I’ve just released The Broken Gate, a new short story.
The Broken Gate
Jennifer Sandborn fled personal tragedy to serve as a humanitarian aid worker, promising her husband she would return in a few months. Two years later she returns in the middle of the night. Everything feels familiar, but nothing is the same.
“Tomorrow morning she would wake up under the duvet in the chilly house, safe from wars and death and tragedy. She would stretch out her hand with her eyes closed and when her fingers touched John’s warm flesh, she would nestle into him with her lips against his throat.
Although she couldn’t see the house where her husband waited, memory guided her steps, filling her blackness with light.
Her hand reached for the gate but found only the edge of the fence. She fumbled and found the uneven slant of the gate, propped open, still broken …” More about The Broken Gate
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Last week I spent eight days at a wilderness star party in a comfortable motorhome on top of Mt. Kobau. Star parties are designed for people like my husband who love to stay up late viewing and photographing stars, and then sleep all morning, followed by an afternoon talking with other enthusiasts about stars, nebulae, telescopes, and astral photography.
For me, Mt. Kobau is a magical Writer’s retreat (no phone, no Internet, beautiful wilderness environment). I was counting on the mountain to help me finish the first draft of my short story I’d promised to write for the upcoming Pen Warriors anthology.
The last time I wrote a short story was during the dark ages of the twentieth century. So I trekked up the mountain with a thousand words of beginning, a fuzzy idea of what the ending might look like, and no clue what to put in the middle. Back at the last Red Door, I’d impulsively named this story The Broken Gate, so at least I had a title.
I also had a hefty case of writer’s anxiety. I hadn’t touched my beginning in months and felt hyper-aware of my inexperience with the short story form. I felt like a bicycle marathon rider handed a unicycle at the starting gate.
I needed the mountain to answer some basic questions, like: What belonged in the middle of my beginning-ending sandwich? What was the significance of a broken gate in the story? All I had was those 1000 words, my laptop computer, and a determination that eight days on a mountain would produce something.
My mountaintop retreat turned out to be filled with internal psychological drama—the sort that’s boring to anyone but the poor writer experiencing the drama.
My 8 days on Mt. Kobau
Unwound from hectic trip preparation, walked dogs. Subconscious presumably wrestled with The Broken Gate.
Reread and edited beginning of The Broken Gate to get back into the story.
Walked dogs, slept late, read other author’s novel. Hoped subconscious was more productive.
Woke up determined to write. Opened computer, wrote a few words, and then deleted them. Behaved like one of those stereotypical movie authors who type a sentence, then tear it out of the typewriter and throw it away.
Realized that what I’d already written was hopeless garbage and I faced the depressing fact that I had no story and no hope of coming up with one. My creativity was gonzo.
Decided I needed to go back to bed—an easy decision since everyone else was sleeping off a night viewing the stars. I shut down my computer, took off my slacks, and climbed under the covers.
Two minutes later a new idea flashed onto my mental whiteboard. My Muse, bless her heart, had rescued The Broken Gate and made the gate (a story element I grabbed out of nowhere) absolutely meaningful.
I threw back the covers, got out of bed, and started making notes.
Decided it was time I gave my muse a name (Calliope). She’s earned it!
Wrote the scenes I’d sketched out after Calliope visited me. Found the writing challenging and emotional. Realized that just because short stories are short, it doesn’t mean they are easy or quick to write.
Halfway through the final day I wrote The End on the first draft of The Broken Gate.
When I’m writing a story or a novel, I’m never sure I can finish it until I write The End on the first draft. I should stop expecting anything different and just write the darned story.
Essential parts of my storytelling process take place outside my conscious mind. I’m dead in the water weeds. My resolution for next time—don’t forget that this is a partnership between my writer’s conscious mind, and that unconscious storyteller portion of me that I’ve decided to call Calliope. (as nominal creator, I reserve the right to change Calliope’s name if it’s not working for me.)
Don’t miss the upcoming Pen Warriors anthology of short stories:
5 Long Shadows – an Anthology of Short Stories
- The Stone Heart by Bonnie Edwards
- The Broken Gate by Vanessa Grant (and Calliope)
- The Wrong Move by E.C. Sheedy
- The Trouble with Apples by Laura Tobias
- The Last Fortune by Gail Whitiker
Also posted on PenWarriors.com
The Senorita and the Drifter …
What happens when a drifter running from his past rescues a woman who can’t speak Spanish from a cluster of admiring Mexican men? The last thing Joe wants is to fall for a woman who craves commitments and can’t refuse a cry for help, but he can’t leave Dinah and her ancient car on a remote mountain road …
Dinah dashed off to Mexico without knowing if her car could survive the journey, or thinking about her lack of Spanish. Maybe it wasn’t surprising that she herself needing rescuing, but finding a young girl desperate for help in a strange country was difficult enough without Joe. Having hit bottom herself and pulled back up, she had no patience for drifters and Joe was the last thing she wanted … and everything she needed.
Also available from iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and other distributors
Sometimes the universe gives me a gift when a title that evokes my novel’s theme and atmosphere pops into my mind early in the creation process. The title for “On Johnny’s Terms” appeared while I wrote the second scene of Cynthia and Jonathan’s love story. Perfect, I decided, and I played with nuances of Johnny’s terms as I refused to give Cynthia exactly what she asked for, but … well, in the end, both Johnny and I wanted much more for her than she dreamed was possible.
Unfortunately the title and the nickname “Johnny” were not a hit with my publisher – not romantic enough. So I replaced “Johnny” with “Jonathan” and came up with a title the publisher and I could agree on. So “The Moon Lady’s Lover” was released.
Fast forward to the year 2011, a world where authors can make their own decisions on titles and cover art. A few weeks ago my cover artist and I discussed cover ideas for the new eBook release of “The Moon Lady’s Lover”. I sent Angela the artwork summary I had prepared for the original print publisher. I didn’t mention the title issue because I’d forgotten about the original title until I opened the artwork summary to send it.
When I saw the cover Angela created, I was surprised and excited to see the title “On Johnny’s Terms”. Thank you, Angela, the cover scene is exactly what I wanted and the title is perfect.
… to my readers, I hope you enjoy reading the story of Johnny and Cynthia as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Synopsis of On Johnny’s Terms
Cynthia knew it was outrageous to ask Jonathan’s help when they hadn’t spoken a civil word in the fourteen years since she was sixteen. But she’d flown across the country to find him, trying to find the right words all through the four-hour flight.
She hadn’t called to say she was coming, so he wouldn’t be expecting her. He certainly wouldn’t smile when he saw her.
“I came to ask you for money.”
When Love Returns (Gabriola Island)
She vowed never to return … but fate had other ideas!
When Julie Charters decided to return to Gabriola Island, she had no idea the man on whom she’d had a childhood crush would be so devastatingly attractive, and she wasn’t prepared to find him free. But she was a woman now and she knew better than to fall for a man who had always thought of her as second best.
Book 2 of the Gabriola Island series
Also available from iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and other distributors
EC Sheedy Tweeted me this afternoon about today’s blog, asking, “Are you doing the “garbage can? A little bit scary for writers, that one :-)”
Although “scary” (and I do agree!), the Garbage Can Test has always come through for me. So, on request from a recent email conversation between Pen Warriors, here’s the Garbage Can Test described in Chapter 11 of Writing Romance, 3rd Edition.
The Garbage Can Test stumbled out of my mouth several years ago during a weekend workshop at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. One of the writers attending asked for help with a complicated plot involving bad guys, a sheriff, and a heroine’s imprisoned brother. It sounded like good action but I’d become confused by the details and uncertain what to recommend.
On impulse – if I’d thought it out ahead, I might not have had the nerve – I held up her manuscript and said, “Okay, we both know there’s a problem and we don’t know how to fix it. Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m going to throw this manuscript into the garbage.”
I dropped the manuscript onto the floor beside me and she leaned forward in her seat, hands gripping the arms of her chair.
“It’s gone. Into the garbage. You’re never going to be able to write it. You’ll never see the characters again. I want you to think about that.” I could feel her thinking and worried that I’d gone too far. I was winging it and hoped I knew what I was doing. “If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story,” I asked, “just one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?”
What she picked surprised me, because I hadn’t known what was important to her in the story. It wasn’t the sheriff or the brother in jail. It wasn’t the bad guys. It was something I’d lost sight of, but when she grabbed that “one thing” it was suddenly crystal clear to both of us.
A few weeks later I told Naomi Horton about my experience with the garbage can. She was stalled in her book at the time but when she tried the garbage can, she realized the thing she cared about was the hero she’d visualized, a man who had lived undercover so long he was more accustomed to lies than truth. She threw out her planned heroine and wrote No Lies Between Us with a heroine whose motivation and backstory fit the hero — a woman who vowed she’d never be lied to again. The next time I attended one of Naomi’s lectures, I heard her mention the Vanessa Grant Garbage Can Test.
Hmm. I put the test in my own arsenal of writer’s tools, and used it myself for the first time in writing Yesterday’s Vows. Since then I’ve used the garbage can test at some point on almost every book I’ve written. In the rare event when it hasn’t worked, it’s been because I’ve been at a point in my life as a writer where I need to take a break, where I have to step back from writing and re-examine my goals and myself as a person.
Not long ago my current work-in-progress took a scary trip through the garbage can when I feared I’d written 30,000 words of a story that was going nowhere. Not so, growled my detective heroine, Alix Hyde, when she climbed out of the garbage can clutching a passionate desire to right a past wrong, despite the knowledge that her actions could destroy the life she’d fought so hard to build.
Has your idea ground to a halt? Are your characters going down in quicksand? Do you wonder what the point of your story is? Is it time to try the garbage can?
- Sit in a comfortable chair, take a few deep breaths and relax.
- Close your eyes and imagine you are holding your story in your hands.
- Visualize yourself throwing the story and all its papers into your garbage can. If you have trouble imagining this, collect the papers together and physically throw them into an empty garbage can.
- Tell yourself it’s gone. You’ll never be able to write that story now. Let yourself feel the loss.
- If all you feel is relief, then let it go, but if you feel as if you’ve just tossed your first-born into the fire, then…
- If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story, one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?
- Let everything else go. Begin again, starting from that one thing.
For more about the Garbage Can Test, see Writing Romance, 3rd Edition.
This blog is also posted on http://penwarriors.com
May the muse be with you.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Slipping gently into the enchanting story world of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, I’m falling under the spell of authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The story is told through a series of letters written and received by post-war British author Juliet Ashton, who is searching for a new book idea. After receiving a letter from a Guernsey resident who found her name written in a book, Juliet falls into correspondence with a growing number of Guernsey residents. As the authors reveal their story world and characters layer by layer, I am falling under their spell. How delightful to fall in story-love layer by gentle layer, a subtle treasure in a world of fast-immersion fiction.
Paperback available at Amazon Books The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader’s Circle)
Kindle Edition The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Nevil Shute is one of my favorite authors, and A Town Like Alice is my favorite of his novels. A twentieth-century British author, Shute is probably best known for On the Beach, which became a major motion picture staring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner in 1959 . I read Shute as a teen, then again as a young woman, and … again and again. Although Shute himself was quite modest as an author, his books have lived on and have been republished many times after his death in 1960. Most of his books are available in new editions, and also as eBooks.
A Town Like Alice, also published as The Legacy is one of the few Shute books based on a true story. The heroine is taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II, and because there is no available prison camp for women in the area, she is marched with a group of women and children from town to town in Malaya. This story is filled with adventure, romance, and typical of Nevil Shute, the heroism of ordinary people. The story timeline is focused on the post-war years in England and Australia, with well integrated and suspenseful flashbacks to the war experiences of hero and heroine.
A masterful book by a master, and one I’ve read at least ten times over the years. If you haven’t read Nevil Shute, give him a try!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’d been resisting Dark Lover for months before I read it in 2006. I had read several of Anne Rice’s vampire novels a few years earlier and decided it wasn’t a genre I had any further interest in. So when one of my writer friends announced that she’d just read a great vampire book by J R Ward, I didn’t follow up. Then it became two writers, then three, and suddenly lunches with my three closest writer friends were filled with excited references to JR Ward’s “Brotherhood” of vampire warriors. Three very different writers, two of whom I wouldn’t have thought would be interested in vampires unless they moved into the house next door. These women had very different reading tastes, yet all three were all in awe of what JR Ward had done in this book.
So I borrowed Dark Lover and became fascinated by the power of its author. Dark Lover hooked me on page one, drawing me into a dark romantic fantasy with powerful characters. As an author I’m fascinated by the way Ward can take dark characters I would run from in real life and grab me by the gut. Many of the mysteries and thrillers I like have a dark twist, but Ward mixes the darkness with romance in a heroic way that instantly put her at the top of my to-be-read list.
I couldn’t put Dark Lover down until I found out what happened to Wrath, the blind king of the vampires and head of a brotherhood of warriors; to Beth, the dissatisfied reporter who has no idea she’s the daughter of the vampire Darius and about to turn into a vampire herself; and Butch, the violent cop I didn’t want to like.
J R Ward is an author who breaks all the rules – or what seem to be the rules – and does it so well, with characters so alive and vital that they sweep me into her world and make me love it. Generally I’m not a big fan of vampire books, but JR Ward’s Brotherhood is something else. Hats off to a powerful writer who created an irresistible book that propelled me out looking for book 2, which luckily had already been published!
If you haven’t read any of J. R. Ward’s books, give Dark Lover a try. If you become a Brotherhood fan like I did, there are seven more Brotherhood books waiting for you, and the ninth, Lover Unleashed, comes out in March 2011.
Years ago I began writing my own stories because I love great characters and I’d exhausted the local library’s ability to satisfy my hunger for a good story. But like every writer I know, I treasure the experience of falling in love with a new-to-me author as I’m drawn into the life of an amazing character.
Lee Child’s Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, No. 1) opens with the mysterious Reacher handling his own bewildering arrest with the calmness of a master-strategist. The story quickly mushrooms onto a big-canvas with fast-moving events that don’t let up, yet the pace is breathlessly relaxed because both Reacher and his creator know exactly what they’re doing.
Lee Child has created a brilliant character in Jack Reacher. He gave his protagonist a respectable high-profile military background that taught him all the skills a tough hero needs, gave him the motivation to be a rambling loner, then set him up in Book One of the series as a detective character I can’t wait to read again. The plot is brilliant, the characters well-motivated and fascinating. Reacher’s personal motivation drives the story and kept me hooked throughout. I guessed a couple of the key pieces of the bad guys scenario along the way, which stroked my ego nicely, but I had lots of surprises as Reacher followed the twists of a master villain’s plot, rescuing the innocent and devastating the guilty.
My hat is off to Lee Child for creating one of the best “first episodes” of a continuing character mystery I’ve read in a long time! The author’s skill and the connection I felt to Reacher reminds me of Lawrence Block’s masterful Matt Scudder mysteries.
I just had a birthday the other day and I feel like I’ve been given a rare birthday present. I’ve fallen in love with an author’s detective character, and there are still fourteen published Reacher novels I haven’t read yet!
From one writer to another – Thank you, Lee Child.
This posting is also available on the Pen Warriors Blog