The DNA Club

This is the post excerpt.


The purpose of this blog is to give me a place to share with readers of the DNA Club series news and photos that have to do with the (unpublished) books, and in turn to give readers a place to contact me with questions or comments.

It’ll be an exciting journey! Won’t you come along?

Passages 6-Meeting Rocio

David, Cam, and Geo ambled through Puerta del Sol enjoying their Palazzo ice cream cones. David had got pistachio, while Cam stuck with chocolate. Geo had wanted to try both of theirs, but she proclaimed her lemon one the best. The sun shone down, melting their ice cream as fast as they could lick the sides of their cones.

The square was as full of people as always. Tour groups clustered around their guides. There were people taking pictures of the statue of the bear and madroño, or strawberry tree, on the east end of the square, as well as of the statue of Carlos the third closer to the center. Another group stared down at the ground, while a short line of people nearby waited patiently.

“What are those people looking at on the ground, and why are those other people waiting?” Cam asked David.

“That’s kilometre zero,” he replied. “It symbolizes the centre of the country, and all the main highways begin here.”

Then Cam saw the white bicycles lined up in a bike stand. BiciMad, proclaimed the sign above them. “Are those for rent?” She questioned him.

“Yes, they are,” he walked over to the bike station. “I’ve never used them, though.”

A thought struck Cam. “Can you?” she looked at him, wondering if the question would hurt his feelings, but he only smiled.

“Yes, my limp doesn’t stop me being able to ride a bike.” He began reading the instructions. “Oh, cool, they’re electric.”

“You have to be 14 to use them,” spoke up a girl nearby. She was taller than Cam and dark-haired. “I’m only 12, I can’t use them yet.” She looked at Cam. “You’re younger than me, I think.”

“That’s right. I’m 9,” Cam said. The girl came closer to them. “What’s your name?”

“Rocio. What’s yours?”

“I’m Cam, and this is my sister Geo. That’s David.” The girl stuck out her hand to shake with each of them. When she got her hand back, it was sticky with melted ice cream. “Oh, sorry about that,” Cam dug into her backpack for her water bottle. “Do you want some water to rinse your hands with?”

“Oh, don’t worry, I live just there,” began Rocio, pointing, when some boys roughhousing nearby suddenly pushed her, and she stumbled and fell over a bollard. Her head hit the pavement hard, and she lay still.


Passages-5 The Parque de Retiro

David was right about the Puerta de Alcala. It was surrounded by colourful flowers, and Cam took plenty of pictures. Then they headed into the park, Geo dancing ahead urging them to go faster so they would get to the lake in time to go rowing. She was convinced that if they arrived “too late” by David’s standards, they wouldn’t get to go at all. David slowed her down only slightly when he explained that the rowboat concession wasn’t even open yet. He went on to warn her that he was going to row first, but they could change places later on, and both of them could have a turn if they wanted. Geo was too busy prodding them to hurry to even pout.

They arrived just after the rowboat concession opened, so they were one of the first in line. The man who took their money sent them down the dock, where another fellow helped hold the boat steady while they clambered in, David in back, Cam and Geo in front. David had only given them lessons for about 5 minutes before Geo requested a turn. The oars turned out to be heavier than she expected, though, and it wasn’t many minutes after that before she conceded the oars to Cam, reserving the right to try them again after she’d had a rest. David didn’t get another chance to row for the entire 45 minutes; Cam couldn’t tell whether he minded or was secretly relieved. He only required they switch places every 10 minutes or so, saying he didn’t want them to become too tired.

Cam was happy to snap photos during her rest periods. Her favourite was of a group of women in headscarves who didn’t seem to have any idea how to manoeuvre their boat, and who ended up going around in circles, screaming in laughter the entire time.

Both of them were happy with the results of their first rowing practice, although Cam privately thought Geo could work on her turning skills. They begged David to bring them rowing every day, but he just laughed at them.

From the lake they walked on to the Crystal Palace, which presided over another, smaller lake. You couldn’t row on this lake, but there were ducks, black swans, and dozens of turtles living in and around the water, in addition to a little grotto, all of which offered lots of subjects for picture taking. As far as Cam was concerned, David had more than delivered on his promise.

The sky was blue, the grass was green, and there were lots of people out enjoying the nice weather in the park. From the Crystal Palace the three self-proclaimed tourists moved on to the Rose Garden, which was pretty even though it wasn’t the best season for the roses to be in bloom.

It was almost time for lunch. Back at the entrance to the park, the trio found a place to have a sandwich, and less than an hour later, they were on a bus headed downtown, on a quest to find a Palazzo ice cream shop.

Passages-4 Playing Tourist

Geo ran to the door, backpack bouncing on her shoulders. Adriana hurried after her, calling “Wait! Look through the peephole before you open the door!” Geo wasn’t tall enough to look unless she got a stool, so she stopped and let her aunt look. After Adriana nodded her permission, Geo flung the door open.

Before them stood a dark-haired, dark-eyed young man of medium height. He was smiling widely. “Good morning, Adriana, Geo. Oh, good morning, Cam,” he said, as Cam came into sight. “Are you girls ready to go?”

“They are,” Adriana spoke up. “I think they’ve got everything they’ll need for the day. You girls mind David, now, and have fun.”

David was the son of Adriana’s next door neighbor, Paca. He served as occasional tourist guide and part-time nanny to Cam and Geo. He refused any pay, saying that it was good practice for his English, but the girls knew that besides that, Adriana had helped Paca a lot in the past.

“Where are we going?” Geo skipped beside David as they headed into the subway.

He grinned at her. “Well, we’ve already visited the Puerta del Sol, Plaza de España, the Palacio Real, and Debod Temple. Today we’re going to visit someplace closer. It’s called Parque de Buen Retiro, or Retiro Park.

“A park?” Cam stopped walking for a moment. “You don’t have to take us to a park, we’re not little kids.”

David waved her forward. “It’s a big park, and tourists always go there. We’re playing tourist, so we definitely need to visit this park. Don’t worry,” he added, “there’ll be plenty of things to take pictures of.”

“Like what?” Cam was skeptical. She had been to a lot of parks, and she couldn’t remember taking many photos.

“First of all, we’ll see the Puerta de Alcala before we enter Parque del Retiro.” They were on a subway train now, and David was sitting down on a seat in the train car while the two girls stood in front of him, hanging on to handholds nearby, swaying on their feet like seasoned subway riders as the car rattled through a curve. “It’s almost 250 years old, and you can see marks on it where shrapnel hit it during a battle. Then inside the park there’s a statue of King Alfonso the 12th beside a lake with rowboats. Besides that, there’s the Crystal Palace-“

“Can we go in a rowboat?” Geo was almost hopping with excitement at the idea. “I’ve never been in a rowboat before!”

“Of course,” replied David. “That’s an important part of the Parque del Retiro experience. And if you go later in the day, there are more boats on the lake, making it more difficult to maneuver. So that’s the very first thing we’re going to do. Here’s our stop, time to get off the train.”

Passages-3 Sightseeing

The next thing she knew, Adriana was talking as she swept about the room, ratcheting up the blinds and saying it was time to get up. Sunlight streamed into the room. “David will be here to pick you up soon,” Adriana’s voice came back over her shoulder as she headed towards the kitchen.

“Wake up, wake up, wake up!” Geo was bouncing, half on Cam and half on the bed. “Ow, get off me.” Cam rolled over and tried to hide under her pillow. When Geo suddenly left off, though, and Cam heard footsteps thumping out of the room, she sat up quickly. Her little sister had the idea that pouring a glass of cold water on someone was a good way to wake them up, and Cam wholeheartedly did not agree. “I’m up!” she yelled, hitting the floor with her bare feet in emphasis. Geo just laughed, and Cam considered darkly that just the threat of water being poured over her was enough to get her up, without her sister having to actually do anything.

A few minutes later, sitting at the table with a mouthful of toast and tomato drizzled with olive oil, Cam was just wondering what David had planned for them when Geo appeared to read her mind and spoke the words aloud. “Oh,” replied Adriana, “he’s going to take you downtown so you can see some tourist sights.”

“We already saw a bunch,” observed Geo.

“Well,” Adriana said, “there’s a bunch more to see.”

“Are you coming with us?”

“No, I’m expecting Bill to call today, so I’ll stick close to home in case he needs any paperwork done.”

“Oh.” Geo’s face fell, but then she brightened. “Can we get an ice cream after lunch?”

“Yes, ask David to take you to a Palazzo, they’ve got good ice cream.”

“I’m going to get lemon,” stated Geo, sliding off her chair and taking her plate to the sink.

“Lemon is good on a warm day,” approved Adriana, “And today is going to be warm. All right, check your backpacks please. Have you got money? Water? A cap? Suntan lotion? Cellphone?”

“Yes, and I’ve got my trusty photographic recording device,” said Cam. She loved taking photos, which was how she’d got her nickname, short for camera. Geo smirked. She liked being in photos almost as much as Cam enjoyed taking them.

When the doorbell rang, they were all set.

Passages-2 Let’s Get This Party Started

Meet Cam and Geo, young sisters. A twist of fate has left them orphans in a strange country. Cam, the elder, will have to grow up fast. And destiny isn’t finished with them yet. Where will they end up?


Cam lay wide-eyed and unsleeping. Except for a small glow from the face of the clock on the dresser, the room was completely dark. Adriana had pulled down the blinds with a “crack!” just before turning off the light, so that light pollution from the city outside wouldn’t bother them as they slept.

When she turned her head to the left, she knew she was looking in Geo’s direction, even though she couldn’t make her sister out in the dark. There was just a darker shape that was Geo’s bed and the 7-year-old herself, twisted up in the sheets. Was she moving? Had she woken? Yes, and no – in a moment Geo’s breathing came regularly again.

Cam fidgeted and tried to relax. Her thoughts flitted back over the last few months. She’d been in shock after Mom was killed in that hit-and-run accident. Adriana had taken care of everything. She was still taking care of everything, even though they were originally only supposed to visit her for a couple weeks.

Mom had wanted a mixed culture-filled, fun-in-the-sun European vacation, the three of them together. After some family discussion, she had decided to take a leap into the unknown, as she called it, and quit her job, start off in a different direction. They were going to move, start over, and this vacation was the starter’s block, preparation for their new life.

But their lives had changed much more than she’d planned, much more than they’d ever expected. And Mom wasn’t here with them anymore.

Cam moved her head from side to side. Her mind was an Etch-a-Sketch, she told herself, wipe it blank with a shake, draw something else.

Adriana was Mom’s cousin, or aunt, or something, but in any case she’d told them to call her Aunt Adriana. She was quite old, and didn’t have a lot of energy or space or money to take care of kids. They were only staying with her until Mr. Kaiser, their lawyer back home, could go through Mom’s papers and find a place for them to go. But he sure was taking a long time.

It wasn’t that Cam didn’t like Adriana – she definitely did. And Geo wanted to stay here, in Madrid, forever. Cam wasn’t sure if her little sister really liked Adriana that much, or if she just didn’t want to go through any more changes right now. If she had to bet, she guessed Geo just wanted to cling to the last place Mom had been.

The thing was, Cam felt itchy. She wanted to get to where they were going, where ever that was going to be. Maybe then she could settle down and feel at home in her own skin again.

Passages-1 Introducing S.K.

The moment has come when sharing more of my personal process would result in spoilers. Can’t have that! So instead, I’m posting a passage. Could you, dear reader, tell me what impressions you get? What happened before this; who’s talking (any information about them you can glean) and what their relationship is with each other (some of it will be obvious – anything else?); what might happen next? This will help me know how successfully I’m setting the scene. Possible spoilerage has been kept to a minimum. This is, however, the first time ANYONE has received even a tiny hint regarding one of the most important directions the story has gone.

“S.K. continued her preparation. She found anything and everything compelling: introductory level courses such as physics, chemistry, geology, geography, planetary biology, and basic medicine. Then there were the advanced, specialized courses in sociology, psychology, anthropology and statistics.

One evening, having a drink on the neighbor’s porch, she was talking about her courses – her own fascination was such that she couldn’t imagine how anyone could be uninterested – when after one particularly lengthy discourse, the older woman suddenly threw her hands up in surrender, laughing. S.K. was startled for a second, but then she began laughing too. She had been pacing through the intensity of her thoughts. Now she sank down in the chair beside the neighbour.

For a few minutes they consumed tea and cakes quietly.

“You know,” the neighbour thoughtfully broke the silence, “all of this boils down to one thing. Spying.”

S.K. nearly dropped her half-eaten cake, she was so surprised. “What?” she sputtered, spraying crumbs. “I’d never!”

“Call it cultural anthropology if you prefer,” the neighbour had a slight smile on her face. “But you’re going to try to blend in, to explore, to study, to divine what is unknown to us. Discovering what one might even call secrets. And then, you’ll report back to us.

“Your premise is mistaken,” S.K. declared hotly. “Spying is done to gain an advantage. Anthropology is simply to learn.”

“What do you think will be done with the information you so carefully gather and deliver? And why do you think the Com wants this done?” Her neighbor leaned forward, punctuating the last words with a stabbing finger.

S.K. continued to stammer weakly. The neighbor patted her on the knee. “You may be right,” she said soothingly. “But it’s something to think about, and you might consider adding another topic to your list of studies – our economy, emphasis imports.”

S.K. spent the next few days mulling over her neighbor’s words. Her interest, always voracious, had been piqued. She added “An Introduction to the Economy: Imports and Exports” to the teetering stack of texts on her desk.

As she delved into the textbook, she discovered some interesting things.”

The Process – 5 – am I in control?

One of the things you often read about being an author is that your characters can take on lives of their own. I used to eye this claim with a good deal of skepticism. Now, though, I’ve seen it first-hand…

Yes, I’ve written out lists of options and answers to questions, and chosen from them. I’ve outlined how I want the story to go and what has to happen to lead to my desired outcome. I read about “planners” versus “pantsers;” people who plan their story out versus people who just start writing “by the seat of their pants,” and realized I’m a planner. But that doesn’t mean my characters always cooperate…

One of the best examples of this (for me, so far) was when I set out to write a chapter with the working title “local child meets the 3 main characters.” (Yea, I know, horrible title, but hey.) So the 3 kids set out, la di da, going about their day… and something else happened. They never got around to meeting the local kid.

Hmm, I thought, let’s try this again. Take 2. The 3 kids set out, la di da, going about their day… and once again the local kid fails to show up. What’s going on here? Why won’t they do what I want? Better try again…

In that case, the third time was a charm. The local kid was right where they were supposed to be at the time they were supposed to be there, the 3 other kids met them, and everything went like it was supposed to. Yay!

Will the two accidental chapters get incorporated somewhere else? Maybe… if I can manage it!

In another example, which takes place shortly after the local kid meets the other 3 kids, I started to write a chapter where the four of them, plus the local kid’s pet, had made plans to get together the next day and go on a picnic. So the next morning when the 3 kids open the door to the local kid, and the pet isn’t with her… My reaction was “What? Where’s the pet? What happened? Don’t tell me it’s dead – it can’t be dead!” Where did that sentence, with “no pet,” even come from? I was taken aback, to say the least.

Then, relief – the pet was fine, had just gone to the vet to be fixed. Whew! That chapter went off in a totally different direction, naturally, and the picnic had to wait for another day.

Sometimes I feel like this story is a film I’m watching or a book I’m reading. Rather than creating the story, it’s more like I’m observing it unfold, and I’m just following along in order to find out what happens, myself. I have an idea – as if I’d read a review, or someone had told me something about the plot – but I don’t know the details yet.

I’m not sure if that’s how this whole business of characters-taking-on-lives-of-their-own works for others, but that’s been my experience. Have you had anything similar happen? If so, did the resulting “accidents” lead to new ideas or directions for your story?