Friday, June 6, 2014

What I'm working on right now:

When I first starting writing books, I spent a lot of time circling around, unsure of how to get to the heart of the story. My first novel took more than two years to write and I revised it for months after that. Lately, though, I've been writing like I have a guillotine over my head, one that could drop at any moment. I feel an urgency to get stories down as quickly as possible. Part of my new fast-writing philosophy I can attribute to inspiration from authors Dean Wesley Smith and Rachel Aaron. Also, writing novels just feels more doable than it has in the past. Even when I get stuck, I know it's part of the process and I push through. Having done this before, I know I can do it again. That confidence translates to speedy writing. And so, for the second time this year, I am nearly done with a book.

This particular book is a young adult, SciFi novel. If all goes well, I should have a completed draft by the end of the month. Between now and then I will be avoiding the Internet. I can distract myself just fine, thank you very much.

In the meantime, I'm doing something I've never done before--posting the first few pages of a work-in-progress. Keep in mind that this is a rough draft. I don't think there are many obvious errors or typos, but there might be. Right now I'm just concentrating on soldiering through to the end. There will be time for revisions and polishing and endless tweaking later on. 

Happy writing, happy reading, and happy June!



Under the Stars

 A piercing light flashed across the sky and plunged to the earth, landing in a farmer’s field.  The old dog, Mack, who had been peeing against the side of the barn, saw the disc-shaped object crash and bounce before skidding thirty feet, throwing dirt as it went.  A high-pitched humming and faint glow came off the object, arousing his curiosity, and he trotted out to take a look. Getting closer, he approached cautiously, nose to the ground.  The object was the size and shape of his water bowl, rimmed with lights and topped with a shiny dome.
            Mack circled around and sniffed it before inching forward, his eyes glowing from the reflection of the object’s light. As he watched, the top popped open with a gentle hiss, leaving a snout-sized gap. At the same time, the lights on the object went off.  The old dog was sure his boy, Lucas, would be interested in this. It had been a longstanding tradition that Mack brought back anything of interest from his explorations, something that never failed to delight the boy.  He always got an enthusiastic rub behind the ears for his trouble, and sometimes a treat, but as curious as the Mack was, he was also wary of this thing. It didn’t smell like anything he’d ever encountered before. Under different circumstances, he’d have marked the spot and brought Lucas back here later on during a walk, but the boy hadn’t gotten out of bed in a long time and he knew the other people in the house wouldn’t help. All of them, except the girl, acted as if Mack were a nuisance.  Sometimes he even had to remind them to fill his food bowl. 
            The night sky was bright with stars and a nearly full moon, and as his eyes adjusted he let his nose get closer for a good smell. Metallic, almost like blood but not quite. And there was something else too, something he couldn’t quite place. So very odd. Of all the millions of smells he’d gotten a whiff of in his life, this wasn’t one of them. He knew the smell of humans, Lucas being his favorite. The boy’s sweat after working in the fields or coming home from ball practice signaled his arrival before he even came into view. Later, when things changed and Lucas had less energy for their walks, the boy’s smell became tinged with a medicinal odor which seeped out of his pores and clung to his clothing and hair. The relationship between the dog and his boy changed too, with Lucas having barely enough energy to pet him and the others shooing him out of the room at every turn. And now Lucas slept around the clock. It just wasn’t right.
            Mack heard the creak of the screen door opening before the woman’s voice rang out. “Mack? Where are you? Get back here now!” Her tone was impatient and he knew if he didn’t return to the house soon she’d lock the door and he’d be stuck outside until morning. He yipped a quick response before quickly sticking his nose into the opening at the top of the disc-shaped object in order to commit the smell to his olfactory memory. This time he caught a different odor: something alarming, something alive. At the very second his brain grasped this fact, a shapeless something flew out of the craft, latched onto his nose and shifted straight up to his eyes. The sensation was stronger than a breeze, almost like a splash of water to the face, but not exactly like that either. He stepped back, blinked, and shook his head trying to get the thing off of him, but it was stuck, covering his eyes and making his vision was murky. Panic-stricken, he panted and trembled, until he felt it seep through the membranes to the back of his eyes. A split second later, he felt nothing. It was gone. He whined to himself, a sound of relief.
            “Mack! I mean it!” Her voice pierced the night air. It was the sound of aggravation and bone-weary tiredness, but the dog only heard the finality of it. He barked to let her know he was on his way, then turned and raced back to the house.


Chapter Two

“Emma, it’s getting late. I looked up to see Mrs. Walker in the doorway with her arms crossed, obviously trying to do an impression of a stern parent. “Were you planning on staying all night again?”
Really? She had to ask? After all this time she still didn’t get it. If my own mother didn’t mind if I was here night and day, what was her problem? “Yes,” I said looking down at Lucas, lying still in the bed next to me. I wasn’t going to leave him. Not now. Not ever.
            “Okay,” she said, giving in and turning around. I heard her in the kitchen, setting up the coffee for the next day, then emptying the dishwasher. Lucas’s hospital bed had been set up in the dining room, right in the middle of the house. Lucas’s parents had no idea how much I’d heard of their private conversations, their many discussion concerning me and Lucas and his so-called impending death. All of it reached my ears. I knew they didn’t want me here in their home. They resented my imposition on their family. They felt I was stealing time from them, taking precious final moments with their son. But they didn’t have the heart to keep me away.
 During the school year Mrs. Walker made a good case for me to go. I had school to attend in the morning, homework to do in the evening. I’d already dropped out of all my extra-curriculars, but I didn’t want to miss school. When Lucas got better, he’d be finishing high school. I was a year behind him originally, but with all the time he’d taken off for the treatment of his cancer, he’d have a lot to make up. If all went well, we’d wind up graduating together. Back then I reluctantly left his side to go to classes and tried to concentrate on my subjects, but found it nearly impossible. My grades should have taken a hit, but I think my teachers felt sorry for me, the girlfriend of Lucas, the guy who was valiantly battling cancer, so they took that into account and gave me grades I didn’t quite deserve. All of them loved Lucas. He was the golden boy of Westridge High: blond curly hair, football star, honor student, great personality, always smiling. It was a small country high school and everyone knew him. Everyone liked him too. All the guys were buddies. All the girls wanted him for their boyfriend. But they couldn’t have him. He was mine.
And I was his. I was his savior, the one he hung on for. He’d said as much, back when he was speaking, and even now, when he was comatose, I could tell he knew I was there, right by his side. I spoke to him and stroked his hair and when Mr. and Mrs. Walker and Lucas’s brother Eric weren’t around I did more than that, kissing him and caressing his skin, hoping somehow to reach him. Hoping he’d find the emotional thread that linked us so I could pull him away from the next world and back into this one.
When Lucas and I had started dating at the end of my sophomore year it was pretty clear I wasn’t his parents’ first choice for their son. It didn’t matter that I was an honors student and used my best manners; they were still stuck on the fact that my mother and I lived in a trailer park off the highway. That, and the fact that I am and always have been completely father-less. The first dinner at their house, Mrs. Walker had asked, “What does your dad do, Emma?”
Lucas shot his mother a disapproving look, but I was ready with my standard response. I shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I’ve never met him.” My mom had told me that my father had been an international student at the university where she’d once worked as an administrative assistant. They’d had a fling for a few weeks and then he was gone, back to where he came from. Mom was vague about his country of origin, but judging from my coal black eyes, olive skin, and dark hair it was likely he was Middle Eastern. My mom wasn’t much for long term relationships. She’d always had boyfriends, but none of them were keepers. One had shown me how to hot wire a car and the best way to roll smokes. That guy was named Owen. He didn’t last long before Mom found out about his outstanding warrants and gave him a kick to the curb. Her taste in men was questionable, but at least they never lived with us.
So the Walkers looked down on me. Once, when we were in the next room I overheard Lucas’s mother say, “She follows him around like a duckling, like she’d be lost without him.” Lucas wanted to confront her about this, but I talked him out of it. This was back when I still thought I could win them over. But it never happened. Lucas and I were together for a year and the entire time they hoped we would break up, but we didn’t.  I didn’t think too much of them either, for two reasons. First of all, for as many problems as my mom had, she was the perfect mother as far as I was concerned because she didn’t try to claim credit for everything I did. Sometimes I’d hand her my report card or show her a paper I wrote and she’d practically cry with joy. “Brilliant,” she’d say, hugging me. “You are absolutely brilliant. I’m so impressed.” Not like Mr. Walker who took credit for everything Lucas did, bragging, “He takes after me.” Or worse yet, smugly telling Lucas, “See, I told you if you studied, you’d get an A.” And then he always had to add, “Now don’t get complacent. You still have to keep this up for the rest of the semester, you know.” No kidding, Sherlock.
So that was the first reason I wasn’t a fan of Lucas’s parents. The second reason is that they gave up on him so easily. Sure he had cancer, but big deal, people had cancer and overcame it all the time. It was a shock for everyone when he was diagnosed, but Lucas was athletic and strong. All you had to do was look at him and you knew he’d survive He was life. Lucas could run like the wind. I’d seen him lift a ninety pound calf like it was nothing. It was unthinkable that he’d die. I just knew this was a temporary bump in the road. Something to beat. We had plans, the two of us, and dying of stupid cancer wasn’t part of them.
But both of his parents had given up on him right from the start. They always thought the worst. His mother couldn’t look at Lucas without getting teary-eyed. And Mr. Walker was devastated to learn the treatment would leave Lucas sterile, as if passing on the family genes meant anything at a time like this. Mr. and Mrs. Walker had hushed conversations about statistics, and treatment plans and numbers. Always the numbers. They’d say, “The numbers didn’t look good. They’re not in the range.” Their negativity was everywhere, seeping from room to room, poisoning the air. Later on they started talking about funerals and how they didn’t want him to suffer any longer and I had to put my hands over Lucas’s ears to keep him from overhearing. The last member of the family, Lucas’s younger brother Eric, started to avoid everyone, including me and Lucas. When he wasn’t doing chores or going to school, he was out in the barn, tinkering on old cars in his workshop. He holed up in there like he hoped to come out someday and find everything fine again. Classic avoidance strategy.
I was the only one dealing with this in a sane way. The only one. After he went into a coma even the visiting nurses tried to undermine me. They’d point out how much weight Lucas had lost, how his skin tone had changed, and point out his shallow breathing. One of them, a tall woman named Nancy put her hand on my shoulder and talked to me like I was a first grader. “See how sunken his eyes are?” she said. “And how non-responsive he is?” she pinched his wrist and Lucas did nothing but lie still like playing dead. “I’ve done hospice care for a long time, honey. This is the beginning of the end.” She went on to say he might have as much as a week, but that if we were lucky he’d slip away sooner than that. “Poor baby has suffered enough.” She told me they were doing something called palliative care. He had a catheter for his pee and a patch for pain relief and that was all. “Not much urine,” she said, showing me the bag. “And what there is, is dark in color. His body is shutting down.”
I didn’t bother to respond to her, but after she left I whispered in Lucas’s ear, “Don’t listen to her. You’re going to get better. We’ll show her.” Once he went into the coma, they stopped giving him food or water, but when they weren’t looking I dribbled water into his mouth and wiped a wet sponge over his parched lips. Screw Nancy and her wise proclamations. She didn’t know a thing about Lucas. After he made his miraculous recovery, I’d tell him all about Nancy—her ridiculous scrubs covered in cartoon panda bears, how she called everyone honey, and the way she always bustled in humming, acting like she knew it all.  
Because I had a few things up my sleeve that I hadn’t told anyone. Mainly that I was calling in outside forces. First of all, I’d been praying like no one on the face of planet Earth had ever prayed before. I’d never been one for prayer, but when things got serious I put it into overdrive, imagining God on the other end thinking, hmmm…Emma doesn’t usually pray. This must be serious. I could almost feel God making a plan for everything to work out just fine.
So that was the first thing.
The second thing I’d done was visit Mrs. Kokesh, two days earlier, right after school let out for summer vacation. She lived as far from the center of town as the Walkers did, but in the other direction. With my backpack strapped on, I rode my bike to her house. By the time I arrived I was out of breath, my legs like jelly.  Her two-story house was rambling and falling down, white paint peeling, porch sagging. Moss growing on the roof. The place was reportedly haunted. Mrs. Kokesh sold produce from a stand by the road during the growing season. Her vegetables were always ready before everyone else’s and bursting with color.
She also did magic, for a price. I’d heard the stories for years. Tales of dying pets brought to health. Love potions that really worked. A spell that ended a drought. But things backfired too, and if she didn’t agree with your motives, you might not get what she thought you needed instead of what you asked for, and some of it was pretty nasty. That was the story anyway. I didn’t know anyone who’d actually gone to her, but the stories, they went round and round. I saw her once at the gas station filling up her old Buick, and she just looked like an old lady to me, all hunched over and wearing lots of layers of clothing. It was her disguise, they said. She looked like a harmless old biddy, but really, she was very powerful.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! I can't wait to read this HURRY!!!!!!!!!!

Dia

Karen McQuestion said...

I love your enthusiasm, Dia! Believe me, I'm writing as fast as I can. :)

Karen McQuestion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.