A Perfect Slave, the Final Stretch — Excerpt

I’ve done everything I can do to improve A Perfect Slave. Now it’s up to ProWritingAid to winkle out all the little details I’ve overlooked. Twenty-two chapters won’t be done in a day. I’ll give it three days, and use the breaks to create the cover and write a blurb that will be irresistible. I’m way overdue on my own deadline, but since I didn’t drag it out too unreasonably, I’ll celebrate by offering one last excerpt.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

I served him [Master Chanow] for three wonderful years and I thought I would stay with him always, but he betrayed me. I have no right to use that word or to feel that way, and it isn’t how I thought about it at the time, but living in Trusland has changed me. I’m sure Master Chanow thought he was doing the right thing, that he was acting for my benefit. At least, that’s what I was told later. But I did come to see it as a betrayal.

My master was not only kind, he sensed what I needed and kept a firm hand on me. I grew to be fond of him and thought of him almost as a friend. He trained me in his profession, architecture, taught me drafting, how to read blueprints, how to make materials estimates, and much more. Maybe I learned too well, given what happened.

He told me many times that I had a talent for the work, and it bothered him that I could never have a career, or work in any capacity other than as his assistant. He would give me assignments to work on at home while he was at away at his studio, and during the last months, we worked together in the evenings, constructing a model for a new building he had designed. It was a fantastical thing of graceful arches and floating pavilions that looked as if it would be beautiful and terribly expensive.

He wouldn’t tell me the purpose of the building, promising that I would find out when it was complete. I loved working on it with him, cutting the tiny pieces of wood to exact measure and gluing them in place. Helping him create something that might become a reality in the free world was deeply satisfying. Then, one evening, it was finished. I expected that now he would finally tell me what it was for, but he said that I would find out the next day. I was disappointed, and also sad that we wouldn’t be working on it together any more. But there was also the thrill of anticipation. I would learn what the building was to be used for. And maybe we would also be starting on another such project soon.

He prepared to go to work as usual the next morning, and just before he went to the door, he pointed to the model and said “It’s a sacrifice. Whatever happens today, I promise you’ll be all right. Good luck, Shand.” It was the last time I ever saw him.

I remember just standing there, staring at the closed door with my mind spinning in utter confusion. A sacrifice. His words didn’t make any sense, but they made me apprehensive. It was so different from anything I would have expected from him. Why would anything happen? Something was wrong, but I couldn’t get hold of what it might be. I walked around the table that held the model and tried to find some meaning in its being a sacrifice. As I worked on the day’s assignments and the household chores, I kept trying to puzzle it out. ‘Whatever happens.’ ‘Good luck.’ There was a sick lurch in my stomach when it hit me. He was going to sell me back to the agency! Why? What had I done wrong? Why hadn’t he told me… something, anything?

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of anything I had done that would make him angry enough to sell me. Or was it a lot of little things that he let build up until he was too disgusted to want me around anymore? He hadn’t acted any different toward me lately, not that I could remember. I tried to give up thinking about it because I didn’t want to Master Chanow to see that I was upset when he came home.

An hour or so after midmeal, I was walking around the model, thinking about all the work that had gone into making it and imagining what it would look like when it was built. It gave me a good feeling to think that a little part of me could be out in the world someday. Maybe Master Chanow would even take me to see it. I heard a noise at the front door and went to see who it was. It was unusual for that time of day, but I didn’t have any reason to be worried about it.

Before I reached the door, there was an enormous bang and it was smashed open. I was so stunned at the sight of three men in uniforms that I couldn’t even move as they burst into the house and went straight to the workroom. One of them pushed me out of the way and stood at the door, keeping watch, while the other two starting sweeping books from the shelves onto the floor, and scattering blueprints and sketches everywhere. Then, to my horror, one of them brought his fist down on the model and sent the delicate pieces flying in every direction.

Kickstarting (Kicking) the Muse

If I really had a muse, I’d be kicking its ass, trying to wake it up and encourage it to do its job. With health issues sapping my energy (mental as well as physical), I’m getting kind of desperate. I need to be writing. I want to be writing. But most days, writing isn’t happening. It’s partly my own fault, of course. Any sensible person would have no more than two or three WIPs underway, and even if they skipped around between them, progress would probably be visible.

But who ever accused me of being sensible? Well, I’m trying to be, so I picked out six WIPs out of the wild jungle of infinite numbers, and I’m going to let them battle it out for further attention. Only six? you say. Nothing sensible about that, but it’s what I’m going with — for now.

I’m hoping that somewhere in the process of figuring out how to evaluate them, and then doing the evaluating, a spark will leap up and I’ll know what to do. Yup. Sure.

In no particular order, here are the six I’m considering for immediate action and publication.

A Perfect Slave is technically the third Boundaries (Hand Slaves) novel. It’s finished, but could probably benefit by one more run-through. I sent every copy, including backups, to digital oblivion, thinking I’m through with slavery fantasies. But it won’t leave me alone, so I dug it out of the Time Machine (thank you, Apple).

Privileged Lives and Other Lies is not only finished, but published. It’s hardly sold any copies, but I can’t give it up. I’m almost finished with a thorough revision. If I choose it, I’ll shorten the title to Privileged Lives, and create a new cover. Does it make sense to republish an old, unsuccessful book when there are so many new ones waiting in line? Good question.

Gift of the Ancien is somewhat vampirish, probably the most mainstream novel I’ve written, and potentially the one most likely to sell more than one copy a month. It’s complete, but needs a massive revision that threatens to drown me every time I look at it. It’s also one of my oldest pieces, so there’s this nagging pressure to get it out there.

Empire of Masks has been kicking around in my head for several years, and on my computer, collecting notes. It’s another slavery fantasy, but mostly about a society gone amuck and, like A Perfect Slave, rescued from digital death. With only 1,000 or so words written so far, it’s the least likely be finished any time in the near future unless I abandon every other WIP and concentrate on it exclusively. When have I ever concentrated on one book exclusively? Only during NaNo, and I don’t think I have what it takes to do that again.

Bentham’s Dream is a prison story dear to my heart, but unlikely to attract many readers. It’s depressing, for one thing. Half to 3/4 done, with the hardest parts still ahead of me.

A Well-Educated Boy takes up most of my imaginative daydreaming lately, but I’m only a few thousand words in, and there are critical parts that still aren’t coming clear. Set in the near-future, it’s a look at two possible co-existing dystopias not so different from today’s realities. It might do well, since it’s basically YA.

So this is me, thinking out loud, and now looking back at what I just wrote for clues to the way ahead. Nope. Not yet. But it’s a start.

Privileged Lives — Chapter three, Part two, Linden

Linden sat in numb silence between the two soldiers. The statement that they had a plane to catch didn’t make any impression. He hardly took note of the long ride and the way it was taking him farther away from his mother with every minute that passed. That all came later.

But there was finally an end to the trip, at least that part of it. They got out of the car and walked from an almost-empty parking lot to an almost-empty airport waiting room. Linden started to wake out of his stupor and looked around. The place didn’t look anything like the airports in movies. The waiting room was small and he could see the airfield from the big windows. There were no big passenger jets, just one small plane, looking lonely and, somehow, ominous. Sharing the waiting room with him were more soldiers and a few kids his own age. A soldier with a clipboard in his hand, walked over to him.

“This Linden Thomas?” At a nod from one of Linden’s guards, the man made a mark on the clipboard and said, “We’re all here, then. I’ll let the pilot know we’re nearly ready to go.”
Linden became aware that someone was staring at him. When he lifted his eyes to the huddled group of kids, he saw three girls and three boys. One of the girls was crying. One boy’s eyes were suspiciously red and swollen, and he glared at Linden as if he was to blame for their being here. Or maybe he was making them late. He didn’t know and he didn’t care. He clenched his fists and glared back, then walked over to a seat near the wall. The soldier with the clipboard stepped in front of him. Instead of the clipboard, he was holding a metal bracelet.

“Hold out your left arm, son.”

“Why?” Linden asked, the spirit of resistance suddenly raising its head. It was much too late, but it made him feel alive for the first time since he’d walked away from his home. “Suppose I don’t?”

The soldier closed his eyes, mumbled something and then gave him the expression that adults gave kids who were being annoying. “It won’t get you anywhere, you know. Just give me your arm.”

Linden didn’t move. He watched the man’s hand reach for his arm. Watched the bracelet being put around his wrist and heard the snap of a catch. It wasn’t his arm, he decided. He would simply refuse to accept that it was his arm, encircled by a bracelet of cold, hard metal.

“It’s a temporary ID, in case you’re wondering. It’ll be removed when you get your permanent ID.”

The hand let go of his arm and he let it drop. It took with it the brief flareup of rebellion and the cold numbness returned. When a door opened a few minutes later, Linden followed the others out onto the tarmac and up the metal steps into the sleek two-engine plane. He’d never flown before, and a little voice in the back of his head kept trying to tell him he should be excited. He let himself be directed to a seat, let the drone of the engines lull him. He ignored the voices of the soldiers in quiet conversation, and the sudden cry from one of the girls: “I want to go home,” and the sobbing that followed.

He dropped into a shallow doze that was broken just for a few seconds, every now and then by a raised voice. The first bump when the plane hit an air pocket jerked him fully awake, panicked. But no one else seemed alarmed, and he allowed himself to drift off again. Vague thoughts floated through his mind and disappeared. He should look out the window and see what the world looked like from up here. He should pay attention to what was going on around him. He should remember all this so he could tell his mother about it, later. The thoughts faded and he slept again. Suddenly, it seemed to him, they had arrived at another airport and were leaving the plane. There was another long ride, in a van this time, with the other children and the soldiers who’d been on the plane with them. The slamming of a heavy metal gate finally brought him out of his daze. He got out of the van with the others and found that they were surrounded by buildings that said ‘college,’ but it didn’t look anything like the pictures in the brochure. We’re here. Wherever here is. The van drove off, and the soldiers who’d come with them headed to another part of the campus.

Eight adults stood in front of the small group. One was a tall man in a uniform that was much fancier than the ones the soldiers had worn, and with shiny decorations on the shoulders. He stepped forward and ran his eyes over the seven children. “You look tired, youngsters. It’s been a long trip and I’m sure you’d like to rest. I’m Major Cornwell, provost of Merriman College. I want to welcome you as the latest members of this year’s class. And the last to arrive.”

Linden stared at him, trying to work out the meaning of the uniform and the rank, and everything suddenly clicked into place. He shuddered. If this was a military academy, he wasn’t going to survive. He’d failed his high school’s compulsory cadet training program quite spectacularly. They’d thought it was just a bit of childish rebellion, that he would give in eventually, but he hadn’t. He refused to wear a uniform. He refused to march. He refused to learn the commands or the stupid pledge that they were supposed to recite. He’d won, as far as that was possible. He had to attend, but he’d been allowed to sit on the sidelines while the other students drilled. He was sure that failure here would be get him more than reprimands and a bad grade on his report.

“I’m aware that not all of our students are pleased to be here when they arrive, but that will change, I assure you.”

I’m not the only one. I bet none of them want to be here. The major confirmed every hateful word of the instructions, every word from Mrs. Kinney’s lips. He’d been tracked, like an animal, and all they had to do was wait for the right time to capture him. He’d never had a chance. Maybe some of the students were proud of having been selected. Maybe they even liked it here, but he would never be one of them.

The major waved his hand at the other adults and stepped back into the line with them. “These are your tutors. They will also be your advisors and, we hope, your friends. They will be sharing your quarters, and their first job will be getting you settled in. Tomorrow, they’ll accompany you to the orientation for the incoming class.”

The tutors were dressed identically in exercise clothes, in shades of gray and black. They each carried a clipboard, and it didn’t take a genius, Linden thought, to figure out that the new students’ photos were right on top. The adults knew exactly who was who. They introduced themselves and led their charges away, all heading for the same building, chatting as they went. Linden’s tutor was a man with a sour face and stiff posture. He certainly wasn’t the one Linden would have chosen if he’d had a choice. He wondered briefly if he’d ever have a choice about anything, ever again.

“I’m Tobias and I’ll be your tutor and advisor for the next few months.”

He didn’t looked pleased, and the introduction was so abrupt that it took Linden a second to register that the man had walked off without offering his hand, obviously expecting him to follow.
Exhausted, hungry, and expected to accept as his tutor and advisor—and friend—a man who clearly wasn’t happy to see him, Linden dawdled, letting himself fall behind. If he got lost in the building, Tobias could just come and find him. He was almost disappointed to find the tutor waiting for him inside, his arms folded, disapproval coming off him like a heat wave.

“You’re going to have to learn to move a lot faster than that, young man.”

“I know how to move faster,” Linden snapped. “I just wasn’t expecting to be treated like a dog on a leash.”

Tobias had started toward a stairway. He stopped and spun around. “Let’s get one thing straight, right now. I’m not going to put up with any insolence. My job is to keep you on track with your studies, and that’s what I’m going to do. You don’t have to like me, but I expect a minimum of courtesy.”

“That would be a lot easier if you showed me some.” Linden put his hand out and leaned against the wall, suddenly dizzy. He shook his head to clear it, and with the last of his energy, he said, “I just want to be treated like I’m a student and not a prisoner.”

Tobias stared at him, then turned around and went toward the stairway, at a slower pace. “It’s only one flight,” he said, without looking back.

The hallway at the top of the stairs was bleak, with a dozen or so doors on either side before it turned a corner. “This floor in this wing is for new students. There’s a print map of the building and the campus, next to the stairway, and it’s also on your computer.” Tobias put his hand to a plate next to the last door on their right. “Put your hand here and let the building register your identity. Your hand print lets you in and out. It also keeps a record of exits and entrances.”

Linden was too tired to ask why, and Tobias didn’t volunteer the information. He already had the feeling that Tobias wasn’t much of a talker and wasn’t going to tell him anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. How was he going to find any good in this situation if he had this antagonistic man hanging over him all the time? He stopped in the now open doorway, appalled. He could see the entire place from where they were standing, in a small bedroom that was the center of the apartment. The bed was just a few feet in front of him. The rooms were small, efficiently arranged, and as cheerless as the hallway. With the exception of the white walls, everything was in shades of gray, even the bed covering. The light from the window above the bed didn’t do a thing to brighten the place up.

“Is this your bed or mine?” he asked Tobias, who seemed to be waiting for his reaction to his new home.

“Yours. My bed is in there.” He pointed to the room on their left.

Linden took a few steps in that direction and looked in. The space was even smaller than his own, and just as dreary. But what gave him an unpleasant feeling in his chest, was that though the beds were separated by a wall, there was no door. Neither of them would have any real privacy. The room to the right of the entrance, a study, also lacked a door. It had a worktable with a computer and two tablets, two chairs, and a few shelves on one wall. It was also the route to the bathroom. That did have a door.

Linden scanned the corners of the rooms, where the walls met the ceiling. “Where are the cameras?”

“There are no cameras.”

Linden’s sarcastic mode, so much a part of him when he was in school, took over. “So my dinky little school in Nowhereville keeps an eye on every twitch, but here I’m in the heart of the machine and there are no cameras?”

“I told you, we don’t need them. And I’m part of the machine, so I suggest you watch how you speak to me.”

“Really? I thought you looked kind of like a stiff. So why no uniform?”

“I don’t wear my uniform when I’m serving in this function. We’re usually short regular tutors because the student body is growing quickly. Support staff has to fill in until . . .”

“Until what?”

“Until none of your business,” he snapped out. Go take a shower and change your clothes,” he added, leaving Linden with one more thing to think about. “You’ll feel better. I’ll take you down to the cafeteria afterwards.”

“I don’t have anything to change to.”

Tobias pulled open a drawer in a low chest that spanned the room from the doorway to the wall of his own bedroom. Linden hadn’t noticed it before, and he wondered what would fill so many drawers.

“My clothes are in the drawers at my end of the room. Yours are in the middle section. The rest are for towels, sheets, etc., and winter wear.” He pulled out a pair of what looked like yoga pants, a pair of boxer briefs, and a long-sleeved henley, all dark green, and tossed them on Linden’s bed.

“Everything’s green.”

“That’s right. Freshman green.”

“I don’t like green.”

“Then go naked,” Tobias said, his voice sharp with annoyance.
Linden decided that from now on he wouldn’t ask Tobias anything that he could figure out for himself. He picked up the clothes and went to find out what the bathroom was like. Like the rest of the apartment, the bathroom was utilitarian and not an inch bigger than necessity demanded.

There was a shower, but no tub. The floor and shower enclosure were tiled in white and shades of gray. “Great color scheme,” he muttered. “Nobody will ever be able to tell if the place needs to be cleaned.”

He avoided looking at Tobias when he came back out. A quick glance had been enough. He wondered whether the anger had anything to do with him, or was just part of the man’s personality. “The clothes fit okay.”

“Of course, what did you expect? Let’s go.”

Linden followed silently, keeping his head down. He didn’t want anyone to see that he’d been crying. He’d sat on the shower floor letting the water pour over him until it started to cool, and he remembered that Tobias was waiting for him. Tobias would expect him to eat. Tobias would expect him to get up in the morning, and he didn’t know if he could do that.

Privileged Lives — Chapter three, Part one, Linden

Chapter one starts here

Linden lay on his bed, not moving, trying not to think. They’d walked home in silence, and as soon as Carrie closed the door behind them, she tried to put her arms around him. He’d managed not to cry before, but her comfort was more than he would have been able to resist. He pushed her away, ran upstairs to his room, and shut the door. Two or three times, as the afternoon passed, he heard her walking quietly up the stairs and coming to his doorway. She waited a few seconds each time, and then went away again. He was making things worse for her, and that made him feel guilty, but he didn’t know what to do about it.

He didn’t think he’d miss school too much, but he couldn’t imagine his life without his mom. When would he see her again, and how would she manage without him? She depended on him for so many things since his dad died. He couldn’t leave her to manage on her own, but he couldn’t think of any way to keep it from happening. He thought about running away and hiding, but they might keep coming back and, eventually, they’d find him. And they might do something terrible to his mom if he disappeared.

It was almost dark when the spicy smell of sausage came floating up the stairs. Reluctantly, he let his nose lead him down to the kitchen.

“Mom! What are you doing? You said we can’t afford that sausage anymore. We’re going to be eating beans and rice the rest of the month to make up—. Oh!” The pain went through him again and his knees went so weak he was afraid he’d fall down. The words came bursting out, an agonizing flood that he couldn’t hold back any longer.

“I can’t leave you, Mom. You’ll be all alone. Who’s going to help you if your asthma gets worse, or you get sick? Who’s going to fix the sink if it leaks again? Those people… they don’t understand that I can’t go, no matter how important they think it is. I’ll talk to them when they come. I’ll explain everything and they’ll go away and leave us alone.”

“Hush now.” Carrie’s arms were around him, and he clung to her as if it was the last time. “They probably know everything about us, not just your schooling. They’re not going to listen. They’ve been watching you for years, without us even knowing, and now they want you. You heard what Mrs. Kinney said. The government needs good minds, and you have a marvelous mind. They’ll educate you and then you’ll find work that can help make this world better. That isn’t such a bad thing, is it?”
Linden shook his head frantically. “I don’t care about that, Mom. I just want to stay home with you. And I want to finish high school, even if most of my classes are boring and my teachers are idiots.”

“Baby, I want that too, but things change and we have to learn to accept them and make the best of it.”

Linden usually hated it when his mother called him Baby, but this time it sank into him with such warmth and sweetness that he nearly cried. It reminded him how she always tried to find some good in whatever happened, no matter how bad it was. The only time he’d known her to fail was when his dad was killed at work. For a little while, he thought she’d accepted it, but when she finally broke down, he’d realized she just hadn’t absorbed the truth, that his dad wasn’t ever coming home, that they would never see him again. She’d clung to him for a long time after that, hardly letting him out of her sight whenever he was home. When he left for school each day, he’d look back from way down the block and see her standing on the stoop, watching him walk away from her.

He couldn’t go, and that was that. He was afraid of what she might do if he left her alone. They’d never talked about it, but he’d known that she wanted to die back then, during that awful time. This wouldn’t be the same, but he would be older and different when he came home for a visit. And she would be different too. Even if she was okay and managed without him, it would change her.
But she’d already changed, hadn’t she? He’d never have his mother back again, just the way she’d been before they were left alone to take care of each other. The silly things she loved to say were mostly gone. She avoided talking about things that really mattered. Right now she was more like her old self, telling him it would be okay, that they’d find a way to make it okay. This wouldn’t be okay though, not ever. How could he let their little family be torn apart and make something good out of it?

“I’m still going to try to talk them out of it when they come,” he insisted. “It may not do any good, but I have to try.”

“Linden, please don’t. You know you’ll get upset, and that will make me upset, and then, when you have to go, that’s how we’ll both remember it. It’s breaking my heart, but I’m trying to look at it the way Mrs. Kinney said, that it’s an honor. You were chosen because you’re so brilliant. You’re special. I’ve always known it. Now someone else does.”

Her pleas were weakening Linden’s resolve, but he shook his head. “I don’t care if it’s supposed to be an honor. They can let someone else have it.”

Carrie let him go, took a step back, and sighed. “Let’s not talk about it now. I fixed everything you like, and you need to eat instead of working yourself into a tizzy. Please.”
He watched her scoop a huge portion of the stir-fried rice and sausage onto his plate. He wasn’t hungry, but she clearly expected some reaction, and the smell that came wafting up to his nose was irresistible.

He took a bite and tried to smile. “It’s delicious, Mom, just like it always is, but you shouldn’t have spent the money.”

“It wasn’t that much.” She looked almost happy now. “I bought plain ground pork and added the spices. I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but it’s almost like real sausage, isn’t it? I wanted to surprise you. Is it really good?”

“It’s great. I don’t know how you do that—make ordinary stuff into something that tastes so expensive. Now we can have it more often.”

He dropped his fork as his words came back at him like a physical blow. When he looked up, he saw the misery in his mother’s face. There wouldn’t be any more meals like this. He stood up, kicked his chair back and ran up to his room. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. The words rolled around in his head until he fell asleep, his pillow soaking up the last of his tears.

It was still there when he woke up the next morning: this can’t be happening. Only two days remained before his life was over. Misery swamped him and he pulled the covers over his head. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. But it is. He threw the covers back and sat up. He was still determined to fight when the time came, but if he spent the last two days making them both miserable, he’d always regret it. Even if he had to put on an act, he’d try to make his mom feel better about the honor. He didn’t want her last memories of him, for however long before they saw each other again, to be a sour face and complaints.

When he padded into the kitchen, still barefoot and in his pajamas, and saw her face, he knew he’d made the right decision. The dark circles under her eyes and the tight lines around her mouth reminded him of that day. The cup of coffee she was holding reminded him of his first and only taste of real coffee. His dad had splurged and bought her a quarter pound of the real stuff for her birthday. Linden had been allowed a sip and had reacted with disgust. How could something that smelled so wonderful taste so awful? His mom and dad had both laughed at him.

What was in her cup now wasn’t the real stuff. It didn’t even smell like it. He wished he could buy her some before he left. But even if he had the money, where would he buy it? Months ago, there had been a news story about how almost all the coffee trees in the world were dead now, of some disease they didn’t know how to stop. Two big corporations had bought up every bean that had been produced for the last few years. Now only rich people could afford real coffee. There were other things you couldn’t get in grocery stores anymore, but that was the only one he really cared about. And chocolate.

“Morning, Mom. What do you want to do today?” He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her cheek. “Let’s do something we’ll both enjoy. I promise, no more moaning and complaining. If I have to go, I’ll do my best to make you proud of me.” He wanted to turn his face away, afraid she’d see right through the lie, but he let her look her fill, and was finally rewarded with a small smile.

“Okay. I’m sure we can find something that will be fun. But first, how about some scrambled eggs for breakfast?”

“You know I can’t stand that fake stuff. Just toast is fine, and milk, if we still have any.”
“Well, then, how about real eggs?” A smile spread over her face. “Mrs. Compton’s chickens are laying well right now, and she sold me a half dozen.”

“Really real?” Linden threw his arms around her again, and the hug she returned made him want to never let go. “The good sausage last night and real eggs today—it’s going to be harder than ever to leave.” He tried to make it sound like a joke, but couldn’t quite manage it.

“I want you to have good memories to take with you, hon, things we can both remember.”

She was working so hard to keep the smile going, and Linden promised himself he’d do everything he could, to keep it there for their last two days together. “And I’ll tell you all the good stuff that happens at college.”

“Right,” Carrie said. “Promise you’ll let me know as soon as you get there. Or as soon as you can. I guess that’s one of the things you’ll have to find out about—keeping in touch. And vacations.”

They did their best to make the short time memorable, but sometimes the masks slipped. More than once, Carrie tried to keep her back turned to him, but he saw how red and swollen her eyes were.
She suggested that he say goodbye to his friends. “They must be wondering what happened to you.”

“What friends, Mom? I’m one of the outies. Besides, if anybody even noticed I wasn’t in classes, they’d just think I had a cold or something.”

“What about that girl… Cyndy? The one you’ve been helping with her essays? I thought she was a friend.”

Linden laughed at the idea. “She isn’t a friend. She doesn’t even like me. I think she hates that I can write A papers and she can’t do better than a C-. Mr. Shaw assigned us to work together, otherwise, she probably wouldn’t come near me.”

“Oh, Linden, I didn’t know it was that bad. Why haven’t you ever talked to me about it?”

He shrugged. He wished she hadn’t brought it up. It was too late for it to matter, and it was the kind of thing that just made her sad. “There wasn’t anything to talk about. You couldn’t have done anything about it. It isn’t anybody’s fault. It’s just me. I’m not super friendly, and I don’t like the things they like, so they think I’m a snob.”

Carrie sighed and took his hand. “I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe going away to this college will be a good thing. If everybody’s picked for their brains, maybe you’ll find some friends there.” She patted his hand absent-mindedly. “It doesn’t make up for you being dragged away like this, but if some good can come out of it…” She sighed again. “I just feel so helpless?”

“I know, Mom. But it will be okay once I get used to it.” It was one more lie, but if it made her feel better, he’d lie from the time he got up in the morning until he went to bed.

The last evening was the hardest. They watched a movie that they’d seen more times than they could count, but that always made them laugh. Linden lay with his head in his mother’s lap, and was horrified when his laughter turned to hysterical tears.

Carrie brushed her fingers through his hair, over and over, making soft shushing noises and murmuring, “It’s okay love, it’s okay. Just cry it out. We’ll be together again, maybe soon. The holidays are only a few months away.”

When he could finally find the breath for speech, he tried to apologize. “I wanted it to be nice this evening. And I’m too old to be crying, anyway.”

“You’re not too old, love, and if there was ever a good time to cry, this is it.”

“I am too old. I’m almost 16,” Linden protested, and felt a movement against his head that, if he’d looked, would have been Carrie trying not to laugh. But he would also have seen tears threatening to spill down her cheeks.

They were still at the breakfast table when the knock at the door came. Linden had been picking at his food, hating to waste it, but too tied up in knots to tolerate either the smell or the taste. His heart began to pound heavily and he felt like he might vomit. Carrie put her fork down and got up from the table, very slowly, as if she was in a daze. Another knock and Linden jumped up, trying to put himself between his mother and the door.

Carrie took him by the shoulders and gently moved him aside. “You promised, Linden. Don’t make this harder than it has to be, please.”

The words had no life behind them, just like the last time she’d sounded like this—after his father’s death. “I’ll let them in, Mom. Stay here.” He wanted to tell her it would be all right, but he couldn’t get this last lie out of his mouth.

There were two of them, in uniforms that looked military and sent a vague sense of alarm through him. He stood there, gaping, until one of the men said, “Linden Thomas?”
He nodded and backed away from the door, right into his mother. He leaned into her as she put her hands firmly on his shoulders. “You’re here to take my son away from me?” Linden was surprised to hear anger in her voice, rather than sorrow or pleading.

The man closest to Linden flushed slightly. “I’m sorry, m’am. Those are our orders.” Then, to Linden, “It’s time to go, son.”

Linden’s arguments, the protests he’d intended, died. These men had no power to change anything, he realized. He was just a job they’d been given. He turned and buried his face in Carrie’s shoulder. Wrapping her arms around him, she held him tight. “Mom,” he murmured, his voice shaking. “Mom.” He couldn’t find any more words.

“Go on, Sweetheart. You’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. Make me proud. I know your dad would be so proud of you if he could be here.”

A large hand on his shoulder pulled him gently but steadily away from her. “Let’s go, young man. We have a plane to catch.”

He didn’t really know how it happened, but they were suddenly halfway to a black car parked by the curb before he turned around for a last look. Carrie was standing on the stoop, her face blank, her hands gripping her upper arms as if she was holding herself together. When she saw Linden look back, she lifted one hand and waved to him. Then he was being pushed into the back seat of the car. With a soldier on each side of him, the car glided quietly away from everything he had ever known.

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.

By George, I Think She’s Got It

I’ve never been able to say how many times I go through a WIP to edit it. In my usual disorganized fashion, I might do several chapters, leave it for days and weeks, and then try to go back to more or less where I left off. The result, I’m sure, is that some chapters haven’t had enough eye time, while others have been worked down to the bone. Scrivener has been my long-time helpmeet, keeping me more or less organized, but it can’t do everything.

I’ve sworn, over and over, that at least one readthrough has to be from page one to the last page, without distractions. But I’ve never accomplished it — until this week. I tried different methods, including reading Camp Expendable on my Kindle, but that never worked out — for one simple reason, I now realize. I couldn’t keep myself from doing the editing as I read. On the Kindle, that means making notes for every highlight because you can’t edit on it. If there’s anything more distracting than making notes on a Kindle, I haven’t discovered it yet.

I’m not one to give up, though. (stubborn, pig-headed, slow learner) The secret — cue the trumpets — is to highlight the trouble spots and just charge ahead. That leaves me with the obvious problem of remembering exactly why those highlights are there. But once I’ve spotted a problem, it isn’t really that difficult to go back and realize what it was. So, I am now the proud possessor of a novel which I read straight through in three days, doing nothing to distract me from getting a good overview.

There are probably well over 100 highlights, which is a discouragingly impressive number considering how many times I’ve been through the novel, weeding out clumsy sentences, poor word choices, etc. But it’s also encouraging. I only found two or three actual typos, and one continuity problem, so that really isn’t too bad for a length of almost 78,000 words. Most of the work to be done involves fleshing out some of my usual bare-bones sentences, and restructuring others. I’ll also be adding one short scene which, if I’m very lucky, won’t introduce a whole batch of new problems.

With all those highlights to guide me and keep me on track, maybe I’ll actually have the damn thing completed to my satisfaction within the next few days. But haven’t I said that before? Stay tuned.

In the Home Stretch

I’m down to the last chapter of Camp Expendable, writing new material and editing at the same time. It was a last-minute decision to break this chapter off from the previous one, which would have been an absolute monster in size. The chapter also picks up from the open end of the previous chapter and finishes everything off neatly. But it’s only about 1,400 words, while the rest are anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 words. And there’s still stuff to be said.

I was just reading a blog post by another writer, about the left side/right side concept of where the brain comes up with the creative stuff. He knows as well as I do that the brain isn’t actually divided as neatly as that, but it’s a handy way of thinking about it. I don’t see myself as terribly creative, and since my approach to writing has a strong logical slant, maybe I’m either predominantly left-brained but still manage to squeeze out stuff that’s moderately creative, or I’m straddling a tightrope in the middle. That could be why it’s easy for me to create and edit more or less simultaneously.

That’s what I do during National Novel Writing Month, while all the other experienced writers are screaming about how you have to kill your editor, or at least shove it in the closet so it doesn’t get in the way of churning out those 50,000 words. Not only is it easy and natural for me to write that way, I’d probably go nuts if someone told me that I absolutely wouldn’t be permitted to edit until the whole thing was written. The result is, that while everyone else is bemoaning the pile of crap they have to show for 30 days of sweat and agony, I have something I wouldn’t be ashamed to show around — if I were the kind of person who likes to show my work around.

Different strokes, folks. And the blog post is: The two brains of the writer (or really any person/artist)

It Isn’t Procrastination. Really

So much for the plan to edit at least two chapters a day. That intention triggered a several-days long period of no editing at all. Or maybe it wasn’t a trigger, just as matter of coincidence. At least I have a believable excuse, thanks to Ruth Harris. It isn’t often that attempts to classify people work out very well, for instance: pantsers vs. planners. It just isn’t that simple. But her little list of three types of writers defined by their working speed and habits hit my ‘yes’ bump.

The post: Speed Kills, or Does it? is subtitled How to Write Fast(er) without Going Bonkers. It’s a far cry, thank goodness, from those assurances that if writer Speedy can churn through 5,000 words a day and produce a complete, edited novel in six weeks, then you can do it. And should. Because Harris says that you need to know your own working style, whether it’s steady, spurt, or sprint. You’ll have to read the post for her explanations of steady and sprint, but spurt hits me right where I live. “Spurt workers tend to write in extremely productive bursts. They also need a few days off to regroup and catch up with themselves between intense writing sessions.”

Yes, yes, yes. It’s nice to have a name for it rather than berate myself for quitting just when I seem to be getting ahead. It’s another of those areas where I blame myself for personal characteristics that are built in. The idea isn’t to use that as an excuse, but to understand it and allow myself room to write in the way that suits me best. And of course, that includes editing, formatting, and even designing book covers. Editing can be very satisfying when it’s going well, but it takes such intense concentration that it burns out the brain synapses in a way that the actual writing usually doesn’t.

I can wish my style was ‘steady’ but every time I’ve tried to set up a reasonable schedule, whether for writing or editing, I’ve totally failed. My brain just doesn’t work that way. In fact, it isn’t steady at anything. I suspect that it stems from my need for constant variety in most areas of my life, and a brain that seizes on one thing at a time and exhausts it in a big blaze. Steady is boring, says my brain, and I’ve learned that there’s no point in trying to argue with it.

Today, I’m back at work editing Expendable. Two are finished. I should be able to get one or two more done by the end of the day. I’d like to continue that pattern for the next four days, and get to ProWritingAid  Tuesday or Wednesday. But it probably won’t happen. Or maybe it will. But I’m not procrastinating. Really.

The Never-Ending, One and Only Draft

Came across a moderately interesting review —Track Changes — of the book of the same name, on how the change from typewriters to computers has changed the way novelists write. Some writers still use typewriters, and a few write by hand. And of course, there’s mention of early criticisms that word processing would, in some way, degrade literature. I imagine that one topic is covered pretty thoroughly in the book.

What really stood out for me was just one line: “Philip Roth and Zadie Smith have both said the computer has done away with drafts: they edit as they go, saving over earlier versions.” That, quite frankly, was awesome, because I do exactly the same thing and have been working that way for a long time.

In discussions about novel development (or development of any book, but mostly usually novels) drafts are always a hot topic. How many drafts are optimum? How many drafts should I write? How many drafts do you go through? I never get into those discussions. What am I going to say, “I write only one draft?” Horrors! That has to mean I don’t care about grammar, construction, story development, or any other aspect of writing.

If I say that I just keep writing over the first draft, more horror. What if I cut out something I later realize I want to keep, and it’s gone? There are two ways to deal with that possibility. 1. If I’m really in doubt about cutting out some material and then regretting that it’s gone, I stick it in a text file called “Fragments.” Scrivener makes it very easy to do that. Or, what I’ve switched to doing instead, I can add it to “Fragments” in the floating Notes feature. The advantage of using Notes is that I can keep it onscreen, rather than having to jump between the “Fragments” text file and the chapter text file. There was a time when I just stuck the deleted text at the bottom of the chapter, but that messes up my word count if I’m keeping track of it.

2. The other way to make sure my golden words aren’t lost forever is to take a snapshot of the chapter as it is at that moment. Snapshots are another clever feature of Scrivener, but the truth is that I’ve used it only once, just out of curiosity. Snapshots are, though most people probably don’t think of them that way, another way to back up your material. Since I save to Dropbox, and have an external drive just for backups, plus thumb drives, when I remember to use them, that would be a bit of a redundancy on top of redundancies.

When it comes right down to it, though, over time I’ve developed the attitude that there are multiple ways to write a scene, a chapter, or an entire book. In a sense, writing a novel in a word processor is like playing with Silly Putty. Your ideas are plastic, always changing, always capable of being reshaped. To make the best use of the power of writing digitally, your mind also has to be plastic, willing to let the past evolve into the new.

If nothing else, you don’t have to deal with the clutter of all those old drafts that you’re probably never going to look at again.