The quote above was originally submitted for a #1LineWed offering on June 13, 2018. It comes from my original character Darya in “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” and it gave me trouble in every single edit of the story. Every character needs their own conflict, and I wanted to give her one that was separate – and more personal – from what we witness through Number Seven’s eyes.
The backstory tidbit quoted here popped into my head in the first draft and went through surprisingly few changes before the final version. What bothers me to this day isn’t that I wrote it or that I kept it in the published novella, but whether readers understand what I was going for.
Darya Vikhrova is the only daughter of Ana Vikhrova, a cosmetics industry star and nouveau riche socialite. Darya’s father is unknown to her. Darya grew up amid material wealth but emotional poverty; Ana consistently told her she wasn’t worth a damn and no one would ever want her outside of her inheritance. As a little girl, Darya was withdrawn, fearful, and prone to private outbursts of anger. During a trip to Italy when she was 9 years old, Darya performed a near-perfect dive from a cliff. It changed her life. Ana’s boyfriend at the time, recognizing the feat, suggested Ana send her daughter to a professional coach. Ana and Darya were both only too happy to agree. Soon after, Darya earned a place on the national junior division team and started winning. Most importantly, she left her mother behind. Eventually, Darya would meet Kirill Morozov and his bodyguard Number Seven, and her life would change again.
In the Novella
I still don’t know if Darya’s story progression comes completely clear in the final version of “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind.” I left out a lot of the details listed above, leaving only a few lines devoted to her history, with most of them expressed by other characters, but I just didn’t want to delve too far into her backstory. She’s a secondary character at best and describing her motivations would have slowed down the main story. Still, I liked what she brought to the final product, and she was certainly fun to write! If I ever return to the world of Number Seven and his friends, I know exactly where Darya’s life will take her next.
In case you missed it, I published my thriller novella“Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” in early January 2019. The story follows bodyguard Number Seven and his charge Kirill, a young athlete training for Olympic gold, as they weave in and out of high-stakes conspiracies and low-key romantic encounters. It’s a story I never thought I could write – thriller has never been my preferred genre for reading or writing – but once the first inklings of the original plot settled into my brain, I had no choice but to run with it.
This post isn’t about Number Seven’s story, though. Not directly, anyway.
My sister is three years older than me. I spent a lot of my childhood wanting to be like her. She was certainly my best friend growing up. In a lot of ways, she still is.
She taught me how to tie my shoes, and how to write my name. She taught me to read, through Little Golden Books and comics she let me look at from over her shoulder. She always read harder stuff than me, stuff with words and concepts I didn’t yet understand. When I’d ask her about them, she wouldn’t roll her eyes or push me away, though; she’d patiently explain them until I did understand. And, of course, we’d play: make-believe school, make-believe knights, make-believe fairies, and make-believe starfighters. She was my first and best example of someone who loved stories. Simply put, I’m a writer because of her.
I’ve talked before about the tradition my sister and I had of trading stories on Christmas morning. But it wasn’t just Christmas stories. There was a time when we traded stories just because we wanted to share our ideas with each other. I remember marking in the margins of my written pages where she’d left off the last time she’d read, and how many lines I’d written since then. She was my first reader, my first critic, the first person whose opinion of my writing mattered so much to me that I felt giddy when she liked it and crushed when she didn’t.
We don’t share stories like that anymore. Her storytelling journey took her on a different path from me. Now, she creates interactive stories, told live with plenty of improvisation from the friends who join her at her gaming table. It makes her happy, and that makes me happy, too.
When I shared the news that I’d published my novella, I was surprised by the encouraging words and actions from family, friends, and colleagues. Many of these were people who had, until this point, never read any stories of mine or even knew I wrote stories at all. I finally felt like the world was seeing the Me that had been here all along. My heart swelled seeing the Congratulations! messages pop up. Then I saw a message from my sister. “I’m so proud of you!” it said, and I burst into tears. This woman who’d taught me so many things, including how to make stories, was proud of me for the story I’d written.
It was satisfying to finish Seven’s story. Publishing it made me anxious but also excited. Hearing from friends that they enjoyed the story has made me happy. Making my sister proud, though, has been one of the greatest joys I’ve ever felt on this journey of becoming a writer. Who knows? Maybe I can even do it again.
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!
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.