#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 15: Meet Constance Lin

There are many kinds of reporters, but none are more diametrically opposite than the Conference Room Reporter and the War Zone Reporter. Their stories can be just as critical to a functioning democratic society, but their tolerances are different.

A War Zone Reporter doesn’t flinch at the sound of an F-15 screaming overhead or run for cover when a bomb detonates three neighborhoods over, but will die of boredom sitting across a table from a source and his or her three lawyers. A Conference Room Reporter can weather the monotonous monsoon of picked-and-polished information that talking heads begrudgingly supply, but has no stomach for personal peril other than a potential cease and desist. 

That’s why the Federal Vigilante Agency’s press room — located on the third floor and shrouded from the city with wood panels meant to keep Nightfire’s presence a secret from the courtyard below — had broken into chaos. All of these local news crews and writers whose worst fears were a dying phone battery during an exclusive interview were facing certain death at the hands of a madman who had just made his presence known by splashing his logo in dripping neon green light along the wall behind Nightfire. 

At least, that was Constance Lin’s take on things from where she stood in the back of the room. Being six feet tall helped her see over the melee, but the extra four inches added by her high heels also meant a less stable base when the room is swarming with panicked people.  

The room flashed with light, an abrupt bolt that seared itself into everyone’s eyes as it vanished. Up on the wall, down on the floor, pasted to the back of heads, no matter where Constance looked, there it was: the sun-bright outline of a flaming, falling meteor that made up Flashbang’s calling card. 

Suddenly the heat of embarrassment — no, just awareness at being the outlier, as if that was anything new to her — of mentioning the fax she had received was gone out of her cheeks. Instead, her brain buzzed with the reminder that she needed to survive. She had come too far to be brought down by some asshole with a fancy light show. 

Constance Lin is a crucial supporting character in my NaNoWriMo project, Nobody’s Hero.

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#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 10: Meet Foster Updike

Foster Updike was a tall man, had been a tall teenager and a short kid. The summer between freshman and sophomore year in high school, he had shot up six inches. The pain in his legs had been agony, but the way the girls and some of the boys looked at him that September was worth the sleepless nights, throbbing shins and, perhaps most excruciating of all, endless department store shopping to with his mom to buy new pants and shoes.

Perhaps it was his height that made him impervious to the 27-year scotch Pru had put in the monogrammed silver flask she had given him last Christmas. Not liking the taste of it — it made his mouth dry and smokey, like he had French-kissed a peat brick — he had left it in the bottom drawer of his desk. Tonight, however, had called for a celebration, and he gladly offered it up to his triumphant boss.

“You know what I like about you, Foster Up-Updike?” Pru hiccuped as she examined the flask now back in her hand.

He took it back from her but didn’t drink.

“Your name starts with an F and a U,” she said, drawing out the last vowel sound. “It’s like your parents knew you’d be too polite to tell people to fuck off, so they wanted your initials to do it for you.”

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 9: The Hitman’s Son

Countless children’s stories told the tales of sons and daughters overcoming their parents’ sins. A robber’s son catches a thief. A killer’s daughter saves a life. Everyone learns to love the little hero or heroine, and the past holds no impact. That wasn’t the case for young Hamish.

At 10 Hamish and his mother learned of his father’s side-job as a hitman for the mob. At 10 and a half, he watched her leave on a crisp autumn day. The sun was so blinding that he could barely see the car pull out of the driveway, but the important thing was that he wasn’t in the passenger seat. His uncle said he looked too much like his father, and that was why she didn’t want to take him with her. He was like the ugly t-shirt no one buys at the airport gift shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma because it would remind them too much of having to spend time in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And so Hamish stayed with his father for two years before the feds caught up to him, and then was transferred to his high school janitor uncle three hundred miles away. His mother still wouldn’t talk to him, or even see him.

The same went for his schoolmates when they learned of his dark past. Unlike all the heroes in the books who have two or three close allies, he had none. Eventually, he became accustomed to being alone. Then college came.

Hamish made the same move that most 18-year-olds make at the time they leave home for the unknown of university life. He reinvented himself, armed with a new suit purchased for him by his uncle and a stack of 1960s sci-fi fiction.

And that’s where his story begins.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 7: Better ideas persist

As I work on Nobody’s Hero this National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been pulling from material I have already written. (Don’t worry, I’m not counting any of it in my 50,000 goal.) It’s funny how some darlings you love become obsolete when a better idea comes along. Take this piece I discovered — and essentially rewrote — on Monday:

“The Mornays knew how to show up in style, with Darin in bespoke Tom Ford and Lilah in a crimson evening gown that strategically hugged in some places and flowed in others — Dior had won her business for this year’s gala. Around her neck glistened a spectacular diamond necklace that was so heavy it had once almost caused a cracked collarbone. But Lilah contended the twice-weekly pilates and calcium supplements she was taking had solved that problem.

“Meanwhile, Pru fidgeted in an emerald satin dress with an attached translucent cape. It was overly dramatic and not at all her style, but it was the only gown Dior had in their Centropolis storefront that would hide the bruises from her last night out fighting crime. Her mother had raised an eyebrow, made a politically insensitive allusion to the Muslim community’s dress code, and eventually thrown her hands up with an admission that ‘It’s your money and your body, so dress how you want.'”

Since deciding that Pru’s gala ensemble would be a high-tech hostess coat developed by Foster, the Q to Pru’s James Bond, the final paragraph not only describes the wrong clothing but also robs me of being able to paint a maddening but funny scene of when Pru’s Dior-draped mother sees her daughter role up in pants to an old-school charity gala. And let’s face it — it’s always better to show, not tell. 

Better ideas persist!

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 3: How to escape monotony through a skyscraper window

Jennifer and Felix were never in love. There was a time when Jennifer was slightly enamored and even more desperate enough to think she’d just grab and kiss him so she could say she had locked lips with a boy who wasn’t doing it on a dare. She was 15 at the time.

But almost 15 years later, both Jennifer and Felix were sure they would have a relationship very much like the one described by Albert Brooks in Broadcast News; they’d have dinner once in a while, get hot for each other on occasion but never act on it, and go on with their separate lives. He was living the monotonous life of an already-retired Hollywood stunt man living in a quaint Missouri town, and she was surviving day-to-day chained to a desk.

Until she wasn’t anymore.

Jennifer’s boss kept talking, but her mind wasn’t listening. She just looked at the pictures on the walls. Him with his kids. Him with his wife. Him with the president of the company. Him with the president of the country. He really thought he was a big fucking deal.

She had pictures, too. Her with friends from college, whom she never talked to anymore or even cared about enough to read their social media updates. She didn’t know why she kept those pictures up, except to remind others that at one point, she was a likable person — a popular person, in fact — who went by Jenni and sketched incredibly lifelike roses on all her notebooks. But since college, nothing had changed for her, apart from her demeanor. All the ugly she bottled up hadn’t magically drained out of her upon graduation, and she still suffered the constant feeling she was letting a professor (or boss) down, the constant need for sexual and alcoholic satisfaction, the constant lack of sexual and alcoholic satisfaction.

Maybe it was the fact nothing about her had changed that pissed her off the most and made her so irritable. Nothing made her happy anymore; even a promotion and raise would irk her because it meant that someone couldn’t see through her outer good-worker appearance to understand her underneath. They either couldn’t or wouldn’t. The first was frustrating; the second hurtful.

So maybe all the pent-up frustration that she still hadn’t gotten out, even after her rampage through the office, was what made it not just unsurprising but also welcome when Felix crashed through the boss’ door, grabbed her arm and dragged her to and through the 29th-story window.

#NaNoWriMo Day 1: Giraffe through Jell-O

Pru climbed the marble stairs to the lobby, flashed her badge at the gate scanner, and headed to the elevator bank. Any time she had to come to this building, she took full advantage of the sound of her stiletto heels click-clacking across the marble floor.

“Remember, making it look easy makes you look more talented,” her mother had said about wearing heels, playing guitar and cooking a perfect soufflé. “Glide, don’t clomp.”

In the 111 East lobby, she walked heel-to-toe quick and fast, with giant strides that made her look like a giraffe trying to wade through Jell-o. She didn’t care how it looked: it was the sound that she loved and that made people scatter out of her way.

Excerpt: On the business of hiring henchmen (from “Nobody’s Hero”)

This is an excerpt from my work-in-progress, inspired by the Man Who Wears Time on His Arm when he asked me what I thought the life of a henchman would be like. We were watching The Equalizer at the time.

“As I’ve learned, there are two kinds of people looking for a job as a super villain’s henchman,” Wilcox said, tenting his fingers like he did during his lectures. “There’s people with nothing to lose, and people with everything to lose. Both have their pros and cons, of course. People with everything to lose will do anything to protect it, and people with nothing to lose have fewer inhibitions — you’re smart enough to surmise that. But they all have one thing in common: They’re dangerous but necessary liabilities.

“Sometimes they think they can double-cross you. Sometimes they decide they have a thread of moral fiber in them and go to the authorities. I had one guy try to use his brief time studying psychology to psycho-analyze me, which I must admit was entertaining. But as annoying as they can get — and I hope Todd can forgive me for this —” Wilcox turned, and for the first time Pru noticed that the burly man who had dragged her into the room was still standing by the door, silent as a suit of armor and twice as stiff. “They’re protection.”

Todd gave a thumbs up, as if the statement was praise for the job he was doing. Wilcox returned the gesture and leaned in to seek another pastry from the plate. Really, it was so Pru could hear him speak softer now:

“Ever notice how it’s always the henchmen who die first? The main villain is always the last to go. So you see, I have to staff my operation with as many desperate and-or delusional people as I can as a means of survival. Smart people need not apply — the more useless intellectually, the more useful they are physically.”

“So Todd there?” Pru asked, leaning in to survey the snacks herself.

“Linebacker for my high school football team,” Wilcox said. “Went through senior year twice, and not because he was challenged in his learning but because he was challenged in his motivation to do anything but body slam other teenagers. Our 20-year class reunion hit at just the right time for both of us. He had just gotten let go from his park district coaching job, and his wife had left him in debt up to his eyeballs. And I had just started this research, so I gave him a job.”

“Do you pay benefits?” Pru asked half in jest as she lifted her teacup to her lips, relieved that the handle had cooled down. He was right — the raspberry flavor was much better when added as syrup after the brewing process.

“Of course,” Wilcox said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “With life insurance to be paid out to his two kids, Bianca and Trevor. They’re only 10 and 12 now, but it’ll be waiting for them when they’re 18.”