nano excerpt

My latest NaNo excerpt:

The Crooked Cabaret.

Three establishments, all sharing the same space and name, none of the lot respectable.

Entertainment! Singing women wore too little behind guarded doors, windows blacked out with board and paper to keep High Hope’s decency laws. There the girls wore too much makeup, and during the shows in the middle of the night they would remove their stockings and put legs up on chairs, showing glimpses of their thighs to titillate and delight a male audience. Back stages doubled as brothels– a portion of the girls sold themselves on the sides. Muscled bouncers stood guard over the doors, exterior and dressing rooms both. They were paid extra for the latter.

Alcohol! While not illegal in High Hope, the bar in the second subdivision of The Crooked Cabaret could make a man go blind, and moonshine was illegal. Not that they called it that. Not that they bought it, or had it tested– the bathtub and a second-hand water extractor was the beating heart of the establishment. Sticky floors and sticky bar stools, grubby coins and the smells of urine and vomit lingered at the edges. A few drinks of the house special, though, and none of that shone through.

Miss Polly Owens was in the last portion, nestled in the back between the two others. Near enough to hear the drunks shouting nonsense, near enough to hear the singers in their backstage rooms. Red fabric pinned to the walls, old pillows in piles– nothing more to the furniture but a few candles. Polly leaned up against her cushion and blew opium smoke from her mouth, eyes shut and peaceful. Others about did the same, all in silence. Someone sang one room over. Polly didn’t care to open her eyes, nor discern whether it was a drunk carousing or one of the ‘real’ singers. It all sounded the same after a while.

… I wonder where this story is trying to take me. It’s already ramping up to look far longer than I’d intended.


and i’ve lost my last villain

My very last villain, the most dangerous man in my cast, has moved himself neatly out of the ‘villain’ category. He’ll still carry out his part in the plot, and some of the things he’s going to try are pretty awful.

But after bidding his love interest, “I’m in trouble and I have to go. Have a wonderful life; I wish I could have been part of it. Don’t protect me,” … well. No one is going to keep him in the villain slot.

Perhaps that’s good… I’ve seen many authors declare with pride that they have no villains. I’ve always eyed them skeptically, imagining a contrived series of misunderstandings or stubborn, unbearable characters. You have to be a dang good writer to pull off an appealing villain-less story.

Why, Uriel? Why?

the villain who took over my plot

Imagine, if you will, a party of heroes trapped with Whirling Blades of Doom! ™ coming down on them slowly from above. Stone sides, no secret doors, no weapons or ‘I forgot I had these’ moments.

Suddenly, the door is kicked open! Maxwell has arrived!

Maxwell grabs his son, turns, and slams the door on the rest of the heroes’ faces, leaving them to their fate. Hey he never said he’d save them, after all.

This isn’t something that happened in my story. Yet, this is somewhat typical of Maxwell’s behavior. The greatest jerk you’d ever meet– an animated man in his late forties, armed with his black clothes, top hat and cane. A mad scientist in every way.

Since making his appearance on camera, he’s enslaved a dead man, drove through the countryside in a giant mechanical crab (terrifying more than a few farmers in the process), left my heroine to die, broken into a water factory, pulled his gun on more than a few people… only stopped short of killing because of the nice people he had to team up with.

He was supposed to be a villain. So why isn’t it working?

I can’t tear my eyes off of this guy.

nano excerpt

Maxwell’s goal was the very back of his laboratory, next to the drafting table. Uriel’s hibernation put him standing against the wall. For extra safety, Maxwell had had him strap himself into a set of electro-magnetic cuffs at the wrists, the waist, the neck. “This is Uriel.”

Samin looked the man up and down, more than a little disturbed.

Uriel looked human.

He was a big man, just about the same age as Samin if looks were to be any judge. His skin was tan, and because Uriel wore a worker’s undershirt Samin could see that Uriel was heavily muscled. His hair was black, pulled back into a knot behind him, his nose and jaw very strong. He looked like a beast of a fellow, someone Samin would want his axe nearby should he prove unfriendly. Samin turned back to Maxwell. “What is this?”

“He’s… we’ll call him my servant.” Maxwell reached around the back of Uriel’s head and tapped a button he’d installed there– a ‘kill’ switch, should Uriel ever become dangerous. Now Maxwell mostly used it as a way to shock him out of hibernation.

Uriel’s eyes opened. They were red, and they glowed slightly.

“So… is he human?” Samin asked. “I can’t tell.”

“He used to be,” Maxwell said. “I needed a prototype to resurrect after Leo died. I couldn’t try blind on my son.”

“He’s a dead man?”

“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re asking. Filched him out of a hospital morgue. There were some problems, of course, with doing it that way. He’d been dead for at least an hour, and he’s never remembered anything about his life.” Maxwell gestured with his cane brandishing it up and down Uriel’s chest. “This man can carry over a literal ton, and yet delicate enough to reassemble eggshells. Mind like a calculator, memory like a written book. A few extra toys built in here and there. I think this is the pinnacle of my life’s work.”

Maxwell walked to a control booth well away from Uriel and flipped a lever. Uriel’s cuffs were released.

“Why do you keep him locked up?” Samin asked.

“Because he’s dangerous,” Maxwell replied. “Most great artificers are killed by their own creations, you know. I mean to see that that does not become me. Uriel…” Maxwell handed him the list he had written. “I need these things. Load up the crab and ready the hatch doors.” Uriel nodded and left to start collecting things. Maxwell frowned and turned back. “Except for Leo’s personal effects on the bottom… I’ll get those.”

Maxwell seemed to have forgotten about Samin– he left him in his laboratory alone with Uriel.

Samin was fascinated and horrified at the same time. “But…” he finally said, “What is the difference, then, between what Maxwell has done to you, and what Gennyson has done to Leo?”

He hadn’t expected an answer.

“I’ll need a detailed description of what Gennyson did to the younger Gallows before I can answer that,” Uriel said without breaking his work. “But given context and the evidence of grave robbery combined with Gennyson’s history with Maxwell Gallows, I suspect Gennyson had stolen the boy’s body?”

Samin blinked. “Stole, stored, deconstructed, cobbled together badly.”

“Then the difference is that Maxwell is better at his art than Gennyson. In matters of freedom, I have more– the difference between slavery and prison, retrospectively. In situation, his was the better, as Leo continues to have allies after his remaking.” Uriel mounted the ladder at the far side and began to pull it back and forth, taking parts and pieces from selected shelves, packing them into bags for transportation.

“You’re a slave?”

“Yes and no.” Uriel hopped down from the ladder, slammed the stone floor with both feet on landing. “The technical definition of slavery is, ‘a person that is owned by another’. Now, if that definition was expanded, all machines and devices of civilization are the slaves of men, as are all beasts, pets, livestock. The question you must ask is, ‘am I human, or not?’. What is a person? Is it a mind, or a will? Can a dead man yet retain a soul? What is the elusive quality that defines humanity?”

Samin’s mouth was dry. “Do you want out?”

For a brief moment, Uriel stopped working. His voice had such intensity that Samin stepped back. “Yes.”

Samin did not interrupt Uriel again.

I love my villains.

nano practice – prologue

More writing practice! This time I’m getting an idea of what to do for the book’s prologue.

Saint Know-All’s also been prepping for NaNoWriMo with excerpts.

The pair lugged machinery across the spring countryside, mud and newborn grass, sunshine and hesitant rain, clean air and a brisk chill to the wind. Maxwell carried his cane and silk hat in one hand, a cracked leather pack of his favorite tools in the other. Uriel followed. His load was so heavy that even the large man should have struggled with the weight; Uriel only worried about keeping his footing in the sodden earth. He did not have much to his name, and covering his breeches in mud did not appeal to him.

Maxwell stabbed holes in the ground with his cane as he trudged. “How much further?” he demanded.

Uriel blinked slowly. His gait did not waiver. “Approximately three kilometers, two hundred and four meters from where you stand, master.”

“Good. My arms feel like lead.” Maxwell shifted his pack from one hand to the other, trading for his cane and hat. “Worse yet. Take this, Uriel.”

Uriel took Maxwell’s pack.

Maxwell stuffed his silk hat atop his head, covering wild black hair. They started off again. Soon, “How much further now?”

They took a break when the church spire came into view. It was a humble building, painted, then forgotten about. A simple stone angel prayed over the deserted road from the spire, the church itself infrequently visited. Its windows had been shuttered, its stairs un-swept and covered with last fall’s leaves. One last icicle clung to a corner of a crooked gutter rail.

Uriel sat on a convenient stone.

Maxwell paced, back and forth, back and forth. He stabbed the ground and trampled little plants, all the while muttering to himself. Occasionally he would turn on Uriel with questions– ‘What is the ratio of a healthy body to the blood it contains?’ (about thirteen to one, by volume) and ‘At what temperature does a body react best after coming out of cryo-freeze?’ (entirely dependant on the desired effect, but given the history of Maxwell’s work, a centigrade of ten degrees). Uriel’s red eyes would dilate in and out, then produce the answer. Maxwell kept pacing.

Uriel let the sun warm him, eyes closed, almost at peace. He stretched his arms and legs, felt his muscles flex and his gears rotate about to facilitate him.

They were one hundred and twenty-two meters from their destination now, and Maxwell was taking quite a long break for a man who was to be impatient to arrive. Finally, Maxwell stopped pacing. “He would be thirteen?”

He had not asked Uriel, but Uriel answered anyway. “Discounting the time spent during his deaths, Leo has lived approximately fifteen years, seven months, and twelve days, master.”

“Fifteen. Really. … I thought he was younger. Fifteen?” Maxwell stabbed the ground, one swift, brutal stroke purposefully aimed at a mushroom growing by the side of the road. “Well. Let’s see the boy, shall we?”

That was not a question. That was an order.

Uriel obediently shouldered both packs.

pre-nanowrimo snippet– the barn raising

Still practicing Leo– I wanted to see how he got along with his father, while I was at it.

While the four Soarin brothers danced to fiddle music and neighbors in dirty work clothes helped themselves to the food laid out on the baled hay, Leo had taken refuge in the loft above the barn proper. He could see everything from there– Merrily was laughing and clapping beside her niece, Mathew’s eldest son restrained a small herd of children while his youngest sneaked extra helpings of cherry pie. The barn vibrated with the beat of men and women clapping and stomping their feet in time to the fiddle. Noisy, dirty, enthusiastic farmers, unlike anything Leo had ever grown up with. He found himself partial to them… not their noise, or the hours they kept, or the distance from any real civilization, of course. That wouldn’t do. But there was something there, a common bond between them.

Leo didn’t see his father on the floor. He noticed this a moment before Maxwell marched up the steps, still wearing his immaculate blacks, somehow still free from dust and straw. “I see you’ve found the best place in the barn,” Maxwell said. He’d meant, of course, that the loft was as far away as they could get from the party without leaving.

Leo shrugged and glanced down at Merrily. Maybe now, or when the music died down a little. Or maybe it would be better after. But would she be tired after? She was in a good mood, but she had that niece-friend Nancy with her now, and she got to see him more than most of her extended family. He glanced up at his father. Maxwell raised an eyebrow.

“I can’t talk to her,” Leo blurted out.

“It’s a blessing. She’ll try to make you one of them,” Maxwell said.

“I don’t know if I can do the dances.”

“You, out on the floor with that lot?”

“What if I ask and she says no?”

Maxwell took a look at the girls from over the rail. Merrily with her brown skin and nappy dreadlocks was plainly visible, still in that yellow dress. Did she own any other clothes, Maxwell wondered. All Maxwell could see of Nancy was her long auburn braid, but from what he recalled she was a lot better looking. “Your mother was a pain in the ass, Leo. If you must shackle yourselves to one of them, at least try to pick a handsome girl.”

Leo didn’t even know why he was telling his father this. “Miss Soarin is the most wonderful lady that I have ever met. I don’t care what she looks like.”

As if on cue, the violin’s piece cut off and the boys began whooping. Leo turned and headed down to the ground, as if he’d only sought a quiet word with his father, aware that Maxwell was probably still looking at him with some sort of disgust. It served him right, though, for saying that about mother… but the barn was smaller than Leo had thought, and abruptly he found himself face-to-face with Merrily again. Nancy smiled at him, then cut off mid-conversation. Merrily looked at Leo, waiting, expectant.

Leo opened his mouth. “Er.”

Nancy giggled.

“You’re gonna ask me to dance,” Merrily said.

“I am?” Leo asked. He was? Was that why he came down?

“You are.” She grabbed his wrist and dragged him to the makeshift dance floor. Leo’s feet hardly kept up, stumbling after her. He looked back, most likely from some latent instinct to seek shelter in a moment of terror. He caught sight of his father instead, leaning on the rail above them. The artificer mouthed, ‘I told you so’.

Why did he keep doing this to himself? Why?