The Seven – Part I

I stood outside my new home with my single suitcase clasped in my arms.  The stiff wind blowing off the lake made me shiver and I wished I’d been able to afford a thicker coat.  Minnesota was colder than I thought it would be, I was unprepared for how strong the wind could be, nothing had gone as planned.

Originally I was supposed to be moving into an apartment building right downtown, but when I’d arrived the apartment management hadn’t gotten my deposit, hadn’t reserved my space and had been totally unhelpful.  With the majority of my funds having been lost in the check I’d sent the apartment manager I was unable to put a deposit down on another apartment.

Aimlessly wandering around Canal Park, watching idiots feed seagulls and take their pictures in front of a weird fish fountain I’d eventually wound up slouching between the Dewitt Seitz building and a Mexican restaurant; enjoying the smells of tortillas frying from one side and smoked fish and Vietnamese cuisine from the other side.

“Hey, kid.”  I jumped at the voice, having been lost in my thoughts.  “You got a light?”

I looked at the short man who had exited from a side door, an unlit cigarette held between his lips.  He looked like he must be a cook from one of the restaurants, white apron, white pants, white kerchief holding back his mass of blonde curls.

“Yeah.”  I fished in the pocket of my jacket and produced a battered Zippo lighter.  It was scarred from being used to open beer bottles and from me drunkenly dropping it on more than one occasion but it always lit on the first flick of the wheel.

I took my last precious hand-rolled smoke from my cigarette holder and lit it, then extended the flame to the man sharing the alley with me.  He leaned in and lit up and gave me a curious look that took in my suitcase, travel-worn appearance and seemed to pierce through to lay all my troubles bare.

“What you doing out here?”  He asked, exhaling smoke through his nostrils.

“Just keeping out of the wind.”  I said, trying not to show how uncomfortable I found his piercing green eyes.

“You gotta place tonight?”  He asked, pointing his chin at my suitcase.  When I didn’t answer he shrugged, “None of my business, but I know of a place that’s up for rent.  Landlord really wants to get someone in it and he ain’t too picky about background checks and whatever.”

I shoved my braids back and blew out a cloud of smoke.  “What’s this then?”

He pulled an order pad and a pen from his pocket and scribbled a phone number on it.  Holding it out he shrugged, “Tell Dave that Jon gave ya his number.”  When I took it, he flicked the cherry off his cigarette, tossed the butt in a dumpster and went back inside.

That was how I’d ended up taking a bus a few miles down the narrow strip of land that divided the St Louis River bay and the mighty waters of Lake Superior to a cluster of tiny cabins nestled in a copse of evergreens.  The number 7 hung crookedly above the door and I had a feeling foreboding that I just couldn’t shake.

My landlord had said he’d stop by in the morning to, “Talk about my rent and whatever.” He’d also told me the key was under the mat, which didn’t make me think anyone gave a shit about this place, much less him.  Still, I needed a place to stay and it was fucking cold.

I found the key as promised in its spot under the mat, unlocked the door and walked inside.  The cabin smelled of cedar, candle wax, and wood smoke.  I fumbled about for a light switch, found it, flicked it on and winced as the bulb flashed once and died.  A flick of my thumb brought the flame of my trusty Zippo to illuminate my surroundings and I lit a few candles that were placed conveniently close to the door.

After looking at the propane heater for a few silent minutes, I decided to make a fire in the woodstove instead.  If the light bulb had randomly exploded I didn’t want to tempt fate with my dubious skills with natural gas.  Although honestly maybe it would be better if I just blew myself up.

A few tears leaked from the corners of my eyes, as I crumpled newspaper and stacked up kindling.  What I really needed was a little food, a nice fire and maybe a beer.  My finances were so strained that it was silly to think about it, but I was so hungry and I’d had such a horrible day didn’t I deserve a little treat?

I lit the fire with my zippo and smiled; getting a lift from knowing I could at least build my own fire.  A flash of anger at the apartment manager who had cost me my security deposit made my decision for me.  I pulled my phone from my pocket and a quick search pulled up a food delivery service.  They even offered to stop by Hoops brewing to pick me up a couple of beers.

There were a few dog eared paperbacks on the windowsill, and I picked up a Danielle Steele novel I hadn’t read yet.  Trashy romance novels were a guilty pleasure; I don’t know why, but the lurid scenes made me feel better. I wished to be one of those characters swept up in her lover’s arms, just letting him take care of everything.

When the pizza arrived, I ate the entire thing and drank both the 24-ounce beers.  I even convinced the delivery boy to give me a couple of cigarettes and sat close to the fireplace smoking and feeling too full, but too lazy to try and walk it off.  I leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling, already feeling better.

‘Wow, I never would have seen this coming.’ Said Pride, ‘She actually understands.’

‘Hungry enough to stuff herself silly.” Said Gluttony.

‘Giving in to her addiction enough to talk a couple of smokes out of the delivery boy.’ Said Greed.

‘Reading that awful romance novel.’ Said Lust.

‘And wishing to be one of those damsels who doesn’t have to worry about anything.” Said Envy.

‘Angry about those who have wronged her.’ Said Wrath.

‘Too lazy to bother doing anything about it.’ Said Sloth.

‘We’ve kept everyone else from this place without meaning to.’ Pride said, looking down on the girl asleep in the chair before the fireplace.

‘Now one who truly understands us has arrived.’ Greed said, ‘We must help her and make her stay.’

The Angel Murders – Father Henderson Part I

“I just wish I could make more of a difference.”  The woman on the other side of the confessional booth said, “Every day I see so much suffering and pain, but I can’t do more and it tears me up.  So many of the children in my school are poor and in need.”

“We all do what we can and nobody expects more than that from us.”  He said, “That you feel this remorse truly shows that your heart is in the right place.”

“There has to be something more that I can do.”  She sniffed. “I just feel so hopeless.”

“There is something you can do Miss Fitsimmons.”  He said, kindness and understanding in his voice. “You can pray.”

“Thank you, Father.”  She said, “Coming here always makes me feel better.”

“I’m glad to have been able to take some of the burden from your shoulders.”  He said, “You take care now.”

Ralph Henderson walked her to the door and closed it behind her.  He knuckled the small of his back with a sigh. When he was walking back to the rectory he saw something in the confessional.  It was a small black book with a weathered black cover.

“She must have dropped this.”  He muttered, picking it up. “It looks old.”

Ralph carefully opened to the title page.  It was a handwritten journal written in Latin and dated the First of May in the year 299.  The name gave him shivers. The author was Athanásios Alexandrías, also known as Saint Anthony, the father of monasticism.  

Bethany wouldn’t mind him reading it if he was careful.  He would call her in the morning and get it back to her. Where had she gotten such a priceless artifact?  With shaking hands, he sat in a pew and began to read. All questions vanished as he began to read the ancient words.

It was midnight by the time he’d reached the last page.  He closed the book and set it carefully, shocked at what he’d read.  Perhaps Bethany couldn’t read Latin; the solution she needed was right here in this very book.  

What he discovered was a way to contact a divinity and ask a favor.  He assumed that it had to be a divinity, an angel perhaps, as there was no way that a Saint would write about anything else.  Wiping a hand over his forehead, Ralph came to his decision.

“I’ll do it.  For the children.”

The Angel Murders – Jack Part IV

Miss Fitsimmons smiled at Jack as he walked into the library, “Hello there Jack, I haven’t seen you in a few weeks.  You’re looking well, how are things?”

Jack gave her a wide smile.  “Things are great. I just wanted to get a little time to myself.”

“I’ve seen you surrounded by friends.”  She said, “I’m glad things are finally turning around for you.”

“I never thought they’d be more annoying as friends than when they were hassling me.”  He said, “But turns out even friendly people can get on your nerves when they won’t leave you alone.”

“True, well go ahead and find respite in the stacks.”  She said, “I won’t bother you, dear.”

“You know, somehow I feel lonelier now than I did before.”  Jack shrugged, and walked back into the tall bookshelves.

‘How can you feel alone?’ Lorethla asked, ‘I am with you always.’

“Sure, but I can’t see you or touch you anymore.”  He said bitterly, “I know those people don’t actually like me.  They’re just doing what I say. You’re the only one who really likes me and I can’t even hold your hand.”

“You mortals are so tied to this place.”  She said, “There is so much more beyond the prison of your meat body.  The things I could show you if you were to give it up.”

Jack shivered.  Her voice was full of terrible hunger and desire that made his pulse race.  He couldn’t imagine what could engender such an emotion. He wasn’t sure he wanted to.

The smell of old books was familiar and comforting.  Jack drew in a deep breath through his nose and caught another scent; something like iron filings or rust.  It instilled a primal fear that seemed ingrained in his very bones.

‘Jack!  Run!’ Lorethla all but shouted in his mind.

He responded without thinking about it; sprinting toward the emergency exit at the back of the library.  Something was coming, and it smelled like old blood. The fire alarm started screaming when he slammed the door open and pelted out into the snow-covered parking lot, but Jack didn’t stop running.

The sounds of the city ceased and their absence made his heart sound like rolling thunder.  The gently drifting snowflakes stopped in midair all around him and Jack looked wildly around, nearly tripping over his own feet.  A figure floated behind him on huge white wings

“Jackson Alden Jones.” The angel said, “You have allowed one of the Ones Below to corrupt your soul.  You have brought it into the World Between and used the power it has granted for your own selfish ends.”

He tried to run faster, to escape into a small copse of trees, but when he was crossing the street, pain exploded in his back.  Jack stumbled and his voice joined Loethla’s in a scream of agony. The angel floated in front of him, his beautiful face smiling down.  Blood coated each of his index fingers.

“Now you face judgment.”  The angel spread his arms and more pain wracked Jack’s body as blood was torn from the two wounds on his back.

Jack’s body landed in the middle of the street, the bloody wings falling around him to paint the snow red in the precise shape of wings.  

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 68

“What was his name?”  Rrayu asked, eager to be helpful.  “Perhaps I know him.”

“He didn’t introduce himself.”  Callindra said, “Now I understand why.  He was above average height, wore clothing that usually had armor over it, and carried his longsword as though it was a part of his body.”

“What color were his eyes?  His hair?”  Rrayu asked, “I could narrow the number of people, but he sounds like one of the city guardsmen.”

“I have no idea what color his eyes were; I think his hair was black or dark brown.”  Callindra said, “Why would I notice things like that?”

“A Courtier needs to look at all the subtleties every person shows.  Their hair color and style can reveal much about who and what they are.  Their eyes can give the lie to any tale they may try and spin.  The cut and fit of their clothes can speak to their ability to choose their servants and how they treat them.”  Rrayu sighed, “But I suppose you are new to the ways of court.”

“Sounds like I have a lot to learn in the next two days, then.”  Callindra said, “I accepted a formal invitation to attend a ball and it’s up to you to make sure I don’t make a complete ass of myself.”

“Two days?”  Rrayu squeaked, “I cannot possibly even get you a proper gown in two days!”

“I’ll try to be the best student I can be, but I don’t know the first thing about being a Courtier.”  Callindra said, “I didn’t choose you as a servant exactly, but I’m choosing to trust you to with this.  Let’s see how good my judgment is.”

“Get out of those clothes immediately,”  Rrayu said, rising and moving briskly to the closet.  “If you wish to pass as a Lady, you will need to spend every waking moment getting accustomed to stays and skirts.”

“Shadowsliver sort of ruins the image though, doesn’t he?”  Callindra smiled lovingly at her sword.  “I’ll never pass for a Lady I’m afraid.”

“The only thing I have ever seen a Lady carry is perhaps a small bag,”  Rrayu said, gesturing to Callindra’s coin purse still tied to her belt.

“Ah, then perhaps I can simply carry a small bag.”  Callindra grinned, picked up her coin purse and thrust Shadowsliver inside.  Despite the sword being many times longer than the pouch, it vanished into the magical space, disappearing from view.

“My Lady, that is purely inspired,”  Rrayu said, relief evident in her voice.  “Now out of those clothes while I select you some appropriate after-dinner attire for you.”

With a sigh, Callindra began removing the garments she’d worn to the common room.  Rrayu began pulling garments out of the closet, muttering to herself and discarding them one after another.  She finally brought a set of strange looking undergarments, a dark blue dress with a cream bodice.  Matching tights and slippers completed the outfit.

“That’s a bit elaborate for me in my own sitting room, isn’t it?”  Callindra asked, looking at the pile of fabric.  “I’m not expecting any visitors.”

“This is the simplest and least constrictive garment that still meets the requirements of propriety.”  Rrayu said, “I’m going easy on you because I don’t think you’re ready for something more.”

Callindra stood and allowed Rrayu to help her into the tights, strap the stays over her chest and tie her into the dress.  The restrictive skirts forced her to take much shorter steps than usual and the pressure of the stays and bodice made it impossible for her to take a full breath.  If someone attacked her, she would be unable to defend herself properly.

“I don’t like this.”  She said, “I can barely move.”

“You can move as much as you need to.”  Rrayu said calmly, “A Lady’s battlefield does not require the use of swords.”

Callindra tried to sigh but found the bodice wouldn’t allow it.  She tried to flop down in a chair but found that the rigidity of the stays kept her back straight, and she ended up awkwardly perching on the edge.  The extra heat generated by the layers of clothes combined with her nervousness made her feel like she would sweat to death.

“I can’t do this.”  She said, clutching the coin purse that held her sword.  “I’m too vulnerable.”

“You have attendants who will deal with your personal safety Lady Sol’Estin.”  Rrayu said, “You must rely on them for that purpose and they will depend on you for defense against the politics of court.  I will do as much as I can to provide you the proper weapons to go along with your armor.”

Callindra let out her breath and tried to imagine that the clothes she now wore were armor, that the way she spoke to others would be like sword strokes.  “The first Korumn is of the Breath.”  She said, breathing gently in through her nose and out through her mouth.  Her shoulders relaxed as a feeling of calm descended over her.

“If this is what it takes to be a leader, then I will find a way to rise to the challenge.”  Squaring her shoulders, she looked Rrayu in the eyes.  “Teach me what you can.”

The Angel Murders – Jack Part III

Tracking down the drug dealer Allen Stevens was a lot harder than he’d thought.  Partially because of his name being a fairly common one, but also because he didn’t have a publicly listed address.  After a lot of searching, he changed tactics and looked up the woman listed as his girlfriend in the court report. Katie Wolffe was a far less common name.

Jack was shaking with barely suppressed fear as he walked down the hallway.  His search led him to a rundown apartment building in a part of town he’d never been to before and probably never would have visited if he hadn’t been on a mission.  The sound of loud rock music came from the door, a steel-reinforced number with a sliding viewport. Raising his hand, Jack took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

The viewport opened and a man looked out through a fog of cigarette smoke.  His pale face made his bloodshot eyes look wild and dangerous.

“Whachu want, kid?”  He yelled over the music.

“I want you to shoot everyone in the room, and then kill yourself,”  Jack said, turning to walk back down the hall. He didn’t start running until the gunshots started.

Several other people were running from the apartment building at the same time and Jack blended in with the crowd, keeping his head down.  A couple of people were talking into cell phones and sirens sounded in the distance as they pushed through the doors. Gunfire continued for another minute and while the others were staring at the building he slipped off into the alley.

“That was amazing!” He said, feeling the adrenaline singing through his veins.

“You were amazing.” Lorethla purred, “So decisive and dangerous.”

“They don’t know what’s in store for them.”  Jack clenched his fist, “A storm is coming and I am its harbinger.”

A week later, Jack was eating breakfast with his parents and watching the morning news.  He poured himself another bowl of cereal and watched intently as the anchor began the local news segment.

“The Chief of police is going to issue a statement this morning about a rash of violence that has been sweeping the city.”  The anchor said, “We now go live to the press conference.”

The camera showed the front steps of city hall as Colin Peters, the Chief of Police stepped forward to a podium.  Once the camera flashes had died down, he cleared his throat and began to speak.

“Over the last six days, we have been investigating an outbreak of violence.  Despite coverage that suggests this is some kind of vigilante justice, we wish to bring to light that although these killings appear to be drug or gang-related, women and children have been among the victims.  These murders are not the actions of a hero.

“Yesterday one of the victims recovered enough to give us a statement.  Based on that information, have several leads and are bringing some suspects in for questioning.  If anyone has any additional information that can assist this investigation we urge you to come forward.  Are there any questions?”

A reporter stood and was recognized, “Chief Peters, can you release the identity of the victim?”

“Not at this time, they are under police protection as we fear their life may still be in danger.” He said, motioning to another reporter.

“Why has it taken so long for your department to make any progress?” The next reporter asked, “Your department has a history of catching violent criminals quickly.”

“These are unusual crimes.”  He responded, “Without revealing details of the ongoing investigation I cannot say more than that the doors and windows have always been locked and the murder weapons have always been found onsite.  I have put our best inspector on the case, Inspector Purdue has a solid track record.”

Jack stifled a giggle and his mother turned off the TV, giving him a concerned look. “I’m sorry sweetie, we shouldn’t have had that on.”

He stifled the urge to tell her to turn it back on.  The last thing he wanted was to make his parents suspicious.  Especially when he needed to find out who the pesky survivor was and deal with them before they revealed anything they shouldn’t.

‘That Purdue is dangerous too.’ Lorethla said, ‘We may need to eliminate her as well.’

Jack put another bite of cereal into his mouth to hide the smile.  Nobody was going to interfere with his plans.

The Angel Murders – Jack Part I

“What’s the matter Jackass?” Bryce asked, kicking Jack in the stomach.  “I thought you liked dancing.  We’re just asking you to dance for us!”

Jack tried to draw in a breath but only succeeded in making a pathetic noise and throwing up.

“Bryce, that’s disgusting.”  Jeannie made a face, “I thought you were going to have a fight not just pick on some stupid little kid.  God, that puke reeks.”

“Hey, I thought he’d be more of a challenge.”  Bryce said, “Let’s go, babe.”

The two of them turned and walked away, leaving Jack laying in a puddle of his own sick.  Tears of humiliation streamed down his cheeks, this made an entire month of beatings in a row, and they’d only been getting worse.

He’d tried to eat his lunch, but Bryce had found him sitting behind the bus garage. Carson Academy was an elite school and he’d thought things would be different here, but they’d only gotten worse.  Jack finally got his breath back and sat up, wiping his mouth.  He went to the only place he knew they wouldn’t bother him, the library.

The door opened and he smelled the familiar scent of paper, ink, and the peppermint candies the librarian always had.  Jack walked in with his head down, turning toward the fantasy section.

“Oh Jack, are you OK?” Miss Fitzsimmons asked, “Looks like someone got the better of you .”

“Fine,” He muttered, trying to avoid her.

“Here, have a mint.” She offered a tin of Altoids peppermints and he took one gratefully.

“Thanks.  I think my lunch just didn’t agree with me.” He said.

“Your lunch didn’t give you that black eye.” Miss Fitzsimmons said, “But I don’t need to know if you don’t want to tell me, Jack.  What are you looking for today?”

“You don’t have the latest Callindra Chronicles yet do you?”  He asked hopefully.  “I heard it was going to be released this week.”

“Our book shipment is supposed to come in tomorrow.”  She said, “I’ll set it aside for you if we get it.”

“Thanks,” He said and walked back into the stacks.  Only once he was alone did he allow the tears to come.  Slumping against the bookshelves Jack sobbed into his arm until the fear and pain were gone.  He took a deep breath and wished he had something to wipe his nose on.  A crackle of paper under his hand made him glance down.

A corner of yellowed paper stuck out from underneath the bookshelf.  Jack tugged at it and pulled a piece of parchment that looked ancient out from where it had sat for who knew how long.  Although it seemed very old and it was written, not typed, he could read it easily.

‘How to get exactly what you want.’ Was written in elegant cursive across the top of the page.  Below was a set of fairly simple looking instructions for how to summon your own personal demon.

“What is it you desire?” A beautiful young woman in a simple black dress and four-inch stiletto heels casually crossed her legs exposing half her thigh.

Jack had thought about this for days.  He hadn’t really believed it would work, but if it did, he wanted to make sure he got exactly what he wanted.  Now that the ‘demon’ had arrived in the pentagram he’d drawn on his bedroom floor sitting on a three-legged iron stool he just stared.

“Oh dear, have I left you speechless?” She leaned forward, exposing a lot of cleavage. “Is this all you want little boy?  I’m more than happy to oblige.”

“I want,” Jack began, pausing to clear his throat, “I want people to do what I tell them to.”

She sat up straight and smiled, “Oh yes, that’s certainly possible.  All you have to do is agree to take me with you.”

“What?”  Jack blinked, this wasn’t what he’d expected. “I thought I had to sell my soul for a demon contract.”

“Only half of it boy.” She smiled, “I just need you to make room for me to ride along.”

“You’ll be with me?” He asked eagerly.

“Oh yes.  I’ll be with you forever.” Her smile seemed unnaturally wide, but all he could see were her eyes.

“I agree.”  He said, spellbound by the seafoam green of her eyes.  Then the pain began.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 66

With a sigh, she squared her shoulders and led them downstairs.  The eyes of hundreds of people followed them as they entered the common room.  An obviously freshly scrubbed barmaid led them to a table without them having to ask.

“I love the music.”  Trying to soothe the nervous maid as she leaned Shadowsliver’s naked blade against the table.

“Yes, Lady.” She said, bobbing an awkward curtsey.  “Drinks?  Food?”

“Please,”  Callindra replied, inclining her head in what she hoped was a regal manner.  Reed was obviously trying not to laugh.  She pulled a handful of gold coins from a belt purse that shouldn’t have been able to fit her fist, let alone that many coins, and put them on the barmaid’s drinks tray.  “Bring us some of whatever that heavenly roasting scent is, any vegetables you might have, some mead, some ale, and a round for the bar as well.”

This last pronouncement brought a ragged cheer from the patrons close enough to hear her.  She smiled in what she hoped was a magnanimous way.  The barmaid looked at the gold and glanced behind the bar.  Hagar nodded, and she smiled, striding away to a chorus of calls for drinks.

When the food came, it was far better fare than they’d had in months, and the drinks were as good as any they’d tasted.  The music continued, including some dance numbers, which added to the carnival atmosphere.  A few people started to dance and soon first Reed, then the other men at the table were pulled onto the dance floor.  Callindra sat, half wanting to join in and half relieved that she wouldn’t have to.

“If you put up your steel, I’d love a dance, Lady.”  A man dressed in clothes that, although clean, had noticeable wear marks from where armor straps were usually cinched.  He was extending a hand that had clear sword calluses on it.

“Ah, well, that’s not really possible,”  Callindra said, feeling a bit out of place in her fine clothes.  “We’re a bit joined, and I don’t have a sheath.”

His eyes followed the chain on the hilt to her right wrist with interest.  “Why no sheath?  That seems awkward.”

“That would be a long and dull story, why don’t you join me for a drink and tell me about yourself instead?”  She poured him a tankard of something random and gestured to an open seat.

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow for a moment before sitting, his foot moving to kick the scabbard of his longsword aside as he sat.  Callindra blinked; she hadn’t noticed that he was wearing a blade. It moved like it was a part of him.

“Lady Callindra!”  Reed sat down, his face flushed from drink and the exertion of dancing.  “Who’s yer friend?”

“Apologies, I fear I neglected to introduce myself.”  She stood and offered her hand to the man, “I am Callindra Sol’Estin.”

“I know who you are.”  He said, rising himself.  “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”  He spun and moved off into the crowd.

“Who the hell was that?”  Reed asked, “He seemed like a rude bastard.”

“I don’t know.”  Callindra said, “But I’m sure he’s going to be trouble.  He was asking me to dance as a pretext to get me to leave my sword behind.”

“You’re talking even fancier with the fancy clothes on.”  Reed grinned, “But you still get suspicious of anyone who tries to part you from that blade.  I think you’re just getting jumpy, relax and have some fun.”

“I somehow doubt having fun would be seen as very ladylike,”  Callindra said with a sigh, remembering Rrayu’s voice telling her about posture and poise.  “I’m supposed to keep up appearances, you know.”

“You’re carrying a sword chained to your wrist.”  Reed scoffed, “Nobody’s gonna think you’re much of a delicate flower.”

“I can tell you’re not a woman.”  Callindra said, “We’re rarely taken as seriously as we should be, especially when we’re dressed in pretty clothes.”

Reed looked at her, a quizzical expression on his face.  “Damn.  You gotta point there.  Your sword doesn’t look normal, and that chain looks a lot more delicate than it really is too.  I guess most guys would probably think it was just for show.”

“Precisely, young master.”  Callindra picked up her goblet of mead and looked at him over the rim before taking a sip.  “Just as they likely misjudge you due to your age.”

On Writing: Things That Make It Harder to Read Your Story

On Writing: Things That Make It Harder to Read Your Story.

I’ve recently discovered things during my writing and editing process that have helped me to make my writing better, so I thought I’d share them.  They’re not things I’d have noticed on my own, but with help from friends and technology, they’ve come to my attention.

First is I overuse adverbs.  Holy shit do I overuse adverbs.  Enough with the goddamn adverbs already!  I know I was taught to use them frequently to help set a scene or describe what a character was doing, but I think they are rarely helpful.  If your scene hasn’t told your reader that the hero is carefully removing the detonator from the nuclear device, you need to re-write the scene.  Throwing that adverb in there is only going to slow your reader down and give them a mental stumbling block.

Same goes for adjectives, only not quite so much.  The urge to describe every detail is annoying, and beyond that, it limits the imagination of your reader.  Compare the following sentences: ‘She opened the heavy oak door and scanned the room, noting the black velvet drapes moving in the wind from the half-open window.’ Or ‘She opened the door and scanned the room, noting the drapes moving in the wind from an open window.’

When you read the first one, your brain notes that the door is heavy and oak, then remember that the drapes are black velvet, and by the time you get to the window, there are a jumble of details that all need organization.  The second sentence gives you some detail but lets your subconscious imagine the rest.  For me, this allows me to read and my brain to set the scene on its own without a bunch of clutter.  It helps draw me into the story because I’m creating my own details.  Unless it matters that the door is heavy oak later in the story, there’s no reason to include it.

I also struggle a lot with throwing passive voice bits into my writing.  I never knew how annoying these could be until I started paying closer attention.  What’s passive voice?  It’s generically when actions are described instead of just having a character do them himself.  It breaks story flow and at least for me, it transposes the proper order of the sentence.

For example: ‘The chief of police was told about the crime.’ VS: ‘Inspector Anderson told the police chief about the crime.’  The first sentence shifts the focus first to the chief before revealing the action, and for me, at least, it makes my brain work harder to keep things in order.  I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I find it annoying, so I’ve been stamping it out wherever I find it in my writing lately.

Not that I’m sponsored or anything, but I have been using Grammarly, and find their paid professional version of their tool to be very handy for catching these kinds of things.  I figure I’ll use the paid version for a couple of months since it’ll give me the incentive to finish all my editing all at once and then I can cancel the subscription until my next book is ready to go through the meat grinder.

Happy writing, hope this helps or at least lets you know there are more of us out here in the literary trenches making all the typical mistakes.

The Angel Murders Part VI

Purdue sat at her desk, desperately wishing she could have a cigarette.  Of course, smoking wasn’t allowed in the office anymore and the IA officer assigned to her probably wouldn’t have let her smoke anyway.

“Inspector Purdue, I am Investigator Lawrence.”  The powerfully built man in the off the rack suit tapped the stack of papers carefully straight and set them exactly squarely on her desk.  “I have been assigned to look into your so-called ‘wing murders’ case file.”

“Lawrence, glad to see you.”  She said, “What can I do for you?”

“Well, we’re wondering why there’s such a lack of progress.”  He said, laying a perfectly sharpened pencil next to the files.  “You’ve been working this case for six months now?”

“Eight months actually.”  She said, “The first incident I looked at occurred two months before we discovered this was a serial case.”

“Eight months.”  He smoothed his hair carefully and looked at her, “You haven’t produced any real results in that time?”

“Nothing in the case makes sense.”  She took her cigarettes from her breast pocket and tapped one out of the pack.  “I haven’t been able to draw any conclusion from what I’ve found at the crime scenes.”

“But surely after this amount of time you’ve begun to form some kind of idea about who is behind this series of murders.”  He said, “Please humor me and give me some insight into what you have discovered.”

“Officer Lawrence, I assure you that my official statements encompass the entirety of my knowledge about the case.”  She put the cigarette between her lips, “I wish I had more information.”

“I’m happy to step outside if you want to smoke,”  Lawrence said.

“Fucking serious?”  She smiled and stood, “I really do need a cigarette.”

“Of course.”  He said, standing and opening the door.

They walked out to the alley behind the station and she lit her cigarette.  Purdue turned and looked him in the eye. “So, what do I have to get IA off my back?”

“We need results, Purdue.”  He said, “I know the chief has warned you, but the Mayor is hitting this one hard.  He can’t afford to look weak on crime, and this case is getting a lot of media attention.”

“The only problem is that it’s all impossible.”  She blew twin streams of smoke from her nostrils, “The last three?  There’s no way anyone could have placed them there without disturbing the snow, but the only footprints were from the person who discovered the bodies.”

“She’s not a suspect?” Lawrence asked, leaning against the wall.

“Jessica Chang is about five feet tall and weighs ninety pounds soaking wet.”  Purdue shook her head, “There’s just no way she could have carried an adult corpse, and even if she could have, there weren’t any footprints around the bodies anyway.  No footprints where the sick bastard drew those wing outlines, not between the bodies, no evidence that anyone had stepped on the corpses themselves and furthermore, not one of them had an injury that the medical examiner would call fatal.”

“I did read that report.” He admitted grudgingly, “The coroner’s office said, and I quote, ‘The superficial wounds below each shoulder blade are only skin deep and show no sign of toxicity.  None of the bodies lost enough blood to cause death. ‘There is no evidence of murder, it is as though their bodies decided to peacefully shut down.’ and that’s just impossible.”  

“None of it makes any sense.”  She said, stubbing her cigarette out and dropping it into the butt bin.  “If I tried to say someone used magic to stop people’s hearts and then teleported them to the center of the street I’d get locked up.  I can’t even begin to imagine the horror of that paperwork.”

He laughed, “I hear you there, but you have to give us something Purdue.  I certainly don’t envy you right now.”

“I’m not just going to make something up so that the mayor looks good.”  She held the door for him and they walked in out of the cold, “I have one last lead I’m going to chase down, provided you don’t think I’m somehow mishandling the investigation?”

“You’re a good cop Purdue,” He said, “I want to make sure you understand that I respect the work you’ve done in the past.  I don’t know that you’ve done anything wrong here, but nobody can deny the lack of results. I trust your lead will pan out in the next couple of days, I’ll get out of your way and let you do your job.”

He turned and walked past her office and into the maze of cubicles, amicably greeting a few of the people he passed.  Purdue pursed her lips, he wasn’t making an overt threat, but she knew a warning when she heard one. It was time to call in that favor from Nebby.  She had something very specific in mind. He was going to hate it.

The Angel Murders Part V

Purdue stepped out of her squad, lighting the cigarette she already had between her lips, “Here we go again.”  She muttered.

“About time you got here.”  Officer Whitehead gave her cigarette a dark look.  “We gotta block off an entire street just because some psycho likes to finger paint with his victim’s blood.”

“A pleasure to see you as always officer.”  She said cheerfully, “Where’s the victim?”

“Victims.”  He corrected, “There’s three of them down there.”

She followed him under the police tape and looked around at the area as they walked.  A dusting of fresh snow covered everything, there were several sets of footprints on the sidewalk and a single set of vehicle tracks that went in and out.  The vehicle had stopped a hundred feet from the bodies and a single set of footprints walked to and from the bodies. There were no other footprints that came near.

“These are from the person who called it in.”  Whitehead said, “Nobody else has been here. How the hell the perp managed to get them here without leaving any marks is anyone’s guess.  I’m just a beat cop, you detectives get the fun job of figuring out the details.”

Three men’s bodies were laying in a triangle, their feet almost touching, their hands over their eyes and bloody wings almost touching where they unfurled from their backs.  Two of them were wearing clerical collars and the third wore an Armani suit.

“Any ID on these guys?”  She asked, walking carefully around the corpses.

“We got orders not to touch any of them.”  He said acidly, “They all got the wings. That means hands off.”

Purdue pulled on her gloves and removed the tweezers from her breast pocket.  Kneeling, she opened the mouth of the man in the suit carefully. Under his tongue was a familiar piece of parchment.  This one had a portion of a word on it. She bagged it with shaking hands and repeated the extraction from the other two.  

After pocketing the evidence bags, she found the men’s wallets, put them in their own evidence bags and handed them to Whitehead, “Get these to the lab please.”

“I ain’t your delivery boy.”  He grumbled, but took the bags and stalked down the street back to where the forensics van was parked. 

Purdue was about to take her necklace off when one of the men’s hands twitched.  She quickly knelt and put fingers to his throat. There was no pulse.

‘Don’t touch that.’ Nebecenezer said, ‘It’s dangerous.’

“If you don’t tell me what you’re talking about I’m going to ignore you.”  Purdue muttered, “I don’t see anything dangerous here.”

‘What’ll ya give me?’ He asked.

“You’re the one who wants something.”  Purdue said, reaching her hand out again, “What will you give ME?”

‘What?’  Nebecenezer exclaimed, ‘That’s not how this works!’

“Yeah, it is.”  She said, lighting another cigarette, “Just because the tables have turned doesn’t change the nature of the relationship.”

The demon paused, making a high-pitched keening sound. ‘Fine.  I’ll give you one favor if you don’t touch them.’

“Excellent.” Purdue said, “I have just the thing.  I’ll tell you about it later. I won’t even ask why.”

‘Wait, no!  You have to make the deal right now!’ Nebecenezer protested, ‘I can’t have something like that just hanging over my head.’

“Oh, you’ll get used to it.”  She said. “Some of us have had to deal with that for years.”

Purdue took the evidence bags from her pocket and held them so the tears all matched.  She shuddered as the symbol drawn on the whole piece of parchment was revealed. The random-looking lines resolved themselves into an outline of a rosebud on one side and a set of roman numerals on the other.  

The numbers XII-XII were significant.  They represented her birthdate and one other anniversary.  December twelfth was also in three days.