Cheap Guitars, And The Demons Of Memory

It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting out in front of the store drinking a beer while I plan my “Welcome To The Apocolypse” hike for tomorrow.  No offense, but the last thing I’m ready to do right now is write a blog post.  At least, not a post that is coherent and, well, useful.

Screw it…it’s been a while since I did something from Silence.  So, I guess it’s snippet time:

A one-gallon bladder, soft and flexible—bought from a kitchen worker with the promise of free booze—was no easy thing to hide in a four-by-eight cell of concrete and steel. Not when it was filled to the brim with a mash of ingredients busily fermenting away. No easy thing, but not impossible. No, sir, not impossible…not to someone who had grown up on t-deck.

Connor’s thin, cheap mattress might never be the same again, but a minute or two to open it and rearrange the stuffing and he had a neat little hiding spot. If the mappo didn’t look too close.

That was the trick, of course: to distract the guards while they searched, and to point their attention elsewhere.

A shrug, then, and a mental sigh. They’d find it or they wouldn’t. Shou ga nai.

He took a moment to look out the small window in the now-securely-locked cell door. There were just two teams tossing the cells, but they were doing a pretty damned thorough job. Clothes and mattresses and knickknacks were flying out of the first two cells to land haphazardly on the dayroom’s floor. Typical mappo bullshit: make as big a mess as possible, remind the animals just who ran the fucking zoo.

They were taking the cells in order, starting with the first floor. That was a good thing; it meant they weren’t targeting specific people, nor looking for anything in particular. The downside, for Connor, was that it also meant it would likely be a long while until they got to his particular cell, tucked as it was into the far corner of the second level.

A cheap, rudimentary ‘screen sat on the meager desk, called to him. It connected only to the prison library, that ‘screen, but Connor had long ago learned the value, and the truth, in the written word. Oz had taught him that.

His jaw clenched, and he fought for control. The demons—those demons of memory, and of pain—they were always threatening to break loose, and that he did not need. Not here, not now…not ever.

He drank the remainder of the jar in a single gulp and rinsed it carefully in the small sink bolted to the wall. Why waste perfectly good booze on a shitty drain?

A moment more to consider, but the decision was easy. No reading, not now. His prize possession was calling even louder than that ‘screen, and the words and wisdom it contained. Connor was one of the few in all of Chapman Pen with no cell-mate—few knew how much effort that had taken to arrange—and the cell’s top bunk served only one purpose: to cradle and hold his guitar.

That guitar was a cheap, battered pity-gift given by a sympathetic guard. It was also Connor’s most precious possession. His only possession, when you came right down to it.

Music…music mattered to him. The only thing that mattered as much as reading. It was equally a gift from his past, of course. If Oz had given him reading, Marie and Vin had given him music.

And he’d killed all three.

There were those demons again.

Shit.

Teaching himself to play had been a slow process at first, but that same guard had linked him several songs and manuals, and Connor had worked hard to learn. Harder, in fact, than he’d worked even to learn the languages and culture of his new ‘home’.

The desk was a tiny bit of metal sticking out from the wall, and its seat was an even tinier bit of metal. No one could be comfortable sitting there, but Connor decided a perch on his bed would just attract attention to the fact that he did, indeed, have something to hide. Onto that uncomfortable metal seat he went, then, guitar in hand.

He’d made the mistake of remembering, of course. The past had power, tremendous power. Even now, a year later—even after the demons had gone quiet and were staying in their little holes at the bottom of his mind—the past still called. The emotion…the experience…the reality…the pain.

Around him echoed the typical prison cacophony: yells and insults between cells, inmates pounding and kicking at doors, the sheer joy of noise and chaos for the sake of noise and chaos.

It was complete misery to Connor. Silence, and a bit of peace: the things he had never had in his life. The things he wanted more than anything else in the universe.

He started to play, then, and to sing. Quietly, yes, but with all of the honesty and emotion that Marie and Vin had taught him lay at the heart of music. Emotions he could express in no other way.

Images went through his mind, carried by the music. Flashes of those he had known. Those he would never see again. Marie. Vin. Oz…Oz’s blood, Oz’s body.

His friends. His brother. Everyone he loved. Everyone he had.

The song was almost automatic, one he had played many times before. It carried everything he could never express. Not in prison…not in life…not ever. Only through the music.

Every time he played that song, he found another layer to the music, to the words. Every single time. It said what he could not, carried everything he kept buried.

He had no idea how long he played, how many songs he sang. It couldn’t have been long—he didn’t know all that many songs—but it felt like forever. That was the only time in his disaster of a life when the prison went away, and the bitter rage with it: when he was playing. When he let himself feel.

It was the closest he came to feeling that peace he and Oz had so wished for. That peaceful place to die.

Oz had found his peace, but Connor? Connor had found everything but.

He never heard the guards arrive outside his cell, so lost in the music was he. Never heard the whirring of the lock.

“Shut the fuck up, you piece of shit!” a voice screamed, right next to him.

That he did hear.

A surge of violence that he resisted, but barely. It was no easy thing. The one thing that finally stopped his rage was the weapon in his hands; there was just no way he would waste his precious guitar on the head of some useless prison guard.

The Breakfast Of Champions

It’s hard to get enough posts stored away in time…the, err, call of nature is too strong.  No, I mean that: nature calls.  Hiking and camping and communing with the animals are pretty high on my list right now.

At any rate, I’ve done Yellowstone posts, I’ve done writing posts, I’ve done picture posts…but it’s been a while since I’ve done a snippet from Silence.  Err, well, yes…part of that is because I’m badly behind on my schedule but, as Connor would recognize, that’s the price I’m paying for the fun.

At any rate, a snippet:

It was hard not to laugh. It was very hard. Connor had not seen a person as painfully miserable as Matt in a very long time. He tried to look sympathetic, he really did, but even with his skill at scamming and fooling people, that solicitude wasn’t very convincing.

“Two days I’ve known you, Connor,” Matt moaned with his head in his hands, “and I think you’ve already ruined me. Where the hell did you learn to drink like that? You have a secret career in the navy or something?”

A laugh and a sip of coffee for Connor before he replied. “Call it the legacy of a misspent youth. Eat the damn eggs, Matt. Trust me on that. You need the protein and carbs pretty bad.”

A slow, quavering forkful of scrambled eggs went down Matt’s throat, and a long drink of water. “Misspent youth my ass. I drank my share of beer and other stuff as a kid, but what you were pouring down my throat last night was just plain evil. You have to be feeling it, too.”

“Crap, son, you’ve lived here longer than me. That was local stuff we were drinkin’: slivovice. And, yes, even I have a headache this morning.”

Another groan, then Matt looked up. His small grin, ironic and laughing, did nothing to lessen the baleful stare of those reddened eyes. “How am I supposed to go to work this morning? I can’t even see straight.”

Connor did laugh, then. “You just do it, that’s how. There’s always a price, Matt, so you pay it and do what you have to. Life just is, boss, and you deal with it.”
“What is it they say around here? Do haje. Go to hell. I think you might be that bad influence my parents always warned me about.”

Connor was proud of the control he was showing. Not the slightest hint of dockside touched his tongue, and only the most inoffensive and mild of curses slipped into his words. He also felt like he was about to explode. Explode or not, however, there was no way he was going to show this pampered son of the elite the real Connor. This kid–a decade older than Connor, Matt’s naivety and inexperience still made him more a kid than Connor ever had been–was just too unknown, and too different, to trust. The lessons of that misspent youth he had joked about were still too fresh, and too important, to forget.

“You’ll survive,” Connor answered with a smile. “And I’m the most perfect person on this planet. I raised the average IQ of this place as soon as I stepped off the shuttle.”

“I hope to hell your boss has a sense of humor. He’s gonna need it with you. Mine, on the other hand, is a jackass. I don’t think anything or anyone exists for him except formulas and designs. I know us engineers can be obsessive, but that man scares me. Where will you be working, anyway? If you ever said, I was too drunk to remember.”

Connor had given Matt, over the last two days, the cover story prepared for him by Sonthi. Had lived that cover story, had thrown himself totally into becoming Connor Torlae. It was almost fun, he had to admit, living as someone so completely different from who he really was.

Although he was going to kill Sonthi for the name.

He was about to answer, to offer some vague explanation of the job interviews he had to attend, when an alert tone interrupted. What the hell? It took a strange look from Matt, and a pointed stare at Connor’s pocket, to make the necessary mental jump.

He grabbed the ‘screen from his pocket and rose from the table. What idiot would be calling him? He thought–he hoped–Sonthi wasn’t stupid enough to use the city’s communications net for something like this.

“Back in a second,” he said even as he was stepping for the diner’s door. A few seconds and he was outside, tucked behind a corner to shield himself from the icy wind. He touched a control on the ‘screen still wondering if he really should take the call, or if he should just drop the ‘screen and run. It was even money on which was dumber.

A swirl of colors that resolved almost instantly into an image. Dockside reappeared on Connor’s tongue, along with the realization that he should’ve run. “Ai shia, Sonthi. What the fuck?”

“Ki ni shinaide,” the ex-cop placated. “LRC’s got its own in-house comm system. Heavily encrypted and secure as fuck. Plus, I’m bouncing this through about half the damn networks in the star system. No worries, chiima.”

“Fuck you, it’s my ass on the line you kwai bastard.”

A laugh from the older man. “Your apartment’s got the same system set up. You can trust the net in there; it makes Snug’s blacknet look like a fuckin’ nursery school.” The smile faded, and Sonthi’s face turned serious. “You settled in good? I gave you as much time as I could, but Chapman’s gettin’ itchy to…well, test you.”

“Shit, I don’t even have the tools yet. You set me up with clothes and food, and the home system is pretty damn nice, but there ain’t a fuckin’ greybox or cracknet in sight. You expect me to…what? Just walk in somewhere and ask nicely for the info?”

“Flash those blue eyes and shake your ass to the right secretary and that just might work,” Sonthi laughed, unfazed by Connor’s sarcasm. “Sorry Connor, but that’s part of Chapman’s test. No tools, no shortcuts. It’s petty bullshit, but that’s life. Shou ga nai. I’m sending you a file with the targets. Five different ops. Just messin’ with data, no scammin’ or face to face work. Background and all the details you’ll need are in the file. Study it, then work ’em as fast as you can. Chapman wants to push you, so I told him it would take you a week or so. He was happy with that.”

Sonthi’s look turned from amused sarcasm to intense, deadly seriousness in a flash. “If it does take you a week, I’m sending your ass back to dockside on the next ship.”

“Heia. It’s fuckin’ doji, Sonthi, but I’ll get it done. But first…”

Sonthi raised a hand, forestalled what Connor had been about to say. “Don’t start. I got you covered. Ten grand when all five jobs are done.”

Connor repressed the smile that threatened: Sonthi still knew what the hell he was doing. That was good. Now it was time to press.

Trust no one and always have an escape plan; Oz’s lessons still mattered.

“In cash, boss. In fuckin’ cash. You know the drill: most of what I gotta do ain’t gonna go through accounts and idents.”

Sonthi’s eyebrows rose at that. “This isn’t dockside, Connor. Cash stands out. It raises questions and problems, and that’s not a good idea. I told you before, this place is run through damn ‘plants.”

“Dame. I don’t give a fuck. Remember where you pulled me out of. I need cash. You try to pay me through some baka account and you’ll never find me again.”

Hesitation, and the start of an answer, then Sonthi just shook his head. “Fine. I’ll have it brought to you, but not ’til you’re done. And that I ain’t givin’ in on.”

Connor nodded: he had expected nothing less. “By the way, boss, fuck you for the ident. What fuckin’ t-deck reject uses ‘liar’ for a fake name?”

Sonthi laughed. “You and me are about the only aho who’ll get the joke. Folks here…well, to folks here dockside slang might as well be from the bug-eatin’ aliens on the other side of the universe.”

Connor was about to close the ‘screen when a thought occurred to him.

“Boss…Sonthi. I need you to look someone up for me. Get me a full rundown on a guy named Matt Heaton. Has the unit next to mine in the building.”

“Somethin’ we should worry about?”

A shake of his head, but a hint of hesitation in Connor’s voice. “I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. Baka was introducin’ himself before I had a chance to even take a piss. I think he’s just a nice guy lookin’ for a buddy, but I just don’t know.”

“I’ll start lookin’,” Sonthi said with a nod, then closed the call.

Connor rolled the ‘screen and stuffed it back into his pocket as he re-entered the diner.

Matt was just getting to his feet. A look of curiosity, and a half-smile. “Everything okay?”

“Got a job interview,” Connor replied with a smile and a little laugh.

You always put the kamo at ease.

That One Key Image

I’ve talked before about the fact that books & stories are not necessarily about what they’re about. As a writer, I love that fact; I love using subtext and themes to communicate my own thoughts and feelings in the work.

I have, in past posts, described what Wrath & Tears is really about, talked about that one key image that really defines the book for me: one broken kid holding the body of another, far more broken kid. But what is the key image for Silence?

Given that the current story is only about a third of the way finished, that’s harder to say than you might expect. But…I write the end first. And the end, in the way I write, is that key image. The end is the thought, and the emotion, I want to linger in the reader’s mind as they walk away.

So what is that image? Where Wrath touched on suicide, and my own memories and experiences thereof, Silence is about the search for meaning – for faith, if you will – and the realization (Wish? Hope?) that there really is more to life than this.

If, in my own life, that is a question very real and hard to answer, just how much worse is it for a street kid who has never had a chance in the world? For years, Connor’s world – his meaning – came down to just one thing: Oz. The two needed each other not just to survive, but to truly live. But Connor grew and changed where Oz could not, and a big part of his problems in the first story came from his unspoken, unrecognized need to search for more.

Recognizing that need is hard, even for an adult. For a 17-18 year old kid? Yeah, right: self-reflection and self-awareness aren’t exactly part of the standard equipment. I will reiterate something a very smart lady named Janet Reid once noted: “a 17-year-old boy is just a walking erection with an iPhone.”

And, no, that is not the main/final image for the current story!

So, we have this issue where Wrath is unabashedly and unashamedly sad, but Silence is intended to (re)introduce that one concept so glaringly absent from the first story: hope.

That theme and image, then, comes down to one thing for me, to something Connor  would never have considered a year ago. It comes down to the realization that, regardless of how broken and screwed up both he and the world are, he has to believe. Believe not just in himself, but also in something bigger…the realization that he has stand for something. It comes down to that same kid – broken and hurting still – reaching out for help to the one person he fears above all others.

As a final note: the theme of the third book is already decided, as well. Hell, the third book was decided the moment I wrote the final scene for Silence.

The key is in fact hinted at throughout all of Wrath & Tears, actually: alone is worse.

It’s time to really tackle that concept, and to touch on in a new light Connor’s struggles from the first two stories.

It is time, when you get right down to it, to tackle the concept of family…and everything contained within that incredibly loaded word. It is time, especially, to address the reality that Connor learned so early, and so painfully: some families you’re born into, and some you choose.

A Snippet: The End Of It All

Do you show your last card in poker? You do if you’re an attention-whore writer…  The story still has a book or two to go, but the end…?  Well, there was no other way for Connor’s story to go:

The place was much cleaner than he’d expected. There was no trash, no crowds, and the smell was little different from a hundred stations.

The uniform didn’t fit right, not yet. It was tight and loose in all the wrong places, and the young man chafed wearing it. He chafed more, it must be said, at his assignment.

All he wanted was to get through the Academy. Join a ship, live a little. The universe was a big place, and he’d seen almost none of it. Quite why people insisted on throwing the father he’d never known into every assignment, every conversation, every word, he didn’t know, but he was getting very tired of being ‘that’ kid.

The whistle blew and he stepped forward, a wreath in his arms.

Why the fuck was he carrying a wreath?

“On this spot died those to whom we owe everything,” the admiral intoned.

Pontificated, really.

Everyone else stood in neat lines, but the boy in the ill-fitting uniform had to step forward, had to present his wreath.

“The chaos and death that overwhelmed so many of our cousins missed us…”

Jesus Christ, just let him put down this heavy fucking wreath!

“…so many lives, and so much blood. More than anyone else, we owe to one man’s sacrifice our peace, and our survival. One very brave, very young man.”

Fuck…finally!

The young man stepped forward, placed the elaborate wreath on the stand in front of the tomb.

Surrounded by trees and simulated sky was that tomb. A simple marble block with an even simpler inscription on its face: a name and a pair of dates. Those the young man understood, but what lay beneath everything else? That still made no sense.

“Attention!”

A thousand people snapped to stand erect. Hands over heart, or saluting at the brow, whatever was more appropriate to their own history, all honored the sacrifice of the dead.

Those who knew the truth had defined that inscription, the young man knew. He knew the name, knew the dates – as did any good son – but the two words? What the fuck were they?

CONNOR SPOGELSE
2/2/163 – 2/28/183
SOMEWHERE PEACEFUL

The Silence That Never Comes

It took some thinking for this post. It especially took some thinking to use this particular title. Those blessed with good memory may recall that the above is also the working title of the current story I am writing (the sequel to This Place of Wrath & Tears).

Now, for Connor, the title carries the message and symbolism of his search for meaning and value in life. Of his nend to answer the question/problem of “there has to be more to life than this.” I hesitate to call it a search for faith, but in all honesty there is an awful lot of that in there as well.

That search, very obviously, has meaning for me as well. Crap, I wouldn’t write the damn story if it didn’t mean something to me. Just as I wouldn’t create characters, or use themes and subtexts, that are meaningless to me.

I had the day off today, so I went for a hike. Rather than go to one of the well known sites, or use one of the marked trails, I decided to set off for a bit of back-country hiking*.

*Yes, Mom, I carried bear spray and watched out for hungry and/or horny animals.

Where I call home has more than doubled in size since I moved there almost 15 years ago. Do you have any idea how long it’s been, among all those people, since I’ve heard silence? Since I’ve been able to get outside without people and dogs and cars and noise all around me? Hell, even the trails and national forests in my area are crowded and noisy.

I didn’t reach my destination on the hike, but I never expected to. The ground was snowy and marshy, the hills sudden and steep, and the way overgrown and difficult. I walked until I found a good spot and sat for a bit, just looking around me. Again and again I did that.

More than looking around, however, I listened.

I listened to silence.

The sound of tall trees in the wind. The sound of an animal a couple of hundred yards off. A few birds. The rushing of a tiny rivulet from the rapidly melting snow. That’s it, that’s all I heard.

All the things I haven’t heard in ages. All the silence I haven’t heard in…oh…decades, it feels.

Being who I am, I spent the time not just wrapping myself in all that silence but also thinking and planning about the thematic elements of Silence. And about what I want and need to communicate, both for myself and for Connor.

My time finally finding silence, and my thinking about Silence, was a reminder and a reinforcement for me: I write this blog for other people. Oh, I enjoy it, and I get both fun and benefit from writing these posts, but this is by definition something I do for others.

For good or for ill, I write my stories for me. That I share them is a side-benefit. They are more than the way I give life to those ghosts fluttering around me, they are the vehicle for my own thoughts and emotions…both the good and the bad.

That is why I can’t give up the writing, no matter how frustrating it can be. That is why I chose this life, and this outlet. That is why, honestly, it works: a reader doesn’t have to like what I write, but I promise you they will feel what I want to communicate.

Who could ever ask for more?

Ruts, And The Strangers You Meet

I’ve talked a bit before about characters, and about the thought and effort we put into them. But just as important are the assumptions we make about them…assumptions both as readers and as writers.

Jumping with both feet into a an entirely new group of folks, very few of whom know each other, is one hell of a way to start testing your assumptions and judgements about people. It is, honestly, like going to summer camp…just one with plenty of booze to smooth over the awkward bits (and create other awkward bits).

For someone like me, it is also a topic of some interest to expand that thought and wonder how my assumptions about strangers affect those I make about my own characters. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I also weigh all these strangers and new folks for personalities and life experiences to use for my characters…

People surprise me…all the time. In many ways that’s a good thing, since it means I’m not as jaded and cynical as I like to pretend. In other ways, it’s not so good since it means I probably made an ass of myself about them in the first place.

I think we can all agree on the need to be fair and honest in those snap judgments we make, and in the value of that fairness. But to those who read or write, or just plain dream, I will reiterate the broader question I posed above:

How often do you treat the characters that matter to you as strangers? How often do you step back to examine and reevaluate the snap judgments you made about them in the first place? Remember: good characters – characters that are complete and whole – should talk to you, should have depth and demands of their own.  Just like real people. Just like the strangers you meet.

I made assumptions and a snap judgment about one of my characters in Wrath & Tears that I regret to this day. The flaw is not so fundamental that I can’t go back and fix it, but it does mark a failure on my part to let her stand and tell her own story.

I knew, after all the revisions and edits, that I had not done her justice, but it wasn’t until I started trying to think about the assumptions I’ve made about the folks I’ve met up here in the park that I forced myself to really go back and look at her.

You never realize just how much of a rut you can fall into: a rut of people, places and things as much as of thought and experience. I had fallen into seeing and talking to the same people in the same places over and over. A couple of workers put together a “movie night” last night, and I was sitting and having drinks and a good time with several folks that never would have entered my orbit back home in my usual “rut”.

I love it. As a writer I love it, and as I person I need it. I joked about this in Monday’s post, but it really is like summer camp. Or better yet, your freshman year in college. You are, pretty literally, forced into close confines and friendships with folks from far outside your usual norm.

That is an experience and a skill that far too many of us who’ve made it through those early-twenties years tend to forget. Especially when you’re of the more…ahem…introspective type.

Peeing On Trees

I can feel, already, the pressure falling off my brain (and off my soul).

Now, I normally don’t remind folks of this, but I write these blog entries ahead of time. Seldom do I need to sit there on the morning of a post and bang one out on the keyboard.

Err, if I do, I screwed up. I screwed up bad.

Since I am heading into Yellowstone for days/weeks/months – with all the spotty internet and change-of-scene and dislocation that that entails! – I am trying to get a decent backlog of posts queued up.

Building that queue means I have to think and write through some things that I might normally push aside, or…well…massage a bit before I put them down for others to read.

But you know what?  I’m not gonna do that right now.

I NEEDED this change of scene. I needed the fresh air…I needed a new dynamic…I needed, honestly, to do something random and short-sighted and stupid.

I am, by the way, very good at those particular aspects of life: random and short-sighted and stupid. I have a PhD in random and short-sighted and stupid. I’ve also had a lot – A LOT – of fun in my life! I am, of course, also completely broke most of the time…

Like most people, I didn’t realize just how uptight and stressed I’d become. I definitely didn’t realize just how much I needed to change my surroundings…even if only for a few weeks.

I am not, I long ago realized, a domesticated animal. I need to roam. I need to try new things. I need to pee on trees. Err…never mind that last bit.

Of course, taking a fairly large weight off my soul raises one interesting question: do I lose the bitter, angry edge that has defined Connor’s stories so far?

Wait…

A more relaxed, optimistic story for Connor?

Umm…

Err…

Excuse me, but I have to go find a tree to pee on…

I Never Did Listen Well

I’ve been told I shouldn’t do these, I shouldn’t post snippets.

“Don’t give your stuff away, even if it’s an initial draft.”  “Too many complications, just keep it to yourself.”

Screw it, I don’t care.  I write…that’s who I am.  I write so people can read.  I write to share characters and stories, to share emotion and thought.  Everything else is just noise.  So…a snippet:

The guitar was a part of Connor, body and soul. The words and the music even more so. All of his emotion, and all of his memory, had been pouring into his music for the better part of two hours.

Connor did not lay himself bare to strangers. Hell, Connor did not lay himself bare to himself. The memories of those that mattered were too sore, and too near, however, for such control when he was playing.

Into every word and note of his music went all of the pain and loss – and the guilt and shame – that bore the names and memories of his ghosts: of his dad, of Marie and Vin…and of Oz. Always of Oz.

A final line sung about the price always waiting to be paid and he bowed his head, listened to the diminishing notes of the music. The heat on that stage, and the effort of his performance, had almost as much sweat pouring from him as emotion. The small, packed bar echoed with the crowd’s cheering applause, but Connor couldn’t hear them. The memories, and the unshed tears, were too loud.

A few breaths, a few precious seconds to gather himself, and the spotlight faded.

Thank you, Spog. I wish you’d sung to me before.

How did you answer that?

You remembered, and you felt, that’s how.

He could barely raise his arm, so much energy had he spent. But then again, he didn’t need much energy to drain the tumbler of whiskey at his elbow. There might be no forgiveness in alcohol, but there was numbness. He was going to need an awful lot of numbness after the music.

But not for anything would he trade that music. Nor the memories. His friends – his family – were dead, but they would always live in his music…and in his soul. They were something he could hold to, something he needed very badly.

Another drink was pressed into his hand, a babble of voices talked to him. He looked around, he answered and he drank. But it all took place in a daze, his body responding and functioning by the purest instinct and habit.

That daze didn’t end until a voice spoke; a voice he did not expect.

“You made me cry tonight, Connor. You promised never to do that again.”

He looked up. He couldn’t not look up, as hard as it was to do. No, he wanted to run away and hide. He wanted very much to hide.

It was Nat.

Connor hadn’t felt like this since the night he’d held Oz’s dying body: helpless and hopeless and beyond words.

Talk to her, Spog. Say something, you crazy ikiryo.

You could tell me what to say, he thought back to his dead friend.

Oz’s only answer was the faintest of laughs, and the memory of warmth…and of love.

[Edit: cleaned up the paragraphs…copying stuff from my usual writing program into WordPress can be funky sometimes.]

The Snippets Shall Rise Again

It’s been a while since I posted a snippet, so I guess it’s time once again.

I do have to say, when I was proofreading the bit below, a thought hit me: why are my worst days (on a personal level) also my best writing days?

I suppose it’s because writing is a retreat from the real world. You get to write about someone else’s problems and ignore your own…if only for a couple of hours. Of course, given the tone and content of my current story, the writing also gives me a chance to vent about ‘real world’ shit.

The bit I am going to post is, err…well…angry, to be blunt. That, at least, was my state of mind when I wrote it. It is not a complete scene, but rather an ‘extra bit’ that I turned out at the end of a writing session. I had already written another scene by that point, but wasn’t in the mood to stop.

What do you do when you want to keep writing? Sing the chorus with me: you keep writing! So I did. The bit below is the first half (roughly) of the scene in question. It is also the opening of Act II, and so represents a transition from the set-up and exposition of the preceding scenes/chapters.

Standard warnings apply: this is a VERY rough draft that has only undergone proofreading for the most egregious grammar & punctuation errors. To all intents and purposes it is completely raw output that needs (and will receive) refining as I go through the rest of the writing process:

It was still cold outside. It would always be cold outside, Connor decided. Dockside hadn’t been particularly warm, and definitely not comfortable, but it was still a damn sight better than this frigid pile of rock he now had to call home.

They stepped through the huge lobby doors and onto the big plaza in front of the tower. A glance at Sonthi and Connor quirked an eyebrow. “You wanna tell me what the fuck we’re doin’, boss?”

They were the first words he had spoken since Sonthi had grabbed his arm and hustled him from Chapman’s office. Mumbled promises to the executive that he would ‘explain everything’ to Connor had not-very-successfully hidden a haste to get out that Connor found almost comical.

Did Sonthi think he was about to beat the shit out of Chapman? Another glance at the aging ex-cop and Connor decided that was exactly what the mappo feared. He clamped his jaws shut against the rising chuckle and did his best to look simultaneously angry and scared.

Oz would’ve been proud.

Sonthi’s hand tightened on Connor’s arm and he leaned close, whispered in a voice hoarse with tension, “Just hold it together, kid. We’re gonna take a little stroll and go somewhere we can talk. I’ll explain, I promise. But not here. Just stay with me a little longer. The walk will do you good, anyway; you looked like you were about to go full-fuckin’ ikiryo on Chapman back there, and that wouldn’t be good. For either of us.”

A year ago – in another place, and another life – Connor would have gone ‘full-fuckin’ ikiryo‘ on any patronizing aho who talked to him the way Chapman had. But now? Now everything was different.

Two steps and everyone on the plaza was staring again. Shit, even the Stationside takies were better than these idiots.

Sonthi expected him to be angry and resentful, so Connor decided to play to expectations. To over-play, really.

Go big or go home, that ghostly memory of Oz chuckled.

Sonthi walked…normally. Working to blend in with the other debil on the plaza as far as Connor could tell. But Connor…Connor most certainly did not. He strutted and rolled as he walked, carrying all the arrogance and attitude of a chinpira who’d just made his bones with a Family. That walk would very likely have seen him get a knife in the gut back home, but here? Here all the tight-suited fools couldn’t get out of his way fast enough.

Past the plaza and halfway down one of the semi-identical streets, Sonthi looked at him and said harshly, “Christ in a blender, chiima, what fuckin’ crawled up your ass? Relax, kid, it really does get better from here. I went to too much trouble getting you out to fuck you over now.”

Connor’s only reply was a grunt. Conversation was the last thing he wanted just then. No, he had thinking to do. A great deal of thinking, and even more planning. He hadn’t lied to Chapman: he would do whatever baka job the CEO had in mind for him, and do it well. But there wasn’t a chance in hell he would let these idiots take advantage of him. No, taking advantage was his job, not theirs.

The buildings lining that narrow street were taller and more confining than even the worst of the res-holds. This planet had nothing but space, Connor silently wondered, so why the hell did they all crowd so close together? What idiot had come up with this?

It was the concrete, he decided, that made it all so confining and oppressive. Made up of nothing but dark grays and blacks, that concrete was used for everything: from roads to buildings and everything in between. Even those few buildings with decorative facings, like the LRC tower, kept to the same dark palette of depressing monotony.

Shit, these people had an entire fucking planet, and they wanted to live as crowded and confined as the poorest docksider? Baka, all of them. But crazies made the best kamo; ‘more money than sense’ wasn’t a curse in Connor’s line of work, it was a blessing and a wish.

Another few hundred feet and Sonthi turned to enter one of those buildings, just as looming and dark as all the others.

The windows had been tinted the deepest black, leaving only a broad, flashing sign above the large revolving door to provide any color whatsoever. Bright pink and blue neon proudly proclaimed “Washington’s” in what Connor suspected was meant to be the most up-to-date and fashionable way possible.

It just looked stupid to him.

He followed the older man through that revolving door and into a world of pale woods, green plants, and weird lighting. Dockside had interesting shadows and odd colors because the lighting was shit, and there was no chands the Station would pay so much as a penny to improve the living conditions of a bunch of criminals and malcontents. But here, in the capital of the entire damned star system? Here there were shadows and odd colors because…they wanted it that way? Baka, every single damned one of them was completely insane.

He was able to stifle the laugh that threatened, as rude and contemptuous as it was, but not the derisive snort.

Sonthi stopped to look back. Quietly, he said, “Give ’em a break, kid.  These idiots wouldn’t know a decent bar if it danced naked and slapped ’em on the ass. They call places like this modra. Means ‘blue’, for whatever that’s worth. Not sure what the fuck it’s supposed to really mean, beyond every haafu in here having blue-balls ’cause no one in their right mind would have sex with any of ’em.”

That laugh Connor couldn’t stifle. Sonthi may have been a kamo at that moment, but he was still a docksider through and through.

 

I Reject Your Reality…

Meaning and subtext. Well, hell, why not take a shot at it today? I’m behind on posts, so I have to get one or two prepped and scheduled if I want to actually stay ahead of the game. And, yes, that means the once huge backlog I had (about two weeks’ worth of posts that were stacked up and scheduled) is officially gone.

I got sidetracked by…well…the real world.

Damned real world.

IMG_0145LEAVE ME ALONE, REALITY!!

You know that old MythBusters saying? Yeah, that’s me…

Err, sorry…lost the thread for a minute there. Back to the point.

Wrath & Tears was a story about corruption and revenge and, most of all, love. But – yep, always a but – that wasn’t what it was about. It was about suicide. More specifically, it was about the despair and pain that lead to the act.

It was about a friendship and a love that, in the end, weren’t enough to save a life.

I’ve lived that. I’ve been in Connor’s shoes. What Wrath was about was both easy for me, and was the hardest thing in the world.

Silence is different. Where Wrath was external – about something outside of Connor (and me) – Silence is very much internal. It is about Connor’s own despair and survivor’s guilt. More than that: it is about the search for some form of faith and meaning in life, both for Connor and for me.

It comes down to a “quest” to justify and fulfill the sense that life is meant to be…more.

How do I do that?

Good question.

The simple answer is: I lose the inhibitions. I pour myself, emotionally as much as mentally, into the writing.

But that answer is trite and facile.

The reality is that I have to think and plan. Any good story has meaning and subtext. It may or may not be obvious, but I guarantee you: if you remember a book (or play or movie…) it said something to you.

But when said story gets preachy, or – worse, by far – self-indulgent? The journey from memorable to shitty happens at Warp 9. I try to very much keep that in mind. When I plan out the scenes, I (try to) ration out the emotion and subtext as much as I do backstory and exposition.

It ain’t always easy. Err, it ain’t ever easy, to be honest. But then again, that’s why writers get paid the…err, let’s just stop that line of thought right now. The damned real world is still lurking, in spite of my best efforts to ignore it…

When you get right down to it, hitting the right tone and level of subtext with Silence is a real challenge for me. In some ways I’m not quite as openly invested as I was with Wrath: the memories of those suicides that touched me personally are very real, and are in their own way concrete and “quantifiable.”

In other ways, however, I am far more invested in Silence: the emotions and thoughts are mine, which makes them rather more powerful, if somewhat nebulous and hard to “use” on an intellectual level.

Not to mention the fact that I have to take a plot about greed and corruption* and factional/corporate politics and weave it on top of a story about guilt and pain and the quest for meaning…

*Err, yes, that is indeed a focus for all of Connor’s stories…

Maybe I should switch to decaf for this one.