During the month of September (and maybe into October as well), Champagne Books Savvy Saturday blog has been taking readers behind the scenes, as authors share some of their inspirations and thought processes for favorite parts of their stories. When they asked me to join in the fun, I immediately knew which scene I wanted to share. Welcome to The Scene That Almost Wasn’t, from my just-released second novel, Desperate Knight.
Later, after everyone else had gone to bed, Morgan sat in the Green Suite with a bottle of Marcus duBerry’s brandy by his elbow. The armchair he occupied was quite comfortable, but it didn’t help him relax. Neither did the brandy, unfortunately, even after he’d topped up his snifter again. It was, he decided, a complete waste of excellent spirits.
In any event, relaxing wasn’t his intent. He needed to finalize his plans for the morrow. Yet, even as he ticked off points in his head, his eyes began to drift closed of their own accord.
They snapped opened again with a start. Off to his left a vague, wavering shape was gliding slowly across the room. It rather resembled an earth-bound cloud. Morgan regarded the shape dubiously, then the empty snifter, and shook his head. He hadn’t drunk enough to make him start seeing things. Had he? He peered at the cloud for a moment as Marissa’s words came back to him. “He just wanders around.”
Well, if this was the Specter of the Green Suite, he certainly did appear a bit aimless. Formless too. There was only the merest suggestion of a human figure about him, like a painting with only the outline done and the interior bits still waiting for the artist to sketch them in.
The wavering form drew nearer. Morgan, amid splashing more brandy into his glass, nodded politely. “Hello,” he said, and took another sip. Because ghost or not, a little more brandy wasn’t going to hurt either way. Besides, being polite cost him nothing.
As it came closer, the shape suddenly took on a bit of substance, as if having made up its mind to stay. It formed into a vaguely human silhouette and loomed up over Morgan, who downed the brandy at a gulp. “This can’t be good,” he muttered.
The wavering mass gradually resolved itself into a more definite figure of a man. An older man, perhaps one of his father’s generation. Or even a bit older still. The figure was still transparent, but there was enough essence for him to make out some details. Like a Royal Navy jacket, complete with brass buttons. Like the crumpled linen handkerchief the apparition pulled from a ghostly pocket to wipe a pair of spectral spectacles. The ghost finished his polishing job, placed the spectacles on a beaklike nose, and regarded Morgan.
He decided courtesy would be the best course. “Do I have the honor to address Mr. Harold Green?”
“My word, yes,” said the ghost. “I believe I am.”
The words came out raspy, as if they hadn’t been used in quite some time. Which made perfect sense. Marissa had told him the specter never moaned or wailed. It stood to reason it might have a hard time with such unused faculties.
The ghost of Harold Green scrutinized Morgan. “’Pon my soul, you’re an Orskan,” he declared, seeming a bit nonplussed by this realization.
Good grief. Lady Hermione was bad enough. If I’m going to be subjected to insults by even the resident spirits, things are getting a bit thick.
“Who would have ever thought to find an Orskan in these parts?” the ghost went on. “Ain’t seen anyone from Orsk in near to thirty years, I’d wager. My commanding officer, bless him, wanted to marry an Orskan girl, you know. Lovely thing, she was. I wonder if he ever did.”
Morgan’s mouth dropped open. The ghost couldn’t have just said that, could he? Inquiries were in order. He cleared his throat, which had become unaccountably tight. “Umm. Your commander? Might I ask his name, sir?”
“Mmmm, it was just on the tip of me tongue, young feller,” replied the ghost, rummaging in spectral pockets again as if hoping to locate the name there. “Commander Mc-something, mmmm, mmm. Oh, yes, McRobbie, that was it!”
“Indeed. An interesting coincidence, if you’ll forgive me mentioning it. McRobbie happens to be my name as well.”
“You don’t say,” replied Green, brightening visibly. He regarded Morgan with a paternal air. “Well, well, small world, ain’t it?”
“And my father,” Morgan said, “was a naval commander, on the HMS Raven, who married an Orskan girl. Which resulted,” he gestured to himself, “in me.”
The ghost shook his head. “Well, blow me down. How d’ya like that? I sailed with McRobbie near to thirty years ago on the Raven. We’d been off to Orsk, where the commander was to arrange for their navy to help us wipe out a bunch of pirates. If I remember rightly, ’twas the admiral’s daughter he fell for. Well, I was wounded badly in a little dust-up with a bunch of pirates not long after. One of ’em I was sure I’d killed was only lying doggo. He near to ran me through. Ship’s doctor could patch me up, but he said I wasn’t fit for duty no more. That’s when I came down here, eh?”
“I’m sure you served with honor, sir,” Morgan said.
“Damn right I did!” replied the ghost. “How fares Commander McRobbie? He was a good man, he was. Martin, that was it. Martin McRobbie.”
“Yes, he was a good man. I’m afraid a wasting fever took him several years ago. He’s in the same condition as you. Although he has never paid me a visit. If you should run across him, please ask him to look me up, would you?”
“Of course, m’boy, of course, happy to oblige, don’t ya know. Although I don’t get out much. Don’t see too many folks. Really just the ones in this house. And it’s quiet, these days. Now ’way back, there used to be a pretty girl here. I enjoyed watching her. A real hellcat, she was. I wonder what ever happened to her.”
“I don’t think she’s changed all that much,” Morgan murmured, more to himself than to his visitor. To the ghost he said, “Actually, she’s back. Grown a bit, but still pretty feisty.”
“Ah, her type never changes. Now you mention it, I believe I’ve seen ’er. Dark hair, nice eyes, talks a lot.”
“Um, yes, she sounds like the one.”
“Pretty young thing, ain’t she?” said the ghost with a spectral wink. “Are you and she…?” He left the question hanging in the air, rather like himself.
“I’m working on it,” he said through clenched teeth. Blast it, even the family ghost is interesting himself in my love life. Why can’t they leave me alone?
“Well, you’d best get busy, young feller. I remember your pa—he didn’t let the swells rock his boat, as they say. Just went right to it.”
“Yes, thank you, I’ll bear it in mind.”
“I could go pay ’er a visit if you’d like. Kinda pave the way for you.”
Morgan’s mind presented him with a brief vision of this proposed encounter. While the prospect of the ghostly Mr. Green materializing in Marissa’s bedchamber had its attractions, there were just so many ways in which this would be an awful idea. Especially if Green started pleading Morgan’s case for him. She would have a few pointed things to say to him about it. No, best not.
“Thank you, sir, but perhaps not. Don’t want to disturb the young lady while she’s sleeping, do we?”
The ghost grinned. “Maybe you don’t, but I would.”
“No!” he roared.
The specter looked affronted. “All right, all right, no need to shout,” he said, a bit peevishly. “My hearing is just fine, even if I can’t always find the rest of me when I need it.”
He began to lose his shape, fading from Morgan’s sight like a mist on the moors after the sunrise. He deliberated the application of a bit more brandy, decided against it, and went to bed.
The genesis for this scene began, as many of my favorites seem to do, while cutting my lawn. Mowing is one of those repetitive activities that allows my mind to wander strange byways, and often gets me wondering “why” and “what if…” Although admittedly it’s normally, “what if somebody else was cutting this grass…”
In this case, the catalyst was a throwaway line earlier in the story. I’ve no idea why it stuck with me—it was just one of those mysteries of life, but there it was, rambling around in my head. Marissa, arriving at her family’s home with Morgan in tow, asks which room he’ll occupy, and told he’s been put in “the Green Suite, my lady”.
As I cut this grass this particular afternoon, I must have put a nickel in my subconscious. It began to wonder “Why is it called the Green Suite?” I envisioned Morgan entering the room only to discover, to his amusement, that none of the walls, draperies, bedding, or carpeting, have a trace of green in them. No green anywhere. And I could picture the mischief in Marissa’s eyes as she informs him that the room was named for her Uncle, Harold Green. Who had died in it and reputedly haunts it.
Then this description hit me, and I was in love: “There was only the merest suggestion of a human figure about him, like a painting with only the outline done and the interior bits still waiting for the artist to sketch them in.” This, I told myself, is how a ghost should look. I hadn’t planned to have a haunted chamber and a perambulating spook. But Mr. Harold Green, deceased, loomed up out t of the netherworld and I couldn’t resist him.
I pretty much allow my characters to tell me about themselves, and Harold was no different. I learned from him that he was an ex-navy man, as evidenced by his blue naval jacket with its brass buttons. Wounded in a dust-up with some pirates (one our friendly ghost thought he’d dispatched proved able to nearly cut off Harold’s leg), he left naval service and retired to the country, to the home of his nephew, Marcus duBerry, where he subsequently passed on.
This gave me broad avenues down which to stroll and have some fun. Because after all, a bold knight in a haunted room should be fun—at least for the reader, if not said knight. I even have Morgan mutter to Marissa at dinner, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to stick the wizard in the haunted room? Much more in his line, don’t you think?”
But when the ghost exclaims over the fact that Morgan’s an Orskan, that’s just the last straw for this poor harassed knight. On the point of snapping out a reply, he’s brought up short when the ghost reveals that he served on the ship commanded by Martin McRobbie, who as Harold recalls, fell in love with a dark-skinned Orskan girl. When Morgan tells him that Martin was his father, Harold takes an almost paternalistic interest in him, and it becomes a rather sepulchral old-home week, until Morgan refuses Harold’s offer to act as Cyrano for him with Marissa. I was chortling to myself as I pictured how Morgan would react to this idea.
This scene was actually written after most of the rest of the story was done. But it just felt right. And so I went against everything I’ve ever been taught about storytelling—that if a scene doesn’t serve to advance the story somehow, cut it. Well, this scene really doesn’t advance the story in any form or fashion. It’s just there because I adore the raspy-voiced, spectral sailor who’s eager to play matchmaker for the young feller who shows up in “his” suite. And so I fought to keep this in. I knew it was against logic and common sense and all the tenets of good writing. But I wanted to keep my ghost, and I’m glad I did. I’ve had a number of people, including the reviewer for SFF World, say that the ghost was one of their favorite characters.
So, yeah. Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and go with your instincts, and have some fun.
Desperate Knight (Knights of Kilbourne2) is available at:
Champagne Books: http://tinyurl.com/ybvjgcqs
Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/yd7zzwsr
Keith W. Willis is a semi-professional word wrangler and dragon herder. He graduated (long ago) with a degree in English Lit from Berry College, which has the distinction of being the world's largest college campus. He now lives in the scenic Hudson Valley/Adirondack region of NY with his wife Patty. Keith is certain those rumbling noises attributed to Henry Hudson's crew are really just the dragons grumbling. Keith and Patty have one grown son, Matt, who actually thinks it’s pretty cool that Dad wrote a book.
Keith’s interests include reading classic mysteries, fantasy and sci-fi; camping and canoeing; and cutthroat games of Scrabble. He began writing seriously in 2008, when the voices in his head got too annoying to ignore. When he’s not making up stories he manages a group of database content editors at a global information technology firm. TRAITOR KNIGHT (Champagne Books) is his first published novel, and has won awards for both fantasy and romance. The second book in the Knights of Kilbourne series, DESPERATE KNIGHT, was just released in August 2017. SFF World calls DESPERATE KNIGHT ""...a swashbuckling, drama, and punch- (or slap-) filled romp; it’s a tangled web of politics, motives and emotions, all held together with a wonderful dose of heroics, romance, fun and general chaos – and a dragon. Of course."
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