Thursday, August 16, 2012

Oral Contract

Champagne, chandeliers and coat tails, it made him smirk.  He couldn’t help it.  Greg made his way around the circuit, smiling his dazzling smile and shaking hands with the high-end society peoples.  He went through his mental encyclopedia- John just remarried for the third time, his new wife who was 40-plus years his junior was named Claire… or Clarice?  He tried the later, it took.  Her young eyes sparkled at him and he could tell by the way she was eyeing his frame that the rumors about John’s virility were true.  He shook the old man’s hand that much more vigorously.  The old man laughed.

“What are we all so jolly about?” Chet said, sliding his way over to the trio with cheeks too red for his claims of moderation.

“Your stock portfolio after next Tuesday,” Greg laughed.

“Oh come now, I think you’ll find that going public is the best thing for our little start-up,” Chet said, smiling more than the response called for.

It was bullshit, Greg knew.  He’d discovered the scheme well before it was fully hatched and secretly invested, knowing full well that when the company tanked they’d all make a bundle while the average suburban dad would lose his nest egg.  What was that phrase?  Something about dogs eating each other?

He excused himself, desperate to catch two seconds of quiet before the circus began.  He’d planned it for years, now, this merger.  All the strings he’d been pulling behind the scenes would tie together and he’d be the puppet master.  A warm feeling in his chest overtook him at the thought but he pushed it back down, determined to stay focused on the next step.

Outside the cold air was a breath of life and he filled his lungs with it, flushing out the stench of cigars and suits.  He looked out across the darkened lawn and reviewed the next step in his mind.  The handshake, that’s what it was all about.  Him and the CEO of the merging company smiling for the cameras and proclaiming a new era of fiscal responsibility.  He closed his eyes and let the image fill his thoughts, securing it into place.

Then he heard the voice he’d convinced himself was only a dream and his heart stopped.

“Well, well.  It seems like just yesterday I left you wandering in the muck and now here you are, rubbing elbows with nabobs of all shapes and sizes.  How the words do make you.”

Greg turned to look at the man even though a voice in his head was screaming at him to run the other direction.  He knew the form immediately- the sharp, angular chin, the raised temples.  If he squinted he could almost see a plateau left from cleft horns still lingering under the surface of smoothed skin.  “Get a hold of yourself, psycho” he chastised himself.  “They’re just junkie dreams.”

“Excuse me?” Greg asked, trying hard to be polite even as he struggled to breath.

“Come now, Greg- don’t pretend.  We understand each other better than that.  You didn’t really think that all your failures came from those needles.  Or that all of this-“ he waved a well-manicured hand towards the bright ballroom behind them, “came from just getting clean.”  The man smiled at him, his dark eyes stripping away the last reassurances.

Greg felt the mask he’d been wearing for the past 7 years fall away and in an instant he was the razor sharp mercenary he had been.  “What do you want?”

“Oh, Greg.  Is that any way to greet an old friend?”

“You are not my friend.”  He glared at him and did his best to be imposing.  It was stupid, of course, but reflexive.

“True enough, I suppose- though I think these meaningless pleasantries are a dying art that should preserved, for the record.  But the wise say that business partners cannot be friends and we do have business to attend to,” the man sighed.

“What business?”  He kept his responses short lest the charlatan spin his words into a netting with which to catch him.  He remembered that about the man, or whatever he was.  The power with which he could manipulate the mind and turn impulsive thoughts into incontrovertible beliefs.

“The terms of our agreement,” the man said.

Greg said nothing but tried to remember.  The memory floated up to him out of a fog.  The cardboard bed in the darkened alleyway, the shape above him as he took what he thought would be his last breath… it was too blurry, his mind had been so dark.  Then it came to him.  The offer of a new life, all the power he’d always dreamed of, the words he had uttered…

“Ah, now you remember,” the man smiled.  It was the smug, satisfied smile of a spider watching a fly struggle against tightening silk.

Greg turned and ran back into the party.  Logic dictated that this wasn’t something he could escape from but panic had taken over.  He nearly collided with a fat man that stank of old scotch and expensive cologne.

“There you are, we were just wondering where you’d gone off to.  Here we go, right this way-“ he said as he forcefully ushered him up the stairs to the balcony overlooking the floor.  Greg tried to fight him off, his mind cart wheeling as he searched the crowd behind them for the man. But the fat man pushed him upstairs with surprising strength and a second later he was waiting for the handshake he’d envisioned.

He forced himself to look behind him at the man the crowd below was applauding.  It was him.  It wasn’t, of course, it was the same man he’d sat with in that board room only a month ago.  But somehow the eyes had changed, the smile was his- the man who’d come to collect.  The man walked up to him with an unnatural confidence and took his hand in his.

“I think this will be a very fruitful partnership.”

Friday, August 3, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

Earlier this year I wrote a brief homage to Mr. Charles Dickens on the 200th anniversary of his birth and indicated that some of his works were on my shelf, waiting patiently to be read.  One of those patient books, which has been sitting on my book shelf for more years that I can recall, is Nicholas Nickleby. 

There’s a couple of reasons I’m reading this now.  First, I realized recently that this is the 8th month of the year.  Ergo there’s only 4 months left for me to finish up my very long reading list and one of those months (November) will be so dominated by writing that it will have to be occupied by a very short read so I’d better knock out the longer ones now while I have time.  Secondly, my dear friend recently asked his readers to vote on the most despicable antagonists in fiction and who else should top that list but two of Dickens’ characters.  (Granted, those characters are both from Bleak House.  But I don’t have a copy of that sitting on my shelf, I have a copy of Nickleby so he gets read first.)

It’s been a long while since I dove into Dickens’ world of poor houses, law offices and evil school masters and it’s going to be interesting to see how quickly I remember his trademark style and fall in love with these characters.  I’m looking forward to it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

You Suck: The Review

I love Christopher Moore.  I love him because he writes in a very sparsely populated genre: fantasy humor.  I love him because while his books are very smartly written they don’t leave me feeling like a total idiot for not getting the writing.  (To be fair, I’m very insecure and this is not a hard feat.)  I love him because his characters are quirky and endearing and truly loveable in a rabid fan girl sort-of way.  And I love him for giving me what I really want when I seek out other forms of vampire fiction: vampires in love (*Squee!*) that are actually written well (*gasp*).

As the all-important second book in the trilogy, You Suck accomplishes what Empire did for Star Wars: it’s better than the original and it solidifies the main characters in your heart.  Not only are the main characters more adorable but the new characters are absolutely squeal-worthy.  (Seriously, Abby Normal is my favorite goth girl, EVER!)  And it moves the plot forward overall while still being relatively self-contained, which is hard to do.

The plot, for those of you not following along, is this: Jody (who was a brand-spanking new vampire at the beginning of Bloodsucking Fiends) has just turned her live-in lover Tommy into an undead creature of the night.  While initially appalled he soon comes to dig it enough that the two could have some fun together if they weren’t due to get the hell out of Dodge before two San Francisco cops come to arrest them.  Moving is difficult if you can only walk around during the day so they set out to get a new minion and end up with Abby Normal (who is the most wonderfully written little goth girl you could ever hope to meet and steals the entire show).  Things get complicated when Tommy’s old crew return from a massive blow-out in Vegas interested in getting more money to sustain their new lifestyle, end up being lead back to the vamp who turned Jody due the guidance of their new smurf-colored gal pal, are turned into a small horde of terribly clueless undead and get Tommy and Jody into a whole lot of trouble.  Confused?  Yeah, I’m no good at writing synopses.

At any rate, what makes You Suck brilliant are the same things that made its prequel so great: the characters, the seemingly effortless writing, and the laugh out loud moments proliferating nearly every page.  As much drama, romance and vampire stuff as there is in this story Moore’s ultimate interest is humor and this serves as the glue which holds the rest of it together and keeps the reader hooked.  Are you concerned that the big bad vamp may come back and kill our hero and heroine?  Yeah, but they’re gonna make you laugh every moment until he does.  Do you get the feeling that Jody and Tommy really love each other?  Yeah, but it’s crazy, quirky vampire love not schmaltzy emo love (*cough* twilight *cough*).

An important point here: romance often involves the writing of sex scenes and this can make or break an author.  If you write graphic sex scenes then you’re that kind of author and will never be removed from that category.  If you don’t write any at all, there can be a sense that something is missing.  Moore walks the tightrope by doing what movies did back when sex was still considered indecent to show to a general audience: he writes cigarette scenes.  Like in old black and white movies where it was implied that the two people on screen had just had sex because they were lying in bed smoking cigarettes?  Moore does that by painting a scene of hastily tossed clothing, turned-over furniture and sweaty bodies in need of a shower.  There’s no actual sex but you know it happened off screen and you get the feeling it was passionate.  And most importantly, Moore keeps the humor going by having our young lovers refer to what they just did as “crazy monkey sex”.  I don’t know any other author who can do this.

Another important point here: secondary characters are just as important to love stories as the leads.  Moore’s secondary charters are fleshed out to the point of making you think they are leads.  Abby Normal, the greatest addition, has the language of a valley girl who reads too much Byron (if you have a hard time picturing that it’s because it’s never been done before, to my knowledge) and is so unimaginably great that I can’t put it into words.  The Animals are just as funny as vampires as they were as clueless stock boys.  Blue seems terribly realistic as a former cheese queen looking for a leg (literally) up and the Emperor and his two faithful soldiers become more endearing every page that they’re on.  (I was delighted to learn, BTW, that the Emperor is a homage to a real life celebrity and Moore’s writing of him follows in the lines of great writers like Mark Twain and Robert Lewis Stevenson who both revived the man as characters in their stories.)  It’s a great ensemble cast and the main characters would be nothing without them.

In the end, I have nothing but wonderful things to say about this book, the trilogy it’s progressing and the author who masterminded all of it.  And I’ll be reading the final chapter (in which my dear Abby is the main character) very soon.