Work in Progress

The first chapter for my latest work in progress. A pure first draft, but would love some thoughts on how it feels for a reader.

1

There’s classical music playing. This is Robert Landry’s first thought as his senses come back to him, thoughts appearing as if from nowhere, penetrating through the mental haze. Everything is dark, his vision not yet returning, but his ears key in on the sound, which at first seems faraway but then drifts closer.

Piano, he thinks. Someone is playing piano, and they’re damn good. He sees it in his mind, a pair of hands elegantly dancing over the keys, their touch soft but effective, producing the notes in perfect rhythm. Robert almost feels himself swaying to the tune.

Then his cognition fully reboots.

Where am I?

He didn’t remember what had happened or why he was sitting down. He was going home, wasn’t he? He had put his keys in the door and opened it, stepped inside then…

Blackness.

And now, classical music.

His head aches, and he feels the pain pulsating from the crown of his skull. He tries to move and finds he can’t; his arms are strapped down, as well as his legs and body. He’s tied to a chair, or something similar.

What the hell? he thinks, fear finally arriving to the party. He’d been too incoherent to understand the gravity of the situation before, but now the possibilities were coming back to him.

Robert opens his eyes.

The beauty of the room before him is the first thing to catch his attention, a regal sort of elegance infused into the foyer. The floors are shiny, perhaps marble, and are a decorative royal pattern. There are two large antique mirrors on either side of the far wall, followed by a series of paintings, classical portraits and baroque market scenes. A crimson red berber carpet directs his eyes to the staircase to his right, where it ascends the stairs and guides any potential visitors to the second floor.

The music stops playing.

Robert looks towards the grand piano, where a figure is seated, wearing a fine suit. The mystery man stands up and speaks in a voice that is silky smooth, but void of emotion.

“Your hands are dirty, Robert,” the man says.

Robert looks down. He’s strapped to a heavy chair by a series of belts. He gazes at his hands.

Only to find they aren’t there.

Robert stares in disbelief at the area where his hands once were. Instead, his arms each came to a stump, which had been stitched shut. While unconscious, this maniac had removed his hands.

“Oh my god!” he screams.

“That was Rachmaninoff’s Number 2 in C Minor, in case you were wondering,” the man says. “Pardon me taking liberties with my interpretation, I must admit I rarely play pieces exactly as they are written.”

“Holy shit!” Robert screams. “Where are my hands? You took my hands!” he thrashes in his restraints, rocking the heavy chair back and forth, spittle pouring down his chin as he approaches hysterics.

“Relax, Robert,” the man assures, his voice not rising a single decibel.” He reaches inside either side of his coat and pulls out two objects as he approaches. Thrashing his head side to side, Robert cannot recognize what they are until the man is nearly upon him.

The man tosses the two items into Robert’s lap. A scream rises but gets caught in his throat. Suddenly, he cannot breathe.

His hands. The man had casually tossed them into his lap. The wounds where they had been severed from his arms were sewn shut, and the psychopath had not been lying; Robert’s fingernails were shiny and grime free, even underneath. His skin looked soft and supple, and he even smelled a trace of hand cream rubbed into his skin .

What used to be his skin.

Robert lets out a cry and bucked his hips upward, throwing the hands from his body. Tears pour down his face and combine with his slobber, dripping down and staining his clothes. “Help! Someone help me!” he bellows, throwing his body as hard as he could each direction.

“No, no, no,” the man says in the tone of a patient parent as he places a butterfly knife to Robert’s throat. “If you cannot behave yourself, we’ll have to make this encounter short.”

Robert muffles his cry, tensing up. The man is close, looming over him, and for the first time Robert looks at his face.

His eyes, Robert thinks. He couldn’t think of a way to describe him. They are blue, icy blue, but so pale in color it was as if they didn’t exist at all. They are pale, faraway, detached, yet in the moment, so intently focused on him.

“Wh-what do you want?” Robert croaks. “Please, let me go. I won’t tell anyone about this.”

The man laughs. It has the vocal quality of a laugh but lacked the human element, any trace of sincere humor or joy. It is like what a robot would produce to imitate what a laugh sounded like.

“Detective Landry, this was about you and your dirty hands. I didn’t mean literally of course, but in the metaphorical sense. Taking bribes to misplace evidence? Selling drugs that had been confiscated to make your own side profit? Rather audacious of someone who is supposed to protect and serve the public.”

“I’ll stop!” Robert gasps. “That’s all it is? I’ll stop. Hell, I’ll give you the profits. I’ll give you any amount of money you want!”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the man says, shaking his head. The blade digs into Robert’s flesh just slightly, causing him to reduce his breathing. His heart threatens to pound out of his chest. “This isn’t about money, Detective Landry, this is about principle! What gave you the right to act in such a manner, to be above the laws you so enforce on others? Do you think your job gives you that sort of power?”

“What?” Robert asks. “No, I just…I just needed more money.”

“Needed?” the man asks, grinding the blade into Robert’s skin deeper. A trickle of blood zig-zags its way down his neck.

“Wanted!” Robert gasps. “I guess I wanted it.”

The man is shaking his head again. “You acted as if there would be no repercussions. As if you had an inherent right to. I’m not here to make you change your ways, detective, and I’m not here for a cut of your money.”

“Wh-what are you here for?” Robert asks, meekly.

The man smiles, and despite how straight and perfectly white it is, it’s the most horrifying thing Robert has ever seen. The plastic smile, the predatorial grin, sends icy daggers plunging into his heart, and chills radiating throughout his body.

“Call me an agent of truth,” the man explains, with a cold, vindictive sort of pleasure. “Call me the shatterer of illusions. You see, Detective Landry, your actions were so brazen because you thought you had power, you thought you had control. I’m here to show you that there’s really only one type of power in the world.”

“What do you…” Robert began before letting out a wet choke.

The man dragged the blade across Robert’s throat, slitting it and letting his blood gush out at a torrential rate. Robert’s head fell forward and the world began turning dark again. He spit up blood and began shaking violently, and just before his world faded away for good, he processed one last thing.

The man had started playing the piano again.

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Work in Progress

On Baltimore…

I’m an idiot for posting this. My only request is, if you read this Baltimore opinion, you take the time to read it straight through and process some of the twists and turns. I hope you find it constructive rather than destructive.

You will find that this opinion on the matter addresses and validates points on both “sides.” I phrase it in this manner because it appears, as it so often does with social and political issues, that people are trying to group themselves on one side or another, doing their best to solely support their viewpoint while discrediting or ignoring opposing points. This opinion touches upon rights and wrongs within both of these worldviews, and combines aspects to form my thoughts.

Here we go…

It is entirely possible to condemn the violence and looting happening in Baltimore while acknowledging the legitimate reason that it is occurring. Let me first start by expressing my view on the rioting: violence never has been, and is currently not the solution. Everyone who is causing such destruction should be condemned and held responsible for their actions. What some of these people are choosing to do is despicable and contrary to the principles one of greatest civil rights activists in the history of the world, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid forth.

However,

We must question why this violence is occurring. Anyone who thinks this is solely because of one murder is shortsighted and is missing the point. Freddie Gray was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Could so many people be inspired to violence, to chaos because of one single act? What is happening in Baltimore is a result of the frustration that comes from systematic alienation and discrimination. These people grow up in neighborhoods that are viewed as separate and lesser by society. They are not given the same educational or career opportunities. Their culture, pattern of speech, and values are looked at as lesser. Many of these people have lived through countless acts of prejudice and discrimination, large and small. Many cannot conceptualize just how dehumanizing and infuriating it must be to receive looks or hear comments on almost a daily basis. I have heard and seen so many awful things….and that’s just what I have witnessed. I cannot imagine how often some people have to deal with rude looks, comments, and assumptions, all of which that tell them they are “different.” They are put in a box and judged because of their looks. They are grouped in with the negative stereotypes the media portrays. How does that make them feel about society, about the ruling structure? Do they feel they have a voice? That they are represented? That who they actually are is cared about? That they are cared about when their schools receive no funding, when their infrastructure is crumbling?

You take people who have that lived experience in a nation with a rich history of racial violence and discrimination and one thousand percent get why they are out there rioting. They are sick of people like them being targeted by police because of how they look. They are sick of excessive force more often happening to the African American population (which, statistics say is true). They are sick of being treated as second class citizens, as less than people, and as being disposable. This is occurring because these people are fed up over years of systemic oppression and they don’t know what to do. They are mad as hell and they don’t want to take it anymore.

Now…

Because I think I understand why this is happening does not mean I condone it. Some of the people out there may be the troublemakers and vandals, just looking to take advantage of the chaos, but I suspect even most of the criminal actions are rooted in a sense of anger at the powers that be, a sense of alienation and hopelessness. We are different, we are treated as less, and we’re sick of it. We don’t know what to do besides release our anger.

This is a symptom of a broken system, of a nation that has to look in the mirror and see we still have so much progress to make. Their still isn’t equality in this nation. There still is institutional racism. We have made progress, but that doesn’t mean the work is done. There is still a long ways to go to equality in this nation. But here’s the kicker folks…

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. The media is the devil in this situation. The media portrays the only cops who use excessive force and cause deaths and rarely the vast majority who protect and serve and promote harmony. The media portrays the rioters, looters, and criminals, instead of the black community members protesting peacefully and working to clean up the city in the wake of all of this havoc.

And do you know what this does?

It continues this fucking vicious cycle that our nation is stuck in. Because people who support the system as it is and the police see images of rioting blacks destroying their town, see images of senseless violence, and use this to affirm their preconceptions. Other people see images of police officers killing black citizens and use this to affirm their preconceptions about cops and white society.

The media portrays the extremes for ratings. There is no moral obligation. Two fighting sides and two opposing viewpoints draw ratings. Shock value brings viewership.

And this is fucked up. You know why? Because we’re people. We’re Americans. So many of those cops and so many of those protesters are people with families that just want to make a living and be happy. So many of them aren’t racist and don’t hate each other, but the media focuses on those who do, and the rest of us, who aren’t involved in the situation (and may not be involved in many situations involving race) come up with armchair quarterback opinions and misconceptions based upon these portrayals, as if we can understand the plight and viewpoint of another population raised in an entirely different socioeconomic situation…

It’s insane.

MLK set an example of how to bridge racial relations, of how to lay the groundwork for cooperation and equality through dedicated protest but nonviolence. We need more leaders like him, in both the black and white communities in our nation. Leaders who are willing to reach out and understand other viewpoints and lived experiences. Leaders who are willing to rally people of similar life experiences to help foster understanding, cooperation, and joint growth. Because what’s happening in Baltimore is a travesty. The actions of the rioters are not only unacceptable and horrid, but they only further the divide and make the cause of equality more difficult to obtain. People who are unable to see or understand the plight of the African American in this nation will see these images and they will affirm their prejudiced viewpoints. I’ve already read and heard horribly racist, dehumanizing comments using the footage as “evidence.” What’s sickening about that is how it reveals the level of racism that still exists (even among whites who are not actively attempting to oppress African Americans, but still hold preconceptions) but it also shows how so much of what we think about people is based upon a skewed view of such a small segment of the population. Those rioters, those ones causing that damage, they are a product of a troubled environment rooted in a flawed system. They are not right in what they do but we must understand they don’t represent all African Americans.

So my point, put simply, is this: I do not condone the rioting occurring in Baltimore, but recognize that it’s existence indicates the failure of our social political system to ensure inclusion, opportunity, and equality for all. Violence is not the answer, and those people causing that property damage are only making this entire situation worse. They must be stopped. However, we cannot let the portrayals of these people by the media divide us further as people. Do not let images of rioters confirm racism. Do not let images of rioters undermine the real struggle faced by African Americans today. Support and love black lives and blue lives, because there are countless African Americans and police officers who enrich our great nation and make it a better place to live daily.

We are all people, but we’ve all lived in very different situations. We all have lived through different struggles and developed our own unique lenses. Take a moment to try to understand how society looks to someone raised in a different area with drastically different experiences. I’m not asking you to agree with the actions or even the opinions of these others, but I’m asking you to try to understand why these beliefs and actions occur. Once you’ve taken time to do this, don’t list reasons why people who disagree with you are wrong, instead ask yourself this:

What can I, and society do as a whole, to fix this? How do we better America? Because everything is is self serving argumentative bullshit aimed at validating one’s self and viewpoint. So many of us would rather be “right” and have the other side be “wrong” than make any tangible progress towards peace, civility, dignity, and a just society. So before you go spewing hate rhetoric towards either side or viewpoint, ask yourself if you truly have a conception of how other people are thinking, why they are acting as they are, and if you’re at all apart of the solution, or just one of the many talking heads spitting out opinions that continue to keep us divided and far away from the potential this great nation has.

On Baltimore…

The Kind Rejections are the Hardest

I’m glad they liked the novel, but being so close somehow stings even more. Gotta keep pressing on! Still 10 editors at Big 5 companies considering the novel. ”

Dear Adrienne,
Thanks for giving me so much time with this one.  I found the writing totally propulsive and readable, and I was intrigued by the Dexter-like set up, but I’m just not sure how this would fit on our list at Scribner.  Perhaps it’s just a bit too dark for my taste, though I could see the right editor positioning this in the vein of Chuck Palahniuk or Bret Easton Ellis.  So grateful for the look, and wish you and Allen Rivers the best of luck!
The Kind Rejections are the Hardest

Wood Chippers and the Meaning of Life

Here’s an excerpt from the work in progress. As our protagonist Trevor spreads the remains of a body run through a wood chipper across a field, he can’t help but ponder the meaning of existence.

“I wonder what the spirit of Bill will become as I spread his meat and guts around that field, the field that will continue to grow and leave virtually no trace of him behind. And as I take a break to stare up at the night sky and the twinkle of stars (so many of them dead, burned out millions of years ago) I have to wonder if anyone or thing cares about Bill’s fate, or any of our outcomes. I have to wonder if any of it matters or if we’re just that flash in the pan, our existence nothing more than a meaningless blip.

I stare up at the infinite black abyss.

It stares back.”

Wood Chippers and the Meaning of Life

The True Face of Beauty

I think the heavy use of make up and photo editing sets an unrealistic standard of beauty that negatively impacts women’s conceptions of self esteem and worth. These images are everywhere (we are flooded with them), and they aren’t real. What’s wrong with the human body for how it is? Women are beautiful and natural beauty should be celebrated. I want to love someone for their true face (which always has beauty!) instead of a face put on for the world. I think there should be more modeling where no make up or touching up is used…let’s all appreciate how wonderful a real, natural person is. Check out the link.

http://w0w-n0w.diply.com/thatjusthappened/victorias-secret-models-no-makeup/101122

The True Face of Beauty

Writing: Work or Play?

There’s a delicate balance to be found when pursuing a career in writing novels. We write because we are passionate, because we have a story to tell, and ideas to express. We write to inspire, to create wonder, to spread happiness. In a lot of ways, we write for us. We write to be expressed, to share, and to find a purpose, and those can all be beautiful things. I think many writers feel that surge of emotions and hope when they begin a project, those excited jitters, those feelings powered by the thoughts of what this novel can become.

But we also have to keep reality in mind.

And the reality is, if you’re really serious about it, writing is a job.

They say when you’re working doing something you love you’re never actually working a day in your life. There is some merit to this but I don’t think it’s completely true. Authors who make a living from writing LOVE what they do, but I think it’s a stretch to say they love every moment of it. I think it’s a stretch to say that sometimes sitting down and editing paragraph after paragraph isn’t tedious and draining. The author doesn’t do this because they love editing (well, maybe some weirdos do) but because they realize they have to make their work the best thing it can possibly be before it’s shipped out.

There’s commitment involved in this. A regimented process. It is hard work.

Now, some writers have writing schedules. They block out time of when to write so they sit down and work on their projects regularly. It is very much a work schedule. I am not this way, but I do make sure to constantly be thinking about my projects and finding time often to do work on my books. If the inspiration isn’t there maybe I’ll just edit what I have done instead of write, but the point is I’m making sure to go back and do SOMETHING with the work as often as I can. I don’t want to make writing a complete chore (as Palahniuk says, you don’t go sitting on the toilet if you don’t have to take a shit) but I also realize that if I am not disciplined and somewhat structured, the project may never get done or may never be as good as it could be. Every writer has their own method and balance, and it is key to find yours.

So is writing work or play?

Ideally the answer is both. We should be happy and inspired when making our works. The prospect of getting farther should excite us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sometimes force ourselves to sit down and look at the work when the mood isn’t ideal. That doesn’t mean if the spark isn’t there for three weeks we don’t look at the work in progress at all. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. You have to be involved, and in a world filled with deadlines and demands, it’s incredibly valuable building skills now. Get used to sitting your butt down and just writing. Get used to drawing creativity out of you when it doesn’t strike on your own. It’s possible. I’ve sat down thinking the last thing I wanted to do on that day was write and then pure brilliance came out.

There’s value to spontaneity, but there’s also value to structure.

Think about your projects. What you are writing and why, what you intend to do and why, and try to find your best balance. We have to work hard to produce truly magnificent works, and that is a beautiful thing. We will always be growing as a writer, and in that vein I think we should challenge ourselves to improve our craft and habits at every opportunity. I love writing, and I love how much I’ve evolved as an author, and I’m so overjoyed just thinking about how much better I can become and how much further I can go.

Love what you do, just make sure you actually go out and do it.

Peace

Writing: Work or Play?

The Waiting Game

My agent submitted my novel to editors at the Big 5 publishers, and I find myself playing a game I’m all too familiar with.

The waiting game.

Oh, that was the title, so that wasn’t so much of a dramatic reveal. Anyway…

Part of being a writer and pursuing mass publication is playing the waiting game, and growing thick skin as the tormenting silence is only broken when you feel the sting of a rejection (it’s happened to us all, and to me, too many times to count). I think it’s good to be prepared to wait and know how to deal with the anxiety that comes with it, so for what it’s worth my author friends, here’s my take.

Waiting during the query period is agonizing. I remember looking at my smartphone, checking my email every five minutes to look for results. I sent out queries in large batches (20 or so at a time) so I was expecting responses at any moment. Besides obsessively checking my email, I’d look up each agent to get an idea of their response times, and try to figure out if it was a good thing or a bad thing that they were taking as long as they were.

Talk about neurotic, I’m surprised I didn’t sprout a few grey hairs.

As authors, our works are very much like our children. They are something we create, raise, and care for very deeply. How they are taken and received very much affects our emotions, and thus, it is natural to worry so much when putting your child out there.

But obsessing that much just isn’t healthy, trust me. The answers will come when they come, and our efforts to glean the truth before it arrives only serve to drive us batty. I still am struggling with this (I just sent my agent an email the other day asking if no news was good news), so I get how difficult it can be.

My best advice? Put all that frustration and energy into your next project. Distract yourself with your artistic gift and make something wonderful come out of it. Fall in love with a new story, work on building your career while you wait to hear back. Just because one project is out there doesn’t mean you have to be on hold until you hear back. Plus, agents will be happy to hear you have a follow up project in the works, it makes you more marketable. Don’t have another idea yet? That’s fine! Work on editing a past project, write some poetry, or engross yourself in some reading (reading helps us grow as writers!) My point? Take this period and grow from it.

And you know? Rejection might be coming, but don’t let that derail you. Sometimes our current projects are just practice (Stephen King says the first million words are just practice) so if you’re putting your time in, developing new projects, and even learning how to query properly, this is all time well spent. I have multiple novels on the shelf (I tried querying all of my works) and you know, despite the fact I have an agent, two of my early works, honestly, probably will never make it out there. I love them, and am glad I wrote them (great practice) but I don’t think they are going to cut it.

And that’s okay.

As an author you will likely have a writing career, so don’t get caught up on one project. Who you are and the stories you have to tell are much grander than that. I have written 6 novels, and I only landed agents for two of them And even after landing my agent for my latest project, I’m still playing the waiting game! And still dealing with rejections!

It’s all a process, and I’m grateful to keep learning as I go on. Right now I’m preoccupying myself by diving into my latest work with great results (I’ve posted some excerpts) So this is energy well used.

And I’ll end on a humorous note. You know, sometimes it takes a long long long long time for agents to get back to you…

I just got a response on partial request I sent out to an agent…

When I sent the partial 14 months ago. For a different project. This rejection was a long long long long time coming!

Keep your chin up and keep writing friends. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on the status of Murderers Anonymous.

Peace

The Waiting Game