell was there, the door to the seaplane cabin open and Victor climbing in.
“Want the front seat?” Victor seemed to assume that she did, because he climbed into the back.
Jesse took a firm grim on her arm and steadied her as she climbed up into the cabin of the plane. She was thankful to be wearing slacks rather than a skirt. Small. God it was small. She fumbled, finding the seat belt and fastening it with shaking hands. When she heard it click, she looked up and saw Jesse’s eyes on her hands. She clenched her fingers together to stop the shaking, hoping he would not say anything.
He sat in the pilot’s seat, his arm brushing hers as he settled into position. He wore a heavy jacket over a soft flannel shirt, blue jeans on his legs, sturdy boots on his feet. He smelled of the outdoors. She concentrated on the feel of his presence, the fresh, clean smell of his maleness, anything rather than think that this tiny tin enclosure was going to take her up into the sky. His hands and eyes traveled over the instruments. She followed his motions, not knowing their meaning.
He said, “Breathe slowly and deeply,” his voice casual in the cockpit. “You’ll find the flight quite noisy, but that’s normal. Nothing to worry about.” He grinned, his eyes glancing off her and back to the instruments. He had a very nice smile.
She forced herself to relax a little. “Don’t worry, Mr. Campbell. I’m not going to faint, or scream. I’m not the type.”
His eyes dropped to the audit bag tucked behind her feet. It was a little large for the place she had put it, but she had refused when he offered to put it in the luggage compartment with her suitcase. Remembering, she tightened her lips and saw him shrug. He smiled slightly, as if he also felt they were carrying on an inaudible conversation behind the real one. He reached for a radio headset, pulled it down across his dark hair before he closed the door to the Cessna. She had an odd urge to reach out and smooth the curl that stuck out from the pressure of his headphone band.
“You’re not the screaming type,” he agreed, “but there’s no need for you to be frightened either.”
He moved his hands and the engine fired into life, a noisy intrusion. Strangely, she felt more relaxed as Jesse maneuvered the Cessna away from the dock and out into the open channel where he could taxi.
His low voice explained confidently, “First we’ll be flying to Kitkatla, a village on an island a little south-west of us. I’ll be giving you some spectacular scenery for your money. After that, we’ll follow the channels south to Butedale. That’ll be a quick stop; the fisherman who’s expecting this parcel will be waiting for us in his dinghy. We’ll be off again at once, then fly west to the Queen Charlottes. We’ll arrive shortly before dark.”
He opened the throttle. The engine roared and the small seaplane powered through the water, accelerating, lifting. The takeoff was so smooth that she didn’t know they were flying until the plane banked slightly.
Jesse made adjustments to the controls. She could see the dark hair on the back of his hand as he reached overhead. How did he get so tanned up here in Prince Rupert, the town they called the City of Rainbows?
She wanted to ask what he was doing to the controls, but then she looked down, straight down along the underside of the wing, and saw the water twisting, angling away.
Breathe slowly. Slow and steady.
She did, and after a moment they flattened out and she realized that her fingernails were digging into the palm of her right hand. She made her fist relax. How long? She glanced at her watch. Four o’clock. They hadn’t been in the air more than five minutes. Queen Charlotte City before dark. Late September. It got dark earlier in the north in winter, didn’t it?
How long? Two hours?
Could she stand it for two hours? Sitting still, looking down, feeling the sides of the plane close around her, as if she were flying high in a little bubble. The plane started to bump and toss, shuddering and destroying her semi-calmness. What if they crashed? What if…
She jerked as Jesse’s hand covered hers.
He pointed ahead. Above the Cessna’s engine, she could just hear him saying, “There’s Kitkatla. We’re circling once before we land.”
Below, land and water spread out in an intricate pattern. Where he had pointed, a large, complex inlet cut into an even larger island, small squares that must be houses dotting one side of the inlet just inside the entrance. A wilderness of trees and black water down there, with only a few houses hinting at civilization. What if they crashed on landing?
She twisted around in her seat, pulling the seat belt tight. Behind her, she spotted Victor turned towards his window, looking out at his home village. He looked as casual as a man riding in the back of a car. She thought of the ride she took each day in Vancouver, the car pool from her apartment to the office on Pender Street. It seemed a million miles from this wilderness, but Jesse’s plane was hardly bigger than the cars she rode in.
The wing tip dipped and pointed to the ground as the plane banked steeply in a turn that left her dizzy and terrified. It seemed that they would slip down along that pointing wing tip to a crashing landing … the end.
Everything went silent.
The world leveled again, but the ground was coming up fast. She saw water ahead, and houses, rushing closer. And silence.
Had the engine quit? What was wrong?
Jesse’s face was intent as his eyes searched ahead, taking everything in. His body was relaxed, molding to his seat, his fingers flexed on the stick. She had the illusion that the man and the airplane were one, united, working together. Then her ears picked out the sound of the engine again, muted, but still ticking. Then louder as he touched a control with his hand. It seemed everything was as it should be. She held her breath, watched the water rush closer, knowing it would be over in a minute.
At first she did not feel the pontoons touch, then abruptly the ocean clung, dragging back on the seaplane and making it bounce in the water.
They were down. Safe.
If only her computer were working. If only she had pencil leads. Then she could work her way through the next takeoff, work as they flew on. Anything to pretend she was somewhere else, not hundreds of feet up in a little crate that felt like a toy. She tried to concentrate on the way Jesse maneuvered the seaplane on the water, roaring across the inlet and up to the floats where Victor could disembark. It was hard to think about those details when her mind trembled at the thought that they’d soon take off again, fly this tin can into the sky.
Jesse flew every day. His face looked calm, his legs parted, relaxed, feet touching controls she did not understand. And, damn it, he knew she was afraid. She could feel his unobtrusive scrutiny, could hear careful patience in his voice when he spoke to her.
“All right?” he asked as he climbed back into his seat after paddling the seaplane away from the dock.
“I’ll get by.”
“Of course you will.” His voice sounded casual, his hand reassuring as it unexpectedly touched hers. “Think of it as a long commuter run. You’re just going to work.”
“It’s true. I am going to work.” She shrugged, uncomfortable with his invasion of her fear. She would have preferred to conceal her emotions, keep them private. “Don’t worry about me. I’m tough.”
That seemed to amuse him. He fastened his seat belt, looked down at her lap and saw that her belt was still tightly secured. Then, when he turned to look out his window, for a second she saw—again—the back of David’s head.
This time she knew what to expect, and the takeoff did not panic her so much. She concentrated on the dials in front of Jesse when they left the water. On one dial she could see a small replica of an airplane turned as if banking. She stared at it until it was level, then watched the instruments for a few more seconds, not looking through the window until she was sure they had finished banking and turning, and were flying straight and level. It wasn’t too bad so long as he kept the thing level. It was this business of wing tips pointing at the ground that frightened her.
They rose gradually, leaving the island behind, flying at hilltop level until they entered a long, narrow channel.
“Grenville Channel,” he told her, as if he could hear her thoughts.
The channel stretched ahead forever, narrowing as they flew south. They passed over tiny toy boats, far below on the water. Crystal felt as if she were above the world and had a special view, as if she were distant from it all, remote even from herself. This sensation was new to her. In jets she usually worked or read a book. She seldom thought about the flying.
Looking down on the lush green shores of the long channel, she felt the barrenness of her own life, as if her career was nothing and the thing that mattered was the lonely nights, the breakfasts alone. She blinked away the tears, the memory of her baby Johnny.
“Where are we?” she asked suddenly.
He didn’t hear, so she shouted the words.
“That’s Wright Sound,” he said. He pointed ahead and she nodded. She didn’t care, but she tried to pay attention when he said, “We’ll be crossing the sound, then flying down Princess Royal Channel—another long, narrow one, but it’s only about forty miles to Butedale. After that, I’ll take you where you want to go.”
The day was never going to end, and it was a bad day. If she could only endure, get through it, tomorrow would come and she could get her life back to normal. Tomorrow there would be work, and at work she would regain the feeling that she controlled her own life, not this crazy feeling that some mischievous God was turning her world upside down with alarm clocks that didn’t ring, computers that wouldn’t work, missed planes.
And the man, those dark curls that made her fingers remember the feel of loving, of touching …. of David. But his dark eyes and the lined face were certainly not David’s.
Eventually the drone of the engine lulled her thoughts to nothingness. The hills rose up high and green, one much like the next. The water was black, with white dashes and the occasional small toy boat. Ahead, she saw clouds. She watched and decided that Jesse was flying lower now, below the tops of the hills, well under these new clouds. Although jets flew above the cloud cover, she supposed a small plane like this would be obliged by regulations and safety considerations to keep visual contact with the ground. She wondered why the clouds and the change in altitude did not worry her, and decided that noise and vibration were making her feel odd, separate from what was happening around her.
Then the silence screamed, deeper, more complete than the quietness that had frightened her on their landing at Kitkatla.
The tension in the man beside her was not imagined. He flicked a switch, then another. His eyes were everywhere, looking at the instrument panel, then out, then down.
The plane banked gently, silently at his touch. Silence grew. His hands were busy even as he pulled the microphone close to his lips. He said a series of numbers and letters, then, “—engine failure. I’m setting down at the north end of Princess Royal, near the west shore of the channel.”
They would crash.
She felt frozen. This wasn’t real, but the water floated closer and the silence screamed.
“We’re landing. Down there.”
She turned to stare at him.
She jerked, her heart hammering into her rib cage. The trees were close, too close.
The silence was terrible, the ground growing horribly close. How could it take so long to crash? Her fingers clenched agonizingly on the strap of her audit bag. Whatever happened, she had to look after the bag.
“It’s all right.” He sounded impossibly calm. His face was still tense, but not panicked. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t go well.” His eyes were on the water, not on her at all. “This might not be my smoothest landing, so put your head down between your knees.”
She had read it in enough books. She assumed the crash position, head down, hands above her head. She couldn’t see anything except his muscled legs through his jeans.
What had happened? Why had the engine stopped? Silence. How much longer? It surely couldn’t be more than seconds, but it stretched forever.
The plane seemed to float, without power. She saw Jesse’s muscles flex as he pressed one of the pedals on the floor. What was he doing?
She was numb with terror, but he looked relaxed. This end of him, at least. She turned her head and let her eyes wander up to his thighs, the seat belt across his hips, the bulge—
She jerked her head back, closing her eyes. Was she insane? They were crashing. In seconds she might be dead, and here she was looking at the pilot’s crotch.
Then it all came from where it had been hidden, the memories flooding back until she could not tell which feelings were now and which then. Sliding, twisting. Johnny’s sudden scream. David, his hands on the wheel, his face suddenly hard and tense. Long, long seconds.
“Only a few more seconds.” The voice, so unlike David’s, jolted her back.
What was that sound? Water? Waves?
Her head jerked up as he swore. She saw his hand yank hard on the stick. Somewhere, someone shouted, “Get your head down!”
EC Sheedy Tweeted me this afternoon about today’s blog, asking, “Are you doing the “garbage can? A little bit scary for writers, that one :-)”
Although “scary” (and I do agree!), the Garbage Can Test has always come through for me. So, on request from a recent email conversation between Pen Warriors, here’s the Garbage Can Test described in Chapter 11 of Writing Romance, 3rd Edition.
The Garbage Can Test stumbled out of my mouth several years ago during a weekend workshop at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. One of the writers attending asked for help with a complicated plot involving bad guys, a sheriff, and a heroine’s imprisoned brother. It sounded like good action but I’d become confused by the details and uncertain what to recommend.
On impulse – if I’d thought it out ahead, I might not have had the nerve – I held up her manuscript and said, “Okay, we both know there’s a problem and we don’t know how to fix it. Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m going to throw this manuscript into the garbage.”
I dropped the manuscript onto the floor beside me and she leaned forward in her seat, hands gripping the arms of her chair.
“It’s gone. Into the garbage. You’re never going to be able to write it. You’ll never see the characters again. I want you to think about that.” I could feel her thinking and worried that I’d gone too far. I was winging it and hoped I knew what I was doing. “If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story,” I asked, “just one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?”
What she picked surprised me, because I hadn’t known what was important to her in the story. It wasn’t the sheriff or the brother in jail. It wasn’t the bad guys. It was something I’d lost sight of, but when she grabbed that “one thing” it was suddenly crystal clear to both of us.
A few weeks later I told Naomi Horton about my experience with the garbage can. She was stalled in her book at the time but when she tried the garbage can, she realized the thing she cared about was the hero she’d visualized, a man who had lived undercover so long he was more accustomed to lies than truth. She threw out her planned heroine and wrote No Lies Between Us with a heroine whose motivation and backstory fit the hero — a woman who vowed she’d never be lied to again. The next time I attended one of Naomi’s lectures, I heard her mention the Vanessa Grant Garbage Can Test.
Hmm. I put the test in my own arsenal of writer’s tools, and used it myself for the first time in writing Yesterday’s Vows. Since then I’ve used the garbage can test at some point on almost every book I’ve written. In the rare event when it hasn’t worked, it’s been because I’ve been at a point in my life as a writer where I need to take a break, where I have to step back from writing and re-examine my goals and myself as a person.
Not long ago my current work-in-progress took a scary trip through the garbage can when I feared I’d written 30,000 words of a story that was going nowhere. Not so, growled my detective heroine, Alix Hyde, when she climbed out of the garbage can clutching a passionate desire to right a past wrong, despite the knowledge that her actions could destroy the life she’d fought so hard to build.
Has your idea ground to a halt? Are your characters going down in quicksand? Do you wonder what the point of your story is? Is it time to try the garbage can?
Sit in a comfortable chair, take a few deep breaths and relax.
Close your eyes and imagine you are holding your story in your hands.
Visualize yourself throwing the story and all its papers into your garbage can. If you have trouble imagining this, collect the papers together and physically throw them into an empty garbage can.
Tell yourself it’s gone. You’ll never be able to write that story now. Let yourself feel the loss.
If all you feel is relief, then let it go, but if you feel as if you’ve just tossed your first-born into the fire, then…
If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story, one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?
Let everything else go. Begin again, starting from that one thing.
Slipping gently into the enchanting story world of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, I’m falling under the spell of authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The story is told through a series of letters written and received by post-war British author Juliet Ashton, who is searching for a new book idea. After receiving a letter from a Guernsey resident who found her name written in a book, Juliet falls into correspondence with a growing number of Guernsey residents. As the authors reveal their story world and characters layer by layer, I am falling under their spell. How delightful to fall in story-love layer by gentle layer, a subtle treasure in a world of fast-immersion fiction.
Nevil Shute is one of my favorite authors, and A Town Like Alice is my favorite of his novels. A twentieth-century British author, Shute is probably best known for On the Beach, which became a major motion picture staring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner in 1959 . I read Shute as a teen, then again as a young woman, and … again and again. Although Shute himself was quite modest as an author, his books have lived on and have been republished many times after his death in 1960. Most of his books are available in new editions, and also as eBooks.
A Town Like Alice, also published as The Legacy is one of the few Shute books based on a true story. The heroine is taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II, and because there is no available prison camp for women in the area, she is marched with a group of women and children from town to town in Malaya. This story is filled with adventure, romance, and typical of Nevil Shute, the heroism of ordinary people. The story timeline is focused on the post-war years in England and Australia, with well integrated and suspenseful flashbacks to the war experiences of hero and heroine.
A masterful book by a master, and one I’ve read at least ten times over the years. If you haven’t read Nevil Shute, give him a try!