You wanted a sneak preview? First, a few words by way of introduction. And I promise, only a few. Definitely not 50K.
Well, I didn’t “win” Nanowrimo month. In case you didn’t know, every November, hundreds of thousands of fiction authors commit to the goal of writing 50,000 words in one month. And not just any month. The month of November… which happens to feature fun with friends and family over Thanksgiving. I actually managed to pull this off twice before. Not this time.
This year, I wrote 38,000 words on my latest novel, Rescind Order. I’m pretty proud of that word count. Many fiction authors start Nanowrimo month with crazy detailed outlines of 20K words. Apparently, that’s allowed. No, I’m not judging them. I could prepare one as well. But as a writer, I don’t outline. After a lot of peer pressure, I tried outlining a book. Not only did I not follow the outline, what I had decided to write before writing started messing with my head. And as a result, the book wasn’t as good. No, I won’t tell you which one. 🙂
I wrote my first novel starting with a blank page, and it seemed to work for me. I’ve since returned to that method and will never outline again. Sitting down at my computer and seeing where the characters take me–it’s like reading a good book. Sometimes, I have ideas about where they’re going. And sometimes, they go in different directions all on their own.
Take one of my characters in Rescind Order, for example. In writing a book about decisions about using nuclear weapons, I needed someone in the role of President. Within the U.S., the sole authority to use nuclear weapons (believe it or not) resides with the President. Scared about our reality now? Yeah, me too. Fingers crossed.
So I knew the President was going to be a key character, but then she decided to be a main character. I already have a main character–Morgan Shaw. I’m naming the series that Rescind Order is part of as The Morgan Shaw Series. I started the novel from Morgan’s point of view. After writing about five scenes, however, newly sworn in President Susan Tolley started to steal some of the show. And then I realized, I had two female main characters in my novel who would butt heads with each other.
That added another challenge. For Susan to become a main character, readers have to be able to relate to her within a page or two. But she’s the President! How can we possibly relate?
Most TV and films show the President from a distance as the Commander in Chief, the highest level decider. That’s not an issue because no matter what a writer does, most of us will probably not relate to what it would be like to be President. Well, Susan decided she wanted to share that with us. And as a writer, I’ve learned to listen to my characters.
This is where she wanted me to begin the story. Here it is. Your sneak peak (typos included, sorry). This is the draft chapter 1 of Rescind Order. By the way, if you really enjoy it and want more, tell me. I can be tempted.
5 July 2033
The White House
Susan Tolley jerked her head, her body painfully stiff. There was a fluttering feeling in her belly. Her eyes flew open, and her pulse quickened. At the foot of the bed, Penny’s dog collar clinked a few times.
What was that?
She’d sworn there had been a soft tapping sound, but now there was only silence.
Maybe it was just Penny moving around.
Lifting her head, Susan attempted to see in the darkness, the thick fog of sleep still upon her, but she couldn’t make out much. The white shades had been pulled down on the floor-to-ceiling windows to block the bright outdoor lights and prevent the early morning sunlight from seeping into the master bedroom. Only a tiny crack illuminated portions of the room in a soft light.
Susan rubbed her eyes and glanced over at her husband Jake who was sound asleep, snoring quietly under the light goose down duvet at the far side of the California king bed. Their six-year-old daughter, Lucy, snuggled next to him, her thumb in her mouth and her arm wrapped around her favorite teddy bear.
Susan turned her head, glancing at the alarm clock. She groaned. It was 4:41 a.m.
Only nineteen more minutes.
Sighing heavily, she reached for the alarm and turned it off. At least now Jake and Lucy would get to sleep a bit longer. She struggled to sit up in bed, her neck achy from sleeping on it all wrong and laid back down. For a few moments, all she could do was stare up at the fancy woodwork on the white ceiling, barely visible in the dim light. Susan wanted to relax and close her eyes for just one more minute, but the loud thumping in her chest propelled her forward.
Pulling herself up in bed, her eyes focused on the unfamiliar chandelier, the ornate fireplace across the room, and the stately furniture situated around the foot of the bed. In a flash, everything from the past few days came flooding back. President Harrison Monroe’s sudden death over the July 4th holiday weekend. Getting sworn into office as the 49th President of the United States. Extensive planning for the state presidential funeral. And of course, the whirlwind move from the VP’s residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory into the White House.
Her heart became instantly heavy with grief. In his short time in office, she and Harrison had become good friends and trusted each other implicitly—despite their political differences.
Is this really happening?
Susan shook her head in disbelief. All she had to do was look around her to know the answer. Even though the move was only a few blocks, it was a major adjustment for the entire family. For the past few nights, Susan’s sleep had been fitful and consumed with strange dreams about her recent dealings with China. Jake had laid awake each night until the wee hours, tossing and turning. Each morning, he complained about the extra firm mattress. Their daughter Lucy kept waking up in a frantic state on the other side of the White House, confused and crying for her momma. They’d finally conceded to her sleeping in the big bed, but only for a few nights until the Executive Residence felt like home. But Susan wasn’t sure that would ever be possible.
A quiet rustling at the door startled her. Susan strained her ears and held her breath. With the exception of a helicopter rotor thumping in the distance and a few cars honking in the streets, she heard nothing but Jake’s loud breathing and another jangle of Penny’s collar.
Maybe I’m just imagining things.
As she slid out from the covers, placed her feet on the cold hardwood floor, and then shoved them into fluffy slippers, there was a soft rap at the door. This time the noise was unmistakable. Seconds later, a ray of light poured in through a crack in the door and a dark shadow stepped in the room. Penny ran to the door to greet the visitor.
“Madam President,” a familiar female voice whispered.
“Elise, is that you?” Susan said, frowning deeply at the new formality.
For the past six months as VP, her chief of staff had called Susan by her first name. After all, they were longtime friends from college, and it seemed silly to use formal titles—but now, she was the President of the United States of America. Elise had explained to Susan that not calling her by a formal title would give people the wrong impression—at least in public. As VP, she could sometimes slip under the radar. Not anymore.
The door opened a bit wider. Elise stepped in with a thick blue binder under her arm and reached down to scratch the French bulldog’s ears.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry to wake you,” Elise said, standing back up and giving her an apologetic look. With her dark brown hair framing her face, she was a bit pale, and her light blue eyes were wider than normal. Even so, Elise was well put together for the early hour—with perfectly applied make-up, a navy blazer, and matching pencil skirt and heels.
Susan’s pulse lurched with a rush of adrenaline as she tiptoed across the room and ducked out of the master bedroom. Penny’s soft feet padded behind her, following her into the private sitting room next door. Susan squinted in the bright light, attempting to glean information from Elise’s face. “What’s happened?”
“There’s some shocking rhetoric coming out of China this morning,” she said, the lines creasing on Elise’s forehead. “The intelligence analysts in the White House Watch Center are tracking a critical situation with the protesters. It’s unfolding in Hong Kong as we speak, where it is still early evening at the moment.”
Susan nodded solemnly. On July 1, the day before President Monroe died, millions of Chinese protesters had taken to the streets of Hong Kong. It was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration to mark the 36th anniversary of Great Britain’s formal return of the island nation to China. But the Chinese police had used tear gas and the protesters had begun throwing rocks.
She’d expected the situation in Hong Kong to remain tense for a few days after the anniversary, but hoped it would eventually simmer down. Just as it had when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) first seized military control of Hong Kong several months ago—a move that spurred the Chinese government to announce an end to its policy of one country, two systems. It was fourteen years earlier then planned under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The loss of Hong Kong to China meant one less democracy in a world consisting of increasingly authoritarian regimes.
We should have done something about it then.
At the time of the take-over, the U.S. government had been consumed with restoring law and order in the aftermath of the Nightfall Incident. President Monroe had done nothing about China crossing the critical redline espoused by his predecessor. They’d left the people of Hong Kong to their tragic fate, and it was way too late for the United States to take the high ground now.
Opening up her binder, Elise pulled out a tablet, hand it to Susan, and said, “The protesters are calling on the world’s democracies to intervene militarily and release them from their oppressive surveillance by Chinese state security. They’ve specifically requested help from the United States through the news media. In response, the Chinese government has made some aggressive threats against us on social media, warning against any supportive action on behalf of the protesters.”
“Against us? Over social media?” Susan stared at the list tweets on her screen, her eyes still blurry.
Although Twitter continued to remain banned for the general public in China, its government had made greater use of the social media platform in recent months to communicate with the world about its new expansionist goals. But this would be the first time the Chinese government had chosen to engage in escalation with the U.S. Government over such informal channels.
I just don’t believe it.
Susan rubbed her forehead. “Why now? We didn’t intervene when they resumed full control over Hong Kong, of course, except to condemn the violation of their longstanding agreement with Great Britain. Why are they threatening us. What do they think we’ll do?” She furrowed her brow, contemplating the intent behind the tweets. “Are you absolutely sure the posts are legitimate?”
“That’s what our intel analysts are trying to figure out,” Elise said.
“You got me out of bed early for a few tweets?” Susan asked, covering her mouth as she released a huge yawn.
Elise’s eyes narrowed. “No. There’s more. As you know, the CIA has been tracking a flotilla of Chinese submarines heading for the Northern Passage.”
“Oh, for the naval exercise the Chinese have planned for tomorrow?” Susan asked, yawning again. “Didn’t China announce that Prowling Tiger would include a nuclear component already two weeks ago?”
“Yes, to support the war game, they said they were sending five submarines through the South China Sea bound for the Northern Passage and warned us against any interference. Supposedly they have a defensive mission,” Elise said.
“Did something unexpected happen to change our impression?” Susan asked.
Elise put her finger to her lips. “We can’t talk about it here. The Director of National Intelligence called me an hour ago with a preview of the intelligence reporting for this morning. When I heard what it was about, I told him to come to the White House right away. He’s currently waiting for you in the Situation Room, along with analysts from the CIA, NSA, and FBI tuning in over secure video conference.”
“At this hour?” Susan rubbed her eyes again, trying to make sense of what she was hearing. “But it’s not even five a.m.” Stretching her back and cracking her neck, she reached down to pet Penny’s head.
“Ma’am, the Director thinks you might want to reach a decision on how to respond to China this morning. Given the perceived urgency, he thought it best to move it up,” Elise said, tapping her finger on her binder. “He also wants to know if we should loop in the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Commander of the Pacific Forces.”
Geez, it must be important.
Susan put her hand on her forehead. “Uh… not yet. I’ll take a look at what they have before we hit the alarm bell. I don’t want everyone to lose their heads over nothing,” Susan said, nodding briskly and moving toward the door. When Elise didn’t immediately follow her lead, she turned around to give her an impatient look. “Okay, are we going down there or not?”
“Do you maybe want to get dressed first?” Elise asked, cracking a smile and pointing at her pajamas.
“Oh.” Susan blinked several times and then realized what she was wearing—blue cotton pajamas covered with gray and white French bull dogs that looked just like Penny. A birthday gift from Lucy. “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”