Great Beginnings

Story ideas often come to me at the most inopportune times like when I’m about to fall asleep or right in the middle of a long run. I’m usually prepared for those scenarios because I keep my iPad on my nightstand (I have an electronic notebook) or I just keep ruminating on the idea while I’m out on the trails so that I don’t forget it. I’m not complaining; I’m glad I have the luxury of too many ideas in my writing notebook. I can think of nothing worse than pages of blank white paper (or, in my case, a blank screen with an irritating blinking cursor). Nevertheless, it’s interesting to look at these ideas and how see how they evolve as I flesh out the short story or novel.

When I look at my notes, they most often describe a scene that provides the spark for the story. Invariably, all of my notes describe the beginning of the story; the point where it becomes most interesting, or at least interesting enough for the reader to want to read on. My notes for my first novel, The Vanishing, simply describe the scene where Ella is on the verge of killing her husband and the agony and emotions she’s experiencing. That’s how the novel begins, and from that scene the story unfolds revealing how Ella arrived at the point where she wanted to kill her husband. My original idea, the beginning of the story, set the mood for the whole novel for both me and the readers.

My current project, The Fire Within, starts with the main character struggling to run around a track on his prosthetic legs, which is exactly how I described the idea in my original notes. I want to capture the readers’ imagination with a great beginning that leads to a deluge of interesting questions and, hopefully, leaves them wanting much more after the first chapter. Beginnings have to be one of the strongest parts of your story if you’re going to keep the reader engaged, which is one of the reasons my ideas tend to start there. I often ask myself “Why would I be interested in this story?” The beginning has to satisfactorily answer that question. It’s no accident that agents only ask for the first 20-40 pages of a novel when you query them. If the story doesn’t work in those first few pages, it’s not going to work over the course of 80,000 words.

Once I have the concept of the story down and understand how I’m going to start the story, it’s time to turn that great beginning into a dynamic short story or novel. For short stories, the beginning is usually enough to propel me forward for 5,000-8,000 words. I often think of short stories as scenes from larger novels, and if I look at any of my short stories, I could easily turn them into novels if I thought the story had enough gas to run over 80,000 words. With novels, the beginnings provide the literary compass for me as I outline out the major sections of the story. I constantly go back to the beginning as I develop the outline and ask myself if the storyline is staying true to the original idea. If not, I make changes. It’s actually rare that I get to the outline phase and change the direction of a story completely away from the original idea. If the beginning is truly as good as I believe it is, then it will hold sway over the whole writing process.

None of this process precludes me from changing the beginning. I refine it over and over as the story develops, but the essence of the beginning is always there. The idea from which the story sprung remains a central point of focus for me. I’ll often go back to my notebook and read my notes just to see if the story stayed true to my original idea. So far, each of my stories have. I view the original idea, the great beginning, as the foundation for the story, and if you truly have a solid foundation, you can build a strong story that stands the test of time and revisions. A great beginning is that important.

 

 

Don’t Force It

During the week, I get up extra early so I can write. I’m a morning person, so getting up at 4:30 AM is not a big deal to me. The key for me is being consistent and having a routine so that I maintain the momentum that is necessary to complete a novel, but I don’t work on a novel every single morning. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, if I’m not in the mood to work on a book, then I write other things, whether it’s a post for this blog or just some random short story or scene that has been bouncing around in my head. Even with that many options, some mornings I just don’t feel it at all. Luckily, those moments are very rare, but they do happen, and that’s when I have to find some other use of my time. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that I can’t force myself to write just because that’s my routine or schedule. It doesn’t work that way. Some days I’m just not in the writing mood.

So what to do? Reading helps divert my mind into another world and often gets me primed to write again. A writer who doesn’t read won’t be a writer for long. Reading is an essential part of the writing process. You need to learn how other writers are doing it and it’s a great way to discover new ideas or fresh ways of telling the story. I consider reading part of my training and education as a writer, and it’s a great way to use the time when you don’t feel like writing. Besides, I love to read, and it reminds me of why I enjoy writing so much.

Another thing I’ll do when I’m out of sorts is research for my current novel. I’ll admit that I hate taking time away from writing to research even though it is necessary. I often research on the weekends or at other times outside of my writing schedule, but if I don’t feel like writing, then it’s a perfect time to research details for my story. I often make notes in my drafts for things I need to research (another reason I love Scrivener so much) and then, I go back to the story later to fill in the details. My current novel, The Fire Within, has many such notes, so I have plenty of items to research during any idle time I have available.

This is an example of another adjustment I’ve made over the years to get better as a writer. Many years ago, I’d get frustrated when I wasn’t in the writing mood and try to force it. The result wasn’t pretty, which would frustrate me even more and often cause me to stop writing for a while. Before I knew it, years passed and I had nothing to show for it. Now that I’m more flexible, I’m much more productive and happier with the result. The bottom line is that you can’t force the creative process no matter how disciplined you are, so you have to be prepared to adjust to stay on track. it seems counterintuitive, but it works for me.

Forever I Love You

Just in time for Halloween, I’ve written a creepy short story. Some people live in their own head too much and that’s just a little creepy for the rest of us. Feedback and comments are appreciated.

“I suppose there’s something bothering you,” I stated matter-of-factly to my girlfriend who sat, stone-faced, in front of me staring out into the space over my shoulder like I didn’t exist. I was annoyed, irate at her nonchalance. She’d been nothing but one of the most demanding women I had ever known and this was the attitude I got for catering to her every need like some servant.

She said nothing in response, not even a sigh, which she was prone to do all too often when it came to me. It was like I wasn’t good enough for her. Bitch.

I stood up from my seat and turned away from her to put my half empty glass of milk in the sink. She remained at our kitchen table refusing to relieve me of my anxiety. We had reached an impasse, and there was nothing I could do to change it.

“I have to go to work,” I said solemnly peeking through the tiny slit in the curtains above the sink. I reached up and pinched the flimsy material together to close off the view. I couldn’t risk having someone see into our house. I quickly scanned the living room and the dining room ensuring all the drapes were tightly closed. The heavy curtains in the living room choked off almost all of the light. The room felt like a cave, damp and moist and cold with something more than a musty smell that made my nose crinkle as I breathed in heavily. The air conditioner whined outside the kitchen window. I shuddered in the cold despite the heavy coat I wore.

The chill froze my fingers. They were numb and tingled in the frosty air. I had removed my gloves to eat breakfast, but even in that short time, the frigid air penetrated the pores of my hands making them feel like ungainly blocks of ice. I ran some warm water over them in the sink using her silence as an opportunity to regain my composure. I dried my hands and put my gloves back on. I felt relieved by the fleece lining that pampered my fingers, but I still couldn’t feel the tips.

I said nothing to Monica as I gathered my laptop and put it in my backpack. I zipped it shut in one fluid motion and flung it over my shoulder as I walked to the door leading to our garage.

“I love you,” I said as I looked back at her. She still sat at the kitchen table staring out into the space before her like she was trying to discern some pattern in the wallpaper. She said nothing. She didn’t even look my way. I knew that I had crossed some unseen threshold with her. I had pushed her too far.

I shook my head and stepped into the garage. The door shut behind me and I turned to lock it. For a moment I thought that the front door was not locked, and I panicked. I returned to the house and hurriedly walked through the kitchen and living room to the front door. It was locked. I sighed in relief and exited through the door to the garage again locking it securely behind me. Monica didn’t even notice this. She said nothing. Her ambivalence saddened and enraged me.

Before I raised the garage door, I removed my gloves, heavy coat, and the extra pants I wore in our house and stuffed them in a cabinet in the garage. I locked the cabinet and checked it twice before I threw my backpack in the passenger seat of my car and hit the button to the garage door. I backed out of the garage and watched the garage door shut before I left my driveway. I looked around at the neighboring houses. No one was watching or loitering around our house, which did little to calm my jittery nerves. I’d have to deal with Monica when I returned home.

It was a typical summer day in the Midwest, hot and humid despite the overcast skies. I flipped on the air conditioning in my car to cool things off. I’d grown so used to our cold house that I was often surprised when I felt the heat in the summer. It was always winter in our house. A smell similar to dead leaves lingered around me. I sniffed the crook of my arm to determine if it was my shirt. It smelled sour like it had been left damp too long and didn’t dry properly. I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. Hopefully, no one at work would notice.

***

Monica and I weren’t always this far apart. We were deeply in love at one time, or at least, I was in love with her. I still am. We met at the grocery store down the street from our house. Well, it was just my house then, but after she moved in with me, I thought of it as our house like we had always been together there. I had spotted her in the produce aisle perusing through the organic peppers, and immediately, I became enthralled with her. I pushed my cart up to a nearby fruit display and pretended to search for the perfect red apple while I watched her from the corner of my eye. Even with that limited view, I could see that she was beautiful. It was love at first sight.

She must have fussed over those peppers for a good three minutes before she moved on from the produce section. I threw a few apples into a bag and placed them in my cart before I tailed her to the next aisle. She’d stop and I’d do the same desperately trying to find something that I needed wherever I happened to stop. This continued for the next half hour as I flitted from aisle to aisle watching her and getting as close to her as possible without alarming her in any way. I’d been through that situation before with other women and I couldn’t afford a repeat. My probation officer had warned me about this behavior, but I couldn’t help myself even with the specter of prison hanging over me.

By the time Monica had half-filled her cart and jostled through the meandering housewives with their throngs of toddlers and preschoolers, I knew for sure she was the one for me. The way she carefully studied everything she placed in her cart showed how much she cared for those she had to feed. I desperately wanted to be the one she cared for.

I stood behind her in line at the cashier. I watched her every move. She brushed up against me as she emptied her cart. “Excuse me,” she said. I was close enough to smell her perfume. It made me turn cartwheels in my head. I knew I loved her.

She finished checking out, and I quickly placed my bag of apples and a box of cereal in front of the cashier. I didn’t want lose her. The cashier tried to be friendly with me, but I brushed him off indicating that I was in a hurry in the rudest possible way. He clammed up as I paid and rushed out the door without even a thank you from that ungrateful asshole.

I scanned the parking lot quickly looking for the black-haired girl who wore a bright red blouse and a white skirt. Luckily, I spotted her near a cart corral just outside the exit. The clank of her cart striking the railing of the corral got my attention. I walked toward her even though my car was on the other side of the parking lot. As I got closer, I slowed down and pretended to be looking for my keys. She didn’t notice me and I used the time to get a closer look at her from behind my sunglasses.

I watched her get into her silver Nissan Altima and mentally noted her license plate number, A757433. She backed out of her spot and drove toward the exit. I stood there watching her leave. I knew she was the one. Finally, after all the time I had spent searching for the woman of my dreams, I had found her.

Were it not for my resourcefulness, we would not be together. I walked in through the front door of the vehicle registration database and plucked her home address from the records. I’ve always been good with computers. Once I had her address, I camped out in front of her apartment and watched her come and go during her daily routine.

She usually left for work around 7:30 AM and drove to her office on the outskirts of downtown where she worked on the fourth floor of a low-slung office building as the executive assistant to some asshole sales guy. I hated that guy. He’s was so pompous that I wanted to punch him in the throat. When he disappeared later, I was glad to be rid of him, but I was surprised that Monica was so sad about it.

I once visited Monica in her office; although, she didn’t know me at the time. My company actually had some space in the same office park where her building was located, so I wandered into her building pretending to be looking for my company’s office. She was never the wiser. It was the first time I really heard her sweet voice, and she talked directly to me. Her eyes were so sparkling green that they mesmerized me. I probably lingered in her presence a little too long because she asked if there was a problem after she told me my company’s office was in the building next door, but I didn’t care. I was smitten.

During our courtship, I almost got fired from my job. I’d shown up late several days in a row and had pretended that I was working out of the office next to Monica’s building for longer than I should have. I was sitting in the courtyard watching Monica have lunch with one of her girlfriends when my boss called. The system had gone down and had been down for half an hour and no one had addressed the issue. I wasn’t paying attention. He really chewed my ass out for that one. Luckily, it was a simple fix and I had the system back up within an hour.

After that, I decided I’d have to spend time with Monica only at her place. She lived in a ground-floor apartment about ten minutes from my house. She had these vertical blinds covering her patio doors in the back of the apartment that she rarely closed all the way. She also sparsely used her patio, so I could sit out there not far from her back door and watch her through the slats of the blinds.

This worked well as long as that meddlesome neighbor of hers wasn’t out on his patio smoking. For the most part, I was able to avoid her neighbor because there was a line of trees and bushes that enclosed the back of the apartment building mostly to hide the ugly retention pond that stood on the other side of the trees. I could hide among the thin trees and stay out of sight.

The neighbor was always looking my way when he was out on his patio. He kept peering into the darkness like he could clearly see me. I was quiet and kept my movement to a minimum, but he still bore a hole through me from his patio. He even called out to me a couple of times, but I said nothing. He later drowned in the retention pond in a horrible accident one night. Monica was distraught. I could see it on her face through the blinds.

Monica lived alone except for her cat. One day while she was gone to work, I went over to her place to check on her cat. I wanted to make sure it had plenty of food and water. The damn thing hissed at me when I came through the patio door. I tried to assure it that I was friendly and was only there to help, but it scratched and bit me when I tried to pet it. I chased it into her bedroom, but I lost my enthusiasm once it lodged itself under the far reaches of her bed. The cat ran away not long after Monica moved in with me. Good riddance.

Monica remained coy for the first few months of our relationship until we met each other at the grocery store again. She had returned to where it all started, and I was feeling sentimental and really not paying attention to where I was going.

“Don’t I know you?” she asked catching me off guard as I turned into the aisle not far behind her.

I paused and tried to look confused or maybe like I was thinking. “I think so. Don’t you work at the Oakridge Plaza office?” I said after a pause. My mind raced through a flurry of possible responses.

“I do. You do, too, don’t you?”

“Yes, I’m in the building next to yours. I’m Larry Randall.”

She smiled like she knew we were meant to be. “I’m Monica Pearson. Nice to finally meet you…officially. I’ve seen you around a lot. I remember you came to my building one day looking for your office.”

“Yes, that was my first day at that office.”

“You trying to find something?” she asked nodding to my empty cart.

“Looking for some cereal,” I said quickly not really thinking about what I needed. I had followed her into the grocery store. I didn’t really need anything.

“Cereal is on aisle five,” she said nodding to her left and smiling at me. “Very nice meeting you. Again.” Her smile had disappeared and she started to walk away. I wanted to say something to make her stay. I loved talking to her, but I couldn’t think of a thing. Instead, I whisked my cart around and headed over to aisle five.

I put a box of cereal in my cart and lurked along the aisle at the top of the store looking for Monica. She’d seen me. I mean really seen me. My heart pounded in my chest. I didn’t want to let the moment go. I couldn’t. I had to tell her how I felt.

She took a long time to finish her shopping. When she finally entered the line at the check-out, I lingered out of sight near the top of aisle four peering ever so slightly around the display of toilet paper on the end so that I could watch her. When she finished paying and rolled her cart toward the exit, I paused a moment before I abandoned my cart and fell in behind her as she walked to her car. It was time to tell her how I really felt about her.

***

When I finally arrived at my office, I sighed heavily as I walked through the door. I didn’t like my job. I was good at it, but my boss was an asshole, and he was always on my ass about getting things done. I disliked him so much that I purposefully took twice as long to do things just to piss him off.

“Randall!” my boss yelled from his cubicle as I clipped my laptop into the docking station on my desk. I sighed again.

“Yes.”

“I need to talk to you.”

“Be right over.” I looked around but all of my coworkers were absorbed in their own work and refused to acknowledge me or the persecution I suffered at the hands of my manic boss. I slid my feet along the cheap, industrial carpet as I walked down the aisle to his cube. Someone had brought in a cheese and sausage biscuit. I could smell it among the sea of cubes and the tops of heads that dotted the wide-open office. My stomach churned. I hated the smell of sausage.

“What’s up?”

“The fucking Feds were here yesterday asking questions. Do you know anything about any hacking activity on our network?”

“Yesterday. When?”

“Sometime after lunch. Have you seen any strange activity on our network?”

I didn’t see anyone come to our office yesterday, but then I remembered I had left early to go to Monica’s apartment. She’d been whining about her how dry her skin was and how she needed the face cream that she normally used, so I went to her apartment to retrieve it.

“Randall?”

I shook my head slightly and looked at my boss. I felt dazed and confused for a moment. “No, I haven’t seen any strange activity.”

“Have you been monitoring everything?”

“Yes, of course.” I resented when he assumed I wasn’t doing my job. I was damn good at my job and he couldn’t even join a laptop to the domain without my help. Asshole.

“They claim that someone hacked the DMV system from here and they requested activity logs for the past month.”

“Did you give them the data?”

“What the fuck do you think? They had a warrant.”

“Oh…” I felt a sharp pang in my stomach and a sweat broke out on my forehead. Dread descended upon me. Images rattled through my brain like someone was flipping through a photo book. I thought of Monica and all the women before her. I thought of her boss and how he looked so shocked when the knife plunged into his heart and how he clung to my arm as he fell to the ground. I thought of her old neighbor and how he struggled against the extension cord that squeezed the life from his neck. And that damn cat.

I made up some excuse about feeling sick and left the office as quickly as I could. I did feel sick, but not in a way that would endanger the health of my coworkers. My boss was a major germophobe, so he didn’t quibble with me leaving work. The moment I said I thought I had a fever, he physically withdrew from me as if I were going to spew blood on him.

I rushed home as quickly as I could to consider my options. Even the slacker Fed geeks could figure out that I hacked the DMV from my office network. They probably couldn’t pinpoint exactly who did it, but there were only a few dozen employees in the IT group, and it was only a matter of time before they narrowed it down to me. I hadn’t really thought it out completely when I peeked into the DMV system. I had done it on a desperate whim because I wanted to find Monica and tell her how much I loved her. I was willing to risk all for her love, and after all that effort, it had come down to this.

She said nothing when I walked through the door. I had put my coat and gloves on in the garage, but when I stepped into the kitchen, I knew something was wrong. The house was only moderately cool, and the lingering odor of rotten leaves permeated the whole downstairs. I ran to the thermostat and checked the temperature. It was near 50 degrees, and the air wasn’t running despite the setting being lower than the temperature. I lowered the setting further. Nothing. The air conditioner had stopped working. I slammed my fist against the wall near the thermostat and cursed my luck. Everything I had worked for was falling apart just as fast as it had come together.

***

Monica looked surprised when she opened the door to her apartment and saw me standing there with a bouquet of roses in my hand. She had told me in no uncertain terms that she was not interested in going out when I had approached her the day before in the parking lot at the grocery store. At the time she seemed put off by my admission of my love for her, but I knew in my heart that she just needed some time to process what I had said. Women always take a long time to figure out how they feel, so I decided to give her some time.

“Larry, what are you doing here?”

“I bought you some flowers.”

She clutched the door like she was going to shut it in my face. Her behavior stirred anger in my gut, but I held it in check. My anger was what had gotten me on probation in the first place, but how could she be so fucking ungrateful?

“Thank you for the thought, but I cannot accept them.” She stepped into the door and closed it a little more, but I could still see her face and the top of her shoulders.

“Why not? I bought them just for you.”

“I can’t. I told you that I already have a boyfriend.”

I tried to look into her apartment. I felt like I already knew the place because I had spent so much time peering through the back patio doors. “Then, where is this ‘boyfriend’ of yours?”

“He’s not here. He lives in New York.”

“New York? If I had a girlfriend like you, I’d be right here by your side. How can he leave such a beautiful woman alone?”

I thought she smiled ever so slightly, but it could have also been fear overtaking her. I felt intense, and I probably looked it. Some of my other girlfriends had told me I frightened them when I became intense. I’m not sure why they felt that way.

“Look, I’ve had a long day. I need to get some rest.” She started to close the door.

“Monica, wait…can’t we just go to dinner, get to know each other a little, and feel this out?”

A definite look of fright glowed in her eyes. She looked like a dog about to be beaten. “No, I’m sorry…”

She tried to close the door the rest of the way, but I stuck my foot in between the door and the threshold. She pushed harder, but I stood there angry and distraught. Before she could scream, I put my hand around her throat and pushed her back into her apartment as I flung the flowers to the floor of her foyer. I shut the door behind me and locked it with my free hand. Her throat was so tiny in my big hand. I didn’t mean to hurt her, but my anger overwhelmed me. I felt like my mind just went blank.

***

I lost track of time. I had fixed the air conditioning unit, and the cold air had returned. I shivered in my own living room sitting next to Monica who stared blankly at the wall before us. I was too upset to watch any television because I was afraid I’d see the Feds closing in. Instead, I surfed the web from my laptop looking for options. I knew what I had to do at that moment, but I refused to think of it. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to let Monica go.

Finally, I put my laptop aside and reached for Monica’s hand. It popped when I bent it to fit inside mine. The odor in our house had steadily grown stronger, and I could scarcely ignore it, but nothing could change how I felt about her. She looked at me, and for a moment, I could detect love in those pretty green eyes. I smiled faintly and held her hand more tightly.

“You know I love you, right?” I said to her.

She said nothing. She just tilted her head at me like she probably did when she saw a kitten or a puppy, an adoring look reserved for those special things in her life.

“I’ll always love you no matter what happens, but we may have to separate for a while until this blows over.”

“What blows over?” she asked.

“The Feds think I hacked into some system.”

“Did you?”

“Yes, but I did it for you.”

“For me?”

“Yes, you. I did it to find you. Because I love you.”

Her head tilted again with that adoring look. “I love you, too.”

I smiled and leaned in to kiss her cold lips. I hugged her tightly for a long while, but when I let her go, I knew what I had to do. There were few other options as the walls of my world closed in on me.

***

I’d never embalmed a body before, but like everything else I’d learned, I turned to the Internet. I found all the resources I needed to do it including how-to videos that demonstrated the practice. I learned to use the femoral artery on women and to aspirate the organs using a trocar. There were many resources on the right chemical mix to preserve the body for the longest time possible, but it was all a matter of the environment in which the body was stored.

I’d seen blood and disembodied corpses before, so it was nothing for me to watch those videos and do it myself. It was harder when it was someone I loved so, but I knew it was for the best. I wanted Monica to look just like she did on that first day I met her. It took a lot of work to remove that contorted expression from her face and hide the bruising on her neck, but I was not able to remove the blood from the whites of her eyes. I slipped some cotton under her eyelids and glued them shut. I painted her beautiful greens on the tops of her eyelids so that I could always look into them.

I had to massage her body quite vigorously to loosen the stiffened muscles. Even after all my effort, she remained difficult to position or move, so I kept her mainly in a seated position and tied her to whatever chair she sat in. I moved her to my sofa after I first finished and sat next to her. I held her hand in mine, and for the first time since I had met her, I felt like I was truly loved in return. I leaned in and kissed her painted lips. They felt cold and rubbery, but I didn’t care. I loved her.

***

The woods behind Monica’s apartment were thick with summer weeds and leaves, and I could move around back there with almost no chance of being seen. That nasty retention pond bred mosquitos and kept most residents away from the area during the heat of summer, but the ground was soft and easy to cut into with the blade of my shovel.

It was almost 3 AM by the time I finished. I shed my clothes and put them into a garbage bag after I changed into a clean shirt and pants. I disposed of the shovel and the garbage bag in the dumpster behind the grocery store near our house. I thought it was poetic that I dumped these things at the same store where our story began, but now, Monica was safely resting until I could get back to her. Once I resolved this issue with the Feds, I’d bring her back to our house, and we’d spend the rest of our lives together. That was the promise I made before I covered her in the soft earth.

By the time I got back to our house, it was almost 3:30 AM. I stumbled through the kitchen and up the stairs to our bedroom. I had turned the air conditioner off, but the house still felt cool in the stagnant air. The smell made me uncomfortable, but I ignored it as I collapsed into our bed and dreamt of Monica. I dreamed we got married in the most wonderful ceremony in Maui. All of my other girlfriends were there, and they were jealous of Monica and of how happy we were.

***

Several days passed and no Federal agents showed up at my door or at my office. My boss said nothing else about the Feds or the network activity. I went about my job as usual, but I didn’t feel normal. I missed Monica. Everything at our house reminded me of her. I couldn’t even sleep in our bed because I missed her so much, so I mostly slept on the couch with the TV silently flickering across the room. I was miserable.

One night after work, I stopped off at our grocery and grabbed some beer. It had been a while since I had gotten drunk, but I felt that I needed to blow off some steam. I flipped on the White Sox game and started drinking.

As the night wore on, I realized that drinking didn’t make me forget about Monica. It made me think of her more. The more I drank, the sadder I became, and the more I wanted to see her again. I knew I shouldn’t think that way, but I couldn’t help it. The gravitational pull of her soft lips and her fierce green eyes was just too much.

After Midnight I drove carefully over to her apartment and wandered back into the woods by the retention pond. My measly flashlight with its weakening batteries was of little help, but I found the spot where I left her and started digging furiously with the pick axe I had thrown in my car.

I didn’t think I had buried her that deep, but it took a while before I felt the pick axe strike something other than earth. I could see by the weak light that I had finally exposed her top half. I shined the light into the pit at her dusty face. I wiped the dirt from her eyes and her lips. The greens I had painted were faded and smudged and her lips were dry and crusty. I reached behind her shoulders and bent her up toward me just a little and kissed her lips.

“I love you, Monica,” I whispered in her ear. The damp earthen smell flooded my nostrils.

“Freeze! Police! Put your hands up!” a man yelled behind me furiously. Two bright lights suddenly blinded me. I could hear the click of metal and before I could say anything two heavy dark figures descended upon me and knocked me to the ground.

I yelled out Monica’s name desperately. She had to know that I wasn’t a bad man, that I loved her, and that we’d be together again soon. I screamed to her and tried to explain, but one of the men whose knee pressed me into the loose dirt beside the pit whacked me in the back of the head as he yanked my hands behind my back. I couldn’t breathe because my head was pressed into the soft dirt, and for a moment, I thought I was going to die a horrible death asphyxiated by the very earth that had held my Monica.

One of the men jerked me up to my feet, but I was dizzy and all they said to me was jumbled and nonsensical. I tried to say something, but all that came out was the dirt I had inhaled. I started crying and begging for them to let me see Monica one last time, but they ignored me and dragged me past the retention pond and to the front of her apartment where other bright lights were flashing and other men were moving purposefully from vehicles to her apartment. They shoved me into the back of one of the police cars and all I could do was fall on my side and cry. I cried out her name and screamed my love for her. She hand to know how I felt about her because I loved her. Forever.

Taking a Short Break

Writing a novel can be intense and emotionally draining, so it helps to take a step back sometimes and do something else to relieve the creative tension that often surges during the six months it takes me to write a first draft. I like to tackle short stories during these breaks. They allow me to keep writing while switching gears to refresh my mind on the story at hand.

I’m currently working on my fifth novel, The Fire Within, which in a very intense story about a wounded Iraqi war veteran who returns home and struggles to resume his life after losing his legs to an improvised explosive device while on patrol outside Baghdad. As you can imagine, the story is fraught with emotion and intense imagery that makes it exhausting. Trying to capture the essence of the story in all its raw nature is difficult, so I find myself going over each chapter again and again tweaking it to set the proper tone. It feels like it may take longer than the usual six months to finish this one.

After a few weeks of writing I found myself needing a break from the story, not only to rejuvenate my creative senses but to stretch other writing muscles. It’s almost like doing the same focused exercise every day for weeks and realizing that other parts of my body need activity too. I definitely didn’t want to break my writing habit, so I switched to a short story instead.

I keep a list of short story ideas so that I have story concepts at the ready when I’m in need of a break from my novels. It’s almost like going outside after being cooped up inside all day. The new concept or idea frees my mind to do something totally different and helps me keep my momentum when I return to the novel. These breaks are a necessary part of the writing process for me, and since I have yet to break through the publishing process, I’m not under any strict deadlines at the moment.

I’m currently writing a creepy short story about a man who is obsessed with the object of his affections. The obsession, of course, goes too far, but his grasp on reality is a little bit skewed. It’s a first-person narrative, so the reader is forced to view the world through his not-so-stable lens, which makes it even creepier. Once the reader realizes what has happened, I hope it elicits a run-for-the-exits response. That’s my intention anyway since it’ll be Halloween in a few weeks.

This short story couldn’t be further afield from my current novel, so it gets my mind thinking in a different way, and when I return to my novel next week, I hope to feel like it’s new in some ways and that should improve the story. Anytime I can look at a familiar subject with fresh eyes, it’s bound to make the results better. I just needed this “short” break to make it happen.