A little over one year ago, I started the story of Number Seven when a friend of mine sent me a writing prompt for a contest. That prompt was “Awakenings”, and that’s what I called this story through its entire first draft. What I didn’t quite realize was that Seven’s awakening would lead to an awakening for me, as well.
It took me about six months to write the first draft, then another five or so months to take reader feedback and get it edited. At just about 33,000 words, it’s far short of the 80,000-word average for a novel, meaning that no traditional editor, agent, or publisher would give it the time of day. But I didn’t want to double the length of the story with extraneous subplots or details; I always liked that it read relatively quickly. So when Amorphous Publishing Guild (APG) came to me with an opportunity to self-publish, I took it. With APG, I got to publish my story on my terms. No doubt there are folks out there who think the way I published this story is wrong, hurting my brand, not exposing it to enough readers…but we each have to follow our own paths.
I respect and admire my writer friends who are dedicated to their goals of a book deal and big-time representation. That is impressive! It’s not for me, though. I write stories that speak to and through me, and the strictly business side of publishing doesn’t much interest me. Sure, I’d like to make back in sales what I spent on production and editing costs, but I really like my day job, too. For me, writing stories is about personal joy. By sharing the story, I hope to entertain others and bring them a little bit of joy, too.
Reading the Story
To pick up your own copy of my thriller short story “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”, choose from the following versions:
For countries not the US or the UK, you can search for “Mayumi Hirtzel”. If the book is not available in your country but you’d still like a copy, let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure we work something out!
If you decide to give it a read, thank you! I hope you enjoy the story of Seven and his friends. And look for more stories from me in the future!
Once again, I hadn’t planned on writing a holiday story. But sometimes a line or scene or emotion gets stuck in my head, and I have to put it down on paper. Scroll to the end to skip straight to my notes, or read my 2018 holiday story, “Heritage”, below.
Christmas eve day meant that work had been crazy, traffic on the Loop had been a mess, and last-minute wine shopping had been a really bad idea, but Daniel Wright somehow made it home before Rob got back from his veterans’ group holiday coffee party. He’d had the foresight to prep the roast chicken Rob had requested for their quiet holiday dinner, and the shallots and potatoes would be a quick, easy bake alongside. That meant he could grab a hot shower, open the bottle of Beaujolais – recommended by his brother Marshall, whose knowledge of wines rivaled a sommelier’s – to breathe, maybe even queue up a playlist populated with some of Rob’s relaxing jazz favorites before the evening would get busy. Or, at least, before they would get busy for the evening.
Daniel snickered to himself as he opened the front door,
only to falter on the threshold when he smelled the unmistakable aroma of
“Rob?” he called, but it was Paige who called back.
Daniel blinked, set the wine on the table next to the door,
and walked into the living room with his coat still on. Paige was sitting in front
of the fireplace, coaxing a flame with a bundle of sticks while Buckle rolled,
purring, beside her.
“What are you doing here?” Daniel asked.
Paige looked round at him. “Making a fire.”
“That, I can see,” Daniel said with a half-hearted roll of
his eyes. “I meant, aren’t you supposed to be with your mum?”
“I wanted to come home.” Her green eyes glimmered at him. “That’s
He felt abruptly shamed. “Of course!” He crossed to her and joined
her on his knees, taking her in a quick hug. “You just surprised me. We weren’t
expecting you until the 28th.”
She stayed close to him, smelling of sandalwood soap, and
shrugged. “Well, Brad had a heart attack.”
Daniel jerked back. “Oh, my God! Is he all right?”
Paige shrugged again. “He didn’t die or anything,” she said,
rather coolly. “My mom kind of freaked out, though.”
“I can imagine,” Daniel mumbled, even if he couldn’t quite; Paige’s
mother had always projected an air of supreme – and haughty – control in every
interaction he’d ever had with her. That wasn’t saying much, of course, being
the man her ex-husband had married.
He was about to ask what had happened when the front lock
clicked, the door swung open, and Rob called:
“Babe? You here?”
“We’re in the living room,” Daniel returned.
“Buck with you?” Rob said, when he stopped in the entryway
at sight of Paige. A confused grin split his all-American face. “Hey, kiddo!
What are you doing here so early?”
“Brad had a heart attack,” Daniel said.
Rob’s reaction was to shrug one shoulder from his jacket and
grunt. “Huh. That’s too bad.”
Daniel pulled a face. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
“It’s not like I’m married to him,” Rob replied in a grumble
before flinging off his jacket and opening his arms for his daughter. “You
Paige rose and crossed to his welcoming embrace, pressing
her cheek to his chest. “Yeah.”
“You want to talk about it?” Rob asked.
Paige drew back with a twisted-lipped grimace. “What’s there
to talk about? He tries his best, but those kids run him ragged. I offered to look
after Bailey and Dex, but Mom said that’s what she pays Alexis for.”
Rob met her expression with a frown of his own. “Did you
want to stay?”
“Not really.” Paige let go a little sigh as she bent to Buckle,
reaching out with her mechanical hand to scratch him behind one ear. She smiled
a bit for his murmuring purr, and said, “I mean, I didn’t want to just bail,
but she was all, ‘Oh, honey, it’s going to be so crazy here,’” she said, affecting
a sneer for her loose mimicry of her mother. “‘Why don’t you just go back to
your dad?’” She lifted her shoulders one more time. “So I was like, ‘All right,
fine. You don’t want me here, change my flight and I’ll go home.’”
A pang of love urged Daniel to comfort her. “I’m sure that’s
not what she meant.”
But Paige just rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I feel bad for
Brad – he’s a nice guy – but I couldn’t hang around just Mom bossing around the
kids, and Alexis, and a bunch of hospital folks, on top of everything else.”
Rob smiled and stroked her hair, once. “Well, you’re always
welcome with us.”
Paige smiled, wider and somewhat sadly. “You don’t mind me crashing
your holiday date dinner?”
“Not at all,” Daniel assured her, and grinned. “It’s a big
“You want to help?” Rob asked.
Paige shot him her familiar snarky snigger. “I thought
Daniel cooks this dinner.”
Rob puffed. “I make the potatoes.”
“And he pours the wine,” Daniel added.
“Oo!” Paige goggled her eyes. “Can I have wine, too?”
“Sure,” Rob said, and beckoned her to the kitchen.
Daniel followed them, foregoing the notion, now, of the
shower and playlist in favor of spending time with his two most-loved. The
three of them together – with Buckle predictably underfoot – made meal
preparation go faster, easing them into a pleasantly conversational mien about all
“Where’s Marshall?” Paige asked as she took over sieving
duty from Rob.
Daniel didn’t look up from slicing apples for the salad. “He
and Caitlin took the kids to Cleveland.”
“What’s in Cleveland?” Paige asked with an expected level of
“Caitlin’s folks,” Daniel told her.
“They wanted to go there instead of here,” Rob said, and
Daniel could hear him making his condescending face for what would come next. “Apparently,
Chicago is too scary for them.”
“That’s not what she said,” Daniel chided softly.
“They just don’t want to be on your brother’s home turf,”
Paige hummed as she returned to work on the potatoes. “I don’t
know why they don’t like Marshall.”
“I can think of a few reasons,” Daniel mumbled, mostly to
himself. Rob must have heard him, though, because Daniel immediately felt a light
slap of towel against his hip. He snickered. “They’ll be back on the 28th.”
“Because Marshall can’t spend more than three whole days
with them?” Paige guessed, and they all laughed.
Daniel moved over to the sink to wash his hands, sparing a
glance at the oven timer. “Chicken should be ready in about ten minutes. How
“Almost done,” Paige said, scraping her spatula over a final
layer through the sieve.
“Mind if I grab a fast shower?” Rob asked; he was already
headed toward the doorway.
Daniel nodded him on. “Go ahead.”
“But you’re doing dishes!” Paige called after him.
“That’s what you think!” Rob cried back gleefully, followed
by the thud-thud sound of him taking the steps two at a time to the second
“We’ll run the dishwasher tonight,” Daniel said in
Paige tilted her head toward a shoulder. “I don’t really
mind washing. I just hate drying.” Finished with her job, she licked the spatula
and tossed it into the sink. “What’s next?”
Daniel pressed his mouth into a brief but suitably scolding
line before offering her a more tolerant smile. “Just the table. Get the wine
glasses, please? The good ones, from the hutch. I’ll get cutlery.”
He started to move toward the dinnerware drawer when the
sudden press of her body against his back made him stiffen in surprise. She put
her arms around him a moment, squeezed, and said:
“I love you.”
He chuckled. “I love you, too, sweetheart.” As she released
him, he turned, facing her with an uneasy and uneven grin. “Are you all right?”
Her face, beautiful with youth and hope, glowed with
affection. “You’ve always treated me like a regular person. Even with this,”
she said, waving her mechanical prosthetic arm. “My mom…!” She swung her gaze to
the ceiling, shook her head, and exhaled an exasperated little breath. “I love
her but… You know she still makes me use plastic glasses? I get why she has
them – the twins are still little – but I’m nineteen! I know how to handle a
glass glass! I’m not going to fumble and break them. Or, at least, you know,
not more often than she would.”
Daniel drew his own labored breath.
Getting between Paige and her mother was always a complicated
and dangerous prospect. Rob had no trouble with it, but he was Paige’s father;
he had equal claim to her upbringing. Daniel was a latecomer, though, and a
non-traditional one, at that. He tried his best to be fair to Paige’s mother…as
much as his hackles might rise in defense of the girl who was his daughter by
way only of marriage.
“I know what your arm is capable of,” he said softly, “because
I helped build it.”
“It’s more than that.” Her whole body tensed with a kind of
quiet, barely-held-in anger. “I know there’s stuff I can’t do with my arm. But
there’s lots of stuff I can! She looks at me, and it’s like I’m…broken. And I hate that.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way around her.” He held her
shoulder and dipped his chin. “But you should never feel that way around us.”
As she looked up at him, her smile returned. “I know. And, I
don’t.” She closed her eyes and shook her head again. “This whole thing with
Brad, it made me think.” She raised her eyes to him once more. “If anything
ever happened to my dad, I could still live with you, right? You wouldn’t make
me go be with my mom?”
It felt like an intangible hand reached into his chest and clutched
his heart for a pulse-stopping pause. He blinked to keep tears from forming.
“Of course, I’d want you to stay with me!” He gave a gentle
chuckle. “But, you’re an adult, now—”
“I know,” she drawled in her still-teenage know-it-all voice.
“I know, legally, the custody stuff doesn’t mean anything, anymore.” She inhaled
with an air of resolve that straightened her posture and lifted her chin. “But you’ve
always felt like family, to me. More than my mom does, now.” She twisted her
mouth to one side. “I don’t think I even want to go back to St. Louis, anymore.
It’s like, she’s got her life there, and I’ve got my life here, with you and
Dad. You know?”
He nodded and smiled; the pressure in his throat and behind
his eyes was almost overwhelming. Despite that, he managed to get out without
his voice cracking, “I do.” He pulled a slightly-stuttering breath and looked
around. “I think I left the good napkins in the dryer. Do you mind taking care
of glasses and plates while I run up and get them?”
She beamed. “Sure,” she said, and bounced out of the kitchen
toward the dining room.
Daniel hurried around the short side of the room to the
stairs, rushing up them faster than Rob had done. He stumbled into the laundry room
nearly in gasps, and flung open the dryer to grab one of the limp linens, which
he pressed to his face to muffle his sudden and uncontrollable sobbing,
Rob’s hushed murmur made Daniel sniffle and turn. His husband
was in typical date-night dinner-in wear – a crewneck tee shirt and jogging
pants – but his face was blanched with worry.
“What’s wrong?” Rob asked, opening both arms.
Daniel stepped into them, at once calmed and uplifted in
that loose but powerful embrace. “Nothing,” he said against Rob’s cheek, rough
“You’re crying into our good napkins over nothing?” Rob said
Daniel sniffed and let out a shaky breath. “I wish I hadn’t
been afraid to adopt Paige when she was little.”
Rob blew a sigh close to his ear. “It wasn’t worth fighting
with Serena over, trust me,” he murmured against Daniel’s cheek. “And you were
still there for her. She still thinks of you as her dad.” He stroked the other
side of Daniel’s face. “So do I.”
Daniel stood straight with another sniffle and a still-slightly-weepy
smile. “I’m lucky to have you, Mister McAllister. And that amazing daughter of
“I’m lucky to have you and yours, too, Doctor Wright,” Rob
said, and bumped their heads together.
A staccato clomping signaled Paige’s arrival up the stairs.
“Hello-o-oh?” she called. “Are we eating, or what?”
“Be right there,” Rob told her, still holding on.
As Paige’s clomping tread retreated down the steps again, Daniel
drew up. “Our amazing daughter.”
Rob nodded. “Our amazing, impatient, opinionated daughter.”
They blinked, looked at each other, and said at the same
I’ve mentioned before how my sister and I used to write stories on Christmas eve/Christmas morning, to keep ourselves occupied before we were allowed to rush down to the presents tucked under the tree. Those years – and stories – are long gone, but I’ve renewed the tradition in recent years, if only for myself, and if only to stay in touch with my writing.
I always seem to return to the crew of my “Finding Mister Wright” universe for these holiday stories. I suppose because I wrote the very first “Finding Mister Wright” novella over the winter break of 2013, in a rush of words and emotion. In the five years since, I’ve written 27 stories starring these characters. Later stories (including this one) have swung the spotlight from the original Mister Wright Marshall to the McAllister/Wright family of Rob, Paige, and Daniel. Which is only fitting, I suppose, since Rob and Paige were the initial inspiration for a 2012 NaNoWriMo that never happened.
These stories are about family life and love, though they may not be the kind of life and love that everyone considers “normal” or “regular.” But then, what’s “normal”? What’s “regular”? Everybody deserves a chance at happiness, no matter how different one may look to any other of us. That’s especially true during the holidays.
Are you writing any stories for the holidays? Feel free to share in the comments below!
National Novel Writing Month does not inspire me the way it once did. I’ve participated in the race to 50,000 words many times over, each time writing a new story that sometimes became something more, and sometimes not. NaNoWriMo is really an exercise in forming writing habits, though, not so much about the novel or story itself. At least, that’s what it’s been for me.
I’ve long since proven to myself that I can write everyday. I may not write the 1700-ish words you need to average every day in order to finish NaNo, but I do write everyday. Some days, it’s 1000 words. Other days, it’s no more than 100. But the habit is with me, now, and it’s one I can’t shake. I suppose I can thank NaNo for that.
This November, I’m concentrating less on writing from scratch and more on rewriting. Rewrites for the following stories, to be exact:
Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens: My sci-fi space western about a group of misfits searching the galaxy for freedom, adventure, and one lost love. This one has been in rewrite hell for almost three years, now, it’s time I got seriously cracking on it again.
Finding Mister Wright: My coming-of-age not-exactly romance starring the original Mister Wright, Marshall, on his journey of self-discovery to be the better man.
Number Seven and the Life Left Behind: My most recent political action story focused on a bodyguard torn between duty, friendship, love, and country.
I’m focusing my energies on making progress on all of these stories in one way or another. I’m already in pretty good shape! “Number Seven” is in the hands of my husband right now. His feedback should be the last step before I’m ready to upload that one to the printer. “Finding Mister Wright” has gone through a chunk rewrite, with the last chapter in its final stage of revision. “Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens” requires the most work, seeing as it’s a near 90% update edit, but I’ve had some plans percolating for a while now that I’m confident I can transcribe to paper.
I wish all of you out there pushing forward with your NaNo stories all my best. I know what a challenge it can be to make the time to write every day! But believe me, once you get yourself in the habit of writing, you’ll be a stronger writer for it. Here’s a blank version of the spreadsheet I’ve used in years past to track and calculate my NaNo progress: NaNo_calculations-blank. For those of you not joining the NaNo race, what are your writing plans for this month?
Back in 2014, I joined the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) excitement with a sequel of sorts to an earlier tale, From Hell (A Love Story). FH(ALS) was a raunchy space opera in which I tried to build a bigger backstory for Axton, the running-and-gunning bounty hunter from the 2012 video game Borderlands 2. Part of that backstory was the creation of an original character, Hal, an early (pre-game) partner of Axton’s. I wrote FH(ALS) between late 2012 and early 2014, but I had such fun building that world and the characters in it, I decided to return to that timeline with a host of new adventurers in November of 2014, for NaNoWriMo. The new story was called “The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens”, and I pounded out that sucker free-form over those wild 30 days, plus an additional six months to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.
I posted my day-to-day progression of HLIB on a separate side blog. If nothing else, this process kept me accountable to my projected NaNoWriMo wordcount. Only one person read it…that I knew of. Several days ago, I received an email – more than three years after I’d finished the story – from another apparent HLIB reader:
HLIB, Take 2
Over the course of the next few years, I wrote a lot more stories following the timeline and characters of “The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens”. When I looked at the original story, though, I found it suffered from the high-octane intensity of being a product of NaNoWriMo. The bones of the story I wanted to tell were there, but it needed work. A lot of work.
I sequestered the original story and put it in my archives, and started on a new and – hopefully – improved version. That version is Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens. It has become a significantly different story since I started the rewrite, with more characters, more conflicts, and more complications. It’s also become a lot more fun to be in that world, for those reasons.
HLIB principal characters – height comparison chart – doodle by Mayumi Hirtzel/bonusparts
Regarding that one interested reader’s original question – if I have plans to bring this story out again – the answer is, yes. Will it be the same story? No. Will it be better than it was before? Possibly. Have I enjoyed being in that universe again? Definitely.
I don’t know if readers will like the new HLIB, especially those who are familiar with the original version. I can only try to tell the most interesting story that I’m able to do. It will be a rollercoaster, though. I’ll be sharing more of this story – and my journey writing, or, rather, rewriting it – over the coming months. In the meantime…
Have you ever returned to a story for a rewrite, after a hiatus? Did that story change just a little, or a lot? Did you like the final product more, or less, than the original? Let me know in the comments below!
In the last days of December 2017, a friend pointed me toward a writing competition. The theme for the competition was “Awakenings”. The group that posted the competition welcomed all genres, with a great desire for romance and speculative fiction, among others. I’ve written romance in many forms over the years, from the simple to the unapologetically raunchy. I had only a few days before the deadline, but I’d come up with – what I thought at the time – a straightforward love story set in a pseudo-familiar setting, and one I could finish pretty quickly.
Then I actually started to write it.
What poured from my brain was a twisty-turny, upside-down-reality tale of love, duty, patriotism, relationships, even politics(!) that took nearly a full five months to finish. It wasn’t what I had first planned, and it veered a lot from my original plot. But one lesson I’ve learned through writing fiction is that, when I allow the characters to speak freely, they will forge their own path. More often than not, that path is more satisfying than any I may have planned at the start.
Seven, like so many of my original characters, embraced his being-ness with so much quiet strength and determination, it overwhelmed me. I could think of no other story or character for those five months I wrote. In fact, writing became almost like transcribing. Many times, it felt like he was standing at my shoulder, telling me who should do what and what should happen next. That letting-go is one of the most joyful feelings I’ve experienced as a writer.
Dour Number Seven, a doodle by me.
I said I wouldn’t apologize for Seven’s story, and I won’t. He took me on a new journey into personhood, one I hadn’t considered before. I grew with him, and because of him. He made me open my eyes a little bit wider to the world around me. He’s a bit suspicious, as I am, and he’s quite the serious individual, as I can be. But he also has to trust himself, a lesson I took to heart along the way, too.
I’ve posted this story for free because it’s a project I want to share with people. I am working on a hardcopy version, and when that’s available, I’ll be sure to share that news. In the meantime, if my story moved you at all, I’d encourage you to take a moment to consider where you are in the world today, and what struggles you see, nearby or faraway, hidden or in plain sight. Everywhere, there are people fighting the good fights: for freedom, equality, and love. This story is for them. And for me, and for you, because we’re all in this together.
A writer rarely creates a story in a vacuum. People influence us in their own ways. Sometimes, that influence makes it onto the page. Sometimes, it helps us just get to the page in the first place.
Thank you to Suefor giving me the impetus to write this story.
Thank you to Chasefor joining me for the ride.
Your thoughtfulness and support means a lot to this lonely writer. 🙂
In late December 2017, a friend directed me to The Book Smugglers ‘Awakenings’ Writing Contest. The idea behind the contest – a speculative fiction short story/novella based on the theme of “awakening” – intrigued me, so I kicked around some possible ideas before one particular concept clicked. Here’s the very first original sentence I wrote for it:
At first, I thought I could pull it off before the December 31 deadline: a short story about agent Seven and his handsome young charge, navigating the adventures of first lay and first love. But, as so often happens when a character grabs my imagination, Seven’s story became larger, more complex, and demanded more words. And more time. The deadline passed, and I had written only a fraction of the story Seven wanted me to tell. A new character entered the mix. An existing character wanted a bigger role. The main supporting character had a change of heart. And everyone’s conflicts came to a joined head that put all of them in danger from a common enemy.
The things we do for love (of a story).
So, what happened? Well, I wrote it all: every character, every subplot, every conflict. I put it all down in my main document and kept pressing toward that goal of writing The End. Far longer than I’d originally intended – five months and three days, to be exact – I finished this story. It went through changes, updates, even some 180-degree turns. But, I love it.
I’ve always thought that stories are better when they’re shared, even the flawed ones. This one, no doubt, has its flaws, but in my experience, flaws are easier to see when you open them up to other eyes. So, I’m opening this story up to you, my friends and fellows. It didn’t succeed in its original purpose (that is, for submission to that Book Smugglers writing contest), but it did succeed in fulfilling my hopes for a new story.
~More than “Just a Job”~
My original thematic catchphrase for this story was “Just a Job”, and, if you decide to read it, you’ll probably see why. As the words – and weeks – went on, though, I decided that wasn’t the most descriptive title. In its place, I’m calling this one “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”. (My other idea was “More Than the Sum”…but that titles was already taken by somebody on Goodreads. And if I ever decide to post this story there, I want it to stand out.)
Over the coming month, I’ll be posting each section/chapter of “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” here on this website. Starting June 7, you can read a new section every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. If you’re on my subscriber list, I’ll be turning off email update notifications for the individual story posts. But, I’ll be linking to them in my various social media feeds. At the end of the updates, I will collect all sections into a single document suitable for download or reading on your e-device. (psst! There’s even a chance I’ll put it into real book form, for both your and my shelf!) As for the story itself, you can “Like” or comment or not; that is always your choice. I’m just interested in sharing Seven’s story.