Friday, October 7, 2011

Berkom, Cody, Diener--Three voices, Three descriptions

This time I've asked three very good authors to share descriptive passages: D.V. Berkom, Sandra Carey Cody, and Michelle Diener. I wanted three different styles and voices. See how they wove characters and action into their description.

D.V. Berkom

D.V. Berkom grew up in the Midwest, received her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota, and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and at least a dozen moves later, she now resides outside of Seattle, Washington with her sweetheart Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and writes the Kate Jones Adventure Series.

In this excerpt from my latest novella, Touring for Death, which takes place in the Arizona high country, my protagonist, Kate Jones has just escaped from a collapsed mine and the man who is trying to kill her. Exhausted, barefoot and alone, it's the middle of the night and she's on an isolated forest service road, trying to make her way back to town and help. Headlights appear on the horizon…


The vehicle slowed and pulled to a stop a few feet away. I squinted against the glare of the headlights, waiting for some kind of acknowledgment. I figured folks in these parts didn't take kindly to being approached by strangers.
"Need a ride?" The voice was like a chain saw sliding over wet gravel.
I nodded.
"C'mon then, git in. I ain't got all night."
I moved to the side of the car and opened the door. An empty can of Rolling Rock bounced onto the road. Leaving it, I climbed in, glancing at the old man behind the wheel as I closed the door against the harsh night. I leaned my head back, thankful to be somewhere warm, with someone other than Sterling.
"Thanks for the ride." A spring poked through the seat. I shifted, trying to get comfortable and took a long look at my rescuer.
His bushy gray hair and beard looked like he hadn't run a comb through them in years. His pants were caked with dirt, and he wore several layers of ancient, long-sleeved flannel shirts. A khaki-colored field vest with every pocket bulging completed the outfit. He smelled like Sunday night at a polka festival; boiled sausage, sauerkraut and beer.  A worn leather cowboy hat took up prime real estate on the front seat.
"What're you doing way out here? Ain't nothing but coyotes and crazy old men." He chuckled, setting off a round of explosive coughing. He hammered on the dash like the phlegm was in the car instead of his lungs.
"Dinner date gone bad. How far am I from Durm?"

Sandra Carey Cody

In Left at Oz, Jennifer Connors's car is stolen while she's shopping at a country flea market. She receives an anonymous message that the car was "left at Oz". She follows instructions given in the message and finds the car - with the body of Robin Langley, a sometime babysitter for her children, in it.  After the initial shock passes, Jennie doubts that this was a random act. Only someone close to her would know that, as a child, she had been obsessed with Frank L. Baum's Oz books. She borrows a car, drives as far as she can, then retraces the path that led to the discovery of the body.
            A crow on a low-hanging branch screeched a warning.  She ignored him and once again proceeded down the weedy gravel track on foot. The car was gone now.  The space where it had been was marked with yellow plastic ribbon.  Heavy black letters proclaimed “CRIME SCENE - KEEP OUT” interminably along its sagging length.  She hesitated only a few seconds before ducking under the tape and going directly to the area where the car had stood. 
            From there, she saw that old road continued into the meadow and disappeared behind a barn that looked ready to collapse.  The delapidated building stood on the crest of a small knoll, making it impossible to see how much further the road extended or where it went. Grass and weeds stood semi-upright between narrow tracks leading from where the car had been to an area near the barn.  Something about this bothered her.  She studied the road in both directions, until, finally, it hit her:  The way the stalks are bent.  It looks like they drove in from the other side.  She remembered the stiff, unbroken weeds scratching her bare legs as she walked toward the car two days ago and was convinced that's what had happened.  So they didn't pass by Oz.  But they knew about Oz and used it to draw me here.  The thought fed her growing conviction that the terrible event had been directed at her as well as Robin, and was almost enough to make her turn back.  She pushed it away, took a long, slow breath, and faced the crime scene.
            Inside the cordoned-off area, the vegetation was trampled, not quite uniformly.  The tire marks of Jennie's car were easily discernible.  Just beside them was a similar set of marks.   Maybe they drove the police van out here.  She considered this briefly, then shook her head.  The way the weeds are broken down . . . these tire marks were made by someone coming from the barn. 

Michelle Diener

This is a short excerpt from my historical suspense novel, In a Treacherous Court. My heroine, Susanna Horenbout, who has come to Henry VIII's court by invitation, to paint for the king, has some important information to pass on to him. She has waited for hours to gain a royal audience and is accompanied by one of Henry's courtiers, John Parker, who is one of the Henry's 'new men' – courtiers who were not of noble birth, but to whom Henry gave powerful positions, because of their loyalty and efficiency. Henry wanted to curb the power of his nobles and fostered a meritocracy to some extent, using men like Parker for jobs that required real action and dedication instead of noblemen who were appointed because of their connection to court, rather than any real skill. I don't say all that, though, I try to show it by showing the very real tension between many noble courtiers and the new men Henry relied on. The noblemen were very threatened by these courtiers who worked so hard and earned the King's approval and patronage through their usefulness. I tried to show how, without openly snubbing Parker in front of Henry, the noblemen try to hamper him in any way they can. I also used the scene to show how much Susanna sees everything in terms of her art – I always like to make my scenes work very hard :). My inspiration for this particular scene comes from a genuine charcoal sketch of Henry which art historians have not been able to attribute to anyone. It depicts the exact scene described below, of Henry eating his lunch at a table set for one, with his courtiers milling about behind and to the side of him, in a high-ceilinged privy chamber with tall windows. My inference is obviously that Susanna Horenbout is the artist in question, although I have no evidence of that at all, but it would be fun if it were true.
She and Parker had waited for the King through 13 dishes, each dish served with the ceremony of a state occasion, but it seemed the meal was at last at an end.
The King rose from the elevated, canopied table set for one, and Susanna noted the conversations of the courtiers who stood on either side and behind him changed in tone.
Their voices faded, and Susanna was struck by the tableau they made, the dark colours of their robes strangely lit by the pale, rain-muted light from the tall windows. The King, by contrast, shone brighter than a fresh-drawn illumination in his scarlet and gold.
Susanna looked down at the charcoal drawing of the scene she’d made to spin out the time, and wished for her paints.
Henry did not approach them. He looked directly at Parker and nodded, then turned and walked through the courtiers to the door leading to his closet.
Moses could not have parted the Red Sea more efficiently than the King of England parted the crowd in the room as he made his way across it.
Parker stood, his frown lifting, and Susanna rose with him. He took her elbow and made to follow in the King’s wake.
But the Red Sea was merging again, determined to see nothing special about Moses’ follower. A wave of bodies crashed back into place, set on being merry, loud, and unseeing
Susanna looked up at Parker, and was surprised to see his mouth twitch in amusement.


Donnell said...

Wonderful excerpts and definitely draws us in through the characters' eyes. There's an art to this, and a brilliant way to advance the story without yanking the reader out. What pros! Thanks, all, and thanks Ellis!

Sandy Cody said...

What a trip - from a Sunday night polka festival to lunch with Henry VIII - and I truly felt like I was there for both occasions. Good job, D. V. and Michelle. I'm proud to be in such good company.

Great idea for a post, Ellis.

DV Berkom said...

Oh, crap- now I have two MORE books on my TBR list... Great excerpts, ladies!

I heartily concur with Sandy- terrific idea for a post, Ellis!

Ellis Vidler said...

This is fun! What a talented group. I love the different voices and styles. The settings are interesting, but mostly because of the characters' reactions to them. Good job, y'all!

Polly said...

What a great idea, Ellis. These excerpts highlight the different styles of these three exceptional writers. All unique, and I loved being in the scenes with their characters.

Michelle Diener said...

Thoroughly enjoy participating, and I really loved the other two excerpts. Thanks for inviting me, Ellis, and what a great idea!

Edie Ramer said...

This was great fun. I enjoyed each excerpt. Terrific idea!

Sarita said...

All three are wonderful examples, and now I've got two books on my want-to-read list. Left at Oz is one I've already read--and loved. It's a book for my keeper shelf, that's for certain.

This is a great idea!

Sandy Cody said...

Sarita, how nice of you to comment. Thanks for the good words.