November 1st, 2010

Well, another NaNoWriMo is under way, and this year my mystery/comedy (with action and adventure!) is off to a roaring start. It’s become a tradition for me to put my first day’s output here, and this year my novel’s prologue has guns, cars, hookers, explosions, and profanity! Not bad! Chapter 1 loses some of the momentum, but there’s no time to go back and fix it.

For those new to these parts, National Novel Writing Month is an event where participants are challenged to write an entire novel in a month. Quality is optional and often counterproductive.

There are a lot of ironies here, but I think I’ll discuss them in the comments thread.

Step on a Hack

Prologue

Benny Hamwich regained consciousness slowly, as if his brain knew something bad was out there and didn’t want anything to do with it. Someone was slapping his face, he realized.

“Benny.” The voice was low and gravelly and came from nearby. Another slap. Benny’s tongue was sandpaper against the roof of his mouth. The air tasted like hot metal.

“You really doped him up good.” That was a female’s voice, to his right, a little farther away.

“Benny!” Another slap, harder. “I know you can hear me.”

Benny blinked with sandpaper eyelids and tried to focus. He was sitting upright in the driver’s seat of a car. Convertible. Big. Beyond the long hood the city lights stretched before him. They were pretty high up.

“Benny.”

Benny wheeled his head to point it at the man crouching over him. He was a big guy, his lined, pale face divided by a thick dark mustache. Under the brim of the man’s hat one eye was squinted almost shut. The man’s smile revealed perfect, white teeth.

“Hello, Benny. Are you ready for a little science project?” The man’s adam’s apple bobbed as he talked, drawing Benny’s attention to a scar there.

“A… wha?” asked Benny.

Behind him a woman cackled. He turned to see her sitting in the passenger seat, her short skirt revealing long, slender legs. Her outfit was business sexy, and it worked well on her. She laughed again. Her teeth were not as straight as the man’s. “You should see yourself,” she said, and made a stupid face.

“Now, Marybeth,” the big man said. Benny turned back to meet his cold gaze. “Benny here’s been drugged. It’s hardly fair to judge.” The man reached inside his overcoat and pulled out a slender paperback novel. “Do you recognize this, Benny?” The man’s voice was cold and hard.

Benny nodded, too afraid to speak.

“Look, it’s got your name on it.” The man held out the book so Benny could see his name on the cover, near the bottom. At the top was another name, Penn Jetterson. In between, there was a picture of a rugged-looking man and a sexy woman in a massive white convertible. They were airborne, and she was kneeling in the passenger seat (showing a lot of leg), firing a wicked-looking assault rifle at unseen assailants behind them. He was gripping the wheel like a man possessed, grinnig. “TWO TO TANGO” the title screamed.

“You wrote that?” Benny turned back to the woman in the passenger seat. He was going to hurt his neck wheeling back and forth like that. She looked a bit like the woman on the cover of the book. “Really?” she prompted.

Benny nodded. “Yeah.” His voice cracked. He swallowed and tried again. “I wrote that.”

The woman smiled. “That’s terriffic.”

“That remanis to be seen,” the man said. Benny turned back around to face him. It was much more pleasant to look at the woman. The man tossed the book into Benny’s lap. “Thus, our little experiment.”

Benny forced himself to look around. He was in a white Lincoln convertible with red leather seats. A mighty piece of Detroit iron from back when big really meant big. The same kind of car Dirk Freemont drove in Two to Tango. They were on the roof of a building half a mile from downtown. In front of the car, rails stretched to the edge of the roof. Behind him a machine hissed with escaping steam.

“We are going to do a little reenactment,” the frightgning man said. “Have you memorized your lines, Marybeth?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Since you haven’t had time to prepare, Benny, we’ll let you read from the book. Chapter one, as you have no doubt surmised.”

“Wait, what’s—”

“It’s like this, Benjamin. I have a difficult time accepting that chapter one is, well, possible. Which sort of undermines the rest of the story. So we’re going to reenact some parts of it and see. Perhaps I am mistaken, in which case you’ll have my most sincere apologies.”

“What about all this?” Benny indicated the rails.

“It’s like a flight simulator. We’re going to make it feel like you’re flying while you go through the dialog. We’ll plug that back into the computer to see just how far you actually would have flown.”

“This is bullshit.”

“Benny, I’m afraid I must insist.”

“Come on, Benny,” the woman said. “Just say your fuckin’ lines so we can get out of here. If you’re fast enough I’ll throw in a blowjob.”

The scary man smiled. “Most of Marybeth’s acting career involves less clothing,” he said. “You two have a lot in common.”

Benny opened the book with fuddled fingers and found chapter one.

“I highlighted where we will start,” the man said.

Benny scanned ahead until he saw the mark.

 

“We’re cornered!” Marybeth cried out.

“Hardly,” Dirk grumbled. He mashed the gas pedal down to the floor. With a throaty growl the 455-cubic-inch engine thrust the Lincoln toward the edge of the parking structure. With a roar the mighty beast crashed through the rail and out into space. Directly ahead an office building loomed.

Marybeth flipped down the visor and inspected herself in the little mirror there. With her little finger she fixed a flaw in her lipstick. “I think you should know that I’m sleeping with Steve,” she informed him.

“What?” Dirk growled. “Steve’s my partner!”

Red-tipped tracer bullets streaked past, leaving burning trails of magnesium and strontium nitrate…

 

“Ready, Benny?”

Benny glanced up from his writing. “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”

“All right, then. Marybeth, you start when I say ‘action’. Really go for it, all right? Show me what you can do.”

“You said this was an audition.”

The man indicated a video camera on a tripod nearby. “It is. If this works out, I’ll be optioning the screenplay rights. This is your chance to be a real actress.”

“You’re going to make a movie out of Two to Tango?” Benny asked. It was the opportunity he’d always dreamed about — only, in his dreams things were… different. Less scary.

The man patted his shoulder with a gloved hand. “Whether the movie gets made is up to you, now. Let’s see if we can’t resolve some of these pressing questions.” The man stepped away from the car. The night hung dead still around them, the city below lay quiet. The man glanced around, assured himself that all was ready, and pulled a stopwatch from the outer pocket of his coat. He practiced with the buttons a couple of times. Satisfied, he looked up and said, “Action!”

“We’re cornered!” the woman shouted, her voice an icepick in Benny’s ear.

“Hardly!” Benny said, and grabbed the steering wheel for effect. He mashed the gas pedal even though the engine wasn’t running.

His head snapped back againt the seat’s headrest and he was pressed into the leather upholstery with such force the air was driven from his lungs and spots appeared in his vision. He stomped on the brake but that had no effect as the car was launched into the air and sailed over the edge of the building.

On the rooftop, the man stood in the steam washing out from the catapult and watched the car float through the air, slowly rolling over and going nose-down. He could hear the prositiute screaming. Damn her voice was annoying. After a few seconds the white streaks of tracer rounds flashed up from another rooftop, slowly converging with the the sailing car. Would Benny appreciate the bullets’ red tips? It seemed unlikely. If Benny survived, as his protagonist had, the scary man would be sure to ask.

The Lincoln was no longer right-side-up but still a bullet found the gas tank. The car didn’t explode but a nice gout of flame erupted from the back just before the land yaht slammed people-first into the side of a building downtown. The man stopped his timer.

There was a delay before the low whump reached the man’s ears, followed by the crunch of metal against concrete, and the crash of shattered glass. The flaming wreckage bounced to the side and fell out of sight to the street below. The surrounding buildings were lit by the yellow glow of the fire.

The man looked at his stopwatch. Thirty-five seconds. Not quite enough time for the dialog as it had been written, but he thought he had made his point.

Chapter 1

Penn Jetterson stared at the book lying on his polished oak desk. Kissed a Snake, the title read in bright red lettering, underneath that, A Jake Marten story. The type arched over a glossy drawing of a man in the crosshairs of a rifle scope. Behind him a hot nun stood in the entrance to a cathedral. She held a gun, and was poinging it at the man’s back. Or was she aiming at the man holding the rifle?

As covers went, he’d seen worse. This particular book cover had two real problems, though: His name across the top and the name of Andrew Zen across the bottom. The name at the bottom meant the book would be awful. The name at the top meant he would be blamed for it.

#1 BESTSELLER! A banner in the corner said, although the book had yet to sell a single copy. That didn’t matter; his name was on it. Reviewers would rave in exchange for advertising dollars. Jetterson would make a lot of money. Preorders were strong, but not as strong as they had been for the previous book. Still, lots of people would read it. A few of those would never pick up a Penn Jetterson book again. People were starting to realize the Emperor had no clothes.

He lifted his whiskey glass and found it empty. Seemed like he’d just filled it. He knew he shouldn’t, but some days there was no helping it. He pulled open the large, lower desk drawer on his right and pulled out his bottle of Ardbeg, his beloved Islay single-malt. He poured himself a couple fingers of the amber liquid and paused to let the earthy smell fill his sinuses. He put the bottle back, noting that there were only two left in reserve. He closed the drawer.

The book sat in front of him, waiting.

Before he could stop himself he reached for his phone and dialed a number he knew by heart.

“Penn! Darling!” Emma Coe’s voice gushed down the line. “How’s my favorite writer?”

“I haven’t been a writer for a long time.”

“Poppycock!” Somehow it didn’t sound ridiculous when Emma said words like that. “You’re at the top of the best-seller list. Did you get the book?”

“Yeah. I’ve got it right here.” He picked up the object in question, gazed at the brightly-colored cover. “Looks nice.”

“Wonderful! I’ll tell them we’re ready to go.”

“Uh… hold on a sec, Emma. I’m not sure I’m going to approve this one.”

“Don’t joke with me like that, Penn. You’ll give me a heart attack.”

“It’s not very good, Emma.”

“Have you even read it, Penn? You can’t have had it for more than half an hour.”

Not that it would take much longer to read this fluff. “No, Emma, I haven’t.”

“Well then, there you go. What makes you think it’s so bad?”

“It’s a Jake Marten story, written by Andrew Zen. They’re all bad, and each is worse than the last. I think Zen is unlearning his profession. And seriously, what the hell kind of nom de plume is Andrew Zen?”

“Oh, Penn, let me be the judge of what’s good and what’s bad. Didn’t I help you when you were a struggling writer?”

“Yes, Emma.”

“Really, Penn, Andy may not be as good as you, but he’s plenty good enough.”

Penn flipped the book and looked at the back cover. His heard skipped a beat as he read the description. An asp in a copy machine? Had that really been his idea? He vaguely remembered an outline he had tossed off one night, maybe three years ago. Paper Jam, he’d called it back then, but the publisher never kept the titles Penn gave the stories. “Emma, I don’t think that was one of my best ideas. And after seeing what Zen does with my good ideas, I’m afraid to even open this one. The stink will kill me.” Jetterson took another healthy swig of whiskey to fortify himself against such an occurrence.

“Penn. Honey. Relax. The reviews are in, they love it.”

“They’re paid to love it.”

“We’ve got a big signing scheduled, we’re bringing in busloads of people from nursing homes to pack the place. Blockbuster! Lines out the door. New York TV coverage. Great buzz on the blogs.”

“For this?

“For Jack Marten. He’s huge. They’re talking about Schwarzenegger for the movie. People want this, Penn. Look, you and I both know that the books aren’t perfect, but they sell. And that’s what matters.”

“But…”

“Now, Penn. It’s your name on the book. Jack Marten is your creation. If you tell me to kill this book, I’ll kill it. I’ll kill myself, but I’ll kill the book, too. So. Do you want me to throw away millions of dollars and kill this book, or do you want me to push the hell out of it and get us a sweet movie franchise?”

Jetterson felt one of the last remaining bastions of integrity crumble in his soul. He’s sold out long ago. He lived on a farm in the country, drove a nice car, traveled the world, entertained mistresses. All he had to do was produce two outlines per year for each of six series that bore his name, along with the name of some talentless English major that Emma met at a party somewhere. He had no doubt that the hacks actually believed they were good.

“All right. Publish it.” He put down the book and emptied his glass.

“Fantastic. I’m sure you’ll feel better when the checks start arriving.”

“Yeah.” He reached for the drawer and stopped himself. At least wait until the end of the phone call.

Emma’s voice dropped and became breathier as she moved her mouth closer to her phone. “They found out who was with Benny.”

“Who’s Benny?”

“Benny Hamwich, of course. It was a prostitute.”

“I see,” he said, even though he didn’t. It didn’t surprise him at all that his co-author couldn’t get laid on his own. The only mystery was why anyone else would care. “I don’t pay attention to gossip.”

There was a pause. “You didn’t hear?” Emma asked.

“About Hamwich and a prostitute? No. I couldn’t care less about his personal life.”

“Benny’s dead, Penn.”

“Oh? Really?” Jetterson made a half-hearted attempt at sadness and failed. The man had actually used the phrase “As you know, Bob,” in a story. There were times his stores grew so preposterous that Bennie Hamwich made Andrew Zen look like Shakespeare. “What happened?” Jetterson asked to fill the silence on the line.

“Oh my God, Penn. You will not believe this. He ran into a building in a car.”

“What an idiot.”

“Three stories up, Penn. Three stories up. Just like in Two to Tango. No one has the slightest idea how he did it.”

“When did it happen?”

“Three a.m. this morning. They say the car just came out of nowhere.”

3

NaNoWriMo 2010 is Upon Us!

I haven’t done much (well, any, really) planning for my novel-in-a-month adventure this year, but I’m really hoping to restore my writing momentum with a good, hard deadline. I’m pulling out an idea for a story that my sweetie and I hashed out. After I make this awful draft, we’ll work together to make a not-awful version. The idea has a lot of potential. Here is the synopsis I tossed together this afternoon:

Step on a Hack

Penn Jetterson is a best-selling author. The thing is, he doesn’t do much of the writing anymore — the publisher assigns writers to churn out novels based on outlines Jetterson jots down between highballs. Lately, the quality of the work has suffered dramatically. For a while he’s been content to simply sit back and rake in the cash, but lately the writers assigned by the publisher to fill out the plots he dreams up have been, well, awful.

The latest stinker, pooped out by one Bennie Hamwich, opens with a couple having a marital spat while in a car, flying through the air after driving off the top of a parking structure during a high-speed shootout. She is doing her makeup. He is lighting a cigarette. The car continues its improbable arc. She tells him she’s having an affair with his partner on the force just as tracer bullets (tracer bullets!? really?) hit the gas tank, exploding the car.

That’s chapter one. Through an improbable (and unfortunate for the reader) series of events, the bickering couple is still alive in chapter two.

The excerpts from those novels would be downright funny — unless it’s your name on the cover of the book. Penn Jetterson needs a way to salvage his name.

Conveniently, the horrible co-authors are being murdered in horrible, improbable ways that only they could have dreamed up. When poor Bennie Hamwich’s body is recovered from the fiery wreckage of a car that slammed into the side of a building (three stories up), with the charred remains of an unknown woman in the passenger seat, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make a connection between the novel and the method of his demise. (Although it might take a rocket scientist to actually make it happen.)

Sales of Bennie Hamwich’s last piece-of-crap novel skyrocket on the news. Another untalented co-writer is eaten by piranha in the sewers of New York. A third meets his demise in an unlikely incident with a photocopier and a bottle of snake venom.

Who is killing the hacks? Is it Jetterson, trying to clear his name? Or is it the publisher, in a despicable attempt to boost sales? Or is it someone else, revealed at the last moment in a true crime against the mystery genre?

Only time will tell, my friends, only time will tell.

Any connection you might make to this horrible book is strictly coincidence.

NaNoWriMo Wrapup

Well, November’s in the books and another noveling adventure is over. On the strength of a 7000-word Saturday and an 8000-word Sunday, I flashed across the finish line in a blaze of mediocrity, with 22 hours to spare.

woo hoo!

woo hoo!

The first draft of almost every novel ever written is terrible, which is one of the reasons I like NaNoWriMo. I can spend a month and spew out a draft that is 81% crap, or I can spend months of hard work and craft a first draft that is 73% crap. (Of course that assumes that at the end of the month I have a complete draft, which I haven’t managed to pull off lately.)

So after that exercise in long-winded blathery, I’d like to give you a long-winded summary of the results. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

Before I get to that, though, I would like to share a lesson I learned this year. It’s not the first time I’ve learned it, but it really hit home this time around. There I was, off on a tangent with a secondary character who didn’t like his job and wasn’t doing it well. Meanwhile I was recognizing that there was no way I was going to finish the story by the end of the month. I stopped right in the middle of the scene and told myself out loud, “Get to the action!” I had a lot of events mapped out in my mind, conflict and death and love and all-out vampire smackdown. Why was I writing about Troy being a whiny little jerk?

Get to the action. I really need to do that more, in everything I write. I think I will write a little program that will flash “GET TO THE ACTION” on my screen every hour whenever Jer’s Novel Writer is the front application.

I got to the action. Here then are some notes about the fruits of my labor.

**** Minor spoilers ahead! That probably doesn’t matter, unless you want to read a sloppy partial realization of the following. Much of the vampire world backstory is never explicitly stated. ****

The Vampire World

I borrowed from extant vampire literature, of course, and I took many of the ideas you guys supplied and ran with them. Should this book ever see the light of day, some of you will be able to point to bits and say, “that was my idea!”

Modern vampire culture is tightly regulated. Vampires must get a permit to hunt, and creation of new vampires is carefully regulated. There is a council of nine vampires that rules on the authority of the charter, a document that spells out the political structure of vampire society. Theoretically, the members of the council are also bound by the laws of the charter.

Since the council members are immortal, there’s not much room for advancement for younger, ambitious members of society. The council is isolated from humanity (many of them feel walking in a city the way we would in a stockyard), and some members are quick to abuse their power. This has led to a volatile situation.

There is a handful of old, powerful vampires who existed before the charter, who enjoy a degree of autonomy within their own territories. These vampires can hunt and convert new vampires without the blessing of the council, but they know that they cannot push things too far. Some members of the council wish to end their special status.

Vampires are truly immortal. Sunlight causes them enormous pain and harm, but given enough time even a vampire with a full ‘sunburn’ will recover completely.

Hunting permits specify a grade of human, from grade zero – drug addicts and bums, the equivalent of a human eating out of a dumpster – to grade five. Grade five humans are rare and tend to be missed when they are killed, so most vampires go their entire lives without tasting a grade-five human. Such delicacies are one of the perks of wealth and power in vampire society.

Throughout most of history, vampires were very selective concerning which humans they would bring into their ranks. This had benefits for both races, but vampires have always been more technologically advanced than humanity. There was a period, however, when many of the more powerful vampires assembled harems. Over the period of two centuries the population of vampires spiked, while the new vampires were selected for physical beauty and special skills (ahem) rather than intelligence of personality traits. Eventually the council cracked down on this practice (once they all had their own harems), and since that time it has been almost impossible for the council to agree on a new conversion.

As in the Ann Rice (with Buffy Extensions) World, there is a special bond between a vampire and their ‘parent’, the vampire that created them. However far apart they are physically, they can always feel the presence of the other. Also from the AR(wBE)W and earlier stories, vampires have the ability to mentally compel others, including other vampires. Most of the harem vampires are under compulsion of their masters.

That’s the world in a nutshell; of course there are far more details in my head that may or may not make it onto the page. Still, it’s a good setting for lots of conflict, especially with the sudden wild card that our friend Deek stumbles across…

The Charcters

Deek is a classic slacker, a nobody, a burden to society. He is also a grade-one meal, but he gets lucky and finds himself with a dismembered vampire under his bed. He knows he has to get rid of it somehow, but whatever he does the vampire will eventually reassemble and come for him. In desperation he eats a small portion of the vampire. It almost kills him, but as a result he absorbs a tiny portion of the vampire’s power. Deek has stumbled on a way to truly kill vampires. He also becomes addicted to vampire flesh. When he finishes the one, he must go find another.

What little Deek knows of the opposite sex he learned in Maxim magazine, and he’s frustrated that his new powers haven’t helped him get laid.

One side effect of his new-found mojo: The aura he radiates makes him appear to vampires as the most delicious-looking human they’ve ever met. He’s like super-concentrated life.

Agatha is one of the youngest vampires. As a human she was a genius without peer, and the vampires converted her. She’s a little odd, however, and no vampire can understand why. The identity of her parent is a secret closely guarded by the council; she has never met her parent and doesn’t feel the same connection that other vampires do. In fact, she is an orphan, a concept completely foreign to vampire thought. She never even considers the possibility, and no one else does either, except…

Igon is the senior member of the council, a wily and corrupt vampire whose power has been growing steadily over time. Igon also knows how to bring true death to a vampire, and has more than once resorted to cannibalism. He is a champion of Agatha, and he killed her ‘parent’ moments after she was converted so he would not be a rival for her attention.

Lumír would be Julius Caesar if this was ancient Rome. He is an ambitious young vampire with a mean streak, and he thinks it’s time for the council to be swept aside. Modern technology should allow vampires to control humanity like never before, turning the world into a giant food factory filled with ignorant, sated, masses following the vampires’ lead blindly. At the 48,000 word mark Lumír crosses his Rubicon, and he engineers a crisis in the council that leads to violence, while Lumír waits in the wings with his outsider friends. When I was telling myself ‘get to the action!’ I was telling myself that Lumír was ready to stir the pot.

Yvette was originally converted to be part of a harem, but her intelligence and personality were strong enough for her to carve her own life. She loves to play with her food. Filled with a lust for life, she is one of Agatha’s only friends. Yvette’s parent was Agatha’s lover for a while, but that didn’t end well at all. Yvette has angered a council member and as a result has not been granted a hunting license in a long time. She is starving.

Jody is a waitress at a local pizza joint, who is increasingly impressed by Deek’s maturation as he is forced to get a job, move out from his mom’s basement, and get his act together. He has risen in her estimation to the “good enough for my friend” status. Deek has a serious crush on her, and has come up with an idea for separating her from her boyfriend. His plan may have complications. I’m just saying is all.

So there you have it! A partially-realized partial idea for a novel. Not all the characters make it to the end, and others come in now and then to mix things up.

When you’re the leader of the vampire council and you’re on the wrong continent when conflict breaks out, time zones can be a real bitch.

Hit it!

It’s six days to December. I have 29,000 words to go, few work responsibilities, it’s dark, and I’m drinking decaf.

First Names

What would a really, really old (at least 2000 years) female vampire be named? Would she modernize her name over time, or stick with the original? She has been isolated from mainstream society (but not vampire society) for the last few hundred years.

A Quick Perfume Question

What would be a fairly unusual but not ridiculous scent for a waitress in a bar to wear? Something subtle, perhaps a bit sexier than one would normally wear to work.

Where There’s Vampires…

I haven’t considered putting werewolves into my November Epic, but at the World Fantasy Convention I joked that after I finish The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy I should follow with Vampires and Werewolves Get It On (and Oh, Yeah, There’s Zombies Too). Although this book has already been written many times (as has Quest), it’s never been written as honestly.

Secret insider information I’ve received indicates that there is another movie in the reputedly-wreched Twilight series (excuse me, saga) coming out. In it, vampires and werewolves get it on. No word on Zombies. (“Get it on” can mean different things in different contexts; while usually it has sexual connotations, it can also mean to come into conflict. That’s what makes the title so perfect. When they’re not getting it on, they’re getting it on.)

Quest was a title I’d been hoping to drop casually in a conversation with a publisher, get them all excited, and have them give me lots of money. While I did talk to a couple of publishers, I never got to that level of conversation. In one case that was my fault; they were celebrating the launch of a book with a reading, and the four authors weren’t very good. I didn’t stick around. Someone was eventually going to ask my opinion.

So, I still have my day job. I have completely failed to balance work and life; failing so badly that I’m also not getting enough work done.

For NaNoWriMo I’m way, way behind on word count, but thanks to you guys my vampire society is a complex one filled with internal conflict. It creates the perfect setting for someone to do to the vampires what they do to humanity — hunt them for food.

Maybe in one of the blockbuster sequels I can toss in Lycanthropes. And, oh, yeah, Zombies, too. And ninjas.

No pirates, though. That would be crass commercialism.

Undead Employment Agency

Let’s say for a moment that you are a vampire. As a vampire you probably have developed some expensive tastes, you need a secure place in the daytime, and you’ll want some sort of cover to allow you to meet potential victims. In short, even as a vampire you would probably need to find a job.

Obviously it has to be a night job, and paperwork might be a problem depending on whether you’ve managed to establish a false identity or not. (“Says here you were born in 1895…”)

With those considerations in mind (and any others you come up with as well), what job would you have? Or is there another way to pay your rent without working, a particularly vampiric one?

November 1, 2009

Yesterday wasn’t as prolific as day ones have been in the past, not nearly so, but overall I’m pleased with the quality. Here’s the first chapter, which represent a large fraction of my day one output. Now I need to forget about quality for a while and get the dang story out.

Be warned that this episode contains profanity. Deek is not a terribly genteel guy.

Immortal Flesh

Deek lay in his bed, his thin limbs tangled in the sweaty sheets, his skin pale in the light of the moon splashing through the small window high on the wall of his room. His breathing was shallow, his eyes open wide, dark rings beneath them a testament to many sleepless nights. His shortish dark hair poked out at all angles, stiffened with dried sweat and grime. On the apple crate that served as a night stand sat a clock radio, empty beer cans, and a hatchet, its blade rusted and dull in the moonlight, its cracked wooden hand grip poking out toward him, so he could grab it in an instant.

There was a monster under his bed.

He closed his eyes, held them shut, tried not to hear the faint scratching from the Band-Aid box (sealed with Band-Aids), where a severed finger twitched, whether reflexively or guided by a desire to escape its confinement Deek did not know. A sighing sound as a Hefty bag with a slab of thigh in it settled in a new position. A rattling as teeth tried to escape the Altoid box that held them. Furtive sounds, patient, like they had all the time in the world.

There must be fifty fucking containers under there, Deek thought. Fifty pieces of vampire. Probably more. He had tried cutting the pieces into smaller and smaller slices, but no matter how small the pieces, they still remained animated.

How? The energy must be coming from somewhere, some power source unknown to science. There was a fucking Nobel prize under his bed, for someone who could crack that mystery. Probably a lot of Nobel Prizes. Scientists would shit over shit like this.

There would be no Nobel prizes for Deek, however. For him the boxes under the bed meant nothing except a slow and painful death. If there was one vampire, there would be others. And they would be pissed. No doubt they were already wondering about their missing buddy, checking the places he had last been seen, asking about who he had gone home with. Deek needed to get rid of the thing, soon, and he had to make sure it never came back.

Schwik-schwish. Deek jumped. He hated that sound most of all, when the heart in the zip-lock bag decided to beat, even though there was no blood for it to pump.

There was plenty of blood down there under the bed, though, pooling, clinging to the surfaces of the containers that held the rest of the parts. It had a musty smell, a little sweet, that made Deek’s throat tighten.

Deek’s own blood stayed where it had fallen, staining the oval rag throw rug. Mom was going to be pissed when she saw that.

Something in a shoe box—a foot, in all likelihood—started to bump against a milk crate filled with tupperware containers. Bump, bump, bump. Deek could move the boxes and gain peace for a while, but eventually the bumping would begin anew.

Once more Deek put in his earphones and turned up his music. For a moment it helped, but the only thing worse than hearing the shuffling and scratching beneath his bed was not hearing them. What if something got free? Every sound that came from outside his earphones made his stomach go sour with fear.

Deek sat up grabbed the hatchet. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed. Nothing reached out to grab him. He stood and felt safer after he took two steps, over to the microwave and hot-plate his parents had given him when they agreed to let him rent the basement. Not that he ever paid rent.

He opened the fridge, pulled out a can of beer, and popped the top. He took a long drink and started to feel a little better. He drained the can. In the corner was a plastic bag filled with empties; he balanced this one delicately on the pile before getting a new one from the fridge. Almost out. No way I’m going to the store with this thing here, though. No telling what I’ll find when I get back.

Something thumped under the bed, one of the larger pieces. Deek spun and held the hatchet out in front of him, but nothing more happened.

On top of the microwave was a cereal bowl. Inside a thumb twisted and writhed like an earthworm on a sidewalk. Before Deek had gone to bed he had chopped the thumb into a puree. Now it was whole again. Eventually all the pieces stashed under his bed would find a way to come back together, no matter what Deek did, no matter how far apart he could separate them. Then the vampire would find him. It would not be so careless next time.

There had to be a way to kill it. There had to be some way to disconnect the atoms of the undead flesh from whatever force it was that preserved it and gave it the energy to move. Was there intelligence guiding that force? The vampire’s brain was in several pieces, some clinging to the fragments of the shattered skull, others in their own containers. A quarter of the head was in a mayonnaise jar at the foot of the bed, the eyeball popped free from its socket, dangling by the optic nerve. It seemed to be watching him. For a moment Deek thought he was going to puke again. He took another gulp of beer.

How do you kill something that’s not alive? Not alive like he was anyway.

Deek pulled out the big kitchen knife he’d borrowed from upstairs and put the thumb on the stained wooden cutting board. He chopped off a section, the knife severing the bone with a crunch. A drop of blood, almost black, escaped and then oozed back into the larger piece of the thumb. Nothing he had done so far had robbed the flesh of the power that quickened it.

He picked up the smaller piece, a disk of grey flesh with a circle of bone in the middle, and nearly dropped it when he felt the flesh move between his fingers. Mincingly he set it back down, farther from the rest of the thumb.

Tears welled in Deek’s eyes. He was fucked. Well and truly fucked. They would come for him, the vampire’s friends, they would take him and they would exact their revenge and when they were done with him his mutilated body would be discarded some place no one would ever find. No one would even look for him; his mom and step-dad would just breathe a sigh of relief and wonder where he’d got to. His friends might miss him for a while, but then they’d just get stoned and soon he would be forgotten. As if he had never existed.

“Fuck!” he shouted. He stabbed the larger part of the thumb with the knife, pinning it, preventing it from wriggling over to connect with the section he had sliced off. Tears ran down his nose and made dark circles on the cutting board. With an incoherent scream he threw his empty beer can against the wall as hard as he could. It clattered impotently against the unpainted cinder block and rattled down behind the fridge, coming to rest on the condenser coils. A thin stream of foamy backwash drained down onto the floor.

His anger gave out. His knees couldn’t take his full weight anymore; he clung to the microwave with shaking hands, his nose filling with snot, his vision blurred. “Fuck,” he sobbed. “I didn’t ask for this.”

Mojo. Juju. Magic. Deek thought about something he had read once, something about warriors absorbing the strength of their enemies. He looked at the cross-section of thumb, mushroom-colored, quivering slightly, smelling of damp earth. The earth of the grave. An idea took root somewhere in his cerebellum, spreading tendrils through his mind before finally blooming in his consciousness. A laugh escaped his lips, edged with hysteria. “Hell,” he said to the specimen. “What do I have to lose?” He laughed again, a deranged giggle that sounded like a horse whinny.

He opened the fridge once more, pulling out the next-to-last beer, and a bottle of ketchup.

An Onomatopoeia Question

Hey guys! It’s November, and that means the annual tradition of pooping out a novella in a single month is under way. My time will be more limited this year, so I plan to use the bloggcomm as a resource. I’m going to toss out questions here and let you guys mull over things, rather than getting hung up on the details myself. We’ll see how it goes (it may take longer to ask the question here than to think of a good answer myself, but I like the group-participation angle.)

First Question:

If you have a human heart in a zip-lock bag, and the heart is still beating, how would you describe the sound?

Maybe not so Unprepared After All

It appears many of the materials I wanted to have prepared for this weekend aren’t necessary after all. These publisher and agent types don’t want to be encumbered with paper, so I just need to leave a strong impression and a name. Then it’s up to me to follow up later.

Man I can’t tell you what a huge relief that is. Now all I have to do is hook some movers and shakers, then come home and get the stuff ready for them – simultaneously with NaNoWriMo and my job. What could be simpler?

On the subject of NaNoWroMo, my story this year will have one of the best opening chapters of any book ever written by anyone. If I can get it right. I am fired up and ready to go!

NaNoWriMo 2008: Victory!

This morning That Girl and I, though nine time zones apart, both hit the “submit” button at the NaNoWriMo Web site at the same time, and so officially became winners together. Woo hoo!

NaNoWriMo Update

Halfway through the month of November, it’s time to take a look at what my fumbling fingers have managed to wreak so far. There’s been some good, there’s been some bad, and there’s been a lot of ugly.

I’ve made it through Part One of the story, “The Gathering of the Good Guys”, and I’m embarking on part two, “The Big Trip.” At this pace I’ll esaily eclipse the required word count, but the story is a long way from done.

I’ve got all the characters in (except the carp), but a lot less silliness than I was shooting for. I know what I would do to go back and put the silliness in – Trabant the Immutable can certainly be a lot dottier, John the Smith can be more of an ass, and in general the people who are not immediately involved in the conversation can add a lot of silliness.

The story has developed into a romance, actually; I decided it would be stupid to drag out the tension between Bixby and Lada when it’s totally and completely obvious they will end up together. So what the hell, I decided not to create some sort of artificial “I hate you so much I love you” stupidity. They like each other. A lot. There are other people who might make that more complicated, but they won’t stop liking each other. I respect you, the reader, too much for that other nonsense.

So I have a Sexy Elf maiden wearing a hot little number that, when we visit Elfaville, turns out to be what the men wear. The males are not terribly masculine; when Chavdar the horny hafling first sees the elf men, his comments prompt Lada to say, “Chavdar, there are two things you should know. One, elves have very good hearing. Two, those are males.”

Chavdar himself is quite a bit of work, skilled with cutlery, seemingly amoral, but sometimes surprises everyone — himself included. We had a nice trip through the Valley of the Great Kings who Mysteriously Disappeared, where some of the statuary looked remarkably like John the Smith. While there, I threw in a random artifact (“plot token,” in the parlance of the trade) that I have no idea what I’ll do with. Maybe nothing. Ha!

Princess Skoda is a lot more than the annoying brat I had planned initially, she’s definitely got conniving on her resumé as well; her agenda may include a few bullet points she has chosen not to share with the rest of the group. One thing for sure, when things go badly, she wants Bixby at her side, and she’s willing to do what it takes to make sure that happens.

After the traditional Bestowal of Gifts By The Powers That Be (In this case Bixby’s new Mother-in-Law, so there’s infant’s clothing and an amulet with warnings about contacting a doctor after four hours — she is more than a little anxious to be a grandmother), the team is heading off for the DwarfHole. I have enough misadventures planned for that place that I will likely forego the required Bad Guy Obstacles to get them there more quickly. Luckily in this sort of story the Brushes With Death along the way rarely mean anything in terms of the plot.

Here’s one longer passage that pretty much tells the entire story (in chapter two), then a couple of other lines I enjoy. I thought I would find more lines to include, but they way the funny bits build doesn’t leave many lines that stand alone.

  • “There is another wizard, a twisted and evil man. No one knows his name, he goes simply by ‘The Master’. He lives far from here, to the west, beyond the great river of Zug, past the Bumpy Hills of Kromdor and the Grassy Plain of Plax, beyond even the Treacherous Mountains of Hagarslax, across (or around) the great inland sea of Hydrox, and then through the vast Squishy Swamp, with its leeches the size of alligators, and alligators the size of leeches. Over the last years he has had his twisted, evil minions scouring the Earth in search of the Important Thing. He must not succeed.”
    “The what?”
    “The Important Thing.”
    “What is it?”
    “Um…” Trabant the Immutable shifted in his seat. “No one is certain.”
  • “It is bad luck, they say, for the husband to lie with his wife for the first time before he cleans all the mud off her.” (I just realized I forgot to mention that Bixby missed a spot!)
  • “So… why aren’t we going the other way?” asked Bixby. (Certain death in the form of Dark Riders awaits them across the river they are about to ford.)
  • “Listen everyone. This is a dangerous place. Don’t ever, for any reason, leave the path.” (I don’t thik I have to tell you what happens.)

November 1st, 2008

I wrote a lot of words today. It’s November, after all, and that’s the point. I’m not going to put it all up here, just the first chapter. I’m tempted to put Chapter 2 up as well; it’s quite a bit racier and reintroduces us to Bixby, a nice guy, good with an ax, happy to let others do the thinking. I should probably read this over before posting. Maybe tomorrow. If you’re actually interested in the next chapter, let me know.

This excerpt represents less that 20% of my writing for the day. Wow!

The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy

Part 1: The Gathering of the Good Guys

Chapter 1

The lone rider clattered up the road to the castle, his black horse’s iron-shod hooves striking sparks in the darkness. A watchman above sounded a horn at his approach, the long note echoing through the rocky valley, until it was defeated by a peal of thunder. When the horn sounded, dark, misshapen forms rushed to the capstans, driven by snap of their masters’ thirsty whips. The creatures began to chant in hollow, tongueless voices as they leaned into their task. With a groan and a rumble the black iron portcullis lifted, and the rider passed through without pausing. More whips bit flesh and the portcullis lowered once more.

The dark rider pulled up at the massive oaken door of the main keep, his horse quivering from exhaustion, coated with sweat, foam coming from the mighty steed’s mouth, the fiery glow of his fearsome eyes diminished. It had been a long ride.

The rider dismounted. Servants swarmed around horse and rider, bowing and scraping as they took the reins of the devil-horse and opened the door for the rider. From his saddlebags the dark rider produced a bundle. Cradling it carefully, shielding the precious object from the rain, he strode into the castle.

“The master awaits,” a slightly taller, slightly less missapen servant said in a voice that bubbled with fluid. “He is in his laboratory.” The servant made no attempt to escort the dark rider; it would only slow him down, and slowing a dark rider down was a good way to die unpleasantly. The dark rider nodded and began the climb to the top of the improbably tall tower in the center of the castle.

The master was seated at his reading table. He looked up when the dark rider entered. “You have the book,” he said in a rich baritone voice.

“Yessss, Masssster,” the dark rider said, his voice the whisper of a winter wind passing through the bare branches of a graveyard tree.

“Bring it to me.” the Master closed the book he had been reading and made space for the latest addition to his library. The dark rider crossed the room in three strides, then carefully unwrapped the book. With a bow he offered the book. The Master lifted the tome off outstreatched hands. “It’s beautiful.” He ran his fingers over the gilt lettering on the cover. The book was bound in soft leather – human skin, the master was willing to bet – reinforced with brass at the corners. It was difficult to believe, looking at it, that it was one of the oldest objects in the world, old when the mountains themselves were young. Almost nothing remained of the ancient civilization that had created the book, mighty as they were, time proved mightier yet. The book smelled of time, it radiated age. The master wasn’t sure it the book was vibrating gently or if that was just his nervous fingers. The room brightened and a bare instant later a crack of thunder shook the tower. Neither dark rider nor master seemed to notice.

“You have done well,” The Master said.

“Thank you, massster.” the dark rider whispered.

“Any word of Trabant?”

“No, Massster. Not that I have heard.”

“He’s up to something, I’m sure of it. Go, then, and help your brothers.” The dark rider bowed and backed out of the room.

Alone, the master centered the great volume on his reading table. A simple incantation released the catch, and he opened the volume. The paper crinkled and a musty smell greeted his nose, but there on his desk were pages that no man had seen for thousands of years.

The master frowned. The page appeared to be gibberish. He had studied all the fragments of the language of the ancients that he could get his hands on, but this text was different. Code, The Master thought. The power that this book revealed would be carefully protected. Code, or simple misdirection? With a wave of his hand he extinguished all the candles in the room, plunging himself into darkness.

Now the master smiled. Floating in the air in front of him, blood-red squiggles twisted and danced, forming themselves into words. Lightning lit the chamber and was just as quickly gone, and as the thunder rettled the shelves the master read the opening dedication:

Qua’alox Linnor!

Qua’alox Linnor!

Narding u’hjit,

Nerding b’hoom,

Nording g’hnkl!

Important Thing!

Important Thing!

Above space,

Beyond time,

Mightier than the pantheon!

“Cower in fear, all who read these words, stand in awe of the Important Thing, who’s true nature can only be revealed to the few capable of weilding such tremendous power. Within these pages lie great power and great responsibility.

Chapter 1: What is the Important Thing?”

The master rubbed his hands together in anticipation. At last! He held the key to the important thing, whatever it was. Soon the world would bow before him!

The next words written in the air were like a punch to the gut:

“FREE SAMPLE ONLY. ENTER PASSWORD TO CONTINUE. PASSWORDS MAY BE PURCHASED FROM S’RNGRVE & S’RNGRVE, YOUR ONLY SOURCE FOR THE FINEST TOMES OF UNTOLD POWER.”

Two More Short Excerpts

One of my favorite things about this story is that there are times when two people are having a conversation but utterly failing to communicate, leading to perplexed blink-blink moments. I thought I’d share a couple of them with you.

The first comes on McFadden’s first morning after arriving in Ztrtkijistan. He has been told to report to the secret police headquarters, but he overslept and now he is late. The invitation itself was frightening enough, but now McFadden imaginies that there is a price on his head.

Fear bubbling in his gut, McFadden paused long enough to speak with the manager, the same man who had greeted him the day before.

“You said you would wake me,” Robert said.

“Yes, yes,” the manager beamed.

“But you didn’t.”

The manager paused, aware that his guest of honor was unhappy about something, but not sure just what it was. “Of course not.”

“But you said you would.”

“Yes. You asked me to, so I said I would.”

“But you didn’t.”

The manager spoke with pride. “I would never do something like that.”

“But then why did you say you would?”

“Because you asked me to.”

Robert stepped back and looked at the man, knowing the futility of pressing forward with the argument, but unable to resist. “So you knew I wanted you to wake me up, but…”

Light dawned on the face of the manager. “It’s all right. They can’t hear you now.”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s not like in your country.” The manager shrugged.

The second conversation occurs when McFadden has moveg into his own apartment, but the heat is on uncomfortably high. He can find no way to adjust the radiators in his room.

Robert stepped into his new place and set down his suitcase. The place was a sauna. he stripped off his coat and sweaters, and he was still hot. This would even be considered warm in America, he thought.

Tjnka also took off her coat. “The landlord has old joints,” she said. “He likes to keep it warm.”

Robert examined the radiators. “How do you turn these down?” he asked.

Tjnka looked at him quizically. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t need it so hot. I’ll just save the energy.”

“But you can’t.”

“Why not?”

She furrowed her brow. “Because if everyone in the building could control their own heat, they would take more than their share. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“But I want less.”

“Yes, but that’s not fair either, is it? Then the landlord would have to turn down his heat.”

“Why?”

“You would be paying for some of his heat.”

“But if I turn down my heat, and I am more comfortable, and I’m still happy to pay the same rent, isn’t that all right?”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand you Americans sometimes. You never think of the other person.”