Slowly but surely, I work on the Atlanta & the Lion and Other Tales short story and poem anthology. I’ve been working on converting some contemporary stories I wrote in grad school over to historical romances and/or fiction, since I am much more comfortable with that genre. Here is a taste of one of the stories, called “The Friendly Suffragette.”
FIRST DRAFT OF THE FRIENDLY SUFFRAGETTE
“Why, you seem as though you could use a hug, sir,” Kate said, blinking at the old man shuffling past her makeshift wooden crate table covered with suffragette pamphlets.
Kate’s comment startled the old man and rightly so. One did not expect a young lady standing in a drab gray dress and straw hat at the corner of a largely abandoned city park in a London neighborhood to suddenly offer an embrace of any kind. Generally such offers were not of the respectable sort, of that the old man was certain.
He lifted the brim of his homburg hat to peer at Kate from behind his overlarge spectacles. Her eyes matched the fabric of her sensible, ankle-length dress; the color of a proper overcast English sky. Her thick auburn hair was restrained, hardly, by a low chignon at the base of her neck. Her flat straw hat was perched at the crown of her head, making her seem both cheeky and charming.
Kate watched the old man with a bright smile. As he stared agape at her she was thinking he was the mirror image of her grandfather, dearly and recently departed, complete with the dusty overcoat and tarnished pocket watch.
“I beg your pardon,” the old man said finally, his tone gruff and unwelcoming over the din of horse-drawn cabs, streetcars, and people too busy with their own business to stop and chat with Kate.
“My grandpapa would always say everyone needs a hug now and then, and it seems as though your turn is now, sir. Would you care to have one?” Kate’s tone made it sound as if she were offering him an apple perhaps, or a slice of toast, rather than such an indecent display of shared affection—and in public, of all things.
“A hug?” the old man asked, his wheeze punctuating his outrage as he shifted his spectacles on his nose. His pale, clean-shaven cheeks colored and his jaw gyrated as if he were rearranging his teeth for the fun of it.
“Oh my, yes, a hug.” Kate opened her arms, the action revealing her to be thin, perhaps too thin, and unaided by the fashionable, distorting S-curve corsets of the time. Though she looked frail, she had a sense of sturdiness about her—something in the way her smile reached her eyes.
The old man noted she had three freckles on her cheek and a pale band of skin on her ungloved left hand, indicating a ring once protected the skin from what must have been healthy, countryside sunlight. Suddenly, the situation began to make rather more sense. The gray dress, indicating a season of mourning. The missing wedding band. The misplaced need to share some semblance of affection with a complete stranger.
“I think there aren’t enough hugs in this world,” Kate continued. “Perhaps if we all hugged one another more often, we’d see some smiles in this dull city!”
Dull, she said; the old man had certainly never heard of London described as “dull.”
“You’re American, I suppose?” he said, having made up his mind she was quite, quite mad.
Kate beamed. “Yes! However did you guess?”
The old man pressed his lips together, and then puckered them in thought. “Very well then,” he said, careful to note where his billfold was in the off-chance the mad American red-head happened to fleece him during their embrace. “I suppose we might hug. But this is very irregular, mind you!”
Kate laughed, a tinkling sound that invited a solitary ray of sunshine to peek through the London haze. “Not to worry, there’s a copper just over there who’s been watching me all morning, just waiting for me to do something incorrect. I promise you, I only want to give you a hug.”
Sure enough, when the old man glanced over his shoulder, there stood a young officer, most likely no older than thirty, standing with his arms crossed and his feet spread just further than hip-width apart. He looked none too pleased, with his face contorted in an annoyed grimace.
“He needs a hug, too, but he refuses, the silly man,” Kate said, shaking her head. She shrugged. “Now then, shall we hug?”
Like I said, this is a fun project. I’m realizing I dabble with absurdity and magical realism, so I’m interested to see how Kate’s hugs affect her suffragette campaign at her noisy little corner in London.
Remember, my goal for ROW80 was pretty simple: write 750 words a week. I like achievable goals. They make me happy. Here we have the second chapter of The Rebel’s Hero, something that I wrote three times because each time I wasn’t hitting the right tone. Read the first draft of chapter one.
What do you think about this chapter? Is the characterization over the top? Is Tempest unbelievable, given that she’s a tomboy during the Civil War?
After they finished their silent dinner, Tempest followed Howard and Sophronia to the parlor. Still stinging from Howard’s remark of her “wildness,” Tempest made sure to float across the room and sink into her chair with no more noise than a soft sigh. She kept her posture rigid, her eyes narrowed, and her hands clenched in her lap.
Howard paid no attention, which meant she was giving herself a headache for nothing. Sophronia lounged on a chaise in a dark corner, a handkerchief laid across her eyes. There would be no help from that corner, of that Tempest was certain.
Tempest’s mind raced. Howard had been serious at dinner, she knew he had been serious. And her mother had sat there, sipping her soup because Howard had instructed her to. Tempest worked her jaw in an effort to fight the telltale growing pressure of impending tears.
Of all people, why Walter?
Fifteen minutes passed as the three of them listened to the grandfather clock ticking from the hallway. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Tempest cursed her heart for the way it continued to beat, keeping time with the clock, as if the world had not just ended. Tick. Tock. Everything slowed and Tempest just knew if she did not leave at that instant, she would scream. At the chime of the quarter hour, Tempest jumped to her feet.
“Pardon me, I have a headache,” she said in stiff tones. She held her chin high and refused to look at either Howard or Sophronia as she sailed from the room, her wide skirts swaying with the speed of her escape.
She walked to the front porch of the house and stared out at their farmland. No doubt this was why Walter was agreeing to marry her. It was always about land with these stupid men. Tempest shook her head. She would never understand it. How could a man marry a woman he knew didn’t love him, didn’t even like him, would prefer to spit on the ground than speak to him, just for some dirt?
Howard is hiding something.
Tempest sat on the swing that hung from the rafters of the porch and with smooth, practiced motions, lifted her skirts high, and dropped the hoop skirt then and there for all the world to see. Not that anyone could or would see, it was just her and the slaves and the farm and the black sky. Not even the stars dared shine tonight, not under the threat of Tempest’s furious frown.
Freed of her hoops, Tempest crouched easily to remove her shoes and stockings, discarding them where Howard would be able to see them when he came out for his evening smoke. Might as well. He already thought she was wild, and one evening of perfect behavior wouldn’t change his mind. Tempest tucked the hem of her skirt into her waistband so she could do what she had been wanting to do since hearing Howard’s awful news. Run.
Why now? she thought, knowing she would get a stitch in her side if she ran as hard as she wanted to, thanks to the stupid corset she was forced to wear. I’ve been of age for two years, why now? And why Walter?
Leaping from the front porch, Tempest ran. She ran from the house in her bare feet with sure strides that belied the way her stomach sloshed with every step. The tears she refused to show to Howard now flowed freely, hanging in the air like rain drops as she sped to her tree by the creek.
Walter. The name sent shivers down her back even though the air was thick with hot humidity. Her hair curled at her temples at at the back of her neck. Her arms became slick with sweat. Walter the Breaker, she had once heard him called on a bright morning before Sunday church. Breaker of spirits, horse and human. Another shiver.
It’s because I’ve been asking questions.
Tempest’s toughened feet paid no mind to the grass, twigs, and bugs they crushed. Tempest was the very embodiment of her name, dust flying, birds squawking, as she reached her tree. She caught a low-hanging branch without bothering to slow down. She swung around and kicked off the side of the tree trunk to jettison upwards. She caught another branch, and another, scrambling up the tree with the speed of a squirrel. She stopped when she was high enough to see the farmhouse.
Plopping onto a branch that was thick enough to hold her weight, Tempest leaned back against the tree trunk and crossed her arms over her panting chest as she wheezed.
Things had not been right since her father’s death. Everyone said Reginald Granville died via an unfortunate accident with the drink, but Tempest knew better. Reginald had never had problems with drinking. Even Tempest, at eight years old, had known that her father wasn’t a drinker, that he couldn’t have smashed his head into the cellar floor because he had tripped over his own feet. But that was what Howard had insisted, with tears in his eyes.
Tempest scraped the back of her hand against her traitorous tears. She should have known better than to ask Sophronia about Reginald’s death the other day. She should have known her questions would send Sophronia into ten years of latent hysterics, and Howard would come running. Tempest hadn’t expected to trigger Sophronia’s bad habit of sleepwalking to the cellar, though. No doubt that was why Howard was trying to get rid of her. To silence her questions and stop causing her mother’s hysterics and sleepwalking. Things could be peaceful at the farmhouse, if only Tempest wasn’t around.
Her chin jutted out. If Howard wanted to get rid of her, he didn’t have to marry her off.
A plan began to form. Hadn’t Sophronia received a letter not too long ago? They so rarely received letters these days. Tempest had been surprised at how dismissive her mother had been about it. If only she could find that letter. Someone knew they existed, even though as a principle, the family refused to leave the farm for anything but church.
Maybe, just maybe, Tempest could find that letter, and find the writer of it, and get some of the answers her family refused to reveal. No doubt this person had a history with Sophronia, one that went longer than the last ten years, and lived far enough away to not know how she had changed.
Everyone in the village knew Sophronia was not of this world any longer. She floated through it, suffered it, paid no mind. Someone knew her before Reginald’s death, and cared enough to write. Whoever this person was, whoever it was that cared about her mother, this was Tempest’s best option.
“One of these days, Howard,” Tempest muttered as she climbed down the tree, “you’re going to regret pushing Reginald Granville’s family around.”
All the best,
- – -
So far I’ve kept to my goal of writing at least 750 words a week! Huzzah! To celebrate, here is the (first draft) of the first 850 words of the new book, The Rebel’s Hero. I would love your feedback. Are you getting a good feeling of the era, the setting, the situation?
One night, when the dense Virginia farm air buzzed with gnats that spoke of a heavy summer rain, Howard announced he had found Tempest’s husband at long last.
Tempest cocked her head to the side and shook it as though she had gotten water in her ear. Everything was as it had been mere moments ago, yet she had the distinct feeling of the world tilting on end.
Though it was dusk, and the orange sun sank lower still into the farm’s horizon, the dining room was brightly lit by candles perched in silver stands, and in the chandelier that swayed overhead. The combined brightness of the candles burned Tempest’s brown eyes so tears gathered at the corners. She cleared her throat and glanced meaningfully at the old slave Elijah who stood in the corner of the dining in his typical hunched fashion, pretending he hadn’t heard a word.
Howard never spoke of such things before the slaves. Said it was none of their business, his private matters. Which meant Howard felt far too comfortable with where he led the conversation.
“I hadn’t realized my supposed husband was lost,” Tempest quipped, smoothing butter onto her bread before dipping it into her chilled mint soup. She popped the sopping piece of bread into her mouth, focusing on the clarifying mint scent to help her stay alert to Howard’s newest scheme.
Across the table from Tempest sat her mother, Sophronia, just to the left of Howard. Sophronia pulled her lace shawl over her stooped shoulders and smoothed the fabric of her hooped skirt across her lap. Her pale face looked especially wan in the candlelight, and her white-blond hair had all but lost its luster in the ten years since she had married Howard.
Howard glared at Sophronia rather than Tempest for her outburst.
This elicited an apathetic, “Tempest, don’t talk to your step-daddy like that,” from Sophronia in her velvet southern drawl.
“I’ll stop if he does,” Tempest muttered.
It wasn’t funny anymore, the way Howard talked about her lack of a husband when all the other girls her age had married and born a child already. She was eighteen. She had more than enough time. Didn’t she?
Sophronia straightened her shoulders in a half-hearted shrug and sipped soup from her spoon.
“You’ll want to know the unlucky man’s name,” Howard said with a self-satisfied smile. His voice was deep with the relief of a thousand nights spent racking his brain with plans to get Tempest married and off his hands. He laced his fingers together and leaned back in his chair so the wooden legs creaked beneath his paunchy weight.
Tempest flicked her head to the side so one of her blond ringlets flew from where it rested on her shoulder. She did not particularly want to know, but she had just stuffed her mouth full of bread and couldn’t bring herself to say anything to stop him from speaking.
As long as it was not the one man Tempest could not stand to be in the same room with, no, the same house, the same county, to be honest, all would be well. She would find a way out, as always, and continue on her merry, pampered way.
“Walter Leonards’s agreed it would be beneficial to all if you were to marry him.”
Tempest choked on the bread in her mouth, audibly. Throwing her napkin in front of her mouth, she coughed up the bread, wincing at the way Sophronia half-frowned at her. Sophronia did not need to say a word, Tempest knew what she was thinking.
Come now, Tempest, you know better than to do such things. Surely you have outgrown such tomboyish behavior. You are a lady. Act like one.
Or rather, the Sophronia of old might have thought such things. Funny, how Tempest missed the sound of Sophronia scolding her. So many years had passed since Sophronia had cared enough to scold.
“In fact, Walter’s right pleased. I think this will be the match of the decade!”
Tempest glared at Howard, enraged by the way he could speak that sentence as if he and Walter were doing her a favor. Howard had to go and pick the one man she could never marry. Of course he would. Just to see my reaction.
“You’re pulling my leg,” Tempest said, shoving her chair away from the table before Elijah could help her. “You’re making fun of me.”
Howard put his hands behind his head. Damn the man, he enjoyed watching her squirm. “Walter,” he confirmed.
Tempest closed her eyes. She licked her lips and gasped her air. Walter. He used to poke her with lit matches when they were little. He once put a centipede in her shoe when they had been playing by a crick. To this day, she swore Walter had lamed her pony just to have it put down. Did one grow out of such meanness?
“No,” Tempest said, her voice breaking over the word.
Howard half-stood, resting his palms on the table that pressed into his stomach as he leaned over it. “You will marry him, or be thrown from this house. I’m not like your daddy, I don’t tolerate such wildness from females.”
Tempest looked at Sophronia, who kept her gaze on her soup. Sophronia’s hand shook as the spoon it held hovered over the bowl.
“Say something,” Tempest whispered.
It was on this solitary day that a rose petal fell. It was not known whether it happened to be dropped by a hand, or whether it had fallen by the properties of gravity. Suffice it to say, it began this story.
So, what do you think? Don’t forget to check out the other ROW80 peeps.
Have you ever been so sick you can’t even stumble from bed? That’s what I’m going through right at this moment. My manager mentioned it might be strep, which I hope it isn’t because that means I have to leave my apartment to get antibiotics.
Anyway, over the weekend I wrote another 900+ words for Catching the Rose, which is pretty great. Not that what I wrote was fantastic, but it’s progress, anyway. I’m upping the tension in the book much sooner… I’ve cut out pages and pages of description and pitted Amy and Veronica against each other in a way that both surprises me and has me interested. Which I hope my readers will feel the same way. An excerpt to wet your whistle…
As if there wasn’t enough to worry about these days, with the southern states breaking away from the union. Amy pushed her tongue to the side of her mouth and bit it lightly to keep from saying anything. Veronica was a spoiled brat who had no concept of what was going on around her. She wouldn’t know, or care, that this war was chasing Amy south, for a little while, anyway.
“But you know,” Veronica said, leaning back in her seat, “they probably should have. Or they would have, if they had any idea what I’m intending to do here.”
The carriage skidded to a stop. Amy’s stomach landed somewhere between the stamping hooves of the horse that dragged them to the quiet street where Mrs. Beaumont lived.
“And just what might that be, Miss Vernon?” Amy managed, hand on her stomach.
“Ronnie,” Veronica corrected. She rifled through her satchel, which had sat hidden beneath her skirts all this while, and pulled out a careworn journal. She flipped through it expertly until finding a page some three-quarters of the way through. “Find him, and marry him.”
Amy blinked at the handsome sketch of a man Veronica couldn’t possibly know. “What?”
“It’s not the best likeness, I know,” Veronica said. She sighed a little, staring at the portrait of a man with dark hair, sharp eyes, and the hint of a smirk tucked at the corner of his lips. “I haven’t seen him in years. But that won’t stop me, no ma’am.”
“You’re in Richmond to find this man and marry him.” Amy knew she sounded stupid repeating Veronica again. Her lips felt swollen and her tongue heavy. The nausea from the train came back with a vengeance and she swallowed heavily against riotous bile. She had come to Richmond to erase all traces of this man.
It’s a first draft, obviously, but I like it.
How is everyone else doing? Check out the Round of Words in 80 Days list of participants to keep up.
We have 22 amazing backers, bringing us to the 40% funded mark. Thank you! Your support spurred me to complete the current draft of Haunting Miss Trentwood in record time.
So in the writing world, there is this test called the Page 99 test. The basic idea is that you turn to page 99 of the book you’re thinking of reading. If you like the page, you will probably like the book.
Hartwell figured he should have been more afraid of Mary at that point. Instead, there was the oddest sense of admiration and respect welling inside him, which felt ironic and perverse, to say the least. And satisfying, to know he had broken her shell. She had spirit. He couldn’t fault her that, especially when she applied it so unlike his sister.
“All right,” he said.
Mary stopped. She rounded on him, mouth open to spew another litany at him. “What?”
“I agreed to look over your paperwork, so I shall. I’ll admit I wanted to do so originally because I wanted to confirm you were or were not the blackmailer.” He smiled. “At least now I don’t have to pretend otherwise.”
Mary’s hands bunched into fists.
Hartwell wondered if Pomeroy* had taught her a thing or two.
When her fist connected with his jaw, he had his answer. In spades.
Do I pass?
All the best,
- – -
* Pomeroy is the butler with an interesting past…a rather successful boxer.
** This is cross-posted at my Kickstarter project.
I am ashamed to admit it has been, according to 750words.com, five days since I last wrote a word for Haunting Miss Trentwood. Thank goodness for blogfests! I almost forgot I agreed to be a part of the Rainy Day blogfest, held by The Writer’s Hole.
Below is my submission, a first-draft snippet of Chapter 24 from my work-in-progress, Haunting Miss Trentwood. To give you an idea of the story, it is set in 1887 England, and the tagline is “Father knows best… even after death.” Enjoy!
By the time they reached Wayland’s Smithy, it had begun to rain. It was the kind of loud rain which spoke of the end of winter and the coming of spring. Mary had been forced to jog that last one hundred yards to the black opening of the Saxon tomb. She had slid on the slick rock floor covered with decaying leaves. Trentwood’s tight grasp on her arm righted her. She jerked away from his unnatural touch.
Mary huddled beneath the sheltering rocks of the sarsen stones that made the ceiling, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. I haven’t anything left to vomit. “Tell me what happened back there.”
Trentwood stood in the shadows beside her. She could feel his white eyes watching her, and fought the wave of nausea that shuddered through her body. Those white eyes had, for a brief moment, looked at her through Hartwell’s eyes. Certainly she hadn’t imagined that? Trentwood had, for a time, stepped into Hartwell’s body so he could land a devastating punch to Sedgwick’s jaw. One couldn’t imagine that. Just as one couldn’t imagine one’s father haunting one.
I’m not mad. Please, tell me I’m not mad.
Outside, the rain plummeted to the ground more furiously than Mary had ever seen. It was as if the sky vomited on her behalf. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead into the moss that clung to the vertical stone walls. She sighed as the cool rock soothed the pounding at her temples.
“What would you like to know?”
She wasn’t sure where to begin. “How did you do it?”
Trentwood shrugged. “One minute I was watching you thrash about in bed, and I heard you scream that terrifying scream of yours, and the next minute, I was in your dream. I haven’t the slightest clue how it happened.”
Mary blinked. Wait, what? Her tongue felt heavy in her mouth. “I was talking about when you possessed Mr. Hartwell, Father.”
Again, Trentwood shrugged. “I’m as new to this being dead folderol as you are in watching it.”
Wiping beads of sweat from her brow, Mary whispered, “You will limit such… jaunts… in the future, I hope?”
“Indeed,” he said with a short laugh. “It pains me to do it as much as it seems to pain you to watch it. Do you know how difficult it is to be dead, hopping around from one mind or body to the next, not knowing how you got there, or how you’ll get out?” He stepped closer, and she could smell his death-stench.
“No, I don’t. I never thought it was a skill I would need to learn.”
He grunted. “Inherited your mother’s morbid sense of humor, I see.”
“Given the circumstances, I think I’m glad of it.”
Suddenly seeming sheepish, Trentwood took yet another step closer. “Mary, we must talk about your dream. We must talk about your mother’s death.”
Definitely make sure you check out the other submissions. Thanks for reading!
All the best,