"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, August 11, 2014

She's so unusual

If you're a Cyndi Lauper fan, you know that's the name of her first album, the one that had four top-five hits. I saw her last week on PBS' Front and Center, performing songs from that album in celebration of its 30th anniversary. I love concerts where the artist tells you about themselves in between songs, and Cyndi delivered that in spades.

She told a story of playing the ukulele and singing to a stadium of 10,000 people and how they all -ALL- booed her. "When you get booed by 10,000 people in a stadium," she said. "ya grow a different kind of a spine."

I love that.

She's on my mind because she's one of those women who has always gone her own way and done her own thing and been unapologetic about whether you like it or not, even though I'm sure she wanted people to like her enough to buy her music because that's what you do as an artist. You create something and tell yourself it's about the creating of the thing and no one else's opinion matters, but then when it's done you YEARN for someone to love what you've created.

I like to think about women like Cyndi when I'm embarking on a new creative voyage, which is what I'm doing. You see, the good thing about being an author-publisher is that you can write whatever you want. The bad thing is that you can write whatever you want. I need to be writing the next Peri mystery. My imagination keeps bugging me to write about a girl pirate.

So I'm writing both at the same time. Don't worry, I can keep them both separate. Peri will not be swashbuckling any time soon.

I'm having great fun with the pirate fantasy. It's violent, it's sexy, it's a lot of things I don't usually write. It's so unlike me, I may have to release it under a pen name. I only have a couple of problems with it:

1. I'm so into the characters and the plot that I'm not paying much attention to the time frame. Does "somewhere around the time of the Spanish Armada" get close enough? Or do I need to spend time taking my reader into The Period? Do I need to anchor the story to some event?

2. I used to read a lot of adventure/fantasy when I was young, but I haven't read any in a while. What if I'm writing one big fat cliché full of clichés? What if it's been done and overdone, by younger and hipper writers?

Here's the premise: Lisette, a young noblewoman, is supposed to get engaged to Eric on her 18th birthday. Their marriage will unite their small island kingdom against Spain. Instead, Lisette is betrayed by Eric and a Spanish girl, Mercedes, so that Spain can claim the island for its own. Lisette is sold to a pirate, Rocco, who plans to sell her to a duke who wants to buy a virgin. Except that Lisette will not go down without a fight. She plans to gather the gold and skills to return to her island and take her revenge on the people who betrayed her.

Does that sound interesting?

Here's a piece of the first chapter (this is a ROUGH draft):

* * * * *

The masked man swung his blade at the small girl with precision, and the girl raised hers in response. A clang of metal echoed through the chamber. Having pushed her assailant back, she grasped the hilt with both hands and moved into him, hewing right and left with each step. He matched her stroke for stroke, suddenly charging in with an uppercut.

Leaping back and to the side, she shielded herself from his sword with her own. In her peripheral vision, she could see the stairs up to her bedchamber. Her bare feet danced to the fourth step, giving her the advantage of height.

He rushed at her, his blade hissing with furious speed, but she parried each movement, attempting to bend him backward and send him down the staircase. Instead, he pressed upward, causing her to climb, backward, toward the higher level.

A sudden pounding at the outer door distracted her. In the briefest of moments, she felt her sword flying from her hand and her legs buckling underneath her. She was forced to the cold marble, the steps carving into her backbone. The man followed her to the ground, his body smothering her own. The thin shirt and leggings he wore could not hide the hardness she felt pushing against her thigh, and she blushed at the excitement of her breasts rubbing his chest.

The only thing separating them was his sword, held sideways at her throat.

“Lisette! Are you all right?”

She pulled her own mask from her face and glared at the man on top of her. “It’s Mama.”

Tossing his sword aside, he removed his mask. “I thought she was visiting her sister.”

His face was still close, his body still caressing hers, still excited. Lisette stared into his blue eyes, curtained with dark lashes, and briefly considered his beauty, then focused on the problem at hand.

“Get off me,” she whispered, then shouted at the door. “One moment, Mama.”

The next few seconds were a scramble to pull her skirt and bodice over her pantaloons and muslin top. Shoving his sword into her fencing companion’s hand, she motioned for him to climb to the bedroom and hide, then ran down the stairs to the door. On her way, she noticed her own blade on the floor and snatched it up. She propped it behind a tapestry, then unlocked the chamber.

“Mama, I thought you were visiting Tantie Elena.”

The elegant, older woman glided into the room as if she were sailing on a cloud, then turned to look at her daughter. Marie’s gaze could be brutal. She could elicit a confession from any of the household help, and often reduced Lisette’s younger brother to tears. Lisette was not immune, but she was still headstrong enough to follow one lie with another in an attempt to escape discovery and its consequences. She forced herself to relax her eyebrows and meet her mother’s glare.

“You are a mess,” Marie said at last.

Lisette pressed her dark auburn curls upward from her face. “I’m so sorry. I was resting upstairs, and the room has been so warm. I’m sorry if I didn’t hear you right away.”

Her mother did not look convinced. “I thought I heard swordplay before I knocked.”

“Swordplay?” Lisette laughed. “Whatever would I be doing playing with swords?”

“Let us not be coy, Daughter. When I caught you last month dancing about in those scandalous clothes, I believe you were warned not to do it again.”

“That is why I did not.”

“Because if you do, your father and I shall lock you in the tower. You understand this, yes?”

“Yes, Mama.” Lisette kept her head down, attempting obedience.

Marie’s face softened, and she put her hand out to touch Lisette’s chin. “My darling Lisette, do not think we are unreasonable. Believe me, locking you away is the last thing we want to do. Your betrothal to Eric will combine our two houses, which will hopefully keep Spain from trying to rule our island. But Eric will not want a wife with such barbaric skills. Your brother is two years away from a marriage match. We could perhaps keep the Spanish at bay for that long, but your marriage saves us from two years of difficulty. You must abandon your rough and tumble hobbies, at least until Eric says ‘I do’.”

Her mother reached into the pocket of her dress and held a piece of silk out to her daughter with a smile. “Happy birthday, Daughter.”

Taking the item from her mother, Lisette unfolded it. Her eyes widened. “Mama, your necklace.” She withdrew a large emerald on a delicate golden chain. The jewel itself was a deep blue-green, so clear that Lisette could see the ocean in its depths.

“I cannot give you much. But this was my mother’s, and her mother’s before her.” Marie seemed lost in her thoughts. “It is our safety net. Never be afraid to use its value to get what you want.”

Lisette wanted to cry, but she smiled instead. “Eric is a good man. I’ll be able to keep this until I hand it down to my own daughter.”

Marie smiled back, her own eyes shining. She kissed her daughter’s cheek, and opened her mouth. “My dear—”

“Lisette,” a child’s voice called from the corridor. A young man burst into the room, scruffy in his ragged clothes and muddy shoes. “Lisette have you seen my mother?”

“Edmund.” Marie’s voice was sharp. “Your mother is at work. You are supposed to be cleaning the stables.”

The little boy backed against the wall, away from Lisette’s mother. The sound of scraping and clattering was heard as the hidden sword hit the floor.

Lisette stared at the sword for a half-second, willing herself to appear calm but surprised.

“Poussin,” she said, calling the boy by her pet name for him. “I told you not to bring your father’s sword along when you play in my room.”

She swept the blade up and cradled the hilt in his hands, staring at him with meaning. The boy feigned contrition. “I’m sorry, Miss Lisette. I forgot.”

The young girl winked, then turned to her mother. “When Gigette was straightening my quarters yesterday, I’m afraid I told him he could play in here. He likes to be with his mother.”

Marie stretched tall and stood, expressionless. She was quiet for a few moments, and Lisette worried that her lie would be discovered. The young girl looked at Poussin. He was nodding and caressing the sword.

Lisette watched Marie’s eyes narrow, then relax. The older woman turned and floated toward the door. “Gigette will be in soon to help you prepare for the party.”

“Yes, Mama.” She watched the older woman leave down the corridor, then shut the door and sighed.

“That lie will cost you,” Poussin said.

“It’s worth every sous.” She smiled and went to the fireplace. A small ceramic dragon sat on the mantle. She opened the gold hinge at its belly and extracted several coins. Placing them in the young boy’s outstretched palm, she told him, “Take the sword to your room. I’ll retrieve it later.”

Opening the door, she guided him out, glancing down the hall to see if her mother was nearby. The way appeared clear, and the sword in the boy’s hand would solidify her falsehood. She closed the door, turned and looked to the top of the stairs.

One lie down, one to go.

She ran upstairs to her room and laid her gift on her dressing table, then peered around. Lucian, her fencing partner, was nowhere to be seen.

“Lucian? Where are you?” She tried to keep her voice low, in case anyone was spying. “Lucian?” She checked under the bed and continued to whisper his name. He was not behind the window drapes to her right, so she went to the left, calling.

A hand reached out of the heavy tapestry and grabbed her wrist, pulling her into the darkness. The other hand wrapped around her waist and pulled her close to him. She could smell his familiar mixture of sweat and smoke from the blacksmith shop where he worked, shoeing horses.

“Lizzy,” he whispered as his face drew nearer.

She pushed him away and moved into the light. “Lucian, stop. Remember who we are.”

“I don’t care. I might not be able to give you a castle, but I can give you a good life. I am good at my trade, and have many customers. We could be happy.” He followed her, spinning her toward him. He eased his hands back to her waist.

“Yes, I’m sure.” She put her hands out to stop his advance. “You would work all day in your shop, and come home to plant your seeds each night. Soon we would have children the way the pantry has mice.”

He smiled, and she could see the mischief behind it. His eyes had a sparkle to them as he leaned in to whisper in her ear.

“There are ways, I’ve heard, to have one’s pleasure and keep children from coming.” His lips brushed her jaw and slid up to her earlobe. “Although, truth, if you were my wife, I would have a hard time leaving our bed.”

He began to kiss her neck, tickling her skin with his mustache and moistening the path with his tongue. As he worked down to her collarbone, she stretched her chin to give him more access. Closing her eyes, her body felt as hot and molten as the forge where Lucian heated his iron. A moaning sigh escaped her and Lucian rose up, his mouth seeking hers.

Grabbing him by the shoulders, she stiffened her arms and stopped him.

“No. We will not do this.” She stepped backwards. “Tonight is my birthday party. At midnight, I turn eighteen and I come into my dowry. I will be betrothed to Eric and we will unite our two houses.”

“Eric.” Lucian spat the name. “Weak-willed, slow-witted Eric? His family has been dangerously inbred.”

“That’s not important.”

“You don’t love him.”

“Also not important.” He was right about everything, but Lisette did not like to speak badly about anyone. “I’m sure in time I’ll grow to love him.”

“He’ll never make you purr the way I do.”

Her hand across his face was immediate and stinging. He glowered at her and turned away. She felt a lump at the pit of her stomach.

“Lucian, I need you to understand.” Her words felt like lead on her tongue. “My family has much wealth, but my brother is the heir. When they are gone, I get nothing. Even my dowry is not my own. The money goes from my parents’ safekeeping to my husband, if they approve of the marriage.”

She walked to the window and looked out at the rolls of greenery that ran down to the cliffs, out to the sea. “On my wedding night, my husband will have my body and my money. All I will have left is my heart. That is mine to keep. If I marry you, then I get no money and I lose my body and my heart. There will be nothing of me left.”

The young man joined her at the window and sat on the open ledge. “I never thought of you losing your heart to me, Lizzy. I always thought it was an even trade.”

He slid down to the balcony below and skipped over the wall to the ground. She watched him go, angry with him for being so wrong for her in every way but one.

* * * * *

Who wants to read more?

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