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  1. Hello everyone! This is my first chapter. Content warnings for implied pedophilia and abuse (both non-graphic). Then 1982-1986 Cleveland, OH 1 Sean Cold metal everywhere. Under my ass. Around my neck. Above my head. The van jumped a bump, and my head whacked the slab over it. The new boy in the cage next to me didn’t need to huddle to fit, but did anyway. When the van stopped, I and the others leaned on the cages’ doors. The exact disembarkation procedure differed depending on where we were taken, but it always started with our backs to the metal. There were three of us that night, and since nothing hid our restraints, I expected a remote area where no one would question the waist chains. The back doors swung open to reveal a garage. Not like one for a mall or an apartment building, but a two-car residential garage. My throat parched. They held auctions in the houses. I could spend a week with the same pervert determined to get his money’s worth. Chris opened my cage last. The choke collar tightened from the weight of the chain leash, but I knew better than to flinch. A woman in a slinky red jumpsuit checked the others’ brands. Chris spun me around and lifted my shirt. “He’s marked differently,” he said. “Wouldn’t hold still?” she asked. “Something like that,” he laughed, and the bile inched to my throat. Disco music, cigarette smoke, and the stench of too many bodies saturated the air. All the boys were barefoot, in blue jeans and white tank tops. The girls donned pink babydoll dresses and high pigtails. It had to be an auction. There was some rule about dressing us the same for those. Greasy, hungry adults leered from folding chairs and plush, dusty blue couches. Chris pushed a pill into the others’ mouths and gave them what was never water. My dose never came. He set them loose, even the new boy. I remained chained as he herded me through the house and into a dining room with a long, dark wood table, waxed to a glass-like finish. At its head was a balding man with a scraggly beard and beer belly. The guy’s plate held a heap of mashed potatoes and a huge steak. I had finished the peanut butter a while ago. I’d do whatever he wanted for half of each. Even a quarter. A taste. “Is this him?” he asked in a voice like scrunched tin foil and looked me up and down. I fixed my eyes at nothing in particular, but still keep that steak in my peripheral vision. Chris huffed. “Who the hell do you think I’d bring you?” God, I missed hot food. Forgetting myself, I followed a forkful of mashed potatoes from the plate to his mouth where we locked eyes. Before I could drop my gaze or step back from a probable slap, he took me by the chin, inspecting my face this way and that. Safe for the moment, my eyes found the plate again. “Very nice. Yes. I think he’ll do.” He pulled a wad of bills out and handed a few to Chris. “Half hour. Clock doesn’t start till I get to the room.” “Then you pay for the whole hour. I’m not losing money because you have to stuff your face.” He counted out a few more bills. I didn’t pay attention to the denominations; I didn’t care what I was supposed to do, and only hoped it would involve that steak. The man tsked and said, “Get those chains off him. He’s not an animal.” “He’s got a history of running,” Chris muttered and unlocked the waist chain. The man smirked. “They don’t run if you treat them better.” That yanked my attention from the plate to him, but not for long. “All the chains,” he said. Chris grumbled and gave the collar a tug. The links caught my skin and I clenched my teeth to keep from wincing. “Don’t make me chase you,” he said into my ear, low and icy. I could nod “ok” or shake “I won’t” but Chris didn’t want an answer. The chain left my neck for the first time in forever. I expected relief but only felt lost. The man beckoned an older girl over. She wasn’t much older, just enough to have tiny peaks and not be in pink. Her dress was red, sheer, and paired with high heels. “Make sure David comes here when he’s done,” he told her, and I watched as she scurried off. “You like that?” The right answer was never clear, so I stopped looking at her. The food was more appealing anyway. “Speak up,” he said. “Do you like girls?” I swallowed the grit in my throat. “Her shoes look hard to walk in, is all.” Fear pulled my spine straight. Non-answers were worse than looking at the wrong thing. “I know my way around guys better.” “Don’t we all,” he said and crowned a piece of steak with potato. I was staring at his fork. He was staring at me. Crap. I was fucking up all over. But Chris already had the money. Maybe the beating wouldn’t be as bad as the last? The man scowled and inched the fork toward me. What if he was teasing? My breath quickened. I opened my mouth and hoped for the best. The meat was seared to a salty crust, with its interior juicy and tender. The potatoes were buttery, creamy goodness. I pressed the lusciousness to the roof of my mouth, unwilling to waste the moment, even though my hollow stomach protested with an angry growl. The rest of me soared like they drugged me. A blond boy appeared out of nowhere. “Just wanted head,” he told the man and handed him money. “Sent you back early too.” The boy shrugged. “Didn’t take long.” He was older. I guessed around twelve. Maybe I wouldn’t die before hitting the double digits? The man motioned at me. “This is one of Chris’s boys. Bring him to the studio but get him something to eat first. I’ll meet you there.” “Ok,” the boy said, and took my hand. We weaved through the crowd and got stopped by a guy who looked like the scientist in Jaws. Eyes hungrier than me swept over us. “Are you a two for one deal tonight?” he asked and licked his lips. “Never. And we’re booked. Sorry,” the boy said, dragging me along. “I hate that guy,” he said under his breath. “I hate all of them.” “Me too.” He grinned and pushed through a swinging door. “But that guy is seriously twisted. What do you want to eat?” If I were a cartoon character, my eyes would have popped out three feet ahead of me. The kitchen’s bounty glowed. “Not peanut butter.” He handed me a paper plate and leaned on the counter, bored. “Take stuff that’s not on the platters.” I shoved anything edible into my mouth and when it was full, I piled stuff on the plate. “Slow down!” He lunged to stop me and screwed his face into disgust. “Christ.” I froze, but held onto the plate for dear life. The expression dripped into curiosity. “When was the last time you ate?” My mouth was too full to answer. “Chew that real good and don’t rush. Then tell me.” He tried to take my food again; I tightened my grip. “I’m just gonna put it down. Not take it away. It’s ok. I promise.” I swallowed some, talked around the rest, and clung to that plate. “Nothing about this is ok.” “Oh. You’re new.” He smirked and rolled his eyes. “Shoulda known. You don’t have the bee thing on your arm yet.” He tugged his jeans over one hip, revealing his brand. “Mine’s a camera.” I pulled the tank up while turning around. “I’m not new.” “Fuck,” he breathed. I felt pressure around the scabs as he touched them. “Belt?” “Whip.” I let go of the material. He sized me up with a bit of respect behind his eyes. “You ran.” “Not fast enough. And it’s been a couple of days, I think. Since I ate.” “Peanut butter?” He rolled his eyes again at my nodding. “Then you gotta eat just a little, and real slow. Or else you’re gonna throw it up.” He opened a few cabinets until he found hot cups and lids. “You like meatballs?” he asked and then mumbled, “What the fuck am I asking you for? You’d probably eat meatballs made with dog right now.” He lifted the lid off a pot. Steam swirled up, and I swooned. He scooped a few meatballs into two cups and fitted a top on each. “Don’t worry. It’s not dog. I’m not so sure it’s cow either but, it’s not dog. C’mon,” he waved with one hand and snatched something up with another. “You know the saying ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you’?” He swung around and pointed the tines of a fork at me. “If you stab me, I’ll do worse than that whip. You get me?” I accepted the possible weapon. “I’m not stupid.” He knocked a different swinging door open with his ass. “We’re all stupid.” The studio was a room with all sorts of photography equipment, backdrops, and props. Relaxing was a mistake. There was a bed behind a drape in the corner. Not that we needed a bed. “Does Larry know about your back?” He stared at my blank expression “Larry. The guy?” He clicked his tongue and shook his head. “You don’t got a clue what’s gonna happen, do you?” I looked around the studio. “Some combination of pictures and fucking, yeah?” “What gave you that idea?” He exaggerated a confused face and a bitter laugh followed. “Larry usually won’t touch you. He can’t get it up so even if he tries, it won’t be nothing too bad from him.” Only one guy whose dick didn’t work had rented me before and it was one of the worst hours of my life. “So just pictures?” “Pictures to start, yeah.” He nodded slowly, curious what my reaction would be to his next statement. “And then… he likes to watch.” “Watch?” I parroted back. “Watch what? Us?” He considered me and cocked his head to the side. “You’ve only been with one of them, right? And not one of us?” Did it matter? The meatballs and cream cheese cracker things battled it out in my stomach. “I think I ate too fast.” He shoved a wastebasket at me. “It probably won’t get that far. He’s not gonna lose cash by keeping me here. But if it does, and if he doesn’t direct, then we can totally fake it.” “Fake it?” I echoed again. “Yeah. If it looks like I can get away with it, I’ll get you on your back and slide under instead of in.” “But if we get caught…” I hugged the wastebasket. “We won’t,” he dismissed. “But if he gets up for a better look, I… well I can’t fake it then.” “If that gets back to Chris…” I couldn’t finish the thought. A voice in the hall launched him into hyper-instructional mode. “Fuck. That was fast. Listen to me. Dealing with Larry and each other is a hell of a lot better than those fuckers out there. It’s easy. Unless he tells you different, you gotta look right into the camera. And mix it up by acting like there’s meatballs on the other side and someone taking them away. I’ll whisper instructions if I can and for god’s sake don’t show him your back.” “Boys,” Larry said as he walked in. He yanked the basket away and spun me so we both faced Larry. “Took you long enough. It’s mean to give me a pretty one and make me wait.” My body tensed and he whispered, “Go with it.” Larry laughed and waved us toward the gray backdrop. “You boys getting along ok?” he asked and picked things off the shelf behind the camera. “We’re just fine. Don’t you worry.” The boy stopped us in the middle of the fabric pooled on the floor and leaned into my ear. “I’m David and I’ll try not to hurt you.” The hell of my life was so crazy I didn’t know what to believe.
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  3. Robert Pfaff, Shrunken Heads, Book Reports Book Reports: The Art of Fiction (Gardener) 1. I have loved John Gardener since I read Grendel in high school. He validated my instincts. For example, I like to break the rules but have always believed that you have to master the rules before you can break them well. Learning a musical instrument or a foreign language teaches you the same idea. You must understand and appreciate structure before you can manipulate it. 11. 1) He debunks certain myths like “Write what you know.” It’s a good departure point for a first book, and my first book is a memoir. But I prefer to write about topics that inspire me to learn new topics, even when it requires years of research to acquire a credible grasp of the subject matter. 2) He embraced the idea of crossing genres, and blending thematic element, which has been on my mind a lot (and often the subject of online debate). I struggle with the concept of genre. My marketing research tells me that genre exists from the summit, as boxes. There are clearly westerns, romance, murder mysteries, etc.…. From a lower altitude, the idea of genre starts to blur. For example, one of my comparables was Karen Robard’s “The Last Victim,” pitched as a ‘romance supernatural suspense thriller.” At the granular lever – the decision-maker’s level, the idea of genre appears to depend on buzz words that appeal to an individual agent or editor. To use one example, I discovered that an Author’s Salon representative with a major publishing house who asked for my manuscript at the conference also purchased the rights to a “supernatural suspense” novel in 2013. I would not have unearthed that information by searching under the genre “horror” on Publisher’s Marketplace. I had to experiment and analyze multiple, related keywords. 3) The concept of the novel as the fictional dream became important to me: shorter, action-based scenes that use vivid imagery and senses to tell the story and induce empathy in the reader, without tripping over false allegory. I make use of one brief allegory in the novel, because psychoanalysts are prone to “deconstruct” simple nursery rhymes or myths to an erotic extreme. This hyperbole fits squarely within the character’s mentality. III. I read the book when I first started this program more than six months ago, and reviewed my notes before I answered these questions. I do not recall anything that directly contradicts what is taught in this course. His approach is less prescriptive – he does not adhere to a particular kind of plot structure, but the “nuts and bolts” six-act, two-goal plot structure taught in the Authors Salon is what I needed to learn at this time. Writing the Breakout Novel (Maas) I. Overall, his insights into how the publishing industry works and what agents and editors are looking for is the overall best lesson gleaned from this book. II. 1) He validated both how I defined the protagonist and the antagonists. The protagonist is the person who has the most to learn from the events that transpire. The primary antagonist is not a one-dimensional serial killer, but a complex, oddly sympathetic monster who believes “it” liberates souls from bad brains. The “red herring” antagonist is a complex, sympathetic young woman at first, troubled by delusions about replicas and robots. 2) He inspired me to move the backstory into the novel as a murder mystery subplot. In the first two drafts, five of Leonard’s former patients and lovers were “missing,” but never participated in the plot. Now they have left the wings and play important roles in driving a subplot that I believe makes for a tightly coiled plot. To save his daughter’s soul from the vengeful spirits, he must risk everything tracking down a serial killer that both 1) has wielded the vengeful spirits embodied in Marta determined to possess his daughter but also 2) holds the mystical secret to her salvation. 3)) His emphasis on bringing the reader deeply as possible into the character’s experience, whatever the point of view, and his emphasis on credible setting within a given historical and cultural setting. In this respect, I have studied down to the historical weather reports – and through subscriptions to The Boston Globe archives – to provide a surreal narrative and its supernatural elements with historically accurate underpinnings. III) Again, I read this book six months ago when I first started this course, and I do not recall direct contradictions. Perhaps the only exception that qualifies is that he validated my initial, first-person “flash-back” approach to writing this novel from a point in the future, as a series of first-person letters from father to daughter. I see where that is discouraged as less marketable in the Author’s Salon modules, but not prohibited. Write Away (George) I. The best image that comes to mind is how the best novelist allow the story to blossom like a flower bud throughout the narrative, planting clues without tipping your hand. II. 1) She embraces the “issue-based” approach to novel writing – suggesting that you write about your passions, both political and philosophical. She does discourage storylines that have a thematic agenda. What asks you to write about what “riles you up?” 2) The chapter (11) on “Tricks of the Dialogue Trade” was exactly what I needed to help distinguish one character’s voice from another, with examples provided above. 3) The emphasis on Unity in all aspects of the novel beyond theme stood out to me. As a result, I have striven to ensure that all scenes in the first 100 pages adhere to a unified cause-and-effect, and conversations between characters echo the unity as well. 4) I will also add the hero’s journey based on Joseph Campbell’s archetype. The ordinary and often flaw protagonist steps over a threshold that takes him on a journey to his inner depths (the approach to the inmost cave) facing many “ordeals,” with “enemies and allies,” until he reaches an epiphany, which leads to his “resurrection,” and then returns with a “reward.” III. It seems that the reading assignments complement the course modules, so I do not see major contradictions. She does promote a standard “three-act” structure, but acknowledges variations exist and that there are no “hard and fast rules.” The Writing Life (Dillard) I. The ultimate trade off that a committed writer must make between creative autonomy and that likelihood that no will care and your sacrifices will not matter struck me hard at this crossroads in my life. II 1) The questions that every write must ask: Can it be done? And can I do it? Resonate with the hurdles I faced when I first waded into this book three years ago. 2) She places an emphasis ion trusting your instincts, suggesting that if your gut signals you to keep something in the book rather than hold back gave me the confidence to trust y instincts when my inner critic told me, do you really need to that paragraph. I allowed me to say I may not need it, but I like it, and I think it will appeal to the reader. 3) The trade-off between a propensity for the metaphysical and the “commercial claptrap” to borrow her phrase, represents an endless challenge for me. She suggests that when drawn to the metaphysical, its best to provide the plot with the most realistic underpinnings possible. This led me to explore topics that not only gave me the realistic underpinnings I needed, but taught me that the horrors of the real world are far more perverse and sinister that I summoned from the musty basement of my imagination in the first two drafts. III. Yes, her approach is less structured and systematic that what is taught in the modules. However, she is describing the challenges that writer’s face, and not writing much of a how-to manual.
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