Ravenwood, Chapter 22 [fiction]

Do Overs, Part 2:

Vree had agreed to meet with me after the game. She, Liam, and I, sat at the lower level of the bleachers behind the backstop and home plate.

She and I were older—she fifteen, about to turn sixteen in two months—and strangers. Liam and I were sixteen and born in February. He was eight days older and had his driver’s license. Vree planned to get hers in August.

She did not remember ever meeting me, so I pretended to have visited Ravenwood only once when I was five years old. But Liam caught me in my lie.

“You told Amy that you and Vree met two years ago,” he said, giving me the once-over all over again.

Flustered, I took in a deep breath and wound up my courage. It was time to tell the truth.

I told Vree about our first meeting, rescuing Laurie Burnett, Amy’s band ARC, The Roundhouse, and Nancy Pennwater Stephenson.

She did not know Nancy. Her parents were not the owners of The Roundhouse—Liam’s Uncle Paul owned the place and called it The Roundabout. She never sang in Amy’s band, which was The Amys and had been for almost three years. And, after punching me in the upper arm for mentioning it, she emphatically insisted she had never ever been pregnant and didn’t plan to be for several years.

Then she looked at me as if I had lost my mind.

“I know it sounds crazy,” I said, “but it happened. Ravenwood has changed. After the woman in white came, Ravenwood and everyone in it vanished. When it came back, an old man with a German shepherd lived in your house.” I omitted the vanishing cider mill, the yellow fairy, and Vree’s return when she told the fairy to take her home. “Now you’re back and almost everything about you is different. I don’t suppose your mom is named Deborah and works as a nurse at the hospital.”

“Her name is Karri. She’s a schoolteacher. She teaches ninth grade science.”

“And your dad is probably not a dentist named Charles.”

“His name is Michael. He was a lawyer until lightning struck and killed him last summer.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said. “So, is Vree still a nickname from your initials VRE?”

“Yes.”

I nodded. “Other than that, it seems I know very little about you … the new you.”

“What about me?” Liam asked. “How have I changed?”

“I don’t know you at all, though you remind me of a guy named Leonard who lives next door to one of my cousins. We call him Lenny. You look just like him.”

“I have to go,” Vree said when a white Chevy station wagon drove into the parking lot. Rubber tires crunched gravel before the car stopped some forty yards away. The driver—a dark-haired woman with very short hair—honked the horn.

“Is that your mom?” I asked.

“Yes.” Vree stood. “Maybe I’ll see you around,” she said before leaving.

“I should go, too,” Liam said when Vree’s mom pulled away and drove off with Vree riding shotgun.

He picked up his fishing rod and left me alone at the bleachers.

“You’re too close to your characters,” a woman said. I looked around, but no one was there. “You cannot see what’s happening until you distance yourself from them.”

I waited for her to say more.

She didn’t.

I stopped typing.

To be continued.

I Received A Super Sweet Blogging Award

A while ago, I was nominated for the Super-Sweet Blogging Award by Sumithra Sriram.

The rules are:

  •   Show-off the award on your blog.
  •   Thank the super-sweet blogger who nominated you.
  •   Answer five super-sweet questions about yourself.
  •   Nominate your favorite super-sweet bloggers.

Showing off my award:

Super Sweet Blogging Award

The super-sweet questions and my answers:

1. Cookies or cakes?

Cookies. There is probably no cookie that I don’t like.

2. Chocolate or vanilla?

Vanilla, whether it’s cake, ice cream, milk shakes, or the chips in my cookies.

3. Favorite sweet treat?

It’s a tie between homemade vanilla fudge and vanilla chip cookies.

4. When do you crave for sweets the most?

During work—probably because I deal with a lot of people, and people tend to complain a lot now more than ever before. Sweets keep my mind sharp and my nerves calm.

5. If you had a sweet nickname, what would it be?

I don’t know. I have been called Honey and Sweetie a lot. Either one will do, I guess.

I now nominate the following 9 super-sweet bloggers in no particular order, other than I find various amounts of sweetness at their blogs.

http://nackynice.wordpress.com/

http://deepthinkings.wordpress.com/

http://revealillusions.wordpress.com/

http://greenjamjar.com/

http://amymulvin.wordpress.com/

http://tangerinedey.wordpress.com/

http://mlatimerridley.com/

http://bottledworder.wordpress.com/

http://creativebarbwire.wordpress.com/

Ravenwood, Chapter 21 [fiction]

Do Overs, Part 1:

I stayed away from Ravenwood over the winter and didn’t visit again until almost the end of the school year, 1973. Baseball season was in full swing (pun intended) and so were preparations for final exams. I was feeling academic overload when I sat down at my typewriter that Saturday afternoon and decided to peek in on Ravenwood.

“She calls to you. She comes in many disguises. That is the way of Trickster,” a woman’s voice said as I entered the town at the eastern bank of Myers Creek beneath Cherry Street’s cement bridge. No one was there.

It was a warm sunny day, seventy degrees, and the perfect day to fish. I bobbed my fishing line and remembered the day I had met Vree at this spot.

The boy gave me the once-over after he slid down the creek’s embankment and entered the narrow strip of grassy underside below the steel bridge. “Hey,” he said to me, friendly but with a note of suspicion.

I said it back, then left him alone until his hook and bait were in the deep middle of the creek and a few cars had rumbled by overhead.

“Fish here often?” I asked when the disturbed dirt and dust had settled.

“Yeah.” He played his line. “Never seen you around before. Are you new to the neighborhood?”

I considered how to answer his question. “Just visiting,” I said.

He seemed okay with that, so I told him my name. He told me his: Liam Burkhart. “But my friends call me Lee.”

I smiled that he wanted us to be friends.

Liam

After we traded introductions, we did not speak again until I reeled in my empty hook, went to my tackle box, and closed it up. My head was full of thoughts about Vree and practically everything that had happened after I met her.

“Are you leaving?” he asked when I headed up the embankment.

“Looking up some old friends,” I said.

“Can I come along?”

I said okay and waited for him to reel in his line and catch up. We crossed the bridge and walked up the street. He said, “Who are they? Maybe I know them.”

“Dave and Amy Everly. They live on Myers Ridge.”

“I live on Myers Ridge,” Liam said. “Dave and Amy are my neighbors.”

I grinned. This was good news. I gambled my sudden happiness by asking, “Does their cousin, Vree Erikson, still live on Myers Ridge?”

“Do you know her?”

“We met a couple years ago.”

“She’s also a neighbor. She’s at a softball game.”

“Is she playing at the complex?” I asked. “I’d like to see her again.”

“Come on,” Liam said.

The ball fields were less than three blocks away. Liam led me to Vree’s game and we sat at the top row of the bleachers behind home plate. A pretty girl with curly brown hair sat a few feet to my right. She clapped and cheered for the team, New Gospel, to win.

“Who’s winning?” I asked her.

She stopped cheering and addressed me with a cool look. “Bottom of the seventh,” she said. “Nazarenes are up five to four.”

“I’m Steve,” I said, smiling at her. “Aren’t you Amy? Amy Everly?”

Amy

She squinted at me. “Do I know you?”

Apparently not.

“We met … briefly … a couple years ago.”

“He came to see Vree,” Liam said.

Amy pointed at home plate. “That’s her at bat.”

The teams wore no uniforms, just T-shirts and jeans. Most of the girls wore ball caps and had their hair in ponytails, including Vree. She began the final half-inning by fouling a pitch from the Nazarene Church’s ace pitcher, Jenny Blake. Amy told Liam and me that Jenny had been throwing hot strikes all game and was still striking out batters.

Vree fouled the second pitch, which cleared the backstop and practically landed in my lap. Unlike the last time, I threw the ball back onto the field.

Vree

With two strikes under her belt, Jenny Blake’s next pitch came in low. In her excitement to get a hit, Vree swung at the pitch and missed. The ball scooted under the catcher and zipped straight to the backstop. Vree, aware of this, never hesitated. She raced to first base as the catcher caught up with the ball and threw to first base. The speedy Vree beat the throw.

The next batter headed to the batter’s box.

“Just make contact, Kendra,” Amy yelled.

“Trying for the long ball,” the third baseman yelled out to her teammates. Then to Jenny, “Throw her the heat.”

Kendra hit the first pitch—bang—into deep centerfield. It cleared the chain-link fence for a home run.

We stood and cheered, then I turned to Amy and asked, “Do you still play guitar?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Yes. Why?”

“I remember you had a band called ARC.”

“No. I have a band called The Amys.”

“Really?”

“Yes. We have some songs on the town’s radio station. You should give it a listen.”

“I will,” I said to her fleeting backside as she sprinted down the bleachers.

On the ball field, the teams had lined up along the third base line in a game ending ritual of touching hands and saying “Good game.”

This was it. Game over. Soon, I would meet Vree for the first time all over again.

To be continued.

Writing To Tell and Show Us When and Where

Telling is narrative summary—no specific setting, characters, or dialogue—written by you, the author, because you know the story and its scenes and characters, so you end up telling us your story by communicating facts.

• The bad guys shot out the tires on the good guys’ SUV.

• Clarion was a mean warrior.

• Anna bought a nice old desk.

• I’ll never forget how miserable I felt after my dog died.

• Thrilled that he had won the big poker game, Carlos made a fool of himself.

• From the way she behaved in the crowded pub, you could tell Beatrice was attracted to the handsome stranger in the black shirt.

Showing a story is told from your main characters’ eyes, ears and other senses via description, action and dialogue. This allows understanding by using sensory details that are understandable to many readers: colors, weights, sizes, smells, sounds, etc. After all, showing is a sensual experience.

Potato chip crumbs in a man’s mustache say a great deal about his overall laziness and lack of ambition without saying so. A tree in which its limbs look like an exhausted fighter is appealing to the senses, not a tree that simply looks terrible. And a Rottweiler’s low growl that explodes into a heart-stopping bark is far more active and descriptive than writing that the barking dog scared you.

When writing, close your eyes and imagine what you would smell, hear, taste, see, and feel in your characters’ situation. Then do your best to capture the most important of those impressions as vividly—and uniquely—as possible. You want the scene to have immediacy for your reader. When you tell, you are usually looking at the scene but not listening or touching or smelling or tasting. You’re not slowing down long enough to capture the most outstanding details that

  1. define a character;
  2. clarify an action;
  3. help establish or intensify the mood;
  4. give the reader a reason to feel the emotions you want to express.

When defining your main characters, choose unique and extraordinary characteristics so that your readers could pick them out of a lineup.

Over time, personality becomes etched into the lines of the face and body, so emphasize a physical characteristic that reveals character. Do the angular planes of your hero’s face turn the soft light against it into a study in contrasts? Are his high cheekbones angry slashes, a sentiment echoed by the frown between his brows? Does your heroine hunch her shoulders as if she’s fighting a strong wind? Is her red hair braided so tight it looks like a licorice stick?

Adjectives and adverbs tell; they never move the action forward. When clarifying an action, verbs show. For example, an escalator that is tall and silver and filled with shoppers has little movement in the story. If, however, that escalator looms over you, mocking you with its steely teeth and sending shoppers to a place where a killer awaits, we have a whole different feel for the story as it moves us forward.

When writing action and mood intensifiers, look for adjectives and adverbs and nondescript words in your writing and get rid of them. They ate almost all the cake. What does this mean? Who are “they” and was there one piece of cake left or ten? Did they eat the top layer and leave the bottom?

Strong and exciting verbs show your story’s action and make your writing vivid and real. The boys dove into the cake, leaving nothing but a pile of crumbs. Now we knew who ate the cake, and how much remained.

Writing is emotionally powerful when it engages us—your readers—and shows specific details that enable us to reach a particular conclusion. The bell rang, startling Raven, and she bumped her textbook and sent a sheaf of papers tumbling to the floor. She had to wait until her classmates had clambered over her to clean up the mess. Her face hot, she stuffed the pages into her bag, jammed her pen into her purse, and stood so fast she nearly knocked over the man who stood there.

If you connect all the dots and then announce the conclusion for our benefit, the writing is less engaging for us.

Or, to put it another way, show smoke, and let us infer fire.

Here are rewrites of the earlier examples from the beginning of this article, this time showing the reader what’s happening. Note two things. First, that there are almost no adjectives—all sentences are carried by strong verbs. Second, I used only the sensory information that I believed most important.

• I heard gunfire. Both of the front tires burst, dropping my SUV onto its axle. Metal screamed against asphalt, and a shower of sparks hissed past my open door.

• Clarion rode with the rest of the knights, but always two horse-lengths ahead, ensuring “first kicking rights” to any commoners coming along and hoping for a scrap of food.

• Anna bought a solid oak, roll-top desk made in 1855 that contained a secret drawer triggered by a hidden spring.

• Oreo has been dead for three months. Dreams of him awake me at night. This morning I reached for his leash still hanging on my key hook next to the front door before I remembered.

• “Your silly blank stare was useless against my superior intellect!” Carlos laughed, as the vanquished lingerie model stared at him. “I have taken the pot with nothing more than a pair of threes. My bluff utterly destroyed your ass! Ha ha hah!”

• Beatrice tossed her hair and smiled from her table. The stranger at the bar had been scanning the room, and he noticed her this time. Wait—had he just put his hand over his heart? Or was he just brushing something off of his shirt? That shirt looked soft, she thought before she casually looked away, twirling a curl. She let her eyes bounce from random face to random face in the crowd, and found another excuse to toss her hair and smile. Carefully turning her profile, she crossed her legs the way she and her girlfriends had practiced in middle school. That should do it, she thought.

Go through every sentence of your manuscript and make sure three things are true:

1. Every word furthers the story, moves us forward and shows us something crucial. This is why it’s important to choose a few details, not overload the reader with every. single. one.

2. You have used vivid verbs—not sitting-there adjectives—to show your readers what is happening.

3. You have closed your eyes and thought about the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches in each scene. That you have shown your reader enough of that sensory information that they are experiencing the scene the same way you are.

Finally, there are times when it’s better to tell. Here are a few of those times:

During transitions. When you just need to get from one day to the next, don’t worry about the evening sunset, the darkness of night, and the morning mist. Just say something like “The next day…”

When you’re summarizing something that happened during a transition. Let’s say your character had a fight with her boyfriend before she left for work in the morning, and you want to convey that she has an okay rest of the day. You can write something like, “She made it through class and the rest of the afternoon without incident” and let it go at that.

When you’re talking about a minor character not important to the story.

Know when and how to show and tell your story effectively.