Excerpt and Guest Post: Virulent: The Release by Shelbi Wesott
Date Published: 2/3/13
Lucy King is only an hour away from embarking on the most incredible vacation of her life: White sandy beaches in a tropical paradise, snorkeling and sunbathing in peaceful tranquility. But as Lucy looks forward to her trip, a sinister plot is unfolding that will demolish the world as she knows it. An unknown bioterrorist group unleashes a virus that virtually wipes out the earth’s population—leaving Lucy, and a small faction of survivors, trapped inside her high school to wait out the apocalypse.
War, looting, and death wreak havoc outside of her high school; but inside, the students must contend with a tyrannical and paranoid principal and their own struggles of being orphaned, frightened, and unsure of what the future will bring.
What begins as a basic fight for survival turns into a search for answers that will challenge everything Lucy has ever known about her life and her family.
Virulent: The Release
“Sal,” Lucy started. “What’s wrong? I’m so sorry. What’s wrong?” She heard her own voice waver and she took a deep breath to steady it.
“It’s Bogie,” Salem replied. Lucy let out a slow breath. Bogie was the Aguilar family dog; a Rottweiler beagle mix who Lucy had known since he was a puppy. Bogart was a prized possession, a member of the family. He was young and healthy and every night he slept curled up at Salem’s feet. Salem loved that dog more than anything and Lucy searched for perfect words of comfort while gearing up for tragic news.
“Oh. Sal. Please…don’t tell me…”
“My mom came home and found him…just gone.”
“Missing?” Lucy held her breath, hoping that maybe he’d just gone exploring, he’d return. Catastrophe averted. Histrionics unnecessary.
Salem let out a small sob. “No Lucy…gone. Gone. Like, dead. Just in the middle of the kitchen floor, like he was asleep. But he wasn’t breathing, wasn’t moving. My mom looked around, thought maybe he had eaten something bad for him.”
“Lucy, I don’t know. I don’t know!” She stared at her friend wide-eyed and frantic. “I mean…what’s happening? What is this? Some cruel joke?”
“I’m so sorry,” was all Lucy knew to say and she reached out again to put a hand on Salem, but Salem pulled away.
“No! You don’t get it! Listen to me. They just are all gone. All of them.”
There was a pause and Lucy stopped. She gathered her hands into her lap and wrapped them in a ball; dread formed in her stomach, uneasiness replaced pity. “What do you mean?”
“My mom called the vet, but the line was busy, so she went over to our neighbor’s house. She was distraught, right? And…our neighbor opened the door just sobbing.”
The car fell quiet. Outside a motorcycle roared passed. Its engine grew louder, then faded away.
Salem turned to Lucy. “All the dogs, Lucy. All the dogs are dead.”
The Importance of Conflict
I’ve been a writer since I could string letters into words. In first grade, I won an award for being the most prolific 1st grader by publishing more than 60 books in a single year through our school’s “Publishing House” (a group of tireless mothers and fathers who transcribed our stories and then spiral bound them.)
But looking back on those books, one thing was abundantly clear: I couldn’t really tell a good story. As a seven-year-old, I was more interested in character than plot. I’d dedicate pages to describing the mom’s clothes, the way she smiled, but over the course of a ten-page story, nothing would happen.
I needed an intervention. Someone should have said, “Shelbi, seriously. We love that you think you’re a writer…but shouldn’t a story called Oh, Lovely Mud actually feature mud? What if the kid has new shoes she doesn’t want to get dirty? Something. Anything. Give us anything.”
It wasn’t until a couple of months ago when I realized that some people need to be taught the art of plotting and conflict and some people are born with it.
Unlike me, my four-year-old son seems to be an innate storyteller.
Elliott dictated a story he wanted me to write down. Page by page, he crafted some Thomas the Train fanfiction entitled Thomas is Kidnapped (like his mom, he already has a flare for the intense). It goes like this: Thomas wanders off and gets lost, Percy goes to look for him, but no one will help Percy look. Percy cries. A bad guy locks Thomas in a cage. Thomas cries. Finally Harold the Helicopter agrees to help, but right as they are about to search, it starts to rain! Eventually the rain stops, they see a locked door, break it open, and find Thomas and rescue him.
That story is riveting. Elliott had it all: Overall conflict, scene conflict, personal conflict, and ultimately resolution. Plus, he made the characters sympathetic! How did he know to do this? My first-grade self hadn’t learned the art of plotting, but my pre-schooler had it mastered! I actually jumped for joy when he finished telling me the story.
I needed to teach myself what Elliott had already learned. I read books on the subject, and reminded myself with a sticky note above my writing desk: What is the conflict in this scene/dialogue/chapter? If I didn’t coach myself of the importance of an overall conflict and individual conflicts within scenes, I became stuck… mired in a tangled mess of nothingness that wasn’t much fun to write and certainly wasn’t fun to read.
My best piece of advice for writers is to follow Elliott’s lead: Set a course where the conflict is clearly outlined: There is a question that must be answered. Then create characters that are important enough that people care what happens next. Pepper in some side-conflicts and internal conflicts to keep things moving. And I promise you: People will keep turning pages.
About the Author:
Shelbi Wescott is a high school Language Arts and Creative Writing teacher, a mother of two, a television junky, and a board game connoisseur. Her first book, “Virulent: The Release” was born from a challenge issued by her students to write a book that would interest them. When she isn’t writing or teaching, Shelbi can be found throwing unnecessarily elaborate birthday parties and officiating weddings. She is a fan of: Spanx, bourbon, Powell’s Books, and tabloid magazines.
Shelbi lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband (a local sports editor) and her two sons, Elliott and Ike.