Tattletale Writing

"Show, don't tell," is the advice tossed to new writers like dirty bath towels.

In fact, when I was a new writer, I scattered that same advice to other new writers. I thought I knew what I was talking about. Boy, was I clueless.

Personally, I think the terms "show" and "tell" confuse and muddle the issue. What does it mean? How do you do it? Showing dramatizes. Telling summarizes. Showing takes me on vacation with you; I can taste it, smell it, breathe it. Telling gives me the slide show presentation; I yawn and fall asleep.

Avoid passive and weak verbs.
Verbs, such as was, were, had, would, seeemed, and appeared, clue you into your telling passages.

Example of Passive Verbs: The man was walking down the hall. Marie was hiding in the closet. She was frightened.

Example of Strong Verbs: Footsteps thudded in the hall. Shaking, Marie shrank deeper into the darkness of the closet.

What did I change? The verbs. I focused on stronger verb choices (thudded, shaking, shrank) instead of weaker, passive ones (was walking, was hiding, was frightened). To support stronger verbs, the patterns of my sentences had to also change, allowing for more fluid wording throughout the paragraph.

Sink deeper into your character.
The deeper you go into your character's point of view (POV), the more sensation your readers will feel.

Example from above: Footsteps thudded in the hall. Shaking, Marie shrank deeper into the darkness of the closet.

Example with POV sensations added: Footsteps thudded in the hall, echoing in Marie's ears like hammers striking her heart. Cold sweat dripped down her back and chilled her to the bone. Shaking, Marie shrank deeper into the darkness of the closet. She held her breath. If only he would pass her by...

I added the physical sensations and the internal dialog that went with the actions. No longer do the footsteps just thud; now they vibrate off the page.

Watch flashbacks and time speeds.
You don't want to put all of your back history in the first paragraphs. Often, it's better to intersperse flashbacks with real-time events. However, flashbacks can also be sink holes, tugging your prose down into the miry muck.

The book Princess Ben was a cute story, but I couldn't stand reading it. The entire story from beginning to end was a flashback. Nothing was told as if it was currently being experienced. There was a lot of "This had happened, and I should have done this. But I didn't, so I got in a lot of trouble."

The word "had" pulled the story out of the real-time feel and annoyed the hell out of me. Another word that does this is "would." Rather than a flashback, it's a time speed word. It's used to describe many days as one event. "When he got home from work, he would hug, then get a beer, and plop in front of the tube." It's an every day event.

Too much of either--or worse, both--and your story has problems.

Cut extraneous words.
We all have them--words or phrases we overuse or don't need. The more we have, the heavier the story. Kinda like fat. I discovered that I had a tendency to say "started" frequently. "He started to run" or "he started to say" instead of "he ran" or "he said."

Other words I overused: just, all, every, saw, looked, heard. Adverbs are especially bad. They don't often add much to the story, but they fall in so easily. Yet, without them, they make for a cleaner story.

How do learn your word weaknesses? You find quality editors, friends who also seek to be better writers, and you edit stories for others. The practice of cutting through the writing of others and of reviewing of what other people caught in your writing opens your eyes.

Tell well, advised Elizabeth Lyon in the book Manuscript Makeover.
Dramatize every stroke of a hairbrush, every butt wipe, every cloud in the sky, every step down the corridor, and you move from great to ridiculous. If the action has no relevance to the story, then summarize and move on. The trick is to tell well by adding personality and intersperse your telling with showing.


I was scared shitless. (Telling, yes, but the short-and-to-the-point approach makes it refreshing.)

Oh, I am sooo scared. I think I'll pee my pants now. (The passage is telling, but the sarcasm adds a layer of personality to it.)

Scared, I screamed like a banshee. ("Scared" tells; "screamed" shows.)

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

How about you? Do you show or do you tell?

Share something you've written that shows or tells well.

Furry Paws

Goodreads group On Fiction Writing has a monthly writing challenge for its memebers. For February, this was the assignment:

We take for granted that some things just ‘are’, and never question them because they have always been. We blindly accept that it is rude to stare, wrong to lie and yet not acceptable to be brutally honest. For a moment consider why nudists are considered outside of the norm, or what makes rich better than poor. This is an exercise to expand your mind, to question your judgment and explore the concept of ‘normal’ and ‘right’.

Imagine waking to a world that was backwards or upside down. What if right was left, wrong was right and north was south? No one is aware of these changes but your character. What would the character think or feel? How would they react? How difficult would it be to adjust to a world where nothing is what it used to be?

For this challenge you will write a scene of a maximum 500 words, in 3rd Person Limited POV, showing an upside down world. Only your character knows it is different, no one else is aware. I want you to try to refrain from allowing your own judgement to show in this scene, leave that to the characters.

Here's my entry:

As he studied the papers in front of him, Betty tried to figure out how he had attached the beak to his face. Perhaps an elastic string or glue, but she couldn't see anything. He looked up at her, his beady eyes drilling her, as if he could take her apart to see all her flaws. The beak opened and closed, and then he cleared his throat.

To keep from staring, Betty glanced down at herfeet in their high-heeled boots, the hem of her black suit dress reaching down to her ankles. What was up with these people? The man had a bird beak; the receptionist had a black goat's nose and horns that curled out of the sides of her head. Great makeup jobs, but this was ridiculous.

"You meet all the requirements for the job," the man said. "You are punctual and precise. Everything looks perfect, plus you are the only one applying for the position. But I'm sorry, we just can't hire you."

"Why?!?! I need this job!"

"We don't hire squirrels." The man looked down his long, long beak at her.

"But—but—but that's racist!" Betty wadded her hands into fists, and her limbs shook like a volcano about to erupt. She imagined biting that big beak of his—she'd chop it off with her teeth and bury it for winter. "And I'm not a squirrel. I'm human!"

He tilted his head. A strange squawking sound erupted from that beak. The bird was laughing at her.

Ice crawled up her spine and tingled the back of her nose. She looked down—two furry little paws replaced her hands.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Come play! Join in the fun, read what's already been posted, and submit your own scene for February's challenge.

Revolution: Five rebels vow to change the world

My focus lately has been on my writing. With the start of the new year, I find myself becoming more purposeful, more determined. I have goals this year, and there will be no more meandering through my writing. It's time to finish things up, find publishers, get readers, make my mark on the world.

Since my time is spent writing and editing, my blog will have more excerpts and discussions about what I am working on. Here's a blurb:

Jaak yearns for adventure. He dreams of traveling the stars. The world he lives in is broken — brown water, black earth, a sky so dark its inhabitants have forgotten what blue is. The trees have died; the only animals left are those that scuttle and hide in cracks.

General Forsythe grips the ruined planet in an iron fist. All who oppose him die.

Jaak and his friends steal aboard a small cruiser, only to find themselves at the mercy of their enemy's daughter. She takes them on a wild ride through the stars and dumps them on a strange planet.

This wasn't the adventure they had in mind.

It's the adventure they got.

Can they somehow survive and return to their own world to face the General?

Excerpt from my Current Story

My days have been filled with editing. Even in my dreams, I swim through the words. Sometimes they threaten to drown me, but I will conquer them yet.

Here's an excerpt from the story I'm currently working on:

"Girl, you're insane."

Lelea looked up at him as a tear fell from the corner of her eye. "If only I were."

Ahern stared at her. Her eyes were deep and sad. So deep that he couldn't stop looking into them, like those dark pools hidden in desert caves where the water went down into the deepest, darkest reaches of the earth. It was better when her eyes were wild, he decided.

"Please trust me, Ahern," she moved closer to him and put her arms around him. She was so close that he could feel the curves of her body and the softness of her breast pressed against him. "I won't lead you wrong. I promise."

He swallowed the lump in his throat and reminded himself that she was crazy. "What are you doing?"

"I'm hugging you." She smiled at him, her eyes back to childlike madness.

He pushed her away. "I don't need hugs."

"Yes, you do. You just don't know it yet."

Cats and their Kittens

We have a cat that adopted us. No, really, she came to our door, just a tiny kitten in the cold winter snow, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Not that *I* was going to let anyone say no to her.

That was a year ago, and today that scrawny kitten is a full grown cat with one little kitten of her own. Oh yes, she carries around a little pegasaurus, ahem, I mean, Pegasus-Unicorn. My children call them pegasauruses.

Today, I caught her merling like the soft sad cry of someone that has lost something dear, like a mother mourning a lost child. In her paws, she had the pegasaurus. She looked up with me with sad eyes, as if to say, "Why doesn't it get up and walk? Why doesn't it play with me?"

I tried to comfort, but I don't think she believed me. This wasn't the first time I caught her making that noise to the same stuffed animal.

Christmas Contest Runner-Ups

Lauren Stone

Lauren's writing always makes me smile. To her, nothing is sacred. Whether it is the most popular book on the market today or our favorite family Christmas traditions, she turns everything on its head and forces us to challenge our most sacred beliefs.

You can follow Lauren on her blog.

Song: Parody of the Night Before Christmas
T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, except Aunt Doreen, snorting coke off her dealer Mouse.
Uncle Thomas was sleeping, passed out in a haze,
while empty beer bottles flew about with malaise.
Cousin Jimmy was crying, his father was cruel,
before going to bed he smeared him with stool.
The feces and liquor permeating the air,
gave tidings of reindeer too weak to repair.
Our fathers were hunters and republicans too.
They shot that poor Rudolf, cause he was a Jew.
“Commie bastard,” they wailed into the night,
“Come here, and I’ll teach you the real meaning of fright.”
So I lie on the floor in my sack made of nylon
and pray for the morning and its sun to shine on.
My dysfunctional family all round the tree,
opening presents while grandma screams, “God dammit, I have to pee.”

S.M. Carrière

Born in 1983 to an Austrlian mother and a Canadian father in Quito, Ecuador, S.M. Carrière was the third child of four and the last girl born. She has lived in many countries, including Ecuadon, Gabon and the Philippines, but was raised primarily in Australia. In 2001, she moved to Canada where she currently resides.

Travelling as much as she has while still very young, while sometimes lonely, has afforded her a unique and inclusive persepective on life - something she carries with pride.

Considered something of an eccentric by many friends (though she thinks she is too young yet to be called 'eccentric'), she has a variety of hobbies ranging from the physical challenges of Martial Arts and Equestrian Archery to the gentler pursuits of photography, drawing and painting. It is in writing, however, the she has found her passion.

She is, as yet, unpublished, but hopes to be soon.

Song: Parody of Ding Dong Merrily On High
Ding, dong merrily we're high
In our heads bells are ringing.
Ding, dong eating a whole pie
While praises we are singing.
Gloria, Marijuana in excess!

E'en so into bong we blow
Let stoner's talk be stumblin'
And "io, io, io!"
By priests and people sungen.
Gloria, Marijuana in excess!

Pray you dutifully inhale
Your morning puff, ye smokers.
May you beautifully exhale
Your evening bud, ye tokers.
Gloria, Marijuana in excess!

The Brit

Co-conspirator on the Search for CJ, a contributing author to the anothology Ménage à 20, business woman, doctor, The Brit has awed me with the sheer magnitude with which she tackles the world. I felt honored to have her contribute a song.

Song: Another Parody of Twas the Night Before Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas when the temperature dropped, to thirty below,
and then the water stopped.

As the pipes burst below, there arose such a clatter, then the furnace blew up! Now what was the matter?

He tried to light the fireplace, but the flue had rusted in, so he banged and pounded until it swung in, raining dozens of birds nests... and an empty bottle of Gallo Cafe Zin.

In the midst of this trial the circuits arced out, just as the water heater screamed like a tea kettle spout.

Up to the roof, he shot with all speed, to confront that old fart about his joke.

Indeed, he intended to confront the old hoke, when two steps from the top, the ladder rungs broke.

He fell into his pool as the water disappeared, through a crack in the earth... could it get any more weird?

Then from down on the street he heard the laughter of the Kringle.

As his house burned to the ground, the sleigh bells did jingle.

When his brand-new ferrari drove out of sight, his iPhone beeped, and to our delight...

The text message said; You're fired you schmuck.
Your insurance's been cancelled and you're now out'a luck.

Christmas Contest Winners

For first place, we have a tie between Andy Love and Wendy Swore's children, shown below in alphabetical order by first or last name, take your pick. Prizes will be sent in the upcoming week.

Andy Love

Bio from his Goodreads profile:

I started to write after reading so many bad anthologies, which I presume were from the 60's or 70's. I just picked up pencil and paper and started writing, probably thinking that I would not complete the work. It was unknown to me, if I was writing a novel or short story. The thought never crossed my mind.

So, I didn't intend to become a writer, it just burrowed under my skin. I even started to research my work. The words turned out to be my first short story, Minion. After the umpteenth draft, I read it and thought, it's a lot better than some published work I've read.

I bought books on how to write and get published. It turns out that I seemed to tick all the boxes for the way NOT to start writing. Ooppps!

How good was my story though? I'd have to see if I could get published in an anthology, (better than the 60's or 70's I read) without having to pay. I thought, if I send it to America, then I can't hear them laughinng from Scotland. They "bought" my story and it was published. So proud, eh?

Since then, I've read quality books, like: Stephen King, John Saul, Koontz, Clive Barker... I've still to get around to reading an Anne Rice book. A lot of what I read now is reference material. I especially enjoy researching history, always have.

Song: Parody of Deck the Halls by Andy Love
Deck the halls with bits of body,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Paint the floors with blood from Holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Don we now our can of petrol,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Throw the ancient fuel on Carol,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

See the blazing fool before us,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Strike her head don‘t make a fuss.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Follow me looking for treasure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
When I kill it’s such a pleasure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Fast away the old car passes,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Hail the cops, ye lads and lasses,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Sing we Phychos, all together,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
We love dead in any weather,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Wendy Swore

Bio from her Goodreads profile:

Born the daughter of a crop-duster and a teacher in Sacramento, CA, Wendy lived in several states before her family settled in Pocatello, ID. While attending ISU, she met her farm-boy-computer-guru sweetheart, who wrote to her during the 4 months she lived in Europe, and asked for her hand upon her return.

Wendy's summers are spent working (AKA slaving away) on the family truck farm along with their five young children. After the sweet-corn harvest, thousands of people come to learn about agriculture in her educational corn maze and farm tours.

Writing is Wendy's guilty pleasure for winter. Two of her short stories are available as free downloads in the Menage-a-20 novel published December 2009 with the combined efforts of 20 Goodreads authors. It makes for fun reading because they lull you into a false sense of security and then hit you with a twist at the end!

About her projects currently in the works, Wendy says; "My first YA novel follows Jenna, a farm girl, as she struggles against a lurking menace on the Sho-Ban Indian reservation. I'm working on query letters for that one this winter. My next deals with arson and a girl’s race against devastation."

"An avid reader myself, I hope you enjoy my stories."

Song: Parody of Joy to the World by Wendy's Children
Joy to the world,
Barney is dead
We barbecued his head!
Don't worry about the body,
we flushed it down the poddy,
And round and round it goes...
shoved it in with just our toes..
and Ro-Ound and round and round it goes!

P.S. Runner-ups will be posted later this week.

Rita's Words of Wisdom 101: Dealing with Criticism

Destructive criticism should be laughed at and dismissed. If you deign to acknowledge it with arguments, you have already lost the battle.

In the past, I have found that the best words to answer someone who tears you down is to say, "We could argue about this for the rest of the day. But I won't." Then walk away and never think about the conversation again.

I had such a situation over the Christmas holiday when my in-laws criticized us for home schooling our children. "They need to be socialized," they said.

Now let me explain that I'm really opinionated when it comes to the topic of education. Maybe a bit too much so. But I don't believe that our school systems are equipped to build free-thinking, innovative, imaginative creators to build something lasting for the world, to be engineers or inventors or artists.

I believe in dreams. I dream of a time where my writing bring in enough money that I no longer have to earn a paycheck. I dream of a world where people pursue their creative talents, innovating, building, restoring, writing...

And with that in mind, I chose to home school my children, which has been one of the joys of my life. The end result is that my kids think and act differently than any other I know. Personally, I think they are more confident. They talk to everybody no matter their age, color, or gender; they are mini-adults and expect to be treated as such. Everywhere I go, I have gotten comments on how mature and well-behaved they are.

So when my in-laws said that my kids are ill-mannered (translation: brats), I was pissed. Papaw said that my kids were attention hogs, even though out of the 9 grandkids in the house, mine were the quietest, fading into the background. He pointed out the time when Makani (age 7) talked the neighbor's ear off while Kaylee (age 3) tried to climb into the guy's lap.

In parenting, my goal is to teach them what they need to be responsible adults, and the ability to talk to someone who is not your peer is part of being an adult. I never stop them from talking to others. If someone doesn't like them, doesn't want to talk to them, then let that person tell them so.

And Memaw said they need to learn to share. In my opinion, forced sharing isn't really sharing. Besides, I think it is more important to teach respect for another's property. As an adult, I am not required to share my car, my clothes, my computer or whatever with anybody. I can choose who I trust my belongings to, so why should a child be expected to do any different?

I don't force sharing, but I watch them share all the time. Makani just saved up her allowance for two months to buy a Christmas present for her friend, and Rowena bought a My Little Pony house and gave many of the pieces away to her sisters so that they could play with her. But even more, I hear them saying, "No, I can't play with that; that's my sisters."

Driving home from the Christmas holiday, my mind stewed on arguments and defenses, retaliations and bitterness. They should be supporting us rather than undermining and tearing us down. But then if we all did what we should be doing, the world would be a better place.

The hard part about is that I know I'm not a perfect parent. Sometimes I'm too hard and sometimes I'm too soft. Sometimes my kids throw fits. Sometimes I fail to handle those tantrums the way I should. Of course, even if I did exactly as I believed I should, they still wouldn't approve.

Last Friday, I took the kids out for pizza, and when the meal was over, Kaylee started chatting with someone she thought was interesting. For the first time, I wanted to stop her. "Don't interrupt their meal," I wanted to say to her. The criticism had wormed its way into my blood, infecting me with its poison, and I had allowed it to happen.

The moral of the story: Laugh. Walk away. Don't ever think of it again.

Officer Goongola

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, hanging out with the kids, watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when the doorbell rang. I sighed. Who would dare interrupt family time?

"I'll get it!" Makani ran to the door, two little sisters right behind her.

From my comfy nest in the living room, I heard a deep voice. "Is your mother home?"

Great. Just great.

At the door, I found myself face to face with a tower of a man in a black suit, broad shoulders and large meaty hands, too wide and too tall to see all of him through the door. One of those big hands could've encompassed most of my throat. Eyes smoldered from a face that looked like it was chiseled out of stone. A chill ran down my spine.

"Ms. Webb?" he said. "I am here to ask a few questions."

"Who are you?" I demanded.

"Officer Guindaloon, ma'am." He flashed a badge, but so quickly I had no time to see what department he worked for, let alone if the picture matched. "I want to know what you can tell me about the Sandbox."

"You have a warrant?" It was a delay tactic; my mind raced. How was I going to get out of this mess?

"I'm a Fed." He sneered. "I don't need a warrant, ma'am. Not cooperating will be assumed as hostile behavior, and we will take you into custody."

"Officer Goongola, did you say?"

"Officer Guindaloon." The mountain pouted. It's hard to watch such a big man act like a baby.

"Look, Goongola," I said, peeking out onto the street. You never knew who might be listening. "Why don't you come in for some coffee? I don't think this is an appropriate place for this kind of conversation."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The giant dwarfed my kitchen table, and the mug looked like a toy in his hands. He took a sip and I put a few cookies on the plate.

Rita: What type of donut do you eat? Do you dunk it in milk or coffee or nothing?
Officer: Boston cream is my favorite. I don't dunk at all. feds
don't dunk, too messy. Everything must be tidy.

Rita: Why haven't the Feds caught the terrorists yet?
Officer: Well, having 7 doppelgangers, we were chasing spooks, but that number is dwindling down. We're getting close.

Rita: I have 3 kids, officer, and we've already had an unwelcome Christmas Eve guest. What kind of measures are being taken to prevent any further terrorist attacks?
Officer: That information is classified right now.

Rita: What is your favorite color?
Officer: black and blue...which is what the terrorists will be when we're through.

Rita: Will the feds work in cooperation with the Sandbox? Or will they oppose this rogue group?
Officer: The Feds will accept any help whatsoever in conjunction with this investigation. However, if we find that The Sandbox or any rogue group withholding information; that will be considered as obstruction of justice. To which, we take very seriously and will prosecute any who do so.

Rita: What do you see when you look at this blot of ink?
Officer: Breasts, sumptuous breasts.

Rita: What do you know about the alleged ring that GergisKhan wore?
Officer: Looks like something that opens up a portal of such... we're investigating the ring...

Rita: Thank you for your time, Officer.
Officer: No, thank you. I WILL need some DNA for identification purposes, as you know.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

And here I thought I had pulled the wool over his eyes. At least, I didn't have to answer any questions about the Sandbox or CJ or Rico.

However, he took a blood test, and the results were inconclusive. They cuffed me and put me in the back of a dark gray truck.

Once again, I found myself driven around town and thrown into a lab. Where, I don't know. They took another blood sample, a patch of skin, a bit of hair. Then they left me in an examination room for hours. The door was locked; the cupboards were bare, not even an old bone to chew on; and no place to sit but the cold, hard floor.

The only thing to do was to read a copy of a book titled Ménage à 20, Tales with a Hook. Rather an entertaining book, I might add. I highly recommend it.

Finally, the doctors determined I was safe and sent me home.

"We'll be watching, Ms. Webb," Officer Goongola said before he left.

"Big Brother usually is," I grumbled as I unlocked the door. Whatever surveillance they had on me probably picked that up. Oh well.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Disclaimer: This is a fictional story, written by reader input. To read more, click here and start at the bottom.

Thanks to those who have cooperated and added to this story. Thank you, Officer Goongola Guindaloon, for a great interview.

This story is dedicated to the online Goodreads group On Fiction Writing and the authors of the Ménage à 20.

Blog Review: The Clean White Page

Haven't we all faced an empty page or blank screen, wondering what to write? Sometimes I do; sometimes I don't. Sometimes the stories come crawling out of me, and I just watch them unfold before me. Other times, I find myself procrastinating, playing on goodreads or browsing the internet just to avoid a difficult passage.

The Clean, White Page is a blog filled with stories that defy that dreaded fear of the blank page. I highly recommend that you check it out.

Susan Curnow, Ménage à 20 author

Of all the stories in the Ménage à 20, Tales with a Hook anthology, I have to say A Gift Horse by Susan Curnow was my favorite. It's hard to pick among such beautiful stories, but Susan managed to captivate me with a story I did not expect.

A girl rescues a horse, buying him from the auction where he is sure to be sold to the meat market. A beautiful tale, right? You'd think the story would be predictable, another Black Beauty. She'll train him and they'll win races together.

Then Susan drops this line:

The bran mash smells of earth and sweetness. What he wants is a side of venison, fresh river greens, and a glass of wine scented with oak.

...and I'm snared. This is not what I expected. Something's not quite right. Surely this horse is not what he seems, and surely Susan has revealed her hook too soon.

But not so. Again, Susan surprised me. As the story unfolds, I found myself trapped in a prison of words, and when the final line was read, I turned the last page, looking for more, knowing there was none but wishing it would magically appear.

You just can't leave a story there! What happened next?

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

I contacted Susan with the request for an interview. You see, I had ulterior motives; I wanted to know when I could expect to read more by Susan Curnow.

Rita: What inspired you to write your story The Gift Horse?
Susan: A combination of having written a novel based around kelpies and the fascinating myths of the Fae. It was also a tribute in its way to a brave horse that I rescued, who was a cheeky fellow and thought he could wrap a person around his hooves with his charm. I'd also been to horse auctions where horses literally go for a song or to the meatman, which saddens me so much. I wanted to write a happier tale. Women have a special connection with horses, and in some ways, I think we almost want them to be people as well. In this story, one is, or almost...

Rita: Hmm, I like that phrase: "...thought he could wrap a person around his hooves with his charm." Sounds like quite a horse. Sounds like some people I know. So what can we look forward to from you in the future?
Susan: I have THE HOUSE OF FAEGRIM, a fantasy novel, currently being looked at by an agent, but it is only at the partial stage right now so, fingers crossed! I am also writing a novel based on an eight-sided castle, which I found when I was researching castles for another novel. VICADIA is almost cross genre in that the castle and world are controlled by beings who like to play games with the worlds they have created. In the first draft stage right now, but I'm getting there.

Rita: Follow Susan's blog and you too can see what's coming next with this author.

Play Day

As the day draws to a close, I have this warm feeling inside. It was a day straight out of my dreams.

#1) It snowed so that I had to work from home. I've wanted a work-from-home job for so many years, and now I finally work for a company where they don't have enough space for all their employees.

Employees are required to cube share, working half the week at home and the other half in the office, switching with their cubemates. But I haven't been there long enough and don't know the ropes well enough to merit that status yet. In a few months, when I am more familiar with my new role, I'll be home much more.

For now, I just got this snow day. I sat in my sweats on the bed, comfy, cozy, with plenty of opportunities to hug the kids throughout the day.

#2) Because I was home, I slept. I woke up refreshed and relaxed. I started work at 8:30, my usual time, but there was no morning rush and no long drive.

#3) Plugging my earphones into my iPod, which was tuned to Pandora, I worked to the music. I don't understand why a place of employment would block Pandora from their employees, at least the ones that just sit at their desks. Music would make for happier, more productive employees. But being home, with access to our own wifi, I could listen to my heart's content. I was in heaven.

#4) I played in the snow. At 5 o'clock, my work day was done, and rather than getting in my car and fighting my way through traffic, I went out to play. Sledding down the driveway and laughing with my children, I remembered what it was like to get my exercise the old-fashioned way--from good, hard play.

#5) Creamy hot chocolate while sitting in front of the fireplace! I felt the pleasure all the way down to my toes.

What was pleasurable about your day?

What kind of music does God listen to?

My dad, a pastor, worships his classical music. He might say that word's a bit strong, but I grew up on his love for the stuff, something I'm very thankful for. I think classical gave me a stronger appreciation for music, especially after I learned to play an instrument of my own.

But I love so much more than classical. For a girl raised with the notion that rock music and drums were evil, I sure enjoy my Disurbed and Evanescence channels on Pandora. You should have seen my dad's face when I played him the symphonic metal version of Hall of the Mountain King by Apocalyptica.

I once heard my dad say that he could see Jesus at a Beethoven concert. And that statement has been on my mind lately. What does God listen to?

Interview at Gunpoint

It was a dark night, no storms, just a bitter wind that howled like a lonely wolf. The streets were deserted, strange for Manhattan, even in the middle of the night. Or so I assumed. I had never been in Manhattan before, but the anonymous instructions I had received told me stand under this lamp post on this street at 3 am January 2nd, 2010.

I was wearing a trench coat and gray hat with a red carnation in the band, and in my arms, I carried a book--the Menage a 20, Tales with a Hook, all according to the details in the anonymous email.

3:05 a.m. Nothing happened.

3:10 a.m. Nothing happened.

3:15 a.m. I fidgeted with my watch.

3:20 a.m. I started to walk away when a black sedan with tinted windows pealed around the corner, tires squealing.

Men in masks jumped out, and I tried to run. But they grabbed me around the middle and tossed me into the back seat. Terror clawed its way up my throat as I tried to scream, but all that came out was a garbled cry. Maybe this time, I took this search-for-the-truth-no-matter-the-cost a little too far. Maybe this time, I won't make it home to my husband and kids.

Hands tied a blindfold over my face as the car sped away with me in its belly.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

But all I got in response was a guttural, "Shut up." A gun was pressed into my back, and I snapped my mouth shut. Sometimes you learn more in silence, especially if it keeps you alive.

We drove for what seemed like an eternity. I tried to keep track of the turns, but for all I knew, we could have driven down every road in Manhattan only to return to where we started. The car finally stopped, and those rough hands pushed me forward. I was pushed into a metal chair and the blindfold removed. Above me, a harsh light blinded me. Dark shapes approached from across the room, and I blinked trying to make them out.

Before me stood a man with curly hair and beard, but despite the season, he didn't look anything like Santa. There was too much cold, dark cynicism in those eyes. He held a gun pointed at my head.

"We received your request for a meeting, Ms. Webb," he said.

Now I knew who this must be. The Sandbox Investigations Director. "Mitton, I presume?"

"You can call me that for now."

"I wasn't expecting to be treated so harshly."

"You'll survive."

"Will I?"

"You're here to ask questions."

The threat behind those words made my skin crawl. Think fast, I reminded myself.

"Uh," I started, "do you mind if I record this? Prevents misquotations."

He nodded.

"Okay, I'm going to reach into my pocket."

"No funny business."

"Of course not." I pulled out the tape recorder and hit the button.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Webb: What can you tell us about this secret organization known as the Sandbox?
Mitton: First, let me point out that my appointment is not a political one, it is an operational one. This means, that for reasons of security, I cannot possibly comment about any secret organization that I may, or equally may not, be a member of, far less a Director. I mean, how secret would any organization be if I were to reveal any of the secrets that I may, or then again may not, know?

That said, I can actually tell you this:

No comment.

Webb: What type of donut do you eat?
Mitton: Since I see little threat to operational security in this, I can answer more fully. I'll eat any type of donut that does't leave my fingers sticky. I particularly dislike the sort that has jam squirtng out all over my three-piece suit when I take a bite.

Not that I wear three-piece suits. Or if I did, they would be perfectly anonymous ones.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

For a moment I almost smiled, forgetting the gun. I hate jelly donuts too. But then he cleared his throat, reminding me that I had an interview to finish.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Webb: When will the Sandbox have CJ or Rico Suave in custody?
Mitton: We are pursuing several promising lines of enquiry. We hope to be able to make an arrest in the near future.

Webb: How often do you visit the dentist?
Mitton: It's a well known fact that most dentists belong to a world-wide conspiracy aimed at polluting our bodily fluids. They have a hidden agenda. Plus, the magazines in their waiting rooms are always several years out of date. So, in answer to your question, I only visit a dentist when something in my mouth turns black or drops out.

I admire their techniques for inducing pain, but their interrogation techniques leave something to be desired. I mean, what information can you be persuaded to divulge with a mouthful of dental implements? All you can say is 'mmnngh-ffhuth...'.

Webb: What is the Sandbox's next moves?
Mitton: Pawn to Queen three. Other than that, I have to refer you to my previous answer about operational security.

Webb: Are you aware that tooth decay is the leading cause of death among beavers in Botswana?
Mitton: I would have thought the absence of trees in Botswana would be a greater cause for concern among the indigenous beaver population of that country.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Does nothing trip this man up? Smooth as cream pie.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Webb: How do you eat your bananas? Plain? As part of a Peanut Butter sandwich? Frozen and dipped in chocolate? Or in your cereal?
Mitton: Monkeys eat bananas. And apes. What are you implying? Are you one of those hysterical liberals who views any part of the military and intelligence community as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals? Are you? You talkin' to me? Are you?

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

He took a deep breath, calmed himself with an effort, the gun waving wildly. I felt a cold sweat break out on my forehead.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Mitton: I cannot coment on the use or non-use of bananas for reasons of National Security.

Webb: What have you discovered about the ring?

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.

Oh,sorry, you meant the ring in the picture. For reasons of security, I can make no comment at this time.

Look, are we off the record? I mean really off the record? OK, for your ears only...

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

I flipped the switch to turn off the recorder and leaned forward in my chair.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Mitton: The ring shows a scarab beetle, wings extended. This was, of old, the symbol for the leader of a cult. The cult of the Old Man of the Mountains. This of course was the sect that spawned the Hashasheen - now known as assassins. First active at the time of the Second Crusade. I know this, because Dan Brown told me, so it must be true.

The cult also dabbled in necromancy, though it is thought they gained those practices from a far older cult in Arabia - if I mention Abdul Alhazred and the Necronomicon, then those who need to know will be forewarned.

Harry Houdini revived this cult in the 20s and 30s, for reasons best known to himself. But let your readers know this: beware of escapologists. And mime artists. Clowns are suspect too.

We thought Montgomery smashed the cult, eliminated the ringleaders, shortly after El Alamein. Now, it has resurfaced. It suggests a link between CJ, possibly Rico Suave, and the Middle East, which is where we're concentrating our efforts.

Of course, you can't tell anyone that last bit. Tell them we're focussing on Greenland. They might get complacent then, come out of their holes.

The rest, just attribute to a well-informed Government source, or something like that.

Webb: Thank you for your time, Mr. Mitton.
Mitton: No, thank you for the opportunity to explain our apparent inactivity. What can I say? Wheels within wheels...

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Blindfolded again, I was led out of the building, dropped off in Manhattan. If indeed there was a building. If indeed New York exists.

No dentists were harmed during the making of this interview.

When I returned home, I discovered that the recording device had continued to record even after I had turned it off. At great cost to myself, I have enclosed this interview in its entirety. If I end up missing, tell the cops that the Sandbox got me.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Disclaimer: This is a fictional story, written by reader input. To read more, click here and start at the bottom.

Thanks to those who have cooperated and added to this story. Thank you, Paul, for a great interview.

This story is dedicated to the online Goodreads group On Fiction Writing and the authors of the Ménage à 20.