Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Evolution of Men

(Or How I Build My Characters)
Far more often than not (as we have discussed at length in several posts), my stories begin with characters or a scrap of dialog spoken by characters. Fly Away Home began as a conversation between a girl and her famous employer. Famous for what? I didn't yet know. Cottleston Pie started with someone named Simpian Grenadine and his sword, Ruby Elixir. The Windy Side of Care began with one line:
"I should be much obliged if someone would kill me."
And Anon, Sir, Anon began (of course!) with Mr. Orville Farnham. In fact, I believe that every story I have ever started began with a name, personality, or line. But a snapshot of a man does not a good character make. If a character is to be believable, he must be developed into the story and the story developed into him. I recall being put down by Dorothy Sayers when I read The Mind of The Maker:
Too much attention should not be paid to those writers who say (holding one the while with a fixed and hypnotic gaze: "I don't really invent the plot, you know--I just let the characters come into my mind and let them take charge of it." ... Writers who work in this way do not, as a matter of brutal fact, usually produce very good books. The lay public (most of them confirmed mystagogues) rather like to believe in this inspirational fancy; but as a rule the element of pure craftsmanship is more important than most of us are willing to admit." Pg. 67 Dorothy Sayers The Mind of The Maker
I have never been quite so extreme when touting my work as character-driven, but I have carried enough of that lay public mysticism into my work to take that rebuff and apply it personally. I am grateful that by the time I was reprimanded by Dorothy Sayers, I had already begun to take steps toward fixing this tendency so that my work would not be worthy of this second knock:
"... not a character in a situation, but a character looking for a situation to exploit."
Let us think, then, what makes a character a good character? We have heard all the lectures and blog posts and book-chapters about adding back-story and all that jazz, but for me those things can become just about as useful advice as brushing your teeth for two entire minutes twice a day. It's an excellent maxim, I'm certain, but does anyone actually do it? If you do, you can just leave this blog because I don't want to talk to you today. (You are also quite possibly the type of person whose lipstick somehow miraculously doesn't come off on their coffee mug and who would never be that guest who slams the father of the bride in the chest as he approaches to claim his daughter for the customary dance.) What I'm after, dear golden child, is some practical advice as to How To Evolve One's Snapshot: The Illustrated (by moi) Edition:

Step 1: Original Inspiration

This is, essentially, combining your original inspiration with a bit of a closer look at who you want this character to be. This is the brainstorming, fun stage before the cutting-room. Enjoy. Give your character weird tics, crazy family history, a cool hat, a certain accent, or a secret past. Or, you know, all of that. This stage is generally not my forte. I tend to go streamlined and build up from a simple person. Still, this stage is the build-it-up stage from wherever you start. Go wild.

Step 2: Be Rational

Now that you have your World's Most Original freak going on, it's time to tame that wild man from Borneo. In opposition to the crowd that writes psychopathic, emotionally-shredded teenage vampire mothers (and, incidentally,  are also the ones who end up with saggy tattoos by the age of 45), having the craziest characters are not the thing at which good writers aim. You likely do not identify with a purple-bearded, emo circus clown obsessed by the Wild West. (And if you do, perhaps you'd better leave this blog right behind those people who brush their teeth four full minutes a day. I don't know how to handle your type.) Readers want to identify with the people about whom they are reading. Hosting a contest for who can write the next exponentially-Lady-GaGa is not the venue in which most readers wish to find themselves. Save that for later. Instead, start asking yourself questions about your character like, "Why does it matter to the story that he loves peanut butter sandwiches?" "Does he need to be able to juggle knives?" "Does she really need to always be throwing argyle socks into daily conversations?" As original as you think you are, there is a certain level of common sense that must be employed in creating a character. Craziness does not attract me as a reader. I don't like mayhem. I want to read about plausible people and most readers of whom I've inquired feel the same. Think of the most enduring characters in the stories you've experienced and ask the same questions of them that you are asking your character. Through these questions, determine whether you even like all the aspects of the man you've created.

Step 3: The Slaughter-House
You figure out that you don't want to spend an entire book with this character. You actually hate clowns or you know nothing about the technical aspects of life on a pirate ship, or you don't have a passion for research and writing a good novel written in ancient Siberia is going to need more ferreting-out than you've time or inclination for. Good. Your questions have paid off. This is also the stage wherein much coffee is consumed and the hand holding your computer mouse frequently clicks on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You are way caught up on your friends' posts and you click back every two minutes to see if anyone in the world has got interesting and posted anything new. (P.S. They haven't.)

Step 4: Toss-Up

You really do hate clowns and the fact of your character being a clown has absolutely nothing to do with your plot. This is now a non-negotiable and the entire original intent of your character seems to have floated away on a mist-green breeze. (Can breezes be mist-green? At this stage, it's certainly possible.) You have two choices, either of which can be correct, depending on your process. Option 1 is that you will scrap the character entirely. You either do not care so much for this creation of yours as you thought, or perhaps he did not fit this plot and you shelf him for another story another day. Or maybe you're able to be brutally honest and admit he's a pretty scrappy stupid dude and you wish you'd not spent eight dollars on lattes brewing him in your mind palace. Option 2 is that you rip to shreds your original idea and start tailoring something new out of the wreckage. Two doors, both right. Which will you take?

Step 5: Reconstruction

What part of this character forced you to choose Option 2 this time? What is so good about this literal brain-child that you have decided to keep him after all? In the case of our absolutely idiotic Original Specimen, he was a western-obsessed circus clown with depressive tendencies and a beard of amethyst hue. Reams of stuff have been cut off this idea until the only thing left is the fact that there is some guy somewhere who is obsessed with being a cowboy. And truth is, that's not terribly original. Back to the questions and patching together a new snapshot-inspired character out of the smouldering ashes of What Was. How can you make this odd obsession vital to the story? And then ideas start running ... 

Step 6: Successful Character Rendering

Now you've written and published that story that began with a truthfully horrible idea for a for a main character. But no longer are you trifling with ridiculous morons. You've given birth to a new character, you've written the story, you've published the book. Everyone is raving about Charlotte Rodero, the full-blooded Sioux chief's daughter who wants nothing more than to work as a cowgirl at a nearby ranch but whose grandfather (who can still remember the cowboy & indian altercations) is flagrantly against it and struggling with cancer to boot. "How did you come up with this unique character? Can you sign my copy? Where on earth did you get your ideas?"

Maybe you'll want to keep quiet about the emo circus clown, but success is addicting. Feel free to repeat the cycle over and over and over again. And as a completely humble side-note, these visual aids were created with sharpies and paper and photographed and cropped in PicMonkey and are therefore horrible quality and this post took me two hours to write, so bye.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"A good brawling-book"

Do you know what I like best about reading some books?

I like reading a book and getting smacked across the face and feeling my intellect's blood take one under the jaw and stagger back a few paces. I like being thrashed by another woman's writing or ground under the heel of the prose of an uncommon man.
I don't usually read new books for comfort.
I know that sounds odd, but when I read a book for coziness's sake, it is bound to be a book whose topography is as well-known to me as the lay of light across my front yard.
When I read for reading's sake, I want to be left reeling.

The odd thing about being a writer and a reader simultaneously is that my approach to those seeming twins are at completely opposite poles. I believe that many of you assume that because I write light, “cat's paw prose” as Jenny Freitag has called it, I read nothing but A.A. Milne and P.G. Wodehouse. While those authors are certainly kin to my heart, my reading tastes stray far from my own territory. In fact, I love reading books written in styles I cannot possibly emulate. I like admiring something from afar and giving it a two-fingered salute with my heart in the gesture.
The truth is, I hate twaddle. I cannot tell you the number of times I have picked up a book and been disgusted a few chapters in by the sheer idiocy of the writing. This is literature? This is what passes the slush pile and captures an agent's fancy and eventually crosses a publisher's desk and is finally thrown at several editors for several months before going to print? This rattle-trap affair with a big publisher's name tacked to the spine has actually been turned out to the public with a runny nose, missing half its buttons and wearing its shoes backward? If I was interested in reading half the stuff published, I am certain I would begin first in files from my earliest writing. Surely I could find something more to the cheap taste in my own early work?
To be forthright, the one reason that I have not gone on board with one of those “Advance Reader For Zondervan” programs is because I have a horror of being thrown a terrible book and feeling obliged to read and review it. In the words of the irrepressible Sweet Brown:
Ain't nobody got time fo' dat.”
I have a limited amount of free-time for reading and I like to know that my brain is striding forward in a pair of tall-boots, striving to conquer areas of the world it has not yet subdued. I enjoy attacking subjects of which I know little, authors of whom I've read nothing, and novels that make me feel equal parts worm-small and Plenilune-strong. I graduated from high-school several years ago and opted not to to attend college and instead focus on improving my writing and continuing to independently educate myself as I did all the way up. I took on the responsibility of continuing my education. No college professors are going to be cramming Nietzsche and Tolstoy down my throat. No one is forcing me to read anything. Because of that I refuse to spend the coinage of my time on books I will forget about in a week.
But while standards are a precious thing, I am conscious of making an effort not to become a snob. It would be easy for me to become snobbish because I really do have good taste. I don't say that to be a hoighty-toighty miss, but as a fact. I was raised on real literature, my tastes run toward real literature, and I feel that by now I have a sort of gauge engrained in my mind that is constantly holding up one book and comparing it to another. Suzannah Rowntree, blogger at VintageNovels, contacted me about reviewing Fly Away Home during a home-educated authors week on the blog. I laughed at one line in her email:
I [will] read your book and write an honest review. I want to help out fellow home educators here, so I won't be trying to be picky, but, fair warning: I will be holding your book to the same standards I apply to Jane Austen, CS Lewis, or Robert Louis Stevenson, which include technical excellence and discerning worldview.
That stipulation does not bother me because that is the standard to which I hold whatever I read. That means that modern classics, indie-published novels, even old classics … whatever I read is tossed up against my idea of a good book and I hope desperately to find something that sends me reeling. So this year I have branched out a little, accepted a couple of novels for review, and purposely slipped some indie-published fiction into my reading stack. Some titles have surprised me with their depth or charm, others have disappointed me with their failure to come up to my standards. And then, of course, we have unarguably great books that I hold fiercely to my chest and cuddle, daring the world to present more like them. To illustrate this adventurous reading stack, I've given you my 2014 So Far list:

Outcasts by Jill Williamson
The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
Hood by Stephen Lawhead
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmund Rostand
Forget-Me-Nots by Amber Stokes
Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead
On Distant Shores by Sarah Sundin
Once on a Time by A.A. Milne
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Duty by Rachel Rossano
Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
Violets are Blue by Elizabeth Rose
Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer
Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Only a Novel by Amy Dashwood
Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag

I am blessed. I have been roundly kicked in the gut by many of these titles, the most recent of which is Plenilune. Please don't attack me for having got Advance Reading for that one. I swear she offered it herself and I didn't even beg. All I am going to say is this: the world had better brace itself; the De la Mares are coming. Sheeh, but they're coming.

wow … don't really know what else to say. Plenilune is still clogging my mind. It was that, really, that sent a blow crashing to my temple that is still causing my ears to ring almost a full twenty-four hours after I finished it. Faith, but I love a good brawling-book. <3

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Art thou the Bard? Happy Birthday, Knave.

Today is William Shakespeare's 450th birthday!

Or ... you know ... would have been if he hadn't died way back then. I feel a deeper connection than ever to Shakespeare, having just finished first-round edits for Anon, Sir, Anon. This story, as most of you know, centers around a murder mystery (or a "murdery" for short) and the detective, Orville Farnham, is a well-known Shakespearean actor. I spent much time in my Shakespeare Quotes section of my Bartlett Book during the writing of Anon, Sir, and I have found his quotes springing to mind in day-to-day conversation which, quite frankly, delights me. So far, my favorite Shakespeare plays are Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V , both for quite different reasons. I just thought I'd throw that rather random and useless bit of information to my public and let you do what you will with it.  I did not think Shakespeare's birthday (especially a 450th!) ought to go by without a bit of notice on The Inkpen Authoress, so I am going to take this time to list the things I love about The Bard:

How ever-loving quotable was the man:

The things we say today to which we owe William Shakespeare thanks (or scorn):

The reach and comprehensiveness of his characters, like King Henry V:

(i.e. a blooming good excuse to post an obnoxious amount of Hiddleston pictures)

The Double-Meanings and/or humor of which he was capable, using Elizabethan language:

It was Shakespeare who gave us some of the sweetest marriage proposals ever. 

Basically, he deserves quite a lot of cake.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hay un Amigo en Mi!

Today, I'm trying not to be frantic about the fact that we are out in the (beautiful) day working in the garden instead of being able to format and finish first-round edits on Anon, Sir, Anon. Hopefully I will manage to finish edits during lunch and have a little extra time after we finish gardening in which to write up a few inserts and pieces I want to add. But for all the fact that today is one of those Real World Collides With Art days, there are beautiful things. Beautiful funny things, like the one I captured in the video below. Have a laugh and a happy day. :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Steal Like an Artist

I don't often make a sweeping blanket statement (or did I just make one?) but today I will. Every creative person, be they author, singer, songwriter, artist, performer, or simply a stay-at-home mother with a handful of fresh veggies in a kitchen and a wish for an exotic meal should read this book:

I had never heard of it until two days ago. I had never known about it till 12:30 or 1:00 this morning when I was hanging with my older brother in the kitchen and reading the introduction. Daniel had been listening to a podcast by one of his favorite bands and the lead singer raised this book to the camera and said, "Read it."

Daniel, standing in our kitchen in the dead of night while I scavenged around the leftover yellow cake with chocolate icing, said something similar. "You should read it. I'm here till tomorrow afternoon." And you know what? There's something imminent and approachable about a book like this that makes you want to obey that ubiquitous command. Daniel didn't buy Steal Like an Artist because Mike Donahey said to, but because he knew he needed it. In the same way, I didn't go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up at 7:30 when I could have slept in because Daniel told me to, but because I knew I wanted and needed to read this book.

I finished it in an hour.

It became a favorite in ten minutes.

And so I'm telling you, you need to read it. The thing that impressed me most about Austin Kleon's book was not the fact that it is for creative people or even the fact that it is full of cool little diagrams and witty humor. What endeared this book to me from the first chapter is the way he takes the small things in life seriously. Decisions are important. Little things upon little things do make up the big things.
"Just as your familial genealogy, you have a genealogy of ideas. You don't get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and the you can pick the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life."
-Austin Kleon Steal Like an Artist
This book is like common sense bottled into a volume the size of a c.d. Time and time again I'd read a phrase and smile. It's not that Kleon has come up with anything out of the ordinary. But he has created one of those books that takes the grand realm of my vague thoughts and impressions and gives form to it. That's what we creatives are here for, you know: to gather the floaty bits and give 'em shape. Everyone has floaty bits. It's only the real artists who can collect and tame them for presentation to another person.

Kleon busts myths like "Write what you know", corrects wrong opinions like "imitation is flattery", and leaves you at the last page feeling like a combination of superhuman, Kinfolk magazine, and fair-trade coffee. And then, with a smirk you can hear across the miles and through the pages, he recommends not paying four bucks for a latte when you could be saving money. Like, "Oh, not only have I written a manifesto of creativity, but your coffee houses where you feel so validated as an artist are totally stealing your pocket money. Starving artist--ever heard of it? Yeah. Starbucks started the trend."

Okay, so maybe he wasn't that blunt, but I loved it. In this little powerhouse of paper, Austin Kleon addresses the need for a day job, the value of living a really, well, boring life so you can actually get work done, and the necessity of stepping away from the computer and working analog:
"Just watch someone at their computer. They're so still, so immobile. You don't need a scientific study (of which there are a few) to tell you that sitting in front of a computer all day is killing you, killing your work ...You need to find a way to bring your body into your work. Our nerves aren't a one-way street--our bodies can tell our brains as much as our bodies. You know that phrase, 'going through the motions;? That's what's so great about creative works: If we just start going through the motions, if we strum a guitar, or shuffle sticky notes around a conference table, or start kneading clay, the motion kickstarts our brains into thinking."
-Austin Kleon Steal Like an Artist

I'm going to say it once more: "Read it." Let's see how long you can resist.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mob Ink: an experiment in humor

It isn't easy living by your pen. Writer Fizz Sheridan knows this better than most--he hasn't eaten meat for a week and a half and his last shave was three days ago. But when his novel inspired by a mob crime he witnessed hits Chicago's bookshelves, Fizz finds the real mob overly interested in his life. Kidnapped and taken to headquarters, living by his pen gains new definition when Fizz is told that mob boss Eddie Harold Howard will only let him live if he continues the story of the mob every night. Love tangles, heists gone wrong, and a covey of other problems beset the gang, and the unfortunate Fizz is left with the smoking gun...pen; every incident belonged to the story Fizz told the night before, and Eddie Harold Howard is sure his captive has an ink-vendetta.
The majority of you seemed to like the idea of Mob Ink, so I scrawled up another bit of it the other night just to find my way into the setting and characters a bit more. At the moment, I'm just toying around with bits and smidgens of things when I have the chance. I'm much too busy to buckle down to anything till I've finished editing my mystery, but this rule doesn't go to hand-scrawled things, does it? So I sat on the porch in the middle of my own beetle-flood (so terrifying) and wrote this. Enjoy.

When he stopped to listen, the tick of little beetle toes against little beetle wings filled the space between them. Fizz shifted just a fraction against the wall. Now a forgotten nail threatened to pierce his spinal cord and let his fluid, but at least his head was a bit out of prime bug-drop territory. The ticking-clickery grew louder as if the small beetle cousins were being sent to bed by those of a larger variety whose fancy ran toward having a jazzy dance on the features of the rich and famous. Party-beetles; freakish idea.
A cat—an exceedingly Dust-Bowl specimen of the breed—poked his head into the alleyway from behind an ashcan and chewed on a fish bone, reflective. He blinked at Fizz and his captor then withdrew, disinterested. He was not a very sympathetic animal; obviously entirely unable to appreciate the terror of having one’s head bludgeoned by bombardier insects.
Fizz’s captor, the one with eyes like light-sockets—not the one with the camel-forehead—lounged with him against the wall. He did not seem concerned by beetles or bloodshed. Fizz, deep in some half-frightened, wholly interested part of his mind, speculated how he might be able to put that into a novel.
“Scared of neither beetle nor bloodshed,” he murmured.
“What?” Light Socket barked.
At his silent companion suddenly speaking, Fizz jumped right into the path of a droning,whizzing beetle. He quickly shifted to the other side, directly into Light Socket’s shoulder.
“What?” the guy demanded.
“We are…there are…too many beetles,” he ended lamely.
“So?” Socket lit his third cigarette of the hour and gnawed Fizz’s soul with his eyes.
Thoroughly disturbed, Fizz thought now would be prime opportunity to inquire his fate. He braved the bomber-squadron stream of beetle-y things and stood tall. His unfortunate head brushed the base of the light in its rust-encrusted fixture by the doorway. The glad beetle society embraced his eyes and nose and mouth and ears. Somewhere through the crush, Fizz saw Socket turn just the tiniest bit in his direction as if interested to watch the insect hoards.
“Why can’t we go in?” Fizz meant to say, but with all the joyous bug population using his lips like the Blarney Stone, what came out was more of: “Vy kunt ve do din?”
“Speak English,” Socket ground out over the cigarette.
Fizz puffed a colony of adoring insects from his face and thrashed wildly with his palms as if to stay the ticklish flood. “Whycan’twegoin?” he crammed out before the mass descended again.
Slowly, gracefully, a luna moth parted the way between Fizz and the beetles and settled on the light fixture. Grateful to the moth for at least not clicking like a miniscule pair of Chinaman’s chopsticks, Fizz smiled. He’d forgotten—it all seemed so distant now—but today was the first day of April and just that a.m. he’d been heading down to Lake Michigan with a yellow tulip in his buttonhole. Somewhere between the mugging and this alleyway, the tulip had been lost, but the reflection imbued Fizz with an iota of hopefulness. This was April First after all. Perhaps this whole business was nothing but a huge joke played on him by his eternally inappropriate roommate; it wouldn’t be the first time Marvin had done something idiotic for a laugh.
“We can’t go in cuz the boss hasn’t comed out.” Socket’s explanation was terse and wasted no bonhomie.
“We have to wait for his okay? While the—” Fizz phiffed a miniscule insect off his upper lip and refocused: “While the beetles gobble our face off?”
“Smoke.” Socket offered Fizz his half-burned cigarette.
“Much obliged.” He saluted his kidnapper with the butt end then put it in his mouth and drew in a draught of tobacco smoke.
The flavor turned his stomach, but it wasn’t half bad compared to sticking out the Beetle of Armegeddon. White smoke followed his exhale. Fizz was pleased to see a distinct reduction in the amount of beetles in his immediate vicinity. Maybe this guy wasn’t so awful. He’d given him a way out of suffering…maybe Socket wouldn’t kill him after all. At least, Fizz reflected with the second draw, at least he’d not die at the hands of beetles.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Guess What the Cat Just Let Outta the Bag?

Last Friday, I got my first paycheck. Could it be that I am finally moving out of perpetual Micawberism to something a bit more...pocket-moneyish? Seems like. The first week of nannying went quite well and my two wards and I even wrote and illustrated bed-time books for them. That was, after all, Lila's (5) first condition upon hearing I was an author: "Can Miss Rachel help me write a book? She can write the words and I'll draw the pictures." And so we did. This masterpiece is entitled: The Princess And Her Dragon and is about a royal who is afraid of the dark and the brave and "huge-big" dragon named William who is given to her as a gift to puff fire all night so she won't be without light. Lila dictated to me and most of the words were her own. (Including the rather pithy line: "And she was no longer afraid because she had the moon and the stars and fire and she knew that light was on her side.") In case you were wondering, for Lila, this was rather autobiographical. All except the dragon part. She specifically asked to write a book to read before bed so she would not be afraid.

I am excited for two reasons:

#1: I ought to be getting Elisabeth Grace Foley's Mrs. Meade Mysteries Vol. I today and I am looking forward to being able to read these stories in paperback edition. I am in the middle of three books right now so I can't start straight away, but I shall soon!

#2: Anne Elisabeth emailed me this morning and we have an official release date for Five Glass Slippers! Not certain whether it was meant to be public but I tweeted and spilled the proverbial beans before giving it much thought so, you will all be able to purchase this amazing collection of stories on

June 14th, 2014

And you know what's even cooler about this news? You can officially pre-order Five Glass Slippers on Amazon.com! Also, go add it on Goodreads too! I know it's an amazing book because I let myself read the first chapter or two of each story and not only are the stories rather wonderful, but the book itself is precious in terms of interior design. You'll simply have to wait to find out what's what because I obviously cannot show you the galley-proof I also received in my inbox. If I've been a bit in regards to my own writing, it is only because I'm still editing Anon, Sir, Anon and it's going slowly because of work and on top of this, I'm about to start formatting a friend's debut novel and I'm in the depths of reading a certain amazing epic that, for all its virtues, must be read on the computer and is undoubtedly long (Wonderfully long, but length means time). So all that means that even if I knew what my next project was going to be, I have no time for it yet. So there. If you are interested to learn more about the various Cinderellas in Five Glass Slippers, you must head over to the blog dedicated to just such things and check it out! I cannot wait for June to come around so you can all read The Windy Side of Care...truly, I have a feeling you're going to like Alis... And now for some entirely random items on the list of things that you didn't need to know but will probably be interesting all the same:

Hand massages feel divine
Someone actually made the scones from my last post 
 If I was a character from LotR, I would be Sam, evidently
Agents of SHIELD's latest episode just about killed me
I am apparently a good public speaker
I am fonder than ever of Wodehouse
Our team is officially over 100% funded for our trip to Romania!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Mom, Farnham's in the kitchen and he won't get out!"

Yesterday, an acquaintance asked for my scone recipe because I mentioned on Facebook that after editing, I planned to make some scones and tea and sit on the porch reading Letters from P.G. Wodehouse. Always one to multitask, I decided to combine handing out the recipe with doing a blog post and (adding a third purpose) showing off a bit of Vivi & Farnham because I know you love them and don't hear enough about this pair. So, because there is an entire scone-making/murder-discussing scene in Anon, Sir, Anon, I decided to do the post here on the Inkpen Authoress. And really, darlings, even writers have to eat sometimes and you might as well know how to make something palatable. So I give to you:

Orange-Almond Scones

For Scones:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • Juice and zest of one orange
For Glaze:
  • 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • Splash of milk

Vivi squared her shoulders and rolled her eyes at him. "First you're a detective, then you have a telephone, now electricity. What next? Next you'll be telling me you run a prison in the secret passages beneath Whistlecreig and fill it with all the criminals you catch red-handed."
 “That was a neat pun,” Farnham said. “Red-handed.”
Her face fell and she cut butter into the flour in her bowl as if it was him under the blades.

1.) Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and orange zest in a bowl. Cut in the butter with two knives or a pastry cutter until it is in small crumbs.


Vivi dug in the icebox for some milk and sniffed it. “Just a bit sour. Perfect.”
She poured a creamy stream of liquid into her bowl, then mixed it with her hand. The dough clung to her slender fingers in clumps but she didn’t seem to mind. Farnham found himself transfixed by the repetitive motion of her hands as she flipped and mixed the dough. All at once, Vivi tipped the bowl upside down with a clank.

2.) Make a well in the center of the flour and add your wet ingredients: the egg, the sour cream, and the orange juice. Mix quickly and don't worry about incorporating all of the flour. When it begins to stick together, flip out onto the counter and knead six or eight times.

He watched Vivi pat the scone dough into a lumpy circle and slice the circle into six neat triangles. She arranged the wedges on a baking stone and slid them into the oven without speaking. Not that she wasn’t going to speak, Farnham thought, but she hadn’t quite decided what she was going to say.

3.) Pat the dough into a circle and slice in eight wedges. Arrange them on a baking stone and slide into an oven preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 12 minutes until a beautiful golden-brown.

 “The silent foot will tell,” he said at last.
Vivi turned and opened the oven. A beautiful smell of fresh scones flooded the kitchen and scooted aside every thought of the murder. Farnham’s stomach, even, was calmed by the buttery fragrance.
“What silent foot?” Vivi wrapped her apron around her palm and reached into the oven, pulling the hot stone out and setting it on the counter.
Farnham stared at the perfect golden scones and the steam curling in laurels above them. “‘The inaudible and noiseless foot of Time,’” he murmured, trancelike. “Alls Well That Ends Well, if you must know.”

4.) Mix together the powdered sugar, almond extract, and milk until you have a glaze of medium thickness. Spoon over warm scones and let set a moment before serving. Scones are best enjoyed warm.

She lifted the golden scones onto a plate, leaving moist, oily triangles against the stone where they had been and shook her head at him in a way half fond, have reproachful.
Farnham broke off the tip of a scone when Vivi wasn’t looking and popped it into his mouth. Well, he had health to look after. Self-preservation and all that.

Hope you have a darling day, luvs! And yeah, make up a batch of these scones. They are the perfect pairing for a spring afternoon. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Elisabeth G. Foley: Eight Little Known Mysteries

Elisabeth Foley and I have a long-standing blogging relationship. I can't really remember exactly when it began, because it began on her end. For a long time, she would be a faithful commenter on The Inkpen Authoress, and finally I began to reciprocate the favor on her blog, The Second Sentence. From there, she became an invaluable source of knowledge on independent publishing and mystery-writing, which is why she is now The One on whom I am going to rely much while editing and polishing Anon, Sir, Anon. Elisabeth has released three of her Mrs. Meade Mysteries as e-books and now we non-Kindle-ers (that is a word of my own fabrication) have the chance to own all three in one lovely paperback volume!

Meet Mrs. Meade, a gentle but shrewd widow lady with keen insight into human nature and a knack for solving mysteries. Problems both quaint and dramatic find her in Sour Springs, a small town in Colorado at the turn of the twentieth century. Here in Volume One are her first three adventures, novelette-length mysteries previously published individually. In The Silver Shawl, a young woman has disappeared from the boarding-house where she lives—was she kidnapped, or did she have a reason to flee? In The Parting Glass, Mrs. Meade puzzles over the case of a respectable young man accused of drunkenly assaulting a woman. And in The Oldest Flame, Mrs. Meade’s visit with old friends turns to disaster with a house fire that may have been deliberately set. Quick and entertaining forays into mystery and times past, each story is just the perfect length to accompany a cup of tea or coffee for a cozy afternoon.
You can purchase said paperback version from Amazon and Createspace! 

Today, I've had Elisabeth drop by to recommend some lesser-known mysteries because, while Sayers, Christie, and Conan Doyle are all masters of the craft, there are other authors who know how to spin a whodunnit! And as I mentioned before, Elisabeth is rather an aficionado of the mystery trade. Let us welcome Miss Foley:

Eight Mysteries of Which You May Never Have Heard
By Elisabeth Grace Foley

Before I began writing mysteries, I read mysteries. I started very early with the Boxcar Children series—all nineteen of the original books. From there I progressed to Nancy Drew, then Sherlock Holmes, and really made the break into classic mystery when I read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Though, as you can see, I’m very fond of the acknowledged classics, I’ve also found great pleasure in stumbling upon some rare or obscure mysteries which turned out to be hidden gems.

So here, for your enjoyment, is a list of my favorites in this category. Some of them are chiefly remarkable for their unique setting or style, but many are fantastic mysteries in their own right. A couple of them have made scholarly lists of the greatest mysteries, but they seem to be much lesser-known in a popular sense. I know I’d never heard of any of them before I stumbled across them in the last year or two. Have you?

The Bellamy Trial by Frances Noyes Hart
This 1927 mystery novel is just brilliantly constructed. Told from the perspective of two young reporters, a girl and a man, covering a sensational murder trial, the whole book takes place in and around the courtroom. The case is gradually unfolded, layer by layer, through the interrogation of witnesses and presentation of new evidence. You won’t be able to put it down once you start!

Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post
This collection of short stories has been compared to Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, and I think the comparison is apt, even though on the surface the detectives are polar opposites: Father Brown is a small, mild, English Catholic priest; Uncle Abner a big, stalwart American Protestant, a landowner in rural Virginia of the early 1800s. Yet as in Chesterton, Abner's Christian faith is at the root of his strong belief in justice, which drives him to find the correct solutions to crimes. Post’s writing is just beautiful, and the stories gripping and unique. Highly recommended.

Green For Danger by Christianna Brand
Not only a great mystery, but one of the best WWII novels I’ve read. The setting is a hospital in the English countryside, the victim an air-raid casualty, the suspects the attending doctors and nurses—both clues and motives are detailed and complicated. The vivid evocation of wartime conditions may be owing to the fact that Brand wrote it in the thick of the Blitz, living near the real hospital where her doctor husband worked and sharing the nurses’ bomb shelter. (Also highly worth watching is the 1946 film version, which presents a boiled-down but intact version of the plot, and a hilariously brilliant performance by Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.)

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
One can only wish that Milne had written more mysteries! This one is very much in the classic English-country-house mold, quite decently puzzling and told with all of Milne’s signature sprightly wit and humor. For me, that’s an irresistible combination. (My favorite line: “When a gentleman goes to Australia, he has his reasons.”)

The Golden Cat by Max Brand
I was tickled to discover that Brand, known as the king of Western pulp magazine writers, had actually written a locked-room murder mystery set in the West—in a ruined hacienda complete with ghostly legend, with a half-dozen likely suspects and a shrewd sheriff for detective (whom the narrator both aids and tries to mislead). Those not familiar with Brand might take some time getting used to his style (the book originated as a magazine serial, which might account for the plot veering off in different directions now and then), but it’s a very creditable attempt at a whodunit for a non-mystery author, with the Western setting making it fun.

Was it Murder? (a.k.a. Murder at School) by James Hilton
Hilton, best known as the author of such novels as Random Harvest, Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, took a stab at writing a detective novel too—his only mystery, I believe, published under a pseudonym. It takes place in a setting that Hilton and readers of Mr. Chips would know well: a boys’ boarding-school. After two students, brothers, perish in suspicious “accidents,” leaving an inheritance to one of the faculty, an amateur-detective alumni steps in to investigate. Experienced mystery-readers might guess at the solution, but it’s a charmingly written take on the classic English murder mystery.

The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange by Anna Katharine Green
This collection of loosely connected short stories has a clever premise: Violet Strange, a wealthy young woman of Edwardian high society, secretly assists a professional detective with delicate cases—investigating where class barriers prevent a detective from going, or in cases involving only women, where a man cannot go. There’s also the lingering question all through the stories, which is resolved in the final one: Why does a high-class, wealthy young woman need to earn money by doing detective work in secret?

Chronicles of Joe Müller, Detective by Auguste Groner
Just when I thought I was running out of old-time mysteries to read, I discovered this collection. These short mysteries (about the length of my own Mrs. Meade adventures) were originally written in German. Joe Müller is a member of the Imperial Austrian Police, an unassuming and diffident man but a brilliant detective. The characters and mystery plots are very well done, and the setting of pre-WWI Vienna hooked me from the first paragraph.

But wait, what am I doing? If you go and read all of these, when will you ever have time to read the Mrs. Meade Mysteries? Ah, but that’s the thing about mystery readers—we can never get enough. I’ve read through the complete Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown and almost everything Agatha Christie wrote, and I’m still as eagerly on the lookout as ever for another good mystery. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you feel the same way.

 (Rachel's Note: I, for one, wish  I had access to all these mysteries. I have read The Red House Mystery and loved it. But the others sound so good and have interesting backgrounds. For instance, did you know that Christianna Brand is the author of the children's book, Nurse Matilda, on which the film Nanny McPhee was based? These all sound so good!)

 Also, Elisabeth is giving away a copy of her collection and a set of Mrs. Meade bookmakers so please enter the giveaway below. :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Five Glass Slippers Eye-Candy

Yesterday, I received my title-page for The Windy Side of Care! Isn't it a beauty? I cannot wait for Five Glass Slippers to come out. June really isn't that far away! And on that note, if you want to know more about my story as well as the others, do hop over the to Five Glass Slippers blog! I believe Elisabeth Brown has just done a post about her version of "Cinderella" from What Eyes Can See. I have seen the majority of the title pages and they are all simply beautiful. Cannot wait to read the others stories and share my Alis with you! (Fun fact: the designer paid heed to the way Alis is described and the crown at the top and her up-flung arm are direct nods to the plot. I warned you.) I was so excited to see this in my inbox yesterday. Who else is excited? ;)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

New Stories: Take your pick

I'm in one of those in-between stages of novels where I dabble with a lot of ridiculous, tiny plots and see what fits best as the next Official Work in Progress. It's always a total toss-up as to which triumphs over the others. As I you all know, I am hoping to publish Anon, Sir, Anon in November of this year. As it is the first Vivi & Farnham mystery, I hope to add more to the pile eventually. I am not, however, certain that I'll start right in on the second novel. While I sit in this stage, I thought I'd give you the first chunk of each current option. These are all random story starts I have collected in my files. Not that I'll use you as the definitive measure, but which sounds like something you'd like to read? For easy classification, I've also denoted in which genre each belongs. :)

It didn’t pay to be a writer; either he failed (and owed money) or got famous (and owed more money). Never a nice, easy “why dontcha take a thousand extra for good luck”, never a day the bank didn’t eye him out of the corner of their specs as if he was the heart and soul behind the crash of the stock market. Didn’t seem to matter to the banks that he’d never had money enough in one place to buy stocks. Even if he’d wanted them, he always added in a fierce tone, as if that made it better.
There were other problems, too, besides finances: dames didn’t like writers past a first date; no chance of finding a nice little wife with whom to build a nice little home and have a nice little family and receive the filial kiss from each child in the evening.
“You’ll write us into your nasty pulp novels!” the girls shrilled, and stroked his hand as if there was any danger in that.
He hated to tell them straight to their perky little faces, but those girls must have had a high opinion of their own value--or a low opinion of his ambition--to think he’d waste his talent on writing them into anything from soap-flake ad to prize-winning novel. Nothing doing. He didn’t take on every paper-doll that marched his way. He was after real characters. People with depth. Hemingway didn’t fuss around with chorus girls. Or, if he did, they were bound to have some deep psychological case.
Yes, a writer’s life was an empty bed and an emptier wallet. Not that Fitzwilliam Sheridan didn’t find it an education. He tried to take it philosophically. For instance: he’d never before experienced how many dozen ways you could cook dried beans till the royalties from his first novel had dried up. The latest recipe involved coffee and mustard-seeds; it hadn’t inspired a glamorous night. Nevertheless, the Merits of Dried Beans had gone into the Ladies’ Home Journal via “Mrs. Sheran Fitzwilliam” and--because all of America seemed wild about living off of no food and less money--it had been accepted and circulated among the upper circle of weary-eyed housewives.
“Manna from heaven!” one critic called the article.
Another tried: “And the gods ate black beans.”
But tonight, his stomach begged a more hospitable repast.
“Just one piece of bread!” He pressed two inky fingers to the bridge of his nose. “Is that too much to ask?”
Marvin, his resident annoyance, watched him pace the room. “Shut up, Fizzy.”
“I certainly can’t shut up if my stomach won’t! Beans might be all right for Mrs. Sheran Fitzwilliam, but old Fizzy Sheridan isn’t feeling quite so chipper!” He eyed the sheet of paper in his typewriter cannibal-wise. “Do you think paper is so terribly awful?”
“Taste, or the effect if has on the old dietary system?” Marvin’s nose was broken right across the middle, and he nursed this hurt with a chunk of raw, red meat.
“Marv, please,” Fizzy begged.
He saw Marvin’s eyes travel from his face to the steak he held in his fist. “Uh, no.” He screwed his eyes shut and applied the meat again.
Marvin opened one eye. “This is medical material, kid. It’s practically a bandage or--or iodine or something.”
“It’s meat. It’s life.”
“It’s expensive.” That was all Marvin would say on the matter.
He sponged at his nose with the beef while Fizzy felt himself being torn apart from the inside outward. In a matter of moments, Marvin would probably be able to see straight through his vest to the rusty heater on the other side of the room.
Musicians had a much better life than writers. Fizzy deliriously wondered if it was too late in life to take up jazz piano.
-Mob Ink by Rachel Heffington (comic novel)

The blue of heaven upended seemed to spill into the river till Mary Ridd was unsure where the sky stopped and the river-water began. How strange it was that the water looked like laughter now, where it had been filled with blood and bodies in her dreams the night before. At the thought, she pulled her feet from the lapping of the waves, and onto the gravel-strewn beach where it was warmer, and the water could not touch her like a dead thing.
    There had been a young militiaman floating here--drowned--in the dream. She'd seen his hair rising and falling with the breath of the river, tangling in the water-weeds, and she'd felt suffocated with the knowledge that there was nothing she could do to stop this war. There was nothing she would do, even if faced with an opportunity. Fear. The shame had not left with awakening.

    “Mary. Mary, chit, where are you?” It was Nathaniel’s voice coming bold onto the beach through the pass cut into the red clay bluffs.
    Mary scrambled to her feet and pulled her stays into their proper position. “Here, Nat.”
    “Ah. Mary.” Nathaniel scuffed his bare foot in the sand--he seldom wore a shoe on his good leg--and grinned at her in the way that always made her think of a seagull--a one-legged seagull at that. “Mary, mother and father have been waiting for you. What have you been at all this time?”
    “Thinking.” Mary slipped her feet into her black leather clogs and grimaced at the feel of sand gritty beneath her heel.
    “What need have women to think?”
    Mary knew he said it to vex her, but she eyed him sternly. “I have need.”
    “Have you?” Nat’s sea-gull’s smile flashed again, and he tossed back his head with a short, confident laugh as like a gull’s as anything Mary had heard. She shoved past Nat and dug her heels into the beach, struggling to walk gracefully in the dragging sand. At the pass in the cliff, Mary turned about and took a last view of the blue-on-blue river and sky. Nat ambled over, and the wind teased a few strands of blond hair out of  his pigtail.
    “The James is beautiful, isn’t she?”
    “She is,” Mary murmured in agreement.
    Mary felt herself blush under Nat’s keen  question. How did he always know when she thought more than she spoke? “But it is a passing beauty, is it not?”
    A shadow like the beauty Mary spoke of crossed Nat’s face. He frowned, and his eyebrows were so light they looked like cloud-play on his forehead. “You’re thinking of the war again, aren’t you?”
    “Aye. And yet Father told you to stop troubling yourself with matters you can’t do anything about.”
    Mary undid the ribbons of her straw hat and swung it by it’s strings and she and Nathaniel continued on the hard-packed red trail winding up the bluff. “It is the waiting and doing nothing that frightens me.”
    “And the same that vexes me, Mary. But because I’m an Oak-Johnny the militia didn’t want me.”
He thumped his wooden peg and Mary glanced down at the oaken leg with the breeches buckled neatly around the stump. She seldom thought about Nathaniel’s leg since he’d lost it the year the War began. It had been four years since, and their beautiful corner of Virginia--the Isle of Wight--had changed little. The young men had disappeared by twos and threes, but then, Mary had never been bold enough to take much notice of gentlemen. Perhaps that was the reason she was nineteen and still unwed. So many girls fretted night and day that all the lads were gone to war and would likely be killed, and then there should be no men to marry. Sometimes Mary found it easy to forget there was such a thing as a War of Independence.
Easy, at least, in the daytime. It was the nightmare that plagued her and made her shun the River.
The same dream.
The same face floating  in the weeds.
The same sense of shame when she admitted the war inspired her with nothing but a wish to flee the county and fly somewhere far away where the only neighbors were red-winged blackbirds, and she was alone with none but Nathaniel for company.
-The Green Branding by Rachel Heffington (historical fiction)


Her family loved Jesus but that didn’t mean they weren’t flat-out crazy sometimes--heck, most times.
Lindy might’ve only been twelve, but she knew lots of things most kids didn’t know--kids as old as Ben Fayette, their neighbor, who attended Duke Meadows High and thought hisself all that and more. And one of the things Lindy knew sure and certain was that her family was a little bit crazy.
Sometimes this bothered her, and other times it was fun.
Today was fun.
Lindy and her older brother, Dagger, had gone out to get them last few berries from the path behind Marvin’s Hardware and now they were runnin’ all over that part of the woods callin’ and mocking the walker-hounds let loose to chase the deer toward hunters in the nearby fields. Lindy could hear the baying in every direction.
“Aooow!” Lindy’s ponytail bounced against her back as she sprang onto and over a mushy log and the hot crush of a July in Duke County made the sweat pour down her neck. Somewheres to her right the hounds were yelling.
“Aoowoowoo!” That was Dagger. Sounded to Lindy like he’d reached the thin part of the woods to her right, near the post office and neighborhood streets.
“Wowowooaw,” Lindy bawled and ripped undergrowth out of her way with both hands. Right now she didn’t care about anything--didn’t care about the milk-carton of berries they’d left behind, didn’t care ‘bout ripping her jeans shorts or gettin’ ticks or anything. It was all gobbled up in the pure joy of runnin’ runnin’ runnin’ after the hounds.
The woods sorta cleared right in front of her and in the middle, next to a scrubby holly-bush, sat a pretty little she-pup. She blinked at Lindy and her ears worked back and forth.
“Ain’t you a purdy little...gal...” Lindy knew the real name for she-pups but she’d said it once at Sunday-school and been told that Jesus wouldn’t like her usin’ such words. Lindy didn’t guess Jesus would care that much--’specially since her Daddy taught her that word right along with “mare” and “ewe” and “cow” and “queen”--but all the same she’d quit talking about hunting dogs at church.
The little hound came over, pressed its warm, whiskery muzzle against Lindy’s bare leg and licked at her sweat. The dog’s tail-end trembled like she thought Lindy might kick her, but she kept licking and Lindy reached a hand down and scratched the pup in the spot at the base of its tail where Dagger’s dog, Blimp, liked it best.
“Bet you ain’t used to being chased by howlin’ kids,” she said. The hound licked Lindy’s hand experimentally. “Bet you ain’t had a good meal in a while.” Hunters kept their dogs just a little hungry all the time so they’d want to come back to the kennels at night and there’d be less dogs to track down by radio-collar.
Lindy took half a roll of Life Savers from her pocket and sorted out the green ones, tossing them into the dog’s mouth one by one.
“Don’t choke on ‘em, now,” she said.
“‘Course she ain’t gonna choke on ‘em, Lindy. They’ve got holes in ‘em.”
“So’s your head.” Lindy turned around with a grin as Dagger crashed into the clearing and leaned against a persimmon tree, breathin’ hard.
“‘Bout ready to go home? he asked.
“Yeah.” Lindy let the dog lick the stickiness from her fingers, then wiped her palms on the seat of her shorts. “Ready.”
Lindy led the way back to the blackberry thicket and Dag fell in step behind her. The late sun made long sticks on the ground out of their arms and legs and Lindy tried walking like a preying mantis.
“Look at me, Dag. I’m a preacher-bug.”
He yanked her ponytail and their shadows jumbled together like a stand of bean-poles.
“Dagger, why’s our family gotta be crazy?”
“What d’you mean, ‘crazy’?”
That’s what Lindy liked about her brother--he listened to her, most times.”What I mean is, Miss Mavis and Uncle Biggs live with us, and we don’t have a car and we don’t go to normal school and Momma can’t cook and Daddy grows weeds for a livin’.”
“You gotta stop sayin’ that, Lindy!”
“What for?”
“Cuz’ Daddy grows clover. For the bees.”
“Yeah, but clover’s weeds. It grows in the mobile-home park.”
“But you can’t keep callin’ it weeds.”
“Why not?”
Dagger shrugged and moved in front of Lindy to beat a path into the brambles. “It sounds bad, Lindy. Just don’t say it.”
Lindy let out a huge raggedy sigh and slapped a mosquito on her wrist, leaving a bloody smudge. “People are just plain annoyin’. I can’t say ‘weeds’, I can’t say ‘bitch’--”
“There you go too! Wish somebody’d tell me why instead a’getting mad at me all the time.”
Dagger turned around and placed his big hands on either side of her shoulder. Great, now she was in for a lecture. He looked just like Daddy, only without the black hair. Dagger’s was blond and short and grew into a widdow’s peak on his forehead. “There’s some things that mean two things at once. It’s called a...double entendre.” He frowned while saying the fancy word and Lindy stored it away at the back of her brain as one more thing Ben Fayette probably wouldn’t know.
“It means that you might say ‘weed’ but people might take it as something else--something bad. Like drugs.”
“Oh,” Lindy said. “I get it.” But she didn’t, really.
“Yeah.” Dagger left his right hand on Lindy’s left shoulder and steered her back to the little wedge they’d trampled into the berry patch. He handed her the battered, purple-stained milk carton full of blackberries and smiled. “Don’t you worry your head, Lindy-girl. It ain’t your fault people ruin perfectly good words by givin’ ‘em trashy meanings.”
They crawled out of the berry patch on the hardware side of things and Lindy could feel the heat from the grey, crackled asphalt creeping up through the rubber soles of her sneakers. It felt good, like propping your feet up against the wood-stove door or dipping ‘em in a warm bathtub. Mr. Marvin, the hardware store owner waved at them from the front of the store where he slouched against the door, talking to an old man in a blue pickup.
-Honeybee Miles by Rachel Heffington (southern fiction)

Kat Durrant hitched the strap of her bag higher on her shoulder and stooped so the air-vent would quit drilling into her scalp. The ceiling of the puddle-jumper plane pushed against her like a hand trying its best to shove her onto the tarmac. Thanks a million but she was just as eager as anyone to leave the confines of the bottle-rocket that had been her home for the last eight hours. Paris was great and everything but the RER was a picnic compared to the elegance of a Boeing 757 for a transatlantic escapade.
“Can you move?” She tapped her seat-mate’s arm.
He looked up, confused. “Oh...sorry.” With painstaking slowness the guy eased out of his chair and into the aisle where he bumped into a black woman and an Arabian man. “Sorry,” he said again.
Kat nipped back a sigh. What was he, the king of klutz? His brow pinched as he fumbled in the overhead bin and Kat smelled a faint aroma of men’s deodorant and cherry coke on him. Not like he wasn’t cute or anything, but Kat could never sleep on flights and eight hours staring at his face--yeah, a pretty nice one--only to find out he was Clumsymodo himself didn’t put her in a good mood. She’d made big plans those eight hours. Plans about how nice he’d be if he’d wake up...what great conversation they’d have...how he’d ask for her number as they slid onto an American runway.
Tough luck, Katherine. She shoved past the man, stopping only to drag her beaten purple carry-on out of the bin while Dodo there was still fishing around for his. What the heck did the dude think he was doing, blocking half the plane from escaping the sardine tin just because he hadn’t been sensible enough to group his junk beforehand, disregarding rules about keeping your seatbelt fastened?
Kat waddled down the aisle, straddling her carry-on and trying to make herself as small as possible. She gave a glazed half-smile to the skinny stewardess whose hose puddled around her ankles. A frightened blink went to the steward who’d just about made her wet her pants by jogging her elbow out of the anonymous darkness and asking if she wanted anything to drink. Come to think of it, her neighbor had been awake then and grinned at her fright like it was a joke or something. Kat threw a short glance backward but couldn’t see him. So long, dude.
She saw him once more on the moving sidewalk and again at baggage claim. So he must be a New Yorker. Funny, she’d assumed he’d be taking a connecting flight like most other people. Though he looked not quite so clumsy by the time she saw him at baggage claim, he still didn’t acknowledge the fact that they’d been neighbors for what felt to Katherine like the better part of a month. Not a wave, not a smile. Certainly not a “where do you live?”

Kat checked her watch: twelve-thirty-three a.m. Great. Not like she wasn’t used to NYC at night, but coming from a little town in Virginia, it still creeped her out sometimes. Especially compared to Paris. What was it about Paris that made this city seem dark and homeless and scarred with graffiti? Maybe the fact that it was. Kat pushed through the doors into the cold embrace of the city’s night and stopped with her toes hanging off the curb, hoping one of the taxis would ignore everyone else who looked like they knew what they were doing and pick her up. She prayed it’d be someone who knew English.
“Hola senora!” The man leaning into the passenger seat of the cab reeked of cigarettes and fried twinkies.
Kat bit her lip, summoned a smile, and nodded. “Bed-Stuy.”
He stared at her for a second. What? Did he think everyone in the neighborhood was black? So what if young, unmarried white women weren’t exactly the norm in Bedford-Stuyvesant? She’d been lucky to find a nice apartment for cheap in the neighborhood: quiet neighbors, small backyard, shopping within reach--all for a comparatively piddling $1000 a month which was pretty much unheard of given the recent mania for brownstone flats.
She climbed into the cab and pretended to fall asleep so she wouldn’t have to try to make conversation this late at night with a guy who didn’t appear to know English. They pulled away from the curb and into the clump of taxis draining from the airport in a slow spiral.
-Brownstone by Rachel Heffington (contemporary fiction)