Evelyn Chartres Author
The Van Helsing Paradox – Page 19

Bring out the Dead – Part II

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

Two years after the incident Clara’s life had gained a bit of normalcy. At least, as much as could be realistically expected when living in a company town when the family’s breadwinner and company employee had died.

Clara remembered how the company men had come to evict them shortly after the funeral. The townspeople had steeled their support and forced the company to relent. She never learned that those who had led this coup had been beaten to within an inch of their lives the week after.

Without their father the entire family had to work. Clara and her sisters spent the bulk of their days doing laundry for the neighbours. On occasion they would take random jobs from anyone in the town who could still afford to eat themselves after the work was done.

Her mother helped as best she could, seeing that her children were fed and clothed even if it meant more hand-me-downs. Come shift change, men would show to the door with their faces covered in coal dust asking if her mother was free.

Ada and Maria were clearly distressed by the processions of men coming in and out of the home. Clara was not certain as to why. Nor did she understand how the bed rattled upstairs.

Despite her inability to attend school with the repetitive and monotonous work Clara was quite happy. She rarely lingered on that night nor did she remember what had been seen or heard.

Children had an incredible ability to recover from trauma. The events of that day were dream like, distant, and none remained of the most traumatic events from that night.

Now if only her mother would get better. It seemed innocent at first. It began innocently enough as a sore throat, then came fever and headaches followed by a vile rash.

Times were lean that month for the kids. They had to work twice as hard doing laundry while Anna cleaned houses to get some food on the table. Nonetheless their mother got better and things returned to normal for a year or so.

Then her mind began to go, starting with her balance. It was one thing to see one’s father slowly succumbing to whatever was eating away at his lungs. At least his wit remained sharp until the day he died.

It was another matter entirely to see someone lose not only their ability to take care of themselves but also shed their core identity. This had been hardest on the children and haunted Clara well into her adult life.

Eventually the deformities came as a series of bumps which changed her appearance until she was unrecognizable. Eventually these deformities formed near the surface of her skin creating a purifying ulcer. Clara could not help but turn away when she was called up by their mother.

No matter how bad it got, some of the miners would still find their way to her door. Helmet in hand, they would ask to see their mother and showed disappointment once they found out the news.

In the back of her mind, Clara hoped that whatever afflicted her mother turned out to be catching. That would have been the only way to stem the tide of eternal visitors, especially this last one.

The last vestiges of sunlight could be seen from the side window when there came a knock at the door. Since her sisters were busy making supper, Clara was the one to answer.

She took a quick glance through the window and found a tall slender man whose proportions seemed off since he had the figure of a ferret or even a slithering snake. Clara could have sworn that his eyes were glowing like dark embers in the fire.

If it were not for the dark clothes, hat and distinctive white collar she would have refused to open the door. Her parents had always been clear that one of the clergy should always be trusted. So what could possibly go wrong?

“Hello Clara,” the priest asked as soon as the door swung open.

“Good evening,” Clara said in reply. She then thought it best to add, “Father.”

All the while Clara wondered how this man knew her name. At least his eyes were no longer glowing, although they were black as coal.

“Is your mother at home,” he asked.

Now that question came as a bit of a shock for Clara. This was a man of the cloth, not a tired miner. Still there was something peculiar about him and the whole affair felt off.

“No,” she said without elaborating.

“Really,” he asked while sniffing the air.

Clara merely nodded, in the distance she could hear her two sisters working in the kitchen. Why was he smelling the air? For whatever reason that seemed sufficient to confirm she was fibbing.

“Are you sure,” he asked.

Clara looked him right in the eyes and said, “Of course.” There was a momentary pause before she added, “She left a few moments ago to attend evening mass.”

Normally such a flagrant lie should have been discovered. A priest would have known that evening mass was not for another couple of hours. That being said, priests typically referred to her a child and so far this one had failed to do.

Once more the man smelled the air, raising his long thin nose while doing so. Although it was the reaction afterwards that got her attention; the man smacked his lips which sounded suspiciously like the chewing sound heard years back.

“You would not happen to be lying to me would you,” he asked.

Clara should have lost all composure by this time, but the fact that she had been right invigorated her. She looked right and the man with her steady steel grey eyes.

“Of course not Father,” Clara said. She then looked down towards the kitchen before adding, “We are about to have supper if you’d care to join us.”

This was a gamble, a bet that this man would refuse the offer. Honestly, there would be little enough to eat without the additional mouth to feed, but she assumed his palate was geared for another delicacy.

The man looked towards the kitchen and spotted the shadows of her two sisters. Clear there were others in the house was enough to change his mind.

“Mass you say,” the man said. “I’ll will meet her there,” he added.

“Good night Father,” Clara said in an unflinching tone.

“Good night,” he replied.

The man looked longingly towards her mother’s bedroom and then melted into the darkness. All except for those eyes which had that disturbing glow.

“Who was that,” Maria asked.

Startled by her sister’s question Clara stuttered, “Just a travelling bible salesman.”

Fortunately, she was not questioned further. As Clara closed the door she felt certain that this would not be the last time she would come across this man.

Bring out the Dead – Part I

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

Clara could feel it, caught in a state between dream world and reality. The dream was still her focus, but that world began to fade away as her senses bled through. She could hear her sisters slow deliberate breaths, an indication that were still asleep. In the background, she heard the grandfather clock’s counterweight swing back and forth, alas it was the urge to pee growing from within that chased her dreams away.

She rather enjoyed this existence between realms. Clara could look upon the world, mould it the way she saw fit while characters would obey her every wish. That is until she turned hoping to delay the inevitable journey to the outhouse and collided face first in with Dot’s elbow.

Her eyes opened wide and forced the waking world to come into focus. Right before her was her sister’s elbow, no more than an inch away from her face, and still saw streaks of purple from the impact. When she turned to look above, she was faced with the familiar yellowed ceiling and the fog from her breath.

Clara dreaded these moments, the early morning before her mother would get up to light the stove. That moment in time where hot stones warmed by the fire were now cold and the remnants of the fire were a distant memory. The ground outside was sure to be frosted over this morning and judging by the view the sun had yet to make an appearance.

The urge was slowly migrating from the back of her mind to the forefront. She looked at her two sisters, sleeping peacefully and for a moment felt deeply envious of their situation. Alas, what was a girl to do?

Clara lifted the warm layers of linen from her body, instantly feeling the chilled morning air come into contact with her skin. While gooseflesh appeared on her bare legs, her muscles tensed before she threw herself out of bed and onto the cold floor.

“Cold,” she said when her bare feet touched the cold floor.

Clara felt around for a moment to find a pair of woollen slippers. They were too big, but that was the burden borne by the youngest child, condemned to wear worn hand-me-downs of her sisters. Nonetheless, the need to pee would not be cast aside, cold or not, so down the stairs she went.

Despite being the only one awake, Clara crept down the stairs deliberately, careful to skip the second last step since that one creaked. The last thing she wanted to do was wake up her father a couple of hours before he had to head for the mine. That tended to make him cranky, which had a tendency to trickle down to her via her mother.

Once at the door, Clara noticed the sky was turning purple and red. She also noticed the door was not latched, something that was profoundly peculiar.

“Odd,” Clara murmured. “Had someone gone out and had not returned,” she wondered.

The last thing Clara needed was to wait for her turn. Just thinking about her freezing outside while waiting for the outhouse made her teeth chatter!

Clara slowly opened the door and attached screen door to avoid making a racket. Then with all due haste she ran along the frosted patch of weeds, hearing them crinkle with every step, a shame she needed to pee, this could have been a fun experience if she was appropriately dressed!

The outhouse was in view, the familiar half-moon opening was dark, a good sign that her parents were still in bed. Clara smiled as she approached, reached for the thick wooden handled and pulled open the door. While the door gave way easily, she found herself unprepared for what she would find.

At first she was confused, seeing her father there in his long johns, butt flap open and seated over the opening. He seemed to be there going about his business and yet his eyes were closed. Frost had built up on the the exposed skin and his lips had blued.

“Papa,” she said said softly. “I have to pee,” she exclaimed hoping this would resolve the matter.

There was no response, no hint that her father heard a thing despite the urgency oozing from Clara’s every word. Odd how he seemed to be out of place, as though he had been pushed against the wall out of the way.

Clara continued to examined the scene, waiting as patiently as any child could under the circumstances. Only after a few moments did she notice a few more details.

First and likely the most important detail noticed was related to his breathing or rather the lack of. While Clara could see her breath, she did not see his nor hear the rattle in his lungs that seemed more acute in the mornings, especially after a double-shift at the mine.

“Papa,” she said with more urgency even as her mind began to realise that her prompting would get her nowhere.

On the wooden planks covering the outhouse floor she saw blood. Some of it was black like tar, thick and frothy a sign that her father had a coughing fit recently. However there was more blood, seemingly fresher and a bright crimson, her eyes followed the trail until she spotted a gaping wound where his calf should have been.

Her perceptive mind could see every detail of the wound. How the bone had bite marks and was reminded her of the neighbour’s dog chewing a thick juicy bone. She saw how the flesh had been cut and torn off simultaneously, again reminding her of what a pack of wild dogs did to a carcass. Clara should have been quivering at the moment and yet her mind keep running over the details, busy committing every detail to memory.

That it until she heard it something. It was faint at first, almost unintelligible but the sound was persistent. It took a moment for her mind to register what she heard, but sure enough a distinct chewing sound originated from within the depths of the outhouse. It was not until she heard a loud and guttural belch which made the walls of the structure shake that her need pee took care of itself.

In a small company town, where everyone works and lived together, a screaming child will certainly get some attention. The first on the scene was the neighbour who came down in his camisole, wild eyed and alert. It took him no more than a minute to size up the situation and close the door to the outhouse.

As the rest of the community awoke from their deep slumber Clara’s mother ran out of the side door. She had the same bewildered look in her eyes that her neighbour had worn earlier, however she never got the opportunity to approach the scene. Their neighbour cut her off and before there were any protests they exchange some words.

Clara was not sure what had been said, but the effect it had on her mother was immediate and brutal. At first concern remained, she seemed restless as her eyes darted about. Then came the long dramatic pause followed by the look of shock washing over her face. It was the tears and her slow collapse to the ground which confirmed Clara’s suspicions. Her father would not walk away from that outhouse.

“Martha, get Clara out of here,” the neighbour said to his wife.
Clara turned around to find the wife, still in her nightgown, approaching from behind. The child had no intention of complying just yet.

“No,” Clara exclaimed. “There is something in there with him,” she added.

“What do you mean,” Martha asked while shooting a glance at her husband.

Clara saw the hidden exchange between the couple and wondered why neither seemed concerned by what had been said. What did they know?

Martha got on a knee to be at eye level with Clara before asking, “What did you see love?”

“There,” Clara paused unable to properly formulate her thoughts. “Something,” she blurted out. “Ate papa,” she managed to add although the words were a faint whisper.

Martha’s face lighten up and hugged Clara. It was bizarre how the woman seemed so relieved to hear those words.

“Oh love,” Martha exclaimed. “You let the imagination get the better of you,” she added.

Martha took Clara by the hand and took her home. From corner of Clara’s eye her two sisters were staring down at the scene from their bedroom. She saw how their faces were ashen grey; appearing as though they had seen a ghost.

“Now let’s get you cleaned up,” Martha said while they left behind a town full of gawkers and her grief stricken mother.

It seemed odd how no one had bothered to look inside the outhouse. Did they assume she was just another child afraid of what lurked beneath her bed? Or did they already know what would be found?

Mobile Manuscripts

The earliest instances of writing were done by hand and any copies were made by scribes so every book was unique. Many such manuscripts included doodles or annotations that either hinted at the scribe’s creativity or provided insights on their inherent boredom.

Portrait of a man in clerical dress being hit on the head with a sword, from a book of treasury receipts.

The printing press increased our opportunity to get published works to the masses. The advent of eBooks further accelerated this phenomenon.

Authors are as varied as the stories they tell. Some still write by hand, channeling the spirit of monks and scribes of old. Others prefer the feel of a typewriter, an aspect often portrayed in movies and novels.

Technology has allowed writers to venture into the digital age. While some authors like George R.R. Martin remains stubbornly entrenched on the technology they adopt, others embrace tools to lend aid. Now it’s common to see people in coffee shops writing away on their laptops, feeding from the raw energy that permeate such places.

Advances in technology are not exclusively confined to software, computers have gotten smaller and more compact. Many of us own phones that have more processing power than was available for NASA during the Apollo program. However, this technology has not been wildly adopted as a convenient way to create content. I mean for more than keeping notes and jotting down ideas, but for writing a whole manuscript from start to finish.

Screenshot of Google Docs and the auto-correct feature

A week ago, I completed my first review of a manuscript, written entirely on my smart phone. To note, I did not use a Bluetooth to make typing easier, and used software readily available on most Android phones.

So Why Did I Do It?

Tools are at my fingertips. Auto-correct features are available on every device, a capability which is invaluable. We can fire up a browser to confirm details, after all Wikipedia is just a bookmark away. Revision history on Google Docs allows is great for collecting statistics on updates and changes over time.

Backup and share live. Basic tools like Google Docs can back-up and share work live. Unless disconnected from the Internet, the manuscript will be available on any device. How often did you have a stroke of genius, but forgot most of it before you got home?

I can take it wherever I go. While the same can be said about pen and paper, many carry their phones where they go. Given a spare moment, pull out your phone and continue adding to a chapter. This is an aspect that I found to be indispensable, especially as a parent who works full-time. After all, finding a moment to sit in front of your laptop can be a daunting task.

My manuscript was 65,643 words over 165 pages when I finished the review which generated 8,384 corrections. Tools inherent to Google Docs allowed me to generate statistics. In turn, this information enables you to gauge your revision cycles and later focus your goals.

So What Did I Learn?

Auto-correct is invaluable. Typing on a virtual keyboard will generate errors. Perhaps your thumb struck a letter instead of the space bar, or the auto-correct interpreted a word differently than anticipated. However, disabling the auto-correct it is not an option, since you’d end up with large swathsnofnmyspelednwords (swaths of misspelled words) that make no sense.

Not portable by default. If you forgot to set your document to be available offline, then you will not be able to update existing chapters until you have an opportunity to connect to the Internet.

Working Offline. A lot of auto-correct features built into Google Docs are unavailable when offline; phones will then revert to their built-in system. Checking on your progress after you reconnect, will show a slew words that were misinterpreted.

Reviewing your manuscript is critical. This process is critical for any manuscript to confirm your work. During this cycle, I came across words that made no sense and needed to decipher their meaning. While this happens with content creation method, errors are compounded by speed and relying on auto-correct.

Overall I found the advantages of using my mobile device to outweighed the disadvantages. While my writing is not as fast on a virtual keyboard, it’s close enough to push through. Additionally, I can use my time while on a bus, while waiting for my child to finish her extra-curricular activities.

Even at locations that do not have reliable Internet, my smartphone provides me with a quick and easy way to continue with my work. While laptops have their own charms, the battery life and size make them impractical for day-to-day usage.

Perhaps a better technology will come along within the next couple of years. I’ll be sure to re-evaluate and might even take the plunge. Who know? For now, I found a tool that works for me!

Spiral Development for the Literary World

I have a background in Computer Sciences and over the years worked on Open Source and corporate projects. Unsurprisingly, when I began writing the Portrait, I fell back on the tricks of the trade to refine my work.

Primarily I use the Spiral development model. As an author, I found this process allowed me to produce working drafts and revise content as necessary.  Over several iterations, the manuscript was refined. Additionally, I threw in measurements, metrics used to track trends and measure success.

Unfortunately, I never kept metrics for the the Portrait, so no meaningful data was collected. However, my work on the Grand permitted me to determine which suited my needs.

For now, Changes per Chapter and in turn Changes per Revision seemed like ideal metrics to use. I plan an in-depth discussion on the various metrics employed in a later post.

Changes per Revision for the Grand Project

Delta between revisions for the Grand Project

Armed with a development method and metrics, I was able to repeat the same steps over and over until the manuscripts were ready for release.

The process is composed of roughly four steps as follows:

Working Version

Take your draft or latest manuscript and prepare it for use as a working copy. The finished product may be used in the Beta or Revise and Implement phases later on. This format should permit you to view your work as though it were a tangible product.

You will want to avoid viewing your manuscript in content creation mode. So reviewing your manuscript on Microsoft Word or Scrivener may not be ideal.

I use Calibre to convert my manuscript into an eBook. Since, I primarily read eBooks today, changing into a reader mode with that format is simple.

The Great Pause

After my working copy is complete, I set the project aside and tackle something new.  It could be anything from reading a novel to painting the house.

The goal of this phase is to take your mind off the project. Doing something else helps you re-energize and leaves your mind open to new ideas. I prefer to take longer pauses during the initial revisions, since they take much longer to complete.

A good pause should also enable you to approach your work with fresh eyes. Hence your brain will not fill in the blanks and prevent you from being objective when reviewing the manuscript.

A good example of this was taken from an article on how the brain interprets words. Note how this paragraph can be read despite the atrocious selling.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

I also found that my mind remembers what I meant to say and fills in the blanks or corrects as necessary. Adding a pause between reviewing cycles seems to prevent this.

Beta Reading

This step can be done concurrently with the pause. Since you have a working copy it can be distributed to solicit input and opinions.

This process can employ services like Wattpad which allows you display works in progress. Be aware that people will not likely check every revision you make, so it pays to engage beta readers when nearly ready to publishing.

Revise and Implement

During this step you revise chapters, tweak them or make corrections. This process is often referred to as redlining and was traditionally done using pen and paper. The term also evokes the images of earlier editions left dripping in red ink.

I use a Kindle Keyboard which permits me to insert comments. I use these comments to note a red line and transcribe them later. Early revisions tend to generate a lot of corrections, so you may wish to transcribe the changes every so often.

View of a review process on a Kindle Keyboard

Early revisions for the Grand contained a lot of edits. As revisions progressed I ended up with fewer and smaller corrections. Eventually I was looking for things missed in previous cycles, such as elusive typos.

This stage also permits you to adjust chapters, including their order. You may opt to add, rewrite or remove chapters. Just like you would add, fix or remove features in software project.

Repeat

Start the process all over again. Create a new version of the manuscript, take a break, revise and implement. With every revision look at your metrics to measure success.

Towards the end you will know when it’s ready. For me, that stage occured once I could complete a revision within a day with no more than ten  (10) corrections for the manuscript.

Revisions may also have different goals. The first few may aim to make it readable. While later revisions concentrate on trimming the fat or finding those elusive typos. Make sure to stay focused and track your progress, otherwise you will end up with an infinite loop.

Notes on Collaboration or Editors

This process can be easily adapted to collaborative writing or include editors. In such situations, the pause would likely be occupied by others completing their review process.

The process is malleable and can suit the needs of the author. Adapt as necessary so the process works for you, not against you. Just remember to establish ways of tracking your advancements.