Monday, June 10, 2013

A little something different ...

Things went a tad off the rails last week. I got most of my planned paintings done, but a couple of them went wrong, and one was for that week’s chapter … yeah, it’s getting fixed. Sorry. But hey, look! It’s the Black Mask!

In the meantime, I was wondering what to blog about this week, and it occurred to me that I haven’t actually talked much about what’s in Teh Novel, which is currently working-titled The Resurrectionist’s Song. That’s deliberate, of course; I don’t want to give everything away, especially when things might get drastically changed once I start working with agents and editors and people. (Please note: I don’t actually have an agent or an editor at the moment. But if I manage to go the traditional publishing route on this book, I will, and I do have to think about them now.) 

But I am spending an awful lot of time in that world right now, and it seems only fair to give you guys a little taste of what’s making Masks turn up late from time to time. So while I can’t go into the whole plot of the book, I can give you a little taste of a central piece of the story, one that’s unlikely to change much in the rewrites—its protagonist and narrator, named …

Well, there’s my first big problem. He hasn’t got a name.

He cut his hair off with scissors. Really.
For my own convenience, I’ve been calling him by his nickname, Butterfly. And if that sounds to you like the worst name ever for a seventeen-year-old boy, you’re not alone. Still, it’s probably the most accurate name he could have. You see, the reason Butterfly doesn’t have a proper name of his own is that the people who made him (more on them in a moment) don’t consider him worthy of a name. He’s not a person, as far as they’re concerned. He’s a human experiment who has lived his entire life in a laboratory, surrounded by people who regard him as about half a step above a white rat.

There’s one person who doesn’t think of Butterfly as an animal—his handler, a rather strange man named Holland. Holland is a semi-evil genius who was originally given charge of Butterfly because Butterfly wasn’t expected to live long, or produce very important results. Basically, somebody handed a sickly infant to him to keep him busy. But something unexpected happened. Holland bonded with the kid and saw him as a little brother, or possibly a son. He took such good care of his young charge, including giving him the social interaction that none of the other experiments got, that Butterfly survived and grew up to produce some very interesting results indeed. Results that prompted Holland to give Butterfly his nickname.

Going into the precise nature of Butterfly’s experiment would spoil one of the main plot twists, but the way it all shook out is that Butterfly has the power to warp probability. Like the eponymous butterfly in chaos theory, he excels at making small moves that will produce big effects. A popular illustration of chaos theory describes a butterfly flapping its wings, causing ripples of air that eventually build into a storm system halfway across the world. A butterfly lands on a flower in Tennessee, and a typhoon flattens Singapore. Our friend Butterfly can, if asked to flatten Singapore, find exactly the right butterfly and poke it at exactly the right moment to make it flap its wings in exactly the right way. He doesn’t understand how poking a bug will cause a storm—just that it will. That’s a useful talent if you want to, say, raise the price of corn futures. Or start a war.

Now, Butterfly is mostly ignorant of all this. He knows that his talent works, and he knows that periodically he’s given assignments to complete or gets stuck with needles by people trying to find out what makes him tick, but the whys and wherefores don’t interest him very much—that is, until he gets an assignment that’s a little out of the ordinary. We don’t find out exactly what happens until fairly late in the story, but something Butterfly does has an unintended effect, and Butterfly—a sweet-natured, wisecracking, rather na├»ve teenage boy whose greatest pleasure in life is reading a new book in the library of the tower where he lives—discovers that his actions have put a little girl in terrible danger. He’s never met her, doesn’t even know her name, but he knows that she will die and it will be his fault unless he does something to fix his mistake. So he does what any sensible boy who’s lived his entire life in a laboratory would do.

He runs away.

Butterfly runs away, out into a dirty, complicated, wildly dystopian outer world he knows almost nothing about. He meets lots of interesting new people, many of whom try to kill him. And he follows his talent into the middle of nowhere, where he knows he’ll find this mysterious girl. The quiet, sickly boy with the magical talent has to learn how to drive a truck, cross a desert, win a knife fight. He has to learn how to deal with people, too which is considerably harder than any of the other things. He has to find the girl, and save her. And he has to do it all in just fifteen days, because one way or another that’s all the time he’s got.

You see, Butterfly’s a very complicated sort of lab rat. Every day of his life, he’s had to swallow pills and take injections and in general get medicated to the gills just to stay alive. Nobody’s supposed to have the kind of talent he does, and it’s all his creators can do to keep his body from rejecting it like a transplanted organ. When he runs away, the clock starts ticking. He’s running out of time. Holland goes after him, determined to save the only person in the world whom he loves, and who loves him, but Butterfly has his own plans and his own timetable. Holland did too good a job of raising this kid—so now Butterfly’s got a moral center that not even his “father” can shake. He knows that Holland will never let him do what he has in mind, he knows he’s going to get sicker and sicker and eventually drop dead, and he’s okay with that, because some things are more important than staying alive. He’s carrying a secret that the little girl can’t live without, and he chooses her over himself. Despite the best efforts of everyone around him, Butterfly is a hero.

Of course, then he actually meets the girl. And as anyone who’s read my stories can predict, she’s not quite what he expected. There’s an old military saying that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy; Butterfly’s plan won’t survive contact with the person it’s designed to save. Not least because of what happens on the day that they finally meet …

Why is this story called The Resurrectionist’s Song, you may ask? Well, aside from the fact that I had a devil of a time coming up with any title at all, I eventually settled on this one because there are two characters in the story who resurrect the dead, or do something like it. Butterfly is one of them, with his near-miraculous talent for changing the future (though he can’t change his own. He learns early on how his talent can bring death; his arc in the novel involves learning how to give back life, whether it’s to the girl or anyone else. As for the other … well, I’ll get to that later.

Oh, and then there’s the Song part. Butterfly has had very little exposure to music, and none at all to human singing, before he runs away. Combine that newborn fascination with his most prized possession—a mysterious book of poems that he plans to give to the girl—and you begin to see why songs will matter …

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