Stories


Anyone looking at the blog will see a big gap this year in published blog posts. Things went off course for me when, in January, I volunteered to do the homeowners association newsletter. I’d written newsletters before, I knew how to tweak my antique Microsoft Publisher program and make pretty PDFs to upload rather than print, and I could set my own schedule. How hard could it be?

What I learned (again) is that me splitting my writing focus isn’t something I do very well. Although both projects involve writing (i.e., typing), real estate legal stuff for a newsletter is a different critter than mystery-writing legal stuff for a story. I was jumping back and forth between subjects, which wasn’t good for either of them.

Now add in the presidential campaign. I’m not actively involved in campaigning, but oh, my goodness, where did the time go?

Now that the election is winding down (one hopes), I’m slowly righting my fictional writing ship that had foundered and I’m getting back on course. The short story I was working on is nearing completion (just a short story?!?) so that’s one more brick in that story wall. Me not being a natural born killer made sorting out the story’s howdunnit challenging. I thought that all my years of reading mysteries and watching detective programs had given me a good grounding in fictional crime. Sadly, writing mysteries is more difficult than reading and watching them.

While I’ve been nudging my fictional ship back on course, I’ve also assembled a nice little play-acting company of amenable, uncomplaining plastic actresses and actors courtesy of the talented and persnickety engineers at Playmobil. The detail of the accessories that come with the little actresses and actors is a great aid to memory and imagination.

And now, having taken a step in getting up after I’ve fallen down, on to completing the story.

 

The general setup for the stories:

The apartment building is to the left, with an office area in front of it. The office and its garages (which doubles as offices when needed) are in the center. The Border is behind them. Above it all is the castle on the hill, which also looks down on the church across from the office. The church bell takes getting used to for the story characters.

The apartment building is to the left, with an office area in front of it. The office and its garages (which doubles as offices when needed) are in the center. The Border is behind them. Above it all is the castle on the hill, which also looks down on the church across from the office. The church bell takes getting used to for the story characters.

 

Where the characters live

Although my stories rarely involve the family members of the characters, having someplace for the characters to live when they aren't in a scene adds depth to my thinking.

Although my stories rarely involve the family members of the characters, having someplace for the characters to live when they aren’t in a scene adds depth to my thinking.

 

 

Cold War Germany

The red and white barriers are reminiscent of the barriers that were on the actual border before the German Reunification. Off to the left is the train station -- track numbers, schedules, and a map -- which usually wasn't so close to the border, but my table top has limited real estate.

The red and white barriers are reminiscent of the barriers that were on the actual border before the German Reunification.
Off to the left is the train station — track numbers, schedules, and a map — which usually wasn’t so close to the border, but my table top has limited real estate.

 

 

Items my actresses and actors could use for mischief

Possible weapons

Possible weapons

 

Story scenes:

The picnic scene

The office is having a picnic for the U.S. Bicentennial. Naturally, because conflict is what drives fiction, a fight breaks out at the picnic.

The office is having a picnic for the U.S. Bicentennial. Naturally, because conflict is what drives fiction, a fight breaks out at the picnic.

 

The office scene

A colleague of my brown-haired main character tells her how he overheard what the red-head said. The colleague has his name taped on his back as the other characters do. That way, they don't get mixed up with each other.

A colleague of my brown-haired main character tells her how he overheard what the red-head said.
The colleague has his name taped on his back as the other characters do. That way, they don’t get mixed up with each other.

 

Finding the body

My main character (the brown haired character at the back) and her colleagues are surprised to find the missing man outside their office, lying in a stairwell near the road (the white stripes are a pedestrian crossing). The back wall of the "office" is open (it's a child's play set), so I had to put in a paper wall to ever so slightly increase the realism.

My main character (the brown haired character at the back) and her colleagues are surprised to find the missing man outside their office, lying in a stairwell near the road (the white stripes are a pedestrian crossing).
The back wall of the “office” is open (it’s a child’s play set), so I had to put in a paper wall to ever so slightly increase the realism.

 

Interlude after the body was found

The main character had errands to run. The other office members were left to talk to the police after the military police gave her permission to leave.

The main character had errands to run. The other office members were left to talk to the police after the military police gave her permission to leave.

 

No, I’m not giving away the ending.

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get stuck. I’ll forget where my characters are in relation to each other. I’ll forget the exact sequence of events. I’ll forget where the characters are standing. I’ll forget how many people are even in a room.

When I have these lapses, I’m almost cheerful because that’s when I can legitimately play with some toys I (said I) bought for the grandkids — Playmobil playsets.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they'll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they’ll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

 

I first found Playmobil toys in 1976 after we moved to Germany for the second time.  My husband and I gave our son two sets of them for Christmas.  In the years since then, the company has expanded their range of playsets so that people like me can now use them in ways the designers probably didn’t imagine. At the moment, I have a motorcycle policeman on order. In future, my characters won’t be riding invisible motorcycles.

I’m happy to say that when my little characters aren’t busy getting up to no good in my imaginary worlds, they’re happily inhabiting the more innocent stories of little children.

The Veterans Writing Project picked up my story “Beer Here” for their publication, O-Dark-Thirty.

Procession from the Kreuzberg monastery up to the crosses on the mountain.   Picture courtesy of Wikpedia.

Procession from the Kreuzberg monastery up to the crosses on the mountain. Picture courtesy of Wikpedia.

Beer Here

Barb Hoskins, a Cold War-era CI investigator runs into a platoon-mate from Basic who is on her way back to the Land of the Round Doorknob. They go out for a last-minute fling at a monastery, famed for its beer, and wind up with more action than they bargained for.

The story is one of a series that will be part of a book, Culture Shock.

This Friday is my youngest grandson’s sixth birthday. It will be his best birthday yet, at least according to him, because it will be 13 December! Of course, all his other birthdays have been on the 13th of December, but at the end of this week, it will REALLY BE 13 DECEMBER!

He’s jazzed about Friday as only a six-year-old can be about his birthday.

For his present I’ve bought a few toys, of course. No child’s birthday is complete without toys. The present he probably won’t be expecting is a story, a birthday-adventure story about himself featuring his favorite color (blue), his favorite outdoor game (disc golf), with the story set in his favorite place (Wuhu Island from the Wii Sports Resort game).

In addition to all that, the illustrations are by his 10-year old cousin. I printed out a draft of the story that she read, and then she drew six pictures from the story in one of her sketch books.

2013 12 Dec 08 Drawing for Ems's book 01

In this part of the story, my grandson is working at the Swordplay Colosseum on Wuhu Island. The swordplay game is one of his favorites.

In order to get my granddaughter’s pictures to me, and because our schedules are busy, her mom left the sketch book outside their front door in a Ziploc® bag, and her Poppa swung by to pick it up. I scanned the pictures and saved them to my hard drive so that I can print the pages on photo paper. I’ll mount them back-to-back with spray glue to make strong pages, and then bind them into a book with comb-binding, just like my dad used to do for our family photo albums. It will be a production, but I think the little guy will be pleased with the book.

My grandson reads, but he doesn’t read his grandmama’s blog, so this will still be a surprise, as his birthday is in the story.  Just know that on Friday his cousins and I will be wishing him a very happy birthday.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Update

My grandson is thrilled with the story — he can’t believe how many people he knows in the story.

Beware the revenge of writers.  We might (eventually) make a profit off your incivility.

One woman considers breaking the laws of 'victimless' crimes to be something from which she can benefit.  Another woman is merely a thoughtless twit.  When they meet, it can't end well.

One woman considers breaking the laws of ‘victimless’ crimes to be something from which she can benefit. Another woman is merely a thoughtless twit. When they meet, it can’t end well.

Click cover to open file.

Three weeks ago we adopted a rescued family of cats — cats we never expected to share a home with. We’d recently lost Dinah, our 19-year old blue point Siamese and we didn’t think we’d want to ‘replace’ her. Dinah was special. We reckoned without our veterinarian daughter who, apparently, is our enabler.

Mama-cat is a seal point Siamese, and the two kittens who came with her are a tortie point polydactyl (6-toed) Siamese and a brown tabby who looks as if he wanted to be an Egyptian Mau. We are charmed by all of them.

As is usual with new members of the household, we needed to be able to call them something. “Hey, you! Get off that!” is unwieldy and too nonspecific, plus it isn’t something a kitten ever responds to. The names I suggested for the two cats we initially intended to adopt were Polly and Ernestine. Polly sounded perfect for the tiny polydactyl girl kitten, and Ernestine would have been just too cute for her mama as Ernest Hemingway had a thing for polydactyls. I was voted down by the local Philistines.

The next round of names were Cocoa and Yum Yum for mother and daughter. When I’m feeling fragile I like to read or listen to gentle stories such as those by Lilian Jackson Braun who named her two main character cats Koko and Yum Yum. Braun was inspired, I assume, by characters from The Mikado, my favorite Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. Koko was a male character in the operetta so Cocoa seemed appropriate for a pretty girl with dark brown Siamese points.

Then they came home. Not only did they come home, but one of the little boy kittens came with them as all the kittens had so much fun with each other it seemed cruel to separate them.

Once the cats were home, we saw that Cocoa didn’t fit the shy mama cat (who has yet to really come out from under the bed) — the repeated k-sounds in the name were too hard. Yum Yum was fine for the little girl but without the Cocoa/Koko companion name, it felt incomplete. Since my ideas for names weren’t working, I let nature take its course with the rest of the family, and they filled in the gap. We now have three named cats: Minka (courtesy of our daughter, who Googled German cat names), and Audrey and Rusty (courtesy of our son who likes the National Lampoon vacation movies).

Minka

Minka

Audrey

Audrey

Rusty

Rusty

Here’s where it gets odd. Yesterday I opened a Word file from 2009 in order to edit the second short story in a series for a main character I’ve been developing. The storyline is irrelevant, but with character names that made me think I ought to be hearing Twilight Zone music. I don’t have a Rusty in the story, but I do have an Audrey and a Minky.

— One name in common is a reasonable coincidence, but two names are decidedly odd.

— Two names that I thought up is a reasonable coincidence, but two names from two people who haven’t Clue 1 about the story, or that I’d even written it, is again, decidedly odd.

I had thought to remove the cat from the story (an unfortunate victim, but from carelessness, not anything horrid) but with the coincidence of the names, it has to stay in. I want to think that what I write comes only from my own imagination but the Audrey and Minky/Minka coincidence makes me feel that maybe I have a muse laughing at me from a corner of the room.

2013 07 Jul 29 Who Is Meinhof cover

Staff Sergeant Barb Hoskins is newly arrived in West Germany and,
after another night of jet-lagged lying-in-bed (she can hardly call it ‘sleep’),
is searching for breakfast at her new home/place of work.
She finds nothing to eat and then the phone rings
(and rings, and rings).  The co-worker who was to have
remained at the office is nowhere to be found and,
after answering the phone, Barb winds up working
to keep both her and her new boss out of hot water.
Barb finds herself wondering who the real enemy is
— the Soviets across the border
or the terrorists driving around the countryside?

Behind the story:

(story will remain available for about two weeks)

Link has been removed

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