Monthly Archives: November 2011

Scolopendra and Tables…

Let me start by apologizing for being a little late posting this, but I attended a 24 hour write-in for NaNoWriMo in Boston this weekend and wanted to blog about that.

“It’s quite alright. To answer what is bound to be your most obvious question, you are in the processing center in Purgatory. My job is to set you up with housing and a job…You have been given unit MI-156404 as housing, Sarah—”

“Sadie,” Sarah interrupted. “I go by Sadie. I’m planning on legally changing my name…” Sarah trailed off, realizing that her plans to change her name at some point were probably moot.

“It’s ok, Sadie, I can make that change to your records here. Consider this a fresh start.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Brittany, but I have to know. Is Purgatory a fresh start?”

“Purgatory is what you make of it. I’m sorry, Sadie, I’m really not allowed to give you more of an answer than that.”

This is one of the exchanges in the novel I’m writing this month (where I’m woefully behind on the word count, in case you’re curious). What’s interesting is that this is based on an actual conversation I had at one of the write-ins. The young lady I was sitting next to introduced herself as Sarah but said everyone called her Sadie. She then mentioned that she was even thinking of legally changing her name at some point. This small exchange just fit perfectly into my story: Do we regret the things we don’t get around to doing. When I came up with the line “Consider this a fresh start,” I realized just how perfectly the little exchange fit into the plot and Sadie became the one of the two main character in the novels. Sadie goes by the nickname ‘Scolopendra’ on NaNoWriMo, and because I had already decided to have everyone in Purgatory wearing black, the character in the story now has bright red hair. In case you’re curious, the idea for Sadie’s own novel sounds very interesting and I love the title she came up with, so I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Perhaps it’s just that it seemed like a fun thing to do at the time, but most of the characters in my novel are based in some way on people I’ve met this month. At one of the locations for the write-in this weekend, Tom (the person who did an incredible job organizing the 24-hour event) was moving tables. In the novel he became Thomas, the man with the tables. Brittany, one of the angels in the novel, is based on the talented young lady who is kind enough to host our bi-monthly craft group at her home (my hobby is making teddy bears). Darryl, the other angel, is based on someone who did a hilarious extemporaneous ‘reading’ of some of our query letters at the NH kick-off meeting (I had brought some queries to read to get caught up). The judge in Purgatory will be based on ‘LC’, the young lady who was kind enough both to let me sit with her for the latter part of the event so I wouldn’t be sitting alone and to let me read what she had been writing; to say the scene I read was hysterical would be an understatement, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she writes. I must also admit to my embarrassment that I kept getting her name wrong (and may have spelled it wrong here); I’m sure a scene like that will make its way into my novel someplace.

I wanted to make two points with this blog. The first is that, as writers, we should always be aware of the ‘little things’ that are going on around us and in the conversations we have. Often these little things are a good way to add depth to both characters and scenes without a lot of back story and to make characters more multi-dimensional and real. The second is that writing does not have to be a ‘solitary art’. Writers groups and events like the NaNoWriMo write-ins are a great way to meet like-minded people, exchange ideas, get feedback, and most of all have fun with your writing. I’ve met some very interesting and talented people this month, and I’m hoping that a few of them will stay in touch after the excitement of NaNo has passed. There’s no reason you shouldn’t not only do what you love but also have fun doing it while hanging out with others who feel the same.

In case you’re curious, yes, I have agreed to read the stories from people I’ve met this month, with the only rule being they need to be polished and edited first. Also you can read Sadie MacMillan’s blog here.


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My NaNoWriMo story

For those who read last week’s blog, you know that I’ve decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. This weeks blogs will be the second and third chapters of my NaNoWriMo novel. So without further ado, I give you Purgatory:


Sarah Amedange felt like she had been falling through the dark, multicolored tunnel for an eternity. She still couldn’t piece together what had happened—only that she had been shot. Short term memory loss, most likely due to a traumatic event, she thought. It was probably better that she didn’t remember; it would be one less thing to worry about as she seemed to fall forever. Her primary worry was that something didn’t seem quite right. She had already surmised that the feeling she was falling could not be a good thing. There doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, just darkness. And why is it so cold? She laughed as she reflected on the fact that the cold might not be a bad thing; at least there was probably no fire and brimstone where she was going.

Sarah closed her eyes for a moment to try and clear her thoughts. When she opened them she was sitting in a small office. The walls were a slate grey, and the only door was behind her to the left. In front of her was a simple wooden desk, and behind that desk was a pleasant looking young woman. The woman had long, dark hair held up in a bun and thin-rimmed glasses. She was wearing a black business suit—black slacks, a black silk blouse, and a black jacket. Sarah’s first reaction was to blink several times to make sure she was in fact not hallucinating. This was not at all what she expected, regardless of where she had ended up.

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Sylvie.

Sarah blinked again; it had been ages since she had needed to speak French. “Hello, I think. I’m sorry, but I don’t really speak French. It’s been years since I studied it in school.”

Oh my God, not again! Why do they keep sending me people who don’t understand me? Will this be my curse for all of eternity?

Sarah shook her head. “I’m sorry but I didn’t understand anything that you just said.”

Sylvie sighed, deciding she would give it her best shot to save the woman in front of her. You must listen to me. This place, this office, is called Portal. It is the gate to Purgatory. If you go through that door you will be lost forever. Please stay here with me. They will deliver food enough for both of us as long as you are here. We can become friends; I’m sure we can become friends. Whatever it is you’ve done, you don’t deserve what’s behind that door.

Sarah still did not understanding, but she thought she made out the word door. “What about the door?” Sarah stood up and looked at the door. There was a mirror on the back, and for the first time she realized that she was young again; she looked like she did when she was in graduate school. It was at that point she also noticed that she too was dressed all in black—a simple black t-shirt with black chinos. The black outfit made Sarah’s long, red hair seem even more pronounced. She suddenly laughed as she thought of how she looked like a redheaded-scolopendra, a centipede from the southwest with a black body and bright red head. Now how in the world would I know what that was? She spent a full minute looking at herself in the mirror, standing in various poses, before saying, “Well, how bad could this place be if I came back looking like I’m in my 20’s again?”

Please, I’m begging! Please don’t go through the door.Sylvie was almost in tears now.

Sarah made out the words allez and la porte, which she seemed to recall meant ‘go’ and ‘the door’. “You want me to go through the door? Is that what you’re saying, that I should go through the door?”

Sylvie jumped up and grabbed the woman in front of her, trying desperately to drag her away from the door and back to her seat. Please listen to me! I know you can understand me if you concentrate. Behind that door is an eternity of damnation. Please stay here with me. Please don’t go through that door!

Sarah was starting to get more than a little uncomfortable at the apparent hysteria of the woman in front of her. She decided it would be best if she made her retreat, and the only way out was through the door. She pushed Sylvie away, ran to the door, and practically jumped through as she pulled it open.

The last thing Sarah heard was Sylvie’s sobbing as Sarah fell into the endless darkness…

§ § §

Jonathan opened his eyes to find himself in a small office with slate grey walls. There was a closed door behind him to his left, and in front of him behind a simple wooden desk was a rather toady-looking man. The man was dressed all in black, and in front of the man was a huge stack of file folders. Jonathan put on his best smile. “Good day, kind sir. Could you tell me where I am?”

The toady man looked up from his desk. “Name?”

“Uhm, my name is Jonathan Raven. I’m a rather famous attorney. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?” Jonathan felt more than a bit uncomfortable when the man behind the desk seemed to stare right through him, so he decided to stand up. As he began to walk around the tiny office, he noticed his reflection in the mirror on the back of the door. He looked—younger, like he did when he was an assistant prosecutor many years before. Jonathan smiled. “Well, hello lady killer. Good to see you’ll be back in action.” Jonathan had already figured out he was dead; staring at his younger self in the mirror was just confirmation of the obvious. The only question left was where he had ended up.

The toady man sighed, opened a file from the pile, read a few lines, and then looked back at Jonathan. “You were a defense attorney? You defended common criminals?”

Jonathan rolled his eyes at the insinuation. “My clients were accused criminals, they were all acquitted thanks to me, and there was nothing common about my law practice.”

For the first time the toady man smiled. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Please go through that door.”

As Jonathan began to fall into the darkness, he heard the toady man say “Oh, and watch that first step…”

Waiting Room

Jonathan opened his eyes to find himself sitting in a large waiting room. The walls were the same slate grey as the previous office. On the far wall was an electronic sign with the words “Now Serving” and the number 427 in red neon. Under the sign was a machine with what appeared to be tickets. Figuring he had nothing to lose, he got up and went over to take a ticket. 13,046. Of course. Jonathan sighed as he went to sit back down. He was beginning to suspect where he might have ended up in death, but for the life of him couldn’t understand why.

As Jonathan waited he found himself staring out the window. In the distance he could see a billboard. What he didn’t expect was what was written on it:

Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:20

To say Jonathan was confused was an understatement. “Now why would that be on a billboard in Hell?”

“It wouldn’t be.”

Jonathan turned in the direction of the answer as a man sat down next to him. To say the man was large would have been an understatement; he was easily six foot nine inches tall, and while he wasn’t fat he certainly wasn’t slim. The man had a goatee and long hair which would have made him look menacing were it not for the smirk on his face, and he was wearing the same black clothing that seemed to be standard issue for wherever they were. “I beg your pardon?”

“That wouldn’t be on a billboard in Hell. Not that I’m saying there is such a place as Hell, mind you, but if there were that certainly wouldn’t be on a billboard there. I’m Daryl, by the way.” Daryl stuck out his hand in an attempt to greet Jonathan.

Jonathan continued to give Daryl a confused look, refusing to shake his hand until he had a few things figured out. “So this is Heaven? I expected something… different.”

Daryl let out a laugh that could have shaken plaster loose from the walls. “Now why would you assume you went to Heaven? It’s not like you took any of the money you made in that fancy law firm of yours and did anything useful with it, like helping the sick or the poor.”

The fact that the man seemed to know anything at all about Jonathan was unnerving. Jonathan was beginning to get visibly upset and wanted answers. “Well, if this isn’t Heaven and if there is no Hell, then where am I and why am I here? And how would you know about my law practice? Who and what are you, anyway?”

“Like I said, Johnny Boy, who I am is Daryl, and what I am is a tour guide. Where you are is Purgatory. Why you’re here is that you didn’t exactly live the most charitable or exemplary existence while you were alive. How I knew about you is that you can find out anything about anyone here if you’re willing to take the time to do a little research.” Daryl looked at the ticket in Jonathan’s hand. “One more thing, Johnny Boy—that ‘Now Serving’ sign hasn’t worked since the fall of Rome.”

Jonathan was about to start telling Daryl off for a variety of reasons, including calling him ‘Johnny Boy’, when Daryl’s last statement registered with him. “Well, if the sign isn’t working, how come no one came over to tell me?”

“Probably because they want to see how long idiots like you will sit here. I imagine it’s great sport for these guys. They don’t get much excitement.” Jonathan was about to respond when Daryl continued, “Look, there’s an open office over there. I’m sure the processing agent will explain everything you need to know.”

Jonathan found himself more confused than ever and completely unable to respond. He got up from his seat and slowly walked towards the office that had been pointed out. At least maybe he would get some answers in there…

§ § §

Sarah awoke to find herself sitting in a large waiting area. Her head was still spinning from what seemed like falling forever. She noticed a window and got up to look outside. It was a toss-up whether the phrase that best described what she saw was ‘dark and gothic’ or ‘full of despair’. In the distance she could see a billboard that seemed to take up the entire horizon. On it was a single verse:

Show yourself in all respects a model of good works.

Titus 2:7

Given the rest of the view out the window, a Bible verse seemed woefully out of place. At this point there were only two things of which Sarah was certain. The first was that she was dead, and the second was that these were not the pearly gates.

“It really isn’t as bad as it looks, and you get used to the lack of sunlight.”

Sarah spun around to see a young woman standing next to her. The woman was petite with long, straight black hair and glasses with multicolored rims. While she was dressed all in black, her outfit was far more…Bohemian than the last woman. She was wearing a long wool skirt that went down to her ankles and covered black granny boots, and her top looked like it might have been black thermal underwear in a previous life. The woman has a single piercing just below her nose. Despite the odd attire, the woman was very pretty. What really caught Sarah’s attention, however, was the woman’s warm smile. Sarah had a lot of questions, but she knew which one needed to come first. “Where am I?”

The young woman pointed towards a small office at the end of the waiting area. “I’m Brittany, and I’ll be your processing agent. If you would come with me I think I can explain everything.”

As Sarah followed the woman she sighed, relieved that she was about to at least get some answers…

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National Novel Writing Month

Most people who follow our website know that this week we released Dragon’s Teeth, a futuristic detective novel by Suzanne van Rooyen. What most people don’t know is that Dragon’s Teeth was the novel Suzanne wrote in 2010 for National Novel Writing Month.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) is a pretty simple concept—write a 50,000 word novel in a month. There is a website where you can report your progress and add “writing buddies”, and most of the regions hold “write-ins” where authors can get together and work on their manuscripts. I attended my second write-in last night, and I have to admit it was really good time (I’ve also decided I really like the Salt Caramel Mocha at Barnes and Noble, but that’s a topic for another day). While everyone did spend time working on their novels, quite a bit of time was also spent talking about our writing. It is here that I think the hidden value of NaNoWriMo lies.

I’ve commented before that I think writing groups can be really useful for authors. Writing groups provide authors with a network of peers that can assist an author in all aspects of their writing, from discussing ideas for plot twists to critiquing each others work. In addition to providing the “kick” some authors (like myself) need to work on their writing, NaNoWriMo offers writers the same opportunity to form peer groups. As I looked around the room last night, I couldn’t help but draw the conclusion that many of the people there would continue to meet and possibly collaborate long after November 2011 and NaNoWriMo entered the history books.

It is said that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis belonged to an informal writing group called “the Inklings” while they were both professors at Oxford. The group supposedly met at The Eagle and Child pub and discussed their writing over a few pints. While in our case the pints were replaced by coffee, the write-in certainly created an atmosphere where writers felt welcomed and supported. This is the purpose of peer groups, and I encourage writers to become more involved with local writing groups.  And while writing 50,000 words in 30 days will probably only be beginning of your journey towards becoming a published author, it seems like a fun way to start. I would recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone looking to meet other authors or who need that “kick” to get started.

If your participating in NaNoWriMo and interested in following my progress this month, feel free to add me to your buddy list:

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