Pantera at Panera

dellani photo dark redLooks like I forgot to post a Teacup for today. I apologize. In my defense, I’m combating seasonal allergies, and have had a fever and migraine on and off for weeks. In hopes you will forgive me, I offer you Pantera at Panera – a short piece I wrote several years ago.

A few years ago I was standing in a long, slow moving line at the Panera Bread Company. Ahead of me was a very tall, thin man in his twenties. Quite good looking and broad shouldered, he was wearing a black leather jacket. Across his broad expanse of shoulder, stitched in pale yellow letters was the word Pantera. However, because there was a white skull behind the T, it looked like it said Panera.

The older lady beside me was staring at the jacket with a puzzled expression. She leaned over to her husband, speaking in what she probably considered a confidential tone. “Why do you suppose he’s standing in line if he’s wearing a Panera jacket? Surely if he works here, he doesn’t have to stand in line.”

I couldn’t let the poor old girl suffer under that misconception, could I? No. I had to set it right.

I turned around, smiling pleasantly at her. (So I was eavesdropping, so what!)

“It doesn’t say Panera,” I explained patiently. “It says Pantera. There’s a T in the middle, see?”

They both squinted at the jacket as we took a couple small steps forward.

“Oh,” she said with a grin. “So it does! Well, what’s that? I’ve never heard of that. Have you heard of that?” She asked her husband.

“It’s a band,” I explained, feeling like I was conversing with Miss Emily Lotilla.

“Oh, what kind of music do they play?”

“Heavy metal.”

“Heavy what?”

“Metal. Very hard rock, loud, lots of screaming.”

“Well, fancy you knowing something like that,” she looked very impressed.

“I have teenagers,” I told her with a smile.

I didn’t tell the old girl I had a Pantera CD in my car, and I’d been listening to Cowboys from Hell at top volume, when I arrived.. I probably would have given her an aneurysm.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 13

dellani photo dark redAs some of you know, I have also written some sci-fi and fantasy novels. My contemporary fantasy, the Miracle, Mississippi Series, is set in a fictional town in western Mississippi. I located it near Natchez, which I have always found rather mysterious and magical itself. The series revolves around a group of teens, who are beginning to find out that there is something not quite normal about them. No, they aren’t vampires or werewolves, they are descended from a select group of druids, who banded together, in Circles of Power, to protect the world.

Their quest begins Halloween of 2012. Remember how everyone was saying that the world was going to end in December of that year? Well, it didn’t, but it did change dramatically. It was saved by Brian and Jordan, and their families and friends. Below is an excerpt from the first book in the series, He Thought He Saw, posted in parts on my blog. 

Chapter OneHe Thought He Saw red

Wind whispered in the trees and dried leaves clattered in its wake. An owl hooted. The hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention. The full moon seemed to follow him as he walked down the road alone. The wind became voices. The leaves, the dry rattle of old bones. The sighing grew louder and Brian was able to pick out words. At least, he thought they were words, but in a language he couldn’t understand.

Picking up his pace, he glanced over his shoulder. Wispy figures gathered in the tree line around the swamp road, moving slowly and steadily toward him. Brian tried to convince himself it was only his imagination, but it felt far too real.

One of the figures approached at a slow, loping run. Brian could hear the heavy, measured footfalls as it lumbered toward him. He completely lost his cool. Roaring loudly, he ran at the figure, dodging away when it grabbed at him. Chilling wind passed as the figure drifted away, dissipating as it headed to the woods on the other side of the road.

Brian ran along the center of the road, frightened by his encounter with the wraith. More of them gathered in the swampy woodland, but no others were bold enough to approach him. Hearing a twig snap to his left, Brian put on a burst of speed. With a cry of fear, he felt a shove at his back and tripped over his own feet. As he fell, he saw the wraiths grow bolder. They moved in unison, swooping toward him. Terrified, Brian lay on his belly, unsure how to combat them.

A solid form burst out of the bushes. A large dog stood over Brian, growling and barking. It took a moment for him to realize that the wraiths halted. Some tried to go a step or two further, but the dog renewed its attack. One by one the ghosts dispersed, melting into the fog once more.

Brian let his breath out slowly. The animal stood over him, but moved aside as he sat up. It was the biggest dog Brian had ever seen, broad through the chest with powerful legs and a ridge of hair down his spine. It looked silver in the moonlight.

Curious, Brian reached slowly toward it, hand out, palm up. The beast’s tongue flicked out, licking his cheek. Her warm breath convinced the boy that the dog was alive and real. She slurped him again, butting his hand so he’d pet her. Laughing, he complied.

“Where did you come from, girl?” Predictably, he got no reply. “Never mind, I’m just glad you’re here.”

He got up, dusting himself off. Leaves stuck to his body, mud caked every inch of him. Twigs and more leaves adorned his closely cropped hair. Getting his bearings, he headed toward home once more. The dog walked with him, her head under his hand. Her tongue lolled and she looked as if she were laughing at his appearance.

“You take a header into a mud puddle and see how good you look.”

The dog barked gleefully. She dashed ahead, sniffed and snorted, before trotting back to his side. She stayed with him until they reached his home. With a yip, she left him, drifting into the woods. The front door fell shut with a comforting bump behind him. Heaving a sigh of relief, Brian locked and bolted the door. He leaned against it, panting. His hands shook and he felt light headed. His heart thumped so hard in his chest, he could hear it in his ears.

Though the setting of this novel is contemporary, and real, the action sets it apart from the norm. Yes, I could have set this anywhere, but I chose a small town in Mississippi, because it felt right. If you’ve ever seen pictures of the Natchez area, it has an Old World charm to it, with the antebellum houses, spreading live oaks covered in Spanish moss, and the ghosts of the Confederacy still lurking in forgotten graveyards.

Confederate Headstone

Photo by Dellani Oakes

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 10

dellani photo dark redSometimes, I ask my author guests where they are from, and how their background, or location has influenced their writing. Quite a lot, as you can imagine. I’ve noticed it in myself. The old adage, Write What You Know, is at least partially true. I would change it though, to Write Where You Know. I’m about as likely to write a story set in New York City, as a fish is to ride a bicycle. I’ve never been there, I know very little about it, and it doesn’t inspire me to create. Other authors would never even consider writing a story set in Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, or Nebraska, though I have used all these locations for my books. Why? Because I’ve lived there, or visited frequently.

My family moved quite a bit when I was young. Before the age of 9, I had lived in Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas, and finally, Nebraska. After high school, I moved to Mississippi, and lived there for 11 years, before moving to Florida. Of those locations, I remember Nebraska and Mississippi well. The others are a bit vague, because I was so young. Since those are places I know, I don’t have to do a lot of research in order to use them as locations. Since I’m basically lazy, I’d rather write about a place I’m passing familiar with, instead of one I have to look up.

You’ll notice in the locations list, I mentioned Kansas. This one puzzles people (myself included) Why write a book set in a small city in Southeast Kansas? Because, that’s where I was when I thought of it. I was in Pittsburg, Kansas, visiting my mother and sister, who live nearby, when I got the idea for a story. It was a small thing—the room number on the door of the motel owner’s apartment—Room103. It struck me as odd that their apartment needed a number. In fact, I had to wonder where Room 101 and 102 were.

I had also been toying with a story pairing up a police officer with a motel owner. My original thought was for a male cop with a female owner, when it clicked. Flip that, and make her a federal officer. Since I’d been speaking to a man who was back for his 40th high school reunion, I made the decision to have the woman back for her college reunion. She was a Deputy Federal Marshal, and her name was Marice Houston. And thus, Room 103 came to be, a fast paced romantic suspense set in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Iroom 103 front cover headed up to the office. There was a line at the coffee pot, so I got my waffle cooking and poured myself some juice. I saw Todd coming in to replenish the coffee. He threw a smile my way. I saluted him. One of the men in the line helped him set it up.

“Sorry about that. We had construction workers stay here last night and they all had huge thermal mugs with them,” Todd explained as the guests grumbled. “I got busy with checkout. It will be ready in about five.”

My waffle done, I buttered it and put on copious amounts of syrup. It’s true, I can’t be trusted with it, because I love it. If I could simply sit down and drink maple syrup, I probably would. It’s fun to lick off someone else…. Pushing that thought aside, I concentrated on my meal preparation.

“I hope you slept well,” a warm, friendly voice said behind me.

I jumped, pointing the syrup bottle at him like a weapon. Squeezing involuntarily, I squirted Todd with a long line of the golden brown liquid. Of course, it was right on the zipper. I wanted to hide, but there was nowhere to go. I was trapped between his lean, hard body and the waffle iron.

Laughing, he grabbed a handful of napkins. “Well, that wasn’t the greeting I’d anticipated. Sorry I startled you, Miss Houston. Glad you weren’t armed.”

I blushed as all eyes turned on me. Taking a step back, I lost my balance, and nearly hit my arm on the waffle iron. Even with it in its protective plastic square, I could feel the heat at my elbow. Strong hands pulled me forward, against that rock hard chest.

“You okay?” His blue eyes held concern.

“Yeah. Fine. Embarrassed as hell….”

“Sorry about that.” He set me on my feet.

Everyone else chose that moment to look away, pointedly viewing the TV or the coffee urn. I gathered my food and found the corner of a table to perch with my meal. There were three other people, apparently together, but they didn’t mind sharing. The room was quite full for so early in the morning. I found out that some of the folks worked and lived there, down the end near the construction workers. Others were, like me, here for the reunion. I recognized a few of the faces, but couldn’t put names to any of them.

The room finally cleared out. I had another cup of coffee and a muffin as I watched the news. An escaped fugitive was on the loose, close to my home in Kansas City, Missouri. That was close enough to here to be unsettling. My coworkers were on high alert and everyone would be out in full force looking for him. They flashed a picture up and I stared at him, memorizing the face as I always do.

“D.W. Scrivener, thirty-four, escaped federal custody during a prisoner transfer from Mississippi. Be on the lookout for this man. If you see him, please notify the police. He is believed to be armed and is extremely dangerous. Do not approach or attempt to apprehend.” The bulletin went on from there. Soon, it cut over to a video of my boss, Alvin Ripley, talking to the head of the St. Louis field office. They were coordinating the search. I’d worked with Reggie Danvers when I did WITSEC. He was a good man, as was Ripley. I knew with the two of them in charge, things would flow quickly and as smoothly as possible.

Catching movement in the doorway, I looked over. Todd Englund stood there with two mugs in his hands, smiling. The room was empty except for the two of us. I noticed it was a little after 9:00. Breakfast was technically over.

“Want another cup? This is my own blend of lethal brew.” He walked over and I noticed he was wearing a different pair of jeans, not decorated with syrup.

“Super, thanks. This is okay….”

“But it’s motel breakfast coffee.” He shrugged, nodding. “This isn’t. I have a buddy who flies to South America on business. He brings it in for me. Black, right?”

I chuckled. “Every cop I know drinks black coffee. It’s faster.” I noticed his was dosed with cream and probably sugar.

“I used to, but it’s too hard on my stomach. Of course, if I didn’t drink six cups before noon, that would probably ease up.” He chuckled, handing me my mug.

Taking a tentative sip, I let the dark aroma waft over me. Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply. This was a cup of coffee fit for a queen! I rolled it over my tongue like a fine wine. Sighing contentedly, I heard him chuckle.

“My coffee’s good, but I believe that’s the most enthusiastic response either of us ever got.”

Looking back, I’m still surprised that such a quick moment of curiosity inspired an entire book. I’ve since written two others with Marice at the helm. I’m hoping to publish Room 203 this year. It’s set both in Kansas City, Missouri, and Daytona Beach, Florida. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 9

dellani photo dark redThe last couple weeks, I’ve been talking about inspiration, because it’s an important aspect of an author’s life. I mentioned actual incidents, as well as music. Sometimes, the inspiration for a story comes from another story.

When I wrote a story called New at Love, I introduced a character named Jasper Waters. Jasper is a police officer, and an all around really nice guy. Since his introduction, he’s been in 14 other books. (Not all of them are published yet) He really wanted to take over New at Love and I had a tough time reining him in. I finally had to speak to him, much in the manner I did Sailfish, and explain to him that I would happily give him his own book, if he would be patient. He had to wait through a couple more, but I finally got an idea for his story.

The Ninja Tattoo focuses on Teague, who has been in the military, and done some dodgy things. Obviously, he wasn’t doing that on his own, he had friends and battle buddies who were with him. When my friend, Aileen Aroma, asked to be in my next Teague book, I made her his former commanding officer. One day, she calls him, very upset, to tell him that their friend, Nadeya, has dropped off the radar.

Considering that Nadeya isn’t exactly stable, Aileen is terribly worried about her, and asks Teague to track her down. When a dead body is found at the inlet in New Smyrna, matching the description of a man Nadeya was tracking, Teague has to get there quickly. Since he’s in Daytona, he calls his friend, Jasper, for transportation. Jasper’s boat is docked in Harbor Oaks, and he’s happy to shuttle Teague across. Thus began Conduct Unbecoming, a romantic suspense which stars Jasper.

I love this guy. He’s larger than life, friendly, kind, outgoing, fun loving and, in his own words, hits on anything with tits. Yes, he’s a player, but he dreams of being a one woman man. Of course, he’ll never admit this to anyone. I couldn’t have him settle down with an average, normal, boring woman. He needed someone interesting, adventurous, and a little frightening. Nothing quite as exciting as a woman who can kill you in a variety of ways, huh? At least, that’s how Jasper thinks. Taking his life, quite literally, into his own hands, he decides to meet Nadeya. After all, she had hitched a ride on his boat. She’s staying in a tiny cabin in a small park near the river.

As he approached the door, Jasper prayed for inspiration. It was going to conduct front covertake 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.

“Good. Get your stuff and we can go. My car’s outside the gate.”

“My car?”

“It’s a rental, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Anything in it?”

She rolled her eyes at him. Jasper chuckled.

“I had to ask. I know it’s dumb. Get your gear.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 7

dellani photo dark redA favorite question asked by chat show hosts, like me, is “Where does your inspiration come from?” Or, we might ask, more specifically, where the inspiration for a specific book came from. Why do we do this? Well, because it’s a good question, and it drives authors crazy.

Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere. Quite often, we can’t pinpoint it to a specific moment. The idea wasn’t there, then it was. It can be a word in conversation, something we see on TV, a traffic snarl, a mud puddle. (This last one is mine, I confess.)

It was a wonderful idea for a short story, back when I was in college. I was walking from the Fine Arts building, across a narrow driveway to he McDonald’s, and a car splashed through a mud puddle. It swirled in a dreamy, hypnotic fashion, making me think of cream swirling in a cup of coffee. I can’t remember the starting line, nor the entire story, now. However, I started writing it on paper napkins while I ate my meal. (I’m sure this is why they switched to those ineffective, half napkins.)

Sometimes, we think of putting two people, from completely different backgrounds, together. I don’t mean just rich vs. poor, but that works. Often, my couples are people who wouldn’t have met, save for a peculiar twist of fate which brought them together.

When I wrote The Ninja Tattoo, I found inspiration in something bizarre and unsettling which happened to me. Though I dramatized it somewhat for my story, it was alarming enough to remember and chronicle. Below is an excerpt from the story, to illustrate what I mean. 

The Ninja Tattoo by Dellani Oakes - 200The road was empty as he drove south toward his job site in Oak Hill. He had an estimate to do down there and had to be in New Smyrna by 10:00, leaving him a couple hours in between. By the time he got to the police station in Edgewater, only a few blocks from his home, he’d joined a convoy of sorts. In the lead was a bronze Ford F150. Directly in front of Teague was a guy on a motorcycle. Behind him was another motorcycle, a red Jeep and, he thought, a third bike behind the Jeep. It seemed odd since the road had been so empty before. He couldn’t quite remember when he came upon these others, but figured they all had the same idea, keeping out of stop and go school zone traffic on US-1.

The pickup was going the speed limit, which was a little frustrating. In fact, the driver went 25, then 20, 30 and 15. Teague wanted to lay on his horn, but didn’t want to startle the biker, so he kept his frustration to himself. The biker didn’t look any happier with the truck than he was. From time to time, he glanced behind him, trying to see around Teague’s white Dodge Ram. Apparently, the motorcycles were traveling together and somehow Teague had gotten in between them.

At the turnoff for 442, the guy ahead of Teague gestured with his left arm, motioning as if he were turning. Teague slowed, anticipating the right turn, but the biker sped up, his black Ninja following the truck as it continued past the intersection. Instead, the red Jeep, followed by another biker, turned right and headed up 442. This left the Ford truck, Teague and two bikers. He wondered what was going on. His overactive imagination clicked into high gear and he started imagining scenarios.

Maybe the guy in the truck is with them and he’s giving directions to the guy on the white Ninja?

He thought that over, wondering how they were communicating. The guy ahead of him was probably about his age with short, sandy brown hair. He had on a T-shirt, baggies, skater shoes and sunglasses.

The biker behind Teague was also on a Ninja, this one bright blue, He wore a white helmet with a dark visor. He was wearing clothing similar to the man ahead of him. What characterized them both was the fact they were heavily tattooed. Teague had first mistaken their coloring as a tan or sunburn. Closer inspection revealed elaborate tattoos on neck, arms and legs.

The road turned right, coming to an end at US-1. Stopping for the light, the man ahead of Teague leaned back on his bike, glancing at the man behind Teague, he pointed left. The other fellow nodded, giving the lead biker a thumbs up. The light changed and the white Ninja followed the truck while the blue one followed Teague.

Feeling a bit paranoid, he moved over to the right lane, anticipating that the biker would go around him. It didn’t even occur to him that the other man would stay behind him, but he did. He didn’t ride Teague’s bumper, rather stayed at least two car lengths back, shadowing him. If Teague changed lanes, so did the biker.

The hairs on his neck stood at attention. Something was decidedly weird. This man’s behavior negated everything Teague had ever seen bikers do. They generally crowded until they could pass, then buzzed around the other vehicles way too fast, disappearing suddenly as they sped up.

Approaching the gated subdivision near Oak Hill, Teague signaled his turn. The biker looked ready to follow, but continued down the highway. As Teague checked in at the security gate, the biker slowed, making a U turn at the next intersection, then he continued back up US-1. Once he was cleared, Teague drove to the house whose yard he was landscaping. He tried to put the bikers out of his mind, but their odd behavior was so out of the ordinary, he couldn’t.

Though dramatized for story purposes, this incident is true. I found it so disturbing, I used it as inspiration for my 2009 NaNo novel. It was so compelling, I submitted it to Tirgearr Publishing, and it became my first novel published with them.

An author can never predict what will inspire them to write, but it’s fun asking them, just to see what they will say.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 6

dellani photo dark redAs was mentioned in Part 5, characters occasionally go on a rampage, or at least run wild. They don’t heel and they sure as hell aren’t going to apply their own brakes. The first time they do this (or the second, or the twentieth) it can be disconcerting, if not terrifying.

My historical romance, Indian Summer, is a prime example of this. I had, in my foolish naivete, expected the characters to do what I wanted. My intention, when I began the story, was to have Gabriella unhappily married to Manuel, who was to be a drunken gambler who beat her. She would run away, meet Sailfish, and live happily ever after.

Well. That didn’t happen. For starters, Gabriella refused to fall in love with anyone but Manuel. Although he was a bit of a bad boy, he reined himself in, stopped drinking, quit gambling, and became a model citizen! Instead of fighting and causing her to leave, he did everything in his power to protect her. She met Sailfish, who fell for her, but she refused his advances, steadfastly holding onto her love for Manuel.

Sailfish was determined to take over the story, but I convinced him (after a long, in depth chat) to behave. I had to promise his own book, where he fell in love with a woman who would fall for him. Thus, Savage Heart was born.

All this to say – sometimes, characters go mad. It’s true! If you’ve captured their personalities accurately, they will go off the rails. As an author, you shouldn’t be surprised by this. In fact, you should embrace it, because it means you did your job right. Ray Bradbury said it best, “First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.” This is the single best advice I ever gleaned as an author.

Another really good piece of advice, from actor, director, writer, producer, author Ken Farmer. “Just write the damn story.” To elaborate a little: don’t worry about voice, plot, outline, characters, or your approach. Worry about telling the story from start to finish. Problems can be fixed, errors made in editing. Just write the damn story.

I adhere to both of these pieces of advice. I have found them useful more than once, especially if, like now, I’m working on a story that doesn’t want to end. If I try to force an ending, it will become stilted, awkward. Yet, I begin to feel as if it’s never going to finish, and no one (including me) will want to read it. I have to remind myself that there is more for the characters to say, so just write the damn story. Good or bad, get it done.

I’ve managed to get off topic, a little – sorta – kinda. Oh well, when you’re working with a Pantser, that happens.

The point of this article – listen to your characters. They have really good ideas. In fact, they know how to tell the story better than we do. I figured out a long time ago, I’m merely the conduit for the story to be told – by the characters. I don’t govern the tale any more than I can stem the tide, or leash the wind. Rather than trying to bend things to your will, allow yourself to listen. The results will surprise you, often in a really good way.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Building of the City by Dellani Oakes

SoMuchItHurtsbyDellaniOakes500

Creating a believable setting isn’t as easy as you might think. Using a place you know as a backdrop is easier, but what if your action can’t all be done at real locations? Time to get inventive.

By inventive, I don’t mean digging out road maps to some city that fits your needs, why not make something up?

For So Much It Hurts, among others, I wanted a big city, but didn’t want to use NYC, Chicago or other metropolis. Why? Because I’m basically lazy and don’t fancy the research. Also, if I get my facts wrong, someone will call me on it. As I don’t much like the idea of engaging internet trolls, I chose to make my own.

This city has no name. I couldn’t come up with a name that sounded credible. I hate the hokey names they give cities in soap operas (and Sunnydale was taken) I didn’t want more trolls crawling out of the woodwork telling me their city has that name and X was wrong with my tale. Therefore, it is a mysterious city somewhere near Canada and west of NYC, but east of Chicago.

I created some landmarks—a magnificent art deco hotel, a newspaper, a coffee shop, mall, art gallery, museums, aquarium and other sights to see. There is no map except the one in my mind, traffic is as busy or not as I choose. Some characters live in a ritzy development near the lake, others in less pricey and prestigious areas of the city.

An architectural firm does remodels of old, historic buildings—making exclusive condos from an old department store, for example.

The City has spies, thieves, billionaires, wealthy old families, nouveau riche, doctors, lawyers and rock stars.

There are upscale suburbs, low class urban areas, sleepy small towns a few miles away from the craziness of the city—idyllic, quiet, crime free, there is a lake nearby and mountains. In short, any environment I want, is available. I have all flexibility I want with none of the real life hassles.

To keep it believable, I have traffic jams, crimes,emergencies, accidents—all the things we have in real life. They aren’t the focus of my story, but the bustle of the city is always there. I’ve written a lot of books in this imaginary setting, so many, she has become very real to me. She’s as much a character as the people who live in her environs.

Why do I refer to the City as She? Because, she is like a mother to the people who live there. She sets guardians to watch over them, doing their best to protect her young. Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people (or bad people, as the case may be) and the City’s guardians can’t save them all. That doesn’t stop them from trying.

The first story written in my city, was Best Medicine. It hasn’t been published yet, but I will do it one day. My problem with my City books is that I’m not sure which to publish first. Best Medicine started it all, introducing some pivotal characters, but some of the books are more fun. They can stand alone, but do share characters, so you see my quandary.

My newest book, So Much It Hurts, is set in my City. It stands on its own, but also fits into the fabric woven in the City. I don’t know if Pia, Flynn and Yancy will get into other City books, but it’s entirely possible. I never say never with my writing, because I get blindsided, more often than not.

I love my imaginary city, somewhere up north. One day, I may work on a map, but I prefer keeping her in my imagination, telling her tales; sharing her joys and pains. I’ll keep writing her stories, sharing moments from the lives she nurtures and cares for. I hope that when I, eventually, get them published, readers will love her as much as I do.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Excerpt from So Much It Hurts

Flynn slung his around Pia’s shoulders and she hooked her thumb in his belt loop.

We’re going to campus, Amita,” he called to her at the desk.

Don’t get lost!”

I promise. I have an unerring sense of direction.” He wandered to the left and right. “I know there’s a front door here somewhere.” It did his heart good that Pia giggled at his silly joke. “We can walk or we can drive. Which do you want to do?”

How far is it?”

About six blocks.” He examined the traffic. “At this time of day, after rush hour and before noon, we’d make good time. If you have an eight or one o’clock class, it’s better to walk or bike. I go early and come home late, so I usually leave around seven and get there on time. Coming home is better.”

Gawd! I’m gonna have to get used to city traffic. Back home, it’s distance not cars you have to account for. And the occasional cow. Sometimes they get loose and wander. There was one who would hop the fence and lie in the middle of the road.”

How inconvenient.”

No kidding! She wouldn’t move, no matter how much you honked, and the bar pits on the side are deep there, with a narrow shoulder.”

Bar pits?”

The ditches on the side of the road. You have to learn to speak Nebraskan.” She added a distinctly nasal twang to her voice. “They borrow–bar–to build up the road.”

Bar pits. Hmmm.” Flynn nodded. “Why don’t we walk this time and I can show you some sights along the way?”

Sounds good. I’m up for anything.”

Got good walking shoes?”

I wore my comfy boots.” She showed him her soft-soled boots.

Perfect. Okay. Do you know the address here?”

Yes. I got that much under control. And the bus stop is that way.” She pointed to their right.

Correct. Campus is the opposite direction. If you take the bus, take the number seven to Trinity.”

Seven to Trinity.” She whipped out her phone and left a note to herself. “Any changes?”

No. It’s a straight shot. The Trinity stop comes in on the side of campus near the Fine Arts buildings, so it’s perfect for us. If Yancy takes the bus, he has to wait for the number ten, which lets off on Springfield. It’s on the opposite side. I think the left-brained business majors didn’t want to be anywhere near us right-brained freaks.”

We are pretty freaky.”

It took Yancy a while to get used to me. His family is so straight! I don’t think I’ve ever seen his old man crack a smile. And me, throwing out comic gems. Sad, really.”

Tragic.”

Speaking of comedy, across the street to your right is the Cheezers Comedy Club. They have stand up, but four nights a week, they do improv.”

No, I love that! Is it expensive?”

Surprisingly affordable. I’ve got some buddies who work there. I’ve used a few of the cast members as models. There’s one guy, taller than me. He’s a freak of nature. I think he’s six foot eight.”

He ate his Wheaties for breakfast.”

By the box. There’s the Thai Garden.” He pointed directly to their left.

As they walked slowly along, he pointed out various points of interest: restaurants, a pawn shop, music store, art supply, grocery store and movie theatre.

You weren’t kidding about how close it all is. I’ll have to explore Making Music soon. I can’t go long without a fix.”

We can go in now, if you want.” He turned to face the store.

The front window was filled with shiny saxophones, sparkling flutes, and tantalizing objects Flynn couldn’t name. It caught his artist’s eye, drawing him in.

Today’s goal is campus.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

To Buy So Much It Hurts

 

Available Now fro Pre-Order: So Much It Hurts by Dellani Oakes

Coming November 1, 2017 from Tirgearr Publishing – So Much It Hurts! This delightful romance is set in a big city somewhere up north. I’ve never given it a name, and the residents refer to it as The City.

Pia Donovan is a small town girl. Newly in the City from a tiny town in Nebraska, she is overwhelmed by the fast pace. After a long day of getting lost in the worst part of town, she arrives at her destination; an historic, grand hotel in the downtown area. Picking her way across the rutted ground in front of the building, she loses her balance, nearly falling into the arms of Flynn Chancellor. Handsome and friendly, Flynn presents a happy distraction for a girl who’s trying to recover from a broken heart.

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Sweet, sultry music poured from the open second-story windows as Pia walked across the pitted, uneven ground. Scattered with puddles and trash, it wasn’t a very inviting aspect. The old, grand hotel building loomed above her, intimidating in the dusky light after sunset. Sighing, she forged ahead, dragging her rolling suitcase after her. It bumped into a particularly deep hole and caught. Yanking, she lost her balance and teetered to the right.

Watch out!” Strong hands caught her, setting her on her feet. The same hands lifted her suitcase. “You all right, little lady?”

Pia wasn’t sure she liked being called a little lady by any man, but when she turned to look at him, she decided he had the right to. He was at least six foot three, maybe taller. She, a petite five three, was indeed a little lady. He flashed a brilliant smile at her.

You’re the newbie.” He extended his hand. “Flynn Chancellor. Welcome to the fold.”

Pia Donovan. Thank you. How does this work, exactly?”

Didn’t get orientation?” He tugged her suitcase, ushering Pia inside.

Sort of? They told me to report here this afternoon, but I took the wrong bus and ended up on the way to Maryville. I got as far as Walnut Street and finally figured out I was in the wrong spot.”

Ooh, not a place for a lady of your delicate sensibilities to be.”

Yeah, tell me about it. The driver wouldn’t let me out on the street. He dropped me at a satellite station and told me the right bus to take back.”

That was nice of him.”

He said he has a granddaughter my age. He wouldn’t set her loose to the wolves.”

Flynn chuckled. “Apt. I grew up in that area. It ain’t pretty.” He opened the door for her, letting her walk under his arm. It was an easy fit. “Where are you from, Pia Donovan?”

Out of state. I moved here from Nebraska. Outside Kearney.”

No kidding? What brings you up here?”

I got a scholarship to City University.”

In?”

He opened a set of inner doors which led into a large, open area. To the right and left there were arched doorways which had once led to reception and lobby areas. They were now full of cast-off furniture and crowds of men and women, all about her age. Every ethnic blend imaginable greeted her small-town Nebraska eyes.

Music.”

We’ve got several music majors here. I’ll show you around, if you want.”

I’d like that, thank you. How do I get settled?”

We talk to Amita.” He pointed to the desk area. It had formally been the receptionist’s desk — a tall, dark wooden structure that wrapped around like a bar.

When was this place built?”

Early 1900s.”

And they’re tearing it down?”

No. It will, eventually, be renovated.”

She nodded, looking around her at the early elegance of the place. It sported dark wood wainscoting, light walls, brass wall sconces. This was in stark contrast with the battered linoleum laid over the original hardwood floors, holes in the walls, and pieces of plywood over missing glass panes.

You wouldn’t know to look at it, but it was a showplace in its time. Celebrities from all over the world visited. It was built by one of the founding families, so they will never tear it down.”

It’s still got a stateliness to it, doesn’t it?”

It does,” he agreed.

No one was at the desk, but he leaned over and called through an open doorway. “Oi, Amita! Found our newbie!”

A tall, mocha-skinned woman with wildly curly hair came out, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “Hi! You must be Pia. I’m Amita, I’m the resident manager. We expected you ages ago.”

I got lost.”

Ended up on Walnut Street,” Flynn added.

Oh, my God! And lived to tell about it!”

Flynn chuckled and leaned against the tall desk, hands in pockets. Pia had a moment to take in details she hadn’t noticed outside in the dusk. He was broad-shouldered, with dancing green eyes. His chestnut colored hair was nearly to his shoulders, thick and straight, covered by a faded black fedora. Steel gauges, about the size of a quarter, stretched each earlobe. His arms were covered by intricate tattoos, forming sleeves from wrist up. His shirtsleeves were rolled just past his elbows. Rusty black pants, which looked as if they had seen better days, dangled from colorful suspenders. His huge feet were covered in clunky, leather boots. Every piece of clothing was spattered with different colors of paint.

You’ll be in the Ambassador Suite,” Amita said with a grin, handing over a registration card for Pia to sign.

Sounds elegant.”

It’s great!” Flynn said with a grin.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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What’s In a Name?

I’ve written a lot of books – well over a hundred. Some will be published, others will never see the light of day. In all those books, I have characters. These characters need names. I’ve noticed, over the years, that I have a tendency to use the same names for minor characters with alarming frequency.

I didn’t realize how alarming until I decided to take a tally. Considering I have approximately 108 finished novels/ novellas, and roughly 50 unfinished works (not including short stories) that’s a lot of names! I try to keep the main character names unique, but there are, apparently, some I loved so much, I used them for more than one character. At least they are in worlds which will not collide, or I’d be in serious trouble. I can change a minor character’s name, or even a main character if I catch it before he or she has fully evolved. I’ve done that four times, that I can think of. Once a story is finished, I won’t change a main character’s name, though I have altered the names of a few adjunct characters.

To get back to my little OCD moment…. I wondered how many times I’d used certain names, so I went through my notebooks, checking cast lists, and counted. The results shocked me. I have now made myself a list of names never to use again. I’ll have to find alternatives. The list below includes only the names of those I had remembered to write down. There could very easily be a few more Bobs, Williams or Toms around, for which I cannot account. I will, eventually, endeavor to change out some of these names, because there are only so many Bobs anyone can possibly know. In my list below, I included only the names I’d used 15 times or more.

Dellani’s Most Used Names:

Cindy 15

Paul 15

Richard 15

Sam 15

Charles 17

David 17

Ed 17

John 19

James 20

Tom 20

And the top two names were (drumroll please):

Coming in at #2 Most Used Name was – William at a rollicking 29

The #1 Top Used Name was – Robert! At a whopping 32!! I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that many people named Bob.

Keep in mind, these totals include combination names like Joe Bob, Billy Bob, Jimmy Joe Bob Earl…. (I had 7 Earls, 4 Joes) I’ve made a complete list and the top contenders have a list of their own Names Never to Use Again! Meanwhile, I need to come up with alternatives…. Bother.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes