Archive for November, 2014

It’s an interesting process writing a novel in a month. I had to laugh at the same old suspects bagging out National Novel Writing Month this November from the lofty perches of artisan pretension, and failing to grasp it’s true significance. A look through the twitter feed of #nanowrimo reveals a multitude of writers embarking on their first ever writing ‘baptism by fire’. Many try and fail and many try and succeed every November and some attempts create the novels that sustain and inspire us. That’s a good thing not a bad outcome if you leave the failures behind for one minute as practice runs. (You really can’t be forced to buy them you know).

A lot of writers are young writers and if a frenzied month of writing gets them to attempt novel writing, then all the better. The industry needs young voices just as it needs the older, first time manuscript writers and everything in between. Why? Because words are the building blocks of communication and writers inspire readers to cross mountains and raging rivers to get to reflection and understanding. A book can really change a life and, at the very least, can be the escape pod from a painful reality.

My month began full of enthusiasm and I not only made the word counts, I blitzed them. Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 kept ringing in my ears. This was the novel he expanded from a short story in nine days. And the best selling Nanowrimo novel Water for Elephants was an inspiration too. I got to work with fervour and passion, creating my main plot from the draft novel plan I’d done a few months earlier. My story “Blood Visions” had been rattling around in my mind for more than 18 months. I’d told it so many times to people who asked and I could see the point they became interested was around about the time I began to believe in the concept. Nanowrimo was my biggest excuse to write the manuscript, and my inspiration. I used all the comments from writers undergoing the same hell, as a motivator; and I used that horrible graph on my Nanowrimo profile page as the enemy I had to beat.

My story began to come alive; my characters began to speak to me and plots and sub plots came to mind just as quickly as I was able to bang my fingers logically on my keyboard. I went to sleep thinking about a scene and then the next and next, and I woke up thinking about what was coming next. I mulled over the plot twists and took some turns and kept going straight with other ideas. I wrote and I thought and I reflected, and a lot of it was cathartic. Getting thoughts out on page is like listening to yourself.

About midpoint, I waned. I became tired and then I returned to the twitter feed again and read a Nanowrimo hint of leaving the day’s work at a scene that you would enjoy writing the next day. It worked. I pushed through and learned to go without sleep and get up at dawn and do it all again before the day job.

Toward the end of Blood Visions, and as the end of the month approached, I was conscious of a mild thought in the back of my head that this story was ok. Maybe not fantastically competent – it’s a draft at this stage – and maybe one that can be made better, but it had held together throughout the month and I’d finally gotten the idea down on paper. By today, 30th November in Australia, I am mightily pleased with the draft. So thank you National Novel Writing Month for inspiring me to tell the story that had been inside me waiting for the right time to come out. Seems November was that time.

I’ll be busy editing during December now – late at night and at dawn, with the day’s inspiration in between. That’s why I proudly call myself a writer, and even an artisan, because I’m living the dream. I’m writing. As impossible as it may seem some days, I’m writing novels.

I’m almost done with my National Novel Writing Month manuscript, Blood Visions. It’s about Fortuna Cavalieri. After a car crash which nearly claims her life, Fortuna is cursed with a psychic link to evil. When serial killer Brandon Keys goes on his murderous rampage, Fortuna is drawn into the edges of his world like prey to a spider’s web. Every time Keys kills, Fortuna knows. She knows because her sixth sense is activated by evil; she knows because she can see him in what she calls her blood visions. Fortuna is not the only one with a psychic ability. Keys too has been blessed with the second sight since childhood – the ultimate gift for an efficient killer. Here’s an extract of the manuscript which takes place between Fortuna and Keys.

Fortuna headed for her demons. Once again she moved within the red mist and was conscious at some level that this was another vision but different this time. Instead of being taken to his house she was in the midst of the most beautiful countryside she had ever seen. All around was vibrant green with an intensity only Spring can bring. Rolling hills ended in distant blue mountains and a crystal clear sky. The heat of the sun was gentle on the breeze.

She moved towards the nearby lake. At the water’s edge the killer sat on a park bench, as though he’d come out for a stroll that morning to a ready made vista. It was his vision Fortuna was in, not her own, and she approached cautiously.

When she was a few metres away, he spoke. “I’ve been waiting for you. I wanted you to see what I can create. In my mind’s eye it is always this…or the blood house; but you’re here today. That’s good.”

“What is this?” She dared not move any closer.

“Oh come on. Come round and face me. I don’t bring my knife to this place.”

She moved to the water’s edge, still keeping her distance.

“Why am I here?” she asked, trying not to be drawn into his games, but wanting to know the significance of the landscape despite herself.

He smiled, a half smile. With him there was no real happiness in any of his expressions – only cynicism and bitterness. “I know what you think of me. I know that you think that I’m a monster but you can see into the monster. What does that make you?”

She began to turn away. “Look if you’ve got me here to play games…I’ve had enough of that. I am nothing like you.”

“No? Let me tell you about this place…It is only good memory I have. Of a spring day when Walter and my ma took me to the river for a picnic. I remember the way the sunlight fell on her hair. Walter even showed me how to bait my fishing hook. I was four years old and he had left me alone…up til then. I remember my ma’s dress, flowing in the breeze. It was one good moment mixed in with a lifetime of bad moments…some recipe huh? Do you know that when I kill all the bad moments go? They take them off me. The bad moments go into them.”

“You are sick. You know that don’t you? And I am nothing like you. I know what you do to them. You torture them and kill them when they have no hope left.”

“Ah, but you are forgetting that I can see into your mind just as you can see into mine, and I see your darkest moments. Your dark moments are what makes you like me.”

Fortuna turned to him. She had nothing to hide and there was defiance in her when she answered him. “Don’t ever presume to know what is in my head…”

But he persisted in his arrogance. “Did you ever think about why your Uncle Pete stopped visiting?”

She looked away from him, and across the water. Overhead a crow cawed. Yes, she remembered her Uncle Pete, her ma’s brother. She remembered a particular night when he had stayed over, a memory so deep that it felt like a dream, difficult to recall, and blurred around the edges. She could see herself as a five year old, shocked and confused, wondering if what was happening was real. She hadn’t thought about this in a long time but the blood visions were forcing her to remember her childhood and she couldn’t shake the picture of her childhood self. What she remembered most was the way she felt, powerless and forced to go headlong into something she didn’t understand and knew was wrong.

Always the memory of her childhood had been easier to forget it. Up until this moment she hadn’t even realised she had been trying so hard to bury it. She sank to her knees, looking at him through anger and remorse. “You know about that memory?”

He nodded. “It is your black moment, the moment that defines you now. Just as my black moments…and this one beautiful moment define me. When it comes down to it, your blackest hour has controlled you all your life. Tell me Fortuna, when was the last time you had a man. Have you ever wondered why your ma can’t stand you, and why your beloved papa was so kind to you. You were decided a long time ago, just as I was and none of it is our fault.”

Fortuna got to her feet, moving a little closer to him. “Let me tell you something now. It is not what happened to us when we were children that makes us who we are. It is the choices we make every day. You choose to take away life to supposedly ease your pain. I choose to find a way to take back my power without hurting or killing anyone…”

“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. That’s not how it’s going to be. In time, you’ll see this.”

She began walking away from him, leaving him, the killer, sitting on a park bench overlooking his one beautiful memory. But he wasn’t giving up so easily.

“One day you will be stuck in those black memories forever. That time is coming soon. That’s how it’s going to be. And this,” he said, gesturing at the rolling green hills and lake, “doesn’t change anything. I’m coming for you and I’ll kill you. Like those other girls, you’ll take my black moments too. Your luck is about to run out and mine will be the last face you see before you die.”

As the title of this post suggests, I’ll be letting my fingers speed across QWERTY as I rush to get my word count in for the day. National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo): Day 15 (in Australia, that is).

I began my journey with blistering enthusiasm. I’d had my manuscript Blood Vision (or is it Visions) swirling in my head for about 18 months. “Plan my youngest son said. Do a plan for your next novel.” So I did. I managed to squeeze in time to really nut out my manuscript before Nanowrimo began. And I was supremely pleased. I would use the motivational worldwide writing community (mowowrico) to help me get things started and then, following the plan, it would all be apples.

Well…yes and no. As any novelist will tell you, writing a book is sheer hard work. Think of climbing a cliff face, metaphorically and that’s what it is like. Maintaining daily word counts can be difficult some days but not all days. On the good days the words flow, the characters say what they were always meant to say and, as the writer, you sit back and think, “Yes! There is no other place I’m meant to be than sitting here writing this novel. On other days, well snacks do help.

Here are the things that have helped me on my Nanowrimo journey so far:

* Snacks…hahaha

* Tips from other authors: Really good ones like base your characters on people you know (sorry guys, like I explained to may sisters the other day, I don’t model characters on other people, just take snippets here and there of personality traits or experiences gathered over a lifetime. Some characters I draw from, I might have only known for five minutes. So relax…)

* Finish your writing for the day at a scene you will look forwarding to writing the next day

* This one from JK Rowlings: You’ll go through a lot of paper before you become a good writer

* Stay off social media. Leave your best writing, thoughts, creative processes for Nanowrimo – oops I fail on that one

* Learn to like all your characters, even the villains

* No matter what, don’t give up. Keep writing.

I’m at 25,700 words now. I’m hoping for a marathon effort today; to find my way up that sheer cliff face, one handhold and foothold at a time. I have to. Blood Vision (s) is worth it.

You can find my author page on Amazon, and my short story, horror collection ‘Evil Imminent’ will be out in December 2014.

It’s National Novel Writing Month and many of us are using the big global push to get that first draft down of a story that has been fermenting, just waiting to be written. Some say a first draft is you telling yourself your story. That’s true. Here is the unedited first chapter of my latest work ‘Blood Vision’.

It was grey. Fortuna Cavalieri searched for her car but the rain got in the way. She swore under her breath for not bringing her umbrella this morning. Who goes out in Sydney in winter without one, when the clouds are hanging low and black as hell? What, was she talking to herself again? ‘Blast,’ she murmured so as not to alert passers’ by on busy Pitt Street, that she was some nutcase to be avoided.

Ever practical – something her migrant upbringing had taught her – she hoisted her briefcase over her head. At least this would protect her black, curly hair from going ‘Afro’, as her mother called it. What a day. She half focused on getting to the bus stop, and half not, preferring to dwell on office politics and the sheer bastardry she’d encountered in what she thought was a cesspit of vipers, otherwise known as a PR agency. ‘Losers,’ she mumbled. A few rain sodden pedestrians glanced her way. ‘Nut job,’ she imagined them saying. She put her head down and kept walking, careful at the same time not to run into anybody. All she wanted to do was to blend into a crowd, but she couldn’t even do that successfully.

She rubbed her forehead, balancing the briefcase with one hand. She’d had one of her headaches again. If she could only find another job, maybe that would help. The public relations agency that had kept her chained was not her style anyway. Bitchy women and no rules, a toxic mix if ever there was one. The boss was even more gross in her eyes because people in leadership were supposed to be ethical but the only thing Karina Blaxwell set was a bad example, and others followed it. At B&J Communications no-one was safe except the tightknit circle around Karina. It was an environment where pure thieving of another’s work was encouraged, where good ideas were appropriated to anyone else but the conceiver, and where taking the piss, behind your back of course, was considered fair play.

She’d made it almost to the bus stop, but spied her favourite inner city bar, like a sixth sense. Oh, what she would give for a drink now. She hadn’t had one since last night and the familiar thirst was gripping her stomach. It needed soothing and she didn’t hesitate, reasoning she could catch the 6.30pm to Leichardt anyway. She pushed the door open and immediately the dark light eased her headache. It was 5.00pm and a few of the regulars were lined up at the bar. Soon the after work crowd would arrive but she moved into a quiet corner of the bar and ordered a Scotch on the rocks with a dash of water – her favourite drink since the accident.

“Eh, Fortuna, how you bin?” she heard Mac say. He was the Monday night barman and a likable enough fellow. She’d known him now for the eight months she’d been coming here. He was also Italian, though by his name you’d never know.

“Yeah Mac. No problems. You?”

“Gooood Fortuna. Goood. Can’t complain, who would listen to me anyway?” Mac had a way of stretching out his ‘o’s’ with just the right amount of accent. She’d listened to men like Mac all her life; men who were not really comfortable using another’s language but did so because they had to just to fit in with a culture that, at times, was alien and inhospitable.

“Non importa,” she replied in Italian, just to make him feel better, and then “Gracie,” as he gave her a drink.

She smiled brightly at him, but slid off the bar stool in an obvious getaway move. She wanted some quiet. That’s the way it was these days. She could count on her hand the number of conversations, real conversations, she had this week. It was just that too many people made her head spin and she needed the space to process what was happening to her. She was not the same anymore. She gulped a deep mouthful of whiskey. It burned as it went down her throat and she was conscious of it reaching her stomach. She took another, and another in quick succession and it was then that the hit began; it went right through her and took the edge off her thoughts. She was ok, she told herself, wiping the condensation off her glass with her thumb and staring at the golden lights of the liquor. It somehow made it alright to be alone, and lost, at 26 years of age, in the middle of Sydney, a city of four and a half million people.

Fortuna thought back to the accident, a place she always returned to when she was drinking. The black, spewing smoke inside the crushed car was always in her memory, that and the silence that was broken only by the ringing in her ears. She remembered the smoke and the feeling of suffocation and then the blackness. She had been in an induced coma in RPA hospital for two months, until one day she opened her eyes to see the round and worried face of her mother hovering over her.

“My Fortuna,” Esmerelda Cavalieri cried out, so loudly a nurse dropped the bedpan she was bringing to her.

“Shit,” was the next sound to greet Fortuna as the nurse, caught unaware, cursed for the ward to hear.

She remembered the rapid response then of the nursing staff, poking and prodding, and that awful feeling as they removed the ventilator from her mouth and chest.

She squeaked her first word since the accident. “Drink, I need a drink.” They gave her water which her mother held gently to her lips. The tiny sips felt good on her parched throat, but she didn’t dare gulp.

While she didn’t fully remember the accident, she was aware of a terrible feeling of doom that often accompanies those who survive life-threatening events. Nothing in the world would ever be the same again. Knowledge always came at a price.

It was slow recovery. She was like a baby at first, living back with her mother in Fairfield, a suburb as multicultural as it came, and back with the expectations that a good Italian girl should not have attended university any more than she should be living on her own in a Leichardt flat and working in the city. No, had Fortuna followed the expectations of her large family network, she would have married a good Italian boy and be in the kitchen cooking up a storm, with a couple of babies underfoot.

She hated being at home again and her mother fussed too much. She only wanted to be alone and make sense of what had happened, and what was happening. Since her accident and coma, Fortuna had been having strange dreams which she called her ‘blood visions’ because inevitably they were bathed in blood red violence – enduring suffering and torture, which always ended in a kill. At first she thought these were bad dreams, but then she would get a vision while she was awake. She visited a psychologist friend of the family who told her it would all go away as she became stronger after the accident. It was only post-traumatic stress and she should accept it as normal, he said. But her visions were anything but normal. It didn’t matter where she was, a thought or feeling would come to her – the anticipation and the rapture of a blonde woman’s hair between her fingers, or the thrill of sharp metal against skin. Always there was a face, distant and out of focus. A man’s presence, with sunken eyes and a dead heart. This man was unreachable, like the undead; a walking, silent shell. And the blood, waves of it threatening to drown her. And that’s how it had been since the accident.

She became quiet and withdrawn, unable to bear crowds, and still her blood visions persisted. So she saw another shrink, not daring to tell her family the reason why she could not bear to be around anyone, certainly she was not able to utter her big fear: ‘I am losing my sanity.’ Round and round she went in circles, hardly conscious of time. At midnight, the visions were at their worst and she began to see their faces; pale, haunted faces full of disbelief and naked fear, desperation and the blackest of despair. The shrink had no answers, only pills. And so she swung her leg over the medical merry go round…for a while until she discovered that while the pills didn’t stop the visions, something else did.

Fortuna had never been a drinker, but she became one in the months following the accident. At first she hid it from her family and smuggled the whiskey into her bedroom. And she only drank at night, when Esmerelda was sleeping, and only enough to block the visions. She knew she couldn’t hide her drinking forever, so she asked to go home to her flat. She should be getting back to her work after all. In the stillness of her flat, the whiskey numbed her and, sightless and alone, she wondered what she could do. She had always been a loner, determined nevertheless, but not one to seek out company unless company presented itself to her. It wasn’t hard to slip almost completely into anonymity, save for the monthly visits home, where she pretended everything was going well and she was climbing the corporate ladder and earning a motza – the only thing that kept her family’s expectations of an eventual marriage in check.

She looked up from her drink. The bar was beginning to fill up with the after work crowd. Time to leave, she thought, and head home to her emptiness, where a pre-prepared meal awaited along with the flat screen television and the half empty bottle of Jack Daniels she’d bought yesterday.

“See ya on Thursday Mac,” she yelled, waving a little too fervently.

“Ciao,” the barman replied, winking. She was a good girl, he thought as he watched her disappear outside and into the busy street, but a little strange. He didn’t like to say anything to her, but he often wondered who she was talking to, sitting alone at her regular table. But it was not his job to judge others, only to pour their liquor and be the type of person they could talk to over a drink. That was all. No judgements or bad thoughts, just a friendly, smiling face behind the bottles and beer taps.