Monthly Archives: October 2011

Two Hours Until NaNoWriMo 2011

That it is. So, with only two hours left until the madness begins, I’d like to say a few words.

I am possibly more excited for NaNoWriMo this year than I ever have been before, although exactly why is difficult to say. Every year, there’s a fantastic energy about the forums, so huge that it’s impossible not to get excited over the thought of this 50,000 (or in my case, 200,000) word venture.

Naturally, I have my concerns. This is the first year I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo that I haven’t had other things to do simultaneously – by other things, I mean coursework and other such commitments, as opposed to the social aspects. For this reason, I’m terribly frightened that I won’t fully take advantage of this opportunity, as though I’ll have too much time on my hands. Without that constant battle, finding times and places to write at every given moment, I fear I might slip off the beaten path and into procrastination hell. I mean, what’s stopping me from just writing for one or two hours a day and just sleeping for the rest? I can’t afford to do this, of course … I need a routine!

On the other hand, this might just be the concentrated effort I have been in need of. What I mean by that is that it’s simple enough for me to sit down and hammer out perhaps a thousand words in a few short sittings, and do this maybe two or three times a month. It’s not so much that I lose my way with projects is that I’m easily distracted, and yet every November until now, NaNoWriMo has ensured that I am not nearly as easily distracted as I usually am. Sitting down to write, knowing that I only have thirty days in which to write all of it, and seeing my stats page come to a standstill is unsettling enough to give me a brief kick and force me to get on with it. Perfect, in other words.

Fears and aims aside, I feel reasonably at ease with the prospect of starting my project within the next two hours. I haven’t prepared as much as I usually do, though I put this mostly down to the fact that, in the cases of most of my characters, I’m starting from a single idea and just running with it throughout their stories. The direction is always a killer for me; as long as I have a fairly concrete plot, which I do, I feel ready to tackle that mountain of words!

Or fall from halfway up said mountain. We’ll see what happens.

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Underworldly: The Start of Something Very Strange …

Once upon a time, there was a slightly disturbed twelve-year-old girl. This girl liked to write. She liked to write, and she liked to watch anime, and she somewhat liked to read, although most of the time she only read Harry Potter, and some assorted fan fiction written by people she knew on online forums. This post, as well as the Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain inspired me to go digging around for this story again. I remembered the URL vaguely, and was actually quite stunned to see that the Freewebs site I created is still up and running after 5 years of neglect … quite honestly, this isn’t the first time since its creation in 2006 that I’ve visited, just out of a strange, nostalgic curiosity that takes me back to what was an even stranger time, in my eyes.

Nanuko: an example of the villain protagonist.

So I’ll start with this: if you want to read it, you can read it here, but I really wouldn’t recommend doing it for your own sanity. Or if you value your eyes, because this is most likely to make them burn. Unlike most of my earliest writings, this is something I made very easy to access, because it was so damn good. I was assured that this was the best thing that I’d ever written – perhaps somewhere, some part of me took this to mean that this was the best thing written by any twelve-year-old ever. I was encouraged to write more, and write more I did … in a way, Underworldly grew into something that became more and more difficult to control, and this, combined with my computer dying spectacularly one day (I, too, have a venomous hatred for the Blue Screen of Death), and what my fourteen-year-old self considered quite a serious relationship (ha!) was probably what drove me to abandon it.

I was desperately proud of this story, though. It was my finest work, at the time, a story I was most definitely going to get published, that my parents encouraged me to get published, that was going to make it. I find it funny, actually, how this seems to be the case with every new piece I write; Dragon Badlands was going to be an incredible breakthrough piece. Underworldly, as I have just mentioned, was going to sell, and sell, and sell to people like me. Butterfly Black was this incredible, inventive idea that nobody else could write … nobody else, it seems, but Chuck Palahniuk. Contempt for The Blind is … a difficult one to place, but I had a great feeling about it, so positive, yet when I was describing the entirety of it to my ex it just seemed a little asinine. Where Jackals Lie was just something I was desperate to get out on paper, and I’m not sure I ever really felt as though it would go anywhere.

Anyway, I didn’t know, at this time, how much of a hack the idea was, or how cliché the characters were, and the historical accuracy? Well, my young self didn’t see much of a need for this at all. The names were made up ones that sounded Japanese, and bore a striking resemblance to the names of some of the characters from Naruto (I never really watched much of it as they pulled it from TV over here before I could) … never mind the fact that it was, essentially, a re-hash of Samurai Champloo. Never mind I stole heaps of plot devices from Bleach. Never mind countless other references, and probably a lot taken from Fullmetal Alchemist somewhere along the line … I really used to be quite obsessed with anime.

Unlike Dragon Badlands, though, I don’t really want to let Underworldly go, not just yet. If I’m being honest, it was the first piece I ever wrote that really enabled me to come to terms with who I am as a writer; it was the first piece to give me some genuine form of direction, that time when I knew what I could and could not write, and ever since then, I’ve been playing up to the idea that what I write always will be very dark. Of course, everything was still a little convoluted – in terms of writing, I wanted too much, too soon. I was trying for more complexity than was really needed for, or was of any benefit to the story, adding in themes and ideas that only a really messed up twelve-year-old could think about.

For the most part, Nanuko, the central character, turned out to be a Freudian nightmare with serious mommy issues. Of course, I thought I was being quite original, having the once-normal-if-slightly-messed-up boy’s soul being ‘tainted’ by a vengeful Hell-demon, thereby making him the villain protagonist, who then goes on to join forces with the assassin hunting him, as well as the attractive female action girl who shouldn’t have any real reason to follow him, seeing as he slaughtered the entirety of her home town. I’m not denying this one thing, however; I thoroughly enjoyed having my good guy be the bad guy. In terms of protagonists, since this point, I have never really been able to settle on a central character who always has truly altruistic motives, or does things that are considered ‘good’ all of the time. It is not so much that it’s just that much more fun to be the bad guy, or shall we say, to write the bad guy, as it was that by this point in my life, I think I had become disenchanted just enough to know that life is not black and white. Why should I have characters that are?

Similarly, Nanuko was always the outcast, when he was human, that is. He was ‘that weird boy from the village’ at fourteen, although later on I would note that he was most likely deemed the weird boy because his father was the King of Hell. I know. I know. Not content with having him be an evil demon himself, I had to make sure that he was an evil demon before he got ‘sewn’, too.

Even after all this time, though,  the strangest thing is that I have this warped desire to rewrite Underworldly. It’s not something I’d ever consider publishing, or even self publishing, but may prove to be either a challenge, or just a little nostalgia and a little fun. I want to rewrite it because I see at least some potential there, masked by dust, bad characterization, a lack of research and a lot of influence. I feel that there are still places I could go with it, even if I’m not going to take it far, and that I could, almost, show my twelve-year-old self what-for. Strange and a little pathetic as that may sound, there is something at the back of my mind (not the salvages soul of a Hell-demon) telling me that I could take this somewhere – that it’s a disservice to abandon it. 

There have been several attempts to revive this, though, since I originally abandoned it in, I believe, early to mid-2007. The first, notable attempt was during an art course at college that I later quit … I do believe this attempted rewrite had something to do with it, but that could just as easily have been my growing dissatisfaction with the course coupled with the feeling that I had made the wrong choice. The second attempted rewrite came after I had changed colleges and courses; after I had become a little too obsessed with Assassin’s Creed II and took Nanuko out of his home base of what was probably feudal Japan and placed him firmly as an artist in Renaissance Italy who is killed and then revived for sleeping with the woman he was supposed to be painting (daughter of some wealthy land owner or something like that). This rewrite was probably just an excuse to do some research on the subject of Renaissance Italy, and never worked out, although the concept is something I’ve brushed over time and time again since. Unfortunately, setting anything in a time other than the here and now has never really been my strong suit.

Speaking of which, I have a feeling I tried to resurrect Nanuko in the world of Where Jackals Lie once, too. Characters and everything. A hack in and of itself, and one that I hand wrote maybe ten chapters of before realizing nothing exciting had happened. At all. I dropped it.

It’s a strange feeling, though, having a work I keep coming back to. It doesn’t happen often, though this is mostly because I’ve shelved the works I have finished and mostly forgotten about the ones I haven’t. I’m not denying that Underworldly was pretty terrible, but I’m not denying that I wrote it when I was twelve, either – I had a lot of growing to do as a writer. This is no excuse, of course, but it makes sense of it. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that causes me to keep such a soft spot here for Underworldly By all accounts, I shouldn’t. I should want to bury it deep and pretend it never existed. I can’t. Perhaps it is because I received such good feedback for it, or perhaps just because I felt a significant sense of having evolved. Suddenly finding my way, even for a brief second – and it was around the age that I wrote this that I started to develop some kind of identity for myself. Ultimately, I was desperately proud of Underworldly, for all its faults, for everything that shouldn’t have belonged in that manuscript.

I’ve loved the projects I’ve worked on since, but they’re all done and dusted. Underworldly isn’t. It has somewhere to go, and I doubt I’ll forget about it until it has gone there.

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Book Review: Snuff

Snuff

I’m having a little difficulty in thinking of how to start this review, not because Snuff was a difficult read by any means, but more because there is no way in which I can say what I want to without sounding terribly desensitized. So I’m just going to come out and say it;

Snuff was not what I expected.

This is not to say that it was a let down, at all (I enjoyed it rather a lot, make of that what you will), but rather that the title connotes something a little more extreme than I found inside. A little context, look away now if you would like. I won’t bother linking to the Wikipedia entry, mostly because it is not safe for school or work. Essentially, ‘snuff’ is a film genre in which an actual murder is depicted; not fancy Hollywood special effects, a living, breathing human being murdered on film. If one was to watch a snuff film, they would be watching a person die … needless to say, as murder is a punishable crime, these films are not exactly part of a mainstream genre.

Now what does this have to do with the novel, other than the title? What does it even have to do with the review? Well, first, let me make it clear that I did not buy this book based solely on the title, as it suggests something rather different than the actual content. That said, I didn’t buy the book based on this, either. I was feeling particularly gutsy at the time I made The Reading List #1, and wanted to read Snuff before those guts went away (no pun intended). The context that snuff films are used in throughout Snuff is in pornography; Wikipedia won’t cover this, although there is evidence to suggest that this is a subgenre that exists. The shameful, shocking fact of the matter is that some of pornography floating around the Internet can actually tend be a lot worse than snuff films are; here, in Snuff itself, there is no mention of brutal murder, but rather the insinuation that Cassie Wright, the woman all the novel’s narrators (apart from Sheila) are here to have sex with on camera, may even just die accidentally.

The story is told through the eyes of four characters in particular; Mr. 600 (or Branch Bacardi), a seasoned porn actor seemingly reaching the end of his career; Mr. 137, a former prime-time television star intending to act in the film to out himself as straight after an adult movie from his past surfaced, ending his career; Mr. 72 (Darin Johnson), a nineteen-year-old who believes that he is the son porn actress Cassie Wright gave up for adoption and Sheila, Cassie’s personal assistant and talent wrangler on-set, tasked with the job of keeping six-hundred men in check. I’ll take a moment to explain the plot, because none of the former makes much sense without it. Porn actress Cassie Wright is looking to set a new world record, by having sex with six-hundred men on camera – we quickly learn that she was impregnated during the filming of her debut, and that the money this record-breaking film makes will all go to her child, a boy she put up for adoption nearly twenty years ago, in an attempt to make things right between them. When I picked Snuff up, I didn’t expect there to be so much emphasis on the theme of mothers and sons, but there is, to quite and extent.

There is much more emotional depth than the title, or even the synopsis suggests, and to an extent, more of an engagement with the characters than I initially thought would be possible.  In true Palahniuk style, almost everything is described in vivid, brutal detail, but only the things that might make your stomach churn; the idea of six hundred men sharing the same, small toilet should give you enough of an idea to go on. Interspersed between these are small snippets of movie and pop-culture trivia – what could be small facts, such as Marilyn Monroe cutting one oh her high heels shorter than the other to give the desired effect on her rear as she walked, or Lucille Ball letting her hair grow down the sides of her face, wrapping it around toothpicks and pulling the hair back, effectively giving herself a face-lift without surgery, albeit an agonizing one. Things like this, that seem so absurd they may just have happened (a number that I know are facts due to being an ex-film student).

It would be easy enough to dismiss this as a novel solely about the porn industry, or about sex in general, or a sweeping indictment of popular culture. It is not. The one thing that is far more prevalent than the trivia about pornography, or films in general, or the gristly ‘behind the scenes’ moments is the emphasis placed on relationships. Relationships between parents and children, first and foremost, but also the relationships formed in a day, in an instant, or the relationships based on what almost seems to be nothing. Mistrust, and essentially, lies. Or the relationships that are ruined forever in a split second, by way of one small secret getting out, that influences far more important choices. This is what I, personally, felt Palahniuk was getting at with this novel. That is not to say that I am right, but this is what I took away from the experience of reading it. Where I went into it apprehensively, not fully knowing what to expect and holding my breath, I came out of it realizing the relationships illustrated were more touching than I had initially considered they would be.

Of course, another thing that Palahniuk is undoubtedly getting at is the damaged nature of society – perhaps the most disturbing thing about reading Snuff was that it caused me to re-evaluate myself as both a person, and a reader, to an extent. I read and reread it, and yet, I didn’t find myself shocked in the sense that I was unable to believe some of the things mentioned actually existed. I met much of the subject matter with a weary kind of acknowledgment, but maybe this is just a side-effect of being a twenty-first century teenager; maybe I am exactly the kind of person that Palahniuk was aiming a hefty kick at when writing this. We’re too far gone to see exactly what is wrong. This is the underlying message, rather than the projected one, and indeed, it is easy enough to miss – I missed it almost entirely during my first reading, possibly because I was still trying to come to terms with the fact that this was not what I had expected. I do love it when a book takes me by surprise, however.

I could go on, of course, on and on about how so many of the shocking things the reader can be exposed to in Snuff are actually quite real. Whether it is immediately apparent or not, there are some extreme tongue-in-cheek moments, not counting every single mention of porn pun titles which are, in some cases, explained by the various narrators. While this review hasn’t exactly been PG so far, I think I can spare you all some examples lifted directly from the text; indeed, there is no way in which to write a PG review of a Palahniuk novel, or at least, I have yet to find a way. The changing perspectives, also, were of course, something I have found useful to look into due to my own work on Free Fall; the four voices are all at once very similar, but also very different. After the second reading, I found myself able to effectively pin-point which character was speaking without having to refer back to the chapter ‘headings’, there are always certain mannerisms, signs, that point towards which of them are speaking, the most obvious being short phrases that occur regularly throughout; Mr. 600 referring to everyone as ‘dudes’, Mr.137’s ‘wouldn’t you know it?’, Mr. 72’s ‘I don’t know’ and Sheila making frequent use of the phrase ‘true fact’, which is usually preceded by some variation of the aforementioned Hollywood trivia.

Make no mistake, reading Snuff is not a task that should be entered into lightly; there are stomach-churning moments, and events that will simply make you cringe and almost weep with embarrassment for the characters … this is all without mentioning the shocking ending that I am not going to reveal or spoil for anyone. What I will say, however, is that it featured an event that I would have never thought possible. Intestines being sucked out, I can understand, I’ve heard that one before. Being boiled alive in a hot spring, not so implausible. Snuff’s finale, however, is something I never considered, though this is most likely because it’s not particularly one of those things you tend to think about late at night. It’s not something that immediately comes to mind when considering the finer points of human intimacy (or carnality as the case may be).

For the most part, I haven’t found Snuff to be immensely well-received, but it does have its advocates. In case it isn’t immediately obvious, I am an advocate myself, but this is not unusual – I tend towards the things that other people are opposed to, or repulsed by, or quite simply, hate. It’s something I’ve been doing for years. Much of the emphasis of many of the reviews I have read has been on the fact that it is set during the filming of a pornographic movie, rather than what I feel the novel’s actual content is … a shame, or possible denial, and indeed, it is very easy, while reading, to launch directly into denial. It is almost sinfully easy to flick from page to page and proudly think to myself, ‘I’ve never watched anything quite as messed up as that‘, even though the fact remains that this is, most likely, untrue. Whether it be pornography or gore, or anything else on this spectrum, sometimes denial is the only real way of admitting to over indulgence.

Denial like Mr.72’s refusal to consider the fact that he is unable to return home purely because of his own choices, until after his money shot.

Like Mr.137 starring in an all-male porn film to prove that his father didn’t molest him.

Like what seems to be Mr.600’s entire life, or at the very least,  his inability to accept that the withered shadow of a porn star that he is watching on screen is him, only five years prior to the shoot he is about to partake in.

Snuff is not really an examination of why men and women alike choose to shoot these films. Why websites I won’t mention here do so well, and make so much money. One thing it is impossible to deny is that it does look at society as a collective, but rather in what is no longer there – how we seem to have lost some combination of our compassion, humanity, or our capacity to recognize how wrong some things really are. It takes into consideration the notion of freedom of choice, not so much how free our choices are, but whether or not to point out to a grown adult that they are doing something wrong. I was most at ease when reading this, when I was considering others rather than myself; when I was considering why the characters act in the ways they do, and when their motives started to make more sense according to their back stories. I wasn’t so comfortable when I was forced to acknowledge that yes, as a reader, I most likely am one of those people who is beyond help.

The Final Summary:

Palahniuk is, of course, true to form here. From a personal standpoint, Snuff is not X-Rated, but it is easy to see why it would be. This is nothing new, of course; much like Haunted, this is not for the weak of stomach or will, and the ending is, quite literally, shocking – a visceral image that stayed with me from finishing my first read through to finishing my second, where it stunned me slightly less because I knew what was going to happen. This book is not a read for everyone, but is interesting enough if you’re a Palahniuk fan, or looking for something disturbingly different.

A Few Links: 

Snuff Book Review at the Chicago Centre for Literature and Photography
Snuff on Goodreads
Snuff at The Cult [Official Chuck Palahniuk Website]
Snuff on Amazon.com

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Free Fall Fridays #2

First of all, yes, I did forget to do this last Friday, but honestly, there wasn’t much of an advance in plot anyway.

Last time, I mentioned how this story has hijacked my thoughts. This has only gotten worse over the course of the past couple of weeks, to the point that, not only am I dreaming about people falling from great heights, but my subconscious appears to be leading me to watch television shows where a similar thing happens. This most likely isn’t great for what little sanity I still have … I am looking forward to NaNoWriMo quite a lot, but it’s almost as though my mind sees fit to remind me that, ‘hey, you’re writing about people jumping off buildings this year’ every chance it gets. This would be fine … if I wasn’t almost done plotting. By almost done plotting, I do mean that the basics are all done; I have my short stories, and I have the story that ties them all together written down.

What comes next? Characters! I feel that it is more integral that I know my characters well this year than it has been any other year, or with any other project at all. This is not to say that I’m normally lazy when it comes to character construction – it’s a process I genuinely enjoy, half the time I create characters without needing to, so it’s not as though I find this an arduous task. There’s a whole other level of engagement I’m going to need with them, this time around, though.

My usual style of narration is third-person, past tense; this doesn’t discount the need to get to know characters so well, but it does mean that the narration is, distinctly, in my own style. I use language as I usually would, without too much deviation from what would be considered the ‘standard rules’ of grammar and spelling. While not being necessary for spoken exchanges between characters, it fits in well enough with the style of writing.

For a series of short stories, each centered around a rather different character each time, however, I feel that this has to change. I plan on playing around with the narration in each story; most being first person, some being second person, and the storyline that runs throughout being third person limited. This means that I am tasked with making each character ‘seem’ different, or taking into account the fact that not every character will narrate their own story in the same way. What does the way in which their story is written say about their personal background? Their level of education? Their career choice? Does it suggest an accent other than where the story is set? Why or why not? For the most part, these are things that I’m taking into account as I embark on the next step of my novel journey; characterization. It’s normally something I do right away, but in this case, is that much better left until last.

For me, creating a character starts, primarily, with a character sheet. How detailed the sheet is is mostly dependent on the character and their role; a primary character will usually have a more detailed sheet than a character who only has, maybe, two lines of dialogue and a paragraph description in the entire novel. That said, I usually try to avoid characters that are this minor, unless I’m placing my main cast in a densely populated area; a packed out bar or club, a roadside, a protest march … other than that, I don’t see the point in needlessly inserting ‘that twenty-something with the blonde hair who Bryson glimpsed once and never saw again.’ The things I like to get down first are their personalities, and how I think they might react to a certain social situation. The Myers-Briggs personality test is a handy resource for this, as are the multitude of personality tests floating around on the Internet. Of course, the results don’t always have to be followed to the letter, and the tests always work best if you have some idea of the character beforehand, but they can give some useful insight; for example, my primary character this year, Courtney, is an ESTJ, the polar opposite to my own result of INFP. This does not mean that all I need to do is make him react in a directly opposite way than I would to certain things. It just means that he might be considerably more impulsive, and self-confident than I am, and these are things I will need to bear in mind while writing.

Something else I’m dealing more heavily with this year than in the past is the idea of family. In every NaNo novel I can remember writing (which is all of them), I have neglected to have characters really interact with their parents and families, the exception being in Contempt for The Blind, however, it wasn’t so much an interaction as Justin fighting his ‘mindless drones of the government’ parents and sister. In some cases, this is because of the lives my characters lead, but more often than not, it’s just because I forget that they need parents and all, my characters being well into middle age themselves. The idea of family is something I started to deal with more extensively in Strictly Business, my as yet unfinished novel chronicling Jannah Reid’s dark past, and even more so in Free Fall. Of course, my biggest fear is that, should my family eventually read it, the less positive elements (most of them) could be seen as a well-aimed kick at them. They’re no such things, of course … but it occurred to me a little late in the day that someone in Courtney’s situation would still strive to have regular contact with his father. Being that he moved across an entire country to escape his past, this will most likely be consigned purely to phone conversations … all the same, however, it counts as contact.

Finally, here I feel that I have a set of characters who are significantly more authentic than I’ve had in previous years.  Butterfly Black’s cast was intentionally zany (mocking Hell, or the idea of Hell, kind of calls for it), Contempt for The Blind’s a stab at reality mixed with a kind of hyper-reality, and Where Jackals Lie mostly consisted of a contrived cast of Noir stereotypes. I’m not denying that this year, I have a set of characters who have been … extremely unfortunate, or made terrible decisions and done terrible things. But don’t we all make mistakes? Here, the challenge lies in trying not to make them, or indeed, anyone in the stories who inflicts suffering, an exaggerated form of villain. Even the worst cast members have some kind of redeeming quality, insignificant or significant, and this is where I think I may start hitting roadblocks. The idea that not everything is black and white.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough. On a slightly unrelated note, I’m looking forward to this year’s effort rather a lot, in part because I feel I am trying something newer, more different, than I have ever tried before.

On another slightly unrelated note, I’ve been NaNoing for exactly three years today! Hooray!

Roll on November!

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Short Story: Lena


Lena: I’ll bite, this was actually a piece written for a contest on Gaia centered around Angels. The only requirement was that it feature at least one angel of some description, the rest … let’s just say liberties were taken! I have a large post coming up tomorrow, so I thought I’d break it up a little with a short story. I forgot about this for a while, quite honestly,  and it doesn’t entirely seem to be what I would usually write, or what I might have come to write, but the recent Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain got me thinking … so here we go. Rather tame by usual standards, possibly a little cursing here and there, and no religious track to speak of. Because of course, it was only a matter of time until I introduced angels to a dystopian future. Enjoy!

~*~*~

“I’ve told you all I know, Vanity. Whether or not you choose to believe me is up to you.” The brim of his hat was cocked over his eyes, but this was nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinary. A candle stuttered in the corner of the desk, momentarily diminishing the light that spread out across the photographs, but it was short-lived. Not even a gust of wind. A breath as he leaned backwards in his seat and finally looked directly at Vanity.

“You think there are others in this city like you?” A sharp woman, Vanity was always relentless in her assaults, and this time, she was no different. Her glare had made many weak criminals cower in fear before – if only because she cropped and spiked her hair in a way that gave her a somewhat vicious quality. Elias, however, didn’t much care for how she chose to style and dress herself, nor for the austere persona that she projected. She had been transparent to him from the moment they had first met, and still, she refused to admit it.

“I know for a fact there are,” He tiled his head backwards a little, now, not quite looking up at the rotten ceiling. “I don’t know if you’d say that they’re exactly like me, though.” He had no concerns with looking at the woman, carefully watching her reaction, this time, because he knew that he had only confused her further. It wasn’t entirely possible to interrogate one’s partner, after all. Especially not when, most of the time, they were working towards the same goals; he loved the irony of her calling the city around them a hell hole, and the way in which she tried not to care about anything around her. Yet, when he insulted her, she looked away to disguise her tears. When he threatened her she flinched in spite of the fact that she refused to cower.

“But they’re still like you.” She insisted, arms folded across her chest, her face thrown into sharp relief by the dim lighting. In some ways, this one small endeavor to save money was, at the very least, an attractive one.

“Not necessarily,” He relaxed a little more in his seat, his head fully thrown back now, musing at the darkness above him. Plaster and paint showered down on a regular basis, whenever somebody moved upstairs. “Your kind. Your race. Would you say that you are identical to every last one of them? Of course, your biological make-up is similar. But your thoughts, feelings … anything you have learned since birth is not inherently the same,” He had to look over at her, if only to savor the moment. The glare that preceded a sudden look of surprise, that he had finally denied her of the things she believed to be true. “So, while my brethren and I share the same being and the same abilities, we do not act upon the same impulses. I repeat, whether or not you choose to believe me is up to you. I have told you all that I can.” Elias did not wait around to watch her, this time, knowing that she would soon leave to scream in frustration and disappointment. She had been so painfully close to a lead, and now it was gone.

As he closed the door gently behind himself, Elias looked out at the rest of the city. He knew that they were out there; what he could not say was exactly where they would be, or who they were masquerading as … all aside from one.

“Lena,” He growled underneath his breath. He was not denying that the crumbling giants that had once been office buildings or skyscrapers had a certain kind of beauty that most humans found difficult to understand. He had to find her, though. The damage she had done was irreversible, a fact for which he was thankful when he truly took the time to think about it, but regardless, it was his mission – his very purpose – the hunt for her. It was no mistake that he had come here. There was nothing coincidental about the sense, a feeling rather than a thought that had given him the determination and indeed, the reason to even make his way here. He was not quite done yet, though. He knew well that it was instinct causing him to retrace the steps that he had taken so many times over; the barely running subway, one of the few small luxuries that still existed. It came as no surprise to him that fewer and fewer people chose to use it as time went by, based almost solely upon the fact that mistrust in such machinery had only grown over the past few months. Years. Elias didn’t feel the need to concern himself with it. He had already lived for hundreds.

There had been a time when he had walked the streets of Rome freely. The Vatican had welcomed him … hell, cathedrals the world over had eventually welcomed him at one point or another in time. The Original Fall had had nothing to do with him whatsoever, and for a time, he had kept his head above water, avoided sin no matter what the cost.

He boarded the carriage almost unconsciously, amidst those with the ability to travel in much the same way as he did. His verification came only from his affiliation with Vanity, whose links to the so-called police force granted him an easier pathway throughout the ruin around him. She knew as well as he did that none of his interests truly lay in helping those around him any longer; this would be his one saving grace against the very woman he was traveling to meet with.

“Hey,” He didn’t stir. Nobody in this time would recognize him, and he would have known if they shared his … heritage. “Hey, buddy,” Nothing. People pushed past him stop by stop, and yet for some inexplicable reason, this stranger had chosen to latch onto him for what seemed like the duration of the journey. “You’ve gotta help me, man. These guys–” Elias wasn’t sure of what compelled him to turn at that moment – the note of panic and desperation in the man’s voice, most likely. Recognizing a call for help, and an anguished human, was ingrained. Most of the time, he did not have a choice as to whether or not he reacted. The three of them stood out amongst the staggered passengers, if only because they caused themselves to stand out. He knew their type. While humanity had moved on, nothing about the gang mentality had really changed.

The carriage ground to a halt, the voice on the intercom a whisper, but significant enough to tell him that this was his stop. Perhaps Elias would have thought more heavily about aiding a stranger had he not already given himself the night’s mission. He saw the barrel of the gun, and did not freeze in front of it for knowledge that it would not harm him. Had the doors not been about to close, he would have put himself between the man and the bullet that pushed itself forcefully from the barrel, a pellet with intent. Instead, he watched with a strange curiosity as the blood exploded onto the glass at the exact moment that the doors slid tightly shut.

What was the point in saving them, anyway? He had not been saved. If there was anything he could have done, surely this would have worked in his favor, in the face of Lena’s temptation. Instead, The Order had forsaken him all too quickly.

He took the time to glance around only to better understand where he was. How very typical of Lena. She had always loved being followed by her ‘flock’ … courtesans and call girls, all women in the desperate recesses of their minds, at wits end and desiring more than they could ever hope to gain. Lena offered the solution to them, and while he could see from a distance what it cost them, a captured woman would ignore the brutality of what she had become. Money for pleasure, no matter how thinly it was veiled, was always the same, and yet in this day and age, it was by far the worst of the conditions he had seen.

“Looking for a good time, sugar?” There in little more than a skirt that clung tightly to her thighs and a bandeau that left nothing to the imagination, throwing herself at him because … ah, yes. His jacket was made of leather. Hard to come by and only provided by the force to give off an air of intimidation. He looked rich. Rich men looking for a good time were by far the most valuable of customers. He continued on, fixated only on the bar. Lena herself, of course, did not offer up her services in fear of what men would find upon her. She had relied on Elias because he did, after all, understand her condition.

He continued on. Patrons glared up at him, already associating his clothing with something they both hated and feared. The narrow-eyed elderly and the tattooed youths, women writhing upon the laps of paying customers with more whiskey than they had money. While these mostly kept to themselves, it was undeniable that his presence threatened their comfort, the equilibrium of a life full of deprivation, nothingness … this refuge away from a broken world was all they had left. He was not there to apprehend anyone tonight. Instead, he looked directly at the woman who appeared at the foot of the stairs, behind the bar, shrouded by a nightgown as she always was with a deceptive purity in her face, her flesh.

“Lena,” He muttered as she held out a hand, smiling. Instantly, he was protected from those who would ordinarily have launched an attack upon him, were it not for the fact that killing a supposed cop would lead them all to their deaths. “You know why I’m here.” She bowed her head in silence.

“Who told you to come for me this time, Elias?” She had thrown her gown to the floor as soon as they had entered the room, the bloody stumps attached to her shoulder blades fully visible in an instant. Elias found himself staring intently at them determined not to be tempted this time, instead focusing upon the moment in time that he had felt it, too. The pain of his wings themselves being ripped off had not been so bad. Each individual bone breaking, nerves tugged at, wrenched from his back … no, this paled in comparison to the part of him that had died that day. His virtue had been the very thing causing screams of agony, like a man thrown onto flame; a swift pain that happened over and over until his wings were reduced to nothing but the stumps mirrored on Lena’s back. The burning sensation of bile and vomit rising in his throat; one by one, each limb shattering into a thousand small shards, and yet nobody could have seen it.

“Nobody sent me, Lena.” She turned to him, a smirk on her otherwise angelic face.

“Then you’ve returned.” She threw her arms open, moving towards him at what seemed to be a stride, not quite throwing herself at him but instead jubilant at the fact that he had supposedly ‘returned’. She did not need to know about Vanity; they did not need to discuss the woman any further, because Lena did not trust her, because then she would know that he had an ulterior motive. In spite of it all, he did not want to mention Vanity because he knew that Lena was at the root of it all, regardless of how she protected herself from the outside and insisted that she was not one of the Fallen. Even as she embraced him and pressed her lips to his, he knew why her hands were tugging at his jacket, forcing the item down, over his shoulders and onto the floor; her fingertips shook as she slipped them under his shirt, gently pressing at the bloody stumps that had once been his wings.

“You know why I’m here.” He breathed as she withdrew. Another smirk, a fallen smile, her eyes scanning him for any sign of this new person, this man she barely knew. She had tried so hard to take everything from him, and yet here he was, standing tall, refusing to become a quivering wreck that would sooner fall into bed with her than remain in control of the situation. She turned away from him again, cold this time; this was the Lena he knew, not the one overwhelmed by hunger, but the one who knew both herself and her surroundings.

“You’re still trying to force your way back into The Order, then?” His lip curled and he shook his head, relieved, but worn by his attempts.

“To desire that would ensure my defeat. I’m here to ask you why, Lena.” She cocked her head to the side.

“It was as much your doing as it was mine.” She paced about the room carefully, now, never taking her eyes off him. Elias, instead, remained with his hands in his pockets, the fingers of his right hand drumming gently on the metal. Shooting her would not stop her … it would feel damn good, though. Her eyes fixated themselves upon the gun as he withdrew it and aimed, not yet pulling the trigger … not yet shooting.

“Do you really think that’s going to work, Elias? My, you have been spending too much time with the woman.” A grin on his face, this time, more manic and more cruel than one he had ever given. He was not a born bloodsucker, and he was only in this state now because she had made  him so. Caught up in the passion of those around him, he had turned to the only woman who seemed to understand him … he had not known, then. A shape shifter, a Fallen Angel masquerading as a member of The Order.

“I wasn’t going to ask about that. I was just going to ask why you’re still coveting corrupt souls. Was mine not enough for you? Was turning a member of The Order not fulfilling? Or are there … others?” Of all the things he could have considered, the final idea was by far the most chilling. If all of the men who had been found were like him, then he knew that pointing a gun at her forehead was likely the last thing he wanted to be doing. Still, he insisted. He seemed to have hit upon something, however. Her eyes flared as he finished speaking, aware, at least, that he had worked her out.

Elias wanted to pull the trigger there and then. He could get out through the open window. He could escape this part of town easily and never return; he had no time for whores, after all. He had no time for Lena’s following. Yet, he could not quite bring himself to squeeze the trigger … his hand shook violently.

“You can’t do it.” Her voice was suddenly quiet. Childlike and remorseful, her form danced in front of him. Elias’ knees buckled, but he did not quite go under.

“Are there others?” He repeated through gritted teeth. Eyes wide, she shook her head.

“If they were here, you would have known it.”

“A Fallen doesn’t know. Not if they’re of a higher rank … they wouldn’t want me to know.” Again, his knees buckled, a searing pain in his gut. Whatever she was doing, she was doing well. He almost doubled over … she continued to stare.

I knew, though. Your kind are so … arrogant. Like you, they didn’t realize it was me until it was too late.” Elias retched; that same burning as when he had lost his wings, although this time, he watched as crimson leaked from his lips onto the carpet. At long last, he was doubled over, still refusing to let go of his gun, supporting himself with just one hand as he retched, twice, three times, a fourth before finally gleaning the courage to look up at her. Vanity had no doubt guessed that he was gone by now. He considered her as his insides wretched, acknowledging that she did not need any kind of power to cause a criminal to feel this way. Vanity, of course, had always been the one snatch of reality he had been allowed, from the moment he had met her on.

He tried to squeeze the trigger, truly. He tried to force the bullet through Lena’ forehead, a single gunshot that would blow out the back of her head. Instead, his hand continued to shake feebly, and even as he did grasp the gun tightly, he slipped, the bullet instead making for her chest, knocking her backwards onto the bed. He slumped, a heap, on the carpet, not quite dead, but no longer his former self; Lena’s form swam in front of him again, light … he could have sworn he saw light. Even if not, he was a pitiful, useless thing now.

Elias heard the door open, saw a flash of navy boots as he drifted between realities. The Order would not take him, and neither would the Fallen. It didn’t matter. Vanity was cradling him … his nonexistence did not matter. A grin as his insides ceased to writhe and his blood trickled down his chin like an infant unable to suppress its saliva through a lack of self control. Embryonic, he lay there for a while while Vanity, his reality, ordered her men about the musty room.

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Badlands, Bad Writing, and the Best Damn Thing.

Something went wrong, didn't it?

This post is a part of the Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain for October, the question being; ‘What is the first thing you remember writing of your own accord?’ Delorfinde kicked off yesterday with an excellent post, Escape! A Play and set the bar for the posts to come this month. I’m sweating right now.

 So, first of all, how many of you remember this show?

Okay, second, you’re most likely wondering what in the heck Dragonball Z has to do with answering the question, or writing in general, right? Essentially, everything. The short version of the story is as follows; when I was eight, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up, and decided to watch TV for a while. My dad was still awake and watching DBZ … it may seem a little odd for a man in his late thirties to be watching this, but my dad was always a fan of Martial Arts films, so I can see what the draw would have been. Anyway, I started watching it with him. It was great for me and dad to have something we shared an interest in. This interest, as they often do, gradually grew into an obsession that sometimes bordered on the insane – I missed a week of school to re-watch video-taped marathons of the show. At eight, this was as far as it went. By ten, I was scripting my own episodes, with a (Mary-Sueish) character I’d created. By thirteen, my first ‘masterpiece’ was complete – a fan fiction following my character, Kerroi, and her exploits.

For a while, my dad insisted I send the scripted episodes, and later, the fan fiction, to Akira Toriyama and get him to create a new series from them. This inspired something rather different; obsessed as I was with Dragonball Z, I thought … what if I could write something new, something original on the basis of what I’d already done?

Dragon Badlands didn’t follow the plot of Dragonball Z but looking back, the most obvious things I lifted from the series were the characters – sure, I gave them all spiffy names like Ekaia, Zehio, Jalkie and Nelisha, but at the very bottom of their character sheets, I likened them all to characters from DBZ. The plot didn’t really bear any similarities. The intention was for it to be a ‘journey’, sure … I mapped out the entirety of the Dragon Badlands and it had everything I could have possibly wanted to traverse; a city bordered by a jungle, on the other side of which there was a seaside town, surrounded by a desert which led to a canyon, a lake to cross, and finally, the mountain range. Oh, and there was a castle somewhere, too. The plot was loose, something along the lines of ‘The Embodiment of Evil has broken free of the Dragon Star and you have to stop it before it reaches Dragon City by crossing the deadly Dragon Badlands’ … yeah, I liked dragons. Anyway, nothing too complex for my eleven-year-old mind to handle, a nice little journey with some possible death and destruction, romance, secrets, the usual. Looking back, now, I’m surprised by just how warped my brain at eleven years old was, but I’ll spare you all the details of that.

This story was truly amazing. It was the most innovative, original idea I’d ever had. Sure, I’d written a few violent crime thrillers in school, and something I vaguely remember that concerned a nun bludgeoning someone to death with a candle holder (see, warped), but this … this was amazing. It was going to be my debut work, and I was going to be rich and famous like J.K. Rowling.

I stopped working on Dragon Badlands around the same time as we got hooked up to the Internet here at home (dial-up … that thing where you have to turn off the Internet to use the phone, or vice versa) and I found all these really wonderful Dragonball Z related websites, and later, MFG Forums, which prompted me to start work on Dragonball KK. As I said, obsessed. I’d also just started high school around this time, and found myself distracted, enough that I didn’t have the time to sit down and write anymore.

It’s a bit presumptuous of me to call Dragon Badlands a story anyway. There were a few chapters floating around the house, written in red ball-point pen, but I never got much past the ‘gang’ establishing that the Embodiment of Evil had broken out of the Dragon Star. No traversing jungles, deserts, canyons … no, nothing. Essentially, most of it happened in my head which, truth be told, is about as far as most of my stories get anyway. It wasn’t my first complete story, let’s say that.

It was my first, real, original story, though, all … two or three chapters of it. I don’t count anything I wrote before this time, on the basis that there was always some assignment it was tied to. Write this way, or that way. Some specification.

Dragon Badlands was more than an idea, though. More than a story, even. It became a place for me to retreat to; this escape from school (I had a medical issue at the time that, essentially, warranted people staring at me like a circus freak), and a time when I could actually feel … like somebody. To have fans of my work that were as obsessive as I was about Dragonball Z. To create something that meant that much to others, as much as it did to me … in short, all the insanities of a pubescent girl (yes, I said that) who felt like nothing and wanted to be something.

So. I now urge you all to check out this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain. It includes a plethora of great teen writers, all of which, I am sure, will have their own unique take on answering this question;

October 15th — http://delorfinde.wordpress.com – A Farewell To Sanity

October 16th — https://thelitjunkie.wordpress.com – Eat, Sleep, Write, Repeat

October 17th — http://taystapeinc.wordpress.com – Tay’s Tape

October 18th — http://noveljourneys.wordpress.com/ – Novel Journeys

October 19th —- http://greatlakessocialist.wordpress.com/ – Red Herring Online

October 20th —http://kirstenwrites.wordpress.com/ – Kirsten Writes!

October 21st — http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com–  The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer

October 22nd — http://herestous.wordpress.com – Here’s To Us

October 23rd — http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com – Teens Can Write Too! (We will be announcing the topic for the next month’s chain)

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Challenge: Writing Is Like …

So, darkjade68 over at The Written Word has passed this challenge onto me. Me being me, I couldn’t help but accept! I love a challenge. I’m told that Renee A.S Jacobson was the original creator of this challenge at Lessons From Teachers and Twits. So, without further ado, I shall set about completing this challenge, the objective of which is to complete the sentence, ‘writing is like …’

So, what is writing like?

I could answer this ever so literally, but I won’t.  I could tell you that writing is like playing God, but I’ve never been God, so I can’t liken writing to it.

Writing is like existing. At least, to me it is … a combination of existing and feeling, really. Those short stories I’ll never show a soul, those are cathartic in nature, everything within me spilling out onto the page. Those that I do show are usually bleak enough to reflect what’s going on inside my head, the things that I’d never openly show myself to be, because I’m not the same person when I write. What a hack of a sentence. I’ve mentioned before that I do my best to be positive; that my writing is the polar opposite.

Recently,  in a fit of frustration that decided to visit at around the same time as they tend to, I broke down. I told my mother that people, they can take anything from me. Anything at all. I don’t care (speaking within reason, of course, and referring mostly to material possessions, not people), and I wouldn’t care until the point that someone tried to take away my ability to write. To imagine. Destroy my computer, burn my notebooks, take away my pens, I’ll speak it. Cut out my tongue, I’ll still imagine it. Hell, I’d even try writing with my elbows or something. It would be pretentious of me to say that writing is my thing, it is not, it is something that many many people can experience and I am happy for them to. I often try to encourage my younger sister to write more, and often fail in doing so. Anyway, it is not mine and mine alone, but what it is is my livelihood. And at this point in my life, it is one of the only things keeping me relatively sane.

Writing is a fairly recent thing for me, though, something I will visit in greater detail in a post written for tomorrow’s Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain and so, I would be lying if I said that I’ve always felt this way. I’ve come to feel this way, though.

I’ll openly admit that I don’t write as much as I should. I spend more time thinking of ideas than I do actually executing them, which is why NaNoWriMo is something of a savior to me here, and why the main brunt of what I write during the other eleven months are usually short stories, rants, scenes that I transfer from my head onto paper only because I’m running out of head space and feel it is more practical to take up disk space instead (my external hard-drive takes care of all that) – I’m not so much nervous about showing my work to others as I am conscious of the fact that it is never good enough. But sometimes, it being good enough isn’t the point. It helping me to feel something, or even get rid of a certain feeling, was the intention, and if I achieve what I set out to do, I’m happy.

But writing is also like existing, at least for me, in that it always has its ups and downs. There are days when things are so plain sailing that I can’t get the words down on paper (or an Open Office document) quick enough. There are days when I’m straining to write every single word down, because it doesn’t seem to want to come. Life is mostly like this. There are days when you wake up, and just know that today is going to be a good day. You wake up with a good feeling, and can’t wait to go out, and do what you need to do. Then there are those days where you struggle to even get out of bed. From the moment your feet touch the floor, nothing seems to go right. You put your slippers on the wrong feet (though for me, this us usually accounted for by lack of sleep), the kettle won’t boil fast enough, you’re out of coffee, the milk’s gone sour … those kinds of things.

The thing is, much like living, I’d never want to give it up. It gets tough sometimes, and I wonder why I ever bother, but then something will happen; I’ll write something and feel so good while doing it, or after I’m done, that I’m suddenly reminded of exactly what it is that made me start doing it.

I feel as though I’m rambling and being impossibly positive here, and my glasses haven’t come through from the opticians, yet, so I’ll cut to the chase. I’m going to challenge the following bloggers (whether or not you accept, guys, is totally up to you!) –

Megan at verynormal, because as I’ve already said, I really enjoy reading her blog, and would love to see how she completes the sentence, and John Hansen at The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer, because, similarly, he always has something interesting to say, and I’d love to see his response to the question.

As I said, you don’t have to accept. Enjoy, all!

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NaNoWriMo 2011

Just because I haven’t harped on about it enough already, the NaNoWriMo website resets today. Planning is well underway already (Free Fall Fridays #1), but I thought I’d basically just copy over to here what is already due to be posted on my profile, as well as a few added extras.

The Word Count

The more I try and think of ways to approach this, the more I’m feeling as though I’ll come off as arrogant for detailing it, but please, please bear with me – I’m not saying it to be cocky, but hopefully, what I’m about to write next should explain it somewhat;

The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words seemed like this impossible stretch that I’d never, ever, achieve. My longest work up until then clocked out at around 33,000 words, collectively written over a period of two, nearly three, years. I made it, eventually, after about ten days of not writing and simply lamenting the fact that I couldn’t come up with anything to keep the story flowing. I got to around 53,000 words in the end, but the latter half of the story is one of those things; I just don’t talk about it, it’s that bad. Nonetheless, I came away with my first, complete story that wasn’t fan fiction, after a battle with myself to keep plugging away at it. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I didn’t give up.

With this in mind, I came back with a vengeance in 2009, a plot that had been sparked by an advertisement about the Swine Flu vaccination, and eventually, an outline of each chapter, character profiles, and quite a lot to go on. ‘I’m aiming for 75,000, if I can manage it,’ I said. I hit 75k somewhere around week 2 with no idea of how I had done it – last year, it had been so damn hard, so why had it come so easy this time around? In the end, I continued on to the end of the story, seeing as I had the time, which took me to somewhere around 121,000. With the month still not over, yet, I pushed on to 150,000 with a variety of random character background stories, and one of those works I tend to start but never finish.

When it came time for last year’s NaNo event, it only seemed sensible to set myself a similar target as in 2009 – part of the enjoyment, for me, is the feverish rush of typing and frantic coffee/energy drunk guzzling that comes in the last few days of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t quite have that in 2009, so wanted to up the ante this year to 200,000 words. I think I got complacent somewhere around week 3. I’d exceeded my total from last year, I thought, is it really the end of the world if I don’t hit it? I sat back. Relaxed too much and ended up around 20k short of my goal … this would have hit me harder had I not actually finished my story. Which, by the way, is still as terrible as ever.

So I’m reprising last year’s goal this year. 200,000 words by 11:59:59 pm GMT on November 30th. I have my doubts about hitting it this year, of course; I don’t want to spin my story out to meet my goal, but rather pick up another story if my first one ends in time. I estimate that Free Fall should take me up to around 120,000 if I’m lucky, so the other 80,000 could easily become a short novel in itself, and I’m guessing this is what I’ll do. What has let me down in the past with these post-NaNo Novel Novels is that I haven’t planned them out at all, so I feel that if I have two solid plans (Free Fall being my primary one, the one I intend to focus most upon) I might just make it.

If not, I’ll be downing energy drinks, coffee, and possibly even rum, deep into the night.

The Cover

I enjoy designing covers … not enough to warrant me finishing that Art & Design Btec, but enough to do it in my own free time. Unfortunately, these are a little rough around the edges, being as my Photoshop free trials have all run out now, and I can’t really be bothered to sort it out yet, I had to create them with GIMP. Which is all fine and good, but the image quality always suffers every time I use it, and, oh, yeah … I can’t make more than maybe one or two edits before it decides to inform me that it has ‘encountered a problem and needs to close.’ It took me maybe an hour longer to create these than it should have done.

I had a more complicated design in the works for a while, but honestly, it just looked shabby. The quality of the image I was using wasn’t too great, for a start, so, after putting it through the filter a few times, I came up with something that vaguely resembled the designs below, minus the stick men.  Why choose stick men? I figured that the subject matter was heavy enough already; the stick men seem to lessen the impact while still conveying the message I wanted. I don’t know, make of it what you will.


The Story

I’ve already gone into some detail about this, so I’ll spare the rambling and skip to my synopsis (which is, incidentally, also on the back cover, so you could always just read it there) – please be warned, this most likely contains some sensitive material, or an approach that could be construed as controversial. Skip if you’d like:

‘Just one step, and all your troubles go away.

Courtney Vaugn is familiar with what happens to a human body when it falls from the hundredth floor of some high-rise building. What he saw when he was thirteen, the image still burns, vivid, in his mind, no matter what he does to try and forget it. When he asked his father why someone would do that to themselves, his father explained that the person falling, they probably black out before they even reach the ground, and even if they don’t, it’s just ‘one step into nothing.’ Less painful than bleeding to death. Less risky than hanging. Easier than drugs.

Twenty-three years later, and Courtney is a rising star in the local investigation squad, a college educated crime scene investigator with a reasonably comfortable private life and a series of successful investigations under his belt. Then, what the team thinks is the mangled body of a woman, the pieces of her spread six feet in diameter, shows up. Haunted by what he saw as a teenager, Courtney throws himself into the case with a fierce determination that threatens to unhinge him. He wants answers. He wants to know what happened that night when he was thirteen, when he found what was left of her body.

A series of tales intertwine with Courtney’s own as he investigates the conditions for each suicide, desperate to know what drove them to it. Desperate to finally understand the event that triggered it all, and to face up to a lifetime of denial.’

The Conclusion

I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMo this year, as always, but I think it might be significantly stranger to do … unless I’m employed by the time it rolls around. If not, then every day will most likely be feeling like the weekends always have; wake up, write, shower, get dressed, write, eat, write, sleep (eventually). It’s a bizarre prospect, doing this, the idea that there is little else to do, but at least I’ll be doing something that I know I enjoy. Nobody’s forcing me to do this, after all.

This threatens to break me, though. I’ve never written anything like this before; read plenty of it, yes, which is part of the reason I’m sliding in such a direction. It never has been a case of stomaching it. Just reasoning with myself that what I’m writing actually works on the page.

Nonetheless, roll on November!

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Excerpt: Where Jackals Lie

So, the NaNoWriMo website resets tomorrow, and in ‘memory’ of last year’s event, I thought I might take the time to share an excerpt from the project I was working on at the time, ‘Where Jackals Lie.’ That, and I haven’t posted any of my writing in quite some time, the only story on here being Girl Talk … so it really is about time. Most of this project is pretty much irredeemable, entertaining enough for me to read through in my free time, but not something I’d ever look towards getting published. Unlike the rest of the book, this excerpt has been edited and polished for your enjoyment! Or … uh … well, feel free to laugh at this. If nothing else, it’s proof, to me, that I have, indeed, improved since last year. Critique at will, I just thought it was about time I shared some of this.

He had always hated the taste of his own blood. This morning, it was no different, although he was forced to consider just why he could actually taste blood, and why there was so much of it. He opened his mouth, sore lips hanging agape, the substance dried, crusted, cracking as he moved his jaw. It was not only his face that was bloodied, however. He chanced a glance towards his chest, bare, patches of the red-brown working their way down, almost to his navel.

That was not right. He had been fully clothed when he had been wandering around the streets last night, dressed all in black so as not to garner unwanted attention. His sweater may have been soaked through, he was sure it had been wet from the rain, but at least it had been on. His dampened jeans, on the other hand, did not seem to have been touched and he noticed that during the night he had worn a dark patch of collective rainwater and sweat into the white fabric of the bed. He could not focus on this, though, not while his head was pounding, aching more viciously than he had ever known it to before. He was probably bleeding all over the bed, or at least the wall that was supporting his head.

What else was supporting him? The base of his spine ached too, though was nothing when competing with his head, which had probably been cracked open at some point or another, he was relatively sure of it. It was a pain he vaguely remembered, isolated, but too overwhelming to even want to remember. Apparently, he had not been laying down for all this time, and the reason became immediately clear as he mustered the courage to turn his head gently to the side, neck stiff, threatening not to move at all if he couldn’t sustain his will. Silvery metal cuffs held him on each side, cold against his skin and tighter than he would have considered comfortable, even pleasurable. On each hand, one end of the cuff was attached to the bedstead, while the other was fastened tightly around his wrist.

Bryson groaned and tipped his head back, closing his eyes. He instantly wished that he had not done so. Whatever gash was in his head, wherever the blood was seeping out from, hit the wall painfully and he twitched, although the cuffs would not allow him to move too much. The scene in front of him was a difficult one to discern. His vision had not fully returned, and he knew that he had not felt this since the first time he had downed alcohol, mixed as many spirits as he could find until he passed out cold in the middle of the bar. His head was heavy with the pain and agitation, but he could vaguely comprehend the things that had been clear from the moment he had woken up, but that he had chosen to ignore until now; that it was morning, that the room was a minimalist type with light decor, and that he was chained to a bed.

Next to him, a mirror was situated upon a table laden with various knives in a selection of sizes, or with decorative grips, serrated edges. Weapons, not curios. Items used to kill, not merely to display. Most of the knives were small enough to be concealed, glimmered and told him that their owner truly cared for them … whoever it was knew the difference between a switchblade and a bayonet, for example. Some of these glittering implements were a little longer, much more brutal things that warned him not to make a wrong move, not to say anything out of line, because otherwise, he would pay dearly. It was these longer knives that caused him to look down, impulse leading him rather than the logic he could not find at present. Nothing but dried blood and dampened fabric.

It was what was laid out in front of him that demanded his attention. Anything that had once been in his pockets – two pistols, a switchblade, his lighter, half-finished pack of cigarettes and some spare change – was now set in front of his crossed legs, displayed as if to tell him that it was all over. Someone was on to him. An involuntary shudder ran down Bryson’s spine as he stopped to consider this prospect, distracting himself eventually with the thought of where the rest of his clothes might be. It did no good. His half-closed eyes scanned the room one last time, but it was spotless, effortlessly clean and white; the closet door was closed, vanishing into the white wall, and nothing else caught his eye. To anyone else, the sight of this endless, white room might have been maddening.

He swallowed, a metallic taste, is throat rough and mouth seemingly swollen, detached as though it was not his own. He felt as though he would never properly move his head again. Severe whiplash or the worst crick in the neck that anyone could experience … regardless, he had the strangest feeling that he had been suspended in the same position for far too long, and hoped dearly that whoever had him here would let him go soon. He grinned at the thought, more blood oozing out onto his chest.

“Not fucking likely,” he muttered, his voice hoarse, throat cracking from the liquid that had already dried in it. It was not likely, after all, that someone who had gone to the trouble to chain him up like this simply wanted to have their fun with him. He had never met someone so obscenely sadistic in his entire life, and he liked to think that he had already met a great deal of strange people, enough that he might have already met a closet sadist or two without knowing it.

“Well, aren’t you a mess,” the speaker’s voice croaked a little, like she had just woken up and was trying to get back into the routine of using it. However, he knew that there was no need to contest or doubt her. Every word suggested that she had the utmost control of the situation. He attempted to laugh, but only ended up spraying a mixture of blood and saliva on his skin. “I guess you can deal with it for a while, though.”

Slowly, he allowed his gaze to rise. She had left the door behind her open and a smoldering cigarette hung loosely between two of her fingers; he could see that the room in the background was crowded with smoke – she had not left a single window open and had, instead, let him sit here, protracting what was beginning to seem like her torment. It was not the cigarette that captured his attention, as much as he had started to crave one already. It was not even the swagger she presented herself with, a sheet of dark brown hair fluttering at her back as she crossed one leg in front of the other, stepping delicately on a smooth, cold floor.

No, if there was one thing that enticed Bryson more than anything, it was the fact that the woman approaching him was wearing little more than her underwear.

Her figure was desirable as any he had seen, not perfect by any means, but more than enough, and she did not have the flighty, absent quality that Elaina did. Everything she did, from each step she took towards him to the way in which she held herself, shoulders back, elbow bent so that her cigarette hovered somewhere near her shoulder, was a controlled action. She inhaled, took a long drag on the cigarette as she set herself down in front of him on the bed.

“I guess Eddie got a little carried away. He does that,” almost too gently, she placed a hand on his chin and jerked his head up. “It’s his hobby. He only messes people up if he wants to.” Too careful. Dangerously false. That smile was not real, it did not suit her, she was disguised in front of him. He could not muster anything to say, however, and remained silent as she smiled … sneered. He didn’t fully understand the expression.

She seemed irritated at his lack of a response and her smile faltered before she threw it away entirely in favor of an expression that so suited her. She twisted her head to the side a little, swelled her chest, licked her lips before looking back at him, directing her focus, her smile gone.

“You’re a bitch to track down.”

“I try.” He was not going to meet her with the kind of submissive response her presence commanded, not going to She narrowed her eyes, a gesture every woman he knew would perform at some stage or another, but here, it was different. A kind of malice. Threat.

“Ever since that councilor got himself killed. You remember? You’re a bitch to find, but you’re also sloppy. Some guys, they mentioned something about two-twelve, but I couldn’t quite understand them,” her hand neared him, the one clutching the cigarette between two of her fingers. “You wouldn’t know anything about it, would you?”

“What makes you think I would?” he breathed in sharply as she pressed the lit end of the cigarette into his forearm, grinding ash and ember into a burn, a perfect pink circle. It was an extended gesture, but he could not bring himself to writhe, exhaling instead, the cigarette still not gone from his arm. She paused for a moment, he watched as she glanced slowly over at the dressing table, the knives – the conclusion was working over her, a simple enough one to come to, and one he was sure she would enjoy. Who was he to deprive her of such pleasure? After a few minutes, however, watching her gazing almost listlessly away from him, he understood that the silence had gone on for too long. “Why am I here?”

First, she removed the cigarette, seeming to awaken as he asked her this. She pulled herself delicately up onto the bed, shifting his belongings that she had placed in front of him for no apparent reason, and sat back on her heels, her hands resting upon her thighs.

“Because … I can’t risk you getting away, not just yet,”

“I don’t think there’s much of a chance of that happening,” he grimaced as he tried to move his head once again, motioning towards the handcuffs holding him in place. He watched as she grinned at him, momentarily, her hands sliding along her smooth, olive thighs towards her knees and back again. She cocked her head to the side again, this time examining him, his eyes, his face, the blood crusted around his nose and lips. Large patches of it running down his chest, towards his navel. His eyes followed her hands, clear nail polish and three or four silver rings with no discernible significance; she didn’t stop once she noticed him looking, pulled her hands further up towards her hips, moving them in longer motions now, aware that he was paying attention.

“You know, you look so much better in the photo, ” he didn’t quite know if his heart stopped at that moment. He didn’t feel as though there was much need in asking the question that struck him at that moment, but he did it anyway.

“What photo?” she grinned, removed her hands from her thighs, seemingly knowing it was futile to continue anyway, and lifted herself from the bed. As he watched her stretch out her perfect legs, he noticed how his own didn’t seem to work any more; as though he had lost all feeling in them. Not surprising. They should have gone numb long before. Standing there in her underwear, she unfolded a copy of the Report that he hadn’t noticed before, and his own clean face stared back at him. An accident. The photographer had been trying to get the body, and failing that, Carruthers.

“I took that mask you were wearing off shortly after you got here. I must say, detective, you do an impressive job. Why would anyone suspect you?” he didn’t need her to tell him how perfect the idea had seemed at the time. Now, not only was he wishing he had never so much as started the job, he was starting to wish he hadn’t gone into work the day after. Hadn’t gotten in the way of the photographer. He was starting to wish that he could have avoided the whole situation; he didn’t need the smug look on her face, the way she straightened up before perching herself on the edge of the bed once again to tell him where she had him.  “So, detective. Why did you do it?” he didn’t suppose that acting like it never happened would benefit him right now. He was damned if he wasn’t going to try it, though. He gritted his teeth as he spoke.

“Do what?” she leaned in. Picked up the pack of his cigarettes that had been lying on the bed and withdrew one, before placing it between her nude, glossed lips and flicked open his lighter. She took one drag, before nearing him with it.

“Why did you kill the councilor?”

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The Reading List #2

I really didn’t think I would be posting another one of these for at least a month. Lo and behold, though, here it is, in spite of the overwhelming fact that I didn’t manage to read everything on my last list … mostly due to costs.

Before I press on, though, a quick update on this; I finished The Rules of Attraction,  Snuff and Haunted in quick succession, and most likely burned myself out. I’ll probably be going through Less Than Zero on Monday – yes, my ‘Currently Reading’ widget lies! Honestly, I updated it, but sort of burned myself out … that, or I’m scared to finish my final book too soon, because that means I have to wait quite some time for more. A couple of weeks, at least.  So, Monday shall be spent reading, though seeing as the NaNoWriMo forums reset on Monday, I might get all enthusiastic about that instead, we’ll see. So, the menu for the next few weeks is:

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey – Chuck Palahniuk

I’m on a major Palahniuk bender at present – I really wish I’d delved more completely into his writing earlier. It would be easy enough for me to simply make this entire list a list of Palahniuk’s books, but I don’t think that would be entirely fair, nonetheless, the sooner I can get my hands on the rest of his novels, the better. Why Rant? Let’s just say I’ve heard some very, very good things about it from some of Palahniuk’s more disparaging critics, so that’s got to mean something, right? That aside, the concept itself seems strangely similar to something I cooked up quite a few years back (though undoubtedly, Rant is far more polished, and much more well-executed) , and as a result, I find myself with something of a soft spot for it. It strikes a chord with me.

Imperial Bedrooms

Imperial Bedrooms – Bret Easton Ellis

Have you guessed who two of my favourite authors are yet? Naturally, I’m going to wait until I’ve finished Less Than Zero before reading this, namely because both books follow the same character, at different times. In the case of Imperial Bedrooms, the central character, Clay, is middle-aged as opposed to being a teenager, hence the reading order. Every time I find myself in my local WHSmith branch, I pick up Imperial Bedrooms without having enough cash on me to afford it; it’s the only Easton Ellis book they seem to stock, which is a complete shock in itself. This may be part of the reason why I’m so ostensibly drawn to it. Imperial Bedrooms isn’t rated too highly, but this seems to be a common trend, and yet still, I’m compelled to read on. This and The Informers are my only Easton Ellis books left, and I’m determined to read them before the year is out.

Bright Lights, Big City
Bright Lights, Big City – Jay McInerney

It has c0me to my attention that I am in dire need of some Jay McInerney on my bookshelf. Where better to start than where McInerney himself started? I’m not going to pull what I pulled with American Psycho here, I don’t think – instead, I fully intend to start at the beginning and go from there. Apart from Bret Easton Ellis’ comments about McInerney in Lunar Park (and considering he was writing a pseudo-Ellis, I’m not so sure these comments were entirely reliable), I don’t know an awful lot about Bright Lights, Big City – from what I’m aware of, though, this book seems to be right up my alley. It’s been slated as ‘beloved, imitated, and iconic,’ so I have high hopes, but perhaps not so high that I’ll spoil the reading experience for myself. And, oh yeah, second person narrative. Should be fun.

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 – Hunter S. Thompson

Oh no, she’s here to gush about Hunter S. Thompson again! Damn right I am. Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of all time, and yet, I haven’t gotten around to reading this because, until recently, I was unaware of the concept. That said, from the collective works and essays of The Great Shark Hunt, I do have some idea of what to expect here, and of course, I expect quite a lot indeed. I honestly should have snapped this up much sooner. Silly me. That said, had I done that, I wouldn’t have had the chance to read The Rum Diary when I did … it’s all a little bitter sweet, really. Oh, unfortunately, I couldn’t actually afford The Curse of Lono … should make for an excellent Christmas present, though!

Slaves of New York

Slaves of New York – Tama Janowitz

I remarked to my mom recently that I’d probably fit right in in New York. I have no idea what the basis for this comment was, but anyway; Janowitz, like McInerney is an author I heard about through reading Lunar Park, and as such, the link makes me think that I’ll very much enjoy Slaves of New York. Judging simply on the Goodreads synopsis, this is another book that is very much my kind of reading material, and I’m also absolutely thrilled that it is by a female author for once! I was starting to feel very much alone in my endeavours; Slaves is now a must-read for me.

Lullaby – Chuck Palahniuk and Diary – Chuck Palahniuk

Lullaby sounds positively chilling, or the concept does. This is only one of a number of Palahniuk’s books I intend to read, as I’ve already stated many times (you can almost see the hipster stereotype starting to emerge now, can’t you?), but what draws me to Lullaby is not only its narrative, but also the fact that it is part of the ‘horror’ trilogy Palahniuk intended to write – the other two books in the trilogy being Haunted and the above, Diary. After enjoying Haunted as I did (the review was posted a couple of days ago) I’m actually rather to finish this trilogy as soon as I possibly can. There seems to be significantly more bad press for Diary than there does for Lullaby, but as I’m sure you all know by now, since when has that stopped me? I admit, I’m not so sure about the concept on this one … which I’m hoping just means that I’m likely to be pleasantly surprised by Diary.

So, that’s another list done and dusted, upon which I’ve had to severely limit myself considering there are still maybe a dozen more books I’m lusting to read right about now. It’s so painfully easy to tell that I don’t have much else to do, isn’t it?

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