Pulling Aside the Curtain

Pulling Aside the Curtain

The ultimate reveal of the villain is incredibly important in any conflict-based narrative. It’s the pay-off for the reader. They’ve followed all the clues, stuck to the right path despite the red-herrings the author has thrown in their way, and now they get the prize: to find out “who done it” and why. Pulling aside the curtain is usually the climax of a narrative and what readers will long remember if it engages and entertains them.

It’s that moment, the ultimate reveal, that I’m struggling with at present. The feedback I’ve had on Snowburn tells me the ultimate reveal of the villain, Kison Tyng, was satisfying to readers. When I pulled back the curtain, I revealed not the all-powerful monster that the protagonists had envisioned, but rather a struggling, dying man motivated by the desire to protect his family. He put the protagonists through the conflicts of the story for a reason, and his reason was sympathetic. Readers really engaged with that.

The beta and editorial feedback I’ve had on Throwing Fire tells me the opposite. The reveal is not satisfying. The why of the antagonist’s actions doesn’t click with readers. Maybe that’s because Tyng’s actions in Snowburn were motivated by love, and the villain in Throwing Fire is motivated by hate and the desire for revenge. Is love a more satisfying motive than hate or revenge? I wouldn’t have thought so, but that’s something I’m chewing over.

I’ve been re-watching True Detective (Season One, of course) over the last few weeks (because nothing is better for you when you’re in a writing funk than getting involved in an extensive narrative of dissipation, dissolution and psychosis – hmm). I think the reveal of the killer in Form and Void (episode eight) is incredibly effective. In the previous episodes, there have been hints at the killer’s motive, but the viewer has never seen him and never known the whole story. In episode eight, the show’s writers pull back the curtain and give us the killer’s point of view. We see what’s made him: the incest, poverty and twisted religion. It’s a surprisingly nuanced point of view. The killer is a damaged man-child seeking transcendence. He’s a monster, but one the viewer (and certainly the nihilist detective Rust Cohle) can relate to. He’s seeking, on a larger and more deranged scale, the same things we all seek: acceptance, connection (even if violent), and the ultimate reward of faith.

I’ve been contrasting this in my mind with the last two books of the Harry Potter series, which are also an exploration of a killer’s psychology. Voldemort is perhaps a less nuanced character than True Detective’s killer. Both seek an off-beat form of immortality, but Voldemort’s ultimate motivation is fear, where the True Detective killer’s is desire. Voldemort seeks power on the earthly plane to defeat death, while the True Detective killer seeks elevation above it (or below it, since he talks about the “infernal plane” rather than heaven). Coming back to what’s a more satisfying motive, love or hate, if Voldemort’s motive is hate and the True Detective killer’s is love, love is the more interesting and engaging motivation to me.

So maybe the key to rewriting the end of Throwing Fire is not the action or resolution, but the villain’s motivation. If I can find something the villain loves, and make that the reason behind the villain’s actions, that might make the moment I finally pull back the curtain satisfying for readers.

“Three Little Words” – A Snowburn Short

“Three Little Words” – A Snowburn Short

Welcome to my stop on the SFR Station’s “April Fools for Love” blog event!

For my stop, I thought I’d offer a short story entitled “Three Little Words.” For those who have read Snowburn, this takes place about a week after the end of Snowburn and shortly before the beginning of Snowburn’s sequel, Throwing Fire.

I hope you enjoy!

***

I haven’t seen much of Ape lately. He’s probably been lying low, avoiding his sister’s wrath. Ape’s part in the run that brought Kez and me together, but also nearly killed her, came out afterwards. He may not have known the real purpose of the run, or who was behind it. But he was quick to volunteer his sister to take the fall. And Kez, being Kez, offered up her own flesh for his without a second thought. She’s a martyr when it comes to her family, my kitten. But she also holds a grudge. So she hasn’t had much to say to Ape since the run, and what she’s had to say, he hasn’t wanted to hear. Particularly since part of the post-mortem instructions that Old Man Tyng left us included an edict that Ape make an honest woman of his daughter. And Kez has insisted that Ape follow through.

So it’s a surprise when Ape pulls up a stool on the far side of the counter where I’m chopping tomallos for breakfast. He sits down, rests his elbows on the counter and puts his head in his hands.

“Early for you,” I remark. Kez’s crew are pretty dedicated night-owls.

Ape groans and looks up at me. I reassess. It’s not early for him, it’s late. Without another word, I toss a couple of handfuls of the tomallos into the grinder with an egg and a cup of cocomilk. Hand him a beaker of the resulting pink froth. He tilts his head back and downs it in one.

“Thanks.”

“Uh-huh. You’d better get some newskin on your neck before the girls notice,” I say, nodding at the red marks on his throat, revealed when his head was thrown back. Suck marks that I know Chiara did not put on him, since she’s still in Roysten, doing the meet-and-greet thing with the DeSal team.

He sinks on the stool, puts his head in one hand and closes the other around the side of his neck. Groans.

“Anyone we know?” I don’t really care who Ape spent the night with. What I care about is whether it’s someone who will tell Kez’s crew. Immature idiocy aside, Ape seems to really love Chiara. And she definitely loves him, although I have no idea why. Throwing that away over a drunk one-nighter seems like a waste.

“I don’t even know if it was a he or a she,” Ape mutters.

“Where’d you wake up?”

“Alley behind Bounce.”

The club Kez’s crew frequents. Could easily be someone we know. I shrug. It’s Ape’s problem in the end. I’ll tell Kez, so she’s forewarned. But Kez won’t tell Chiara. My kitten keeps secrets like no one I’ve ever known.

Ape rubs his hands over his red-blond crew cut. “I screwed up.”

I nod and keep chopping. If he’s looking for sympathy, he’s looking in the wrong place.

“How do you do it?” he asks.

I glance up at him. He’s asking me for relationship advice? “Do what?”

“Make Kez . . . you know.”

Happy? Sex. Lots and lots of sex. And trust. Trust doesn’t hurt. “Three words.”

“I’ve told Chi those three words already.” Ape shakes his head.

I doubt it. “I. Am. Sorry.”

“Oh.”

Didn’t think so. “Works on all women. In all situations. As long as you mean it.”

Ape rubs his hands over his head again. He’d better not have lice, rubbing his head that close to my food.

“Watch,” I tell him.

I put everything down, wipe off my hands and walk over to the bathroom door. I tap open the door and beckon to Kez, who is standing at the sink, rubbing sealer over her teeth. Her implants are still new, so they need to be sealed every day. She looks at me in the mirror, lifts an eyebrow.

I wave two fingers at her.

She wipes the foam off her mouth and comes to me. Into my arms, the way she always does. I hug her as she looks up at me. Those big blue eyes full of trust and love and a little mischief, since we’re both only wearing bathrobes.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“For what?” she asks.

“Interruptin’ you.” When she lifts an eyebrow, I say. “I just need a kiss.”

She beams. Goes up on her toes, wraps her arms around my neck, and gives me a deep, enthusiastic kiss. I kiss her back. Give her a little tongue and enjoy the sharp peppermint taste of her mouth. When she finally drops back onto her heels, I smile at her. Help her re-fasten her bathrobe.

“I’ll be out in a minute. I’m almost done,” she says. She scoots back into the bathroom, without even a glance at her brother.

I stroll back to the counter, pick up the knife and another tomallo and start chopping.

“It was the kiss,” Ape grumps.

“Followin’ those three words with a kiss doesn’t hurt,” I admit. “You think there’s anythin’ she wouldn’t forgive me right now?”

Ape hangs his head. “No.”

“Give it a try. You can practice on your sister. As long as you skip the kissin’ bit.” Kissing Kez is my job.

“I already told her I didn’t know about Tyng—” Ape begins huffily.

He is as thick as a thermobrick. I hold up the knife. “Three words,” I admonish.

Ape’s puffy face darkens. “Get off my back.”

I drive the knife into the counter a centimeter from his pinky finger.

You asked me for advice,” I growl at him. “I’m the one who holds your sister when she wakes up screamin’ from the nightmares that run gave her. So don’t tell me what you did and didn’t know. I told you how to fix it. You don’t like my advice, ask someone else.”

Ape eases slowly back from the knife. Swallows. “Uh, okay.”

I yank the knife out of the pseudowood. Wipe it off before I start chopping again.

Ape slides off the stool. Towards the bathroom. Just before the door, he turns back. “Snow?”

“What.”

“I’m sorry.”

I glance up. Gauge his expression. Nod before I go back to chopping.

Kez emerges from the bathroom, passes her brother without acknowledgement and joins me behind the counter. She wraps her arm around my waist. Leans into me. “Can I interrupt you now?”

“Uh-huh.” I put down the knife and turn to kiss her.

When we come up for air, she asks, “What were you and Ape talking about?”

“Magic words.”

“Dead puppies?” she asks mischievously.

“Nope. Three words.”

Both brows rise. “You and Ape were talking about those three words? Why?”

“Don’t think we’re talkin’ about the same three words.” I chuckle.

“What words were you talking about?”

“What I said to you when I opened the door.”

“You . . . uh.” Her brow furrows as she tries to remember. “You said you were sorry.”

“Yup.”

Kez rolls her eyes at the now-closed bathroom door. “You’d have more luck teaching the rabbits to fly than you would getting Ape to say he’s sorry.”

“Better get them some itty bitty flight suits, then.”

“Seriously?” She wrinkles her chin and shrugs. “Well, we’ll see.”

“He already managed it once. First time’s the hardest.”

“He did?” She looks up at me, eyes searching my face. “He told you he was sorry? Really?”

“Yup.”

“Wow. Well, stranger things have happened.”

“Yeah, I accepted his apology.” Turns out, those three words work on men, too.

Kez chuckles. “That is stranger.” She goes up on tip-toe and kisses my cheek before she turns to the counter. Surveys the huge mound of chopped tomallos. “Jeez, how many are we feeding?”

“Those are just for me. Get your own.”

She laughs. Bumps me with her hip. When I pass her a bowl, she starts cracking pagia eggs into it while I get on with the spicy salsa I like with our morning omelet.

***

Enjoy the story? Read all of Snowburn here!

There’s also another Hale and Kez short here!

Want more sci-fi romance? Visit the rest of the tour via the SFR Station!

SRFG Teaser Tuesday

For the Scifi Romance Group’s Teaser Tuesday, I thought I’d share a scene from Throwing Fire, the upcoming sequel to Snowburn.

SFRG Teaser Tuesday Banner

PRETTY RATTY

“What time is it?” Kez asks finally. She knows I have a chrono implanted in my retina. Part of a surgical Mod I had done after I outed Tol Seng.

“Seven twenty-seven.” I translate it into civvy time for her.

“I think we should go.”

The rats don’t seem to have a thing about time. Acker just said to come for dinner; he didn’t specify when. But Kez is probably right. It’s getting on toward dinner-time, or breakfast, given that the rats are nocturnal. “Lead the way.”

She turns in my arms. Stretches up for a kiss. Takes my hand and leads me back up the gravel beach and into a maze of buildings. They’re shut now – displays dark, entrances shuttered – in the transition between daylight businesses and the Night Market. Most of the buildings are acid-rain stained permacrete. Despite the lack of distinguishing characteristics, or anything resembling a sign, Kez winds unerringly through the maze to a warehouse that looks like all the other warehouses around it, clacks down a set of stairs to a recessed door, and knocks.

The door slides open immediately and Tiancha bows to us. I haven’t seen her in daylight before. Although the setting sun is kind to her – gilding her brindled fur, turning her high, pink ears into rose petals – she looks pretty fucking ratty. She blinks her big black eyes into the glare of the sunset and beckons us into the shadows.

In the interior’s cool gloom, Kez gets a hug from Tiancha. I’m blinded in the moment of transition between light and dark, so I miss who initiated the hug, but I have a feeling it was Tiancha. Kez isn’t usually all that huggy. Well, not with anyone but me. If Kez feels any distaste at getting hugged by the rat-girl, she doesn’t show it.

Once they break apart, Kez shakes her wrist and cool blue light spills from it. My kitten can’t see in the dark, and she doesn’t like to be at a disadvantage. She used to wear light-beads in her dreadlocks. After she sacrificed her hair for me, she modified her viewie so it throws this soft light.

Kez’s light illuminates a bare warehouse. Couple of cartons and an overturned table. Nothing that gives away the warehouse’s real function as the entrance to the Deep Whites’ domain. Only the extra-wide stairs, leading down into darkness, hint that what’s below might be more interesting.

Tiancha turns down the stairs in a swirl of the gossamer poncho that Kez gave her as a gift the last time we got together. Kez has taught me the importance of gift-giving to the underground clans of Kuseros, and I’m interested to see what she’s brought them this time. And what they have for us. The cigars that Acker brought last time were fucking ace. A mellow, rich smoke. Probably took five years off my life and dumped who the fuck knows what into my lungs, but I’d smoke them again in a heartbeat.

Tiancha patters down the stairs, sure-footed on her clawed, bare feet. I check for a handrail, which there is, before taking Kez’s hand and walking her down. Kez is good at walking in heels, the few times I’ve seen her wear them, and has a trick of putting one foot in front of the other that gives her hips a fascinating sway. But falling down the stairs would not be a fun way to start the evening, especially when I can’t see the bottom.

The walls flicker as we descend. No longer white-washed permacrete; the walls are covered with holoart. Each image swims up out of the darkness and fades back to black as we move down the risers. A sunset only slightly less brilliant than the one we just watched. A stand of native salevas trees waving in a balmy breeze. I feel the warmth of the breeze tickle my face and scalp. Hear the patter of rain as the next image, a rain-washed city-scape at night, each light a tiny, winking diamond, rises into view.

“That’s somethin’,” I remark to Kez.

“CJ’s work,” she says. She’s told me about CJ before. A techno-artist, she made Kez’s viewie. She was also part of the Kuus Pack. Kez suspects that CJ and the Pack leader, Nacht, have been killed in a recent coup. It’s one of the many things I want to talk about with Acker tonight.

***

Hope you enjoyed! Drop me a comment and please take a look at the other out-of-this-world excerpts at the Scifi Romance Group here!