Original Writing – Excerpt #1: Murder & Turtles

I have a handful of friends who like to post writing prompts, and I occasionally humor them with my take on a scene. Here’s the first one. Maybe I’ll write the whole book someday.

Prompt: Create the beginning of a murder mystery novel. Your beginning must include the following: You are in the New Orleans French quarter, naked and holding both a live turtle and dead chicken.


Lorraine stood on the corner of Bourbon street, watching the bright headlights flash by and waiting. She shivered as sweat trickled down her naked spine, in part from the heat of the night, and in part from fear. Something else dribbled along her left arm and she glanced down at the drooping head of the once white chicken, now soaked red in its own blood.

The street emptied and quieted.

She shifted a rounded, heavy load further up her right hip and crossed quickly, the blood of the chicken leaving a speckled trail across the pavement. There was a hissing sound and she tightened her grip on the large object as she walked. “No, Beau, it’s okay.” she said under her breath as the small snapping turtle stretched out its long, snake-like head to look around. Beauregard looked her in the eye and nodded before retreating back and presumably going to sleep.

On the other side of Bourbon street stood an ivy covered, many leveled restaurant. The bouncer at the door took one look at her and started cursing. “Where are your damn clothes, woman? He sent you out for a chicken five hours ago and you come back naked and covered in blood. What else you got there? Is that a fucking snapping turtle?”

Lorraine raised her eyebrows at him but didn’t answer. She eased past him when he opened the door and entered the well appointed kitchen.

Mason glanced up from the last of the dishes at the sound of the door, and quickly dropped a soapy pan when saw her. “Jesu Christe. What happened to you? Why is Beaureguard with you?”

Lorraine dropped the bloody chicken carcas on the freshly cleaned counter top and walked past him to the staff dining room before putting Beau on the table. She walked back into the kitchen, rinsed off her bloody arm, and donned a spare chef’s coat. Then she returned to the dining room and sat down. Mason joined her with a glass of sweet tea. “I’m going to need something stronger than that.” She remarked, but chugged the tea anyway.

When he placed two fingers of whiskey in front of her she sighed, crumpling into the chair. Beauregard shuffled over and she absentmindedly rubbed her head and she reached out and took the whole bottle of whiskey from Mason’s hand and upended it over her glass.

“Zach’s dead,” she said, placing the bottle on the table.

There was a loud thump and a wobble as Mason’s butt landed in a chair and nearly sent him over backwards. “What? How? When? What?” He stuttered his words as he tried to grasp at this new reality.

“It’s a long story,” Lorraine answered, picking up her glass. “But before I explain, we should probably call the police.”


Do you have a take on this story prompt? I’d love to see it! Feel free to email me at Amanda@highlightsandhotchocolate.com and I’ll share my favorites in a post!

How Shirking My To Do List Brought Me A Writing Breakthrough That Was Five Years In The Making

I had a to do list today, just like I do every day. Most days I check off nearly everything on them. In a normal job setting, I chip away at everything as a brisk pace without delay, though in my personal life I am a master of procrastination and working frantically in equal parts. I had quite the list today: apply to full-time editing jobs, apply to part-time internships, shop for groceries, do a load or two of laundry, write a book review, read a book, work on my homework. It was quite a long, and mostly inconsequential list that can wait for tomorrow.

As Tuesday is my only quiet, peaceful, truly self-ordered day, I decided to hide out in a cafe where nobody would look for me and write. Not my primary WIP, which I’ve been diligently chipping away at and should still make my self-imposed deadlines for, but the elusive portal fantasy that I poke at time and again. It’s been simmering for well over a decade now, and I go back to drop in new ingredients, add a dash of this or that, give it a stir, and occasionally add a new side dish to. Someday it will be ready, but since it doesn’t have a recipe, I just have to wait and see when that day will be.

I scraped through yesterday on heaps of coffee and well-timed naps, and though I slept deeply last night, I woke this morning to the sort of quiet world that exists in the liminal spaces of life – somewhere between sleeping and waking, where anything is possible. Every once in a while I wake to this sort of feeling, and I know that the day is ripe to dive through the portal once again and see what I can discover about the world I started inventing and exploring back in the early years of the millennium.

Today, I discovered a new character. I knew his name before but could not conjure an image of him to my mind. He had bits and pieces to his life, and I knew he was important, but whether to me or to another character I hadn’t yet puzzled out. Today I saw his face, and learned his motivations, even while I was writing the inner thoughts of another character with whom he comes into contact. It is always cheering to see a new face among my pages. Like an adventurer myself I leap excitedly into the breach that takes me to Everest, where I am always clearing out the fog and greeting the new faces I find there.

A lot of how I write this particular book is based purely on personal experience. I started it in sixth or seventh grade and fumbled through the dark of how exactly a novel was supposed to be written. I did take a novel writing class in seventh grade which helped a little, and the feedback from it helped me to shape the world that my characters now call home. However, the actual story has changed at least three times since then and probably more than ten. I blame reading The Eye of the World that same year for my enormous vision, but once I had begun to create it I was committed. I devoted entire summers and Christmas breaks during high school to developing it, and even though it’s hardly close to being finished, I’ve broken through a kind of barrier that seemed to keep the characters at arms length over the years.

Writing without a real outline while you attempt to populate a planet is both a challenge and a delight. The world is always just at the edge of my thoughts, and even when I have writer’s block or can’t for the life of me see where a scene is going, I can go back and dive into the minds of my main characters and attempt to see the world through their eyes. What would they focus in on in this scene? What would they do in this situation? How would they remember a particular moment if they reflected on it? I can hardly recall now the date when my characters came into being, or where I plucked them from, only that they were the kind of heroes I wanted to read about, and that if I were to go on an adventure I should want to be like them as I did it. They have become my most constant companions, and I’ve learned to lean into their adventures when I become stuck in my own, and vice-versa. What would R do in this situation? I ask myself, and even occasionally translate my own experiences into the context of their world so I can play them through it. Some of these writings even maneuver their way into the actual manuscript, though that is not always the case.

Today has been one of those magical days where I was able to dive into the mind of a character without becoming wrapped up in world building, and walk through their thoughts and memories of a scene I haven’t even written yet. It was through writing their memories of a scene that I came across the face of my character – he is neither new nor so old to be called that either – and finally saw the scene as they must have, meeting him for the first time. And finally, finally, I knew how to finish a scene that I have been bemoaning for at least five years. Writing is magical that way. Sometimes you have to look at a scene from every direction (including backwards into a character’s memories) to realize what needed to happen.

I am ecstatic, to say the least, that I finally know where that particular scene is going. It’s been an ongoing itch, the need to fix and finish it, and the character I met today has also been at the edge of my mind. To find that they belonged together is immensely satisfying. I feel like I just finished reading a book with a perfect, happy ending because the narrative of my story is smooth and strong once again. This scene has been a chink in my armor for nearly five years if I estimate correctly, and finally fixing it absolutely makes up for the awful day I had yesterday, not to mention all the frustration I’ve felt over the scene since I first came across it.

And now, back into the breach I go. Adventure awaits.

A Morning with Estelle – Short Fiction #1

Estelle awoke to the sound of one of her neighbors clattering down the stairs. She rubbed her eyes, trying to think of a reason someone would make such a noise upon descending a perfectly normal staircase, before realizing that it must have been David and his dog, Roger. Two sets of feet, one large, the other small, could definitely have made the racket which dragged her out of her dreams. She finished ridding her eyes of sleep and pulled back the duvet.

 

Coffee was a wondrous thing. Some days the only thing that got her out of bed was coffee. Not today though, she thought as she sipped from a steaming mug while gazing into her closet. It was smaller than the one at her last place, but she hadn’t decided yet how to pare down her wardrobe. The mountain of laundry peaking out from the bottom of the closet pointed to there being a hefty donation to the secondhand shop in her future. She sighed, choosing to put off the decision until the weekend, and pulled out a pair of grey slacks and a forest green sweater.

 

Hair, check. Makeup, check. Estelle picked out a set of simple pearl earrings and spritzed on her favorite perfume before giving herself a final once-over in the hall mirror. They had hung it on the outside of the bathroom door so they would stop fighting over the actual bathroom, and the arrangement had worked out remarkably well. Estelle shuffled back into her room to grab her shoulder bag and pick out shoes. Low, chunky, everyday black heels made the outfit complete, and she smiled knowing her mother would approve of the choice. Her mother insisted that flats made her walk like a duck. The image was unattractive enough that Estelle almost always chose heels when she had the opportunity to do so. Running with Miles tomorrow would hurt when her achilles was all scrunched up from today, but occasionally a little beauty was worth a little pain. She slid her bag onto her shoulder, called goodbye to her roommates, and headed for the stairs, turning the lock behind her.

 

 

A Morning with Estelle – Short Fiction by Amanda Woods