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#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!

BonusParts A to Z: Baddies



BonusParts from A to Z


For this entry into the BonusParts A to Z, I’m looking at the Baddies: types, ones I’ve enjoyed, and a few specific examples to hopefully tease some interest.

What’s a Baddie?

Generally speaking, baddies are the bad guys (or gals, or nonbinary individuals) who create conflict within my stories. Not every baddie is evil, though. Sure, some are nefarious villains, but others are simply rivals or foils. They are characters of their own, meaning they can have their own backstory, their own moral code, even their own objective within the story.

The Baddie’s purpose is to offer a point of contrast to the Hero. They are an obstacle to a goal. This can range from a charming challenger for a love interest’s affections to a sadistic crazy person out to destroy all of humanity. It all depends on the story.


She recalled the mysterious stranger in the grimy duster. “Is he a bad guy?”

“‘Bad’ is relative,” the man told her.

“Well, what’s he like?”

“Traitorous, sadistic, egocentric.” He sniffed. “Atrocious table manners.”

A Baddie’s badness level often relates to the overall stakes of the story. Your average Romance probably won’t have a baddie who is a serial killer. By the same token, you wouldn’t expect a Thriller to have a baddie whose primary role was as a romantic rival. I’m not saying you can’t have a serial killer who isn’t also a romantic rival, but the stakes need to add up appropriately for the primary genre you’re writing in.


My Baddies and Me


For a long time, I argued against the necessity of baddies. I thought non-corporeal sources of conflict – societal discrimination, accidents, familial responsibilities – could be enough to propel a story forward. The problem is that conflict against something intangible like social mores or a car accident can only go so far. Instead, these kinds of intangibles initiate reactions in characters that then manifest as more personalized conflicts: the potential lovebirds facing prejudice due to their racial differences. The hero battling his demons of self-doubt. The heroine trying to reconcile her relationships with her traditional family and her nouveau riche boyfriend.

It wasn’t until I looked back on these stories (Sixes and Sevens, Fearless, and 1 More Chance!, respectively) that I realized that a story’s baddies could reside within my goodies. Totally valid, and lots of fun to write. But not as much fun as an actual Baddie.

A Rundown of Recent Baddies

I’m going to highlight some examples of baddies in my novella, Number Seven and the Life Left Behind, which anyone can read if they so choose. [Purchase link; opens in a new tab.] The story’s main protagonist, Number Seven, encounters a few different types of antagonists throughout his adventure:

  • Number Fourteen is an adversary to Seven. She does her job, but she does it with cruelty, and she’s got a pretty mean streak. She’s designed to be unlikable.
  • Number Twelve is a counterpoint to Seven. He’s a jaded professional who doesn’t really care about anything anymore. I created him to show that Seven’s working world is full of a lot of different people, and not everyone who disagrees with him has been corrupted. Some of them are just tired.
  • Number Nine is Seven’s rival, of sorts. She’s as good if not better an agent as he is, though she is portrayed as being more severe. She’s a foil to his endeavors. I wanted her to be a competent but frustrated woman fighting for respect in a predominantly man’s world. Seven doesn’t see her as an enemy except for the situation they’re in, and that’s what really makes her dangerous.
  • Number Two is the story’s straight-up villain. He’s Seven’s opposite in nearly every way. He’s vindictive, malicious, manipulative, and pompous, a man who will allow or do anything for sake of the grand plan, no matter who it hurts or how.

Not only did these characters serve separate purposes, they also offered diverse perspectives on the world in which the hero lives. And they were all a sheer delight to write. They are still baddies, though, and do not take the place of the hero. I’m not saying antagonists can’t have their own stories or their own motivations; some of the best are those whose points of view we can understand. But your story’s baddie is not the same as your story’s hero. Otherwise, it would be a different story.

Do you like writing Baddies? What kinds of Baddies do you prefer to write or to read? Let me know in the comments!