Applying Writing Formulas to Your Own Work—Part II

(This article is part of a series. If you missed the first part, here it is.)

So, now that we know what the formulas are, let’s apply it to our own work. Take a look at all the stuff you’ve done and see if it’s following one of the formulas.

What Formula Am I?

The Last Golden Dragon is a Golden Fleece quest. Aine sets out to find the last golden dragon so she can hear his story and go tell the tale around the country. You find out during this quest that she is stubbornly independent and not content with a normal woman’s life. But during her quest, she learns that love and marriage doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game where all her hopes are dashed and she lives in a cage; love means both partners give so that they can be happy both as a couple and as individuals. She ends up not only fulfilling her quest, but finding much more than she was looking for.

However, the (as of yet unpublished) sequel, The Return of the Dragons, is a Buddy Love story, because it’s about the maturation of Aine and Eamonn’s relationship. I’m contemplating writing a sequel to that which would probably be a Rites of Passage, because it would about Aine having to come to terms with the fact that she can’t have everything she wants at once, and that she’s going to decide what’s more important to her and give up the other thing (at least temporarily).

(In other words, your sequels don’t necessarily have to follow the same formula as the original story. After all, how many times can one person go on a quest of introspection and self-discovery? If you’re following the life of one character over a period of time, you might want to change up the formula, because in life, we go through periods where we’re questing, but not all the time; we have problems that we need to fix, but not all the time; we have buddy love, but that typically comes and goes as friends and lovers come and go; we’re part of the institution, but usually only when we’re in school; etc.)

The Widow is an example of Bubby Love. Carol is trapped in her grief and can’t move on with her life—even though it’s past time for her to do so. Daniel acts primarily as a friend to help draw her out and get her functioning normally again. He is the person who is constant and acts as a catalyst while she is the one that does the changing.

The Flames of Prague is a Dude with a Problem story. First, Jakub’s problem is that he’s getting too old to fight and he doesn’t know what to do with himself; he’s facing his remaining years being a bored homebody. Then he meets a girl and he thinks his problem is solved; he’ll marry her, have children, and have a purpose again! Then he finds out there’s a problem with her: she’s a Jew. He has no solution to this, so he goes back to being bored—plus he’s now lovesick as well. Then he gets a new problem when he finds out that people are killing Jews and his love-interest is in danger. Does he risk his life to save her? And if he saves her, then what? He still has the problem of her being a Jew, but if he doesn’t overcome that problem, he’s left with the problem of being lonely and purposeless. The book concludes with him solving his various problems—sometimes with brute force and sometimes just by deciding that a “problem” is really just a design feature.

The sequel, The Children of Israel is the same thing, only there are 2-3 dudes with problems because I tell the story from the POV of two different characters. Samuel has to deal with the problem that his wife was raped prior to their marriage and she’s terrified for him to touch her. His sister has to deal with the fact that her parents can’t seem to arrange a marriage for her, but then she finds out her father’s man-at-arms is in love with her. And although she finds herself feeling the same way about him, they have the old problem of she’s a Jew and he’s not. And then Jakub has to deal with the problem that his family has been denounced as Jews and there are people who want to kill them. (His problem, however, gets taken up by Samuel, so Samuel is the one who has to find a solution to it.)

I’m contemplating a sequel to that which will follow another child of Jakub’s, and it will also be the same dude-with-a-problem format in that Jonatan has to deal with two sides of his family being at odds with one another and arguing over what he should or should not do, and later someone kidnaps his woman and he has to get those warring family members to unite to help him get her back.

(Unlike my dragon series, this series has a different main character(s) each time (albeit all from one family), and it’s about how each of them deals with their own unique problems. In each book, the reader is rooting for the character to win, but overall, she is rooting for the entire family to win. So, in this case, repeating the formula works.)

The Bloodsuckers is one long Dude With a Problem story. It is all about Scott and all the things he has to undergo and how he overcomes them.

Even my Zelda fanfiction follows a formula—and is, in fact, a perfect textbook example of the Golden Fleece quest. Link and Zelda have to go on a literal quest to find the necessary magical items needed to defeat all of the bosses, culminating with the defeat of the final bad guy and the saving of the world. But, along this long (long) journey, the two of them change rather significantly.

My Problem Child

So, that was easy; all of those stories are pretty clear-cut. Yes, there are some places where they sort of overlap with other formulas—quests can have romantic/buddy love subplots, etc.—but the main plot is clearly one specific format.

Then there’s Acceptance.

When I originally came up with the idea of vampires in Tennessee (this was even before I had the idea to have Jewish vampires in Tennessee), the (short) story was supposed to be a sort of supernatural mystery (Monster in the House formula). Kalyn (who is an adult) is out on a dark, snowy night and gets stuck in a ditch. While she’s sitting there, trying to figure out what to do, a guy appears and takes her out of the car. She then enters a period where she feels as if she is in a dream and isn’t really in control of herself. She gets taken to a cave that people—strange people—appear to be living in. The man with her bites her and she finds herself—perhaps of her own choice, perhaps not—giving herself to him fully. At some point, she passes out or falls asleep, and the next thing she knows, it’s morning and she’s back in her car. She looks for some evidence that she was kidnapped by a vampire, but can’t find any (but also can’t find any confirmation that she was in her car all night, either). So was it real or just a dream? She can’t be sure and neither can the reader.

But, somewhere in writing that, I decided that I wanted to know more about her and especially about the vampire with her. So the story morphed away from the monster formula to a romance/buddy love. Ciaran and the Imuechmehah were introduced and Kalyn found herself entering this strange vampire world just when they’re getting caught up in a war between two vampire races.

I wrote quite a bit of that novel, but became increasingly unhappy with it, primarily because Kalyn had no personality and I didn’t know how to give her one. (Also, she and Anselm only seemed to be in love because I said they should be; there was no natural development of their relationship.) I ended up scrapping it and I didn’t look at it again for nine years.

When I decided to resurrect my story, I started from scratch and put Kalyn in the vampire’s world from the very beginning. But instead of being an (adult) outsider being introduced to the vampire’s culture, she is a teenager getting introduced via a rite of passage.

I set out with the intention of writing a romance novel, and that’s what the story had been in its previous incarnation. Acceptance and its sequels were going to be all about Kalyn and Anselm’s relationship.

I’m not sure where I lost control of that formula… or if I ever really had control over it. But when I take a hard look at Acceptance and where its sequels are going, it is not a romance because it’s not primarily about Kalyn and Anselm’s relationship; there are too many other things going on and too many other characters winding their way in and out of the story with important stories of their own. There is no focus on just the two of them, the way there is in The Widow.

Okay, so what is it? Is it Institutionalized? After all, Kalyn is part of a group (her local group, the Yaechahre group, and the vampire/human group—all three come into play in different ways) and she has to learn how to work within all of those groups and she has to fight to save all of those groups. And yet, through all of that, she stays true to herself and her own moral compass—even when she has to go against the groups’ social customs. She becomes a reformer of sorts—a light showing a better path for other people in the group.

But is that really what the story is about, or is it another subplot? I really didn’t set out to write a story about a group of vampires and the human who teaches them a lesson. And, in fact, Kalyn’s not the only rebel in that regard; her friends in her local group share her desire for more integration between human and vampire. Even Joshua, the leader of their people, is supportive of her and is the first person to hold her up as a good example.

I think the institution is a subplot.

Is it a Whydunit? In all of the books, there is the underlying question of where the Imuechmehah came from and why they want to kill the Canichmehah. And we eventually see who is behind the murders and sort of why (as much as you can ever understand why someone is evil). But the real revelation is that all of the death and misery could have been prevented if, at a single moment in time, the Canichmehah had chosen to do what was morally right, even if it was technically illegal. When they decide that the law has supremacy over morality, they set in motion their own destruction.

While that’s a pretty dark revelation, the Whydunit isn’t really driving the plot. The characters are being taken towards it without their knowledge (unlike a detective in a mystery who actively follows the trail). So I think that’s another subplot.

Is it a Golden Fleece quest? Kalyn doesn’t know it in the beginning, but she’s destined to be the savior of her people and she will the ultimate righter of an old wrong. Her quest, in short, is to fight the Imuechmehah and save her people. And she certainly changes along the way and learns things about herself.

But she never realizes she’s on this quest and she never really has a revelation at the end of the story, like you would expect with a roadtripping story. She doesn’t undergo a life-altering change; instead, she just grows up, little by little, along the way.

Which leaves us with Rites of Passage. And I think that this is really what Acceptance and its sequels (both individually and as a collective whole) are about. Kalyn learns—usually the hard way—that there are bad people in the world. Some of them aren’t necessarily evil, but they make bad decisions that put them on the wrong side of morality. Maybe they can change, but they have to want to change. And some people are indeed evil, and you will never know why they’re evil and you will never get them to cease being evil. And being a good person is more than just not being evil or not making immoral choices; being a good person means actively fighting evil. Because if you don’t, it will grow and it will eventually come after you and after the people you love.

And other characters end up doing their own growing up alongside Kalyn. Micah has a particularly acute moment of revelation in the second book (I feel this is the best thing I have ever written) when he realizes that he became a vampire because he didn’t want to grow up and become a responsible adult; he had a Peter Pan moment where he ran off to Never Never Land with the intention of remaining young and carefree forever. But when he ends up spending a week essentially playing the role of husband and father, he realizes that not only does being responsible not suck, but it’s actually deeply rewarding and fulfilling. But, unfortunately, he can’t undo what he did to himself so long ago. He can never have biological children, and given that he looks like he’s a teenager, he’s not likely to find someone to settle down with. His revelation is bittersweet because, while it’s great he’s finally grown up mentally, he will never be able to grow up physically.

Anselm also has some personal demons he has to exorcise. For a man who doesn’t lack courage when it comes to breaking into a den of vampires and shooting all of them, he has little courage when it comes to Kalyn. He is attracted to her early on (and she’s certainly attracted to him), but he tries to deny this and keep her at arm’s length. He says that this is because Kalyn is too young, he’s her guardian, etc. but we eventually see that these are just excuses. In reality, he’s tormented by the memory of the first woman he loved and lost and he’s terrified that the same thing will happen to Kalyn. When he finally allows himself to open up to her, and then something bad happens to her, he sees it as a Divine Punishment for his actions and he retreats even further from her. He has to figure out that in trying to protect himself (and her) from loss, he’s creating a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby he loses her anyways. In short, he has to find the courage to love, even if he’s not guaranteed a happily ever after. (A basic life lesson that we all have to learn when we’re growing up.)

Which actually leads me back to the question of whether this is a Buddy Love story (but instead of it being about Anselm and Kalyn, it’s about the three of them). Or, perhaps, it’s a Rites of Passage tale that morphs into a Buddy Love story somewhere around the third book.

All the Things

I found a post I wrote in 2012 where I said this very thing: that there are a lot of “plots” in Acceptance. (Really, there are a lot of formulas.)

Or maybe I just don’t know and this is why I’m having trouble. What is my book about? You should be able to put that into a single sentence, but I really have trouble with that. It seems my book(s) are about a lot of things, and I have never been quite able to decide which thing I should emphasize.

I see now that’s because I can’t figure out which formula is driving the plot. Or maybe it’s because I’m trying to apply a single formula to four books about one main character and that’s not reasonable. After all, as I seemed to have intuitively grasped in my dragon stories, it makes sense for the formula to change in subsequent stories about the same character because different formulas rule different parts of our lives. If we aren’t following one formula constantly, why should a character?

I’m almost positive that Acceptance is a Rites of Passage formula. Kalyn has a literal rite of passage, inducting her into the world of vampires and their human counterparts. She has to deal with loss. She has to deal with being personally assaulted. She watches as people are killed. She learns that vampire justice is not the kind you see in Law & Order, and she has to come to terms with that. She also faces a bit of existential disappointment when she realizes that the image she has of Anselm in her mind isn’t who he is in reality. Probably the best piece of writing in that book is when Kalyn finds herself staring at him “across a gulf that seemed much wider than a few yards of poured concrete.” She sees that, for all his outward appearances of modernity—his cell phone, car, guns, etc.—he is, in reality, a product of the middle ages, where torture and execution justice could be executed without batting an eye. And she has to decide if she can accept a man who is, to modern standards, violent, but only for good and moral reasons (i.e. he’s a vigilante, of the Western hero variety).

If I accept that Acceptance is a Rites of Passage story, it makes it easier for me to describe the book, because I need to describe the characters and all the action from that point-of-view: it’s a coming-of-age story. Everything else is a subplot that the reader can discover on their own.

Now, as I’m piecing together the various parts of the second book, I need to decide which theme it should convey. I’m leaning towards it also being a Rites of Passage, but that might have moved to a subplot. So I need to read what I have and decide what story it’s telling. (And I may need to edit out bits that make the subplot too strong and muddy the actual plot formula.)

Part III

Next time, I’ll cover why it’s important for your novel to follow the formulas (and not just because it makes life easier on you when it comes to distilling your novel into a one- or two-line elevator pitch).

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The Bloodsuckers, Episode 43: We Are Family… Sort Of

Michael and Ariel’s house looked rather plain when Scott and Josie pulled into the driveway—as plain as a million dollar house could look, that is. The floodlights were on outside and there was an electric menorah in the living room window with two bulbs burning, but there were no other lights or decoration. After seeing the house decked-out for Halloween, Scott expected more umpf: blue and white lights, silvery tinsel, a giant inflatable dreidel… something.

“Is… Hanukkah not a very big holiday?” Scott asked, as he looked up at the house.

“No. And don’t even think of calling it ‘Jewish Christmas,’” Josie added, pointing an accusing finger at him.

“It never entered my mind.”

“It’s very gauche to call it that,” she insisted.

“You know me: I’m the antithesis of gauche.”

She suddenly chuckled. “We sound like we swallowed a Word-A-Day calendar.”

“I got one last year for Jewish Christmas.”

She looked at him sternly, then broke into laughter. Scott took her hand and they walked to the front door. Scott hardly noticed the cold wind blowing across his bald head as he stood on the front step and rang the doorbell, but Josie shivered and huddled deeper into her wool coat.

A moment later, Michael opened the door. He smiled tightly. “Welcome to the lion’s den,” he whispered.

Josie grimaced. “Have they already started in?” she whispered in reply.

“You know how you used to call me ‘ramrod?’” he asked, as he took their coats.

“Yes.”

“I have nothing on our parents. Nothing. I was only ever an amateur compared to them. They’re sitting in there, waiting to do battle,” he said, gesturing to the French doors which led to the living room.

Josie sighed wearily, then took Scott’s hand. “Are you ready to face the judges, Counselor?”

“Ready as I ever am,” Scott said, trying to sound braver than he felt. Despite mentally preparing for this day for months, he still felt a little sick to his stomach. He tried to tell himself that there was no reason to feel that way; Josie had sworn to stay with him—and that was before she got pregnant. Now she had even more incentive not to cut him out of her life.

But even though he told himself that, he didn’t feel one bit better. Scott had never liked conflict. He could have an intellectual argument all day long in the courthouse—he found that stimulating—but throw personal junk into the argument and he wanted to flee.

They went into the living room and found Josie’s sister, Becca, along with Mr. and Mrs. Fein. Michael was right: they were sitting up primly on the edge of couch like they had ramrods up their asses. Even Becca—who had been rather disdainful of social convention at Halloween—looked uncomfortable.

Mr. and Mrs. Fein’s eyes narrowed in unison when they saw Josie and Scott.

“Happy Hanukkah,” Josie said in a falsely cheerful voice.

“We already lit the menorah,” Mrs. Fein replied, her voice dropping the temperature in the already-frosty room by about ten degrees. “It has to be lit before sundown on the Sabbath.”

“I know,” Josie said. “We got here as soon as we could.”

“Oh, yes, the vampire can’t be out in the sunlight,” she said, turning her dark, accusing eyes on Scott. They said that he was the reason why their family holiday get-together was ruined.

“The vampire,” Josie said, her voice dripping acid, “is Scott Cunningham. Scott, this is my mother, Debra Fein, and my father, Steve Fein.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, trying to be pleasant and pretend nothing ugly had been said. Neither of them offered to stand or shake his hand, so he didn’t extend it.

“And you remember my sister,” Josie said, gesturing to Becca.

“Yes, of course. It’s nice to see you again,” he said with a more genuine smile.

Becca thrust out her hand. “I’ll shake hands with you, Scott. I’m not afraid.”

Scott was a little taken aback. He hadn’t been sure how to take Josie’s sister before. He found her to be, frankly, a little odd—almost abrasive. As Josie said, she had no tact and, furthermore, didn’t care that she didn’t have any; she said whatever was on her mind and to hell with the consequences.

It hadn’t occurred to Scott that trait could be used as a righteous weapon.

He shook Becca’s hand. “How have you been doing?” he asked her.

“Good.”

“That’s good.”

Ariel came through the kitchen door a moment later. “Oh, hey, Scott, Josie. I thought I heard ya’ll come in. You have perfect timing; I’m just taking dinner out of the oven.”

“Can we help you with anything?” Josie asked.

“No, Michael and I’ve got it. Why doesn’t everyone go ahead and take a seat in the dining room?”

Scott didn’t fail to notice that everyone was ignoring Mr. and Mrs. Fein, and he made it a point to do the same. If he could get through the rest of the night by ignoring them, then it wouldn’t be too awful an experience. Not pleasant, by any means, but not awful.

He followed Josie into the dining room and found the table elaborately set—like something out of a Southern Living magazine. The table was covered with a white linen table cloth embroidered around the edges in blue. In the center was an elaborate arrangement of blue and silver and gold… things; Scott really didn’t know what to call them. Some were round, like huge ornaments, and there were sprays like something out of the end of a firework, and spirally-twisty things that didn’t represent anything at all, as far as Scott could tell. It was pretty, if abstract.

At each seat were sparkly silver and blue woven placemats, real silver silverware, china dishes rimmed with gold and delicately ornamented with a blue filigree border and tiny gold stars of David, blue linen napkins, and crystal stemware.

One place setting was conspicuously absent, though. Instead of dishes, there was a placemat, napkin, and an opaque black champagne flute. Scott knew, without looking at the name on the place card, which seat was his. Josie was seated to his left and Becca sat beyond her, at the end of the table. Mr. and Mrs. Fein were directly across from him and Josie.

Scott wasn’t sure which option was worse: sitting across from them, or sitting next to one of them.

Michael and Ariel came in a moment after everyone sat down and began setting out platters of food. While Michael went back for another load, Ariel went around the table, filling everyone’s water glass.

She took Scott’s black champagne flute with her back into the kitchen, then brought it out again as Michael put the last of the food on the table. She sat the glass in front of Scott as if it was a perfectly everyday occurrence to serve someone a glass of blood at the dinner table. “What would everyone else like to drink?” she asked. “Wine?”

“I’ll just have water,” Josie said.

“No wine?” Ariel asked, looking a little surprised.

Josie shook her head.

“One of us has to be the designated driver,” Scott said with a smile, remembering their last holiday at Michael and Ariel’s house.

Then something struck him. He began counting days on a mental calendar in his mind. He didn’t even notice Mrs. Fein’s snarky, “Well, I hope you don’t need a designated driver too often.”

He checked his math twice, but came up with the same answer both times.

He was pretty sure he and Josie had conceived the baby on Halloween when they had secretly—and rather drunkenly—done the deed in her brother’s spare guest room.

Something about that made Scott grin—almost to the point of laughing—even as he felt a little embarrassed.

Josie looked at him curiously—as if she was trying to puzzle out why Scott was silently grinning while her mother was trying to imply that he was some sort of alcoholic.

Scott just shook his head a little; he’d have to tell her later. But in the meantime, he couldn’t seem to wipe the smile from his face, and Mr. and Mrs. Fein’s looks of outright loathing began to turn to confusion mixed with repulsion, as if they were looking at someone who wasn’t in his right mind and ought not be sitting at the dinner table with normal people.

Michael and Ariel quickly filled everyone’s drink glasses, then took their seats. Scott was surprised to find Michael sitting to his right and Ariel sitting at the end of the table, opposite Becca.

It seemed an odd seating arrangement for such a formal dinner. Scott would have expected Ariel and Michael to sit at either end, since it was their table, or maybe even to have put Mr. and Mrs. Fein at the ends as a sign of respect.

But when Scott glanced around the table, he noticed a very different kind of arrangement. He was in the middle, flanked by Josie on one side and Michael on the other. Becca and Ariel further added to the feeling that he was surrounded by his supporters. By contrast, Mr. and Mrs. Fein looked rather solitary on the other side of the table.

The battlefield had been drawn up in advance and Scott’s forces had arrayed themselves in a strong defensive front.

It made him start smiling all over again.

Michael said a short blessing, then he began passing plates of food. Scott would have expected this to be the beginning of lively conversation—as it would have been at his family’s house—but the icy silence continued, unabated except by the clink of serving utensils on china.

When the last platter was put back in its place on the table, everyone began to quietly eat. Scott cautiously sipped the liquid in his glass and found it to be non-alcoholic blood. It was the regular commercial stuff, which wasn’t nearly as good as what Scott got from Gus, but it was tolerable. The knowledge that Michael and Ariel had gone to the trouble to buy some just for him, heat it up, and serve it at the table like he was a normal person seemed to make it taste better, though.

“So,” Michael said, obviously trying to break the uncomfortable silence, “what’s everyone been up to lately? What’s happening?”

“Scott and I are going to have a baby,” Josie said baldly.

Scott spewed a mouthful of blood all over Ariel’s expensive thingamabob centerpiece.

“Oh, my God!” Mrs. Fein said, covering her mouth with her napkin, as if she might be sick. “That’s disgusting!” She turned to look at her husband. “I’ve never seen anything more disgusting in my life.”

“Drinking blood in a Jewish house on Hanukkah,” Mr. Fein grumbled. “My father is rolling in his grave.”

Scott didn’t pay any attention to them; he was busy trying to mop up the blood on his face and all over the white tablecloth and centerpiece.

“You need to warn me before you say things like that,” Scott told Josie under his breath.

“Sorry.”

“I don’t think I heard you correctly,” Becca said, interrupting both couples. “It sounded like you said you were going to have a baby.”

“That’s what I said.”

Scott discovered in that moment that silence, like wine, came in many flavors—some quite subtle. The silence in the house before had been cold, and it was quite different from the silent shock brought on by Josie’s announcement. Scott was pretty sure an unexpected announcement of pregnancy created a unique vintage of silence that was like no other.

“I… I don’t understand,” Ariel finally said, helplessly.

“What’s to understand?” Josie replied. “Scott and I are going to have a baby.”

“You mean… like adopt?” Becca said, grasping for something she could understand.

“No, I mean like have a baby,” Josie retorted, her voice growing more forceful. “As in: there is a small person growing inside my uterus at this very moment.”

“…Scott’s baby?” Michael said, looking—and sounding—highly skeptical.

“Yes, Scott’s baby,” Josie said, her face growing dark. “I wish people would quit thinking I’ve been sleeping around on him.”

Scott squirmed with embarrassment. But at the same time, he could hardly blame her family for being skeptical. He still felt that there must be some sort of mistake.

“Michael, tell me this isn’t true,” Mrs. Fein said desperately.

“I… have to say I’ve never heard of a vampire being able to have a child. Medically, they ought to be sterile. I mean, their body temperature is too low for live sperm.”

“Oh, God, she doesn’t have a tumor or something does she?” Mrs. Fein gasped. “My Aunt Sarah on my mother’s side died from breast cancer. Maybe we’ve got that gene.”

“Would you quit talking to him like I’m not here,” Josie said, her annoyance increasing. “I’ve been to the doctor, okay? He’s quite sure I’m pregnant. He was just as skeptical and he did extra tests and stuff to be sure. And I have all the symptoms of pregnancy—morning sickness and all that.”

“Boy, do I know some people at the hospital who would love to talk to you guys,” Michael said.

“I’m not one of Becca’s lab rats,” Josie snapped.

“No, but you’re not exactly a normal expectant mother, either. Did your doctor classify you as high risk?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Hm,” Michael said with a disapproving frown.

“What does that mean?” Mrs. Fein asked anxiously. “Should he have? Does she need a better doctor? Michael, you better look at her.”

“I’m not an obstetrician, Mother.”

She looked at her husband, but he threw up his hands. “Unless she’s got something wrong with her heart, I’m as clueless as anyone else.”

“What good is having a bunch of doctors in the family when no one can save Josie?!” she demanded.

“Mother, you’re being hysterical,” Josie said.

“I am not hysterical!”

“There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m pregnant—just like millions of other women. It’s no big deal.”

“What if your baby is a vampire like him?” she said in horror. “What if it sucks the life out of you? What if it tries to eat its way out of you? I’ve seen it before!”

“Mother, this isn’t a Twilight movie; that wasn’t real.”

“It’s still a valid possibility!” she said, before turning to Michael, as if looking for him to back her up.

“I don’t think that Josie will be in any danger,” Michael said slowly. “I’m more concerned about the baby. I mean, Scott’s a vampire because of radiation exposure. And we still don’t understand how vampires can even exist; they defy all medical knowledge. So the likelihood he passes on some or all of his condition, or that the baby is in some other way deformed or abnormal, would seem to be pretty high.”

“So… she shouldn’t keep it?”

“I am not aborting my baby,” Josie said hotly. “Especially when we don’t even know that there’s anything wrong with it. It could turn out perfectly healthy.”

“That’s a possibility,” Michael allowed.

“And it might turn into some sort of monster that tries to kill you,” their mother argued.

“Or it might be your very first—and possibly only—grandchild,” Josie retorted. “You might want to rethink your position on this.”

That seemed to bring Mrs. Fein up short. Clearly the desire to protect her daughter warred with her desire to be a bubbe.

“There are some diseases that might mimic pregnancy,” Michael said hesitantly, as if still trying to wrap his doctor’s brain around something that should be medically impossible. “I wonder if your doctor checked for them?”

“I assume so. He ran a bunch of tests and said he was absolutely sure I was pregnant.”

“An ultrasound will prove it once and for all, won’t it?” Scott asked Michael.

“Yes. How far along are you?” he asked his sister.

“About five weeks.”

He nodded. “You should have one soon, then.”

“Michael, I wish you would do it,” his mother pleaded.

“Mother, I told you—”

“Get one of your doctor friends to do it, then—one that you trust.”

Michael sighed wearily, then looked at his sister in a “are you willing to humor her?” sort of way.

She perked a brow, as if to ask, “do I really have to?”

“I must admit,” he said, rather reluctantly, “I would feel better if you were seeing someone who deals with high-risk pregnancies—not so much for your sake,” he hurried to add, “but for the baby’s.”

“It’s not like anyone has any experience with this sort of thing, since everyone is sure a vampire can’t father a child,” Josie argued. “One doctor operating blind is as good as another.”

“A specialist might be better at detecting problems, though,” Michael argued.

“I don’t want to have to drive to Nashville constantly, though.”

“Well it might be that you see your regular doctor for frequent checkups and only see the specialist at certain milestones or if your doctor reports a problem. They may work in concert. I don’t know,” he said, spreading his hands. “I’m not entirely sure how obstetrics works. But I know with cancer patients who live out of town, they usually see their local GP for monitoring and only come see me at certain times, or if their GP finds something out of the ordinary.

“You won’t know until you talk to someone. And I think you should at least talk to some,” he added.

Josie looked questioningly at Scott. “It’s your call,” he said hastily. “You should do whatever you think is best for you. I’ll drive you up here every week myself, if that’s what you want or need.”

She sighed, sounding defeated. “Alright, I’ll talk to a specialist. But if I think he’s just as clueless as my regular doctor, then I won’t see him anymore. Clueless at home is cheaper and less time-consuming than clueless in Nashville.”

Michael nodded his approval. “I’ll ask around at work and get a name of someone for you.”

“And don’t you not go to the doctor because you don’t have money,” Mrs. Fein said fiercely. “We’ll pay for you to go.”

“I am capable of taking care of Josie myself,” Scott said frostily. “We’re not exactly impoverished.”

“Yes, we see how well you’ve taken care of her so far,” Mrs. Fein spit back. “Pregnant with some half-vampire monster out of wedlock. You’ve done a real fine job of taking care of her.”

Scott leapt to his feet, slamming his hand on the table, making all the china and crystal rattle. But when he opened his mouth to say something, nothing came out.

He couldn’t deny Josie was pregnant with his bastard child. And that shamed him. Furthermore, he couldn’t deny that he was worried about her, too, and he blamed himself for putting her in that situation.

Good God, could he possibly be siding with Josie’s parents against himself?

“Yes, he has taken care of me,” Josie responded instead. “He’s worried with me and nursed me through my morning sickness. He’s made it clear that whatever decision I make, he’ll support it. And I’ve seen him with his daughter; he’s a good father. And he’ll be a good father to this child, too.”

Scott sat back down. Under the tablecloth, he found Josie’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Despite the fact that they hadn’t been together very long, she had a way of summing up and expressing his emotions better than he did. She understood what he felt and wanted to say better than his ex-wife—who had been with him for more than a decade—ever did.

“You do realize this child will be Jewish when it’s born, don’t you?” Mrs. Fein said, switching her attack.

“Yes,” Scott replied.

“It needs to be raised Jewish,” she said, almost threateningly.

“I’ve already told Josie I don’t have a problem with that,” Scott said calmly.

Mrs. Fein looked confused and a bit put out—as if she had been spoiling for a fight, only to find her opponent had suddenly become a pacifist.

“Well… good,” she said rather awkwardly.

“I think,” Michael said, interrupting before his mother could regroup and launch another offensive, “that we need to take this thing one step at a time. Before we start worrying about how to raise the baby, it needs to be born first. And that could be a long, dangerous eight months down the road. Or it could be a quick, easy eight months,” he hurried to add, as if afraid of worrying Josie and Scott. “But, regardless, that’s eight months down the road. And easy or hard, a lot is still going to happen between now and then.”

“Agreed,” Becca said. “Right now the only thing that we should be concerned about is keeping Josie healthy and making sure the baby has the best chance possible to be born healthy and normal. And stressing Josie out by attacking Scott isn’t going to help in either regard. So I think we need to call a truce and focus on what’s important—which isn’t that Scott’s a vampire or a Gentile, but the fact that, God-willing, we’ll have a new baby in the family next year.”

“I agree with Becca wholeheartedly,” Ariel chimed in. “Fighting over things that don’t matter while ignoring the important issue is stupid. We ought to be above that as adults and as a family.”

Mr. and Mrs. Fein had the good taste to look at least a little abashed.

Michael looked at Josie. “I’ll see if I can’t get some information for you when I go back to work tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

Slowly, everyone resumed their meal. It was silent again, but this time it was full of awkwardness, not hostility. Josie’s parents didn’t make so much as one snide remark throughout the remainder of dinner, and as soon as dessert was finished, they excused themselves for the evening, pleading that they had an early day tomorrow.

“I’m not sure if I would want to be a fly on the wall during that car ride back home or not,” Michael said once they were gone.

“I wonder if they’ll really mend their ways, or if they’re just momentarily stunned and will regroup?” Ariel said aloud.

Becca, Josie, and Michael all looked at one another. “They’ll regroup,” all three siblings said simultaneously.

“Well, then, I suppose we should enjoy the interlude while we can,” Scott said.

“Yes, you should,” Michael said. Then he laughed. “I just had a thought,” he said, looking at his wife: “this should keep Mom and Dad from hounding us to have kids—at least for a little while.”

“True,” she said, brightening.

Scott had to chuckle. “Glad we could help you out.”

Michael clapped him on the back. “We’re a family; we always help each other out.”

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 42: Road to the Lion’s Den

Scott idly watched the western sky while Josie drove them to Nashville for her family’s Hanukkah gathering. The sky was dark, save for a deep pinky-purple on the horizon. He had always thought sunsets were more beautiful in the winter—maybe because the sun was at a lower angle relative to the earth, making its rays diffuse through the atmosphere instead of coming directly at the viewer.

He wasn’t sure if that was factual or not, but it sounded impressive—probable, even.

What was it that Mark’s book on lying had said?—if a person believes something strongly enough, it won’t register as a lie on a lie-detector test. Repeat a lie enough times, and the brain will simply reconstruct the memory to accommodate the lie and it will become truth.

It was one of the reasons why witnesses could be unreliable—especially if something happened suddenly or was shockingly violent. The older the memory, the more likely it was to end up altered—not because the witnesses intentionally altered it, but because they internalized other people’s narratives, news reports—hell, even dreams of the incident could introduce things that weren’t there in reality, and those things would get stuck in the actual memory.

That didn’t mean that a person was incapable of remembering something correctly—and some people admittedly had better memories than others—but it did mean that you should be cautious. Two witnesses saying the same thing were better than one—especially if they weren’t in contact. If they were close—family members, friends, or neighbors—then, as they talked about the incident and shared their version of it, their narratives would start to meld until they were more or less telling the same story—even if they had originally remembered two different things. That’s why interviewing witnesses separately and quickly was crucial; the mind did funny things with memories; it corrupted them even as it attempted to save them.

It gradually dawned on Scott that his thoughts had been wandering randomly for nearly a half hour—namely because neither he nor Josie were talking.

He didn’t like the silence; it was foreboding. It could just be because they were heading into the lion’s den, but Scott feared it was because of Josie’s pregnancy. He worried—perhaps justly, perhaps only out of paranoia—that a rift was growing between them. Did Josie blame him? After all, he was the one who was supposed to be sterile. He had put her in this situation.

The appropriate thing to do would be voice his concerns. He ought to ask her, point-blank, if she harbored any resentment towards him and if she was contemplating leaving him.

Instead, he broke the very pregnant silence—no pun intended—with: “Clarice’s birthday is right the corner and I don’t have anything picked out for her. What do you think I should get?”

“She’s going to be ten, right?”

“Yeah.” Just thinking about that made him depressed. He kept telling himself that it didn’t matter to him, since he wasn’t actually getting any older, but it still seemed sad that his daughter’s childhood was flying past. Before he knew it, she’d be grown and probably moved away.

Josie pressed her lips together, looking thoughtful. “She might like makeup.”

Scott shuddered. “She’s too young for that.”

“She’s too young to wear it out, but that doesn’t mean she can’t play with it. Most girls like playing with makeup—like dressing up.”

“I don’t think her mother would appreciate me getting her makeup.”

“Does Maggie not wear any?”

“Not much.” Saying so surprised Scott. He hadn’t ever thought about it before, but Maggie had worn very little makeup. Josie, on the other hand, was always nicely made up. It wasn’t that he felt makeup was a necessity—Josie was still pretty, even when she wasn’t wearing it—but it just further reinforced the difference between her and his ex.

“Is that because she doesn’t want to, or doesn’t believe in it?” Josie asked.

“I’m not sure. That’s why I don’t really want to test it.”

“Of course, Clarice could keep it at your house and Maggie need never know,” she offered.

Scott waved his hands. “I don’t want to get her any,” he said. “It’s a short jump from wearing makeup to being interested in boys.”

Josie laughed.

“What?” Scott demanded.

“I think you’ve got that backwards.”

“What… boys come first, then the makeup?”

“Yep.”

“Are… you just speaking in general, or do you know something I don’t?”

“Both.”

Scott felt a little sick to his stomach. “Who is he?”

“Some boy named Jeremy. He’s a grade older.” Josie said this with great emphasis, as if it was very significant.

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

Josie laughed. “Don’t worry; apparently he doesn’t know she exists. That’s why she was asking me what she could do to get his attention.”

“Definitely no make-up. I don’t want her to have his attention.”

“Scott, little girls get crushes on little boys; it’s normal.”

“At ten years old?” he asked incredulously.

She laughed at him again. “Hell, Scott, my first great love was in kindergarten. Actually, come to think of it,” she said thoughtfully, “I think I had two. I had a crush on David—a boy in my synagogue class—and Ian, a boy at school.”

“Both at once?”

“Yeah. That way, I never had to go too long without seeing one or the other.” She grinned. “David was my first kiss. Somehow, we ended up in the synagogue library together—it was dark because the lights were out—and I told him he should kiss me, and he did. Then I ran out, because I was suddenly bashful.”

“Your first kiss was in kindergarten?” he said, appalled. But Josie’s tone was more blissful; for her, it was a sweet memory.

“Yeah. I seem to recall I told him our parents had arranged our marriage when we were born, so we might as well start acting like a married couple.” She laughed at her own boldness. “I have no idea where I came up with that. I think I might have just lied to get him to kiss me.”

“So, what you’re saying is you lied to seduce a boy in synagogue? And here I was worried about what the boy might do. You’re obviously ten times worse.”

She just laughed unapologetically.

He shook his head. “I can’t imagine what my Sunday School teacher would have said if I had done that. Condemned me to hell, I’m sure.”

“Welcome to the differences between Jew and Gentile.”

Scott looked out over the dark road, the white line reflectors flashing in the headlights. “I have a feeling I’m going to get schooled in those differences a lot tonight.”

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

One Writing Project Down, Eleven More to Go

Alright, time for me to peek in on my blog again. This is starting to become a monthly tradition… or maybe that’s quarterly.

Even if I’m not writing on my blog, though, I am doing some writing.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally finished my fan fiction. Mind you, this was just something I was playing around with while I was in the process of moving and couldn’t devote myself to my regular work. My motivation was to see if I could write a game—complete with background story, character development, weapons, dungeons, bosses, etc.

Conclusion? Why yes, I can write a game (provided said game broke the mold and was a two-player interface instead of a solo player).

Things I learned in the process:

  1. Writing an entire game by yourself is harder than you would think. I didn’t have a problem with developing a storyline, but coming up with different weapons and bosses was hard. And we won’t even get into how to make mazes. I stand in awe of the maze developers.
  2. You have to plot adventures. This is really important, as you need to know what people and things you will need later. For example, weapons are often introduced before they’re needed—or they might be needed multiple times.
  3. Even when I have a plot, I still “pants.” I found writing just to a plot was rather restricting (suffocating, even)—especially as I came up with good ideas along the way. So, what happened in actuality, was that I pantsed between (and sometimes in the middle of) plotted chapters.
  4. When you simultaneously pants and plot, you end up with twice as much product as you intended.

How much product, you ask?

Originally, I plotted 50 chapters—certainly a respectable amount when you consider that my shortest chapters were around 1,200 words, and major chapters—dungeons and bosses—could have as many as 8,000-12,000 words.

The reality? This story clocks in at 114 chapters and 459,339 words.

Let that sink in for a minute. Acceptance, which is, according to industry standards, a bit on the long side for a first novel—even one that’s urban fantasy—has approximately 109,000 words.

My fanfic is a little longer than four Acceptance novels—or, in other words, as long as the entire planned series.

The Flames of Prague, which is long even to historical fiction standards, is roughly 80,000 words. It would take nearly six of those to equal this one fan fiction.

It took me right at a year and a half to write it. That means I averaged 25,519 words per month—or roughly half the speed you work during a NaNo month—only this lasted 18 consecutive months.

I’m not disappointed by those figures. If I applied that same work ethic to my new stuff, then I could turn out a historical fiction novel roughly every three months. (Of course it’s not the writing part that’s really time-consuming; it’s the editing. Editing takes two or three times longer than the initial writing, I’ve found.)

Maybe one of these days I can afford to hire an editor/proofreader to do that heavy lifting and I can put more of my effort into writing new stuff. Just in the last year, I’ve come up with two more ideas for historical novels (I’m loathe to call one a romance, since the lovers will die at the end). That makes a grand total of three historical romance novels waiting in the production line, not counting the sequel to Flames, a potential sequel to the sequel, or any of the Acceptance series (of which there are three more to go, plus an estimated 3 prequels).

I don’t have to worry about widespread writer’s block any time soon; I have enough to keep me busy for some years.

Now that my fanfic is done, I plan on turning back to The Flames of Prague. It’s had a major edit already, and I’ve handwritten the secondary edit; I just need to get those corrections typed up. Then it will need to undergo several rounds of proofreading. I’m hopeful that I can get it out by the end of the year.

I also plan on picking up The Bloodsuckers again. I’m not sure if I want to commit to one episode a week again. That has its benefits—in that it prevents procrastination, and desperation can shake all sorts of things loose—but it also its drawbacks in that it forces smaller episodes and more filler. My fan fiction was written as a serial novel, but I rarely did one chapter a week; it was more like one chapter every 2-3 weeks. This allowed me to make longer chapters (something a lot of people have complained about with Bloodsuckers). Another thing is that the quality of writing seems better in my fanfic. This could be because practice makes perfect (if you’ve got one million words of crap in you, then I just sloughed about half of that; including the other stuff I’ve written, I’ve passed the one million word mark), but it could also be that I took more time with my fanfic; I didn’t feel the need to hurry things along until the very end, when I just got tired of it and was ready to move on to other things.

I think I might try plotting some of The Bloodsuckers, too, because I want it to take a darker and more adventurous turn. Plotting will allow me to set up some situations and characters that will come into play in the future. It will also help me avoid sitting at a blank computer screen and wondering what in the world I’m going to do next. When in doubt, follow the plot. But if I want to go off-script a little, too, there’s room for that.

Just as my fan fiction started with a challenge—to see if I could write a video game—The Bloodsuckers originally started with a challenge, too: to see if I could write a serial novel of equivalent size and scope as Varney the Vampire. My fan fiction has proven that I can lay down some serious wordage when I want to (although it’s still nearly 200,000 words short of old Varney), so it’s not a matter of if, but of when.

And, to that end, expect to see a new episode shortly.

It’s a Blog Post about Nothing!

So, how did my weekend go?

I did no work on my fanfic and no work on the hubby’s Viking outfit. I did, however, (at the last minute and at great expense) put together my group’s newsletter (a needful thing, since it was due Monday) and I built the most awesome medieval house for my Sims ever!

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Now, you might legitimately ask, “How does building the most awesome medieval house ever further this month’s goals of making a Viking outfit and completing your fanfic?”

It doesn’t.

Of course, I could make the argument that I’ve been really busy lately and wasn’t recovered from last weekend’s demonstration and campout, and therefore I needed to sit on my ass and do mind-numbing tasks like scour The Sims Resource for blacksmith tools (found an anvil and hammer, but no forge) and laundry room supplies (found the mother-load!).

But that would sound like an excuse.

I could also make the argument that the Sims can actually be a great tool for writers because it allows you to design houses and other buildings that only exist in your head. Houses contained solely in the head are often vague and incorrectly proportioned; putting them “on paper” (if you will) allows you to correct design flaws and have an actual model to work from; your descriptions will be richer.

But the house I built doesn’t exist in any of my novels.

So, yeah, I totally goofed-off this weekend. And I don’t feel the least bit remorseful; it felt good to do a lot of nothing after doing a lot of everything; I wish I could have one more day of doing nothing. It was the ultimate in introvert recharging. Hopefully it will now give me the boost I need to knuckle down on my sewing and writing projects.

Speaking of which, I wasn’t totally unproductive on the writing front since my last post; Friday, during my lunch hour, I made a new…

Wait for it…

…Bloodsuckers episode!

Are you ready for the catch? (You know there’s a catch; if I had an episode ready, I would have posted it instead of this.)

It’s out of sequence. As is typical with me, I’ve written a scene in advance. I still have to go back and reread the series (because I’ve forgotten parts of it) and pick it back up with Scott meeting Josie’s parents for the first time at Hanukkah. The main reason why I stopped working on the story when I did was because I have no idea how to roll with that scene. It’s obviously going to be ugly, but it needs to be so ugly it’s good. I have high expectations, since I feel that the Halloween episode was the best one of the entire series; Scott meeting Josie’s parents should be no less great.

In other words, I’m paralyzed by my own sense of perfection.

But, if I can ever get over that hump, I’ll be good for a little while, because I’ve actually got several future episodes lined up and waiting in the wings.

With my fanfic hopefully off the table by the end of the month, we shall have to see if we can’t make December’s goal resurrecting The Bloodsuckers.

(You know, for a hare-brained idea born out of a concept for a sitcom based on the crazy stuff that happened in the law office where I worked, I’m really surprised at how well-received the series has been. People that I would have never expected to like something like that—like my mother and vampire-hating friend, Carla—frequently badger me for new episodes. People I barely know will randomly say, “I read your Bloodsuckers; when are you going to write more?”

People just like the idea of a real, blood-sucking lawyer. Or maybe they like the idea of a good guy who has been down on his luck, but is trying to make the best of life. Scott is a vampire, but he’s also an everyman.)

Oh, and because I know you’re reading this, Michelle, I did re-read Imminent Danger this weekend (between anvil and laundry basket downloads). All I can say is the next book better involve a trip to Rakor and I think a baby at some point would not be remiss, either. What better way to make Eris and Varrin even more hunted than if she was carrying the ultimate in royal bloodline corruption? Just sayin’.

(And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should check out Michelle Proulx’s book, Imminent Danger and How to Fly Straight Into It. It’s a fun, romantic science-fiction romp. Michelle’s really great at imagining (and describing) aliens and I’m envious of her ability to create a believable anti-hero.)

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 41: Girding the Loins

Scott lived life in a fog after Josie’s announcement that she was pregnant. He went to court mechanically and, if not for his notes, would have forgotten he had met with most of his clients.

Clarice had been a planned baby. That Clarice didn’t have any siblings had also been planned.

Come to think of it, everything in Scott’s life had been planned well in advance. He took his time and thought through his decisions and mapped everything out in advance. He saved his money and paid cash for nearly everything.

Then he had become a vampire quite unexpectedly, and nothing had gone as planned since.

Josie got in the habit of waking up earlier in the afternoon so she could go ahead and get the puking out of her system, then she came to work, as robotic and mindless as Scott. Whereas she had always been the one to keep him on track, sometimes he had to remind her to do something two or three times. She was always exhausted by the end of the night. When she stayed the day with him—which she had started doing again—she curled up on his couch and usually cried herself to sleep before the Today show came on.

Scott wished he could make her feel better—both physically and mentally—but he had no idea how to do it. His own mental stability was questionable at the moment.

So, needless to say, he was brutally jarred on Thursday afternoon when Josie mentioned them going to her brother’s house the following evening.

“What? We are?” Scott asked, snapping out of his stupor.

“Yes, it’s Hanukkah. Remember? I told you it was the first Friday of December.”

Scott’s eyes grew wider in panic. “I have to meet your parents tomorrow?”

“Yes. We planned this over a month ago,” she said, sounding annoyed.

“Well, I’ve had a lot on my mind,” Scott snapped back, “like, you know, that whole unplanned pregnancy thing. That kind of threw all my plans out the window.”

He immediately regretted his words when he saw Josie’s lower lip quiver.

He pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I didn’t plan this either, you know,” she said, her voice heavy with tears.

“I know, sweetheart. I know.” He sighed heavily, feeling weary. The last thing he wanted to do was battle with Josie’s parents in the middle of their current crisis. He felt lost—like he was wandering in circles, unsure of which way to go.

Sometimes he thought about the possibility of an abortion, but he felt uncomfortable bringing it up to Josie, in case the mere mention of it caused her to have a come-apart; after all, he knew her to be somewhat religious, and he wasn’t sure what the Jewish position on abortion was. Besides, he wasn’t sure if he was okay with the idea, anyways. Besides the usual moral questions, there was an extra layer of: was Josie’s pregnancy some kind of miracle? There had been times when he had wished he had more children; in fact, he had daydreamed on more than one occasion of what life might be like if he wasn’t a vampire and he and Josie could have a child or two together.

Now he had his wish. So why did it bother him so much?

Maybe it was because he and Josie weren’t married. Scott would admit he was rather old-fashioned; the idea of having a bastard child made him cringe inside. He felt like a failure as a man—that he hadn’t done right by Josie. Her pregnancy was his fault. He led her on with false promises of sterility.

And when he had time to worry about anything else, he worried about the baby’s health. Could Josie even carry it to term? Would it be grossly deformed? After all, he had been exposed to a strong dose of radiation; that mutated your sperm, didn’t it? What if the baby had three eyes or no face or an extra arm? And even if it looked normal, would it really be normal? What if it was a vampire, like him? Would it drink blood instead of milk? What if it never aged, like him? Could he and Josie handle having a newborn baby for the rest of their lives?

And what was he going to tell Clarice? The thought of confessing to her that he and Josie were having a baby out of wedlock started his cycle of shame all over again.

He tried to look at the situation as glass-half-full. Compared to the unexpected news that they were expecting, Josie’s parents—whatever their treatment of him—would be a walk in the park; they couldn’t be worse or more devastating. And he and Josie had a uniting factor in the face of her parents’ attempts to split them up: a baby’s future was on the line.

Somehow that twisted logic made him feel a little better. He gave Josie a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll get through this,” he said, with renewed resolve.

“The baby or my parents?”

“Both.”

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 40: Surprise!

Scott was growing concerned. Josie’s stomach bug had lasted most of the week. He had always thought those things were 24-48 hour deals.

She came in to work a couple of nights, after midnight, saying that she was feeling better and thought she might finally be shaking it loose, only to be sick again the next afternoon. She finally gave up and went to see her doctor.

When Scott got up that evening, he tried calling her to see what she found out, but her phone went straight into voicemail. He tried texting her off and on throughout the night, but she never responded.

That wasn’t like her; before, she had always called to tell him she either wouldn’t be in at all, or would try to come in late. He wondered if the doctor gave her something strong that knocked her out. That wasn’t a very comforting, though, though, since she lived alone. What if she wasn’t able to take care of herself?

He hemmed and hawed about going to her house to check on her, but he finally talked himself out of it; if she was resting, he didn’t want to disturb her. And she had obviously turned off her phone for a reason.

But when he got up the following afternoon and she still hadn’t responded to his texts and still wouldn’t answer her phone, he resolved to go to her house immediately. He threw on some jeans and a polo shirt—both gifts from Josie because she felt sorry he didn’t have anything to wear except suits—and paced the floor of his living room impatiently, waiting for the daylight to fade sufficiently. Po watched him anxiously, as if he knew something was wrong.

Half an hour later, he took Po out for a brief walk, then shut him up again in the basement. The building was dark and empty and echoing as he walked up the hallway to the front door.

Scott had really missed Josie over the past week; he had never fully appreciated how much she lit up his life until he had to spend long amounts of time alone. And even when she had been at work during the past week, she had clearly not felt well, because she didn’t smile and joke and laugh like she normally did.

Scott went to the grocery store first to pick up a dozen pink roses for her, then he swung back by her house. From the outside, everything looked normal. Scott wasn’t sure what he expected it to look like, since Josie had only been sick a week, but he felt like the house or yard or something should reflect its owner’s illness.

He hid the flowers behind his back and rang her doorbell. It only occurred to him afterward that if she was too sick to answer her phone, she was probably too sick to get the door. What if she was lying in the floor, unable to get up?

He resolved to break down the door if she didn’t answer the bell after a few minutes.

But, before he could be driven to heroics, Josie opened the door. Scott was shocked by how pale and weak she looked—and how un-Josie. Her hair wasn’t combed, much less styled, she had on no makeup, and she was wearing a pair of knit pajama bottoms and a tank top. She looked like death warmed over. Whatever the doctor had given her, it didn’t seem to be working.

She looked almost surprised to see him. “Scott, what are you doing here?”

He pulled the flowers out and handed them to her. “I hadn’t heard from you since you went to the doctor, and I was afraid you might be so sick or drugged out that you couldn’t take care of yourself. So I came to help.”

She briefly smiled, then he watched her face fall again. “Actually… I need to talk to you,” she said, her voice hollow and a bit resigned. “I… just didn’t know how to do it. So, I guess it’s good you came by.” She stepped back to allow him into the house.

But Scott didn’t budge. His lifeless lump of a heart had just fallen to his feet.

“Josie…” he began to plead. He wasn’t sure what to say, but he knew he had to say something. A “Dear John” talk was eminent. If he didn’t head her off at the pass, the next thing out of her mouth was going to be “it’s not you; it’s me.” Or the dreaded “I still want to be friends.”

She took him by the arm, gently tugging him inside. “Don’t look like a sad puppy or you’re going to make me cry.”

He let her lead him into the living room. “I can’t help it; you’re about to make me sad, aren’t you?”

“‘Sad’ isn’t the word I would choose….”

He sat down on her couch. “Give it to me,” he said, sounding more steeled than he really was. Inside he was flinching, knowing the pain was about to come.

Josie put the flowers down on the coffee table, sat beside him on the couch—turned to look at him—and took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant. The doctor did a pregnancy test on me yesterday and…” she spread her hands helplessly, “I’m pregnant.”

Scott was stunned into silence. That hadn’t been what he was expecting at all. In fact, nothing could have possibly been further from his mind.

Crickets chirped somewhere in the living room. A dust bunny rolled across the living room floor.

“Whose is it?” he finally managed to ask in a choked voice.

“I knew you were going to say that!” she accused him angrily. “I knew it!”

“Well, what did you think I was going to say?” Scott said, raising his voice. “Vampires are sterile, so I know it’s not mine.”

“Scott, I haven’t slept with another man since we started dating. No, scratch that—since I started sleeping with you. Even before we actually started dating, I wasn’t sleeping around.”

He continued to look at her skeptically. Vampires were sterile; that was a known medical fact.

Josie glared at him, then stomped off into another part of the house. She returned a moment holding a large, hardback book. “What do you think about this?” she asked, thrusting it angrily into his face.

The red-bound book glowed with the light of the sun, blinding Scott; at the same time, he felt an invisible force push him back. He was lying on the couch before he knew it.

Josie pulled the book back, and the force and light went away.

“What the hell was that?” Scott demanded.

Josie knelt in the floor on the other side of the coffee table and put the book on top. “It’s a Torah,” she replied. “I told you I don’t believe in a Christian bible, but I do believe in this—as you can see.”

Scott sat up slowly, feeling very confused. “What has that got to do with anything?”

Josie put her hand on top of the book. “I swear on the Torah, and on my ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, that since you and I have been together, I have not had sex with another man. I am pregnant with your child, so help me God.”

Scott sat there for a long moment in silence. Looking into Josie’s fierce eyes—and knowing she was swearing an oath before a God she very much believed in—he couldn’t help but believe her.

“O-okay,” he finally stuttered.

“Do you believe me?” she demanded, still looking fierce. Even if he hadn’t, he might have lied just because he was a little afraid of her.

“Yes,” he replied honestly.

“Good,” she said, getting to her feet and returning the book to the case in the dining room. When she came back into the living room a few moments later, she plopped down on the couch next to him, still in a bit of a huff.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I have never had unprotected sex before in life,” she said, sounding rather bitter. “I only did with you because vampires aren’t supposed to be fertile or have any diseases.”

“I didn’t have any diseases before,” Scott hurried to assure her.

“Good. Because if someone’s lied about vampires’ fertility, they might have lied about the STDs, too.”

They sat in silence for several minutes. Scott was almost afraid to say anything, but he finally decided that they had to move—either forward or backwards; they couldn’t sit still forever.

“So…” he said slowly, “now what?”

“I have no idea,” she said helplessly, before bursting into tears.

“Hey,” he said soothingly, “hey, it’s okay. It’ll be okay.” He reached for her and gently pulled her to his side. She wrapped her arms around him, clinging desperately as she sobbed.

Scott rubbed her back, and took stock of the situation. He was forty-four—nearly forty-five—years old, and in defiance of all known medical science, he had gotten his twenty-nine year old secretary pregnant out-of-wedlock.

Either God hated him, or He had a twisted sense of humor.

 

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee