Six Fact Sunday- Ghost Town Writer’s Retreat

If you follow me anywhere like Twitter (HERE) FaceBook (HERE) or Instagram (HERE), you know that I have spent the weekend at my very first Writer’s Retreat. I met the most amazing group of like minded amateurs, professionals, and experts. Even though it was a horror writer’s deal, writers from across all genres were represented. Lucky for me, most of them are local to Denver and mix in circles that I have recently joined.

Anyway, it’s been awhile since I did a Sunday post, but being new to the world of writing and publishing, I have learned soooo much! And here it is:

  1.  EVERY WRITER NEEDS TO GO TO A CONFERENCE!!! You will find your tribe. If it’s 2 or 200 people, you will find SOMEONE if not most people believe in you and your work because they know what it takes to get there. They know the hours you have put into pouring over you manuscript until you could quote it in your sleep. They know the struggles of networking, pitching, querying. Whatever stage you are in, a lot of them have been there and will cheer you on.

Theses people are so amazing. Writing a book is hard, and getting your book out there is even more difficult. The writing community is one of solidarity. Others recognize that you put in the hard work and wrote to tell the tale. Beautiful hearts, theses folks.

2.   I learned how to scare people with written words. This I am super excited about. I received tips from horror writing superstars, on how to make grown people pee their pants . I also learned that true crime is glamorized in fiction. Most of the books or TV shows you watch that are “based on a true story” are 75% bullshat.

3. I learned how to talk about my book in a way that makes others excited. The biggest compliment I have received all weekend is that they loooove the premise of my story and cannot wait to read it. COMPLETE STRANGERS want to read my story. (I am floored).

4. (On the note of number 3) I learned how to query and how to pitch my book to an agent in person. I also learned how NOT to by one ridiculously famous editor. He, despite correcting my in person pitch, asked me for my manuscript. I almost cried.

5. After MANY changes, I finally hammered down the true genre of my book. It is Speculative/ Crisis Thriller. This is the first time I have felt it’s been properly labeled.

6. I Have A LOT of work to do. To include a mad amount of writing… Like 8-13k more words to actually qualify to be the genre I intend. I am humble enough to accept that my novel needs work. I did not expect to just do one round of edits and be done. I’ve put hard work into it, I won’t give up until it’s finished.

 

Of course, I have learned and experienced much more than those 6 things, but I am mentally exhausted and ready to get back to my kiddos and the mister. I miss them like crazy. So, hopefully I will have a good short and scary for you later this week. But until then…

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What I Learned Writing My First Draft

I have spent 26 months, off and on, writing my novel. So many things happened in my life in those two years: a new baby, a ton of loss, a new job, a promotion, a couple personal crisis, a bout of postpartum depression, a year of college, and ultimately growth.

Though I really want to rest on my laurels, I know that it is not finished. I know that there is sooooo much editing to do and it is killing me to take a break from it. One piece of editing advice I received which was by far the most discouraging but made the most sense, was to rewrite the entire thing from scratch. To print out my existing content, finger paint all over the pages, and type it from there. Only then can I ensure that I did not lazily skip over details that need to be added (Writer friends: thoughts on this process. It makes me want to cry but I am also seeing where I need to do this).

So onto what I have learned:

  1. Keep writing when you are stuck. If it’s too hard, then you need to go back and change something to help you move the story along. I killed someone and was stuck writing for MONTHS! So I brought him back to life and that was that. It added a dynamic to the universe that I built and was helpful down the road.
  2. Have a writing routine. Whether you spend every Sunday morning writing, an hour a day, or a specific word count per day, week, etc, just have some sort of consistent and sustainable goal to write. Once you set these goals, make them a priority.
  3. Join a network of follow writers. I personally enjoy the fellowship and talents at ChapterBuzz . Run by a self-publishing coach, it gives you encouragement, monthly challenges to help you create writing routines (See #2) and also comes with a social network on FaceBook. You can also follow Tim Pike’s blog at What Inspires Your Writing.
  4. Do NOT edit. Lawd. Some days, in the very early stages when I was not feeling motivated or otherwise creative, I would go back and edit previous chapters. Now I can see that even then, and probably less now, I had no idea what I was doing. Before it fully developed into what it is now, my writing sucked. Just wait til it’s over to edit.
  5. You can have a working title, but chances are it wont stick. I created a word to describe a main puzzle piece in my book, but after much thought I knew that if I saw a book on the shelf with that title, I’d never pick it up. It was awkward, was made up, and no one could relate to it. So thank you, Google, for helping me brush up on electrical vocabulary. I stumbled on something ironic, easy to pronounce, and relevant to the story.
  6. There is absolutely NO reason to pursue representation from an agent before your word is D.U.N. DONE! Thinking about it is going to stress you out. Instead create a realistic timeline to completely complete your work. And then MAYBE you’d be brave enough to begin the query process. So if there is less than a week from the time you type THE END, until your dream agency hosts a Twitter Query Session, you should just patiently and painfully stick to your REASONABLE timeline. Do not try to edit your first 50 pages in a week. It’s unrealistic and will not be your best work. Then you run the risk of being rejected by your dream agency. No one wants that.
  7. TAKE A BREAK WHEN YOU ARE DONE!! I had planned to finish writing on June 30th then jump right into editing on July 1st. Little did I know, the book would be done two weeks early and 15,000 words short. But the story is written. I have given myself a month and a half to edit and bring up the word count. I need a break anyway to focus on things that have been neglected like my blog, and every other social media account I have as a writer.

 

So there you have it. Wednesday is that twitter pitch for my dream agency, in case you wondered. I’m chewing my nails wanting to try my queries, but I’m scared of what happens if they love it and want more. Should I ignore them and just rest assured that they would at least want to hear it at some point? Like August 15th when I had planned on being done? Or should I just watch and see what kind of pitches they picked to check out.  UGH!!!

Hope you enjoyed. Do you have any advice to add?

The Final Challenge

This is it. I am finishing the first draft but I need your help again.

Apparent Power is already an award winning book, even before being officially published.

book

It has sat at #2 on ChapterBuzz since I posted the first chapter.

number 2

But I am not satisfied. In June I am joining another challenge on ChapterBuzz. The challenge calls for a page a week. I plan on writing 3-4 a day. 1,000 words to be exact. This would put me on target to finish the book by the end of June.

I am also not satisfied being #2. Steve is a nice enough guy, but I am far more hungry for that spot. So, if you have been in the passenger seat along this journey with me, I encourage you to go and “Buzz Up” the chapters that you like.

Buzz

I’m not soliciting your money, just maybe a little time and in return I promise to give you a thrilling a gripping story that you can say you read before it was ever released.

HOW CAN I HELP?

Register on ChapterBuzz. Place the book Apparent Power on your book shelf and read away. I would LOVE your honest feedback, but it is not required. As you finish each chapter, Buzz it if you enjoyed it.

I have been told that the first few chapters are sort of rough to read, which as a self taught, un-published author is not too bad. Once you get past the rough beginning, I’ve heard good things. But please correct me if I am delusional.

Please let me know if you’d like weekly email updates throughout the challenge. Thank you all so much for even reading this far in my blog. Every writer just wants to be read. It’s the biggest form of flattery even if you don’t like it.

About My Book.. Some More

 

I’m really looking for feedback. I have hit a wall of writing lately. I know that it is mostly due to lack of planning than lack of content. This is Chapter Fifteen. Tell me hate it. Tell me you love it. Tell me I have typos. Tell me that I should keep my day job. Seriously. Rip it apart. (More can be found at ChapterBuzz… No I’m not a masochist, I just need a reality check)

Valerie held Scotts arm tight and rested her head on his shoulder in the back of the package truck while he gently stroked her hair with his free hand. She was almost complete. Having her husband by her side made the entire journey seem very trivial. She was minutes from reuniting with her son and would have time to truly rest. With Scott she could figure out how to take on the CDC and free the rest of her family.

Twenty minutes passed since they left her home for the resort. With no windows in the back compartment they only saw strips of light at the seams of the door but she could hear Griffin snoring. There was no doubt Hyka was napping as well. Aaron and Austin were in the cab in their new blue uniforms, navigating to the resort.

“I’m so sorry,” Scott whispered in the dark and kissed her head. “I had no idea you were in danger. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you. I’m sorry I wasn’t with our son. I had to wait an entire day to get word that you were alright. They had me take a train to get the affected in Kansas and said I could pick up Caleb and meet you. I can’t believe I helped them.”

“They were probably hoping you would lead them to Caleb. I am so thankful for Gia. I am glad it was her. Did you know my dad actually hired her? Remember how I wanted the other nanny, but she declined at the last minute? I guess that was all Dad’s handy work.” Valerie smiled and found her husband’s hand. “How lucky are we? I love you more than anything.”

“I love you so much.” Scott kissed her hand.

She held him tighter has the truck turned into the resort parking lot. When it had stopped, Austin and Aaron got out of the cab and walked around to open the back to release its occupants. The afternoon sky was thick with clouds that threatened rain. Like most of their journey, there was no one around. The parking lot was quiet and only a few cars were left in the lot. No one came in or out of the building and the power seemed to have been turned off. The sliding doors stayed open and warm humid air blew from the inside like the building was breathing. There were only a few people in the lobby that quickly disappeared when they saw the uniforms.

“It’s this way.” Valerie led the way in a jog to the farthest corner of the hotel. She knew this was where she would find him. The clue was so clever, but no doubt this was exactly what Gia intended to convey with the French birthday card. Valerie ran down a hallway that opened to a giant atrium. A stream that ran through the hotel was stagnant and smelled lightly of algae. She followed it around to a bridge. The artificial island hosted a cluster of restaurants and “Little Venice” where she had taken Gia for her birthday. It was completely empty, and with a quick once over she decided there were no more clues.

“The room is on the third floor. 356. She quickly found the stairs, heart pounding, and ran up as fast as she could. 395 was the first room. She sprinted down the balcony of rooms that overlooked the restaurants and the stream. Each room she passed she ran faster until she came to the room. Her heart in her stomach, the door was open. Without bothering to knock she pushed the door open to see Gia face down on the bed.

“Gia? Oh, Gia!” At the sound of Valerie’s voice Gia lifted her head and looked at her. She had fresh blood coming from a cut on her lip and a significant bump on the side of her forehead. Tears poured down her face, she shook her head to Valerie. Caleb was not there.

Valerie collapsed on the floor as Griffin walked in and lifted the girl from the bed and held her tight. He brushed the hair off her head wound to examine it and kissed her mouth.

“They took him, just left. I didn’t know they were watching the house. They must have planted microphones. They knew exactly where we were. I’m so sorry. I tried to stop them.” Gia cried to Griffin. He cradled her head and reassured her. Valerie watched like it was a movie, like it was not happening. She was numb to even her own grief. Scott stood next to her in the door way equally devastated. Something caught his eye and he move across the room to a sitting chair. He picked up Caleb’s blanky, held it to his chest and looked back at Valerie.

Lights in the room sprang to life, music could be heard down toward the island and the pumps began moving the water in the stream. Valerie stood up, confused. Loud rumbling came from overhead.

“Planes.” Austin said entering the room. Then he stopped and looked at the two on the bed. The sprinkler heads popped down from the ceiling and began spraying everywhere.

“No,” Austin whispered. He looked over at Scott when the electricity exploded into the room.

“Valerie stop!” Aaron yelled over the volume of the surge.

“It’s not me,” as the words left her mouth, Scott was hit by the electricity, then Griffin, then Gia who was still in his embrace.

Valerie screamed as she watched the Scott fight the pain. She reached out to him to pull the energy but it simply transferred through her continuing its path to the couple on the bed. She wanted it to stop. She tried to control it, but could not. She wrapped her arms around Scott and held him as tight as she could. What felt like an eternity was about fifteen seconds, then the current, sprinklers, and all power stopped at once. Still screaming, she lowered Scott’s weight to the ground. Austin fell to his knees at the site of his dear friend still embracing the young woman on the bed. Screams could be heard from outside the open door behind him. Aaron held Hyka out on the balcony as she stared blankly at the destruction.

“Phase two,” she said to no one in particular. Valerie knew she was referring to the CDC’s next phase. Austin had seen it in his dream. He had known they were going to lose Griffin, Gia and Scott. Valerie thought they could stop it from happening. Her pain quickly turned into anger. She kissed her deceased husband on his forehead and stood. She did not dare look toward the bed at her friends that had also been taken. She moved past Austin who was still sitting on his knees and out the door to the balcony.

“There are survivors. Like us. We need to bring everyone together, as many as we can find. They have taken everything from us. I’m going to take it back.” She clenched her teeth so hard fighting the tears, but could not stop them. Just as her knees buckled Aaron swooped her up like a child can carried her to the next room. He kicked it in easily. The room was covered in water but vacant. He stood her on her feet, opened the closet and handed her a dry robe.

“Change your clothes.” He did not ask her and she did not argue. She could not think, but went through the motions mindlessly. She turned the light on without touching the switch and closed the bathroom door. As she took her clothes off, she realized that they had been burned and left very little covered. Her boots had even melted from the incident. She removed her garments and covered herself with the soft hotel robe similar to the one that hung outside of her own shower at home. Scott had bought it for her. Everything reminded her that, though his body was in the next room, his soul was gone. She pulled open the door to receive her set of directions. Aaron had flipped the mattress of the bed offering a dry place to lay down. He had also pulled out the sofa bed and had already taken his own boots off, laid down, and closed his eyes. She knew he was not sleeping. How could any of them sleep?

Valerie opened the mini refrigerator and without glancing at the labels, grabbed three small plastic bottles. One by one she drank. Grief dulling her senses, she was unable to taste the alcohol.  She tossed the empty bottles in the trash can and crawled on the mattress. She laid down facing the wall and just stared waiting for the liquid to take effect. The hole in her heart suddenly felt like it would swallow her. She felt so empty. She did not want to talk or even breathe. It shook her soul and with her tears came a scream so loud that the roar of the planes continuously flying low outside were no match. She pulled a wet pillow into her and squeezed it so close to her body. She buried her face into it so hard it hurt, trying to stifle the emotional pain that wrecked her being.  Every time she would open her eyes something would trigger a memory. A small desk lamp reminded her of Caleb’s bedroom and how Scott would turn it on and hold Caleb during thunderstorms to keep him from being scared. Scott was everywhere. There was not one thing in this world that would not bring his memory back to her mind, ripping her apart over and over again. For hours she sat like this, rocking back and forth, cycling through various intensities of sobs. Finally her exhaustion caught up with her, and she fell asleep.

In the middle of the night Valerie was awoken by the phone ringing and a small red little blinking in the pitch. She looked to the lamp next to it and it popped but did not light. The bulb had broken. She groped in the dark for the receiver.

“Hello?” she was still groggy and unsure of where she was.

“Ms. Russel, I am so sorry for your loss,” a man’s voice said on the other end. The death of her husband the day before seemed like a horrible dream, but the slimy voice that had an audible smile brought back the reality of the situation far to quickly.

“Thank you, Dr. Jarrett,” Valerie answered politely. He knew where she was and that her husband was gone. He could be watching her with the security cameras in the hotel. She knew she had to be careful of what she said and did to not give herself away.

“It is my pleasure to inform you that young Caleb is safe and having a great time with Grandpa Burton. Would you like to talk to him?” The mere suggestion choked her.

“Say hi to Mommy, Caleb.”

“Hi Mommy!” Caleb’s sweet voice was completely oblivious to the situation and fate of his father.

“Hi, Sweetie-Petey.” Valerie could not help but cry from heartbreak and relief. She had to play Lucas Jarrett’s game now. That had been his plan from the beginning. He needed her and she would do anything for Caleb. “I love you so very much, Baby. You be good for Grandpa and Uncle Johnny.”

“I love you, too, Mommy.”

“Now, Ms. Russell, I would send a vehicle for you, but now that I no longer have drivers, this would require me to make a personal appearance. As it is, since you have yet to cooperate, this has put us significantly behind schedule and I must tend to matters here. I also understand that you are capable of operating your own vehicle. So, neighbor, why don’t you take a trip down the street and come see your family. They miss you.” Dr. Jarrett maintained his audible amusement while Valerie fought to keep her frustration and tears silent. She had to pull herself together and buy some time to develop a plan.

“Please let me bury my husband. You can expect us this evening.” She did not wait for a response before ending the call. Hearing her son’s voice left no question in her mind of where she was going next. She had to look forward or she would lose herself in the trauma of the previous day. It was so unfair that the world continued without recognizing Scott’s death. Why did Lucas Jarrett get to go on and he did not? Valerie laid back down on the bed and closed her eyes. She cried until she fell back to sleep.

Hyka pushed the door open and it slammed against the wall, causing Aaron to jump to his feet from the sofa bed, but Valerie did not move. She knew she was no longer being hunted. They could not take anything else from her.

“You up?” Hyka asked Aaron who was caught off guard and could not articulate his anger at being woken up. He huffed trying to find the words.

“Everyone is waiting at that France place downstairs.” Valerie got up from the bed and walked past Hyka out the door to the balcony. There were about fifty college aged kids assembled at the restaurant with a few smaller children. One girl held a tiny baby.

“We gathered everyone in the hotel. The power surge took their age, or whatever, so they all look like that. There is about seven others, not including ours. We collected the casualties in one area to say some nice words.” Hyka tried to be as sensitive with the facts as her vocabulary would allow.

“Where is Scott?”

“They are still in the room. We laid him on the other bed. We knew you would not want us to move him without you knowing.” Valerie nodded and was satisfied with the answer. She remembered how Hyka used to scare her, but now she found her to be something steady in her life that she could count on.

“Dad wants to give Scott and Griff military honors. It won’t be one hundred percent protocol but it would mean a lot to him. Also, there is a backhoe out in the far south parking lot. If you could help us out with that, it would save us hours of digging.” Hyka was the best person to handle these details, and Valerie was thankful someone had taken the lead. Despite sleeping hard, she still did not feel like herself. She had horrible vertigo and she felt weak. She gave an approving nod to Hyka to proceed with all plans for the deceased. She looked again to the group gathered at the restaurant wondering how she was going to rally these people to action so soon after many of them where hurting from loss. Valerie turned to address her friends who were exchanging whispers of their own. Valerie lost her balance and fell backward hitting her back on the balcony before falling to the floor. Aaron caught her head and guided it to the ground as her eyes rolled back.

When she came to, she was in the room Aaron had taken her to the night before. She had been stripped of her robe, but dry blankets were pulled up to her chin and she had an IV hung next to the bed.

“You feeling alright? You got dehydrated and passed out. I am disappointed that three little shooters would knock a DiaZem on her ass,” Hyka joked trying to keep the mood light.

“I’m so sorry,” Valerie began to cry. Just when she needed to lead them to vengeance and victory, she could hardly keep her eyes open. She was broken.

“You need to rest. There is no hurry.” Aaron spoke up from the other side of the room.

“If you help me outside, I can help with digging. Not physically obviously, but I could probably keep it going. I need some air. This place is so humid.” Valerie needed to occupy her mind. Sitting in a room, unstimulated let her thoughts wander back to Scott and the fact he was gone. She also needed to talk to Aaron outside and away from any surveillance the CDC had access to. There might not be anywhere safe, but being around heavy machinery could offer a better environment for secrecy.

“No,” Aaron said with a paternal authority. “You’ve been out for two hours and frankly you look horrible. There were a few volunteers from the group to help outside. No one needs to see you like this. Just rest.”

Anger welled up in Valerie’s throat. She understood what he meant but denying her human emotion in front of the masses was infuriating. All things considered, she felt her current state to be easily justified.

“I am going outside. Someone will drive that truck thing and we all need to talk. Get my clothes from the truck, and something to eat. I am starving.” Valerie felt a tinge of guilt for being so demanding, but she did not want to divulge too much of her suspicions. She had told Dr. Jarrett they would be there by the evening, but at the rate things were going, they would not make on time.

Outside, the air was notably cooler and refreshing compared to the dank humid air of the resort. The sky was the same overcast as the day before, but evidence of a past rain still covered the ground. Valerie walked independently to the area where the backhoe was and where they would say good bye to their loved ones. Five young men were already working in the area, three digging and two breaking down furniture to fashion wooden crosses to mark each plot. They rotated these jobs before noticing her approach.

The backhoe’s engine turned over with ease, but startled the workers out of their focused tasks. Aaron gave a thumbs up to one of the workers who took up a position in the driver seat of the truck and wasted no time getting started.

“Dr. Jarrett called last night. He has Caleb and is expecting us to arrive this evening. He knew exactly where I was and what had happened to Scott. I imagine he is tapped into the hotel surveillance. I’m going to just air on the side of caution and just assume that he can see and hear everything, regardless of where we are.” Valerie stopped and took a seat on a parking curb close enough to the running machine that her three companions had to strain to hear her. “The only way to face this is to face it head on. We have to go in. But aside from that, I have no idea how to fight this.”

Austin exhaled hard and rubbed his brow. “I’m not going with you. Someone needs to stay back and gather reinforcements. If you can’t fix things from inside someone has to figure out a different angle. Valerie, I do not doubt your ability to see this through, but you might find yourself in need of pocket Aces.”

Aaron nodded in agreement which helped Valerie. She did not have the energy to argue. She understood Austin was looking out for her.

“I’m going in.” Hyka said in case anyone wondered where she stood on the matter. Valerie smiled and nodded.

“I’m coming,” Aaron said next. “I’ll meet up with your old man and brother, try to pull others into our cause. Once they know the fate of everyone they left behind, it should be easy to host a revolt from the inside. Then all you have to do, Val, is play the game.”

“How long do you think all this will take?” Valerie asked motioning to the men making progress on the make-shift cemetery.

“As long as you’re up to it, a couple of hours. Once we get two or three done on this side, we can move down the way and dig more. Give people room to pay their respects while they’re still working. We’ll do Scott, Griff and Gia’s last before we leave, but it’s going to be late. We should wait until morning to move,” Aaron suggested. His expression was that of concern.

Valerie shrugged, “Dr. Jarrett knows where to find me if I’m late.  What else could they do?”

It started to rain.

Apparent Power

My novel is being showcased today!!!! He makes it sound so good and really captures the intensity far better than I could articulate of my own work. This is so exciting!!

A young nurse. An apocalyptic disaster that awakens a dormant gene in a small segment of the population. To a ruthless government bent on morphing into a totalitarian regime, these genes are useful, but Valerie Russell’s even rarer genes are indispensable. Stranded in central Colorado, a hundred miles from home—and from her two-year-old son—Valerie quickly […]

via A novel takes shape: Apparent Power by Dacia Arnold — What Inspires Your Writing?

The Executioner

After ten years, you get used to their screams, their pleas for mercy or forgiveness.  It was not my forgiveness they were after. I got a lump sum and made a decent living on those who found them not worth forgiving. Typically, it was not the offender that lost their life, but I took something dear to them. Sometimes a pet. Other times, not. Never children, though. I did not have a particular fondness for children, but even a killer has her limits.

It was easy for my knife to find its mark between her ribs because she was slender. She was scared. She had cried and pleaded along with her husband. I nodded to her hoping she would understand, but she turned to him instead. It was his fault she was here, but it was a little late for blame. I had never met the man before, and in a few days, his face would turn into a blur like the rest.

I focused on the woman, but the gentleman struggled so much against his restraints that he was hard to ignore. His face twisted in grief as life left his wife’s body. I wondered if he felt guilty for the being the cause of her early demise. I never asked why they wanted a hit done. My clients liked it that way: professional.

 

In a room with the couple tied to separate chairs, big muscle bound men stood near the crying young man while I waited to check her pulse. Stabbing the heart directly is less messy than slitting a throat, but still quite bloody. It takes about three and a half minutes for a human to lose enough blood for the heart to run out of anything to pump, but it is the brain that shuts everything down. Once the brain lacks oxygen rich blood for two minutes, the cells begin to die and the other systems follow. I would like to think that it is not as painful as other ways. Torturous, yes, but it gives them an opportunity to make peace with whatever they believe in. I had requests for far more gruesome tasks, but, again, I did have some morals.

I did not worry about retribution for the things I had done. No one knew who I was. I did not appear as myself, anyway. I removed only my bloody gloves after leaving the room, but never my disguise. I had yet to develop a clean technique. I would like to say this was due to lack of practice. If you needed a contracted execution, you call my alias: John Smith. If you needed a trust fund daughter of a scientist, you call me: Sylvia Gardner.

My father developed technology for the CIA that gave disguises for their agents. This technology changed the actual genetic makeup of the wearer to look, feel, and even smell like a different person. That was how I was able to be John Smith. The Federal Government thought he was an estranged boyfriend. Every time he paid me a visit, my father wired me money to relocate. By my father, I mean the Swiss account my clients used to wire their payments. My relocation fee I included in my price. It was an elaborate cover, but it kept my name clean for a decade.

From the hit in San Francisco, I moved to Memphis. It was a small enough city that my money went far, but big enough that I would not draw attention to myself. Here I could take some time off before taking another job and do some people watching. My favorite place to sit was at the Peabody Hotel. I would grab a glass of wine and sit in the lobby. I liked to guess how people lived. I would muse at what their daily routines were like, guess if their travel companions were spouses or secret lovers. I would get lost in their story, but never pursue. It took more energy than I had to find out if my back stories were accurate. If they spent enough time at the bar, I would get the satisfaction of knowing. Otherwise, I was happy with the fiction I created.

“Is this seat taken?” a male voice asked, startling me out of my daydream.

“No, but there are plenty in the lobby. Must you sit right next to the only person occupying a seat?” I was extremely annoyed with the young man. He was ruining my afternoon hobby. He looked familiar, but he could have been anyone. He could frequent the hotel enough to see me sitting here on occasion. Either way, he was not put off by my disapproval of his company.

“You look familiar.” He said sounding very rehearsed. I could tell he was holding his breath for my response. He was quite a nervous young man, but handsome in his right.

“Come here often,” I replied rolling my eyes. I very pointedly finished my glass of wine and stood to leave. Men complicate things in my profession. I am not above having a fling now and then, but he seemed far too interested and too familiar.

“Wait. Please. I wanted to ask you to dinner.” He jumped up. The desperation in his voice was unsettling.

“Tomorrow night. Seven PM. Meet me here.” I said flatly before continuing my path out of the front door of the hotel. Something inside of me screamed in protest. I knew something was not right. I still needed to figure out where I had seen his face before. I did not care to know his name. I was sure he would tell me in some boring conversation the next evening.

I picked a modest cocktail dress and showed up an hour early to ensure I was the first of the two of us at the hotel bar. That screaming voice inside of me prayed he would not show up. I had spent hours the night before trying to find out who this young man was to no avail. I should have caught his name. I glanced at the clock above the bar. I sipped my wine and slowly spun my seat to face the entrance of the lobby. He still had five minutes, but I suspected he was a gentleman and would not keep a lady waiting.

There he was, standing across the room leaning against a pillar. I imagined that was what it felt like to be caught by your husband cheating. I froze; color left my face. I wanted to run. I wanted to be sick. It was not the young man I saw the day before, but a face I knew better than I knew my own. The only man I dreamt of at night. The only man I ever wanted but could never have was staring at me across the room. He knew me. He was there for me. John Smith.

When we made eye contact, he stood up away from the pillar, straightened his jacket and walked casually over. I knew he was not real. He had to be the young man. I designed John Smith with my father’s technology. He was not a real person, but that meant that the young man knew my secret. He knew who I was. I did not run. It was the only chance I had to take him out first.

“Hello, John,” I said unimpressed. I fought my voice not to quiver. Such a dirty trick to play on a girl.

“Sylvia.” He nodded like an old friend and my throat went dry and I caught my breath. I had to play cool. There were only two ways this could end.

“So are you a thief? Breaking in and stealing a lady’s things?” I wish I had poison to slip into the Scotch he ordered.

“Good guess, but no. It took me years to duplicate your programing. Even in that short time of our meeting I memorized your alias’ face. What I thought was your face.” A job. He had been a job. How did he find me?

“Then you must be CIA. They gave me a hit on an agent. Guess we have similar luck.” Then it came to me. The young man in San Francisco. His wife was the mark. I immediately knew that I would never make it out of that lobby.

“Her name was Grace. We found out that morning that she was five weeks pregnant. I wanted you to know that before you died.”  He did not break eye contact as he told me, with his deep, smooth voice that I listened to some nights to help me sleep. He kept his gaze even as a tear left my eye and fell onto the bar.

I looked down at my wine glass. It tasted the same and went down as easy as ever, but the young man had planted the poison before I even came in. I could feel my throat closing, my pulse slowing, and my head getting heavy. If this were my end, I would end it with this man. He was not my John Smith, but he would do. I reached up, touched his face, and kissed the man I knew so well.

I was the only one I ever loved.

I Wrote a Play for School

So… I found this task very daunting, but I wrote my first play. A friend of mine told me to just change my book into a screenplay, but I think that writing in this fashion leaves too much to interpretation. This is a short 10 minute play written in the genre that I am most familiar: Dystopian. Enjoy!

“The Community” A Play By Dacia Arnold

Characters

JANNETTE, a 40 something year old woman

MICHAEL, JANNETTE’s husband

NANCY, JANNETTE and MICHAEL’s daughter around 20 years old

 

Setting

JANNETTE’s bedroom. Present time.

 

At rise, JANNETTE is swiftly looking for something in the room.

 

Michael stands in the corner by the door watching her.

 

MICHAEL

You’re never going to find it.

JANNETTE

Then why don’t you be so kind as to tell me where you put it.

MICHAEL

If you don’t know where it is, then there is no way for me to tell you where I put it. Even if I

could tell you, I’m not sure I would.

JANNETTE

(Stops searching and looks at MICHAEL unimpressed)

Well now, aren’t you diplomatic? There are only so many places in this room you could have hid it. I will find it eventually. You just sit back and annoy the shit out of me like always.

MICHAEL

What do you need the gun for anyway?

JANNETTE

I have to do it. If I don’t stop her now, you heard what the oracle said would happen.

(JANNETTE continues searching for the gun)

MICHAEL

You can’t mean Nancy. Jannette, you can’t kill your own daughter. OUR daughter. Have you lost your mind?

JANNETTE

(stops cleaning and throws her hands in the air)

What choice do we have? You heard the oracle. If we don’t do something to stop this it would mean complete destruction. The wall will fall, the enemy will get in and all will be lost. I hate that our daughter is the link to complete anarchy, but it is our duty to do what we can to stop it; to preserve this life for generations more.

MICHAEL

Duty. Not a duty to this family. How many times do you have to make that mistake before you realize that killing her is not the only answer. Don’t you love our daughter?

JANNETTE

I love her more than anything I am. I love her more than I can contain in my body. But if we are not able to see passed these things to the bigger picture, it won’t matter how much love we have if we have lost everything.

(sits down on the edge of the bed with her head down)

MICHAEL

Not everything the oracle says come to fruition. You know this or else you would not try to alter the future she saw. Surely there is another way.

JANNETTE

There is no other way that will definitively work. We can’t even risk the slightest chance.

MICHAEL

There is time. We can think this out. We will think of every possibility. What if we send her away to another village?

JANNETTE

How would that stop her from falling in love, Michael? It sure didn’t stop you. You’re her father, you should be an expert in such things.

MICHAEL

I only know what you know, Jan. You can speculate how I think all you want. It is not going

to get us any closer to solving this. We could make her undesirable. Give her a nasty scar or something so no one would want her.

JANNETTE

(laughs quietly)

Undesirable? That girl could have the face of a hound and still be able to charm the boots off any boy in this village. She’s my child you know. We could arrange her marriage to one

of the counsel families.

MICHAEL

(smiles)

See! There you go! I mean, she will never agree to that either, but I’ve got you thinking!

JANNETTE

Have you ever thought, what would happen if that oracle was just full of shit? I know I’m not supposed to say these things out loud, but who are you going to tell? If I said that to anyone else I’d be standing before the counsel for treason. I really don’t think they’d kill their own children, but I also guess that they pay enough money, the oracle would never require it. Soldier’s don’t have hearts. We just do as we are told. What if this whole system is horse shit?

MICHAEL

Then I kind of wish you would have come up this sooner. But all joking aside, what if it is? What if all this oppression is simply to control everyone? Nancy is young, beautiful, and smarter than most of them on that counsel. Is it possible that they feel threatened by her and want her gone? Scared that their sons will fall in love with her and corrupt them like those biddies at the nunnery?

JANNETTE

Then show me where the gun is and I’ll use it on the counsel.

MICHAEL

What happened to your duty, Hun?

JANNETTE

I hate when you call me that. I’m a soldier, not a pet.

MICHAEL

Is it because you can’t forgive yourself?

JANNETTE

It isn’t about forgiveness, Michael. It’s about doing what’s best for the greater good.

MICHAEL

At whose expense? Not theirs. Why do you keep going along with their schemes? How can’t you see how corrupt the counsel is?

JANNETTE

(stands up and begins yelling)

If there wasn’t a system all would be lost! I did what I had to do to protect what we have. I have come to terms that I do not own anything in this life, including you. If my family must be sacrificed for civilization to survive, then that is the price I will pay. You knew what you had going into this. Maybe you should have left me when you had the chance!

MICHAEL

You don’t remember do you?

(JANNETTE looks at him confused)

MICHAEL

You don’t remember why I was banished from my home and forced to your village to become a soldier? I told you why. Is that something you blocked out?

(a tear falls down JANNETTES cheek)

MICHAEL

Because I wouldn’t kill a child in my own village. They killed the child anyway, and then trained me to ensure I would follow orders. I still would never do it. But I never imagined that you would.

JANNETTE

(sobbing)

They told me to. They told me I had to do it. Just like I have to now. We have to maintain the order. It’s our duty.

MICHAEL

It’s YOUR duty, Jan. I’m just here to make you feel better about it.

JANNETTE

But I don’t. I tolerate you because I can’t bear you to go. But I don’t feel better. I feel empty and alone. Why won’t you just understand that I had to and let me be ok with that.

MICHAEL

(angry)

Because as long as you can’t forgive yourself, I will never let you forget how it feels. I keep

coming back so you can keep telling yourself that I never left. But I did, Jannette, and I am

never coming back. When you can be honest with yourself, try being honest with our daughter. I deserve that don’t I? You know she will hate you for what you’ve done. More than you hate yourself!

(JANNETTE walks quickly toward MICHAEL and he fluidlymoves out of the way. She pulls down a picture off the wall to reveal the gun hidden behind it and turns toward MICHAEL)

JANNETTE

She will never know.

(she points the gun at MICHAEL and fires. MICHAEL doesn’t flinch. He stands silently for two seconds and leaves the scene)

 

(NANCY swings bedroom door open)

NANCY

Mom! Are you alright?! What are you doing? Who were you talking to?

JANNETTE

(Without looking from the space where MICHAEL stood, she slowly lowers the gun)

I was talking to your father.

NANCY

Mom, Dad was executed for treason five years ago.

(JANNETTE looks at her daughter and raises the gun again. Lights go down)

NANCY

MOM! NO!

(Gunshot)

 

END OF PLAY.