Privileged Lives – Chapter one, Part two, Linden

“Linden. Honey? You’re going to be late for school if you don’t get up now.”

Linden rolled over and looked at the clock. He’d been awake since before daylight was beginning to show, thinking about what had happened yesterday, how it just wasn’t possible for someone to change his whole life without even asking him. Like a giant hand reaching down out of the sky and just picking him up and carrying him away. Like aliens.

They’d stopped talking about it yesterday when neither of them could find anything more to say. But Linden refused to accept it. He wasn’t going to let himself be carted off by strangers to some college, who knew where. Not that he even cared where it was. Frustration and anger washed over him again, and then he gasped. Why hadn’t he thought of it yesterday?

He scrambled out of bed, threw on the same clothes he’d worn yesterday, and with only a stop to empty his bladder, tore down the stairs to the kitchen. “Mom, you have to call the school right now and make an appointment with Mrs. Kinney. We have to talk to her today. Don’t let anybody put you off because this is really, really important.”

“Your counselor?” Carrie flipped a pancake and put down the spatula. She looked Linden over with a disapproving eye. “You didn’t change your clothes and you haven’t brushed your hair. Did you even bother to wash up? You can’t go to school that way.”

“Mom!” What was wrong with her? She was acting like this was just a normal day. “What’s the point of going to school if I only have three more days? Look, maybe Mrs. Kinney knows what this is all about. She has to know something. Wouldn’t they have talked to her? She can tell us how I can get out of it, tell them I don’t want it. Call, please. Right now!”

Carrie’s expression lightened as she took in what Linden was saying. “Do you really think she could help?”

“I don’t know, but if there’s anybody that can, it has to be her. We have to try. Call her, Mom.”

                                                                *  *  *

Linden was hot and sweaty by the time they got to the school. His eyes were dry and itchy and his throat was sore. He bet that nobody was going to be going outside for phys ed today. There must have been an air alert, but neither of them had thought to turn on the news. It felt strange to be walking down this hallway with its familiar smells and sounds, knowing that it could be the very last time. It was just as strange to be here with his mom because that hadn’t happened since Mr. Charles had finally lost his temper and insisted on a parent-teacher conference.

The strangeness grew when Gus, the security guard, had made them wait outside until he got the okay from the office. He’d scanned Linden’s ID three times before shaking his head. Apologizing to Carrie for the delay, he said, “I can’t let anybody in without proper ID, Mrs. Thomas, even if I know them. You don’t have one, and Linden’s isn’t coming up. Must be some kind of glitch. Just the rules, you understand. Nothing to do with you, personally.”

Carrie had winced when Gus scanned Linden’s ID card and then the chip in his neck, and Linden wondered why it bothered her. “What’s wrong?” he asked, when Gus finally let them in and they were out of earshot.

“Nothing. It’s just the chip. I’m not used to that kind of thing. I always forget you have one, and I don’t like to be reminded.”

“Why does it still bother you so much?”

“You know why. You’re not a lost pet. The chips made it easier for them to be identified so their owners could be notified. It isn’t right for it to be used on people. Why do you even ask, Linden? We’ve been around and around about it.”

Except for the initial pain when the chip had been injected, it had never bothered him. It had been there since he was in the fourth grade. He hadn’t understood why his mother made such a big stink when the school board voted for them, and it didn’t make any sense for her to still be upset about it. Practically everybody was chipped. The only reason she never had been was because she didn’t have a regular job. She babysat for the neighbors once in a while, but that wasn’t something that required you to be chipped. He shrugged and knocked at the side of the counselor’s open door.

Mrs. Kinney looked up and smiled. “Come in Mrs. Thomas, Linden. Have a seat.”
Carrie hadn’t given  a reason when she called for the appointment, but Mrs. Kinney knew why they were there; he was sure of it. He’d catalogued all her smiles, most of them phony, but this one was the worst, and she flicked her eyes away from him too fast. She was nervous, the way she always was when he said something that he knew would throw her off-balance.

“You said that Linden has a serious problem, Mrs. Thomas. I hope it’s something I can help him with.”

Carrie didn’t return Mrs. Kinney’s smile. She laid the envelope on the desk and pushed it toward the woman. “We both have a problem. Would you look at these papers, please, and tell us what you know about this scholarship?”

Mrs. Kinney’s lips thinned. Carrie’s attitude offended her, and Linden was glad. Carrie had a way of doing that to people if she got angry enough. He saw the slight hesitation as Mrs. Kinney reached for the envelope. She shook the papers out and barely looked at them before raising her eyes to Carrie.

“I don’t understand why this is a problem, Mrs. Thomas. Linden is to be congratulated on being accepted to Merriman. The school is highly selective, and he’s only the second of our students to make the grade since the program began.”
Linden’s heart sank.

“Where is this Merriman College located, Mrs. Kinney? We can’t find an address anywhere in these papers. Not even in the letterhead. How do we know it’s real? And why would these people, whoever they are, just snatch Linden out of his school and away from his home? It says he can’t refuse to go. How is that possible? Isn’t this a free country anymore?” Carrie’s voice got louder with each question, and her face was flushed.

Linden reached over and put his hand on her arm. “Mom. Give her a chance.”

“Mrs. Thomas, please.” Mrs Kinney patted the air as if that would have a calming effect. “One thing at a time. I’ll try to address your concerns, but I have to tell you that I don’t know everything about the program, and there are things I’m simply not allowed to tell you. What I can tell you, which may alleviate some of your anxiety, is that the scholarship is quite legitimate. It’s a government program, after all.”

“I know it’s a government program. At least that’s what I read, but I couldn’t believe it. How can you even approve of something like that? My own government wants to take my son away from me! He’s just a youngster. They can’t possibly have any interest in him.”

Mrs Kinney smiled. “That’s where you’re wrong. They’re very interested in him. In fact, they’ve been following his academic progress for several years.”
“The government’s been spying on me?” Linden burst out. “What right do they have?” He clutched the arms of his chair as if he’d like to tear them off.

“Linden, it wasn’t spying. And they do have the right to track students. Especially since they’re the reason you and your classmates have been taking all those extra tests for the last three years. The government needs good minds, and it isn’t willing to depend on luck to find them. Our country’s problems are too serious. That’s how it was explained to me. The testing program is used in schools all over the country. I don’t know where Merriman College is, and probably wouldn’t be allowed to tell you if I did know, but the program is legitimate. Merriman is a real college with a real program for elite students.”

“How is that supposed to make me feel better?” Linden was close to tears. The trap was closing and he knew that none of his arguments would force it open. He knew that now. But he couldn’t just give in. “So they think there’s something special about me. So what? Does that mean I don’t have any rights any more? I still have a year and a half of school. I don’t even know if I want to go to college. I told you that a dozen times.”

He stopped dead, glaring at the woman. “That’s why you’ve been nagging at me to get my grades up.” He didn’t even notice that she stiffened with disapproval at his words. “Is it a prestige thing for the school? You were afraid they wouldn’t take me?” He stood up, his fists clenched, ignoring Carrie’s gentle tug at his hand. “Well, you can just find a way to get me out of this. Tell them I won’t go. I won’t cooperate if they take me. Tell them I’ll kill myself first. I don’t care what you tell them.”

“Calm down, Linden. I’m not going to tell them anything. I haven’t been given any details, but I do know that the program is a matter of national security. Instead of making a big fuss about it, you should be proud you’ve been chosen. Where is your sense of patriotism?”

Linden snorted. “I guess I lost it when I got that stuff.” He looked at the envelope still lying on her desk and then at the clock on the side wall. “I’ve already missed two classes because of this. I’m going to my psych class. It’ll be okay, Mom. She got me into this and she’s going to get me out. All she has to do is tell them that I won’t cooperate—ever. Go home and stop worrying.”

“Linden.” He was halfway to the door when Mrs. Kinney’s voice stopped him.

“Whether you cooperate or not, and I doubt that you’ll be allowed any of your usual rebellious attitude, you’re still going. I hope that you’ll eventually understand how important this is.” She gathered the papers together, put them back in the envelope and held it out to Carrie. “Go home with your mother. You’ve already been withdrawn from school. You’re no longer a student here.” She held out her hand. “I need your ID. Now, Linden.”

He stared at her in disbelief, then down at the piece of plastic hanging from the lanyard around his neck. Now he understood why Gus’s scans hadn’t worked. Very slowly, he lifted the lanyard over his head. He laid it in Mrs. Kinney’s hand, suppressing the urge to throw it at her, and watched her open a drawer, drop his identity in and shut it away.

“I’m sorry this is making you so unhappy, Linden. I wish I could change things for you, but there’s absolutely nothing I can do. You have to start thinking about the good side. It’s an honor, and you’re going to get the very best possible education. I know you wouldn’t have been able to go to college without a scholarship. Well, here it is. I’m very glad for you, and I wish you all the best.”

Linden turned away from the desk, willing himself not to have heard any of that. He shook his head. “No.” He was running out of air. There was a strange buzzing in his ears and he was starting to feel dizzy.

“Linden!” Suddenly his mother was holding him in her arms, protecting him from something, but he wasn’t sure what.  “Linden, honey. Look at me.”

He looked up into her face and everything came rushing back, and with it a pain that was unlike anything he’d ever felt. It was sharp and it stabbed him right down to his bones. He was afraid he was going to start crying, right there in his counselor’s office.

“Take me home, Mom, please.”

Privileged Lives – Chapter one, Part one, Linden

“Hey, Mom. I’m home. You in the kitchen?” Linden let the door slam shut behind him and cringed. She’d probably chew him out about that. He dropped his backpack on the floor and followed his nose to the kitchen. “Something smells good. Oatmeal raisin cookies? How did you know I was wanting those? It’s been just about forever.”

Carrie Thomas smiled at her gangling son and uncovered the heaping plate of cookies. “Yes, it has. It’s the first time in a while the store has had raisins, and there were only a few boxes. The price has gone up again, so I just got one box. They have to last, so try not to make a pig of yourself. Okay?”

“Okay.” Linden poured himself a glass of milk from the fridge, sat down, and grabbed a handful of cookies. “What’s all that stuff?” He nodded toward the papers spread out in front of his mother, and stuffed half a cookie in his mouth.

“A college offer. Sort of a scholarship.”

Linden washed the cookie down with a swallow of milk and peered at his mother, a line of worry between his eyes. He wasn’t sure what to ask first. Her expression was… strange. He didn’t like the smile she had on now, as if there was something she didn’t want to say.

“What’s a sort of scholarship? I haven’t applied to any colleges.”

Instead of answering, Carrie went to the sink and started washing the dishes.

Linden glared at her back, annoyed. “Mom. We agreed that we wouldn’t get into the college thing yet. I still don’t know if I even want to go. You didn’t send in an application, did you? Without telling me?” He thought about it, frowning. “No. You couldn’t have. I’d have to fill in all kinds of stuff for myself. That’s what Jen told me. They want to know what your ambitions are in life, the important stuff you did in school, like be the president of some silly club, all that junk.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you anyway, Linden.” Carrie didn’t turn away from the sink. “It just came… I mean it was delivered. By a man. In some kind of uniform.”

“ Like NUPS? A brown uniform?”

“More like a military uniform. Maybe army. I don’t know.”

“Army? Mom, turn off the water and come sit down. I hate talking to your back.”

She moved the few steps from the sink to the table, dabbing at her hands with a towel, then bunching it up as if she didn’t know what to do with it. Her expression scared him. The fake smile was gone, but now she looked almost the way she’d looked at his dad’s funeral. Whatever was in those papers, it couldn’t be as bad as her face said it was. He had to straighten this out.

“Are you sure the guy had the right house?” As soon as he said it, he knew it was a stupid question. She wouldn’t have opened the envelope if it hadn’t been the right house.

“He asked for you by name. And he knew my name. I tried to ask him what it was about, but he just handed me the envelope and walked away. I watched to see if he was going to stop anywhere else, but he got into a car parked down at the end of the block and it just drove off.”

“It still has to be some kind of mistake, Mom. It wasn’t for me. They just got the name wrong. Anyway, if I did win a college scholarship, even if I don’t want it, you ought to be at least a little happy about it. Scholarships are good things, aren’t they?”

Carrie fluttered her hands over the papers without saying anything, then gathered them together and pushed them across the table toward him.

“Mom? You’re scaring me.”

“I just don’t understand it, sweetheart. It doesn’t make sense. Maybe you can see something I’m missing, but I don’t like what I read. It says you have to leave in three days.”

Linden put down the cookie that was halfway to his mouth. “I have to leave? In three days? That’s crazy! It’s the middle of the school year. Colleges don’t do that. I’ve never heard of such a thing, and I bet nobody at school has, either. Nobody can make me leave if I don’t want to.”

Carrie bit her lip. “I hope I read it wrong, but it does seem like you can’t refuse to go. It’s a government program, so I guess they can do whatever they want.” She stood up and hovered, looking down at the papers, and then at her son. Loss and hopelessness were written in her posture, just as they’d been that horrible time before.

Linden couldn’t bear to see her like that. He forced a laugh, but even to his own ears, it sounded false. “You must have read it wrong. They probably have some squirrely language in there. Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out and then we can throw all that stuff away and forget about it.”

“I’ll leave it to you then. I’m going to start supper. Is fish all right?”

Linden’s nose wrinkled. “Is it real fish or that fake stuff?”

“It’s almost the end of the month, dear. We can’t afford real fish right now. I’m not even sure I want to buy the real stuff any more. We had to throw out the last that I bought because it tasted so awful. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh, yeah. It almost made me barf. Fix whatever you want. I promise not to complain. I can always fill up with cookies.” He gave her a big smile, but when Carrie turned back to the sink without returning it, it slipped away.

Linden looked for the envelope the papers had come in. If it was hand delivered, there probably wouldn’t be a postmark, but at least it was a place to start. But there was no return address, and his name and address were machine printed. Disappointed, he laid it aside and picked up a letter with an official-looking letterhead. It was short and to the point, and he thought it was probably like what he’d see if he did apply to some colleges. He snorted as he skimmed over the formal language. Congratulations. Chosen for an intensive two-year program at Merriman College, which he’d never heard of. An elite government program. Did the government run colleges? He’d never heard of anything like that. Very strict selection, blah, blah, blah, looking forward to having you join us. Sincerely, above an illegible signature.

He hesitated between the brightly colored brochure and the sheet with ‘Instructions’ written at the top. Whatever the instructions were, they weren’t for him. So the brochure first. He’d seen a lot just like it in his counselor’s office. Too many times, as far as he was concerned. Mrs. Kinney kept calling him into her office because she seemed to think he needed pep talks. Even though he was almost at the top of his class, she kept pushing him to work harder. It was important for him to do his very best so he’d be ready for college. It didn’t matter how many times he told her he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to college, she just kept at him. And he was only half-way through his junior year. Why was she in such a rush, anyway?

And what was the point? There was no money to pay for college, and his grades weren’t quite good enough to get him a full scholarship. Without that, he wasn’t going anywhere, and he didn’t really care. His dad’s pension, and the amount his mom had been awarded because of the company’s negligence, kept them comfortable enough if they were careful. There was usually a little left over for a few small luxuries once in a while, but college? That was just a dream—his mother’s dream. He could pull his grades if he worked a little harder, but Mrs. Kinney’s nagging just made him want to push back and let them drop instead.
His chest ached every time he thought about why they were so poor. Even if the settlement could have paid for two college degrees, it would never make up for losing his dad. He’d never said anything to his mother, and certainly not to Mrs. Kinney, but half the reason he really didn’t care about going to college was that his mom needed him.

He rubbed his finger over the brochure’s glossy pictures of smiling students in front of classical buildings. There were lots of shade trees and endless swathes of green grass. Was there any place that still looked like that? But he guessed the government could figure out how to keep the grass nice and green, no matter how bad the weather was. There was lots of stuff—with pictures—about the comfortable dorms, the library and the gym. It all looked unreal. He kept glancing over at the page of instructions. That had to be the one that was upsetting his mom. There was nothing in the brochure about having to accept the scholarship or leaving in three days.

He wanted to take everything—the envelope, the brochure, the welcome letter and instructions—tear them into little pieces and throw them in the trash. With a sense of dread, he finally picked up the page of instructions. Why had it been hand-delivered? Frantically, he he looked for an address, a state or a part of the country, realizing now that even the letterhead lacked an address. Where was this college, anyway? The instruction sheet was mostly a list, and a quick scan told him what he was already sure of. No address.

“Mom? Did you see an address anywhere? Like the name of a town where the college is?”

Carrie had gone back to washing the dishes. She put down the dish in her hand, but she didn’t turn around. “No. I didn’t even think about it. It must be there, somewhere.”

“It isn’t.”

She turned then, and looked at him with that strange expression. “I suppose the people who are going to pick you up will tell you.”

“Pick me up?”

“Yes, didn’t you read that part? It’s near the bottom of the instructions, I think.”

She made an attempt to smile.

“I’m just about to read it.” The weird shivery feeling that had been growing while he hunted through the papers was starting to become a queasy roiling in his stomach.His mom was acting just like when they found out his dad was dead. That fake smile, and her voice without any expression in it.

The instructions didn’t even take up the whole sheet. It was impossible to misinterpret anything. He couldn’t refuse the scholarship. He had three days to settle his affairs at home. He wasn’t allowed to take anything with him. Everything he needed would be provided by the college. He would be picked up early on the morning of the fourth day and would be escorted during the entire trip.

He grabbed the brochure again and tore through it, looking for something that he couldn’t possibly have overlooked if it had been there. There was nothing about vacations, about visits home. Not even summer vacation. He sat back and stared in front of him without seeing anything. His mind had been processing all the little details and the missing pieces, and now it all came together in a terrifying way.

He’d been recommended by an unknown person, for a scholarship to a college in an unknown location. He wouldn’t be allowed to refuse, and he would be taken away from his home and his mother in three days. He almost laughed, but it choked before it turned into sound. He was going to be kidnapped. No matter how he turned it around, trying to see it from every possible angle, that’s what it really was. Don’t be a dope. Nobody gives you advance warning that you’re going to be kidnapped. You’re just dramatizing again. That’s what Mom would say. But he couldn’t convince himself. If someone could just come and take you away, that was kidnapping.

He knew, when he looked up at her, that his expression must be as bleak as her own. She’d been waiting for him to find the way out, and he hadn’t. He stood up, wanting to go to her, but he couldn’t get his legs to move.

“I don’t want to leave you, Mom. I can’t.” It was true, but not what he wanted to say, if only he could get it out in the open where he could see it. Then, all of a sudden, he did see it. “How do we even know this is real?”

“What do you mean? Of course it’s real. Look at it. I don’t want it to be real, and neither do you, but if it isn’t real, what is it?”

“A hoax, maybe? A really nasty practical joke? If it was real, why would they hide where this college is? And why would they do it this time of year and only give me three days?”

“But why would anyone play a joke like that? You don’t have any enemies at school, do you?” Linden shook his head. “How could anyone hate you—or me—enough to do something so awful? Maybe it’s a top-secret program and they can’t tell you more until you’re in it.” She smiled hopefully, just long enough to see that Linden wasn’t convinced. “I guess that does sound silly, doesn’t it? Like one of those ridiculous espionage movies.”

“It feels like…” Linden shut his mouth. He didn’t want to say the word. His mother would panic if she really thought he was going to be kidnapped. And it was such a wild idea, anyway. He couldn’t really believe it, himself. But there had to be some explanation. “Never mind. Forget it. I had an idea and then I realized how crazy it was.”

“Are you sure? Sometimes those weird ideas you get turn out to be right. Tell me, Sweetheart.”

Carrie looked so hopeful again that Linden forced himself to smile. “It really wasn’t anything worth thinking about any more. Do you want some help with supper? I wouldn’t mind having mashed potatoes, and I’ll even peel the potatoes.”

Carrie gave him a look that said she wasn’t satisfied. But she wouldn’t argue with him. Not until supper was over, at least. Maybe by then he could think of something to make this all go away.

“Okay. You’re on potato duty.”

The Tide Rolls In, The Tide Rolls Out

The energy tide, that is. I’ve had to take several breaks from the revision of Privileged Lives, but I’m down to the final chapter today. A lot of tightening up reduced the word count enough that I’ve been able to build up weak areas without making the book longer. 93,000+ words is a good length to maintain. Next will come several editing runs, then spell check, a round or two of ProWritingAid, and a final proofread. The cover is still ahead, with the first viable idea since I wrote the darn thing.

Oops. I was going to start serializing it yesterday. Fibro fog or just old-fashioned forgetfulness? Since the first two chapters introduce the two protagonists, Maybe I’ll post both those chapters this weekend. Nope. They’re both around 5,000 words, so I’ll have to split them.

The renewal notice came up for PWA the other day, and it was somewhat alarming to realize I’ve had it for a year and only used it for one book. The cost was probably more than I earned all year, so I’ll have to keep that in mind from now on and get more work finished. Which I intend to do anyway.

I’ll be so glad to get this novel out of the way. As usual, new ideas keep nagging at me along with the WIPs that are demanding my time.

Serializing Privileged Lives

Back when I was active on Live Journal, I serialized my first novel, Hidden Boundaries. It worked out pretty well in most ways. I got some very helpful critiques, and when I finally polished it up and published it, there were actually readers waiting to turn into buyers. Granted, the book fit nicely into a fairly big niche with a lively community on LJ. It appealed to readers of slavefic, most of whom want sex in their stories, so my deliberate avoidance of the usual cliché tropes of slavefic and the near-absence of any sex, and that only suggested was a bit risky. But I wanted to challenge expectations, and present slavery in a somewhat more realistic way, even though it still took place in an unlikely alternate universe.

A lot of the serial readers were oblivious to the ethical aspects of the book, and loved it mostly because they could cry over the protagonist’s sad plight. Still, it was satisfying that some readers did see what I was getting at. The book was fairly successful by my very low standards, and still picks up a sale now and then. I’d probably shudder if I ever read it again, but at least it would be cheering to know that my writing has improved considerably since then.

Blogging here is very different from Live Journal, and I have no idea whether serializing a novel would work. But since it’s being pretty extensively revised and edited, it would be nice to get some feedback to learn what’s working and what isn’t. Future sales would be nice too, but that isn’t something I would count on — maybe as an extra bonus.

So I’m giving serialization very serious thought right now, if for no other reason than curiosity. How would it work out? I’m thinking two posts a week, which should be enough to keep up readers’ interest. Some of the chapters are pretty long, around 5,000 words, so I’d split those.

Editing, Kitty Adoption, News

The revision of Privileged Lives is going well, although stuff got in the way yesterday and I only did about two chapters. Still… Cutting the fat, expanding scenes, combining chapters, all on the way to a final rewrite. It’s down to 29 chapters, from 38, and I’ll probably combine several more before I’m through. It’s kind of amazing how much I’ve learned since writing it back in the Spring of 2011. And it’s hard to believe it’s been hanging around that long. This is one of those cases where you have to decide whether a book that’s never sold more than a few copies is worth overhauling. It might still languish unread, but it’s worth it to me.

The “stuff” that got in the way of book work yesterday, was one of the massive shopping trips I go on almost every week with my son. Usually, it’s two grocery stores and one or two thrift stores. Yesterday’s started with the local Humane Society. I decided a month or two ago that I missed having a fur ball, so I kept checking out the photos on the HS site. The cat I’m adopting is a ten-year-old orange female who might not have found another owner at that age. She wasn’t exactly abused by her previous owners, but they put her in their basement because of their little kids (no details on that except her inability to cope), and lived down there for a year. She’s still skittish, but didn’t have any trouble with my petting her, leaned right in, in fact, so I think she’ll be fine once she settles down. We’ll probably go in tomorrow to sign the adoption papers and take Stella home.

As part of getting my life somewhat normalized, which used to mean being owned by a cat, I’m cutting way back on the news. I’ve accepted that things are mostly going to get worse as the new “president” lays about him with an axe handle. There’s nothing I can do about it except put my little bit of money where I hope it will do some good. I made a second donation to the Standing Rock Sioux this morning, even though I know that particular battle will probably be lost.

RESIST!

94,000 Words in a Day

It’s possible that my WIPs live in a universe of their own and impose themselves on me as they please rather than according to any decisions I may have made about which ones are the most important right now.

It apparently didn’t matter that I’ve prioritized more current work for completion and the process involved in getting to publication. One of my early novels, which has had almost zero attention from the reading public, shoved its way to the front of the queue yesterday. It had been handing out warnings, which I ignored, believing that I had entered a new phase of my writing life in which I could limit myself to a few reasonable tasks and actually complete them in a timely manner.

Instead, I spent Saturday reading through Privileged Lives and Other Lies, doing a bit of editing here and there, but mostly just noting the areas that need work. Yes, I read a 94,000 word novel in one day, and at the end of the day I wondered how I’d managed it. I’m a fast reader, but even so…

This novel has been a huge disappointment to me, because for the most part, it contains some of my best writing. That, in spite of having a couple of real problems that I simply didn’t face at the time. And it has a terrible cover, one of my first. And I didn’t know at the time I published it, that it fits in the young adult category. And, and, and…

I’m still stuck about the cover, but I know what needs to be done to bring the novel up to my current higher standard. I just hope that it persists at banging on my door until it’s satisfied.

Simple Website for My Books and Stories

I really need to create a website where the emphasis is on my published work. I did this once before, but hated my design, and didn’t think about it again. I have a pretty good idea of how it should look and could do it either with one of the WordPress templates, or by using a site like Wix. The main question is which is more likely to be seen. It might be good to get out of the WP environment into a new one. But using the same tags and meta description, would one be more visible than the other?

Any suggestions? Your experience?

From Pillar to Post

I’m trying very hard to get over the feeling that I’m being thrown from wall to wall in a room that is somewhat padded, to make sure I don’t accumulate broken bones. Broken mind, not so much. In any one day, I swing from pillar to post, thinking I can get back to writing again, and then wondering what’s the point when everything is tumbling into a black pit without a bottom. These are the days when any sign of cheer is more than welcome, though it’s impossible to avoid the notion that anyone who’s the least bit cheerful has to be either oblivious or crazy.

I wonder what our non-US readers are thinking. Surely, they’re shaking their heads in amazement and disgust. Who would have thought that one man could do so much damage in such a short time? It’s enough to make me want to keep my head under the covers and never, never get up

But then there’s this from Chuck Wendig: This is a Test of the Emergency Broadcasting System 

This weekend there came a moment when I thought, I am ashamed to be an American. But then I thought back to the Women’s March, and I think to all the people I know who are active and engaged, and then I realized: I’m not ashamed to be an American. I’m proud of Americans. I’m ashamed of my government. I’m ashamed of this administration, not of the nation it leads. Ten days in and the president is the most unpopular president in history. It proves that you are not alone. We are not alone. And if we make it out of this — if we can stop this bubbling septic shit-stew from boiling over — then we will have been delivered a timely and necessary reminder that our democracy is not shallow, but deep. That it is not simple, but complex. That even in its pillar-like presence, democracy is vulnerable and demands vigilance and the foreknowledge that axes and rot can still bring down this beautiful tree.

And  this, from Literary Hub: Entering Scoundrel Time: a new literary site takes on Trump.

This past Monday, January 30, Paula Whyman and Mikail Iossel launched Scoundrel Time, a literary site dedicated to combatting the greed and evil of our new president. I asked Paula Whyman to take me through their ambitious and hopeful endeavor. More than anything I wanted to be convinced that any literary activism—really, anything at all—can work against such a looming catastrophe.

Maybe it’s hopeless to think that ordinary people can prevail against a cabal of people without compassion, or even the intelligence not to cut down the tree they’re sitting in, but the only other choice is to sit back and watch it happen.

The Root of Human Conflict

War. Genocide. Slavery. They have been a dominant part of human history for as far back as we have any records. Despite the harsh reality of our past, and the ongoing current conflicts, we insist that the human race has progressed, has moved toward a more peaceful world of co-existence with each other. Despite the new potential for more, and more damaging, conflicts teetering on the horizon, we maintain a delusional belief that, in the long run, all will be well.

Science fiction plays its part in undermining that delusion, but it also supports it. Space opera is usually based on a belief in human superiority over alien races as an unquestioned assumption. It assumes that these alien races are a danger to us and that we must wipe them out. How many fans of space opera even realize that, explicitly or implicitly, these novels are a metaphor for how the average human actually thinks?

Certainly there are novels in which humans and aliens come to some sort of understanding and even manage to achieve a peace that may or may not survive the many stresses that naturally occur, as between nations. But the breakdown of peace is another theme.

There is no end of speculation and theory about why this is so. Humans are naturally violent, etc., etc. Two novels, one science fiction, which I just finished, and the other literary fiction, which I’m still reading. coincidently explore a concept which is not new, but is rarely discussed in any context having to do with conflict, whether it’s between individuals or nations. It’s the idea that we are incapable, as a species, of seeing others from any viewpoint but our own.

In Gordon R. Dickson’s classic, Way of the Pilgrim, earth has been conquered by a race that is human in many ways, but utterly and completely alien in all the ways that count. The Aalaag have made slaves of the human race, which they consider their cattle. Shane Evert, the pilgrim of the title, is called Shane-beast, and so are all humans called: beast. The Aalaag do not learn any human languages, and depend on a small corps of talented translators, including Shane, to communicate for them, but only to give orders. When improbable mass gatherings around the world convince the Aalaag that the cattle will never be tamed and they will thus never achieve the peaceful and productive use of Earth that they anticipated, they prepare to leave.

In the last conversation between Shane and his former master Lyt Ahn, the alien tells Shane that humans are not worthy of the benefits the Aalaag tried to bring them. It’s the summation of the way in which the Aalaag have, from the first, looked down on humans, and disposed of them as casually as you would dispose of a useless or sick animal. Treat your cattle well, but weed out the sick ones. To the Aalaag, the uprising isn’t a sign of courage, it’s a sign of sickness.

In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan uses the building of the Thailand to Burma Death Railway by slaves, including Allied prisoners, some 12,000 of whom died during that insane effort, to illustrate the inherent blindness of humans to any but their own reality. The Japanese overseer can’t understand, to start with, why the captured men (Australians, in this case) didn’t kill themselves rather than allow themselves to be made prisoners of war. Further, he can’t understand why they aren’t willing to see their suffering and death as a privilege that allows them to fulfill the Emperor’s wishes and erase some of the shame of their capture. In that suffering and death, he sees honor rather than horror.

From a review of Narrow Road:

Flanagan pulls us right into the minds of these men raised on emperor worship, trained in a system of ritualized brutality and wholly invested in the necessity of their cause. It’s a harrowing portrayal of the force of culture and the way twisted political logic inflated by religious zeal can render obscene atrocities routine, even necessary. The novel doesn’t exonerate these war criminals, but it forces us to admit that history conspired to place them in a situation where cruelty would thrive, where the natural responses of human kindness and sympathy were short-circuited. And in its final move, the story makes us confront the conundrum of evil men who later become kind and gentle under the cleansing shower of their own denial. How infinite are our ways of absolving ourselves, of rendering our crimes irrelevant, of mitigating the magnitude of others’ pain.

The enslavement of the human race by Aalaag conquerors is fiction; the construction of the Death Railway during WWII was real. Flanagan’s father was one of the survivors.

Burning Down the House

The Talking Heads said it. No need to elaborate.

Hold tight, wait ’til the party’s over
Hold tight, we’re in for nasty weather
There has, got to be a way
Burning down the house

Here’s your ticket pack your bags
Time for jumpin’ overboard
Transportation isn’t here
Close enough but not too far,
Maybe you know where you are
Fightin’ fire with fire, huah

 

Short Break from Long Stuff

I just started a revision and expansion of Refuge, one of my short stories. It’s currently around 4,500 words, and I hope to get it up to between 6,000 and 7,000 words. Why, when I’m trying to get Bentham’s Dream finished, am I veering off again? There’s certainly some burnout here–really good progress for a while, and then the wall. Maybe jumping from getting Camp Expendable out of my hair right into another big project wasn’t a good idea.

One reason to switch off is the nagging need to publish, to start making up for the last two dead years. Even a short story is a right step in that direction, and it can be done comparatively fast. From that point of view, it can relieve the pressure to get Dream written and published as fast as possible. Fast doesn’t work for me, so some downtime is never a bad thing. As long as it doesn’t turn into nevernever time. I’m always going to be switching back and forth between projects, but maybe using a short story for burnout breaks will keep me from switching to one of the long WIPs and keep me on target with Dream.

I’m thinking all this through as I’m writing, and I think I see how spending some time with short stories might break into my dysfunctional pattern of jumping constantly between novels, which just delays finishing any of them. That’s probably a big contributor to that period of publishing nothing at all. So a new pattern would be: work on a novel or novella until I reach burnout. Take time out with a short story, and then go back to that novel or novella. Repeat until publication.

It could work. Something has to work, before I’m too old and feeble for it to matter any more.

Orwell Would Be Proud

Or maybe jealous. It’s all over the internet today, the “President’s” puppet’s new take on truth: alternative facts. I hope someone’s collecting the 21st century additions to Orwell’s Newspeak. We’re probably going to be seeing a lot of that kind of thing.

Did anyone seriously think that the man would suddenly turn presidential? That his people would gently coach and guide him in his role? Did anyone expect that the very first press conference of the new administration would be a series of blatant lies? If you were surprised by any of this, you haven’t been paying attention.