Monday Monologue #3 – Zodiac, The Signs of The Villains

Thanks to my wife I am spending significant time thinking about Zodiac signs this week.  Most of my characters don’t fit any specific, given sign and I am wondering if including some of these traits would expand their reality for me.  I don’t mean to sound like I don’t know my characters – I have spent so much time working with their personalities that I can often spot them in crowds as I go about my day.  My question is more about enhancing them.  I certainly have a couple that could be fluffed up a bit and made less flat.  I have spent more time with my favorites than I probably should have and am feeling a bit guilty about that.

It’s tough for me to fully flesh out a character that I don’t care for.  It’s kind of like trying to show compassion or love to a spider.  They don’t seem to give a damn whether I like them or not so my efforts go mostly unrewarded until I reach the end.  Once my creations are released to the world and I find that most people flat-out dislike my antagonists as much as I do is when I feel my efforts were successful.  The idea of giving them an actual Zodiac sign, something that all people have, gives me a small, knot of worry.  I fear making my villains too human.  If they are too understandable are they less hateable?  Is it truly necessary to have everyone hate them?

I’m going to work with this idea a bit and see what happens.  I don’t want to love my villains but I should at least be able to relate to them.

Saturday Snippet #3

“Why are you driving on the wrong side of the road!”  Dad’s voice brayed at me in alarm from the passenger seat.  My ever obedient reflexes snapped my head toward him as my foot released the accelerator.

“It’s a one way street,” I said.  My forearms tightened defensively as I pulled the Jeep’s wheel to make the turn.  Dad strained against his seat belt like a six year old on the verge of a tantrum.

“Bullshit!”  He spat the word at me as if it tasted bad in his mouth.  “There’s no such thing as a one way street.  Why would anyone make a street that you can only go one way on?”

I couldn’t help but gape at my father in shock while the Jeep coasted along the urban road.  When I looked at him I could see my own face, heavily lined with a fern-like spray of gray hair on the crown.  His eyes, diamond chips of anger right now, were the mirror of my own gentler, blue ones.  The thin, wasting skeleton, buried inside the black, wool coat mom and I had bought him for Christmas two years ago, had once been an imposing frame of muscle and radical demands.  This hostile, little man with his quickly emptying memory, was my future.

Monday Monologue #2

So, I continued to struggle with my MC for a couple days longer before getting the idea to write something about him in first person as opposed to the third person I am using for my book.  Lo and behold, the man had thoughts!  I wrote a small piece of his backstory, one of the events that is directly responsible for why he is the person he is.  I am astounded at how much of him I discovered.  The piece will probably not be included in the finished book but, I’m not sorry to have done it.  It was such a learning experience for me.

I find myself wondering if I applied this exercise to a few of my past MCs if it would change the way I wrote them?  I might try it when I get a bit more time.  Right now I feel like I’m up to my ears in things to do between book and blog and living my life.  All the things I want to do have to be fit into the empty spots between the things I have to do to keep my life heading in the direction I want it to.  Seems like an infinite loop, eh?

On to a more direct question.  While I have not gotten my manuscript to a readable form just yet, I am wondering about the appropriate time to start developing cover art?  At some point I will have to have it.  Should I make it myself or make use of a service?  I’m really scratching my head here.  I’m somewhat inclined to do it myself since my photo shop skills are, what I consider, reasonable but, if I make it and think it’s great and it’s really garbage then I’ll be stuck with garbage.  See the problem there?

One last thing before I run off into the sunrise… I hope everyone had a happy Valentine’s Day.  We set out for the local Walgreen at 5 a.m. the day after for observance of the Half-price Chocolate Day on the 15th.  I highly recommend this observance. 🙂

Saturday Snippet #2

Ethel dug her parched hands into her purse, shoving aside her green, faux, lizard wallet with its floppy clasp to get a grip on the small envelope beneath it.  She pulled this out and leaned toward Margery as she opened the flap, exposing the neatly clipped coupons inside.

“I have one for three dollars off that good coffee in the red can.”  The papers stuck together.  Ethel dabbed her forefinger on the tip of her tongue and used the dampness to separate them.  “See?  This one here.”  Pulling it out of the envelope she displayed it to Margery.

“I don’t think I got one of those.”  Margery opened her own purse, a white, boxy looking bag with hard handles and plastic pearls adorning the exterior.  Many were missing, their absence leaving the stained, muslin-like fabric exposed.  She removed several items and set them on her lap.  No envelope for her, just a thin stack of raggedly torn coupons trapped together with a silver paperclip.  Before removing the clip she raised a hand to her head, digging a finger beneath the edge of her gray wig to scratch in a quick motion, like the paw of a vole with a ticklish twitch.

“It was in the Sunday paper,” Ethel said helpfully.  Her eyes watched Margery’s finger as it dug at her skin.

“I got the paper.”  Margery left her wig a bit worse for the wear along the itchy edge and began laying her coupons out along the wooden arm of the chair separating her from Ethel.  She barely flinched when the nurse called her name from the check-in desk.

“The doctor can see you now Mrs. Kline.”

“I didn’t get the coffee coupon though.”  Margery stared at Ethel.  “I wouldn’t have missed that one.”

Ethel nodded sympathetically and patted her friend’s knobby knee.

“It’s okay, you can have mine.”

Don’t Be My Valentine

Steve curled up in the bar, the small area he thought of as a holding pen, while he waited for his date.  Setting his one, pink, rose on the polished, gray slate bar, he fussed with the little drink napkin for a moment, rolling one corner to a sharp point before he caught himself and put it down.  Fidgeting would look bad.  He wanted this first date to go as well as possible and that meant not giving off a negative first impression.  Katie was cautious.  He had no doubt would look at him, fumbling nervously with things, and think he was not the man she was looking for.  Pushing the napkin away from him he brushed lightly at his jacket sleeves, removing imagined specks of lint.  The jacket was brand new, bought just for this Valentine’s Day first date.  His lapels were sharp, the cuffs clean and his collar impeccable.  He had spent time polishing his shoes last night, making sure he could see himself in the shine.

The bartender moved to the sink and began washing glassware and his cutting board.  The green, citrus smell of freshly cut limes rose up from the basin.  Steve inhaled the scent and held it as Katie walked through the door.

His first thought was, wow, she’s beautiful!  Shoulder length brown hair that looked so soft he wanted to touch it to see if it was real.  He knew her eyes were almond shaped, brown and had blue-green laced throughout.  The only real surprise were her small ears, set at just the right angle to her head.  He was an ear fanatic so this first glimpse was like an eyegasm.  The dating app had provided them both with photos and profiles of each other.  Her photos were always head-on with her ears hidden beneath a baseball cap or just her hair.  They had exchanged several emails and spent hours chatting in real time on the messenger.  The conversation had seemed to just flow so well between them.  Steve had strong hopes that this might be the start of something real for him.

“Katie?”  His heart was beating a little fast.  Grabbing the rose, he stood up and tried to look her in the eye like a man, not stare like a fanboy.  She was dressed to kill in a mid-thigh, black dress with slender ties around her neck as opposed to sleeves or straps.

“Yes.  Steve?”  Those gorgeous eyes sized him up and crinkled a bit in the corners as she smiled at him.  

“Yeah, that’s me.”  He smiled back magnanimously.  “It’s a real pleasure to see you.”  Did she just frown?  Steve held out his hand feeling suddenly awkward.  Was there something in his teeth?  Something in his nose?  God, he hoped it was his teeth.  Maybe an eye booger?  Oh crap, please let it be my teeth?  He wanted to wipe at his various organs and ducts but couldn’t just yank his hand away before she even took it.  She was hesitating.  Oh c’mon, shake my hand so I can dig at things!

Katie paused for just a heartbeat more, then smiled again and put her right hand firmly into his, shaking like a professional wrestler.  Steve tried to not look surprised.  When she let go he held out the rose, distracting her attention while his slightly crushed, right hand danced over his face.

“I am pleased to meet you, Steve.”  Her expression widened a fraction as she watched him rub at his eyes.

“I’m a little allergy prone.”  It wasn’t a lie even if it wasn’t an accurate explanation.  He noted her subtle frown again.  He nodded toward the rose in her hand and shrugged.  She looked blankly at it, then realization lit her eyes.  Lifting the flower to her nose she inhaled.  It looked like a mechanical movement as opposed to genuine appreciation.  Steve felt his stomach tightening with worry.

“Let’s get a table and sit down, eh?”  He opened one arm to invite her to lead the way.  Katie smiled tightly and turned away from the bar.  He gave her a couple steps worth of lead before he followed along.  

Something was off, but what?  Did he look different than she expected?  Was he too tall?  Too short?  Their height was comparable so neither of them had a disadvantage there.  He tried to recall if his picture on the app was current.  He thought so.  He had been brutally honest in his likes and philosophy.  He thought it was better to be rejected for what he was than what he pretended to be.  So what was wrong?  They hadn’t even finished saying hello and she was throwing off unhappy vibes.

“I see your date has arrived, sir. A table for two then?”  The Host, looking excruciatingly calm, plucked two leather-bound menus from his podium and looked at Steve for acknowledgement.

“Yes.  Could we have something a bit private? Not right in the open, maybe?”  He could swear he could feel Katie relaxing.  How strange?  He fought back the urge to put his hand on her waist as they moved through the dining room.   

“Certainly sir.  Right this way.”

They were seated in a booth toward the back with a clear view of the entire room.  Steve thought it was a bit more conspicuous than he had asked for since the whole room would also have a clear view of them but, he accepted the arrangement and stood politely while Katie slid delicately into her seat.  The menus were laid before them, the water glasses filled, then the Host made himself scarce.  Steve tried to make small talk while they scanned the menu items.

“I’ve read several good reviews of this place. They’re noted for their steaks.  The cook’s  supposed to be some kind of a beef genius.”  Again he felt the shift in Katie’s attitude.  She did not look up or change her position at all but Steve could swear that she was displeased.  What the hell is going on?  Every time he said anything she seemed to get on edge?  He decided to just lay his the question on the table and see what happened.

“Katie… What’s going on here?  I feel like you’re unhappy right from the start but we’ve barely even begun?”  He was quite surprised to see her visibly shudder now.  Lifting her head she tried to smile but it was very strained.

“I am sorry.  I really thought, based on our conversations, that you understood.  Obviously I was mistaken.”

Steve goggled at her, completely lost.  His mind raced through their online conversations in the blink of an eye but found nothing to indicate what she might be talking about.  His stomach dropped as he realized he was about to get the brush off.

“Understood what?”

“Your writing…” She waved a hand through the air like she was penning a letter.  “You never use contractions when you type.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“You see, I am a Trekki.  Most importantly, I am a Data Emulator.”  Katie was looking directly at him, almost challenging him to comment.  

Steve stared back and let his hand fiddle with the napkin roll.

“Data emulator…” he repeated slowly.  “What’s that?”  He was familiar with Trekkies but not specific branches except for the obvious ones like Klingon or Vulcan.

“Data is an android who is incapable of using contractions.  His words are always separate, never contracted together.”

Steve thought he understood what she was getting at.

“So you thought, because I didn’t use contractions when I typed that I didn’t use them at all?”  Every message and email he had sent had been painfully edited.  He had gone over each line several times to be sure he was saying exactly what he meant and not leaving any false impressions.  Evidently he had been too thorough and given one unintentionally.

“Yes.”  

The blunt answer made him aware of how many contractions he had just used.  He felt his insides implode with self-righteous anger.  What a stupid reason to brush him off.  He had polished his damn shoes! And he had really liked her.  The time they had spent together online had given him a real feeling of connecting.  Why couldn’t she just say he looked different from what she had expected?  He smelled funny?  Anything that made sense!

Seconds ticked by as Steve sat there digesting what was happening.  He wanted to leave.  He wanted to say something, anything, that would leave a mark on her but his mind was a blank.  All he found were images of their messages to each other saying how much they were both looking forward to their date.  This date.  Valentine’s Day.

“I see our positions have changed.”  Katie noted.  “You are now the one feeling… off.”  She gave him an empty smile.  “I guess we should stop this before it becomes too uncomfortable.”

Steve nodded carefully, holding his face as still as he could.

“Right.  I’m sure my excessive use of contractions will cause you an unbearable amount of discomfort.  Won’t it?”  Bitterness dripped from the last words.  He slid out of the booth and dug into his pocket for his money clip.  Scowling, he thumbed out a twenty dollar bill to leave on the table for the busboy who would have to clean up after their ten minute usage of the table

“Take care of yourself, Steve.  It was nice meeting you.”  Katie remained seated, sipping her water and showing him her perfect ears.

Steve took a deep breath, missing the smell of the fresh lime from the holding pen.  How strange, he thought, to miss something that was only ten minutes ago.  Ten minutes ago he had been nervous, excited and hopeful.  Now he was holding a stomach full of molten lava.  He exhaled sharply and glowered at Katie.

“Yeah, you too.  And I’m deleting you as soon as I get home.”  Snatching the rose from beside her he turned and stalked away, shredding the petals onto the carpet as he went.

COL #4 – Already Been Chewed

Jonathan watched from the safety of the far end of the pit as Miss Diamond slurped at Charles’s soul, her aura flaring brightly as she absorbed him.  Charles moved mechanically, his wraithlike body bowed slightly forward as he held tightly to the blackjack shoe and dealt his game.  His eyes were empty and withdrawn.  Jonathan felt a tug of recognition at the blank expression, the emotional refusal to interact with the guest.  Considering the earlier encounter Charles had with Dolphus Grime, it was a wonder the young man had made it this far into his shift.  Charles was a shell of the person he had been six hours ago.  It was not unheard of for the casino to literally lose a dealer or two when Dolphus came to play.  The appetite of the man was unmatched and he usually ate until he was too full to move.  

Miss Diamond frowned at the dealer and pulled her chips from the betting circle.  Here we go, Jonathan thought.

“Excuse me, Floor?”

Fixing his expression Jonathan slowly walked toward Miss Diamond.  She was a regular and her appetite was something of a joke among the staff.  Unlike Dolphus, she liked to feed off a select few and when she couldn’t there was usually an argument that often escalated up to the Pit Boss.

“Good evening, Miss Diamond.  How can I help you?”

By reflex Jonathan weighed his appearance against hers.  Miss Diamond was a middle aged, black woman with a solid income and tasteful clothing.  Her nails and hair were impeccable, her eyebrows always perfectly arched.  His suit, while it fit him well, was bought off the rack at a local outlet.  The slacks were a bit snug in the butt and the jacket a hair too loose in the shoulders.  His haircut was a little grown, needing a trim.  Compared to the younger Floor Supervisors who shopped mostly at discount stores, he looked damn good.  Standing beside Miss Diamond, however, he looked like he tried to hard.  He felt small.

“This dealer… Charles?”  She looked closely into his eyes.  Jonathan nodded obediently.  Yes, he was paying attention.  “He appears to be… used…”  Her voice trailed off expectantly.  Jonathan knew he was supposed to just understand the question.

“Yes ma’am.  It has been a busy evening here at the Casino of Light.”  He tried to sound apologetic.  “Many of our dealers have been… overworked.”  He glanced at Charles as he spoke, assuming the man was listening despite his closed off appearance.  Overworked was an obvious understatement but he was trying to be tactful.

Miss Diamond frowned again and tried to move closer to Jonathan.  He held his ground for a moment, anticipating her next move but not prepared to submit.

“Don’t you have some way of… refreshing them?”  Her aura shimmered outward, barely noticeable.

“I’m afraid not,” he stated with a tight smile and stepped casually out of reach.  “The next shift will be here in just a couple hours.”  He was rewarded with a sharp flash of her carefully made up eyes.

“You were always one of my favorites,” Miss Diamond purred.

“Mmm hmm.”  Jonathan took another step backwards, openly avoiding her.  He saw Charles’s head turned just a bit toward him now, watching from the edge of his vision while he continued to deal.  So there was a bit of life left in him?  Clever man.  

Turning to face the south end of the pit Jonathan used his chin to indicate a woman with dark hair and a very slender build dealing on one of the tables.  Her expression was open and smiling, completely blind to the actions of the feeders around her even though one was actively gulping at her, his aura flaring like a beacon.

“We have some newbies that just started tonight.  Maybe one of them would be suitable for you?”  Jonathan was gratified to see Miss Diamond follow his gaze and lock onto the female dealer.  Interest sparked in her eyes.  He wondered if her interest was just in the dealer or in being able to cut off the greedy feeder?  Based on his knowledge, she would enjoy both games quite a bit.

“Maybe…”  Miss Diamond stepped back and collected her chips from Charles’s table.  “I’ll have a look.”

Jonathan nodded politely and stepped forward a bit.

“Yes ma’am.  I’m glad to have been of help to you.”

Throwing a crisp smile at him she headed down the row of tables.

Monday Monologue #1 – Smashing Pumpkins

Revising and editing is hard work!  I have been successfully avoiding the bulk of the work by opening my laptop and the appropriate file then walking away to scrub my range top, scrape the litter box, vacuum all the cat hair from my furniture or just take a quick power nap.  There are so many effective and justifiable ways to not work on my book that it’s a wonder I have gotten anywhere with it at all.

I have to say, though, I am pleased with my present level of work – and my clean apartment.  Smashing Pumpkins (still a tentative title) is coming clearly into focus.  I have struggled a bit with my choice of a main character though.  In my mind, the MC has changed three times so far.  I believe this current choice is the one I will stick with though.  It has taken some heavy cleaning (the range top) to get my thoughts and background on the MC in order.  Somewhere during the mad dash of NaNoWriMo I neglected to actually develop this guy.  Deciding to use him as the MC brought me to a halt when I was unable to actually get him moving.  After several failed attempts to ignite his inner light I realized that I didn’t know a damn thing about him.  He had no life before this story.  I needed to sit down and flesh him out.

It’s funny to me that I managed to create a character that I knew nothing about.  The other characters of the book came forward out almost fully formed.  They were demanding to be noticed.  This guy… this guy, kinda slipped into the story without being noticed.  He sat quietly in a single chapter without really drawing attention to himself.  After NaNoWriMo ended I was left will all these pages of people and events and emotion that had no clear starting point.  I knew exactly where the ending was but finding the true beginning involved repetitive sorting and weighing of each character.  As I typed and retyped, this guy kinda stepped out from the crowd, all by himself, and bowed to me.  The strong, silent type.

I am rolling along again and hope to have a completed manuscript by June.  I’m not going to hold my breath over it but, that is my current goal.