Hot Blacktop Ch. 5 – Burned

Mature content

“You need to leave,” Sienna said, and pushed Saint away before his lips touched hers.

Saint straightened to his full height. Sienna froze as his narrowed gaze locked to hers like a taught cable. She tried to hide her reaction, but her body burned for him. Then she blinked and he turned away, to leave, she hoped. She walked toward the kitchen when the snick of the front doors lock sounded like a detonation. Tingles of heat swarmed through her body. A tsunami of need washed over her, an uncontrolled response. Sienna thought she’d convinced herself she wasn’t at all interested in the sexy man, but her body disagreed. Her nipples tightened. The moisture between her legs grew until she pressed against the cool tile at the edge of the kitchen counter and her legs pressed together. If only she didn’t feel as if the door he just closed and locked was one she could open. But no, she wouldn’t open that door again.

She didn’t want to like him so much though. The fact they met the night before didn’t mean much at the moment. Her mind and body were a contradiction. Sienna shook her head, her fingers gripping the counter until they turned white. She’d tried hard to lock her heart away after Layton betrayed her, but somehow, the small snick on the lock on her front door, sounded more like a bomb that signaled an emotional implosion. Saint’s action minutes ago and his actions last night seemed to break down all the walls she’d built. She didn’t want to build them again. Sienna knew she would have to if she let him in. Dammit!

Her mortar crumbled bit by bit. It’d broken down so many times she’d gotten used to what came after, the loneliness, the heartbreak, the rebuilding. She’d let Layton in after she’d promised herself, after her mother left, she would never let herself love someone again. She always hoped though, one day, someone would stay. But people always walked away in the end. Everyone had.

The one who hadn’t was Megs. Being best friends like they were…Megs had saved her. Without Megs, she would have spiraled into a bout of depression in her teen years when her mother disappeared from her life. Her mother hadn’t cared enough about her to stick around. Instead, she’d lied about going to the grocery store, took what money they had in savings, and had left her with nothing. She feared if Megan hadn’t been there, Megan’s family taking her in, it would have been Sienna’s undoing.

Lost in the past, not wanting to be there and ignoring Saint, Sienna looked around on the counter. She needed coffee. Right now. The automatic task in mind, she went to work. The cabinets banged as she grabbed her favorite mug with the gold star on it, she scooped coffee in robotic movements. Dark grounds fell into the gold filter. The water, cold to her touch, she measured, poured it into the water tank. She pushed the start button and moved to go to the pantry for cereal when she heard Saint’s boots slide across the carpet in a soft cadence. As he drew closer, she swore in her head again. Sienna didn’t want to deal with another man right now. Not for a long time. Maybe ever. Layton’s theatrics had been enough to last her a lifetime. But Saint had been so sweet the night before. She should at least give him a thank you? No! Her doors were closed. She would get her mental mortar out, fill the holes as soon as she had her morning coffee.

Sienna heaved a sigh, resigned. Getting rid of him was going to take longer than she wanted. Before she could move to the pantry, Saint crowded in behind her. Oh boy, she thought. He nudged her with his hips. Then she said without thinking, “Crap on toast!” shivered and tried to hide a groan.

“What’d you say?”

She didn’t respond for a second. Nerves coalesced. She blurted, “Do you want some coffee.” Why she asked him to stay for coffee she didn’t know. She wanted to get rid of him not keep him around. Say no, say no, say no.

“Sure,” he responded, then thankfully, stepped back. “How’s your head?”

“Fine,” she said not turning to look at him.

Sienna got her second favorite mug down–this one with a green circle and a splash of an abstract wash of blue’s–and waited with her back to Saint. Maybe if she didn’t ask him any questions he would drink his coffee and leave. But too soon, Saint asked, “So, what do you do, Sienna?”

She licked her lips, took a deep breath, gathered up her courage to face one of the sexiest men she’d ever seen and turned around.

“Twisted Metal,” she responded.

“You twist metal?”

“No, I co-own Twisted Metal. It’s the name of my jewelry boutique I co-own with Megan. My job is to design the jewelry; Megan takes care of the business side.”

“Cool name.”

“Yeah, we think so.” The coffee beeped, Sienna quickly turned around, and grabbed the coffee pot to give her hands something to do.

“What do you do?”

“I test motorcycles, racing bikes.”

She stayed quiet and poured, stared at her hands as they shook. Wasn’t that dangereous? She cleared her throat. “Oh?” The coffee splattered over the edge of one cup. She was barely able to do a better job with the second one.

“You okay, Sienna?”

“Yeah. Fine.” She heard him move toward her. She turned around and held up both mugs so he couldn’t come any closer. “I guess Layton’s little temper tantrum upset me more than I thought.” That was a lie, of course, but Saint didn’t need to know he made her nervous. Saint’s lips pinched down and his jaw tensed again. “I’m fine, really.” He opened his mouth to speak but she beat him to it, held out his mug, and asked, “Do you want any cream?”

He reached out and took the mug from her hand. His skin brushed hers, slow warmth spread out from the tips of her fingers down to all the right places. Leather and man permeated her senses. She inhaled deep, turned around to reach into the frig for some whip cream and chocolate syrup to doctor her coffee. It was a mocha morning. When she turned around, Saint glanced down to her mouth and watched as she took a sip. Her gaze met his. What she saw made her nearly choke on the whipped cream she’d licked off the top of her coffee. She coughed a few times and Saint took a step forward. Slow as molasses, he took the mug from her hand, set it down next to his own.

“You know I have to taste you now, right,” he whispered.

Sienna shook her head back and forth. She tried to back up but the counter and his arms surrounded her. She shook her head.

“Oh yes. And I think you want me to, don’t you Sienna?”

“Na…no I’m good.” But it was too late.

His hands inched closer becoming a fiery vice. Her breaths grew heavy and her tongue swept across her parched lips. She needed another drink of coffee, preferably with a bit more kick. When one of his hands moved, he captured her head in his palm and stilled her. Her breath caught in her throat. Saint leaned into her, his cock hard, an insistent presence against her belly. It made her want to groan with need but she could control herself, right? She wouldn’t kiss him back. He needed to leave. Her hands moved up to his firm chest ready to push him away, but instead, her nails curled into his shirt and she yanked him closer at the same time his mouth took hers.

Saint controlled the kiss the instant their lips touched. His fingers combed through her hair, the methodical movement added fire to the kindle that already burned. When he wrapped the long locks around his wrist, Saint’s grip constricted any movement. Sienna gasped then moaned into his mouth, trying to hold back, but it was no use. He bent her head back further and she was lost to his demands. Saint nipped her lip, his tongue pressed for entry she obeyed and opened for him, her mind a blank space, her body a willing participant. Sienna would give him anything in this moment. She couldn’t help the moan that escaped the harder he pulled her hair. She begged him for more with small mews that crowded her throat. Saint released her hair. She would have fallen but rough fingers danced up to bare back the dress exposed, he kneaded, molded her curves. His other hand took full advantage of the dress she woke up in, it meandered lower, inched over sensitive, aroused flesh. It maddened her until he grabbed her ass and ground his cock in just the right place. “Ohh!” She hummed into his mouth. He pressed even harder, circling, circling, his hips, with each sound she made. Sienna’s clit throbbed. The molecules of pleasure gathered, tightened, and drew her closer and closer to the apex, that tipping point just out of reach. She edged closer to the precipice, desperate to come. Her body became more frantic as each second passed. The orgasm was almost…almost. Saint pulled away.

“No! What are you doing?” she breathed and tried to pull him back to her.

“I want to watch you come.”

“What?” She said, breathless.

Her breaths came harder, faster, when she realized he hadn’t stopped. His body still tight to hers, her breasts ached against his hard chest. Saint yanked her away from the counter and gripped her ass almost painfully. She cried out. There wasn’t even the tiniest space between them. Her head fell back. His movements got smaller, shaper. He thrust forward and back over and over. Her breaths came in pants now, short, painful. She looked to him, her eyes hooded, his lust for her made her blood boil. That’s all it took. She detonated like a grenade and her body filled with an erotic haze. Inner walls spasmed. Fingers clamped down on his biceps and he held her weight taking her mouth again. That was the most intense orgasm I’ve ever had, she thought.

He never let up the pressure on the small bud. Oh God, he has to stop. The sensations made her spasm over and over and then, not taking his eyes off her, he bit her lip at the same time he reached down under her dress, took her clit between his thumb and index finger, and rolled it with enough force, ripples of pleasure continued its assault. Her whimper echoed in his mouth as he kissed her again. Mini orgasm’s rolled over her one after the other. She lifted her head. “Oh, sweet baby Jesus, no more, no more.” She begged.

Saint chuckled, as his lips brushed down across her jaw. His teeth scraped her neck. He tapped her lips with his own, a playful gesture, and then he rested his forehead against hers.

“So responsive.” His head titled back and forth when he leaned back to take her in, his finger followed the same path his mouth did. “I want you at the raceway.”

“Huh,” she said dazed, his words so off topic, the topic being her body still on fire for him. She licked her lips, dry from her screams. He watched the movement like a predator stalking prey. He blinked when she asked, “What raceway?”

“Paulson Raceway. I want to take you out for a ride.”

“A ride?” She squeaked and then swallowed trying to get some kind of composure back.

“My ride.”

“Your what?”

He smiled. “My bike. You got to meet her.” and touched his lips to hers again. She panicked at the affection, pulled back and Saint frowned.

“What? No!” she said flustered. “I’m glad you were here when Layton showed up and I appreciate you bringing me home last night, but I’m not going out with you.”

“I have to disagree.”

“What’s there to disagree about? I don’t know you. And as you saw with Layton I make poor choices when it comes to men. And you’re a man. So, I’m not going to go out with you.” She crossed her arms and dared him to disagree again. She knew she shouldn’t go out with him. Sienna liked him too much. That was the problem. If they went out, she’d make room for him in her life, start to care for him even more, until one day, she wasn’t good enough for him anymore. He’d walk away. No, she wasn’t going to go out with him.

“Right,” he said and shook his head. “I don’t believe you want to disagree.”

His gaze went down to her chest and she tipped her head down, her nipples poked through her dress. She lifted her arms higher to cover the taut peaks. She glared at him. “No, no, no,” saying it over and over again so he’d believe it. “Well that’s too bad, because as I said, I am not going out with you.”

“Hmm. But you want to.”

“No I don’t,” she snapped. “You need to leave,” she said before she could do something stupid, like grab his shirt and drag him up to her bed so she could take full advantage of his big, strong, hard…she glanced down. His erection strained against his slacks.

She must have hummed her pleasure again, because she was startled when Saint said, “I’ll see you in one week. That’s all the time I’ll give you to adjust to the idea of being mine.” And then he headed toward the front door.

“No you won’t,” she said like a frustrated child. Did I just stomp my foot?

“Oh, you’ll see me again, Sienna. If you don’t, who’s going to give you one of the best orgasm’s you’ve ever had.”

Had she said that aloud? “Gah!”

“One week, Sienna,” he called over his shoulder not even looking at her. Then he walked down the front porch, got into his truck and drove away.

She stood there so long she started to get goose bumps on her skin when the clouds divested her view of the sun. Sienna backed up, closed the door, and started toward the kitchen.

She was not going to go to the Paulson Raceway.

Sienna reached for her coffee, but groaned instead. She leaned into the counter. What had she done? Her internal walls warmed again, and she flushed and shivered with a greater need than she’d ever known. The irresistible problem was, she just had had the best orgasm of her life and Saint wanted to give her more.

“Arrogant rock-hard jerk!”

How Important is the Title?

What weight should we give to the title of a novel?

If the sum of a book is 100%, is the title worth 20% or 80%? On the one hand, if the title isn’t catchy then potential book buyers may never pick it up. All the efforts the author has put in will never be tested. What a waste for both author and reader. On the other hand, if the title is too convoluted readers may not understand the direction the author is taking them. Like a four-star chef, authors want readers to finish their creation. Putting it aside half-finished is worse than having never started. It is the difference between telling the waiter, “I’ll try something else, thank you,” and telling your friends, “I’ll never eat in that restaurant again.”

This question has been weighing heavily on my mind for the past few months as I turn the final corner on writing Knock Softly (working title). I’ve asked a few fellow writers – those who are in my writing group and have read the manuscript so far – to think of something better. Nothing is sticking. I try not to fret about it, tell myself it’s not important until you finish, but that finish line is now in sight and the fret is turning into sweat.

Let’s look at the responsibility of a title. That’s right, a title has responsibilities. First and foremost it has to succinctly sum up your story. It also has to be catchy enough to cause a reaction. It should say either “pick me up” or “not for me.” But is that all? Shouldn’t the title also come into to play at the end of the read? Shouldn’t the reader be able to see that title again on someone else’s shelf and be able to recall the entire story? Have an engaging conversation with that person over the book? Gone with the Wind does that. So does Hunt for Red October and To Kill a Mockingbird, and numerous others. That’s my dilemma with Knock Softly. I want a title that will recall the entire tome when next you see it again.

I came up with Knock Softly strictly as a constant reminder to myself that no main characters die in this story – there are things worse than death. Cancer is the villain. Curing our heroine is the story’s master thread, and keeping that central to the other events in the story hasn’t been difficult. Those other events include our heroine’s infidelity and a tortured past life she’s kept secret from her husband and children. Only mitochondrial DNA can save her now. To get it, her husband must delve into her dark past. Her desire to die with her secret is almost as strong as her will to live for her children and the child she carries. Knock Softly doesn’t convey any of that.

In Knock Softly, we have a mother of two, pregnant with another man’s child and suffering stage-4 cancer. She refuses to abort the baby, even though it increasingly diminishes her own chances of survival. Her husband rides the full length of the emotional rapids as he discovers there is so much more to the woman he married.

I don’t have the answer to my question; what weight should we give to the title of a novel?

I suspect it’s a squishy number, based on how strong the author’s own name is. Steven King could call his next novel Untitled and it would sell out. I doubt 100 copies would sell if my name were on it. For someone like me, a mild-mannered suspense writer whose day job is composing coherent internet ads in forty characters or less, I suspect the title is worth nearly half of everything written. It is in advertising, and in selling newspapers.

Now taking good suggestions for A.K.A. Knock Softly. Anyone?

Vacation Suspense – Part 2

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Television producers try to get you to come back for more by showing scenes from “the next exciting episode” of whatever program you’ve just watched.  Writers have to do the same thing sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and chapter to chapter.  Suspense is one of the tools of the author’s craft that helps pull the reader along.

For me, suspense is the essence of a story that makes me skim a few pages more because I have to know what comes next before I put the book down for the night.  Though most easily seen in cliffhanger thriller and action pieces, suspense is also present in more subtle ways when a story has engaging characters or a compelling storyline.  Will the young lovers stay together in the face of pressure from their parents?  Will the social activist win against the sea of opposition?  Stay tuned for the next sentence, paragraph, or chapter to find out.  That’s suspense.

A few days prior to my vacation in October, John McCarthy challenged the members of the Deadwood Writers Book Study Group to write a paragraph containing suspense.  I took the idea on the trip with me not knowing if I’d do anything with it.  While sitting on the beach I wondered how I might describe the scene around me in such a way to make it interesting.  What started as an exercise in scene setting became one for developing suspense:

A warm breeze passed over Sarah as she scanned the overcast sky.  The clouds kept the sun from making it scorching hot, yet enough blue shown through to make it a pleasant day at the beach.  Sunbathers spread out across the sand with no one closer than a hundred feet between.  The more cautious among them sat beneath the colorful umbrellas that peppered the landscape.  When screams rang out from the ocean, Sarah’s heart raced and her eyes scanned the surf left, right, left, right for the source.  It took her several eternal seconds to find the sounds came from a young surf boarder having a good time.  “Calm down, Sarah,” she told herself, as she wiped sweat off her face that had nothing to do with the midday heat.  “No one’s caught in a riptide like before.”

There are questions this passage provokes that I hope would cause a reader to want to know more and keep reading:

  • Who is this character named Sarah? A lifeguard, tourist, or maybe a resident on the beach?
  • Who got caught in the riptide? Was it someone close to Sarah?
  • Did the person drown or get saved?
  • Why did the incident affect Sarah so much?
  • What role did she play?

As writers, we must always be aware of what will keep a reader tuned in for more.  Thinking about the questions our passages inspire is a good check on the suspense we are trying to create.  As we begin to answer those questions, we need new ones to continue the process until we reach a conclusion.  Does that mean you have to answer all the questions by the end of your piece?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes you want to leave a person on a thought provoking note.  If you’re writing a series, you might leave the reader with something that nudges them to read the next book or blog post.

Consider these memorable ways that writers/authors have tempted their audiences:

Same bat time, same bat station.

Luke, I am your father.

Happiness is…

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Even if somewhat misquoted, people were so taken with the lures that the lines have become part of the modern lexicon.  How can you reach that level of popularity?  It all starts when you figure out how to entice your readers to ‘stay tuned.’

Vacation Suspense – Part 1

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One of the biggest challenges writers seem to face is finding the time to write. If you don’t have the privilege of writing for a living, one must contend with a day job, spouses, kids, pets, or any number of things higher on the priority list than putting word to paper.  This month held an extra challenge for me in that I dared to take a vacation.  Oh the horror!  The blog deadline!  The explosion of submissions for critiquing!  The book study!  Blog editing!  Would I ever be able to keep up?  The answer, in a word: no.

On the first day of vacation, I let my Twitter followers know that I would try to answer the question: Will a writer write while on vacation? After that, I kept them updated with daily statuses on how things were going telling them each time to ‘Stay tuned.’  Did I write anything?  Yes, on the third day I penned a paragraph while sitting on the beach.  Yea!  On the fifth day I caught up with email, sent out some tweets, and wondered if that counted as writing.

In the end, my writing mind rode the vacation trail and did not create a blog post or anything more than that paragraph on the beach. As I read that sentence, I realize I’m falling into a trap many writers set up for themselves which is to think you are only succeeding if you achieve some arbitrary amount of specific work.  The truth is that I did compose something.  I also thought about what I might write which is an important part of the process.  So, despite being on vacation, I produced this piece on my first day back.

It is, however, two days late to my editor. Will she forgive me and find a way to help me polish it in time for posting on the 24th?  Will Part 2 offer interesting and helpful insight on suspense?

Stay tuned…

Minutiae

According to Merriam-Webster.com, “Mystery” means anything that is not understood. Its origin pre-dates the bible. “Suspense” is defined as nervousness or excitement caused by wondering what will happen. It was first used in the 1500’s. “Minutiae” means trifles, details and smallness, and it dates to 1782, making it the new kid on the vocabulary block. The elements of minutiae can enhance both mystery and suspense, but they are used differently in each genre.

In a mystery, you don’t know who done it; that’s for the protagonist and the readers to figure out. The author plants clues throughout the story, and those clues are often in the minutiae, the small details in the beginning that have large consequences in the end. For example, break a fingernail in Chapter 1 and have that fingernail show up at the scene-of-the-crime in Chapter 7. Mystery readers need to be on their toes, constantly asking themselves, “Why did the author choose this minutiae to express that scene?” Readers won’t fault the author if they figure it out before the end. Instead, they will think of themselves as very clever for having done so.

In a suspense novel, the reader knows who did the dastardly deed, often from the opening chapter. There is no mystery to the story itself. Instead, there is plenty of mystique in the characters, and the readers are left asking, “Why does she always do that?” Readers don’t fault the author if the character’s mystique is double-handed or morally corrupt, so long as the author explains the minutiae in a rational way for that character’s development.

In a mystery, minutiae mystifies the storyline, in suspense it mystifies the characters and their actions.

What you choose say is just as important as when you say it. Character traits are popular with authors because these small details pull double duty with character development, and they don’t have a “sell by” date, meaning you can bring them back in your next chapter or next novel.

One place where minutiae can play a part in your novel is when you want to slow down the pace. Never use minutiae to speed up the action, like: His fist floated into Fred’s flabby gut. He heard him go oomph and gleefully watched Fred double over in pain. Instead say: He hit Fred once and watched him double over. Only use minutiae to slow down the action: The wine’s robust aroma floated in the air and competed with her perfume. He inhaled deeply, slowly; this was a night he had to savor.

Entirely new scenes and romantic moments can also benefit with a sprinkle of minutiae, to let the scene breathe. But this minutiae is only used once to full effect, then condensed for any revisits. Case in point: here’s a “first” scene from my upcoming novel Knock Softly (working title). The characters make several visits to the park and dog run with our protagonist, Edvard, and his two dogs, Rufus and Pudge, throughout the story. The dogs weigh 75 and 25 pounds respectively. (The novel goes into more detail on the dogs, too, but here such detail would only be minutiae.) This scene involves only a small portion of the 1.2-mile walk. Knock Softly is told in present tense.

Long before they arrive at the dog run, Ed has to walk the dogs past a family of oaks that proves to be home to an entire community of squirrels. The trees are a magnificent cluster whose matriarch stands dead center and at least 80 feet tall. The grounds under the oaks are well shaded and almost barren of other trees or tall vegetation. Their broad branches and long, fingered leaves steal all the sun’s rays leaving this part of the walk always cooler, darker. Rufus lifts his ears in eager anticipation and starts pulling on the leash. Ed wraps the leash around his wrist and braces for impact.

Readers revisit this part of the path again in another scene several pages later, but in the second scene, the pace is much faster and it is dialog that sets the pace. The scenery is just the canvas:

They’re getting closer to the oaks and both Ed and Rufus know it. He wraps the leash around his wrist before they get to the shadows and gives it quick jerk to let the dog know who is boss. Ed tells Jane… And the dialog follows.

All the minutiae from the first scene are present in the second, just not on the page. Left in the readers’ thought bubbles are the cluster of trees, the squirrels, and all the other previously established minutiae. To put all of that on the page again would only bog the story down when it wants to run.

And never use the same minutiae twice – that’s worse than marrying your brother-in-law in the same wedding dress.

Next Month: First Impressions
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but much of fiction is character development. Development means change, and suspense means changing those first impressions. To write a great first impression in a novel, you have to first think about what your characters are going to develop into. Then figure out what kinds of darling details, social settings and backstories you need to get them there. Next month we’ll look at how to make a good first impression on the page.