Snippet: The Birth of a Scene

A few housekeeping things before I get to today’s post itself:

1) Yes, I know I didn’t post on Wednesday.  *sigh*  The reality is, I’m doing some outside, temporary, non-writing work, and it snatched away my time and energy.

2) Err…I messed up the renewal on my WordPress plan, which is why my regular address is, err, not-addressing.  Hey, I spent years mastering the arts of procrastination and slacking, why would I ignore those valuable skills now?!  I should, however, have it fixed in the next few days…

Okay, now for the post itself…

I’ve talked before about how music influences my writing.  Sometimes it is merely a thing of tone and mood, helping me to nail the frenetic stress of a battle, or the intimacy of a love scene, etc…  Other times, however, the music plays a role in the very imagination and creation of a scene.

That process is as important as it is valuable to me, so I figured I would use today’s post for a bit of illustration.

First, what I am going to do is link the song itself that helped give rise the scene.  Listen to it first, then read the following snippets, and see if you can see where it played into things…

The song is called Halloween, by Gaslight Anthem (off their Get Hurt album).

Now, I do another thing for certain scenes, and for important characters.  It’s an idea I stole from Roger Zelazny — I write a piece about the scene from another (important) character’s POV in order to flesh out thoughts and impressions.  This is doubly important in the DockRat series because the the stories are 100% from my protagonist’s limited POV.

This is the background piece I wrote, from the perspective of his (ex) love interest…keep in mind, the writing for these background scenes is a one-off.  I do not revise or edit them because they will never (ahem) appear anywhere except my background notes:

Nat laughed at Eric’s story, could picture to herself the events he was describing. She was about to reply when some inner alarm told her all was not right.

Someone was standing near, that feeling said, and was studying her. In a house full of yet another of the endless parades of drones and sycophants that existed only suck up to her mother, she had no desire to be ‘studied’ by anyone.

She turned her head, an acid comment on the tip of her tongue.

She turned, and everything stopped. The comment stopped. The room stopped. The entire world stopped.

She was staring at a ghost, at the face of Miseries Past. The last time she had seen that face, it had left her alone with men as likely to kill her as say hello. And the last she had thought about the owner of that face, he had been headed off to begin a long sentence.

“Connor Spogelse, as I live and breathe,” she said, her controlled voice at odds with the emotions boiling up inside. “What are you doing here?”

Her muscles clenched, then, at the sight of him. His blond hair had grown back, almost to his collar, and his eyes were still that same intense, royal blue that almost seemed to glow. Part of her wanted to laugh, and to welcome him with a hug and warm words. Most of her, however, knew him for what he was: a liar and a criminal. A drug addict and a thief so lost to hope and honesty that he had chosen prison over her.

She had tried to save him, once. Now, she just wanted to hurt him. It was just as he had once told her, there was always a price to pay. She had paid, that day in the bowels of Dockside, and now it was his turn.

She turned, then, and looked again at Eric. If he lacked Connor’s knowledge and experience — let alone Connor’s charm and intelligence — at least he was hers. Eric, she didn’t have to share. And that mattered. It mattered a great deal.

Her voice was confident and imperious when she ordered, “Call the cops, this piece of shit escaped from prison.”

From the corner of her eye she saw Connor pause. The hurt in his eyes was almost palpable, but so was the cold, ruthless set of his expression. The coldness he wore as armor, she knew, but he’d damned well earned the hurt.

“Wait…Natalie…what the…?” Eric stuttered.

She only looked back to Eric for a heartbeat, just long enough to see the paralyzing confusion on his face. When she turned again to watch Connor suffer, however, he was already gone. A look around the entire room, then, and she still could not find him. How did he do that?

“Who the hell was that?” Eric asked, the confusion on his face turning to irritation.

Nat put a hand on Eric’s arm and squeezed gently, warmly. Her voice, however, still had that note of imperious command; never again would she let someone else take charge over her. “Never mind, Eric. I was just kidding. That guy is just someone I used to know. He used to screw up a lot, so I was surprised to see him here. He belongs somewhere…” a wave of her hand, vaguely indicating anything and everything that was not-Redux, “…else. Somewhere where his screw-ups won’t hurt real people.”

A dark suit at her shoulder, then, and Nat turned with a look of impatient contempt. It was Collins, of course, her mother’s top aide. The head of the line in the endless parade of sycophants worshipping at the altar of her mother’s power.

“Excuse me, Natalie, but your mother needs you. She’s about to make her speech, and she’d like you with her when she does,” the drone droned.

Nat dismissed Collins with words that were vague and disinterested. According to her mother, an ass-wiping errand-boy wasn’t worth any more than that. A twinge, then, as Nat realized Connor would very likely have been of the very same opinion.

No, she decided in a flash, she wouldn’t tell her mother. Not yet. If she told her mother, Connor would be back in prison inside of a day.

Nat didn’t quite understand why, but she wasn’t ready to do that to him. She didn’t love him, not anymore, but he still mattered…in ways she couldn’t understand, he still mattered to her.

Okay…now to being it all together.  Below is the (basic) scene itself.  Keep in mind, this is still a rough second-ish draft, so revising and editing are still to come:

Connor wandered the rooms of the house and nursed his drink. Everywhere he turned, there were familiar faces. Faces familiar not as friends, but as kamo, as marks to be manipulated and worked. He was surrounded not by those he wanted to be with, but by his co-workers at MDC. And every single one of them was almost as strained, and almost as false, as was he.

The conversations in that house consisted mainly of office politics and all the snide, insincere banalities that defined office relationships. And, underneath it all, was a feeling of tense anticipation. The feeling of a storm waiting to break, of something coming that could very well affect their comfortable existence.

Connor was used to that feeling, was used to the sense of impending disaster and doom, but the pampered and protected others? Every jerky move, every cackled laugh, every too-eager gulp at strong drinks, told of their tension and fear. Every face bore the stress and emotion he could so easily use to build a scam. Just as every face told the story of its owner’s hopes and fears. Those faces told the stories, but Connor had no desire to work.

No, all wanted was to be out of that house. A full day he’d had already, a day of wearing the mask that was Connor Torlae, and he was exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to decompress. To listen to music, or — better — to sit in silence and listen to…nothing.

An employee mixer, they called evenings like the one through which he was suffering. A chance to relax and mingle and form friendships, they said. Another sip of the wine in his hand, and Connor silently sighed. Do I really have to do this? he asked, not sure he actually wanted to know the answer.

Something’s coming, Spog. You can feel it. Hell, even these baka can feel it. You have to know what that something is, or you’ll get run over by it.

Connor’s drink was empty, and still he felt nothing. A few steps, to the bar, and he had already ordered a double whiskey before remembering that Connor Torlae didn’t drink whiskey. Connor Torlae was a good boy. Connor Torlae didn’t lie, cheat or steal, and he certainly didn’t down at one gulp a glass full of strong liquor.

Connor cursed himself, then, for carelessness, and for making stupid, dangerous mistakes. That mask he was so tired of wearing, it was starting to slip. Losing control like that was bad. It was very bad. When his control slipped Dockside, he had always had the chance of a sprinting escape into the farthest, darkest reaches of the res-holds. But here, on a planet, just where the hell was he going to run?

He began to slip through the room, then, all his old skills at ghosting through any crowd coming strongly to the fore. No one noticed him, no one thought anything of him. He was just another junior employee looking to escape from somewhere he didn’t want to be.

Oh, shit…

Once, in younger — better — days, Connor had loved parties. He’d loved long nights of booze and friends and music. Long nights with those he loved. In his universe, however, those he loved could be counted on one hand. But Oz was dead, a ghost now in Connor’s mind, and Nat was…

Nat was across the room.

He almost didn’t recognize her.

Oh shit, was she beautiful. He could still see in her face the same girl who had hidden in Dockside’s depths with him. The girl who had held and comforted him as he recovered from the worst beating of his life. But that girl had grown. Nat had changed. Maybe more, even, than Connor himself had, and that was something he would not have thought possible.

It wasn’t the first time he had seen her, of course, but it was the first time he had been that close. Seeing wasn’t enough, however, not in that place, not at that time. She was the last link to his past, to everything he’d lost. If he left that house without talking to her, he knew, the opportunity would never come again. He still loved her, and he had to try and salvage that love from the wreck he had made of his life. He had to salvage it. If it, too, disappeared, he really would have nothing.

A pause, then, to grab a new drink from a passing waiter and he took a sip…a very long sip. The booze offered that bit of warmth he needed to take the tension from his muscles. Everyone else in that house was a ghost to him, then. A ghost in the worst Dockside sense of that word: they weren’t real, they didn’t matter, not to him.

He couldn’t see or hear anything except the pretty, dark haired girl across the room. The girl with enough of a grip on his soul to push caution and care from his mind. The girl he had failed. The girl he had, in the end, abandoned.

It wasn’t Redux, not in that moment. It was Dockside rising up around him again. The smells, the claustrophobia, the danger…and the lost. Two places at once, one memory and one reality, and he wasn’t sure what was true anymore.

Was he in the spacious house on Redux, or back at The Beat? Hell, he wasn’t sure who he was anymore, either. Was he the corporate spy making a mockery of the planet’s best security, or the ikiryo expecting death at any instant?

He stepped through the crowd without any conscious decision. He pushed his way through, really. A few moments, and he was standing silently behind Nat’s shoulder. She was chatting with a group of friends, a small knot of people all about the same age. Connor’s own age, in fact, even if they did look impossibly young and naive. She laughed at something one of the guys said.

Her back was to him, and Connor reached out a hand, hesitated. What the hell was he going to say? He wasn’t ready for this.

He dropped his hand and began slowly to turn away when Nat turned her head, looked right at him. That she recognized him, in spite of a year’s worth of changes, was evident. She stopped and stared, her face momentarily blank with confusion.

It made her look younger, that expression. Made her look like she had a year ago. A lifetime ago.

Dockside’s accent was back, thick once again on Connor’s tongue as he lost control of the vital, hard-won habits of survival on Redux. “Hi, Nat. I’ve missed you.”

A moment of silence, of shock and emotion on her face, then everything closed down. Cold, that face became, and hostile. “Connor Spogelse, as I live and breathe. What are you doing here?”

Her look shifted to the guy next to her, the one she had been talking to, and her voice became commanding. “Call the cops, this piece of shit escaped from prison.”

There were just over a hundred people gathered in that house, yet only three had heard those horrible words. Among those three, the reactions were very different. The guy looked confused, Nat looked angry, and Connor…Connor looked desperately for escape.

There was no time for words, not if he wanted to get out with his skin intact. A heartbeat to look — to look, and to commit to memory the last he would ever see of Nat’s face — then it was time to go. A turn, and a few steps, and he was moving through the crowd with all of the skill at his command. A sidestep here, a dodge there, and he was into another room all-but unseen by those around him. He had put dozens of clueless coworkers between him and Nat, but that wasn’t enough. He had to get out of the house entirely.

The buzzing of the crowd had changed. Even as Connor slid past the knots of conversation, he could sense the change in tone, could hear rumors and hints of what was to come. Words like merger and buyout danced and fought with — and ultimately surrendered to — phrases like cost-savings and reductions-in-force.

It was important information to be gathered, information vital to his true purpose at that party, but Connor couldn’t stop to insert himself into any of those little groups. He could feel Nat’s emotional gravity pulling at him, could feel the tugs and twitches of memory and desire, and he had to get away from the danger of that. Even more could he feel the danger of her words, however, and of the reality of Connor Spogelse. That reality threatened to overwhelm the protection offered by Connor Torlae, and to take away everything he had gained, so he continued to move through the rooms, and to seek escape.

He slipped toward the very back of the house, then, and a door he had found in his earlier wanderings. He carefully worked his fingers over the ‘screen in his pocket as he moved, readying one of his secret, safe idents. As soon as he was out that back door, he would issue the final command and slip on another mask, become someone else. Again.

The buzz of conversation changed, became too much to ignore. Connor stopped and turned, look back at what had caused the disturbance. His coworkers had changed clothes for the party, were wearing what passed for casual outfits among the young, corporate professionals. The disturbance, however, was centered on dark suits. Several dark suits. A swirl of people, then, and the suits parted to reveal who stood at their center.

Amanda Hendricks…and Nat.

Amanda was talking to one of the suits, issuing orders, based on their expressions. She hadn’t yet looked his way, hadn’t noticed him.

Nat, on the other, was staring right at him.

Two steps and Connor was out the back door. He started to run.

And that is one of the (greatly simplified) ways in which scenes and stories come together in my little universe.  Now go listen to the song again, after you’ve read the scene itself, and listen (again) for the echoes…

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