As I mentioned over on Druid Journal, I’m writing a steampunk novel. It’s taken me a while to settle on a title, but I think I like this one: The Binding Coil. So… you wanna help me write it?
I’m doing National Novel Writing Month this year, the annual “30 Days and Nights of Literary Abandon”, to try and power through the majority of the first draft. I’m a bit behind — only at about 8,000 words, and it’s already day 8! — but I’m confident I’ll get to the target (50,000) on time. And I’d like to post the text here as I go, to see how folks like it, and solicit feedback.
So, dear reader: would you like to help me write this book? A monstrous, sprawling thing, spawned in darkness and terror, crawling toward the light of day, spewing horrible syllables of unholy power… Wait, is that the novel, or the antagonist?… Anyway: it’s a book about steampunk, secret societies, shamanism, the creeping edge of insanity, and the loss (and regaining) of home and family.
Orphaned Amy Milton discovers she has strange uncontrollable powers when she accidentally changes her cousin into a monster. She is abducted to a remote, hidden school called the Athenium, run by a secret society called Sea Star. There she is instructed in occult technologies and magics, and she tries to learn to control her powers. But things go from bad to worse, as her subconscious fears rise to the surface. Stricken with uncontrollable blind rages, she injures her teachers, her best friend, and even herself. Somehow she must learn to control her mind and abilities, or the Athenium will wipe her brain and condemn her to an insane asylum. Or worse…
How You Can Help
Sound good? I hope so! I’m going to be posting things here pretty regularly — short posts of one scene or so, as the novel progresses throughout November. What I need are what Orson Scott Card calls “Wise Readers”: people who are willing to read and tell me three things:
- Where are you confused? Any time you don’t know what’s going on, and you think you *should*, let me know.
- Where do you not care? My goal is for you to be interested in the book, to find out what happens; and I want you to care about he main characters, to be emotionally invested. Where have I failed? Where have I succeeded brilliantly?
- Where do you not believe? Obviously this is a work of fiction, but my goal is to create a self-consistent world, and help you suspend your disbelief. Whenever I fail, whenever you find yourself saying “that character would never do that”, etc., let me know.
And of course any other thoughts you have. I can’t pay you a dime for your efforts, but you’ll have my undying gratitude, and when the book is published (as a kindle ebook at the very least) you’ll be in the acknowledgements.
So if you’re interested, just leave a comment below!
And without further ado: the first scene.
Scene I: In Which All Is Lost
“I love you. I love you! I love you!”
The parrot paused, squawked, and ruffled its feathers. Then it screeched again, even louder: “I love you!”
“Someone shut that bird up!” shouted Amy’s mother. She heard a servant scrambling to cover the parrot’s cage, to make it think it was night so it would go to sleep. Sometimes that worked.
Amy silently turned her attention back to what she was doing: packing her bag for her escape. She eased open the pantry — slowly, lifting the door slightly so it wouldn’t squeak — and grabbed two loaves of bread and the jar of peanut butter. She put them in her bag with the bottled water, apples, razor, and $500 stolen from her father’s room, and eased the door back into place.
She peeked out of the kitchen. The servants were nowhere to be seen. Mariel, the afternoon housekeeper who was always smirking at her for some reason, was probably the one downstairs with mother and the parrot. Christian, the solid, bear-like cook, would be away at the market for another hour. The laundry servants were in the basement — no danger of them coming up anytime soon. Her mother was watching television and would be planted there until dinner, like usual. Her father was at the Embassy, of course. So it was the perfect time.
She moved, quickly and silently, straight down the stairs, through the back hall, out the door, across the yard, and up to the wall. It would take just a moment to use the palm tree to wedge herself up to the top of it, hop over, and drop into the neighbor’s backyard. From there, she’d dash behind the stand of bamboo, slip out to the street, and then… she’d be free.
So why wouldn’t her legs move?
She struggled with herself for a moment. Come on Amy, she hissed to herself. Just do it. Get it over with.
No one would miss her. Well, of course they would notice she was gone, but they wouldn’t be sorry about it. It would be a relief to them, really, once they got over the shock. They never paid any attention to her anyway; she barely saw them, even at mealtimes. She usually came downstairs, and the cook handed her a plate of food, and she went into the living room to eat with her parents. Her father sat silently, checking messages or whatever on his phone, and her mother screamed at the television, and the parrot screamed at all of them, and her mother screamed at the parrot, until Amy couldn’t take it anymore and she went to her room to eat and watch television in peace. Every night.
Her parents hadn’t always been this way. She remembered when they had seemed to really love her: her father sometimes took her to work; her mother took her to the local parks; and they would go on vacation, as a family, to Taiwan, or Australia. They would go on drives through the countryside and stop at a friend’s farm for dinner. She could play with other children and the sheep and chickens, while the adults talked and smoked and drank servesa, and the evening drew on, and the stars came out…
But those trips became less frequent, and her parents stopped spending time with her, and with each other. She didn’t know why. Sometimes she wondered if she had done something to make them stop loving her. Or if some terrible tragedy had occurred, a tragedy that had emptied them of all hope and love, a tragedy that they could never reveal to her. They barely even looked at her anymore, or if they did, they glanced away quickly, as if she reminded them of something they’d rather forget.
She had tried to reach them. She’d asked them to go places with her — museums, parks, the movies. But they never seemed to have time. They never took any interest in her schoolwork. Her tutors were sympathetic, in a distant way, and she tried to talk to them, to get to know them, just to have someone to talk to. But she saw each of them for only an hour or so every few days, and they always had to dash off to their next client.
If she’d had any friends, she could have talked to them. She would have been able to tell them how lonely she was, and how afraid she was that her parents had grown to hate her for some reason. And maybe they would have been sympathetic, and told her, no, you’re fine, and they’ll be fine, you’ll see… Even if that had been a lie, it would have been some comfort, for a while.
But she had no friends, no one to talk to. Her parents had rejected her and she was utterly alone, trapped in this house. So she was leaving.
Once she was over the wall and gone, they’d call the police, and since her father was the US Ambassador to the Philippines, it would be a major news story. Everyone would look for her. She knew how to keep from being found, though: buzz-cut her sandy brown hair with the razor and dye it black, and smear her pasty-white skin with emu oil, so that she would look more like a native Filipino. Her eyes would still be washed-out blue, but that wasn’t uncommon among Filipinos. She’d hide out down by the markets; no one would notice one more person sleeping in the street. She could live on $500 for months. After a week, maybe two, they wouldn’t really be looking anymore.
Then she could…
Then she could what?
Well, whatever she wanted.
Distantly, she heard the parrot squawking, her mother shouting again. The sea breeze rustled the palm leaves above her.
Whatever she wanted. What did she want?
She wasn’t sure. But you know what? It didn’t matter. She could figure it out later. Right now she didn’t care where she went or what happened to her. All she knew was that she hated them all and she was getting away from them.
She wedged herself between the palm tree and the wall, pressing her back against the bark and her feet against the stone, and began working her way upward.
That was when the bomb went off. The shock of the explosion knocked her to the ground on her back and ripped the palm tree from the ground; chunks of masonry and drywall flew above her head and rained around her. She rolled over and curled up with her arms over her head. The palm tree crashed next to her, collapsing the wall, and she shrieked in pain as stones and cinderblocks fell onto her back. There were other screams, more explosions, snapping of wood and shattering of glass. Sirens. After a moment, when most of the noise died away, she hesitantly looked up. Her home was on fire, the roof blown off, the walls teetering or falling, and foul black smoke belching out.
Of what happened next, she only remembered fragments of things: running towards the house, screaming; tripping over bits and pieces of furniture, clothes, and toys, strewn across the yard; trying to get in the house, the firemen grabbing her, pulling her back; more explosions.
The parrot’s cage. Watching the firemen working, sitting in the yard, wrapped in a blanket, she saw it, its bars twisted and broken. The body of the parrot was still in it.
And she remembered identifying her parents in the hospital, before they were taken away forever.