Deep POV Lesson 12 – One Awesome Scene

This is your last official lesson, Campers. I hope this class has been valuable.

For this lesson, I just want you to see a full scene from Over the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann, the QUEEN of DEEP POV. Please excuse the language—we’ll blame Stan; he’s a Navy SEAL. Enjoy.

It was the full moon’s fault.

It had to be the goddamn full moon.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Stanley Wolchonok steadied himself, holding on to the the side of a pickup truck in the parking lot of the Lady Bug Lounge and praying to whatever god was listening that he wouldn’t throw up.

His fever was spiking. He could feel his entire body break out in a sweat as a flash of intense heat gripped him. God damn, of all the times to get the flu… Of course, there was never a good time to get sick. This just happened to be a worse time than any other, coming back to the States after two relentless months away.

“Senior! Thank God you’re here!”

Stan wasn’t ready to thank anyone for anything—particularly not for his command performance tonight at this cheap-shit, lowlife bar where he hadn’t come by choice in well over two years.

Which didn’t mean he hadn’t been here plenty of times in the past two years.

Cleaning up after whichever dumbass in the team had gone ballistic.

The average dumbass didn’t get more than two strikes before he was out of the SEAL teams—or at least out of the elite Team Sixteen Troubleshooter’s Squad.

Truth was, the average dumbass who was smart enough to become a SEAL learned rather quickly to be neither dumb nor an ass most of the time. But everyone had to blow off steam, particularly after two months away from loved ones, two months filled with high stress and not a hell of a lot of down time.

The married men—and the men whose relationships with their girlfriends had survived these past two very cold and lonely months of separation—were all home in their honeys’ sweet arms tonight. The single guys were in bars like The Lady Bug—an alcohol-doused location where it was extremely easy for the average dumbass to get into some serious trouble.

Tonight’s dumbass was newly promoted Chief Petty Officer Ken Karmody, more affectionately known by his extremely accurate nickname WildCard. Unfortunately, there was nothing even remotely average about him.

This was, without a doubt, the seventeenth strike against him. Another man would’ve been out on his ear a long time ago. Problem was, another man couldn’t do half the things to and with computers that WildCard Karmody could.

And Lieutenant Tom Paoletti, CO of SEAL Team Sixteen, honestly liked the little butthead. Truth was, Stan liked him, too.

But not tonight. He didn’t like him at all right now.

And the million dollar question was, what had WildCard done to live up to his nickname this time?

Chief Frank O’Leary had made the SOS call that had pulled Stan out of bed. A man of few words, O’Leary’s usual lazy drawl was clipped and tight. He’d gotten right to the point. “Senior, WildCard’s in deep shit. Sure could use you at the Bug, ASAP.”

If it had been anyone else calling, Stan would have rolled over and moaned himself back to a feverish, near-sleep state. But O’Leary rarely asked for anything. So Stan had been up and dressed and in his truck inside three minutes.

He forced himself to straighten up now as Petty Officer Second Class Mark Jenkins scurried across the parking lot to him. “O’Leary and Lopez locked Karmody in the bathroom, and Starrett, Muldoon, Rick, Steve and Junior are holding off about twenty jarheads who want to rip him to shreds.”

Stan’s head throbbed. “Sam Starrett and Mike Muldoon are here?” Fuck. They were officers. Despite the fact that Sam was a mustang—an enlisted man who’d gone to OTS and made the leap to officer—and Muldoon damn near worshiped the ground Stan walked on, their presence here made cleaning this up more complicated.

And that wasn’t even taking into consideration the twenty U.S. Marines who wanted—probably for some very good reason—to rip WildCard Karmody to shreds. Twenty Marines. Not two. Not three. Twenty. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

“Starrett swears he’s blinded by the extremely generous, uh, charms of a young lady he met here tonight. He’s seen nothing and will continue to see nothing. And Muldoon promised he’d be out the back door as soon as you arrived,” Jenk reported in his schoolboy tenor. His cartoon-character voice matched the freckles on his deceptively honest face.

Stan managed to walk upright all the way to the Lady Bug’s door. Damn, he was dripping with sweat. The key to defusing a volatile situation like this was to come in looking completely calm and cool. He found his handkerchief, mopped his forehead and prayed again that he wouldn’t yuke on the floor. “What happened?”

“I don’t know exactly, Senior.” Jenk, a veritable fountain of information and official team gossip, was coming up dry. When was the last time that had happened?

Stan cursed the full moon again. “Guess,” he ordered the kid.

“I think WildCard went to see Adele again,” Jenk told him. “And I think it probably didn’t go too well. Again.”

Adele Zakashansky. WildCard’s high school sweetheart who had dumped him without ceremony after years of alleged devotion. At least that was WildCard’s side of the story. The dumping had occurred a mayhem-filled six months ago. If Stan never heard her name again, it would be too soon.

“I was playing pool with Lopez and Rick,” Jenk continued. “I didn’t even see WildCard come in. Then there was this commotion, and I look up and he’s going one on twenty with this bunch of Marines, like he’s Jackie Chan or something. O’Leary was near the bar, and he grabbed WildCard and tossed him into the head. Muldoon got the marines to agree to a temporary ceasefire. But it’s only temporary.”

God bless Chief Frank O’Leary and Ensign Mike Muldoon. “Anything broken?”

“A big mirror on the wall,” Jenk said. “A coupla chairs.” He laughed. “And a lot of Marine balls. The Card’s a wild man.”

The door opened and Mike Muldoon peeked out. “Senior! Thank God. You better get in here. The manager’s about five seconds from calling the police, WildCard’s shouting about getting out of the bathroom and finishing what he started, and the Marines are more than ready to rumble.”

Stan mopped his face one more time and stepped inside. “I got it from here, Muldoon,” he told the younger man.

“Oh, wow, Senior, you look really terrible. Man, you got the ‘flu,” Muldoon realized. He had one of those too-young, too-handsome faces with big expressive blue eyes that gave away everything he was feeling. And he wondered why he never won at poker. “You should be home, in bed—”

“And you need to get out of here,” Stan said bluntly. “I can’t fix this for Karmody with you here.”

Muldoon looked as if he were about to cry. “But—”

“Get lost. Sir.”

Muldoon was no dummy, and with one more pained look on his pretty face, he vanished.

Stan glanced around the room. Marines, manager, man in the bathroom. The manager on duty tonight was Kevin Franklin–he knew the guy well. He was an asshole, but it was a ‘devil you know’ situation—better than dealing with an unknown.

Yes indeed, it was WildCard Karmody’s lucky night—Stan could fix this. Provided he stayed on his feet and didn’t barf on anyone.

Step one. Get the Marines out of here. With them gone, the manager would be less inclined to call in the local police. Stan aimed himself at the surly group.

The highest ranking Marine was only a corporal—Jesus, they were all children. That was either going to make it really easy or really hard.

“Tell Franklin to hold on,” Stan murmured to Jenk. “Ask him—pretty please—to give me five minutes. Ten tops. Tell him I’m going to clear the room then see what I can do to make acceptable reparations for the damage that’s been done.”

Jenk slipped away.

“How about we all step outside, Corporal?” Stan said to a big beefy kid who couldn’t have been more than twenty-three tender years old. “I’m Senior Chief Stan Wolchonok, U.S. Navy, SEAL Team Sixteen. I’m not sure exactly what there is to say here, but a little fresh air can’t hurt, huh?”

“Why should we be the ones to leave?” Another kid, even bigger and beefier—and more drunk than Corporal Biceps—stepped forward. “That stupid little shit started it.”

Stan could hear WildCard—the stupid little shit in question—howling from the men’s room, banging on the door and demanding to be let out.

“We’ll go into the parking lot,” another Marine suggested, “if you send him into the parking lot, too.”

Stan sighed. “Can’t do that, boys. If you want to fight him,” he said, “and I really don’t recommend it–he’s small, but he’s fast and he doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit—what do you say I call your CO and we set up a time for your best guy to meet Chief Karmody in a boxing ring? Nice and clean, everyone sober, no one goes to jail afterwards for drunk and disorderly.”

Another of the Marines, a kid with recent Cro-Magnon ancestry, sidled forward, moving like a fighter. This was definitely their best guy, right here, in person. What’dya know?

Stan sized him up in one glance. Cocky and strong but inexperienced. Too inexperienced to know that inexperience could put you on the mat, facedown, lights out, faster than a ref could blink.

“I’d rather fight you, pops,” the kid said, so full of himself, Stan could imagine his head exploding from an over-inflated ego. Blam.

“You’d be more of a challenge,” the kid continued. He grinned. “You look like you might even go a full two rounds before I knocked you out.”

His dumbass friends laughed and nudged each other. They were on top of the world–but theirs was a very, very small planet. They were just too young and stupid to know it yet.

Kid Cro-Magnon edged closer, invading Stan’s personal space. “And I say we do it right here. Right now.”

Ah, crap. Stan didn’t want to fight. Not four days from now in a ring, and especially not tonight. Tonight, all he wanted was to go home and go to bed.

He breathed on the kid, hoping he was contagious. Unfortunately whichever strain of the flu this was, it wasn’t fast-acting.

From all corners of the room, Stan could feel his men watching him. He could hear WildCard Karmody still shouting from the head. Christ, he still had to make things square with the asshole manager, and then talk Karmody down from whatever emotional ledge he was teetering on.

Cro-Magnon loomed over him, stinking of gin, and Stan knew in a flash that this was the perfect time to choose speed over finesse. Finesse required too much talking, and damn, his throat was sore.

“Fine. Let’s do it. Someone say go,” Stan said, his gaze never leaving Cro-Magnon.

“Go,” Jenk shot back, good man.

A quick jab, a hard uppercut, and an elbow to the back of the head. Stan stepped back, and Cave Boy was down and not coming up any time soon.

It would’ve been even more effective if Stan hadn’t been sweating as he stood there, light as a dancer on the balls of his feet. Light-headed from fever, too, but those fools didn’t know that. He looked at the other jarheads, giving them his best dead-eye gaze. Cold and emotionless. An absolute machine. “Who’s next? Come on, line up, girls. I’ll take you one at a time if that’s what you want.”

He definitely had their attention. He had his SEALs’ attention, too.

“Stay back, Junior,” he said evenly, without turning around to see who was shuffling his feet back behind him. He didn’t have to turn. He knew his men.

And they knew him. But right now he’d surprised them because although he was a fighter by nature, in the past, he’d usually always preferred to talk things out.

The younger Marines were looking to the corporal for direction, and the Marine corporal, thank God, still had a few brain cells working. He stared down at his platoon’s boxing champ, unconscious and drooling on the dirty barroom floor.

Stan watched while the corporal slowly did the math. If Stan could take their best man out in one point three seconds, then…

“What do you say I call your CO and we set up a time for your best guy to meet Karmody in a boxing ring?” Stan said again.

The corporal nodded jerkily, looking from Stan to the bathroom door, no doubt remembering Karmody with his mad scientist hair and his lean build, no doubt thinking that in the ring, their guy would be able to give him a thrashing.

If Stan didn’t have the flu, he would’ve smiled. They were in for one big surprise. “What do you say you take Sleeping Beauty here and go on back to the base?” he suggested. Relentless repetition was usually always needed when dealing with alcohol and idiots. “And tomorrow morning we’ll set up that boxing match.”

“Well…” Corporal finally said.

“Great,” Stan bulldozed over him. “We’ve got a deal.” He would’ve shaken the corporal’s hand if his own hadn’t been so damn sweaty. All he needed at this point was for the kid to think he was scared, so he tucked his hands behind his back in a modified parade rest. “Move it on out,” he ordered.

Two of the marines grabbed Cro-Magnon and they all shuffled away.

The room seemed to take a collective sigh of relief as the door closed behind them. Not that there were a lot of people left. A few bikers who looked disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a brawl. A pair of women eyeing Jay Lopez and Frank O’Leary as the SEALs stood holding the men’s room door tightly closed. A few couples making out in the darkness of the corner booths, ignoring the rest of the world.

There was a time Stan had sat in one of those corner booths himself, getting very familiar with women who didn’t care that he didn’t look like Mel Gibson, who didn’t care that he left town at the drop of a hat and sometimes didn’t bother to come back. Candy, Julia, Molly, Val. Laura. Lisa. Linda. He’d met them all if not here then in a dive very similar to this one. He should be feeling nostalgic, not nauseous.

But shit, all he wanted was to go home.

And he was only up to step two.

Lieutenant junior grade Sam Starrett intercepted him on his way to the bar and the waiting manager. Starrett had his arm around a woman who had, quite possibly, the biggest breasts in the world. He was grinning and a little tipsy—if that word could be used to describe a big bad Navy SEAL.

The woman whispered something in his ear, brushing her enormous jugs against him and Starrett laughed. Obviously, he thought he’d found the right kind of solace for whatever had been eating him up these past few months.

“Senior Chief Stan Wolchonok,” Starrett said, “meet the marvelous Miss Mary Lou Morrison.”

Damn, did he look like he was here to attend a party? Starrett had had more to drink than Stan had thought if he couldn’t see that Stan was dead on his feet. “Ma’am.” He managed to nod politely. He had to work to look her in the eye instead of staring, hypnotized, down into that amazing Grand Canyon of cleavage.

Sweet lord.

He solved the problem by glaring at Starrett. “You shouldn’t be here right now. Sir.”

And the recently promoted Lieutenant, junior grade, also shouldn’t have been playing with fire by starting something with this Mary Lou Morrison. She was too young, too pretty, too desperately hopeful. While Starrett was looking only for a night in her bed, she was looking for a ring. Someone was going to end up disappointed.

“Yeah, I know, Senior,” Starrett said in his cowboy twang, made thicker by all he’d had to drink, “but I do love to watch you work. And I’m not the only one impressed. Mary Lou’s sister Janine over there was wondering what you’re doing later.”

Starrett gestured with his head toward the other side of the room, where a woman was standing. She gave Stan a little wave. Ah yes, she was definitely Mary Lou’s sister.

A little bit older, not quite as pretty, but just as completely, amazingly stacked. She approached, but Stan escaped, nodding at the younger sister. “Excuse me. I need to speak to Kevin Franklin.” He turned and ran.

But Janine was crafty. “Hi—Stan, isn’t it?” She’d managed to circumnavigate her sister and Starrett and cut Stan off before he reached the bar, blocking his route. “I couldn’t help noticing you.”

She was sober. Amazing. Her eyes were blue and warm and she sipped what looked to be plain soda pop. And he’d been wrong. She was the prettier sister. Maybe not on the surface. But she was certainly the less desperate sister, and he’d always found lack of desperation to be particularly appealing.

“How’s that for a come-on line?” she continued. Her gaze was frank and open and flat out admiring, and her smile was friendly. He almost felt handsome. “You have any time later to pull up a chair and pretend to get to know me?”

Stan had to laugh at that. “Tempting, but believe me, ma’am, you don’t want what I’ve got.”

Her laughter was low, musical. “Want to bet?”

Oh, mama. “Seriously—Janine, right?” He lowered his voice. “Janine, I’ve got the flu and I’ve got about twenty more minutes, tops, before I’m going to fall over.”

She lowered her voice, too, moved closer. “Oh, you poor thing. Then you need someone to take care of you, don’t you? I make an awesome chicken soup, I’ll have you know.”

Someone to take care of him? “I don’t think–”

“Well then, Stan, maybe you have a friend you could introduce me to. I’m not looking for long term, but this is a position I’d like to fill immediately. Forgive my bluntness, but we’re both adults and we both know why people come to a place like this, don’t we?”

Her flatout honesty made him laugh again. “Truth is, I came here to talk to the manager and get my guy out of the men’s room without him hurting anyone or himself. It wasn’t by choice.”

She bulldozed over him as completely as he’d run down the marine corporal, reaching up to feel his forehead. Her hand was cool and soft against his too-hot skin. “God, you are burning up.”

He stepped back, away from her. Guinness Book of World Records breasts and pretty eyes be damned—he didn’t want her touching him. Lately he didn’t seem to want any woman touching him, except Teresa Howe.

Christ, where had that come from?

The fever. That was one goddamn feverish thought, no question. Because helo pilot and Naval Reservist Lieutenant junior grade Teri Howe was the last woman on earth who’d want to touch him. God, talk about beauty and the beast. Yeah, a woman like her only hooked up with a guy like him in a fairy tale.

And while his life was far from dull, it was no freaking fairy tale, that was for sure.

Meanwhile, he’d hurt Janine’s feelings. “I’m sorry, but right now I really need to talk to—”

“It’s all right,” she said quietly. “You don’t have to explain. It was nice meeting you.”

Shit. Now she was walking away. What was he doing? She was pretty and funny and built like a Playboy Bunny and it had been months since he’d gotten laid. And yet he’d reacted to her touch as if she had the plague. What was he doing? Saving himself for Teri Howe? This fever was definitely addling his brain.

“Senior Chief.” Kevin Franklin, the Bug’s manager, called to him from behind the bar. “What are we going to do about that broken mirror?”

Ah, hell. Stan turned to him, forcing himself back to the business at hand, dismissing Janine as absolutely as he was usually able to dismiss all thoughts of ever being touched by Teri Howe.

Old Kev was more of an asshole than usual tonight. It was a pity Stan couldn’t throw a few punches to shut him up, the way he’d done with that marine. Instead, he lived through an endless list of complaints and a whole lot of whining, entertaining himself by trying to guess exactly when his knees would finally give out, and what his men would do when that happened.

Stan tried his hardest not to listen, but there were a few things he couldn’t help but hear. A, Franklin still wanted to call the police. And B, he was tired of bar fights on his watch, tired of WildCard Karmody in particular.

That made two of ’em.

“Here’s the deal,” Stan said flatly, when he finally got a chance to get a word in edgewise. “You don’t press charges, and Karmody pays for the mirror and the chairs, and he never comes into the Bug again when you’re working the night shift.”

“He doesn’t come in when I’m working any shift,” Franklin countered, just as Stan had known he would. Good, let him feel as if he’d won a hard bargain.

“Well…” Stan pretended to think about it. “I guess so. I guess we got a deal.” He held out his hand for the man to shake.

“Karmody’s not going to go for this,” Franklin warned.

“I’ll handle Karmody.”

Which was step three.

Christ, this was the part where Stan would go into the men’s and sit down on the tile floor and talk to WildCard. “What happened this time, Karmody?” Through clenched teeth: “Nothing happened, Senior.” A sigh from Stan. “Don’t bullshit me, Kenny. I know you went to see Adele.” “Fuck Adele!” Back and forth they’d go, with WildCard venting his anger, ranting and railing about whatever injustice Adele had done this time, until he was all ranted out and ready to go home and pass out.

Which was what Stan was ready to do right now.

Tomorrow WildCard would wake up all contrite and hungover. Stan would call him in to his office, and do some ranting and railing of his own. WildCard was going to be feeling the repercussions of tonight’s little hell party for a long time.

Stan made the trip from the bar to the men’s room on legs that were leaden. Janine was still there, still watching him. He couldn’t look at her, couldn’t do more than put one foot in front of the other.

O’Leary was still guarding the door, but WildCard had stopped his pounding and shouting. It was quiet in there. Maybe the son of a bitch had done too much flailing around, knocked himself out from hitting his head on the tile walls.

No, that was too much to hope for, too much to ask.

O’Leary opened the door for him, and Stan went inside and… Oh, Christ.

“Shut the door and don’t let anyone in here,” Stan ordered O’Leary.

WildCard was crying.

He was sitting on the floor, arms around knees that were up close to his chest, head down, body shaking, sobbing as if his heart were breaking. Which it probably was, poor bastard.

Adele Zakashansky had no idea what she had lost by ditching him the way she had six months ago. Yes, WildCard had the ability to be completely obnoxious. Give him enough time, and he’d probably get on Mother Teresa’s or Ghandi’s nerves, but in all honesty, the man had a heart the size of California.

“Shit,” Stan breathed, lowering himself gingerly down onto the floor next to him. He spoke gently. There’d be plenty of time tomorrow to yell at the man. “Why do you keep going to see her, Kenny? You know, you’re doing this to yourself.”

WildCard didn’t answer. Stan hadn’t really expected him to.

He put his hand on the kid’s back, feeling completely inadequate here. Even when he wasn’t fighting the flu, he wasn’t the cry-on-my-shoulder type. He didn’t do hugs, rarely touched the men in his team unless he had to—at least not much beyond the occasional high five or slap on the shoulder.

“She got a restraining order, Senior,” WildCard lifted his tearstained face to tell him with the much too careful enunciation of the extremely drunk. He looked about five years old and completely bewildered. “How could she even think that I would hurt her? I love her.”

Stan felt like weeping himself, his head throbbing in sympathy. God, being in love sucked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I know that, Ken, and you know that, but maybe you haven’t done such a great job over the past few months communicating that to Adele, you know? When you come at her all loud and angry, and completely shit-faced, too, well, that’s got to be a little upsetting for her. I think you need to try to see it from her point of view, huh? She tells you it’s over, and two weeks later, you’ve parked your jeep in her flower garden at four in the morning, waking up the entire neighborhood by playing Michael Jackson at full volume on your car stereo.”

“It was the Jackson 5,” WildCard corrected him. “I Want You Back. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“And punching out her new boyfriend at the movie theater?”

“Yeah, that wasn’t such a good idea.”

“Calling her every fifteen minutes all night long? From Africa?”

“I just wanted to hear her voice.”

Stan looked at him.

WildCard laughed. “Yeah, all right. I knew he was over there, with her. Goddamn Ronald from MIT. Getting it on for the first time. I wanted to make sure the evening was memorable for them.” He wiped his eyes. “She’s not going to take me back, is she?”

There was still hope in WildCard’s heart. Hope that Stan crushed ruthlessly by flatly telling him, “No, she’s not. Not tonight, not next week, not ever.”

Hearing those words didn’t make WildCard dissolve into more tears. Instead, he wiped his nose on his sleeve. Sat up a little straighter. “I’m so damn tired of being alone, Senior Chief. I mean, when I was with Adele we weren’t actually together that often, but she emailed me every day. I knew she was thinking about me.” He looked at Stan with the pathetic earnestness of the truly drunk. “I just want to know someone’s thinking about me. Is that really too much to ask?”

Stan looked at the kid. No, he wasn’t a kid—he was well into his twenties, he was a full grown man. He just freaking acted like a kid most of the time. With his dark eyes and angular face, Ken Karmody wasn’t a bad looking man. If you didn’t pay too much attention to his Dr. Frankenstein haircut.

I’m not looking for long term… Janine’s pretty eyes and knockout body flashed to mind, and Stan knew what he had to do. He felt a brief flare of regret, but it passed quickly enough.

“You been with anyone else?” he asked WildCard. “You know, since Adele?”

WildCard looked away, looked embarrassed. Shook his head no, like there was something to be ashamed of about that.

“Maybe you need to,” Stan said gently. “Maybe hooking up with someone for awhile will put this thing with Adele into perspective. Yes, she was an important part of your life for a few years, but now that she’s gone, your life’s not over. There are plenty of women who would love to spend their time thinking about you.” He pulled himself to his feet, amazed he could still stand. “Come on, let’s get out of here, go rejoin the world.”

WildCard pushed himself off the floor. “Senior Chief, I have to be straight with you. I was fighting before. I’m not sure exactly, but I think either the police or a whole bunch of jarheads might be waiting for me out in the bar.”

“Franklin didn’t call the police,” Stan told him. “I took care of him—and the jarheads, too. Of course, you’re going to have to pay for damages.”

New hope lit his eyes. “You mean, I’m not going to be arrested?”

“No. You’re going to have to meet some seven feet tall marine in a boxing ring in a few days. And you can’t come back to the Bug if Kevin Franklin is on duty. Not ever again. We’ll go over this again, at length, tomorrow in my office.”

Out of all the things Stan had said, it was only this last that gave WildCard pause. Tomorrow’s little meeting wasn’t going to be any fun for either of them. Stan was going to deliver an ultimatum. He gave him a small preview because although he was going to make sure WildCard was delivered safely home, there were still several hours before dawn, and the kid was a supreme dumbass.

“You need to know, Karmody, no shit, read my lips because this is serious: You break that restraining order, you’re on your own. No senior chief to the rescue. It will be Lieutenant Paoletti who comes to see you in jail and he will not be a happy man. And what he will tell you is goodbye and good luck. And good luck will be surviving your eighteen months to three years in prison and then getting a job fixing computers in the back room of some CompUSA, provided you can find one with a manager who hires convicted felons. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

WildCard nodded, a dazed look in his eyes, and Stan knew he’d hit on the kid’s worst nightmare. Good.

He pushed open the men’s room door and WildCard followed him out into the bar. Home—and his bed—were so close, he could almost smell it. Only one more thing to do.

Sam Starrett had the younger sister out on the dance floor, taking advantage of a slow dance to get in a full body embrace. Janine stood by the jukebox, as if entranced by the list of songs, still sipping her soda.

Stan headed toward her. “Janine. That position still available?”

She looked up, looked from him to WildCard, noted the fact that the younger man’s eyes were still red from crying. Her own gaze softened slightly before she glanced back at Stan, awareness and wisdom in her eyes, and he knew he was doing the right thing.

“Yes, it is.”

WildCard didn’t have a clue what was going on, still partially locked in the horror of that alternate reality Stan had described.

“I want you to meet my friend, Chief Ken Karmody of SEAL Team Sixteen,” Stan said to Janine.

She looked at WildCard again. “I saw you earlier, with all those marines. You didn’t back down when they insulted you. You must be either really brave or really stupid, sailor.”

“Really brave,” Stan said at the exact same moment WildCard answered, “Really stupid,” and she laughed.

She had a really nice, musical laugh, and WildCard woke up a little and actually looked at her. His eyes widened.

“You ever take a tour of the naval base?” Stan asked her.

She took a sip of her soda. “I don’t believe that I have.”

“Would you like to? Tomorrow?”

Janine looked at WildCard again, this time checking him out not quite as obviously as he was hypnotized by her breasts. She smiled. “Sure. Why not? How about right after church? 11:30?”

“Great,” Stan said. “I’ll have Chief Karmody here meet you at the gate.”

“Me?” WildCard said in surprise.

Stan pushed him toward the door.

“I’ll be there.” Janine’s eyes sent him a very definite message: Your loss.

It probably was. But right now he didn’t want anything but his bed. And Teri Howe. He cursed this fever again. Stop thinking about her.

“Did you see the way she was looking at me?” WildCard asked as they stepped into the parking lot. The air wasn’t any cooler, but it was less smoky. “Senior, if I go back in there maybe she’ll—”

“Tomorrow at 1130 is early enough. That way you can impress her with your sparkling sobriety.”

“Did you see her? She was hot, and I think she likes me! I know she likes me!” WildCard did a victory dance, punching the air. “Yeah! The hell with you, Adele! The hell with you!”

Mike Muldoon slipped down from where he’d been sitting on the hood of Stan’s truck, staring at WildCard with amazement. He looked at Stan with something that normally would be uncomfortably similar to hero-worship. But right now, Stan appreciated the fact that Muldoon saw him through rose-colored superhero glasses—the kind that obscured the greenish tinge Stan knew was on his face.

“My God, Senior Chief,” Muldoon said, “you really can fix anything, can’t you?”

“Absolutely,” Stan said, getting into his truck and starting the engine with a roar, praying that Muldoon wouldn’t see the way his hands were shaking.

Christ, he was hurting. And he still had to call O’Leary when he got home, ask him to rouse WildCard in the morning, get him down to the front gate by 1130, order him to meet Stan in his office at 1300. Stan would ream him a new asshole then, using Janine Morrison to provide additional motivation to toe the line. He put down the window. “Do me a favor and get Karmody safely home.”

“Of course, Senior Chief. But what about—”

“Thanks, Muldoon.”


“I’m fine,” Stan lied as he put the truck into gear and pulled out of the driveway. No way was he letting Muldoon drive him home. His house was off-limits to the men in his team—even to Muldoon who was the closest thing to a best friend he’d ever had, despite their age difference, despite the fact that Muldoon was an officer and Stan was enlisted.

Stan made it all the way down the street and around the corner, holding tightly to the steering wheel, before he had to pull over.

And then he just sat there, shaking and sweating, sick as a dog and no longer needing to hide it.

God damn. That had been close. But it was okay. The illusion was intact. He’d gotten lucky again. Mighty Senior Chief Stan Wolchonok remained invincible, unstoppable, immortal. As Muldoon had said, he could fix any mistake, repair any screwup, find creative solutions to any problem, damn near walk on water if he had to.

Yeah, and if he didn’t watch out, he was going to start believing his own hype.

Stan laughed at himself as he sat there, his teeth chattering from the sudden chill that gripped him. It took him, yes, him—the mighty senior chief—four tries to turn the heat up to high.

It was one thing to fool the men in his team. It was his job to do that. But there was no way he was going to fool himself into thinking he was some kind of god. No, he knew damn well what would happen if he truly tried to walk on water.

He’d sink like a stone.

It took him nearly an hour to make the five-minute trip home.

But he made it. On his own.

Deep POV Lesson 9 – Establishing POV

At the beginning of a scene (or when you switch POV in as scene, which we’ll talk about tomorrow), you have to clearly establish whose POV the scene is in. If you don’t, your reader will slow down or stop reading to clarify who’s talking. It’s like when there’s a long dialogue exchange and the author doesn’t tag the dialogue enough. WHO’S TALKING?







One of the easiest ways to establish POV is to call that character’s name at the beginning.

This is the beginning of Suzanne Brockman’s Over the Edge. Notice she has a few words, dripping with voice, before she names the POV character.


Four Months Ago

The moon was hanging insolent and full in the sky just to the left of a billboard for a bankruptcy lawyer, and Stan knew.

It was the full moon’s fault.

It had to be the goddamn full moon.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Stanley Wolchonok steadied himself, holding on to the the side of a pickup truck in the parking lot of the Lady Bug Lounge and praying to whatever god was listening that he wouldn’t throw up.

His fever was spiking. He could feel his entire body break out in a sweat as a flash of intense heat gripped him. God damn, of all the times to get the flu… Of course, there was never a good time to get sick. This just happened to be a worse time than any other, coming back to the States after two relentless months away.

“Senior! Thank God you’re here!”

Stan wasn’t ready to thank anyone for anything—particularly not for his command performance tonight at this cheap-shit, lowlife bar where he hadn’t come by choice in well over two years.

Which didn’t mean he hadn’t been here plenty of times in the past two years.

Cleaning up after whichever dumbass in the team had gone ballistic.

The average dumbass didn’t get more than two strikes before he was out of the SEAL teams—or at least out of the elite Team Sixteen Troubleshooter’s Squad.

Truth was, the average dumbass who was smart enough to become a SEAL learned rather quickly to be neither dumb nor an ass most of the time. But everyone had to blow off steam, particularly after two months away from loved ones, two months filled with high stress and not a hell of a lot of down time.

(I know, I could have stopped earlier, but this is such an excellent example of DEEP POV that I just had to keep going. Can you hear Stan’s voice? That’s why she’s the QUEEN.)

Here’s the opening of Forever Blue by Suz:


And the opening of Frisco’s Kid by Suz:

From True Courage, book 2 in my True Heroes series:


The first commandment of aviation: Thou shalt maintain thy airspeed, lest the ground rise up and smite thee.

Lieutenant Colonel Rick McIntyre’s PJs often attributed a sinister motivation to the mountain. Sometimes they even kept score—Yosemite, 3, Humans, 0.

But he’d never really bought into it. Now, as he watched the Black Hawk tumble down Mount Hood, he was beginning to reconsider. Retirement—fishing to be exact—was looking pretty good right about now.

And True Honor, book 3:

Only a fool would miss a party thrown by Chris ‘Angel’ Gabriel. And Will Pitkin was not a fool.

Gabe went all out. The keg was perfectly chilled, the food was amazing. Music, superb. And since only fools would miss the party, there was always an eclectic mix of people. He had the right digs, too.

Whose POV are we in here? We’re in Will’s POV, but he’s talking about Gabe.

Chapter 1 of True Courage—this one starts with the POV character talking to himself:

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto,” Rick whispered into the swirling snow. He squeezed his eyes shut and focused on breathing in and breathing out.

So much to sort out.

Friday the 13th. Good grief. It wasn’t even noon yet, and this made it official. The mountain was closed for business. No one was going anywhere.

It’s really pretty simple. Make sure your reader knows who’se POV they’re reading.

A small digression here. You’ve noticed that I writing military romance. In this genre, every character has several “names.” For example, Eric Cruz. His call sign is Hollywood; his teammates call him either Hollywood or Cruz. Kit Sheridan calls him Cruz or Hotshot (and a few other things). I have an awesome editor who reminded me that, when I’m in Eric’s POV, he doesn’t call himself Cruz. He thinks of himself as Eric.

Here is a snippet of a scene from True Gallantry, from Eric’s POV. The original version:

The conversation with Fitz was right up there with the worst conversations Cruz had ever had.

It started out with Cruz being an irresponsible idiot, and went downhill from there. But, bless his pea-pickin’ heart, at least Fitz had the decency to clear things up with the sheriff. However, it wasn’t a quick fix.

After my editor reminded me that Cruz doesn’t call himself Cruz:

The conversation with Fitz was right up there with the worst conversations Eric had ever had.

It started out with Eric being an irresponsible idiot, and went downhill from there. But, bless his pea-pickin’ heart, at least Fitz had the decency to clear things up with the sheriff. However, it wasn’t a quick fix.

I had to go through the entire book, checking each scene for whose POV it was. Sheesh. But it was a great catch. Good editors make books so much better!

That’s all for today, campers. Questions? Observations? Bring ‘em to the blog.

Cheers, Jax

Remembered Words

In The Joy of Music, Leonard Bernstein wrote about Beethoven: “Imagine a whole lifetime of this struggle, movement after movement, symphony after symphony, sonata after quartet after concerto. Always probing and rejecting in his dedication to perfection, to the principle of inevitability. This somehow is the key to the mystery of a great artist: that for reasons unknown to him or to anyone else, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another inevitably. It seems rather an odd way to spend one’s life, but it isn’t so odd when we think that the composer, by doing this, leaves us at the finish with the feeling that something is right in the world, that something checks throughout, something that follows its own laws consistently, something we can trust, that will never let us down.”

It was years ago when I first read this, long before I could claim to be a published author rather than a writer striving to be just that. My first thought after reading it, though, was, yes, shouldn’t writers strive to emulate the kind of inevitability Bernstein saw in Beethoven’s work—one word following another inevitably in their storytelling? Shouldn’t the reader expect an author to show them something right in the world? Shouldn’t a writer give the reader words they cannot help but remember, one word after another that remains with them for, well, forever? (James Dickey wrote in Self-Interviews: “I think poets value remembered things beyond what most people do, and they cannot bear to believe these things will ever be totally expunged.”)

The conclusions I made about a writer’s responsibility to their readers was an embrace of writing where the writer’s voice is unique, strong, even poetic at times. I believe literary rather than genre fiction best reveals the quality of a writer’s voice. Conan the Grammarian, written by our own Susan Mackay Smith, describes the essence of voice: “Voice: the most indefinable, elusive, subtle quality of writing…Conan can’t define voice but knows it when he reads it.”

I once presented a story at critique about a rumpled, sad, lonely office worker named Dimley (yes, very dark literary fiction), who spent his lunch hour feeding pigeons within a grotto-like recess made from the backs of buildings on three sides. It was raining, and a single streetlamp, “…fooled by the day’s dark, still beamed at the mouth of the grotto.” I ended the story with the pigeons taking flight, the moisture on their wings forming a mist that caught the streetlamp’s glare, thus creating rainbows. “Very near to smiling, Dimley grunted and said, ‘Ah, rainbows.’ He lowered his head, plodded back to the sidewalk, back to the swarm of the salient dread.”

I’ll never forget a comment from my one of my critique partners: “Wouldn’t it make more sense if he just looked toward the street and saw a woman wearing a rainbow-colored skirt?” I was speechless. My voice lost. How could someone not see the inevitable rightness of that rainbow?

Remembered words are the gems of the writer’s voice. The second paragraph of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News comes to mind: “Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.”

Then there’s Mark Spragg’s Where Rivers Change Direction: “I was a boy, and I believed deeply in the sightedness of horses. I believed that there was nothing that they did not witness. I believed that to have a horse between my legs, to extend my pulse and blood and energy to theirs, enhanced my vision. Made of me a seer. I believed them to be the dappled, sorrel, roan, bay, black pupils in the eyes of God.”

There are wee gems, too, like one sentence from Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree: “Under the fanned light of a streetlamp a white china cup handle curled like a sleeping slug.”

I suppose the key to good writing is, firstly, that the writer knows how to write well—there is a difference. Whether that is done through academics, critique sharing, or self-learning from reading the masters probably doesn’t matter that much. (I will admit I still don’t know for sure where the damned comma goes.) But writing well creates profoundly good writing only when the muse insists we give away our energies, and even our lives (our memory and imagination), to make sure one word follows another inevitably. Genre writing should not preclude occasional literary excursions that cannot help but enrich the storytelling—that component of a good writer’s talent called voice, the elusive stuff of the craft readers cannot help but remember.


George Seaton is the author of five novels and numerous novellas and short stories. His short story “The White Buck” appeared in the 2016 RMFW anthology, FOUND. He lives and writes in Pine, Colorado.





DEEP POV Lesson 7 – Deixis (Pointing Words)

When we’re writing in DEEP POV, we are inside the head of the character. That character is in the center of his own world. This is where this deixis (pronounced DIKE-SIS) stuff comes in. By the way, if you want to get really confused, Google deixis and skim through the first few links. OY!

I will try to explain the concept, but for me, it was easier to just see examples.

This is one definition: Deixis is reference by means of an expression whose interpretation is relative to the (usually) extralinguistic context of the utterance, such as: who is speaking, the time or place of speaking, the gestures of the speaker, or the current location in the discourse.


If I’m understanding the concept, it’s all about who’s speaking – the character or the observer. At least for our purposes, we’re going to say this is what it means.

Is the phrasing you’re using describing the action on the page from the perspective of the author or from inside the character?

Here’s an example:

Sue glanced around the room at the disaster left behind from the party the night before.


Sue glanced around the room at the disaster left behind from last night’s party.

See the difference?

Here are some more examples:

This vs. that:
That was what he’d wanted since he was a kid.
This was what he’d wanted since he was a kid.

There vs. here:
He meandered down to the beach. There was where he’d fallen in love with her.
He meandered down to the beach. Here was where he’d fallen in love with her.

He was born in Chicago. He’d been there all his life.
He was born in Chicago. He’d been here all his life.

Now, soon, today, tomorrow, last night:
The next day would probably be even worse than this one.
Tomorrow would probably be even worse than today.

Come vs. go:
The spider was going closer to her foot.
The spider was coming closer to her foot.

A vs. the:
Jon saw the blue car parked down the block.
Jon saw a blue car parked down the block.

In this example from that hockey romance book, I did both:

Sunday morning dawned dark and rainy; the sunshine of the day before was just a memory. Jamie stretched and reminisced. She almost hummed to herself. Could yesterday have been more perfect?

Here’s a paragraph to play with. Make it DEEP:

She’d been right. When she walked into the hotel lobby, Jeff was nowhere to be seen. Several of the hotel employees filtered through the group, giving everyone the keys to the rooms they had been in before. Word of the airport closing had come early enough that the rooms had been left in the names of whomever had them the night before. The keys had been put in envelopes with everyone’s names on them.

This is a very subtle thing, and I wouldn’t spend a great deal of time worrying about it. I think the yesterday/day before one is the most useful. Take what you can and file the rest away.

Cheers, Jax

My Top Ten, Revisited

I recently came across a workshop presentation I gave many, many years ago on the “Top Ten Things to Do to Sell Your First Novel.” It was interesting to see what I thought were the keys to publishing success back then:

1) Finish your book.
This seems obvious, but I still encounter writers who get bogged down in research or distracted by other projects and fail to do this very basic thing.

2) Begin your book in the right place.
I know from judging contest entries that this is still a big problem for new writers. They want to explain too much or spend too much time developing the mood and providing backstory. They forget the key is to start the book when something is happening that’s going to change the characters’ lives.

3) Write what you believe in.
I advised writers to forget market trends and write the story they felt passionate about. I still think this is good advice for beginning writers. When you’re starting out, your best work is always going to be what you love writing. But later, being practical is not always wrong.

4) Write something different.
I’m not sure about this tip anymore. I think this only works if something different is your passion (#3).

5) Develop your own voice as an author.
Voice is a subtle mixture of viewpoint, tone, style, and the mechanics of writing, and not something you can always consciously control. But I added that one of the ways to develop your voice was to “write, write, write.” Can’t argue with that.

6) Read.
I still believe you can only learn so much about writing from workshops, classes, and how-to books. To really develop as a fiction writer, you have to immerse yourself in books and absorb the rhythms of language and the patterns of stories.

7) Join a critique group.
I’ve had mixed success with critique groups. I was fortunate that the early ones I was part of were great: supportive, incisive, and truly helpful. Later on, I had bad experiences. So I would amend this advice to “Find a critique group that helps you.”

8) Learn to produce.
What I was trying to get across was that you can’t just write one or two books and sit back and expect to have a career. This is even more true now. But over the years, I’ve also learned there are limits to productivity for every writer based on their personal circumstances.

9) Make your own luck.
I discussed the importance of being ready when your chance comes. That you have to put yourself in a position for good things to happen: connect with the writing and publishing world, be positive, and make certain your work is the best it can be.

10) Never give up.
You can’t argue with this advice. I’ve known good writers who wrote for 20 years before they were published. Others ended up taking their destiny into their own hands and indie publishing their work. Writers now have more power than they ever did in getting their work out into the world. But beyond that, it gets more challenging. I’ve known people who did everything right, in terms of promotion and marketing, who still experienced disappointing sales. No matter what anyone says, there is no surefire recipe for publishing success. But writing success? That’s still under your control.

Your Authentic Voice

Novelist, news reporter, biographer, stand-up comedian, ventriloquist…so many professions rely on the performer to find their voice. But what does voice mean for a performer? And how do you find it? The answer is frustratingly vague…and so simple that it’s kind of hard to understand.

The vague answer is that your voice is the manner of speaking or writing that you fall into naturally. Huh? Well, if that’s all, then… But that’s not all. As writers, we spend so much time learning our craft, reading the work of other writers we admire, attending workshops and critique groups, and trying to jam all this style and substance into our craft, that when the time comes to actually write, we find ourselves struggling to find ourselves in amongst all the rest.

As a teen, I read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, the true memoirs of an intern-veterinarian’s experiences in rural England. Even then I noticed when, around chapter 5 or maybe later, Herriot’s style of writing took a drastic turn. It went from an informal, conversational voice to a sudden and dramatic turn toward the literary…a decidedly dense and flower literary voice to boot. Later, the style relaxed again, similar to what it was in the beginning. How could I tell? It’s more than just word choice and style, it’s cadence and tone and color and rhythm… Any one of these things alone might not be a noticeable change, but several together make it more noticeable.

Have you ever gone back and read something you wrote in the past and not remembered writing it? It reads like nothing you write now? The strangest thing I ever experienced was reading something I wrote years ago and being jealous of the strong and solid tone and style. Jealous of myself? That was weird.

Your natural writing voice is the style, tone, timber, rhythm, etc. that is most authentically you, and given all of the training we put ourselves through to build our writing toolbox, it can be the most elusive thing you’ll ever chase, because it can get buried in our earnest and well-meaning struggle to emulate those we admire.

So how do you find your authentic voice? That’s the part that’s so simple it’s hard. Blending all you’ve learned with your most natural writing voice can be a challenge. And to add insult to injury, the harder you look for it, the more elusive it becomes. It’s like the yips, a psychological block that baseball pitchers, and sometimes batters, get from getting too much in their own heads, and suddenly they can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

The thing is, once you relax and stop digging so much, things usually fall right into place almost of their own accord. The trick is recognizing your voice once you find it. You may have to write hundreds of pages before you finally discover your voice. My thoughts are that once you find it, you’ll recognize it right away, as I did. One indication is that writing suddenly becomes markedly easier than it was up to that point; everything starts to flow and you feel like you’re writing on rails.

Have you found your voice? If so, share with us what that revelation was like for you, and what you did to find it, in the comments below.

Say, Mack, what’s your secret?

There is a restaurant in Manitou Springs, CO, Adam’s Mountain Café, that has the best chicken salad ever. Just plain ol’ chicken salad, but with its one or two secret ingredients—wow.

Fantasy and sci-fi author David Farland tells a story about an author he met at a writers conference. She admitted to him that she felt “a bit like a pretender” because she’d never spoken on a (writing) panel before. “I told her that when we are new, all of us worry that we will be seen as pretenders. I then opened her book, read several pages, and noticed a couple of jaw-droppingly good metaphors.”

What’s her secret ingredient? Apparently, metaphors.

Truth is, every type of mystery has been written. Romance—check. Historical romance mystery time travel—been there, read that. Coming of age? Yes. Fantasy? Yup.

Ask yourself: What ingredients can I put into my story that are unique to me? How do I entice readers to hunger for the next page, for more of my work? What are my personal strengths? How can I find them?

  • Start with your critique group members and beta readers. Ask what they like best about your story.
  • Write down what you love about stories you read, and why.
  • Divide a piece of paper into two vertical columns. Title one column Secret Ingredients. For example:
    • Description readers can smell and experience
    • Pacing
    • Voice
    • Characters so alive, you can’t help but be pulled into their story
    • Setting
  • Title the second column Mixing. How can you play up your strengths in your writing—how can you incorporate your secret ingredients?
    • Study how your favorite author incorporates his special ingredients into his standout novels.
    • Attend a writing conference or a presentation by one of our RMFW members.
    • Research, and then purchase, a how-to book that hits home, that inspires you how to add your uniqueness to perfect your recipe—your bestseller novel.

Farland continues, “Do you see things that you could do to make a novel better than others who are writing in the same vein? Is there something in the story that whispers to your soul, Do it this way? Take it in directions that no one has ever seen before!”

Creating incredible salad dressing—where lingering garlic-sweetness rests upon your tongue leaving you with a desire for more—doesn’t come from chopping garlic. It comes from considering what you want the final product to be and do. It comes from many ingredients, and hard work—mixing and mixing again.

Is there one key ingredient that is the foundation for all your creations? David Farland suggests, “Start with putting in your whole soul.” Because without passion, what’s the point of writing?

DEEP POV Lesson 6 – Using “You” in DEEP POV

Nic pulled himself from the car and tried to wake up. The cold air helped, but not much. Funny. Nic–every member of the Special Forces for that matter–was trained to take combat naps. It was a useful ability to put yourself into deep sleep for ten or fifteen minutes at a time and come out the other side rested and fully awake.

I can hear my critique partners screaming all the way from Colorado Springs.

My main critique partner and editor circles every one of these and scrawls “second person.” At some point, I should tell her not to bother. I always leave it as I wrote it.

So, is it okay to use “you” in your DEEP POV?

I do it all the time. Occasionally I’ll change it back to “he” or “she,” but not very often. Here are a few examples from True Gallantry, book 5 in my True Heroes series:


     Kit retreated to her office, leaving Rick to chat with his wife. She’d give him privacy. And she’d give herself a reprieve from listening to their ongoing marital bliss.
     If ever two people were perfect for each other, Rick and Lily would be those two people.
     If you believed in that.

     It might be a very long time before they got more than catnaps for the next…who knew how long. Some of the guys were in the dayroom watching the Weather Channel. But, Madre de Dios, how many times could you hear the same report?

     “Mom first, then the kids, then Dad,” he told Matt.
     “Mom first, then kids, then Dad,” Cowboy repeated. The kid was good. Just who you wanted running the winch at a time like this

     Eric fought the nausea caused by the water rushing past in his peripheral vision. He calculated quickly. If he harnessed the parent and hooked them in, then maybe they could wedge a child between their bodies. Dropping a kid would ruin everyone’s day, and these folks day had already been bad enough.
     Nope. You only broke protocol when you were dead certain you could do it safely. This was not one of those times.

     Now, Kit forced herself to eat, suddenly not really hungry but you never knew when, or if, you’d get to eat again during the day.
     Exhaustion accumulated. Sooner or later, it would, if you went long enough without sleep, sneak up and bite you in the ass. That was multiplied by regular rushes of adrenaline and battling the elements.

     Every time she had dealings with Quillen, she came away slightly in awe. He held himself like a true officer, not one of those ‘Respect ma authoritay’ jerks who populated the officer ranks. No, Quillen was a leader of men, astute, sincere, a man of integrity. You felt safe in his presence, you felt respected. So even when he’d said “human error” it didn’t feel like an accusation, merely an observation that, yes, they lived in an imperfect world and they were all human. She’d heard that he could be pretty tough with stupid mistakes, though.

So, campers, what’s the verdict?

Do you use the dreaded “you” in DEEP POV? Wanna share some examples?

I hope this has been helpful.

Cheers, Jax

Crafting Unforgettable Atmosphere

Recently, I’ve been in the mood for a certain type of book—books like Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, and the Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud (all of which I highly recommend). They’re all dark, spooky, and supernatural. In other words, they all have a certain atmosphere.

Atmosphere is a slippery subject to wrap our heads around. It’s a combination of setting, emotion, and style. To achieve it, you must first decide what kind of atmosphere you’re aiming for. Light and funny, warm and cozy, dark and haunting, heavy and sad—the list goes on. Then you must build your setting, your characters’ internals, and your language so that they all work toward this atmosphere.

When done right, atmosphere soaks through every page of a story. It heightens the reading experience and can elevate a good story to a rich, vivid, lived-in one. Here are a few techniques I’ve been using to tackle atmosphere in my work-in-progress.

  1. Put yourself in the atmosphere. Watch movies, read books, and listen to songs that evoke your desired atmosphere. If your house is too bright and cozy for your creeptastic book, go to a cemetery to write. Find what works to evoke the feeling of the atmosphere in you, so you’ll be prepared to evoke it in your writing.
  2. Make a mood board. This can be done on Pinterest, or the old-fashioned way with a bulletin board and magazine clippings. Choose a variety of images that evoke your atmosphere—not necessarily your plot or characters. It’s okay to have an armor-clad alien on your romance novel’s mood board, if his smoldering stare evokes the sensual vibes you’re going for. A mood board can transport you to your atmosphere no matter where you are, and it can give you fresh ideas when you’re stuck. Don’t know how to describe your setting’s snowfall in a fresh way? Turn (or click) to your images of snow, and you may notice an unexpected detail to add to your story.
  3. Study other atmospheres. When watching a film with strong atmosphere, take note of what details are used—elements of place, weather, props, and character attire. When reading other books, note how the authors incorporate emotion and use stylistic devices to their advantage.
  4. Make word lists. Keep a running list of adjectives, nouns, and verbs that fit your atmosphere, then consult it the next time you’re stuck. I’ve found this helpful for my current novel, which has a dark, spooky atmosphere. When I need a color for a minor character’s T-shirt, I check my list and find options like rusty brown, charcoal gray, and blood red, all of which suit my atmosphere better than lilac or magenta.
  5. Get sensual. With atmosphere, sensory detail is key. This doesn’t mean choking your story with purple prose or pages of dull description, but rather a few well-chosen images throughout. Take the time to consider what sensory details might crop up in each scene—making sure to incorporate all five senses—and choose the most impactful ones to include.
  6. Use motifs. Too many different images and analogies can make a story feel scattered, even if they all suit your atmosphere. Look for common symbols you can use over and over again, a technique called a motif. Plant life is an evergreen one (See what I did there?), likely because it’s universal and it has natural variety. You can use images of a rotten apple on page five and an aggressive weed on page eight, avoiding repetition while still maintaining a sense of cohesion.

What atmosphere are you crafting in your WIP? What tips and tricks have helped you? Let me know in the comments!

Rocky Mountain Writer #145

Tim Weed: A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing

Tim Weed’s recent short story collection, A Field Guide to Murder & Fly-Fishing, was recently released as an audio book, following the paperback release earlier this year and the hardback release in 2017.

The collection made the 2018 Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize Shortlist and was a finalist in the short story category for both the 2018 American Fiction Awards and the 2017 International Book Awards.

His first novel, Will Poole’s Island, was named to Bank Street College of Education’s list of the Best Books of the Year.

Tim Weed is the co-founder of the Cuba Writers Program and has served as a featured expert for National Geographic Expeditions in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego.

He’s the winner of a Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award and a Solas Best Travel Writing Award, and his short fiction and essays have appeared in Literary Hub, Colorado Review, The Millions, Fiction Writers Review, Writer’s Chronicle, Backcountry, and many others.

Tim teaches at GrubStreet in Boston and in the Newport MFA in Creative Writing and, on the podcast, Tim recaps the workshop he gave at Colorado Gold this year, The Essentials of Voice in Fiction.

Tim’s website

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Interlude music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: