By Anita Clenney
It's a brand new year and I'm looking for a brand new me. This past year was wonderful with so many firsts. First sale, first edits with my editor, first copy edits. I survived it all, and I enjoyed it, but now I'm looking for ways to make myself more productive, work smarter - not harder, have a better attitude, and get my priorities straight. At the moment, they're slightly askew.
I'm starting book three in this series and it got me thinking about how a story starts. I love new stories because I'm like a kid with crayons and a blank sheet of paper. I can go any direction, use any color, any shapes. But I have to have an idea to start, and if it's a series, the new book has to be great on it's own, but make sense within the series as well.
I love plotting and brainstorming. I think it's my favorite part of writing. I usually mull over a story for a few days, plotting as I drive or as I'm falling asleep. I build it in my head, then start notes which transform into a synopsis. I seem to be turning into more of a plotter than a pantser, although I always change things around as inspiration strikes.
I love hearing other writers talk about where their ideas come from and how they shape stories. So how do you start a story? Where do your ideas come from? Do you plot or just dive in? Do you start too soon, then have to go back and cut. That's what happened on my first book. My agent had me cut the entire first chapter. At first, I balked, but after reading it I realized she was right. I've posted it here.
Awaken the Highland Warrior, release date May 1.
“Bury it.” The whisper rasped against darkness as lightning split the sky.
“But Master, the storm—”
“Now,” Druan roared.
A grimy hand, fingers unnaturally long, lowered the vault lid and turned the key, locking the prisoner inside.
“Mark this place, and guard the key.”
The night flashed, illuminating a dozen men digging furiously in the earth, rain running in rivulets down mud-streaked faces, as the vault disappeared into the ground. The soft thud of dirt on metal was lost to the crash of thunder, and another bolt ripped through the heavens, as if God himself raged against the desecration taking place below.
Skin stretched, bones cracked and popped. A scream of triumph pierced the night as the last shovel of dirt fell.
It was finished.
Nothing could stop him now.
Bree’s fingers tightened around the metal disk as she ran through the graveyard, zigzagging past leaning headstones. Her lantern swayed, throwing shadows on the crypt looming before her, its stone walls the color of bones. Thick vines crept over it, sealing in cracks left by time, while gnarled branches from the twisted oak hovered like outstretched arms. Protecting… or threatening?
An owl screeched overhead as she scurried up the crumbling steps, wishing night hadn’t fallen, when shadows twisted into monsters and spirits came out to play. The burial vault lay open near the back of the crypt, waiting. Blood roared past her ears, like all the angels’ wings beating in unison. She moved closer and peered at the chest inside. It was ornate, made of metal and wood, with green gemstones embedded in each corner. It looked ancient, like it belonged in a museum or a pyramid, or perhaps Solomon’s Temple. The beauty of it struck her again, as it had when she’d first discovered it.
She set the lantern on the edge of the burial vault and studied the markings on the chest. Swirls and shapes like writing shifted in the amber glow. Stretching out a finger, she touched the surface. Warm? She yanked her hand back and hit the lantern. It crashed to the floor, throwing the top of the crypt into darkness. Dropping to her knees, she scrambled for the light. A sound cut through the silence, scraping, like fingernails against stone. She grabbed the lantern, not daring to blink, then remembered the wind outside and the claw-like branches of the old tree.
She placed the lantern securely on the vault cover she’d pushed onto the alcove and unfolded her hand. The metal disk she held was three inches in diameter and appeared to be made from the same metal as the chest, not silver, not gold. One side had deep grooves; the other was etched with symbols. With trembling fingers, she lined up the disk with the matching grooves on top of the chest and pushed. There was a series of clicks as the notched edges retracted.
A voice brushed her ear. What lies within cannot be, until time has passed with the key.
Bree whirled, but she was alone. Only stone walls stood watch, their secrets hidden for centuries. It was sleep deprivation, not ghosts.
She pulled in a slow, steadying breath and tried to turn the disk. Nothing. Again, this time counterclockwise, and it began to move under her hand. She jerked her fingers back. A loud pop sounded and colors flashed… blue, orange, and green, swirling for seconds, and then they were gone. Great, hallucinations to go with the voices in her head.
Her body trembled as she gripped the lid. This was it. All her dreams held on a single pinpoint of time. If this ended up another wild goose chase, she was done. No more treasure hunts, no more mysteries, no more playing Indiana Jones. She’d settle down to a nice, ordinary, boring life. She counted.
She heaved open the chest.
Terror clawed its way to her throat, killing her scream.
The man inhaled one harsh breath and his eyes flew open, locking on Bree. A battle cry worthy of Braveheart echoed off the walls. Bree jumped back as metal flashed and a rush of air kissed her face. Petrified, she watched him crawl out of the burial vault, a wicked-looking dagger in his hand. Her scream tore loose as she turned and fled.
Fingers grazed her shoulder, and she glanced back. The last thing she saw before her feet tangled with the shovel was the dead man reaching for her. She fell, smashing her face against the stone floor, and then lurched to her feet. He towered over her, blocking her escape, so close she could see his pulse throbbing with life, even though he’d just climbed out of a tomb.
“Where’s Druan?” His voice was a growl, body taut, like a lion ready to pounce.
Bree stumbled backwards, but he followed, his eyes as hard and cold as the dagger at her throat. He scanned the shadows as if he expected a horde of demons to appear, before his fierce gaze settled on her again.
A thousand disjointed thoughts tumbled in her head as the blade pressed harder. “Who are you? How did you get here? Are you a ghost?” She wasn’t sure she believed in ghosts, but she also didn’t believe in dead men rising from their graves, and this one was wearing a kilt.
“A ghost?” Dark brows drew into a flat line. He lowered the dagger, opened his other hand, and stared at it. “No.” He didn’t sound sure.
She wasn’t, either. He looked too muscular for a spirit, but there was no doubt she was talking to a man who should be dead. And he was standing between her and the door.
The blade flashed, and Bree screamed. A trickle of red appeared on his palm. She pushed past him, but he caught her arm, spinning her around. A jolt shocked her, and they both flinched. His blood was warm and sticky against her skin. She decided she’d die fighting.
Pulling free, she grabbed the shovel from the floor and swung it at his head. He stopped it with one hand, tossed the shovel deep into the crypt, and shoved her against the wall. She flailed with her fists and then lifted her knee. He pinned it between his thighs. She was trapped. She sagged against him, waiting for the blade to plunge, but the only thing she felt was a hard body in damp clothes holding her still.
“Impossible,” he muttered, releasing her. He stepped back, the dagger still red with his blood. “Who are you?”
“I’m Bree. Who are you? Why did you do that?” she asked, staring at his hand.
“To be sure.” He wiped the blade on his kilt and slid it into a sheath at his side. “Where’s Druan?” he demanded.
“I don’t know anyone named Druan,” she said, wincing as she touched her stinging face. At least he’d put the dagger away.
He frowned and leaned closer, studying her cheek. She stood, not breathing, as warm, calloused fingers brushed her face and dark eyes reflected the lantern’s golden glow.
“It can’t be.” He stared at his hand as if it had betrayed him. “You fell hard,” he said, his voice softer, with an accent she couldn’t place. “Are you okay?”
No, she wasn’t okay. There was a dead man talking to her. And he looked familiar.
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