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Robert Plamondon’s Fiction Blog

I’ve been working on two novels at once, which has me thinking about fiction writing in general, and I’ll have some things to say about that. I’d love to hear from you about these topics.

The two novels are related but aren’t exactly part of a series. They’re both set in a little kingdom that’s just a stone’s throw away from California if you know about the gateway.

Silver Buckshot

One is Sliver Buckshot. Thirteen-year-old Princess Flavia meets the world’s most irritating boy five minutes before her own servants try to murder her. He helps hide her—she needs the help because her polio left her with weak legs—and now she’s stuck with him, especially because he received a not in her own handwriting telling him what to do. If only she could remember!

This is a Ruritanian romance, or, if you prefer, an urban fantasy thriller with teen characters but aimed at adult readers.

I’m having a open beta review period for Silver Buckshot. The complete review draft is available here. Please take a look and tell me what you think (even if you only get partway through).

Wolf in the Manger

The other novel is Wolf in the Manger, set in 1957. Seven-year-old Louisa Maréchal is one of six children attacked by a werewolf on the same night. She becomes a werewolf, along with three of her fellow victims, and now she’s a werewolf. Abandoned by her family, she’s taken in by an old man who has also adopted two vampire children.

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Wolf in the Manger

These are the first two chapters of my novel-in-progress, Wolf in the Manger. Feel free to leave a comment with feedback, or send me an email at robert@plamondon.com.

Chapter 1. Ford Fairlane

The first rule of werewolves is “stay away from werewolves.” Werewolves are terrible people—take it from me.

I won’t tell you what a wonderful little girl I was before a werewolf mauled me half to death. I was okay, I guess. It’s not like anyone ever singled me out for special praise or special blame or special anything. I was just one of the Maréchal kids. My name is Louisa Delphine Marianne Maréchal. It doesn’t suit me, but they can’t take it away.

So there I was, in a hospital ward with five other kids, all torn up on the same night by the same werewolf. Why attack kids, you ask? Ask the guy who mauled me. You’ll have to raise your voice, though, because he’s dead. Killed the same night. They say it takes silver to kill a werewolf, but if you’re going fast enough when you hit him with your car, you get a second run while he pulls himself together. Repeat until the big hairy pancake stops twitching. It’ll take a while.

A little old lady did that. Mrs. Edith Smith, in her new 1957 Ford Fairlane. She sang alto in the Baptist choir when she wasn’t flattening werewolves. Her car was all dented up, so she took it to the shop the next day. They refused to touch it until someone scrubbed away all the werewolf bits. It took her husband and son ages.

She liked telling that story. She had a lot of other stories, too, and I heard them all. She’d take me out for ice cream after church on the Sunday closest to the new moon. But that was later.

I was really sick for a few days. One arm and one leg were torn up and broken, and I’d lost a lot of blood. To complete the set, I developed a high fever. My family was constantly at my bedside, which would have been comforting if they hadn’t kept telling each other I was going to die. I was seven years old.

Of the six of us in the ward, one was my best friend, Sally. We’d been playing in her back yard after dinner. The sun was still up, but it was two days past the full moon, so the moon was up, too. This huge wolf leaped the fence. I’ll spare you the details, but he mauled us both, then ran off when Sally’s mom rushed out with the shotgun.

Sally never regained consciousness. She just slipped away after a few days of fever.

I want to say more. Somebody has to, and everyone else seems to have forgotten her. But I get confused when I try to piece together her last days, all mixed up with my pain and delirium and fear of death, and I never got the hang of saying sentimental things. You deserve better, Sally, and I’m sorry.

Sally was gone. That left five.

My fever broke. Within hours, I felt perfectly fine. Famished, but fine. My wounds had healed, with just a little redness where the worst had been. Even that soon faded.

I didn’t think anything of it. Wasn’t I in the hospital to get better?

And just like that, my family vanished. I’d healed too fast, so they knew I’d been infected—that I was a werewolf. The Maréchal family might have tolerated a black sheep—though I doubt it—but not a werewolf. I didn’t understand any of this at the time, any more than I understood the blackout curtains on the windows. I just knew they weren’t around.

I was the first to recover, if that’s the right word. Ollie was next. In the innocent hours between feeling better and realizing what it meant, we got to know each other. He was ten and was a great kid to be in the hospital with. His family showered him with candy and comic books, and he shared it freely. But the visits and gifts ended without a word once he recovered.

Chico didn’t become a werewolf. He recovered slower than we did, of course, but without incident. He never even ran much of a fever. He’d been more lightly mauled than the rest of us, with only a hundred and twelve stitches. I had two hundred and fifty-seven. Chico was a quiet boy of about twelve. His family spoke to him quietly in Spanish. From them, sounded like poetry, though I didn’t understand a word. I envied him.

Larry recovered after Ollie. He was fourteen and had been terribly mauled. He lost an eye and should have lost a leg, but the doctor delayed sawing it off. His leg was fine the day after he turned the corner, but it took him a month to regrow the eye from nothing. That’s incredibly slow by werewolf standards, but we were new. I didn’t get to know him because his parents whisked him home as soon as they could. No disappearing act for them! It was too bad, really. Larry tore them to pieces a year later, then killed himself.

Last but not least, there was Davy. He was the oldest, at seventeen, but I could make him blush just by staring at him. He was that shy. He recovered at about the same time as Larry. He only had one parent, his mom, who tearfully told him he was on his own before running out on him.

Chico was moved to a room that was less infested by werewolves. That left just me, Ollie, and Davy. We understood by then that they thought we were werewolves because we’d healed too fast. Ollie and I tried to convince each other that it wasn’t true. Davy didn’t say much of anything.

A couple of days went by. Though sad and anxious, we were perfectly well, bursting with energy, all cooped up with nothing to do. I should explain that this was on Earth IIc, just a stone’s throw away from California if you knew about the gateway. I discovered later that Californian hospitals have TV sets in the rooms, but we just had a radio. The Kingdom of Beaumont had an okay AM station but no TV station.

Finally, we had a visitor, an old man who strode in an hour after lunch like he owned the place. He was a couple of inches below average height, but he seemed taller. His head was mostly bald. His remaining hair had been brown but was now mostly white. Clean-shaven. He carried a cane but didn’t use it. Davy recognized him and brightened.

“Hello, Davy,” said the old man, holding out his hand. Davy had been sitting on his bed. He stood and shook the old man’s hand. The old man continued, “You’re looking splendid. Introduce me to your friends.”

Davy cleared his throat. He had an on-again, off-again stutter, but he did okay this time. “Your Grace, this is my friend, Oliver Langstrom. Ollie, this is Count Franklin Woodville.”

Ollie stood and looked uncertain. Davy whispered, “Shake his hand.” Ollie complied, blushing.

“How do you do, Oliver,” said the old man.

“And this is my friend, Louisa Maréchal,” said Davy, indicating me.

I stood and curtsied. “I’m honored to meet you, Your Grace.”

“Likewise,” said the Old Man. (He gets capital letters now. “Old Man” became my private nickname for him.) He had an abrupt manner but kind eyes, a combination I’d never seen before. He looked us over, taking his time. He began to lean on his cane. We stared back.

“How much have they told you?” he asked.

“They say we’re werewolves,” said Ollie. “That can’t be right, can it, sir?”

“It can,” said the Old Man. “We’ll put it to the test soon enough. No choice, really. Then you’ll know for sure.” He surveyed us again, then said, “What have your families told you?”

“Nothing,” said Ollie.

“Nothing,” I repeated.

“Stay away,” murmured Davy.

The Old Man said, “You’ll be living with me at Woodville Manor. Plenty of room. Pack your things.”

“For how long?” said Ollie. He was braver than me when confronting the Old Man.

I knew what I wanted him to say. Only for a day or two, until our parents reappeared and everything was all right.

“Until you grow up.”

“All three of us?” said Davy.

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that a terrible risk, sir?”

“Yes.”

Davy turned bright read, hung his head, scuffed the floor with his slipper, and said, “Why?”

“Duty. Pack your things, all three of you. We leave in five minutes.”

I didn’t want to go outside in the middle of the day in my hospital-supplied nightgown, so I found the courage to speak up. “I don’t have any clothes.”

“Clothes will be provided soon enough. And you look charming.”

This surprised me so much that I ran to look in the mirror on one wall. No one had ever called me charming before. My reflection showed nothing new. I was clean, having showered that morning, and they’d made me brush my hair. The nightgown was nothing special. Charming? I couldn’t see it.

I suppose I should describe my appearance, now that I’ve mentioned it. Long black hair, olive skin, brown eyes. There you go. I looked like any other seven-year-old girl of Mediterranean ancestry except that my illness had left me skinny. Even half of Ollie’s candy couldn’t bring me back to my fighting weight, such as it was.

“Is it safe to go outside, sir?” asked Davy.

“Is the moon up or down?”

It was down, I knew.

“It’s down,” said Davy, then looked puzzled.

“Good. Perfectly safe. And it’s daytime. That helps, too.” He looked around. “All packed?”

I didn’t have anything but a new doll that my aunt had given me. There were some fading flowers, but I didn’t want those. The gifts of food had all been eaten, and I hadn’t received any cards. I walked into my new life almost empty-handed.

Chapter 2. Chocolate Cake

Woodville Manor was a three-story mansion, not counting the basement and attics. It was a few miles out of town. It had to be, because the estate was a couple of miles on a side: 2,900 acres. That was just the start. The Old Man had plenty more where that came from, scattered all over the kingdom.

The acreage right around the Manor had lawns, gardens, and pasture for the household’s horses and milk cows, plus a big pond with a boat dock and an island in the middle. The rest of the nearby acreage was mostly orchards, especially olives, plums, and walnuts. Outlying sections were leased to farmers who grew whatever crops struck their fancy.

We were met at the front steps by a slim, sixty-ish woman with gray hair who introduced herself as Miss Carlson. In spite of her lack of a title, she was clearly from an aristocratic family. She invited us in, settled us in the morning room, and asked if we were hungry. We politely said no, but she ignored this and said she’d return with some light refreshments. In no time, she and a couple of servants appeared with cold fried chicken, a bowl of fruit, a plate of sandwiches, pitchers of milk and iced tea, a cherry pie, and a three-layer chocolate cake. Apparently things were different here from what I was used to at home. The Maréchals were just as rich as the Woodvilles, but they didn’t believe in spoiling children with between-meal snacks, let alone cake.

You should have seen us eat! We bolted our food and drained glass after glass of milk. We went through three pitchers in a heartbeat.

After a while, Davy suddenly remembered his manners, wiped his mouth and hands carefully on his napkin, and whispered urgently for me and Ollie to do the same. Ollie managed it. I had a piece of cake in each hand and was taking bites from them alternately. I tried to put one on my plate, but I couldn’t. When I finished one piece, I seized a drumstick without meaning to. I darted a guilty look at Miss Carlson, but she hadn’t seemed to notice.

I was so focused on my food that I almost missed it when she took the Old Man aside to find out why we were there. She said, “Honestly, Franklin!” loud enough for me to hear, then lowered her voice again. She frowned and shook her head through the first half of the conversation. I was afraid she’d make him throw us out. But her frown soon straightened out. She even smiled once or twice.

She returned to our table with the Old Man and said, “Franklin says you’ll be living here as long as you like. Welcome. Davy, dear, I wonder if you’d be happiest in the apartment over the stables? It’s quite clean and you’re welcome to it. Or we can put you up here.”

Davy hesitated, then stammered, “Will … will the horses still like me?” He looked as distressed as he had when his mother dumped him, maybe more.

“I expect so,” said the Old Man. “We’ll try it and see. I’ll take you down there after I make a few phone calls.”

Where would they put me? I was afraid to ask. Given my table manners, maybe with the pigs.

“I think we’ll put you two close to my room,” said Miss Carlson, “until you find your feet. Then perhaps you’ll find one of the garrets more to your liking. You won’t mind the stairs.”

“What’s a garret?” I asked.

“An attic apartment. Most of them are just bedrooms, really. Most of the children who’ve lived here over the years preferred them. Except for Maria and Charlotte, of course. You’ll meet them this evening.”

We lingered over our food, always finding room for more, somehow, which made the Old Man impatient. He didn’t say anything, but he got fidgety. With most people, I wouldn’t have noticed, but he fidgeted the way he did everything else: intensely.

Miss Carlson frowned at him. “Run along, Franklin. I know you have things to do. I’ll entertain the children.”

The instant he was gone, a group of servants came in. I could tell by their uniforms that they were the chef, the assistant chef, the housekeeper, four maids, two footmen, and a partridge in a pear tree. Some looked angry and the rest looked scared. The housekeeper, a woman I wouldn’t like to meet in a dark alley, was the angriest of all. She said, “Are they really werewolves, Miss Carlson?”

Miss Carlson looked up at her calmly. “Yes, they are.”

“You can’t expect us to work around monsters like that! We quit.”

Miss Carlson bridled. “That’s no way to speak in front of children! You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“They’re not children, and I’m not spending another minute in this house.” The other servants nodded, though two of the maids were crying. They departed.

Davy and Ollie looked ready to burst into tears. I was distracted by a growling sound. Where was it coming from?

“Stop growling, dear,” Miss Carlson told me.

The growling stopped. Had it really been me? I doubted it. I was angry, though. “It’s not right! They can’t talk to you like that! Someone should—”

She put a hand on my shoulder. “Yes, dear. Someone should, but not you. Never you. No fighting, and especially no revenge. No fighting at all, except under supervision. That’s one of our rules here.”

“But—”

“We’ll do a good job protecting you, dear. You don’t need to protect us. That’s how it’s supposed to be. You’re a child.”

It was true, obviously, but somehow it felt … unnatural. I shook my head.

“Promise me,” she said.

I tried to refuse, but I couldn’t. I struggled inwardly but eventually compromised by being surly. “Oh, all right.”

“Do it properly, dear.”

I glared at her. “I, Louisa Delphine Marianne Marechal, swear upon my soul that …”

“That I will not harm anyone without permission from Franklin or myself, or in supervised practice.”

“I will not harm anyone, except what you said.”

She made the boys swear, too.

“Oh,” said Miss Carlson, “speaking of swearing, please don’t use bad words around Maria and Charlotte. They don’t like it.”

Well, of course they didn’t! Swearing was bad, especially in front of children. Everyone knew that.

That’s how I came to be adopted by the Old Man. I’d say “the old man and his family,” but that’s not how it worked. He just sprung it on them. His wife, who was the only woman physician in the kingdom, was away at a conference on the other side of the gateway. But he’d have sprung it on her out of the blue even if she’d been there. He was the master of the fait accompli. If he blindsided everyone, they couldn’t interfere until it was too late. This forced him to take all the blame, of course, but he didn’t care.

Since all the inside staff had quit, we ended up in the kitchen at dinnertime, with Miss Carlson and the Old Man cooking and the rest of us helping as best we could. It was a simple meal of rare steak, baked potatoes, vegetables, and milk so fresh it was still warm from the cows. Our appetites were enormous. We had great big bowls of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

“Is this normal, Franklin?” asked Miss Carlson.

“Right now, it is,” said the Old Man. “The energy and material for healing came from all over their bodies. Baseline is about normal. I talked to Jess about it.”

“I haven’t seen Jess in ages. How is she?”

“Thinking about forming a new pack.”

“That’s too bad. Is she going to help out with the children?”

“Doesn’t want to play Pied Piper. I don’t want her to, either.”

“No, I don’t suppose you do. Has anyone agreed to help?”

“Wendell. He’ll be here tomorrow.”

“Wonderful! Did the King object?”

“He wished us luck.”

I asked, “Who is Wendell?”

“Wendell Wright,” said the Old Man.

Doctor Wendell Wright,” said Miss Carlson, “the Royal Wizard.”

“Not his real title,” said the Old Man.

“No, but now Louisa understands who he is.”

#

Write Like You Talk. No, Seriously!

Lots of great talkers are terrible writers. Put a pen in their hand and they become dull and inarticulate. Why is that?

I’ll give you a hint: I saw a TV program once that showed kids selling goods at a farmer’s market in Brazil. They made change effortlessly and with near-perfect accuracy. But when researchers asked them to use the arithmetic they’d been taught in school, they became slow, hesitant, and inaccurate.

It’s the same with writing. In school, we’re taught a cumbersome approach that cuts us off from our existing skills as completely as the guillotine cut off Marie Antoinette’s head. That isn’t a good look!

Why do schools do this? Not my problem. This isn’t about fixing the educational system: it’s about you.

It’s the same thing with public speaking. People who are fascinating when you talk to them at lunch become awful if you put them on a stage. But we’re not going to fix that one today.

If you can tell an interesting story without having your audience run away three times out of five, you already have what it takes to be a writer.

Any halfway decent talker can be an interesting writer. You just have to write as entertainingly as you speak. The “making stuff up” part of fiction writing is less of a problem. Channeling a lifetime of telling whoppers into writing comes more naturally.

I admit that you’ll eventually need to learn all the nuts and bolts of the written word: how to place paragraph breaks non-randomly, for instance. But the things you were taught in school that still give you that deer-in-the-headlights look today aren’t that important. Some were never important in the first place. The others you’ll pick up soon enough. In writing, the main thing is to get your story written at all, because you can’t fix it until it exists.

Surf the Colloquial Wave

The trend in writing over the past hundred years or so has been informality. These days, professional writing (and especially fiction) has its tie missing and its sleeves rolled up. It’s been a long time since the button-down look has been fashionable.

Not that beautifully articulate formal prose can’t be wonderful: it can. But it’s no longer fashionable, which means it’s not worth your time.

For example, you’ll notice that I, a professional writer, use sentence fragments. A lot. I’ll boldly split infinitives where no infinitive has been split before and I figure that a preposition is a fine thing to end a sentence on. (Sorry, Mrs. Rosendahl.)

What I’m saying is that if you pretend that you ain’t never been taught no grammar, you’ll end up with prose that, paradoxically, is more likely to win you the Nobel Prize in Literature. Your odds go from “zero” to “so close to zero that it can’t be measured”—an improvement of infinity percent!

Write Like You Talk. I Mean It.

Here’s the deal: if you write down a story the way you’d tell it to a friend, it’ll be livelier than if you told it any other way. This is true for both fiction and nonfiction. Liveliness isn’t everything, but where there’s life, there’s hope. Dead prose is hard to resuscitate.

Here’s the mindset to use:

  1. Imagine that you have a story you really want to tell and an audience who really wants to hear it.
  2. Imagine that your audience is by invitation only. No Negative Nancies; no Teachers from the Crypt with Red Pens of Doom. Just people who are interested in your story.
  3. Tell the story to your audience. (That is, write it down. Don’t just imagine telling it!) Tell it all the way through.
  4. Celebrate. You deserve it.
  5. After the celebration comes the cleanup. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Ugly First Drafts

Many successful authors write first drafts that are so bad, you wouldn’t believe it.

Terrible first drafts are normal, even for the most successful authors. Don’t despair because your work isn’t as good as theirs, because neither is theirs.

They know the secret: you can’t fix it until you write it down. A story’s hard to work with when it’s still in your skull—it’s dark in there. So they bring it into the light and finish it in the second, third, or umpteenth draft. You can live down to this standard!

Ready, Fire, Aim

People who should be writing spend too much time preparing to write. Don’t do that.

When I get interested in something, I’m the King of Research. I read everything I can get my hands on, I watch YouTube videos, I listen to podcasts: the works. But I get my hands dirty at the same time. “Ready, Fire, Aim” is how I roll.

Let’s face it: the idea that you should sit in a classroom for years before you use your learning is what got us into this fix in the first place. As soon as you start writing your first story, you’ll have one relevant and meaningful question after another. That’s a good time to look for answers.

Be careful who you listen to! The best advice on fiction writing comes from published fiction writers. I’m especially fond of James Scott Bell’s books (and audiobooks) on writing fiction.

Q&A

Here are some questions and answers to get you started, though:

  • Do I have talent? Sure. I don’t believe in talent. I believe that practice makes perfect. By leveraging your existing skills, you put your best foot forward.
  • Should I wait for inspiration? Never wait for anything.
  • Do I need to read a lot of fiction first? See my answer to the previous question. You’ll probably want to read more fiction once you become interested in the nuts and bolts of prose fiction.
  • How do I pick a title? No one knows! It’s typical to pick a working title and change it later.
  • How do I open a story? How do you do it when you tell one to your buddies? Maybe like that. The opening introduces the rest of the story, so if you haven’t written down the rest of the story yet, you can’t tell whether you have the right opening. So don’t lose any sleep over it. Look at examples from books that drew you in right away, too.
  • How big should my story be? How big a story do you tell your buddies? Bigger than that, probably, but not vastly bigger. We’re leveraging your existing skills here. Don’t write something as big as Game of Thrones as your first project unless you absolutely can’t resist.
  • Novels or short stories? One of those, yeah. Or both.
  • What point of view and tense should I use? How would you tell this story around a campfire? I’m a big fan of the first-person yarn, where the storyteller is the main character and presumably wrote down the tale after the events are over. It’s a very human mode. If that doesn’t fit your project, I recommend the much-maligned third-person omniscient mode, since it’s the other natural, traditional storytelling mode, used in everything from fairy tales to nonfiction histories.
  • How do I become rich and famous? When you find out, let me know. Part of it is “keep writing,” though. This is a craft. You’ll keep getting better as long as you keep working at it.

So now go write something.

Deep POV is Way Too Shallow

Hey, let’s kick around so-called “Deep POV” for a while. It’s fun! Beating it up is almost too easy, but let’s do it anyway.

The idea of “deep POV” is that if you take a stream-of-consciousness narrative and clean it up so it isn’t too unbearable, you’ve got something uniquely wonderful. (People usually define it differently, but then, they would.)

Now, with stream-of-consciousness, you have an inherently shallow point of view, reporting on the viewpoint character’s surface thoughts and immediate impressions as if you were a brain recorder. Nothing deep about it.

Deep POV is exactly the same thing, but while stream-of-consciousness tends to use lots of self-interruption and sentence fragments to maximize its own tedium in the cause of “realism,” deep POV tends to use complete sentences to make the story marginally less ghastly.

Part of the problem with deep POV is that it assumes that the inside of the viewpoint character’s skull is far more interesting than it really is. Let’s face it: it’s dark and wet in there.

This error is compounded by deciding that only the stuff the character is experiencing in the moment can be described at all. All the things that the character knows but isn’t actively thinking about are kept secret from the reader. Thus, if you want to give some background information, you either have to contrive a scene where somebody talks about it or force the character to ponder it, hopefully in a non-random-seeming way.

In an ordinary story, the narration is done by the narrator. Take a traditional first-person story. The author pretends that the viewpoint character first lives through his adventure, then sits down and tells his story as best he can. Narrating his own story, in other words. This lets the author tell the story in a straightforward way, explaining things the audience needs to know as needed. You know: the way human beings tell stories. This isn’t allowed in deep POV. Strangling the narrator is the defining feature of deep POV.

Why would anyone bother? Admit it: you’d rather gnaw off your own leg than read a stream-of-consciousness novel. You’ll never read one unless you sign up for the wrong English class. Thus, the popularity of deep POV is a mystery to me. I assume that it’s a literary fad that affects authors rather than readers.

I’ve noticed, though, that a fondness for deep POV occurs side by side with a second literary spasm: the superstition that “an omniscient narrator is ipso facto a head-hopping narrator.” This belief is drilled into the heads of aspiring writers in spite of its obvious silliness. Omniscient narration is a narrative form; head-hopping is a beginner’s blunder. It’s equivalent to defining a manual transmission as “stalling the car by letting the clutch out too fast.” Nope. Not even close.

What is my favorite narrative form, you ask? It’s the first-person yarn. For example, Robert A. Heinlein starts his classic Have Space Suit, Will Travel with the paragraph

You see, I had this space suit. How it happened was this way:

From the very first line, we know that the story will be told as a personal anecdote, entirely different from the brain-recorder approach that deep POV uses.

In one of the novels I’m writing at the moment, Jen Meets Her Match, Jen makes it clear from the first paragraph that she sat herself down after the fact and told her story in her own words (and with no attempt to restrain her teenaged attitude):

My boyfriend is a real piece of work. Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard of girls whose boyfriends are vampires, werewolves, or even zombies. Those girls are lightweights. I don’t mean to brag, but they wouldn’t last five minutes with my boyfriend. Not that Frank is undead or anything. That would be too easy.

This entire paragraph would be impossible in deep POV, since it frames action that hasn’t been related yet, and that’s verboten. Nor would the next paragraph be permissible in deep POV:

It all started during the first week of school. Sophomore year. Wednesday, September 4, 1974. Paul Anka’s “Having My Baby” was at the top of the charts, but other than that I was doing okay. I was minding my own business when Frank showed up next to me in the lunch line. He was new and we’d never spoken, but we had a few classes together and I knew his name.

Only the sentence “I was minding my own business when Frank showed up next to me in the lunch line” would be allowed in deep POV, since Jen isn’t consciously pondering the date, the Top Forty, or the list of things she knows about Frank during that particular moment. In short, in deep POV, there’s no framing, no scene-setting, no nothin’.

As you can see, I use first-person narration when I want to take full advantage of the viewpoint character’s voice and attitude. I only use it for highly articulate characters. With characters who aren’t as verbally flexible, I use third-person. That way, I’m limited only by my own verbal ability. While there are exceptions where a not-so-articulate character can be a fascinating first-person narrator (Flowers for Algernon leaps to mind), it’s an awfully tough row to hoe.

Does deep POV have any advantages? I haven’t found one: everything claimed as a unique advantage of deep POV is something I’ve been able to do with other viewpoints.

 

 

Silver Buckshot, Chapters 1-3

My Brief Life and Tragic Death is one of the urban fantasy novels that I’ll complete and publish before the end of 2021. Here are the first three chapters.

I also have a full beta review draft available for a limited time.

Let me know what you think, even if you don’t make it all the way through. Leave a comment or email me at robert@plamondon.com.

Chapter 1. Purple Pumpkins

I met Frank and survived an assassination attempt between lunch and teatime.

It was a beautiful June day in 1972. I was sitting at my favorite table in the palace library, reading. My servants were supposed to be with me, but once they realized that I never tattled, they had become terribly lax. I had the library to myself, as usual.

The hush was shattered when a boy walked in, whistling. He caught sight of me and approached. When he reached my table, he stopped whistling and stood smiling at me. It was a good smile; it invited me to smile back, which I didn’t, of course.

He was a handsome boy of about fourteen, a year older than myself. He was tall for his age, with a haircut from the California side of the gateway. I liked him at once, which annoyed me. I don’t get along with my fellow children.

His smile and likability made me self-conscious, though I was wearing a particularly beautiful blue dress that day. I was pale and thin where he was tan and fit. I envied his dark blond hair and light green eyes. Mine were dark brown and dark brown, respectively.

This boy was actually wandering the palace in his shirtsleeves, having abandoned his blazer who knew where. He’d even loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves, making him look at home, as if I were the intruder.

I gave him a cold stare. “This is a library, you know.”

He looked around in pretended astonishment.

I added, “You can tell by all the books? At least, I hope you can.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Hey, maybe you can help me. I’m looking for a sweet little girl named Flavia.”

I placed a bookmark and closed my book. “Are you being irritating on purpose?”

“Of course I am. How about you?”

I was taken aback. “Why?”

“Look, do you know where Flavia is or not?”

“I’m Princess Flavia.”

“Then your portraits don’t do you justice, Your Highness. I like the freckles especially. A freckle is a beacon of honesty in a mendacious world. Allow me to introduce myself. Frank Barron, at your service.” He stuck out his hand.

He had that command of language which only a person who reads a great many books develops, but without the stiff delivery of someone like me, for whom books were their only friends. Thus, I was a bit regretful when I said, “Princesses don’t shake hands.”

“You have it backward, you know. Privilege. You can shake anyone’s hand. They aren’t supposed to make the offer. Privilege gives you extra choices. Or it should.”

Most people smiled only with their mouths, at least when they smiled at me. Frank’s eyes twinkled. This was a game, and he was inviting me to play. But it didn’t look like fun from where I was sitting.

Or did it? “You just admitted your faux pas in offering your hand,” I said, feeling a bit triumphant.

“And then there’s the third category. Princesses, everyone else—and me.” He stuck out his hand again. “Frank Barron.”

I shook my head.

He said, “I dare you to shake my hand.”

“No.”

“I double-dare you.”

I hesitated. “Why?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute.”

“I’ve never shaken anyone’s hand.”

“It’s easy. I’ll teach you.”

In spite of many misgivings, I allowed this. As a girl, I could shake hands while seated, which was a mercy.

My misgivings were unfounded. Unlike his banter, Frank’s instruction was straightforward, and his handclasp somehow communicated that he was a real person—and he knew perfectly well that I was one, too.

“One last time. Allow me to introduce myself.” He stuck out his hand. “Frank Barron. Call me Frank.”

I took his hand and said, “Princess Flavia Beaumont. Pleased to meet you, Frank. Call me … Flavia?”

“Perfect.”

“Wait, why are we on a first-name basis?”

“We’re friends.”

“We are not!”

“And you just invited me to call you Flavia.”

“You tricked me!”

“I wonder. But my first answer was true.”

“We are not friends, Mr. Frank Barron.”

He became serious, even grim. “Humor me. It’s important.”

I shivered at his sudden intensity. “Who sent you?” Damaged goods though I was, I had been warned I would become a target for plots.

“No one knows I’m here but you.”

“What do you want?”

We stared at each other. Then, retreating to his lighter tone, he said, “I’ll start with my second-best reason. I’m surrounded by people with dull brains and no sparkle. I’ll die of boredom unless I find someone smart and amusing.”

“I’m not noted for my sense of humor.”

“Sparkle is always entertaining. You’ve got lots.”

“You think you can convince a princess to become your court jester?”

And vice versa. Fair’s fair. After all, I grew up in a town that was too small to have a village idiot, so we all took turns.”

I giggled, then clapped a hand over my mouth. “That didn’t mean anything.”

“Of course not. Your turn.”

“My turn for what?”

“To tell a joke or amusing anecdote.”

Did I even know any? “Frank, are you always this annoying?”

He leaned forward and confided, “Actually, I’m on my best behavior.”

I gaped at him. “You’re usually worse?”

“You’ll get used to it.” His smile faded and he became serious again. He hesitated.

I remembered he’d called it his second-best reason. “Why are you really here, Frank?”

“I found this note next to my bed when I woke up.”

He handed it to me. It read,

Dear Frank,

I don’t know it yet, but I desperately need you to befriend me today. Meet me in the library at 2 PM sharp. Tell me “purple pumpkins” or show me this note.

Love,

Flavia

P.S. Frank, I won’t remember any of this, so I’m counting on you to believe in and act upon that part of your dream which starts with the explosion in the courtyard.

It was a sheet of my personal notepaper. The note was in my handwriting and signed with my signature. I stared at it, stunned.

Frank said, “How good a forgery is it?”

I shook my head. “I think it’s genuine.”

“What’s this about purple pumpkins?”

“They were in a dream I had last night.” In fact, I had forgotten the rest of the dream. A few purple pumpkins in … a cart? That was all.

“I had a dream last night. The note was right about that.”

“Oh?”

“I was here, talking to you, when there was a racket outside.”

Just then, there was an explosion in the courtyard.

Chapter 2. Behind the Arras

The explosion started with a muffled boom that I could feel in my chest and stomach, followed by the thud of falling stonework, the higher-pitched crash of roof tiles, and finally the screams of injured horses. The first sounds frightened me. The last one angered me.

“Follow my lead,” said Frank. “Come on.”

I stood and swayed. My bad leg was asleep. Frank pocketed the note, picked me up, and ran to the back of the library. I was small but not that small: he was strong for his age. He pulled back the edge of a floor-to-ceiling wall hanging and revealed a wide, empty niche that must have displayed a statue or two once upon a time. Though I spent more time in the library than anyone, I had never suspected it was there. He pulled me inside and twitched the hanging straight.

I found myself facing him, my arms around his neck. I couldn’t let go because my legs refused to support my full weight. He put one arm around my waist to steady me.

Just seconds later I heard footsteps enter the library. They ran up and down the aisles in an almost frenzied search. A man’s voice, familiar but unwelcome, said, “She’s not here, my lord.”

Another unwelcome voice said, “She has to be here!”

“Maybe she’s in the ladies’ room.”

“Let’s check, then.”

The footsteps departed.

I stirred, but Frank put a finger to my lips and I subsided. It was dim but not entirely dark. Frank listened with his eyes closed and his head tilted. He was painfully alert. He opened his eyes from time to time to see if I was all right. Each time our eyes met, I felt him relax a trifle, but this was interrupted when he closed them again.

My legs were waking up. They ached, but I didn’t need to hang on to Frank anymore. I kept my arms around his neck anyway.

After a minute or two, he began stroking my hair with his free hand. It was an outrageous liberty, and I should have been furious, but … I wasn’t. It was soothing.

I hadn’t expected tenderness from Frank. I hadn’t expected tenderness from anyone ever again; not since Mama died. I sighed and let him continue, resting my cheek on his shoulder. I could hear his heartbeat. He seemed so sure of himself, so confident, but his heart was racing. It slowed somewhat and his body relaxed as he stroked my hair. I wasn’t the only one who found it soothing.

The note had saved my life. I tried to remember writing it, but not a shadow, not an echo of it remained. I tried to imagine commanding him to befriend me, but it seemed unreal. I had no friends; none at all. I rejected the few overtures that came my way, all palpably insincere. Yet Frank had acted upon my note with a combination of manly fortitude, touching faith, and childish glee.

It was this that convinced me that I’d truly seen the future. I couldn’t have imagined Frank’s response, let alone predicted it. Not with my everyday knowledge.

I’d signed the letter, “Love, Flavia.” Perhaps it was a lie to ensure Frank’s cooperation? On the one hand, it would be an almost admirable ruse; forgivable, considering the stakes, though I hated dishonesty. Still, Frank had trusted the letter. He’d trusted me. I hoped he hadn’t trusted in vain. Taking advantage of him seemed terribly cruel. Could he ever forgive me?

After a long period of silence, we heard scattered shouts, gunshots, and shrieks. Some far away, others closer. The noises would stop for a time, then flare up elsewhere. The tension was unbearable; I wanted to scream.

That was when Frank and I began kissing. I’m not sure which of us started it. I was thirteen and perhaps a little backward for my age. Kissing had never been on my mind. I suppose I still thought of myself as a little girl, though my body had changed in ways that declared otherwise. But here we were.

Frank, on the other hand, was boldness personified. Surely, his approach to kissing would verge on assault! But it wasn’t like that at all. He moved slowly, as if his heart would break if he startled me. His lips were warm and his kisses were so soft! In spite of everything, I allowed myself to pretend, just this once, that a boy could love me.

The shouts and gunfire stopped, but we didn’t. Not until we heard footsteps. A soft voice called, “Flavia?”

“Daddy!” I scrambled out of the niche and almost fell, but lurched into a nearby bookcase and recovered. Frank emerged a moment later.

My father the King strode into view. He was wearing one of his beautiful pinstripe suits. Unusually for him, he was carrying a Thompson submachine gun; the older model with the drum magazine. It made him look like a particularly handsome 1920s gangster with an excellent tailor. He saw me and sagged, just for a moment. There were tears in his eyes. I guessed that he’d been afraid that he’d find me lying dead. If he’d held my gaze for another second, I would have burst into tears, but he turned his attention to Frank.

I wondered if Frank would be embarrassed. After all, he’d been caught alone with a girl and wasn’t even properly dressed.

I needn’t have worried. Instead of bowing, as protocol demanded, Frank extended a hand. “Sire. Frank Barron.”

Daddy shook it automatically, then chuckled. “Caught me off guard, boy. Welcome. I haven’t seen you in years.”

“Daddy, I think Frank just saved my life.”

Daddy’s face went wooden, the way it does when he’s hiding his emotions. “He probably did. They were going to shoot you, Princess.”

Frank scowled. Daddy continued, “Thank you, my boy.” Frank nodded, still scowling.

“Also, he’s my boyfriend,” I said.

“What? How long have you known him?”

I didn’t wear a watch, so I turned to Frank, who was smiling. He liked being called my boyfriend! His smile dazzled me, but he was looking at his wristwatch and didn’t notice. He said, “About twenty minutes.”

I was starting to sag. Even my good leg was aching and trembling. Frank offered me his arm matter-of-factly. I leaned on it.

Daddy said, “Don’t get your hopes up, boy.”

Daddy saw it too! That meant it was real. “Show him the note, Frank.”

Frank handed him the note. Daddy read it carefully. He has wonderful powers of concentration, even in a crisis. He said, “Interesting. We’ll talk later. Frank, I know you’re an intelligent boy. This note and every single one of its implications are state secrets.”

“Yes, Sire.”

He stared at Frank for a moment, then handed back the note and said, “I’m assigning you to accompany the princess. Stick close until I relieve you. Stay sharp and keep her safe.”

I expected Frank to make a wisecrack, but he said only, “I will, Sire.”

Daddy told me, “Princess, I want to show you something. Something ugly, I’m afraid. Come along” He walked to where two guards, Private Malcolm and Private River, waited in the doorway. They carried submachine guns like his. Daddy spoke a few words to them, then strode out of the library with Private Malcolm. Private River waited for us.

I could keep up with Daddy and walk without limping for short distances if I wasn’t too tired, but I had worn myself out horseback riding the day before. We exited the library in time to see him vanish down the stairs to the first floor. I hobbled as fast as I could, leaning on Frank’s arm. Private River followed at a discreet distance.

Frank was upset. Many people are upset when they see me limping heavily, which adds an unpleasant lurch to my gait and almost as painful for them to watch as it is for me to walk. Somehow, though, I knew that he was bothered more by Daddy’s abandonment of me than by my limp. I had mixed feelings about this.

Frank said, “This isn’t working. I can carry you or we can slow down. Take your pick.”

I slowed. He was right, of course: it helped. I could walk more normally, and he could support me more effectively. Carrying me was out of the question; not when we would be seen. It was too undignified.

Frank said, “Shouldn’t I be on your other side?” I nodded and he moved to my left. Most people are too busy pretending not to notice my handicap to take in the details. My left leg is indeed my bad leg. Not that my right leg is anything to write home about. I came down with polio when I was eleven, before the vaccine was introduced here, and it damaged both my legs. I’m fine otherwise; I really am. I put more weight on Frank’s arm than before, but more effectively. He braced his right wrist with his left hand to support the extra strain.

“There we go,” said Frank when my gait evened out. “Two young people out for a stroll. I like having a beautiful girl on my arm.”

Was he mocking me? “I’m not beautiful,” I said, “and I don’t like flattery.”

“Modest, too. Is there no end to your virtues?”

“I mean it, Frank.”

“Oh, all right.”

We reached the stairs. Telling myself that I wouldn’t look any more impaired than I had already, I told Frank, “I need the left handrail.” He stepped aside. When I had grasped the handrail, he moved to my other side and offered his arm. I took it with some misgivings. Most people don’t know what to do and don’t ask.

Frank asked, “When do I move?”

“Now.” I took my hand off his arm. When he was a step below me, I said, “Good. Don’t move again until I say.” I put my hand on his shoulder and stepped down with my good right leg. Frank stood like an iron pillar, though I put quite a bit of weight on him. Had he done this before? Next, I swung my weak left leg forward, allowing the foot to half-fall to the step below, which was the best I could manage at the moment. That put me on the second step. I asked Frank to move again, and the process repeated. Unlike going up, going down isn’t difficult, but it’s slow, and if the least thing goes wrong I can lose my balance. Keeping an iron grip on the handrail prevents me from tumbling down the stairs, but a good stumble leaves me bruised and sometimes sprained.

Frank quickly got into the rhythm and, inevitably, resumed talking. “So what kind of stakes do you use when you gamble?”

“I don’t.”

“Because I figure we’re about to be shown corpses or prisoners. I wondered which side of the bet you wanted.”

I shuddered. “Please don’t. Please. I can’t joke about murder. It’s all new and horrible.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.” He called me his sweetheart! I felt myself blush.

After another step he said, “So today’s not typical, then?”

I stood up straighter. “How could it be? It has you in it.”

I was afraid I’d gone too far, but he grinned. “So it does. Shall I distract you with pleasant thoughts?”

“Having you as my boyfriend is not a pleasant thought!” Now I knew I’d gone too far, and I was ashamed. He was my rescuer, my hero. He deserved my thanks, not my abuse. And I liked him. Had I hurt his feelings? Was I some kind of monster? I looked at him anxiously. He was looking back in exactly the same way. The twinkle returned to his eyes and he smiled. The next thing I knew, I smiled back. It was the strangest feeling.

We reached the bottom of the stairs. Frank moved to my left side without prompting, and we walked slowly down the ground-floor corridor.

I said, “I walk better than this most days.”

“I’m glad to hear it. What good is a having a girlfriend who doesn’t fetch and carry?”

“You’ll think of something.” The next time I glanced at him, he wore an evil grin. This puzzled me until I figured it out several steps later. “Not something like that! Stop it! I’m an innocent girl. I don’t do double entendre.”

Frank said, “I’ll teach you. I knew this girl, she had the biggest double entendres you ever saw.”

We were silent for a few steps, then I said, “Meaning breasts?”

“Probably.”

“So I have to learn what people with dirty minds will infer when I only give them a vague hint?”

“Exactly.”

“Without developing a dirty mind of my own?”

“Well, no.”

I tossed my head. “Never mind, then.”

“What good is having a girlfriend who doesn’t let me corrupt her?”

“You’ll think of something.”

Daddy was waiting for us at the courtyard door. He opened the door for us.

The palace is a Spanish-style villa. It’s three stories tall, with stone walls, red tile roof, and a central brick-paved courtyard with a fountain in the middle. On the opposite side of the courtyard, part of the wall had fallen, presumably due to the explosion. Daddy’s study was exposed, looking strangely intact considering that one wall was missing, until you realized that this wasn’t true. The first several feet of floor, including his desk and chair, were missing. Someone had tried to blow him up.

We stopped and stared. After a while Frank said, “I wonder how it was done? I’d have thought the blast damage would be more spherical.”

“Do you know about explosives?”

“Apparently not.”

I’d heard the screaming of horses, but none were in the courtyard. They must have been led off to the stables. I hoped the poor beasts were all right.

The aftermath of the explosion wasn’t what Daddy wanted us to see. He led us to a large wooden farm wagon. In it were three corpses. As we approached, two of Daddy’s soldiers carried in a stretcher with one more. They dumped it in with the others. The corpse’s lolling collapse into the wagon was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen. That would have been me if Frank hadn’t hidden me. A familiar sense of unreality swept over me. The color drained out of the world and I felt that I was watching the scene from a distance. Fortunately, it only lasted a moment.

Lord Murdock the seneschal was among the corpses. So was Sir Archibald, my tutor. Two, including the latest arrival, were palace functionaries I barely knew.

The other end of the wagon held a dozen purple pumpkins. I hadn’t realized until that moment that purple pumpkins really existed.

I glanced at Frank. He’d gone pale and was staring open-mouthed at the bodies, which made him look far too much like the most recent corpse. I felt myself sway. Frank recollected himself. He closed his mouth and drew himself up almost to attention, his arm once more supporting mine—and just in time, too. His face regained some of its color. He glanced at me to see if I was all right. I shook my head slightly.

But I had a report to make. Since there were other people about, I had to speak formally. Trying to keep my voice steady, I said, “Sire, Lord Murdock and Sir Archibald looked for me in the library. I recognized their voices.”

“I’m almost sorry they didn’t surrender,” said Daddy in a deceptively mild tone. “They would have apologized to you from the scaffold.”

Alas, Dear Reader, one of my duties as princess was to attend executions. I had been spared this so far because of my youth, but I was thirteen now, which was unaccountably considered old enough.

Sir Archibald had been a nervous, twitchy man with bad breath. Of all the tutors who had been wished upon me over the years, he had been the least competent, the least diligent, and the least sane. Sometimes I’d wondered if he hated me. I had my answer now. Lord Murdock hadn’t pretended to like me the way most did. A crippled princess was an object of open distaste to him, especially when she was heir to the throne.

I felt weak and ill. Frank braced himself as I put more weight on his arm. I murmured, “Do I … do I have your leave to depart, Sire?”

“Of course, Princess.”

Chapter 3. Inaccurate Fairy Tales

I pointed in the direction of my suite. Frank walked across the courtyard with me, lending his support in more ways than one. He seemed a bit preoccupied, as well he might! Even so, he was more attentive than my usual companions. Private River accompanied us, this time taking the lead.

I was a bit preoccupied myself. Now that it had almost been taken away, I was thinking about my future. Today’s plotters had intended to kill me out of hand, but future plotters might someday see me as worth capturing. My betrothal and eventual marriage to a usurper might add some useful legitimacy. Not to the usurper, exactly, but to my children by him. Which, in turn, would make people more willing to tolerate the usurper himself. The trick is to keep the bride from killing herself or her husband until she’s heavily pregnant, at which point she inevitably gives up for her baby’s sake. Or so I’m told.

Of course, I was only thirteen years old, which was terribly young for that particular scheme. Nevertheless, Dear Reader, that is princessing in a nutshell. It is no career for a young girl.

Once we were inside the palace again, Frank saw a bench in the corridor and said, “Can we rest for a minute? I’m out of breath.” He wiped imaginary sweat from his brow.

I nodded and we sat. I was charmed by his alert kindness and the deliberate transparency of his little white lies.

After I’d recovered a little, I asked, “Why did he show me the bodies?”

“Congratulations. You’ve been promoted.”

“What do you mean?”

“We used to be little kids. Shielded from the ugly truth. Not anymore.”

That seemed likely. Satisfied, I changed the subject. “Who are you, Frank?”

“My father is Sir Ralph Woodville. My mother is Shirley Barron. The way Dad tells it, he was an aristocratic young vagabond who knew a good thing when he saw it. She was a tanned and perky California surfer girl—and devastatingly intelligent, of course. He didn’t stand a chance, not that he wanted to. The rest is history.”

“You’re illegitimate?” My hand flew to my mouth, too late to stop my words.

“No, they’re married and everything. I can go by Frank Woodville if I want to. I just don’t.”

I did a mental calculation. “That puts you about eleventh in line for the throne, doesn’t it?”

“Yep. Once the succession crosses over to the Woodville line, I have two uncles, three cousins, and a father ahead of me. No crown for me, thank God.”

“Do you have any younger siblings?”

“Not a one. You?”

“No. But you knew that. What’s California like?”

“You’ve never been?”

“No.”

“I like it. Especially the way I can walk around at night and not have every drop of blood sucked from my body. Let’s nip across the gateway as soon as we can. I’ll take you to the movies, bowling, ice cream, go-karts: the works. And shopping, I guess.”

It must be nice, living on the other side of the gateway, perhaps going to a public school, making friends, and doing all the normal things I’d never done. And having two parents. What luxury!

Did Frank use his mother’s maiden name to help maintain his privacy? From whom? On the California side, there were plenty of people who knew about us (though the average person had never heard of gateways to another world) and the Woodvilles were a prominent family.

As my boyfriend, Frank really might expect to take me on dates on his side of the gateway. The things he’d listed seemed appropriate for children our age. But was he really my boyfriend?

“Frank?”

“Hmm?”

“I told Daddy you’re my boyfriend.”

“I was there. Anyway, I am your boyfriend. I kissed you and everything.”

Frank talked a lot of nonsense. Was he serious? I studied his face. “Are you sure?”

“You’re my very first girlfriend, but I think so. Let’s make it official. Flavia, I really like you and I haven’t kissed you nearly enough. Let’s go steady.”

“Okay.” I’d have preferred him to be more formal, but never mind. He could have let himself off the hook, but he wanted to be my boyfriend! It hardly seemed possible, but I believed him. The topic of kissing confused me; especially, again, the idea that he wanted to.

But there were rules. The first rule was that princesses don’t have boyfriends. Suitors, yes. Fiancés, yes. Husbands, yes. Never boyfriends.

On the other hand, I was crippled. Perhaps the rules didn’t apply to me? Perhaps I was so unimportant that my own happiness could actually matter?

Frank broke in on my thoughts. “Try to write me another letter tonight.”

My heart sank. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Neither do I. Let’s find out.”

“You seem awfully calm after all that’s happened.”

He held out a hand. It was shaking. We watched it in silence, then he said, “I’m doing all right. So are you.”

We stood and resumed our journey. When I told Frank that my rooms were on the third floor, he muttered angrily to himself. He seemed to think I was being mistreated. I had to ask him to stop.

My legs and back were aching and stiff. As I mentioned before, climbing stairs is difficult for me. If I’m very tired, I can’t raise my left foot to the next step; not unless I lift it by putting my hand behind the knee. Thankfully, I didn’t have to resort to this, but it was a near thing. It was a short walk from the head of the stairs to my suite: bedroom, sitting room, bathroom, and walk-in closet. My maid, Miss Parmalee, had a room across the hall. I banged on her door as I passed, but there was no answer. She wasn’t in my rooms, either. Private River checked my suite, declared it empty, and abruptly departed to rejoin Daddy.

Frank helped me to a sofa and said, “What next?”

“I don’t think you’re allowed to be here unchaperoned.”

“The King told me to stick to you like a second skin until he relieves me personally.” The door had been left wide open, as etiquette demanded. He walked over to it and looked up and down the hallway. “No one’s around. That can’t be right.”

“It isn’t.”

“On a day like today, anything unexpected is bad. It means we still don’t know what’s going on.”

You’re unexpected.”

“No, I’m not!” He pointed at himself. “I’m always right here.”

I almost smiled. “You know what I mean.”

“Let’s figure that the King knew what he was doing, keeping us together. And so did you, when you sent me that letter. Thank you, Flavia. Really. I wouldn’t have missed today for the world.” He gave me the most wonderful smile.

Soon, far too soon, he turned his attention back to the door. I could tell when he made his decision. His posture straightened. “Right. We’re bolting the door. Screw propriety. Unless…” He turned and looked at me. “What weapons do you have?”

“Just a wand. But I don’t know how to hurt people with it.”

“Me, neither. Not enough to win, anyway. Same with punching them out. I’m a pretty good boxer, but grown men are way above my weight class.” He nodded. “Bolted it is.” He closed and locked the heavy door, then threw all three bolts. The top and bottom bolts gave him some trouble, since they hadn’t been used in years. Next, he closed and locked the iron gate to the balcony, the one that protected the room from importunate vampires. Unlike the windows in the library, which faced the courtyard, my windows were on the outside of the palace, facing north. Then he closed and locked the French windows and drew the curtains.

“Why draw the curtains?” I asked.

He quoted his unknown teacher, “Never give the enemy the gift of information.” He turned on a couple of lights and repeated the process in my bedroom.

While he attended to these tasks, I began to cry. I couldn’t help it. I was too exhausted to bear up any longer. It wasn’t just the emotional strain of betrayal, worthy of tears though it was. My muscles ached terribly. It was humiliating to sit weeping while Frank was so active, but I couldn’t stop.

I had endless practice with silent tears, but Frank noticed right away. Miss Parmalee would have taken longer, or pretended to. He took a step toward me. I must have flinched, because he halted abruptly. He started forward again, then stopped again. With a plaintive tone I hadn’t heard before, he said, “What should I do?”

I realized that he was almost desperate to comfort me. I hated to see him so unhappy, but the idea was too strange. Between silent sobs, I said, “Could you read to me? It would distract me and I like your voice.”

He dutifully found a book of old-fashioned fairy tales and began reading Snow White aloud, but he was on edge and prowled the room as he read. That was too much for my jangled nerves. I asked him to be still.

Frank admitted that he wanted to hold me or at least sit beside me, but I wouldn’t let him. “Not while I’m crying.”

He flung himself discontentedly into an armchair and resumed reading aloud. He used different voices for each character, often inappropriate ones, such as giving the Evil Queen the deepest voice he could manage. This cheered him up. He managed quite a pleasant voice for Snow White and changed her name to Flavia.

He interrupted himself and told me he didn’t mean anything by it and hoped I didn’t mind. I urged him to continue. It helped, though I was still weeping.

I wondered why Frank was so attentive and biddable, especially compared to my usual companions, who paid little attention to me and none at all to my wishes. Frank was different. Why?

Oh. The letter. I’d steered him true and now he trusted me. I’d signed the letter with love, and he trusted that, too. Frank had thrown himself joyously, heart and soul, into a situation that gave him a heroic role to play and a princess, of sorts, to fall in love with. But perhaps his mood could only last a little while? New acquaintances often recoiled from me when they discovered I wasn’t the princess of their imagination. Would Frank be next?

As if in answer to my thoughts, he changed Prince Charming’s name to Frank. Flavia and Frank found true love and lived happily ever after. He did the same thing with Sleeping Beauty. We lived happily ever after half a dozen times in a row.

Eventually he began bestowing his name more randomly. He was cheerfully mangling the story of Rapunzel (“’Flavia, Flavia, let down your long hair, that I may climb the golden stair,’ called Frank the witch”), when I drifted off to sleep.

And that, Dear Reader, is how I met Frank.

Banter: Swimming the Snark-Infested Waters

I grew up in a family of compulsive storytellers and conversationalists who engaged in constant verbal one-upmanship, so I have an advantage when it comes to snark.

People ask me sometimes how one writes banter-filled dialog.  I think it works about like this: it would be the same as an argument if it weren’t for the laughter. Like an argument, banter is competitive. But it resembles flirting because it’s cooperative at the same time. It’s a game, though often with enough seriousness that a misstep will turn it into an argument. That soupcon of danger helps make it good.

In fiction, characters who are attuned to each other can say almost anything to each other and get away with it because they understand what the other person means. In my in-progress novel, Jen Meets Her Match, Jen says “I hate you!” to her boyfriend Frank almost every day. By which she might mean almost anything.

I guess the main thing with banter, as opposed to, say, Spider-man mouthing off at people who don’t have the skill to hold up their end of the conversation, is that it takes two to banter. Some of the old screwball comedy movies, especially the Thin Man series, do very well with this. You also see good (if zany) examples in Duck Soup and other Marx Brothers movies, not to mention somewhat less ancient offerings like The Princess Bride.