Saturday, November 30, 2013

Serial Saturday: NaNoWriMo Edition! (Part 5)

Cape Canaveral, FL, USA, Earth, 2173 AD

Colonel Scander Hawke of the United States Space Squadron reported to the loading dock of the Intergalactic Launch Hangar at 1100 hours. He stood ramrod straight and absolutely still as the biometric scanners registered his facial profile, scanned his retina, and verified all of this with the database records. Once inside the gate, Hawke immediately checked on the crew tasked with loading his weapons cache onto the shuttle that would carry him out to the Terraforming Base Station 12, established in the Taurean star system on the planet Vega. The Terraforming Command had not received an adequate progress report as normally required. Coupled with disturbing whispers between ships passing by that planet, the Command saw fit to send someone out to discover the truth of the matter. Of course, that someone would be Corporal Hawke. He was the most reliable soldier on the force by anyone's standard. If there was any trouble, Scander Hawke could take care of it. He stalked up to the bridge to greet the pilot. 

Seated at the cockpit was a lithe, petite young officer. Her fingers skated over the screen, setting up the flight plan logistics for the upcoming trip. Intergalactic travel required the use of quantum mathematics and physics to account for shifting planets and gravitational pull. There was also proper timing warranted for orbiting moons and comets. Though travel was faster than light, it was not hyper-speed, and this still presented damage risk if the flight path crossed the trajectory of an incoming comet.
The pilot did not take her eyes off her work.
Corporal Hawke planted his boot on the steel grating deliberately and cleared his throat with a loud, "Harumph!"
"Yes, Corporal, I can smell you," the pilot drawled wryly, finally closing the data windows and swiveling to face him. 
He frowned in confusion at the remark. 
She smirked at him archly. "The thing about you white-shirts is, you are so full of your own importance and the perfect creases on your dress slacks and the shiny buttons on your uniforms that you never realized the moment when we—the common folk, and the real fighting soldiers—started adding scent threads to those same uniforms. That way, we'd be able to tell from a mile off whether to salute or duck. And at those high-faultin' brass functions, whew!" she whistled, "Ten minutes and we'd all be smelling like the blooming Armada!" She laughed at her own joke.
Corporal Hawke scowled. "What's your name and rank, pilot?" he barked in an attempt to remind her of her place.
It didn't work. She flipped a lazy salute that was more a wave of annoyance than a respectful gesture. "Captain Ashuria of this fine Dragon, Corporal, and you best not be forgetting that! I own the very grate you're standing on right now, whatever the mucketymucks in Washington think they can say about it!"
"If I didn't know any better, Captain, I'd say you weren't being very patriotic just now."
"Patriotic, my spanner!" she snorted. "I built the darn thing from scrap, didn’t I?"
Scander shook his head firmly. "I don't care if you welded the whole thing together with your own spit, you might command the ship, but you and every other person on this ship take orders from me, are we clear?"
Ashuria made the casual salute again. "Sure thing, Corporal Hawke. Though," she amended slowly and with a sly grin and a twinkle in her bright-blue eyes, "I'd be careful how I treat my pilot, Corporal, seeing as I am the only way you are getting off this self-important piece of rock!"
Scander Hawke—nicknamed Hawk Commander even though it was beyond his actual rank—studied the young pilot closely as she resumed her work. Satisfied that he need not fear any actual mutiny or insubordination from the cockpit (Ashuria struck him as one with a smart mouth and a smarter, patriotic mind and heart; she talked with more swagger than she actually cared to act upon) he retired to his quarters to study the series of reports from Vega that had been their last communications. Hawke could not figure out why.

07182172-095623 BEGIN REPORT: "Official Terraforming Status Report—Process progresses as normal. Environment responding well; expected to reach habitable levels by 12202172. Projected success rate: 99 percent—Commendable. END REPORT." 

Nothing amiss there. Hawke scanned ahead to the colonization date, December 21st, 2017. That's when things started to get suspicious. 

12212172—100345 BEGIN REPORT: “Official Terraforming Colonization Commencing. First ships arriving. Pilot reports abnormal atmospheric readings, but there have been no signs, either organic or mechanical, of any such concerning changes. Will continue to monitor the situation for aberrations, but colonization should proceed on schedule. Success Rate of 95 percent—Acceptable. END MESSAGE."
12272172—094734 BEGIN REPORT: “Official Terraforming And Colonization Report: Settlement Communities—6; Population—1272; Colonization proceeds as directed. Investigation in progress concerning scattered complaints from outer settlements, but as yet there has been no real cause for concern. Colonzation success rate holding at 90 percent—Acceptable. END MESSAGE."
01042173—095312 BEGIN REPORT: "Official Terraforming And Colonization Report: Settlement Communities—10; Population—6000; Population expansion continues on schedule. Vega medical staff reports increased volume of critical patients, cause or source currently unknown. Investigation in progress. Will confirm as additional discoveries are made. Authorities see no cause to delay colonization as scheduled. Docks will remain open as colonial ships continue to arrive. Colonization success rate currently at 85 percent—Acceptable. END MESSAGE."
01062173—095032 BEGIN REPORT: "Official Colonization Report: population mortality has reached concerning levels. Medical staff unable to isolate cause or source. Docks currently closed. Population diminished by 40 percent. Quarantine protocol advised. Colonization success rate: 30 percent—Failure. END MESSAGE."

The next report, issued just two days later, was chillingly impersonal. 

01082173—100223 BEGIN REPORT: "Official Colonization Report: Settlement Communities—1; Population—Undetermined. Colonization proceeds as normal. END MESSAGE." 

Hawke closed the window with a shudder. To go from 60 percent in 10 settlements to just one in two days made even the bravest man squeamish. What could a newly terraformed planet contain that could decimate a population in two weeks? The governing body seemed loath to believe it had been a fluke of poor preliminary research that resulted in the choice of a planet that could not be terraformed—hence they decided to send someone to investigate, and who better than the Hawk Commander, a steely-eyed, practical, serious man who did not deviate from a set course of reason for anything less than a compelling reason, and who counted every detail he saw, and left nothing to chance or vague impressions?
Hawke leaned back to consider the current situation—the problem with Vega. It had to be something microscopic, because an alien predator would not be so insidious—unless the alien itself were microscopic, perhaps an unknown element in the very air on Vega… No, that was unlikely; all the colonists resided in manufactured structures, and each structure was equipped with environmental moderators and microbial air filters that removed anything from the air that was not present in Earth’s atmosphere. Even if something foreign could infiltrate the system, it would be readily noticed and reported.

“Corporal?” Captain Ashuria’s voice resounded over the communication system.
“Yes?” Hawke still bent over the string of reports.
“We have been cleared for takeoff. This dragon will be mobile in five minutes. Better strap yourself in.”
Scander checked under his elbow for the seat-clasps. Fastening the straps, he settled in as he felt the whole ship vibrate with movement.
“Hey, Captain?” he called.
“Don’t get too wound up, Corporal,” Ashuria retorted. “Knightwing shimmies like that in Earth’s atmosphere. We’ll be fine once we break orbit. She’ll hold. I’ve done this a million times.”

As a matter of fact, Captain Ashuria had only flown a Dragon-class vessel a total of twelve times—and had only broken a planet’s orbit on three occasions. Scander knew this; but he also knew better than to question a pilot on her skill during takeoff. He would have plenty of time to confront her about it later.

The ship gave a jerk, and Scander felt the G-forces hauling on his body, pressing him down toward the seat.
Then again, he might never get the chance to say anything.
“Here we go!” Ashuria’s voice whooped over the intercom purely for her passenger’s benefit. Scander felt the orientation of the ship shift slightly, and then the violent turbulence rattled as they broke the stratosphere and entered the orbit. Scander’s head snapped to the side as the ship broke through several layers of orbit—not just Earth’s, but that of the Sun as well—and then everything was still.
Experimentally, Scander released one side of his security belt. It slowly drifted upwards. They had achieved zero gravity. They were beyond outer space. He glanced at the wall, where in a typical berth there would be a small port window to see out; the Knightwing had no such amenity. A chime echoed from somewhere.
Gravity stabilizers engaging,” a mechanical voice announced. Scander felt his body suddenly grow very heavy, and watched the buckle of his security belt slowly come to rest at his side.
Gravity normalized.
“You are now free to move about the cabin,” Captain Ashuria joked as if she were a pilot on an airline in Earth’s atmosphere, instead of navigating the regions just outside the solar system called “naked space.” Hawke unbuckled his security belt and resumed perusing the reports. There was nothing to indicate any kind of obvious foul play. Scander decided to research as much as he could find out about the planet they would be landing on very soon. On a whim, he also decided to pull up the file on the incorrigible captain of the rattletrap he was riding.

Ashuria Eseer had been born off world, in the floating orbit-colony once known as the International Space Station. It was more than a station now—every nation had added its own unit to the station, till there was just as much diversity above the stratosphere as within it. Being born in space, Ashuria had a natural gift for navigating the starry skies, as all “star children” did. Scander paused to reflect how the term “star” had once meant “exceptionally bright and gifted, particularly in a leading role.” Now that term more applied to the generation of children born on the “Space Nation” among the stars… but the definition could still apply. Star children could navigate the stars, decode the night sky, and maneuver through obstacles faster than Earth-born children. They were smarter, tougher, quicker, and more lithe than the others. Naturally, people would want to follow the star children as they would the celebrities—in fact all the biggest names in the whole entertainment industry had nothing over a single star child. Hawke leaned back and ran his hands through his thick, dark hair as he reflected on the information he had just learned.
As a star child, Ashuria could have very well asked for whatever she wanted when she landed on Earth—but she’d asked to go through flight school. Being a Star Child, of course she excelled at all her classes, and made herself very popular among the students. When she graduated, she could have had the latest and greatest vessels out of the fleet of prototypes developed by NASA; if this was true, why was she tooling around open space in a patchwork junk-heap “dragon” (the class of spacecraft nicknamed thus because their registration designation was DGN—and for the fact that they were of the generation of spacecraft that utilized fuel-burning jets for propulsion, instead of the latest anti-gravity technology) like the Knightwing? Hawke shook his head; if he did not know any better, Ashuria might have something to hide. She certainly didn’t behave as any other star child Scander had seen on Earth; the captain’s manners were coarse and disdainful. Was she trying to hide, or had she been sent to flight school and secreted in a dilapidated dragon because she was the thing being hidden by someone else? Scander made a mental note to confront her about once they landed on Vega.

“Next stop, Vega,” Ashuria’s voice over the intercom interrupted his musings, and the Dragon-class Knightwing skated heavily through open space toward the Taurean system.

Other Excerpts From "The Suggestion Box Compilation":

-Part 1: Excerpt 1 Excerpt 2
-Part 2: Excerpt 1
-Part 3: Excerpt 1
-Part 4: Excerpt 1

Would you like to see more of this part? Leave a comment and I'll post another excerpt!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Serial Saturday: NaNoWriMo Edition! (Part 4)

The Phoenician native stared at his opponent, an American woman who called herself an archaeologist, or—in the native’s tongue—an “age digger.” She wore light linen clothing on her body, tall brown boots on her feet, and a wide-brimmed hat on her head. Her bright-red hair was braided back, to be out of her way. She did not want anything to interfere with her concentration.
The native returned his attention to the board between them. This woman had engaged him in a game of be’juul, a tradition among his people and a game of skill and speed. It was a board consisting of ten rows of ten squares, and each square held one of five types of rock. A player had to switch the rocks around to create sequences of the same type of rock in order to remove them from the board and gain more rocks than their opponent within a set time, regulated by a third person who also replaced the removed stones with fresh ones. As quickly as the rocks were removed, more replaced them, taken at random from a bag in a second native’s hand. Ancient Phoenicians from this island used to play the game using real precious stones, but as those became more rare, simple quartzite and other plentiful and cheaper minerals replaced the gemstones.
The native and the woman were almost tied. He could beat her, if he could see just a few more matches. He knew there were not many stones left in the bag—
The woman grinned as her blue eyes located a match. Deftly, her white hands fluttered like butterflies as she swapped the stones, creating a series of removals that exhausted the remaining supply of stones and established her as the winner. She raised her hands in victory as the spectators (who had, of course, been betting on the outcome) cheered and collected their money or grumbled and paid what they owed. The woman, meanwhile, spoke to her opponent in his native language, holding out her hands. The native hesitated, embarrassed that he should be bested at such an ancient tradition by a woman from another culture, but his sense of honor overrode his hurt pride; she had won, and she deserved what she had bargained for. It was no longer his to keep from her. Grudgingly, he yielded the item she had been playing for—a map that had been in his family for generations, a map that did not appear to be any region on earth—a map bearing as its only label the name NATALYS. No one had any idea what language that was, much less what it meant. The woman seized it as if it were more valuable than an entire be’juul-board full of diamonds. Evidently she knew more about the origins and the meaning of the map than he did. She actually thanked the native for it, and returned to the bay where her moored boat waited to take her back to the mainland. The natives watched her leave, never knowing that they had just given the American woman the key to the greatest mystery known to man.

Back on her small sailboat, Teresa Mallow grinned to the pilot, waving the small packet at him. He gave her a gap-toothed, black-speckled grin back. Mrs. Mallow descended into the cramped cabin and closed the door behind her. Sitting at the table in the main galley area, she spread the map before her.
“Natalys!” She murmured, still trying to convince herself that this was not a dream, and that she really was looking at the map of the greatest secret Egypt had managed to keep from the rest of the world for millennia. Now, that secret would be hers. Teresa brought out her sketchbook and carefully copied the map, line by line. She did not leave out the smallest detail or symbol. She worked it over several times before she was satisfied that it was an exact copy. Now it came time to label the map. The original used letters that appeared English; she wouldn’t want to give that away for any price. The name of Natalys was almost as important as the map itself. She had little doubt that if it were to fall under the wrong eye, to sound from the wrong lips, that there would be blood and death and corruption as consequence. But how would she hide the map’s only label in plain sight, without making it obvious enough for those who would seize the treasure of Natalys for their own selfish ends? Teresa smiled to herself, and instead of reproducing the word, she added a symbol in the corner, one that looked deceptively like a compass labeled N for North, S for South—but the addition of the letters A and T for East and West would be puzzling for those she did not wish to understand her meaning. The remaining letters A, L, and Y, she incorporated into a design at the center of the “compass.” There; the secret of Natalys was safe. Teresa smiled as she thought of the special plans she had for this design.

This done, she turned the page and began to write a letter to her young daughter at home. It had been six months since she last saw her precious Elena, clutching the hand of the person Teresa trusted most to take care of her daughter while she was gone: Cal and Stella Parker, Teresa’s dear friends from the college where she had studied World History. Teresa smiled to herself and placed pen to paper.

October 20th, 1938

My Dearest Elena—

How I miss you so! It has been very busy work here in Egypt. Did you know, I found an island off the Phoenician coast that wasn’t on any map—but it was the treasure we found in Akhenaten’s tomb that led me there. Oh, Elena, there were such people on that island! We had thought it was deserted, but the natives had lived on this island for centuries without anyone knowing about them. Did you know they had never seen white skin before? Well, when I came tromping in like a big white elephant in my wide hat and thick boots, didn’t they treat me like I’d just stepped down from heaven! Your mother was quite a sight, I promise you! Unfortunately I was alone, or I am sure I would have loved to giggle over photographs of the state of my welcome with you when I get home. For indeed, sweet daughter, my home is with you. Not here, not the island, not Egypt, Europe, Australia, or Africa—it is with you, and only with you. Instead of pictures, I will have such stories for you, that you will imagine yourself there with me, and we can relive it together. Won’t that be absolutely jolly?

I have seen priceless treasures and exceedingly valuable artifacts—but none are so priceless and valuable as a single minute spent with you. It pains me to be so far apart for so many months at a time, dearest, but you will be happy to know that my business is almost at an end. I have found something that I think will be the key to everything I have been working on and searching for that has kept me from you. After this, dear Ellie, I will be home and I promise I will never leave you ever again. We will be together, you and I, and we will have such splendid times to make up for all the lost years. I treasure this in my heart, more than all the digs and finds I have ever overseen. This work is important for humanity, yes, but it is nothing compared to spending time with my own dear daughter.

I am sending you something, dearest. It is a gift, and I know you will like it. I am having it specially made by a dear, trusted friend of mine, and it is for no one else but you, and I hope you will keep it for always. Treasure it, as a token of my promise to you, and as often as you wear it, I hope you will think of me. Think of the place it came from, Elena, and think of the amazing world we live in, and let that thought guide your life in the right direction.

May you never be lost in the world without a guide to keep you safe, and may you never have questions without answers. I will return swiftly. Be good for Uncle Cal and Aunt Stella; I know that some of their experiments have been very trying for you, but they mean well, Elena. And I trust them to take care of you while I am away. I have only a few more sites to visit, and then we will be together, and you won’t have to worry about anyone coming between us again. Counting days until we see each other!

Your loving mother,


Other Excerpts From "The Suggestion Box Compilation":

-Part 2: Excerpt 1
-Part 3: Excerpt 1
-Part 5: Excerpt 1

Would you like to see more of this part? Leave a comment and I'll post another excerpt!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NerdOut: A Very Brief History of the Andarian Language

Okay, it's not necessarily the complete fictional etymology, and no I am not going to delve into any sort of fantasy cultural presentation. This is a NerdOut post, just to provide you with a surefire example of how inexhaustibly nerdy I am.

It started with Tolkien, as (I believe) most great fantasy epic adventures (any more) do.
Upon reading that wonderful work, I immediately became obsessed with Elvish. Not necessarily the language (though I'll admit, I am dying to learn conversational Elvish, not just the formal lines they have printed in the books), the look of the script was enough for me. I learned from a friend which book contained a guide for writing Elvish (I will tell you what book that is if you want to know), and I immediately set about practicing and memorizing it.
A friend of mine (who writes some kind of "reality quilting" blog...) noticed my Elvish prowess, and while she was not interested in reading Lord of The Rings (I'll wait and let the horror die down)... She did however admire the fact that I could write in what amounted (to her) in a code that was supposedly a language.

My friend set about writing her own cipher-like "code", using generic, open shapes and straight lines. We both enjoyed the idea of writing notes back and forth in a mutual code that no one else knew about... Yet that never happened. (Maybe it was because I memorized the code and she forgot it...)
Instead, I started writing LoTR fanfiction. This was about 2003, and I had just seen my first installment of the film trilogy, The Two Towers, in theaters. I got this one particular idea for introducing an original character into the story, and I wanted an Elvish-like script to use, so that my race of Elves could be distinct from Tolkien's, so that when the main body of the latter left at the end of Return of the King, my characters could stay behind and continue to have adventures in Middle Earth.
What better than the near-runic script my friend and I developed? Not that I ever actually used the script; just the idea of it was blissful enough for me.
At any rate, from that moment, Andarian was born. The entire vocabulary consisted of roughly three or four words and only a vague sense of grammar. Writing in Tolkien's Elvish, though, inspired me, and there ended up being quite a lot of that in my two novels.

Fast-forward a few years, and I've stepped up my novel-writing game well into developing original ideas and characters. I revisited that old LoTR fanfiction piece. I decided I wanted to take out the copyrighted elements and turn the book into my own work—only one problem: I used plenty of Elvish. If I wanted to avoid copyright issues, I would need to either eliminate the existance of another language besides the few words that I had made up, or...

Why not expand the language to match Tolkien's Elvish?

See? Told you I was nerdier than most. Who else do you know that did not just invent a code, but invented a language that has little resemblance to English to go with it?

The Look
Once I decided to expand Andarian, however, there was the issue of the look of the script. The geometric code I had been considering was more of a Dwarvish kind of script, not graceful enough for Elves. I wanted to be able to keep the lettering, though... I thought the fact that the Elvish script was based in part on Arabic was brilliant. I started looking up different Asian and Southeastern European scripts—

Cambodian has a nice, exotic look to it, wouldn't you say?
So Cambodian became my basis for tweaking the original script. I softened corners, made lines rounder and softer, made things more "schwoopy." I implemented a system of capitalization (something I never quite understood in Tolkien's Elvish) and small "diacritics", extra little marks to denote vowels. For the fun of it, I wrote out a whole list of "spelling rules" dictating where these marks could and could not be used. (Taking fiction linguistics to a whole new level... At least for me!)

The Sound
That done, my next challenge would be to develop the vocabulary. They would have to be words that looked cool and were easy to write using the script. I based the "conjugation" off of what little Latin I had observed (lots of emphasizing subject and direct object with affixes on a verb root), and the sound of the language was very much intended to sound similar to Welsh (that being my favorite language in the whole wide world). From there it was just throwing together cool letter combinations and random syllables (like "bunde" [boon-DEH] for "sea", "even" [eh-VENN] for "tree" and "jyrn" [JERN] for "when"), and from there, crafting new words with two existing words, compunding the meaning; for example, "orven" ("wait") and "ness" ("here") combine to make the word for "faithful": "orvenness."

My goal became to develop a vocabulary of at least 300 words, to compare with the 350-word Elvish vocabulary. It happened relatively quickly, with such complicated words as "woddathandove" for "to write" (literally "to make speech pieces") or "fusbinorrande", the word for "against" (implying "one who is near but not with"); and some words with attached cultural significance, such as the difference between "chepakorrath" (literally, "to stand up with", describing a male elf escorting a maiden at a public event as an observance of etiquette than any romantic significance; the way I see it, people would be more apt to gossip if a maiden appeared alone than if she were accompanied by an unattached gentleman) and "cheporrath" ("to stand with" the person as a couple in formal ceremony before the community; implies a wedding as the next social event).

Can I get any nerdier about something so geeky?

Crafting a language, once the basic grammatical structure is established, is really not as difficult as one might think. Words like "ove" for "piece" and "listren" for "sometimes" were entirely off-the-cuff. Sometimes I would take an associated word and make it sound more exotic to use as an Andarian word, such as "pleje" for "love" (kind of sounds like "pledge") and "feste" for "glad." (That one's obvious) In the style of the only foreign language I know, Spanish, Andarian grammar and vocabulary are sufficiently limited so as to lack the specific same words as English (I'm working on that), but at the same time, using words in various combinations will get the point across.

For example, I give you John 3:16, in step-by-step photos.

Just to review, in English:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

At the time, only about half of the words in this verse had actually been translated to Andarian. I had not thought of how to do past tense, I didn't have words like "everlasting" and "begotten"... I wasn't even sure how I would translate "For God so loved the world"!
I decided that, in the context of John 3, this verse might be focusing on God's love, so I quickly threw some terms together and developed a system of expressing past tense.
But I wasn't done yet. The next thing I had to do was plan out the way I would phrase things, because for Andarian, I devised a grammatical system that sort of combined Latin(-ish) and Spanish grammar... plus, as stated before, the vocabulary was quite limited, so in order to truly "translate" it I had to rephrase it in a way that would work for the size of the vocabulary I had:

Then plugging in Andarian terms and making up words as necessary:

Step final, rewrite the whole thing in Andarian script:

Booyah. And for good measure, here's a recording of me, reading the verse:

Pretty legit, huh? :)
So there you have it, certifiable proof that I am a brainy nerd—who has a system for inventing a language that is simple and effective, if anyone has the urge to ever try!
(In case you were wondering, yes, this is the brief version; I made it much shorter than it could have been, trust me!)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Serial Saturday: NaNoWriMo Edition! "The Suggestion Box" (Part 3)

On the Greyhound Bus headed south on Interstate 5, she was barely noticeable. Just another brown-haired girl in a dark grey-green jacket with a ruffled floral mini over black leggings peeking out from under it, and a tan shoulder-bag draped across her lithe frame. Leaning against the window, letting its cool comfort her in the steaming, stuffy interior. There were a few groups traveling on the same bus, some couples, several solo travelers—nearly every seat had been taken, but a well-timed dirty look and a carefully erected aura of standoffish-ness had deterred any company on the two seats next to her. She preferred it that way; no one could know that, in her mind, those seats held the ghosts of the mother and the boyfriend she’d left behind.
She could see them in her mind’s eye; they had been following her with their disapproving stares ever since she left Los Angeles. Her fingers curled into a fist as she recalled the last time she ever saw her boyfriend.

He should have known she’d be hurt; he should have known that there are no words to fill the void left vacant by his absent common sense. She cried, she begged, she made all her promises and reminded him of the ones he had yet to fulfill, but he was through. There was nothing she could do to make him stay. He didn’t even hear her any more, over the sound of his own voice, making excuses. He talked and he talked—but he was already at the door, already leaving. He walked out without so much as a backward glance.

That’s when the last tether holding her back from everything she imagined their life could have been together, keeping her in Los Angeles—had snapped. She had nothing else in LA, if not him. She started to pack.

In the blazing orange light of the sunset outside the bus as it sped across the iconic red suspension bridge, she snorted to herself. Of course, her mother would call while she was packing; she chalked it up to a mother’s intuition to know if and when her daughter and the boyfriend have a fight, just so she could call and make her daughter even more uncomfortable.

“What happened?”
Suzannah sighed and ran a ring-laden hand through her tousled hair. “Something came up, and it just felt like the right time for me to go.”
“But you were in love, sweetie!” her mom pleaded.
“Yeah, well… Love changes.” Suzannah chewed on her lip to keep from crying. She would not cry; she wasn’t sorry; she was doing the right thing—wasn’t she?
“Oh honey!” the disappointment in her mother’s voice cut right through the sympathy. “I thought I raised you to choose better for yourself. Didn’t you swear up and down that you’d get him to stay? Didn’t you know enough to see this coming? Didn’t you learn anything when your father left?”

Too much! She’d let the memories carry too far, and now the knot in her throat made it impossible to breathe. She let the tears fall as the bus pulled into San Francisco. She was thick; too thick and too dreamy to see a failure when it walked in the door every day, when it wrapped its firm arms around her and breathed against the crook of her shoulder.
The bus jerked to a stop. Suzannah stood and reached into the overhead compartment to grab her duffel.
New city, new start, she promised herself. She alighted from the bus and paused just beyond the flow of people. She dialed the number of the only person in the city she knew, the one who could help her make that new start.
It rang twice.
“Hi Jordyn, it’s Suzannah.”
“What the heck, Suze? Why are you calling so late? I thought you’d be out with—“
“Yeah, about that,” Suzannah cut her off; it was too soon to be mentioning His name. “It’s why I called.”
“What do you mean? Geez, did something happen between you two? Don’t tell me: he proposed, didn’t he?”
“Jordyn…” Why did so many people in her life insist on talking instead of listening? “Look, I just need a ride, okay? Can you come pick me up?”
“You want me to drive all the way to LA at this hour?”
“I’m not in LA. I came here to San Francisco to see you.”
“Wait a minute… you’re here?”
“In Frisco?”
Suzannah rolled her eyes; what part of “I’m here!” was so hard for her friend to understand? “Just pulled in. I’m at the bus station across from—“ she squinted at the large, lit-up sign on the other side of the street. “Fisherman’s Wharf. Is it okay if I crash at your place till I figure out what I’m gonna do?”
Jordyn snorted, “Suze, you take all the time you need, girlfriend! Just gimme ten minutes. I’ll be there!”
“Thanks, Jord.” Suzannah hung up the phone and slipped it back into her purse. She shifted her duffel bag to a part of her shoulder that wasn’t yet sore and took her first look at San Francisco as her home.

At night, every window and storefront lit up. The city positively glittered with opportunity. She could make a fresh start here, for sure—and Suzannah was a pro at making acquaintances and connections with people who would be very pleased with her.

Jordyn’s blue Honda Acura pulled up to the curb. The smiling, dusky-skinned, raven-haired girl waved from behind the wheel. Suzannah opened the back door and tossed her bag in before climbing into the front seat. As Jordyn pulled away, Suzannah slumped in her seat. She couldn’t relax very well, not with the endless excuses of her boyfriend and the disparaging comments of her mother crowding her thoughts. She hoped that, with time, Jordyn’s sunny attitude and thirst for adventure would drive away the pain.

Jordyn glanced over at her friend as they pulled up to Jordyn’s apartment building.
“So,” she began slowly, “What’s the occasion?”
Suzannah wasn’t ready to tell the whole story just yet; the wounds she nursed were still fresh. “You said if I ever needed to get out of LA for a while, I could come stay with you,” she responded to her friend, “so here I am.”
Jordyn watched her carefully, as if she could read on Suzannah’s face the part of the story she wasn’t telling. “Do you want to talk about it?” she pressed.
“No,” Suzannah answered immediately, and climbed out of the car. She grabbed her bag and Jordyn led her up to her apartment.

It was a cozy two-room affair, with the kitchenette and the living room on one space, and the bathroom and bedroom leading off of that. Suzannah walked in and brushed the plush surface of the sofa with her fingertips.
“Here, let me just haul out the air mattress and pump,” said Jordyn. “I wasn’t expecting company, or at least I’d have the space cleared, sorry.”
Jordyn helped her spread blankets and sheets over the mattress and handed her a pillow.
“Are you hungry? I can order food,” Jordyn offered.
“I’m fine,” said Suzannah dully.
“Okay, well—“ Jordyn stretched and yawned. “I have work tomorrow, so I’m going to get back to bed. Sleep well, Snooze!” she used the nickname she’d given Suzannah when they were both in grade school.
Finally, a spark of humanity returned to the shell Suzannah was rapidly becoming, and she looked up at her friend. “Thank you, Jordan,” she whispered with genuine feeling in her voice. “You too.”
Jordyn smiled and sauntered back into her bedroom. Suzannah pulled the tee shirt and shorts from her bag and changed clothes, brushing her teeth at the sink in the kitchenette. She crawled under the blankets on the air mattress in her friend’s apartment, and briefly reflected how much her life had changed in one day. Her clothes in a suitcase, a few very personal belongings in her purse—her life had been reduced to fragments of what it once was. When would she find out how to fit them together in the new way that would make this seem like home? Could she wait that long? Was San Francisco only a step along the way of a much longer journey toward the stable life Suzannah craved? Did that life even exist?

Suzannah closed her eyes and fell asleep before she could figure out answers to her questions. That night, she dreamed of home—but it was a different home than the one she’d left. In this home, she actually belonged.

The next morning, on the east side of San Francisco, Neal Parker was getting ready for work. He dressed, grabbed breakfast in his apartment kitchenette, and walked down to the sidewalk. Two blocks down, and three across, and he arrived at Turntable Records. The chime sounded through the empty store when he entered. Sarah was already there, sorting returned records and making sure everything was in order for the day. She glanced up, her dull dark-blue eyes almost ready to accuse him of something.
Neal tried to smile disarmingly. “Hey,” he greeted her.
“Hey yourself, Crooner,” she muttered back.
Neal winced at the nickname, but tried to hide it as he moved over to the “library” side of the music store, with all the tablature books, sheet music, and fake-books.

Ever since Sarah learned from an overenthusiastic fan that he was the son of the famous “Voice of the 20’s” Cal Parker, she had never missed a chance to needle him about it. The fact was, Neal had grown up determined not to ride his famous father’s coattails; he was his own man—he could take up engineering if he wanted to. Never mind that he had actually inherited his father’s talent for music; Neal knew there wasn’t a career to be had in music, and he didn’t have much time for hobbies right now. Too much of his time was spent trying to find a decent job to cover the rent, while also trying to fit in community college classes to acquire the necessary education to move to a job that could earn him a decent living. Till then, he just had to endure or ignore the teasing of his fellow record store employees.
Thirty minutes before they were scheduled to open, the front door chimed again, and the owner of Turntable Records, Beulah Moran, entered. She was reading the newspaper when she walked in, but left that out on the counter as she threaded her way back to her tiny office. Neal glanced at it as he moved to sort the CDs on the long rack at the center of the store. Ms. Moran had apparently been reading about the death of one Elena Knight. Neal smirked; he’d heard of the woman. Her mother, Teresa Mallow, had been one of the first female archaeologists in the early 1900’s, always going out to digs and traveling to remote corners of the world and discovering places no one else knew existed. Everyone talked about what a shame it was for a girl like Elena to grow up without knowing her mother, since Teresa had died in the late 1930’s while at a dig in Upper Egypt. If there was ever someone who would understand the aversion to continuing a “family legacy”, it would be Elena Knight. She had purposed to do everything she could to avoid her mother’s fate; she married a laboratory scientist who worked mostly with numbers and computers in an office, and she had encouraged her daughter—named Teresa after the famous grandmother—to pursue interests and courses of study that would keep her close to home. So far, her methods had been effective—but only time would tell which of her ancestors young Teresa would honor after her mother’s death—Elena or her grandmother.
“Hey-o!” Sarah barked from behind the register. “Showtime, Crooner!”
Neal grit his teeth and glanced at the clock; eight AM—Turntable Records was now open for business. There would be time to fret over the state of his life later.

It took Suzannah at least ten seconds to remember where she was when she finally awoke the next morning. [...] Stumbling through Jordyn’s bedroom to the bathroom, she turned on the faucet and splashed the cold water on her face. The mirror before her gave her an opportunity to take stock of her appearance. She saw angled features, limp, tangled hair with outgrown highlights (because last summer He had told her she’d look good in them, and by the time He’d changed His mind, the deed was done and she didn’t have the money to undo it) and hazel eyes with a haunted depth to them. Not an altogether appealing picture, but it was the one she had, so she might as well make the best of it.
Jordyn had left a note on the kitchen counter, inviting Suzannah to eat her fill of whatever she wanted. Suzannah poured herself a bowl of cereal and plopped onto the couch to enjoy a luxurious breakfast without the stress of anyone worrying about her. [...] There would be time to make up for these lost moments later; for now, she needed some healing. Suzannah browsed the stack of novels on the side table next to the sofa, and decided to read one.
She was halfway through the book when she heard a key clicking in the lock of the door. Jordyn poked her head in, tapping lightly. “Hey,” she said when she saw Suzannah, “I have a break and I decided to come back here with my lunch. Are you hungry?”
After not eating much the day before, and only having the bowl of cereal that morning, Suzannah admitted that she was indeed hungry. Jordyn sat down and spread the sandwiches and chips out on the coffee table.
“So…” Jordyn began slowly, once they had started eating. “Do you—I mean, um… Are you ready to talk about it now?”
Suzannah hesitated, but the more she thought about it, the more the ache increased in her heart, desperate to be released. “Okay,” she said, and proceeded to tell Jordyn the whole situation[..]. By the time she finished, she was crying, and it was all Jordyn could do to keep herself together.
“I still don’t understand what just happened to me,” Suzannah sobbed. “Then, too, I have been kicking myself for not seeing it sooner, and—more than that—getting myself into this stupid situation in the first place!” She accepted the tissue Jordyn offered and wiped her eyes.
“Well,” Jordyn said slowly, rubbing Suzannah’s shoulder comfortingly, “I can’t tell you whether or not you did the right thing, and I know it’s not great—but you made the decision, so the best I can offer is to help you move on from it, and get that fresh start you said you wanted.”
Suzannah gave Jordyn a woebegone smile. “How can you help?”
Jordyn smiled, but not too widely. “Some friends of mine are hosting a party this weekend. You should come with me; there will be lots of people to meet.”
Suzannah fingered the crumpled tissue in her hand, and picked at the fibers of the couch next to her leg. “I don’t know…” she replied slowly.
“Just think about it,” said Jordyn. “You don’t have to give me an answer till the day of. Meanwhile, Snooze,” she checked her watch, “I have to get back to work, and I’ll be there till eight or so—so what are you going to do with yourself today?”
Suzannah shrugged, “I dunno; maybe take a walk. I’ll find someplace to have dinner, does that sound okay?”
Jordyn nodded and grinned at her friend. “That’s the spirit!” she enthused. “The spare key’s on the hook next to the phone. I’ll see you later tonight.” She stood, grabbed her purse, and left.

Suzannah was alone again. In the stillness, her curiosity over this place that might turn out to be her new home dimmed somewhat. She glanced back at the novel she had been reading; perhaps San Francisco could wait till she finished that, at least.

She finished just as the sun was beginning to set. She slipped on a cotton dress and cardigan, choosing a comfortable pair of sneakers in anticipation of much walking. With that, she picked up the spare key, slipped it into her purse, and stepped out of Jordyn’s apartment to see what she would find.

As she crossed what seemed like the umpteenth block, she heard music coming from somewhere--fresh music, not the canned stuff being pumped out of every tavern and passing car radio. She looked up, intrigued. At the end of the block, a white, old-style facade seemed to radiate welcome. She heard the warm twang of an A-frame electric guitar being strummed gently. She made for the entrance. A sign overhead proclaimed the Silver Cloud Restaurant. She slid in the door, taking advantage of the hostess' turned back to slip in the shadows.

There was a stage against the back wall, with bright floodlights aimed toward it. Sitting on a stool in front of the microphone was a tall young man with light brown, tousled hair. His eyes were closed to the crowd in front of him. She recognized the chord progression, but she couldn't recall where she'd heard it. He strummed a few more lines and then--in a strong, smooth, soulful voice--began to sing along.

Remember the moonlight,
When life sends the rain,
Remember I love you,
Till we meet again;
Look to the stars,
How they shine up above,
Forever and always,
Remember my love...”

She hadn't realized when her vision clouded over, but she had to wipe her eyes to return to the shadowy restaurant with the tousled-haired musician strumming away on the open mic.
Suzannah was spellbound. She couldn't move. She watched him as he bowed to the applause and ducked out of the spotlight. Some random chick got up and started wheezing out a drunken rendition of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", and the spell was broken.
Suzannah flinched as someone confronted her.
“Can I help you?” The hostess—in a black pencil skirt and white starched blouse—demanded loud enough for everyone in the immediate vicinity to turn and look at the shy girl with the bad dye job standing at the front desk.
Luckily for Suzannah, there were a few people more interested in getting a table than she was.
“How long is the wait?” A heavyset man all but bowled her over as he pushed his way to the front. Suzannah took advantage of the distraction to melt into the flow of people exiting. Once outside, she paused to reflect on what she had just witnessed.

It had been years since she’d listened to Cal Parker music. He had pushed to get her into the indie-pop scene, decrying her old jazz records as “grandma music.” When she’d moved into an apartment to share with him, her embarrassment over it had caused her to leave her whole collection in the attic at her parents’ house.
Now here she was, two years later, trying to find herself in a new place—and an angel with an A-frame guitar had played one of her favorite songs from her favorite record, Moonsong. Suzannah smiled; it had to be a good omen!

Other Excerpts From "The Suggestion Box Compilation":

-Part 1: Excerpt 1 Excerpt 2
-Part 2: Excerpt 1
-Part 4: Excerpt 1
-Part 5: Excerpt 1

Would you like to see more of this part? Leave a comment and I'll post another excerpt!

Monday, November 11, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013: "The Suggestion Box", Part 1 (Excerpt 2)

Horatio stared in bizarre fascination at this child with the bright-red hair. Nat cleared his throat to attract her attention.
“Butterfly?” he called, glancing apologetically at Horatio.
Butterfly peeked down through the branches of the tree at her cousin and the newcomer. She screwed up her face into a squint as she studied Horatio.
“’ere noo!” she shrieked in a thick Scottish brogue. “Hoo’s the braw laddie, Iggy? No’ th’ bloke fram America, is’n’e?” She giggled and swung her legs as she surveyed him from her perch on the branch.
“He is indeed,” Nat replied patiently. Even he was losing his usual jovial demeanor in the face of such vulgar and coarse manners. “Come down, Ezzie! I want you to meet him!”
Butterfly laughed and turned to pull faces at a squirrel that had approached this new large intrusion with mild interest. “Ah’ll comm doon when Ah’m guid an’ reddy, sar!” she laughed, and swung easily after the squirrel who was beginning to realize the dangers his own inquisitiveness had invited.

Horatio was, at that moment, experiencing the withering death and absolute demolishment of all the hopes and dreams of the last month. He realized now that he had long labored under the impression that all the friends of the Ratzkewatski family would be upper-crust, stately, and polished; the last thing he expected was this barefoot hussy who looked as if she was taking her first holiday from the mists of Brigadoon.

Copper-colored hair? Horatio was reminded as he watched the bobbing head wobble through the foliage of the tangled pile of copper springs he had once observed during an outing to a museum once in Exeter. He had no doubt that his well-meaning friend had sadly overestimated the other features of her appearance, as well. One thing at least Ignatz had represented closer to the truth than he likely intended: the young lady was decidedly impish. She seemed more comfortable in that tree than she might be upon the ground.
The squirrel finally evaded pursuit, bounding speedily out of her reach, and so Miss Butterfly Huffingtree had little recourse but to acquiesce to her cousin’s request. She seemed to ignore the twigs and leaves clawing at her hair and dress as she clambered down through the branches toward the trunk.
When at last she alighted, Horatio sneered inwardly as he thought she looked much like a tree herself, with her skin almost brown with the profusion of freckles, and the leaves and twigs covering her hair. This the delicate beauty Nat wanted him to meet? This the girl he assumed would be so alike to him that they would compliment each other like two lines of harmony?
Butterfly (she no longer warranted the stately name of Esmirelda) grinned at him, her morning-glory eyes almost white in their paleness within her ruddy face.
“Pleased ta make yer acquaintance, sar!” Her observance of etiquette was not amiss, and she curtseyed well enough. “Are ye that Rate Whistler mah coosin naever stops blatherin’ on aboot?”
Horatio nodded his head in a curt bow and responded, as manners dictated, “The pleasure is mine, Miss Huffingtree. I am he.”
Butterfly blushed even redder than she had been before and giggled. “Call me Butterfly then; Miss Hoofin’tree sounds sae stiff and straight-oop, like too much starch in th’ collar!” She flounced a few long paces in the full, free dress and flung her arms wide. “Do Ah seem like the type that uses any starch at all, Mr. Whistle?”
Horatio smiled wanly at her, like an older adult indulging an ignorant young child, even though, as he saw her now, he guessed that she wasn’t very much younger than he. “No, indeed, you do not,” he answered her. “And please, it’s Whistlestop; Horatio Whistlestop.”
“Whistlestop?” Butterfly repeated. She burst out in a cackling titter. “Ach! They’ve fonny names in America! C’n I call ye Mr. Rate?”
Horatio sighed, but acknowledged to himself that it was better to be Rate than Whistle. “If you’d like.”
The gong sounded, signaling dinner.
Automatically, Horatio offered his arm to Miss Butterfly Huffingtree. “Shall we go to dinner?” he invited her cordially.
“Thank ye, sar!” She chirped in her strange accent.

At dinner, she chattered endlessly with all the Ratzkewatski family. The more he listened, the more Horatio became accustomed to her thick accent. There had been a few Scottish students at the school in Exeter, but living among Englanders had softened their accents considerably. He was so unaccustomed to the unadulterated Highland brogue that it sounded akin to a completely foreign language.
Nat took advantage of the fact that Butterfly was occupied elsewhere to explain more about her background to his friend.
“Aunt Gertrude married Fredrick Huffingtree, a businessman from Scotland. You see before you a girl born and raised in the wild Highlands. She often spends a portion of the summer with us. Aunt Gertie and Uncle Fred are far too busy to travel themselves, but they both realize the value of allowing their daughter to socialize with proper British society, and in a loving environment such as her sister’s home, there can be nothing lacking.”
“Now, Nat,” Horatio responded, “I hope you understand that I hold your recommendation in high regard, and I have every belief that you are an excellent judge of character—“
Nat tilted his head and regarded his friend. “But—“
Horatio looked over as Butterfly burst into a bout of wild laughter. His eloquent glance at his well-meaning friend told the latter all he needed to know. Nat shook his head, “Come, Horatio! You’ve only just met! I promise, if you’ll just give her a chance, Butterfly will win you over with her charms!”
Horatio watched as the “charming” young woman proceeded to balance a spoon on the end of her nose, and laugh when it consistently fell, to the merriment of everyone watching.
“As a pet, maybe,” he remarked to himself grimly. “But nothing more.” Out of sympathy for his friend, Horatio kept these sentiments to himself and still put on a face of willingness for Nat’s sake.
After dinner, the youths all gathered around the fireplace in the parlor to chat with one another.
Ignatz noticed that Horatio stayed near him, so he called Butterfly over, to give his friend little recourse but to join him in engaging her.
“So, cousin Butterfly,” he began, “how have your academic studies been treating you? Are you feeling ready to enter the St. Edward’s Academy for Girls next year?”
Butterfly pulled a sour face. “Ach, no! I tried to tell me father an’ mother not to force me into such foppery and flounces, but naeboddy listens ta me! Sae it appears me days of wonderful freedom an’ ‘appiness are coomin’ to an end.” She sighed and stomped a little foot on the floor, giving her curls a decided bounce to emphasize her words.
Paulina looked over with a smile. Her poise spoke louder than her words as she said, “Oh, Esmie, it’s not like that! The staff at St. Edward’s will make sure you have everything you need to become a lady, that is all. I dare say you will find more freedom in that, not that the life you formerly knew will be discouraged and forgotten!”
“Polly, d’ye kenn’at fer sartin?” Butterfly turned the large blue eyes upon her cousin. “I daen’t want a lady’s life just yet! Besides,” there was a keen gaze in her eye that Horatio never expected to see, “Who’s to say there is more freedom in a lady’s life? I daen’t see you gadding aboot wi’ yer broothers any more, Polly dearie!”
Paulina smiled benignly, “It’s not because I can’t, Esmirelda; it’s because I do not wish to.”
“Well, I shall always wish to!” Butterfly huffed fervently, and she stood abruptly and moved to a seat closer to the boys of whom she spoke.

Horatio glanced at Ignatz, who shook his head. “I’m afraid my cousin isn’t presenting an appealing picture of herself,” the young host remarked. “I’m truly sorry; I had really thought she would behave a bit differently.”
“My dear brother,” Paulina inserted bitterly, “does the leopard change his spots? Esmirelda Huffingtree is a child to the core, and she will continue to be a child until she wakes up and realizes that it is no longer a viable option!”
Horatio could tell just by looking at the level of pink in her cheeks that young Paulina had definite ideas of when exactly that deadline would arrive.
“Well, Ignatz, my friend,” he said, “it appears that, after all, you really ought to do what you should have done all along.”
Ignatz frowned at his friend in confusion. “And what would that be, Horatio? Settle down and find a woman for myself to distract me from the affairs of my friend?”
Horatio chuckled, “Nearly right, Natty! Find a woman if you must—but leave the affair of my own heart to me. Will you?”
Ignatz sighed. “Of course I will.”

The mention of the impending Academy seemed to work a change in Butterfly Huffingtree over the next two days. Instead of the wild hoyden everyone had been ready to resign themselves to, she became morose, withdrawn, and exceedingly pale. She did not (to Horatio’s relief) resume climbing trees, but instead chose the shadiest, darkest, coldest corners of the gardens to wander in whenever she went outside, and inside, when everyone else conversed or played various games, young Butterfly sat in the corner, watching all with beleaguered self-restraint. On the second afternoon, Horatio decided that he almost preferred the shouting child to this ghost of a maid, and he informed her of such.
“Here now,” he accosted her. “There is no cause for such a downcast demeanor, for one who has her every need supplied! The Ratzkewatskis care about you, Miss Esmirelda, and I can tell you it pains them all deeply to see you like this!”
She sniffed and ran a delicate hand under her nose. “Isn’a true,” she murmured in protest. “Naeboddy cares aboot me. They’re all just waitin’ fer me to ship off to that infernal Academy. They’ve not one of them heard of what I want ta do!”
Horatio realized only at this moment that he had been unconsciously sided with the Ratzkewatskis in the affair of Butterfly Huffingtree, that he had always viewed her from an adult’s perspective, as a child whose only thought is for play and pleasure. Now he took her by the hand and gestured to a nearby stone bench next to the hedge.
“What do you want to do?” he asked her.
There was a sparkle in her eyes such as he had not ever been close enough to see before as she breathed, “I want ta see the world, Mr. Rate! No’ just a part of it, the hull mess o’ land and people! An’ I kin do it, too, wi’oot much money or time fer travelin’, as I have!”
It sounded so magical, so enchanting and mysterious when she spoke this way. Horatio found himself drawn in quite unintentionally. “How?” he asked. Did the girl possess some extraordinary power beyond human comprehension? It wouldn’t have surprised Horatio one bit to discover that the wild, strange girl was one of those “exceptionally gifted” children one read about in science fiction novels.
Butterfly grinned for the first time since the day he arrived. “I’ll ronn a boardin’ ‘ouse, see?” she declared. “It’ll be a boardin’ ‘ouse for travelers from all over the world! I will be the gatekeeper of the Atlantic, and everyone who comms o’er the water will pass my door, and I’ll keep ‘em and cook fer ‘em and give ‘em rooms and listen ta their stories—I’ll see the world, right in me aine parler!” and she laughed aloud.
Suddenly the old vivacious Butterfly was back, and she flounced to her feet. “But it’s a secret, Mr. Rate,” she told him in a fierce whisper. “Naeboddy who thinks o’ th’ Academy would ever let me keep a boardin’ house, it not bein’a proper engagement for a lady,” she gave an exaggerated caricature of Paulina’s manner. “Daen’t tell anyone!” Her bright eyes were pleading. In the moment he would answer, though, she suddenly sprang to her feet and ran back into the house, her old rambunctious self once more.

Other Excerpts From "The Suggestion Box Compilation":

-Part 1: Excerpt 1
-Part 2: Excerpt 1
-Part 3: Excerpt 1
-Part 4: Excerpt 1
-Part 5: Excerpt 1

Would you like to see more of this part? Leave a comment and I'll post another excerpt!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Serial Saturday: NaNoWriMo Edition! (Part 2)

In a small bed and breakfast near Flathead Lake in rural Montana, there lived two sisters and a tabby cat. The sisters' names were Tammi and Tina Carmody, and the cat's name was Esmie.  Tammi and Tina got along well enough, but the sisters could not be more different.
Tammi, the older sister, approached her forties with gentility and ease. With a slim, graceful figure and a full head of dark hair with elegant streaks of silver only just beginning to show, Tammi seemed verily an embodiment of those two words. She maintained the flowerbeds around the yard and provided the quiet amusements for their guests, such as reading or art or needlework.
Tina, on the other hand, was still as rambunctious at thirty as she had been at twenty. If Tammi led the outdoor excursions and poured the tea, Tina provided the music and led the dancing. She would not let a single auburn hair on her head turn to grey, and rarely missed an appointment with the hairdresser to ensure this.
Tammi liked to wear soft sweaters and muted colors. Tina preferred bright fabrics and plenty of jewelry. Tammi liked to sit and think about things. Tina would far rather talk about them.
The name of their bed-and-breakfast was Pierce House, after their grandparents, John and Paulina Pierce. It had a sitting room in the front with wide windows overlooking the flower beds and the lane leading from the main road to the little house, and a parlor in the back where stood a stately upright piano, flanked on the walls by two portraits, one of John and Paulina, the other of Paulina's Scottish cousin, Butterfly Whistlestop and her husband, Horatio. 
On this particular morning, Tammi was reading a heartwarming novel, Mr. O’Grady’s Impossible Flight, at the dining room table when her sister’s voice floated from the parlor.
“Tammi? When will the first guest arrive?”
Tammi set down her novel and rolled her blue eyes in mild irritation. Marking her place with a delicate finger, she called back to her sister, “If you’re writing letters, dear, the calendar should be posted right over your head.”
“Oh…” Tina’s voice faded abruptly as the truth of her sister’s words dawned on her. Suddenly, Tammi heard the snap of Tina’s shoes as the energetic woman charged into the dining room with a paper in her hand.
“Wait—“ she blustered, “If we have someone coming on September the fourth, then how does this happen?” She showed her sister the paper.
Tammi put down her book a second time. This time, she didn’t bother leaving her finger there; when Tina had a problem, it wasn’t usually answered with a sentence or two. She glanced at the bulletin in her sister’s hand. It advertised a traveling circus coming through the area, and it would be during the same weekend as the new arrival—and both of them knew that new boarders always took at least two days to settle.
“I suppose the new guest won’t be having any of your circus,” Tammi mused, thinking that perhaps, after all, she could return to her novel sooner than anticipated.
“But Tammi!” Tina protested. “It’s a circus! Don’t you recall how long it has been since either of us has been to see a circus? And now one is coming to us! Right here to Flathead Lake! How could we miss such a grand opportunity?”
Tammi snorted, “Your grand opportunities are a dime a dozen, dear sister!” she remonstrated Tina. “I am sure you’ll find another one more suited to the guest’s taste.”
Tina dropped into the nearest seat in a decidedly unladylike fashion. “What could you presume to know about the personal tastes of this S. Morton?”
Tammi smiled demurely. “I know, my dear, because I know he is a schoolteacher. That is why he is boarding here.”
“A schoolteacher? Where?”
“The Academy across the brook—you remember! It was one of the reasons mother thought this bed-and-breakfast boarding house would be a good idea at this particular location, because the unique teaching methods of the school would attract a number of students, and they would need somewhere to stay, if not on the grounds of the school itself—thus, we would be the likeliest option, since most of the provided housing would go to the students, which meant that the faculty would be needing somewhere to stay.”
“And where else but Pierce House?” Tina’s eyes sparkled and she grinned at her sister. “Well, all right, then, no circus—but the next event that comes along…”
Tammi nodded, “You can plan away to your heart’s content.” She picked up her novel again and flipped to the page she had bent to mark her spot. “Now, hush! I’m nearly finished with this chapter.”
Tina snorted, "I guess you can keep our guest entertained well enough! You two have something in common, unless I miss my guess." She nodded to the book in Tammi's hand.
The woman blushed a little. "I highly doubt a studious Academy teacher will have any desire for entertainment, anyway!" she blustered. "And he's German," as if that was the final straw. Tammi buried her red face in her book. "Don't you have letters to write, or calls to make on the telephone?"
Tina smiled a knowing smile and left the room. The house lapsed into silence as the sisters became engrossed in their respective activities. By afternoon tea, Tina had finished the solicitations and filled the reservations, and Tammi had verified that the house was still very clean from the last time she had scrubbed and dusted and swept. She also finished Mr. O'Grady's Impossible Flight.
Tina and Tammi sat in the front sitting room, enjoying their tea and listening to the gramophone play the music of legendary New York crooner Cal Parker warble his latest songs like "Stella Luna," a song dedicated to his daughter Bella and the sisters' favorite.

"In the gray of cold December,
On the streets of old New York,
Stella Luna, I'll remember,
And our walk through Central Park.

Don't forget me, Bella Luna,
Even though we're far apart,
You'll be always in my heart,
Stella Luna."

"Such a pretty song!" Tammi sighed as Tina leaned over and adjusted the needle.
"Indeed—especially the fact that he made this recording because he wanted to show how much he loved his family," Tina remarked. As Cal's voice began again, she pouted mischievously. "Too bad he's already obviously married and happy; we could have invited him out to Montana."
Tammi nearly dropped her teacup in alarm. "Tina!" she cried. "How can you say such a horrible thing?"
Tina smiled without the slightest hint of remorse or embarrassment. “What? We aren’t getting any younger, my dear… haven’t you ever thought about having a family? Or would you rather Pierce House fall into the hands of some unscrupulous stranger who would raze it upon our deaths?”
Tammi set her cup and saucer on the tea tray, and her hands trembled. “You do say the most disturbing things sometimes, Tina.”
But her sister was not listening. For once, Tina Carmody did not have the last word. Tammi glanced up to see if she had suddenly fainted, but Tina’s eyes were wide open. She was staring at something out the window.
“Tina,” Tammi began softly, “what—“
“Hush!” Tina snapped, her eyes fixed on whatever it was. She raised a finger to the glass and pointed, “Who is that?”
Tammi followed the tip of her finger. Pulling down the long gravel lane was a Ford Model T.

Other Excerpts From "The Suggestion Box Compilation":

-Part 1: Excerpt 1 Excerpt 2
-Part 3: Excerpt 1
-Part 4: Excerpt 1
-Part 5: Excerpt 1

Would you like to see more of this part? Leave a comment and I'll post another excerpt!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hit List: Top 5 Young Actors

Okay, so today, I am ready to post my next Hit List: Top 5 Young Actors I absolutely love every time I see them (at least in these specific films):

1. Freddie Highmore

Yes, you're seeing double... the twin brothers on The Spiderwick Chronicles  are played by the same actor, the spectacularly talented Freddie. Not only was it the most convincing performance of a single actor playing twins--but Freddie's American accent was impeccable. Twins Jared (center) and Simon (right) are as distinct as their appearance. He literally portrayed the brothers as two separate characters, changing his vocal inflections, while still maintaining the accent. Simon uses big words and clearer diction. Jared mumbles and is sarcastic most of the time. 
I have yet to see a movie (one with content that I am interested in, anyway) in which Freddie does not outshine most of the adults. Granted, his predominate screen partner is Johnny Depp (whom most would be hard-pressed to outshine), but if he doesn't beat 'em, Freddie can match Johnny for character credibility and skill as an actor.

(Side Note: if you've seen an old TV film called Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story, Freddie has a cameo at the end, with his father Edward...)

Other recommended films:
Finding Neverland
Five Children and It
August Rush

2. Charlie Rowe

Unfortunately, I couldn't find my favorite scene from this "miniseries", Neverland. Watching this was the first time I'd seen Charlie Rowe--and I couldn't get enough. This kid is spectacular. He played the role of Peter with conviction and total commitment. (Even though I have a bone to pick with the writers of this particular show--there's a part in there that they could have left out, if they hadn't been so focused on trying to shape Hook... oh well...)

Other Recommended Films:
Never Let Me Go

3. Thomas Horn

I just watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close the other day. This kid rocks. Don't believe me? Check out this Most Amazing Monologue Delivery By A Young Actor Ever:

Thomas landed the complicated role of Oskar Schell in the film because its producer was so impressed with his performance (and the fact that he won) on a Kid's edition of Jeopardy in 2010. It was his film debut--and he made it count! This movie made me cry, made me think, made me appreciate the world just a little bit more. And this dude's got the most screen time of everyone--he carries the film, and does an amazing job at it.

4. Jeremy Sumpter

So... I couldn't find a clip or GIF of my favorite scene from this film (Peter Pan), but this still is the closest I could get.
I was super-excited when we first saw this film. I think it is one of only a handful of cinematic versions of this story where Peter Pan is actually played by a boy--and the first English version, at any rate.
Jeremy brought incredible realism to the character. The thing I like to watch most about an actor is "what they're saying when they're not saying anything": the non-verbal reactions. His were spot-on: the expressions, the knee-jerks (such as drawing his dagger on a jack-in-the-box, then not-so-subtly kicking it over when he realizes his mistake), and the delivery of his lines. This is hands-down one of my favorite-ever fantasy films, and it's due largely in part to the convincing portrayals of all the major characters.

(Fun Fact: the role of Michael is played by Freddie Popplewell--Yes, that Popplewell; apparently his sister Anna--best known as Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia--came to audition for the part of Wendy; of course, she didn't get it... but they were so impressed with the little redhead tagging along with her that they offered him an audition and he landed his role in the film!)

Other Recommended Films:
Soul Surfer

5. Giorgio Cantarini

This is an odd addition, true... but definitely worth it. This little guy TOTALLY matches Roberto Benigni for gusto and humor and character credibility in the movie La Vita E Bella (Life is Beautiful; it's an Italian film, and there was a English dub version made, but the Italian with subtitles is the way to go). Giorgio positively shines as the young Joshua; we feel his fear, his confusion, his fatigue--all the emotions of a little boy caught in the anti-Semitism of World War II with no idea why shops are closed, people disappear, and why he and his father are separated from his mother and he must hide all the time. A heart-warming, tear-jerking film.

Honorable Mention:

Spencer Breslin--With appearances in Raising Helen and The Santa Clause 2 that follow the "outshining" pattern of the rest of the guys in this list, I had thought about including him--but when lined up with the other five "heavy-hitters", poor Spence got edged out by a hair. His skill as an actor is well-grounded, though, and makes the above films worth watching.