Writing Prompt--Two Points of Views

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 31, 2010 -- 3:04 p.m.

I'm reading a book that features the POVs of multiple siblings. As soon as I saw that, I sat back and started waiting for the father to die. It took 100 pages for him to kick the bucket, but kick the bucket he did. After George R.R. Martin did that so wonderfully in Game of Thrones, other authors have tried imitating it with various levels of success. Most of them end up failing. At this point in time, I'm so jaded, I prefer the authors who kill the father off pretty quick, or make it so obvious he's going to die, you're interested in the how, not the actual event. Books whose only twist is that the father dies bore me, because I can see it coming from fifty miles away.

The amazing thing is, when I read Game of Thrones the first time, I didn't see it coming. Looking back, I'm not sure how I missed it. Fantasy books are like Disney moives--if daddy's there at all, daddy's going to die so that the kids can go on adventures. Mommy is sometimes left alive--perhaps because our social views of women allow for a more passive female character. Mom is helpless, but dad, if he were alive, would do something, so we have to kill him for the sake of the plot. I've heard discussions of "orphan syndrome" related to middle grade and young adult fiction, but not in fantasy as a genre. The only example I can think of at the moment where the dad didn't die is Wheel of Time.

I think why Game of Thrones succeeded in the whole orphaning is because George R.R. Martin is such a wizard with slight of hand. He had us focussed on the mystery, the politics, the threads going on in other realms... (the wall, Daeny). We were so busy wondering if Cercei was going to kill Robert or Jaime was going to kill the children or what that we didn't notice the main character's death sneaking up on us.

So, if you're going to kill a father-figure in your book, at least give me a mystery to distract me while I wait for the inevitable assassination/beheading. Better yet, maybe you can let a father live, occasionally.

August progress report: I'm currently reworking a revision of God's Play; adding occasionally to Skin Farm, which is now two-thirds done; and plotting a new epic fantasy novel called City of Murderers, which may be my next project. I have more projects than I have patience to write. I'm listening to Terry Pratchett audio books and the aforementioned father-killing novel, which so far has been a demonstration of incredibly poor writing. I keep wondering if it's a translation, because many of the sentences make absolutely no sense. Terry Pratchett, on the other hand, is brilliant, and even more brilliant when read in the dry, British accents of Nigel Planer.


Title: Agree to Disagree
Genre: Any
Type: Character

So I had a dream. I don't remember the content, but I do remember this--I was watching something, something significant. I woke up and rolled over and went back to sleep. I repeated the same dream, except this time, I was someone different. And it showed. The changes in my perception were slight, but important. My actions were slightly different as well. Both character perceived each other's reasons for doing things completely inaccurately.

This happens in real life. Three people will remember the same conversation differently. They will also remember the same event differently.

I want you to take two characters through a scene. Any kind of scene--an argument, repairs to a space station in orbit, a battle against a red-skinned monster with three tongues. Write the scene from one POV, and then write the same scene from the other character's POV. How accurate are each character's perceptions? You can have them be diametrically opposed, if you want, but I think this exercise is more interesting with two characters who view the same things with only slight differences.

You can do this one of two ways. If you're like me, a discovery writer, then you write the two scenes and then compare them to gleam the differences in personality and such. If you're an outliner, you might come up with a list of major differences between how the characters see the world and try to work them into the text.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 27, 2010 -- 12:20 p.m.

Since I did my week's book review on Weds (yes, now that my vacations are over, I'm going to try and be better about the blog schedule), I figured today would be a whatever today.

This whatever is that there are burglars prowling my neighborhood. They've hit two houses in the area in the past two weeks or so. As far as gossip can be trusted, they are a man and a woman team in a truck and trailer who apparently watch houses for a while before breaking in. They're smokers--unusual enough to stand out, in my neighborhood--and are dumb enough to leave cigarette butts inside the houses they rob, so with luck, the police will be able to use DNA to identify them.

However, these aren't your ordinary smash and grab thieves. They apparently have some kind of device that can grab the access code off automatic garage door openers. So they watch a house to determine when nobody's home, use their device to trigger the code to open the garage door, bring their trailer inside and then load up on electronic stuff and drive away. No having to carry expensive electronics out in plain sight, or anything like that. Relatively low risk, unfortunately.

A couple of my friends from Oregon were robbed a few years ago. Even though they got most of their stuff back, they're still traumatized. Homes are a place of safety for most people. Even though we logically understand that this safety is an illusion, when that illusion is stripped away, it hurts people deeply. There was a show a few years ago on Discovery, I think called "To Catch a Thief" that showed people how thieves would break into their houses so they'd get better security stuff. I found the show morally questionable because I worried it taught more people how to burglarize than how to defend themselves, and also because it focused on suburbanites who lived in areas where burglaries were usually as frequent as a rain of mashed potatoes. Fear-mongering, pure and simple.

But getting back to the point: Anyway, the people I live with expressed worry, but I told them I thought we were reasonably safe given the burglars' modus operendi (no house is completely safe, but in this case it's one of those, I-don't-have-run-faster-than-the-bear, just-faster-than-you situations, so we just have to look less appealing than the house next door). There are a lot of reasons our house is a bad place to hit. Our movements are not very predictable and my car's almost always in the driveway, so it makes an efficient decoy. We're also located at the top of a hill, making it both visible from below but and hard to see down at the same time. If you have a lookout stationed at the top of the hill, you're only get a few seconds of warning, and you aren't going to do much better if you station watchers at the junctions of the nearby streets because there are so many of them. There's just not a good way to watch all the methods of approaching the house, while remaining out of sight yourself at the same time.

Anyway, I found it strange that my subconscious had already started planning how to rob my own house, enough that I could explain why it was a bad idea. I wonder if it's just writers who do that, or everyone. I love reading about heists (low tech and high tech) and complicated assassination plans (Day of the Jackal was awesome), not because I plan to rob or kill anyone, but because they're interesting puzzles. When I went to a campaign stop by a Presidential candidate once, I thought, "How would I bypass security? How would I kill this candidate? Could I get away with it?"

That's why I've watched the news stories around dead spy Gareth Williams with such interest. Because there's a part of me that thinks what if I were a counter-spy and wanted not just to kill him, but to completely impugn his good name, how would I do it? After all, if you give police a lurid answer that nobody wants to look into that closely, it would be a good way to chase people off the scent, right?

Well, just because occam's razor usually works in real life doesn't mean it works in fiction.

Maybe I think about this stuff because I have a naturally criminal mind, but also because it's interesting, pitting my intelligence against theirs. In everyday life, I will try to plan terrorist missions and put limits my budget and my means, trying to figure out what will cause the maximum effect with the minimum commitment of resources. Some times, I frighten myself with how easy some of the things I think of could be. Good thing I'm on the right side. And I guess I'll be an invaluable asset to the resistance movement when the Canadians invade.

Does everyone do this, or am I just crazy?

PS: Yes, of course I've figured out the best way to rob my own house. No, of course I'm not dumb enough to post it on the internet.

Mockingjay Review (Mild Spoilers)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 24, 2010 -- 2:46 p.m.

I just finished Mockingjay and...boy, did it blow me away. It completely beat my expectations. Though not perfect, it was great. I couldn't put it down and now I'm going to go back and read it again from the beginning.

But first, I thought I'd do a review. There are spoilers, but probably not the kind that will wreck the book for you, so read at your own discretion.

I was right about the cheerful cover being completely wrong. From the picture on front, you would expect Katniss to rise up over conflict as something pure and beautiful. You would also be wrong. This book is the darkest of the three, without doubt. And when I think a book is dark, you know that it's dark.

After an admittedly rocky start with a patchwork of flashbacks that left me wishing Scholastic had hired me as copyeditor, we find Katniss Everdeen in the bowels of District 13. Suzanne Collins manages to confound my expectations. Contrary to my worries that the new district would be a magic wand to erase all Katniss' problems, instead we're introduced to a new kind of dystopia. One of supply shortages and secret tortures and rigorous schedules tattooed on your wrist every morning. Instead of being offered a clean choice between good and evil, Katniss must decide between bad and worse.

These are the decisions that make readers sweat. These are my favorite kind of decisions to read about, and to write about.

No matter which way she turns, Katniss' choices will lead to bloodshed and death. One scene close to the ending is an epitome of useless gore. While the final pages may suggest hope (and possible a prequel involving Haymitch, PLEASE-PLEASE-PLEASE!!!), the unforgiving decisions the characters make before the last resolution will leave you wondering if history is doomed to repeat itself.

Collins' writing shimmers when it comes to pastoral moments--a ring of dancers taking what joy they can in the midst of war, for example--but she really shines when it comes to the violence. Which you'll find here in gobs of delicious, blood-rending horror. No, Katniss doesn't end up back in an "official" arena, but she is forced to kill and watch people die in a variety of ways. I was somewhat disappointed given the technology-heavy world of the Capital that so few high-tech weapons were showcased. I didn't quite buy the in-world explanations for the limited use of aircraft and WMDs, but you have to admit that close quarters combat does make for great reading. I particularly enjoyed the toys I did see--including a voice-activated bow with incendiary arrows. Guess what I'm putting on my Christmas list?

A sly reference to Farenheit 451 also made my dystopia-loving heart beat a little faster.

On other military matters, I was disappointed that--despite previous' books build-up of the Capital's insurmountable armies--there were very few military details about how the impoverished outer districts overcame the better-armed central government. But as a tactical buff, I can never get enough about that stuff, and the Hunger Games triology has never been about that.

So what is it about? In my opinion, it's about how we as a society see violence. How we glamorize it (even in book form, which makes Hunger Games all the more ironic, since it's criticizing our arena-watching tendancies while forcing the book's audience into the role of spectators at the same time). While the previous books have explored violence for entertainment value, this book explores violence for propaganda value. Katniss has always been exploited as a symbol, but never so obviously and tastelessly. The rebellion does what the capital has--put makeup and full body-polishes on murder and gruesome death. Think Wag the Dog, post-apocalyptic style.

But while decrying the exploitation of violence for power, the book also manages to rack up an impressive bodycount. My only other major disappointment was the way the death of one of the characters was handled. Apparently, it took place between books, but it is rarely discussed or thought about. It's possible I missed mention of it in my admittedly quick read, because Katniss' lack of grief over this particular individual seemed strangely out of character.

The love triangle is, of course, still in force, although it's the part that interests me the least. Unlike previous books, Gale takes off from the page. While before, I considered him a cardboard cypher, more obsticle to Peeta than actual living being, this time he's a living, breathing character and I can see why some girls on the forums were rooting for him. Collins has a gift for dialogue that rings true in Gale's mouth.

While Gale takes center page, Peeta--kidnapped and in the hands of President Snow--takes a bit of a sideline in the process. Peeta fans may not enjoy the twist his character takes, but I loved it in the way only a fellow writer can. Curse you, Suzanne Collins, you diabolical genius!

It's nice to see the character development of Katniss over the series. I may have enjoyed reading about the decisively temptestrous heroine from the first book, but I still liked the indecesive, temptestrous heroine from the third. While the romance is interesting in and of itself, it's really a stand-in for a choice between two different worldviews. Anger and vengeance, symbolized by Gale; and forgiveness and peaceful reconciliation, symbolized by Peeta.

Though of course, neither character is strictly bound by that nature in the book. Both characters break their assigned molds, making for some of the most riveting moments in Mockingjay. And whenever anyone gets too sure of themselves, Collins is there with a curveball ready to throw them off their stride.

In the end, the choice isn't black and white. Katniss is part Peeta, part Gale, and all herself--a lonely girl hurt by choices that are far too big for any one person to shoulder.

PS: Collins is on book tour. You can find her schedule here. I may make it over to Washington for a signing in November, if I'm feeling ambitious. Also, Publisher's Weekly has an article on the marketing on Mockingjay. Definitely worth reading if you're thinking about marketing strategies for your own book.

Mockingjay Release (No Spoilers)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 25, 2010 -- 9:52 a.m.

Haappppy Hunger Games Day! (in an 'Effie' voice).

I'm back from Oregon just in time to grab Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. I was sick this weekend, too sick to make it to the midnight release party, but I slogged over to Barnes and Nobles with a wealth of gift cards this morning fifteen minutes after it opened only to find out they were out of copies. OH NOS!!!!

Except then I saw they still had boxed sets of all three up front. So I grabbed one. I don't own the other two, so that worked out all right. I'd rather have paperbacks (easier for my hands to hold, I've been suffering from mild wrist pains lately--don't know what I'll do when Way of Kings comes out) but hardbacks will have to do. I couldn't wait even another day for more books to come in.

It's hard to describe the depths of my black despair when I found out they were all out. And then, when I found the boxed set, I went skipping through the parking lot. Yay!

Before I read the book, I wanted to celebrate the event. Because there's a part of me that's sure the book can never live up to what I want it to be. I doubt it will be a trainwreck, but whenever a series I love ends, I'm usually more disappointed than satisfied. Like certain TV shows of late, the end of a series often ends with a whimper, instead of a bang. I'm still surprised they divided the Harry Potter 7 movie into two. After all, most of that book was spent with the main three wandering through London wondering what they should be doing. Why do we need two movies of that?

Anyway, I suspect Mockingjay will be an entirely different book. Catching Fire relied on a lot of retreads from the first book. Not a bad thing. I found the repetition satisfying, although having President Snow allow condemned contestants an open, uncensored forum really strained my sense of disbelief. He needed to go to the "evil dictator school of logic." And I found the whole "Oh, District 13 does exist" thing annoying, since it's a bit of a magic wand. I hope the author doesn't wave it to make all the problems go away.

But I can't see Mockingjay relying on the arena/arena rigamarole a third time, so this book will have to be entirely different than the others. Will we still have a way for Cinna to show off his fashions in post-revolutionary district 13? Will Effie's bizarre hairstyles feature a return appearance beneath the toxic-bombed ashes? We'll see.

One thing that amazed me in the pre-release chatter was the number of teenage girls arguing about whether Katniss should end up with Peeta or Gale. It's always amusing that, while I'm interested in the technology, the survival, and the politics, other people are interested in the romance. That shows a book's greatness, that it can satisfy audiences on more than one level.

Speaking of which, seriously, why would anyone vote for Gale? I don't get that one at all. Peeta is nasueatingly perfect, but Gale has had hardly any screen time. He talks big, but he hasn't done anything, except get the tar flogged out of him for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lot of people seemed to think Peeta or Gale will die by the end of the book, to make room for the other, but I don't think that's necessarily true. It could happen. If it does, I'm betting Gale would die to save Peeta.

Part of me hates the monogamist conceit this was built upon. Why can't she have both? Gale can be her kept boy in the remains of district 12, and Peeta can be her husband away from home when she's made queen of the new capital.

Katniss dying would be kind of a cool ending, but I think that would annoy too many people. I don't think Suzanne Collins' editor would let her get away with it.

Guess I'll get to find out! I still wish the third book was a different, more dangerous color. I'm not a fan of the randomly broken swirls on the cover, either. The first two books looked more dramatic.

Weird Walk

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 10, 2010 -- 1:30 a.m.

I have found the secret to getting agents to ask for partials: Go on vacation. If you are in a place where you cannot access your novel, badda-bing, the requests come in.

I dreamed last night I enrolled in a school of ninjas. I fought evil. It was awesome.

I had a weird experience I thought I would write down. I was walking up from the MAX (Portland's metro) to the house of the friend I'm staying with and I managed to get completely turned around. I wasn't thinking about my surroundings because a) of above partial request b) I don't have any sense of direction. By the time I figured out I was lost, I saw a familiar landmark and thought I knew the direction I should go in. Only then it turned out I didn't and, in trying to get out, I landed smack dab in the middle of a set of gated communities and couldn't get out.

Anyone who knows me knows I'll do this. I get lost walking across a street. Ask me how many debate rounds I missed because I got lost. Actually don't ask, because it's happened so often, I stopped keeping track.

It's after midnight. I've walked two miles. I'm a little annoyed at myself, but not particularly worried. Every street I go down ends in another frickin gated community. I go toward an apartment complex downhill figuring the apartments will open out onto a main road and I can find my way back to the MAX station and try again. Unfortunately, there are some twenty buildings, and I pick the wrong direction and find myself wandering from stairwell to stairwell staring up at six-story complexes.

My cell phone got no reception up there, but I managed to find a few bars in the middle of a park, with the sprinklers attacking me full blast. I call my friend, but the reception gives out, though not before my friend gives me a general idea that I should go downhill.

Anyway, I find some girls out on the porch of their apartment and ask for directions. They cannot believe I walked up the hill. It's just a hill, but they make it sound like Mount Everest. They are freaked out and certain I am on drugs. They offer to let me call my friend but my phone has reception again so I do it myself. He's got mapquest up and can give me directions, all I need is the address and a point out of the complex.

Except they cannot believe that I can walk my way home alone in the dark. They are certain that muggers are going to find me and get me. I roll my eyes and point to the fact we're surrounded by mini-mansions and there are like two streetlamps to every house. This isn't downtown Portland. This is suburbia central. How many muggers would be waiting to jump out at pedestrians at midnight on a Monday anyway? Those would be some pretty bored muggers, since I hadn't seen a single pedestrian for an hour. No victims = no muggers.

The kicker--the women don't know their own address OR how to use mapquest. Who lives in that kind of neighborhood and doesn't know how to use mapquest? She kept saying my address was turning up the map to Arizona but that was because her DEFAULT STARTING LOCATION was in Arizona and she didn't know she needed to change it. She thought it was because the address I'd given her was a lie and I was casing her apartment for a burglary or something.

Anyway, they eventually talked my friend into coming out to get me, which I feel horrible about because it's midnight and seriously, I can walk fine, I just need to know where to walk, but he is very nice and comes and the girls wait with me to make sure I'm not kidnapped by all the horrible muggers out on the streets.

It was very strange because they kept asking me my age, if I was sober and "why did you walk up that hill" -- repeating the same questions five or six times. I wonder why they thought my answer would be different, if the fifth time I would say, "Ooh, your clever tactic of asking the same question over and over again has led me to confess that I'm actually on heroin!"

I tried explaining that I knew my friends lived on a hill so I walked up the hill thinking it was the right hill but that seemed an unsatisfactory answer. At least one of the girls was mentally challenged, I believe. She took the book I was carrying from me (Janny Wurts' Traitor's Knot) and started reading it aloud. It was very strange. I felt like I had wandered into a Kafka book. The girl told me I'd inspired her to read Tale of Two Cities.

It turned out I was on the wrong hill--the one next to it was the right one. So all it took to get back to where I should have been was a five minute drive, and probably a fifteen minute walk. I should be grateful that the women were trying to look after me, but I was left feeling bemused. The whole time, they were so afraid of me. Only one of them would talk to me at first. The rest dashed inside their apartment, beset with terror. Of a 5' 4", 120 pound girl who has arms like spaghetti noodles. I suppose I could have been packing a gun. They mentioned some kind of security at the apartment, though I didn't see any.

It's good to know that I'm not the worst victim of suburbanite's terror out there. I am grateful to them for their help. It took bravery to overcome their fear of me, even if it was...somewhat misplaced.

Drafting of Beautiful Reality

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

Free afternoon snuggling with a friend's laptop while on vacation. Time to write!

I thought I'd put it here for now, because the large amount of spam on my email will otherwise have it buried.

BEGINNING: Beautiful Reality
THESIS: One-legged boy who works as an assassin when all minds are linked by computer must go into the computer to rescue his sister from the computer mafia.
INSPIRATION: Want to experiment with present tense. Also, Inception. Good movie, but it could have been better, done more. I liked it, but I also felt a little disappointed because all the buzz made me think that it would be so much better. I think if I had walked into the theater with zero expectations I would have been blown away. I can't put my finger on what's missing...I think all the twists and turns in Dark Knight. I could kind of see the plot coming, down to the end, and Leonardo DiCaprio didn't feel like the right actor to carry the lead to me. And it had some moments of extraordinary visual beauty, but nothing like the wonder of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Still, it was one heck of a summer movie. It's nice to see original films (not remakes and sequels) and movies that don't assume that their audiences have the intellectual capacities of five year olds. I was additionally amused because an excerpt Brandon Sanderson read from the Way of Kings involves a gravity fight. Great minds think alike. I wonder how many stupid people will accuse him of ripping it off.

ANYWAY... typing

CHAP 1: Gepetto
In my dreams, I have two legs. I'm not a freaky Pinocchio waiting for some blue fairy to sweep in and turn me into a real boy. My knee doesn't end in a massive net of tubes and sticky bio-flesh that smells like burning plastic and looks like a robotic turd.
In my dreams, I have real skin and muscles. Real veins pulsing with real blue blood.
In my dreams, I don't have to kill people.
In my dreams, I can still run.
But now I'm limping, pushing my hand on a warm doorplate smeared with the grease of years. Pressed by the sweaty fingers of men who came in nervous but left relieved or maybe never left at all. The bartender inside looks like a bent wire, with his copper skin and bald head, swollen joints and bones that stick out. The papery skin of an old person.
His eyes widen when he sees that I'm young, fourteen (though he probably thinks I'm younger, people always think I'm a child and it makes me mad), and his smile deepens.
I'm so sick of dealing with Marvy's pedophiles. Is there anyone working for him who's not a pervert?
"What'll you have, boss?" the thin bartender asks, though his slurring lips make the "s" sound like "f" so it comes out as "boff."
Two Geisha clones in the corner giggle and flutter coal-black eyelashes at me. Their faces are half-hidden behind razor-lace fans that buzz with enough electricity to stop a human heart. Despite their stupid platform shoes and the white, stretchy kimonos that make me think of cocooned skin-bugs, I know that Marvy never hires a Geisha bodyguard unless she's killed someone. Their lips are painted, wet and red as blood.
"I don't want anything to drink," I say, trying to ignore the way their eyes tickle the back of my neck. I can't look afraid. Not yet. "I want a girl."
The pervert looks disappointed.
"My sister," I quickly say, sickened by what kind of girls the people who come into Marvy's bars usually want. "She's gone from the Pave."
The bartender scratches his earlobe, which has a big hairy black mole dangling from it. This time, his grin does not look so friendly. He knows the Pave is Marvy's private hostage preserve. The metal detector didn't go off at the door, so he knows I'm not carrying steel, but plastic explosives, or wooden swords or guns made from processed carbon could all be slicked past the booby examine. I could be carrying a thousand things in my black trenchcoat and pair of teal green sneakers.
"Marvy knows where she is," I say. "I want to see him. Now."
The bartender jerks his head. "He's in back. But the question is, does he want to see you?"
"He will," I said. "After all, I'm a Skinner."
The bartender's look is sadder this time. He thumbs a door open in the wall. The wooden slats slide apart, and I can smell Tooth Fairies--the menthol cigarettes that Marvy loves. "Back there," he says.
The door is dark. I go inside.
Marvy is younger than the bartender, but still old. I have to look at him through the walls of the glass tube that dropped down on me from the ceiling. Protective custody. If Marvy leaves me in here, I'll suffocate. But I'm his best Skinner, so sure he won't. Or almost sure.
He looks at me with small black eyes almost completely buried in the fat flesh of his forehead. Crinkles around his lips and nose make him look like he's smiling even when he's not. For a fat man, he moves with an almost birdlike grace, his sausage fingers deftly picking roast snails out of shells smothered in garlic and olive oil. His black, pressed business suit is clean because he never spills a drop. The snails make little wet crunching noises as they vanish between his wormy pink lips.
"Tommy, my boy," he says affectionately, reaching out as if he would tousle my hair if not for the glass barrier between us. Everything else but me and his table is in shadow, while we stand in two squares of yellow light. I hear hushed laughter coming from the other tables. And soft, nervous coughs.
I wonder how many other men have heard those coughs before they died.
I glare at him. "I want my sister, Marvy."
Marvy's eyes widened. "Well, I don't have her in my pocket."
"You have her, Marvy. When I went to visit her flat in the Pave, she was gone."
"I had her transferred. She's doing some work for me."
I swallowed. I knew what that meant. The whorehouses. Young women stacked in rows of pods, their minds trapped in virtual reality while men used their empty bodies. Or their bodies were controlled by pleasure computers or prostitutes whose own bodies were too old and ugly to attract clientele. They called the sub-Contracted bodies "Gloves."
"The debt's almost paid off," I say to Marvy. "You were going to let her go soon."
"And this will make the payments go faster," Marvy replies. "Frankly, kid, I'm doing you a favor. It'll be quicker this way. And it wasn't as if she wasn't giving it away for free."
If the glass wasn't between us, I would have thrown myself at him and torn his nuts off. "Put her back, Marvy. I've paid you enough for that much."
Marvy shrugged. "Your work hasn't all it should be, of late. I thought you could use some extra incentives."
I shiver. He knows.
Marvy takes out another Tooth Fairy and lights it. He sits back, puffing contentedly. "You know, I got into the business about your age, Tommy."
"I don't want to--"
"Listen!" Marvy cuts me off angrily. "I'm trying to teach you something. I was thirteen when I began running drugs for my father. Weak stuff. Black Cream and Pleasure Diadems, mostly. But the shit scared me half to death. The things it was doing to people. To customers I knew. There was this one woman who came at me once, tearing her hair out. I mean literally tearing her hair out, pulling out thick, dirty brown clumps that she'd shove in my face. She had lipstick on, but only on her bottom lip, smeared over her chin. By drool.
"I wanted out, but my father wouldn't let me stop seeing her or any of the other people we helped mess up. He said to me, 'Marvy, my son, sentiment can get you killed in this world.'"
Marvy leans forward, his fat gut swelling over his knees. "And he was right. Because when three men with crowbars starting beating the crap out of him, trying to find out where I was after I taught their punk ass brother a lesson, my father refused to talk, and so they beat him to death. He died to protect me."
Marvy leans forward and looks me in the eye. "Do I look like my father, Tommy? Do I look like the kind of man who'd do that, Tommy?"
"No," I say.
"Shit no. Because I'm not. When kidnappers sent me my wife's fingernails I said, 'to hell with it.' That's all I have of her. Her fingernails."
He taps his neck, and I realize for the first time that he's wearing a tight gold band around his neck, half-hidden by his enormous, stubble-covered jowls. Ten white slivers dangle from it on little golden chains. I can just make out the old flecks of red paint.
"I'm not like that," I say, revolted. "I'll never be like that."
"You will be, Tommy," he tells me. "Lack of sentiment. That's what makes you such a good Skinner."
He gestures. The glass tube around me goes up. But before I can do anything but suck in deep lungfulls of fresh air, two men with huge bionic shoulder muscles come and grab me by the arms. They haul me up by my arms so I'm on the toes of my one remaining foot, the weight of my entire body hanging on my shoulders. It hurts like hell. I can see one of them out of the corner of my eye. Brutish face. The empty, slack eyes of a Glove. Marvy always switches the minds of his bodyguards, because it's easier to deal with pain if it's not your own body. Though it makes them slow and stupid, too.
They have matching tattoos on the centers of their foreheads. Blue, swirling things that glowed in the bar's old light.
"In fact," Marvy continues lazily to me, reaching out to pinch my cheek, "you're too good. I've decided you'll work for me, or nobody, Tommy. I'm not going to train you anymore only to have you turn around and become the tool of one of my enemies. I want a Contract." The capital was audible in his voice.
"You saying you won't tell me where my sister is unless I agree to work for you for life?" The idea of wearing his tattoo like his goons did, of being fully and completely owned by this man, made me feel sick and dizzy.
"That's right, genius-boy," Marvy says. "You kill for me and only for me. For the rest of your life. It'll be better for you too, this way. Forget your sister and whatever lies she told you about me. I'm a good man, and you're too good for her. She's past. Together, Tommy, we can create the future."
"And if I say no, you'll kill me?" I ask.
"No," Marvy says, but I can tell he is lying. "I'll give you a week to decide."
His dismissive gesture sends the two men carrying me out through the bar. Past the knobby, pervert bartender. Past the Geisha clones who look at me with wide, dark eyes. They dump me on a trash-covered sidewalk. They give me a kick in the hip for good measure, so it hurts when I have to struggle up. One of them is going to take my artificial leg and play keep away but the other one tells him we can play with me later.
They wouldn't do that to me if they could see what I was capable of. If we were in the Mindplay...
Well, we weren't. When it came to ripping people's minds out of their bodies, I was a giant. But in the real world, I was just a cripple.
A cripple with one week to find his sister.
Locating the body was easy. My sister's new Cube was actually slightly larger than the rooms at the Pave, and the bed she slept in was soft and well-tended by nurses. Women in tight white shirts came to roll her over every three hours, to monitor her temperature and make sure her bowels were always sparkling clean.
Penrose looked like she was asleep, her cheeks full with the faint pink blush of a Flash addict. Her brown hair hung around her shoulders in dark, curly waves. Unlike the last time I had seen her awake, it looked clean and fresh. The same color as our mother's.
I couldn't touch her, of course, not through the plastic sack-bubble covering her body, floating up and down with her breathing. The body's immune system is always weakened when someone goes into deep mind-sleep.
I put my hand as close to hers as the nurses would let me. I could feel the heat of her skin through the plastic. Unnaturally hot, but I couldn't see a drop of sweat on her. Nobody was home. Her mind was asleep, unable to regulate her simple bodily processes. The computer tubes jammed down her throat did everything for her. Told her when to breathe. Made her eat. Even stimulated her bladder so she'd know when to pee.
I hated looking at her this way. It was like looking at a doll.
"Visiting hours are almost over," a nurse tells me.
I glare at her, but she has the no-nonesense eyes of a bureaucrat who would call the police on a boy who just wants to spend some time with his older sister.
"All right," I say. "Can I have a few minutes alone with her?"
"No," she says.
I sigh and turn back to Penrose. A lot of sisters would abandon their brother, if they had a defect like mine. She would probably have been better off if she had. She wouldn't have gone into debt for my medical bills after I got run over. She wouldn't have had to start selling Flash to get cash to pay off ruinous interest from Marvy. And then...she wouldn't be addicted.
She should be in a music school somewhere. She used to sing to me, when we were orphans huddled under the tracks of the Monorail, listening to the hiss of New Jerusalem's flag as it snapped in the cold wind. Chapped lips and stomachs with nothing but water inside. That had been our life, until she sacrificed everything she had to make it better.
It was better. At least we had something to eat, now. Although she'd never know it. She'd grow old and die like this. Dreaming.
Unless I could save her.
The nurse pulls at my shoulder. "Time to go," she says curtly.
I nod and let myself be pulled away.

--end of chapter one--

Just so you know, that took me approx. 45 minutes to type. Like I say, I'm a fast typer!

The tense thing probably isn't working as well as I thought. I was thinking present tense would make the whole thing feel more dreamlike, but I think it's just distracting.

I think it sounds better in my head than on paper. My first drafts always tend to be a little heavy on the melodrama.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 1, 2010 -- 4:53 p.m.

Attended my friend's wedding yesterday. Saw oodles of people I haven't seen in forever, most of whom I barely recognized. I had a lot of fun catching up. And dancing. And singing karoke, which like I can be convinced to do like NEVER. If I track down someone else's pic of me swing dancing, I'll be sure to post it. I think I felt more light on my feet and beautiful than I have since...

Of course. I haven't danced like that since I was sexually assaulted.

Four years ago was it? Gee how time passes. I will have to take a dance class when I get back. It's always frustrating to think you've driven away all the lingering ill-effects only to find something you didn't know you'd lost.

As expected, there were bittersweet feelings, too. Mostly frustration that I can't be everywhere and that I will never be able to be as deep a part of the lives of the people I care about as I once was. I miss the days when we were all trapped together in a boring town and there was nothing else for us to do but hang out with each other.

Anyway, the bride and groom looked beautiful and happy. I wish them good dreams in their new lives to come.