I may have disappeared for a little longer than expected but I have my reasons. Baby-proofing (always a pleasure because it means babies are coming to visit) was at the top of the priority list but my Microsoft Word program didn't catch a break, either. Glynn and I have been busy working on The Fourth Brother, the -- as it happens -- fourth story in the Mail Order Mischief saga. I'm happy to report that the manuscript has made it through its first and most challenging stage, the first draft. The story still has to be edited before it goes for a visit to our beta readers, but we’re feeling pretty happy with it right now.
Somehow, this edition became the longest M.O.M. story yet and that was so NOT the plan. Because, despite all appearances to the contrary, we did have a plan. We plotted the tale as tightly as we could, thinking a blow-by-blow, step-by-step outline would make for a fast write and a quick read. We’d even aimed for a specific word count – exactly as long as the first story in the series, One Bride for Seven Brothers. Then the characters in the sequel went off and did whatever they wanted, anyway, carrying the storyline into new directions. The word count kept growing, situations started evolving, and now we’re both wondering if the whole thing is going to end up the way we originally envisioned.
Probably not, I’m thinking. Possibly so, Glynn tells me.
Meanwhile, G.W. remains on the sidelines, enjoying the drama and reminding us that she's ready to beta read the latest addition to the saga. After all, she says, she was supposed to get the pages a couple of months ago. She’s absolutely right.
Well before we'd typed *end* on this sequel’s last page, I realized things had gone somewhat astray. I liked the changes even if I hadn't planned them. I thought the differences were interesting and true to the characters, but I wondered if maybe we should take a new approach the next time. If we were pantsers – writers who jump into each project with only the vaguest idea of what happens next – we’d certainly be able to start the next story more quickly. Plotting a novella takes us days and sometimes weeks, so what if we DIDN'T plot the next one? We could use that same time to get The Third Brother off of the ground and running. If we abandoned all attempts at planning the story, we’d be halfway through the second chapter before we knew it. After all, Fourth Brother had a six-page, single-spaced, outline and all that planning didn't exactly keep us on track. Oh, it kind of did, for maybe three-quarters of the way, but that's not the whole ride, is it? If I jumped in my little red car and went three-quarters of the way to La Jolla, I'd end up in the desert.
So I approached my honey and broached the idea of just going for it. He looked up from the printer (our editor favors paper pages, go figure), and he said,"You're not serious."
Shaking his head, he straightened the pages in his hands before saying, “Dobbins' Luck."
I knew instantly what he'd meant. In our house, Dobbins' Luck means you've gotten into a mess but somehow it's going to be okay. It's also the name of one of our unfinished efforts.It was meant to be a sequel to a science fiction novel we wrote years ago under a different pen name. That novel is absolutely packed with adventure, it was the first book we wrote together, and we loved the characters that populated it. Sadly, we were nearly alone in that affection; the British publisher that picked up the title struggled to sell copies of it. Once the rights reverted to us, we published it under our own banner and -- like the UK publisher -- wondered if an audience for the would-be series would ever appear.
*SPOILER ALERT* It turns out, no.
Even as this grew more evident day by day, Glynn suggested we write a sequel: Dobbins' Luck. Because nothing builds a fan base like doubling down on a book that very few people have read. And because I wanted to play with those characters again, I told him, "Sure." But this time, instead of spending a month plotting the novel, we'd just jump in and write it. It would be more fun that way. More spontaneous. Faster, too.
At first, it seemed that way. The pages streamed right along. Life was good. But then we came to this:
Waiting made Dobbins itch. Waiting, suspended five meters above a Snarden slug pit, awakened a curious feeling in him. It made him thankful.
After all, things could have been worse.
At first glance, his surroundings appeared quite harmless. He was in a large, airy room, its curved walls supported by exposed beams of native wood. Soft, violet light filtered down from cracks in the domed ceiling. The stone floor below was smooth and unblemished, save for an irregular opening at its center.
The opening revealed the black, liquid surface of the slug pit. Except for that, and a large planter of exotic flora lining the far wall, the room was empty.
Unless, Dobbins amended silently, you count me. Or the slugs. Or the corpse. What’s left of the corpse, anyway.
It was hard to tell exactly what it had been. The body was laying half-in, half-out of the planter, its torso stripped of flesh. The body parts that remained were a bilious green mixture of mold and rotting meat.
Dobbins felt the rope around his ankle give a little, its fibers stretching but not yet ready to release. Even if the rope didn’t snap, he was still sinking toward the pit at an alarming rate.
As if on cue, a bright blue slug rose to the pits surface beneath him. Slugs were foul-tempered things, innately hostile and far too eager to use their razor-sharp teeth.
Only a Snard would keep slugs as pets.
Thrusting its sleek, muscular body forward, the creature leapt free of the pool, making a lunge for the bait hanging over it. Dobbins caught a glimpse of its twin eye stalks, flushed red in anticipation. The monster’s vestigial limbs stretched out from its three-foot long body, its end claws clicking excitedly.
Dobbins fought the urge to gag. Slugs smelled really bad.
At the last moment, he jerked himself upward, jackknifing at the waist. The slug gave a keening scream as it passed beneath him, its teeth snapping harmlessly against the empty air.
The slug splashed back into the brackish ooze. Dobbins watched cautiously as it disappeared beneath the surface. It wouldn’t be long before the monster tried again.
Slugs didn’t like to wait, either.
-- and there our hero waits to this day, not yet eaten, not yet saved, and neither one of us has any inclination to change his plight. Because it wouldn't have been too much of a brain-teaser to get Dobbins out and on his way, but neither one of us knew what happened next. We both had ideas, but nothing that delighted. We hadn't walked and talked. We hadn't plotted.
So I left Glynn to get our pages in order and out in the mail. Maybe Fourth didn't go as planned, but the changes that occurred were good ones and the novella is close to done. Maybe we're mostly plotters with a little pantser in us: plantsers. A brand new term, copyright me, and you're welcome to use it.
Just tell people where you got it, okay? :)