Vree’s Birthday [character development]

My character, Vree Erikson, was born April 30 in Ridgewood PA (a town I call Ravenwood in my early stories) on Walpurgis Night, aka Witches Night.

Her nickname Vree comes from her initials VRE from Verawenda Renee Erikson (also spelled Erickson in some of my stories).

At the time of this writing, she is and always has been 15 years old, born on the Eve of Beltane.

Her Earth Sign is Taurus (April 20–May 20).

Beltane, or Bealtaine, was a Celtic festival marking the arrival of summer in ancient times, celebrating Blodeuwedd (Goddess of Flowers) and Llew (Oak King, God of the Waxing Sun).

May 1st marked the beginning of summer—the season of growth and life for crops, animals, and people.

People continue to light great bonfires on the Eve of Beltane, April 30, in order to welcome the Earth Goddess. Participants hope to gain favor with this goddess so she will bless their families with procreative fertility.

In a different historical slant, the Eve of Beltane is Walpurgis Night, an abbreviation of Saint Walpurgis Night, also known as Saint Walpurga’s Eve (alternatively spelled Saint Walburga’s Eve). It is the eve of the Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess in Francia, and is celebrated on the night of April 30 and the day of May 1. This feast commemorates the canonization of Saint Walpurga and the movement of her relics to Eichstätt, both of which occurred on May 1, 870. Christians prayed to God through the intercession of Saint Walpurga in order to protect themselves from witchcraft, as Saint Walpurga was successful in converting the local populace to Christianity.

In parts of Christendom, people continue to light bonfires on Saint Walpurga’s Eve in order to ward off evil spirits and witches.

In Ridgewood/Ravenwood, however, it is a birthday for a girl who discovers she has magic abilities.

Let the fun begin.

A Story In Two Styles, part 2 [fiction]

The majority of the people I write about have normal lives, oblivious to the magical all around them, hidden in plain sight. Dave Evans is one of them. He is part of my small-town urban fantasy world.

I believe the urban fantasy story does not have to be rooted in the city. Urban fantasy can also roam into small towns, villages, and the countryside. There, the magic and weird stuff creep in at the edges of a world in which magic is not the norm but hidden in plain sight. Everything appears normal. The people who live there have normal lives, oblivious to the magic around them.

I know it’s a trope that has become cliché, but small-town urban fantasy is my favorite cliché and I do not plan to ever stop using it in my stories.

In this story, which is another draft of yesterday’s story, Dave’s last name is Conrad.

He is one of the first characters I created—I wrote many baseball stories about him before he had his first encounter with ghosts.

Bottom of the Seventh

Subtitled, “Keeping Love Alive”

Dave Conrad’s pleasant expression changed to one of wildness mixed with flight. The air in the dugout had become thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the oxygen from June’s cerulean sky over Ridgewood High School’s baseball field.

The six o’clock sun seemed to spark Holly Sorenson’s long, soft blonde hair. A halo of white surrounded her from the funeral dress she wore. But she was no angel. Anger and hatred burned in her eyes.

A chill entered Dave’s blue and white pinstriped uniform and gripped his back. Did anyone else see her? He quashed the idea of asking his teammates when she glared at him.

Coach Walker drew Dave’s attention when he cleared his throat and spat. The doorway at the far right end of the dugout framed his short and heavy body. “Pray we all make contact with our bats this inning and score some runs,” he said as he looked out at the visiting team on the ballfield. His Ridgewood Junior Varsity Fighting Eagles were undefeated this year. But tonight they were two runs behind the New Cambridge Yellow Jackets as the bottom of the seventh—the final inning of the final game of the season—awaited the Fighting Eagles.

He removed his Navy blue ball cap and bowed his baldhead.

The team was quiet at their seats on the long wooden bench inside the dugout until he said “amen” and took his spot along third base.

“We can hit this pitcher,” Miles Kibler said, three players down from Dave. “My fastball and curve are a lot better than his.”

“Yeah! We can hit this guy,” Jimmy Franklin, their catcher, said. He sat next to Miles and champed his bubblegum between sentences. “We’ve done it before. Come on.”

Assistant Coach Andrews stepped from the shadows at the dugout’s far end. “Stay focused,” he said. “This is your game. Never give up.”

He called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. Dave stood, responding to the third name called. The players clapped loud and in unison for a moment as their assistant coach loped to his spot along first base.

The cheering came to a slow end and Dave’s gaze wandered again through the wire mesh of a window behind him, to the fifth row bench behind home plate, and the girl sitting there.

He looked away when Holly glared again.

He had to focus on the game

“Stay in the zone,” he whispered.

A baseball cracked off a bat. The Ridgewood fans and players jumped to their feet and cheered as Jimmy Franklin’s base hit shot between the first and second basemen.

Dave put on his batter’s helmet and took his place inside the on-deck circle outside the dugout’s doorway.

Holly glowed with a heavenly whiteness … and chilled him from the hellish anger on her face.

She vanished from view when the fans in front of her jumped to their feet.

Tyler Jones had laced a hot bouncing double between left field and center field. The centerfielder caught up to the ball and threw it to his shortstop, keeping Jimmy from rounding third base and scoring.

The Yellow Jackets’ coach called for a pitcher change and Coach Walker lumbered over to Dave’s side.

“Keep the rally going,” he said, huddling close to Dave. “Get the ball into the outfield. We need you to score Jimmy from third.”

He slapped the top of Dave’s helmet before he returned to his coaching spot.

The new pitcher threw nothing but heat during his warmup pitches.

Dave’s attention waned. Where had Holly gone?

“Focus,” Dave told himself.

He had stayed away from her funeral and her gravesite. And now she had been here, giving him the stink eye. She hated him.

The home plate umpire bellowed “Batter up.”

Dave hurried into the batter’s box, dug his cleats into the dirt, and swung his bat menacingly at the pitcher.

The catcher taunted him with “No batter no batter no batter” and the pitcher nodded to his catcher.

Dave stumbled from the batter’s box, certain he had lost his mind.

The pitcher looked like Holly wearing a black and gold baseball uniform. She spat and glowered darkly at Dave from the pitcher’s mound.

“Batter up,” the umpire bellowed again.

Dave returned to the batter’s box and tried to stand tall on wobbly legs. “This isn’t real,” he whispered, then shot to the ground as a fastball raced at him and missed his head.

He glared back at Holly. “Are you trying to kill me?”

She vanished from the pitcher.

“You killed me,” she screamed in Dave’s head.

He grimaced from the blast of pain there.

He and Holly stood at the downtown playground and park where she had pitched the murderous baseball to him last month. It had been a gloating demonstration on his part of how far he could hit the ball. But the ball had gone straight off his bat instead of lifting and sailing over the trees by the banks of Myers Creek. The ball struck her sternum and stopped her heart. His foolish showboating killed the girl he loved.

He recalled calling 911 on his phone and weeping over Holly lying dead in the dirt.

“I prayed for you not to be dead. But it did no good.”

“You never came to my funeral,” Holly said. “You’ve never visited my grave. You do not love me.”

“I do. It’s just that I could not bear to see you dead. Please forgive me.”

“I cannot forgive a coward,” Holly said. Her declaration was as painful to his heart as the pain knifing through his head.

His heart stopped beating. He pushed the fear of death from his mind and tried hard to keep breathing.

“You were everything to me. That is why I fell apart when you died. I stopped going to school until my parents made me.”

Darkness swallowed him. He struggled to continue.

“I love you. Always will. I’d do anything to bring you back. Even trade places if it meant you could live again.”

“You would die for me?”

“Yes.”

Sweet air filled his lungs. He drank it in and gasped from the sudden euphoria he felt.

A hand gripped his left arm and pulled him from the darkness.

“Are you okay?” Coach Walker asked as he brought Dave to his feet.

Dave’s vision cleared but a headache pounded. Something like fingers massaged the inside of his skull until the headache became a dull throb.

“I’m good.” He dusted dirt from his uniform and picked up his bat. Then he waited for his coach to settle in the coach’s box before he stepped to the plate.

“You can do this.” Holly said. Her voice was like a gentle breeze to his ears.

He grinned at the pitcher who no longer looked like Holly as he readied himself for the next pitch.

It came fast, but seemed to loom large and white.

He swung his bat and the Ridgewood dugout and bleachers erupted with cheers as the ball flew from his bat and headed into leftfield, lifting high until it passed over the fence.

“Run,” Holly said. Again, her voice was like a gentle breeze.

Dave dropped the bat and hurried around the bases, meeting his teammates at home plate where they mobbed him as soon as his feet touched home with the winning run.

As the sun slipped beneath the tree-lined slopes of Ridgewood Cemetery an hour later, he sat at Holly’s grave and talked to her—mortal to spirit. He promised to visit her every day. And she promised to be there for him … always.

#

A Story In Two Styles, part 1 [fiction]

I love writing stories. I began when I was around eight or nine years old and I have not stopped.

I wrote the first draft of the following short story during 1972/73. It is an untypical baseball story featuring Dave Evans. When I wrote later drafts, I ended up with two that I liked. The first is below and is closer to the original draft, presented in Now and Then parts. The second story is darker—a bit menacing, which I will post tomorrow.

I like the first one for its light innocence, but the second one has a bite to it that makes it exciting to read.

Bottom of the Seventh

Subtitled, “Soft Like Butter”

Now

He is Dave Evans, a tenth-grader at Ridgewood High School. He has on his white baseball uniform with blue pinstripes. Today is the first Thursday in June and the last day of school. It is also the last regulation Junior Varsity baseball game of the season.

His team huddles at the bench inside their dugout. It is the bottom of the seventh inning, the team’s last chance to score two runs and win the game. Coach Walker reminds the players of that when Dave peeks past the wire mesh next to him, out at the blonde-haired girl sitting in the third row bleachers behind the dugout. The evening sun seems to spark a halo around her hair and white dress, making her look like an angel.

She lifts her face and he looks away to avoid making eye contact.

“Is it really her?” his friend Lenny Stevens asks from his seat next to Dave. He twists and cranes his head to get a better look at her.

“You see her too,” Dave says, glad he has not lost his sanity.

Coach Walker’s pep talk ends with, “No matter how this game ends, it’s been a great year.”

Has it? Dave sneaks another glance at Julie Sommers, then looks away and tries to focus on the game. Coach Walker, a short, heavy man who has a passion for pepperoni pizza, ambles to his spot at the third base coach’s box and gives his first batter, Alan Richards, signals. Alan watches attentively from home plate, then hurries into the batter’s box, looking eager to start a rally.

Dave leans against Lenny and whispers, “I wish this was over.”

“Do you think she still loves you?” Lenny asks.

Dave closes his eyes. “I wasn’t a very good boyfriend.”

Then

“She was the prettiest girl at that party,” Dave said to Lenny in the lunchroom at school almost a month ago. They sat across from each other and kept their voices low. “Remember? It was at my snooty cousin Lisa’s house, during a party for her fourteenth birthday. You were already there, in my Aunt Debbie’s indoor swimming pool, when I got there. She yelled at me when I cannonballed into the deep end. Lisa and some other girls were playing Blind Man’s Bluff there and they surrounded Julie who was blindfolded. She was trying to tag them.”

“Is that when I hit you with the beach ball?” Lenny asked.

“Yeah. I turned around and saw you laughing over at the shallow end. That’s when Julie stumbled into me. She fell and pulled me underwater with her. I squirmed around and the next thing I knew, we were arm in arm and face to face. She took off her blindfold, smiled at me, then pushed away and returned to her game.

“I could have kissed her—our faces were less than an inch apart.”

Lenny nodded. “You should have kissed her.”

Now

The Ridgewood fans cheer and some of them jump to their feet when Alan laces a single over the second baseman’s head. The New Cambridge Yellow Jackets shout encouragement to their pitcher.

Dave glances again at Julie. Staying focused on anything has been difficult. His grades have taken a turn for the worse. And that is when his hitting slump started, when—

“Fire in the hole,” someone shouts as players in the dugout dodge and dive around Dave and bring him out of his reverie.

The foul ball skirts past his knees, ricochets off the bench, and sails back onto the field. He sneaks another glance at Julie. Her face and hair glow more luxurious as the evening sun sinks toward the horizon.

Then

The evening sun glowed through a window inside the Pizza Hut and lit up Julie’s perfect face. She was like an artist’s finest creation. To be in her presence made Dave a nervous wreck.

He stood at the counter, gnawed on his chewing gum, and urged Lenny to hurry and pay for their pizza and go.

“You should say hi before we leave,” Lenny said.

“She’s working.”

“So?”

“I don’t want her to get fired.”

Julie picked up her tray from the table she had just bussed and headed toward Dave. Lenny had to hammer him on the back to dislodge the gum wedged against his windpipe.

When Dave could breathe again, he stepped in front of Julie before she could enter the kitchen and bumped her tray, knocking over a glass of half-finished iced tea. It spilled down the front of Julie’s uniform.

She shrieked, then hurried into the kitchen and left behind a dumbfounded Dave.

Now

Lenny pokes him in the ribs with a bony elbow and tells him he is on deck. Dave seems to float from his seat and to the on-deck circle in foul territory. He swings a weighted bat and dreams of hitting another home run for beautiful Julie Sommers.

Then

After that horrible event at Pizza Hut, Dave entered a funk and spent some time at a safe distance from Julie.

When baseball season started at school, she came to his first game. He did not know she was there until after he hit a homerun to end a tie game. She came to the dugout and asked, “What’s it like to hit a game-winning homerun?”

Dave was speechless. His mouth seemed to petrify.

Why was she here, talking to him?

“I’m the sports reporter for the school paper,” she said.

It felt like several long minutes had passed before he could work his voice again. Julie had turned away and was speaking to Coach Walker when Dave blurted, “It’s such a wonderful feeling when a batter connects with the ball and hits the perfect hit.”

“And what is the perfect hit?” she asked, turning back to him.

“It’s when the ball feels soft against the bat when a batter makes contact. Sometimes there is barely a feeling at all.”

“How soft does it feel?”

“Really soft, like the ball is made of…” His mind scrambled to think of the right word.

“Soft like rubber?” she asked.

“Softer. Creamier. Smoother.”

“Like butter?”

Yes. Like hitting butter. She was perfect.

“Would you like to go on a date?” she asked.

Again, Dave’s mouth seemed to petrify.

“You can let me know at school tomorrow,” she said with a smile before walking away.

Now

Dave puts on a batter’s helmet. The scoreboard behind the centerfield fence shows two outs. He wonders if Petey Jackson, his teammate at bat, will be the final out. Petey answers his question by placing a hot bouncing double between leftfield and centerfield. The center fielder is quick to get to the ball. He throws it to his shortstop, keeping Alan Richards from rounding third base and scoring the tying run.

The Yellow Jackets’ coach calls for a pitcher change and Coach Walker is quick to get to Dave.

“Forget about those last two strikeouts,” he says, which causes those last two strikeouts to loom large in Dave’s mind. “Just relax and make contact. Like hitting butter.”

Dave steals a glance at Julie. Coach Walker places a beefy hand on Dave’s thin shoulder. “You can do this. Empty your mind of everything around you and focus only on the ball.”

Dave nods and tries to ignore the anxiety dancing across his back.

“Like hitting butter.”

Then

“A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter,” Dave and Lenny sang out as they walked beneath the gentle May sun to Maynard’s grocery store downtown. Lenny held out his mom’s shopping list of bread, milk and butter, which the boys found hilarious since it mimicked one of their favorite segments from television’s Sesame Street.

“You should go out with her,” Lenny said.

“Who? Julie?”

Lenny laughed. “Of course. I hear she’s really into you.”

Dave forced his fists into his jeans front pockets. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Come on, you have to do this while she still has feelings for you. But if you keep turning her down, you’re going to lose her.”

Dave shook his head and Lenny continued his campaign.

They carried on for several blocks to downtown until an ambulance screamed past them toward the hospital. A female police officer guided them across the street at Main and Elm intersection where broken glass from an accident still littered the street. A tow truck drove away with one of the cars from the accident. Another police officer directed traffic around the other damaged car still in the intersection.

An elderly woman at Maynard’s told them that a car had run a red light and hit another car broadside. The drivers from the cars were okay, she said. However, a young girl in the second car was in critical condition.

Dave and Lenny reflected on their own mortality. It frightened them to think about death coming suddenly and taking one of them away.

Now

Dave looks one more time at Julie, enters the batter’s box, digs his cleats into the dirt, and swings his bat menacingly at the replacement pitcher.

“No batter no batter no batter,” the Yellow Jackets’ catcher taunts.

The pitcher nods to his catcher, checks Alan Richards taking a big lead from third base, glances at Petey Jackson stepping away from second base, then delivers a letter high fastball that blows past Dave.

“Stee-rike one!” the umpire bellows.

Coach Walker gives Dave a nod and raises his thumbs.

Dave steps back in the batter’s box. The pitcher eyeballs Alan who steps off the bag as the third baseman leans toward third base. Nothing happens, so Dave steps out of the batter’s box and sniff at the dust in the air. And Julie’s rosy perfume.

She has vanished from her seat.

“Butter pitch,” she says; her voice is like a small echo in Dave’s ears. “Let’s hit the ball and end this game.”

Dave shivers from the strange sensation of Julie’s soul inside him.

“Batter up,” the umpire says.

Dave gulps, nods, and enters the batter’s box on wobbly legs. The pitcher nods to his catcher and throws a chin-high fastball. He knows not to swing at it, but an unfamiliar urge forces him to swing anyway.

The bat strikes the baseball.

“Like hitting butter,” Julie says.

The ball shoots high above leftfield and clears the fence.

Dave circles the bases, a hero who is unsure of what happened. His teammates mob him at home plate.

He retrieves his baseball glove from the dugout and slips away from Lenny and the others as he heads away from the high school. Ridgewood Cemetery sits across the street. The sinking sun plays shadows across the gentle hills of tombs and headstones. He stops at a large, pink marble headstone at a fresh grave. A breeze stirs through the trees and he enjoys its warmth, which is so like Julie’s love.

He speaks quietly to her soul still inside him. They talk—boy and girl, mortal and spirit—until, in the final moments of twilight, a cool breeze stirs through the trees of the cemetery and he leaves Julie behind.

But before he goes, he embraces her love one last time.

#

Introducing Owen [character development]

I think all young writers began telling their stories in first-person point of view.

I did, fifty years ago. I wrote many of my stories at school, but I did it at a different level than my classmates by making myself a character in my stories. A few teachers suggested I replace “me, Steve Campbell, the I character” with a narrator that had a different name to prevent confusing my readers. So, I reluctantly created Owen Burkhart to be my narrator.

Actually, I already had a character named Owen Burkhart. He was a 9-year-old boy who lived across the street from an old woman whom he thought was a witch. I had written his story (not very well) in third-person point of view, so I changed it to first-person and he became my new narrator.

He went through a few more name changes over the years, but he was always Vree’s confidant. His story has always been about her, which is why I want to tell her story from his viewpoint.

I have not decided on how to tell his story about Vree. I have a problem with first-person point of view, so this project may end up in my Unfinished Projects drawer.

Whichever the outcome, their story begins with a mystery.

Vree is interested in photography, so she snaps a photo of her new, remodeled home with her new digital camera. Owen watches her from his front yard. She seems bewildered, so he goes to her. She shows him the digital image and thinks something is wrong with her camera. The image shows the house, sky, and parts of the property washed out of their color. Owen takes a picture of the house with her camera and the same thing happens. Vree is convinced her camera is damaged until Owen photographs the house with a different camera. Those pictures look fine.

Something is wrong with the house!

Owen tells her that a witch used to live in the house until she died. (See my last post, “Searching for Gems in Backstory.”) This sets in motion the idea that Vree lives in a haunted house. Her parents cannot explain the odd photos other than either mechanical or battery failure caused it, and they promise her that the last owner was not a witch and the house is not haunted.

Feeling alone, she turns to Owen. And so begins their friendship through the thick and thin phenomena of my favorite subject to write about: Fantasy, with many of its sub-genres, including magic, the paranormal, and the supernatural at its forefront.

Finding Gems in Backstory [character development]

Before Ravenwood became a place in my stories, there was Myers Lake, named after Alice Myers, an old woman who lived alone in an ancient Victorian mansion at the lake. She had no living relatives and was always alone—well, she had several cats to keep her company and there was the local pastor who mowed her lawn and trimmed her hedges in the summer, but no other person ever visited. And so, rumors and stories sprang up among the kids in the neighborhood that her house was haunted and that she kept to herself because she was a witch. One of those kids was 9-year-old Owen Burkhart who lived across the street from the “witch’s house.” He had heard about missing pets ending up as stews in Old Lady Myers’s kitchen, so he was cautious not to let Max, his Toy Fox Terrier, off its leash. Every day he had to deal with the suspicion that his neighbor was evil and to trespass on her property was a serious omen that something terrible would happen to him, which is why he played in the backyard behind his house out of sight of Old Lady Myers and her evil house.

It was the last day of school when he came running home, excited to start summer vacation, and saw the coroner’s hearse leaving the driveway at the witch’s house. Old Lady Myers had died. But the bad omen he felt about the property never left him. Someone threw a rock and broke a front window at the old house. The lawn grew into brambles and weeds. By the time Fourth of July came, the place looked spookier than ever before, and rumors had started that Old Lady Myers’s ghost now haunted the place.

Owen wanted to move far away from that creepy house. But a pretty girl changed his mind when she and her family moved into the place and fixed it up.

Over the years, Owen’s story grew in breadth and depth. A town sprang up from my imagination and surrounded Myers Lake—first called White Raven, then Ravenwood, and eventually Ridgewood. Myers Lake became Alice Lake. The pretty girl became Vree Erikson. And Owen Burkhart became Kenny Douglas for a while, then Liam Burkhart, and then Lenny Stevens—same boy, different names. Those versions of Owen have him 15 years old and living on Myers Ridge when Vree and her family move into that haunted house and he comes to her aid. You can read a published version of that story idea, which features Lenny, still available to download free at Smashwords in a stand-alone book called Margga’s Curse.

A gem in that story is two strangers—boy and girl—bonding and working toward a common goal. When I was nine, this was easy for me to do. I saw a boy or girl around my age, I talked to them and made their acquaintance unless the other kid was super shy. But I don’t recall any 9-year-old being shy. That came later, especially at age 15 when hormones had kicked in and we knew without sitting through those tortuous Human Health classes that we had sexual organs for the sole purpose of reproducing our species. At 15, it wasn’t easy anymore for boys to make the acquaintance of the new girl next door. And I know it wasn’t easy for girls to be comfortable around boys, either. Every day, we fought the Call of the Wild to talk to each other. Honesty went out the window and we pretended nothing was amiss.

I wrote earlier this month that I have grown weary of writing about teens. A more accurate statement would have been, “I have grown weary of publishers wanting me to give my teen characters positive sexual relationships.”

I know today’s teenagers live differently than when I was a teen. Even their parents lived differently. I was 18 when Judy Blume’s controversial young adult book Forever was published. The main character, Katherine, has a positive sexual relationship described in detail. Since then, sexual descriptions in YA books is relatively commonplace these days. And some books focus squarely on sex as a theme.

But I don’t want sex to promote the sales of my books. And it shouldn’t be used to sell anything else, either.

When I write a story, I may touch on that teenage angst and awkwardness that I mentioned earlier, but I’m not going to have scenes with my characters copulating. And that includes my adult characters.

The gems of my stories are how well people get along and work together for a common goal. For Owen and Vree (and Kenny, Liam, and Lenny) when they are 9, 15, or any age, that common goal is having each other’s back through the thick and thin of it.

And if they have sex, let it happen offstage.

My Lead Character Needs a Career

Long ago, I typecasted Vree as a main character-of-interest with an INFP personality. For the most part, INFPs are highly curious, inquisitive, innovative, highly creative, and people who enjoy doing things by themselves … ALONE. Vree has always been an excellent artist, but one who enjoys working in solitude. It’s difficult to craft action stories around a person who would rather be alone making art than being center stage, resolving a central story problem. It’s like trying to pound a large square peg through a small round hole. The writer must spend extra time whittling the character down until she is cooperative, supportive, and flexible with people trying to help her, while being passionate and energetic enough to put her own personal stamp on her work. Sometimes, finding the passion and drive in an INFP character who would rather be somewhere else, doing something else, alone, is maddening.

But I digress. Vree needs a career appropriate to her personality.

In past stories, I experimented with making her a minister. This idea came from the book, Do What You Are (third edition, 2001), by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. The book was—and still is—a useful reference for creating character personalities based on the 16 types (discussed in my last post), and to give my characters jobs. For the INFP, Do What You Are lists careers in Arts, Education, Counseling, Religion, Health Care, Organizational Development, and Technology.

From Arts, I chose Artist, Writer: poet/novelist/journalist, Editor, Architect, and Musician as possible careers for Vree. After all, can’t she have more than one career?

From Education, Counseling, and Health Care, College Professor of humanities/art, High School Counselor/Nurse, and Librarian interested me.

I passed over Technology and Organizational Development because I could never see Vree satisfied working in a business field. However, websites such as indeed.com and truity.com claim that INFPs’ sensitivity to the emotions of others and their supportive nature makes them valuable team members with people that have similar passions of discussing complex topics, being creative, and use big-picture thinking.

Still, I can’t see Vree working 9 to 5 in a diverse and technology focused high-stress business, dealing with sales, customers, and meetings. She would lose her mind.

She needs lots of quiet time, which is why I made her a minister—an ideal job for an INFP character because it allows her to be on her own when her church is not in session. In 2006, I co-authored and published a short story based on this idea at my old blog. I changed Vree’s name in the story, which I always did when I published stories about Vree when she wasn’t a teenager—I was never committed to write about a grownup Vree until now. As a bonus, I have attached that story at the end of this post.

I can still see Vree as a minister. She could paint and sell her art at shows, write novels, work part-time in a library, and write, sing, and record her own music for an independent record label. Would that leave her time for a husband, her obligations as a minister, and some rest and recreation to recharge? I don’t know. But I’m willing to make her that kind of character.

Next on the agenda, I must consider where she lives, what sort of home life she has, and what her husband’s personality is like. Stay tuned.

And now, as promised, story time:

Haunted

Co-authored with Lola Gentry-Dey, 2015.

How could such a beautiful house be haunted? To know the place, it looked no different from any other Victorian country house in Ridgewood.

Reverend Gloria Jackson walked the estate’s sunny grounds that October evening and sensed the leftover energy of a time when wealthy Victorians spent an incredible amount of time socializing inside their homes. In Victorian America, nothing displayed your status like your house, and the house of a successful Victorian family was more than merely a home; it was a statement of their taste, wealth, and education. This house was one of them, preserved to remain impressive through time by superb artisanship and great care. Sprawling over half an acre, with its neatly manicured lawn and shrubbery, it seemed at first glance the most unlikely of places to house demonic spirits.

“Fiona was calling forth the dead,” Melissa Bay told Gloria after dinner later that Friday night. Melissa, a strong-backed woman, sat across from Gloria at the long table. Richard sat to Melissa’s right inside the spacious dining room.

“That’s an alarming statement,” Gloria said.

“It’s true.” Richard sounded ashamed. “She wrote all about her occult doings in her diary.”

When Gloria asked what diary he meant, he fetched a black leather book atop a china cabinet. Gloria leafed through the diary and listened over a glass of tawny port.

Melissa said, “As you know, reverend, when her husband Charles died this past summer, Fiona withdrew. But she seemed happiest inside her library, so we left her alone to paint and read there. It was the library she withdrew to after the funeral. She barely ever left that room.

“Then I discovered this morning that she had locked herself inside. She refused to let me in. Her voice sounded agitated … upset, so I called Richard.”

“I had to kick in the door,” Richard said. “And that’s when, crazy as it sounds, she wasn’t there — and all the windows were locked.

“Even crazier was when we found a Ouija board and tarot cards inside, as well as her diary which tells of how she has been trying over the past several months to conjure up my father’s spirit.” Sadness and confusion twisted his features into a horrible grimace. “What’s happening?” he asked. “What has she done?” He shook his head and groaned before Gloria could answer. “Until today, I never believed in the paranormal, the metaphysical.” He searched Gloria’s face for answers. “What happened to my mother?”

Gloria’s wine glass flew from the table and shattered against the stone fireplace across the room. The Bible she had brought with her—which she had placed the diary on top of—followed her glass. The diary remained unmoved.

Surprised, Gloria and Melissa yelped. Richard cried out, “Mother.” He jumped to his feet. “Is that you?”

The air turned frigid and burned against Gloria’s cheeks. She felt a winter-blooming nip at the tips of her ears and nose.

Richard yelled at the room. “Where are you? Show yourself. Please.”

Large and heavy books thumped to the floor inside the library across the hall from the dining room. Then the chill left and all quieted.

Richard settled his nerves with a hearty gulp from the wine bottle—glasses and etiquette be damned, Gloria reckoned, considering the circumstances. Richard went to the library door where either he or Melissa had nailed a cross to the damaged door as Gloria had instructed earlier during their phone conversation. Richard cursed all that is holy. When he finished, he said, “Exorcise the place, reverend. Whatever my mother has done, fix it. Please.”

Gloria joined him at the door. It had taken great force to open the large oak door. She fingered the splintered wood. “Tell me about the voices,” she said.

“Whispers,” Melissa said as she joined them. “Vague chattering whispers.”

“And laughing,” Richard added. “A woman’s laugh, but not my mother’s.”

Gloria removed the cross from the door and stepped inside the library. A chandelier lit the room and seemed to turn the oak bookshelves and furniture to gold. She helped Richard and Melissa replace the toppled books, many of them art history texts and artists biographies. Outside the room’s tall, rectangular windows, the night had become pitch black. A clock inside the dining room chimed seven o’clock.

A painter’s large easel stood near a window. As Gloria looked at the portrait, the unfinished canvas showed the swift strokes of a seasoned painter. Fiona Bay had sketched her subject with lines of umber and sienna, whisked in golden hues next to gentle blues and pink, and had started forming the glow of flesh with buttery mounds of paint. The woman in the unfinished portrait seemed to be dressed in multicolored satin linens and silk scarves. Her face was promising the color of the finest gold, ruby and sapphire. Her eyes sparkled emerald green and sky blue. Her unpainted long hair flowed down a seemingly endless body of shapely beauty.

“Absolutely beautiful,” Gloria said of the painting and the subject. “She looks familiar. Who is she?”

“I don’t know,” Richard said. “No one has been to the house to sit. My mother likes her time alone, even before father died.”

Gloria looked back at the painting. The cheeks and mouth were refined, as though someone had added paint to the portrait while she had looked away.

She looked away and back again. There was no mistaking it: The painting appeared to be painting itself.

Melissa screamed. “The light. At her easel. What is it?”

Gold light grew suddenly in front of the easel. Inside the brightness, an apparition of Fiona painted with excitement. Unaware of Richard, Melissa and Gloria, Fiona rushed her canvas and painted, and then stepped back to admire her work before repeating the process.

At Fiona’s side was her soul-stealing succubus dressed in a multicolored chiffon robe.

“Keeley.” The color fell from Gloria’s face. Even the fearful cry of the female demon’s name somehow permeated the room with beauty.

“Who is Keeley?” Richard asked.

Gloria’s throat tightened. “Someone I thought I’d never see again.” She thrust her Bible at arm’s length. She had to save Fiona, no matter the consequences. “Set her loose, demon.”

Keeley laughed. Tittered, actually. “The poet is a ministrant. Oh, my long-ago lover, what have I done to you?” She took a step forward and her robe flowed with her.

Gloria told her to stay back, but Keeley advanced slowly, her gaze fixed on Gloria.

Melissa grasped Gloria’s left arm. “Reverend, who are you talking to?”

Gloria thrust her Bible into Melissa’s arms. “Count to ten, then you and Richard go to Fiona. Get her out of here while I distract the demon. Then lock the door and bar it with another crucifix.”

“I see no one,” Richard cried out. “Only that strange light around my mother’s easel.”

“Go into the light, Richard. Your mother is there. You must pull her out while I distract the demon.”

Before he could object or ask any more questions and put all their lives at risk, Gloria rushed into Keeley’s warm, tender and passionate embrace. Evil was not always cold.

“I knew I’d find you again,” Keeley said. Her fervent kiss fell upon Gloria’s lips. Her spicy smell and taste came delivered more delicious than Gloria remembered. Keeley’s long, soft hair—now a gorgeous mélange of burnt sienna, gold, and black—brushed Gloria’s face. It aroused her, but not as it had done more than twenty years ago when she and Keeley were college students.

Within Gloria’s concerned gaze, Richard and Melissa pulled Fiona from the room. Fiona struggled but Keeley’s hold on her had weakened. Gloria expected Keeley to intervene. She didn’t. Her mouth writhed wickedly against Gloria’s and her eyes fluttered with passion.

The door slammed shut. Fiona was safe on the other side.

The kiss ended and Keeley’s embrace weakened. She took the cross from Gloria’s hand and dropped it to the floor. “We won’t need this where we’re going,” Keeley said. Her teeth penetrated Gloria’s neck.

Gloria’s concerns fell away as she plunged into a familiar world of darkness she found both sinful and heavenly.

# # #

New Vree [character development]

Creating a new, older Vree with a different story to tell will void much of the old blogs about her, including her diary, which I published sections of it at Vree’s Journal. But that’s okay. This project is all about change, after all.

The biggest changes will be to her relationships, education, and residence. Also, I need to determine what and where her employment is. It’s important I know her as best I can since she is the anchor character of my novel. And because there will be a past and present version of her, I need to know what she was like in the past, as well as what she is like in the present.

Her childhood personality will be easy to create since I have a lot of material to work with. She has always had an INFP personality.

INFP is an acronym that describes one of the sixteen personality types created by Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers. It stands for Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving.

If you look at this as a 4-stage growth process, then Introverted is stage one. This is Vree’s dominant personality, which developed after her birth and remained her primary personality until she was 12. During this stage, spending time alone energized her. She

  • avoided being center of attention,
  • was more private; preferred to share personal information with select few,
  • listened more than talked,
  • kept enthusiasm to herself,
  • responded slowly; thought things through inside her head, then acted.

iNtuitive is stage two and is Vree’s secondary personality. It came into play at around age 12 and pulled ahead until she was 25. During this stage, she focused on ideas and concepts rather than facts and details. She

  • valued imagination and innovation,
  • became general and figurative; used metaphors and analogies,
  • presented information in leaping, roundabout manner.

Stage three, Feeling, is where Adult Vree will be in parts of my story. This stage of her personality began when she was 25; it will remain the better part of her until she is 50. During this time, she makes decisions based on feelings and values. She

  • values empathy and harmony,
  • considers the effect of her actions on others,
  • likes to please others; shows appreciation easily,
  • may be seen as overemotional, illogical, and weak,
  • considers it important to be tactful as well as truthful,
  • strongly desires to be appreciated.

After Vree reaches 50, stage four, Perceiving, will kick in. Then she will prefer to be spontaneous and flexible rather than planned and organized. She will

  • have an “enjoy now, finish job later” play ethic,
  • change her life goals as new information becomes available,
  • like adapting to new situations,
  • derive satisfaction from doing new things.

Teen Vree

Verawenda Renee Erikson

  • 15; Straight, shoulder length blonde hair parted in middle;
  • Light blue eyes;
  • Light, fair, peach skin; Rarely wears makeup;
  • 5’ 9”/Lean; has strong legs—prefers jogging to clear mind;
  • Prefers wearing casual clothes—favorite color is blue;
  • Introverted; Artistic—loves to create; Talented artist/painter;
  • Prefers being alone with her thoughts—finds bliss in solitude;
  • Born in Ravenwood, 7/28 to Michael and Karri Erikson;
  • Only child; Lives at 34115 Ridge Road in green and brown ranch home;
  • Attends Ravenwood High School—10th grade;
  • Father is lawyer; Mother is vice principal at Ravenwood High School;
  • First name is from maternal great-grandmother, Emma Verawenda (Ackerman) Myers;
  • Middle name is from maternal grandmother, Margaret Renee (Myers) Unger;
  • Nickname comes from initials VRE

Describe Teen Vree in one word: Thinker.

Grownup Vree

Perhaps no other personality type struggles as much to find a satisfying career as the INFP.

Although intelligent and creative, Vree will loathe to “sell her soul” for a paycheck. Similarly, she may hate the rigid schedules, inflexible expectations, repetitiveness, and workplace politics that accompany the typical 9-to-5 job. For this reason, she may drift from career to career, eventually succumbing to social and financial pressures and ending up in a job that is not right for her in the first place.

However, her INFP personality can bring a lot to the table—and there are many satisfying INFP careers. She may find rewarding work as a professor, author, designer, freelancer, independent business owner, social worker, counselor, psychologist, artist, veterinarian, or physical therapist. Really, any career can have meaning for Vree if it allows her to creatively solve problems, help others, and have a degree of independence.

So far, this is what I know about her:

Verawenda Burkhart

  • 27; Shoulder length hair—wears ponytails at home;
  • Married childhood friend Owen Burkhart at 23;
  • Lives at 3175 Lakeview Drive, Alice Lake in Ravenwood;
  • Wears dressy and stylish pant suits at work—jeans, sweats, flannels at home;
  • More sociable, energetic, talkative; Kind, sympathetic, happy to help;
  • Still paints;
  • Still lean; jogs, yoga in spare time; Caver in summer—several caves around Alice Lake;
  • Father is still lawyer; Mother is now principal at Ravenwood High;
  • Wants a child before she’s 30

Describe Grownup Vree in one word: Proficient.

Finding the ideal career

In my next post, I will determine the best career choice for Vree by referencing vocational guidance websites and books.

Ravenwood’s Direction [writing news]

It was 1970 and I was 13 when I created Ravenwood, a fictional town modeled after my hometown in northwest Pennsylvania. I wrote my stories as a diary, telling firsthand adventures with a central character named Vree Erikson. Her complete name was Verawenda Renee Erikson, and her nickname Vree came from her initials VRE.

I stopped writing about her in 1974. I wrote my last Ravenwood story in 1975—I was 18.

I was 44 when I returned to Ravenwood and Vree. One of the first things I did was change the town’s name to Ridgewood because it had a central location called Myers Ridge where Vree lived. I also made a character named Liam her husband. They were my age and had three children—an 18- and 20-year-old at college and a 16-year-old at home.

Two stories came from the changes: A Sinister Blast from the Past and Liam’s Kismet, which the latter is a PDF and based on a story from 1991. I modified both stories and replaced Vree’s name with Carrie and Nora, respectively. I find it interesting to note that I had not changed the town’s name yet in A Sinister Blast.

By 2013, when I published some stories at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Ravenwood was Ridgewood and Liam was Lenny, Vree’s boyfriend because they were teenagers again. An uncaught typo in the first published story changed Vree’s last name to Erickson. I plan to use the original spelling in all future publications.

I also plan to change Lenny’s name in future publications. I considered naming him Kenny, a consideration I mentioned two years ago at this blog, but I never finalized that decision even though I seemed certain about it in 2018. Since then, I have chosen to call him Owen Elliot Burkhart and I’m leaning toward making him and Vree adults again. I have grown weary of writing about teens. It was fun when I was a teenager pretending to fish at Myers Creek, meeting a girl named Vree there, and doing what teens in small-town USA did in the early 1970s. It was a different world than what small-town life has become today, which wasn’t perfect but was still aesthetic. And it didn’t stink of urban jungle rot—a physical and mental decay of far too many communities in the US today.

Besides, the teen-lit market is a flooded one, especially in the urban fantasy genre, which I write.

I plan to write a contemporary novel of a married couple who has to deal with their past, back to the day when the teen boy—Owen—fished at Myers Creek, met a girl—Vree—and something happened that changed their lives.

Stay tuned. Answers come forthwith.

Bringing Back Ravenwood [writing news]

I spent today planning on paper what I’m going to do with my blog. I have been absent from it for several weeks, so I want to remedy that by posting more often.

The first thing I did was bring back an old page to the Writing Blog section in the Menu. It’s called “Ravenwood” and it houses links to many of my old Ravenwood posts that ran from 2011 to 2012. Ravenwood was the original name of the town that became Ridgewood. I’m thinking of changing Ridgewood back to Ravenwood. It’s just a thought, but I’m drawn to the name Ravenwood again.

If you have never read my Ravenwood stories, you can do so by going to its menu and clicking on the chapters. Here is a quick link for those of you who aren’t at my website.

I made another change to the Menu by moving News ~ Updates to a subheading under the About heading.

This post will be included in that section.

Finally, I plan to return to those Ravenwood posts and talk more about them during the year. I want to analyze again the direction I was going in with those stories.

Stay tuned. I feel it’s going to be an exciting year at this blog.

Night [poetry]

Night came tapping at my door,
But I with book heard not a sound;
It entered on its own accord,
Trespassing on my private ground.

Night crept about my house with ease
And darkened everything from sight,
’Til through my study’s door it squeezed
And skirted past my candle’s light.

I did not peer to watch its plight
Across my shelves and down my wall;
I know not if it bade goodnight;
I heard not if it spoke at all.

With book aside I pondered why
That one so strong as dark of night,
Who snuffs the life from day’s bright light,
Could not put out my candle light.

Insight

I wrote this whimsical poem many years ago when I was at college and studying the classics in literature. I rarely write rhyming poems, but this one came to me out of the blue, so I jotted it down with no changes. I imagined the protagonist as a child in a long ago era, observing the coming of night.

Writing Novels

It seems as if every successful author has written a book about how to write novels. One author I read about compared writing novels to performing in a circus, with juggling and balancing acts that will entertain to keep your audience mesmerized. It’s a unique comparison to the many other authors who have compared it to either building a house or baking a cake.

The bottom line is the circus needs the right acts and entertainers to be a hit with its audience. The house needs an established blueprint to be functional and withstand time. And the cake needs a proven recipe to be delicious. They are formulas to success. They are also formulas to repetitiveness. It’s up to us as authors to change these formulas to keep them new and fresh … and hopefully, successful.

Every successful novel begins with a proven formula of plot and characters. They are nothing without each other. Each must entertain us. Plots tell a story, building layers with interesting hooks and twists (subplots). Characters move the story along, often by creating tension—people who oppose each other, and then releasing the tension.

The main character shows us outward action toward an interesting goal and inward action, usually toward some sort of growth and maturity. However, some stories have characters who recede and fall from grace by giving in to life’s pressures. Authors classify the former character as the tool of an affective plot and the latter as one of a disillusionment plot.

Some authors write outlines of their stories before they begin writing their novels. Outlines “tell” the author what happens in the story. Based on that outline, the author writes a story that “shows” the reader what happens.

Almost all novels have four acts. Act One begins with rising action based on Aristotle’s Incline and ends in Act Four with falling action and a resolution. The novel’s climax usually happens at the end of Act Three.

A series is a set of books with each book representing a self-contained story. Each book ends. There is no over-arching story among a series of books.

A serial is a story told in several installments with a cliffhanger at the end of each installment until the books reach an ending. The storyline during a serial connects at the start of the next installment and continues to weave through more installments until reaching an end of the books.

Authors must know the difference between a series and a serial so as not to confuse their readers.

Every writer should read The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.

Finally, time is the most important tool for an author. Some people may argue that inspiration is. Others may say persistence is. But without setting aside time to do it, no novel is ever written.

A Fantasy Trip [fiction]

Hello, my loyal followers. It’s story time. A fantasy tale about a teenage boy and magic.


The trip home to Myers Ridge was longer than Danny Sutton remembered. He sat in the backseat of his father’s Taurus, a bit motion sick, and surrounded by brand-new fantasy novels and superhero comics. His parents, George and Michelle, stared straightaway at the interstate, silent.

Country music—his mother’s favorite—played low from the radio. Their three-day stay in Chicago for the Fantasy Writers and Artists Halloween Weekend Fair was over and Danny had plenty of new reading material. However, reading in a moving vehicle had not set well with his stomach. Now, neither did watching the countryside pass by at 70 miles an hour.

The day had turned to evening and his stomach had gone from feeling lousy to feeling downright rotten. He fished some chewable antacids from his backpack, and then took out his spiral bound sketchpad and an HB drawing pencil. Drawing in a moving vehicle was different from reading in one. Drawing took him deep into imaginary worlds, which would take his mind off being ill.

He found a blank page and scribbled some circles. A clearer image emerged as the circles connected and they transformed into … a … giant … lizard.

No. Keep drawing.

A Tyrannosaurus rex.

No.

A fire-breathing dragon with long, batlike wings.

Yes.

Chills crept up Danny’s arms.

A black night sky surrounded the dragon. He imagined it flying in and out of moonlit clouds above Myers Ridge, swooping down where the woods met the cliffs near the portion that broke off thousands of years ago during an ice age, making the cliffs steep and dangerous … or so Mrs. Erickson, his ninth grade science teacher, said.

He drew his parents’ house on the other side of the woods while imagining that he flew with the dragon—a girl dragon.

He drew another dragon just above the first. He was the second dragon. He and the girl dragon were boyfriend and girlfriend. He liked that.

He imagined that he, the boy dragon, followed the girl dragon through the night sky, racing with her and frolicking amidst the air currents and clouds. They flew over his parents’ house and a pickup truck parked along the road. A man stood outside the truck, looking up at them. The man lifted a long object to his shoulder. It looked like a rifle.

A shot from a high-powered rifle broke the low sound of wind and the lazy flapping of their wings. The girl dragon twisted, then fell to the earth on her back, landing with a thud in Danny’s front yard, dead from a well-placed bullet between the protective plating over her heart.

Danny stopped drawing. He tapped the backend of the pencil against his forehead, contemplating what he had imagined. Who was the man and why had he killed the girl dragon?

In his drawing, the two dragons still flew together in the night sky. Below them, a man stood outside a pickup truck. In his arms, he carried a high-powered rifle with a scope.

Danny shuddered and slammed shut the pad.

“Well, I’m done,” he announced.

His mother half turned in her seat. “Done with what, dear?”

“Fantasy, magic, dungeons and dragons … the whole nine yards.”

“I thought you had a good time,” his mother said. “Didn’t you have fun at the fair?” A frown scrunched up her nose.

“I don’t know. I thought so. But…” Danny ran his fingers across the spiral wire that held his Magic Brand drawing pad together. Magic Brand Art Supplies had made his pencil too.

“Not many people have the talent you have,” the man at the gift shop had told him at last year’s fair.

It was true. He had to be careful what he drew.

“You’ll feel better when we get something to eat,” his mother said as his father exited the interstate. Soon, they ordered food at a Wendy’s drive thru.

Back on the interstate, Danny ate and thought about his drawing. Surely, he had drawn the man with the rifle and pickup truck. He must have been so deep in his imagination that he was not aware of what he drew.

The triple cheeseburger, large fries, and huge soft drink actually settled his stomach as well as his nerves. He thought about drawing more but the evening sun had slipped below the horizon behind them and home was less than fifty miles away.

Danny put his head back against the seat and dozed. He flew again with the girl dragon. Her name was Tavreth and she was nine hundred years old, barely a teenager in dragon years.

In his dream, he made friends with her, which left him feeling good when he awoke.

He recognized Ridge Road. He and his parents were less than a half-mile from home.

As his father rounded a bend, the rear lights of a pickup truck alerted them of someone parked on the road in front of their home. Mr. Langford stood at the driver’s door, bathed in George Sutton’s headlights.

Mr. Langford turned and hurried toward their car as George stopped.

“What’s going on?” Michelle asked as George rolled down his window.

A sickening feeling of dread came over Danny as Mr. Langford told them a fantastic tale. Danny’s aching heart went out to the black lump of a dead dragon in the front yard.

He had to undo this. But how?

He rummaged in the backpack for his Magic Brand eraser. He had never used it before, so he hoped his idea would work. If it did, he had a lot of fixing to do.

He opened his pad to the drawing of him as a dragon flying with Tavreth, and Mr. Langford ready to shoot. Then he erased the old man, his rifle, and the pickup truck.

Outside, each one vanished. He erased Tavreth and she vanished from the front yard.

His mother was quick to turn on him.

He pulled from her grasp.

“It’s better this way,” George said, pulling her away from the boy.

“We’ll start over afresh,” Danny promised as he found the first drawing he had drawn the day after his real parents bought him the pad and pencil.

He erased his pretend parents, the ones who liked taking him places. He erased their pretend car, which left him standing alone on the road in front of his home. He flipped to the second page and erased the locked cell in the basement where his real parents were.

Picking up his backpack, he headed up the driveway and toward the front door. He paused only once, trying to figure a way to turn himself into a dragon. But he cast away the idea. His fantasy life had gone too far. It was time to face reality.

He took a deep breath, opened the front door, and entered.

# # #