Seeing the Stranger Out

[Extras]

[It Began with a Dream]

TW: arachnids, bugs, don’t read if you’re squeamish

The stranger who served as Ahsi’s guest will henceforth be called R. Why? Because it’s his first initial. Aside from his opinions, and grandiose trying-too-hard demeanor, he was wholly unremarkable. Truly.

When Harvey dismissed him so blatantly from dinner, R wandered grumpily towards the entrance hall.

“D*mn sympathizers. Every last one of ‘em.” He grumbled to himself. They deserved his miserable mood, not him. From his perspective, anyway.

“It’s gotta be a house full of ‘em!” He declared, stubbornly kicking a table leg. “I’d bet this Gina is one too.”

Sllk! Sllllllk! Slllk! Slllk! Instinctively, R stopped walking. That was not a pleasant sound. Like a lot of little, metallic legs slipping by in the walls. He couldn’t help but let his eyes dart around. Nothing looked that out of place.

A cockroach scuttled by. Vindictively, R crushed it underfoot. Then he ground his heel into it, pushing it as hard as he could into the tile floor. He scrunched his lips into a pursed snarl, graveling his throat into a minor cord. He couldn’t stand Ekzers.

“D*mn sympathizers.” He repeated, grumbling to himself. He shoved his hands into his pockets, absentmindedly fishing his pinky finger through a hole. The tip of his finger contacted the skin on his leg. He could actually feel the hair there. In the meantime, he stepped into the entrance hall.

“Aah!” He exclaimed in an embarrassingly-high voice. At the exact same moment, he yanked his hands out of his pockets. A wasp was still attached to his pinky finger. A big, red, weltering sting was growing on the tip. Frantically, he started waving his hand around.

“Get off! Go away!” He yelled. The wasp was persistent, maintaining its determined grip. No matter how much he swung his hand around, the wasp just wouldn’t let go. He started stumbling around the room, trying to bang his hand into something.

Clang! He bumped into a wire umbrella stand. Several bugs scuttled away from underneath it: spiders, cockroaches, and ants mostly. It was unnerving how many of them he saw. When he blinked, he thought he saw movement on the steps. And that wasp was still on his finger.

“I need to get out of here.” He mumbled to himself. His adrenaline was surging in his blood. R stumbled for the door, but tripped over his own two feet. When he hit the floor, there was a wolf spider directly in front of his eyes. It wasn’t even two inches away.

The size of his palm, the furry, dark brown arachnid was staring right at him with big, black, beady eyes. It had what looked like two long, furry fangs protruding down from its mouth. As its body seemed to rise up, R caught sight of more wolf spiders behind it. They were running right for him.

“F*ck!” The stranger exclaimed. In an instant, he was on his feet. As he scrambled for the door, something slithered up his leg. He winced in pain when the bites started making contact: on his leg, his neck, his arms, and his hands. The door began to ease itself open. He thought he saw a dark hand on the outside handle.

Thump! He slammed into the floor. The tile was hard, unforgiving. Behind him, he caught sight of an army. The wolf spiders led the charge, climbing onto him with incessant speed. But he was so close! The bugs started coating his legs. Next was his chest and head. He tried waving his arms and kicking his legs, but they only weighed him down. Soon he could barely move.

R caught sight of the bottom of the door. Someone really had opened it. Desperately, he forced his hand through the mass of arachnid bodies. He felt their little hairs itching against his skin. As he pushed his hand through, he felt the firm, yet scuttling legs and torsos. As soon as he grabbed the door, he made the mistake of sighing in relief.

The cockroaches launched the next phase. They invaded his mouth, crawling down his throat. He could feel the antennae and insipid legs swarming into him. In no time, they were choking him. As he struggled to gasp for air, his hands flew to his mouth. He started yanking them out as best he could.

For every cockroach he forced out, another two were already in. It was a losing battle. In the meantime, panic set in. His adrenaline spiraled upwards into a lightheaded, pitiful, almost ghostly burst in his skull. He tilted his head back, his hands flailing. He was slowing down, unable to combat the swarm.

A shadow was in the doorway. He thought it belonged to a woman, the owner of the hand he’d seen on the door handle. When he blinked, the darkness came in around his vision. But he could still see someone there. Inside his stomach, he was cognizant of the cockroach army expanding to push out his gut. His lungs were enflamed, burning on the insides. This woman was his last hope.

Gina. He tried to say her name, but the mass in his throat was too large. When she stepped forward, he got a better view. The light was still behind her, so her face was in shadow, but he was seeing ripples moving along her skin. When she began to lean towards him, he finally figured it out.

She was a golem. A being made entirely of bugs.

The cockroaches began marching up her arm. They joined the worms and ants that made up her fingers, settling in at her knuckles. When more slithered up, they darted into her humble clothes. Slowly, the mass in his belly lessened. He still couldn’t breathe (and the world was growing darker), but at least they were leaving. The weight surrounding him was also lessening.

“You will leave.” Gina thundered like a million gusts of wind. “And you will never come back.”

The stranger tried to nod his head. But then the world went dark. He was out.

Loss of Detail

[Extras]

[It Began with a Dream]

“It’s a pity.” The (almost) naked artist whispered loudly to himself. He was staring longingly at the ceiling. Munching habitually on his apple core, he made sure to study the space above him in its entirety. I, meanwhile, was taking a break from packing. I had detoured to the entrance hall steps on my way to the kitchen.

As I approached, I sent my eyes to the ceiling. The basement mural was, once again, covered in the thick, grey, dust-like substance.

“Yeah, it is.” I said, coming up to stand alongside him. He jumped at least a good six inches, giving me immense satisfaction. It felt wonderful to scare a ghost for once, as opposed to the other way around. I smiled triumphantly at him. Admittedly, that felt a bit childish, but I was enjoying the moment. When he made eye contact, it still took him a moment to blink himself back to normal.

“We could always do it again?” He suggested hopefully, raising an eyebrow. His erratic hair seemed to stand further on end. That suggestion didn’t sit well with me.

“You can do it.” I decided, remaining strong in my resolve. I really didn’t want to stay here (not even for something that had piqued my curiosity so strongly). Maybe Gina would help him.

“But no one else can see me.” He lamented, his tone plummeting. He gave me a look that was, in itself, rather pitiful.

“Ahsi can?” I suggested halfheartedly. I realized a moment too late that I wasn’t certain that was true. I hadn’t said my goodbyes to her yet. In fact, I’d been purposefully dodging my uncle.

Hmpf. He scoffed, his eyes wandering off to my right. Yeah, I couldn’t really picture the two of them painting together either.

“Well. . .” I started to add to my thought, but no one else was coming to mind. I voiced a different idea instead:

“You might not need help.”

That sounded a bit uncertain out loud. His eyebrows burrowed in confusion, his gaze returning to intently stare into mine. His brown eyes were still hopeful that I’d help him repair it. I was recalling Lucy and Serena’s contrasting grips on reality.

“I just watched a ghost hammer wooden boards over a door. Surely you can figure out how to handle a paintbrush.” I tried to sound more confident. Although I didn’t intend to, I felt I might have sounded a bit condescending. But, it’d been said. If I gave him the courage, and I convinced him it was possible, then maybe it would work. Sure, Serena had trouble carrying an envelope or catching a plate of food. But she was just beginning to understand how to interact with the world. The artist might not even know it’s in his potential.

He looking longingly back at the ceiling. I saw his hands awkwardly rub against each other, his apple core sinking back underneath his grip. He stared a moment longer, sighing loudly. Then he brought his gaze back down to me.

“I’m not sure I can.” He lamented.

“So you’re not willing to try?” I asked. My reaction was almost instinctive. Inside, I could feel a certain energy surging in my blood. He blinked at me.

“Gina, bring the supplies.” I declared, waving my hand at the general direction of where the ladder should go. Maybe I really could give him the courage. I didn’t actually know if he could do it or not, but there was always the possibility.

Predictably, Gina brought in our supplies. I caught sight of her various creatures: spiders, cockroaches, and ants mostly. Once the ladder was set up, she placed various supplies beside it. At quick glance I could see paint brushes, mixing trays, cleaning rags, and some water. I poked through the pile to find what I was looking for.

“Try?” I asked, holding out a paintbrush. I had the handle towards him, just waiting for him to grasp it. Slowly, with tremendous uncertainty, he raised his hand. When he fingers bumped into mine, I felt the habitual chill. When I felt the weight transfer, I let go.

The brush didn’t fall. The artist held his grip.

It Began with a Dream is Complete :)

I’m now setting it aside for a final readthrough.

That’s a normal part of the process. I like to return to it with fresh eyes.

I’d rather not try to do that readthrough while I’m abroad, so it’ll probably have to wait until I’m back in the US. That being said, I said that about my pen name change. So, maybe I’ll do it sooner? (It looks like I might be returning in January, but I really don’t know yet.)

Right now, I’m finding myself thinking about how long of a project this has been. IBwaD is my longest book to date, but it was plotted that way. I knew it’d be long when I started it. But I didn’t know it’d take me seven years. This was my first NaNoWriMo project in November of 2013.

I know why it took so long. This project has also suffered through the most rewrites. And the most drastic changes in my writing style. And the biggest volume of old writing I had to clean up (which was problematic for this project, even more so than Wing). It also got sent to the back burner frequently in favor of other works. And I’ve learned A LOT more about the inclusion of LGBT characters since my initial draft. These things weren’t intentional, but that’s what happened.

This is not my first book. It’s on track to be my fourth published book. If you count my unpublished books, then this is the sixth book I’ve written. The fact that I’ve finished another book actually feels a bit routine now. But, what doesn’t feel routine is that this is IBwaD. A project that’s been begging for completion for seven years now.

I can always look back on my work and see what was going on in my life at the time. To an outsider, a lot of that probably feels a bit random. For example, the way I describe a jet crossing the sky in Victim tells me that I watched FLCL with a friend that semester. The lion on the train reminds me that I was in a course studying Nietzsche. And the way Rina sits follows the pattern of my friend Madison. Reading Victim inevitably reminds me of these examples and a multitude of others that I haven’t listed out. But what I’m describing all comes from roughly one year in my own life. With IBwaD, what I see comes from about seven years.

That’s a big difference. Certain sections of the work favor particular times during those years (probably when I worked on the initial writing for that section the most). For example, the physical pain that Goren feels in phase one is based off of my real world experience of chronic pain. I no longer struggle with pain because of surgery I finally got access to in July of last year. But those pain reminders are in the same book as a line of dialogue that reminds me of my current roommate’s abusive ex. And, weirdly enough, Marvel’s Dr. Strange movie. Per IMDB, that movie came out in 2016. My pain was chronic from 2014 to 2019. And I didn’t even meet that roommate until July of 2020.

But this project was started in 2013. That was the first time I lived in a building with radiators. This is reflected once or twice in the book based off of random observations I remember having about them. For example, I remember being surprised by the smell that would accumulate when people tried to dry their clothes on the radiators on a humid day. That’s a very distinct smell, and it turned out to be perfect for describing the scent of a particular scene. Here’s another example: 2013 is when I finally asked my dad what a mimeograph is. One actually appears in chapter 17. Also, the woman in white is a not-so-subtle homage to my favorite Wilkie Collins book. I first read it in 2013.

All these reminders give me an oddly distorted time-view (for lack of a better wording). I’m more accustomed to seeing about a year in my life when I finish writing a book. Not seven.

But I’m glad it’s done. Finally finishing this old a project gives me a wonderful sense of completion. It’s also my first complete horror novel. What I’ve written of horror in the past was mostly short stories. I had the occasional longer draft, but this is the first time that I’ve successfully expanded one into a novel.

It’s now set aside for the final readthrough. I’ve already texted my betas.

And I get to take a break. TMotS will move up to become my primary project. I haven’t decided the new secondary project yet. But I have plenty of ideas and little drafts to choose from. Maybe a compilation of short stories? I could always set up a framing device. But first I’d have to . . .

I’m off to enjoy my break. The beach is calling.

 

(Here’s an odd side note: The Woman in White was Wilkie Collins’ fifth published book. It Began with a Dream will be my fourth. If I count Y (since it was initially published, but later unpublished), then they actually line up: my fifth book includes a homage to his fifth book. That wasn’t planned.)

(Another side note: time-view feels logical to my brain. I’m to the point that I joke about Shakespearing words whenever I run spellcheck on a document. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. I see it as an ability to be more versatile in my use of language 🙂 )

Looking Back and Looking Forward

[Extras]

[Victim]

I’m in a weird position by rereleasing my books under an updated writing name. I have found that, in looking forward, I’m also looking back. Especially around Victim.

Before I continue, you’ll likely want to read this blog post: [Victim’s Stance on Guns]

I still get some frustrating feedback on that subject in Victim. Since I’m rereleasing my books under my updated writing name, now is also a good time to clarify that in the book itself. I’m not doing anything major. In fact, I counted six instances where I added a line, rewrote a line, or deleted something. For example:

“Although, perhaps, she was being a bit naïve. Maybe we both were.”

I added that to what some of my readers have called the “preachy bit” in chapter three. That bit was never intended to be preachy – it was intended to show their simplistic view of guns while also doing some world building. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read the above link.)

Here’s another example:

“She declared, emphasizing her strong (albeit, rather simplistic) view.”

That breaks up what was a block of dialogue text. It helps clarify their viewpoint, but I’ve improved enough as a writer to see that I should have already broken up that text. I held myself back from making too many of those sorts of updates – everyone improves, and I am not an exception. Although I did take this opportunity to clarify one other thing:

“I knew why it was happening. But I just saw Rina, my girlfriend. Not . . . that. She was perfect to me.”

That change isn’t about gun violence. It’s about why a woman reacts so badly to Rina on the train. This was a common point of confusion amoung readers. I’m still not outlining the exact reason in the text, but now it should be clearer that Mica is not narrating every detail about her. I’ll still allow each reader to draw their own conclusion about why people see her in a particular way.

I stand by these changes. I have my reasons, and they are documented above.

But I’m also looking forward.

(I did, admittedly, fix three typos that have been pointed out to me by readers. Whoops.)