Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review

I can't believe this year is over. Where has the time gone? 2014 was a big year for me in a lot of different ways. I made some changes with my blog and my writing in general, and I'm happy with the way things have turned out.

A lot of bloggers and writers have been posting end-of-year recaps, so I thought I'd give it a go. This post will serve as a breakdown of cool things I wrote, read, or experienced in 2014.

Here are my top 10 blog posts from the past year:
  1. Ksenia Anske
  2. Writability
  3. Brett Michael Orr
  4. What Happened to the Wallflower?
  5. Paper Fury
  6. The Write Practice
  7. Ella's Journal
  8. Write to Done
  9. Goins, Writer: On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference
  10. Positive Writer
Whew! Those were some long lists, but they are full of things I loved in 2014. I also want to thank each and every one of you who read this blog and support my writing. You're all amazing! I wish everyone the very best 2015 has to offer.

Happy New Year!

What were your favorite things about 2014? What are you looking forward to this year?

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Monday, December 29, 2014

What I Learned About Writing in 2014

New Year Fireworks in Spain
Like many of you, 2014 was a big year for me. It was full of beautiful moments as well as heartbreaking ones. It tested me in so many ways. At the same time, this past year helped me grow as a person and as a writer.

Here are some things I learned about writing in 2014.
  • If you want results, you have to be consistent. If you want to improve your writing skills, you must write something every day. A runner won't win a race without practice. Neither will you.
  • Editing is difficult yet necessary. After finally finishing the first drafts of two difficult manuscripts, I set off on the path to revision. It's an arduous journey that's still in progress. When I started, I was terrified. How could anyone finish? Now, I understand the merits of revision. Although I'm nowhere near finished, I'm learning to enjoy the process.
  • When it comes to readership, value engagement rather than numbers. This concept has been frustrating to grasp until recently. After talking with several of my writing friends, including the wonderful Stephen Moran, I realized that numbers don't signify much. It's great to see my readership growing over time, but I want to avoid fixating on numbers. What's most important to me? Interacting and engaging with my new audience. This past year, I focused on growing a community, and my online experience was much more rewarding.
  • Reading is key. Okay, I've always known that reading was important, especially to writers. But this year, I realized that reading is a vital part of my wellbeing. Whenever I'm feeling down or stuck or uninspired, I dive into a novel. The quick jaunt through someone else's fictional world is enough to spark my inspiration and motivate me to keep going. If you've hit a wall, I recommend reading a couple of books.
  • Twitter is the ultimate online community for writers. I'm thankful for the people I've met on Twitter. In light of the past year, I can't imagine my life without them. Their encouragement, support, advice, and motivation keeps me going even on my most difficult days. If you're not on Twitter, sign up now! And feel free to follow me. :)
These are just some of the big things I learned about writing this year. Looking forward, I can't wait to see how I'll continue to evolve in my craft. I can't wait to see what you come up with, too. I wish all of you a happy and creative new year. Let's keep moving, no matter what!

What did you learn about writing in 2014? What are you going to work on this year?

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

MUD EYES Character Playlists

Woman in Park Listening to Music with Union Jack Headphones
I've almost finished writing the second draft of my novel MUD EYES.

It's been a long and winding road, and I've still got a long way to go before I'm satisfied with it. Although this is my second draft, it won't be my last.

Now, I have a much better grasp of my characters. I recently discovered 8tracks and made playlists for each major character in the novel. I switch the playlists depending on which scene I'm writing. The music helps put me in a writing mood and captures (more or less) the essence of each character.

If you'd like to listen to what I've put together, feel free to check out the widgets below.








Make sure you're following me on 8tracks if you want to hear new playlists! I'll follow you back ASAP. :)

What do you think of these character playlists? How do you feel about making different playlists for each of your characters?

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Do you make playlists for your characters? @brianawrites shares some of hers for MUD EYES. (Click to tweet)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

27 Chapters to a Better Novel

Scrivener Writing Software Corkboard View
After reading K.M. Weiland's OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL, I'm a reformed pantser who's seen the light. I downloaded a Scrivener template based on her book, but the template horrified me. It stressed me out. I couldn't used it.

Some messing around on YouTube led to my discovering this novel outlining video. Little did I know that it would change my life. The video is long, but it's worth the watch. The outline method presented in the video is as easy to understand as it is effective.

In the video, user Kaytastic presents a 27 chapter novel outline. The story structure for a 27 chapter novel is as follows:
Act I
Set up- Introduce hero & ordinary world.
C1: Introduction (set up).
C2: Inciting incident (conflict).
C3: Immediate reaction (resolution).
Conflict- A problem disrupts hero’s life.
C4: Reaction (set up).
C5: Action (conflict).
C6: Consequence (resolution).
Resolution- Hero’s’ life has changed direction.
C7: Pressure (set up).
C8: Pinch (conflict).
C9: Push (resolution).

Act II
Set up – Hero explores new world.
C10: New world (set up).
C11: Fun & games (event/conflict).
C12: Old world contrast (resolution).
Conflict – Hero encounters crisis of new world.
C13: Build up (set up).
C14: Midpoint (conflict).
C15: Reversal (resolution).
Resolution – Hero dedicates to finding a solution.
C16: Reaction (set up).
C17: Action (conflict).
C18: Dedication (resolution).

Act III
Set up – Hero faces defeat, victory seems impossible.
C19: Trials (set up).
C20: Pinch (event/conflict).
C21: Darkest moment (resolution).
Conflict – Hero must find power and take action.
C22: Power within (set up).
C23: Action (conflict).
C24: Converge (resolution).
Resolution – Hero fights and wins, resolving quest.
C25: Battle (set up).
C26: Climax (conflict).
C27: Resolution (resolution).
This structure is so easy to set up using Scrivener. For me, it's a great fit because it allows me to see where I'm going without making me feel too constricted. If you're looking for a new outline method, check out those videos and try it for yourself.

How do you feel about outlining? What do you think of this 27 chapter method?

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Writer @brianawrites shares a simple and effective 27 chapter outline method (via @kat_tastic). (Click to tweet)
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How to Read More with Audiobooks

iPod with Earbuds
I've mentioned before how important it is that writers read. With that being said, I have a full time job and other commitments that keep me from reading as much as I’d like. Some of you know what I’m talking about.

If you've got a busy schedule but still want to read, you should invest in some audiobooks. I joined Audible a few years ago and have never looked back. The site offers new users a free audiobook download after signing up. With over 150,000 titles to choose from, you’re bound to discover something you like.

The best thing about audiobooks is that they’re portable. You can listen to them anywhere! Here’s a short list:

In the bath or shower
On your way to work/school
Long road trips
Working out at the gym
Doing mindless chores e.g. laundry, washing dishes, and vacuuming
Getting ready to go out and
Cooking a meal

If nothing else, try listening to audiobooks during your commute. Ever since I started doing that, I’ve noticed I’m more excited about going to work. You’ll have something to look forward to every time you get in the car.

If you want recommendations, I suggest starting with Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The writing is excellent, and the book is narrated by the author himself! Give it a try and let me know what you think!

How do you feel about audiobooks? What’s the best one you've listened to so far?

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Writer @brianawrites shares how to read more by utilizing audiobooks. (Click to tweet)
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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Chapter 4, Scene 2: Next Steps

Rumpled Hotel Bed with White Sheets and Pillows
“What do I need to do?” I ask.

“We need to get you out of here. You should be somewhere safe.”

“I can’t go home.”

“That’s right. I’m—”

“Sorry,” I finish. “Yeah, I got that.”

He smiles weakly. “I honestly wish there were more I could do. I wish I could fix this situation somehow. It’s all a big mess. We’re in over our heads.” He chews the inside of his cheek. “You have no business being a part of this. I wish it hadn't happened.”

“That makes two of us,” I say.

All my life, I've wished for some excitement. What’s it gotten me? Two dead parents, a dead brother, and possibly my own destruction. On top of that, I’m growing up in a society that will never accept me. I’ll never be able to achieve my full potential—all because of my eye color. It’s insane.

Julian sizes me up. “I’d hug you if I thought you’d let me.”

I want to let him, but I can’t. It feels wrong. I hope he understands.

“What are we going to do?” I ask.

“Malcolm wants to make sure you’re safe,” he says.

“And you do, too.”

He exhales. “And I do, too.”

We settle into silence. He sits down beside me on the bed. Again, I catch a whiff of mint. I wonder whether it’s his cologne or something else.

“You and Malcolm can come stay with me. As far as I know, Silver doesn't think I’m involved.”
Of course, that makes sense. Julian is a government official, after all, and he’s also at the top of society. Why would someone with that much power want to beat the system? His disguise is perfect.

I can only see one flaw.

“What if someone sees Malcolm and me?” I ask. “We both have brown eyes. There’s no way we’d be safe in your part of town if word got out that we were staying with you. Come to think of it, you probably wouldn't be safe either.” More than that, he’d essentially be raising Silver’s suspicions—giving himself away. “I don’t think we should risk it.”

“We don’t have much of a choice,” he replies. “Don’t worry about me, Damita. I've lived a privileged life. Society has let me get away with so much—it’s time I made a difference in the world. So what if I put my life on the line? We've all got to die sometime, right?”

The last part stings, and I can tell from the shock on his face that he wishes he hadn't said it. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry.”

“Please don’t,” I say.

He gets up from the bed, goes over to the door, and leans against the frame. “We’ll be waiting for you next door. Just come when you’re ready, whenever that is.”

Without another word, he lets himself out. I get up and lock the door behind him, wondering if I’ll ever be ready.

I flop down on the bed, roll onto my stomach, bury my face in the pillow, and scream.

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In @brianawrites' MUD EYES, Damita must find somewhere to hide. If not, she'll be discovered by her brother's killer. (Click to tweet)
 "All my life, I've wished for some excitement. What's it gotten me?" - MUD EYES by @brianawrites. (Click to tweet)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Chapter 4, Scene 1: Silver's Top Assassin

Black and white motel photograph
Blood freezes in my veins. Wesley Cray. He’s Alaric Silver’s top assassin, which can mean only one thing—he’s the one who murdered my brother. And if he’s been spotted outside my house, he’s most likely stalking me. He’ll kill me next.

I leap up from my seat, jolting Atalanta off my lap. “Why didn't you say something sooner?” I’m a dangerous combination of angry and scared. “How do you know that, anyway? When exactly was he seen?” My pulse pounds in my ears and in my clenched fists. I can’t believe things have somehow gotten worse.

Malcolm stands. “China told you?”

Atalanta nods. “In a way, it’s a good thing. She’s not defecting like we feared.”

I don’t know who China is, and I don’t care. “Is he coming after me? Did he know what Rory was involved in? What you all are involved in?” I want to puke. It’s not just them—I’m a part of the conspiracy, too, whether I like it or not. And I most decidedly don’t.

“Settle down,” says Malcolm.

“Don’t tell me to settle down. You don’t even know me.”

“Damita,” says Julian, “why don’t we go into the other room and discuss this? In private?” His eyebrows knit together in concern. I have an easier time believing his sincerity than Malcolm’s. Still, I’m not happy with anyone for keeping secrets from me. 

I ask the question that nags me. “Did you know about this?”

“No,” he says. I believe him. “But I’m sorry.”

I take a minute to breathe. Then, before Atalanta or Malcolm can say something else to set me off, I follow Julian out of my room. He opens the door to his and lets me pass through before closing and locking it behind us. I don’t see why he thinks he has to lock it, but I trust his judgment. I sit down on the bed.

“I’m so sorry,” he says again. “This is absolutely awful. You must be so upset.”

“You have no idea,” I say.

“What can I do to help you?” He stoops down to look into my eyes. It’s the most intimate contact I've experienced. My cheeks burn. I look away. He tucks his fingers under my chin and lifts my face toward his. I have to look at him.

“Please trust me,” he says.

I know Julian is my best bet of finding some security. “Until you make it impossible to do so,” I tell him.

He releases me and starts pacing. “If Cray was near your house, we can assume he killed Rory. Again, I am sorry. If Cray killed Rory, it means someone in the government knows we’re plotting something—or, at least, that Rory was. We have no idea how much they know.”

“Silver knows,” I say.

“Right. That’s much worse.” He sits down in the chair I saw Atalanta sitting in before. “He might be coming after you. I hope he didn't see the policeman take you here. Otherwise…”

I swallow. We both knew what that means.

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"My pulse pounds in my ears and in my clenched fists... things have somehow gotten worse." MUD EYES by @brianawrites (Click to tweet)
What would you do if the man who killed your brother were coming after you next? Read the latest installment of @brianawrites' MUD EYES. (Click to tweet)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chapter 3, Scene 4: The Run

New York City at night
"I don't know you," I tell Malcolm.

"I'm trying to help you. To keep you safe." He waves his hand. "The rest is just extra. Can we start fresh?"

I shake his hand. If Rory appointed this man to watch over me, I can give him a shot. There have to be several reasons I was given to him instead of Julian or Atalanta. It’s just bizarre that the man I know the least has the strongest tie to me. I want to learn more about him and my brother.

Julian watches us interact with a smirk on his face. He knows something I didn't--about Malcolm, that is. I wonder what it could be.

"All right," he says to Malcolm, "you'd better get going. Attie and I might go on a run of sorts tonight."

I don’t know what he’s talking about, but the scowl on Malcolm's face tells me it’s not good. I come right out and ask.

"What are you talking about?"

Malcolm's scowl intensifies. "She doesn't need to know about any of this, Julian."

"It's too late," he says. "Don't be stupid. She's involved." He looks pointedly at me. "And don't speak about her as though she isn't there. It's rude."

I feel a surge of affection for Julian. He seems to care about me, too. I don't understand why Rory didn’t make him my guardian. I’m most comfortable around him. Maybe he has some kind of dark side I don't know about.

Malcolm goes to put his arm around me. Without meaning to, I flinch. He withdraws and shoves his hands in his pockets instead. "Damita, Rory wouldn't want you to know about all this. He never would've wanted you to go out on a run."

"She's not going," says Julian. "She just asked what it was."

There’s a knock at the door. Julian gets up and answers it. Atalanta blows a stream of smoke into the room.

"Where have you been? I thought we were going..." She makes eye contact with Malcolm and her voice dissipates. "Oh my God! How long have you been here?" She rushes toward him and pulled him into a hug. "Julian and I were worried sick!"

Julian scoffs. "She was. Not me."

I don’t believe him. I haven't known him long, but Julian Hartwell doesn't seem to be apathetic about anything.

Atalanta flicks ashes off her cigarette, waltzes into the room, and plops down on my lap. I freeze in shock. She grabs my hand and pulls my arm around her waist.
What's wrong with this woman?

“Julian and I are going on a run, Malcolm? Isn't that exciting?”

His face doesn't change as much as it had before. “So I hear. Same place as last time?”

“We’re going to try down by the docks,” Julian says. “China said she knew a guy, and he might have an idea what to do.”

“Speaking of China,” Atalanta says.

Julian clicks his tongue. “What, you talked to her?”

“I need to tell you all something,” Atalanta says. “It concerns everyone.”

The room is all ears. She leans forward, placing her hands on her knees.

“Wesley Cray has been spotted in the woods near Rory’s house.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chapter 3, Scene 3: Malcolm McKinney

city train at sunset
While Julian, Malcolm and I sit in my motel room, I can’t help feeling stupid. I thought my brother told me everything. After knowing him for so long, I didn't think him capable of keeping secrets from me. Now they truth comes out. I feel sheepish and silly. The worst part is that Julian and Malcolm don’t seem at all surprised by my ignorance. If anything, they expect it. That makes me feel worse.

Malcolm is the first to change the subject—it isn’t so much of a change of subject as a shift in mood. He leans forward from his seated position on the edge of the bed. “When we got involved in this conspiracy, Rory was determined to make sure you were taken care of. If anything happened to you, he wanted me to become your guardian.” When I don’t say anything, he continues. “As long as you’re okay with it, that is.”

What am I supposed to say? I've known the man for all of ten minutes. He said he was close friends with Rory, but I have no proof. Sure, Julian knows him, but Julian hasn't proved his relationship to my brother, either. Can I trust anyone?

“I don’t know,” I say.

Given the circumstances, it’s the most honest thing I can say. Malcolm seems nice enough, but is he guardian material? I have no idea. What if the whole situation is somehow a trap? What if Malcolm, Julian, and Atalanta are all in cahoots to murder me? What if they killed my brother?

“What are you thinking?” Julian asks.

I’m sure what to tell him. The truth is awkward. I can’t very well come out and say I don’t trust either one of them. I don’t know what they’ll do or how they’ll handle it. So, I lie instead.

“I was only thinking about Rory,” I say.

"We're going home," Malcolm says.

I don’t know what he means. When he says "home," is he talking about the house I shared with Rory? That’s not a home anymore, just a house. And it certainly doesn't belong to Malcolm.

"A policeman is coming to get me," I say.

For all I knew, this is true, but it also makes a convenient excuse. Malcolm can't take me with him if we’re expecting the police.

"No, he's not," he says. "I already talked to him. They don't need to question or harass you anymore."

I know from the light in his eyes that he means every word. In spite of the brevity of our relationship, he’s serious about protecting me. No wonder Rory chose him to be my guardian. Still, I don’t like that my only way out has been taken away. I plan to retaliate however I can.

"You don't have the authority," I say.

Malcolm sighs. "We'll never get anywhere if you fight me at every turn. Why don't you trust me?"

I’m not sure where to start. For one thing, I never met him prior to my brother's death. I don't know anything about him. Then there’s the fact he’s involved in the conspiracy. He has no problem with committing treason. What other crimes is he comfortable with?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chapter 3, Scene 2: Rory's Friends

parking lot

The minute I see the car, my heart stops. I saw it earlier at the house, but it’s somehow different now. Changed. It doesn't look different, but it feels different. As we get closer, I’m struck by a sense of dread. Something’s off. I can’t explain it. Somehow I just know.

Julian must feel something, too. He stops short of the car and turns around. His face is tight. “This could be a trap.”

“Yeah, I thought about that.” Rory was murdered and the police haven't caught the killer. What if he wants to silence me next?

“I’ll go first,” Julian says. “That way, if something happens…” He lets his voice trail off. Neither of us wants to talk about death.

By the time we get around to the side of the car, we realize that the driver’s side door is wide open. There’s no one sitting behind the wheel. The keys dangle from the ignition. A faint beeping echoes into the parking lot, reminding the driver what he left behind.

“I don’t understand it,” Julian says. His face is creased in fear and frustration. “Someone had to drive it here. Where did they go?”

I scan the parking lot for clues. There aren't many other cars around and certainly no people. Where could the driver be?

Then, I hear a door slam. Mine and Julian’s heads snap up in the direction of the noise. Someone walked out of the front office. The man is tall, dark-skinned, and radiating charm. I take a step back. I know nothing about him. The way he eyes my brother’s truck makes my skin crawl.

Julian’s shoulders slump. He smiles. “Malcolm. What are you doing here?”

The man keeps his eyes on me. “This is her then? Damita?”

“How did you get my brother’s keys? They were in his bedroom.” My stomach ties itself in knots. I step closer to Julian. Even though he seems to know this man, I have no idea how. My brother knew him, too. So why haven’t we been introduced yet?

“He told me where they were. Is there somewhere we can talk?”

“Neither of you should probably be seen with me,” says Julian. “I’ll go back upstairs first. We can reconvene in my room.”

I remember Atalanta and wonder if she’ll be there, too. I’m still not sure how I feel about her. Julian trusts her, at least on some level, but he expressed concerns for my safety with her around. What does it all mean?

“The officer who dropped me off yesterday said he was coming back,” I say. “They want me to answer a few more questions.”

“Your brother was my friend,” Malcolm says. “I've heard a lot about you.” I’m sensing a pattern in my brother’s circle of so-called friends. Malcolm digs the toe of his shoe in a crack in the asphalt. “I’d really rather you and I have this conversation in private.”

I want the opposite. “I’m not comfortable being alone with you. Julian,” I say, “can you come to my room with him?”

Julian nods. “Of course. I’ll be upstairs in my room. Knock when you get up there.”

With my eyes, I implore him to stay. With his eyes, he dismisses me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chapter 3, Scene 1: The Car

two old black station wagons in a field

I rush over to the window to verify what Julian said. There is, indeed, a black station wagon, with a scratch on one side, that looks exactly like the car that Rory drove.

I feel unsettled. I can't understand it. Why is that car in the hotel parking lot? 

If I didn’t drive it, the only other person to drive it was Rory. The keys are hidden in his bedroom. Unless the police officer found the key, which is entirely possible, I can’t understand who has the ability to open his car. Even if the cops have the key, why would they drive his vehicle?

“The keys were in his bedroom,” I tell Julian.

“I'm sure they were,” he says.

“So what is his car doing down there?”

“I was hoping you knew.”

My heart pounds in my chest. “What do you think we should do?”

Julian hesitates. “I don't know,” he says. “I just don't know.”

I can tell by the look on his face that he’s absolutely horrified. I know exactly how he feels because that’s the way I feel, too. I can’t imagine why someone would want to take my brother’s car. Are they trying to send some kind of message?

"What do you think we should do?" I ask.

"It might be dangerous to go down there."

"But you think we need to check the car out, right?" I hope that’s what he’s thinking. I want to know what’s going on, and I don't want to go down to the parking lot alone.

He nods. "I'll go. You stay."

"No."

"Damita, it's dangerous."

"That's my brother's car."

He gives up trying to argue with me. I can tell by the tension is his face that he disagrees with my decision, but he clearly respects me enough to let me tag along. When he holds the door open for me, I’m a little surprised.

“What’s the matter?” he asks.

“I never imagined a sky eyes would hold a door for me.”

“Come off it,” he says. “It’s all right. Let’s do this.”

I don’t feel like arguing with him, either. We have no idea what’s waiting for us downstairs. The longer we put off our investigation, the more I fear something will happen to the car—something decidedly not good. As though things can get worse. 

I slip past Julian without touching him somehow. I can’t handle touching him. Just talking to him feels bizarre. Close contact is illegal.

He waits for me at the top of the stairs. He stares up at the ceiling.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Not a fan of stairs,” he says. “I’m afraid of heights.”

I study the staircase. It contains two flights. “It’s not even that steep or anything, you know.”

“I know,” he snaps. The subject is closed.

I wonder if there’s any way I can help him. “Would it be better if I went down the stairs first?” I don’t wait for an answer. We’re running out of time.

“I’m coming,” he says. 

I don’t look back. It’s hard for me to believe that someone comfortable with plotting treason can be afraid of stairs. The only thing I was afraid of was losing my brother. 

Now, I am fearless. There’s nothing else that anyone can take away from me.

Chapter 2, Scene 6: The Reluctant Conspirator

towels on white hotel bed

I take the towel from him and lay it down on the bed. “Just come out and say it. Someone’s going to kill me like they killed Rory. Isn't that what you’re worried about?”

“Yes,” he says. “That’s exactly what I’m worried about.” He doesn't say another word. He doesn't have to. We both understand the gravity of the situation. By telling me about the conspiracy, he’s unwittingly dragged me into it. I’m a part of it whether I like it or not--whether he likes it or not, to be frank. Even if I don’t do anything, I know what’s going on. Knowing is the crime.

“So,” I say, “that’s it, then. That’s where we are.”

“I’m sorry,” he says.

I ignore him. “What’s next?”

“If you decide you want to actively participate,” he says, “Atalanta, Malcolm, and I can walk you through our philosophy and basic strategies. You’ll meet Malcolm soon, I hope. Not sure you haven’t.”

Realization dawns on me. “Malcolm McKinney? The district manager?”

“The one and the same.”

I gape at him. “But he’s a government official.”

Julian smirks. “So am I.”

I can’t believe it. Malcolm McKinney. He was appointed to the position by Alaric Silver himself. And Silver doesn't appoint just any brown-eyed citizen. No—he’s only interested in stocking the ranks with loyalists. Malcolm is a better actor than I gave him credit for.

“Where’s Atalanta?” I ask. “Do you think I should trust her?”

“Absolutely not,” he says.

“But you do?”

He shrugs. “I trust her when I have to. Otherwise I don’t think about it. You’d be wise to do the same.”

I think long and hard about his implications. For all intents and purposes, it looks as though the two of them are dating, but that’s impossible. Skies and muddies don’t mix. Everybody knows that. 
Besides, how could someone be in a relationship with someone they don’t fully trust?

Julian goes over to the window and pulls back the curtain. His eyes scan over the parking lot. He turns back to me. “How did you get here?”

“There was a policeman. He dropped me off.” I don’t understand why he’s suddenly so anxious. 
“Why, what’s the matter?”

Julian stares at me. He seems to be frozen.

“What is it?” I ask.

“There’s a car down there,” he says, “and it looks just like your brother’s.”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chapter 2, Scene 5: Something Big Is Brewing

Hotel Sink

I crack the door open. “What do you want?”

“Nice to see you, too,” he says. “I didn't wake you, did I?”

I wonder why he cares. “What’s going on?”

He looks through the crack in the door, bracing a hand against the door frame. “Would you mind if I came in?” He lowers his voice. “It’s urgent.”

“If it’s so urgent, you better just come out and say it,” I say. I’m still not sure I can trust him. How do I know that this isn’t a trap?

He sighs. “Damita, please. I've been nothing but cordial thus far but unless you let me in, I’m afraid 
I’ll have to get a tad more assertive.” He pushes against the door until it opens.

I don’t push back. There’s no use. Now that I think about it, he probably doesn't mean me any harm. 
If he wanted to hurt me, he would've done it already. I decide to trust him until he gives me a clear reason not to. For now, he’s one of my only ties to Rory. He might be able to shed some light on my brother’s murder.

Julian seems taller as he brushes against me. I haven’t been quite so close to him before. He smells nice, like mint. Rory had always smelled like cinnamon. I feel a twinge of grief. I choke it back before it has time to take root.

After I close the door, Julian sits down on the edge of the bed. “I hope I didn't scare you too much yesterday. What I said about Atalanta… well, I was wrong.” He rubs the back of his neck. “You’re not in any danger where she is concerned.”

I want to ask him why he was so insistent before. I put my hands on my hips. “Am I in danger otherwise?”

Julian pauses. “We think you will be.”

“If I don’t get your help, you mean?”

“No,” he says, “it’s not like that.”

Julian stands again and goes into the bathroom. He turns on the tap, gathers water in his hands, and splashes it on his face. Odd. I hand him the towel wadded up on the floor.

“What are you saying?” I ask. “Be specific.”

He waits a long time before answering me. “I’m afraid we dragged you into something terrible. We were reckless.”

I wait for him to continue. He dries his face, goes to throw the towel back on the floor, and decides to fold it neatly instead.

“I promised Rory you wouldn't get hurt. He made me swear that if anything ever happened to him, I wouldn't try to contact you.”

“You didn't,” I reply. “It happened by accident.” Even as I say the words, I doubt the truth behind them. It’s all too convenient--what are the odds of me getting dropped off at the very motel in which 
Julian and Atalanta are staying? 

The universe is seldom slapdash. Something big is brewing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chapter 2, Scene 4: Trust Issues

Sheer Curtains Letting in Light

He steps aside and allows me to walk past him. I make my way across the room and through the front door without so much as a look over my shoulder. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care if I never see those two again. 

I can’t understand why Rory kept company with them. The woman is attractive but volatile--a smoker and a rebel and God knew what else. Julian is trickier. An aristocrat at first blush, he seems to be more of a poor little rich boy with a past I can’t fathom--a past I’ll never know.

I hate not knowing.

I hate the idea of going back there and confronting Julian even more.

After a little deliberation, I go back to my room, close and lock the door, and slide the deadbolt into place. I take off all my clothes and tear the scratchy blanket off the bed. I turn off the lights and slide between the sheets. 

I fall asleep in minutes.

When I wake up, I’m disoriented. I think it’s morning, but the light is all wrong.

Then, I remember the strange encounter in the adjacent hotel room. I remember Julian telling me to run away before Atalanta came back. None of it makes sense. Why is he so insistent, so terrified? Atalanta won’t hurt me. She was Rory’s friend, too.

I think again about my brother and want to throw up. I go into the bathroom and crouch down in front of the toilet. With my eyes closed, I count. 

One, two, three, four… 

No vomit comes. I spit into the bowl. Clear

I stand, shaking, and flush the toilet. What’s going on with me?

Grief is a strange animal. I don’t have a weak stomach, but since Rory’s death, I feel like throwing up every time I think about him. When I remember he’s dead, I feel sick. It’s awful. I wonder if the feeling will ever go away. Based on the way Atalanta talks about her brother, I don’t want to get my hopes up.

Someone knocks on the door. 

I start to answer before realizing that I’m still naked. I’m not expecting company. For all I know, Atalanta is waiting for me outside, ready to kill me once I open the door. I’m still not sure whether to trust her or not. For one thing, she took me in after I passed out. But there’s also the look of panic in Julian’s eyes when he talks about her and the urgency in his voice as he told me to leave. I don’t know much about Julian, either, but something about him seems more sincere. I’m torn.

“Damita,” says the visitor. I recognize the voice.

“Julian,” I say. “Just give me a second.”

I grab my dress off the floor and pull it over my head. It settles over my body. After smoothing it a few times, I walk to the door. A look through the peephole confirms that Julian is waiting for me.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chapter 2, Scene 3: What to Do About Damita

raindrops on a window

Atalanta comes out of the bathroom. She rubs her eyes. “She figured it out, didn't she? What are we supposed to do?”

"We don't have to do anything rash," Julian says. His voice is calm but I sense a touch of malice in it. 

My pulse spikes. What are they going to do?

"She's dangerous," Atalanta says. "If she tells anyone--"

"She won't tell anyone. Look at her. She's a mud eyes. Who would believe her?"

Normally I’d be offended, but I know he’s trying to help.

"I don't know, Julian. I think it's risky."

Julian nods to me. "Would you mind stepping into the bathroom? Atalanta and I have some things to discuss."

I don't dare disobey. I doubt Julian would press charges if I did but I don't want to take the chance. I slip into the bathroom, shut the door, and flip on the fan. The lid on the toilet is down. I sit on it and bury my face in my hands. What’s happening to me?

I hear them talking. I can’t make out what they’re saying, but I hear their voices. For all I know, they’re plotting my murder. But if they’d truly been close to my brother, surely they won’t kill me, will they? I don’t know anything about them.

I think about throwing open the bathroom door, pushing past them, opening the front door, and running away as fast as I can. What if I can’t get past them? What if they pursue me? If I do get away from them, where will I go? Home isn't home anymore. I’m out of options.

I stand and knock on the door. The talking stops. I knock again. Julian opens the door and peers in at me. His eyes shift around the room as though looking for something to cling to. They find me instead. 

“Atalanta’s going out,” he says. “You should be gone before she comes back.”

At first, I don’t understand. Julian lowers his voice. “Please. I’m trying to help you.”

“She won’t hurt me,” I say. It comes out like a question. “Tell me she won’t hurt me.”

“Please go,” he replies.

I hear the front door open and close. Atalanta has gone out. I want to get as far away from this hotel room as possible. Whatever these two are involved in--even if they’d known my brother--I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Treason is insanity. I’m only half-crazy.

What is it that’s keeping me standing in the bathroom?

“I want answers,” I say. “All you've done is confuse me. I have so many questions.”

“I know,” he says, “I’m sorry. I didn't want--” He cuts himself off. “Please get out of here, Damita. Go to your room and lock the door. Pretend this nonsense never happened.”

He has no idea how much I wish that’s possible. “My brother was murdered. That wasn't pretend. You can’t understand how bad it hurts.”

Something flashes in his eyes. “You have no idea.” 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Chapter 2, Scene 2: The Truth Comes Out

striking blue eyes

Atalanta sobs. Startled by her violent reaction, she claps her hands over her mouth. I want to reassure her. What can I say? Rory is dead.

"Bathroom," says Julian. His voice is clipped and cold. Atalanta goes into the bathroom. She pulls the door shut. Her sobs are almost muffled by the whirring of the fan. Almost, but not quite. They tear me up inside in a way I’m not expecting.

"Hold on," Julian says. He goes into the bathroom and closes the door again. I hear the two of them talking. I can't make out what they were saying. Atalanta’s still crying. When Julian comes back out, he’s wearing pants and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He missed a button. I tell him so.

He fixes the problem. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I had no idea. I never would’ve said…” He lets his voice trail off. “Rory and I were close.”

"Why didn't he ever mention you?" My question rings more like an accusation--maybe even an insult. Julian pales. He takes a step backward.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I didn't mean--"

"It's fine," he says. "It's all right, really. I don't know what I expected." He tries to smile, but his face refuses to take it. I know he’s in pain. I feel terrible. Rory hadn't said anything about Julian. I already said so. I can't go back on my word. As silly as it seems, I feel like Rory will know if I lie--that he'll come down from wherever he is and give me a lecture.

"We didn't talk much," I try. The explanation is weak. "I mean, about personal issues." That's not right, either. Heat rises in my cheeks. I know he can see right through me. I feel pathetic. "He never bothered me with anything too serious. He always worried about upsetting me. Whenever I asked him about his day, he'd hit the highlights. I never got the gritty stuff."

My brother worked at a funeral home. It bothered me when I was younger, but as time passed, the job became an extension of my brother, another part of him to love. I learned a lot about the industry. Death, like everything else, is a business. I wonder what Rory would think about whatever they do to his body. I wonder if he has a will. I’m not holding out hope.

"He didn't want you to know about me," Julian says.

I can't figure out why. If we have a sky eyed lawyer like him on our side, why didn’t we take full advantage of his status? The more I think about the situation, the less I understand.

"It was for your own good," he continues. "For your protection. Don't you understand?"

I do understand. I don’t like understanding.

“Eye color,” I say. “Contacts. It all makes sense now.” 

They plotted something together. Why else would a sky eyes become friends with my brother? Rory didn’t want me to meet Julian because he knew it was dangerous. If I recognized Julian in public, people would get suspicious. Silver might hear something. Rory had really been looking out for everyone.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chapter 2, Scene 1: The Man in the Towel


The man’s name is Julian. He has blue eyes. Their intensity startles me more than their color. More surprising than his eyes is the fact he knows my name. I swear we've never met. He looks at me like he can see under my skin. I've never been looked at like that before. I avert my eyes.

“Julian,” I say, repeating his name. I like the way it rests on my tongue, “you’re a lawyer?”

“I'm surprised you don't recognize me."

"Why, should I?"

His expression darkens. "I defended your brother."

I feel like I’m falling. As far as I know, Rory never stood trial for anything in his life. "What are you talking about?"

Atalanta stands and puts her hand on Julian's arm. Her fingers curve around his bicep. "Careful," she says.

He shoots her a look that says, I know what I’m doing. "Look," he says to me, "I'm guessing there are lots of things your brother never told you. I can reveal a few secrets here and there, but I think it's best you hear everything directly from him." He puts his arm around Atalanta. "If the three of us know anything about Rory, it's that he's honest."

"Almost to a fault." Atalanta smiles.

My stomach churns like someone’s put it on spin cycle. They don't know. Then again, how could they? Rory has only been dead for a few hours. It’s impossible for me to believe he isn't dead in their world yet.

"Damita," says Julian, "are you all right?"

I lie back down and close my eyes. Julian knows my name. Presumably we’ve met before, so why don't I remember him? Why don't I remember seeing him with Rory? Most importantly, what has my brother been doing hanging out with a sky eyes? Fraternization is illegal. Everyone knows that--especially Julian, if he’s serious about his career.

"What crime was he accused of?" I ask. My voice sounds small. I try again. "When you defended 
Rory, what was he on trial for?"

Julian hesitates. "It's better he tells you. He might frame it better."

"There's no other way to frame it," Atalanta says.

"She should hear it from him, don't you think?"

"He's dead," I say. "My brother died. He can't tell me anything."

"You're joking," says Julian. I open my eyes. He’s holding on to Atalanta with both hands, as though he needs her to stay standing. She has a vise grip on his arms. Her nails pierce his skin.

I look at him. That’s all. We don't need speech.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chapter 1: Secrets

Seedy Motel


Two weeks after my birthday, my brother is murdered.

The people come and take his body away in a black bag. When they zip it up and hide his face, I feel like they erase him from existence. He’s already gone.

I stand on the front steps because I don’t know what else to do. I don’t feel like doing anything. One of the policemen tells me they’re looking into it. He has green eyes. I know better. My brother had brown eyes, so he will be forgotten. No one but me cares what happens to him.

A minute more and it starts to rain.

I swallow a laugh. In the movies, it rains when somebody dies. If only I were living in a movie—directed by God and playing the role of the heartbroken sibling, alone in the world. Only I’m not playing. I lost my parents and now I've lost Rory, too.

A police officer lays a hand on my shoulder. His face is kind but his eyes are green. He doesn't care.

“Is there somewhere you can go?”

I am twenty-two years old. Still, I need some kind of guardian. The officer is asking if I have other family. If he read my file, he knows that the last of my family is being wheeled away as we speak.

“No,” I say, “there’s nowhere."

The officer frowns. “We can put you up in a hotel for the night. Then tomorrow morning we can make arrangements. How is that?”

It sounds awful. I don’t want to leave my house. Rory and I built a life there together. Some of my best memories were created in that house. At the same time, it feels empty without him. So empty. And there’s still blood and broken glass everywhere.

“Sounds okay,” I lie.

“Perfect,” he says, “why don’t you come along with me?”

He keeps his hand on my shoulder and steers me in the direction of his cruiser. I turn over my shoulder to look at the gurney being wheeled into the ambulance. I don’t recognize it as part of my brother.

The officer opens the door and holds it for me. I slide into the seat. The vinyl is cool against my skin. I wish I weren't wearing such a short dress.

“Did you want to get your belongings?” he asks

I haven’t thought about it. Earlier when I tried to go into my bedroom, the police told me not to touch anything. How am I supposed to pack my suitcase without touching things?

“I didn't think I could.”

“I could go get some things for you. Do you know what you want?”

I want Rory back. “No.”

“Okay, do you want to wing it for a night and swing by here in the morning?”

I have no idea. I don’t want anything. There’s a hollow place inside me getting bigger every second. I shrug.

He nods, closes the door, and climbs into the driver’s seat.

I put on my seatbelt. Rory would have made me. He cracked down on seatbelts after our parents’ accident. I know he meant well. No one could ever love me as much as he had. Not even our parents had loved me that much.

The policeman doesn't check to make sure I’m wearing my seatbelt. He revs the engine, and the interior falls silent. He doesn't turn on the radio. Neither of us talks.

###

The Westbrook Motel isn’t far from where I live. We get there in less than ten minutes. I’m relieved. I want to get away from the policeman as soon as possible. I want to be alone.

The motel is cramped and a little disheveled. It’s not the cheapest option in town, but it might be the runner-up. I don’t care. The sooner I get inside and lock the door, the better.

The police officer waits to leave until I’m checked in. He asks me if I need anything. I need everything and nothing all at the same time.

“I’ll swing by to get you in the morning,” he says. “You’ll probably need to answer a couple more questions.”

After the interrogation I had earlier, I can’t imagine what questions are left to ask.

Did your brother have enemies?

I don’t know. I don’t think so. He was a good man.

Was there anything to be gained from his death?

He didn't have life insurance and we’re pretty poor.

Do you have any idea who might have killed him?

If I did, I wouldn't have answered questions. I would've tracked down the killer and gotten revenge.

Back in the present, I tell the officer, "Okay."

He leaves me standing in front of the stairs. I climb up to the second floor. I pass one room with the curtains drawn—light filters out from a crack in the fabric. Every other room I pass is dark. The one beside mine is dark, too, but I hear voices. A man and a woman are talking.

I stick my card key into the lock. I can hear every word they’re saying.

“It would be easier with colored contacts,” the man says.

The light on the lock flashes red. I try again.

“Don’t say that here,” says the woman.

“He won’t hear us.”

“Walls can talk.”

The light flashes green. I freeze with my hand on the handle of the door.

They’re talking about colored contacts. Those are illegal. They’re outlawed under the Ocular Codes. Everyone knows that. Why bring them up?

Curiosity gets the best of me. I hover outside.

“It’s not the safest course of action,” the man says. “I’d feel much better if we could wait a few days.”

“You know that’s impossible.”

“I know, I know. I just wish things were different.”

“Don’t we all?”

The man coughs. No one says anything for a minute. I think they’re finished with their conversation. 

I twist the doorknob and slip inside my motel room. Right before the door closes, I hear their door open.

I freeze again. Someone left the room. I press my ear against the door and hear murmuring. I recognize the man’s voice.

“You want anything else besides ice?”

“No thanks,” the woman calls.

I pull back from the door. I know he can’t see me, but I feel safer anyway. I know I wasn’t supposed hear that conversation. I can’t get the words out of my head. They’re plotting something illegal. What can it be? Why do they need colored contacts?

I hear their door open again. It must be the woman. I lean against the door again but this time lean too hard. The door isn’t closed all the way.

I fall through the crack and against the woman. She isn’t much taller than me, but she’s strong enough to catch me before I hit the ground. Somehow I still hit my head on the railing. That’s the last thing I remember.

###

I come to in my motel room. At least, it looks like my motel room. 

After a minute I notice the smell—stale cigarette smoke. I sit up and prop myself against the pillows. The woman from earlier sits in a chair at the end of the bed, smoking a cigarette and staring at me. Her dark hair falls over part of her face. The room isn't well-lit, but I know that she’s beautiful. It comes off her in waves.

“How long have I been out?” I ask.

She takes a drag on her cigarette. “A couple of hours. You must have hit harder than I thought you 
did.”

“A couple of hours?”

“Or you were exhausted.”

She looks at me as though expecting an answer. I want to give her one more than I've wanted anything in my entire life. I’m taken aback. What’s her appeal?

“Exhausted,” I say. “My brother just died.”

She lowers the cigarette. “I’m so sorry.”

Even though I barely know her, I can tell she means it. Her eyes radiate warmth and sympathy—and they’re brown like mine, which is a bonus. No matter how pretty she is, we’re on equal ground in society.

I relax a little. “Thank you.”

“Was it sudden?”

“He was murdered last night.” The words fall out of my mouth before I can stop them. When I see her eyes widen, I wish I could take it back. She doesn't need to know my tragic backstory.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Don’t apologize,” she says. “Never. Not for that.” She tamps out the cigarette in the ashtray in her lap. Smoke hangs around her face. She waves it away. “I had a brother who died a long time ago. 
Sometimes it still hurts.”

“How long ago?” I ask.

“Decades,” she says.

I don’t push her for details. The idea that I’ll still be living with grief years down the road terrifies me. The ache is intense. I thought I’d never feel the way I felt when Rory and I lost our parents. Losing my brother is so much worse. It hasn't even been a full day since I lost him. I can’t imagine how this woman feels.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“What’s yours?”

“Damita.”

“Hebrew,” she says, “isn’t it?”

I nod. “I’m Jewish.”

“I’m Atalanta,” she says.

“What is that?”

She laughs, and it’s music. “That’s my name. Atalanta Silvestrov.” When I don’t comment, she smiles. “My first name is Greek. My last is Russian. It throws people off.”

“Where’s the man who was with you?” I ask. I hate myself for speaking. The only way I know that she’s with someone is because I eavesdropped.

Her smooth brow furrows. “Who?”

I’m not sure if she heard me correctly and is just giving me a second chance or if she honestly hasn't heard me.

“What man are you talking about?” she asks again.

I try to come up with something that sounds halfway coherent. Then he comes out of the bathroom wearing only a towel.

“Give it up,” he says. “We’re going to have to tell her.”

DIY Gift Ideas for Readers and Writers

Big Gift Bow
Since my last gift idea post was a hit, I'd thought I'd take the topic and run with it again. This time around, I'm focusing on DIY gift ideas for those on a budget. If you're low on funds but high in spirits, these gift ideas are perfect for you. Here are a few suggestions for the bookworm you know:

Hopefully this list has inspired you in some way. Now get to shopping! Christmas is closer than you think!

What do you think of these gift ideas? How do you feel about DIY presents?
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