Writing Wednesday: Falling into Neverland

I recently took a trip to London, my favorite city.  There are endless literary connections (and I made some connections to the recently-read London) but the most prevalent one for me is always Peter Pan–or more precisely, it’s prequel, The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens.  I wanted a writing project while I was traveling (because I write every day!) so the natural one to work on was a Peter Pan-related short story I’ve had in mind.

One of my writer friends invited me to contribute to a planned anthology of short stories, all based around a central concept–bookshops where people can actually enter into the books they open.  Each short story will focus on a different character entering a different book.  Peter Pan is in the public domain (mostly–it’s complicated) opening it up for this sort of story.

So I did my daily writing on vacation by working on the story of Will, who found himself falling into Peter Pan…literally!  Here’s an excerpt.


Will took the book into his hands.  It felt oddly warm, but not in a bad way.  It was a friendly sort of feeling.  He meant to open the book to the first page, but the pages seemed to twist within his fingers, and he opened instead to perhaps a quarter of the way through.

He had just read, “When playing Follow my Leader, Peter would fly close to the water and touch each shark’s tail in passing, just as in the street you may run your finger along an iron railing” when the bookshop—and rather importantly, the floor—dissolved around him.

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Writing Wednesday: The Prince’s Friends

Continuing the tale of my sequel story, “The Princess Beyond the Thorns,” in writing the second story I had to introduce far more characters.  The first one had only Rose, Terrence, and a couple of kittens, with brief appearances by Rose’s parents in her memories.  The second one brings us back to the castle, and besides introducing Terrence’s father (as I shared in the excerpt last week), I wanted Terrence to have friends too.  This week’s excerpt introduces a couple of them.


The door opened to admit two strangers, a man and a woman.  Both were dressed in the silks and elegance of the court, both perhaps a few years older than Terrence.  The woman was tiny, but even in crossing the room it was evident she was a bundle of energy.  The man was tall with the build of a warrior, and walked more slowly as he entered, favoring one leg in a slight limp.

“Good morning!” the woman chirped, then said over her shoulder, “You see, I told you she’d be awake.”  To Rose again, she said, “Do forgive the intrusion, but we wanted to catch you before the court swallowed you up.  I’m Lady Elena Worthington, and this is my husband, Sir Henry.  May we join you?”

“Please,” Rose said, faintly bemused, and indicated the extra, she had thought unnecessary, chairs at her breakfast table.

Lady Elena sat down across from Rose, folded her hands in her lap and put all her energy into her direct gaze.  “Practically everyone in this castle is going to be trying to figure out if you’re a suitable kind of princess, suitable to sit on the throne and suitable to bear the legend.  We’re not like that.  We want to know if you’re suitable for Terrence.”


Writing Wednesday: Beyond the Thorns

After I finished my week (or eight days) of short story writing, I wasn’t quite ready to go back to my novel.  I wrote about my break-out story, “The Princess Behind the Thorns,” and I didn’t feel like that was entirely done yet.  Even when I wrote the apparently happy ending, I knew I left a lot unresolved, and things weren’t going to go smoothly for the characters in the immediate future.

So I decided to write that story, about what happens after the spell is lifted and Princess Rose and Prince Terrence go home.  This became “The Princess Beyond the Thorns,” and the brief excerpt below may give you some idea of what they’re up against in this second part of the story.


The king.  They were coming closer to the king now, and though Terrence had told her his father was a hard man, Rose found herself searching for something, some hope, in his face.  Some hint of Terrence’s kindness.  The king was older than her father had been.  His hair was gray but his back was still straight, his hands strong as they grasped the arms of the throne.  She could see something of Terrence in his eyebrows, in the shape of his jaw.  But the eyes were dark, not Terrence’s blue, and they were coldly assessing her as she approached.

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Writing Wednesday: 7 Stories, 7 Days – #8

My goal with this writing effort was to write seven short stories in seven days.  #7, “The Princess Behind the Thorns,” stretched to two days and 9,000 words.  After I finished it, I found I wasn’t quite done with the project.  So on day 9, I wrote one more story.  After that I went on to other projects…until the next time I decide to write a spurt of short stories!  I really enjoyed the project, and loved the chance to invest deeply but briefly in new worlds and characters.

I also enjoyed the chance to write in different styles than usual.  This last story, “Cinderella’s Dresses,” is obviously a fairy tale twist, but darker than most of what I write.  Here’s the beginning, written from the prompt, “The dress spoke for her.”


The dress spoke for her.  It said wealth, power, beauty.  It said she belonged, amongst this august company who glittered and glimmered in the candlelight.  She never had to say a word.  The footman let her in without a murmur, without asking her name, without looking for an invitation.  The dress said she was meant to be here.

It was the dress that told the prince to approach her, as she stood near the bottom of the stair, suddenly afraid to take the last few steps down to the shining ballroom floor, to enter into that whirling, elegant throng.  She knew she would be lost among them, not knowing where to turn, what to do.  The dress shimmered and glowed and beckoned the prince away from the girl he had been eying with a considering favor, to approach her instead, to bow and to extend his hand.

The dress seemed almost to dance for her too, its full skirts whisking about her legs, twirling and floating and carrying her along with the music in the prince’s arms.  When he whirled her away from the crowd, out into the moonlit garden, the dress spoke for her then too, rustling as they walked, whispering that she had secrets.  But the whisper of silk could only hint at elegant secrets, rich secrets, aristocratic secrets.  When he plied her with questions and she blushed and demurred, the dress whispered that all was well, that her story was a delightful one, that someday he would be so pleasantly surprised when he learned the truth.

When the clock struck midnight, the dress all but carried her away.  She ran away down the path, feeling her skirts growing slight and intangible in her hands as she lifted them to flee.  The dress distracted her, its thinning, dissolving remnants twining about her legs, so she didn’t judge the steps correctly, so she stumbled and lost one shoe.  The dress was mere cobwebs and air now, and she didn’t dare to stop, even to pick up that one glittering shoe left behind.

She limped home, retired to her small bed by the fire, and lay awake until nearly dawn, trying to decide if the ball had been the most delightful thing that had ever happened to her, or simply terrifying.

Writing Wednesday: 7 Stories, 7 Days – #7.5

Two weeks ago for Writing Wednesday I wrote about my run away idea, the story that became “The Princess Behind the Thorns.”  I didn’t manage to finish the story in a single day, considering it stretched to 9,000 words, so I finished it on the second day.  I don’t think I knew quite how it was going to turn out until I got there–although to be honest, with a story written that fast, it’s hard to remember the order different ideas arrived in!

For the eighth day and seventh story of my flash fiction writing challenge, here’s another excerpt from “The Princess Behind the Thorns.”  This excerpt is quite near the end, after a prince has come to rescue Rose, but that didn’t go as expected either…


            Rose sat up, looking out through the gaps in the bower’s woven walls.  There was blackness all around them.

“I think the spell’s breaking down,” Terrence said, sitting up too, staring at the shadows around them.  “That’s the only explanation, it’s been too much time and the magic is coming apart.”

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Writing Wednesday: Notre Dame Cathedral

I and many, many people were rocked this week by the fire that broke out at Notre Dame Cathedral Monday night.  I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled series of posts on recent short stories to share how Notre Dame Cathedral has figured in my writing, which points in many ways to my feelings about the cathedral.  A beautiful architectural treasure, it’s also a touchpoint with history.  I visited the cathedral in 2012 and 2016, and characters in my Phantom trilogy visited in 1881.  The ability to visit the same place that was standing centuries ago is breathtaking.

More than that, Notre Dame is a constant.  I’m so relieved that the most recent news suggests Monday’s fire marks a new chapter in Notre Dame’s long but continuing story.  For a few hours, it looked like it could be the end of the story, and I found it impossible to imagine a world without Notre Dame Cathedral by the Seine.

Which is exactly how it appears in my Phantom trilogy as well–Meg in particular views it as a reliable source of constancy.  Outside of the Opera Garnier (which is the setting for probably 90% of the trilogy), Notre Dame is the number one setting, woven into some of the most meaningful scenes, and a symbol of stability in an unstable world.  Some passages were seeming painfully ironic on Monday–now, perhaps, they’re just a little more poignant?

Here are a few Notre Dame passages from my novels.


In Book One, Meg believes she may have to leave Paris soon, and looks for some comfort in the face of those worries.

I kept walking forward because it was the easiest direction, gazing into the distance without paying attention to the view.  I had been staring at Notre Dame’s towers for at least a block before I properly realized it.

I could go there.  I didn’t know anywhere more serene, stable and unmoving than Notre Dame Cathedral.  Where better to go when my world had fallen out of balance?  And it couldn’t be anything worse than the last visit for now.  Beignets and booksellers’ stalls were fleeting, the Opera Garnier might close its doors to me, but I could always go back to Notre Dame.  Maybe not soon, not if we moved away, but Notre Dame would never be gone.  I’d be back someday.

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Writing Wednesday: 7 Stories, 7 Days – #7

Day 7 of this writing experiment was my jackpot day.  I liked everything I wrote, some more than others, but Day 7 was when a run-away idea took hold and didn’t let go for most of the day.  You know how people describe some books as ones they can’t put down?  Once in a very great while I have an idea like that, that has to get typed up as fast as possible and won’t leave me be until it’s done.  I love days like that.

On Day 7, I set a personal word count record, typing around 6,000 words.  That turned out to be about two-thirds of “The Princess Behind Thorns,” a kind of Sleeping Beauty story, though a great many things are different from the traditional tale.  My story is about Princess Rose Amelia, who is very much awake, but trapped by a spell in a garden behind thorns.  And the prompt that inspired it all was “The garden shrank at night.”  Here’s a bit from near the beginning.


            Tonight was worse than it had ever been.  She had been out on the wide lawn with her cats, so big a lawn that by day she didn’t even mind the thorns bordering the far side.  Her latest two kittens, Silvertips and Emerald Eyes, were especially adorable today.  She had been teasing them with a long grass stem, laughing at their antics, and she hadn’t noticed the descending sun until the shadows had nearly reached them.

She looked up at a sudden chill on the back of her neck, scrambled instinctively backwards away from the reaching shadow of the thorns.  It was long, so, so long, deep, deep black, and mere feet away from her.  For a moment she tried to look through the shadows, to see the grass that had to be there, that had been there minutes before.

Nothing but blackness.

In another moment she jumped to her feet, caught up a squirming kitten in each hand, and ran.  She ran through her garden, heart pounding in her chest, ran through the paths she knew by heart, and shied away from even normal shadows.

It wasn’t only the shadows.  It was the noise.  The sound of creaking, rustling, scraping branches.  The thorns were moving, swaying and shaking and writhing.  There was often a gentle, tricksy breeze in her garden, but the thorns moved like they were caught in a storm, a malevolent, howling storm.  Except that there was no wind at all.

She ran all the way to her bower, dropped the kittens and fell onto her bed.  She hadn’t been a child for many, many years, but some buried instinct told her that she was safe with the blanket over her head.  She lay huddled there, shaking, listening to the thorns moan, for a long, long time.  The kittens scrambled in beside her, and only their warm furry comfort let her finally fall asleep.

In the morning the sun rose and all seemed well.  She walked the edges of her garden, exploring.  Half-afraid of what she would find, eying any shadows suspiciously.  But all seemed well.

Until night, when the shadows reached out and the thorns moaned again.