Archive for December, 2008

The Spark

Posted: December 1, 2008 in Excerpts

Yes, I know, I promised myself I would concentrate on only one book at a time. Oh well. It all started with the NaNoWriMo thing, which I foolishly signed on for during the same month we were moving from our duplex to a lovely house here on the Lake (don’t even ask me how we did this on unemployment. Suffice it to say we’re paying less rent now than we were before – thanks largely to my lovely wife and her friendships).

Anyway, I started a new manuscript. Probably working out some post-election angst, but also addressing a story idea I’ve conceived of for quite some time now. It’s a trilogy about a second American Civil War, in which the battle lines are drawn not geographically, but ideologically. For the most part, such a war takes place guerrilla-style, until at some point the country erupts in a conflagration which is, at first, confused for mass riots and so forth, but continues to the point of a total societal meltdown.

Anyway, the first story in the trilogy is called The Spark, and I’ve included an excerpt from the first chapter below. Enjoy!

“It’s evil.”

“It’s the lesser of two evils.”

“It’s still evil. You can’t fight evil with evil. You know that.”

“So what are we supposed to do? Nothing? Sit around and wait for something good to drop out of the sky?”

I pulled away from the window and sat on the ledge. Martin glanced up from the easy chair, one leg draped lazily over the armrest. In his blue jeans and T-shirt he looked harmless enough. Not weak, though. Definitely not weak. Martin’s arms were knotted muscles from four years in the army, two of them fighting terrorists overseas. He smiled broadly, if only to keep me from mistaking his tone. He wasn’t mad at me. He was just mad.

His eyes. His eyes were dangerous. And I strongly suspected he would move this conversation from the theoretical to the practical if I lost the argument.

I had to try harder. “It’s not that you wait for something to ‘drop out of the sky.’ It’s that you wait for God to act. And you trust that He will. It’s called faith, Marty.”

He kept smiling and turned away, picking up the half empty bottle of Killian’s on the end table. He’d already ridden my case for not buying American beer. I pointed out that it was still bottled in New Jersey, but he just shook his head. It was his way of saying I didn’t get it.

“You ever heard of a Deus Ex Machina?” he said.

“God of the box.”

“That’s what playwright’s relied on when they wrote themselves into a corner.”

“Yeah, I know what it is.”

“The gods would just show up at the end, rising up from a trap door in the stage and make everything all right. Modern writers don’t use it anymore. Hell, you couldn’t even get a book or play or movie considered if you took that approach.”

“Is this about my writing career?” I hastily tried to change the subject. He was backing me into just such a corner where that kind of theophany would’ve proved useful. “‘Cause I’ve still got a real good shot at finding an agent.”

“You know why writers don’t use that technique anymore?”

He wasn’t going for it. I’d hoped the beer would’ve kicked in and help him jump the tracks onto a new line of thinking. Commenting on my thin chances of making it as a writer was one of Martin’s favorite subjects. At least it felt that way, sometimes. “My little brother,” he’d say. “World famous author. Oh wait! You’re not! How many books have you written now? Five? How many have you had published? Zero! What’s Einstein’s definition of insanity?”

Any moment now I hoped he’d start. Instead, he said again, “Why don’t they use that technique?”

It was not a rhetorical question, and I knew it. His tone demanded an answer. “‘Cause it ain’t realistic,” I mumbled.

“It ain’t realistic. I am not against faith, Peter. I carried a King James Bible with me every time I went into combat. Right here.” He patted his chest. “Wore it over my heart just in case something tore through the Kevlar. And if that bullet wasn’t stopped by my Bible, then at least it would carry its words and embed them in my heart. I can’t think of a better way to die than that.”

I nodded. “You’ve told me.” At least a hundred times.

“I am not against faith. But I am against using faith as an excuse for non-action, as a cover for cowardice.”

“That’s not fair. Just ‘cause I didn’t sign up—”

“I didn’t say that. I ain’t talking about you going in the service. It’s an all volunteer army. You wanted to pursue your ‘writing career.’ Can’t do that when you’re getting shot at, can you?”

I glared at him. He sipped his beer, bemused. Then all levity left his eyes. “I am asking you to consider for a moment whether or not God isn’t waiting for someone to step up and take action. Like Edmund Burke said. ‘All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.’”

“It wasn’t Edmund Burke.”

“Well, who was it?”

I shrugged. “No one really knows. It’s always been attributed to Burke, but no one knows for sure.”

“So he might’ve said it. So what? The question is: are you still gonna do nothing? Are you still gonna wait for your Deus Ex Machina? Or are you finally gonna say ‘enough is enough’, and pick up a weapon to defend what’s right?”

“I’m not saying we should do nothing.”

He stood up and faced me, one hand on his belt, the other holding his beer. Beneath his Cincinnati Reds ballcap, cold blue eyes took my measure, as if weighing whether or not I was even worthy of his time. I felt like our entire relationship hung in the balance. I shivered. He spoke quietly and firmly. “Then what should we do?”

I tried to meet his eyes, but found I could not. I tried a different tack. “Marty, we have elections in this country.” He sneered and walked away, presumably for another beer. “Free and fair elections,” I called to his back. “We’re supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” He came back into the room with two beers. He handed one to me. “The people have spoken. Just because we don’t like the results doesn’t mean we have the right to force them to choose otherwise. Freedom to choose must mean the freedom to choose wrong.”

He sat back down, this time on the armrest. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and uncapped his beer. “Ever hear that governments rule by consent of the governed?”

“John Locke.”

“That means that every government is ‘chosen.’” He put ‘chosen’ in quotes with his fingers. “Hitler was ‘chosen’ by the people. They elected a tyrant. Lenin was ‘chosen,’ if only in the sense that the Russian people were sheep, and they ‘chose’ to let him oppress them. King George was ‘chosen,’ or at least until we decided to choose differently, and took up arms against our oppressor. The American people are sheep, Peter. Just dumb sheep! They’ll follow anyone who promises to keep them warm and well-fed. This man we’ve elected is a Marxist. He can’t support and defend the Constitution, ‘cause he doesn’t believe in what the Constitution says. He doesn’t believe in the rights of man. He doesn’t believe in the right to life, ‘cause he kills unborn babies. He doesn’t believe in the right to liberty, ‘cause he wants to take our guns away, which is our very source and protection of that liberty. And he doesn’t believe in the right to property, ‘cause he wants to redistribute the wealth, instead of letting hard-working Americans keep what they earn.”

He rose from the chair and came over close, leaning into me, his eyes searching. I could smell the beer heavy on his breath. “Do you remember what Dad made us memorize?”

“Jefferson.” I shrank from the word, from him.

“He knew this day would come. I’ve thought about this over and over again. I can’t tell you how many times—when they were shooting at me over there—and I’d get back, and I’d hear what those liberals were saying over here. His letter to William Smith.”

“I know it, Marty.”

He quoted it anyway, measuring the words in his tone, making them his own. “‘God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.’” He beat the window sill with his open palm accenting his point. “‘The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.’”

I sighed and pushed away from him, ducking under his outstretched arm. “I-I don’t know, Marty. Assassinating the President? How are we supposed to pull that off?”

He smiled. Satisfied. I realized then he’d won the argument. The questions were no longer theoretical. He put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Just leave that to me.”

I swallowed the beer, and felt numb.

So there it is. Right now I have about 11,600 words done. It’s moving along in what I hope is an exciting direction.

My story The Autographs is also coming along quite well. I have better than 60,000 words on that, and I’m getting closer to finishing it. I’m confident I’ll have it done before a year has gone by. Not too shabby, actually. I’d like to be able to crank out at least one book a year. More, if I can stay on task and keep to one novel at a time. Given that I have so many in the works right now, and that I haven’t actually given up on any of them, I may be able to do better than that regardless.

Okay, back to work.