We may have disappeared from here for a longer than expected but we had our reasons. Baby-proofing (always a pleasure because it means babies are coming to visit) was at the top of the priority list but we were also busy playing with Microsoft Word. We’ve been busy working on The Fourth Brother, the – as it happens – fourth story in the Mail Order Mischief saga. We’re 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 the story at the moment.
Somehow, 4th Bro’ became the longest M.O.M. story yet. 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 step-by-step outline would make for a fast write and a quick read. We’d even aimed for a specific word count; we wanted the sequel to be 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 what they wanted regardless of our intentions, going into entirely different directions than we had hoped. Consequently, the word count kept growing, the story kept expanding, and now we’re both wondering if the whole thing is going to end up the way we originally envisioned.
Probably not, Renee worries. Possibly so, Harrell thinks.
Meanwhile, the Good Witch remains on the sidelines, enjoying the drama and offering to beta read the latest addition to the family. After all, she tells us, she was supposed to get the pages a couple of months ago. She’s absolutely right.
Even before we'd typed – end -- on this sequel’s last page, we knew things had gone astray. It’s not that we didn’t like the changes. We thought the differences were interesting and true to the characters, but we wondered if maybe we should do something differently 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; but what if we DIDN'T plot the next one? We could use the plotting time to start typing and get The Third Brother off of the ground. If we gave up any attempt 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 it didn't exactly keep us on track. Oh, it helped for maybe three-quarters of the way but that's not the whole ride, is it? If we jumped in our little red car and went three-quarters of the way to La Jolla, we'd end up in the desert.
Then we remembered…Dobbins' Luck.
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 the science fiction novel, Aly’s Luck, which we wrote years ago. Aly’s Luck is absolutely packed with adventure, it’s the first book we wrote together, and we love the characters that populate 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, nope, not many.
Even as this grew more evident day by day, we started working on a sequel: Dobbins' Luck. Because nothing builds a fan base like doubling down on a book that very few people have read. But this time, instead of spending a month plotting the novel, we decided to just jump in and write the story. We felt it would be more fun that way. More spontaneous. Faster, too. And, at first, that’s what happened. The pages streamed right along. Life was good.
Then one sorry day, 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 the ideas stopped coming. There our hero waits to this day, not yet eaten, not yet saved, and neither one of us feels any inclination to change his plight. Because, while it wouldn't have been too much of a brain-teaser to get Dobbins out and on his way, neither one of us knew what we wanted to have happen next. We both had ideas, but nothing that delighted. We hadn't plotted the thing.
It turns out, neither of us are pantsers, as much as we’d like to be. Although 4th Bro’ 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 us, but you're welcome to use it.
Just tell people where you got it, okay? :)