The Adventures of Nick & Ginny (aka Mr & Mrs Claus)

Right. So  few years ago I took part in the “Countdown to 2015” Challenge on Absolute Write. For every day of December we were given a prompt and the challenge was to write a piece of flash fiction every day. Some of those prompts turned into a series about the (mis)adventures of Nick & Ginny (aka Mr & Mrs Claus) around the Christmas season.

Shenanigans, sarcasm, and silliness ensue. Enjoy 🙂

Being the Adventures of Nick & Ginny (aka, Mr & Mrs Claus)

(Shenanigans, sarcasm, and silliness ensue)

Anna F. Humphrey

nick

 

PRE-CHRISTMAS

1-The elves are building…

“What,” Nick growled, “is that infernal racket? Can’t a man have a little peace and quiet around here?”

“It’s the elves, dear,” Ginny answered, pouring the tea. “They’ve got it into their heads that they need to keep themselves in practice or they’ll fall behind on orders when Christmas gets here.”

Nick rubbed his forehead. “Why did I choose elves?”

“It was the ‘Help an Elf’ program, dear. You were saying you wanted to give back to the community.”
“How’s about I give them back to the community.”

“Oh, be nice. They’re building you a swimming pool.”

He lowered his glasses. “They do realize this is the Arctic, don’t they?”

Ginny shrugged. “I never said they were terribly bright.”

 

2-Not the usual office party

“Who,” Nick growled, “invited the bloody dragon? And don’t tell me it was the elves.”

Ginny looked at him over the rim of her punch. “For someone who gives gifts to children, you are a remarkably grumpy old man.”

“Did you see the naughty list this year?”
“Yes, well, it’s over now dear. Smile and enjoy the party.”

“There’s still a dragon. And someone brought gremlins. I can feel them waiting to make off with my best mittens.”

Ginny smiled and handed him the punch. “Here. Have some of this.”

He scowled. “Is it spiked?”

“Of course.”

Throwing back his head, he drained it.

“Has the dragon started to look cute?”

He held out the glass. “That’ll take at least two more, love.”

 

3-Something On the Roof

What the hell?

Nick forced his eyes open, now convinced that the incessant drumming was not just the after-effects of too much punch. How much had he drunk? Not enough for the bloody dragon to look cute, especially after it had torched the hall.

Dragging himself out of bed and over to the window, he threw up the sash and stuck his head out.

“Jack! I’m-hic-flying!”

“Rudolph, I really don’t think this is a good idea right now…”

Nick groaned and retreated back to bed.

“Nick, dear, what’s going on?”

He pulled the covers over his head. “Rudolph had too much eggnog, that’s what.”

“Oh.” Ginny rubbed her eyes. “Well. At least he knows how to fly.”

Nick snorted. “Tell him that.”

 

4-Wrapped

The elves were hard at work making toys. The painters were painting, the craftsmen were crafting, the sculptors were sculpting…all in all, Nick was forced to admit that when they had a focus, elves were good workers.

Not that he would ever say that.

He strode through the workshop, practicing his ho-ho-ing (couldn’t disappoint the kiddies, no matter how ridiculous he felt), until he came to the Wrapping Room.
“Ginny, what are you doing here?”

She rocked her chair, which was right in front of the door. “Knitting.”

“I can see that. Why?

“Because you can’t go in just yet.”

His stomach plummeted. “Why not?”

With a sigh, she set down her knitting and looked at him over the rim of her glasses. “Because one of them decided it was a good idea to wrap the boxes before they were filled. To save time afterwards.”

He stared at her. Then he let loose a long string of words that were very unsaintly.

“Nick!”

“Next year I’m hiring dwarves.”

 

5-The Solstice

Nick cracked his eye open and stared at the date on the clock: December 21, the winter solstice.

Well, damn.

With a groan he hid his head under the pillow. Maybe it would go away if he wished hard enough. Hell, wasn’t it time some fat man in a red suit brought him a present?

“Time to get up, dear,” Ginny said, gleefully pulling the blanket away. “The reindeer games won’t wait.”

He tugged on the blanket. “That’s what I’m counting on.”

Ginny gave a violent yank and the blanket fled from his grasp. “If you don’t referee then Rudolph won’t play, and then he’ll sulk, and don’t you remember the last time that happened?”

“Rudolph is a diva.”

“But he’s a diva with clout, dear.”

 

6-Ancient Rites

There are many ancient rites surrounding Christmas and the winter solstice, many of which were so old no one could remember why they started or how.

This was one Nick bloody well wished they’d bloody well do away with. There were only so many cookies he could eat in one night without making himself sick. And giving them to the reindeer was out of the question, since sugar rendered them high and useless.

Just once, he wished someone would leave him a nice bottle of whisky – maybe a Scapa 16 – or a really old French red.

With a sigh, he stared down at the plate of chocolate chip cookies and glass of milk.

“Bottoms up, Nick.”

 

POST-CHRISTMAS

7-101 Easy Tricks You Can Teach Your Druid

“What,” said Nick, speaking very slowly so that the elf would understand him, “is this?” He held up the book.

“Oh,” said the elf, so brightly it hurt. “You weren’t supposed to see that.”

Nick smiled. It was the type of smile that would have sent a polar bear running, but the elf seemed not to have received the memo. “Why not?”

“Because I haven’t finished it yet. I’m in training to be your own personal druid!”

“And what makes you think I need a druid?”

“Sir, you fly a sleigh in the middle of winter. As your personal druid, I can control the weather to give you optimum flying conditions.”

Nick flipped to the table of contents. “They don’t list controlling the weather in here.”

“That’s because it’s in the second volume. Right here, sir: 101 MORE Easy Tricks You Can—

“I don’t need a druid.”

“But—”

“No. And if you even think about messing with the weather, I will replace you with a dwarf. Am I clear?”

“Yes sir.” The elf rose and leaned forward, lowering his voice confidentially. “Actually, sir, I’m glad you said that. It’s a lot of work.”

Nick pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dismissed. Go take a holiday.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you sir!”

And then the elf bounded out the door.

Nick picked up the phone. “Ginny, please tell me the bags are packed.”

“Ready and waiting,” she said, cheerfully. “Let me guess, you just had your yearly “I want to be a druid”?”

“Yes. Please tell me we’re going somewhere very far away.”

Ginny sniffed. “Of course, dear. I can’t wait to see you in your swimming trunks.”

Nick smiled. “Why Mrs. Claus, whatever are you planning?”

“Why don’t you come home and I’ll show you?”

Nick laughed. “On my way, love.”

And with that, he hung up. He reached for his coat, grabbed the druid books – leaving them in the open with a hundred silly elves running around the place was a bad idea. How did the damn thing keep turning up, anyway? – and headed for the door.

It was time for a holiday. Just him, Ginny, and a beach.

He couldn’t wait.

 

8-At the Bottom of the Stocking

The plane landed and Nick stared out the window, grinning at the heat waves that shimmered on the tarmac. Four weeks of sun, sand, and Ginny and no bloody elves or extended family knocking on the door.

The hotel was perfect – they’d stayed there last year – and they paused only long enough the dump off their bags before they wandered down to the beach, hand in hand.

“Why,” Ginny asked, “for the love of frost, are you wearing stockings? We’re on the beach, dear.”

His grin grew wider (he hadn’t stopped grinning since they’d landed and he was worried he might have pulled something). “Because, Ginny love, I love the feel of sand at the bottom of my stockings. It’s bloody irritating, but it reminds me we’re not at home.”

Ginny laughed. “You strange old man.”

“You married me.”

“Well, it was either you or the Easter Bunny.”

“Mrs. Claus!”

And with a roar that put his ­ho-hos to shame, he chased her down the beach.

 

9-Relative

Time slipped by rather too quickly and it was nearing the end of the third week when Nick began to worry.

“Let me get this straight,” Ginny said, sipping her martini. “Everything is going so well you’re sure the other shoe is about to drop.”

Nick glared into his scotch (a lovely Scapa 16. Damn but the Scots made a fine whisky). “Doesn’t it always?”

“Usually because you expect it,” Ginny answered, dryly.

“I—”

“Damn!” Ginny set down her glass. “Nick. Out. Now.”

“What—oh.” He downed his scotch (no sense letting it go to waste) and ushered Ginny out the side door.

His cousin, Father Frost, had just entered the restaurant, complete with bodyguards.

A life in organized crime tended to require that of a person.

 

10-Friends

“Kolya! Cousin! What are you doing here?”

Nick groaned and Ginny made a face. “Better face the music, dear,” she muttered.

He snorted, watching as Father Frost – Boris – drew near. “The last time we met I almost did, or don’t you remember?”

“Of course I remember; you looked good in orange. But you’re not exactly low-profile. You can’t hide from him.”

“Wanna bet? Borya!” he cried, and plastered a huge grin on his face. Yep, he had definitely pulled something there. “What a surprise.”

“Konechno!” Boris gripped his hand in a bone-crushing handshake, then enveloped him in an equally bone-crushing hug. Ginny, he noted sourly, seemed to be having trouble not laughing.

“So what brings you and your…friends to this island?” Nick asked.

Boris looked up from kissing Ginny’s hand. “I heard you were in the neighbourhood.”

Well, damn. “What do you want, Borya?”

Boris nodded his head over at one of his bodyguards. One was tall and broad, his scalp plastered with Russian prison tattoos, and the other was smaller than Nick, muscular, and clearly grumpy behind his beard. “I need you take Igor with you to the North Pole.” He motioned at the shorter one.

Nick felt his heart sink. “Why?”

Boris coughed delicately. “Don’t ask questions, Kolya. You should know that. Besides, I think you’ll like him.”

Nick glared at him. “What makes you say that?”

Boris smiled. “He’s a dwarf.”

Ginny burst out laughing.

 

11-Home Again

Ah, yes. The North Pole. After a month’s vacation, Nick was almost ready to see the place again. “Well, Igor, what do you think?”

Igor sniffed and stepped outside the terminal. “Xolodno. Cold. Good. Very good.” He stomped on the ground with his boot. “There is good rock here. I can build. Very good.”

Ginny nudged Nick in the ribs, her mouth forming the word “elves”. Nick winced.

“So, Igor…did Kolya tell you I work with elves?”

Igor froze. “Elves? Why you work with elves? Elves silly. Elves—” He stopped, staring at the waiting sleigh.

Nick frowned and looked over. Rudolph was leading the team, and waiting outside were the less ridiculous members of his enterprise: Green, Everest, and…oh damn.

Ginger.

The pretty little elf with the red hair and rosy cheeks and a surprisingly sarcastic sense of humour.

“Elves pretty,” Igor murmured. Then he stepped forward, swept off his hood, and bowed low over Ginger’s hand. “Krasotka!*”

Nick groaned. Damn. And damn again.

Ginny took his arm, shaking with laughter. “Welcome home, love.”

 

*babe, lovely, cracker, bombshell, cutie, beautiful

 

Bonus-About those gremlins…

The Chief Gremlin set his Santa hat at a jaunty angle (‘twas the season, after all) and strode into the room.

“Task force!” he barked.

As one, the assembled gremlins jumped into formation and saluted. “Sir!”

He whipped his pointer stick against the map on the wall. “Tonight, we tackle the Upper West Side of the city. Shaggy’s Task Force has the Lower West.” He narrowed his eyes. “We are 2-0 and we’re keeping that lead.”

One gremlin raised his hand.

“What?”

“Sir, some of the humans have been investing in idiot-mittens.”

“What is this, training school? Snip them. Any other stupid questions? No? Good. I want a pile of mittens on my desk in the morning. Dismissed.”

 

 

 

 

Forged in fire (aka, what doesn’t kill you…)

…makes you stronger.

And, ok. Fine. So the title is perhaps a tad melodramatic (you should be used to this by now. I regret nothing. 😉 )

Basically, this blog post was born out of minor over-use knee injury (note: I said minor) which, nonetheless, caused a bit of a freak-out on my part as a) I’ve never experienced anything like this in my knees (neck and back pain, yes. Knees, no.) and b) I’m a ballroom dancer. My knees are important. So are my feet.

So I find myself in the process of strength-training, since I don’t have the kind of strength in my knees that I need. And let me tell ya: the morning after the gym is pretty uncomfortable. As is the day after that. And I’m not used to it. I’m not used to using those muscles in that way. It will come, once my body’s used to it, but in the interim it’s hard. And I might be a bit of a wuss.

But there’s a larger picture here. Let me put it this way:

I AM A DANCER.

It’s a relatively recent discovery (though apparently my subconscious has been screaming this for years…) and it fits like a glove. I can talk all day about how much I love it, but in the end the only way to express it is to get on the dance floor and show you.

 

 

And to dance the way I want to dance – with strength, precision, ease and grace – will take time and effort and training. But because I love it, I’m going to do it. I mean, there really isn’t another option here. My instructor’s stuck with me, heh. This is too much fun, too much joy, too much wonderful.

So in the immortal words of…somebody-who-isn’t-me:

Suck it up, princess.

 

::Exits stage left, dancing a samba::  

If music be the food of love, play on

On the list of things I’m supposed to be doing…blogging is probably not one of them.

Pfft.

Oh captain, my captain!
Oh captain, my captain!

 

*cough*

 

As I’m getting ready to revise and submit IN SECRET KEPT I’m revisiting some of the musical inspiration for the novel. Because I write with a soundtrack. Sometimes it might be only a few songs that I have on continuous loop*. Sometimes it might be a playlist hours long. For SECRET I wanted lots of piano music since the piano is key to both main characters. I also looked for Celtic-style music since the world is very Saxon/Celtic/Norse inspired**. And the funny thing I learned in the early revisions is that music is literally embedded in the bones of this world, from its inception to its eventual end.

Stories have a way of surprising me that way.

So to that end, I’m sharing two tracks that are…central.

If I had to sum up IN SECRET KEPT in one piece of music, it would be this:

 

 

 

The other piece is this one (esp. the 2:16 mark):

 

This one was a late-comer to the party, but when it arrived it was one of those moments I just knew. And I wrote the scene in one go and it’s one of my favourite scenes in the book. (Some of you know may what I’m talking about…)

 

Aaaaaand….because why not? The following is the main theme for RHEDA, set several hundred years previously in the same world as SECRET.

 

And on that note***…

 

Waes hal!

 

 

*Don’t give me that look. Pbbt. 😛

**OLD NORSE FTW. *coughresearchbiascough*

***Pun maybe intended?

Taking the Lead: Foreground Characters

So…the other week I posted about background characters, inspired by a post by RR Willica and S. Hunter Nisbet. This is part two. I’ve included the links to the initial posts at the end so you can send some love their way and check out their most excellent blogs!

 

When we speak of background characters vs. foreground, how do you divide them?

This is something that normally comes out when I’m outlining (and I’m just going to state, for the record, that in my case and outline is really more like guidelines. It evolves. IN SECRET KEPT and MIDNIGHT HOUR are both a case in point). I know who the story is about, who it revolves around. Background characters may have varying strengths of voice, and sometimes that will surprise me. In MIDNIGHT HOUR, which has a much larger cast than SECRET, I can still point to it and say “Raoul is the MC”, though he’s not the only POV.

 

At the start of a new story do you have your characters decided or do you just take off running?

Um…I mostly have them figured out. Mostly. But they get clearer in the writing and that’s when I realize some of things I thought they were don’t work. In terms of who’s protagonist or antagonist, though, that doesn’t change. I have that nailed down to begin with or I can’t write.

The thing with MIDNIGHT HOUR that surprised me, though, was the strength of the voice of some more minor characters. Though I wouldn’t call them mains, they’re getting POV chapters because they literally won’t shut up. And I realized that their voices are integral to the story. Given that I’m writing about a band of misfits, you need to understand how they all work together. Since the story is centered on those relationships and how they play out in the face of the evil they’re about to face, knowing who they are as individuals and collectively is crucial.

 

Do you find it’s easier to write multiple POVs vs one character?

Ha. Hahahahahaha. I’ve been writing mostly single POV for a long time. SECRET is mostly told from Alodia’s POV, though I’ll flip to Rinan because the story is about the both of them and it’s necessary to see both sides. MH is…so different. It’s a larger cast with about 5 POVs (that includes my villain). And it’s much more of a challenge because while SECRET was very linear, MH is not. The first 3 chapters are the same night from 3 different POVs. The challenge here is keeping all the threads from getting tangled, and making sure they all converge at the appropriate time so as to resonate emotionally and plot-wise. It’s something I’ve never done before and it terrifies me – which is, as a friend of mine pointed out, a sign that it’s the story I’m supposed to tell.

In terms of choosing who gets a POV…the characters chose it themselves. Obviously Raoul would get one and so does Esmera. But then Amadi and Min proved to be very significant voices as well, so there we go. Other, smaller, POVs may pop up as needed but it’s not something I’ll know right away. It’s something I’ll learn in the telling when I sense there’s a hole.

 

Do you write with a large time-scale?

Somebody get me a TARDIS, stat.

3486167-tardisfastflight

Time scale is my weakness. I always have a loose idea—actually, scratch that. “Loose idea” is being way to generous. I have a wibbly wobbly timey wimey spacey wacey idea of how long things will take. It’s something I continue to struggle with and usually have to go back and fix things in revision. I am RUBBISH with time-scale.

 

What genre would you classify your novel?

SECRET is high fantasy, definitely (and there are many more stories in that world to come, and I can’t wait to tell them).

MIDNIGHT HOUR is dreadpunk/steampunk/fantasy. If you are unfamiliar with dreadpunk, it is homage to the Victorian horror novel (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.). And the thing about Victorian horror is it was never (or not always) just about the horror – it was the Victorian’s way of dealing with the taboo. And that makes it so much fun to play with. A great tv example of dreadpunk is PENNY DREADFUL (still haven’t seen it, but I need to…Timothy Dalton and Eva Green? Hello.).

Most of my novels/stories are either a fantasy variant or science fiction. This is my happy place.

 

Do you specifically cast your foreground characters’ gender and appearance or do they create themselves?

I touched on this in my previous post about background characters, so you can read it there. But this also brings to mind the question of language because I’m a language nut and I speak four (and have a tendency to shout at idiot drivers in Russian, ahem). SECRET and MIDNIGHT HOUR both contain non-English languages. To give real-world equivalents for MH: Raoul is French, Esmera is Arab, Amadi is Nigerian, Min is Chinese. So sometimes they will say a word or short phrase in their own language, which, apart from the French, requires research. SECRET (well, actually RHEDA) was my first foray into writing with this dynamic and in getting into the issue of why we don’t italicize non-English languages. Daniel Jose Older has a fantastic video which you can watch HERE.

When it comes down to it, italicizing a language other than English is a way of marking it as other in the way that only mentioning the skin tone of a black person or Native American assumes that the default is white – and the world isn’t white any more than it’s English.

And it makes sense to me. I’m a native English-speaker from Québec, which is officially French. And in Québec we have major tension over language that really dates back to the time the French ceded the colony to British after they lost the war. So now we have this thing called the “Office québécois de la langue francaise”, also known as the language police. I kid you not.  It is entirely possible they will fine your business if, God help you, the English text on your signs is not half the size of the French. Government employees are not required to speak English and I have been discriminated against when it comes to jobs, simply because I’m not Francophone. Fluently bilingual and just as qualified, but as an Anglo — not good enough. So when I’m made to feel that my own language is “other” or “not good enough” then I’m not going to “other-fy” another language by italicizing it.

I would hasten to add that the reason for the existence of the OQLF is because somewhere down the line, they felt the same way. Also, not all Francophones discriminate nor are all Anglos open-minded. This works both ways. But the point remains.

And I mean…give the reader some credit. They don’t need you to point out a non-English word. They’ll get it.

Ok, so that was a rabbit trail. But it’s something else I’ve been thinking about.

Questions or thoughts? Leave me a comment!

 

Also, check out Part One of this series on S. Hunter Nisbet’s Blog

and

Part Two on RR Willica’s blog!

 

Send some love their way 🙂

Pushing to the Forefront: Background Characters

So, this was my response to a blog post by S. Hunter Nisbet & R.R. Willica (links at the bottom) and I’m reposting it because it’s a really interesting topic and particularly relevant to me now as I’m drafting MIDNIGHT HOUR (I promise I’ll get a summary on the Writing page soon! Promise!). Three questions were asked:

Do you consciously choose the race, gender, ethnicity, etc. of your background characters?

Do you have a character with a backstory you choose not to share?

Have you ever had a background character try to push to the forefront?

 

Question the 1st: Do you consciously choose the race, gender, ethnicity, etc. of your background characters?

Not consciously, no. Much of it depends on the environment of the story and how well I know it. For example, IN SECRET KEPT is set in a very Anglo-Saxon/Norse inspired world so it’s pretty white. Regional distinctions are mostly based on life-span, hair, and eye colour. That being said, I have a broader sense of geography outside this particular part of the world and in the novella RHEDA (set a few hundred years before SECRET) the MC is (to put in real-world terms) half Saxon and half Arab. Ok, fine. That’s not a background characters. But. In MIDNIGHT HOUR, the entire setting is flipped and it’s a diverse steampunk city so background characters and main characters alike are all kinds of people. The thing with characters is that most of them just pop into my head with their faces already there and I don’t have to think too hard about what they look like. The challenge is in learning to write PoC well (seeing as I’m a white chick), but it’s a challenge I accept. The world isn’t white, nor was I taught to think that it was. Nor is it only male — and since my academic research is focused on women in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse lit and I grew up on things like Tolkien and Nancy Drew…well, let’s just say my ladies and my men share the limelight equally. And I’m a sucker for women with swords. EOWYN AND BRYNHILDR FTW. Ahem.

 

Question the 2nd: Do you have a character with a backstory you choose not to share?

I don’t think so, no. All of my characters have a backstory and I need to know that in order to know who these people are. While the reader might not get the entire backstory as mapped out in my head, I try to weave in enough so that what is happening in the present makes sense and resonates emotionally. MIDNIGHT HOUR is especially challenging in that respect because all of these rogues (because they are all screwed-up sons-of-you-know-what to varying degrees) have connections with each other and backstory that is important to the present narrative (again, to varying degrees). Figuring out when and where to place a flashback scene or a comment in dialogue is tricky and sometimes I write a scene that I love and realize it’s actually not necessary and — more to the point — not doing what I wanted it to do. The thing about MIDNIGHT HOUR, though, is that I realized early on there’s too much story for one book so the sequel (HEART’S BLOOD) will touch on a fairly major backstory point that I can’t deal with in MH. It has me ridiculously excited.😀

 

Question the 3rd: Have you ever had a background character try to push to the forefront?

Oh, HELL YES. SECRET has one of those — actually, two. But they’ll be getting their own novella once I figure out what their story is. And actually, I wrote a short story called A ONCE & FUTURE KNIGHT and while it’s told from Gawain’s pov, the moment Jael walks onto the page I’ve been told she nearly upstages him. But that’s fine. Because that’s the kind of lady she is. In fact, the two of them are too big for a short so I’m going to rework it into a novel at some point. >:)

No, I can't say that I did...
                 No, I can’t say that I did…

 

So those are my answers. What are yours? Leave me a comment or check out:

S. Hunter Nisbet’s Post and Excellent Blog

And sure to check out Part Two (coming this week!) on:

R.R. Willica’s Likewise Excellent Blog

 

Ciao!

 

That’s the thing about grace… (an Easter post)

So, it’s Easter. Which means I’ve been thinking about grace a lot more than usual.

What do I mean by grace? The simplest explanation I can give for it is this:

God’s grace looks at what we deserve, and offers us what we don’t.

Grace isn’t pretty.

It isn’t neat.

It costs.

Grace is uncomfortable. Grace isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. It reaches down into the muck, gets all the dirt under its fingernails, and hauls you up again. Grace is God saying, “The world wants nothing to do with you. But I do.”

King David in the Old Testament: had his captain Uriah murdered so he could marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. He repented and God redeemed him.

The Apostle Paul: ordered Christians tortured and executed. Redeemed and became one of the greatest apostles.

And the list goes on. Seriously, the Bible is full of really sketchy characters. Sketchy characters and broken people who were granted grace and went on to flip their lives right around.

This is the grace I believe in. The grace I have seen. This is the grace I write about.

BC_Easter

Happy Easter.