Work in Progress: Novel Excerpt

Hi, hello, howdy. It has come to my attention that I’ve accrued some new followers in the past few months of my blog hiatus. Welcome! I originally started this blog as a way to encourage myself to write as well as to get some of my writing read. As I made friends through WordPress, I came to appreciate the interaction between writer and reader that can occur here. So please, if you have something to say, drop me a line in the comments. In the meantime, here is the intro to one of my current WIPs, with the working title Tell No Tales.

Clara’s life is not what one would call luxurious, but it suits her. After escaping the clutches of her power-hungry family at thirteen and living with her maternal grandfather, Clara is content to live out her life in anonymity—with no one the wiser that she is part of the powerful Lacey family. A “chance” meeting at a cemetery disrupts the plans Clara had for her life and she finds herself thrust headfirst into the intrigue and secrecy she fought so hard to escape.

Tell No Tales | Chapter One Excerpt

Clara stood across from the wrought iron gates of Highgate Cemetery finishing a cigarette and wondered if a single smoke really took fifteen minutes off her life. It was sunny enough that her dark sunglasses weren’t out of place and she had the collar of her leather jacket flipped up to help hide her face. She’d watched the exit gates for over half an hour, waiting for the crowd of men and women with cameras and press badges to disperse. There was little chance of being recognized—the last photo most of the tabloids had featured showed her in a sensible tweed suit with dark hair past her shoulders.  She had cut it off and bleached it blonde the year before. Between that and the sunglasses, she was fairly confident they wouldn’t recognize her. She was about to brave the expanse when a long, dark car pulled up and slowed. She squinted at it, but couldn’t see the driver’s face through the tinted windows. The paparazzi noticed as well and started towards it. The momentary distraction was enough. Clara stubbed out her cigarette and ducked her face deeper into her collar, trying to keep her pace casual.

At the gate, she showed her owner’s pass to the guard. He glanced at it and waved her past the queue of tourists waiting at the ticket booth with their cameras and sensible walking shoes and senseless chatter. She followed a group of Americans—two round women and a red-faced man with an assortment of school children–through the entrance. The man clutched a guidebook in one hand and his camera in the other, the three of them engaged in deciphering a map of the famous deceased. Clara skirted them when they paused to take photos of gravestones charmingly draped with ivy and topped with age-softened faces of angels.  She had visited on Grandfather’s birthday and the first anniversary of his death the year before, but the twisting pathways threatened to disorient her. It was something of a surprise when she reached the right plot, in a quiet curve of one of the many labyrinth trails. Squatting down, she brushed some fallen leaves from the top of the stone; its edges were still harsh, not yet weathered. The name–Peter Randolph–was still sharply etched in the granite.

***

It had rained the day they buried him. Clara remembered the sound of water drumming on the tarp that the gravediggers had hastily thrown over the mound of fresh dirt, and how it turned each footprint into a miniature lake. She had stood to one side with her grandfather’s house staff with the cold and damp seeping through her too-tight best shoes. Icy water had dripped down her neck despite the umbrella. Her parents and brothers had arrived just before the priest, black coats flapping in the wind. Their pace was hampered by Cassandra’s heels and the chauffeur that held an umbrella over her, looking miserable as the rain flattened his hair against his bare head. It was the first time she had seen them since the day Grandfather died.  A week prior, she and Cassandra had stared at each other across Grandfather’s motionless body, as the doctors unhooked the life-sustaining IVs he no longer needed. The room had been eerily silent, devoid of the beeping machines that had become so familiar. She remembered feeling like the world had narrowed to the hospital bed, that nothing else existed besides the all too still form.

***

Grandfather had been the most permanent fixture in her life after she began attending a boarding school outside London near his home. She was thirteen and glad to escape the Kensington flat with its stringent code of conduct and icy formality. He had earned his years of quiet but he welcomed her.  He would put away whatever he was reading or writing, listening to her school stories and woes as though they were every bit as interesting as his travels in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

It was strange to think that today was just another set of digits on the calendar to anyone else. Despite knowing that the box beneath the ground held nothing but his shell, Clara felt close to her grandfather here beneath the open sky, breathing in the smell of damp earth and mossy growth. It brought to mind the wide green lawn at the back of his house that stretched down to a bubbling stream and the comforting, woolen forms of sheep in the fields across the narrow road. A world away from the aggressive aromas of silver polish and freshly waxed floors in her childhood home. Clara wrapped her arms around herself as she crouched by the headstone. She heard footsteps behind her. When she turned, expecting to see a photographer or reporter who’d managed to slip past the gates, there was only sun-dappled shade. But she felt suddenly exposed, alone next to the grave of a man two years dead. She noticed a splash of colour behind the headstone and stood to get a better look.

There were pink peonies splayed across the loamy earth. Clara realized she was holding her breath as she stared down at the flowers and reached out to grip the top of the stone. She closed her eyes and counted slowly to twenty, carefully regulating her breath. When she opened her eyes, the flowers were still there. Several had burst as they hit the ground, laying in the ruin of their own rosy petals. She thought she felt eyes on the back of her neck and turned, but the only witnesses were a few birds, flitting in and out of the greenery. He gave her peonies on her birthday each year until he died; they were the only flower she really liked. The air felt oppressive, and the cool, earthy aroma smelled suddenly like rot and decay.

Here’s to you, Here’s to me

You know, when you spend too much time (not that one can REALLY spend too much time in discussion with such a delightful dilettante) talking to one certain Helena Hann-Basquiat, you begin to seriously stifle the urge to address people as “Darling.” And, as that is her “thing” and not meant for the “unwashed masses” like me, I need to come up with my own greeting. But, that’s neither here nor there. 

It’d drizzly, dreary, and dark in Boston today and I’m not sure whether it’s the cold and the dark, the lingering cold, or the lack of sleep, but I’m feeling about as creative as a Q-Tip lately. Perhaps it’s because my current work in progress is more ambitious than novels I’ve attempted in the past–mainly because it’s set in a real place, in real time, and there are no giant flying plot devices…er…eagles…to rescue the protagonist, one distressing damsel. Perhaps it’s because I’m realizing that the 30 degree weather and accompanying drizzle are just the harbinger of what’s to come–although, I admit to walking through the streets in the rain even though I had an umbrella in my bag, just to feel the mist on my face. Perhaps it’s a subtle melding of all of the above compounded by the fact that I’m facing eight hours of boredom with no access to Gmail. 

So here’s the soundtrack to this Friday, because it’s beautiful and a bit maudlin, and because Caleb Followhill and the rest of the Kings recorded it while completely knackered and only the first verse was written beforehand. You read that right–the rest was improvised by Followhill and it’s been said that he cried the first time he heard it played back. Wrap your scarf a little tighter, because this one will give you the chills.

I swear, Officer, it’s fictional!

How do you research murder, mayhem, and malicious, malignant manipulation without being put on one or many governmental watch lists? 

Is there some sort of author website that has a compilation of murderous methods, torturous techniques, and poisonous plots?

Imagine such a repository. You must sign in by saying aloud, with your hand on a copy of the MLA Handbook or Moby Dick, “I solemnly swear, I am up to no good.” If you need to know how to kill a character and make it look like poison, cancer, heart failure, clumsiness–click here. If you’d like to know the proper rope to use if you must hang a villain, click here. The right gun, sword, morning-star, or lightsaber to commit your specific brand of murder? Look in the archives under: weaponry.

“But really, Officer, I’m googling chloroform for a story…that search about body decomposition? Different story, sir, but still a work of fiction!

Just because I theoretically know how to get away with murder doesn’t mean…right to remain silent? You know, sir, I am a writer? We write to resist silence. No, no, I’m not making fun of you.

No, I haven’t been drinking! Who do you think I am, Hemingway? No! He’s not an accomplice…well, he was a great man and I admire his work but…I’d like that phone call, now.”

But really, I’m writing a story with all sorts of nasty bits and pieces and I need to do some research. If I disappear for a while, send money for the lawyer fees. 

 

The Author to Her Work in Progress

I reached 75,000 words on my latest novel in progress—after the realization that I had several gaping plot holes and that I had shamelessly used ridiculous plot devices to make the story do what I wanted it to do. All my disparaging of outlines is coming back to gnaw at me most painfully. I had to move around massive chunks of story and I have copious scenes and details to correct and re-write. 

As I thought about the bedraggled, snarled mess that is this novel, I couldn’t help but think of Anne Bradstreet’s poem. Thank you, high school English. Now, never fear, I won’t try to write my own version because poetry and I get along together just about as well as vampires and sunlight. At least the real vampires. The good thing coming out of all this is that I’ve got the fire lit under my behind to get this giant mess of crossed wires straightened out. Here’s hoping I don’t end up more twisted and confused than I was before!