The arrival–a scene writing exercise.

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The light plane circled the small coastal town before making a perfect landing with a soft swoosh on the water. Kathy West heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief. She hated flying. The crucial take-off and landing always rattled her, even on a jumbo jet like the one she had just taken from Toronto to Vancouver.

In this four seater Cessna from Vancouver, there had been no respite for the last hour. She had white-knuckled it all the way, her hands gripping the arms of her seat so tightly they had cramped up. Barely breathing had left her light headed. Nevertheless, she felt that her efforts had not been in vain; they had remained in the air. As soon as the plane came to rest on the smooth water of the inlet, she took a well-earned breath; letting it out in a long sigh.

“Safe and sound, Miss West,” said her pilot, Red Michaels, who had informed her a minute before takeoff that everyone called him, Crash. He had hustled her on to the aircraft before she had time to turn and hightail it back to the terminal.

So here she was in Halfway Junction—three thousand miles away from her home, her old life—and David. She and David Barton were practically engaged; they had everything but the formality sewn up. As Kathy gazed out the window of the bobbing aircraft at the town she had chosen to be her home for the next year, her heart fluttered with apprehension. Had she made a mistake? In all her twenty five years she had never done anything this impulsive.

David had laughed when she told him about going out west. “Halfway Junction? Are you kidding me? I can’t imagine you anywhere but in a big city with shopping malls and coffee shops on every corner.” Her peeved expression might have caused him to temper his remarks. “I mean, it’s not as if you couldn’t do it, Kate. You could do anything you put your mind to. But why the boonies? Your life here is just about perfect as it is.” Then he gave her that dazzling smile of super whitened teeth that he bestowed on his best clients. “Plus, I’m here.”

Maybe all that wasn’t enough anymore—not for her, at any rate.

Crash opened the cockpit door and disappeared. Kathy uncurled her hands from the handles and unbuckled the seat belt but she remained where she was, breathing deeply. She felt the thud when the pontoons hit the dock. From the small window she watched two men on the wharf catch the ropes the pilot threw at them, and secure the plane safely to the wooden walkway.

“Okay, Miss West, come on out,” Michaels called from outside the open cockpit.

Gingerly, Kathy stepped to the doorway. Crash balanced on one pontoon. He held the wing bar with one hand and extended his free hand to her. “Just take my hand and jump down to the pontoon,” he said encouragingly.

She regarded him in disbelief. “Did you say jump?” She looked down. The distance between her feet and the float was daunting enough. Then she caught a glimpse of the cold blue water lapping between the two pontoons and courage failed her. Given a choice, she would rather give up her crazy adventure and go home, but that would require a return trip in this vehicle piloted by a man known far and wide as Crash. There were no good options here.

The pilot decided for her. Without hesitating, he grabbed her arm in a firm grasp and tugged her down to the float. She had to steady herself, thankful Mr. Crash kept tight hold on her. One of the men on the dock grabbed her free hand and plucked her neatly off the pontoon to the safety of the solid planks of the wharf.

if she were inclined to such extravagant gestures she would have bent down to kiss the wooden sidewalk. As it was, she had a great deal too much reserve and decorum in her DNA for that kind of emotional display. Instead, she wrapped her arms about the nearest man’s neck with a grip requiring two strong hands to loosen. Embarrassed, Kathy stepped back from the stranger, kept her head down, murmured her thanks, and abjectly apologized in one breath.

“Atta girl,” Crash said with obvious pride. “I knew you could do it. I’ve sent my share of baby flyers out of my little nest.” He gave his plane a loving pat.

Both men chuckled. “He’s right, ma’am. Crash ain’t never lost a passenger yet.”

Which begged the question of how the man acquired his nickname. Kathy chose not to go there.

Crash disappeared into the plane for a minute and emerged with Kathy’s small overnight bag and medium-sized suitcase. To her shock and astonishment, he tossed them willy-nilly on the dock. “There you go, Miss West. Have a nice day, now, you here?”

Before Kathy could react to her bags being flung about so carelessly, the second man quickly gathered both of them and set them in front of her. “Here,  Miss West. I hope nothing was breakable.”

“Thank you, Mr….?”

“Josh Coulter, at your service, Miss West. Your knight in shining armour over there is Sam Greenwood,” he said, indicating the man beside her. “Most folks call him Sammy,” he added.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am,” Sammy said

“Thank you, Sammy.” His accent and speech reminded her of the Beverly Hillbillies. In fact, with his rusty beard, straggly blond mane, and wiry build clothed in jeans and rumpled denim shirt, he even looked the part. “I’m not usually so forward with a stranger, but I was so glad to feel solid ground under my feet, and, well, I hope I didn’t offend you with my death grip.”

A wide grin revealing a few missing teeth reassured her. “No siree, ma’am. I was not offended. In fact, that is, I would be happy to…aw shucks, Ma’am. It were my pleasure, entirely,” the flustered Sammy Greenwood said, as his cheeks above the beard turned bright pink.

Josh Coulter laughed. “What he means to say, Miss West, it that he will endure your gratitude anytime, even if it does temporarily cut off his windpipe.”

Kathy turned her attention to Josh Coulter then; really looking at him for the first time. Her breath caught. He was the handsomest man she had ever seen; the classic tall, dark, matinee idol standing in front of her “at her service”. Some lucky girl waited at home for this stunning man. Kathy pushed the thought away. That was none of her concern.

Hearing the plane engine revving up behind her, Kathy turned. She was surprised that the pilot was ready to taxi out into the bay again. Sammy was about to throw the lines back on the pontoons. Suddenly she felt like the last way back to her old life was about to fly away.

She swayed slightly, and Josh reached out his arms to steady her. “Careful, Miss West,” he said softly. “Are you okay?”

No one should look that good, she thought. From his thick black windblown hair to his denim jacket and casual jeans, he was every inch a perfect male specimen.

Pulling herself together, Kathy stiffened her spine. “Yes, thank you—again,” she said.

“Is someone meeting you?” Josh asked. “Do you need a lift somewhere?”

She checked her wristwatch. Four o’clock in the afternoon. The sun was amazingly high for such a late afternoon hour, she noted. “I probably should go to the hospital,” she began.

Sammy interrupted. “I can take you there in my truck, ma’am. Are you hurt, or sick?”

Kathy smiled gently. “No, no, Sammy. It’s just that I’m supposed to see the director of nursing. I’ve got a job there. And please, call me Kathy.”

“Remind me to have that surgery I’ve been postponing,” muttered Josh under his breath, but she heard it.

It reassured her that she might not look as travel worn as she felt, which lifted her spirits. She refrained from looking at Josh again too closely. It was enough that his sheer masculinity seemed to reach out and touch her across the space between them. “Can”—she cleared her throat and tried again. “Can you direct me to the hospital?”

Sammy pointed eagerly in the direction of the townsite. “So happens I’m headed that way myself. I can take you there, ma’am. My truck’s parked over there.” He pointed to a rust colored pick up that looked like it belonged in a scrap yard, but Kathy couldn’t mistake the glow of pride on Sam’s face. She smiled. Even with the casual travel pants and shirt she wore, she was way over dressed for such a mode of transportation.

With undisguised regret on his face, Josh said, “I would go with you two but Crash is taking me to another job site.” He saluted to the hillbilly. “Sammy, drive that old crate as if you were carrying eggs, do you hear? Eggs.” Josh winked at Kathy before turning towards the light plane she had left only moments ago. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”

The words had no sooner left his lips than a huge explosion ripped the air. As the four of them stood in silent shock, a cloud of black smoke billowed up in the distance. It rose higher and higher until it shrouded the tall pine trees that surrounded Halfway Junction.

to be continued…any thoughts?

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A Lazy Eye? Why me?

I have a lazy eye. It’s no big deal to me after all these years. But when one of my patients asked me about ten years ago if I’d found this ‘handicap’ a detriment in my career, I knew I’d und…

Source: A Lazy Eye? Why me?

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Sonny Goes Solo

Usually I speak of Sonny and Thor in the same breath, as if they are one entity: sonnyandthor. Today, I relate the story of Sonny’s solo adventure. The other morning, he discovered the front gate o…

Source: Sonny Goes Solo

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A Tale of Two Scenes

Has this ever happened to “real” writers? (Even with a couple of published books under my belt, I still feel like a pretender. The pickle in which I find myself may explain why.)

I have started two stories (at different times) that are like conjoined twins; two individual stories with different plots and characters. Somehow I gave them the same beginning. To give both stories a chance at life, one of those opening scenes will have to be surgically excised.

My duplicate beginning is as follows.

A married sister keeps setting her single sibling up on blind dates from hell. After one last date which unfolds as my first scene, the sister on the receiving end calls it quits. From that starting point, the plots go their own ways.

Unfortunately, I like both scenes–which are themselves quite different–equally well. (I am, of course, an entirely objective critic of these creative expressions of my very soul.)

What can I say? I hate to cut my own words. Yet, I must be ruthless.

In the first story, the blind date turns out to be the sister’s prince charming. He goes on to rescue her after she crashes her car, and they fall in love.
In the second, the matchmaking sister never does get it right. The protagonist, quite by accident, meets her true love spontaneously. The catch is she doesn’t know until later that the man works with her sister’s husband, and the sister had him lined up as the next blind date.

Although I do like the lighthearted scene I wrote for the first story, I also find that removing it will do no harm to the plot: our heroine’s car accident, subsequent injuries, and love for the paramedic who brings her solace in her darkest hour. The story could begin with the heroine’s car crash (after her double shift at the hospital), on a winter’s night on icy roads. Nothing vital will be lost–either to the heroine or the story. By the same token, starting with the action may hook a potential reader and keep her interested.

As for the second plot, I believe the blind date theme fits in with the rest of the storyline. I could skillfully combine the best elements of both scenes to make one grand opening for my second book. There now. Problem solved. I have two distinct stories, as well as two separate sets of characters and settings.

We have safely separated our twins.

Now, on to Scene Two…

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Sonny Goes Solo

Usually I speak of Sonny and Thor in the same breath, as if they are one entity: sonnyandthor. Today, I relate the story of Sonny’s solo adventure.

The other morning, he discovered the front gate of the house was ajar. Perhaps the pizza delivery man had neglected to close it the evening before. Perhaps a young school child had deliberately opened it that morning on the way to school to see what mischief might ensue. Perhaps Sonny is just that amazing that he managed to nose open the tricky catch. No matter how it happened, the gate opened and Sonny left the yard in an unsanctioned walkabout.

I used to have a dog–Scooby was his name–that would take off in a flash if he saw an opportunity. He always returned after an hour or two, until one Saturday he didn’t. There were some sleepless, worry-filled nights about that, I can tell you. I imagined all sorts of scenarios, mostly of Scooby lying in a ditch somewhere, suffering terribly. Later, I found out that he had left town and been adopted by a very nice family. Six months later, he left his second home and found his way back to me, having realized, I can only assume, that there’s no place like home.

But this is about Sonny–my daughter’s dog; the daughter who has given me a home. She used to kennel her dogs while she was at work, but I enjoy their company during the day so she leaves them out. I assured her that I would take good care of her dogs. *Sigh*

That morning, I had just let Sonny out. (Thor decided he had nothing to do outside, so remained with me and Max). Busy with Monday morning chores, I didn’t notice anything unusual until I called Sonny to come in. The sound of silence in the yard was deafening. It still wasn’t quite déjà vu all over again (a la runaway Scooby), but it was suspicious. After walking the entire perimeter twice, and checking under the porch, I had to face facts; Sonny had left the yard. But how? It’s completely fenced.

After checking the three gates-—escape hatches, if you will—-I discovered the front gate was ever so slightly ajar. Sonny could easily have nosed the gate open wide enough to slip through, and the gate would have swung (almost) closed behind him.

I felt terrible. My first thought was a vision of Sonny lying in a ditch. The second was how would I face my daughter? Wasting no more time in denial, recriminations, or fear, I began driving around the neighborhood. How easily could a big, black husky hide in the snow? Because he’s a friendly dog, I checked the nearby school yard where a lot of youngsters were enjoying recess. No dog in the mix. No panic either; obviously he hadn’t been there. He must be keeping to the alleyways. I prayed as I drove, trying to keep my panic under control.

After touring the neighborhood without a sighting, I decided to head home. On the off chance that Sonny might return in my absence. I had left the front gate unlatched. I reasoned that If he couldn’t get back in the way he left, he might decide to keep on going. As I drove up our street, my heart stopped. There he was, casually sauntering along the sidewalk towards the gate! He had no idea how relieved I was to see him, but my effusive greeting must surely have made him suspect he’d done something quite wonderful.

As I lay prostrate on the couch recovering from Sonny’s adventure, I debated whether or not to tell my daughter about it. Guilt settled it. The moment she walked in, the story came tumbling out, like the sad confession of a cheating husband. Fortunately, since all ended well, we were able to chuckle about it.

Rest assured, I am on guard; from now on those gates will have round the clock surveillance.

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Birthday musings…

It was my birthday recently. Which one is strictly on a need-to-know basis, but I will say this; it was my first birthday since retirement. It was a strange day. Over its twenty four hours there were both up and down moments. After some serious wrestling with my advancing years through one long night, I had a small epiphany.

Retirement is a milestone most of us hope we can afford when the time comes, although the odd person will adamantly declare he will never retire, talking about it as if it’s an enemy to be fought to the death. I, on the other hand, longed for it as I might a friend whose arrival time kept being pushed back. Since my elusive friend made it to the station, however, I’ve discovered that in a funny kind of a way, it came with a bit of luggage. That is to say, the end of my career wasn’t all retirement entailed.

Let’s look at motherhood for a moment.

We know that a mother is a mother as long as she lives. However, when her little ones become adults, a mother’s role undergoes modifications. I really hadn’t thought too much about that until, at retirement, I moved in with one of my daughters. (She doesn’t live with me, I live with her; it’s a distinction we both make.) She took me in to her home and gave me a lovely room with complete freedom to enjoy the amenities she pays for–although I help where I can, of course. Perhaps because we were under the same roof again, I found myself in “mother mode”. I forgot she’s been a capable adult taking care of herself for many years. Habits die hard, I guess. Gently, she reminded me that before I moved in with her, she managed to pay the bills and keep a roof over her head for a long time.

I found her to be most thoughtful of me. She texted me often, ostensibly to let me know whether she would be late getting home, or tell me her plans. I thought all my admonitions of years gone by had finally paid off. Then I noticed that if I failed to answer her text, she immediately phoned the house to make sure I was okay. This was new. Finally, it dawned on me that rather than me watching over her, she was keeping tabs on me. Looking back, it all began after I scorched a pot I left on a hot burner and forgot about it until the aroma of something cooking reminded me. She was calling to make sure the house was still intact, and I was still standing.

It didn’t bother me; rather, it amused me to see the shoe on the other foot. Being of advanced years, I didn’t catch on right away that it also meant my role as chief cook, bottle washer, and caretaker had undergone a subtle change. I was no longer in charge of the household; I was a guest, an invitee. On the surface, that might seem ideal; retire from your job, and be taken care of for the rest of your days by your grown up children. (I have three; they can take turns spelling each other off when necessary.) It’s not as easy as you might think.

My small epiphany

As my birthday approached and sleep eluded me, I couldn’t quite pin down what troubled me. I only knew I felt sad. Then it came to me; I was grieving. My career was over, the child-rearing portion of motherhood was over, and a good deal of my autonomy was gone as well. Moving in with my daughter was mutually beneficial, it’s undeniable. Yet, I am here by her grace. On my part, I intend to love, support, and if solicited, advise her, but not to take over. (That intention will apply to all my children, should I be passed around; because who knows how tiresome I might become in my dotage?)

The long night of wrestling ended at first light. I resolved to enjoy the new arrangement. What comes down the road remains to be seen; but for now I move cheerfully into the next phase of my life. Maybe giving up control isn’t so bad. To be honest, serving in an advisory capacity is far easier than being head of the company.

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What makes a good story?

My daughter informed me the other day that if I wrote a book that began with, “It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out and a maid screamed,” she would most definitely read it. Shortly after she said those words, my favorite TV show, Murder She Wrote, came on. You may recall the popular series about Jessica Fletcher, a feisty middle-aged mystery writer-turned sleuth that ran for 12 years, with three TV movies following its cancellation. Well, all rules of fiction were broken in that episode. It began with a dark and story night in Cabot Cove. Within minutes, a shot rang out and someone screamed.

By George, I believe my daughter’s on to something. But you see, she’s a reader, not an editor.

Ever since I began to study writing seriously, I’ve learned that the dark and stormy night gambit is anathema to editors. Cries of, death to the writer of such clichéd, hackneyed pulp go out across the land.

We were told in school never to use contractions or clichés in creative writing. But you can’t swing a cat without hitting them all over the place in popular fiction of all genres. So, what is a writer to think?

Do we sacrifice readability for literary perfection? Do we litter our stories with clichés, mixed metaphors, overdone similes, and contrived plot points? Is there a happy medium?
Frankly, I believe that although an opening such as my daughter prefers might grab a reader, he or she will only continue if likable characters come alongside. We will only care about the stormy night, the shots, and the scream if they are affecting a character we like.

Someone once said that there are no new stories, just different angles. I don’t know if a real person ever said it, but a character from a TV show did, and I remember it, because I liked the character. See?

The harshest criticism an editor ever gave me was that she found my main character cold and unlikeable. Not that my opening was a cliché. Not that my plot was thin. Not that I used too many contractions. No, the main character just didn’t appeal to her. Right there, my chance for manuscript acceptance ended. The editor stopped reading. No matter how good my writing might have been, my story failed for lack of sympathetic characters in the first ten pages.

With a heavy heart I admit that this, ahem, character flaw in moi may be insurmountable. What with my hermit tendencies and my solitary life, I’m challenged. The thing is, writers keep writing. Even as we live in fear we have no more books in us, we slave over a story we hope and pray will knock your socks off and make your hair stand on end. (Which I’m doing right now).

So, please stay tuned…

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