Prompt Me No Prompts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t understand how or why people who can’t come up with ideas for stories want to be writers. Do they really want to write but have little or no imagination? Do they think that all that’s necessary to be a writer is to come up with an idea? Do they have any idea at all how many millions of books are written that are either never read or fall into obscurity almost immediately? It would be a fascinating study to explore the many reasons why people without a single idea in their heads want to be writers. But in the end, who cares?

Scanning my usual news sites this morning, I came across an article that triggered an idea for a nonfiction book. The article itself isn’t particularly significant. I could have read another and had the same idea pop up. I think it was just a matter of timing. The subject has been stewing for a long time. I say stewing rather than something like rolling around, because it’s a rather emotional topic. It was bound to come out sooner or later, and the article was just the trigger in the right place and at the right time.

The point of this rambling rant is that this is the way my mind works. It overflows with ideas, most of which I’ll never have a chance to develop, given the state of my health and my age. But it also means that my mind is alive, that it constantly engages, even if only from a distance, with the world at large. And I suspect, now that I think about it, that this might be the reason so many would-be writers have to ask for ideas: they engage with a very narrow world that involves primarily the people they know personally, and the limited extended world that the mainstream media allows them to see.


OmniOutliner to the Rescue

Now that I’m down to the last chapter of A Perfect Slave, I’m switching some of my synapses over to A Well-Educated Boy. It’s taken forever to decide what point of view I want to use, and have finally settled on first person. The other big question mark was about where to start the darned thing. For better or worse, I’ll be using a lot of flashbacks, in order to start where the real action is, but most of them will be very short, some as short as a single sentence.

And I just had a flash. One effect of the flashbacks is to show that Harte is obsessed with the past, especially about his dead friend, Zack. I hadn’t thought of him as being obsessed, but now I can see that it’s an important part of his personality and influences how he sees the world around him. Yes, even after five years of working with this project, I’m still learning about the central character.

It’s very possible that this will be my first novel that’s developed from a full-scale outline. I don’t normally do outlines because my stories are usually straight chronologies and I can allow them to grow organically. Boy is a different kind of beast. Not only will there be many, many flashbacks, but the story will move from the main events to where Harte is, geographically and psychologically, after the main events.

I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I did finally realize that I’m not going to be able to pull together a coherent story from a vague idea of what happens when. So I pulled out my ancient copy of OmniOutliner, hoping that it still works after a multitude of Mac OS upgrades. And it does, by golly. I bought it in 2007, it’s been a few years since I used it, and I’d only used it for a variety of lists. Organizing a novel in it will be an entirely new experience. OmniOutliner has a notes feature that makes all the difference from using an old-fashioned outline. And of course, all modern outliners allow you to shift things around easily, which is probably going to happen a lot, but being able to insert notes is pretty crucial.

One reason I’ve been putting off serious work on Boy is its complexity and the potential for a lot of frustration in pulling everything together. Maybe, using the outliner, it won’t be the problem it was shaping up to be.

A Well-Educated Boy — Random Thoughts

9/5/12 — That’s when I created the Scrivener project for A Well-Educated Boy. Five years ago. It probably started as little more than a bare bones idea, and it isn’t atypical for how long I can work on a project. In August of last year, I was apparently considering devoting November to actually writing it, during NaNoWriMo . It didn’t happen, and even now, though I have tons of notes and a very good idea of how it will turn out, I’ve written only a few thousand words of possible text.

As is usual with me, now that I’m stepping into the deep waters, I’m already thinking ahead to promotion. Several years ago, I posted segments of a novel on Wattpad for a while, but found that the effort of attracting attention was just too time-consuming. Quite a few people say that there is good writing on Wattpad, but finding it is a frustrating exercise in skimming hundreds of pathetic attempts at creativity. So, making yourself known by commenting and rating can be an exercise in futility.

And yet — I still, now and then, give some thought to trying it again. The young adult audience is built in, and a recent commenter on a writer forum said that there is a significant audience on Wattpad for dystopian/post-apocalypse fiction. Boy isn’t post-apocalypse, and its dystopian elements aren’t as exciting as stories like The Hunger Games or Divergence. It isn’t an action novel, and unlike Hunger Games and Divergence, it isn’t more fantasy than science fiction. So is there an audience for a young adult/dystopian novel that is more thoughtful than action-oriented? I have plenty of time to think about it, so I’m not inclined to say yay or nay right now.

August 26 Weekend Notes

A random bunch of stuff, some of it inspired by current online reading. You’d be surprised how much interesting writing there is on the net, hidden away in obscure corners. I just read ruminations on the possible end of science fiction on a blog that barely exists (three posts, and the most recent the first one since 2014). Get it up to speed, Steve.

Steve’s post led me into stating, once again, my proclivity for reality-based SF, both as a reader and a writer. Which led to A Well-Educated Boy, which is always on my mind these days. As part of tracking its progress, I plan to write a post (sooner or later) about some of the real-life resources that I’ll be drawing on. There’s a lot of weird, and sometimes scary, stuff going on in the field of education, and most of it is unknown to the general public. I’m considering actually adding those links as an appendix to the book. It’s rare for a novel to have an appendix of any kind, but they do turn up now and then. I’m thinking specifically of Peter Watts’s appendices at the end of both of his Firefall novels: Blindsight and Echopraxia.

I recently signed up (again) for NaNoWriMo. After years of participating, I’ve been in a fence-sitting position about it for the last two or three years. I’ve gotten everything I can out of it. No, it’s still useful, if only for forcing me to really concentrate on one writing project long enough to get it done. I just don’t have time for that kind of commitment anymore. Not true; as much time as I waste (weeks spent without writing a single word), devoting 30 days to one novel is hardly a bump in the timeline.

Whether I’ll actually go through with it (I signed up but changed my mind before it even started last year) is up in the air. I want to finish editing A Perfect Slave this month, but I’m way behind. I’d like to spend September and October concentrating on A Well-Educated Boy, but I know how that kind of plan goes.

Procrastination has always been one of my middle names, and knowing that it’s at least partially due to having an actual disability in executive functioning is not an acceptable excuse. Nor is having ADD and truly serious problems with distractibility. Or the current physical problems that have more or less turned my life upside down, damn it. I don’t write for money or fame, thank goodness because they would be terrible motivators. But even writing because I have to write has trouble overcoming my neurological glitches. It’s a constant fight, and sometimes I’m just too tired to deal with it. When that happens I bury myself in reading the stacks of books I always have on hand, and they do, though not often enough, strike sparks that can get me back in front of the computer.

Sparks are happening more frequently lately, not consistently, but at least starting little fires that I can blow on and try to encourage into big, bright blazes.

A Well-Educated Boy — What’s it About?

The first step in documenting the development and creation of a novel: Tell the readers what it’s about, and how I envision it.

Boy is both a YA and a coming-of-age novel, but mainly it’s about dystopias — two of them, existing at the same time. Harte Simmons was born and grew up in one of them, a small town that, on the surface, is almost a utopia. Burgundy is crime-free, its schools are excellent, and all the adults are employed. It’s also a little unusual, in that it’s what was once called a “company town.” Burgundy is privately owned by a large corporation.

Steven Simmons, Harte’s cousin, lives in a suburb of a typical urban center. He’s a year older than Harte. The two families take turns visiting during summer vacations and holidays. Both boys have had reasons to be envious of the other’s life, but gradually they become less naive and less envious. Each town, in its own way is a dystopia, though they’re very different from each other.

This is Harte’s story, told after he’s graduated from high school and left Burgundy. He was a typical, privileged, alienated teen, certainly not a hero, but in his last two years of high school, he lost his best friend to suicide, was forcibly enrolled in an alternative school run by the corporation, and began to understand how the world works.

He lives just a few decades down the block from us. There are no aliens, no major catastrophes (this is not a post-apocalyptic novel), no world-spanning evil overlords of any kind. The technologies in use either exist right now or are in development. It’s a world that doesn’t look terribly different from our own. And that’s the central problem I have to work out. How do I show that a world that looks so much like ours is an ominous warning of the world we’re already becoming? That’s what I’ll discuss next time.


August 20 — Weekend Notes

Currently reading Echopraxia by Peter Watts. It’s the second of what may or may not be a series, the first of which was Blindsight. Watts isn’t easy reading, even if you’re a hard-core SF fan. But, plowing my way through the first few pages of Echopraxia yesterday, he hooked me with his sheer mastery of language even when I had no idea what he was talking about. The problem with Watts, is that he clearly expects his readers to be capable of serious thought. If you aren’t, then hard science that includes a future version of vampires and zombies is going to be a bit difficult to swallow.

I had planned to reread Blindsight before starting Echopraxia, but alas, I discovered that it was apparently one of the books I left behind when I had to vacate my old apartment. The losses from that epic event continue to show up now and then.

I’m contemplating a new approach to publishing a book on my blog. As I’ve mentioned before, Hidden Boundaries and Crossing Boundaries were both serialized, as I wrote them, on my Live Journal blog. That was a successful experiment, but for many reasons, not one that I want to repeat.

What I would like to do instead, with A Well-Educated Boy, is use it as a demonstration. I’ve written a little bit about it here already, with reference to structuring the novel. In response, Alicia wrote a blog post about how she uses structure. A lot of that is documented on her blog, but she’s been working on her novel for several years, so I doubt she started blogging about it right at the beginning, which is what I would like to do.

I don’t know how many readers would be interested in following the process from beginning to end, but I consider it a worthwhile project for my own edification. I’ve looked back at several of my novels and wished that I had some record of how they came about, and developed.

For those who aren’t interested in going into depth in the creation of a novel, have no fear. There will still be plenty of my weird thinking about whatever strikes my fancy.

Excerpt: A Perfect Slave, Chapter Five

Our new “home” was the Special Services Agency, which would play such a large part in my life over the coming years. After breakfast the next morning, in a dining room much smaller than the one at the Center, we were taken, without any explanation, to a small waiting room and left there. As I knelt there with the others, just as if we were in class, the differences from the Center began to be apparent. Chairs were lined up along the side walls, but it didn’t occur to any of us that we might be expected to use them. I noticed that the walls weren’t white, but a color I had to wrack my brains to remember — a soft green. Every so often, one of us would be summoned into the next room. When he was brought back out, he sat down on one of the chairs. I happened to be the last one, and observed the others’ discomfort as they sat. When I was finally taken into the other room, a voice told me to be seated.

I raised my head enough to see a large desk with a chair in front of it. I sat down on the very edge of the chair, but was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of having done something wrong. At the Center, we sat on the floor or on the benches in the dining hall, not on chairs, and I feared that this was a trick. I was so distracted by the problem that I was badly startled when the man sitting behind the desk spoke. “Do you know where you are, Shand?”

I was caught between surprise and panic. The world had suddenly become a dangerous place where I didn’t know what was expected of me. Someone had spoken my name for the first time in three years, but only to ask a question that had no obvious right answer. I was in a room in a building, but I was sure that couldn’t be what the man wanted. Would I be punished for not knowing? I might have lied, if that possibility had occurred to me, but lying was no longer in my repertoire of behavior. The man was waiting, and I had to say something, right or wrong.

I could hear my voice shaking when I replied, “No, Master.” But there was no punishment. Instead, I learned that the Special Services Agency had bought my entire group and would be responsible for finding owners for us.

“I’m Master Kenrick. I will be your counselor and placement officer. You will stay here at the agency and continue with your education and general training. I will be responsible for your adjustment and whatever new training is necessary to assure that you meet our standards and are ready to be offered for sale. If and when your owner no longer needs your services, you will return here and wait for another buyer. We will also supply whatever specialized training an owner might require.”

I didn’t understand what that meant. If they were going to sell me, this place must be a slave market. I didn’t know much about them, only what my friends from before the Center had passed around. The markets were supposed to be terrible places where the slaves were chained together, naked, for display. People would look them over, and examine their bodies, even their privates. I was accustomed to being touched and handled by my master, but the prospect of having strangers do it was frightening. I could only hope that someone would buy me very quickly.

To my astonishment, Master Kenrick began to speak about my accomplishments at the Center. The only way we knew whether we were doing well or badly in our studies had been punishment or lack of it. Now I learned that my teachers had considered me an exceptional student. There was no danger that I would succumb to pride because of that revelation. Any tendency in that direction had been thoroughly destroyed. In any case, Master Kenrick made it perfectly clear that it had nothing to do with me as an individual. I was merely a product, an admirable example of the Center’s training methods.

The next surprise came when Master Kenrick said I was free to ask him questions. Was there anything that I’d like to know? It was useless permission for someone who hadn’t been allowed to speak freely for three years, much less ask any questions. The only question I could dredge up from my overloaded mind was whether I would really be chained and naked at the market, but I was afraid to hear the answer. I expected him to be angry when I said that I didn’t have any questions. Instead, he assured me that there would be other opportunities, and he would explain anything that I needed to know.

Years later, looking back over my life, my first time at Special Services stands out sharply. Everything about it was so different from my experiences at the Center that I was in a state of confusion. But Master Kenrick did exactly as he had said. When I was able to formulate some questions at our next meeting, he answered them to my satisfaction and encouraged me to speak without fear of being punished. He even seemed to be concerned for my well-being. He was a kindly man, even though he was a slave dealer, and someone the citizens of Trusland would certainly disapprove of or possibly consider downright evil. That belief in his good intentions was a measure of my ignorance and naiveté at the time. If it had been anyone but Master Kenrick, I would have been disillusioned very quickly.

We were kept busy with classes — mostly review — and regular exercise periods, for which I was grateful. As comfortable as kneeling for long periods had eventually become, my body still needed movement. After all, I was young and full of energy. Physical education classes at the Center had focused on the development of lean, muscular bodies. Special Services made sure we remained in good physical condition. Potential buyers would want to see handsome, well-toned bodies, so our looks and physical fitness would be an important factor in our sale.

The time there was easy, even pleasant, compared to the rigorous routines of the Center. At first, I was overwhelmed by the colors and sounds, especially the sound of people speaking to each other. My master’s apartment had been only slightly more colorful than the rest of the Center, and he never spoke to me except to give me commands, or explanations, if I needed them.

After the week of orientation, we were given individual schedules and were free to come and go without supervision. That was another big adjustment. For several days, I felt lost, and was afraid of doing something wrong. We were even allowed some time for ourselves, which was another difficult adjustment, but brought me great pleasure. When I wasn’t in classes, I spent much of my free time in the well-stocked library, adding to my store of knowledge, and exploring subjects that had been ignored in the Center.

Our instructors treated us like human beings and encouraged us to discuss what we were learning. That was a learning process in itself. After three years of near-total silence, our speech was stilted and we tended to say as little as possible. For a long time, a few of the boys remained too fearful to say much, speaking only when they were directly addressed. We were even allowed to chat with one another, an amazing privilege that none of us would have expected. We came to know each other as individuals with names and personalities. Eventually, even the most timid boys began to accept that they wouldn’t be punished for speaking out. We learned to laugh, to express our feelings, to have opinions. We regained some of our humanity, but our previous training and our new instructors’ more gentle admonitions ensured that we never strayed from the standards to which we had been trained.

The Three-Act Structure? Oh. Finally Got It

I have a bad, lifelong, habit of automatically rejecting anything that I can’t understand immediately without having to work at comprehension. Very bad habit. Whatever it is that doesn’t ring immediate bells has to look as if it might be very, very interesting, or unpleasantly necessary, for me to take a second and even a third look.

So the subject of structure in fiction keeps coming up, and I keep trying to figure out why I should bother trying to understand it when structure seems to come to me pretty naturally. That might be my ego talking, of course, but everything I read about structure and the debates over how many acts a book should have, and why the three-act structure is the most natural, seem terribly abstract and unrelated to the reality of getting a story put together.

But in the midst of pondering the development of A Well-Educated Boy the other day, it hit me. Boy quite naturally and all too obviously, uses the three-act structure. So two things happened. First, I was sort of confirmed in my belief that I tend to find the appropriate structures for my books without having to give it much thought. Second, I could see how being consciously aware of the structure might be helpful as I develop the story.

Going beyond Boy as I thought about this new perspective on structure, my mind jumped to a novel I started on NaNoWriMo many eons ago and never finished. I would like very much to finish it, and I’ve struggled with it off and on over the past few years, only to end up frustrated. The problem has always been how to structure it, and intuition has failed me with this one. It has two protagonists whose stories converge and separate several times. How the heck do I tell two separate stories in the same book? I know it can be done because I’ve read book where it’s been done very well. So that’s something I’m going to have to look into in some depth. I’m not going to let myself get off-track to pursue it right now, but I can now see that a serious examination of structure might help me finish the darn thing — someday.

On another note, I plan to post another chapter of A Perfect Slave this week — maybe tomorrow.

Battle of the WIPs

A Perfect Slave isn’t really a WIP since it’s complete, but needing some final editing. I’m halfway through that, but I should be just about done by now, almost ready to publish. It looks as if it isn’t going to happen. Why? Because A Well-Educated Boy has taken possession of my mind and won’t let go.

I always spend a lot of time in preparation before I start writing, but what’s going on right now is sheer obsession, or something very close to it. Over the more than a year since Boy made its appearance as a bare-bones idea, it has morphed and grown into something far from the original, rather simplistic, concept. It’s become far more complex, and it owes some of that complexity to questions that several essayists have proposed lately.

It seems that I’m not alone in thinking that science fiction needs to pull its attention from battles that are distant both in time and place, and consider where we are now and where we are possibly going in the near future. I’m far more interested in dystopias than in apocalypse, but the majority of dystopias in current science fiction are written as if they happened more or less suddenly, and as if the entire world (or nation) is in a monolithic state against which the heroes (usually teens) must battle.

That kind of dystopia is, to put it bluntly, a fantasy. Even if we accept that certain trends may converge from many points, as in the world-wide increase in bigotry and fear about the other: people of color, refugees, gender nonconformists, etc., that they could converge into one monolithic, all-powerful government is so unlikely that its possibility approaches zero.

But those fears, taken advantage of by powers already in existence: corporations and the military, could certainly lead to localized dystopias of various kinds. Many dystopias can exist simultaneously, and function in very different way. A Well-Educated Boy will be about two of those possibilities, both of which are actually possible today, and some features of which are already in place.

We are all living in a period of serious upheaval and transition. Most of that is invisible to us because it is taking place over months and years, slowly enough that we become accustomed to what is going on and accept it as normal. For instance, in spite of increased flooding and endless warnings from scientists about sea level rise, some 60% of home owners in S. Florida are unaware of or unconcerned about it. It wouldn’t be that difficult to write a dystopia that focuses on coastal cities and the long-term effects of climate change on lives and property.

Writing this more realistic version of utopia is more difficult, though, when the protagonist is a high school student. How do I avoid turning him into some clichéd save-the-world teen hero? How do I show his gradual realization that there’s little or nothing he can do to change the world, even his limited, local world, without ending the book in a state of despair and hopelessness? What can I give him as motivation for not giving up in the face of overwhelming power?

Books like The Hunger Games and Divergent speak to young people’s need to matter in a world that has very little use for them except as consumers. But how can we expect them to be anything but consumers when heroism and rebellion are presented to them as impossible fantasies with no basis in the real world? What can we give them that will keep them from being consumed by the bigotry and violence currently showing its face in Virginia?

Publishing a fantasy about slavery just doesn’t seem important right now.

August 5 – Weekend Notes

I must be a very cruel person. I enjoy reading Amazon book reviews at least partly for the ignorance and illiteracy they often reveal about their writers. Do these people even realize that they are exposing themselves and usually coming off much worse than the author they’re trying to badmouth? Or do they care?

I also enjoy dipping into a variety of subjects in WordPress’s Reader, and noting the variety of skills, or lack of them. This morning, I’ve seen loose used in place of lose, an all too common error. It’s being used as a possessive, almost as common as dirt. But here’s one that really caught my eye: “I am very excited to announce the publication of my short story A Day at the Beach on Amazon.” Two commas would have been a nice touch, and eliminated the mental image of spending a day on the beach while on Amazon.

I take it for granted that the freedom to expose yourself on the internet applies to writers and would-be writers as well as the rest of the world. I would like to believe that everyone who aspires to be a writer is open to criticism, but we all know that’s unlikely in the real world.

On a different note, work on A Perfect Slave is coming along — much slower than I foolishly hoped — but I’m almost halfway through. It seems, regardless of my logical approach to prioritization, that the next project will be A Well-Educated Boy, in spite of being not much more than notes. If I could ever figure out why WIPs seem to set their own agendas, my life would be much less frustrating. So Gift of the Ancien gets pushed to the back of the line once again.

I’ve been exploring Bullet Journaling, which is supposed to be a supremely practical approach to the scattered sticky notes and bits of paper that are the bane of the hopelessly disorganized. Of course, that research involved hours of ignoring all the non-computer work waiting for me, but convinced me that it’s worth trying. Using the computer to keep myself organized has just not worked, no matter how many and how many types of organizers I’ve tried. Pen and paper really does work better for me because it’s immediate. Where it doesn’t work is how to keep track of all the bits of scribbles. Bullet Journaling seems to combine the best features of working on the computer with the ability to just pick up the darn notebook any old time rather than interrupt whatever I’m doing to pull the computer out of sleep mode and open a program. I have a graphing notebook on order from Amazon, which does rather piss me off because graphing notebooks are nothing special except that they’re now a big item for Bullet Journaling enthusiasts. The one at the drugstore was cheap, but only available in one size — way too big for convenience — so I’m letting myself get ripped off for a smaller one. Will eventually report on how it goes.


“Mystery.” Is That a Prompt?

What should I write about? Something about that question always gets under my skin. It’s an irritation that gets worse when the answer is a list of prompts or some discussion about using prompts. I’ve never used prompts. In fact, my attitude toward them is that if you need a prompt from somewhere outside yourself, then maybe you’re not meant to be a  writer. My brain is always overflowing with ideas because the world is overflowing with ideas. How can you be serious about being a writer — or wanting to be a writer — if you can’t figure out for yourself what to write about?

To be fair, my attitude is somewhat narrow-minded. I think about prompts in terms of lists made up by someone or other and offered as a form of inspiration. But what is that world out there, with its endless flow of subjects and ideas, but a never-ending source of prompts? What prompted this insight was one word from a post I read this morning, on a writing blog. The post was about an essential requirement for any novel or story: mystery. Any genre. Mysteries aren’t the only books that need a mystery or mysteries to keep the reader hooked.

And there, seemingly out of nowhere was a new, important detail about one of my in-progress novels. I wasn’t thinking about the novel at the time. In fact, I hadn’t thought about it at all this morning, and I’m not currently working on it. Like all my WIPs, though, it’s always simmering in the back of my mind, and there’s nothing unusual about some element being added or a problem solved, out of the blue, when I’m reading something completely unrelated. (I’ve mentioned this before.)

Why did the word mystery bring up this particular WIP and provide the answer to a question that I hadn’t even consciously formed yet? That’s a mystery in itself. Someone who appears at the beginning of the book to be an important character just fades away and disappears. I knew why he disappeared, and also knew that he will eventually come back, and why. I didn’t know when or under what circumstances, and hadn’t given that much thought. I thought I knew, but it turned out I didn’t. Because my original concept of his return was kind of boring. It wasn’t until I collided with ‘mystery’ that I even realized I needed a dramatic setting for his return, and that I had already set it up.

Oddly, ‘mystery’ isn’t a prompt in any way that we’d normally recognize. I won’t be writing about a mystery, which would be the normal outcome. Instead, what I think happened is that the word unlocked my awareness of an unstated but important problem that has been working away at an unconscious level of my mind. If that isn’t a prompt, I don’t know what is.

I’m a pretty literal-minded person, which might explain why I’ve viewed prompts in such a limited way. Maybe it’s appropriate that ‘mystery’ is the word that offered me a different perspective. It’s also appropriate that it’s still a mystery why that happened, and why it happened to one particular WIP.

Coming Soon? A Perfect Slave

Posting bits of the novel I’m currently editing will supposedly help keep my nose to the grindstone until it’s done and published. We’ll see how well that works.

A Perfect Slave is a side story to the Hand Slaves novels. It’s a stand alone novel that brings in the two major Boundaries novels’ characters for a brief cameo, but the reader doesn’t need to be familiar with them. The book expands on Carhagen’s system of slavery, and also examines the impact of a severe and rigid training system on a developing mind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My name is Shand. Just Shand. I had another name, too, a long time ago, when I was very young. For 22 years, I was a slave in Carhagen, where I was born. Then I was stolen from my master by abolitionists and taken to Trusland, where slavery is illegal. That is where I live now.

I’m writing about my life because Mistress Rima believes it will help expose the evils of slavery, and destroy it. I don’t understand how a book published in Trusland can change anything in Carhagen, but it isn’t my place to question her. She must know how that could happen. It was only a suggestion — about writing a book — but how could I refuse? She is my mistress, even if she doesn’t really own me, and in my heart, I’m still a slave. She also believes that writing about my experiences will help me understand what was done to me, and how it shaped me. I wonder what difference that would make, because it won’t change anything, but I can’t question her about that, either. There are so many things that puzzle me that it’s best for me to just trust Mistress Rima to decide what I should know and what should happen to me.

The first part of this account is about my life before I came to Trusland. The next part is about my life here, and it includes Mistress Rima’s thoughts and the thoughts of Mistress Lilian, another person who is very important to me. Please accept the humble words of this slave, along with the words of the two women I owe a debt of gratitude to for their kindness to me.

I had just turned 12 years old when I was taken from my parents and became the property of the state. For three years I was trained for personal service in one of Carhagen’s slave-training centers, and was then sold to the Special Services Agency. My training was designed to guarantee that I would never imagine or desire any other kind of life. The people who shaped me would be proud if they could see me now. I’m a free man in a country that forbids slavery, but in my heart I am still what they made me.

As I said, I don’t remember my family name, but I worked hard to remember my given name through three long years of never hearing it spoken. I don’t know why it was so important to me. Maybe it was just because it was mine, the one thing that I could hold on to and wouldn’t allow them to take away from me. I also remember that my teachers had considered me an exceptionally intelligent child. I know that they talked to my parents about my school work. They and my parents expected me to have a brilliant career of some kind when I graduated from school, and then college. Looking back, I believe it was my intelligence, and my excellent memory, that helped me preserve the tiny scrap of my identity.

I had been vaguely aware that my parents were having financial problems. I didn’t know the details, and probably wouldn’t have understood them, anyway. But my enslavement was the outcome of their indebtedness. Some people would have considered me lucky to become the property of the state, and I have to agree. If my parents had sold me to a slave dealer in order to meet their debts, my life might have been much harder than it has been.

Like every child in Carhagen, I’d seen labor slaves working on the streets, sweeping up trash, washing windows, and doing the other jobs that kept my city clean and beautiful. They seemed to be everywhere, in their grey tunics and heavy collars, their manacles and chains. No one watched over them that I ever saw, but they were chained to the carts that carried their cleaning tools, and their hobbled legs would have kept them from getting far, in any case. The chains were long enough for them to do their jobs, but also got in their way, sometimes tripping them and making them fall down. I felt sorry for them, and so did a few of my friends. But the others said that anyone who was enslaved deserved their miserable lives. It was an unspoken rule that everyone seemed to understand, that we were to stay away from them. As far as we knew they were all criminals, so maybe the rule was to protect us from being attacked. But I thought that maybe it was really to protect the slaves from us. The way some of the boys talked, I knew they would have liked to tease them or play tricks on them.

Slaves also worked in the mines and forests, and on farms. That was something we learned in school, when we were studying Carhagen’s laws and customs. But we were city children, so we had no idea what their lives were like. I thought that it must be very hard, and I was sure that I would never do anything that could condemn me to slavery.

There were other slaves, too—the hand slaves. We rarely saw them, though. They were always with their owners, and if they did any work, it wasn’t where the public would see them. They were nicely dressed, and their only restraint was the light chain that joined their hands, and the collar that allowed their owners to lead them on a leash.

School didn’t teach us why people became slaves, or that you could be innocent of any crime and still be enslaved. We didn’t learn that they were a vital part of Carhagen’s economy. For us children, they were just part of the scenery. When two uniformed men came to my school one day and took me away with them, I didn’t make the connection between what was happening to me, and those collared and chained men and women. It wasn’t until I had graduated from the Center and had been sold and returned to the Agency several times that I had the knowledge and maturity to think about it.