I've had a busy year to date and haven't had time to blog much. My husband and I had plans drawn up for a new house which went on for months. I thought at one stage that they would never get to council but they have. We are also trying to get plans drawn up for a pool as well. And I organised a lovely new kitchen in the house I'm living in currently. The cupboards are in but not the splash backs nor the plastering. More mess for me to clean up and keep me away from my writing. My friend Victoria, has had another short story accepted by Women's Day. Yippee for her. My turn will come soon.
The short story I entered in the Woman's Weekly short story competition didn't do any good. I'll have to try again for next year.
I have entered my Stephanie story in the ABC competition. Here's hoping I win.
I've been working with a mentor (Catherine)on my Stephanie story. I had been hoping that she would recommend me to a literary agent but that was not to be. A bit of bad luck really, when I sent off my manuscript to her, my printer was playing up and in the mix up I only sent three quarters of my story. She didn't tell me until it was time for our face to face meeting. I still had another 5 hours with her and she suggested I sent the bit she didn't receive and the first bit again. I sent her the first 100 pages and the last 100 or so. She didn't get the bit in between and when I met with her again she said that she couldn't recommend me as she didn't have the bit in the middle to compare and she couldn't remember it well. To get that recommendation I needed to resubmit the whole MSS to her for a critique and I simply ran out of money.
Also I submitted some of it to an online writing group (critical_writing) I belong to. Just when I think that I can't get it any better, I get comments from the group about this or that paragraph and when I rework it, I am amazed that it's even better than before. I'm not one to cling on to my 'darlings' thinking they can't be improved. Here's the newest version of the Prologue and Chapter 1.
The only difference between published writers and the unpublished ones is that the published ones didn't give up and I'm not going to either.
Once expelled, our breath circles the earth and comes back to us.
Here it is. I hope you like it.
STEPHANIE (WORKING TITLE)(I have replaced the previous version posted here on Jan 2008)
by olga segal
He waited inside his van until the streetlights came on and dusk became night. A California sea breeze set the trees rustling and throwing dancing shadows on the sidewalk.
He reached for the bottle beside him and gulped a mouthful of water while he watched the house opposite. In an upstairs window a light came on, and then it went off. He opened the car door slowly so as not to make any noise. Crossing the road, he skirted the large oak tree at the side of the drive, and whispered across the lawn and down the side of the wooden front porch.
The soft flickering glow from a television seeped under the curtains at the back living area. Satisfied that someone was home he retreated across the lawn to the garage, crept down the side nearest the house. While looking for a door he stumbled on the uneven pathway.
Trembling with excitement at what he was about to set into motion, he pulled out a tiny pocket flashlight and shone the beam low on the garage wall. At the back entrance to the garage, he killed the light.
Once inside, he shone the light on the Ford. Under the steering wheel he felt for the hood release and pulled it, lifted the hood and found the hydraulic brake fluid line. He loosened the nut on the clamp that held the first line in place, and then did the same for the next one.
Afterwards, he meticulously wiped off his prints and returned to his van, climbed in and waited. It took about an hour before the external lights to the home went on. A man and his son appeared. The man opened the garage door, secured the child into the passenger seat, and drove away.
“Yes.” He punched the air as the feeling of absolute power surged through him.
Stephanie Kelly did not know that a simple thing like the mail delivery would start a series of events that would forever change her life.
The buzzing continued relentlessly outside the glass security door to the laboratory. “Okay. I’m coming.” She lifted her head from the microscope and let her eyes refocus from the slides of tissue cultures she had been checking for signs of necrosis, snapped off her disposable gloves and cap, and tugged at the face mask that often got stuck in her thick-black hair as she walked to the door. The impatient mail girl was in the corridor with a wad of letters in her hand.
They exchanged small talk for a few minutes as she accepted the letters. Stephanie let the heavy door close, pushed back a stray lock of straight hair from her face, and exited the laboratory into a short, glass-walled hallway that led to a bank of three offices.
She entered the middle office, and reached for the coffee she had left on her desk ages ago. Yuk. It was stone cold and bitter. She threw the junk mail into the wastebasket and sorted the rest into addressee: Richard Dixon or for her. There was one grey envelope without a return address or company logo for her:
Doctor Stephanie Kelly, Senior Tissue Engineer
Rigby Research Inc
Richard strolled in from his office next door and leaned over her shoulder. “Any mail for me, doc?”
“Stop that stuff. Just because I have a few letters after my name.” After the graduation ceremony at Berkeley, her mother had said as she hugged her all those years ago that she’d been so proud of her. Stephanie wished she could have been proud of herself too but wasn’t.
“I like to tease you,” he grinned.
She glanced up at him as he finger combed his wavy black hair. Her sister’s husband would kill to have a head of hair like that. “Maybe I should call you, Professor Dixon?”
“Now…now. I see you’re still getting loads of readdressed stuff from our Los Angeles branch?”
“Yup. And it’s been three months since I transferred here. Don’t they ever update their contacts? I emailed the companies before I left,” she said.
Her research on fibrocystic and stromal breast tissue had kept her busy at the Los Angeles branch for the previous five years until a fire had tried to destroyed her dream when the the lab and some of the offices had burnt down. To continue her research, which she would not give up for anything, she moved to their branch in Arizona, a subsidiary of Rigby Research Inc. and joined Dr. Richard Dixon who ran the Arizona labs. Their studies into growing breast tissue had taken her into undiscovered realms. This excited her and gave her a reason to live. The other had been severed a year ago and the event festered in her mind like a parasite.
“Obviously none of them are as organized as you.”
“Oh yeah, sure. How are the RT241 trials looking so far?”
She opened the envelope without a return address and found two photos inside. She pursed her full lips.
“It’ll be another thirty-six hours before we know anything…what’s that you’ve got there?”
“I’m not sure.” One photo was of her walking through the park with her niece, Dionne, and the other of her stepping out of her silver Honda dressed in her duck-egg blue jacket and pencil skirt. “I wore it to work last Friday and I dropped off at the cleaners yesterday.” What was going on? Dumbfounded, she fell into the gas-lift chair hardly aware that she had edged backwards around her desk. “What the hell happing here?”
Richard raised his eyebrows. “What’s wrong?” .
“Take a look.” She handed them to Richard and slipped off her lab coat. “What do you make of these? I’m clueless as to who took them or why. This one is the last time I played catch in the park with Dionne a few weekends ago. Someone’s been watching me. No. That can’t be right. Why would they do that? Maybe its some sort of joke?” Stephanie brought her hand to her mouth when she saw the self-adhesive label on the back of one of the photographs and then read it aloud. “My Princess. My one and only love.” She expelled a long breath. “Holy shit. I can’t believe this.”
Richard stiffened. “Some weird person’s trying to get your attention. I’d be thinking when’s the actual note going to arrive? You know, blackmail or something.”
“Don’t scare me. I want to be rational about this.”
“You can analyse this away, but I don’t like it one bit. What we’re doing here is too important.” A worried frown creased Richard’s forehead. “Now I’m thinking stalker?”
“Okay. No one’s been following me. At least, I don’t think so. But then, Jesus, I didn’t see them take these, did I?” Stephanie glanced beyond the glass wall at the three white-coated co-workers in the laboratory. “Do you think someone here might know something about them?”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, I can’t just ignore this. I’ve got to do something, got to start somewhere.”
“Okay. Let’s go ask.” He opened the glass door and went into the lab with her one step behind him.
It was when she had applied for a research grant six years ago to study manipulating cell growth that Richard contacted her. She had made inquiries then before accepting his offer of collaborating with him—be it in different locations—and found out he was a Harvard graduate, who had been headhunted by most of the major research companies but he settled for Rigby because of the freedom he had with his research projects.
Stephanie took a deep calming breath before she spoke in a voice that belied how upset she was at this invasion of her privacy. “Hi, guys. Does anyone know anything about these photos?”
Some of Nina Mumczuk’s blonde hair had worked it's way out of her cap and fell across her high-cheek-boned face as she slid a tray of test tubes into the incubator. “What are you talking about?” she said as she straightened and then came over.
And how much did Stephanie know about her co-workers anyway? “Someone’s been taking photos of my niece, Dionne, and me, and sent them here.” God. How could she even think that they would know anything about these? Well, it was too late now to back out.
Nina stared open-mouthed. “That is terrible.” The woman had befriended her the day Stephanie moved here from L.A. three months ago. Nina was kind and considerate. No…her friend could not have done this.
Nina was a doctor of medicine in the Ukraine but not recognized as such in the States. Undertaking a part-time degree program at the local university, she was married to a civil engineer--his degree was not recognized here either--who worked as a janitor to help make ends meet.
“Tell me about it,” said Stephanie as she turned to the young brunette, Melissa Toomy--the tissue-engineering graduate fresh out of university who often seemed empty--headed and dreamy, but sometimes showed that there was a brain behind those long black eye lashes, heavy eyeliner and bottle-brunette hair.
“What’s the problem?” Melissa closed the glass fume hood and peeled off her disposable gloves, skirted the white bench, and flounced over. “Gosh. You’re niece is so pretty. She looks like you. I wish I had thick black hair like that.”
“How could you? I’m freaking out about this and you think it’s funny. Did you send this?” Damn, she hadn’t meant to tell them all how much this had shaken her.
“Come on.” Melissa shrugged. “Got no idea who did either. Something I’ve been meaning to ask you: are your parents Greek?”
“They’ve lived in the States since before I was born. What’s that got to do with these?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Accepted.” Receiving these in the mail must have upset her more than she realised. She didn’t usually bristle when questioned about her roots. It had happened so frequently when she was growing up that she had learned not to take offence.
Stephanie showed Melissa the message on the back. “Some creepy admirer you’ve got.”
“Don’t say that. I’ll be checking my back every time I go out now.” Jesus, she’d have to lock herself into her apartment at night and she hated to do that as the very thought of not being able to get out easily scared her more. Good God, this was making her paranoid.
“Some people are so strange. No wonder you’re upset,” said the brunette.
“Do you know anything about this, Fred?” Fred Lincoln added incubation media into an injection machine, which squirted a measured amount into test tubes. She had heard about Fred, who had been lauded as a biomedical-engineering wizard when she studied at Berkeley. While there, five years earlier, he had written a significant paper on rogue cancer cells.
As he lifted his head, a clump of limp-brown hair slipped free from the disposable cap. He pushed it back inside and then he pulled down his mask. “What?”
Stephanie held up the photos. “They came in today’s mail. Do you know anything about them?” she repeated.
He raised his caterpillar eyebrows. “As if I would. I’m here till eight o’clock most nights. When would I have time? And why would I bother?”
A typical answer from someone who still lived with his mother and wore pants up to his waist with two pleats on each side. “Well I don’t know? Why would you even care?” She turned her back to him.
“I don’t like it. I think you should call the police,” said Richard.
“When I lived in the Ukraine, the policemen did not help anyone much unless you had money.” Nina shook her head. “They were corrupt.”
“I hope someone will own up soon. It’s long past Halloween. Maybe one of the guys downstairs might have an idea who sent them?” Stephanie wished that this would be the likely solution. “I’ll ask the mail girl as well when she does her rounds tomorrow. She seems to know all the gossip around here.”
“I hope it’s just a prank and not anything more serious,” said Melissa.
“I don’t want to think about it anymore.” She straightened her back and pretended she was okay. “How are the RT251 tissue cultures coming along?” Stephanie asked Richard.
“They do look promising. Still, it’s too early to say for sure.”
“And the lymphoma cells?”
He grimaced. “Don’t even ask. I’m doing a full comparison report this afternoon. I think we need to enrich the mixture. I’m going to start with a quarter of a millilitre at a time.”
“We’ll get there eventually,” said Melissa. “I can just see the headlines now. Women fighting to be first for new breast enlargement technology.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “What about breast restoration for cancer victims?”
“It may take a few more years to get the formula right before we can start implanting it in mice.” Fred adjusted his mask and picked up the tray of test tubes that were partly filled with media.
Stephanie knew that to Fred the challenge was the best part. Once it was over, he would lose interest.
“Women will be begging us to grow their breasts,” said Melissa. “I’ll bet it’ll happen soon.”
“Didn’t you hear? It’ll probably take at least another year.” The mask muffled Fred’s voice. He moved his bulk slowly, with the tray in his hands, to the incubator.
“Pessimist.” She made a face at his back. “When we do perfect the formula, you two get all the glory and make a fortune. You’ll be famous.” Melissa said to Richard and Stephanie. She put on her gloves and mask and then loaded two test tubes into the centrifuge.
Dixon screwed up his face. “Glory? You mean fight off the sharks clamouring for a story, and truckloads of people wanting money from us. I can do without that. What do you think, Stephanie?”
“Paparazzi? Please spare me. ” Stephanie’s manicured fingers tapped the photos in her hand. “I still don’t get why someone would do this?”
“Didn’t you just say you didn’t want to think about them?” Richard said.
“I’m trying not to. I’m trying to remain focused on what we’re doing here and not be disturbed by this.”
“Hey. You’re justifying yourself far too much. You’re spooked and don’t want to admit it. If we don’t get this sorted by tomorrow…I’ll call the police if you don’t,” he said as he strode back to his office.
“It’s a deal.” When she noticed the photos shaking in her hand, she slipped them into her lab coat pocket so that no one would see, and went back to the slides of tissue cultures she had analysed for necrosis before the mail delivery.
She pulled up a stool and sat. A quick glance from Nina told her that her friend was concerned about her. She smiled and put on a brave face. Tried to look like she was working. Picked up the cultures, put them down because she made them tremble too, and nearly got up but somehow managed to keep herself seated, and wanted to pick them up again but didn’t want anyone to notice how unsettled she had become.
Skin damp from fear that the cooling air conditioning couldn’t ease made her seek refuge in her office. She sank into her chair, pulled off her cap, and pushed her fingers through her thick black bob while she tried to think about what to do.
When the phone beside Stephanie rang, she jumped and wrenched it from its cradle. Dropped it and then finally croaked a flustered, “hello!” Not the usual…Good Morning, Stephanie Kelly speaking. The receptionist told her that Jack Theed, the representative from West Labs Equipment, was downstairs at the reception waiting to see her.
“Tell Jack I’ll be down in about ten minutes.” She would have to apologise for keeping him waiting.
He had an appointment but with what had happened this morning, she’d completely forgotten. After a quick inventory check, to see if the lab needed any more Petri dishes, test tubes or other equipment that West Labs carried she shrugged out of the lab coat, flung it over a chair, and started to open the heavy glass security door at the other end of the hallway that exited directly into the corridor.
The photos were still in her pocket. She went back into her office, picked up her lab coat and retrieved them. Why would someone do this? Why take candid shots of her with Dionne: to scare her half to death? Well they’d succeeded. She slid them into the envelope they came in and wished she could just tear them up and forget about them. The police would have to be notified after her meeting with Jack. She let herself out and walked over to the elevator.