Yup, we're going to do the equivalent of "Work-in-Progress Wednesday" -- except on Tuesday! Below is an excerpt from the first chapter of my steampunk novel.
---- Beginning of novel excerpt ----
Marjorie Clarke was sitting on the front porch swing reading a book on her mobile phone with one hand and had a cigarette in the other. She was wearing a deep blue sweater jacket with her long light blue dress. She heard Merritt and Abe approaching but didn’t look up right away.
“Thanks for bringing her home, Abe,” Marjorie said nonchalantly.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
“See you in the morning,” Merritt said, making eye contact with Abe and smiling.
“Bright and early,” Abe said, turning around and walking away.
Majorie looked at Merritt then back at Abe, who was now out of earshot.
“I’m surprised he hasn’t approached me and Floyd for your hand in marriage,” Marjorie said.
Merritt blushed. “We’re just friends. We have been since school.”
“You keep tellin’ yourself that, girl.”
Merritt crossed her arms and was clearly displeased with the remark.
“Why do you care? Floyd wouldn’t acknowledge Abe if he did go to him. He doesn’t consider me his kid,” Merritt said. “And that’s fine. I’m not your daughter, just a charity case my biological mum dropped off on your doorstep.”
Marjorie set her phone on the swing, stood up and walked down the three steps to the sidewalk path which separated the yard. The tall and slender African-American woman was in her mid-forties but stress, smoking and the silver strands in her straightened, shoulder-length black hair made her look older. Marjorie's chocolate brown eyes fixated on Merritt.
“You may have started off a ‘charity case,’ I’ll grant you that,” Marjorie said wearily, taking a drag off her cigarette. “And yes, my husband never really accepted you. But that’s his problem. I raised you. As far as I’m concerned, you are my daughter. And Lavinia is your sister.”
“Tell her that.”
Marjorie rolled her eyes. “She just acts tough. One day, you’ll learn how she really feels about you. And you’ll be surprised.”
“I can’t wait,” Merritt deadpanned, looking away. She sighed. “Marjorie, you did raise me and I will always be grateful for that. You could have given me to the orphanage.”
Marjorie put out her cigarette in the ashtray sitting on the stair railing. Then she pulled Merritt into a genuine hug. It surprised Merritt but after a second, she relaxed into it.
“You’re my sister’s child. That means you’re blood,” Marjorie said. “I could never hand you over to some strangers like that. Even she couldn’t do that.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand. Why give me up at all?” Merritt said, misty-eyed.
“My sister had a dream to be a famous singer. And she’s living that dream,” Marjorie said. “There just wasn’t room in it for you.”
---- End of novel excerpt ---
Please let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks!
I'm not sure how often I'll do this, but I'm starting a "Wednesday Work-in-Progress" feature. It will essentially be an excerpt from whatever upcoming novel I feel like giving a sneak peek at. This week, it's from my steampunk fiction:
---- Story excerpt begins ----
Merritt greedily chewed into the roasted mutton shank and savored the erupting flavors of the marinated spices. She closed her eyes and her nose inhaled the aromas of meat, steamed vegetables and fresh buttered rolls. At the same time, she was invigorated by the sounds of live acoustic guitar strumming and a woman’s voice, the duet performing on stage a dozen feet from her table.
“Eleanor’s” was a relatively new restaurant that seated sixty people comfortably. Specializing in local comfort food, they served a variety of roasted meats, either by themselves or in hearty stews or casseroles. They also employed a baker whose pastries, cakes and other desserts were fast becoming legendary in town. The addition of live music on a few evenings each week made for an even more inviting atmosphere. Large windows in the front allowed a pleasant view of the street and there was a small patio in the back for outdoor dining. The staff were overworked but always friendly and accommodating.
“Take it slow with the food and enjoy it,” Abe cautioned. “Who knows when we’ll have enough to stop in here again.”
“Someday, I want to make enough to eat like this every day!” Merritt said dreamily. “This is wonderful!”
She took another heaping bite from the shank and relished the taste, following with some spinach. If food could intoxicate, she was already drunk.
“You wanna get nice and plump like them Upper ladies, huh?” Abe said, referring to the upper class.
Merritt grinned. “If I could have meals like this, it’d be worth it!”
“Well then, you just gotta offer something no one else does,” he said, reflecting her smile. “You’d be an Upper overnight!”
She leaned her head back to consume about half of the water in her mug. When she put it back on the table, there was a new gleam in her eyes.
“Want to design a new type of airship with me?” she leaned forward and whispered to Abe. “That could be different!”
He leaned back in surprise, his eyes slightly widening. “What -- what kind of new airship?”
---- Story excerpt ends ----
Feel free to give feedback in the comments.
A week ago, I joined almost forty other brothers in Christ from my church, including my pastor, on a trip to an island near Galveston, Texas. We had carpooled together in a half-dozen large trucks. After we arrived, we stayed in two houses built on stilts, both within sight of Crystal Beach.
We must have appeared unique: a group of dozens of males who were African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic and various mixtures of the same, ranging in age from teenagers to seventy-ish-year-olds. Many came to fish, others to relax but everyone wanted to socialize with each other.
Actually, that was the whole point. Our pastor wanted as many men as possible from the church to have opportunity to spend time together, away from the distractions of day-to-day life or the responsibilities of their varying roles in the ministry. It was a chance to get to know each other better, to share experiences and testimonies. We got to see a different side of each other outside of church. It was nice to just be wearing t-shirts, jeans, tennis shoes and baseball caps.
We shopped for groceries in small groups and purchased ingredients to make our own food. That not only ended up saving a lot of money (from not paying to eat out) but also made for some tasty meals. As an extra bonus, we did a lot of talking while preparing and eating those meals.
I woke up at 5:00 am every morning. The first morning, it wasn’t intentional. A group of the brothers got up early to take the ferry to the mainland to catch a boat and go fishing. I decided to go ahead and get up and I didn’t regret it. The pre-sunrise morning light was extraordinary over the gulf waters and beach. A couple of brothers joined me on the deck and we had wonderful spiritual discussions.
It was such a peaceful environment, with the mild morning air, beautiful colors in the sky and the sea breeze. It was kind, safe and reassuring. It felt like a smile from the Lord. It felt good to be up for the sunrise. Even though it was cloudy the last day we were there, the clouds and breeze were still magnificent enough to take pictures and video with my phone. I was glad we had enough of an internet connection to allow me to post those to social media. (I am still a computer geek after all.)
I had so many conversations with so many different brothers, at all hours of the day. It reminded me of the trust we have with each other. I learned so much and shared an equal amount. It was very cathartic.
Now, throughout this article, I’ve been calling these men my "brothers." That's not only because we are brothers in Christ -- changed by His Love, the gift of salvation and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our hearts -- but because they are as close as family to me. I do not have a biological brother, but I have many brothers in the Lord. There’s something special in that kind of bond. Just like in biological families, none of us are perfect, we make mistakes and sometimes have misunderstandings. But it is easy to forgive and move on. And in doing so, our Father in Heaven will forgive us.
Hebrews 10: 23 - 25 (KJV)
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Our pastor reminded us that “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” is not only about attending church; it is also about maintaining fellowship outside of church.
When we left to return home, everyone seemed satisfied. We had taken a brief vacation from our regular lives and were returning a little stronger than before.
This group had meant to share each other’s company and friendship. But there was an unexpected benefit to us all: at the same time we had been fellowshipping with one another, we had shared the company and friendship of our Lord and Savior. In doing so, we experienced the Love of God.
There will be no blog entry this week. I’m going on a fishing trip with a men’s group from my church between now and Sunday.
I’ll have something new next week. See you then!
There are countless motivations to create stories. We all have had notable experiences in our lives and there are people with exceptional creativity that seemingly pull adventures out of the ether at will. But let’s flip that around: are there times when it’s better to not write? Yes, absolutely. Keep in mind that these are just my opinions, but let’s explore a few of those reasons.
Reason #1: If it’s going to hurt people
Some people might argue that this is a good reason. I would disagree. The art of the pen (physical or digital) has been used to inflict harm throughout history. From trashy “tell-all” books to modern journalism, dating back to even some of the classic works of William Shakespeare, written words have attacked living people’s character, distorted events and cast doubt. Some writers have been motivated purely for political reasons or just out of spite. Regardless of the grounds, those words have damaged and even destroyed lives.
Most commonly, this is done out of a sense of vengeance. I know a thing or two about revenge. For too many years, it consumed and darkened my thoughts. We have all been wronged by people in our lives, sometimes terribly so.
But do you know the worst part about revenge? Figuratively-speaking, it’s a double-edged sword. As one holds onto it, hoping to bring “revenge” to fruition, it cuts into you. And the longer you hold that sword, the deeper it cuts. It slices away who you could be and replaces it with a bitter and miserable version of yourself. It lies to you. It makes you think you’re doing something good. It tells you revenge is “justice.” But Justice is supposed to be impartial and fair. Revenge plots in secret, hiding its true intentions until it springs its trap. It hopes to catch its prey unaware because it can’t fight fair. Revenge is a coward. And in my view, so is the writer who uses their craft for that purpose.
Reason #2: If you’re the only one who’s going to care
We all have memories of experiences that were special to us. But what might mean a great deal to you or I might not mesh so well with others. For example, in elementary school each year, we had a “Track and Field Day” where everyone went outside and participated in sporting events. I was really bad at most sports because of my poor depth perception, but there was one thing I enjoyed that day: being goalie when we played soccer. It wasn’t because I was talented at the position. It was because I spent ninety percent of the time waiting around. When players got close and went for a goal, all I had to do was try my best. Sometimes I blocked the ball and sometimes I didn’t, but I made the effort and it was appreciated. That said, I’m probably the only person who remembers any of it. It’s good for a few sentences as a quick memory, but not enough to craft a whole story. It doesn’t have a beginning, middle and an end. There’s no “hook” or “payoff” in the end. It’s just an interesting bit of autobiographical trivia.
Stories need to resonate with people, so they can relate to it. Now, I could take that same small paragraph of trivia and shape it into something fictional to give it some life. Maybe I could show how the kid that wasn’t good in sports met a friend or a coach who inspired him/her to surpass their limitations. Perhaps that kid persisted in their efforts to improve and became a local sports hero. Later in life, he/she became a coach that inspired someone else who went on to become an Olympic athlete. That story could really go somewhere, because it’s both interesting and moving. It’s a “full circle” story about “paying it forward.” That’s both the hook and the payoff.
Reason #3: If you’re not enthused about it
Writing should be fun, a passion that can’t be denied. It should make you lose track of time as you weave words into a tantalizing tale. It should be on your mind when you wake up and as you close your eyes to sleep. It should be a friend, not an enemy.
If a writer is not fired up about their art, it shows in the completed work. For example, if a writer feels like they “have to” produce words to get some money or meet a deadline, they will probably finish something but it won’t be anywhere near their best. If it’s a novel, it will probably be disappointing to the readers, who can tell when a writer is plodding along (the novelist's equivalent of treading water) or recycling old material with new or existing characters. In the end, it will not even satisfy that writer. They may go so far as regretting that they made that book.
These are only three reasons, I’m sure there are more. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from writing stories, either. I just believe that we have to look at why we do what we do. The pen can be a sword or it can be a beautiful bouquet of flowers. How it’s used is entirely up to you.
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian, happily interracially married since 1995. Father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.