Interview with a Villain

Prompt provided by Writer’s DigestYour old villain quit over creative differences, so you’ve put yourself in charge of hiring a new villain for your novel. What questions do you ask? What does the new villain’s resume say? Write this scene as if it were a job interview.

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“Come in,” I call towards the door as I shuffle my manuscript notes into a neat pile and set them to the side. The large solid oak door leading into my office creaks open and a tall slender woman with pale yellow hair curled into a low tight bun steps inside.

“Ms. Knowles,” she says warmly with a slight nod of her head. Her long black linen dress covers her from wrist to boot, her starched apron stiff and brighter than my freshly painted white walls.

“Agatha,” I smile in return. “Punctual as promised. Please, sit down.” She nods again, this time with a slight smile, and sits rigidly in the squashy leather chair across from me.

“So, tell me about yourself,” I say to her. She has maintained eye contact with me without so much as a blink. Her silvery blue eyes look like they belong to a shark, not this pretty, genteel sort of woman in her neatly ironed clothes.

“I’ve worked as a nurse at Holloswaithe’s Asylum for Lunatics since my sixteenth birthday,” Agatha says brightly. “Sixteen is the youngest one can be hired. I waited my whole life to work there, for Dr. Benek.”

“That’s not exactly a profession many little girls dream about,” I say to her, probing.

“Most little girls aren’t raised in asylums,” Agatha replies simply. “I was. My mother was a nurse there and I was brought up within the halls of Holloswaithe, learning from Dr. Benek. I know everything about Holloswaithe. I know its secrets.” She still doesn’t blink, her eyes fixed unflinchingly on mine, smiling slightly all the while. I begin to rub my right thumbnail, a nervous tick I’ve had since I was nine.

“What secrets?” I ask intrigued despite the light tingling along my spine.

“I know why the walls moan in the middle of the night,” Agatha says flatly, but there is a cruel sparkle in her eyes. “I know why empty rooms whisper. I know why women with sound minds whimper with fear. I know why graves appear in the Asylum cemetery before there’s a body to go inside.”

She keeps her cool lethal eyes on me, studying me. I wish she’d stop smiling. It adds to the danger of her countenance somehow.

“Does Dr. Benek know about these secrets? The villain I’m searching for needs to be untraceable, their closest friend wouldn’t suspect them of a harsh word, let alone murder,” I ask her as I learn forward, reminding myself that I’m the one in charge, it’s my story. Her smile disappears. The once cool silvery blue of her eyes darkens until they seem to go black.

“Dr. Benek is the reason for the secrets. I keep him safe, pure, without sin,” she says calmly. She reaches up to her neck, twirling a silver cross pendant hanging from a necklace between her thin alabaster fingers. “‘Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.’ That’s what God says, does He not, Ms. Knowles? I’m the best kept secret of Holloswaithe.”

Hiding in Plain Sight

Writing prompt provided by Writer’s Digest! You’re driving to your favorite city when you’re stopped by a police officer. Sure, you were going a few miles over the speed limit, so you’re not overly surprised. But you are surprised when the police officer gets to your car and screams, “Get out of your car with your hands up!” This leads to a unexpected night for you. Write this scene.

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“What?” I shout through my closed door window. He can’t be serious. I was going five, seven miles tops, over the speed limit.

“Get out of your car with your hands in the air, NOW,” the cop yells so aggressively his thick face and neck are turning purple.

I turn off the car and unbuckle my seatbelt, keeping my gaze on the cop. It’s nine at night for goodness sake, and we’re in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention he hasn’t shown me a badge. And he’s alone.

“I’m sorry,” I yell through the locked door, “but you haven’t shown me any identification. Until you do, I’m not moving.” I’ve heard one too many stories of wack-jobs using old cop cars as a ploy to rape women driving by themselves. This spot couldn’t be more ideal, fifty five miles deep in Texas hill country.

“Excuse me?” The purple cop looks like I’ve smacked him in the face with a cast iron skillet. “Ma’am, I’ve told you twice and I ain’t gonna say it again. Get out of the car with your hands up, now.” The gun in his hands, which he has kept aimed at the ground, is now pointed at me.

“Alright,” I take my hands off of the steering wheel and grab the mace keychain on my keys. If I make it out of this alive I owe my dad a big apology for all the whining I did when he forced me to take those self-defense classes. I unlock the door and step out of the car with my hands up.

“Go get in my car and lock the doors,” the cop whispers. His voice has changed. “Please, ma’am.” Goosebumps spread over my arms despite the raging humidity. I drop my arms to my sides and slowly walk back towards the cop car. It’s only a couple yards away but it feels like a mile. The cicadas chirp and a warm breeze blows, completely oblivious to the crazy situation. Finally I place my fingers on the door handle when,

BAM! BAM! BAM!

I drop to my knees with my hand still on the door handle. A red and yellow glow from the cop car illuminates the road. The cop is flat on his back, dark red blood pouring from his neck and onto the asphalt. I yank the door open and jump inside the car. I lock the doors and hop into the drivers seat. There is a walkie-talkie clipped to the sun visor and I grab it.

“Hello? Hello?” I whisper into the mic. “My name is Maggie Holmes, and a cop has just been shot. I’m on Old Fairvale Road fifty-five miles west of Austin.” No answer.

Where the hell did that shot come from? There’s no way someone was in the car with me. The only place I’ve stopped was at that sorry excuse for a gas station about ten miles back and I always lock…..

Oh my god.

The back door of my Denali GMC opens and an enormous hooded man steps out. He pulls his hood down and my blood runs cold. It’s Mark.

“You wouldn’t move to your favorite city without your favorite man,” Mark laughs as he yells, gun pointed directly at me. “Now be a good girl, Maggie, and get out of the car. You never know what kind of crazies might be out this time of night.”

Dear Scout

Scout,

I don’t even know where to begin. Your second birthday will be here in a matter of weeks and I’m struggling to grasp how much faster life goes when you have kids. These last two years have challenged me more than I ever thought possible. I’ve never cried more, laughed more, worried more, slept less or experienced joy more in all my life and I owe it all to you, my sweet girl.

You are so patient with me and my constant failures as I walk my way through mommyhood for the very first time. It’s so hard to understand the feelings constantly colliding as a mom. One minute I’m about to rip all my hair out because you insist on drawing all over every.single.solitary.thing BUT paper, and the next minute I’m a gushy emotional mess because I can’t believe I’m taking the actions of a toddler so personally. You have taught me more about myself and about life in general than any other person. You’ve shown me my true strengths and weaknesses. You’ve shown me what really matters and what’s really not that big of a deal. You’ve helped me to find wonder in small things again, like flowers along the sidewalk and the tiny little finches that perch outside our kitchen window.

You are SMART. I know every parent thinks their kid is the smartest kid in the world, but you want to know a secret? You really true are. You know so many words and sentences and songs. You count to ten all of the time, and I’m still trying to figure out where you learned that because I don’t remember spending that much time teaching you. You know where things go in your bedroom and that you can’t go outside without me. You are constantly figuring out how things work on your own and it amazes me every time.

You are so sensitive to how other people are feeling. If I’m having a rough time and trying my best to hide it from you, you still figure it out. You crawl up on the couch and snuggle close or hold my face in your hands and tell me “it’s okay mama”. If you see someone crying I can see that you want to make them feel better, especially in movies.

You are joy. Every morning you are so happy to see me and it makes my heart burst every time. I’ve never been a morning person but spending the mornings with you have become my favorite part of the day. You give big hugs and snuggle in bed with me for a while before we eat our breakfast and watch some Barney. When we go out on our mornings walks you take in everything around you. You love to point things out to me, or to touch a new plant, or smell a flower. You live in the moment and I adore that about you.

You are hilarious. You don’t even realize how funny you are. You don’t even try to be funny but it’s such a natural part of your personality. I love that about you. My funny girl.

There are so many things to say but I always fall short. I’ll never stop being completely humbled and grateful that God gave you to me. I know I have a lot of work to do and I’ll fail more times than I care to say, but I hope you know how much I love you. Every night, even on the hard days, when you finally fall asleep I pray over your little spirit and thank God for the gift that you are to me, the girl who made me a mama. I love you to the moon and back a thousand times.

-Mama

Bacon with a side of Haiku

Friday prompt ! I’ve challenged myself to post a prompt every Monday and Friday to keep me on my toes. We’ll see how it goes! Today’s is provided by Writer’s Digest.

In an ironic twist, a dog really ate your homework. When you try to explain this to your teacher she says, “Come on, you can do better than that excuse.” Instead of arguing, you take that as a challenge and come up with an elaborate story as to what happened to your homework. Let us hear it.

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“You won’t believe me if I tell you,” Molly sighed to Ms. Kellybrooke.

“Try me,” Ms. Kellybrooke huffed, her mossy green eyes peered over her purple glasses like frogs peeking out from under lily pads.

“Well it’s all my brother Tommy’s fault really,” said Molly. “We were sittin’ at breakfast and I was readin’ my collection of haiku to everyone so they could tell me which one I should recite in front of the class today.” Molly stopped for a second, scrambling her thoughts together like a hungry hippo game.

“Go on, Molly,” said Ms. Kellybrooke, one of her penciled eyebrows arched so high it nearly touched her hairline.

“So…as I was readin’ the haiku Tommy snatched the papers out of my hand. He said that he wrote the haiku and I was trying to take all of the credit. But it’s not true! Tommy is in Mr. Kilkenny’s class and they have the same assignment. Tommy never does his homework. Anyway, he grabbed the papers and I tried to grab them back, but when I yanked them from Tommy’s hand I fell backwards and crashed onto the table! Plates were flying, cups spilled all over and my papers got stuck to the syrup and bacon covered plates. Before I had time to grab my papers our dog, Destructo, was already eating his way across the mess. He ate up my best haiku with a side of crispy bacon and half a buttered biscuit. He’s a grouchy old git that will eat anything so long as a piece of meat is stuck to it. And that’s the honest to goodness truth Ms. Kellybrooke.”

Ms. Kellybrooke stared at Molly through her purple cat-eye glasses. Her lips were pursed so tightly Molly couldn’t tell if Ms. Kellybrooke was trying not to scream, or laugh.

“It’s the truth Ms. Kellybrooke. My mama was too angry about the mess to bother writin’ me a note. But it’s as true as the freckles on my face,” said Molly.

Ms. Kellybrooke took a deep breath. She was about to bark at the whispy little girl to get back to her seat along with her tall tales when she noticed a large clump of Molly’s hair stuck together and matted to the side of her head.

“It’s from crashing onto the table,” Molly said sheepishly as she held her hand up to her syrupy tangle of hair. “I landed headfirst onto my dad’s plate of biscuits and honey. I was so afraid of what they were gonna do I forgot to wash it out.”

Ms. Kellybrooke let out a deep sigh and as she did the corner of her eyes crinkled into a rare smile. “You take yourself on back to the water closet and freshen up young lady.”

“Thank you Ms. Kellybrooke,” Molly beamed as she puffed her chest. She turned on her heel and jogged quickly down the hall to the girls restroom. Grateful that for once Destructo saved her skin instead of nipping at it.

Book Reviews

I’ve read a handful of books over the last few months and so I thought I’d share! There are few things better in this world than a book you don’t want to put down, in my humble opinion. The author I have become obsessed with is Kate Morton. If you haven’t read anything by her (and you enjoy historical fiction/secrets/whydunnits) do yourself a favor and snag one of her many novels! Here we go.

lake-house

(1) The Lake House by Kate Morton. I’m a little intimidated to write a synopsis because honestly there are SO MANY THINGS that happen in this book. It is a very complex plot with a lot of moving pieces and characters, but I promise you won’t be sorry. It hops back and forth between a rich Cornish family in  Pre/post WWI and a troubled female cop in present day England. If you like family secrets, whimsical old manors, and satisfying endings you’ll love the Lake House. (I also read The House at Riverton which I HIGHLY recommend, and The Distant Hours. Distant Hours was a little slow moving for me at parts but still highly enjoyable and clever.)

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(2) Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Okay. I don’t know how I’ve gone my entire life without reading this book. This book skyrocketed into one of the top five best novels I’ve ever read in my entire life. The innocence and pure joy of Heidi is contagious and captivating. I’m not one to cry while reading novels, but let me tell you that Heidi had me leaking like a sink throughout most of the book. Not only is the language and imagery absolutely beautiful (there really is no other way to describe it), but the story is so moving and touching and a billion other good things. I can feel my heart swelling in my chest just thinking about it. I read it to my daughter every night before bed and I would read long after she had fallen asleep.

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(3) Colors of Goodbye by September Vaudrey. September lost her middle child, Katie, in a car accident when Katie was 19 years old. This memoir is a very detailed, honest and raw recollection of her grieving process from the minute September got the phone call to where she stands today. It’s an absolutely powerful, beautiful and heavy read. I shared that my cousin passed away in a car accident last summer and my aunt said that this book was a huge help to her. I read it in the hopes of knowing ways I could reach out or be there for my aunt as she walks this road of grief, missing her oldest son. If you or someone you know has lost a child this is a powerful story of finding joy even in the darkest of days.

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(5) Writer’s Digest February Issue. Okay, so this isn’t a book but if you are currently seeking publication as a writer this issue is gold! It’s all about organizational tools, and the steps you can take to make the most of your writing time. I must have underlined 90% of what I read in this month’s issue. I also thoroughly enjoyed the interview with Liane Moriarty. My mom has been trying to get me to read her books and after reading this interview, I’m sold!

So this is just a short and sweet review of some of the books I’ve read over the months. I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Back to Blogging

Home again, home again jiggity-jig!

I can’t believe I haven’t posted a blog since September. I purposefully took a step back from the blogging, but I still can’t believe it’s been that long. In hindsight I should have written a post explaining why I would be taking a bit of a break, but each time I tried I couldn’t find the words.

There isn’t a dramatic reason I took a little hiatus. It was mostly that life has been incredibly busy, and I felt that more important things were being shoved down my priority list. Blogging is something I do solely for myself. Not that that’s a bad thing but I needed to establish better boundaries with my “me” time.

So a little bit of an update: back to blogging! Yay! I have been keeping up with writing, but it takes on a completely different experience when you share your stories with the world instead of saved on your desktop. I plan on continuing my mix of mommyhood and fiction posts. Writing really is such an outlet for me. It’s a stress reliever and creativity producer.

In unrelated but even more exciting news, my husband and I are expecting Baby Pennell #2! Woo Woo! I still can’t believe it. Mostly because I’m so busy chasing my very active little toddler around the house. I honestly have no idea how I’m going to juggle two babies. What in the actual WORLD!?

So, this is my clunky, unpolished first post back into the world of blogging. I’m excited to read through the blogs I followed and catch up on everyone’s lives. It’s amazing how much can happen in an almost five month span!

Dreams……?

Dreams are _____. Dreaming is _____. Dream ____.

Dreams are such interesting things. Some consume you while others sit patiently on the back shelves of your mind until you feel like pulling them back down again. A dream can be the driving force behind every decision you make or a dream can give you a few minutes of blissful fantasy and then it’s gone.

Dreamers dream. Period. Even when life hurls storms their way they don’t stop dreaming. They may not dream as relentlessly or carefree as they once did, but dream on, they do. I lose count of the stories I hear about people overcoming unspeakable hardships in pursuit of their dreams. On the flip side, I’ve seen people waste their lives away pursuing dreams in their mind but taking no action. Instead they wallow in bitterness and self-pity, wondering how their life has become what it has. As my trusty old friend Albus Dumbledore says, “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

“But there are dreams that cannot be..” -I Dreamed A Dream, Les Miserables

“I can see so far in my dreams, I’ll follow my dreams, until they come true.”-Dream to Dream, Fievel Goes West

My husband and I had a heart to heart today about a decision that needed to be made. One of us let a dream go while the other got to embrace a dream they’ve had for a very long time. Marriage is funny like that. It’s a constant dance of compromise and making room for ideas other than your own.

I wasn’t sure how the conversation we had today was going to go, but it needed to happen. Room needs to be made for dreams and sometimes priorities need to change. I think dreams, new and old, deserve to be pursued; just be sure to bring your head with you. I think exciting things are ahead and, come what may, I’ll keep dreaming.

P.S. Below is my absolute favorite piece about dreams. It’s from the classic Disney movie Cinderella:

“A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep. In dreams you will lose your heartache. Whatever you wish for, you keep. Have faith in your dreams and someday your rainbow will come smiling through. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”