Split Personality: The Author

3inOne

Bad guys must make quite an impression on me, because Through the Dark, my remembered version of Eyes at the Window, painted the villain in pretty much the same colors as the original manuscript. The names changed. He was Mathias Payne in the beginning, and that name will be resurrected as I polish off the third version of this old idea. But to my ear, that name has a similar ring to the one I made up from memory: Harlan Hunter.

Both men liked to preach about the evil of guns, since that was, and is, a pivotal plot point. The only real difference is that thirty years ago I was at least partially a believer that armed citizens was a good thing, while now I am mainly a believer that upholding the rights of gun ownership has gotten way out of control. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I need to try to find a way to reflect that difference in the latest version of my story. Here’s what I’ve done in the past.

ORIGINAL
Her uncle paused when he caught sight of her .45 automatic on the mantle. “Where did you get that gun?”

“I bought it.”

“Now, Sarah, you know I don’t like firearms. They’re dangerous.”

“I’m ready to go,” she said to distract him.

Sarah’s hope that her uncle would forget his lecture on guns was disappointed. Once in the car, we went on at length about the evils of all firearms. In self defense, Sarah reverted to an old habit. She appeared to listen intently but was actually light years away.

“The way the crime rate is rising, something positive as to be done. The jerks in office now, some of them, anyway, beat around the bush with petty bills that will do absolutely no good at all.”
She blanked out his words, staring out at the roadside daydreaming.

“That’s what I’m basing my platform on this election. There are plenty of people who agree with my point of view. Once I win, even though this is only a small office, I’ll be on my way. I have connections, you know, and that’s all it takes these days. Connections and people who think the same way you do.”

Sarah imagined coming across a handsome hitchhiker along the road, convincing her uncle to stop to give the man a ride.

“Yes, soon there will be enough politicians like myself in office to get things done the way they should be done. It’s just a matter of time before all guns are banned. Imagine it, can you? No guns. What better way to insure peace? The whole country settled down to domestic bliss with no fear.”

REMEMBERED
Patty cut a piece of pork chop and ate it, speaking around the food. “I saw you on your soap box there, Harlan. What is it this time?”“The usual,” Sissy answered. “Politics. Gun control again. Harlan is trying to make pacifists out of all these NRA members sitting around the table here.”

The mayor and three of the men laughed, but one woman said “He’s right, though. Just last month a six-year-old over in Riverside accidentally shot his little sister playing cowboys with a loaded revolver. His daddy had a whole room full of rifles and hand guns. What’s a man
need with so many guns? Poor baby could have been killed.”

“Now, now,” the mayor said, wiping his mouth and then laying his napkin neatly across his knee again. “Guns don’t kill people—”

“Yes, yes,” Harlan interrupted. “We know. People kill people. But guns make it a lot easier to kill people and you can’t deny that.” He leaned forward again, jabbing his finger to make his point. “You can’t tell me there’s any good reason a man needs an assault rifle as his personal weapon, for Pete’s sake. If I had my way, all guns would be illegal, but at least—”

The debate they’d interrupted took off again full throttle. Someone argued that any move to ban the personal acquisition of assault weapons was just the first step toward banning all weapons.

“That tired old argument?” Harlan countered. “That’s like saying establishing a police force in town means we’re going to live in a police state. Ridiculous. Did banning public smoking lead to arresting everyone who buys cigarettes?”

“Not yet,” someone said to a spattering of laughter.

“You talk like guns are some kind of pathogen,” one white-haired man said. Miranda tried to remember his name. Doctor somebody. “As if getting rid of guns would eliminate violence like penicillin cures syphilis. Violence is the disease if you ask me. Until we find a cure for that, let me keep my aught-five.”

“Statistics show the crime rates go down when households are allowed to own guns for self-protection,” someone else argued.

“And I can show you data that the number of accidental deaths goes up in those same neighborhoods.” Harlan pointed a barbecue-sauced finger around the table at his listeners. “500,000 guns are stolen each year in the U.S. Who do you think they get stolen from? Law abiding citizens too stupid to be allowed access let alone ownership of a dangerous weapon.

“Take this little girl here.” Harlan jabbed his finger toward Miranda who flushed in anger at being called little girl. “Know what she had on her the other day? A handgun. That’s right. She came to greet Sissy and me at the door with a gun in her hand. What kind of training do you think she had, city bred girl that she is? What if she’d accidentally discharged that weapon? Or mistook us for trespassers?”

REVISED
I haven’t yet written the scene in this final version that shows Sarah’s uncle as an advocate for gun control. I suspect it will include a lot of the same arguments I wrote for the remembered version. How the theme is handled now needs to rely on more than just what the villain of the story has to say about it. He’s an unlikeable character, so naturally the reader is going to be inclined to think I’m saying his opinion is the wrong one. In fact, that was my original intent, when I leaned toward painting advocates for gun control as zealots with untrustworthy ideas.

Any message this version will contain about gun control will need to be written into the fabric of the story itself, into the mindset and growth of all the main characters and how the whole gun-specific plot is resolved. For that to happen properly, I’m going to have to draw some lines in my own mind about my thoughts on the subject so that I can be true to my own vision. I write stories not only to entertain, but to communicate. Whether people will agree with me or not, I write to extend my understanding of the way things are, and the way I feel they ought to be.

The Resurrection of Charlie

Poor, forgotten Charlie.  I’m not sure why he completely escaped my recall when I rewrote Through the Dark from memory.  It probably has to do with my one-time fascination with the bad boy, wounded male image.  At that time, Charlie didn’t fit my subconscious mold for what sexy was. I perceive it as a sign of my growing up that I now find scenes like the one below at least as enticing as the scene where Sarah first meets Luke.

Charle meets Sarah

Charlie downshifted his Harley and cruised by when he saw the open gate.  Peering up the lane for some sign of life, he drove past the place once, then turned around and came back. When he pulled up to the entrance, he stopped and sat for a while, chewing his thumb and thinking.

The gate had always been closed before. Luke’s main reason for choosing this place was because it had been empty for years. That, and the fact that Mathias Payne’s private property bordered the back of the timber.

Was that who was up there?  Mathias Payne? That didn’t sound too good for Luke. Maybe he’d better go see just what was going on.

He laid his bike  down in the ditch by the road for anonymity and walked up the lane.  Approaching quietly he could arrive unannounced and back out without being noticed if necessary.

He saw the car first, parked by the house. Not Mathias Payne’s vehicle, which was a relief. Then he heard a grating sound coming from the back yard. Just as he recognized it, an Irish Setter who had been sitting on the porch jumped up and began barking in alarm.

Charlie froze. When a woman walked around the side of the house to see what was going, he felt relieved for a moment until he noticed the gun belt strapped her hip. “Hello,” he called from a safe distance. “Boy, I can tell you don’t like strangers around here.”

She put her hands on her hips, which made the gun and holster even more visible. “What do you want?” The dog continued to bark, interspersed with low growls.

“Well, a friendly smile would be nice, but I’d settle for a cease fire.  I’m not sure what to worry about more, that vicious animal or the gun your fingers are itching to pull on me.”

“Quiet, Paddy.” The dog obeyed instantly and dropped to her haunches, but remained watchful.  The woman, however, did not back down. Every muscle was still tense and on the alert.

“Hey, relax, will you?” Charlie laughed nervously and put his hands up to show he was harmless. “I promise not to bite if you don’t. How about a peace treaty? After all, I look like a nice guy, don’t I? Blond hair, blue eyes, a mild, unassuming manner.  Just an all American guy.” He put his hands down and walked slowly forward. “Got a good solid name, too. Charlie Brice.”

“That’s far enough,” she said after he’d taken a few steps. “I’m Sarah. And you still didn’t tell me what you’re doing here.”

“Actually, I should be the one asking that question.  I happen to know that Mathias Payne owns this property and that means you’re trespassing at least as much as I am.”

“Wrong,” she said bluntly. “Uncle Mathias never owned this property, as much as he would like to. It was my mother’s place and now it’s mine. And I intend to keep it.”

“Uncle?”

“My mother was Mathias’s sister,” she snapped as if he had called her a liar.

Charlie shrugged. “Far be it from me to argue with a porcupine.”

“Porcupine?”

“What else would you call it? You’re so bristled up you’re liable to shoot quills at me any minute.”

The corner of Sarah’s mouth twitched like maybe she wanted to smile. “Porcupines don’t shoot their quills.”

“They don’t shoot guns either. Any way you look at it, you are one dangerous looking lady right now.”

He saw the tightness of her shoulders release a little.  She lowered her hands, although she didn’t look any less prepared to shoot him if he gave her reason.

“You know how it is,” she said. “Stranger danger.  It’s drilled into kids from early on. I had a scare here last night and don’t plan on getting caught off guard again.”

“A scare?”

“Someone was snooping around my car last night.  At least…” She frowned. “I think there was. At any rate, it seems like a wise move to know more than just your name and hair color.” She cocked her head, obviously waiting for an answer.

“Well, if my good looks and charm aren’t doing the trick…” He grinned, but she didn’t smile back. “Then I guess you should know I’m just here brown nosing it, is all.  I’ve been looking for some part-time farm labor and Payne is the largest land owner around here.  When I noticed someone was on his property— What I thought is his property,” he added hastily when she seemed about to protest. “I thought maybe I’d earn some points if I did the responsible thing and made sure no one was trashing the place or otherwise engaged in illegal activities.”

“So, just being responsible?” She narrowed her eyes at him and Charlie nodded.  “Why do I get the feeling that’s a new thing for you?” She sighed. “You do seem relatively harmless, but if you’re hoping for a job reference from me, you’re out of luck.  My uncle and I don’t exactly get along and he doesn’t even—”

Charlie waited for her to go on, and when she didn’t, said, “I accept your apology. On one condition. That you offer me something to drink.  I’m dying of thirst.”

There, she definitely smiled, just for a moment.  “I don’t remember apologizing.”

“You just said I’m harmless. Shows you’ve got good instincts. Now, if you happen to have some water. Or coffee. I’d kill for a cup of coffee. Not, you know,” He held up his hands again. “Not literately, of course.”

“I only have instant.”

“Hey, I’m not picky.  Instant is fine.”

She hesitated and Charlie thought he’d lost her.  Then she sighed and pointed to a rusted metal chair on the porch. “Wait here.”

Compare that to Sarah’s first encounter with Luke.  At this point in the story, she has come to realize there is someone living in her barn, but she has done nothing about it.  In the original draft, in fact, she feels drawn despite herself to this stranger she has glimpsed only from a distance, a homeless trespasser who lives in her barn and has tried to make friends with her dog by giving Paddy a rabbit carcass he poached illegally on her property. Earlier in the day before the scene below, Sarah’s foot had been caught in an animal trap someone had put in her timber, and Luke had been shot for snooping around Sarah’s uncle’s house.  When Sarah enters the barn, he is up in the loft tending to the wound.

Luke meets Sarah

He didn’t hear the noises until someone began ascending the loft ladder. Wincing at the pain, he pulled himself up and moved out of the light. Scarcely breathing, he waited while the dark shadow came closer, waving a flashlight beam back and forth to search for him. When it came within striking distance, he leaped. The intruder came down with a muffled cry.

There was a struggle, but Luke was the stronger despite his injury and he pinned his victim beneath him. It was then that he realized he had tackled a woman.  A rain-soaked woman, her breasts flattened to his chest, perked nipples against his bare skin.

“Sarah?”

“Get off me.”

She tried to release herself, but Luke held her down. Defeated, she stared into his eyes defiantly. Instinctively, he crushed his lips to hers. Hungrily he tasted her mouth, forgetting his wound as he pressed closer to her. Her shock gave way to a moment of surrender, her body warm and melting to his touch, her mouth responding to his.

Then the fight was back. She hit at him; her hand pushing against the bullet wound sent an explosion of pain through him. He fell away, curled into a ball, and bit down hard on his lip to keep from crying out. Blood seeped into his mouth as he waited for her to run off.

Except she didn’t. Groping through the hay, she felt for the flashlight that had fallen during their struggle. “Damn you,” she raved. “You ruin my watchdog, shoot rabbits on my land, and even set traps to hurt me and now you think you’ll try rape?  I’ve had it with you.  I’ve had it.”

The beam of light caught him full in the face and he put up a bloody hand to shade his eyes.

“You’re hurt.” The tone she used now was quite different from before. Flashlight still trained on him, she moved closer and Luke could see that she had pulled out her gun, but the point was lowered. She knelt beside him, still wary.

Quite a contrast between the two men, right?  The friendly jokester and the dangerous bad boy.  Their personalities will remain the same in this new version of the story.  What will change, however, is Sarah’s reaction to them.  We shall see, shall we, if this time she will see sense or end up trusting the one most likely to be a bad guy.

Split Personality: The Heroine

3inOneBoy, looking back at old manuscripts written twenty to thirty years ago—some close to forty, even—sure does make a person see how much they’ve changed over the years. I was into the wounded male hero back then, for one thing, who only needed the love of a good woman to make him shine.

I also apparently bought into the weak helpless female mindset, as well. The heroine as written in the original Eyes at the Window (variously titled back then with both The Country Quiet and The Watchful Stranger—horrible titles) is really not that likable to me when I read her today.

She quivers and whimpers and is easily intimidated. She lets a handsome stranger walk right up and into her house and life and doesn’t act on the few suspicions she has about his intentions. She refrains from pushing back when her bully of an uncle/neighbor insults her and tries to make her feel small. She feels small, in fact, so lets the world screw her over.

When reconstructing the story from memory, I kind of knew that’s how she came across back then, so I toughened her up quite a bit, made her stubborn and independent, but because I was writing a cozy version of the story, I also had to keep her polite, clean minded, and yes, even a little bit helpless at times.

But not this version. In this book I want to transform Miranda into Sarah, bad ass bitch who takes shit from no one. Sure she’s battling demons—an abusive past, doubts her mother spent years instilling in her—but she takes those demons by the throat and screams at them. They may win a battle or two, but she’s not about to let them win the war.

I think you’ll see a big difference in the three versions below.

ORIGINAL
Sarah shifted her weight uneasily as he walked up. She had anticipated this moment, but she was still not prepared for it. When Mathias stopped at the edge of the porch, she stepped out to greet him.“Good morning, Uncle.”

Mathias seemed huge to her, not all that tall, but broad shouldered and husky, with the hint of a spare tire almost hidden beneath his bulky coat. His eyebrows were as thick and dark as she remembered, but his hair was now peppered with gray and looked scanty at the crown.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” he bellowed at her.

Sarah did not answer. She knew a rhetorical question when she heard it. Her mother used to ask them all the time.

“Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to stay in the country?” he continued. “You could have come to my house.”

Sarah did not have an answer for that, even though the excuse that came out of her mouth was not the real one. “I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Bother me? What could bother me more than learning my only niece is living all by herself in this run down dump?”

Sarah hung her head and bit down hard on her bottom lip, a habit so ingrained in her that she didn’t even feel the slight pain. She remained in that humble position while her uncle ranted and raved, but his words couldn’t penetrate the mental barrier she had erected.

“It’s my house,” she offered timidly when he paused for breath.

This brought a further explosion of sound and Sarah wanted to sink into the ground. Paddy, behind her, growled low in his throat at the strange, loud man. The sound strengthened Sarah’s resolve. Assert yourself, Dr. Roberts had told her.

With the assurance that her stout canine friend had her back, Sarah straightened up and lifted her chin. She kept her eyes on the wisps of gray hairs at his temple as she spoke.

“Did you have anything important to say to me, Uncle Mathias? I was just about ready to leave for town when you pulled up. There are a few things I have to pick up.”

He looked appalled. By the time he regained his composure, he had apparently decided to change tactics.

“Sarah, I’m sorry if I’m acting like an old woman. It’s just that I worry about you, out here all by yourself.”

“I know you do, but you really don’t need to. I can take care of myself.” She still couldn’t look him in the eye, and did her best to ignore the skepticism of her mother’s voice at the back of her mind. “Besides, I’ve got Paddy here with me. She won’t let anything happen to me.”

“Yes.” Mathias’s tone was dryly disgusted. “I see you still have a way with dogs.”

“They just know I won’t hurt them, that’s all.”

“But, baby.” Sarah cringed as her uncle called her by the pet name used by her mother. “There’s some things even a good watch dog can’t save you from. You know what I mean, don’t you?”

Sarah stiffened, prepared for his next words. For distraction, she looked toward the barn and her attention was riveted on the upper window. There was something there, watching. She was sure of it. Probably just a barn owl but she could see the shape of a face with eyes staring their way.

Mathis Payne was not to be distracted. “You haven’t been well lately, Sarah. I don’t think that being all alone is good for you. What happens if you begin to sink into depression again with no one around to help you? You had a nervous breakdown after your mother’s death, for Pete’s sake. Surely you don’t want to chance that again?”

“I’m all right,” Sarah answered stiffly.

“Does Dr. Roberts know you’re out here?”

“Yes.” She hoped he didn’t notice her flinch at the lie.

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Well, I can’t help that.”

“And even if he did say that, he’s a fool. You should have more than one doctor’s opinion on a move as big as this one. Or, better still, I’d better see Dr. Roberts myself. He can’t realize how completely isolated this farm is.”

“Do what you want, but it won’t make any difference. I’m staying here.”

“Sarah—”

“I’m busy, Uncle.” Sarah rubbed her palms on her jeans and licked dry lips.

The man was silent for a moment, though his face worked busily. Finally, he said, grudgingly, “Very well, Sarah. If nothing I can say will make you change your mind.” He took a deep breath. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though. All sorts of things can happen to a girl all alone out here.” He narrowed his eyes, leaning toward her slightly.

“You can’t scare me that easily.”

“Just don’t blame me for saying I told you say when something goes wrong.”

“You won’t be saying it.”

“I hope you’re right. Well, let me take you into town, at least, to get your shopping done.”

“I’d rather drive myself.”

“Nonsense,” he snapped. “You shouldn’t be driving yourself anywhere. You know you’re not completely responsible. And aren’t you still on some sort of medication?”

The reminder deflated her. Her shoulders slumped and she heard herself saying meekly, “I’ll get my list.”

REMEMBERED

“Hello?” The greeting came from outside. Unexpected and loud, it made Miranda jump. She pulled her handgun out and clicked off the safety. Rufus ran toward the sound, barking. Miranda followed, calling his name and holding the weapon in both hands pointed toward the floor in front of her. She heard a car door slam.

There was no need to be afraid of her visitors, however. Far from it. As she stepped onto the porch, she saw her “vicious” watchdog Rufus prancing gleefully around the man and woman who stood outside. Hopping up on his hind legs, his nose twitched in anticipation at the covered dish the woman held.

“Rufus, down,” Miranda scolded, holstering the gun once again. “Come here.” The dog reluctantly obeyed.

“I knew a plumber named Rufus once,” said the woman who was holding the casserole. She had just stepped out of the passenger side of a midnight blue Mercedes. Her plumb cheeks were red-veined and her smile cheerful. She wore a bright teal full-length coat and had a black handbag hanging from her arm. “His back end always hung out of his pants when he leaned over, poor man.”

“Sissy,” reprimanded the man with her. He stood on the driver’s side, twirling a key ring in his short, stubby fingers. “What will Miss Preston think, talking like that?”

“I’m sorry,” Miranda said. “Do I know you?” She’d never seen either speaker before that she remembered.

“I’m Harlan Hunter.” He pocketed his keys and stepped forward with one hand outstretched. Miranda couldn’t help noticing his disapproving frown as he glanced toward her handgun. “We spoke on the phone.” His hair needed combing and his eyes seemed to study her intently. His handshake was firm and lingered longer than Miranda expected.

Harlan Hunter was her nearest neighbor. He had been hired by her grandmother’s attorney as caretaker for the property until Miranda decided what she planned to do with it. They had spoken only twice, the last time just a week before when she’d asked him to make arrangements for her arrival.

“Mr. Hunter,” Miranda said rather coldly, stepping back after he let go of her hand.

“Are you coming to find out why the house isn’t ready for me?”

“Not ready?” he asked. “What do you mean? My housekeeper and I just dropped by to present you with a welcome basket to tide you over. This is Sissy Morris.” He swept one arm toward the older woman who joined them at the porch steps. “We live on my farm just to the south of here.”

“Oh dear, is something wrong?” Sissy’s eyes had smile wrinkles in the corners, but now her brow was layered with concern. “I’d have come over yesterday to see if I could make it more presentable, but I always visit my sister on Sundays. We do sort of a sleepover every Sunday night. Reminds us of when we were kids, watching old movies, eating ice cream and staying up late.” She sighed, but with a smile of contentment. “As soon as I got back this morning I had Harlan help me put a care package together and insisted we drive over right away. What’s wrong, dear? I know the place must be a mess.”

“Yes, that’s true, but I wasn’t expecting help with that,” Miranda said. “It’s just that there’s no electricity and the furnace doesn’t seem to be working either.” She gave Harlan an accusing look.

“I believe you were planning to take care of the electric company, Miss Preston.” The way Harlan said it made Miranda flush. “And the repair man was out here two days ago. He told me the furnace was in as good a shape as could be expected, given its age. The propane should have been delivered yesterday.”

“It’s Ms. Preston, Mr. Hunter,” Miranda said, trying to get her equilibrium back. It was true that she had been the one to call the power company, but she was sure she remembered that Harlan had agreed that he would visit the house to make sure all was in order before she got there. She sighed, relenting. “But you should call me Miranda.” These were the first people she’d met and her nearest neighbors. It didn’t make sense to cause friction over something that was probably an oversight and easily fixed.
<cont. later>
Harlan dusted sawdust off his hands and rose to his feet. “If you have a flashlight, I can go take a look at the furnace to see if there is a problem.”

Miranda’s earlier resentment dissolved immediately. “Oh, thank you!” She was grateful for any reason not to have to go down into the dark cellar herself to check. She handed him the flashlight.

<cont. later>
Harlan came back upstairs just as they finished. “Furnace seems fine to me,” he said. “Pilot light’s lit and everything.” Walking to the ancient stove, he found a box of matches on a shelf and turned on one of the controls. Holding the match flame close to the cast iron burner, he waited until the gas caught fire then shook the match out and turned the stove off again.

“Propane is working, too, looks like.” He gave Miranda a look that said more than just words. “I suspect the only reason the thermostat didn’t do anything is because the blower requires electricity to run.”

Of course! Miranda grew warm as her cheeks flushed red again. She hadn’t thought about that, and hadn’t realized the stove was old enough to need manual lighting. She thanked them profusely for both the help and the food, following them back to their car as they prepared to depart.

“Don’t you worry any,” Sissy said, leaning to give Miranda a hug before getting in the car. “You call us if you need any little old thing, you hear? If Harlan or I can’t come over right away, one of us will send Bob.”

That reminded Miranda about the lack of cell phone reception, but she didn’t want to mention it. Harlan already thought she was completely helpless, probably. She’d figure it out herself later.

“I will. Thank you for coming. And thank you again for the casserole. I’m sure it will be delicious.”

“You’re welcome, though it wasn’t all my doing. Harlan already had the sauce going when I got home, using my recipe. That man was so tickled to have a new neighbor he just about cooked the whole thing himself. Didn’t you, Harlan?”

Harlan patted Sissy’s arm agreeably and closed the passenger door. Then he and Miranda walked around to the driver’s side. Before getting in, however, he turned to her with a serious expression. “You know,” he said, “I understand you’re wanting to come out and see the old place. I’m sure it holds many fond memories for you. But it’s obvious you don’t feel entirely safe here.” He motioned to the .38 in its holster. She’d had it on all morning and halfway forgotten it was there.

“Don’t you know that carrying a gun around like that is more likely to get you killed than keep you safe?” he asked. She half expected him to shake a scolding finger at her, but all he did was narrow his eyes in disapproval. “Besides, a little girl like you doesn’t want to be shackled with a white elephant like this. I didn’t want to say anything on the phone, but now that we’re face to face, I would like to offer to take the place off your hands.”

“Take it off my hands?” Miranda asked.

“Buy the place. You know. I can offer a very generous settlement, I can assure you. Very generous.” He leaned toward her and grinned patronizingly. “I guarantee you could buy a great condo back in Chicago with the proceeds, and even have enough left over to get you a cute little car to replace that old junker you got there.” He pointed to her rusted Chevy.

Harlan had a way of pushing her buttons she didn’t quite understand. One minute she felt grateful for his help and the next she felt like he was insulting her. Remembering how wrong she’d been about the propane and furnace, Miranda took a deep breath and counted to five before forcing herself to smile and saying, “I’m not interested in selling, Harlan. Not now. Not for a long time, if ever. But thank you for your help today and while the attorney sorted things out with the probate.”

She thought he was going to argue with her. His frown certainly made it clear he was displeased, and she saw his hand tighten on the car door he had just opened. But all he did was mumble, “We’ll see, missy, we’ll see,” then got in the car and backed up to drive away.

REVISED

Sarah folded her arms and stood with feet planted firmly on the porch as Mathias walked up. She knew her stance made the holster and gun she wore clearly visible. She’d been preparing for this moment since she’d made the decision to come. That didn’t keep the nervous tic in the side of her neck from twitching, but he would find out she was no longer the compliant, bullied little girl she’d been when he’d last seen her.

“Good morning, Uncle.”
As a child, Mathias had seemed huge to her. With her adults eyes, however, she could see that he wasn’t really that tall, just broad shouldered and husky. He even had the hint of a spare tire hidden beneath his bulky coat. His eyebrows were still thick and dark, but his hair was peppered with gray and scanty at the crown.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he bellowed at her.

Sarah knew a rhetorical question when she heard it. Her mother used to ask them all the time.

“Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to stay in the country?” he continued.

“You could have come to my house.”

“Why should I bother you when I have a house of my own to live in?”

“Bother me? What could bother me more than learning my only niece is living all by herself in this run down dump?”

Sarah’s heart thumped as he continued to rant and rave about the dangers of living alone, about the hazards found in old houses. She didn’t move an inch, however, and when he paused for breath, all she said in response was, “It’s my house.”

This brought a further explosion from him. Paddy’s growl beside her added weight to Sarah’s resolve. Assert yourself, Dr. Roberts had told her. Sarah lifted her chin, her eyes on the wisps of gray hairs at his temple.

“I don’t have time for this, Uncle,” she interrupted him. “I’ve got a few things to do in town to get the place cleaned up.”

He looked appalled. By the time he regained his composure, he had apparently decided to change tactics.

“Sarah, I’m sorry if I’m acting like an old woman. It’s just that I worry about you, out here all by yourself.”

“I can take care of myself.” She could, damn it. She would. And even if she screwed it up, it was better than living with this asshole. “Paddy and I have things under control.” She reached down to give Paddy an appreciative pat. The dog looked up with adoring eyes.

“Yes.” Mathias sounded disgusted. “I see you still have a way with dogs.”
“They just know I won’t hurt them, that’s all.”

For a moment she thought she had him stumped. He seemed speechless. Then she noticed the half smile and condescension in his eyes. He titled his head and said in a fake, tender voice,

“But, baby.” Sarah involuntarily closed her eyes as he used the pet name her mother had used so often. “There’s some things even a good watch dog can’t save you from. You know what I mean, don’t you?”

Sarah stiffened, prepared for his next words. For distraction, she looked toward the barn and her attention was riveted on the upper window. There was something there, watching. She was sure of it. Probably just a barn owl but she could see the shape of a face with eyes staring their way.

Mathis Payne was not to be distracted. “You haven’t been well lately, Sarah. What happens if you sink into a depression again? You spent months in that—” He have one hand vaguely as if he couldn’t bring himself to say mental hospital. “—place after your mother’s death. Surely you don’t want to chance that again?”

If he thought the reminder would break her, he was wrong. All it did was piss her off. “I don’t have time to listen to this crap.” Turning, she stepped back toward the house, but his next words arrested her.

“Does Dr. Roberts know you’re here?”

How did he know who her doctor was? She certainly hadn’t told him. She hadn’t started seeing Roberts until after her mother’s death. Who else could have mentioned it? She looked over her shoulder at him. “Yes.”

“I find that hard to believe. And if he did, then he’s a fool. Maybe I should talk to him myself. He can’t realize how completely isolated this farm is.”

She turned fully around them, her shoulders tight, jaw aching. “If my psychiatrist says one word to you about my treatment or my situation, I will drop him like a hot potato and the next time you try to darken my doorway, you’ll like a loaded .45 automatic trained on the center of your forehead. Got that?” His mouth had dropped open. Satisfaction surged through her. “Good. And goodbye, Uncle.”

She and Paddy walked into the kitchen and shut the door. He couldn’t know that her legs were shaking as she did so, or that once inside she leaned against the closed door afraid her weak knees would give way. Triumph and terror trembled through her in equal proportions.

She had done it. The ties were cut. She was really on her own now. Only time would tell if she’d end up drowning thanks to burning that bridge or if she would thrive in the new territory she’d forged for herself.

Split Personality – Luke

3inOneThis week I want to explore the three faces of Luke, the main male character in my “trilogy” of three books from one idea. Luke’s first name remains the same in all three versions, mainly because I think it goes so well with the vision I have of him, but also because I like the balance of the name Luke paired with that of his twin brother, Zeke.

Zeke is pretty much the same in all the books, as is the reason Luke is hiding in Sarah’s barn (Miranda in Through the Dark and Eyes at the Window versions). Zeke, the irresponsible twin, has disappeared.  Luke believes Sarah’s neighbor knows something he’s not telling so he is spying on him, staying out of sight since he looks exactly like his brother.

In the original idea, this is actually Luke’s second visit to the area.  Early in that story, he was caught breaking and entering the neighbor’s house, and was sent to prison. In the version written for PersonalNOVEL, however, I had to play down the bad boy image per their guidelines (plus all I really remembered from the original manuscript was that he’d spent time in prison, not why). Therefore, Luke’s stint in prison was a few weeks earlier, much shorter, two weeks, and was the result of mistaken identity for a crime his brother committed.

I haven’t really decided if Luke will be an ex-con in the new book I’m writing.  Instead, I made him ex-military, having served in Afghanistan along with his German Shepherd named Mac, a K-9 Military Working Dog.  One of the main reasons for the prison background originally was I wanted Luke to be (pardon my language, Mom) horny, thus he is conflicted about Sarah’s presence. She is an obstacle he resents, yet a lure he wants to get to know better.  If you know what I mean.

On the other hand, not telling Sarah about his prison time also serves as a reason for her to doubt him when she finds out about it, so if I don’t use that idea, then I need to come up with another good reason for her to have second thoughts.

In this third reincarnation, I also wanted Luke to be a little darker, more layered and complex.  That thread is there in my first versions of him, but I want this book to reflect the dark, gritty realistic tone I put into my Street Stories books. Compare the following excerpts to see if you think I’m succeeding in that.

ORIGINAL

Mac had been the one to let him know a car was coming the night before, long before the headlights reached the top of the hill. Luke had quieted the dog, then watched from the loft as the old Chevy shuddered to a halt by the house.

He had waited, but nothing happened. No one had left the car or even turned off the motor. Eventually he had been unable to stand the suspense.

Quietly, he had crept up to the car with Mac a silent shadow beside him. Her dog spotted them just as he reached the car, raising an uproar, but Luke still could not resist one look in the car window.

Blurred by the glaze of rain on the glass, her deep brown eyes had still been startling enough to make him pause, standing there a fraction of a second too long. Her scream had broken the spell, lending mobility to his muscles. Pulling his collar up to disguise his retreat, he had trotted away, counting on the starless night to camouflage him.

REMEMBERED

(NOTE: I did not exactly tell that first encounter through Luke’s eyes.  In fact, we don’t even read anything from Luke’s view until Chapter 3, whereas he is Chapter two in the other manuscripts. This is all I put in the remembered version.)

When he saw her pull up to the house the night before, he thought she must be lost, pulling off the road to wait out the storm. Butch’s barking had alerted him to the intruder.
Remembering, Luke reached down to scratch the German Shepherd behind the ears.

“Good boy.” He’d been sure it had to be Harlan Hunter or Bob Meeks in the car, just waiting for the rain to let up. It had been a Sunday the last time they’d shown up at the farm. But when he approached the car and looked in, he’d seen only the woman and her small dog.

REVISED

Luke had stationed Mac outside right after he’d scouted out the inhabitants of the car who’d pulled up so late last night. The young face he’d seen through the window didn’t appear to be an imminent threat, but he had to avoid discovery of any kind, even friendlies.

Mac had been the one to let him know a car was coming, long before the headlights reached the top of the hill. Luke had quieted the dog, then watched from the loft as the old Chevy shuddered to a halt by the house.

When nothing happened he had crept up to the car, slithering on his belly the last few yards until he was close enough to listen. After a few silent moments, he’d raised up and looked through the driver’s side window.

Blurred by the glaze of rain on glass, the sight of a feminine profile—long lashes and slender neck—had been startling enough to make him pause, standing there a fraction of a second too long. A dog he hadn’t noticed before set off the alarm. She turned to him and screamed.

Luke kissed the dirt, face buried in muddy grass, heart racing.

Chapter Ones

3inOne

Last week, I mentioned that I am rewriting an old manuscript that I’d actually already rewritten once, but from memory. This week, I thought I’d show you the first chapters of all three so you can see how different, or how alike, they are.

There were a couple of things I found interesting in the first chapter of the original manuscript.  For one thing, it looks like my first try had actually started with what later became chapter two, from the viewpoint of my main male character. I then added a chapter from the woman’s point of view instead.

The second was that the first version of the story gave the main female two dogs, not just one, but there are handwritten edits in the first few chapters that eliminated an outdoor watch dog called Mutt. Poor Mutt.  Perhaps I will have to resurrect you in a new story someday.

The third thing that surprised me was when I was rewriting this from memory, I was certain I’d actually had the woman choose to sleep in the car, not fall asleep accidentally. I’m not sure if I just remembered wrong, or perhaps had planned to change it and didn’t, or maybe my subconscious had been editing the story line for thirty years, and thought that detail should be added.

What I tried to do in the third, brand new version was amp up the tension sooner, and make Sarah’s mental stability seem more questionable. That was accomplished by making Paddy a therapy dog, and expanding the effects of her mother’s voice in her head.

To compare the first chapters, go to Page 2 . Then let me know if you have a favorite from the three options.

Three Books From One

3inOneIn 2012 I was living in Seattle and trying to supplement my part-time job with some freelance writing. One of the things I contracted to write was a personalizable novel for a European company called PersonalNOVEL that allowed readers to change details like names and places in order to personalize them to their own specifications.

Because I wasn’t getting paid big bucks and therefore didn’t want to spend a lot of time getting the job done, I pitched them three potential plots based on old ideas that I had  already written or at least started but that never went further than that.

The idea they selected became Through the Dark, which was based on a complete novel I had written almost thirty years earlier.  The original manuscript itself was actually in storage in Illinois so I tried to recreate it from memory since I was not able to edit the original story itself. I put the title out under my pseudonym of Deb Donahue because it was quite a different style from my Debra Borys novels and short stories.

The result was a decent book, I think; they liked it anyway, and paid me for it. I even eventually self-published the same book as Eyes at the Window for U.S. readers. When I moved back to Illinois, however, and got my things out of storage, I reread the original manuscript and realized how different the published version was from my original intent. While the three main characters were basically the same and had the same motives, I’d completely forgotten that I had used a fourth point of view character which added a whole different set of complications to the plot.

In addition, the character’s personalities were quite different in the two versions, and there were key scenes missing that provided depth and added action. The original story, in fact, was different enough from what got published that I have decided it is worth rewriting to publish under my real name, adding that dark suspense flavor you can find in my other Borys books.

It will be fun to compare the three versions of a story that was sparked by the same kernel of an idea.  I’m going to post comparison excerpts here from time to time to show the evolution of the idea from concept to remembered to revised. If you are curious to see how one story can be written three different ways, I hope you’ll check back each week to see what I’ve done with the piece.