I haven’t shared from this book yet. No idea why. Here’s one of my favorite scenes.
Naomi saw Serena’s feet first. A bare toe rubbed over the top step of the porch stairs beside her, and then Serena sat down while balancing bagels stacked on steaming mugs in each hand. She still wore nothing but the filthy camouflage sneak suit, and she smelled like garbage. Sleepy eyes gleamed at Naomi over a secretive smile. “I promised to go to bed,” she said. “But you’re on the way. Good morning.”
Naomi took a mug and let tears spill down her cheeks. “I love you so much.”
“It’s only tea, Naomi. It isn’t even good tea.”
“It’s more.” She wiped her face and sipped the perfectly acceptable black pekoe blend. “You don’t realize how much better you’ve been, the last few days.”
“Well, don’t get too excited. I’m still a moody bitch.” Serena wrapped her arm around Naomi’s waist. “I love you too, Bao-bao. You held me up until I could run again.”
Naomi put her head in the curve of Serena’s shoulder. “Whatever.”
Birds were peeping in the drooping evergreens somewhere, and the gray sky was lightening in advance of the sunrise. The breeze was light and cool. Naomi shifted the tea to one hand and took a bite of half-thawed bagel. While she ate, she went back to doing what she’d been doing before Serena arrived: wondering why Parker wasn’t freezing to death out on the lawn in nothing but a pair of cut-off sweatpants.
He squared his shoulders and flowed smoothly from one t’ai chi form to another. His balance never wavered as he pivoted to face them, but surprise came through: he hadn’t noticed Serena’s arrival. His attention went back to the exercise, and then he smiled.
Naomi couldn’t keep her lips from curving up, but she firmly put him out of her mind even as heat coiled through her. Boundaries were important.
“Why is ‘threesome’ the first thing every guy thinks when he sees us together?” Serena asked. She added loudly, “She doesn’t share, sorry.”
Parker came down flat-footed. Chest muscles and abs rippled when he took a deep breath, and his face flushed red. Serena hummed appreciatively.
Apprehension sputtered to life within Naomi’s heart as Parker turned away and got back on task. “Serena, I know you, and—please, let me have this? I can’t compete, you know I can’t.”
“No, no, no.” Serena kissed her on the ear. “Silly Naomi. Very much no.”
The cheerful emphasis was as confusing as it was a relief. Naomi went back to watching Parker. “Why not? You’ve been sniffing after him since you met.”
“Only because I could feel him, steady-safe like you at my center. Secure, not sexy. You and I don’t have sex.” A moment passed. “Together, I mean.” Another pause. “Except those couple of times way back when, but we were both stoned and drunk at once, so I don’t think they count.”
“Stop.” Giggles bubbled up. Naomi stifled them. “You are not helping.”
For a moment they were fifteen again, winding down from a night of harmless pranks and minor property crimes. They had been so young. So full of hopes and passion. Life hadn’t been perfect, but the future had been infinite. Their limitless reality had imploded, desperation had crushed them both into tiny futures with no room for dreams, and then even those unenviable lives had been torn to pieces.
This morning felt like rebirth.
Serena set down her cup to nestle closer, but her breath stank and so did the rest of her. Naomi pushed her away. “Dirty girl.”
“I am.” Serena was still watching Parker. “He is hotter than a chili pepper, and you haven’t even nibbled on him yet. What is wrong with you?”
“I can’t help noticing. He’s in the same place you are.” She rubbed a fist between her breasts. “Steady-safe, the pair of you. Like my heartbeat.”
“Notice away, but I will not talk about anything we do or don’t do. Ever.”
And because this one’s from a book that’s available for sale, the mandatory promotional link: mybook.to/Flightplan
Kindle, Paperback and Audiobook.
(audio available through iTunes, Audible.com and Amazon)
I love world-building. I hate being bogged down in lengthy explanations. Those two ideas seem to contradict each other, but they don’t. Constructing a whole reality idea by idea doesn’t have to mean burying the reader in excess information. It’s successful if it’s real. It works if it works.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how that gets done lately, and here’s the stream-of-consciousness result.
I like a sausage-making metaphor: massive quantities of information has to be smooshed into a compact, spicy form that looks, feels, and tastes nothing like the disparate ugly ingredients of its origin. I also like a phrase stolen from role-playing. “When in doubt, roll and shout.”
Research is critically important, but it isn’t narrative-friendly. If I haven’t considered all the implications of every idea that I dream up, then I will write something idiotic or miss obvious contradictions. But if I don’t provide all that background I made up when I write about things that don’t exist, then the reader will drown in unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts.
It’s a tricky balance. Part of the problem is the difference between real life and narrative life.
None of us notice everything about everything in our daily lives. We take reality for granted. Most of us don’t ponder the intricacies of electrical power generation and distribution when we turn on a lamp. We don’t discuss historical origins and socio-political underpinnings of every news event. In conversation we don’t provide definitions to each other for nouns we use every day.
But stories are condensed life. Dialogue is more than conversation. Writers can make every interaction and description a springboard for adding information to the mix. But does can mean should? (NO) How much of the sausage-making needs to be shown?
When I come up with some clever new idea, the first thing I must decide is, does it work? Do all the imaginary events, objects, people, histories, actions, and places I want to include in my world make sense together? Then I have to decide does that idea need to be in this story? The last tricky hurdle: when I describe these ideas, do my descriptions feel plausible? That isn’t the same as the descriptions being precise. Far from it.
There’s an art to achieving realism. What’s the right amount of information to make a world feel real without boring the reader to tears? Alas, the answer is it depends. There’s a spectrum of tolerance for raw information. Pleasing every reader is impossible. I wish there was a formula or even a rule of thumb, or an easy middle road, but there isn’t.
There are tricks & tropes to ease data delivery into a story: the newbie; the research montage; the fish out of water, the amazing discovery–there’s a whole kit of craft tools. (A new one I’ve learned: slotting critical facts around cliffhanger action.) But those still only cover the how, not the which or the how much.
Texts thick with numbers, vocabulary, and dates leave me cold, so they aren’t what I write. I use the technique I like best as a reader: immersion. I describe my worlds the way someone living in them would experience them. Then I add the minimal explanatory material to that framework.
Enough and only enough: that’s my descriptive mantra. Brevity entices the reader’s imagination and sets it roaming free. If I’ve done the does it work part of my world-build properly I don’t need to show much at all. My readers don’t nee a treatise on economics with every passing place name reference. I can even leave details vague in my own mind until I need to write about that place.
A last phrase I keep in mind when dealing with world backgrounds is one attributed to several classic showmen, “Always leave them wanting more.” If I build my world in broad strokes and use sharp wordcraft on the little I let into my story, readers will know there is more and come back for seconds.
If the devil is in the details, then get thee behind me, details.
I made a new cover for this story, so this week’s excerpt comes from Nightmares along with a close-up of the picture I’m far too proud of making. Is it pathetic and amateur? Maybe. Probably. I loved the original and still do. So why change it? Because I crave change. I rearrange furniture, re-organize dresser drawers and cabinets, and change out pictures. Not a shocker that I also get the itch to switch up book covers.
Not a huge surprise that I write about people struggling with disrupted lives, either. Enjoy this tiny little sample.
Amy said, “You don’t walk home alone, not wearing a pacifier around your neck. Want to leave with me, or wait ‘til last call and let Sergeant Jackass escort you?”
The dance floor was empty, and only a few tables were still occupied. Sgt. Coby and a T-series woman Kris didn’t recognize were deep in conversation in a booth. There was no reason to stay, and every reason to leave. “I’ll come with you, but I’m warning you now, it won’t work.”
“You’re going to spend the whole walk trying to talk me into transferring back. It won’t work.”
Amy grinned. “Smartypants. See why I want you on my team?”
They were nearly to the door when the plan fell apart. Two teleporters in uniform appeared back-to-back in the middle of the dance floor. One was looking straight at Kris.
“Locked,” she said, and the partner facing the other side of the room said, “Confirm lock.” The world turned inside out, and Kris sank knee-deep in snow.
Amy fell on her butt in a drift. “What the actual fuck?” she said, and the ‘porters disappeared.
A sphere of dim red light floated overhead, illuminating a fifty foot circle of snow well enough make out the crates stacked at the center. Kris’s breath clouded the air in front of her face, clearing when she took in a lungful of searing cold. Her skin automatically rippled and thickened in response, and she held her breath waiting until she was sure the pacifier collar would not punish her for the protective reflex.
Alarm klaxons and sirens wailed in the distance. Lieutenant Akron’s voice shouted orders nearby in the dark. The lit circle had the look of a night operation in progress, but that was where familiarity ended. But I’m off-duty was Kris’s first thought, followed by, And I’m restricted. And this isn’t even my unit any more.
Confusion was no excuse for inaction. Kris turned to check her six. Sergeant Coby had been scooped up too. All around, porters popped in with passengers and out again. Most of the arrivals were as inappropriately dressed as Kris was. Pinpoints of light flared and disappeared far out in the darkness too: Marines ’porting into perimeter positions. It was definitely a major op of some kind. A lumpy object fell out of nowhere, and she automatically lifted her arms to catch it.
Beside her, Amy cradled her own bundle of boots, harness and weapons. A pale figure who looked like an albino fox in a uniform trotted past in the distant gloom. Amy took a deep breath and bellowed, “LT, what the fuck is going on?”
“Shut up, suit up, and pump up,” Lieutenant Akron called back. “Brief in five.”
“Aye-aye, sir.” Amy shook her head and started dressing.
(EDIT: this story is now available only as part of the collected Rough Passages).
Here’s a one-stop shopping link for all my stories:
Character’s Name: Jack Coby. You can see him in action in the Rough Passages talesPowerhouse,Nightmares, and Lockdown, stories you can buy online in all kinds of formats now.
Television talk show set lit at “intimate conversation” levels. Live audience.
One, a bespectacled, earnest male interviewer sitting in an easy chair grinning ear to ear. Blond hair in a spiky moussed cut, heavy beige face makeup, gym-lean body clad in double-breasted dark pinstripes. He looks like a child next to the man sitting on the heavy steel bench opposite him.
Two, a giant dressed in a crisply-starched white dress shirt and black dress trousers, but ordinary clothes cannot disguise his eight-foot height or his stiff, thick skin. He is sporting a black baseball cap and mirrored sunglasses, and he has a case of the fidgets. (above you can see what he looks like when he’s ready to play beach volleyball. (art credit: Adam Withers)
<perky theme music swells and fades>
Host: Welcome to the Brian Grimm show. I’m Brian Grimm, but of course you all know that. <leans forward towards his guest while audience laughs> Hi, there. You’re my biggest interview ever, you know that? <more audience laughter>
Brian: What should I call you? I’m not very knowledgeable about the military. Ranks and all that. I want to get it right.
Guest: You can call me Jack.
Brian: Oh, please. Come at me with the whole deal. Name, what you do, all of it. My viewers like to get all the juicy details.
Jack: Full name and rank? Jack Coby, lieutenant, retired, United States Marine Corps. Gateway Company, Mercury Battalion. I work for the Department of Public Safety now. Not a lot of employment opportunities for an eight-foot tall armor-plated dude. I don’t think you need my serial number on top of all that, do you?
Brian: No, that is quite complicated enough. So is it Jack like Jack and the Beanstalk, only you’re the giant? <pause for more audience laughter> Jack is usually a nickname for something else.
Jack: No, I’m Jack, not John or Jackson or anything else. My only nickname…can I say Jackass on TV? That’s the only other thing people call me.
Brian: I wouldn’t dare call you that. I was delighted when the Department approached my producers about having you on the show, but I confess you are one scary fellow. Will you tell us more about your powers? What’s it like, being what you are?
Jack: Getting nervous, are you? I read somewhere you test positive for R-factor yourself. Is that true?
Brian: <squirming> Ah—yes, it’s true. Someone leaked my medical records. Hazard of being a celebrity. I haven’t rolled, though. Not yet. You don’t have to answer, of course. I didn’t mean to be insensitive. <clears throat.>
Jack: Didn’t you? Isn’t that your job? That sure sounded like a soft-pitch so I could reassure you that you’ll still be human even if you end up like me.
Brian: Errm. <audience titters nervously> Maybe? I confess I have my moments, wondering what’s going to happen to me when I get older.
Jack: <Smiles wide enough to show large, curving, sharp canine teeth> Relax, man. You’ll probably never tansition from latent to active. Most poz don’t. Less than 5 percent of the overall population, if I remember right. Even if you do roll, you probably won’t end up like me. T’s, P’s, and R’s are super rare. And Tee’s are the most extreme.
Brian <leaning forward> Which brings us back to my question. What is it like, if you don’t mind sharing? Are you typical? I’m told you’re pretty rare even for a Tee.
Jack: Yes and no. I’m T5, in the middle for power, with a Y-variant, so I still look mostly human. Minimal armoring, no horns or major spines, and claws not much longer than fingernails. I’m also photosensitive, so I’d appreciate the camera light aiming a little higher, thanks. The prime Tees are twelve feet tall at baseline, and bigger yet in rampage high-power mode.
<stock video imagery comes up on the rear walls of the set, showing cut shots of troops advancing on a jungle position, with uniformed giants marching alongside armored vehicles and normal-sized infantry.>
Jack: Oh, hey. That was an exercise in Hawaii. I remember that. I’m the little guy there by the rightmost troop carrier. See the difference? I’m only big and have the turtle-skin. Oh, and we’re all nearly impossible to kill between the armor and the regeneration. But the thing that makes me rare? I hit rollover at fourteen instead of forty or older like most people. Only ever been a couple of early-onset Tees who survived rollover. That’s what most people obsess about.
Brian: Fourteen. When the average rollover age is forty-seven? Remarkable. That must have been such a shock. Your family, how did they handle it?
Jack: Don’t know. Haven’t seen my parents since I rolled. Something about me being a murderer and a monster and all that.
Jack: <sighs> There’s no way you didn’t know that, but fine. I agreed to be on the show, this is outreach, so here’s the story. I had a big brother. He’s one of four people I killed during rollover, when the first rampage hit and I was out of my mind with disorientation. I got a choice: execution or redemption in service. I chose to put on the uniform and swore the oath.
Brian: You are an astonishing young man. Thank you for sharing that. Now, about rampage mode. That’s unique to Tee’s, correct? How does it work? Can you demonstrate for us?
Jack: Do you have something handy for me to demolish? No? Okay, then. No rampage. If I call up the energy, I have to expend it. It isn’t a rage thing. Couldn’t be good soldiers if we were always going crazy, could we? It isn’t unique to Tee’s, either. It shows up as a variant in a bunch of other series. . Uncontrolled emotion makes anybody dangerous. There’s a feedback loop for us. Fight-or-flight impulses can trigger a power burst and increase in abilities. A lot of variables can bring it on. Rampage mode is just one more power we learn to control and channel.
Brian: And you do marvelously. Speaking of soldiering…you certainly had a busy time in uniform. Maybe you’ll tell us a little about that? And you hold the world record for age past rollover, too, don’t you?
Jack: Oh, heck, no. Alice Akiyama is the record-holder. She was in her sixties when she rolled on First Night, back in ’43, and she hasn’t aged a day since. She’s a hundred something. But for early-onset cases? Yeah. I break that record every day I wake up. No big deal.
Brian: No big de–How can you be so calm about it? Nothing shakes you, does it? I’m in awe, honestly. The Crisis Night incident, the Elgin School bombings, the Gulf rescues…
<New images come up on the set walls and flash by one after another–clips of text headlines, running children, walls of flame, uniformed soldiers and police officers, blanket-covered lumps in rubble, smoking craters, crowds holding hands…>
Brian: Look at all that. You and your unit, they saved so many lives. Your bravery is just mind-boggling.
Jack:I never felt brave. I do seem to end up in the thick of things a lot. I volunteered for most of those missions. My CO said it’s an early-onset thing. He says because we know we won’t be around for long, we either go in hard or check out. Mostly I feel like I’m a regular guy. Dying young? That’s the straw I drew. Getting upset wouldn’t change it. I like to have some fun, have a few drinks, goof off. You know, regular stuff.
Brian: So would you say you’re someone who can handle pressure?
Jack: Pressure? Sure I can handle it. Oh– you’re fishing for a story again, aren’t you? My interview coach told me you people like stories. Okay, how about this thing my Mercury squad handled a few days before Crisis Night, what, a year ago or more now? It’s the kind of thing Mercury Battalion handles ten, twelve times a year, all over the country. No privacy violations, I won’t name names or places.
Brian: <rubs hands together, leans forward> This sounds good already. Go on, do.
Jack: This lady, she and her whole family were members of some Denial group. She refused to report to internment camp when her R-factor spiked, and she started rolling hot at home. Worse, you know how one house in every block is the one where all the kids go? Her place.
<Jack pulls off his sunglasses, squints at audience before replacing them> You all know what hot means, right? Someone rolls from poz to active in hours, not weeks or months? It can get gruesome when there are physical changes or elemental powers involved. She rolled full pyro. Prime pyro. P-1A’s like that–back on First Night those hot rollovers left Saint Louis and Spokane in ashes. And from the time they start glowing and showing, it’s maybe an hour to full uncontrolled ignition.
Brian: Oooh, I can’t even imagine. <Looks up> do we have pyro stock footage? Can we roll that? <The back of the set lights up with images of people incinerating buildings, trees, and bushes, melting steel beams, causing explosions…>
<Jack watches the images as he continues speaking> Yeah. Like that. The lady’s kids called their Dad. One of the neighbor kids ran home, told his mom, and she called the Department of Public Safety. The DPS scrambled a Mercury team for containment. Dad was driving off with Mom when the primary team teleported in. I do not know where the man thought he was going. Deniers. Who can figure? Panic. Anyway. The primaries weren’t in position to pursue, not with a burning house and a horde of kids right there to contain. My squad gets teleported on-scene expecting to be back-up, but there I am with a car driving off and smoke billowing out, neighbors screaming and getting in the way, and who knows how long before the whole block, maybe the whole town goes up in a firestorm.
Brian: Wow. <shivers>
Jack: Yeah. Tell me about pressure. It’s all about keeping your head. There’s a standard procedure, believe it or not. I called the play, Corporal Amy Goodall picked me up and launched me after the car — I was the smallest Tee in the squad, she’s the largest, twelve foot plus, no big deal — I land on the car roof, it crumples and entraps, my ‘porter sends me and it to the secured containment block back on base, and containment techs pulled the dad and me from the cell before the mom ignited. Boom, major crisis averted.
Brian: How close was it?
Jack: Ten seconds. She melted the containment block. Any hesitation from us, and she would’ve leveled ten blocks and killed hundreds of people. I guess she did good, once she got with the program. She ended up in reboot camp for Mercury once she got minimum control of course Talent like that always goes through the military first.
Brian: Not everyone does so well. How do you feel about the public anger directed towards the government’s Public Safety policies?
Jack: I was a Marine, ma’am, and now I work for Public Safety. It’s not my place to have feelings about policies. I go where I’m ordered. Mercury Battalion is a specialist unit, they handle the R-factor breakouts and containment and do a lot of R-null population outreach with the DPS, but we’re soldiers, first. Bottom line, all enemies of the United States, foreign and domestic, they’re my business.
Brian <mugs surprise and disappointment for the audience, who groan in unison> Seriously, Jack? You’re going to feed me the official line and nothing else?
Brian <waves off the uncomfortable moment> Fine, fine. Never mind. We’re running low on time. I’ll give you an easy one. Suppose you could wish for any power you wanted, change any one thing about yourself…
Jack: That’s a joke, right? Look at me. You think I wouldn’t rather be normal size, lead a normal life? You think I wouldn’t rather live longer than–hell, do I even know if I’ll wake up tomorrow morning? What do you think I would pick? I would wish to be for plain old regular human, null-factor, no chance of rolling over. That’d mean I would have a chance of seeing twenty-five, maybe even getting married and have kids or something someday.
Brian: That was…honest. Brutally honest. There I was thinking you’d toss off a joke. <nervous laughter from the audience.>
Jack: <laughs> Oh, well. If I only get to pick power-powers, then I’d love to be a ‘porter. One of the variants that only needs a visual aid for a targeting reference. Traveling the world whenever I was off-duty, that would be pretty keen.
Brian: That does sound fun. Now here’s one question I ask all my guests. Will you tell us a secret?
Jack: No. If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? <grins>
<audience laughter and a patter of applause>
Brian: <waits for noise to quiet> Well that brings us right to the end of our time. Jack, you’ve been a good sport about all this. Really great. Can I throw one more at you? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. But the one question request that scores highest on every poll is this one: what’s your biggest fear?
Jack: Oh, that one I don’t mind at all. I have two big fears. First, look at me. I can bench-press a pickup truck, and I’m bigger than two bulls stacked on top of each other. I’m afraid I’ll hurt someone innocent by mistake. That’s a no-brainer, that one. My other fear? I’m afraid of people being afraid of me. Frightened people attack in self defense. Frightened people lash out. Some people really don’t think the poz are human. They see monsters when they look at you, Brian, as much as when they see me. And that–that should scare you a lot more than rollover itself. That’s what keeps me awake nights.
Brian: <sits up straight as perky theme music comes on> And that’s another great show, everyone. Educational and entertaining, plenty to think about as always. Thank you all, and good night!
Situation:Cruel author decides to put her characters through interviews for the heck of it. Despite there being tons of interview lists available as writing exercises, she decides to picture some unnamed, unspecified talk program and plant characters across from an equally ill-defined celebrity host who has done some background and wants to see a ratings spike.
Fancy Celebrity Interviewer: Tall, blond, well-tailored individual with stiffly-coiffed hair, straight teeth and perfect skin.
Setting: a private studio set. Camera-neutral chairs and carpeting, dark, matte-finished table with random lump of sculpture and mugs no one uses. Bright lights & other hanging equipment overhead, technical crew and a few onlookers in the shadows. We join the interview in progress, after the handshakes, jokes and mugging for the cameras.
Fancy Celebrity Interviewer (FCI): When we put out the call to our followers for questions and stories about you, we received quite a lot of interesting material. I know I introduced you to everyone, but despite this , I have to start by asking, What is your name?
Justin: You’re running the interview. You don’t know who I am? We’re in big trouble. Ha. Just kidding. Sorry. I’ll behave, I promise. Justin Wyatt is the name you probably know.
FCI: Yes, exactly, that’s the name everyone knows, but your full name…?
Justin: Oh someone has been telling stories. Which name do you want? The one on my birth certificate? Geraldo Justin Romero. The one on the first patent I filed, the one that made me obscenely rich? Justin Clooney. I was underage and couldn’t apply without a guardian, so William adopted me. Long, funny story. The name on my first business license was Justin Lewis Wyatt, and I stuck with that one for a while, but I’m thinking of going back to Romero.
FCI. So with all that, do you have any nicknames?
Justin: None I’ll admit in public. Seriously, though. I had a lot of nicknames growing up, but no one’s said them to my face since I earned my second million. Except Tyler. He’s allowed to call me anything he wants. And Alison. She calls me an idiot when she gets aggravated–hi, Allie. I see you back there behind the lights with Serena. Don’t shake your head at me. It’s okay. I am an idiot sometimes, but you’re the one who said this would be a good way to get in front of the rumors.
FCI. Yes, about those. It’s being said you have some special gifts that aren’t entirely human. Is that true?
Justin: I’m as human as anyone. All the freaky-ass abilities come from…honestly, I have no fucking idea. Oh. Sorry. Probably shouldn’t swear. You call it gift. That’s one word for it. Something lives in my skin. Not entirely sure where it came from, but it started with a comminuted tibia fracture that left the inside of my leg exposed to the outside. Then we wrapped it in experimental fungal cultures because that’s all we had handy, and then we camped out in sub-zero temperatures under starvation conditions for a few weeks. It wouldn’t be easy to reproduce that experiment even if I had samples of the material, which I don’t. I doubt I’d get a lot of volunteers. Being mostly invulnerable isn’t all that useful anyway. I don’t want to talk about that any more.
FCI: Yes, all right then. How about a little history? Where were you born and so on, how did you get from there to where you are today.
Justin: I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, fourteen years before Omaha’s entire population dropped dead, my parents and little sister included. But today? I have no idea. It’s one of those days, so I honestly have no idea how I got here. OR where here is. I also have no idea who you are, for that matter. Serena and Alison are standing behind you giving me the thumbs-up, so I’m trusting this is something I agreed to do when I was having a good day. Your job is to ask me questions, do I have that right?
FCI: Okay, um…okay. Yes. Maybe we should stick to general topics. Here’s a question from a fan: do you believe that you are a good person?
Justin. What a weird thing to ask. I’m good at some things, rotten at others. I’m really good with mechanics and engineering, especially making new combinations of things no one else thought of putting together. Remembering shit, that’s not one of the good–oh for fuck’s sake, why are you waving your hands at me, Serena? Oh. No swearing zone? Right. Yes, I remember. Sorry. What was the question again?
FCI: I think we should pause for a break here.
<Interview resumes. Mugs are in different positions, sculpture has been replaced by flowers, Fancy Celebrity interviewer’s perfect hair is beginning to droop.>
FCI: All my followers are eager for you to tell us more about yourself. How would you describe your personality?
Justin. This one again? I hate it. I’m always wrong. See, I think I’m pretty likable and laid-back, but whenever I say that–see? Listen to Serena laughing at me back there. I don’t know. How would you describe me?
FCI: Would you say you’re someone who can handle pressure? What’s a good example?
Yes, I am. A good example? Seriously? How about surviving a plane crash that killed three other people, spending three days in a coma and then another six weeks in the Arctic? How about surviving an ex-wife who tried to kill me not once, not twice, but four times? How about escaping from–oops. Sorry, no. That’s still classified, judging from Alison’s panic face. Never mind that.
FCI: All right then. Moving on to unclassified things. Would you say get along well with others?
Justin: Most people. Most days. Don’t try to steal from me, don’t harm me or my family, and we’ll get along fine. Why? Are you planning something?
FCI: Ha-ha-ha. No. Someone as rich and secretive as you are must make enemies. Is there anyone in particular you keep your eye on?
Justin: It’s a long list. Reputation and money equal power, and some people always want more. I’ve outlived a lot of enemies at this point. Two of them blew each other up, another blew himself up, and the Feds made one—what’s wrong, Alison? Oh. That never happened. I remember. Never mind.
FCI: No, this is going out more or less live. How about allies? Do you want to give a shout out to anyone while you’re here?
Justin: Allies. That’s a cold word. I have friends. Two of them are right there. They have names. Please don’t ask me who they are, you’ll embarrass all of us and make the short one mad at me. Most of the time I still remember their names. This is an interview, right? Not an interrogation? I’m not tied up, and everyone else looks confused now, so I’m shutting up before I screw up even worse.
FCI: Uh-huh. That was an interesting answer.
Justin: I excel at interesting. Are we done?
FCI: That’s up to you, of course. I have a lot more questions. Here’s one that got a lot of votes: what are your plans? Is there one thing that you would like to do in the future?
Justin: Hey, I’d love to know where I am and why I’m here. That’d be a great start. Wait. I see Alison there. Hi, Allie. Have I mentioned how much it sucks to be losing my mind? Hey, Serena. Yes, I know you, too. Don’t get all worked up. I think we should leave now. Is that okay? You know, I don’t care if it is. I think we’re done.
And there you have it. Here’s my favorite visual imagining of Justin, courtesy of the talented Daniel Govar.
If you’ve stuck around this far, stay tuned for the next edition, which will happen the next time I feel like slacking. Probably next week, the way things are going. I’ll interview Jack Coby, a recurring character from my Rough Passages series. Maybe next week, maybe not, but eventually.