NaNo Rule #3 Show Don’t Tell ….[unedited] Excerpt from In Dark Places…

It’s what we’ve all heard–that part of the trick of writing effectively is to show the action, not tell about it. Does something happen in the story? Well, then, pull the reader into it–make sure there is, above all else, a sense of being there, of experiencing it as it happens.

It’s great advice, really it is, except when it’s not.  There can be times, in your story, when the telling trumps the showing. It happens when the character and the telling are far more disturbing than the events themselves…. This scene occurs after The Darkest Moment–after mine manager David Killian kills an innocent man, Peter Quinn, in a case of mistaken identity, and then kills himself.  Toby flees the company town of Kupfer for what he sees as the safety of Brennan and the Rosewood Bar, and Jenny Strand. But, news travels fast, and it’s not long before news of the killings reaches Brennan. The telling becomes the more disturbing device, and for Jenny’s friend Dori to be more disturbing than the story is truly saying something:


Toby fell heavily against the wooden door, striking it once with a trembling fist.  He screwed his eyes shut, tried to control the breath that tore through his lungs. He slapped his palm against the door and felt his strength finally fail as all the adrenalin drained suddenly from his body.

The door opened abruptly and Toby fell into the room, tumbling face down onto the carpet and covering his head with his arms, sobbing and shaking. She was suddenly on the floor beside him.

“Toby!” Jenny’s voice was a shocked whisper.  She crawled forward quickly, reached for, and slammed the door.  Jenny reached for the key in the lock, turning it quickly and pulling it from the door.  She turned back to Toby, her eyes wide.  “Toby,” she said again.

He felt her hands close on his, trying to move his arms away from his head.  He shook his head and Jenny watched as his body folded in upon itself on the floor. It was only then she noticed the blood.

Jenny struggled to her feet and ran to the window, pulling the curtains tightly across it, even though they were on the second floor above the bar.  The dim light cast through the window was eclipsed by the fabric.  Jenny’s hand trembled as she struck a match and lit the oil lamp on the dresser.  The yellow light danced across the walls, the flame flickering as Jenny adjusted the wick and replaced the chimney.  She extinguished the match and dropped to her hands and knees beside Toby.

“Toby,” she whispered again as she gently felt for his hands.

“Oh, God, Jenny,” he moaned through the tears, his body still trembling with terror and shock.  He started, scrambling back as Jenny’s door rattled.

“Jenny!” a feminine voice tittered outside the door.  “Jenny Strand!”

“I’ll get rid of her,” Jenny breathed to Toby as she scrambled to her feet and moved quickly toward the door. “I’m busy, Dorothea,” Jenny said through the door, her hand
gripping at the handle as she turned toward it.

“Liar,” Dorothea laughed through the door.  “There ain’t been a boy in the bar all day.  Open up.  There’s been murder!”

Jenny’s eyes grew wide as her gaze snapped suddenly to Toby who lay, covered in blood that was not his, upon her carpet.  “Murder?” her voice caught as she backed against the door away from Toby.

“Open the door, you silly goose.  All sorts of mayhem.  I have to dish,” Dorothea said impatiently.

Jenny slid, her back against the door, toward the floor.  Her eyes stayed steadily on Toby as her fingers felt frantically for the key.  She closed her fingers around the key and stood, turning and slipping the key into the lock, opening the door and slipping outside the room and in to Dorothea who stood close to her door.

“Let me in,” Dorothea’s voice had an edge of annoyance to it.

“My room’s a sight,” Jenny lied as she kept her hand on the doorknob behind her back.  “Perhaps later.”  Jenny averted her eyes.  “What are you going on about?  Murder..,” Jenny attempted to scoff.

“Up in Kupfer,” Dorothea whispered, her voice breathless. “Men dead, and a woman, and her children.”

Jenny felt her knees weaken, felt her breathing change as her heart beat heavily against her chest.  “Do they,” she started, her eyes widening, “do they know what happened?”

“All sorts of sordid sex and betrayal,” Dorothea gushed, her voice twittering with delight.  “Turns out one of the mine boys was shtupping a manager’s wife.  Oh, Jenny!  Her husband found out about it—she even screamed the boy’s name when her husband got on her hot and heavy.  Last night, he murdered his children in their sleep.”  Dorothea’s voice softened slightly, but only slightly.  “Smothered the poor little dears.”

Jenny’s heart beat wildly in her chest.  She tried to compose her features.  “Really..,” she faltered.

“But that was after he’d killed his wife,” Dorothea’s voice dropped to an excited whisper.  “Millie said she heard he’d strangled her then and there on the bed.  Then he cut off her head and cut out her heart.”

Jenny’s eyes grew wider and she felt her hand move unconsciously toward her throat.  “Really…,” Jenny’s voice was only breath.

Dorothea nodded briskly.  “He hung her body like so much meat in the refrigeration plant.  Way up on a meat hook, he did.  She was hangin’ there, headless.”

Jenny felt her knees give way and she stumbled back against the door.  “Dori, I–” she started.

Dorothea stepped closer, her blue eyes darkened suddenly. “And he threw her heart into one of the boiler fireboxes in the power plant,” she continued.  She nodded slowly.  “Burned it black as it was in life.And her head?” Dorothea’s voice dropped even lower.  “He tried to dissolve it in the leaching plant, in one of the acid vats.”

Jenny trembled.

Dorothea suddenly smiled.  “But he was too stupid to know what wasn’t acid and what was, so he tossed it in one of the eucalyptus vats,” she laughed.

Jenny felt her lip twitch more out of horror than at Dorothea’s presumed attempt at humor.

“Can you imagine what it was to be the boy who found Mary Killian’s head bobbing in a tank of eucalyptus oil?” Dorothea smiled, her eyes shining.  “We ain’t had a scandal like this in years, Jenny.  I can’t wait for the boys to come down tonight and fill in all the details.”

Jenny felt her insides twist uncomfortably.  She took a steadying breath.  “But you said men were dead, Dori,” she whispered, wishing she had not.

Dorothea’s laugh became darker still.  “That’s just it, Jenny,” she whispered.  “Killian knew, so he sent word up to Tin’s boys on Upper Ridge, that he wanted Bergdahl in his
office this morning.”  Dorothea’s lip twisted into a vicious smile as she shook her head.  “But he’s laid up there with a broke leg, so two of Tin’s other boys came down.”  Dorothea paused.  “One of them’s that boy who’s sweet on you, Jenny.”

“I don’t know—“ Jenny’s voice trembled.

Dorothea glanced at the door before turning her eyes back to Jenny. “Toby Caddock,” Dorothea continued, “that boy that thinks you hung the moon. He came down with another boy named Quinn.  Turns out Killian didn’t know Nils from Adam, so he knifed Quinn right there in his office. Ripped out his guts and let him fall to the carpet.”  She paused. “I reckon they’ll never get all the blood out,” Dorothea continued rather philosophically.

Dorothea fell silent as she continued to stare at the door behind Jenny.  Jenny felt her heart beat even more wildly against her chest.  She looked away from Dorothea’s eyes.  “What happened to Toby?” she asked quietly, sure Dorothea could hear how rapidly her heart was beating.

Dorothea hesitated, her eyes still on the door.  “He ran off,” she whispered, her eyes shining darkest blue.  She smiled at the door.  “Killian blew his brains out in front of the
boy, and Toby’s run off.”

Jenny started in spite of herself as Dorothea’s eyes suddenly snapped toward her.

“They’ll find him, though, Jenny,” Dorothea said, her lip twisting.  “They’re lookin’ for him, and by God, they’ll find him.”


©2010 A.K. Marshall

NaNo Rule #2 Keep Listening …. [unedited] Excerpt from In Dark Places….

Bergdahl’s eyes shone brightly in the flickering light of the match he struck. He raised the match and lit his cigarette, his blue gaze fixed down the darkened tunnel where the last remnants of smoke and dust settled after Isberg’s latest successful blast.

“That damn Swede will give ol’ Jessie a run for his money,” Bergdahl started with a
smirk as he pulled the cigarette from his mouth.

Toby did not answer. He turned his head slightly as he heard Tin pick up a shovel. As if it had been a signal, Toby began gingerly shoving at an empty ore cart, the carbide lamp on his hard hat picking out the damp, greasy rails before him.

“Damn Swede,” Isberg chuckled under his breath as he shouldered a pick and moved
briskly around Bergdahl.  Isberg’s eyes shone with laughter as the light from Toby’s lamp caught them.

“Why does he call you that?” Toby wondered amid the rasp of the wheels against the
rail as Isberg fell into step with him.

Isberg chuckled again—his laugh carrying the same lilt that shaped the hopefulness of
his voice. “He is a son of Norway,” Gunnar confided, his eyes still smiling.  “They chafe. It is their national lot.” Gunnar fell silent as he and Toby moved further down the tunnel.
“A son of Norway will always harass a son of Sverige.” Gunnar shot Toby a lopsided smile as he shouldered the pick higher. “But his rants are—“ Gunnar hesitated as he placed a hand on the ore cart—stopping it before he stooped to clear some debris from the track.  The rock banged and rankled as it settled in to the bottom of the cart.  Gunnar straightened, still smiling. “Impotent.”

It was the wrong thing to say.

Toby startled; behind him, it was unmistakably a growl from Bergdahl. He had roughly
flung his cigarette aside and was striding, his eyes flashing angrily, toward Isberg.

“Gunnar!” Toby yelped as Nils shoved at him, knocking him off balance and swinging back his pick. Gunnar spun, his eyes wide as the light from his lamp caught the glistening metal edge of the pick hoisted high.

“Toby…,” Gunnar breathed.

“What’s happened?” Tin started in a shout as he picked his way quickly back down the
tunnel, the light from his lamp twisting chaotically as he approached the pool of light where Toby and Gunnar had their lamps trained down on Nils Bergdahl who writhed, screaming, his leg pinned between two ore carts. Tin’s shovel rang against the tunnel floor and he slipped, his hand flying out and catching at the forward ore cart—moving it slightly and eliciting a howl of pain from the wounded Bergdahl.

Bergdahl’s blood shone stickily in the lamplight. Gunnar had hacked and torn madly at the sleeve of his own coat, he and Toby quickly turning it into a tourniquet to stem the blood that flowed from Bergdahl’s mangled leg. Nils howled, his hands scrabbling madly at the wound as Toby fought to restrain him—desperate to give Gunnar a chance to secure the tourniquet. Toby looked up, meeting Tin’s startled gaze.

“Help me, boss,” Toby faltered, his heart hammering in his own chest as adrenalin
pumped through him.

Tin dropped beside the three and made a grab for the cart to push it away.

“Not yet, boss,” Gunnar warned him. “I don’t want to tear his leg away,” he
continued darkly. Tin looked down.  The blood had thickened, quickly freezing against the cold metal of the cart.

“Oh, God,” Tin started, his voice catching.

“Hot water,” Gunnar continued as he tossed his head in the direction of the alcove.
“The kettle should still be hot—“

“It’s tea—“ Toby started.

Gunnar met his gaze grimly. “Is better.”

Tin scrambled to his feet, making for the alcove.

Bergdahl began to quiet as shock spread through him.

Förlorat blod,” Gunnar muttered.

“What?” Toby asked.

Gunnar tightened the tourniquet. “Lost blood,” he said again in English. “We must warm
him.” Isberg watched as Toby drew back abruptly, his fingers working madly through the buttons of his coat and then through his heavy woolen shirt beneath. He shivered slightly, his skin pimpling in the cold as he tore open Nils’ coat and shirt before he dropped forward, wrapping Nils within his clothes.

“C’m on, Nils,” Toby whispered as he struggled to cradle Nils closer. He shifted,
breathing warm breath against Nils’ neck.

Gunnar watched the blue eyes beneath Toby flutter insensately.

Han håller på att förlora..,” Gunnar breathed. He felt Tin arrive above him, the
kettle held tightly in his hand.

Han kommer inte att förlora,” Tin replied grimly. Gunnar started. He looked up at
Tin. “Get back,” Tin warned quickly.

“Here,” Gunnar directed.

Tin nodded darkly.

The wounded man was beyond protesting.

“Shut down,” Tin said again, his voice steady as Shen’s hand hesitated above the
straight key. Tin was looking down at the message Shen had translated from the
Manager’s Office.


Tin took a breath. “Accident.”

Shen tapped the word.


“Man down,” Tin continued.

Shen tapped the word. His fingers hovered expectantly above the device.

The straight key clicked a terse reply.


Tin shook his head. “Shen,” he said quietly, “Send LEG BROKE.”

The telegraph clicked as the connections were made and broken.


Tin nodded succinctly. “ Three hour delay. Apologies.” He hesitated. “T. Hansen.”

Tin watched silently as the straight key bounced his words through the lines that ran down the mountain. They waited. Tin chewed at his bottom lip. The contraption hummed and bounced suddenly. Shen’s pencil flew across the paper.


They waited.


Shen glanced up at Tin who let out an audible sigh of relief. He smiled weakly at
Shen. “Thank you, Shen,” he said, his voice weary.

“It is well, Tin,” Shen replied quietly. He turned as Yu appeared at the door, his
dark eyes fixed on the two of them.

“He rests, Tin,” Yu started quietly. “Toby is with him.” Tin looked down at the mug
of hot coffee that came toward him. “We will keep them,” Yu continued as Tin
took the proffered mug. “The doctor will come.”

“Thank you,” Tin whispered as his eyes closed against the welcoming steam and he took a sip.

The telegraph abruptly sprang to life, and Shen turned automatically, beginning
to take down the message.  As the contraption ceased, his brow furrowed at the paper and his hand hesitated on the pencil. Tin lowered his mug as Shen turned back toward him, proffering the paper.

“We must meet the tram,” Shen said quietly as he rose from the chair.

Tin stared down at the message in his hand.


© 2011 A.K. Marshall

NaNo Rule #1: Sometimes it’s just best to listen to the ones who will talk to you…. Excerpt from In Dark Places…

It’s become my #1 NaNo Rule: Who’s talking? Okay, I’ll listen.  I’m still working on In Dark Places from last year–even though I got to well over 70K words with it.  Josiah’s been talkative the past few days.  I’ll listen. I’ll write it down… after I get the nerve to crawl out from under the desk… talk about unnerving…. Not this part, though… yet.

I know I’ll work on a bunch of things over NaNo.  I still want to hunker down and get to work on my latest idea, but who am I to hold up a hand and say, “Ep! Ep! Not now!” to ANY of my characters? Here’s bit that leads into ANOTHER bit that I’m not going to post here yet, but trust me… yikes…Enjoy! (and then GET BACK TO WRITING YOUR NANO! BREAK’S OVER!) ^__^


An iron-cold breeze played at the edges of Josiah’s coat as he left the Assay Building, closing the door quickly and turning toward the low water crossing of Kupfer Creek that
skirted the structure.  He glanced up briefly at the trestle, but thought better of it, striding quickly, purposefully, toward the ice scuffed rough with the feet of other men, with the conveyances that would forego the rails in winter in favor of the frozen creek.  He pulled his scarf more tightly around his face and his dark eyes strained against the gathering gloom as he moved swiftly toward the frozen crossing.

“Josiah Craig,” a low voice drifted across the frozen creek toward him.  Josiah hesitated.

“Where is he?” Josiah ventured softly from behind his scarf.

He received no answer.  Josiah felt his heartbeat quicken.  He waited.

“Please,” he whispered, a ring of light from a lamp above him on the trestle reflecting off his wire-rimmed glasses.  He shook his head.  “Where is he?”  Josiah felt a twinge within his chest; he bowed his head as he reached within the folds of his coat for a moment, bearing down pressure against the muscle that continued to spasm.  He drew a trembling hand from beneath the coat and realized the heat against it was blood.  Josiah felt his eyes close.

Josiah looked up, startled, at the sudden audible draw of breath across the creek.  The boy, Lennart’s assistant, Olaf, stood on the opposite bank, his eyes wide as he took a shaking step back.

“Olaf,” Josiah smiled as he quickly withdrew his hand from sight.

“Mr. Craig,” Olaf faltered as he took another step back.

Josiah hesitated.  “How are–”

“Fine, sir!” Olaf said quickly.  He continued to stare across the creek at the mining engineer.  He took a breath. “Lennart’s expecting me.”

Josiah’s brow furrowed.

“But I’m fine here, sir,” Olaf continued, his voice nearly breathless.

“What’s the matter, Olaf?” Josiah ventured as he stepped closer to the frozen creek, wiping his hand carelessly against his wool coat.

“You can’t–” Olaf faltered as he stumbled back.

Josiah stopped.  “Can’t what?” he ventured.

Olaf looked away and shook his head.

A smile twisted Josiah’s lip as he stepped carefully out onto the ice.  Olaf’s breath caught.  He watched as Josiah quickly and nimbly crossed the low water crossing, his feet feeling across the ice easily and stepping gingerly onto the icy bank beside Olaf.

“Sir–” Olaf’s voice caught.

“What is it, Olaf?” Josiah ventured quietly, his breath condensing in the cold air as he leaned toward Olaf.

“It’s just that,” Olaf stammered, “I was afraid that–”

“That I would fall?” Josiah smiled helpfully.  He watched Olaf grasp at the proffered explanation.

“Yes, sir,” Olaf said readily, “that’s it, sir.”  He looked away from Josiah and shrugged uncomfortably in his coat.  “I should go, sir,” he muttered.

Josiah smiled and watched Olaf take a tentative step out onto the ice.  “Olaf,” he said simply, and Olaf turned back to him.  “It’s true what you’ve heard.”

Olaf’s eyes grew wide.  “Sir?” he faltered, his voice trembling.

“Evil cannot cross running water,” Josiah continued.  He watched Olaf visibly relax.

“Sir?” Olaf feigned ignorance, but Josiah was not taken in. Olaf took another breath. “You’re bleeding, sir,” he whispered.

Josiah followed Olaf’s gaze and gently pulled away his coat.  Olaf jerked back abruptly, slipping on the ice, nearly falling before Josiah caught at  his arm.

“Sir!” Olaf yelped.  He trembled as Josiah’s eyes darkened suddenly.

“I may be too late,” Josiah whispered urgently as he pulled at the boy’s arm.  “You must come with me.”

Olaf’s blood chilled suddenly in his veins.  “Lennart–” his voice caught as Josiah pulled insistently at his arm, pulling him up the rise toward the depot.  Olaf stumbled behind Josiah who moved swiftly down the rail bed, past the store, past the bunkhouses and the school.  Olaf attempted to jerk and twist against Craig’s grip, but was too terrified to
attempt an all-out struggle.  He looked down at the school as the trim figure of Emma Worthington swept out the front door, taking time to turn and lock it before dropping the key smartly into her purse and turning toward the walkway that would lead her up to the rail bed.  In an instant, Emma met Olaf’s frantic, pleading gaze.  The boy watched the
schoolteacher pale before he turned back to Craig who continued to stride toward the edge of Kupfer.

©2011 A.K. Marshall