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Writer tips from a work-in-progress

To an outsider, a writer’s job is either very esoteric or extremely easy. Those ideas come fully formed every time a writer sits at the keyboard, right? Those words just coming dripping from a writer’s fingertips, right?

Well… no…

Inside the writer’s mind

The best way to give you an inside look at the writing process is to sit over my shoulder while I write.

Okay. That’s not happening.

The next best thing is to show you work and progress. Within that work, I’ll put some notes in italics that will take you inside my brain as the words hit the page.

The piece on display is a section from my latest “Shadowdance” novel, “Two Sisters.” It was a novel I’d worked on five years ago. I got overwhelmed by it and put it in a drawer.

Beating writer’s block according to Neil Gaiman

Author Neil Gaiman… like you didn’t know!

Then I listened to the Masterclass on writing from Neil Gaiman.

You know him from his comic book work on “The Sandman” and his numerous novels, including “Good Omens” and “Stardust,” — both of which found life in other media.

Mr. Gaiman mentioned that writer’s block is just encountering something wrong in your story that you just don’t know how to fix.

Inspired by this new take on an old problem and several other thoughts on writing, I reached into that drawer and pulled out “Two Sisters.”

I’d outlined the story, researched it, and got two-thirds of the way into writing the book but then had stopped. I don’t even remember why now.

It struck me that it appears the story is there on the page. I just need to put my butt in the seat and get to writing. I’m starting at the beginning. Inevitably I’ll get to that point that gave me the writer’s block.

My thinking is by starting at the beginning; I’ll find where the story went off the rails and turn it back around. Then I’ll finish the thing.

What is “Two Sisters?”

It’s the story of my “Shadowdance” heroine, the vampire Adriana Dupré and her search for a recently re-earthed family heirloom.

To get it, she must confront another element of her past: the newly reformed sect of vampire assassins that turned her into the vampire assassin she is today.

Adriana’s entrance into the story is through Seth Cameron, a potential target for the Daughter assassins. His segment takes place on New Year’s Eve, going into the new Millennium.

What follows is his entrance into the story. The stuff in italics is the commentary.

Excerpt from “Two Sisters” with writer commentary

Seth Cameron held his Nokia 8210 mobile phone in front of him.

We take for granted the ubiquity of the cell phone now, but they were old school back in ’99. I had to research what phone would be available then to keep it real. Plus, I wanted Cameron to have the new sexy, as a rich guy would.

In hindsight, I need to mention the phone is the latest model. I know it is, but it doesn’t come across in the text, so the reader won’t. Points like this are why we write and then re-write!

He appeared pleased with the gadget, which fit neatly in his hand. Cameron held the phone, so its face and number pad faced the bathroom mirror. It appeared as if he was rehearsing a monologue advertising the item.

“They call it a mobile phone,” Cameron said, his Scottish brogue chewing the words. “It allows you to communicate with someone who’s not in the room with you. Perfect for when one of your party is with Uninitiated guests. Like I am now.”

I styled Cameron after Sean Connery circa “The Untouchables.” I do that, so I can better visualize my character. Around that visualization, I build a detailed history for characters like Cameron, whom I know will play a significant role in the series of books.

The word “Uninitiated” is part of the “Shadowdance” world. I dropped it in there without explanation because two people, both Initiated in the Shadowdance, would know the word and not explain it.

“Two Sisters” is a prequel to my other two “Shadowdance” novels, but it’s the third novel, so I write assuming most people will also come into this knowing what Uninitiated means. New readers to the saga can learn in context.

Cameron glared at the mirror. His glare was not reflected at him. Instead, he saw the grizzled face of Arthur Kaur amid a white haze of ethereal flame.

I already had Cameron’s name. For Arthur Kaur, I turned to this fantasy name generator site is a godsend!

Whenever I need a name for a person, a cult, a building — hell, anything at all — I click on them, and I’m hooked up — highly recommended.

Kaur served as the chief financial officer for Brynmor Financial Holdings, a company based in Japan that had business dealings with Cameron’s company, Highland Financial.

Saying Cameron owned Highland was not wholly accurate. He had founded the company but now allowed the board to handle day-to-day operations, with his son Xander as chief executive officer.

“Highland” Financial keeps with my Connery theme. You know you loved “Highlander” where the Scotsman played a Spaniard, and we all just sucked in.

However, old friends like Kaur still turned to him for occasional advice on how to handle situations. These times were usually on the golf course, where Cameron would often allow Kaur to win so the man could save face from his horrible ground game.

If this were a fanfiction or a serialized story instead of a novel, I wouldn’t go to this level of detail with a character you might see once.

But since I have fifty to one hundred thousand words to play with, I figured to make the man memorable. Doing it now also gets me in practice when I do it for the characters with more story longevity.

This time, Kaur did not call for late-night financial advice.

“Spare me your sarcasm, Cameron!” Kaur said.

As a banker, Kaur usually maintained an even-tempered save when on the verge of closing a deal.

Then he’d relax his shoulders through a glass of Bollinger ‘89. Now his jaw set so tight Cameron feared the man would need an entire bottle of the champagne to settle him.

I chose champagne instead of the usual cognac or Scotch to make Kaur different than the cliché. More Connery plays with the Bollinger ’89. Technically, Connery’s Bond was a Tattinger man, but it’s not his champagne anyway.

“Morris is dead.”

Cameron reacted as if Kaur’s ghostly image had slapped his face. Morris was Kaur’s superior at Brynmor, a great man with a great heart regarding charity. Kaur continued.

“It’s not just that he’s dead, Seth. It’s how he was killed.”

“He was killed?” Cameron asked as if saying it aloud would make the statement less true.”

“Butchered, mores the word,” Kaur said. “I’ll spare you the details, but it was a signature kill.”


Kaur hesitated. He wiped his sweating brow with a handkerchief. Cameron noted a spot of blood on the fabric. Had Kaur been there when Brynmor died?”

“We had to check the archives to verify it,” Kaur said, seeming to doubt his words, “but we believe it to be that of the Daughters of Lilith.”

Cameron stepped back from the mirror. He slid his phone into the inner pocket of his sport coat.

“There were rumors of Daughter attacks as recently as last year in Tokyo,” he said. “But since the late eighties, they’d become so rare, their targets mostly Uninitiated.”

I’d been away from my “Shadowdance” world for a spell. I had to do some digging in my files to remember the exact history here. But that’s why you make those notes and organize them well.

Mentioning Tokyo sets me up for a possible short story should I decide to flesh out that moment. If I don’t write that story, mentioning it here is great world-building!

“That’s why the Knights backed off investigating the murders,” Kaur said. “But it’s not just Brynmor, Seth. Honigberg in Berlin. Vasilievich in Moscow. Enuromo in Japan. All confirmed. There are at least a dozen more unconfirmed.”

Love that fantasy name generator! There’s the link again. Use it.

Kaur gave Cameron a moment to absorb his words. He then continued with, “We’ve also started to consider the timing of the murders. They began in Japan as the new Millennium rang in. Then, the murders moved West.”

A knock at the bathroom door startled Cameron. A second after, a delicate female voice asked, “Everything coming out okay?”

Despite the grim news Cameron had just received, he allowed himself a hint of a smile. The innocence in his youngest daughter’s voice always pushed away the darkness.

Cameron knew her innocence, like that of most of this world, depending on their remaining Uninitiated in matters such as this business with Brynmor and the others.

Unfortunately, Cameron had become Initiated in these affairs since his teen years in the 1930s.

See what I did there? Context for the Uninitiated thing.

That 1930s drop is another world of backstory. I touched on some of it in “For Her Sins,” though I don’t believe I mentioned Cameron by name. More of that comes up later in this novel — but you’ll have to wait to read that!

“I’m fine, Miriam,” Cameron said to the door. He turned on the faucet and let the water run. “Just finishing up.”

“Well hurry,” Miriam said through the door. “You only have two more minutes until the new millennium.”

Kaur and Cameron’s eyes met through the scrying circle in the mirror. Neither spoke of the potential danger lurking.

Cameron washed his hands. “Keep me informed, Arthur. I’ll have my people look into the Daughter of Lilith angle.”

Turning off the faucet, Cameron reached for a towel to dry his hands. “If they’re truly back, who are they working for?”

“It’s not just our people dying,” Kaur said. “The Order, the Guardians, the Sons… all of them —”

Cameron’s attention snapped back to Kaur’s image in the mirror. “All of them?”

Kaur gave a solemn nod. “Watch yourself, Seth. Anyone can be a target. But particularly a member of the Concilium.”

Cameron returned the towel to its rack. “That I will, Arthur.” Referring to the door, he said, “But if I don’t get back out there to see the lights over the Allegheny, my daughter will kill me first.”

To be continued…

Future “Two Sisters” and the “Shadowdance”

By Virtue Fall ad
Image from the “Shadowdance” saga

That’s where this section ends. I establish Cameron being a part of the Initiated, present him with a threat, and then make that threat personal to him.

The next section is the hit. How will the Daughters pull it off? Where does the series protagonist Adriana fit in?

You’ll find out when you read “Two Sisters!” With all this forced free time, I hope to hammer it out this spring for editing over the summer and a release this winter. Here’s crossing the fingers!

Enjoy this look inside the writer’s mind? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’re curious about my action and urban fantasy saga, the “Shadowdance” saga, check out this book page or my intro page.

You can also check the “Shadowdance” tab in the upper menu to find more information about the players and the organizations.

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