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Day Two Hundred and Twenty-two: The Workaholic

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

I’m going to do a couple of short ones, as I’m a day behind and the New Year is coming up. I’m sure you’re all busy as well, so I won’t take up too much of your time.

Our random number generator today provided us with Peter Wach, a character who has popped up in a couple of stories, never with a lot of good happening to him. Let’s see what his stories tell us about him.

46: The Big Day

  • He works 80 hours a week at Munin Scientific.
  • He’s working on “carbon pico-crystal arrays” that will allow a vast amount of storage space on a single chip.
  • He’s married.
  • He has a personality conflict with Ewan Conwell.
  • He was accused by the management heads of Munin of stealing work from Conwell. He was then detained and interrogated by security.

127: Last-Ditch

  • Some time after the events in The Big Day, Wach went to Taylor Petraglia for help.
  • He wants some kind of revenge/compensation from Munin.
  • After the events of The Big Day, Wach was fired, his bank account was frozen, his house was foreclosed on, his driver’s license was revoked, and his wife was sent a well-doctored photograph of Peter having sex with a teenage boy.
  • He’s currently staying with a friend.

Here we have a classic hard-luck case. Peter is a person of very narrow focus, and normally it would serve him well. It allowed him to work on this project, which is every bit as revolutionary as he claims it will be. In his words, “When it gets into production, it’ll be a bigger advance in computing than the integrated circuit.” So that’s saying a lot.

The problem, of course, is that he misses a lot of what goes on around him, which made it very easy for the conspiracy against him to be pulled off. And to be fair, I don’t think that Ewan Conwell actually had anything to do with it. He was a convenient excuse for the higher-ups to use, and the fact that Peter doesn’t like him very much just helps sell the whole thing. In fact, if Ewan found out how his name had been used as part of their snare, I reckon he’d be pretty angry about it.

The main thing about Peter, though, is that he is very good at what he does, and pretty crap at everything else. He never would have dreamed that his work would lead him to this situation, which betrays a certain trust in the fundamental order of things. He doesn’t have the time or desire to worry about the bigger picture, and so assumes that everything is working smoothly. A more street-wise man, perhaps, would have recognized the potential for backstabbing and hidden a copy of the data somewhere outside the company. But Peter is not that kind of guy.

Whats going to happen to him from here on out? Good question. If he’s gone to Petraglia, then Peter could just end up being the catalyst for a good mystery-thriller story. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see a naive kind of guy like Peter wade into the murky waters of industrial espionage and somehow come out on top. A more challenging story, certainly.

We’ll keep Peter around and see what happens to him, I think.

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-one: The Inevitable Monster

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Man, vacations really aren’t good for my ability to stick to a deadline. So much napping to do…

Anyway, today I’d like to look at the third Evil Corporation on my list – Barbeau Pharmaceuticals. Now give me some credit here: they really are going to ruin the world for the rest of us. At least that’s if all the time travelers are correct. Let’s see what we know about this company and its founder, Paul Barbeau:

33: Monsters

  • Time travelers have been trying to kill Paul Barbeau since he was born. Before he was born, in fact.
  • Barbeau Pharmaceuticals will produce “a neurocybernetic viral analogue that would safely cure nearly all forms of human disease.”
  • Paul Barbeau injected himself with the first batch.
  • The company has a blue logo.

45: Sleeper

  • Paul was a high school freshman at ten years old.
  • He developed a new printable circuitry as a science project.

65: Amanuensis

  • Cerbecorp is looking at a cooperative agreement with Barbeau Pharmaceuticals.

116: Paul Barbeau (interview)

  • The nanotech virus the company is developing will be a cure for nearly all disease. However, it will eventually network and create a human “hive mind,” eliminating individuality almost entirely.
  • The company will go to any lengths to protect Paul Barbeau and ensure that the future comes to pass.
  • The original complex will be raided in 2066.

Huh. I really thought there would be more.

It kind of resonates with Cyberdine Systems from the Terminator movies, and brings up the great question of whether or not we can really change our future. Paul Barbeau’s analysis of his rather unique problem leads him to believe that the future cannot be stopped – his company will create the panacea, which will go on to pretty much eliminate humanity as an individualistic species. He cites as evidence for this that he hasn’t been killed, despite the repeated attempts by time travelers to get rid of him:

Miss, most people who are targeted for assassination are indeed assassinated. It may take a few tries, but the killers only have to be successful once. The target has to be successful – or lucky – all the time. And there is no one so lucky that they can survive near-constant attempts for their entire life, as I have.

Do you understand what this means?

I cannot be killed, miss.

They cannot succeed. All of these bodyguards are really just here to make the odds as small as possible, but I could go wandering through the poorest part of the city wearing a tuxedo made of thousand dollar bills, and I would not die. I could be surrounded by murderous time travelers all day, and they would not kill me.

No matter what happens, I must survive to create the virus. The killers are themselves the evidence of that. If I gave up, they would have no reason to kill me, and thus would never have started their mad crusade. But still they come, which means that I must succeed. It is a thing that is beyond my control.

At least so far, he seems to be right. I haven’t come up with a reason why he shouldn’t be right, but I do know that I’ve created a fanatic, and they’re always fun. The only thing that will convince Barbeau that his destiny is not inevitable is his own death, at which point he will be beyond caring. So in many ways, Paul Barbeau could be a wonderful antagonist for someone to work against in the future.

About the company itself, I know this much: it’s a very well-regarded pharmaceutical company, famous for its innovative and pioneering research. They make enough money that their motto as far as things like regulations is that it’s “better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and so far it’s paid off for them. The company has not gone public, and is directed almost entirely by Paul Barbeau, who is considered a genius in both the scientific and medical fields. The company has branched out a little into other consumer goods, but maintains its focus on medicines. It donates a sizable amount of its product to developing countries, garnering it an excellent reputation in international politics, which gives it more leeway in performing research and getting into countries where other companies might be barred.

Barbeau himself, however, is something of a recluse. While there are many rumors as to where he lives – a private island, an underground desert base, a complex built into a mountain in the Canadian Rockies – his location has never been confirmed. He communicates daily with the directors of his company, and seems to possess an intricate knowledge of what they’re doing at any given time. This has led to suspicions that he has a network of “reporters” in his company, or at least a very advanced electronic data-gathering program.

Barbeau is not evil, really. Not in the conventional sense, anyway. He really does want to help people, and his company has a remarkable record of doing so. If you didn’t know what was going to happen in the future, you would say that Barbeau Pharmaceuticals was the model of a good company trying to do good work. But Paul truly, truly believes that he will end mankind as we know it, and rather than try to stop what is coming, he’s decided to embrace that.

Of course, ending mankind as we know it isn’t really a laudable goal, so I’ll have to create someone to fight against him, to try and see to it that the horrible future he’s working on never actually happens. To do that, I’ll have to make someone who is (potentially) as strong and as driven as he is.

The big thing is this: when I write this story, Paul will have to be the protagonist. He’s the one with the goal, after all, which is what a protagonist is, and the person trying to stop him must naturally be the antagonist. So: a story with a villain protagonist. Always fun…

Day Two Hundred and Nineteen: Last Chance to Escape

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

One of the great realizations I had when I started doing this project was that while I certainly wanted to write something new every day, there was no reason why I couldn’t recycle ideas from time to time – especially ideas that I may not have been able to fully exploit when I first tried them out. That’s not to say that I’ve got a complete handle on them now, but I’m pretty sure I’m better than I was.

In any case, one idea that I had was pretty simple, all told. With all the stories of people who travel from one world to another, one of the things that doesn’t often get dealt with is the aftermath of their trip. How do you deal with living in a fantasy world and having the adventures that go with it, and then come back to the mundane world of bills and work and television? The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant probably handled it best of the books I know of – but poor Thomas didn’t handle it very well.

That seems to be the way of things, though. I mean, what other way could a person react to that kind of transition. that kind of experience? Really, the only way you could possibly handle it would be to either go utterly mad or to convince yourself that you had already done so. And that’s pretty much where I started this story – with Adam walking into his home for the first time since his adventure in Another Place. So let’s see what we know about him from day 76, A New World.

  • He has a sister, who was good enough to take care of his home when he vanished to wherever he’d gone to.
  • Prior to coming home, he had been in a psychiatric hospital for a few months.
  • Certain stimuli can trigger flashbacks of his time in the other world.
  • His doctor, Thomas Greer, was against letting him go, but Adam convinced him that he was healthy and ready to leave.
  • Adam believes that he had a nervous breakdown, brought on by stress from work, the failure of his marriage, and the death of his mother.
  • He was found in the middle of a field, laughing and crying, and was brought to the hospital.
  • He left the hospital believing that he was fine, but is now really not so sure about that.

Again, this is kind of treading Thomas Covenant’s ground here, but Adam’s not exactly a leper. When he left the hospital, he was on board with the idea that he had “experienced a near-total disassociative state of mental dissonance.” But now that he’s home alone, that conviction is very quickly becoming more and more tenuous as his memories/delusion intrudes. Here’s what he remembers (or thinks he remembers):

  • A snowmelt stream and high, impassable mountains.
  • A woman with him by the stream.
  • A great voice, possibly that of a dragon, saying, “Very well, then. We are agreed.”
  • His arm being burned.
  • A great mansion, gilded and perched atop a high mountain.
  • A woman with eyes as blue as the sky on a late autumn day and skin that was deep, almost impossible violet, and her breath smelled of honey when they kissed.
  • Red skies and rain that burned and great insects that flew and carried people off only to drop them from the sky.
  • A blade in his hand that sang to him and called down the lightning when he needed it.
  • There was a stone, and that stone was a key.
  • There was a door, but it wasn’t a door.
  • “There was a path, and it was a path he could not see but he walked anyway and it led him to her. To the keep. To the dragon and the battle and the promise. And the field.”

Okay, then. How about them apples?

I could ride the idea for a while that maybe Adam really had this experience and maybe he really is nuts, but that would bore me pretty quickly. It’s the kind of story that has to be done with great skill and care, and honestly I’m not sure that I could pull it off without making mincemeat of the whole thing. And besides, I’m already convinced in my head: his experience was real. Very real. And it’s far, far from over.

There are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered here, and part of that is because I’ve started him off at the nadir of his adventures.

You see, in really good hero stories, the hero has to be brought low. Really low. And he has to ask himself if all that he’s going through is really worth it, or if he should just give up. And at this point, the author stands there in front of a nice, shiny door and holds it open for him, and says, “Look – we can end this now. You go your way, I go mine. Sure, there are plot points that need to be resolved, but if you’re not ready to take this all the way, I understand. Here’s the door.”

The hero needs to look long and hard at that way out, that simple means of getting off this insane ride. And if the story is going to work at all, then the hero has to want to see it through more than he wants that nice, easy way out. So he turns his back on the door, and the author smiles and shakes his head knowingly and you hear the soft, irreversible click of the door closing forever.

That’s where Adam is as we start this story. He could go back to the hospital and have treatment after treatment until he’s well and truly sure that everything he’d gone through was a delusion. That would be the easy way out. Or he could find his way back and finish what he started.

Seeing as how this nadir usually comes in right in front of the big climax of the story, that means I have a whole lot of back-story to deal with. Including, but not limited to:

  • What is this world that he went to?
  • How did he get there in the first place?
  • Who was that woman?
  • What bargain did he strike with the dragon?
  • What role did he play in this other world?
  • Why and how did he come back to his own world?
  • What does he still need to do to complete his quest?
  • How will he get back to that other world?
  • Will he ever return to his world again?

Exploring those questions is going to be a hell of a ride. I look forward to it, though.

Day Two Hundred and Seventeen: New to the Game

December 25, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

I have a great love of super-heroes, as you may have noticed. I’ve been reading comic books for as long as I can remember, and there’s something about a super-hero movie that I just can’t pass up. I have t-shirts and replica rings, and I would have action figures if I had the room for them. Point is, when I started doing this writing project, I knew that super-heroes were going to play a big part in them.

What is often overlooked is that a lot of the really good stories that you can tell with super-heroes are the same stories that you tell with normal people, only bigger and with tights. So in that sense, I created Mass Man in his eponymous story on day 74.

Here’s what we know about him from this story: he loves being a super-hero, but he hates a lot of the trappings that come with it. The spandex, the mask, being hurled into buildings and having to keep his dignity in front of civilians… Especially his name – Mass Man. It was given to him by a reporter and the name just stuck. Now he doesn’t think he can change it without looking whiny and self-important.

His powers are pretty simple: he can manipulate mass, both his own and that of other things. This means that he can fly, walk through walls, stop bullets, lift heavy things, all that. He doesn’t know how he does it, and he doesn’t really care to know. What he wants is to be a super-hero and not go out there looking like a moron.

His role models are Photon the Magnificent and the Lady of the Rooftops, two high-profile heroes out of Corsair City. When they come to help him with his giant robot trouble, he gets to talk to them about the missteps and problems of being a new hero, which gives him a bit more confidence that he will one day make a name for himself.

Basically, Mass Man is an early twentysomething, and suffering from the same problems that modern young people all have to go through. He’s not sure who he really is, for one. He hates the label that’s been given to him, but can’t come up with anything better. He knows what he wants to do, but really all he can do is emulate the people who do it better. He has those he admires, and he feels both awe and shame when he has to perform in front of them. He’s new at this gig, and feels like he ought to be a lot better than he is, despite not having a lot of experience.

Perhaps that’s because he – like a lot of us – was told as a kid that he was intrinsically special and due for greatness. Maybe he was praised for everything he did, and can’t understand why he’s not getting the same treatment anymore. I dunno – it’s not Bruce Wayne levels of childhood trauma, but what happens to us as kids does a lot to make us who we are as adults.

The story doesn’t go into his backstory a whole lot, but here’s how he looks in my head: he is a middle-class kid from the suburbs, in his mid-twenties, who manifested these strange powers maybe a year or so before the story begins. He lives in a world where super-heroes are real, and so has a career path all laid out for him. Despite that, he doesn’t know anything about being a hero other than the costume and a baritone voice.

A lot of his stories, then, are going to be about growing up – both as a hero and just as a person. These are, in a lot of ways, my favorite kinds of super-hero stories. It’s all well and good when they save the world or vanquish evil, but the stories where they become better people or learn their limits are a lot easier for me to relate to as a reader. I look forward to exploring his world with him.

Day Two Hundred and Sixteen: Angry Young Man

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

During November, I wrote a lot of long stories for NaNoWriMo, some of them coming in well over 3,000 words. Given that my average prior to that was usually around 12,00 to 1,500 words, that’s pretty damn good. Of the NaNo stories, Rainsinger was the longest, clocking in at 3,930 words, and it was one of those times that a sort of organic, “let’s see where this goes, shall we?” style of writing kind of paid off. So, for today’s character sketch, I want to look at the main character of that story, a boy named Jundir.

We know a few things about him right away – he’s a teenager, and he’s at that point in his teenage life where all adults are stupid and useless, and the world is totally working against him. His people, the Vas’alim, were nomadic, crossing dry plains and deserts for more than a generation. Jundir’s grandfather is a Rainsinger, a kind of Vas’alim mystic whose job is to dance and sing and bring the rains. It’s implied in the story that his might be a dying profession, perhaps because his success rate is low. Either way, Jundir thinks he’s ridiculous.

What Jundir wants to be is a Water Hunter, the people who scour the land for aquifers, liquid-holding plants, that kind of thing. Unfortunately, Jundir had been bitten on the foot by a rock snake when he was younger, and they had to take his leg to save him. His leg was amputated just above the knee, squashing any hopes he might have of being a Water Hunter. Despite that, and despite being told directly by the leader of the Water Hunters that there was no way he could ever join them, Jundir still refuses to admit that he is in any way “crippled,” despite the rather commanding evidence.

It’s a common teenage condition, really. There’s still an underlying belief that the world is just, that somehow things will come together for you and that you will be allowed – nay helped – to find your full potential. What he’s beginning to suspect, however, is that there is no justice in the universe. Things just happen, and they have to be dealt with. But right now, he would rather refuse to do so, and keep beating at the world until it gives him what he wants. Which it won’t.

So he’s angry all the time. Angry at his grandfather for being old and stupid, angry at his mother for taking his grandfather’s side, angry at the Water Hunters for not giving him a chance. Angry at anything that’ll stand still for a few minutes, really.

What helps is that his grandfather – who is also struggling to accept a new reality, that being a rainsinger is no longer as important as it once was – kind of strips away the mysticism of the job.

Re-reading it, I get the distinct and unsettling feeling that I wrote something a lot deeper and more complicated than I thought. There’s subtext and metaphor and. I think, some foreshadowing that I really didn’t put in there on purpose. There’s a revelation in there somewhere, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Damn.

Whatever I did, Jundir leaves his grandfather less angry and more confused than when he arrived, but with a hint that he could make something of himself despite his injuries.

A lot of this story is certainly me as an adult talking to me as a teenager. I certainly didn’t lose a leg or anything, but I think I shared Jundir’s expectation or glory and success. It wasn’t so much that the universe owed me anything, as it was that it was unthinkable that I couldn’t be the hero in my own life’s drama. But I was hut about the head and shoulders with the sure and certain knowledge that the greatness and glory I thought was in my future wasn’t actually coming. I was far more focused on doors that closed than on looking for new doors, and had to grapple with the understanding that not only is life not fair, but that the universe really doesn’t care what happens to me or what I do.

He also suffers from a certain measure of over-simplification. His grandfather wears stupid costumes and dances, and he is therefore a useless old man. The Water Hunters are praised by everyone, and they are therefore heroes – whose ranks he clearly must join. As the story begins, he’s set his world-view in stone, which is why he has trouble fitting his new, maimed self into it. When the story ends, he is beginning to understand that the world is nuanced, that perception is sometimes more important than reality, and that it is entirely possible that he could be wrong.

A hard thought for a bright, self-centered teenage boy. Not that I would know, of course.

As I think about it, he and his grandfather really have the same existential enemy – the Water Hunters. Jundir wants to be one, but never will, so they remind him of an entire future that will never be. His grandfather sees them as a negation of his entire identity. He’s a mystic, a man who’s trained since he was a boy to read the weather and predict it, to appeal to people’s need for a little drama and the invocation of spirits. He’s a solo act, the only Rainsinger in this particular tribe. The Water Hunters, on the other hand, are a young band of men, whose job is simple for everyone to understand – they go out, they come back, and they bring water with them. That’s it. No song or dance or weird chanting.

So, in their way, Jundir and his grandfather are a lot alike. It’s probably for the best that Jundir never got to be a Water Hunter, anyway. They bend towards arrogance – especially the younger ones – and I think Jundir would have very eagerly followed their lead.

Writing more about him will be interesting, but there’s a lot I need to work out as well. First of all, who are the Vas’alim, and where are they? Are they a part of Earth Prime, and if so, when do they live on the timeline? Are they pre-agricultural people? Post-apocalyptic? Hell, are they contemporary, but somehow wandering a desert so vast that they don’t even know the 21st century has happened? Why do they travel the way they do? Would they settle down if they could? Wandering desert people aren’t new in fiction, so I realize I’m following in some well-trodden footsteps here, but it’s still something I need to know in order to make these people believable.

Also – what happened to his father? We know very little, except that he probably wouldn’t have followed in Grandfather’s footsteps and become a Rainsinger. And I don’t think he was a Water Hunter either – that would have showed up in the narrative pretty quickly, I think.

So, there’s a good coming-of-age story going on in this, which I can no doubt expand when I know a bit more about the world and the people in it.

Day Two Hundred and Fifteen: Time-Lost Mom

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

I wrote this from a cafe last night because there was a work party where I knew the booze would be flowing. It was a very wise choice, all told. While I was able to tweet with coherence, I wouldn’t put bets on being able to write more than 140 characters at a time.

Anyway, today’s character – chosen non-randomly this time – is Emma Confrey, from day 78: Mother’s Day. A secondary character we don’t know a lot about, but that’s okay. She’s important nonetheless and I think there’s something interesting about her.

Full disclosure: the story was inspired by an Idea Book I picked up at the Mark Twain House when I was back home in Connecticut, and this is one of the few stories that I wrote while I was on vacation. That in itself is deserving of some slow clapping, I think. The book suggested the first line – The last time I saw my mother was fifteen years ago – and my imagination just went off with itself. Starting from a catchy first line is a fun way to write, so if you ever think of a really snappy opener to a story, see where it leads you.

So, Emma. Let’s see what the story tells us about her. For one, she’s a scientist, and she clearly thinks that her daughter Donna ought to be one too. She’s the kind of mother that all teachers fear – the one who is so intimately involved with her daughter’s academic life that she may as well be running it. She pushed Donna into science classes, and saw no problem with doing her science fair project for her.

At the same time, she’s a very irresponsible and distant mother. Donna (who is the POV character in the story) tells of her mother spending most of her time in the garage/lab, rarely coming out to spend time with her child. There’s no indication in the story that she actually cares about what her daughter wants or needs, and only spends time with her when she eats or when it otherwise cannot be helped. For her part, Donna would rather stay with her father, but the pro-mother bias of family court didn’t agree with her.

In this story Emma announces that she’s built a time machine in the garage. Rather than try and spend time with her stuffy teenage daughter, she announces that she’s going to jump ahead fifteen years and have a drink with her much cooler, older daughter. She grabs a couple of beers, heads out into the garage, and vanishes. The machine indicates that her destination was August 11, 2026 at 10:24 AM.

Fifteen years later, against her better judgment, Donna comes back to the house. The house is dilapidated, and the machine has long since been shut off. Donna waits until the appointed time, but her mother never shows up.

What we can say easily about Emma is that she’s a really crappy mother. Her work is her life, and anything else is peripheral to that. Her disinterest in her daughter is so pronounced that she won’t even talk to her as she is – she has to go to the future where, presumably, a “better” daughter will be. One who, it who should be pointed out, would have lived for fifteen years without her mother’s influence, something I don’t think she really thought about.

So the real question is why she had a daughter in the first place? Perhaps it was something she thought would be interesting. Perhaps she thought it would make for an interesting project or experiment. Perhaps it was an irrational biological urge. Whatever it was, it passed quickly. She returned to her science, leaving her daughter and husband to take care of each other.

For his part, her father seems like a decent guy, even though we don’t see much of him in the story. I like to think that he honestly believed he would get custody if he divorced Emma, and it broke his heart when he didn’t,

The upshot to this – if there is any – is that Donna turned out to be remarkably self-sufficient. This is something she probably wouldn’t appreciate until she was older, but not having her mother to take care of her caused Donna to draw on her own creativity and strengths. Abandoning your child to her own devices isn’t a recommended parenting technique, but if you must do it you should hope your child is strong enough to work life out on its own.

Emma did build a time machine, by the way. It worked just as she meant it to, the problem was her lack of foresight rearing its ugly head: without anyone to take care of the house, the electricity was shut off. No electricity meant no power to the time machine, which meant that she couldn’t complete the trip she’d started. If she had been a better mother, perhaps, Donna would have been able to keep the torch burning, as it were. She would have had an emotional investment in her other’s success.

But no. Emma stepped into that machine, and she was sent off on a one-way trip into the timestream. Perhaps if another character invents a time machine she can find her way back , but for now I’m assuming the same thing that Donna is assuming: her mother is dead and gone, and has been for a long time.

A happy story? Not at all. But I liked it anyway…

Day Two Hundred and Fourteen: The Angry Puppet

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Okay, time for another character sketch. This one will likely be short, for two reasons. First, I have to record my podcast tonight, so there’s lots of things to do, and I can’t do that until The Boyfriend takes The Dog out for a walk. Secondly, I don’t really know a whole lot about the character that my random number generator gave me: Kurt Brannon, from the story on day 26, Confrontation. Here’s what we know about him:

  • He was really ready to kill Jenna Birch.
  • He was nearly a state wrestling finalist in high school.
  • He was accused of throwing wrestling matches. Some classmates got into his emails, reported him, and he was thrown off the team. He also lost his college scholarship.

And that’s pretty much all we know about him. That, and he was so convinced that Jenna had been part of a plot to ruin his life that he was just about ready to shoot her in the head.

The natural question, then, is what would drive someone to such a level? I mean, stalking this girl to figure out the best time to strike, breaking into a university biology lab, and holding her at gunpoint is not the behavior of a rational individual. It’s pretty clear that Kurt has problems, and fixing wrestling matches is just one of them.

When I think of high school wrestlers, I think of Breakfast Club, which pretty much dates my teenage years right there. In that movie, the Jock was dealing with his father’s disappointment over a stupid prank, and that was the last straw on top of years of pressure and expectations. Kurt has something like that going, only worse. His father was a slightly less pathetic version of Al Bundy – a guy whose last major accomplishment was when he was in high school, and he hasn’t done anything since. Kurt’s father was a wrestler, and he went to State, and would have gone further if he hadn’t been injured. His wrestling career was over, leaving him only with the dreams of what might have been.

Dreams he naturally transferred to his son. The pressure for Kurt to be a wrestler and to be a winner was immense and unrelenting. But no one can withstand that kind of pressure for very long, and the way Kurt dealt with it was by fixing matches to make money off them. Not a lot of matches – just enough that he could make some cash on the side while not jeopardizing the future that his father wanted so very much.

Unfortunately, bad luck and the persistence of the Internet worked against him. Perhaps he didn’t log off a library computer, or he autofilled an address wrong – whatever it was, his emails regarding fixing matches got out. Some of his classmates turned him in, enlisting Jenna in their cause to give them credibility. With her and the evidence on their side, they were able to convince the principal and the coach that Kurt had in fact been cheating, and his dream was crushed.

His father didn’t react well. His dream had been taken away by bad luck. His son had thrown it away. It got so bad that Kurt had to leave his house. He stayed with friends, barely finished school, and then disappeared before graduation. No one heard from him or saw him again until he went after Jenna.

Kurt is a damaged boy, to say the least. He can’t accept responsibility for what he did, probably because he never really thought that he had the power to make any real decisions about his life. His father and his coach pretty much orchestrated his days and nights, so Kurt already saw himself as bereft of any kind of agency. That made it easier to blame other students for his downfall. He didn’t think he’d really been responsible for his own success – why should he be responsible for his failure?

Jail, of course, won’t do him any good. A shame, because that’s where he’s going. Best case scenario, he finds Jesus and repents, but then he’s just transferring power over his life to someone else. He won’t be whole until he can accept responsibility for himself and his actions – good and bad – and let go of the dream that was never his to begin with.

Day Two Hundred and Thirteen: The Iron Avatar

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

All right – the Randomizer has spit out an interesting one for us today. This is a character that I created on a whim, out of a desire to write a male Mary Sue story – a Marty Stu, as it were. I’m not entirely sure it succeeded, but it was fun to write. Ladies and Gentlemen, Khrys Ferro, from Special Agent Khrys Ferro, parts 1 through 3. Let’s see what the stories have to say about this Man of Action!

133: Part One

  • Chief Jerrold Mire hates Khrys Ferro.
  • Ferro once blew up a busload of nuns. They were terrorist nuns, yes, but still. It’s an image problem.
  • He has a “lean, athletic frame,” green eyes, “impossibly white teeth,” and a baritone voice. He dresses casually.
  • He can impale a fly with an unfolded paperclip while the fly is in mid-flight.

134: Part Two

  • Ferro is a master at driving sports cars and making them do ridiculous things.

135: Part Three

  • He knows how to pick handcuffs.
  • He’s gay. And has a thing for Tanner Quan.

I did this story because, as I said, I wanted to write a Mary Sue. What’s a Mary Sue, you might ask? Well, according to the fine folks at TVTropes [1] she is:

an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing.

She has an unusual and dramatic Back Story. The canon protagonists are all overwhelmed with admiration for her beauty, wit, courage and other virtues, and are quick to adopt her as one of their True Companions, even characters who are usually antisocial and untrusting; if any character doesn’t love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal. She has some sort of especially close relationship to the author’s favorite canon character — their love interest, illegitimate child, never-before-mentioned sister, etc. Other than that, the canon characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series.

In other words, she’s the character that the author wishes she could be, if she were somehow transported to that world. Having arisen out of fanfic, there was a rather sexist connotation to it – the term implied both that only women wrote fanfic, and that only women would be so crass as to create such a blatant author avatar. Surely men would be immune to such things!

Well, no. The Marty Stu is the male version of this, as guys are just as prone to idealizing themselves in fiction as women are. He is:

devastatingly handsome (or if not, possessed of a strange, saturnine magnetism) and desired by all significant women, yes, but romance is not likely to be the main dish. He’s an unstoppable fighter, a rogue agent, a fearless freedom fighter, a master of disguise. However, as times have changed, just as Mary’s acquired a bratty temper, Marty’s had the occasional opportunity to show his softer side.

So you can see where I was going with Khrys Ferro.

As for the name, that’s pretty simple – I just tweaked the spelling of my own given name, and then hunted around for a “manly” surname. I didn’t want to go with Steele or Irons or Rock or something like that, but Ferro seemed to fit. It’s the Latin for “iron,” and one of my favorite Legion of Super-Heroes characters. [2] And so Khrys Ferro was born. Having done that, I pretty much just fit him to the template and watched what happened.

The one twist I put on him, of course, is that he was gay. Partly because if he’s going to be an author avatar, then he should at least be marginally authentic, and also because it kind of plays against the expectation that he’ll be hooking up with a hot lady somewhere in the story.

Interestingly enough, when I was plotting the story out in my head, there was a female character who worked in the Department of National Security offices who was just a-flutter over Khrys Ferro. If he asked, she would have dragged him into the nearest broom closet at a moment’s notice. And Khrys was going to be nice to her, but not in the way she was expecting. He was going to be nice because she was a good agent who deserved his respect. He had zero interest in sleeping with her whatsoever, which would have made for some wacky hijinks.

I’m not sure why that scene didn’t make it in. Probably because I was telling the story from the point of view of Tanner Quan, so it was a little harder to get Ferro and the Nameless Woman together in the same scene. Maybe in the re-writes I can manage it, or in another Khrys Ferro story.

The reason I wanted to tell it from the POV of Tanner, of course, was that it made it much easier to idealize Ferro. Here we have a young agent who’s just itching to get out into the field, partnered up with a guy who is a living action hero. Tanner idealizes Ferro, which is what you need for this kind of character. We don’t want to see his flaws or his inner torments – we want to see him chock full of confidence as he executes some split-second driving to derail a freight train with a Ferrari.

Also, it made it easier to hide the Gay Twist.

Despite my best intentions, I think I’ll hold on to Ferro for a little while, just to see if I can get anything of substance out of him. Where does this boundless cockiness and skill come from? What is going on inside that gorgeous head of his? And, of course, what kind of gay man is he? It seems that he’s not very open about it with his co-workers, which is kind of the soft spot in his armor. The only reason he soul-kissed Tanner was because he thought that Tanner might have died. The great Khrys Ferro was overcome by emotion, which made him drop his Manly Man facade for a moment. Can we see more of this? Will he let us? Who knows?

Either way, I think I can make him work. We’ll see…

—–

[1] Motto: Come For A Moment, Stay For A Lifetime!
[2] Post Zero-Hour, mind you. The original was a little too cocky for my taste.

Day Two Hundred and Twelve: The Good Doctor

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Tonight’s random pick is one of those characters that got mentioned in a sort of off-the-cuff manner in one story, and quickly grew into someone of real depth and humanity. Damn, but that’s fun.

Let us look at Dr. Julian Harcrow, doctor to the super-heroes:

36: Interviews

  • Professor Harcrow works at the Corsair City University
  • He’s won three Nobel Prizes.
  • He worked with the Heroes United team.
  • He’s looking for a cure to the Gene Bomb set off by Tobias Rhyne.

114: Dr. Julian Harcrow (interview)

  • He has advanced degrees in biochemistry, quantum electrodynamics, and abnormal psychology.
  • He’s won three Nobel Prizes.
  • He grew up in the poor section of Corsair City.
  • He grew up in a single-parent household (his mother) with many brothers and sisters.
  • He was rescued from a tenement fire by Captain Cosmos.
  • He’s a Person of Color.
  • He went to university when he was fifteen.
  • He designed his own metahuman studies program.
  • He is at least 55 years old now.
  • He helped metahumans understand their powers and find ways to use them better.
  • He’s trying to undo the effects of Tobias Rhyne’s gene bomb.

A lot about Harcrow is right there in the interview, and I’m honestly surprised at how much I came up with. As I think I mentioned before, figuring out some characters is like torture for everyone involved. I want the character to reveal something of herself to me, and she’s saying, “Hell no. You’re the writer, you figure it out.” But occasionally one of them not only cooperates, but offers to do a lot of the hard work.

When I saw Harcrow, a picture popped into my head. He’s an alder black man, with the gray hair of a man who hasn’t stopped working since he was a teenager. He’s exhausted now, demoralized from seeing the gods fall from the sky. It’s hard to imagine what that must be like, but I try to think of it as a fundamental re-adjusting of your world view. Like when you realize that you don’t believe in God, or when you can’t find it in you to care about who’s running for President because they’ll just be the same guy with a different face. The things that kept you going are gone, but somehow you have to keep going.

What’s keeping Harcrow going, of course, is the hope of discovering a cure for the gene bomb, and he’s beginning to suspect what I already know: there is no cure. The heroes who have been nullified will never get their powers back. Ever.

There are two things he’ll see before he dies, though. The first is that there are plenty of non-meta heroes out there who will rise to fill the gaps. “Martial artists, robotocists, time-trapped heroes with amazing future tech…” The physics of his world still allows for all kinds of superheroics, and there will be plenty of people to step in and take over.

The second thing is that the gene bomb only re-configured people with currently active metahuman genes. But the meta-gene is necessarily recessive – otherwise the world would be overrun – so sooner or later (perhaps even right now) kids will be born with meta-genes that are just waiting to be activated. A whole new generation of mutants and accident-prone kids will mark the new age of heroism, and I think Harcrow deserves to see that before he dies.

Anyway, Harcrow is essentially a man in mourning, which isn’t something I’m all that familiar with writing. I haven’t lost something or someone that important, that literally defined my world for me. I know I will someday – that’s pretty much a certainty – and I hope that I am able to handle it with a certain amount of quiet dignity and grace. But for right now, I can explore that feeling through Harcrow.

Let’s see, what else? I’m going to have to figure out what he won his Nobel Prizes in at some point. Quick research suggests that no individual has ever won three prizes – and only a handful have won two. So that’ll take a bit of justification right there, but since he’s at the forefront of metahuman science, I think there are a lot of openings for him to grab a prize or three.

I can look at his rise to fame, and how being raised poor affects that. Our past shapes our actions in a thousand different ways, and that needs to be looked into. Harcrow was poor and black, which is not a childhood that often lends itself to becoming a triple-Nobel winner. How did he rise above the ghetto? How much of those formative years does he still keep around? How does he help the kids who are there now, the ones who maybe aren’t as smart or as lucky as he was?

I’m reminded, actually, of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who tells a story about being a young astrophysics student. He was told by an upperclassman he admired that he was wasting good talent on astrophysics and should have been using it to help “his people,” i.e. working in more political or social issues and helping to make life better in the black community. He says that he struggled with this – he knew that he should be making an effort to help other black kids, to help build the black community, but he also knew that he loved science and astrophysics.

Long story short, he found a way to do both when he was called to appear on TV as a science expert and talk about the sun. After the interview, he realized that not once had they asked him anything as a black man – they had asked him questions as a scientists. And that was his contribution right there. Just being a public black intellectual would challenge white stereotypes and at the same time give black youth someone they could look up to.

I’m probably oversimplifying the story terribly, and if Mr. Tyson would like to correct me, I will be more than happy to fix it. After I stop sqee-ing.

In any case, that’s kind of the model I’m using for Harcrow’s intersection between his racial community and his chosen profession. This is how he contributes and how he makes a difference, by being a person who makes the world a better place by being the brightest man in the room. Of course, writing about race has its pitfalls, certainly. We all remember RaceFail ’09, and the lessons it imparted. But when I do approach it, I’ll do my best, and if I screw anything up big-time, I will gladly seek feedback from people who know more than I do about being a Person of Color.

Eventually, by the way, I’m going to have to work on Tobias Rhyne, too. If anyone can be said to be Harcrow’s nemesis, it’ll be Rhyne, even though the two never met in person. How would Harcrow react to meeting the man who stole everything he loved from the world? Would he be able to hold up to the ethical models of his heroes, or will he just snap and try to pummel the man to death with a lead pipe? I know what he wants to do, but will he let himself do it? That right there is the big story that needs to be told.

There’s also some entertaining back-stories to tell as well. Helping heroes work out their powers, being the scientific point-man for Heroes United, things like that. It could be comedy, a little mystery – who knows? I get the feeling that he’s lived a long and full life, and there are many places where I can drop in and take a look.

Day Two Hundred and Ten: The Only Real Man

December 17, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Now this should be interesting. My random number generator (courtesy, as always, of the fine people at random.org) gave me a character who has the unique privilege of existing in two universes at once.

Let me explain: when I started going through all the characters in all the stories, I realized that I basically had four universes going on. There was Earth Prime, which held most of the stories, a high fantasy Earth, an Urban Fantasy Earth, and then there was Outer Space. That last universe could well be linked to Earth Prime, or it could be separate. As yet, there are no reasonable connections between them.

Except, of course, for Eddie Holsclaw. And unless he’s an immortal, I can’t really use him to link them together.

Here’s what happened. As you know, I occasionally like to mash random characters together and see what happens. This one time, I rolled up Eddie, from day 9, Reunion, and Jani Morgan, from day 25, Babysitting. The result of this was that I had to make a choice: do I take Jani out of her spacefaring sci-fi setting and put her on 21st-century Earth, or do I move Eddie up into space in the far future? I chose the latter, and that gave me day 110, In Transit.

Now, one could ask oneself, “One, which Eddie is canonical? Which one is real?” Fortunately, One, that’s an easy question – the original Eddie is the real one, since I wrote him first and the mash-up stories are all only canonical if they add something to the overall world. But the interesting challenge was fitting him into two very different environments while still keeping continuity between both appearances. He had to be the same person, no matter where or when he was.

The trait that most defines Eddie is that he suffers from Capgras Delusion. This is a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes that the people around him are not who they say they are. Despite looking exactly like your wife or your brother or your friend, this person is an impostor. You can’t explain how you know – you just know. The most recent research seems to suggest it arises when your temporal lobe (the part of your brain that recognizes the person) stops talking to the limbic system (the part that would normally generate the feelings associated with that person). You see your husband, but you feel nothing for him. The rest of your brain, not knowing how to cope with this, comes to the conclusion that this is not actually your husband, because if he were, you would feel something. Therefore, he must be a very clever impostor.

With Eddie, I took this a little bit further. Not only does Eddie think his friends and family have been replaced with doubles, he believes that they have, in fact, been replaced with robots. Capgras sometimes comes in with schizophrenia, so I decided to go the whole distance with him.

In Reunion, we see Eddie at a family reunion. [1] He is utterly convinced that his aunts and uncles, his grandmother, are all cleverly programmed robots that are trying to get to him. He believes that they not only replaced his family, but tortured them first to learn everything they know. He won’t eat the food, as he believes it’s been drugged, and is constantly looking for ways in which the robots have slipped up on their mimicry. Above all, though, he tries not to let them know that he knows what they are.

Until Rachael Decker shows up. She was one of the few people in high school who was nice to Eddie (who, let’s face it, was a bit weird). The thought of her being tortured and replaced by a robot is too much for him to bear, so he grabs a barbecue fork off the picnic table and starts stabbing her with it. He is wrestled to the ground by family members as the story closes. While it’s not explicitly stated in the story, Rachael does die [2], and Eddie is shipped off to a mental hospital.

The other story, In Transit, involves Eddie being transferred from a secure holding facility outside of Antares so that he can be sent to a slightly more secure prison asteroid. During the trip, Jani Morgan tries to talk to him, only to set him off again. He still believes he’s being targeted by a vast conspiracy of robots, only now he seems a little more free with letting them know what he knows. He speaks openly about it, and starts ranting before one of the guards hits him with a tranquilizer.

Of course, there are two big problems with Eddie as a character, from a writing point of view.

The first is that you have to be careful when you write someone with mental illness. The effects of Capgras and schizophrenia are well-documented, and this isn’t something that you can just make up as you go. [3] If I’m going to hold on to Eddie as a character in the future then I have to really sit down and read about this condition. How do people deal with it? How does it affect the families and friends of those who suffer from it? What are the treatment options, if any? How can the illness be managed? Is it any easier to live with once you know what it is, or does it become more frustrating, knowing that your brain has betrayed you? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but using Eddie will require that I do my best to find out.

The second is that, Capgras Delusion or not, Eddie is still a person. There’s more to him than an unfortunately short-circuited brain, which is true of anyone with a mental illness. Unfortunately, it’s easy for a writer to just wrap a character around a neurological disorder and be done with it. Why? Because it’s easy, especially when the character is not the protagonist. Regardless of the role that your character plays, though, he is more than simply a mental illness with a name slapped on it. So it is imperative that I find out more about Eddie apart from the Capgras and the murderousness, but a lot of that is going to be contingent on the above-mentioned research.

And despite what he became in the mash-up story, I don’t want Eddie to become a villain. I think he’s a decent guy who has been pushed into a very unpleasant place in life, and doesn’t have the skills to cope with it. Maybe the treatment he gets following Reunion will allow him to live a little better.

———–

[1] I still need to work on my titling skills.
[2] She’s my Kenny. I have to put her on the list for a character sketch.
[3] Which I kinda did. My bad.