The Other Man [and another "Finding Mister Wright" Free-Write: "Romance in the Dark"]

My main writing project at the moment has a fair amount of deep-and-dark in it, and when I fear I’m becoming a bit too mired in that sort of thing, I need to take a step back with something a bit more light and flighty. Lately, that’s been the cast of misfit characters from “Finding Mister Wright,” my short story/novella from this past winter holiday break.

I usually write for Marshall’s life when I take up these characters again, but, this time, it was Rob who commandeered my brain. What’s funny is that the original story idea I had for these characters centered around Rob, Paige, and Daniel. In my earliest notes, Marshall barely played a role beyond counterpoint to Daniel. Of course, that changed when I finally started putting voices together in my head, and I found Marshall had a (rather significant) story all his own. The relationship story between Rob and his own family took a backseat to that of the Wright brothers, and Marshall and his loves in particular. But, Rob’s story has remained important, at least to me. He’s just as complicated as Marshall proved to be, but in a way that’s somehow more relaxed.

After my husband read “FMW,” he made the comment that he thought all the characters worked for their own reasons, but Rob was his favorite. “At first,” he told me, “you think he’s just one thing. Then, you learn a little more, and he becomes more than that. And then, there’s [a conversation], and you realize, oh, this guy really has three dimensions to him.” While it might have offered me a greater ego boost to hear my main protagonist was my husband’s favorite character, a part of me was really happy that Rob’s original story shone through in his few scenes, to the point where he made an impression on a reader.

A moment of weakness led to this six-pager (it clocks in at around 2,900 words), which I wrote over three commuter train rides and a lunch hour. It’s rough and a bit scattered, but that’s one of the reasons I find free writing so…well, free. No worries over themes, scope, flow, or any of the important parts of a mature work. It’s just my fingers translating for my brain.

Romance-in-the-Dark” (PDF, 314KB)
I hate to have to offer a warning about this, but be aware: the principal romantic relationship depicted in this particular free-write is about two men. There’s nothing explicit herein, but if you’re uncomfortable with the idea, just skip it and watch the lovely lady in the video below, instead.

The whole thing – Rob’s story, the original idea for “Finding Mister Wright,” as well as this free-write – is heavily inspired by the lovely and awesomely talented Catherine Russell’s rendition of Lil Greene’s jazz standard, “Romance in the Dark,” which you can listen to and watch below. It’s a mainstay in my FMW writing playlist, and I usually hit repeat at least once when it comes up in rotation.

Before we get to Ms. Russell, here’s my question for this week: Have you ever had a minor character hijack a story for his or her own? If so, how did the story turn out?


Flipping the coin

Last time, I talked about writing villains. Everybody had great comments, but Vanessa’s sparked a new idea in me. In my head (sometimes on paper), I have backstories for every character who walks onto my pages for any more than a sentence or two. Most of these backstories are rather simple, because I don’t see the point in spending too much time on a character who is basically just a spaceholder. But for anyone with any significance to the story, they have their own story. But Vanessa’s insight offered me a different perspective: basically, that we storytellers should remember that every good villain is the hero of his or her own story.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your villain needs to have heroic traits. But, their motivations and characterization should come from a place of realism. The best villains are often ones with whom a reader can personally identify. I don’t know if I managed that with the villains illustrated in last week’s post (actually, I doubt it), but it’s a good characterization technique to remember. So, this morning, I drafted up a couple of would-be storylines for each of those principal antagonists, posted below. If nothing else, it was fun to look at them from a new angle. I’d recommend doing something similar for your own antagonists – you never know when you might be struck with new inspiration.

The Red Widow

It’s a man’s galaxy. That’s what they say. Certainly, it seems that way to a girl sold into slavery for men’s pleasure. But this is no ordinary slave girl. This is one who learns from her so-called “masters”: how greedy, vain, and susceptible men are. Especially to a woman’s charms. Justiciar, pirate, or politician: no matter the insignia on their collar or the banner on their ship, men have their weaknesses, and she knows them all. Her marks have called her many names: Anya, Elsbeth, Illia, Una. But the galaxy knows her better as a woman as smart as any justiciar, as savvy as any pirate, as sly as any politician. It knows her as Red Widow. And she’s going to turn this man’s galaxy upside-down.

Into the Light (Lohengrin, the Swan Knight)

Abram had a son, once. A bright, beautiful boy full of possibilities. A gentle boy cherished for his kindness and skill with a tanner’s knife. The air would sing with the strokes of that knife, and wealthy women and men would come from across all districts to watch and buy his work. Abram loved his boy. But the Darkness loved him, too.

One day, that Darkness came for him, in the form of another smooth-faced boy, and lured Abram’s son away. Away, into the Darkness. What choice for a father but to save his only son? And the only way to save him from the dark was to lead him back into the light. With fire.

The Darkness has taken other boys. The Lost Boys, they are. But he will save them. He will take up arms and become their knight, to set them free, body and soul. He will be Lohengrin, the Swan Knight, their savior.

The Body Electric (Reilly)

The Dahl Army gave Reilly everything: a job, a purpose, even something like a family. For twelve fine years, he fought, laughed, caroused, and conquered by the sides of his fellow commandoes and their skilful sergeant. But on what is supposed to be a routine grab-and-go mission on Artemisia, the unthinkable happens: the op goes sour. An explosion and fire burns away half his soldierly body. And what does Dahl do? They dump him like scrap.

When the Hyperion salvage team finds him rotting in an Artemisian infirmary, they see his potential, and make him an offer: Become part of the Body Electric, a soldier enhanced for the technological wars. Of course, a soldier with potential needs a purpose, but Reilly has a purpose: hunt down his old teammates who left him to die, starting with his glory-hungry sergeant, the man responsible for it all.

Every Shot a Kill (Strenk)

Walking around the galaxy with the S&S munitions manufacturer family name stenciled on his uniform has never meant much to Lukas Strenk. Guns are just tools, only as good as the man who holds ‘em. And he is a great man, the best in the Inner Ring. Every shot from Strenk’s Orion rifle is a kill. But even the simplest kills can go wrong. When Galactic Defense redacts his latest target assignment after knowing the job’s already been done, they blame Strenk, of course, never mind his 100% success rate and the value of his name. “Get yourself gone or get yourself dead,” the GD Justiciar tells him. Strenk’s only answer is a bullet.

To hell with the shifting, shifty so-called rules of the Inner Ring. When the galaxy gives you lemons, you shove ‘em straight up its gaping *** and lick the residue from your fingers.


Once again, I think Strenk came out on top as my favorite of these, though I enjoyed the exercise for all. Have you ever flipped the coin on your antagonists? Have you ever found you identify more with a villain than a hero in a story? Let me know!

What value prayer? (Bonus: Another "Finding Mister Wright" Free-Write)

I’ll be honest: religion does not often feature prominently in my stories. I suppose because my own faith is very personal to me, something I don’t always feel comfortable voicing in public. That makes me something of a coward, I guess, but I neither want to invite criticism for my beliefs nor have to engage others in why I believe x or y (but not z). But, as I’ve delved more deeply into the humanity of my characters, I’ve come to realize that they can’t all be just like me. That goes for their ability to be close to the divine as much as it does for their attraction to the darkness.

I’ve always been able to separate myself from my darker characters, the antagonists and villains. Because, while they can be enormous fun to write, I don’t consider myself capable of some of the despicable things they do. Or, I don’t like to consider myself capable. But even my “good” characters have maintained a distance from religion and faith that I think isn’t necessarily indicative of who they can or should be.

Religion is complicated, though. For me, more so than sex, violence, or any other characterization point. Why? Is it because I don’t want to dictate my beliefs to readers? Because I don’t want to be “outed” as being religious in a community where intellect is valued more highly than faith? I don’t want either of those things, to be honest. But I also can’t deny the power of prayer in my own life, so why should I deny it in my stories?

The link below will take you to another “Finding Mister Wright” free-write I did yesterday (~1400 words, 5 pages). I didn’t mean for it to preach anything to anybody. I simply had a notion about the Marshall-that-was that I felt deserved a bit of exploration.

“Namesake” – Another “Finding Mister Wright” free-write

I’ve been putting these in PDF form because I think it should be your choice whether you want to read or not. Not for any sensitive material, but because I know so many of my blogger buddies are on hiatus or simply don’t have the time (or inclination) to read a longish short story that probably doesn’t help them keep to their schedule. 🙂

Do you find your characters represent you, most of the time? Or, do you use them to investigate differences in opinion? Something in between?

Love and Marriage, for all

Overnight station shifts often meant solitude while he waited for a call to come in, a trial Scott considered a lonely necessity at its best and a nerve-wracking tedium at its worst. Some of the other men on the squad appreciated the quiet away from wives and children. Not Scott. Noise and commotion had become a part of his life these last seven months, but it was worth it for the blessing of little Emma.

Finchy wasn’t nearly as exciting to be around as his daughter (or his wife), but he was company to keep the silence and boredom at bay well enough. And, he seemed lonely, of late. He was also a more than passable cook, so his offer of bringing supper to the station to hang out was one Scott couldn’t refuse.

“That was great, mate,” Scott said as he eased back a bit from the duty desk. “Thanks.”

“Sure,” Finchy replied easily, and took a long swig from his water bottle.

Looking at his empty plate, Scott chuckled. “I love my wife, but I’m lucky she knows how to use a microwave. You’ll make some lady very happy, some day.”

Finchy blew a snort from around the mouth of his bottle. “I don’t think there’s any woman to satisfy me that much.”

“You just haven’t found the right one, yet.”

“Yeah,” Finchy muttered in a lazy drawl. “Rub my nose in it.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” Scott told him. “There’s a lot more than just this village, you know. I mean, I didn’t meet Venus here.”

“I know,” Finchy said. “I was there, too.”

Scott fell silent, reminded of that flashy, crowded club on the first night of Newquay’s Blue Surf competition almost three years past, where Finchy had spotted that Black beauty with the killer smile and unflappable attitude. Every member of their crew – save Neville – had tried to pull her, with no success. Of course, the next day, they’d found out she was a surfer in her own right: Vee, they called her, “for Victory,” though she’d introduced herself to Scott in particular as Venus Pritchard. Thinking back on it, now, his scores that comp had been shit…but he’d had a hell of a night in her bungalow to make up for it.

Lost in those memories a moment, he didn’t notice Niall swoop in from the outside and plant himself in the other seat across the desk until he opened his mouth:

“Did you know Nev is-” He dropped his voice. “-a poofter?”

Scott looked at him in mild surprise, while Finchy furrowed his brow and said, “Yeah, I know. And don’t call him that.”

“Whuh-!” Niall said, leaving his mouth hang open a second. “You knew? How long have you known?”

Finchy shrugged. “He told me, like, two years ago.”

Niall pointed at Scott. “Did you know?”

Scott nodded, feeling a bit lame. “Yeah. He told me and Venus a while ago, too.”

Niall fell back against his chair. “Did everybody know but me?” He turned to Finchy. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why?” Finchy said, and raised his brow with sudden interest. “Are you gay, too?”

“No!”

“So, if you’re not interested in him, why should you care?”

Niall paused a second, his face gone blank; Scott figured he hadn’t thought that far. Of course, he didn’t usually think at all….

“Well,” Niall struggled out, now. “What if…What if he fancies me?”

“He doesn’t,” Finchy replied readily.

“How’d you know?”

“Because no self-respecting human – gay or straight – would ever fancy you.

“All right,” Scott muttered, extending one hand. “That was a little uncalled-for. We all have to work together.”

“That is exactly my point!” Niall said, pointing one finger around at them again, as he half-stood from his chair. “I-! I mean, we all are in…very close quarters…a lot, and…well, sometimes, I don’t wear anything under my suit, and what if, you know, when I take it off, that’s, like, too much a temptation for him? Or something?”

“Jesus!” Finchy said, scolding. “He’s not a rapist.”

Niall went from looking ill at ease to pained. “No, I’m not saying that, but-!”

“Listen,” Scott told him in a low voice, leaning across the desk. It felt a bit like speaking with a special needs child, but Niall did have some special need, at the moment. “Nev’s always been this way. You’ve known him for years, and it’s never bothered you before.”

“Well, I didn’t know before!”

“What difference should it make? He’s still Nev. He’s still ace on his board, and he’s still our mate! The way you feel about him shouldn’t change just because you suddenly found out he’s gay.”

Niall paused, as though thoughtful. Scott couldn’t easily tell; the look of contemplation on his face was so foreign.

“Yeah,” Finchy said then. “You’re an idiot, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about you.”

Shooting him a guarded look, Niall murmured cautiously, “How do you feel about me?”

“You’re an idiot,” Finchy repeated, making Scott snort a chuckle under his breath. Then, sitting up from his lackadaisical lean, he added, “And another thing: Whenever you go straight skins under your suit, you don’t take that off in front of any of us. Nobody wants to see that!”

Alianca braille

By Luistravasso (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, news came of the passage into law in England and Wales the ability for same-sex couples to marry. Some stipulations still apply, of course, because government doesn’t make anything easy, these days. But, it’s a step forward toward the equality that should have existed for couples of all variations years ago. Here in the US, the status of a person in general – including marriage – is determined by the individual states, so it creates a much more divided issue, depending where you happen to live.

I won’t get into any controversy of marriage – or laws associated with it – here. The news did prompt me to scribble down this bit of free writing, though, which I always appreciate, no matter what the impetus.

I’ve always seen Scott as “the dad” of the crew. Because he is one, but I also thought his perspective – coming from being in an interracial relationship – gives him an extra insight into other less traditional romances. And, I like the idea of hearing from some of the supporting characters in the story.

As for Niall…. Poor Niall. At heart, he’s a good guy. He’s just…not terribly quick. I hope his struggle with his own articulations, here, paints a picture of someone who’s just a little confused, not truly bigoted, especially against a friend.

Now, it’s stiflingly hot, here, so I’m going to grab my own wetsuit and head for the beach. And maybe I’ll go skins, too.

How do love and marriage figure in your stories, if at all?

Sexism and Hot Stovetops

The wafting aroma of cooking vegetables summoned her from the door to the back kitchen, where she stopped, abruptly.

The dark outline of his form-fitting wetsuit – he seemed to live in the thing – gave the impression of him in silhouette, except for the visible shift of muscle as he traded his balance from one bare foot to the other. It created all sort of fascinating dips and rises, stealing her attention from shoulders to bum to legs…then back to bum again.

“Yummy,” she said, mostly under her breath, but he turned, that familiar roguish smile curling up.

“Want to try some?” he asked, proffering her the steaming contents of the wooden spoon in his hand.

With a delighted cringe of her shoulders, she bounced over, already holding up her hands to catch any spill. “What is it?”

“Fresh vegetable barley soup,” he said with a touch of pride.

She hummed, equally pleased. Crunchy courgette; plump mushrooms; tender, springy barley. And was that bit of saltiness…Worcestershire? “That’s good! Who made it?”

His grin dissolved. “What you mean?” he said, as his deep-set eyes went dark. “I made it!”

“No,” she said, chuckling. “Really.”

“Yes, really. It’s my mum’s recipe.” He straightened up, to look down his nose at her. “What? You think I can’t cook, just because I’m a bloke?”

“No. I don’t think you can cook because you’re a brah,” she said, exaggerating the surfer term of camaraderie with a sneer.

“That’s sexist.”

She scoffed. “You’re the one wearing the apron that says, ‘Will Cook for Sex.’ And you’re accusing me?”

He turned round to the stove again, grumbling, “I’ve spent the last hour and a half slaving over a hot range for you, and this is the thanks I get.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she cooed, winding her arms about his waist.

“No, no. I’ll go replace the transmission in the car, then grab a few pints with my mates before I kill something for supper on my way home. ‘Cause, apparently, that’s all men are good for, in your world.”

Nestling her nose into the space between his shoulders, she rolled her eyes. “There’s no need to be melodramatic. I said, I was sorry.” She gave him a little squeeze, pressing herself close to him. “Your soup’s quite good. I’d like some.”

He half-turned, looking over his shoulder at her; that smile was back again. “Yeah?”

She nodded, loosing her hold only just to let him shift fully around, so they were chest-to-chest. Then, needling one finger between the Os on the apron, she snickered and said, “So, you’re good at one. What about the other?”

-photo by bonusparts-

-photo by bonusparts-

A bit of free writing, to help myself get back into the writing/blogging sphere. And, while this isn’t exactly the right weather for it, a version of the indeed-quite-yummy vegetable barley soup mentioned in the scene above, for those of you looking for something other than my tired old relationship stories:

Maggie Finch’s Vegetable and Barley Soup

Ingredients (use fresh whenever possible!):

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 zucchini/courgette, sliced
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (I like A L’Olivier’s brand)
  • 8 cups vegetable broth (divided into 7 cups and 1 cup)
  • 1 cup lentils, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley or cilantro/coriander
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (also available vegetarian)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (to taste)

Preparation:

In large saucepan, heat olive oil and add onion and garlic; sautee until translucent (3-5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add carrots and celery; sautee until soft (~4 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Mix in 7 cups vegetable broth, mushrooms, zucchini, lentils, barley, tomato paste, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer ~1 hour or until lentils and barley are tender, but not mushy.

Blend in remaining broth, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper (if you like). Simmer for another 10 minutes, then remove bay leaf and serve, with parsley or cilantro garnish. (Goes great with warm rustic bread!)

* * *

What’s nice about a meal like this is you can be rather free with the ingredient quantities. For example, I like zucchini, so I’ll chop 2 instead of just 1. Same with the barley, which my family loves: I always put in at least an extra 1/4 cup. To stretch this out a bit, there’s also no harm in adding some extra water or broth…or even a bit of leftover brisket!

As for the story scene, I suppose there are some rather serious gender issues proposed therein. But the characters didn’t seem to want to dwell on them, so I didn’t, either.

Writing, writing, writing… What are you writing?

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