Camp NaNoWriMo Excerpt 1

Since I have started playing D&D I have discovered that I absolutely love creating character backstories. It’s to the point that I decided to turn the story of a character I haven’t even played yet into a novel. That is actually what I have been working on for Camp NaNoWriMo (as you probably guessed by the title of this post).

Here is a little sneak peek at what I have written so far.  What do you think?

The captain and the bard

“Here you are, Marisol. I am putting your bell right here. I will come to collect you when the market closes.”

“Thank you, Ryan,” she replied, settling carefully into her normal spot on the street in the heart of Neverwinter. Once she was settled she held up her hands expectantly. He placed a small stringed instrument in one hand and a bowl full of cloth in the other. As he turned and walked away she rested the instrument on her lap, spreading the cloth carefully before her and placing the bowl in the center. Then she leaned back against the wall and waited.

People slowly started emerging from their homes, many of them shopkeeps in the process of setting up for the day. A few noticed her and called out greetings, which she received with a smile and a nod. She perked up slightly at the scent of freshly baked goods drifting from the bakery two doors down. Still, she waited for more people to arrive, resting against the cool stone wall, keeping an ear out for footsteps. 

After a few minutes of waiting, a pair of footsteps approached her, causing her to perk up slightly. The feet were accompanied by the scent of fresh bread.

“Gift from the baker, miss. It didn’t come out quite right looking, but chef says it should still taste alright.”

“Why thank you,” she responded, accepting the pastry. It indeed felt misshapen, but it was still warm and smelled wonderful, so she did not complain. The person hesitated.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked. 

“Well, chef and some of the workers are in a bit of a mood. This dreary weather ain’t helping any. I know you usually wait until people show up to start playing, but if you wouldn’t mind…I know your music always puts people in a good mood.”

“Absolutely. It is no trouble.”

“Thank you, miss.”

“You can call me Marisol.”

“Thank you, Miss Marisol.” 

She chuckled slightly as the boy ran off back towards the bakery. The air was indeed cooler and damper than she had expected. Not enough so to cause concern, but just enough to make one feel rather morose. 

A smile slowly spread across her face as she picked up her lute and began strumming. Gentle music started to fill the street, softly at first, then growing in volume. It was a tune she knew the baker was particularly fond of, as he often sent someone to request it when she played near his shop. Once the song was done she paused to eat part of the pastry, stashing the remainder in her pocket for later. 

Around her, she heard the signs of business as people began trickling into the market. As the shop keepers days began, so did hers. She picked up her lute and began to play once more. It was not a particular song that she played, but one that she wrote as she played, mind filled with the notes, reveling in the joy of playing just to play. Sometimes she would dip into popular tavern songs or pieces of epic ballads that she had picked up listening to other performers. 

As she played she listened to the conversations happening around her. One of the perks of living in Neverwinter was the constant influx of travelers and traders from across the known world. That meant her audience was constantly changing in its composition. They also did not always realize that she and her fellow street performers were homeless. It was why they worked to wear the nicest of clothes and had long ago made deals with several of the shop keepers and traders operating in the market square. Their operation was a mutually beneficial one, and it did well to keep the rest of the homeless population fed and clothed at the very least. 

Coins plunked into her bowl sporadically throughout the morning hours. Some people would request certain songs along with their coin. She was only happy to comply. Others would merely drop in a coin and keep walking. Oftentimes people would stop to speak with her between songs, asking about her life and her skill and if she took payment aside from the coin. Hardy fruits and vegetables found their way onto the cloth, as well as a small amount of dried meat. She quickly gathered those into her small satchel to make sure they didn’t get eaten by any animals. 

Around midday, she caught a conversation between members of the crew of a foreign vessel. She perked up immediately upon recognizing them. Their captain brought them into port every few months and many of the crew would stop by her performance at least once. They were nice people, though she was not entirely sure what they did. She didn’t question, though, as the captain was often very generous. 

She heard his distinctive voice coming up the street and changed the tune she was playing to that of a sea shanty his crew often requested. A few of them stopped and began singing along. It ended up drawing quite the crowd, as it was a genuinely delightful and adventurous song that the crew sang quite well. When the song ended, she set the lute down, grinning.

“I had a feeling you all would be in town soon. How was your latest voyage?” she asked. Small showers of coins and trinkets found their way into her bowl as the crew shared their tale.

She always enjoyed it when they came, bearing tales of adventure and sea creatures and mysterious treasures. True, their tales ate up the time she could be performing for coin, but she didn’t mind. She rather enjoyed the break, as well as the coin they donated, along with the excess wares they shared with her. It was often clothing and blankets and bags, sometimes even shoes and accessories. Whatever didn’t immediately get grabbed up by her fellow street performers was dispersed among the rest of the homeless community or sold. 

The captain, as usual, stayed towards the back and did not say much. She knew he was there, though, shifting back and forth, keeping an eye out as his crew arranged their donations around me and spun their tales. After about twenty minutes, he cleared his throat.

“I am afraid we must continue onward. We have a meeting that needs attending. I hope you have a wonderful day, ma’am.”

The crew complained good-naturedly and bade their farewells. She wished them well, scoping some of the coin into my pockets along with the food and other trinkets. They had left a small barrel of mead, which she carefully moved to sit right next to her. The clothing and shoes went to the other side, tucked up next to her so her elbow would brush against them. Long years of performing on the street told her to keep such things close. 

Several hours later things were finally beginning to wind down in the market. Most of the street vendors had already packed up for the day and many of the shops were slowly starting to close things down. Marisol continued to play, though, as she had nothing better to do until Ryan came to collect her. She finished the song she was playing and lowered her lute, sighing.

“Are you going to say something, or are you just going to stand there?” she asked.

“How did you know I was here?” the captain asked, shifting uncomfortably.

“Just because I am blind doesn’t mean I don’t notice things,” she commented. “Plus, I heard you telling some of your crew you would meet them at the ship. You normally go with them when leaving the market, if you don’t already have a room at an inn. That means you want something and the fact that you have been standing there, sighing every few second, means it is something to do with me.”

He chuckled, stepping closer to her.

“I see you are far more observant than I gave you credit, my dear. May I ask your name?”

“Marisol. And you are?”

“Captain Cutler Everit of the PIRATE SHIP NAME.”

“Ah, so that is the name of the ship.  I have been meaning to ask every time you come into port. Where do you hail from?”

“We hail from all over.”

“So you have no home port then? Or is Neverwinter your home?”

“The sea is our home.”

“How interesting.”

“If you don’t mind, I was wondering if you would be willing to join me for a drink at the tavern just down the road. There is something I wish to discuss with you.”

Review: Death on the Nile

Beloved detective Hercule Poirot embarks on a journey to Egypt in one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, Death on the Nile.

The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything…until she lost her life.

Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet in this exotic setting, nothing is ever quite what it seems.

It has been a while since the last time I read a Poirot mystery, so reading this book felt like slipping on my favorite pair of fuzzy socks. Since the success of the movie Murder on the Orient Express, a friend told me that they were going to make Death on the Nile next. So naturally, I wanted to read it before the movie came out. I knew nothing of the plot aside from what I read on the back going in, but I was optimistic.

The story starts with a glimpse into the life of the aforementioned Linnet Ridgeway. We get to see what she is like on her home turf, where she is the most comfortable and the most in control. We get to see what her relationship looks like with her friend Jacqueline, a girl with less fortune who has recently fallen in love. And we get to see her initial reaction upon meeting her friend’s new fiance. It’s an interesting glimpse into the life of a woman who always gets what she wants.

Fast forward a few weeks and we find a rather unique cast of characters coming together on a Nile River cruise. I won’t spoil the whole cast, but I will share that it contains the characters I mentioned above.

It also contains a certain Detective Hercule Poirot who is trying to take an honest to goodness vacation from all of the mysteries and murder he deals with on a regular basis. You can probably guess from the title how well this plan goes.

There is one character who, beforehand, had shown an understandable leaning towards murder. Poirot connected with the poor girl and tried to help guide her away from the path she was on to one where she could have a brighter future. I found the whole thing incredibly touching and couldn’t help but feel for the girl.

I also found myself identifying with several of the other characters. The cast was so well crafted and, as per usual, the mystery of who did it had me wondering and bouncing from suspect to suspect. I felt the other officer’s frustration as Poirot sorted out a few smaller mysteries instead of dealing directly with the murder(s). I also found the endings to be rather satisfying. 

One of my favorite things about Agatha Christie is she is the queen of my favorite kind of twist. The kind you never see coming but it makes perfect sense once you get there. This book absolutely did not disappoint.

Review: Endless Night

When penniless Michael Rogers discovers the beautiful house at Gypsy’s Acre and then meets the heiress Ellie, it seems that all his dreams have come true at once. But he ignores an old woman’s warning of an ancient curse, and evil begins to stir in paradise. As Michael soon learns: Gypsy’s Acre is the place where fatal “accidents” happen.

I have decided to take a break from the fantasy world and delve straight into mystery. Agatha Christie, to be specific. She has been my favorite mystery author for a long time now, and one of the few I have read (aside from Robert Ludlum). I look for her books any time I go into a used bookstore and so, had a stack of six that I haven’t read yet.

So I grabbed the first book off of the stack and started reading.

One of the things that first struck me about Endless Night was that it is not one of her typical mysteries. Agatha Christie has three main detective series: Hercules Poirot, Mrs. Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence. I have read more Poirot than the others, but I do enjoy them.

This book falls into neither of these categories. It is told from the perspective of Michael Rogers (Mike), a young man who has bounced from job to job, never really settling down into anything. He gives off this feeling of someone who is looking for something but has no idea what. All he knows is he wants more.

When he first sees Ellie at the sale of Gypsy’s Acre, it is love at first sight. We follow them through their whirlwind romance and their clandestine marriage as Ellie tries to keep her family as out of her affairs as possible, with the help of her best friend and confidante, Greta.

I found the story of their marriage to be rather quaint, even with his lack of understanding when it comes to finances. He has only ever had enough money to get by, naturally. And she is a rich heiress who is well acquainted with the finer things in life. I could understand some of his hesitancy when it comes to immersing himself in that world. It can be a strange and intimidating one for sure.

There is also the strange gypsy woman who pops up every now and then warning Mike and Ellie about the dangers of living on that particular plot of land. She hints to a curse, something about a burial ground, but nothing concrete. It is very unsettling, but not quite threatening.

It took longer than I expected to get to the death, but then I am more used to her detective novels. It definitely snuck up on me though. There was no build-up. It just happened and we were left to deal with the aftermath. That is when things really start getting interesting. But I won’t spoil the ending.

I found this story delightfully different with a very unexpected twist at the end that was executed masterfully.

Next, I am diving into a Poirot mystery, Death on the Nile. One down, five to go.

To Be Titled Excerpt

This is an excerpt from the second draft of a story I am currently working on. I finished the first draft year before last for NaNoWriMo. I’m still working on a title.

This is where the story begins.

“This changes everything!”

“This changes nothing. I am sorry Monica, but we cannot devote resources we don’t have to a lead that we aren’t sure it will pan out. I appreciate your dedication and we understand your desire to make things better. We just don’t see the point. The magi are gone. It is time that we move on and make the best of the life we have now.”

I was trembling, shaking less from nervousness and more from frustration and exhaustion. “This proves that the corruption can be reversed. Someone was able to trace the corruption to where it began years ago. If it can be traced, if the source can be found, then we can find a way to reverse what was done and bring the magi back. We can save everyone.”

“We understand that you are still upset over the loss of your husband, but you must understand. We feel your pain. We have all lost someone…”

“Don’t you dare try that line with me,” I snapped. “I lost everything, you hear me? Everything. And now I am telling you that we can get it all back and you would rather sit here and let those we have lost rot outside these walls.”

“You will remember your place and to whom you are speaking. It is by our generosity that you were permitted to remain within the city. There are those who would have seen you cast out in fear of your magic returning and bringing with it the corruption. You also provide us a valuable service when it comes to your knowledge, but even that value can run out.”

My breaths were growing harsher with each word, fists clenched tight enough to have shattered my pen had I not already thrown it in a vain attempt to stop them from shaking. I could feel their eyes on me. Assessing me. Scrutinizing me. Waiting for any sign, for any excuse to cast me out.

“Now, Monica, we all know you have suffered worst than most of us,” someone else said in what was likely meant to be a soothing tone. “I cannot begin to fathom what you have been through since the evacuation. The amount of work you have done since regaining consciousness is surely commendable. Some of it has even proven invaluable to helping us settle down here. Maybe it is time you took a break and spent some time focusing on yourself. Take some time to heal, to really think about your life and how you want to spend it.”

Even with my outrage, I noticed the attempted olive branch shadowed by his threat. They wanted me to stop questioning, to stop fighting. They wanted me to fade silently into the background so they could continue to rule as they saw fit.

“I apologize, council members, for my outburst,” I said, bowing. “You are right. I have not been well. I will not burden you with my grief any longer.”

Review: The Glass Spare

Wilhelmina Heidle, the fourth child and only daughter of the king of the world’s wealthiest nation, has grown up in the shadows. Kept hidden from the world in order to serve as a spy for her father—whose obsession with building his empire is causing a war—Wil wants nothing more than to explore the world beyond her kingdom, if only her father would give her the chance.

Until one night Wil is attacked, and she discovers a dangerous secret. Her touch turns people into gemstone. At first, Wil is horrified—but as she tests its limits, she’s drawn more and more to the strange and volatile ability. When it leads to tragedy, though, Wil is forced to face the destructive power within her and finally leave her home to seek the truth and a cure.

But finding the key to her redemption puts her in the path of a cursed prince who has his own ideas for what to do with Wil’s power.

With a world on the brink of war and a power of ultimate destruction, can Wil find a way to help the kingdom that’s turned its back on her, or will she betray her past and her family forever?

Fun fact: when I found this book, it was in the business section. Obviously, it was in the wrong section but it definitely caught my attention. So I read the back.

Me reading the back of a book is actually a pretty dangerous thing. It leads to me buying said book and adding yet another to my shelf. I just can’t help it sometimes. A girl who was basically raised to act as a spy who can suddenly turn people to gemstones through touch? I had to have it.

The king, Wil’s father, is a tyrant dead set on maintaining the old ways while the world around them embraces technology. He is also rather paranoid and power-hungry, determined to take over the world through war. He pressures the youngest and smartest of his sons to create weapons of unfathomable destruction. The oldest son is in training to be king. And the middle child is angry and jealous. 

When it comes to his daughter, she is nothing but a tool for him. A way for him to accomplish things that he doesn’t want people to know he is doing. We mostly see her going on missions to find specialized ingredients to help her youngest brother with his experiments, but there are hints of countless other missions. 

The relationship between Wil and Gertie (the youngest son) was something I very much enjoyed reading. It was so pure and so strong that it made me want to have a brother like that. Well, I have a guy friend who is like a brother, but my point still stands. I have always enjoyed stories that play with various family relationships, whether it is biological or adopted. This story plays around with these dynamics in a way that I very much enjoy.

I also really enjoyed the magic system. The world has an air of mysticism to it that I found to be a refreshing step away from the magic laden worlds I am used to. Those born with magic are few and they mostly deal in curses or blessings. Well, I assume there are blessings. We haven’t seen much of that yet as far as I can tell, but the two do tend to go hand in hand. Either way, these curses can only be given by incredibly powerful beings and cannot be broken unless by the one who gave it. 

Two of the characters we meet are cursed. We know where one came from, but not the other. This just adds to the feeling that there is more going on in this world that we have seen so far. There are mysteries yet to be solved, worlds left to be explored, and a war looming on the horizon. So many things that could go horribly wrong. 

The Glass Spare ends with the promise of more to come in The Cursed Sea. This is a fantasy duet that is worth reading. 

Review: American Royals

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.

Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.

This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.

It was the title that grabbed my attention. American Royals. A look at what the world would look like had George Washington said yes to the crown. I couldn’t help it. I had to know where Katherine McGee was going with this. She has had a few other titles that caught my attention but this was the one I could not ignore.

Normally I get books out of the science fiction and fantasy section, but this is straight YA. And I loved every second of it.

It took longer than I expected to get my brain to accept the words ‘America’ and ‘monarchy’ being in the same sentence (probably because I never in my life expected to read them in the same sentence). Thankfully, it got a little less weird in time.

If you want to see what America would look like today if it had a monarchy, this book is pretty spot on. It doesn’t go as political as I expected it too, though there are some mentions of how most of the world’s countries have their own monarchy and nobility. I giggled a little when one of the characters had a snarky thought about how chaotic having a democracy would be, with all of the people fighting to have their party’s beliefs upheld. 

Most of the politics in the story involve the family maintaining their public appearances and keeping the goodwill of the people. They are essentially all celebrities, but celebrities who were born and raised in the lifestyle. They work hard to make sure they are living in such a way that they will not lose the trust of their people. It is actually really interesting to watch.

That isn’t to say there isn’t drama, though. Because there is quite a bit of drama going on behind the scenes. One person is fighting to earn their place among the royals. One is struggling to find their place in a world where they feel like they are the spare, the backup plan. One is suffocating under the weight of the burden placed upon them by their birth (thanks to a law changed years before then). And yet another is trying to figure who they are and how to stand for themself. 

It’s the characters that really won me over, with their intertwining plot lines and complicated history. Normally I am not that into celebrity drama, but the way this was all portrayed was so captivating. It felt so totally and completely human while also appealing to the part of me that secretly enjoys that kind of emotional/political drama. I had to keep reading to see who was going to win the day and in the end, I was left absolutely floored.

This was an impulse purchase that left me with no regrets (aside from the fact I now have to wait for the sequel to see what happens next). It would make a great vacation read, or if you are looking for something a little different to spice things up. I honestly cannot wait to see what happens next. Katharine McGee did a fantastic job of setting up different plot threads tied to different characters who are all complex in their own right. It leaves you not sure who to root for, while also hoping that everyone gets their own different happy ending. Then the story ends with a jaw-dropper that throws all of those endings into jeopardy.

Needless to say, I am counting down days until we get a sequel.