How Droll!

  • by jen“What are you doing here, honey?”
  • mattress on the floor and bottles strewn everywhere
  • hardly high espionage drama
  • “darts of insanity”
  • feels and smells exactly like fried chicken

Tune in next time part 253                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“How droll!” the man cried.

I remembered all too well the incident with the cliff that the woman had mentioned. The twins she referenced were Jason and myself. It had all been part of our senior class project. Our Academy had been pitted against our rival school in a sort of spy olympics. Despite the fatalities at the cliff, we had won. This woman must be one of our vanquished foes. I needed to get out of here before they discovered me, even if I was handcuffed, and naked from the waist down.

There would be time to rid myself of the cuffs later. I scuttled toward the tunnel to the submarine dock, grabbing my pants as I went.

The woman froze. I tried to lunge out of sight, but she turned around and spotted me. A bemused smile appeared on her face.

“What are you doing here, honey?” Her tone was one you would use with a lost kitten.

Her companion turned, too. “Who’s that? What’s he doing down here? Is there a mattress on the floor and bottles strewn everywhere?”

“Of course not,” the woman said. “This is hardly high espionage drama, Fernando. This is just a poor homeless man taking refuge from the cold.” She winked at me.

“In handcuffs? Really, Betsy, you’re too soft-hearted.”

Betsy? Oh shit, now I recognized her. This was Betsy Murgatroid, infamous for her use of the poisoned projectiles she invented and called “darts of insanity”. From the intelligence reports I’d read, when you’re under the influence of her drug, everything feels and smells exactly like fried chicken.

I gulped. What could make such a dangerous woman smile at me like that?

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Our regular readers know by now that we’re obsessive plotters. Our process includes multiple stages of outlining in an assortment of often colorful formats. Saves a lot of wear and tear on the seats of our pants.

And yet. Sometimes plot-related issues try to slip past us. Most commonly, for us, it’s some form of magical knowledge on the part of a character: the author knows that Chadwick Q Badguy, esq, didn’t commit the kidnapping, thus Detective Main C Haracter never thinks to ask for his alibi.

A form of this cropped up in our WIP (Grandson of Science Novel). Or, at least Jen thought so for a few minutes. Without getting spoilery about it, there’s an event that depends on there being no one home. No one was, of course, but how would the perpetrators know? The worry was that they seemed to take it for granted, as if the author had tipped them off.

Thinking it through in light of all the details we’re withholding from you, Jen determined that the nefarious deeds made sense as we had them after all. But she brought the matter up with Kent all the same. Because that’s what you do when you have a writing partner: you share your concerns. And your partner sets you straight if necessary, making the work stronger. In this case, Kent confirmed his partner’s reasoning. But it still makes the work stronger, because it deepens both of our understanding of the story.

There’s no substitute for talking story issues through with a partner.


“I Can’t Believe You Were Just Using Me”

  • by Kenton the rest of her body
  • with a cold, wet hand towel
  • proceeding with a defamation lawsuit
  • that left only two
  • his brother and he were twins

Tune in next time part 252                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“I can’t believe you were just using me, too,” I said to Tessa. She stood over me, a sponge in her panties and glistening sweat on the rest of her body.

“Not just using you.” She located a small towel among the junk stored in the subbasement and dried herself before getting dressed.

“What did you mean about an ultimate goal? What is this exotic compound? There’s plenty more where that batch came from, by the way.” I wasn’t too proud to give seduction one last try, but I was too proud to ask her again about the handcuffs. I knew the answer already anyway.

She just hummed to herself as she put her clothes on, then crept up the steps that led to the root cellar. I shuddered.

When she was out of sight, I sat up and started getting ready to escape. There are things I enjoy less than post-coital cleanup with a cold, wet hand towel, but not many.

Betrayal, for instance. Being abandoned, in shackles, in a memory hole under our old school. I looked up, picturing the halls of the Academy, and wondered whether any of the faculty were still proceeding with a defamation lawsuit against the student government.

I set to work on the cuffs. I’d never been much good at picking locks, but the old cabinets and file drawers down here were filled with bobby pins and paperclips so I was bound to succeed eventually. The tunnel to the sub dock was behind a stack of boxes, easy to access once my hands were free.

Voices startled me, coming from that very tunnel. A man and a woman.

I squeezed under a table and pulled a crate of unclaimed diplomas in front of myself just in time. The woman was speaking as they emerged from the tunnel.

“… so we chased all the others off a cliff, and that left only two. Do you want to know the best part?”

“Naturally. Tell me everything, you vixen.”

“Those two. It turned out that his brother and he were twins.”

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As John Gladly Followed Hipster Jane

  • by jenwasn’t wearing his shoes
  • something incredibly icky was about to go down
  • online spirituality does have its limits
  • my opinion on these matters is final
  • found in high levels in semen

Tune in next time part 251                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

As John gladly followed Hipster Jane up the stairs, I noticed that he wasn’t wearing his shoes. John’s bare feet are not a sight for the faint of heart, and Hipster Jane’s foot fetish was the stuff of legends, which meant that something incredibly icky was about to go down in the root cellar. That suited my plans just fine. I’d stand a better chance with Tessa without others around confusing the matter. Step three, here we go.

“I’m glad we’re finally alone,” I said in my best husky voice.

“Me too,” Tessa said. “I’ve been trying to learn mindfulness from a YouTube guru, but online spirituality does have its limits, and I was never the best student.” Her hand fell to the knife hilt protruding from her belt.

“You were valedictorian!”

She snorted. “That’s only because I drugged the rest of you and the faculty needed someone to stand up there and give a pretty speech.”

“It was a very pretty speech.” Tessa was always a sucker for flattery from me.

My opinion on these matters is finally clear,” she said. “No matter how attractive I find you, you’re no good for me.”

“Tessa,” I pleaded. “Take these cuffs off me, or don’t, and let’s get out of here. I’ll show you how good I can be for you.” I turned my smolder up to maximum and saw her decisiveness falter.

She whispered, “The only way out of here is through the root cellar, and if we go upstairs now we’ll have to see whatever it is John and Jane are doing.” She leaned in close and ran her hand down my chest. “But maybe you can show me now and we can get out of here later.”

It really wasn’t the best plan, and I knew for a fact that there was a tunnel leading from this subbasement to the Academy’s submarine dock, but the idea of being with Tessa again after so long drove all other thoughts from my brain.

She shoved me to the floor and left the cuffs on me, but I rose to the occasion. She rode me like a woman possessed. After the climactic moment she leapt off and inserted a sponge into her underpants.

To my look of confusion she said, “A certain exotic compound is found in high levels in semen in the men in your family. When I get back to the lab, our scientists can use this sample to devise a synthetic equivalent, and we’ll finally be able to achieve our ultimate goal!” She smiled down at me, laying pantsless and handcuffed on the floor.

“Ultimate goal?” I asked, baffled.

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Progress Update II: The Progressening

We’re still rolling forward on Grandson of Science Novel. Well, Jen is. Her current scene, and the next couple after that, are our current bottleneck. So Kent’s occupied with comments from earlier in the story.

Eagle-eyed readers will note that we didn’t say “earlier in this book,” and in fact the comments in question apply to Son of Science Novel. The three Science Novels are all one massive story, collectively, and because we embarked on the writing of books two and three back-to-back it has really felt like we’re writing a single 200-kiloword tome. It’s interesting to revisit stuff from the middle book, now that we’ve gotten to know the characters that much better. The ability to do that is one of the reasons we structured the project as we did, so that we could take advantage of opportunities to tie all three books together more tightly.

That’s just one of the ways we try to go the extra mile. We do it for you, to give you a story world that extends beyond the edge of the page.

They Hadn’t Uncuffed Me

  • by Kent“Look at that thing, man.”
  • get into the good graces of the buxom widow
  • escape from one calamity
  • shortly returned on tiptoe
  • marry after she graduated

Tune in next time part 250                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

They hadn’t uncuffed me, which pissed me off. John, I expected that kind of shit from. I glared at Tessa as I got up. That was also an excuse to avert my eyes from the crotch region of John’s tacky and immodest getup. And vulgar. I mean, was a vacuum sealer involved in putting it on?

Then there was Hipster Jane, the wildcard in my predicament. I swiveled my glance her way, trying to remember everything about her. She’d been in the music scene forever, originally as half of Jane and Able, a wife-and-husband duo. Able liked the groupies too much, though. Eventually he vanished under suspicious circumstances, and Jane shifted to the promotions side of the biz. She taught at the Academy as a sideline: Suspicious Circumstances 101. And she had more than one weakness.

I locked my eyes onto John’s groin, jutting my face forward to really sell it. “Look at that thing, man.” Part one of my plan was to get into the good graces of the buxom widow in the tube top and lamé hot pants.

It worked. Hipster Jane licked her lips and drew hard on her cigarette.

“Enough of that,” John said. “Let’s try to act professional.”

“Wow,” I drawled. “You’re really taking that, ‘dress for the job you want’ advice to heart, aren’t you, John.” Part two of my plan was still coming into focus, but I knew it relied on keeping John irritated and distracted. Otherwise, I’d just escape from one calamity and pratfall into another.

Tessa shot me a weird look, like everything she’d been suspecting had run away to hide around the corner, but shortly returned on tiptoe and whispered new aspersions about me in her ear. Or like she’d surprised herself with the memory of whom she’d planned to marry after she graduated.

Hipster Jane was dragging John up into the root cellar. Tessa was still staring into my eyes.

Time for part three.

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I Came To in the Subbasement

  • by jenwhy no one sees the dinosaur bones
  • burned down a giant goat
  • the redheaded streetwalker coughing next to him
  • skintight orange jumpsuit
  • under the root cellar

Tune in next time part 249                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

I came to in the subbasement under the root cellar of the Academy, a place I’d hoped to never see again. I focused my bleary eyes on the three figures standing over me. One was Tessa, one was John in a skintight orange jumpsuit, and the third looked like a cheap hooker who time-traveled from 1970s Times Square, her face hidden behind a huge cloud of noxious cigarette smoke.

John smirked when he saw that I was awake. He turned to the redheaded streetwalker coughing next to him and said, “You’re up.”

She waved a hand, driving the smoke away, and I saw the last face I expected.

“Hipster Jane,” I said, keeping the surprise from my voice. “I haven’t seen you since the two of us burned down a giant goat at that music festival you organized.” Truth be told, I’d assumed she burned up with the goat.

“It’s a travesty that Burning Goat never took off while so many other festivals are so fucking popular. I had the best, most obscure upcoming bands that no one had ever heard of! I don’t know why no one sees the dinosaur bones that play those other festivals for what they are – obsolete and boring. Why does anyone want to see the same bands over and over again?”

My plan was working. If you got Hipster Jane talking about music, she forgot about everything else.

“You’re getting off topic,” said John.


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Keeping Up the Momentum

Spoiler: we missed our deadline.

But, things are moving forward. Our productivity has been decent, even if it never approached the rarified levels we would have needed in order to hit that mark we set for ourselves.

With a writing partner, you can get double the bandwidth. The thing is, it takes some careful planning to get your work set up to take advantage of it. If you’re each going to work on certain scenes, you have consider what order things need to be written in. Scenes don’t always need to be done chronologically, but it’s easier to avoid continuity gaffes when they are.

This can lead to bottlenecks, such as when Kent hits a cluster of tightly interconnected scenes that will have a big impact on the next cluster, which Jen will write. How do you both keep working when you run into this situation?

Here in the Writing Cave, we have a couple of different strategies. Sometimes one of us will grab a scene that’s far removed from the current bottleneck zone. Sometimes there are tasks that make up our process (such as writing stubs) that advance the project even if they’re not adding to the manuscript’s word count. And we always have tons of placeholders and margin notes from earlier in the story, and it’s good to get some of those picked off. That goes against the “never look back until it’s finished” advice you often hear. And if you feel like it could get you bogged down and you’d never make it back to the leading edge of your WIP, then don’t put yourself at risk. All we can say is it works for us, at this point.

Writing with a partner means you need a process that treats the project as a team endeavor.

“Tessa,” I Said Soothingly

  • by Kentnursing a glass of hooch
  • handed the wad of cash to the wrong person
  • feelings of such deep emotion
  • the reunions didn’t go well
  • mother’s favorite bracelet

Tune in next time part 248                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“Tessa,” I said soothingly. “You don’t need to knock me out. I’ll keep the cuffs on, if that’s how you want to play it.”

She slid her bottom lip to the side and lowered her eyelids at me, a look that really would have seemed more natural if she were nursing a glass of hooch on the veranda at some big society cotillion. Which was probably deliberate, meant to remind me that it was I who handed the wad of cash to the wrong person in our Academy graduation project. But I was also the one who got it back, and we had such fun spending it later.

All my memories from that period carried feelings of such deep emotion, but none more than the clock tower. It had been my job to trigger the detonator, and Tessa’s to plant the charges. I missed her signal when she got clear, so I thought she was still inside. Which was why I didn’t press the button. Instead of a boom, our enemies heard their tacky carillon tolling noon atop its hideously modern tower. Tessa vowed to go back and finish the demolition someday, but never got around to it. Arlo’s weird structure was just a proxy.

“You really don’t get it,” she said. Any sense of playfulness had again left her face. “You think I have a choice.”

“Of course you do.”

“The committee was quite explicit.”

Oh, shit. Our 20-year Academy reunion was coming up. In general, the reunions didn’t go well. Casualties tended to run close to 20%, and usually at least one government was toppled. What committee had recruited Tessa? I spotted an important clue on her wrist: Mother’s favorite bracelet.

But she was too quick with the hypodermic, and I didn’t have time to draw any conclusions.

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“Where Was I, Tessa?”

  • by jenit was an accusation
  • a sort of swinging pocket
  • Six hours after injection
  • grandmother is calling me a “home-wrecker”
  • There was one reason.

Tune in next time part 247                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“Where was I, Tessa?” I could hardly believe her. “Where was I? Where were you?”

“What kind of question is that?” she asked.

“It wasn’t a question, it was an accusation. You were so busy fucking around with John I bet you don’t even know that Tallulah is on the loose.”

“You think my mission with John is just ‘fucking around’? Like I’m in a sort of swinging pocket of 70s hedonism while you’re out there saving the world all by yourself?” She sounded furious and her tears had stopped.

I didn’t want to fight with her, but lately fighting was all I knew. “You gonna let me out of these handcuffs?”

Six hours after injection,” she said, brandishing a syringe. “By then we’ll be safely at our destination.”

I flinched away from her. Could I make it into the Viscount’s wacky crystal castle? Surely he had handcuff keys in there somewhere. Or at the very least a hacksaw.

“Don’t even try it,” Tessa said. “You know how your grandmother is calling me a ‘home-wrecker’ all the time? Well, I finally decided to live up to the name.” She held up a little remote control and pressed the button.

Viscount Arlo’s architectural wonder exploded in a fireball of molten plastic and toxic black smoke.

I couldn’t think of any reason Tessa would do that.

Well, that’s not true.

There was one reason.

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