Monthly Archives: February 2012

I did it!

This is a post to celebrate a momentous occasion: I MADE IT TO ROUND TWO OF THE AMAZON BREAKTHROUGH NOVEL AWARD!!!!!

I am so FREAKING happy!  I really didn’t think I’d make it, and I did.  Just look at it!  It’s right there!  Rebecca Leviton.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say.  I’m so excited that I’m going to post the prologue and chapter 1 of Hellbound right here, right now.  No Word of the Day even.  Just book.

Prologue

 

One quiet night in September finds a pair of bloodied hands drawing occult symbols in an abandoned plot of dirt.  Not a sound can be heard except for the frenzied breathing of the person to whom the hands belong.  Knowing it is wrong, knowing that it violates the very core of nature itself, this person persists in going through with the ritual.

Symbols done, the fingers move from the ground to the spell-caster’s own pale forehead, drawing a pentacle of blood and dirt on the sweaty skin there.

The moment the last point of the star is completed, a scream unlike any other ever heard rents the air.  It rips through the quiet stillness of the night, speaking of untold tortures, years of torment, and, above all, rage.  Rage so loud, it makes the spell-caster clap those dirty hands over assaulted ears.

As quickly as the scream came, it is gone, and standing in the middle of all those symbols on the ground is a shadowy wisp of a figure.  It narrows cavernous eyes on the trembling human before it and asks the words of the ritual.

“You called for me?”

“Yes.”

Dry lips are licked before the rest of the words are spoken.

“I need you to do something for me.”

Chapter One

Aiden woke up to the sound of screams, as usual.  They sounded more outraged than normal, which he knew meant bad news for him.  He blinked and stretched, stood up and shook himself.  It was dark, and he had no idea what time it was.  Clocks were hard to come by in Hell.  Working clocks even harder.  Without the use of a light, he found his way to his dresser, pulled out clothes, put them on.  It was the same old routine.  Strangely enough, he knew something was going to break up the monotony of his life very soon, and it was that fact that made him dread leaving his room.  So he did what any normal teenage boy would do – he stalled.  Running his fingers through his light brown hair, he looked absently around his room for a mirror before he remembered he didn’t have one.

“Kairn?”

He stooped to look under his bed as he called his pet’s name again.

“I know you’re here, Kairn.  Quit dicking around.”

The expressions of the twenty-first century were fairly new to him, but he had to admit he liked them.  If there was one good thing about the constant influx of souls in Hell, it was that he was able to keep up with the times by listening to their various speech patterns.

A large, red gecko with black spots skittered down from the ceiling and turned its black eyes on Aiden’s back.  Its footprints glowed in the pitch darkness, creating enough light to catch Aiden’s attention.

“There you are,” he said, standing.  “I need a mirror.”

The lizard cocked its head at him.  Aiden scoffed.

“I don’t owe you a reason.  Maybe I just want to remind myself of what I look like today.”

Kairn raised his shoulders in a shrug and turned into a small, round mirror with an ornate gold frame that was encrusted with rubies.

“Dude, come on,” Aiden moaned.  “I’m not exactly in the mood.”

A head appeared out of the top of the mirror to look questioningly at Aiden.

“I’m going to get a new assignment today,” he grumbled.  “Now could you give me a less girly mirror, please?”

Kairn made a kind of sympathetic clicking noise and then quickly rearranged himself until he was a full-length mirror with a simple, black frame.

“Thanks, buddy.”

Aiden stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself.  He did that for about fifteen minutes, standing as still as a statue, too nervous to even remember to blink.  His reflection stared back at him with his own golden yellow eyes.

After another five minutes had passed, someone knocked on Aiden’s door so hard that it jostled bits and pieces loose from the stalactites on the ceiling.

“What?” he called.

“You know what,” came a bored, female voice.  “Your father’s waiting for you in the foyer.  Get your butt up there within the next thirty seconds or I’ll lock you in the serial killer ward and watch the carnage unfold while I eat my breakfast.”

Aiden didn’t respond.  He wasn’t sure if he didn’t actually prefer that threat to whatever his father had in store for him.

“Move!” the voice on the other side of the door barked.

Aiden sighed at Kairn, who was back to being a giant gecko, and walked out of his room.  He didn’t expect anyone to be outside when he got there, and he wasn’t disappointed.  Whatever attendant his father had sent to fetch him had already flitted away to her next errand.

The dull roar of screams that he had managed to block from his mind until that point rose into a crescendo of rage again.  They had sensed his presence and were shouting their disapproval already.

Aiden closed his eyes and took a deep breath before stepping through the archway at the end of the hall.  The noise was deafening.  Not wanting to deal with the jeers and hisses, Aiden took on his true form.  It didn’t help one bit.  Long, boneless arms still reached out through the bars to swipe at his legs, his neck, anything they thought they could reach.  He ignored them.  Part of their Hell was that they could never reach.  No matter how long their limbs got, they would always be just a few inches too short to grab hold of anyone or anything on the outside.

“Going topside again, are you, boy?”

Aiden turned towards the only creature in Hell that wasn’t attempting to strangle him.  The shadowy figure sat in the back of his cell, bright eyes and toothy grin turned in his direction.  Aiden felt like he was staring at a demonic Cheshire cat.

“Don’t get too attached to the fresh air, mind,” the gravelly voice continued.  “No matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, you’re still a prisoner here just like the rest of us.  You’re no freer than I am.”

Aiden didn’t respond, only finished crossing the Infinite Cavern, switched back to human form, and stepped through the doorway that led to the foyer.  His father was waiting for him there, his face red with anger while some minor servants danced around him trying to fit him in his new suit.

“You’re trying my patience, Re-di-Tor,” Satan snarled.  “You have a job to do and I expect you to do it.”

“Yes, Tor,” Aiden sneered.  “What will it be this time, Tor?”

“I like that tone.  You remind me of your mother.  Keep it up.”

He raised his arms so that the servants could measure their length.

“Your new assignment,” he began, “is in a school.  Some foolish teenager has actually invoked the Rit-di-Malos.  I need you to find out which insolent child the escaped soul is inhabiting and bring it back.  Promptly.”

Aiden could barely believe what he was hearing.  It was almost too good to be true.

“You mean I actually get to go to school?” he asked.  “I’m going to have to interact with other kids my age and socialize and live a normal life?”

“Your age?  Kids your age?  There are no kids your age.  You’re three hundred and seventy-five years old!”

“Three seventy-six, dad.  You missed my last birthday.”

“The point is, you cannot hope to lead a normal life among these petty mortals, Aiden.  You will never be like them.  You have powers they can’t even dream of.  And you have a deadline.  I expect you to return here with the escaped soul in no more than two months, understood?”

“Yes, father,” Aiden said, bowing.

He waited until he was out of sight before flying back to his room.  Not even the screams of the damned could bring him down now.

“Kairn!” he shouted as he burst through the door.

The gecko lifted his head from his bed and looked at Aiden.

“We’re going to school!”

Kairn made a surprised noise and began to emit a faint red glow.

“It’s unbelievable, I know.  No more screams waking us up, no more of that burnt toast smell, no more hours and hours of boredom!  We’ve got two months up there, and if I have my way – which I will – we’re going to have way more than that!”

The gecko nodded eagerly with everything Aiden was saying.

“Get ready to go, buddy.  We’re leaving right now.”

Aiden didn’t actually need to pack anything because he’d be able to summon anything he needed once he was on earth, as long as no one saw him.

Someone knocked on the door, which startled Aiden, a very unusual occurrence.  But in this case, he thought, it was perfectly understandable.  He answered the door and saw his mother standing on the other side of it, or rather, one of the many copies of her that his father had made to act as his personal attendants.  His real mother, the human, had died in childbirth, which happened nine times out of ten when a human gave birth to a new Re-di-Tor.

“Your father sent me here to get you prepped for your trip,” she said in an annoyed tone.  “Are you ready?”

“Definitely.  Come on Kairn.”

The gecko ran up and hopped onto his shoulder, clicking happily.

His mom-clone had a clipboard in her hands, and Aiden dutifully followed the tall, blonde woman as she led him through the familiar preparations.

“You’re going to be living in California.  It’s usually pretty warm there, so you’ll feel right at home.  We’ve set it up so you can live in a house that’s close to the high school, but you’ll still need to drive there.  I assume that won’t be a problem.”

Aiden looked to his shape-shifting pet and shook his head.

“Nope, no problem.”

“Good, not that I would’ve cared if it were.  The pact was made…”

She actually paused while she checked her clipboard, and that surprised Aiden; she’d never stopped before, not once in the hundreds of years that he’d been doing this with her.

“A year ago,” she said slowly.  “That can’t be right.”

“A year?” he repeated.  “Why are we just now doing something about it?”

“It says the pact didn’t come to our attention until just recently, meaning it didn’t come into effect until just now maybe?”

She actually looked to him for confirmation, but Aiden was as baffled as she was.

“I’ll look into it while I’m there,” he told her.  “Maybe I’ll come up with something.”

“Here’s hoping.”

She began walking again.

“Okay, you’re a senior in high school, in the same class as whoever it is that invoked the Rit-di-Malos.”

“That better be accurate.  We don’t want a repeat of Barcelona.”

“We sent one of the better trackers out for this one.  The information is good.”

“Alright, go on.”

“You’ve got two months to complete this job, and two months is underlined twice, so I think you get the picture.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I think that’s pretty much it.  I’ve got the information for your new school all written down.  They’ll be expecting Aiden Reditor to show up for class tomorrow, so make sure you get there.”

“Do I have a schedule and everything?”

“You go to the main office to check in and then they’ll give you everything you need.  You’ve got transcripts from your old high school all sent in.”

“Did I get good grades?” Aiden asked.

“Good enough.  Now get going.”

She pulled the papers out of the clipboard, slapped them into his chest, and flicked his forehead.  Aiden blinked, and he was standing inside a big, empty house with Kairn still on his shoulder.

For the first few minutes he was there, all he did was take deep, satisfying breaths of the fresh air.

“When was the last time we made it up here?” he asked Kairn.  “1953?”

Kairn shrugged.

Aiden observed his surroundings.  Thankfully his room down in Hell stayed pretty up-to-date, so he was able to recognize the modern lamps and appliances.  The one thing he failed to remember from his last trip to earth was the little rectangular lever on the wall.  It was smaller than his thumb, but it still looked important.  Curious, he flipped it, and the room suddenly flared with light.  Aiden shouted out from surprise, covering his eyes with one arm while blindly groping for the little switch of death with the other.  He managed to turn the lights back off after a second, and when he uncovered his eyes, there were white spots in his vision.  A disgruntled clatter drew his attention to a chair in the corner of the room, under which Kairn had buried himself.  He was now chattering angrily at Aiden as he squeezed out from his hiding space.  Aiden hadn’t even felt Kairn move.

“Sorry, man,” he said.  “I forgot about these things.”

Kairn chattered a little more sympathetically as he walked onto the wall and began to explore his surroundings, his glowing footsteps leaving echoes of his presence wherever he went.

“What do you think?” Aiden asked after a while.

He, too, had been looking around his new home, but he’d stopped once he’d realized that his room had a window; after discovering that, he didn’t need anything else to make him happy.

Kairn wandered down from the ceiling and made a few contented clicking noises.

“You think high school will be hard?” Aiden asked him.

Kairn gave him a look that said, “How the hell would I know?  I’m a gecko.”

“Yeah, I know.”

He flopped back on his bed and marveled at how soft it was.

“Well, whatever it’s like, it can’t be worse than Hell.”

Kairn crawled onto his stomach and lay down.  Aiden looked up at the ceiling and smiled.  His time up there may have been limited, but he was planning on making the most of it, starting by avoiding doing his job at all costs.

 

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Rat Patootie

So instead of going to bed at a decent hour tonight, I decided to watch one of my favorite movies, Ratatouille, while eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream.  If you haven’t seen or eaten those respectively, I highly recommend both.  But here’s the thing about that movie: It actually illustrates a couple of points I made on this blog.  If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend closing this window, finding it, watching it, and then returning to this blog.  There won’t be major spoilers, but if you care about that sort of thing, then you can consider this a spoiler alert.

Firstly, I don’t think I ever talked explicitly about motivation, but I have talked about the pinch and the ouch.  In that post, I talk about how a character’s decisions and reactions have to be justified somehow, preferably in a way that makes logical sense.  In Ratatouille, there is a scene in which Linguini, the main human character, has fallen asleep in the kitchen after staying up all night cleaning.  Remy, the rat, runs inside and sees Linguini sleeping.  Remy’s reaction is somewhat panicked and fearful.  He runs to Linguini and desperately tries to get him to wake up.  Why?  I can’t figure it out.  If Remy had just hid in his usual spot – under Linguini’s hat – someone would have come by eventually, woken the guy up, and maybe given him a reassuring pat on the shoulder or something.  There wouldn’t have been a negative consequence, as far as I can tell.  Especially not if Linguini had been able to explain himself.  Something along the lines of “The boss asked me to stay and clean after he left last night, and I guess I fell asleep” would have done just fine.  Even someone as spastic as Linguini could’ve figured that one out.  Instead, all kinds of hilarious antics ensue as Remy tries to get Linguini to wake up while his love interest is talking to him.  Everything turns out fine in the end, but I still can’t figure out what Remy’s motivation was.

That’s not my favorite moment, though.  No, my favorite moment comes later, when Remy discovers the late chef Gusteau’s will in the current chef, Skinner’s, office.  See, Remy tends to hallucinate conversations with Gusteau, and they have one such chat in this scene, with Remy conversing with a picture of Gusteau on Skinner’s desk.  I am bringing up this scene because it fits in so perfectly with the pinch/ouch thing and also probably my post on dialogue.  Below is a drawing of the scene that I did because sleeping is for stupid normal people.

Notice anything strange about that exchange?  I’ll spell it out for you since I have the time.

Remy is confused.  He’s just gone into a file that contains his hallucinated friend’s will, and found that it is somehow related to his living friend.  He decides to ask his hallucinated friend why he just found things that pertain to his live friend (this would be Linguini) in the same file as Gusteau’s will.  “Why would Linguini be filed with your will?” Remy asks.  His hallucinated friend, Gusteau, decides to respond with, “This used to be my office.”

Now I ask you:  Did that answer the question?  Did it even relate to the question?  No.  Not even one bit.  If Remy had asked, “Why is your stuff in some other chef’s office?” then maybe the response would have been justified.  So yeah, just in case you thought I was wasting my time writing about dialogues and reactions that don’t match up, here’s some bona fide proof that it happens, and it gets past all kinds of editors and writers.  It even got put into a movie.  And no, I don’t know the reason for it.  Because there might be one.  This scene might have been longer, and they might have cut it down some, removing  an important piece of dialogue in the process.  I don’t know.  But it does show that these mistakes happen, so you really do have to be careful.

Okay, that’s it.  I’m totally going to bed now.  I’ll even give you a Word of the Day even though this post was somewhat supplementary.

Word of the Day: Supplement (n) – Something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole.

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Quirky, Idiosyncratic Nuances

This blog is chugging along at a nice pace, which means there are a lot of posts, and I’m going to be touching on a lot of the same ideas.  Because of this, I’ve decided to include links whenever I refer to something I’ve said in the past.  Obviously you don’t have to click them, but if you do want to check back and reread what I said so you know what I’m referring to, you’ll now be able to.

That being said, I’d like to refer back to my post about writing what you know.  I stand by what I said in that post, but I thought I’d expand a bit.  This time I want to talk about when it’s appropriate to write what you know.

Most often, when I find myself writing what I know, it is when I’m trying to make my characters seem human.  The one thing that you (hopefully) know better than your characters is how to be real, and sometimes you can use that to make them seem real, too.  What I usually do is take my own personal experiences with quirks, flaws, and traits, and I sprinkle those things throughout my stories.

For example, the first character I ever created, Shauna McKay, mentions once in her narration that she hates it when people tug on her hair.  This comes directly from me.  When I wear my hair in a ponytail, my dad often tugs on said ponytail, and I hate it.  It’s  just a thing about me that I can’t change, and other people probably wouldn’t mind it.  So I used my own personal pet peeve to give my character depth, because nothing will make a fictional character seem more human than having very real, human quirks.

And, yes, I do this a lot.  They’re not always my peeves or quirks, though.  Sometimes I use my friends’ or my siblings’.  Whatever comes to mind really.  Whatever fits.  Which is not to say that you can’t make up a quirk for your character.

It just so happens that the things that are inspired by real life have this great guarantee that they are absolutely true to real life.  Even if people think you made them up, you’ll know that those things could absolutely happen because they actually have.

Now here’s a question: How many monkeys can be found in the average zoo?  Here’s another question: What’s so important about giving your characters these little quirks?  Well, I kind of already said it.  The answer I’m going to give is that it makes your characters seem real.  It gives them depth.  It’s an added dimension to your story that people might not consciously look for, but when they see it, they might smile a little and think, I know someone who does that.  Or even, That’s so funny.  I do that all the time.  You yourself might have thought that at one point or another while reading a story.  And if that happens when someone is reading your work, then you get this wonderful thing where your reader begins to relate to your character, and the more they do that, the more invested they become in the story.  If your goal is to have your reader sympathize with your character(s) and become invested in your story, then giving your characters these extra traits can help accomplish that.  This all has to do with character development, something else I’ve talked about before.  I believe I called it a swirling vortex of doom.  These idiosyncrasies are part of that.

In conclusion, it’s okay to write what you know sometimes.  I do it often when I need to draw on my humanity to make my characters seem human.  I also make up things when I need to, things that are more believable than Duck Girl up there.  For example, Shauna also has a thing she does that I don’t do – she carries a sketch pad with her wherever she goes and draws people.  I made that up completely.   I don’t know anyone who does that, and, while I like drawing, I don’t do that either.  But Shauna does, and that makes her unique.  That’s all I wanted to say about that.  At least for now.

Word of the Day: Idiosyncrasy (n) – a characteristic, habit, mannerism, or the like that is peculiar to an individual

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