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A Prologue, Perhaps?

I’m still working on my occult detective story. A problem I ran into is that the original draft started with the protagonist (Isa) and did not present to the reader a body, as the genre is meant to do. I’m not averse to playing against genre rules in my fanfiction, but for a story I am interested in publishing someday soon, I figure I need to adhere more closely to what’s expected of me. My writer/editor friend Kate Johnston suggested a prologue.

I hashed this out in an afternoon. My hope is that it provides the reader with the body necessary to get this occult murder mystery adventure started. If you’re interested, take a look and let me know what you think?


Prelude to a ghost story

Prelude to a ghost story



For Round 2 of the July 2023 TeamWriter Writing Challenge, we had to write the first 250 words of a story based on a first line from Round 1. I chose to expand on this line: The house on Peachtree Avenue had a history of ghosts and strays. While I knew a ghost would have to come into it at some point, I needed a push for the rest. As is usual for me, an afternoon walk provided some inspiration.


My idea for two “strays” was a pair of young lovers. I wanted to write dialogue, but I also wanted to write a sex scene. (I have simple tastes.) I’ve been writing a space opera story that does have sex in it, but I’ve had a hankering to write something a bit more raunchy than what takes place there. I came up with some names – Kalle and Isa – and just started writing. With a sex scene in mind, the words flowed freely. It felt great. You can read those first 250 words here.

While those first 250 words to the story came easily, I got to the reveal too early. These young lovers never really got to the lovin’! So, I jumped into a longer telling, this one with more in-depth description. If you’re interested, you can read the first draft below. Now, this was before I outlined the overall plot, so this first draft has some elements that will probably change in a more complete writing. But it’s got some fun stuff, and I had a blast writing it. I hope you enjoy it, too. (more…)

#TeamWriter Challenge: Round 3 – The Dreaded Synopsis

Round 3 in the July 2023 #TeamWriter Challenge was to take one of the story starts from Round 2 and write a synopsis. I had never done a true story synopsis, so at first I wrote out an entire plot outline for my chosen story start. After I read a few articles and watched a couple of videos, I realized I’d done it the wrong way, so I then went back and tightened up my outline A LOT to fit the parameters of the challenge. It was a great learning process, though! At the end, I have a reasonably complete plot outline as well as a halfway decent story synopsis.

Here’s the tighter synopsis I shared with the #TeamWriter group for critique:

Isa Keene, newly minted law school graduate and next in line in the prominent Keene legal dynasty, just wants to rekindle her long-deferred love affair with Kalle Swift when their tryst at the abandoned house on Peachtree Avenue is interrupted by the sudden brief appearance of the ghost of Kalle’s mother, Rona.

Rona won’t tell them why she’s there, and Kalle won’t rest until his mother’s ghost can. For the sake of both their hearts, Isa decides to help. Together, she and Kalle work to unravel the reasons behind Rona’s ghost: what happened when she died ten years ago, why she appears at Peachtree Avenue, and how to satisfy her troubled spirit. Standing in the way are Isa’s uncle Heath, the town sheriff who wants her to stay out of police business, and Isa’s mother Elise, the Keene matriarch who will do anything to ensure the prominence of their family name.

Isa and Kalle’s investigation of Rona’s death leads them through a twisted, hidden history entangling both their families, overflowing with forbidden passions, conspiracies and lies, and powerful people willing to kill to keep their secrets safe. In the end, Isa finds justice for Rona but at the cost of learning some horrifying truths about her family, and that the value of the Keene name is only as good – or as terrible – as their actions.

As they watch the demolition of the house on Peachtree Avenue, Isa and Kalle embark on a new path as paranormal investigators, Keene and Swift. Rona’s ghost appears a final time, smiles, and fades away.


Isa (Elisabeth) Keene – Principal protagonist and POV character.

Kalle Swift – Secondary protagonist and Isa’s love interest.

Heath Keene – Isa’s uncle and the town sheriff. Antagonist.

Rona Swift – Deceased. Kalle’s mother. Died ten years earlier, reportedly in a hit-and-run accident. Appears only.

Elise Keene – Isa’s mother and the authoritative town judge. Antagonist.

Sherell Bisley – Reclusive psychic. Supporting character.

Nicklas Braun – Contemporary of Isa and Kalle and sheriff’s deputy. Supporting character, minor foil.

Frank Markowski – Deceased. Isa’s father and Elise’s husband (Elise kept her maiden name and passed it on to Isa for legacy reasons). Died nine years earlier, reportedly due to asphyxia caused by a drug overdose. Mentioned only.


At the start of the story, Isa is indifferent to her family name and the privilege it provides. She resents it for the way people tease her about it. She simply wants to start her romance with Kalle in earnest now that he’s finally home. Her investigation into Rona’s death reveals the power her family has wielded over the town and how it has controlled its secrets for a decade. Isa learns that the influence of a family name can be important, especially when used for the wrong reasons. For the right ones, too, though, if someone like her is willing to make the change. As people in town are fond of saying, “Nobody says no to a Keene.”

#TeamWriter Challenge: 3 Story Starts

Round 2 of the July 2023 #TeamWriter Challenge required us to choose 3 of our 50 First Lines and expand them into 250 words of a story start. Here are mine…

#TWWC 1: Number 18: In case you’re curious, the number of dogs it takes to build a spaceship is twelve.

In case you’re curious, the number of dogs it takes to build a spaceship is twelve. Their lack of opposable thumbs was a challenge to construction, at first, but they quickly overcame that shortcoming. Dogs are pack animals, you’ll recall, and the value of being in a pack is that no one member ever works alone. They are consummate teambuilders, at the top of the solidarity hierarchy, dedicated and devoted enough to the whole to put even the most rabid communist to shame.

Cats, on the other hand, are strikingly self-indulgent. They don’t appreciate group think, nor do they enjoy participating in committee. They are, frankly, terrible at meetings. Sit a cat in front of an executive board and they’re more likely to unabashedly clean themselves rather than stick to an agenda or listen to a report. And they wholeheartedly despise middle management.

So it should have come as no surprise to anyone that the dogs’ spaceship, christened Laika at its unveiling, made it from prototype to production in record time. On the other hand, Morris, the cats’ rocket ship endeavor, lingered on the drawing table months after Laika made its first successful orbit of Mother Earth.

Snowball watched the replay of Laika completing its initial run on her computer screen. Next to her, the Morris plans lay forgotten, marked only by a puddle of spilled water from some idiot intern.

“Bitch,” Snowball mumbled, and started to scratch out a new plan.




#TWWC 2: Number 37: The sun never touches us, down here.

The sun never touches us, down here. We wake in the dark, hunt in the dark, learn in the dark, and dream in the dark. We even make love in the dark. Or at least, they do. I prefer the dim, that middle depth where one can sometimes see, when they look up, shadows of our majestic past: giant floating structures made from steel and glass, called tytanniks.

Only the elders remember when we rode the tytanniks, and even then only through stories. There was a great war, and a tytannik fell from the sun. Many died, but a few survived. They learned to live in the dark, little by little. They mated and made young, and those young learned more. It took generations, but now, we do everything in the dark. Except me.

I like the light. It’s too bright for my eyes unguarded, but I like watching the shadows it makes in the rippling sky. Sometimes, it’s a tytannik; usually, only another creature of the dark. But every so often, a small shadow sets out above. It has lines and curves and moves like no other, twirling and rolling and spreading its limbs in free motion. It calls to me in a way I’ve never felt before. I’ve always wanted to see one up close.

Today, I will.



#TWWC 3: Number 44: The house on Peachtree Avenue had a history of strays and ghosts.

The house on Peachtree Avenue had a history of strays and ghosts. The strays came in all shapes and sizes: animals seeking shelter, vagrants needing a dry place to sleep, even lovers in search of a spot for romantic rendezvous.

Kalle and Isa were two such strays, divided by class and county lines. Having discovered the house as children playing on the edge of the encroaching forest line, they recalled it as a place of games of hide-and-seek and double-dares. For adults, its empty rooms and remote location offered a clandestine comfort.

Isa hugged herself at the threshold while Kalle made up the bedroll under the single unwebbed window. “Creepy.”

“But private,” he said, returning to fold both arms around her.

Isa shivered. “I heard people used to…do things here.”

“The same things we’re going to do, I bet.”

“Maybe we should just get a motel.”

“If your uncle finds out that I checked into a motel with his precious only niece, he’ll throw me right back into his jail cell.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have pissed on the deputy’s truck.”

“Maybe he shouldn’t have called me a Cherokee tomahawk chucker! Which isn’t even accurate, because my mom was Ojibwe.”

The outburst flared in her a different feeling, one that made her damp. “I love it when you’re passionate.”

He reclaimed the moment with a smile. “You do, huh?” He kissed her then. In minutes, they were on the bedroll, half-naked and huffing, until Isa saw the ghost and screamed.

#TeamWriter Challenge: 50 First Lines

Recently, Kate Johnston over at the Facebook #TeamWriter group challenged us to write 50 First Lines. Kate recommended setting a 1-hour timer so we don’t get too involved in perfectionism. I needed 3 hours to go all the way to fifty, but I did it! Here are my offerings…

  1. “Maybe we should just get an abortion.”
  2. Jonno and Al found the body in the river, but Daisy found the head in her garden.
  3. Earthers knew how to kill better than most species in the galaxy.
  4. What had I done in my last life, I wondered, to get reincarnated as a cat?
  5. A terrified shriek snapped Sam’s senses into combat mode.
  6. Brown, bespectacled, and betrothed, he wasn’t at all what she wanted, but he was there.
  7. Smoke filled the valley as fire encroached on all sides, yet still the birds were singing.
  8. Looking down from the top of her tower, through a haze of misty clouds, the Princess Amaranth opened the sash of her gown, stepped onto the ledge, and fell, naked, toward the ground.
  9. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned many times against your congregation.”
  10. Australia is a continent of impressive isolation.
  11. The chilly, recycled air smelled of disinfectant, dust, and dead bodies.
  12. The ghosts of her foremothers floated in a circle around her, silent in their judgment, save one.
  13. When man first walked across Mars, he didn’t know what he was disturbing.
  14. All my life, I wanted to be a mermaid.
  15. There isn’t much that’ll make a man say no to romance faster than a gun in the face held by an angry husband fooled one too many times.
  16. The word partner had never held significant meaning for him until he didn’t have one anymore.
  17. Sharon looked around the little kitchen – the stove with the scorched burners, the knives dull in their sheathes, the mess of mixed herbs on the counter – and wondered which would be the best way to kill the father of her unborn child.
  18. In case you’re curious, the number of dogs it takes to build a spaceship is twelve.
  19. On the outside, Lux may have been a man, but on the inside, he was all demon.
  20. After so many years of having the people who lived above not look down, Andy learned not to look up.
  21. “Five robots rampage in a week, Doc, and you don’t think that’s suspicious?”
  22. It was only a matter of time before the trees would organize enough to take over the world.
  23. The whip hit hard and fast across his back, breaking skin and bringing blood, while around him the crowd chanted for more.
  24. Aksel sat in his prison cell watching the crackle of the electric bars but hearing only the echo memory of his daughter’s voice calling for help, calling for him, and how he hadn’t answered.
  25. It was difficult to dance in a wheelchair.
  26. In all her years and all her travels, what set Lil’s pulse to pounding hardest was the forbidden kiss of her best friend’s son.
  27. Farmer Framm had prayed for a boy, so, of course, he’d been blessed with three girls.
  28. No one knows how the baby came to be alone out there in the woods, only that she was found four months old holding a golden apple in her little fist and surrounded by a flock of owls.
  29. Wasted and bleeding from the split in my lip, I fell to the ground in front of the bar, cursing my half-blood heritage.
  30. A good meal is like a good lover: it should make your mouth water and your soul long for more.
  31. The tiny cactus sitting in the office window had never spoken aloud before.
  32. This woman wasn’t my first and wouldn’t be my last, but I was a professional, and professionals always leave their clients happy.
  33. Blood spurted, and someone cried, “Jesus, Jacky, watch where you throw that thing!”
  34. Kalle was hiding in the museum that first night the paintings came to life.
  35. “In the head,” she said as she slipped bullets into the six chambers of her pistol’s cylinder one by one, “is the only way.”
  36. Most people thought pretty, preppy Lizzie Paine was perfect in every way, but Sandy Carter knew the secret she hid under her skirt, and he was ready to tell.
  37. The sun never touches us, down here.
  38. Adam wasn’t the first man to walk in Eden.
  39. On June 30, 2667, the Earth stopped spinning.
  40. Tick-tock went Father Time’s clock while Mother Nature brought the Season Sisters into creation.
  41. For a thousand years, the lizard slept, but then the atom bomb exploded.
  42. I’ll never forget the day I was murdered.
  43. Despite his being human, there were parts of him – parts that Kedeva herself found very interesting – that placed him high on the list of the Queen’s favorites.
  44. The house on Peachtree Avenue had a history of strays and ghosts.
  45. “It’s the end of the world as you know it,” the demon said as it dropped its umbrella on the back of its chair and swung into the seat with a stylish swish of its tail, “so bring me the terrine and your best Beaujolais, tout suite, if you will.”


*** Some less polite first lines follow.


  1. For three nights of every month, I become a monster; for the rest, I’m just a bitch.
  2. I guess I was too distracted by the luscious shape of her ass on that dingy stool in that nowhere bar to notice the pearl-handled revolver attached to her hip, until it was too late.
  3. I didn’t go to the waterfall to kill myself.
  4. “Get up, bitch,” he said, and not for the first time, Anan wished she could put her heavy spanner – the one made for pulling apart ship engines – straight through his hated head.
  5. Never piss off a fairy.

A Surprise Turn, Paying It Forward, and a Special Contest

A few weeks ago, I got a lovely surprise. A person I don’t know shared that they’d read and enjoyed my novella, “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind.” That alone was a nice boost to my ego. Above and beyond that, though, they told me that they’d purchased an additional 10 copies of my book to sell at their store, and offered me an opportunity to do an author meet-and-greet there once this pandemic is over. I mean, wow! I never expected such support. Since that gave me a little windfall, I wanted to pay that good fortune forward.

Enter Kate

Oddly enough, this gift coincided with a neat opportunity from author and editor Kate Johnston. One of the services Kate offers is 1-on-1 writing coaching, and she’s currently (through June 15, 2020) running a “Quarantine Critique Special” – a steal of $25 for 30 minutes of face-to-face Zoom (or voice-to-ear telephone) critique/coaching. This is a fantastic chance for writers to get specified feedback about their work.

Full disclosure: I didn’t hire Kate to go through “Number Seven…” for reasons of my own fear (more on that another time). But I have had her review other stories and snippets of mine, and every piece of feedback I received was insightful and inspiring. Kate is one of those rare editors who genuinely does her best to make YOUR work the best it can be. There is no ego involved, and she NEVER EVER talks down to you. She is a consummate, compassionate professional. She’s also a caring person I’m grateful to call my friend.

The Challenge

I reached out to Kate about her Quarantine Critique Special, and we came up with a short writing prompt contest. The gist: I’m sponsoring 3 free critique slots. Any writer can post a short (~250 words) response to 1 of 2 prompt suggestions, to Kate’s Instagram, Facebook Business Page, or Facebook group Team Writer. Find direct links and full instructions at Kate’s blog post here:

Link to Writing Prompt Challenge at Kate Johnston's blog

Click the image to go to the post

I’ll be tracking submissions, and Kate will be choosing 3 random winners next week, June 2, 2020. So check out the prompts, get writing, and send in your submissions to Kate before the Monday (June 1) deadline! The world needs more writers, and writers need people like Kate.

Good luck!