As promised, I’m going to walk visitors to my blog on my process of writing a new novel. In my previous post, I mentioned a book idea using the characters from my Dardian Dreshaj series of books. But here’s the first lesson I learned when writing. Writing is time and time is money. Simply put this means I want to complete the rough draft of a manuscript in a limited amount of time, which in this case is 30 days. So what I need to do to accomplish this goal is to listen to the book idea that’s pulling at me the most. I will say again that I’m starting from scratch. I do not have an outline or any chapters plotted out. I am a punster and the things I’m teaching you through this blog are how I operate as a pantser.
The book idea I’ve decided to use on this blog stream will become the second book in my historical series about the Jennings family. The reason I made this decision is because the ‘voices’ are pulling heavily on me to write this next book. Listening to the ‘voices’ is extremely important when I’m writing. When I say voices I mean just that. We all hear voices on a daily basis, a voice in our head that sometimes gives us warnings, such as don’t leave your keys there because you might forget or lose them. Many times people don’t listen to these voices, such as in the case with the keys. Have you ever heard a voice in your head warning you or telling you something and you didn’t listen, then later you silently ask yourself, ‘Why didn’t I listen or why didn’t I follow my first mind?’ We all hear voices. These voices can also be heard when writing. I like to say that they come from the literary universe. When I write books, I listen to these voices, because when I listen I find that the story tells itself to me rather than the other way around, which makes for an easier writing experience, and with less writer’s block, and it becomes so much fun that at times it’s hard for me to walk away from my computer. I also find it much easier to pick up where I left off and write the next chapter, and the next, and so on.
I’m not going to give you the title of this second novel, although the voices have already given me a great one, solely because I receive good traffic on my website and find that some people troll other authors work just to steal ideas. Of course, I’m in no way saying that this is your intentions. I’m sure you’re here because you desire to write a book and may need a little help on how it’s done.
But enough about that and let’s move on to ‘our’ project.
The first thing you want to do, other than listen to the voices, is know what genre you’re writing. Regardless of what genre you’re writing in fiction, in my opinion, the same rule applies. The opening of a book is very important. What I want to do is get a reader’s attention ASAP. What I don’t want to do is bore the reader, especially on the first page.
I want to open with a dilemma, a situation that will be the driving point throughout the entire book or I at least want to hint at the driving point, which will also become the plot’s goal, such as finding love, a missing person, learning a valuable lesson, reaching a new planet, etc. I also want to open with tension. There are a lot of things I can explain about how to open your book. When I say open in this regard I’m referring to the first chapter, the first sentence and the first paragraph. But time does not permit me to give such a detailed lesson during this blog. If you’re are interested in more lessons on how to open a book, try checking out my online course on the subject that will be coming very, very soon for a small fee. BUT don’t worry. This blog is not to lure personal book sales or elicit attendees for online classes; however, sometimes people need more to understand the full machinations of writing. If that’s you, feel free to purchase my book, Anyone Can Write, or come back to my site in the future and sign up for classes. More details will be given at the bottom of this post. BUT, you can also learn simply from what I mention in this exciting new blog.
Anyhow, I’m going to open my novel with a dilemma and with literary tension. Because this is the second book of a series, I already have the characters in my mind. They are the voices I hear! These characters are not only going to tell me what’s happening around them, and what they see. They are also going to tell me how they feel, which is very important because we want the characters in our books to be real to our readers. Another thing I’m going to pay attention to is milieu; this is the background of where the things you’re writing about is taking place. Last but not least, I want to give exciting and worthwhile dialogue. This means I want readers to drawn to each thing my characters are saying.
You didn’t see me today, but just before writing this blog I sat down at my computer not knowing much about this new story, but I did have some idea. As an experienced author, I know there are a few things that quickly capture a reader’s attention. Once I had one of these things in my mind, what do you know? The voices began talking and I started typing. I won’t be posting each chapter. Sometimes I will. At other times I will give a summary on what was needed to write a good chapter. The reason I’m doing it this way is because this particular book is the second in a series, of which the first book is doing VERY well in the U.S., the U.K., and France. So it will be a book I will market as soon as I’m done.
Here is what the voices told me today. After you finish reading it, let’s go to the second post in this blog thread where I break the chapter down. Keep in mind that this chapter is unedited and while I’m typing, whenever a new thought came to me and if that new thought is somewhere else in the chapter, I stop and go to the area where it should be and add it. The more you type and listen, you will find that the more the voices will tell you.
The relationship between the two eldest brothers was complicated to everyone in the city, but wasn’t complicated between them. Jenna Louise Jennings had given birth to Edouard, the eldest of Pierre Constance Jennings’ four sons. Sarah Antoinette Cheval had given birth to Andreu, Pierre’s second eldest son.
Jenna and Sarah were half sisters; they had the same father but different mothers. All of the children they had given birth to were fathered by Pierre. Pierre is Jenna’s husband.
“Look in the mirror.” Jenna stood closely behind Edouard to make certain he did exactly like he’d been told. At twelve years old he stood five-foot-eleven, whereas she only stood a smidgen above five feet. But the height difference meant nothing in her eyes. Memories of carrying him in her womb and giving birth to him on top of her bed flooded her with a strong feeling of possession. Edouard, in her eyes, wasn’t only her son. Oh, no. The word son was too small a word to describe the way she saw him. Everything was more like it: her best friend (because his age didn’t matter); all the love she possessed she accredited to him; within years of his birth, and although she had also given birth to two daughters, he had become her sole reason for living. “You look just like your father. If this family lived by the ways of the Américains, you are his rightful heir.”
Edouard tightened his face and looked away on those words—harsh words. That’s how he saw them, as words his mother used to drive a wedge between him and his brothers. Each time she said things like this it made him uncomfortable, and angry. But being angry at his mother didn’t feel right no more than being angry at his brothers didn’t feel right. The bond between him and all of his father’s children had become unbreakable; his father had seen to this by loving them all equally and making each of them feel special in their own way. That’s why his mother’s anger didn’t feel right, because it didn’t belong in a family whose love for each other superseded the thoughts of anyone outside of their family unit.
When he looked away, his eyes rested on one of the house slaves. Semper stared back at him, her arms full of the supplies she needed to wax the mansion’s staircase. Her pace slowed considerably as she tried to continue to walk without seeing where she was going, but it was obvious that she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. This only angered him further that his mother’s behavior and hate could be seen by everyone that lived inside of the plantation’s big house with them. The need to protect his mother from everyone’s disapproval forced him to look into the hall mirror again and into her eyes.
Jenna braced both hands on his shoulders, then squeezed hard enough to hurt. Her eyes darkened and her voice thickened the way it did when she surpassed anger and her emotions imbibed on and danced with rage. “In a Creole family, if the man is wealthy and his wife is poor, he governs his own land however he wants to, which means he can choose anyone, including a bastard as his heir. How can your father choose you as his heir when you’re making it easy for him to choose one of his other sons?” Her eyes fixed on his in the mirror as she leaned closer and whispered. “My sister has stolen my husband for long enough. I’m tired of being nice about this situation. She must die. I need you to kill her.”
Thump, thump, thump, thump. His heart beat so wildly, it became hard for him to keep still. His legs wanted to run down the hall then right out the rear door and into the rear yards. The relationship between his mother and Aunt Sarah had never bothered him, perhaps because he couldn’t truly understand it or because his father had made him see it in a different way. At twelve, he knew Aunt Sarah, as an unmarried woman, shouldn’t have had any children, because children were only born through marriage between a husband and a wife, and she especially shouldn’t have given birth to children fathered by her sister’s husband. But since he could remember, his father never lived inside the big house. Instead, his father lived in Sarah’s maison that sat a fifteen minute walk between the plantation’s trees. His father, as long as he could remember, always treated Aunt Sarah as his wife. Inside the maison was peace and love, two things that went lacking inside the big house. When it came to his mother, his father treated her with the same sympathy a dutiful in-law would give to a widowed family member.
“You must do it.” As if she could hear his silent thoughts to refuse such a chore, she reached down and grabbed his hand, then led him inside the grand salle.
The doors were pulled closed behind her.
Edouard faced her frightened of what she would say in secret since he hoped the worst had been said out in the hall. But she didn’t say anything at first. Reaching into the sleeve of her dress, she withdrew a brass perfume case. No larger than a thimble, its lid clasped closed by two small grooves. Seeing the case and his heart thumped harder. No one loved powdered perfume more than his mother. Boxes of it sat in clusters on top of her many armoires, but he’d never seen this particular case and wondered what else could be hiding inside her perfume collection. What he sensed was whatever was inside this small case was meant to do his Aunt Sarah a lot of harm.
“Take it,” she whispered with hopeful eyes that pleaded with him. “Pour what’s inside in my sister’s drinking glass, then leave her maison and come back here.”
“Semper saw us in the hall.” The words came out quickly and in a rush. “Someone may see me do it. If I hurt Aunt Sarah, Semper will tell Papa in secret that she saw you whispering to me and Papa will figure it out.”
“My sister loves you as if you are her son.”
He watched as the tiny case was pushed closer to him.
“She trusts you as much as she trusts her own children. Make sure no one sees you. Leave your father to me.” A smile that he could only describe as dark wickedness appeared on her face. One look at it and he had the urge to find a chamber pot to release his bladder into, because his mother only gave this smile when she was hell-bent on a decision she’d made. “He won’t be going to my sister’s maison today. I’ve been planning this for weeks, Edouard. Today he’ll be busy in the outer fields. He won’t suspect a thing. By the time he’s told she’s dead, all he’ll think about is his grief.”
And what about theirs, his brothers and sisters?
“I can’t.” The words came out broken and in a low, pleading, shaky, whispering voice. “I’ll do anything for you, Maman. You know that, but please don’t make me do this.”
He watched as she walked closer to him, the wicked smile never leaving her face or altering in any way. To him, she looked like a statue, something not alive, but when she drew close and he smelled her perfume, he lowered his chin and stared at the floor, knowing there was no way out of this without losing his mother’s love.
“Do you want your sister to do it?” Again she whispered in a voice that only he could hear. “She’s only nine, Edouard. What if she doesn’t do it right and my sister doesn’t die?” Hope came into her eyes, and then her smile changed to pleasure. “Is that what you want? For your Aunt Sarah to live the rest of her life as feeble and lame?”
Against his wishes, he found himself smiling back at her, then watched as she took one step back, gave a soft giggle, then tucked the brass case back into her sleeve.
“What a clever boy you are to come up with such a plan,” she said. “You actually thought about something I hadn’t thought about. Why should we kill her quickly when we can watch her live the rest of her life wetting her bed and needing help from her slaves? Run along. I’m sure Andreu is tired of waiting.”
Minutes earlier he wanted nothing more than be away from her. Now he found it hard to leave her side. A murderer. That’s what he saw standing in front of him, but he’d already known this for some time. He gave another smile to make certain she knew that he was and will always be on her side, then walked out of the room silently telling himself that his mother was like all other mothers: loving, kind and caring.
But he knew these three words couldn’t describe her at all.
For years he’d seen his mother do things that other people didn’t see. He knew the way she behaved when it was just the two of them, and the way she behaved when someone else was watching. Underneath her gentle smiles was Satan himself.
How long had he known that most of her true intentions were done in secret? No one suspected that every time something bad happened on the plantation had been orchestrated by his mother’s slender, pretty white hands. Even the little things, such as when the in-house slaves found personal items missing from their belongings. A letter, a brush, a favorite book, he’d taken them all from his mother’s instructions. The in-house slaves hated him as much as they secretly hated her. When it came to his mother, she never needed a reason to be evil. Unseen evil came out of her all day long the same way someone exhaled after taking a breath.
As he stepped onto the rear galerie then from underneath the second floor balcony and sunlight hit his face, he wasn’t only walking from the house to get away from her, but from her eyes, because she watched him all the time, even when the two of them were alone in the room, and whenever she watched he felt compelled, almost programmed, to behave exactly like she wanted him to.
‘You’re me and I’m you.’ That’s what she used to tell him as a child each night as she tucked him in bed.
By the time his boots hit the ground at the start of the rear yard, a thought came to him that made him temporarily blind. He saw nothing or no one as he ran toward the trees to hide for a few minutes, because he realized that he loved his family, but feared his mother, because he knew that the day he turned against her, the evil inside her would turn toward him.
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