Finally Finished Your Novel by Dellani

ABC ChallengeSo, you’ve finished that four hundred and sixty page novel. You sit proudly and pat the cover page tenderly, smoothing the white surface when much to your horror, you see a mistake! Cold sweat breaks out on your brow, fingers tremble, mouth suddenly goes dry. As your eye wanders down the page, more and more errors jump out at you! Fear grips your heart as you stumble from the desk, desperate for a calming cool drink. It’s a nightmare, but you can’t wake up. It’s real. Your brainchild, the fruit of your creative efforts, is flawed and it’s up to you to fix it.

This is a scenario each of us faces. Sometimes it’s as minor as a misplaced comma or a dangling modifier. Other times an entire scene, or even half the novel is so bad it has to be scraped and retooled. I started an historical novel about ten years ago, set it aside since it wasn’t going anywhere, picked it up a few years later and realized the reason it hadn’t gone anywhere was that it was garbage! No other word for it. After careful review, I threw away all but ten handwritten pages. Of those ten pages, perhaps parts of seven survive in the retooled version.

Several things were problematic that I didn’t realize until much later. First, and most important, the point of view and style were all wrong. Set in St. Augustine in the Florida territory in the late 1700s, it was told in first person by a young Spanish woman. I had chosen to do it like a diary (not really sure why) and it was far too limiting to my story.

Second, after doing some more research, I found that the time period would have to be moved from the 1780s to 1739 or I could not incorporate certain facets of the novel. It would have been grossly inaccurate.

Third, and most difficult, the man I had intended to be the bad guy simply wasn’t working. No matter what I did, even in the retooled version, he wouldn’t be villainous. The heroine refused to fall in love with anyone else. Even the good guy couldn’t be relied upon to behave. He became the villain, the villain became the hero, the heroine didn’t succumb to another man’s charms, and they all lived happily ever after. (Except for the villain, because he, of course, was dead.)

It got terribly out of hand. After lots of time and effort reading and re-reading, honing, changing, and fine tuning, it is a really solid piece of literature that I am proud to put my name on. When I started re-writing it, I wouldn’t have given ten cents for it. It was the catalyst that started me writing in earnest and made me realize I had stories inside me to tell. Very few of the others are historical in nature, the rest are sci-fi or contemporary romantic suspense. With that novel I learned something else important. You can’t do too much research if you want to be historically accurate. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d rather spend my time bleeding profusely from multiple wounds, than tracking down that evasive, all important fact. It took years to finish Indian Summer, because it was so hard to find the information I needed.

Sci-fi is far simpler for me to write. Once I have a believable setting, the rest is easy. Don’t ignore the laws of science, throw in some really good fight scenes, add a few interesting aliens and voila! Creating my own world is far more fun than working within the confines of someone else’s.

Writing is the ultimate escapism. For that short span of time, things work out; the hero and heroine fall in love and live happily ever after. The bad guy gets his just desserts, the good guy wins, and there is always a happy ending.

Despite the thrill of putting words on paper, the hard part is making sure that everything is right. We can live with the small stuff like ending a sentence with a preposition. Frankly, it sounds odd if it’s correct. However, misplaced modifiers, sentence fragments and subject – verb agreement are very important.

One solution is to read and re-read your own work, honing and perfecting it. It’s easy to miss simple errors that way. Sometimes running off a hard copy helps, but it’s still hard to catch it all. Better yet, get people who are gifted in grammar to help you. They might not be able to name the error, but they can spot one and may be able to offer suggestions on how to correct it. If you can afford it, have an editor review it. Few of us can, so it’s up to us to read and re-read our own work until it is smooth and as error free as it can possibly be.

For goodness sake, don’t rely on the grammar check in Word! It’s frequently inaccurate, and will cause far more problems than it solves. I don’t care if it’s the primary word processing program used worldwide, the grammar check is terrible. Spell check, on the other hand, is a Godsend, but won’t help you if you simply type in the wrong word. I once finished typing out a test for my 11th grade class, only to find that I had one very important little word wrong and the spell check hadn’t caught it. Instead of saying, “What is the theme of this story?” I had, “Shat is the theme of this story?” (For those of you who don’t know, that’s the past tense of the verb ‘to shit’. — 11th graders knew that!)

There is no easy way to get through the editing process. It is tedious and time consuming, but if it makes the difference between selling a book and having it gather dust, it’s well worth it.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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The Experiment by Dellani

ABC ChallengeA senior in college, Maggie is struggling with a required freshman psych class. It’s her own fault, she’d been putting it off. If she doesn’t pass, she won’t graduate. When her professor offers here a chance to participate in an experiment, she jumps at the chance. She soon finds she’ll be paired with a man, a complete stranger. They will get “married”, and live together as a couple for the next six weeks. Tonight is their first meeting. Maggie has no idea what to expect.

A man walked in, catching her attention. He was six feet tall, lean built, with broad shoulders. His dark brown hair was cut in a sort of early Beatles style and was tossed around in such a casual way, it probably took ages to fix. He bent forward to talk to the hostess, hands in the pockets of his tan chinos. He wore a darker tan corduroy jacket and a plaid shirt that was buttoned to his adam’s apple. His expression was made difficult to read by the black framed glasses he wore. Give him a pocket protector full of pens, he’d be right out of Revenge of the Nerds.

Maggie stood as he approached the table, holding out her hand. He took it, his palm slightly sweaty, shaking it in a moderately firm grip.

“Jaeger Jeffreys,” he said by way of greeting. He pronounced his name Jay-ger.

“Margay Simmons—but you can call me Maggie.

Jaeger came around to help her with her chair. Unused to such attention, Maggie sat too quickly, flopping awkwardly onto her seat. Fortunately, Jaeger didn’t seem to notice.

“So, Jaeger,” she croaked. Clearing her throat, she took a sip of water. “Do you go by a nickname? Like Jay or Ger?” Realizing she was babbling, Maggie stopped talking and took a deep breath. Another sip gave her an excuse to stay quiet.

Jaeger chuckled. “I sometimes go by Jeff or Jay. Good friends call me J.J. You can call me any of the above, or the full handle. I answer to about anything.”

His voice was a smooth tenor flavored by a slight Southern accent that she thought was from Alabama. Maggie had a good ear for accents and could usually pinpoint where someone was from after a very short time.

“Unusual name, Jaeger.”

“Yep. Mom’s family name. It’s actually my middle name. First name’s awful.” He made a face.

“It can’t be that bad.”

“Trust me. When I know you better, I’ll share.” He took a sip of his water.

The waitress brought their soup, a delicate gazpacho with croutons. Conversation lagged slightly as they ate.

“So, Jaeger, what do you plan to do once you graduate?”

He put down his spoon and folded his hands under his chin. “First of all, my future wife can call me Jay—please. Secondly, I’m going into the family business. Dad’s an accountant, his dad was, and his dad. Going back to the War Between the States, when my many greats granddaddy was pay master for General Lee.”

“The Civil War, you mean?”

Jay shushed her playfully. “Lord, chile, don’t ever let my granny here you say that! She will shoot you for a Yankee! She calls it The Recent Unpleasantness.” He laid a thick layer of Southern on his statement.

“Yankee! I think I might be offended by that.”

Jaeger laughed, slapping his thigh. “I say all that and you catch onto Yankee? Lordy. Where you from, Maggie?”

“I was born in Tennessee, but raised in Florida. I’m as Southern as you are.”

He held up a finger, wiggling it at her. “I do beg to differ. I was born in the Appalachian Mountains, in a cabin in the Chattahoochee National Forest. I was raised in Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama. My folks were from Citronelle, Alabama—population just around thirty-six hundred. They now live in Biloxi, Mississippi. My granddaddy’s family was one of the first families to settle there in 1811. I have a family tree with so many branches, I don’t know all my first cousins and only a handful of the seconds. So, I promise you, to my granny, a girl raised in Florida—she’s a Yankee.”

Maggie bridled, sitting up straighter in her chair. It took her a moment to realize that he was teasing her. She saw an amused glitter in his eyes. She hadn’t noticed it before because of the glasses, but they were a dark sage green.

“Smart ass,” she muttered.

Jaeger winked. “Been called worse.”

Their entrees arrived. Maggie had opted for the coriander pork chop with a sweet potato and cooked apples. Jaeger had a steak, fries and grilled pineapple.

“I’m glad to see you’re not a vegan,” he said as he cut into his steak. “I dated a girl for awhile, only to find out she didn’t eat meat. Considering she didn’t share that fact with me when I invited her to dinner at the steak house, it was somewhat….”

“Humiliating?”

He winked, pointing his fork at her. “Bingo. I enjoyed my meal and she took a cab home.”

“Bummer.”

“Yeah, it was our third date too. Subject couldn’t come up before that?”

“You’d think so. What’s significant about the third date?”

Jaeger stopped eating, glancing up at her over his glasses. His fork and knife were poised to cut and framed his face in glittering steel.

“Um—the third date. After the third date…..” He tilted his head from side to side indicating she should fill in the blanks.

“Oh, my God! I’m dumb. I don’t—date—a lot. Like—ever?” Embarrassed, she attacked her pork chop with renewed vigor.

Jaeger’s laugh made her ears burn. She glared at him.

“I’m sorry. Just, it’s kind of refreshing to find someone who’s not jaded. You don’t know how rare that is, Maggie.”

“I suppose that could be a compliment. At least you didn’t call me naïve.”

“Now why would I do that? Being naïve isn’t a bad thing, but it implies being cut off from reality and not familiar with the bad things in life. You’re not sitting in some ivory tower, you’re out here with the rest of us, but you haven’t let the association with the bad things tarnish you.”

Maggie stared at him in silence, a bite of pork in her mouth. She had no idea how to reply to that. He’d summed up her life entirely in a few sentences. Not only that, he made her sound strong, positive and self-possessed. Everyone else treated her like a silly little child. She smiled.

“Thank you. I believe that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in a long time.”

“Then you don’t hang out with the right people.” He concentrated on his food.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Death Comes to Call by Dellani

ABC ChallengeDeath Comes to Call is my venture into the world of ghostly paranormal. I’ve avoided ghost stories and horror, because I tend to scare myself, but I felt the lure and finally heeded the beckoning call of the antebellum mansion, Belle Chase, in the heart of Miracle, Mississippi – where strange things happen, and ghosts have been known to walk the night.

Lyle is the son of Cymbeline Davis-Hargrove. His mother is decidedly a lady of the Old South. He and his siblings, and their children, have returned to Belle Chase for the yearly pilgrimage, when strange things start to happen.

Lyle’s dreams were chaotic, full of explosions, guns firing, and death. He felt as if he were running around in a first person shooter game, but nothing touched him. Though he heard the noises of a battlefield, it was an illusion. Real or not, it was highly disturbing. He woke with a start, clutching at his arm. It felt as if someone had touched him and he could have sworn someone called his name.

Sitting up, he put his hand on his shoulder, where the sensation of touch lingered. The room was cold once more and he fancied he could see his breath. Annabelle slept soundly, curled on her side. Unable to still his pounding heart, Lyle got up and went to the bathroom. On his way back to bed, he happened to glance out the window. This room wasn’t quite as close to the fenced in area of the dig, but he still had an unimpeded view of the back yard. He fancied he could see a figure moving around down there. It strolled slowly from one end of the enclosure to the other, pacing as if looking for a way out. Ponderous, slow, it turned and walked along the fence. It was then that Lyle sensed it wasn’t that it was looking for a way out, this moved like a soldier on patrol.

Shuddering with a sudden chill, he backed away from the window, only to encounter an unexplained cold spot. The temperature difference was uncanny and unmistakable. Fingers of fear crept up his spine and he couldn’t move or even call out to his sleeping wife. He felt as if something clutched his throat, tightening slowly. Heart pounding, he could feel the veins in his face swell as if he were being strangled.

Stop!” he whispered huskily. “Whatever—whoever you are. Stop! We can help you rest!”

The tension grew tighter. With a final gasp, he pushed himself forward, out of the cold spot and started babbling the St. Michael’s prayer. He’d read somewhere that when having a conflict with an evil spirit, this was a person’s first defense. “St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle….” The cold gradually eased, but didn’t go away.

Rushing to the bed, he crawled in with his wife, putting his back to hears. He could feel her comforting warmth in the bed, though he still shivered with the unexplained cold. The room gradually warmed, but now he heard noises—like ghostly whispers.

Don’t be stupid,” he muttered. “No such thing….” But he knew he didn’t believe what he’d almost said. He knew there were ghosts, having seen them before. He knew the property was said to be haunted, and he’d believed it his entire life. Though he didn’t talk about it, not since he’d mentioned it as a child, and gotten a tail warming from his grandfather that he wouldn’t ever forget.

We don’t speak of ghosts here at Belle Chase,” his grandfather scolded. “There’s no such thing.”

Yes, Granddaddy.”

But you lied, you sorry bastard,” he said softly. “There are ghosts and something has them stirred up.”

His bedroom door burst open, waking Annabelle and startling Lyle. Chad stood there, eyes wide, sobbing.

Daddy, come quick! Something’s wrong with Polly! Hurry!”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Conduct Unbecoming by Dellani

ABC ChallengeConduct Unbecoming is the second Teague McMurtry Mystery. A year has passed since the frightening events of The Ninja Tattoo. Teague gets a call from an old girlfriend, Aileen. She asks him to look for their friend, Nadeya, who has disappeared. Teague begins his search with the help of his friend, Jasper Waters. By strange twist of fate, Jasper finds Nadeya first.

As he approached the door, he prayed for inspiration. It was going to take some fast talking for Nadeya not to freak out and kill him. He raised his hand to knock. Rethinking his position, he moved so he wasn’t standing directly in front of the door, but slightly to the side so the thick, log wall protected him. He tapped lightly and waited for a response. The curtain over the tiny window moved aside imperceptibly. Only someone trained to be observant would have seen it.

Jasper faced the window and smiled. “I’m Jasper Waters,” he said quietly. “I’m a friend of Teague’s. You hid on my boat.”

The door opened a crack and one dark, wary eye peered at him. “I remember you. What?”

“May I come in? The skeeters are pretty nasty and they’re feasting on me.”

Nadeya took a step back, leaving barely enough room for Jasper to squeeze through. She shut the door with her foot and slammed him against the wall, one hand pulled up at an uncomfortable angle behind him. She did a thorough frisking of him, leaving no areas untouched, before letting him go. She stepped out of easy reach, eyeing him with a neutral expression.

“I just want to talk,” Jasper said, holding his hands slightly from his sides.

“You’re a cop. Why should I talk to you?”

“Because I don’t think you killed that man on the beach. We’re both friends of Teague’s, maybe we could build on that.”

“Teague has lots of friends. . . .”

“No, Teague knows every damn body, but there are only a few of us he calls friends. You’re one of them—He told me what happened to your fiancé.”

She tightened up. Jasper took a step back, raising his hands.

“Would he share that with just anyone?”

Nadeya’s lower lip trembled slightly and she blinked hard. Jasper caught the hint of a tear in her eyes.

“He wouldn’t unless he knew I would help. You think I drop what I’m doing and run everyone out to a crime scene just cause I’m nice? Teague and I trust each other and I’d like to extend that courtesy to you, if you’ll let me.”

She stared at him several minutes, sizing him up. She gestured to one of the two chairs near the window. “Want some water or instant coffee? It’s all I’ve got.”

“Water would be good, thanks.” Jasper sat.

Nadeya got two bottles of water out of the mini-fridge and tossed him one. Jasper caught it with a grin. His left hand gripped it as he twisted it open.

“Nicely done. Now you know I’m a lefty.”

Nadeya smirked. “And you’re not armed. I could have taken your head off.”

“Yup, but I trusted you wouldn’t. And I thank you for that.”

She nodded as she opened her own bottle. “So, you’re here, talk.”

Jasper told her what he and Teague had figured out about the man on the beach. He even told her about C.L.A.D.

“What do you know about that?” Nadeya leaned closer, whispering.

“Bits and pieces, nothing concrete. What do you know?”

Nadeya looked furtive. “I shouldn’t tell you. We could get in a lot of trouble.”

Jasper held his hands out, palms up. “Who am I gonna tell? Except maybe Teague. Look, the more we know about this, the better. What do you say?”

She looked away, biting her lip. “I don’t know much more than you do. They intended it as a new interrogation technique. It’s supposed to be a way to reprogram people’s minds.”

“Like brain washing?”

“Kind of. More sophisticated, but still a way to break them. I know that someone else got ahold of it though. They were using it on us!” Anger flared in her eyes.

“Us—as in you personally?”

“No. But some of our soldiers. There was a captain I heard of, they tried to kill him off in a raid, but he took out everyone who attacked his convoy. They stole his memories and gave him a fucking medal.”

“Shit! How do you know about that?”

“The subject came up as they tortured my fiancé,” she mumbled.

“Oh, Nadeya, I’m sorry.”

“I know that. Next to Teague, you’re the only man I trust.”

Jasper exhaled sharply. “That’s quite a compliment. Thank you. I know you can’t possibly feel safe here. Would you like to come to my house?”

Her eyes grew hard. Jasper pressed his lips together, shaking his head.

“I’ve got a hell of a security system. Even you would have trouble sneaking through. I’ve got a couple acres around my place so I can see trouble coming and I’m armed better than Fort Knox. I’ve got a guest room with your name on it.”

Nadeya relaxed. “And leave this luxury accommodation?”

“I’ve got more to drink than water and instant coffee. I’ll even throw in breakfast.”

Nadeya’s smile was shaky. Taking a deep breath, she tried to smile again. Tears welled before she could stop them. She didn’t trust her voice, so she nodded.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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