Finally, after weeks of fighting this novel for various reasons — and I won’t go back into them. You guys know what’s been going on — it looks like the barrier is finally down. Or maybe I have just finally given up trying to make the book obey and let me write it the way I want to. Whatever the reason, I’m not going to complain, at least not too much. I’m just glad to be writing again.
What I had forgotten during this time of drought is that I’m not the only writer to experience this sort of thing. Intellectually, I knew it. But that didn’t help all the much as I was pounding my head against the keyboard, trying to get something to come out that made sense. But that realization was brought home this morning when I read Peter Grant’s post over at Mad Genius Club. It seems Peter had been facing much the same thing, and for even longer, than I have. I’ll even admit that, in a perverse sort of way, it was good to see that I wasn’t the only one going through the drought. That said, I am even more glad he has pushed through it and is writing the next book in his Maxwell Saga.
(If you love science fiction, I highly recommend the Maxwell Saga. Take The Star Road (The Maxwell Saga Book 1) is the first volume. If you haven’t read it, why not? Go get it now. You won’t be disappointed.)
But his post also got me thinking. He talked about how he has learned that sometimes you have to alter how you do things. Sometimes you have to be careful not to plot yourself into a corner. You have to give yourself the flexibility to let your characters do what needs to be done without you putting what turns out to be artificial barriers in their way.
In a way, that is what I had done, not exactly with this book but with the way I ended Nocturnal Interlude. For the first time, I ended a novel on a cliffhanger. That meant I was very limited in how I could start Nocturnal Challenge. I hadn’t thought about that when I finished Interlude. Nor did I argue with my characters when they stomped their feet and said that was where the book needed to stop. (No, I’m not insane. I’m a writer. My characters talk to me and often disobey me.)
So, when I found myself having problems getting started with Challenge, I fell back onto an old habit. I tried to outline, as in doing a very detailed outline, of what needed to happen in the book. I already had the basic outline in my head. But, frustrated because the opening just wasn’t happening, I decided a general outline wasn’t enough.
And I wrote myself into a corner. Again and again and again.
And it didn’t work.
What did, finally, was to stop fighting the book and do what came naturally. Of course, this being me, it wasn’t writing the book in a linear fashion. As I noted the other day, the last section of the book wanted to be written. So I did. That was enough, it seems, to break open the dam. Now that the ending is finished, I’ve been able to go back and start on the beginning. It is still rough — hey, it’s called rough draft for a reason — but it is something.
So, here is the opening scene from Nocturnal Challenge. (Note, it is a rough draft and it will have errors and it will probably change by the time it goes through all the edits and is finally published.)
Perfectly manicured fingernails tapped an impatient rhythm against the steering wheel. Blood red polish caught the sun and an almost feral snarl escaped her lips. The primitive part of her nature she usually kept under such tight control fought for release. The hunt called to her and longed to spill the blood of those who disrespected her. But that was blood she couldn’t shed, not yet at any rate. Gone were the days when she would have been free to hunt in the shadows, stalking her victim without fear of detection. Technology was now the enemy. Too many cameras and too many cellphones meant too great a chance of discovery and capture. That, at least, was one thing her prey had been right about.
Prey. How wonderful that word sounded. Too much time had passed since she had been on a real hunt. Taking down the occasional deer or rabbit didn’t count. They simply did not present the challenge a human did, especially not someone like Mackenzie Santos.
Santos! Damn the woman.
Mackenzie Santos had been a thorn in her side from the moment she first heard the name. Not that she should have expected any different. She had grown up watching her father, and her grandfather before him, do battle against Santos’ grandparents. If it hadn’t been for them, their kind would not be living in the shadows, fearful not only of discovery by the normals but of war with the lycans as well. No, they would have assumed their rightful place as the predominant species and ruled as they were meant to do.
Instead, her grandfather and father – and now she herself – had to work slowly and cautiously, doing whatever was necessary to remove any obstacles to their ultimate goal. The fact that made her life easier was an added benefit. Unfortunately, Santos and her warnings about how dangerous their current path was had started others of their kind thinking. Worse, they were asking questions. If she wasn’t careful, Santos would stir up enough trouble to derail all her careful plans – or worse.
Cassandra Wilkinson fought the urge to yell in anger. Her cheetah was already too close to the surface, pushing at the frayed edges of her self-control. The last thing she needed was to shift. Not only would it ruin the rental car she currently sat in but it would lead to questions best left unasked. Worse, it would prove the validity of all Santos has said. Still, if she managed to shift without being discovered, it would solve one of her biggest problems.
A predatory smile touched her lips at the thought of her cheetah catching Santos unaware and dealing with her in the most permanent of fashions. Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening was about as slim as that of her getting out of the car, stripping and walking down the street to the Justice Center clad in only her designer boots. From what she knew of Santos, the woman rarely, if ever, let her guard down. Now that she had come into her own as a shapeshifter, it was even less likely someone would be able to sneak up on her. Then there was the ugly truth that Santos’s jaguar was bigger and stronger than her cheetah. Her cat was built for speed and distance. Santos’ jaguar was built for strength. That meant the only thing Cassandra would have going for her in a fight between the two of them was experience and she was not about to risk her life and all she and her family had worked so hard for on just that.
So a fair fight was out and that suited her perfectly. She never had liked going into a situation without stacking the deck in her own favor first. Normally, that wasn’t a problem. Fate, however, had dealt her a potentially losing hand and it had already cost her too much.
Damn Santos and damn that fool Yazhari even more. If he hadn’t let his ego get in the way of everything, she wouldn’t be sitting in a rental car less than a block from Dallas’ Justice Center. For years, the man had been her right hand and enforcer. She had come to count on him to clean up any little problem that might present itself. But not this time. This time he had failed her on so many levels that she still found it hard to believe. Not only had he chosen the wrong people to carry out his orders, he had then failed to deal with them quickly enough and permanently enough to prevent their activities from being discovered.
That carelessness had brought their activities not only to the attention of Santos but to the local pride leader as well. Cassandra didn’t know which was worse. Michael King always said the right thing whenever they spoke and always presented a respectful and obedient face in their dealings. Not that it fooled her. She had long suspected that he no longer fully supported the Conclave. That belief had only deepened once Santos joined the pride. Not only had King quickly named the woman as his third, his enforcer, but he had joined her in arguing before the Conclave that it was time for their kind to be more careful to avoid discovery. Together they talked about scientific advances that made it more likely than ever that their existence would be discovered. Cassandra knew they wanted to find a way for their kind to go public without causing a panic but she was not ready for that. Not yet, at least, and not until she was confident in her absolute power over pures and lycans alike.
So she had sent Yazhari to Dallas to deal with his people and take whatever steps were necessary to prevent the local shapeshifters from realizing her connection to what had been happening. She had spent too much time, effort and money in carefully planned attacks across the country, all aimed at solidifying her hold not only on the Conclave but over all their people. This was not the time for anything to go wrong, much less to point back at her. So, trusting Yazhari to deal with it as he had dealt with so many other problems for her, she had left it in his hands.
And now she had an even bigger problem on her hands than before.
For whatever reason — whether it was ego or something else, she didn’t know and she didn’t care — he had tried to kill Santos. If he had been successful, Cassandra would not have minded. At least not as long as he had done nothing to implicate her in the process. But he had failed and, worse in many ways, he had managed to get himself killed in the process. Now it was up to her to deal with the fallout and to find a way to make sure Santos and King, as well as their supporters, did not look too closely in her direction as she did.
She just hoped it wasn’t already too late.
She leaned forward and focused on the front entrance of the Justice Center as the doors opened once again. Satisfaction coursed through her as she caught sight of her prey. Mackenzie Santos stepped into the late morning sun. She moved a few steps away from the doorway and paused, looking around. As she did, two others, a man and a woman, joined her. For a moment, Cassandra studied them before turning her attention back to Santos. The two didn’t matter. Not when it looked like Yazhari might not have completely failed her after all. Santos’s right arm was secured in an immobilizer, strapped to her side and across her abdomen. Even from a distance, Cassandra noted her limp and the swelling and bruising to her face. Injured as she was, the battlefield now favored Cassandra. Good. Very good.
Without a second thought, Cassandra stepped out of the car. A moment later, she moved quickly down the sidewalk toward the three. Senses alive and alert, she fought back her smile. The closer she got to her target, the more convinced she became that her plan would work. So far, neither Santos nor the coyote shifter with her gave any indication they sensed her approach. Luck might finally be in her favor.
Unfortunately, it didn’t hold. She knew the moment Santos realized she was there. The younger woman stopped and pivoted in her direction. At the same time, her left hand went to the small of her back where Cassandra assumed she had a weapon. A split second later, Santos’ companions reacted. The man, the coyote shifter, turned, his right hand disappeared under his suit jacket. The woman, a normal, stepped forward, placing herself between her and Santos. Interesting. Could the woman know who, perhaps even what, Cassandra was? That was something she would have to think about later. First things first.
“Hello, Mackenzie. I think it’s time we talk,” Cassandra said, her voice silky smooth but the weight of command obvious.
In case you haven’t picked up the three previous books in the series, or the novella, here they are.
Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1)
Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.
Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.
Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.
Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.
Nocturnal Serenade (Nocturnal Lives Book 2)
Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.
Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.
Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives Book 3)
Lt. Mackenzie Santos swears she will never take another vacation again as long as she lives. The moment she returns home, two federal agents are there to take her into custody. Then she finds out her partner, Sgt. Patricia Collins, as well as several others are missing. Several of the missing have connections to law enforcement. All are connected to Mac through one important and very secret fact — they are all shapechangers. Has someone finally discovered that the myths and bad Hollywood movies are actually based on fact or is there something else, something more insidious at work?
Mac finds herself in a race against time not only to save her partner and the others but to discover who was behind their disappearances. As she does, she finds herself dealing with Internal Affairs, dirty cops, the Feds and a possible conspiracy within the shapeshifter community that could not only bring their existence to light but cause a civil war between shifters.
Nocturnal Haunts (Nocturnal Lives)
Lt. Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. She’s learned that real monsters don’t always hide under the bed or in the closet. They walk the streets and can exist in the best of faimlies.
When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.