A Little Excerpt: Westbury Falls

Good morning, readers. I was puzzling over what to post about this week and in the middle of editing one series, formatting and finishing a first rough draft of the poetry anthology, and trying to adjust to new school schedules, I thought–what would I like to read? Sorry to say, nothing on editing. I live and breathe that stuff currently. Poetry was last week and again next…I’d like to read something light. Something fun and fantastical. So here we have it. A little book I started (and nearly completed) last November that’s beyond rough but one of my favorite new multi-genre experiments. Think Quantum Leap meets Jane Austen. It is, tentatively titled “Westbury Falls” and, if I have my way will be part of a loosely connected series someday. But only if I get my editing done (You can’t have your pudding if you don’t eat your veg).

So–without further ado, enjoy some “pudding” in the middle of your veg filled life.

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

Westbury Falls

Chapter 1

Lillian Byrne fell face first down the stairs as was typical of her style. She never did anything by halves, be it her dramatic monologues explaining over the dinner table why her history paper had been only partially completed, or the hundred or so accidents she managed to survive in the span of a week.

So, when the toe of her converse caught the frayed carpet on the precipice, of what must have been the fiftieth English manor her mother had dragged her to in the course of a week, she almost expected the epic tumble down all four flights of the narrow and steep stairs. Her brother, no doubt, was laughing his ass off from the top, soon to call down that she was stupid and uncoordinated. Her mother would run to fuss for a few moments before she became engrossed in some placard explaining some little-known fact about Charlotte Bronte’s knickers or Jane Austen’s secret seaside romance.

It wasn’t really her mother’s fault. Being a wall street trade floor manager left very little romance in her mother’s post-marriage life. That’s why they were here now after all. That’s why she’d been on the “Footsteps Through the Past Literary Tour” of Westbury Manor. Why she was sharing a tiny hodgepodge room, filled with antiques and moth ball-ridden closets with her idiotic, ivy-league-bound brother who only feigned interest to gain their mother’s favor.

And this. This feeling of weightless abandon, was probably just a universal decree that she should fall, knees knocking like a leggy foal, tumbling and tangled, down the wooden steps, a mess of human limbs. She hadn’t been concerned until she felt a banister crack her temple rudely, then two balusters after that following suit, smashing against her ribs and back. Her unfocused gaze made out the lace-lined light from the window above her, before the light swelled to gray and an enormous pressure took over her skull. The world closed itself to her like a porthole getting smaller and smaller until a pinprick of light twinkled out and she was gone.

“Miss Byrne, Oh Heavens! Miss Byrne!”

Lillian heard through the suffocating clouds of fluff between her ears. Some attendant must have found her, but her head hurt far too much to try opening her eyes just yet.

“Mom,” she croaked.

“Oh, poor dear… she’s calling for her nursemaid.”

“No…nurses. I’m fine,” Lillian mumbled.

“Poor child, she’s had a right awful fall,” came a muffled cockney reply in the deep accent that Lil was sure was being over done on account of her being a tourist.

“It’s cool, I’m used to falling,” she groaned and tried to rise to her knees but the dress caught beneath her and pulled her back down.

The dress?

Lillian’s head swam with pain and she put her forehead to the cold wooden floor. Maybe she’d accidentally taken a curtain with her or some tapestry had come down and off the wall in her tumble. It certainly felt hot and uncomfortable wrapped around her. She tried kicking it off before steady hands stilled her and held her down.

“Easy now, easy Miss. Your head has a terrible bleed, you need to stay still. We’ve just now sent young Master Byrne to fetch the doctor.”

“Master Byrne?” Lil scoffed, hating but not surprised that her brother had somehow convinced the staff to call him by a title. The floor pressed against her forehead even harder and she felt blood slowly pooling in a warm ring around her cheek and ear.

Mom was going to be overly worried now and probably wouldn’t let her climb more towers any time soon, she thought, before slipping into the darkness.

Lillian was dreaming and woke in the groggy, underhaze of not knowing exactly where she was. She must have been in a hospital, but heard not the raucous machines.

Heard not?

Was she thinking in proper Elizabethan English? She must have cracked her skull harder than she’d thought to be dreaming in Austen-ese. Lillian chuckled and cool fingers came to touch her forehead gently. She closed her eyes and sat back into the pillows.

“Ah, there breathes the angel, in laugher she does beguile me further.” The deep voice was soothing as velvet in the dark room. She must be dreaming. No one ever called her an angel, and certainly no man. What could such a suitor look like? Surely divine in both nature and stature. Lil’s brow drew in. She tried to sort out the confusion of cotton and haze in her mind

Surely poetic musings were a definite sign of a brain bleed.

Fingers delicately touched her wounded temple, eliciting and incredible flash of pain that should have been dulled by the medication they would have given her. Her violet eyes sprung open and she expected them to be assaulted by the fluorescent lights of a hospital ICU, but only darkness surrounded her. Cool darkness, a canopied bed, and the outline of a golden-haired man coming into focus. He had a strong dimpled chin and beautifully full lips. His eyes searched hers; blue as a Whitby sea on a clear and bright day.

“Ah, the angel awakens. Such a shade of eyes I’ve never been more contented to fall into.” He whispered and his fingers traced her cheek. Lil’s mouth, dry and empty fumbled, lips moving but no words coming. She wasn’t in a hospital; she was surely dead and this heavenly being was sent to take her to the afterlife.

“You are surely mistaken, good sir, for no more a divine face have I ever gazed upon than that which lies before me now,” her voice was husky with sleep, and slipped into an accent that did not feel unnatural. She’d only been visiting the UK for a few weeks; how could her speech have altered so? Maybe she was dead.

“Miss Byrne,” he whispered and they gazed, in equal parts profound wonderment. His eyes closed and he shook his head as if to right his thoughts. “You must not speak,” he said more seriously with the morose dictate of a professional. As if her being awake had changed his whole demeanor. “You have succumbed to a terrible fainting spell, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I did no such thing! I’m not some wilting flower!” Her sudden and strong argument took him back and he sat straighter from her bedside from the surprise. “I tripped. I’m a bold and fumbling clod at best.”

The smallest of smiles pulled at the corner of his beautiful lips and she was determined that she needed nothing more in life than to kiss him.

“You fell.” He acquiesced a compromise.

“I think I’m still falling,” she whispered back and her eyes fell closed to the idea of his kiss against the subsequent throbbing of her head. When she tried to breath in, he whole rib cage felt tight and limited. She placed a hand to feel a secure bandage over the tender ribs. Surely, they had some kind of pain medication? As she fell back into the pillows, she tried to sort out the moment.

Why hadn’t they taken her to a hospital? Maybe the ambulance was still on its way out to the middle-of-nowhere estate they’d been visiting. This overzealous young actor was probably having a hard time getting out of character. She groaned again and put her fingers up to her head where she found a scratchy bandaged secured around it.

“Please. Miss Byrne, please do not touch it, we’ve just now managed to staunch the bleeding. And, I don’t like to praise my technique, but the stitching is quite delicate in order to save you the horror of a permanent scar.” His hands encircled her wrist, and it seemed small between his fingers. His hands were warm, as they paused, thumb to her pulse. She looked out from her lashes and watched him counting the time on his pocket watch to the beat of her heart. The horror of a permanent scar? As if that’s the worst thing that could happen to a girl? She tried to focus on the young actor more closely.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“I’m afraid, we have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. I am Dr. Blackwell—Matthew Edward Blackwell,” he paused to clear his throat, “Junior, of course. My father insists while we practice within the same province that I remind every patient who is the senior, more experienced physician.”

“You’re a—“she paused and looked at the dimple in his youthful chin. “Aren’t you a little young to be a doctor?”

The quick twitch of smile threatened again at the corner of his mouth and she moved her hand to touch it, but he held her wrist fast.

“I am eight and twenty. I’m surprised you would think me youthful.” A new expression passed over his face, perturbed and confused.

“I beg your pardon, good sir,” she said as quietly as possible, falling into the ridiculous speech play that he seemed insistent to keep up. It somehow felt more natural for every moment she spent in what was she assumed was wakefulness.

“I’ve fallen and hit my head and am not to be trusted in my opinion or observations. I meant no disrespect of your position. Indeed, I am most grateful that you are here. It is your youthful and divine dimple that confuses my befuddled mind so.”

His thick throat swallowed as he looked back down to her eyes, falling into them in a way that seemed to cross the lines of good bedside manner into something much more akin to other activities in the bedroom. She sighed. He looked torn, his brow drawing together.

“Your compliments are ill placed, Miss Byrne. I certainly do not deserve such praise from such an—accomplished young lady such as yourself. One, who should, by all accounts and in her current state of mental confusion, should be cautious how complimentary she is. Especially given the promissory nature of your engagement to my cousin.”

Lillian sat up, far too quickly, and nearly startled the good doctor from his bedside perch. She took in a sharp breath and put both hands to her head.

“What the hell are you talking about? I’m not engaged to anyone!”

“Miss Byrne, please!” the use of her swear seemed to amuse him more than shock him, but he looked hither and to, all the same to see who else had witnessed her uncommon outburst. They were alone in the room as the maid had been sent to fetch water and clean cloth for her next change of bandage. “Such language from a young woman of your standing is most unbecoming.”

“Look, pal, I think you’ve taken this act far enough–” the world turned and tipped around her.

“Act? Pal?” the doctor’s voice receded as Lilian felt the world go black again.


Giving Thanks

This is a little piece I wrote many moons ago for my gig at The Northern Colorado Writers Writing Bug. I’ve elaborated because (well–it’s my blog here and I can write beyond 400 words if I damn well want)

I can’t think of a better day and year to re-run it. My parents are pretty amazing people, and having a third and unexpected mouth to feed didn’t make their life any easier. But I am eternally beholden to them for the sacrifices they made to raise my siblings and me. I’m thankful for the love and laughter they built our home around, and for constantly working towards a better life for all of us through perseverance, patience, and honesty. Even when it meant welcoming their unexpected third (ahem–that’s me) into the world with open arms.

So today, whether you are thankful for your family, your friends, or for the simple fact you have a roof over your head, don’t be afraid to send those feelings of gratitude out into the universe. Thank the health care workers and essential medical personnel who are wearing thin on an every burgeoning front line. Thank your veterans and firefighters, hell–thank your postal worker because–fucking elections right before the craziest season of the year am I right?

Thank the grocery store staff who spend hours and days on their feet with the public in a time of crisis, the countless other souls who’ve made do through insurmountable odds to keep us fed and with power, and educated our kids with a host of new and difficult challenges. Thank your neighbor for raking your leaves or rake theirs as an act of good will. Thank the food bank for taking care of people who, despite working as hard as they can, still need help, by donating your time, your food, or your money.

Though we cannot be together today, (and this goes for thousands of families across all states) our hearts are never far apart.

And for that, I am grateful.

Making Do and Giving Thanks

One of my earliest memories was of waiting in a dark and crowded hall while my mother picked out ‘groceries’ from piles of white and black generic boxes.  I didn’t understand at the time that the blocks of Velveeta-like cheese, powdered milk, and bags of rice were part of assistance programs that kept us from going hungry when the insecurity of the uranium mine had left us teetering on the edge of destitution.

My father is, and always has been, a hard worker.  He took whatever job he could to support us, but in the unstable energy economy of 1980’s Wyoming there was always a fear behind my parent’s eyes. Their amazing resilience makes me tearful with pride now, as a parent myself. 

Because, back then, I never knew we lacked for anything. 

We were always fed.  We were always clothed.  We had a roof over our heads and wild game in the freezer.  We made do.  When lay offs hit, they squeezed the most out of what we had and made do.  When dad went back to college for a second degree in teaching, we lived in a small house in Laramie and made do.  When Christmas came around and three kids rushed to the living room, there was always something there to be thankful for.

I didn’t have cable as a kid; I had books.  I didn’t have a TV in my room; I had the library less than two blocks away.  It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford vacations to far off places because I could go there in my mind.  Pages were like my wings, rocketing me towards new and fantastic horizons.  My parents couldn’t give me designer clothes or name brand shoes.  They gave me Jean M. Auel, Jack London, L.M. Montgomery, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, and Jane Austen.  They gave me hours and days of uninterrupted reading time.  I still remember mom peeking in on me, sprawled out in bed, pouring over a book, completely lost to the world around me, asking if I needed anything. 

Looking back now, and knowing what I do about how much it costs to raise a child (nonetheless three), I really couldn’t have asked for more.

We made more than just meals from small staples.  We made worlds out of our love and support of one another.  My parents gave us the belief in where our minds could take us.  And we made do.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #21: The Keeper Shelf

Happy Thursday, writers! Today we’re jumping right into the craft of writing and, more to the point, how the books we read influence and inspire us. Many of us know that to be a better* writer, we must spend a lot of time reading good books.

 *I’ve heard it said many times that if you want to write well, you must devote an equal if not greater time reading, especially within your genre. I have mixed feelings on this. Yes, reading good work in your genre can be important to how you formulate story, find inspiration, and learn. But if you are doing it solely from the perspective as a writer, it can also cause you to lose a bit of that magic we call your ‘voice’. And, don’t misunderstand, I LOVE TO READ. But I will often lose myself in a good book (Thanks a bunch Chuck Wendig, you beautiful beast of a writer) to the extent that I use up most of my ‘free time’ and close the cover in a self-made brain fog, where in I can’t find my laptop let alone write something coherent. So I guess what I’m saying is: Balance.

Today, I want to talk about what you read and in particular your “Keeper Shelf”.

Ladies and Gentleman Hectic Eclectic (Part 1)

All of us have a “Keeper Shelf”, I’m sure of it. These are the books and stories that we love so much we can’t bear to part with them. They have somehow touched us, shaped us, hit that chord deep inside that makes us want to read them over and over again. This shelf is unique for each person and what’s lovely about your Keeper Shelf is that you’ve chosen these books because something about them worked so intrinsically well that you keep coming back, even when you know how it ends. These are the best ‘how to’ manuals we have as writers.

Hectic Eclectic (Part Deux). Ballerinas next to Deadpool (thanks April Kramer), a dash of Xian Terra cotta warrior and an empty bottle of what my father said was part of his worst college experience. Oh…and some of my all time favorite books. High brow.

This week, I want you to take an introspective look at an area you are struggling with in your own novel/work. For some of us, that might be dialogue. It might be story arc, it might be how best to show (not tell) emotion, character quirks, climax, scene setting, you name it. At least one of those authors on your keeper shelf has nailed a concept that you are struggling with. Once you identify what you’re trying to accomplish with a story, scene, or character, I would love you to take another look at one of your ‘faves’ that did it right.

Read, re-read, dissect it, pull it apart and diagram it on post-it notes…

“Ah, she doesn’t say Mel is sad…she makes the sky cloud over—even the setting turns dark—and  Mel misses breakfast for the third time because she can’t pull herself out of bed, and her eyes hurt, and her mom won’t stop asking her if she’s all right.”

“Ah—I can see these characters care about each other because they can pick on tender parts in their banter and only love each other more for it.”

“She leaves every chapter with a tiny cliffhanger…that’s why I can’t put it down.”

“He’s made Nessie so human and imperfect, by all the things she does despite of her internal dialogue, he makes her a hero that feels personal.”

You get the idea. It is the sincerest form of flattery and honor to use someone’s work to make yours better. Obviously, I’m not advocating for plagiarism; you will and should write your own story, but if another author’s work helps you see the difference between what works and what doesn’t, then utilize their book as a tool to get you there.

You have shelve(s) of Master’s Classes right in your own home so go through some of your old favorites and pull out the things those writers are doing to connect with you as a reader so you can do the same with your own readers.

Constant and continual improvement in our writing craft is essential to success. Because someday, we all hope that a reader gets to the last page of our book, closes the cover, puts it up on that top shelf in their library, and says, “That’s a keeper.”

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Lucky Number Thirteen

Let’s talk luck.

Serendipity is a fickle and chaos driven goddess. Sometimes she saves us from that random bus only to drop us into an elevator shaft while we’re reveling in our good fortune. As a writer, it can often feel like some guys (and gals) have all of her attention and the rest of us are left, toiling in the trenches for even a kind rejection letter.

But most self-earned successful people will tell you its not so much about being in the right place (or write place?) at the right time, so much as creating the right place consistently.

How do we create an open door for “luck” in our lives? It’s not too difficult, but it does require patience, perseverance, and consistency.

“Damn it! I knew there was a catch! This is bullshit! I want overnight success!” 

Don’t we all, skippy…but unless you’re planning to marry a train wreck of a Kardashian you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned way.

1.) Just like the lottery, your chances of winning increase by how much and how often you play.

You can’t expect to get that six-figure deal with one query letter to one big agent. Think of querying like a giant firecracker filled with the sparkly goodness of your novel, not a single-tipped arrow. That doesn’t mean you don’t bother aiming the damn thing, but you find the publishers and publications who take your kind of crazy, you follow their guidelines, and then you fire that baby off into the universe.

Wile-E-Coyote
Don’t singe yourself

 

2.) Make the chances you get work for you

Okay, you’re not always going to get the acceptance letters you were hoping for, you’re not always going to get the speaking gig or to meet with the agent you’d planned on at a conference. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing but a blank slate out there. Serendipity  exist in the overlooked opportunities.

Maybe they’re in things that you feel are beneath you, maybe they’re in jobs or gigs that you feel you aren’t exactly qualified for, maybe they’re unpaid or paltry in payback. But part of building your platform is taking risks, chances, and putting out there what you do have.

Volunteer to teach a writing class to an elementary school, offer up your book for free or discounted to book clubs that may be interested, try selling it at local coffee shops, be a beta reader for a fellow writer, guest speak at conferences or writing group meetings. It’s not just about marketing, its about seeing where the world can use your talent and opening your arms to offer it. Sometimes when we do this, Serendipity takes our hand.

two person hold hands
Gosh, I hope she washed it first. (Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com)

Disclaimer: When I started out as a writer, it was a non-negotiable fact that you took any guest blog, free article, un-paid ad copy you could to build your resume and presence. But you can’t work for free forever, and please don’t. You should reach a point where you request and follow leads that will compensate you for what you’re worth. If they don’t, load that shotgun, and take a new aim.

3.) Finally, luck is made, not stumbled upon, by those who look for it, work for it, and build their lives and routines around the openness and willingness to jump at the chances that come their way.

Saying yes. Especially when it scares you. Saying yes, even when you might stumble down that elevator shaft. Saying yes even if you’re not sure you’re good enough or bright enough. Saying yes, even if it means stepping off your life-path for a glint of time.

Yes, I’ll send my novel out to three agents today. Yes, I will write that article. Yes, I will stand up in front of a crowd (well, a ZOOM meeting these days) and talk about what’s worked for me in plotting my sci/fi/cowboy/romance/horror trilogy (hint: its probably a lot of post-its and some mind-altering substance).

Serendipity is a seedling. She might show up randomly in our garden, in a burst of color. But we increase our odds of seeing her if we tend the ground, water and feed her, and give her plenty of light.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

How will you make your own luck today?