Today I want to share an excerpt from Depth of Return. This is the beginning of the novel, and it's actually the first scene I wrote. I was just getting to know the characters, too. That's how I usually work -- I just get an idea and the characters' names in my head and jump right in.
All I knew for sure when I started was that North was a very, very talented witch and that he'd been hurt by the last student he trained. I also knew that he was grumpy on the outside and kind on the inside. I knew that Alan had just found out he was a demon and was very confused about the whole thing. Pretty soon the characters had hold of me and took over, and before I knew it, I had a novel.
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“WHO ARE you?”
The setting sun limned the man standing on the end of the dock in a reddish aura and shadowed his face inside the hood of his sweatshirt. I wasn’t getting any closer until I knew what the hell was going on, so I held my canoe offshore about twenty feet, which wasn’t easy in the choppy water. Typical for a summer Vermont day, the wind had picked up late in the afternoon.
The man raised a hand in greeting. “Mr. North? I’m Alan Holsen.”
Like hell he was. “I was expecting a kid.” There was a beat-up red car parked beside my old truck in the dirt parking lot, so I knew he’d driven himself there.
“What? I’m twenty-one.” He sounded honestly shocked that I expected otherwise. He pushed back his hood to reveal curly hair that looked red, but then, the sun was making everything look that shade. I couldn’t see any of his features. Given that he was standing on a dock above me, it was possible he wasn’t as tall as I initially thought, but no way was this guy the ten-year-old demon who was supposed to be there. Arnold knew I preferred to train children. After my last disastrous result training an adult, I couldn’t believe my coven would send me another. What were they trying to pull on me? The text Arnold had sent the day before implied he’d be dropping off a kid. Bastard.
“You aren’t here to convince me to move back to town, are you?” I called. Town was miles away down the dirt road that ended in the tiny parking lot.
“Where’s your stuff?”
He turned so I could see he wore a backpack.
“Why did Arnold text that he was sending me a ten-year-old?”
“I don’t know. Autocorrect?”
Bullshit. “I never take anyone over fifteen.”
“I’m sorry,” he called back.
Sorry for me, or sorry for himself? I started to imagine the message I would send Arnold as I put my paddle back in the water and swung the bow of the canoe around. “Go home, Alan Holsen, and finish training with whoever started you.”
“No one has started me, Mr. North. I just found out.”
Was he kidding me? That must have been a hell of a shock, finding out that late that he was different from almost everyone else and that he was going to have to spend the rest of his life hiding a big secret. At twenty-one I had known for sixteen years that I was a witch. Training this guy would be even worse than taking over a job someone else had botched. He must’ve had the talent of a mealworm, not to have found out sooner. Caruthers could handle him just fine. “Go home, kid,” I called over my shoulder. “Good luck.”
I turned the canoe firmly and headed back toward my island. I would send Arnold a text as soon as I got home, and then I’d throw my damn phone in the pond.
I was so frustrated with my coven. They seemed to think they could foist everybody off on me with the excuse that I was so talented that I was obligated to teach the next generation. I didn’t mind a kid once in a while—preferably quiet ones who would shut up and do as I said—but not a guy that old. No way was that much testosterone coming into my cabin. No memories would awaken, thank you very—Holy shit.
A sea monster reared its head up out of the waves before me.
Good detail in the green scales, nice point of light in the red eyes, even drops of water coming off the horns. It opened its mouth and roared. The sound had good bass, but the highs were a little nasal. Tonsils looked impressive, and the tongue that snaked at me was perfectly forked. Huh. Maybe not a mealworm after all.
I conjured a dragon that swooped down out of the sky straight for the sea monster. In an instant, the monster dove and vanished with a lot of nice bubbles. I turned in my seat and raced my dragon, breathing a blast of fire, at the figure on the dock. The young man gazed at my creation until it vanished over his head.
“That was fantastic.” He pumped one hand into the air. “I could feel the heat.”
I snorted. I could have roasted him if I wanted to.
“Okay. Do you get seasick, like most demons?” I finally called.
“Absolutely not. I swear it.”
Damn. There went my last excuse. I could not stand the sight of anyone being sick. I growled under my breath and sent my canoe back toward the shore. I’d give him a week of my time. That was it. No more. It wasn’t my fault I had a soft spot for sea monsters.
But if the guy was lying and puked in my canoe, he was going overboard.