Hot Chips and Sand
Copyright © 2012 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
Vickie’s heart pounded as she
raced[MH1] up the stairs
of the decrepit [MH2] Middle -Eastern
boarding house. [MH3] “I am not
panicking,” she told herself firmly. The slam of a door behind her made her
heart skip. She jumped, then started taking the stairs
two at a time.[MH4]
,” she repeated.
“So what if those
gruesome guys are chasing me? It’s no worse than [MH5] Pinlow back at the office
[MH6] hounding me for his reports.” She reached the
second floor and paused, holding her cramped side
and puffing air. To tame her rising terror, Vickie pictured the
gun-toting Arabs with Mel Pinlow’s mealy face. It worked: for a moment
the incongruous picture of Mel,
demanding reports Rambo-style, distracted her from her
Feet hit the stairs below. Vickie startled
into motion. She had to hide, but quick.
the third floor landing
she[MH7] threw open a door.
A dank corridor stretched before her, low watt bulbs making the ratty red carpet look like a sluggish stream of blood. The hall was lined with narrow wooden doors. Vickie
paused, not sure what to
do. [MH8] Her escape from the Arab
thugs had been luck; she was making things up as she went along.
The door was locked.
Hiding place. Vickie turned into the room—and froze.
She had not considered that the rooms might be occupied
; this one
certainly was. The
lighting was no better than the hall, but[MH11] he was big, he was half‑naked, and he was staring at
[MH13] a deer caught in a headlight. This was one too many.
How could this be
happening to her? Except for her red‑gold hair, she considered herself
average, for heaven’s sake. Dull and boring . A mundane computer geek —well, geekette.
She tossed a quick glance at the door
behind her, then again at the man in front, who had as yet done nothing but
stare. Maybe she could still escape. Maybe she could…
Then he moved.
The speed of his thought and action numbed her. Somehow he had deciphered what was going on, for in the instant before the door opened she was on the bed under him, his body
[MH14] hers. With one hand he twisted her
tell‑tale hair into a knot hidden behind her neck, and when the
door opened, he pressed his mouth against hers.
Vickie had never been one for mystical experiences. Programmers
tend to be practical. But this man,
in the brief seconds of his kiss, burned himself into her soul.
He lifted his head. “What the hell! Can’t a man have any privacy?” Since the man was still hiding her with his mass, Vickie felt his voice more than heard it
. What a voice.
Almost as if someone had put the
bass speakers from her nineteen‑year‑old brother’s boom box
[MH15] on her chest.
There was a stream of Arabic. When the first voice answered, it was again in English. “Yes, of course. So sorry to have disturbed you
.” Vickie heard the shuffling of feet leaving the
As soon as the door closed, the man leaped off the bed and locked the door. Vickie felt a chill draft in his absence.
One glance at
her and the man took something from a tilted chest of drawers . “You’ll need
something a bit more, ah, practical ,” he said, holding
out[MH17] a huge
Vickie managed to sit up, but then started trembling uncontrollably. I can’t lose it yet, she thought furiously, but she was losing it, shivering, her eyes watering.
joke? Then she shook her head, disbelieving. This was ridiculous.
If she hadn’t
suffered through two days of forced plane rides and muzzle‑prompted hotel
accommodations, culminating with her escape on the eve of her packaging and presentation to the
dictator of this Middle East hell‑hole she was in, she would have thought she
was in a computer game , or dreaming.
The big man
went back to the chest of
drawers as she tugged on the T‑shirt. It
fell, ungainly, halfway to her knees.
,” he mused.
[MH20] He pulled another T‑shirt from the
drawer. “Last one ,” he noted, hefting it in his hand . “Wrap it around your head.”
She caught it
“What are you going to wear?”
Vickie dangled from the man’s arm like a baby.
feetfeeble lights illuminated a
narrow cobbled courtyard far below. Eyes widening, she jerked her head quickly up. Only one more
story to the roof. Keeping her eyes up, she
felt for the window ledge with her
feet, but couldn’t quite reach it. “Could you lower me a …”
She trailed off, perplexed,
as she felt his muscles bunch.
Realization dawned too late and she
frantically for a nearby platform or landing or anything less than ten feet away.
Then they were
in the air, with a suddenness that made her clutch for a
handful of brawn. They landed , with a jarring clang , on the fire escape across the
down[MH22] in his grasp, and began whispering
fervent prayers that he would find a shirt , or grow
chest hair , anything she could hang onto, or at least put her down on something solid.
raise her head, but
her awkward position prevented
it . Then she saw her captors in the space below. “It’s them,” she
didn’t seem to hear her . “Those men who
captured me,” she said a little louder. “They’re down there.”
still didn’t answer. The men were milling around, obviously still searching for
her. “Look, you steroid Santa, we’re going to be seen!” She kicked at him a bit
[MH1]Raced is a good strong verb. I think panted is better because it gets across that she's racing PLUS it shows her physical state.
[MH4]Personally, SLAM! Heart skip, then she jumps then finally starts running again seems a little stuttery. SLAM! skip run seems better. Cracked plaster walls is me sneaking in the second half of the description \of the deleted word decrepit.
[MH7]Swearing creates emphasis and heightened emotion. I consider it literary pepper. But repeated swearing is boring to me. So I spice it up a bit and get a little characterization in at the same time :)
[MH8]My first drafts are full of places where I skip logical steps. Here, I go right from a hallway of doors to Vickie's uncertainty. Her conflict--which door does she choose--is totally skipped. Don't get me wrong--implied conflict can be awesome. But you have to make sure the reader is barreling toward the conflict so that it gapes in front of them at the last second and they have to jump the connection or fall. Sort of stirring a couple things together and expecting the reader to hunt for the conflict is muddled writing.
[MH10]Here's a choice between hammering the character's name into the reader's head versus the reader being in the character's head. The deeper you want the reader to identify with the POV character, the more you should use the pronouns he/she rather than the names.
[MH13]Felt, saw, etc are FILTER words--used to established point of view. The closer the point of view, the more these filter should be cut.
[MH14]If you've read Biting Nixie, you'll see here my natural mode of communication is more like Julian's than Nixie's :) I work hard to declutter my writing.
[MH16]Shuffling may imply apologetic but I like spelling it out. There's a school of thought that you can't attribute a person's attitudes to body parts, but I like clever hands and well-schooled mouths and apologetic feet.
[MH18]Number one, she's not helpless. Number two, even if she were, the hero can't make her feel that way.
[MH21]Here's a good exercise. Go through a manuscript and find all the "she said/asked xxx-edly" passages. Ask youself if the dialog has already shown the xxx-edly. If not, come up with a way to show it.
[MH22]Up, down, just, etc. are garbage words. When you see them, try the sentence without. See if they are truly necessary.
[MH23]Oh, gee, I like heroes who growl. I had a zillion growls in Nixie before my editor kindly told me. To me, they were part of his character but to everyone else in the world so many came off as a tic.