Monday, October 24, 2011

Chapter Seven: The Accidental Character

First off I want to say a big "THANK YOU!" to the four of you who have already bought the book on Kindle.

I'll have more to say eventually about how important you early adopters really are, but for now, I want to just tell you how much I really appreciate it.   Please, when you're done reading it, put up your reviews on and share the links with all your friends.

Right now it's time to post another chapter.

(Here are the links for the previous excerpts: The New Prologue, Chapter One – which was the old prologue – Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five & Chapter Six.   And remember the entire first half is available FREE in pdf format here, but only for the next week.)

This is Chapter Seven and it's told from the point of view of someone who has become one of my favorite characters: utterly mundane, gamer and comic book geek, 1970's nostalgia hound, the lowly orderly, Tim Riggle.

Tim is the accidental character.  Let me explain what I mean.  This may be a long read, but I think well worth it.  If you'd rather just have the chapter, you can skip down a bunch.

All of the other characters, Nephys, Lucy, Hiero, Lazlo, Amarantha, Hokharty, Graber, Sky & Miles were absolutely intentional and essential to the story.  I had a place for each of them and I needed each of them to do a specific role for the story or it just wouldn't work.  I had the whole plot outlined on about four pages of notebook paper and if you look there today, they are all there.  Even some of the minor characters like Betty and Dr. Rebecca Carfax are there, but there is not one line for Tim Riggle, and yet there he is in the book, at nearly every critical moment, doing important things, making salient observations and funny cracks.   He even turns out to (sorta) save the day by the end.   He was a complete accident, utterly unintentional.  In fact, I kept trying to kill him off, but he just wouldn't stay down.  He is the accidental character.

How did this happen?  How did this non-magical, non-vampire or anything really, non-entity keep forcing his way into my novel?!

Well, it started simply enough in Chapter Four.  In Chapter Four Lazlo Moriro, the current Necromancer in my universe, comes to see the body of Maggie Miller in the morgue of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia. 

(FAIR WARINING! If you haven't read the book or Chapter Four yet, I encourage you to do so as the next discussion is rather spoilerish.)

It's an important scene.  It sets up several things.
  1. First, It establishes the death of Maggie Miller as a BIG DEAL, the event that sets the whole plot in motion. 
  2. Second, the chapter introduces Lazlo as a scary, imposing, powerful, cantankerous & threatening character, who is also losing his grip on reality. 
  3. Third, it shows that the universe is not all cake & ice cream and that we are dealing with some pretty serious dark magic.  Lazlo summons up departed spirits to inhabit the bodies of the dead in this scene afterall!  This is the chapter where I raise the stakes for everyone.
  4. Finally, it starts the chase.  Every book has to have something at its core that gets the motion going.  This can be a quest, a question or in my case, a chase.  Lucy is the now orphaned daughter of Maggie Miller, and it's pretty clear by Chapter Four she's no ordinary little girl.  Who gets to Lucy first and why they want her is the engine that drives the whole book.
So Chapter Four is very important, but there's a general rule in writing..."Show don't tell."  The first draft of Chapter Four was an endless series of exposition that was dull and uninspiring.  I couldn't just tell people Lazlo was off his nut and a powerful necromancer, or that these goons were scary and imposing, or that Maggie's death was unexpected, or that Lucy was special and was the object of everyone's motivations, I had to show it.  I needed a device to explain all of the four points above.  It needed more tension, it needed...a victim! Thus Tim the orderly was born.

So let's go over my points above once more.
  1. Lazlo comes into the morgue to see the body of Maggie Miller.  Now as a matter of practicality, people can't just walk into hospital morgues alone.  There are protocols, they need someone to attend them.  A doctor would have been too important, and not as easily intimidated, so that's why Tim is an lowly orderly with not much in the way of career prospects.
  2. Lazlo is a very intimidating figure, borderline insane, but I can't just have him fuming by himself.  It would look silly.  But having Tim freak out while Lazlo stands there glaring at Maggie's body and cursing in Spanish under his breath? Much better.  So Tim became nervous, fidgety and easily spooked, just to show us how scary Lazlo is.   I don't know where I got the name "Tim,"  but I probably chose it because it resonated with "timid" & "timorous" more than anything else.
  3. The dead goons that Lazlo summons up, Hokharty and Graber, are two very powerful spirits that inhabit the recently reanimated corpses of two criminals in the morgue.  One is pure evil calculation, the other raw muscle.  Now I could say they they were dreadful and scary, but it's far better to show it.  So I have them chase down the poor orderly, Tim, grab him, drag him back and stuff him into a morgue metal drawer and generally treat him poorly.  So Tim is slight of build, lanky and stringy and can't put up much of a fight, just so we can see how tough and scary the two henchmen are by comparison.
  4. Lazlo comes to see Maggie, but he hasn't seen her in many years.  He doesn't even know she had a daughter who might be a necromancer too!  So how does he find this out?  Lazlo is over 300 years old and he doesn't work well with machines.  It would have been incongruous to have Lazlo look it up on a computer screen, and why would he in the first place if he didn't know Lucy even existed? Besides, that would have been boring, so instead, I have Tim let the fact of Lucy's existence accidentally "slip" and thus, the chase begins.  So Tim has loose lips and is a bit of a spaz, saying things he shouldn't, completely out of the blue.  He's a convenient character to hold the idiot ball for the chapter and do the stupid things that need to be done to move the plot forward.

So that was it.  He was a convenient tool. A pawn.  A simple MacGuffin.  That's all.  I fully expected to leave him in the morgue drawer in chapter four and never hear from him ever again.  But then something...happened.

I realized I had left chapter four with a problem.  The henchmen my necromancer just summoned up, Graber and Hokharty, came from the Dark Ages and Ancient Egypt respectively.  Furthermore, there's no evidence Moriro had summoned them up anytime recently, and a lot of things have happened in the last hundred years.  How could they get around without understanding cars? Or cell phones? Or heck, even zippers?  So I needed a dupe, a patsy to help them around for a while.  Then I remembered. 

I had the perfect dupe locked up in the morgue drawer!!

So Tim survived 'til the seventh chapter, as these two corpses chauffeur, driving them to the their destination and helping them navigate the problems of modern life.  Problem solved.  So Tim lives on for a few chapters, but I wasn't worried, because I was certain he would be dead shortly in an appropriately random, gory and ignominious way that would show the seriousness of the situation.  His days were numbered.  He was born to be a red shirt, the comic relief in a horror movie, the (if you'll forgive the usage) African-American scientist in a sci-fi movie. didn't turn out that way.

As time wore on I realized my baddies had a lot of nasty things they had to do.  They had to trap vampires, what would they use as bait?  They needed to kill off some heavies of their own and needed a Renfield who could move in daylight, a chump that they could push around and intimidate into compliance.  It just didn't make much sense to have them constantly wrangling up new victims and new accomplices when they had one already there.  It was also funnier to see these horrors inflicted on the same guy, time and time again, and watch his mental state fray over the book, rather than to see the baddies inflict them one at a time on a bunch of nameless random victims we didn't care about.

So Tim lived on, at first because he was useful.  It makes no sense to have the vampires and dead things lecture on the metaphysics of the afterlife, but as the resident noob, it made perfect sense to have Tim ask.  But eventually, Tim survived because he had evolved into that thing that every story needs: an everyman, someone to play the reader in the story, to speak out loud the questions the reader is thinking.

And so, chapter after chapter, the character that just wouldn't go away, the one I just couldn't kill, became a real character.  And of course, having come into being by accident, it made perfect sense to make his eventual role pivotal, as if his accidental presence in the book, is what gives our heroes the one tool they need to succeed, just when they needed it, almost as accident. 

I won't spoil that just yet though.  Until then, I give you...Tim.

Chapter Seven
Hunting Hunters
Tim Riggle, the orderly, drove down Highway 95 in his cherry, 1974 limited-edition Spirit of America cream-colored Impala with three corpses in the car. One was in the trunk; two were freshly animated and sitting in the car. Graber, the big one, was snoring in the back seat, sucking in wheezing breaths through his nose and gurgling them out through the large, open head wound above his right eye like a blow-hole, sputtering out little flecks of clotted blood on the custom vinyl interior. The thin corpse, Hokharty, was in the front with Tim looking at a road map of Delaware upside down. The other corpse in the trunk was a woman with dark hair. She was, mercifully, not doing anything unusual for a dead person.
“If this girl is in Harrisburg, why exactly are we heading south again?” Tim asked the seemingly perplexed but unflappable Hokharty.
“The girl is west, but the hunters are south. We need help.” Hokharty didn’t look at Tim. “Only hunters can find what we are looking for.”
“And what exactly are we looking for if it isn’t the girl?” Tim asked.
Hokharty just smiled his subtle toothsome smile again. Tim was certain he saw a fang this time.
Tim sighed in frustration and gripped the steering wheel tighter. This wasn’t going to be easy – not that getting out of the hospital was a piece of cake. It was hard to tell exactly what had happened from inside the morgue drawer, but apparently Hokharty had done his “turn into the smoke monster” trick and gone down the hall to the custodial closet. There, he found something to suit him and cover up the stab wound in his chest, but Graber wasn’t so simple. Graber was too big for any of the scrubs there and the wound on his head wasn’t exactly easy to cover up. So, they improvised. Graber was placed on a gurney, covered in a sheet, and Tim and Hokharty pushed him down the corridors. Hokharty had insisted on taking the body of the woman and made Tim wrap it carefully in a sheet and place it on the lower rack of the gurney. Hokharty recited some unknown words over the body while faint wisps of red smoke emanated from his mouth. Tim was afraid she was about rise up too, but thankfully nothing happened, so Tim agreed to push the cart while Hokharty followed. It wasn’t easy. Even without the second body, Graber weighed a ton and it was pretty hard going. Graber seemed to exude a pervasive field of inertia, resisting all forward movement.
Along the way, Hokharty made Tim use one of the “devices,” Hokharty had called it, to find out the information about the deceased Margaret Holveda Miller’s daughter. Lucia Claire Miller was located in an ICU ward in Harrisburg, stable and expected to recover completely. Strictly speaking, he wasn’t authorized to do this, but he knew several nurses’ pass codes because they had asked him to retrieve something for them while they were busy. The whole time Hokharty’s icy hand never left the back of Tim’s neck. Worse than the grip were the things he said.
He queried Tim on everything: his age, his family, his education, his hopes and aspirations. When he told Hokharty his goal was to one day be a Physician’s Assistant, Hokharty remarked, “Why not be the Physician? Why not the greatest Physician who ever lived? Greater than Hippocrates or Galen or Asclepius himself?” More unnerving was the way he said it, as if he could actually make it happen. And then there was the whole “How would you like to live forever?” thing. Tim was glad he hadn’t brought that up again.
Once they had gotten the information about Lucy Miller off the computer, Hokharty made him push Graber down to the staff locker rooms. Tim scoped it out to make sure they were empty, then wheeled Graber in. When Graber got up on his own accord, it spooked Tim all over again, even though he had seen him rise the first time. Tim got changed into his regular clothes. Graber’s hand could open the lockers like a can opener. Eventually, they found clothes for all of them, including some large jeans and a huge sweatshirt for Graber and a leather jacket for Hokharty. Hokharty kept the green scrubs on underneath, however. Neither had any familiarity with zippers, though. Tim had to show Graber how to use it – that had been embarrassing. Once Graber had figured out his pants zipper he kept pulling it up…zip! And! And up…zip! And down…zip! Over and over again in child-like wonder until Hokharty had told him to knock it off.
Graber finally found a large, knit cap big enough to pull over his wound. He pulled it down so far it practically covered his eyes, but it didn’t seem to hinder him at all. In fact, neither of them seemed to use their eyes at all. Hokharty had an intense, fixed glare that never wavered, and he seemed to be able to see straight through the back of his own head. The one or two times Tim was close to the door when Hokharty had his back to him, Hokharty would calmly advise him against thinking about fleeing without even turning around. Thankfully, Graber picked up the body of the woman and carried it out. Tim thought about warning them about the surveillance cameras, but then they had enough trouble with the zippers, so he decided to let it pass.
When they got out to the parking lot, Tim thought he could just hand off the keys and be done with them, but of course, neither knew how to drive. So here he was, going…somewhere…on I-95…near Chester…looking for something called a “hunter”…with two dead guys.
“Hurgghl-KKHUTT,” Graber woke up with a start and hocked up a blood clot though his wound that landed on the dash. Tim tried desperately not to shudder. Hokharty turned around and said something in some guttural language that Tim couldn’t understand to Graber. Graber just nodded and said nothing, as usual, and pulled the knit cap low over his face again.
“What? What is it?” Tim could see that Hokharty was looking out the windshield into the distance.
“We’re getting close,” Hokharty said barely above a whisper, “I can sense them.”
“Close? To what?!” Hokharty didn’t answer.
“There. We need to go there.” Hokharty pointed towards a cross street.
Tim couldn’t see an exit. “Fine, but I can’t get off here, I’ll have to go to the next exit and turn around.”
Hokharty furrowed his brow in displeasure but didn’t say anything.
Tim got off on the next exit and started to wind his way through the surface streets according to Hokharty’s directions. Hokharty hardly gave him any notice before abruptly pointing “here!” or “there!” Tim had to wrench the steering wheel a few times, and the tires squealed in protest, but he didn’t slow down. He didn’t want to spend any more time with these corpses than he absolutely had to.
Finally, Hokharty said, “Stop!” and Tim slammed on the brakes at the street corner. Hokharty fixed his impassive stare at a small alleyway and smiled that now-familiar half smile that disappeared in an instant. Tim was certain he had seen fangs that time.
“Sooo…now what?” Tim said anxiously.
“We wait. They will come to us.”
“Really?” Tim wasn’t so sure he wanted them to come to him. He had already seen two animated cadavers tonight. He wasn’t sure what kind of things “hunters” were, but he had seen enough for one evening.
“Yes, of course,” Hokharty said as if it were obvious, “It’s getting near dawn, and they will be looking for shelter…but not yet.”
“Why not?” Tim asked, curiosity overcoming fear.
“Because they haven’t caught anything all night.” And then Hokharty turned slowly to face Tim. “They are still hungry.” And with that, Graber began snorting a low laugh in the back seat, but at least the knit cap, already crusted with gore, caught most of the bloody spatter this time.
Tim leaned over the steering wheel to get a better view through the windshield. He looked at the alleyway but saw nothing. As he sat on an abandoned street corner in a ‘74 Impala with two dead guys who couldn’t even manage zippers, let alone cars, he knew just one thing for certain…all his horror comic books, all of his first-person shooter video games, his DVD collection of zombie movies…they had all totally lied to him

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