Archives for March 2014

Gardening with Clues

The Night and Day series is a mystery/suspense/thriller series. Depending on the particular book, more one than the others.

As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re going to do this genre right, you have to play fair with the reader. You can’t just bring in something from left field to tie it all up at the end and expect the reader to be satisfied.

Part of playing fair is giving the reader, at the very least, some foreshadowing of what’s to come, of what’s really going on. In a traditional mystery, you might call these foreshadowings ‘clues’. And in a series that’s seen through the eyes of its protagonist, the Detective, those clues are given to the reader through what Charlie Welles sees, hears, and thinks.

Not that he catches everything. Like all of us, he’s human. Some things trigger his radar, some things don’t. There are probably times when the reader is actually ahead of Welles, seeing things that he doesn’t (at least yet…). Not all the time. Not even most of the time. The series isn’t subtitled ‘The World’s Dumbest Detective”, and I can’t imagine many people would want to read it if it was. But it certainly can happen. And it’s deliberate.

Interestingly, my first duty is to play fair with the reader. After that, I think about playing fair with Welles.

Blood for Blood has been kind of a different experience, in terms of knowing where I’m going with it, and being able to drop in clues or foreshadowing.

My usual flow is to have a beginning, sometimes an ending, and work out how to get from here to there as I go along. Each new thing that happens usually gives me a couple of different directions to go. So I pick one and move on.

Way back in December 2003, when I was barreling through the first draft of Night and Day, that’s where I was. Working out what was going on, which would help me find my way to the end. In a situation like that, where I am unsure of where, exactly, it’s all leading, I have to start planting those clues in the second draft. I can’t give you clues when I don’t know what I should be cluing you into.

With Bleeding Sky, it was a different story. I had an idea of what was going on, who the players were, and where they fit in. Two-thirds of the way through, I realized I was wrong. In that case, I was able to start retrofitting, so to speak, immediately. Change some conversations, add a few things earlier on. So even if a reader missed it the first time through, and was saying “No, wait a second, didn’t…” he or she could go back and realize “Oh, yeah…I see…”

Bandit’s Moon didn’t have a lot of “mystery” in it. Welles had to find somebody and stop something. The finding part wasn’t that hard, though the ‘getting to’ part was a little harder. As for the something that had to be stopped, I was well into the book before I had a really good handle on it, but part of it came from some of the stuff I’d already dropped in. Retroactive foreshadowing, so to speak.

And now Blood for Blood. It’s different because I know almost the whole story, all the players, and where they fit in. This lets me deliberately place some of those clues and foreshadowing. At this point (5 chapters, about 18,000 words), Welles isn’t picking up on them. Of course, he has other things on his mind, and he’s not expecting, in any way, what’s to come.

It’s fun. The only thing I have to worry about it not being too heavy-handed with it, too “Look look look! This MEANS something” as I drop my hints. There is one little bit in Chapter Five that may be a bit obvious – it looked okay on the second read of the chapter, and it does tie in to something that was discussed in Chapter One. But I plan to give that a harder look after the book is done. There’s sometimes a fine line between an interesting piece of background information that fleshes out of the world and a MEANINGFUL piece of information that will tie in a little later down the road.

And I don’t want to overplay my hand. Not when everything is coming together so well….

Hell at 10,000 Words!

(Yes, I know it’s not as exciting at Hell at 10,000 Feet or Hell at 10,000 Fathoms, but I work with what life gives me…)

I spent the better part of an hour last night whining (or as he would probably say, whinging, since he’s Australian) to my buddy Nick Hudson about the hell I’ve been going through with Chapter Four of Blood for Blood.

And now that it’s over, and I can at last move on, I can talk about it publicly.

It was awful.

I finished up Chapter Three sometime around Tuesday morning, and prepared to jump into Chapter Four. At that time, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t finish Chapter Four until a week later.

There were two problems, both of which I’ve talked about recently.

First is the whole romantic comedy aspect of Chapters 2–4. It’s not broad. It’s not stupid. I’m going for a feel, a vibe before I pull the rug out from under the reader’s feet and take the story in a whole ‘nother direction. It’s thematic misdirection.

But it’s not my genre. I don’t read it. I don’t watch rom-com movies. Just nothing appealing about it to me. But I am aware of the genre, and the common tropes of the genre, and so I planned to use them to misdirect the reader as to what kind of Night and Day story this was before I showed them what was really going on.

And actually, though that was the aspect of these chapters that I dreaded the most, it worked out pretty well. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be (though it wasn’t easy enough to make me want to venture there again anytime soon…) So when I finished up Chapter Three, I knew there would be about 70% rom-comish stuff, and 30% something else. I knew what I had to do in the rom-com stuff to set up the change in direction. That left only the other 30%.

The other 30% had to do with the suicide thing I talked about last time. Getting the right tone to it for Welles. Not over-playing it, taking it into psychodrama. It did go there a couple of times, requiring me to cut all that crap out and begin again. And again. And again.

In the end, I decided that shorter was better. Welles answering some questions he had and leaving it at that. No commentary. No preaching. No trying to give words of wisdom to Takeda. Just get the answers to questions he’d asked internally a couple of chapters earlier (and which had festered since the events of Bleeding Sky) and move on.

It worked. And I ran through the rest of the chapter pretty easily today, dropping little breadcrumbs that a reader might consider clues about what’s really happening. Or not. A lot of that stuff is meant to to be missed at the time and only recalled later.

And now it’s done. Tomorrow I start Chapter Five, and get back into my comfort zone as the story makes it’s hard right turn.

My plan at this point is to be about 50% through with Blood for Blood by the end of the month, with the rest coming in April. Perhaps with some spare time to start working on the Night and Day short I’ve mentioned before.

I was giving that some thought today. And I almost had a title for it. But it sucked. So I stopped thinking about it.

Suicide is Painless

Or so the theme song from M*A*S*H says. (liked the movie, lukewarm on the TV series)

But I’m not talking about television shows here…I’m talking about suicide.

Suicide is a no-no with vampires. Not socially, as it is with many or most humans, but physiologically. Mentally. And it’s all because of that pesky Blood in their veins.

In Bleeding Sky, there’s a piece of a scene. Part of a larger scene. It comes and then the scene moves on.

Brenner nodded, then moved, fast. He pressed the pistol to the center of
his chest, arm and wrist at right-angles. It didn’t look very comfortable.

“If you won’t, I guess I have to.”

Takeda said nothing.

He sat there for a few moments, lips tightly compressed, then shook his
head. “Goddammit,” he said. “The fucking blood won’t let me pull the trigger.”

“I have faced the same problem,” Takeda said softly. “Without that
option, I had no choice but to find a way to live.”

Then the scene, as I say, moves on. It’s not a duh-duh-duh-DUM! moment. Everything doesn’t come to a grinding halt as Charlie say “You tried to kill yourself, Takeda? OMG!”

First, the whole vampire suicide thing. The Blood doesn’t allow it. The Blood is all about survival, and killing yourself is anathema to that. You may want to. The Blood doesn’t interfere with your thoughts. But since the Blood is pretty much in control of your body, it keeps you from following through on that want.

(In some ways, it’s similar to the male vampire’s inability to get an erection. The male vampire may want to have an erection. He may be ‘hot to trot’, as they say. But an erection is not a good use of blood, from the Blood’s perspective. Sex is not how vampires procreate, and as for pleasure…well, that’s not the Blood’s problem. Please yourself all you like, but don’t ask the Blood for resources…)

Takeda’s off-hand mention of her inability to commit suicide is another one of those unfired guns I’ve talked about from time to time. It’s mentioned, it’s out there, but it’s something that will resonate at another time.

Blood for Blood is where that happens. Specifically in Chapter Four. That’s where we find out the story.

I’m finding Chapter Four surprisingly difficult to grind through. The rom-com elements I was worried about a week or so ago are actually less of a problem than I thought they’d be, at least up to now. That’s a lot of Chapter Three, and it went pretty smoothly and pretty well. The greater part of Chapter Four will have them in the second two-thirds of the chapter, and though I have a little apprehension about them, my relative success in the previous chapter gives me hope that it will be fine.

But that first third of the chapter, where Welles and Takeda discuss the suicide attempt, is proving hard to get exactly right. I’ve reworked it a couple of different times, and I’m still not completely satisfied. And I ain’t movin’ on till I am.

A lot of it, I think, is about finding the proper tone. It’s a conversation between two people who may not be “friends” in the conventional sense, but who have a lot of mutual respect. That respect, specifically Welles’s respect for Takeda, is what’s making it difficult.

Welles, being Welles, is putting pieces together. He’s a detective. That’s what he does. But Takeda is not the usual ‘interview subject’, in many ways, not the least of which is his respect for her (as well as a subcurrent of fellowship – they have worked together before, and she did save his life once).

It’s not so much the “getting the story out of her” part that I’m finding difficult. It’s Welles’s response to the story that’s causing problems, that’s causing me to rework it again and again. The scene is nearly over. All I need to do is figure out another couple of hundred words to bring it to a close, and I’ll be able to move on.

I’m sure I’ll get it. Part of this little mini-series on the Blood was an attempt to focus my own mind on the more general area of the Blood and its effects on vampires. I’d hoped that doing that would kick loose the logjam that’s holding me up in Chapter Four.

It hasn’t. But I’m getting there.

Bloody-minded

And so, finally, what I consider the most telling aspect of the Blood’s effect on a vampire: the effect on the mind.

Brains

Like I said at the beginning, the Blood is all about survival. Survival of the vampire, survival of the Blood.

It protects itself with near-instant healing (look at that tire seal up the hole…it’s like magic!), enhanced strength, and keeping the body ticking along like a well-oiled machine that never gets old and never breaks down.

But with the mental changes, that survival mechanism goes to eleven (Spinal Tap joke) to not only protect the vampire (and itself), but do it in a way that molds both how the vampire lives and how vampire society has formed.

Let’s start with the Blood Obligation.

A vampire turns a human. That new vampire finds himself unable to defy a direct command from the vampire that turned him. What’s that all about, and why would something like that be part of the Blood’s control?

Vampires are predators, but they’re vulnerable predators. Yes, they aren’t as easy to kill as a human, and they’re strong. But they’re predators that live among their prey. And discovery of their true nature by their prey will inevitably lead to destruction. (I’m speaking here of vampires across the world and pre-war American vampires – what has happened in the US during and since the war with the humans is not reflective of “normal” vampire society, though some aspects like the Blood Obligation are hardwired into all vampires.)

By turning a human into a vampire, the bloodparent is adding a competitor, another vampire who will be hunting the same prey. A competitor who may decide to turn on the bloodparent, to eliminate the competition. It’s not a happy family situation. The bloodparent/bloodchild relationship can be close and mutual, but it’s not a given. Love and devotion are unpredictable human emotions. To survive, the Blood needs something a little more certain.

The Blood Obligation makes the newly-created competitor controllable. The bloodchild will do as he’s told. He has no choice. He won’t do anything to bring danger down on the bloodparent. He won’t decide that his bloodparent is a competitor, and there’s only room for one vampire in this here town. It gives the bloodparent whatever advantages he was looking for when he made the bloodchild (an assistant, a bodyguard, a companion) without any of the possible negative consequences. (And as seen in Night and Day and Bandit’s Moon, the Blood Obligation can also be used as weapon, as a way to make a recalcitrant human do something he wouldn’t normally do.)

The other major mental effect that the Blood has on a vampire is the revulsion they feel when being around vampires who are “not of their blood” (or more accurately, not of their Blood). They feel uncomfortable, even repulsed. It forces them to be solitary, alone or with a bloodchild. Why is that necessary?

As I said before, vampires are predators that live among their prey. What happens when prey is over-hunted? More importantly, what happens when the prey is human, and can recognize the patterns of vampire hunting?

One vampire (or a vampire and his bloodchild) can get away with feeding in a good-sized town or city. They don’t eat much. They don’t have to kill their prey to feed. They don’t leave fang marks on their prey. Waylay and knock out a human, cut, drink some blood, leave. The victim knows he was attacked by somebody, and they suffered a wound during or after the attack. But that doesn’t scream VAMPIRE! In modern times, maybe the attack is reported to the police, and it’s possible that the police even see some kind of pattern in these attacks. But nobody is dying, and the infrequent attacks are probably not going to be a high priority.

But let’s say there are a bunch of vampires in that same town or city. Now the attacks are coming every day, multiple times per day. That is going to attract attention. And if one vampire is caught during an attack, or tracked down afterward, all of the vampires have a problem. The humans will know what they are dealing with. And then the hunter becomes the hunted.

So vampires don’t hang with others of their kind. They don’t run in packs. They don’t even like being around other vampires. When they sense other vampires nearby, they generally beat feet. They do occasionally meet with other vampires – as Anna Thodberg says in Bleeding Sky, to exchange news, not for companionship. They don’t need or want the company of other vampires.

(Again, the post-war American vampires are a different story – they feel this repulsion when faced with non-American vampires – Takeda and Anna in Bleeding Sky, for example – but the large numbers and constant contact/interaction with their fellow American vampires has desensitized them. Before the war, America was no different from the rest of the world – solitary vampires and their bloodchildren spread out across the country, far from others. Then a human named Wright was turned, and things….changed.)

It’s all about survival, and it’s hardwired into them by the Blood.

There’s another mental aspect to the Blood’s control, and next time, I’ll talk about it. It’s what triggered this little Blood mini-series of posts…

Vampires and the people they once were…

Before I get to the Blood and its effects on the vampire mind, I want to take a short detour into something else that provides something of a baseline to all the mental changes.

Vampy

Here’s the vampire dichotomy – they were once human, now they are not…but they still have a human brain, a human mind, human emotions.

Think about the vampire. One minute they’re human, with all that entails, specifically in terms of their relationships with other people. Family, friends, other loved ones, the people around them. All on a level “playing field”, so to speak – I mean, we’re all human, right? We may not like everybody, we may not like certain “kinds” of people (and racism has a supporting role in Bandit’s Moon). But those feelings, negative, positive include a basic acknowledgment that we’re all the same species.

Ten minutes later, that human is a vampire. Still has the same circle of people, same prejudices, same likes and dislikes. What’s different? All the people in that circle have a new layer to them. They’re everything they were, but now they’re also food.

How do you interact with them?

Do you just ignore the fact that, to paraphrase the old beef commercials, ‘they’re what’s for dinner!’? Forget the people you don’t know, the ones you see driving by or walking on the sidewalk or sitting next to you on the subway. What about your husband or wife? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? Your parents? Your children? Your brother or sister?

Is their innate ‘deliciousness’ part of the equation? Does it have to be? And how does the vampire reconcile the previous feelings for these people with the fact that they now have something he or she eats running through their veins? How do they interact with the new vampire? Is it based on how the vampire interacts with them, or does the knowledge of the vampire’s new favorite food enter into it as well? Joe is just a little different than he used to be, or Joe is a rabid dog I’m inviting into my home?

It’s an interesting area, and one that up to now I’ve not really looked at. With the exception of Ray Holstein in Night and Day, the people Charlie Welles has encountered from his pre-war past are human. He knows a fair number of vampires, but he only knows them as vampires, not as the humans they were before they were turned. That’s not to say that it isn’t coming down the road in the Night and Day series, but it’s not here yet.

Welles’s own thoughts on the matter are conflicted. Sometimes he thinks that there must be some kind of a change in the vampire’s mental outlook that allows them to act as ‘inhumanly’ as they sometimes do. At other times, he thinks that vampires are the people they used to be, good and bad, and it’s that ‘what they used to be’ that leaves them open to inhuman behavior. Once he has to directly confront the reality of it, when it’s not just based on observation and supposition, he should get a better handle on it.

In the early chapters of Blood for Blood, he’s getting some perspective on it, through another character, and I think this perspective will affect how he deals with the questions when it’s his turn in the barrel (it’s an old, vulgar joke – look it up…).

But more about that after next time, when I actually really truly go into how and why the Blood impacts the mental and social lifestyle of a Night and Day vampire.