Ever drop everything to indulge a whim? I have. In fact last week I gave into that fanciful whim to write a short story. Once more I’ve discovered that I excel at writing works referred to as “short stories”. Usually these stories are ten to fifteen thousand words long. Longer still up to maybe forty thousand words could be called a novella–a short novel. I have trouble writing even something as simple as a note to a friend in less than a thousand words! Novels of course usually run seventy to one-hundred thousand words. So while I am currently writing a novel–a time consuming project–I stopped to write a short story–a murder mystery. Why? Because a friend asked…and perhaps I had a writer’s need to commit murder. 😉
2015 started with me having the worst allergy attack I can remember. The second week that all turned into a severe sinus infection with vertigo. If you’ve never experienced a case of vertigo you’re lucky! Imagine opening your eyes and everything swirling to the side like you’re on a merry-go-round. And you stand up only to feel like you need to lean on the wall. It’s NOT a pleasant experience! The next week I kept the baby grandson because his mama had the flu. The last week of January Husband and I took a mini break and spent several days at The Peaceful Pelican B&B on the Gulf Coast in the tiny shrimping/fishing town of Palacios. Plenty of peace and quiet! Get home, take a breath, wash dishes and clothes and bam! It’s February 1. Really?? Where’d January go??
I’m writing another mystery. At the same time I’m taking an online class about writing mysteries—the aspects of characters, plot and chicanery necessary to throw out hints as to who the villain is without coming right out on page two and letting the reader know.
There IS a difference between a mystery and a suspense novel. A mystery leaves the reader guessing as to who the bad guy (or gal) is. The reader never sees the killer until the hero and heroine do basically. In a suspense novel, the reader knows more than the characters. The reader sees the killer in action long before the hero and heroine identify him or her (or them).
What’s cool about writing this particular novel is the timing of the class notes—they tend to arrive just as I need clarification about my suspects or just as I really need guidance for laying down hints. Sometimes luck isn’t really necessary so much as great timing.
I’m working on another mystery novel at the moment. I’ve published one called Return With Honor at Melange-books.com and have another one called Toots Gentry coming out in several months. That one too is at Melange under author name Jane Grace. This one is a Young Adult novel.
This latest work in progress is called Forgotten Magic. And it requires a lot of research in some areas. Sometimes you have to go looking for facts; other times information falls into your lap and you didn’t even realize you wanted it or needed it until you got it! Make sense? No, probably not. Let me ‘splain, as Ricky Ricardo would tell Lucy.
I needed a way to tie my hero and heroine together. When writing mysteries you have to work at making the plot fit and be…well, mysterious. By accident I found an article about secrets. Viola! My heroine already had a secret. My antagonist (that’s the villain) had a secret. But the poor hero had none. So I created one for him. Now that trio has to tiptoe around, keeping what they know to themselves without giving away hints. Not easy to do in real life, harder to do in writing.
So now that my hero has this big secret I had to find out how to capitalize on it. I mean, I came up with a really macho type secret but uh, just how would that work in real life? My hero was burned at one time…privately burned if you get my drift. So how do privates work after being burned? Ah, that was my research project for several days. Ain’t so easy. Lots of information out there about burns and reconstruction but not specifically about the subject I needed, a man’s privates. BUT yesterday I found what I needed. On a post out of West Africa of all places! Sort of sad, a bit gruesome and probably illegal what these folks did but bottom line, my research produced results.
Now my hero can move forward. The research has given him a bang-up secret!
Read what I’ve written so far…let me know where you see this going. This is literally a work in progress online! Comments and suggestions welcomed.
Sail Away (a working title)
Julia shivered as cold air seemed to penetrate the heavy coat she wore. The ship plowed through the north Atlantic ocean at a respectable speed which sent a veritable wave of bone chilling air over her every time she came out on deck.
The heavy sails bulged, so full of air were they. She’d noticed at times when the sun beat hot in the lower latitudes that the heavy canvas hung still, only flapping on occasion as they caught stray breezes.
“There you are, darling.” Thomas Cutworth, ship’s captain and her husband, came to stand beside her at the rail. Paying his smiling crew no mind, he kissed her quite fully then drew her closer with an arm around her expanding waist.
“We really need to talk about getting you accommodations when we land. You know…” He held up one hand to ward off her refusals. “You know,” he repeated, “that you can’t stay aboard the Jewel much longer. Mrs. Carty in Dover expected you a month ago. Life aboard ship is too uncertain for me to risk both you and the little one.” He tenderly laid a hand on her curved stomach and grinned when the warmth set the baby to moving.
“Really, Thomas, I’ll be fine. I can stay another two months at least. I never get sick and we’ve run into no troubles in over a year.” Her frustration at his insistence wore at her. He wanted her safe but what good would being safe be if the love of her life were away and possibly dead?
“Julia, stop worrying. Like you say, we’ve had no trouble and that’s good but it can’t last forever. Certainly not another four months.”
“We will be safe!” Julia almost stomped her foot but to do so would be undignified.
Boom! Boom! The Jewel rocked so far to one side Julia grabbed for Thomas’s hand but the ship’s violent motion had sent the captain sprawling, arms and legs akimbo, over the rail toward the boiling sea below.
Sleep pulled her under. Noises pulled her awake.
What disturbed her? Where was Thomas, that he let the men be so noisy this early of a morning?
The ship’s roll did not resemble the Jewel’s usual gentle motion. The ship traveled quickly. Perhaps trouble had found them. Perhaps someone was ill, in need of immediate attention, more than Old Peter could provide. Perhaps…
Julia’s hands immediately went under the sheet covering her, to rest on the curve of her tummy. The child within kicked her palms. She smiled in the darkness. At least she was not the person ill.
So why was she awake at such an unusual hour when lately she had slept well past the time when the crew broke their fast?
Her head swam as she lurched up on one elbow.
“My head. What is the matter with me?” She swept her hair out of the way, noting the tangles. “What happened here?” She wore her hair braided at night.
“What happened? You do not recall?” a voice asked from the darkness of the room.
“Who is there?” Julia’s hand fell to her chest, to rest against her breast where her heart pounded a furious beat.
“I have cared for you these past three days, madam. Tis’ morning now. The crew fished you out of the waters near where we found wreckage of a ship.”
“Wreckage? The Jewel?” Julia’s teeth chattered, not from cold but sudden fear.
“We know not the name of the ship, only that it was gone by the time we arrived and flotsam floated everywhere. You, madam, were part of that flotsam,” answered a female voice, rough and deep.
“Flotsam! I am neither flotsam nor are the men your captain abandoned while graciously rescuing me,” Julia said hissed, her voice hard as steel, her lip curled in a sneer.
“Our captain does nothing gracious, madam. You were rescued for a reason. That reason apparently did not include the men aboard that vessel.”
The woman moved. Julia heard a swish though it sounded not like silk or a finely woven swath of material. Solid footsteps, wrapped in boots or hard-soled shoes, moved across the dark cabin toward what she surmised was the door. Only someone familiar with the small room could move so confidently. Odd that the footfalls were not bathed in the quieter sounds of a common seaman’s thinner footwear.
“Those men included my husband, Thomas. And I’ll thank you not to speak ill of the lot.” Julia threw those words into the dark but the soft snick of the door as it closed and the solid turn of a lock meant the woman who just left probably did not hear her.
Alone but uncertain if she was safe, Julia curled on her side, her hands resting on the mound of her belly and cried. Soft mewling sounds that didn’t fill the cabin, only swirled gently around her head…and through her heart. Gone. Thomas gone to her. Lost. All of those brave men lost. So far from land and in such icy waters it was a miracle she survived…and the babe. For anyone stranded in these waters for too long would perish. She’d seen it happen before when rough seas prevented the Jewel from circling quick enough to rescue a new seaman who fell from the yardarms. But the time they reached the lad he was dead, died of exposure to the frigid sea.
Life aboard ship was never easy for Julia—but that was the price she paid, and gladly, to be with Thomas. The seamen never bothered her. The captain only took men who understood that the misses was not to be troubled. For nine years they had sailed happily from England to America, delivering goods but never carrying passengers. Thomas felt guilt enough having Julia along without possibly submitting strangers to any danger the sea or passing ships might offer.
And danger there had been. In the early 1840s, Thomas had fought off pirates almost every other month. He begged Julia to stay ashore and once even lured her ashore with plans to sail early so as to assure her safety. But Old Peter told on Thomas; Julia snuck aboard in the dead of night to the crew’s delight and with their willing assistance. For a happy captain means a happy ship. Despite Thomas’ avowal that he’d be happier with her ashore, all knew if Julia was not aboard the captain grew grumpy and was easily agitated. Such innocence the men showed the next morning when, far out to sea, far too late to return, the captain spied his lady sitting peacefully under a small awning the crew had erected months earlier when they last sailed in the tropics. His roar of fear for her was overthrown by the fierce hug and passionate kiss he gave her. Captain Thomas Cutworth never broached the subject again.
Until Julia discovered she carried their first child. That changed his attitude quick enough. To the point of driving her insane. Still they disagreed amiably. Their last words together in fact were about that very subject—the safety of her and the child. Her argument? That no ship had attacked them in so very long.
They were safe.
Not so. Now she rested in a dark cabin, alone, a prisoner to an unknown captain aboard an unknown ship.