February’s PerNoReMo Update

I was drawing a complete blank for a blog post for this week. Then, on Saturday I realized that no matter how cold the weather, it was March 1st, and my February PerNoReMo was complete. Kate Johnston may recall one of my December or January comments where I said I wanted to keep moving forward with Death Out of Time, even when I got stuck, because I didn’t want to switch to Summer at the Crossroads and use it as a crutch.

image credit: Microsoft clip art

But I can only bang my head against a desk so many times. After making no real progress in December or January, I gave myself permission to work on Summer’s rebuild. I already had the new ideas sketched out and started a new Scrivener file.

So far, very little has come over from the original file, just a few setting descriptions and part of the original opening scene for Kat’s world. And that’s likely it. This truly is a rebuild. Although only 9,015 words into the process, I don’t recognize the stories. Catherine faces what I thought would take place in a sequel. Elements of that now-defunct sequel also now flow through Kat’s and Kathryn’s stories, tightening the weave between them. One of the “potted plants” is now a supporting character and has surprised the hell out of me. Others, once supporting, have ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s fascinating to watch these new stories take shape. Will readers enjoy them? That remains to be seen.

But without further ado, here’s a sketch from the rebuild. Previously, I gave some clips from Kat Donnelly’s adventures in her world. Here’s one from Kathryn Donnellan’s universe. It’s an initial draft of the opening for her story and, of course, subject to change.

Not the modern-day Department of State, but an impressive building in DC to set the scene

Kathryn Donnellan’s hand tightened on the mouse as she clicked to the next slide. “But if you look at the most recent data, you see how severe the downturn is. Last year’s GDP was at a modern low. That trend continues this year.”

“What does their GDP have to do with anything?” Ned Dickerman countered. “Guatemala’s a democracy in name only. The government gives the military free rein in return for its support. The army will maintain the status quo.”

Kathryn, a senior economic specialist at the State Department, couldn’t afford to gather her thoughts if she wanted to finish her presentation. “Economics drive the modern world,” she countered, forcing herself not to rock on her feet. “When the situation becomes unbearable, even dictators fall. Populations revolt. Look at Russia under the tsars.”

Dickerman snorted. “The tsars held on, for what, a thousand years before that happened? President Casagrande doesn’t need to worry.”

“Your own intelligence reports show low-level officers and foot soldiers are seeing pay cuts. Roman emperors knew better than to mess with their armies.”

“Is this an economics briefing or a history lecture, Donnellan? Got any relevant examples from the modern world?”

Smiles crossed the faces of the men and women seated on Dickerman’s side of the conference table, all intelligence officers.

“Greece 2015. Colombia 2017,” Kathryn offered, relieved to see affirming nods from her colleagues.

“Apples and oranges. Those were military dictatorships.”

“And Guatemala isn’t?” William Lucas, the new Secretary of State, interrupted. “You just said it’s a democracy in name only. Is it safe for me to go down there next month or not?”

Kathryn used the distraction to steady her breathing and slow her pounding heart.

“Every officer from the generals down to the captains is paid handsomely,” Dickerman replied. “They’re all loyal to Casagrande. They’ll keep the lower ranks in line. Besides, what would those foot soldiers do for jobs if they quit? The country’s safe and will be for at least another five years. Even Langley agrees.”

It’s not just about jobs, Kathryn thought. You’re forgetting beliefs and ideals. Casagrande’s forcing new ways on a traditional culture and ruining the economy as he does. The people will fight him.

“What about the Russians?” Lucas asked. “They say the government will fall before the end of the year.”

“Only if they send their own army to overthrow it. Arming the rebels isn’t enough,” Dickerman added. “You’ll be fine, Mr. Secretary.”

“Do you agree, Ms. Donnellan?” Lucas asked.

Kathryn started, scrambling for a response. Lucas’s predecessor had never noticed her existence, let alone spoken to her. Why did that have to change?


So, would something like this catch and hold your attention?

50 thoughts on “February’s PerNoReMo Update

  1. Lots of conflict in this scene, nicely done. I’d certainly read on. And good for you for giving yourself permission to work on the story that was beckoning you. I think as writers our agendas should only take us so far, and then we have to listen to our hearts and strike while the iron is hot (can I pack a few more cliches in that sentence?) No point in banging your head against the desk if the story’s not ready to be told (or rebuilt, whatever the case may be :))

    One day last week I got up and hit the treadmill, with the intention of working on my novel rebuild for a couple hours before heading off to work. But during my run, a new idea for a story slammed into me and wouldn’t let me go. So paused the treadmill and ran upstairs to my laptop to scribble down the premise before I forgot it. I continued my workout with my mind racing the whole time. After my shower, I sat down and let my thoughts pour out in no particular order – everything that crossed my mind about this story, in terms of character, world building and such. Before I knew it, I had 4,000 words written. I’d started my day with one intention, and ended up pursuing another.

    Is that building the VP’s mansion?


    • I wonder how many times in life I’ve said something along the lines of, “It’s all about finding the balance….” ;) Because that’s so true here, too. I think professional writers find a way to establish and maintain a schedule. But new ideas don’t necessarily follow that schedule. And so there needs to be flexibility to work on a new idea or a breakthrough in a brick wall, even if we’re “supposed” to be doing something else. I probably should have let myself work on SATC sooner than I did. I might have made more overall progress by now. On the other hand, maybe my brain really just wasn’t into writing the last two months!

      Good for you for running with that idea. Even if you end up setting it aside to work on the previous project, you’ve gotten a great start on it and have ideas ready for when the time comes to go forward with it. That has to be a good thing, right?

      This is actually the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where most of the White House staffers have their offices. However, it did house the State, War, and Navy Departments when first built in the late 1800s. So maybe in Kathryn’s universe it is the State Department’s building. Hmm… :)


  2. By the way, I read about The Gods of Second Chances on the publisher’s blog and have since downloaded it to my Kindle. Sounds like a great book.


    • It’s probably a bit too heavy for me, but knowing the quality of work that Laura Stanfill is publishing at Forest Avenue, I had to feature it here!


  3. I love books with a little political intrigue so I would certainly read on.

    It’s funny how our stories can take new directions. We find a new nugget that brings up a whole new set of possibilities and ratchets up the dramatic tension. Then we wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that earlier?” I’m in the story-building phase of my WIP, so I’m facing this daily. And I like it!


    • Like Kat, Kathryn would tell you this rebuild isn’t really what happened. But they’re trying their hands at versions that will satisfy readers in my universe. :) This really surprised me when I set it down. I mean, I have the ideas for the story sketched out, but very few of the actual scenes. So when these new ones appear, it can bring a smile to my face, and I think, “Wow, that’s good!” (Of course, you know self-doubt rears its ugly head at the first chance to shoot down those happy thoughts. ;) )

      Kathryn was at State in the earlier version, too, but we never saw her dealing with meetings like these. I didn’t show all of the scene, but the tension continues to rise—in what I hope is a believable and enjoyable manner for readers.

      I’m glad to hear you’re working on your next WIP, too. It’s nice to know there are more of your books to be read. :)


    • Thank you for the feedback, Clowie! This story may include multiple universes, but the stories should make sense in ours. So our main character (in three versions of herself) deals with a “similar problem” from different positions. I may not be explaining it well, but I really do think the idea is a good one!


    • It’s set close to our time yet also in an alternate universe, which lets me play with events and details—much to my enjoyment. ;) Living so close to DC and working with government agencies may just help me give a realistic tinge to those settings and discussions, too. Just so people don’t try to match up characters in the book with “real-life” people in ours. Because they don’t!


    • Thanks, Mrs. L. :) I was a bit surprised to see the Secretary of State show up at the meeting, but I think it raises the tension factor. Especially as that scene continues. ;) Now, just another 70,000 words or so to go!


    • You and Kate will likely notice there’s quite a difference between this opening scene and the original one from the last version. I’m trying to weave the stories together more closely and up the stakes in them as well. This unexpected appearance of the Secretary of State in this story will definitely increase Kathryn’s discomfort!


  4. I love suspense, mystery. Dickerson seems to be aptly named! Is there something there between him and Kathryn? Will the tension increase between those two? The dialogue was smooth and crisp, J.

    I’ve been working on a project as well and intend to start blogging again regularly. I miss it. I still don’t know everything Scrivener can do but it seems to spark some creativity. I love the character sketches.

    Great blurb,J.


    • Thanks, Brigitte! Could I write my novels based almost entirely on dialogue? ;) I think that’s turned out to be my strongest suit, which is rather surprising to me. The original version only referred to some tension between these two characters. In this version, it’s out there, which is where it should have been all along to increase the tension and conflict in the story. Well, better to learn later than never, right? ;)

      I’m glad to hear you’re still giving Scrivener a chance. It took a little while to grow on me, too, but now I couldn’t go back to Word. Have you used the Setting Sketch? That’s really handy for getting the feel for places, too.


    • Thank you for the kind words, Carol! If I’m improving as a writer, my later drafts should show improvement in other areas, such as description. ;) I suspect, though, that I will always be a dialogue-heavy writer. I’m more comfortable with it as a means of moving the story and action forward than anything else. And that’s a major shift from the first version of this story!


  5. I love how our stories change shape as we write them. I’m a pantser and there’s no way I can set the story out before I start because it’s always on the move. I just discovered two new characters that have literally burst onto the scene in my latest WiP and I love them!


    • I’m still mainly a pantser, but I did try to write down the new basic story lines for this WIP before I jumped into it. But with no 10,000-word outlines like some planners can write, you can imagine there are many ways to get from A to B to C. ;) I wasn’t expecting the Secretary of State to show up at this meeting, for example. I thought most of the pressure on Kathryn would come from Dickerman. But now I see where it may come from two sources before she can reach “The End” in this adventure. :D


  6. I think it sounds very interesting, and I would keep reading. I love the tension among the various parties and that the MC is struggling to maintain her composure. I can identify with that. ;)

    Every time I write a new draft, a new angle takes shape. Most of the time, the angle belongs there. Other times, it doesn’t and I have to wipe it out on the *next* draft. Whatever the outcome, I believe our muses bring us these ideas to help us along. Even the misguided ideas that end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. I think you’re smart to include this new stuff, just to see where it all goes – you never know what they might unleash for you.


    • Thanks for the supportive words, Kate! I have a long way to go on this WIP (and “Death,” too), but the characters seem to enjoy these new “takes” on their stories. Well, they should since they’re the ones who brought them to me. ;) I’m hoping this rebuild will be the one that works for a wider audience. And since no other stories have come forward to demand my attention, maybe I’m meant to keep going with these—trying different things until I get them right.

      I’m still drawing blanks for blog posts, so I’m thinking it might be time to take a little break….


  7. JM, it’s great! Would definitely keep reading. Your dialogue is strong, but so is your description. Though your not ‘telling,’ I could see the scene unfold. The room which I first thought held just two people opened up to reveal several men and women listening in on the exchange, smiling, nodding, but not necessarily weighing in until the Secretary of State does. Excellent tension!

    If you run out of ideas for blog posts, I love when you give snippets. Of course, I also think you’ve got lots of guts to share this way.

    Kuddos to you for writing and rebuilding! I think it’s great that you’re not giving up on these stories!!! :)


    • Thanks so much, Arlene! The initial story lacked enough tension and conflict, so I’m really working to increase them. It’s good to hear I’m off to a good start. This scene continues, and I think I’m ramping them up even more. We’ll see if I succeed when the manuscript eventually goes out to betas. Fingers crossed!

      I can’t quite believe I’ve summoned the courage to share these bits. Of course, I’m very selective and won’t choose something that’s really raw or gives away too much, but it’s still against my nature to share something I haven’t finished. I know there are some agents and editors who recommend against it, but since I’m leaning toward the indie route, I feel comfortable sharing snippets here and there. But there won’t be too many—otherwise you wouldn’t need to read the book! :)


  8. 0 to 60 in seconds. Nicely done – lots of reasons to keep reading.
    hand tightening on mouse, ” forcing herself not to rock on her feet,” looking for nods, noting smiles “used the distraction to steady her breathing and slow her pounding heart”, why did that have to change?
    You’re revealing so much about the character, (making the reader identify with her emotions and situation – critical to hook reader) building tension and plot…may be the head banging on desk shook so genius loose?


    • Hmm, I think my head banging usually results in headaches. ;)

      Thanks for the positive feedback! Tension and conflict were in short supply in the initial version of this manuscript. So I’m really working on ramping them up, even if it feels like overkill to me. At this stage, I’d rather have my betas tell me to “tone it down a bit” rather than hear I still didn’t get enough of them in the story.

      It’s interesting to see the characters offering more insights into their feelings. Partly, that’s me getting better about including such things. But it’s also the characters opening up more, letting me see more of their worries and fears. We’re hoping we can get it all right this time!


  9. Political intrigue and spy stories are some of my favorite genres, so I would definitely continue reading. The dialogue is strong and adds tension. Readers will want to know more. I hope that Kathryn is up to the task and demonstrate that she can be assertive.


    • In three alternate universes, our main character (in three versions of herself) deals with a “similar problem” from different positions. Her personality also shows differences, and similarities between them. But in each case, I have to make her believable, flawed, and yet able to overcome the difficulties involved in solving that “problem.” I haven’t set myself an easy task with this manuscript!


  10. Yes, I’d definitely read on JM – a very intriguing scene that could go in a range of directions – from reading this, I don’t know where this story is going – is it political, historical, action, disaster – so a great hook to get us to read on and find out what the story is about. I think it’s a good sign that your stories are evolving and changing – it shows that they’re ‘speaking’ to you – they’re alive, rather than you simply plodding on with something that doesn’t have a sense of life about it.


    • Thank you for the encouraging words, Andrea! My characters have a very “hands on” approach to my writing, so I find myself facing some interesting turns as they come up with new ideas during the drafting stages. Honestly, when I shelved this book last spring, I didn’t believe the characters would ever be willing to change from what really happened to them to something fictional. But they have always enjoyed surprising me, and that hasn’t changed. I’m glad to be spending the time with them again because I’ve always thought they were such interesting people to hang out with. We’re putting a bit more forethought into this version than we did before, so maybe fewer revisions will be needed when the first draft is finally finished….


  11. Absolutely! This is exactly the type of book I’d love. Right now I’m reading “The Eye of God” which is all about a lost artifact (through millennia) and the gov’t agents mandated to locate it. I like anything that has suspense and a sense of history….Authors who toss in a bit of sci-fi or the supernatural def have a reader in me!
    I’m hooked…keep it coming!


    • Hmm, that sounds intriguing—I’ll have to check into that one. As if my “to be read” list isn’t already a mile long! I’ve loved the idea of this book ever since the Muse brought it to my mind in 2009. I really owe it to some wonderful characters to write it well for an audience in this universe. :)


  12. A combination of history and parallel universes sounds good to me! Have you read The Talisman? I loved the parallel universes in that with a medieval society overlapping a present day society. This also made me think of Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus and that’s one of my all-time favorites. So keep going! :) That’s great that you’re following your heart and switching over to this one. Doing that should make that love of writing feeling come through again.


    • I haven’t read The Talisman, but it sounds interesting, and now two comments in a row are adding to my TBR list! But I owe some beta comments, and then I have a NetGalley book to read and review before I can dive into anything else. So many books. So little time. :)

      I know the idea of this book is good. And I want so much to make it entertaining for a wider audience.It looks like the characters are sticking with me, so keep your fingers crossed that we make it to the right end this time around. ;)


  13. I have great confidence in your writing, so I would read on. The difficulty for me is the subject matter. I am interested in the conflicts of the characters, but history/war/coup type stories don’t usually work for me.


    • Not every story is for every reader, of course. This book, though, isn’t so much about politics or war. Rather, it takes three versions of the main character through three versions of an event in three universes. I’ve wondered for some time if things like vivid dreams or deja vu might be glimpses of our other lives in parallel universes, and that’s probably why these characters chose me to tell their stories. ;)


      • I like that concept. I have often thought that mind-reading, and psychic abilities are not just like a radio receiver. All the info is in other dimensions and some of us can better “see” the info.


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