Winding Down and Gearing Up

So, I mentioned it a few times throughout the last several months, but this has been a tough year as far as goal achievement goes. Now’s the moment you’ve been waiting for—just how badly did I flop on my face?

Well… it’s not great. Let’s do the numbers.

Reading Goals I had planned to read twenty-four books: half fiction, half nonfiction; at least six would be about experiences outside my own, and at least three would be Own Voices; and eight fiction from my genre, with four classics and four newbs. I didn’t quite make all that, but I got close-ish. I read twenty-four books, but half of them were not nonfiction. Eight were about experiences outside my own and five of them were Own Voices. Most of them were not from my genre, however. I read no classics, and only two in speculative fiction. Not bad, really, but not quite what I was aiming for.

Writing and Editing Goals I had planned to edit three drafts and write one first draft, as well as an unspecified number of short stories. I actually did… okay? ish? I did two quick and dirty edits on a pair of ugly first drafts (Box of Bones and A Cinder’s Tale) and wrote a first draft of another book in the Star Daughter series, an in-betweener focusing on one of the side characters that was kind of a pain to write. (Good side characters do not necessarily make good main characters.) I wrote a grand total of two short stories over the entire year, and honestly, that was probably pretty good, all things considered.

Rejections Goals Just like last year, I had planned to earn myself forty-eight rejections. Haha, yeah, that did not happen. Not even close. Remember back in August when I only had fifteen rejections? Yeah. It’s still fifteen. I completely checked out on that one.

But I have excuses! So, so many excuses. 😦

Writing Jobs I did quite a bit more freelancing this year than I have in years past, and that meant less time for my own writing. It’s success, in a way, although it doesn’t feed my soul as well as writing things that I love.

Animal Woes Between the staggering number of untimely poultry deaths we had this spring and summer, and the loss of our disgusting but strangely loveable dog Jasper, we had a lot of animal stresses to contend with in the early half of the year.

Multiple Medical Emergencies In addition to my own ongoing chronic health issues, I had family members with their own problems. My eight-year-old was attacked by a dog, and the lacerations became infected, which endangered his eye as well; it was several weeks before I didn’t feel the need to check his temperature and breathing throughout the night and he’ll bear those scars on his face the rest of his life. Stressful. Shortly thereafter, my husband hyperextended his knee and was unable to use his leg regularly for months, during which time he started having heart problems. He’s now seeing a cardiologist in an effort to not die. Also stressful.

Foster Care I mentioned this once before, but somehow in the midst of all our other madness, my family is currently fostering a very good kid dealing with some very heavy things. Just getting him to all his appointments throughout the week means at minimum four hours of phone time and five hours of out-and-about time, and he needs a lot of individual attention just to keep him from going to pieces at the drop of a hat (or a bagel). I knew foster kids took a lot of time/energy/attention, but holy Cheez Whiz, I had no idea.

All in all, it’s been a busy year. The animal woes have ceased (for now) and the medical emergencies have stabilized, but we’re still not sure about my husband’s health, and we’re still fostering. The timelines both of those adventures have big question marks at the end of them. With that in mind, I think that I need to lighten up on myself a bit for next year’s goals, which I will tell you all about next week. (You know, after I figure out what they are.) I have a lot going on, and it is all worthy of my attention.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m a big proponent of writing daily, of having goals, of working hard to keep the writing career moving forward. I am in no way dropping this part of my life. But I cannot sacrifice the well-being of children for this. I can’t sacrifice supporting my husband. I can’t sacrifice my flock of birds to starve out in the cold. And so these last few months have been pretty detrimental to my writing stuff. I did all three sessions of NaNo (November and the two camp sessions) and have kept the blog updated, but have otherwise largely stopped writing work since last spring.

Guys, it is seriously crushing my soul. So I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out a new balance. I’m excited to share my conclusions with you next week. Thanks for sticking with me! Until next week, happy writing, and happy New Year to everyone on the Gregorian calendar! Whee!

NaNo Recap: Fiction v. Nonfiction

Okay, I know that I whine about how hard it was basically every session of NaNoWriMo, but for reals, guys, this one was hard. I was really worried I wasn’t going to make it there toward the end. I spent a significant chunk of the month feeling supremely uninspired and had to start counting words that maaaaaybe really shouldn’t count, but they counted enough and I was scared. But this month’s scrappy desperation felt a little different because, for the most part, I was writing nonfiction. I’ve never tried that before. And let me tell you, it was hard.

I went into this maybe a little underinformed. The closest I’ve come to writing nonfiction before was a creative nonfiction short story of which I ended up having to completely rewrite the ending—the ending where the guy is executed for that murder he was found guilty of—because it turns out the guy’s execution was stayed at the last minute and he was released and spent his final days as a barber in upstate New York or something. Truth is stranger than fiction, I guess. The point is, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. And that never ends well for me. (Except for in marriage. Happy anniversary, babe!)

As it turns out, writing nonfiction is a totally different beast than writing fiction. Here are just a few of the differences that made my life difficult last month:

Nonfiction requires citations and stuff. You can’t just claim that the magic crystal pumps out thirty kilosparkles per minute under a full moon. You gotta annotate that junk.

Nonfiction sticks to the facts. Can I prove it? No? Then get that corn outta my face. It doesn’t matter that I like to make things up when I have no idea what’s going on. I have to figure out what’s going on. Even if it takes forever. That said…

Nonfiction is way slower to write. Yeah, that not making things up thing? That means that I have to look up anything I don’t know. Not just look it up, but find it (preferably in two or three places), weigh the merit of the publication, reference it, and add it to my bibliography. Every ten words takes about thirty minutes. It burns us.

Nonfiction requires research. Again related to the above point, but seriously, if I don’t know it, I have to figure it out. And if someone hasn’t already done that research, then I have to. Doing the research takes even more time than compiling the research, which takes even more time than writing about the research. And a thirty-one day writing sprint is definitely not the time to be conducting research. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

And I’m sure there are way more issues out there. This is just what I managed to uncover in a month of dabbling. (Did you know there are people who write nonfiction all the time? For a living? Willingly? It’s true!)

That said, there are advantages to writing nonfiction as well (and probably way more than I’m listing because augh, it hurt so badlyyy).

Fiction is more elaborate than nonfiction. There is something very straightforward and clean about writing nonfiction. Is it a verifiable fact? Then yes, that can go in. If not, save it for the alternate history fanfic. Probably nobody wants to know what the butter’s thinking as it melts in the fry pan anyway. (Probably.)

Nonfiction takes less concentration. For me, at least. When writing fiction, I need absolute silence, stillness, twenty minutes of meditation, and a sacrificial unicorn heart. Since nonfiction only deals with what really exists, though, and I don’t have to go into that zen creative brain space reserved for crafting universes out of what ifs and bat farts.

Nonfiction teaches. You could argue that fiction can do that, too, but mostly fiction is for entertainment. Nonfiction imparts knowledge, and that’s really cool to think about. Rare is the situation in which more facts and truth is a bad thing. Knowledge is power, y’all.

All that said, I’d like to keep dabbling in nonfiction, but I don’t think I’ll try it again during a NaNo month. Most of my difficulty can probably be attributed to trying to rush a project that would have benefitted from more thought. Despite the grind, I still want to finish both of the nonfiction projects I was working on last month. But I’m enjoying the work more now that I’m not tallying every word that I write as I nervously watch the clock winding down. (I really wouldn’t have won at all if I hadn’t paused in my nonfiction to draft out a fictional short story and notes, which ended up being nearly a quarter of my total wordcount for the month. I justified it because I was already working on multiple projects during the month, so what’s one more? Yeah, rules get a little bendy when you’re thirty percent behind schedule and things are looking grim.)

How about you guys? Any of my fine readers work in nonfiction? What are some of the pros and cons I may have missed in my quick splash in the shallow end? Let me know in the comments and, until next week, happy writing!

Reblog: The Beat Sheet

I just spent an hour writing and rewriting this post and, forget it, I’m clearly not ready to talk about it. Suffice it to say that I just had an absolute nightmare of a weekend and it’s a good thing I’m scheduled for a reblog today.

The Beat Sheet was a recent discovery and I’m still figuring out how it fits into my outlining style. I’ve experimented with following it exactly, and not at all, and with a few variances in between. We’ll see what I settle on in the end.

Not sure what the Beat Sheet is? Let’s ask Rob Price of SAGU’s Thought Hub!

Your Screenplay and the Beat Sheet

Blake Snyder’s beat sheet from Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need is the primary structure or foundation by which we are going to build our story. It’s the skeleton of the screenplay on which we will soon put on flesh. The beat sheet is a lot more than just Act I, Act II and Act III.

Snyder offers 15 different “beats” that writers of a screenplay should be cognizant to include in the storyline. The numbers next to each of these beats represents approximately on which page or page range they should occur (given that each page of a screenplay is typically about one minute of screen time).

By the way, assembling your beat sheet is the fourth stage that Snyder recommends when preparing your screenplay. If you’re interested in reading about the other stages in a screenplay, check out my 8-Step Guide to Writing Great Screenplays.

The Beats of a Screenplay

Opening Image (Page 1): This is the first impression of the movie: tone, mood, colors, type, scope, genre, the frame universe of the story.

Theme Stated (Page 5): Someone poses a question or makes a statement that reveals theme, but make it a passing offhand comment. Should not be “on the nose” or “too obvious.”

Set-up (Pages 1-10): This is the “make or break” section where you must grab audience or else lose them altogether.

Catalyst (Page 12): This beat can also be called the inciting incident or new opportunity. It is the moment that sets the rest of the film into motion.

Debate (Pages 12-25): The debate gives the hero the chance to say “should I really do this?” and shows how the hero could possibly answer the question or solve the problem, which leads to a firm decision to…

Break into Act II (Page 25): In Act II we leave the old world (the thesis) and journey into the upside down new world (antithesis).

Ready to read the rest? Head on over to the Thought Hub for more!

I Miss Plastic, and Other Tales of Woe

seal paintI stood helplessly in the grocery store last Friday, wandering in bewilderment up and down what had to be miles of grocery aisles. Everything I could possibly put on my grocery list was right here, but I couldn’t seem to buy any of it. I stared at racks that soared over my head and thought, ‘I just… I just want to make rice krispie treats.’

A little background: each year, my family observes its own weird version of Lent. It’s not a part of our religion, but we’ve decided it builds character. And since we subscribe to Calvin’s Dad’s School of Character, calvin shovelingwhat it usually boils down to is forty days of making ourselves as miserable and deprived as possible. This year seems to be the granddaddy of denial and, guys, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.

My kids and I have been worrying a lot about penguins and baby turtles and dolphins and stuff, and so we decided to give up single use plastic. This wasn’t a completely naïve decision- I had been working at cutting back on plastics for several months going up to it- but holy guacamole, I don’t know if this is even possible in Fairbanks Alaska. We knew we would have to make exceptions for things like milk and medicine, but this is nuts.

Did you know that paper ice cream cartons are lined with plastic? And really any paper food container, such as shortening or my favorite almondmilk? As well as metal cans and aluminum soda cans? And the looks-like-metal-to-me twist off caps of glass bottles? The stickers on produce? Like everything ever? It makes me angry that I researched this at all because I thought things like glass bottles and fresh fruits and vegetables were safe. What the heck are we supposed to eat until Easter?

The thing is, the closer I look at my habits as a consumer, the more I notice all the ways I am a bad hippie (and, at least this year, a bad observer of Lent). Sometimes, when I’ve done everything I can do and it still doesn’t feel good enough, I just have to make a mental note and move on and hope that maybe, in a more perfect future, this will be fixable.

There’s a writing lesson here too. (I know you were waiting for it. [Although, really, I did just want to complain about plastic. Man, I would do some horrible things for a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips right now.]) Everybody knows that first drafts are pretty ugly little things, and that can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe the characters don’t feel real and layered, or maybe the plot got a little off course somewhere along the way. But one of my omnipresent reasons is the abundance of writing tics that slip in uninvited.

Writing tics vary from person to person. Some people find themselves using tons of brackets, or dropping necessary helper verbs, or writing in passive voice, or using the same three actions over and over. But the common thread is that these are the same sloppy little quirks that sneak into your writing over and over again, without your even noticing them. Drafting from scratch tends to dredge them up the most frequently because that’s when the ideas are first forming out of nothing, producing large streams of text for tics to sneak in with. Drafting is when we are most likely to write the way we speak, complete with all the hedges, repeats, and asides that are totally normal and acceptable in casual speech and informal writing, but less so in a finished piece.

Going back to edit is when I tend to notice my tics. And much like plastic in a grocery store, once I start looking, it’s everywhere. I swear, not a paragraph goes by without someone sighing. If I really want to shake it up, maybe they’ll roll their eyes instead. OR BOTH. But even knowing about the sorts of tics that I gravitate toward, I can’t seem to stifle them when I draft. They’re like dandelions.

Next month is Camp NaNoWriMo. I have been failing miserably at pretty much all of my goals so far this year, so I am determined to pick up the slack and get this thing back on track. I’m going to draft a brand-new story (a side story in-betweener novella in a series I’ve been working on forever), and I’m already anticipating all the funky little quirks that I won’t notice until the editing stage begins.

Your tics and mine are probably different, but just for fun, here are my most common writing tics. Maybe you’ll recognize a few from your own writing!

JUST, A LITTLE, SORT OF Okay, maybe I just like to hedge a lot. (I see you there, Just.) And on the other hand…

A LOT, VERY, SO Same issue, just bigger. (I can’t un-see all these ‘just’s. I’m not doing this on purpose.)

PET VERBS like sigh, pause, grin, and hesitate. Just these four words are probably a pretty good synopsis of most of my first draft stories. Look out for the pregnant pause. (Oh my gosh, there’s another ‘just’. Normally I would fix these, but I’m leaving them in for your benefit. You’re welcome.)

UNREASONABLY LONG SENTENCES It’s not editing unless I’m breaking behemoth sentences down into two, three, sometimes four much more digestible tidbits.

There are definitely more tics. Soooo many more. But at least I’m not quite as food obsessed as I used to be. I’d wedge in these Redwall-esque banquets and I swear, my characters did nothing and said nothing without a wad of food in their hands. Now they just fold their arms and slouch in doorways instead.

How about you guys? Any tics tend to crop up in your writing? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Proud and Not Proud: A NaNo Confessional

nano-winnerSo I did it! Yaaaay! I spent about five days this month not scrambling behind the curve, but one of those days was the 30th, so yeehaw, I’m a winner.

Buuuut… then I spent December 1st going through and deleting all the utter garbage that was only kept around because I needed the words. I had files and files of things that I deleted because it was of no value to the current draft or its future editing. It was just junk. Filler. Fluff.

I’m kind of conflicted about this year’s win. Yes, I wrote over fifty thousand words, and I’m proud of that. But in just that first sweep of cutting the fluff? That was nearly eight thousand words. Eight thousand words. I could have been typing sdf sdf sdf sdf sdf sdf and the final result would have been the same. So… less proud of that.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little hard on myself. A lot of that stuff was freewriting that I did to try and unstick myself from a gunked up corner of some scene that wasn’t going anywhere useful. And for the most part it worked, getting me going on things that actually were pertinent to the story. It wasn’t all completely useless.

But then I must also admit that some of those words I counted were a report for work, drafted up in a file within the NaNo document before being sent off. Not a lot. But certainly more than the 350 excess words I found myself with at the end of the month. There’s no way I can kid myself into thinking those were in any way helpful to my story.

So what do I consider a victory here?

I love NaNoWriMo. It usually comes right when I’ve gotten incredibly lazy with my writing (which seems to happen every fall and early winter). It’s a great kick in the pants to get back in gear and like I mentioned earlier, I have done every session since I first became a mom, so there’s a bit of sentimentality in my doing it as well.

NaNo is wonderful for a lot of reasons. It helps me get back on track with my writing. It is something that I can do with my friends. It forces me to move forward even if I want to stop. It gets me a lot of words that I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise, or at least not nearly as soon or as quickly.

But there is another side to NaNo that doesn’t get talked about as much. In addition to all the awesome things I get from NaNo, I also get really lazy with my craft. Writing more words is always better than writing good words.  I take time away from the people I love and the jobs that are meaningful to me, and I put that time into writing- at least in part- fluff and filler. Standards for the meals I feed my family and the state in which I keep our home fall off drastically. I don’t practice music. I don’t read. I don’t exercise.

The WIP itself has some serious problems too. But since I didn’t possibly have the time to work through the plot holes and figure out consistent and plausible and clever ways for the characters to behave, I just plowed forward and hoped I would think of something later. I wrote an entire book in which I have no idea what any of the characters even look like. Eye color, skin color, hair length, nothing. Because who has time for careful consideration in November? I’m more concerned with churning out endless streams of garbage in a desperate word grab than in actually making something that I’m proud of.

Now, maybe I’m just thinking like this because I’ve been having a hard time with depression this winter. I’ve also been stressed out at work for reasons that have nothing to do with writing. For months, I couldn’t even go to bed without my husband because I would just lay there in the dark thinking about how I’m ruining everything that is important to me. So I can’t completely blame all of these negative feelings on NaNo when my head is clearly not in a good place right now.

All the same, I am well aware of the things that NaNo is good for, but historically overlook the things that it is not good for. Maybe there are times when writing in a mad frenzy of literary abandon isn’t the best thing for my story, or even for me. Maybe sometimes having an ambitious goal can sabotage the very thing I’m trying to achieve. Maybe focusing my efforts on attaining a certain number of words may come at the cost of telling a coherent story.

I love NaNo. (Have I mentioned that yet?) So don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll have many years of reblogging and belly-aching to enjoy while I slog my way through future Novembers. But maybe, just maybe, if one of those Novembers is especially busy and I am especially unprepared, I’ll be a little more forgiving if I feel the need to just sit one out. After all, I didn’t get into writing to churn out words. I got into writing to tell stories.

How about you readers? Do you have any thoughts on NaNoWriMo, or even on just the pros and cons of quantifying writing goals? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your ideas!

Until next time, happy writing!

Box of Bones, Prologue

I am so terrifyingly behind in Camp NaNo right now. D:

But here is the prologue to my project, Box of Bones. I’m not sure it’s a prologue I’m going to keep in the final product, but it’s where I started and it helped me get into the project in the first place. Enjoy!

Prologue

Tiva cleaned the last dish and set it on the rack to dry with the others. The windows were open out onto the cobblestone street below, and the breeze carried in the smells of dust and daffodils. Tiva would miss all this while she was away. It was always the mundane things she missed the most.

Her father was quiet at the kitchen table behind her, staring down at the blue veins of his hands. He had used to argue with her right before she left- oh, how they had fought- but he’d learned it wasn’t worth it. She would keep doing what she did, and there was nothing he could do to stop her. Or at least, there was nothing he was willing to do that would stop her. He knew the thread she walked on in her line of work. It had taken only the smallest misstep for her husband to fall off that thread. Her father wouldn’t risk her falling as well. There were risks enough without his adding to them.

Tiva wiped the table and the counter tops and dried her hands on her apron. She cleaned the lamps and swept the floor, working room to room in their tiny home. She saved the chamberpot for last of all, and then scrubbed her hands with lye soap and the sink water before draining it from the basin and hauling it out to the street. She watered the bright flowers lining her whitewashed wall and then tossed the last of the water down the street, watching the grimy water disappear in the cracks between the sunbaked cobblestones. A lean gray cat darted out of an alley to lap up the water before it disappeared, watching her with amber eyes.

She went back up the stairs, untying her apron, and hung it on a peg inside the kitchen door. She buffed the basin in the kitchen until it shined, brushing her fingers lovingly across the glazed images of the Mother and the Twins.

Everything was done. It was time to leave.

Tiva kissed her father on the top of his bald head, squeezing his shoulder, and he pressed his hand over hers. She rested her cheek against his forehead, staring down at the tabletop with him.“I love you, Papa.”

“Be careful, Tiva.”

“I will. Just a few months and I’ll be back again.” She stepped back, giving him a playful smile as she went for the door. “Don’t kill my flowers.”

She got her bag from her room and went back down the stairs, the wooden steps groaning beneath her heels. She turned up the streets, greeting neighbors she’d known since she was a girl, and went farther and farther from her home, into the parts of town she had always warned her own two children against.

The sun rose higher and shone straight down into the narrow alley. Sweat prickled down her neck and her back, and more and more people retreated into their homes to wait out the afternoon heat. Tiva walked on, her palm sweaty on the handle of the bag. Her belly fluttered with queasiness and she couldn’t quite still her pattering heart. She wasn’t worried. She always got like this before a job, every time. It was nothing to worry about. Just something to live with.

Finally, she reached the grocer’s shop and went down stone steps to the dark cool of the interior.

A man at the counter called to her before her eyes adjusted to the dark. “Tiva, my beauty. How’s that grandbaby of yours?”

Tiva’s face broke into a brilliant smile, her eyes crinkling into merry laugh lines. “She gets heavier every day. I don’t know what Mahli’s been feeding her.”

He laughed. “How’s she adjusting? Her husband helping her out?”

“He’s been a saint.” Her eyes adjusted and she stepped down a narrow corridor lined with baskets and bins of fruit and vegetables, fresh from the countryside. “And his mother too. They take such good care of my girl.” She flicked her fingers over her heart in a small blessing. Her children had all the gifts she could wish for them, all the ones she hadn’t had herself- steady homes, good communities, bright futures. It was everything Tiva had fought so hard for all those years. With just a few more jobs, she could guarantee their futures. Then she could tell them the truth.

“Good.” The man grunted, his chair creaking as he rose up onto his one leg. He grabbed his crutch from the wall and hopped after her. “And Werrin?”

“Oh, he complains endlessly, the thankless beast. Even after all these years.” The man chuckled and she added, “You’d think I apprenticed him to a bear for all his whining.”

He shook his head. “Youngest. It’s in their nature.”

“All the same, he’s progressing. He made me the most beautiful basin for the kitchen. It’s hard work, but he’ll manage it.” She paused at the door in the back, hidden behind a pillar, crowded with stacked baskets.

“Takes after you then.” He paused at the basket of nespera and tossed one to her. “Take care of yourself, beautiful.”

Tiva caught it with a laugh. “You, too, Barik.” She lifted the bag over her shoulder and shimmied sideways through the narrow gap, pushing the door open with her hip.

The hall was black as the door swung closed behind her. Without a window to the outside, it was cold and dark, a welcome change after the bright and heat of the outdoors. The sweat on the back of her neck chilled her and she let out a breath, starting forward. She, and probably scores of others like her, knew every step of that corridor. The only ones who didn’t know the steps weren’t supposed to be there. They never found their way back out again.

She turned down a side corridor and down an uneven flight of steps, the stone worn and sloping. She shouldered her way through the door at the bottom of the steps, biting into the nespera, its bright sweetness hitting her tongue at the same moment she noticed the lamplight from the next room.

A woman sat at a table, two other men busily pouring over stacks of paper. The woman smiled up at Tiva tiredly. “Thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow.”

Tiva shrugged, heading into a little alcove at the back of a support pillar. “Werrin’s master needed him back. May as well get an early start.” She held the fruit in her teeth and untied her headscarf. She started unbuttoning her blouse and asked, “Nera still mad about the last batch?”

“Oh, she’s always mad about something. You just do your job and she’ll do hers. Don’t worry about it.”

But Tiva did worry. Nera had a say in Tiva’s bounties. She had a say in Tiva’s assignment pool. Maybe the others liked Tiva, and still remembered her husband, but Tiva didn’t like complications. Her work was complicated enough. She kicked her skirt aside and dug through her bag, pulling out a tunic and a pair of trousers. They were rough and ugly, stained and worn in patches and streaks. Not shabby enough for begging, but not nice enough for respect, they were the kind of clothes you wore when you didn’t want to be noticed.

It was more than subtlety, though. Tiva always changed her clothes before a new assignment. She didn’t know why. She just knew that it made things easier in her head. Tiva-at-home wouldn’t like the things that Tiva-abroad had to do. Best to leave all that behind.

Tiva stuffed her clothes into her bag and went back out to the table. The other woman pushed a stack of papers to an open chair and Tiva sat, setting her bag against her ankles.

Tiva did a lot of things for the Plum Army. And she’d been at it long enough now that, most of the time, she had the right to choose the things she did. If she didn’t like an assignment, she didn’t take it. She made her way through the stack of assignments, reading each description, and placed them face down in one of two piles. Maybe, and No. And then she went through the Maybe pile again, dividing it into Still Maybe, and Not This Time. It was important that she choose carefully. If she failed her mission, she didn’t get paid. If she failed it badly, she didn’t get to come home again.

Her husband had failed his last mission badly, all those years ago. She wouldn’t do that to her family again.

Finally, there was only one page left in the Maybe pile.

The woman frowned down at the paper as Tiva handed it back, staring at it for a long moment. “Huh.” Her eyes flicked up to Tiva’s. “Didn’t know you were a sailor.”

“Close enough to pass for it.”

“You sure? It’s pretty a specialized assignment.”

“I’m sure.”

She shrugged. “Alright, then. I’ll have the girls draw up the papers. They’ll be ready for you in…” She glanced down at the page again. “… Dahlsport in a week. Twin’s luck.”

Tiva stood, lifting her bag. “Twin’s luck.” She scooped the nespera seeds into her hand and headed for the door, leaving Tiva-at-home behind her.