Starshine and the Space Cadet – Chapter One

I always post the first chapter of my novels. I’ve abandoned many of them, but hopefully that won’t happen to this book. Even if it does, at least you get to enjoy the beginning of it.

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The cadets lined up facing their instructor, rigid and silent.

“You are here today because you were selected to join the elite Space Cadet program.” Titanium-clad boots tapped the green pebbled ground. “This means that you will be trained intensely, held to the highest standards. Holland!”

“Yes sir!”

“Are you yawning?”

“No sir.”

Chance Holland clenched his jaw and tried to yawn through his nose.

“I know some of you are here because you want to fly spaceships.” The instructor fixed his gaze upon a handsome young man. “You will eventually do so, Jarvis, but that is not your purpose. You must focus on becoming disciplined, not just physically strong and skilled with spacecraft. You will develop sharp minds, quick thinking during stress, and how to think for yourself yet work as a team.”

The instructor continued, going on about the threat from the aliens and the greatness of Drom Academy. He listed the great heroes who the cadets would be expected to measure up to. Men who fought and died for their world.

Holland sighed when the instructor wasn’t looking. He was no hero, and this was not the place for him.

“Remember Victor Holland, who single-handedly held off an entire fleet of the enemy at the Battle of Europa until reinforcements arrived.”

Holland winced at the mention of his uncle. They didn’t mention his father, not surprising since men who died of stupidity during their first week of cadet training were rarely remembered.

The instructor’s speech ended and he dismissed them to free time for the remainder of the day. They scattered in various directions, most toward food and games, but a few more studious ones headed for the dormitories to finish unpacking before the rigorous schedule began wearing them down.

Holland stayed where he was, unsure which group he belonged to. He liked to think he was studious, but since he didn’t even want to be at the academy, he considered becoming a slacker. Perhaps they would kick him out and then Uncle Victor would have to accept that the son of his worthless brother would never become a war hero.

“Hey, you.”

The tall, handsome boy waved at Holland. Jarvis, that was his name.

“Me?”

“Yah, you.” Jarvis extended his hand as he approached, and quirked his mouth into a crooked smile. “Franklin Jarvis.”

“Chance Holland.” It was a mumbled name, unwilling to be heard.

“You look a bit lost. Come with me, I’ll show you around the buildings.”

They set off at a brisk, military-style walk, heading for the cafeteria and game room first.

“Didn’t you just get here?” Holland asked.

“No, I’ve been here a few days, and I’ve visited before. My father is one of the teachers. You’ll love him, he teaches strategy without making anyone feel stupid.”

Oh, a teacher’s kid.

“Here’s the cafeteria.” Jarvis waved his hand at the wide open doorway to the natural cavern. The din of hungry young men echoed from within.

“It’s always open, so let’s come back when it isn’t so noisy. You don’t look to keen on going in there.”

Holland nodded. He’d expected the pretty-boy teacher’s kid to be more of an airhead, not a decent and considerate person.

They toured the rest of the academy—got a glimpse of the flight simulators, the locked classrooms, the gym, and finally ended up in the dormitory.

A couple boys sat in corduroy chairs near a crackling fireplace in the common area, reading textbooks. Jarvis nodded at them. “The smart ones. They’ll be our commanding officers someday. So, what number is your room?”

Holland took out his ID card and looked for the sleeping-quarters designation. “C-42,” he said.

“Perfect, you’re one room over from me.”

They went through a narrow opening into a stone corridor. The rooms were open to the passageway, just big enough for six bunks each, and lit with soft blue lights set under thick glass tiles in the floor.

Jarvis counted off. “C-38…C-40…here we are, C-42. I’m right across from you in C-43.”

They stepped into Holland’s room, and the opening was low enough that Jarvis had to duck. None of the roommates had arrived yet. Holland slung his small pack, containing everything he owned in the universe, under the metal-framed bunk bed, and they sat on the mattress.

“What’s your story? I’m assuming a relation to the great and wonderful Victor.” Jarvis’s voice held just enough sarcasm to make Holland smile.

“He’s my uncle, and the reason I’m here.”

“I got that vibe of reluctance from you the moment we were dismissed.”

“I’m not the right person for this sort of thing. I’m more like my father.”

“What does he do?”

Holland shrugged. “Whatever you do when you’re a corpse. He died when I was really young.”

“Oh man. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. I was barely two years old.”

“So what happened? Did he go out in a blaze of glory?”

“No, he got drunk his first week here at the academy and fell off a cliff.”

Jarvis scratched his nose. “Honestly, you don’t seem like that sort of person. I think maybe you’re not so much like your father.”

Holland felt a sudden weight on his shoulders, an overwhelming desire to be alone. “Thanks for showing me around, but I think I want to fall asleep now.”

“Sure, no problem. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Jarvis left and Holland stretched out on his thin mattress. Why did he agree to this? Just because he wanted to make Uncle Victor happy?

Maybe that was all the reason he needed. Maybe that was his greatest purpose in life.

He’d almost fallen asleep when his five roommates came swaggering in, cracking jokes and laughing. He rolled over and clamped his pillow around his ears and waited for them to fall asleep.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

In the morning the cadets awoke to a soft but forceful two-tone chime, and white light from the floors. They tumbled out of bed, wild-haired and drowsy, and lined up in the hallway.

Holland felt a poke in his ribs as he tried to see through the shifting mass of boys.

“They’re handing out uniforms,” Jarvis said. “We’ll get them in the common area and change in the shower room.”

The line moved quickly and soon they had their dark red jumpsuits. In the shower room, comprised of a dry section and an open shower area with a drain in the floor, naked and half-dressed boys made crude jokes as they showered and slipped into uniforms.

Holland peered inside the garment, noticing the built-in underwear.

“All one piece,” Jarvis noted, “and fitted to your body to minimize distractions when you’re active. Soldiers have died while adjusting their underwear.”

“Makes sense.”

Holland undressed slowly, hoping that maybe the others would hurry on and leave him, but the room only grew more crowded.

“Dude, just strip and get used to it,” Jarvis said as he deftly shed his garments. “People will notice you more if you’re shy.”

Trying to avoid looking at the handsome boy’s six-pack abs—and other parts—Holland finished stripping and grabbed a towel from a stack.

“You got nothing to be ashamed of,” Jarvis said.

“I’m a bit soft.”

“That’ll change pretty quickly. And you’re already good-looking. Gonna be really popular with the ladies once you bulk up.”

Holland caught a wink from Jarvis as he hurried for the showers.

Breakfast was a bit less embarrassing. The biscuits were dry and the gravy was thin, but there was sausage involved and it felt satisfying.

The instructor walked in as they stacked their used dishes, unmistakable with the clink of his boots.

“Good morning cadets. I have an exciting day in store for you. Who would like to jump off a cliff?”

Cleaning Up and Moving Forward

I just deleted 179 old posts off this blog. Lots of outdated information, old stories and poems I’m ashamed to claim as my own, and opinion pieces I no longer agree with. I grew up a lot in the past four years, holy cow. Somehow I still haven’t outgrown the phrase “holy cow”, though. Maybe I should.

There are still 199 posts (counting this one) that remain for your obsessive reading pleasure, if you happen to be one of those new readers who feels the need to read everything. It should be easier now that my blog is down to only a couple hundred thousand words…

Yeah, have fun.

Writing is finally going really well. Since I moved, I have finished a couple short stories, written my first new song in a long time, started a new novel, and more. I’m still planning to release my new book Subliminal in time for Christmas, so stick around for more news on that.

I’ve moved into my new place a mile from work, so I have almost an hour extra each day thanks to a two-minute commute. It went pretty smoothly and I’m enjoying the quiet little town. I still have a ton of stuff I need to get rid of, most notably 446 books. I started with 626, so I’ve already sold more than I expected to. I just lowered my prices to a dollar for most paperbacks and two dollars for most hardcovers, so click the link to see what I have. I’ll probably try to sell them for another month and then give away the rest.

I also have a century-old upright piano with real ivory keys that I need to get rid of. It’s nothing special, painted dark blue, and has a great character. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest and want a cheap piano, or know someone who does, let me know. I can even haul it for you. You can hear what it sounds like–the Box widget in my blog sidebar has over 80 minutes of improvised music I recorded on the piano, and this one is my favorite. Disclaimer: Your results may vary, and the piano doesn’t come with a creek or birds.

Speaking of recording, I found the equipment I want and I can get a pretty awesome setup for less than $500, so I’ll be buying that with my next paycheck. I won’t be doing a Kickstarter fundraiser just yet, but possibly around the beginning of 2015 once I have a few songs completed. There will be a lot more money and time involved with actually assembling and releasing my first album. Also, I need to buy a digital piano, and will be doing a rent-to-own thing, so there’ll be an ongoing cost for that.

A few other things:

-Ebola is not a reason to panic and spread conspiracy theories

-Mason Lynch enters the blogging world with some fantastic content

-I actually published a book earlier this year and not many people know about it

Winter is coming. Enjoy the cold by staying warm, and I’ll be back soon with new things for you to read.

Matt’s Giant Book Sale

I’m moving at the beginning of October, and considering that I have no idea when I could possibly open a bookstore, if I ever do, I thought it would make more sense to sell my excess books now.

Which means you have a shot at some really cheap books. I have 587 books left, and you can browse them on my website.

How did I end up with so many extra books on top of the 400+ that I’m keeping for myself? Back in 2013, a friend who owned a supermassive online bookstore was going out of business (like the death of a humongous star). She had a month to sell as many books as she could of the 500,000 she had in three huge warehouses. So she told me to take as many as I could, to rescue the good books from the fate of recycling.

I made two trips to her warehouses (three hours from my house) and brought home around sixteen boxes of books. They’ve been sitting unread in my basement ever since. Now, with some clever programming and seven hours of work, I’ve cataloged every one of my 1,000+ books, set aside the ones I’m keeping, and now you can buy the rest at the awesome prices of $1.50 for most paperbacks and $3 for most hardcovers.

Shipping is done via USPS Media Mail, which is pretty cheap, around $12 for a sixteen-pound box. There are more details on my website, such as the important three-book limit…I can’t handle shipping 587 books one at a time, that would just be ridiculous. Please, order a lot of books.

The World Might Raise Eye Brow

A while back I received this fantastic junk email. I found it so entertaining that I saved it and have given it the title The World Might Raise Eye Brow. It has inspired me to create new levels of comedy–probably low levels, but a lot of comedy is pretty low. I may be writing my own wacky scam letters in the near future. Not to scam people, of course, but for the fun of it. If you have any ideas for a subject you’d like me to create a scam around, please do leave a comment about it. I await your urgent reply.

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Dear Sir/Madam, I saw your profile and I decided to reveal this secret to you, I am Rogers Stuart, personal air pilot to the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Before a revolt pushed him out from power in August 2012, he trusted me and instructed me to purchase ammunition from his Russia business man with some funds, these funds was originally deposited in a secret finance house.

I came to London here in preparation of going to Russia suddenly I saw a breaking news at CNN that he was captured and killed immediately, right now I am the only one who knows about this fund. I have served this man for 6 years; I would have been also dead if it was not that he sent me to go for this mission. Sending me out of Libya to go and purchase ammunition saved my life. I want to transfer the funds to your country and invest it in any business that can generate annual income.

I want you to work with me and receive the funds in your country, I am also very lucky that my dealings with him are top priority secret because no one knows about the funds. You are the only person am revealing this secret to, so you have to keep it between me and you.

As a Canadian I have access to invest this money in my country but since everybody knew I was the personal Pilot to him, the world might raise Eye Brow if should I single handedly withdraw and invest this whole money because it’s too huge for a single individual like me hence my contacting you. I will tell you how much is involved as soon as I get your reply; I need your immediate reply now.

I am waiting for your urgent reply.

Best Regards,

Rogers Stuart.

Caffeinated Psychic

The first time I had coffee, I thought someone had laced it with a hallucinogenic drug. It happened like this…

I walked into the little café with my schoolbooks and a handful of change. After being teased for never having coffee before—not my fault, my parents just never had it around—I decided it was about time to consume some of the famous beverage. So I ordered a twelve-ounce mocha and sat in the corner, sipping it like a teenager with whiskey.

As I neared the bottom of the cup, my knees started bouncing with no instruction to do so, and I felt much like I had when the dentist gassed me with nitrous oxide. I finished the drink with a crooked smile and burped. Plus ten life experience for me.

I stood up and headed for the bathroom with my purse, dodging around an immense dude with long hair, a beard, and a black leather coat. He glanced at me and I heard his voice—but his mouth didn’t move.

“She looks a lot like Ash…”

“Who?” I asked.

The dude frowned. “What?”

“Who looks like Ash?”

He gave me the strangest look, and my hyperactive brain finally registered that his mouth hadn’t moved.

“Oh my gosh,” I said.

“I didn’t say anything about Ash,” he said.

“I know. Hang on, I gotta pee.”

I dashed into the bathroom and took care of the pressing issue, and then I stood at the sink and stared into the mirror. What were the signs of LSD intoxication? I had no idea. Maybe that spot on my cheek…no, just a zit. I applied some zit cream to it and licked my finger and then stared at my reflection, wondering why I’d licked my finger. It didn’t taste good.

I found the huge dude sitting at the table beside mine, playing a word game on his iPhone. I sat down at my table for about 0.85 seconds and then got up again and slid into the chair across from him. He glanced at me.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” he said.

“I think I’m either drugged or going insane.”

“Interesting.”

I bounced in place while he finished making his move in the word game.

Finally he set his phone down, took a long drink of his coffee, and looked at me. “This is strange, somebody is talking to me.”

My mouth dropped open because his hadn’t. “Did you just think something?”

“Uh, yeah…is that surprising?”

“Did you just think this is strange, somebody is talking to me?”

“Yes…”

“Oh my gosh.”

“Do you have to pee again?”

“No, I don’t say that every time I have to pee.”

He smiled.

I leaned forward, probably looking a bit deranged. “The weird thing is that I’m hearing your thoughts.”

Suddenly a flood of voices filled my head and I clamped my hands over my ears. The barista, the couple in the corner, the emo skater kid who just walked in, they were all thinking, and I could hear it.

“Make it stop!” I cried.

A moment later the din of voices quieted a bit and I noticed the huge dude was waving his hand in front of my face. “Hello?” he said.

I uncovered my ears and gave a half smile. “Sorry, I got distracted. The couple in the corner is going to get engaged tonight and the barista has a sick cat at home and that emo kid has an abusive mother.”

“You mean…you can read people’s minds?”

I laughed, a high, slightly maniacal laugh that probably should’ve stayed in my head. “I never have before!”

“Before what?”

“Before I came here and drank the first coffee I’ve ever tasted. I think there was something in my coffee. LSD or crack or whatever it is that makes you psychic.”

“There are no drugs that make you psychic…”

“Oh right.” I chewed on my lip and stared out the window. An elderly man climbed out of his car, shut the door, and shuffled toward the café.

“You okay?”

I jumped and looked back at my large companion. “Oh yeah, I forgot about you. I was watching that old guy.”

He looked out the window. “What old guy?”

I pointed, and looked, and stopped. “Not visual hallucinations too!”

But as I looked, the old man’s car drove up and he climbed out, taking those same small, dragging steps across the parking lot.

“That’s weird.”

“You saw him before he got here?”

“Yeah.”

“So you’re telepathic and clairvoyant. What else?”

I cocked my head and squinted at him. “You’re remarkably calm about this whole thing.”

“So are you.”

“Haha no. My brain feels like a Mexican jumping bean. It’s like all my innards are doing the boogie while my brain sits up there…just…flinging itself violently against the walls of its prison…”

I slumped over the table, overwhelmed with sudden exhaustion. “Ohhhh…why am I so sleepy.” I let out a long moan, and then sat up and blew strands of hair out of my face.

The dude stared at me, stroking his beard. I stared back, probably doing a pretty good impression of a zombie. A blob of drool fell from my lip.

“You hear anything?” he finally asked.

I shook my head slowly.

“I’m thinking things very deliberately in your direction.”

“I got nothing on the brainwave radar, Beardy.”

He took another drink of his coffee, looked at it, and then pushed it across the table to me.

“Ew no thanks.” I grabbed the cup. “On second thought, I’m really sleepy and apparently coffee helps with that.”

I drained the rest of his drink, hiccupped, and blinked twice. The voices came back, quiet at first, but growing in volume until I had to cover my ears again. The lights seemed to flicker and get brighter so I squeezed my eyes shut and rocked back and forth.

A hand touched my bare forearm, searing hot, and the weight of another mind flooded into my own. In an instant I knew everything about him. I jerked away with a gasp and fell out of my chair.

“Sorry,” he said, helping me up. “You were like that for several minutes, and beginning to get strange looks and whispers from the gawkers in the corner booth.”

I sat in my chair, a bit dazed from having his entire consciousness downloaded into mine. All I managed to say was “Uhhhhh…”

“Coffee seems to affect you strongly. Perhaps it would be better if you didn’t drink it.”

“Uhhhhhh…”

He peered at my face. “You okay? Should I call a doctor? Maybe you’re allergic?”

“Uhhhhhhhh…no, I don’t think allergies ever manifest as psychic powers.”

“Did you discover another one? Maybe you can move things by looking at them. That would be cool.”

I looked up at him. “Dude, this is serious. Can you imagine what would happen if anyone found out that coffee makes me psychic?”

“Shhh.”

I glanced around at the other café patrons. “Oh, right. Anyway, can you imagine? The government would take me to one of those top secret labs and run experiments to replicate my ability, so they could create coffee-powered supersoldiers…”

“I think you’re confusing reality with conspiracy thriller movies.”

“Um yes, dude, a lot of confusion going on here, with the telepathy and all that. This shouldn’t be happening. I wonder if this is why my parents never had coffee in the house and never let me get any. Maybe they knew! Oh my gosh I need to go home.”

I jumped up from my chair, tripped over it, and stumbled against the wall. After grabbing my books I ran for the door, and out onto the sidewalk, and then I stopped. The bus that was supposed to take me home wouldn’t be running the route for another hour. Dangit.

My new friend came out and stood beside me, hands in his jacket pockets. He flapped the corners of his unzipped coat while standing there quietly.

“The bus won’t be here for another hour,” I said.

“I could drive you.”

I looked at him, the gentle giant whose shoulder was almost as high as the top of my head. Why not? I knew everything about him, after all. It was like riding with a brother…who I’d met for the first time ten minutes ago despite knowing all his life. Weird.

“So I should tell you…” I said while climbing into his car, but I didn’t go on because I wasn’t sure how to say it.

“Yeah?”

“Well obviously I trust you because I’m getting in your car and those people in the café are giving us really worried looks, probably because you’re so big and hairy and I’m a girl and…hahaha…”

“And you trust me because of the telepathy?”

“Sort of. Is it telepathy when someone touches you and suddenly their brain gets squashed into yours, so you know everything about them?”

He didn’t say anything. My psychic powers had worn off by then so I couldn’t read his mind anymore, which proved a surprising lack of foresight, for a clairvoyant. What if he suddenly turned evil and kidnapped me—

“Well,” he said. “That’s awkward.”

“What is?”

“You knowing everything about me.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry. Couldn’t help it. You touched me and it triggered this mind-meld sort of thing.”

He sighed.

“If it’s any consolation, I understand. It’s hard being the weird one who doesn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in at college because I’d never had coffee before, so that’s why I came here and had some today.”

I thought about that for a moment.

“Wow that sounded really petty. I’m weird because I never had coffee so I can totally understand being an outcast all your life! Sorry.”

He grinned. “It’s fine.”

“But really, I’ve got your brain downloaded into mine so I don’t just know what happened to you, I also know how it felt. That makes a big difference.”

I gave him directions for a few minutes, and then my mind started wandering through his memories. At first I felt really awkward and bad about it, like you do when you open someone else’s mail or use their toothbrush on accident. But it was fascinating to explore a totally new mind.

I glanced at my silent chauffer. “You know when you discover something new and it’s really cool but at the same time it’s terrifying? Oh hey, turn here. I almost forgot I live here.”

The dude hit the brakes and swung around the corner onto the neighborhood street. “Which house?” he asked.

“The one with fake ducks in the yard. I think we’re the only people in the city with fake ducks. When people ask where I live I can just tell them the house with fake ducks and about ninety percent of the time, they know exactly where that is.”

We stopped in front of my house and I jumped out of the car and ran to the door. I burst into the living room yelling “Moooooom!”

She came rushing out of her office with a pen in one hand and a clipboard in the other. “What? Are you okay? Why are you home so early?”

“I had coffee.”

“Oh dear…”

“Is there a specific reason you and Dad never let me have coffee?”

“Uh…no? We just don’t think it’s very healthy.”

“Oh. Okay. I wanted to try it so I did, but it made me feel really weird.”

“Are you all right?”

I bounced up and down, nodding vigorously. “Yep yep. Just fine. Hey, you should meet this nice hairy dude I found at the coffee shop. He drove me home.”

On second thought I probably shouldn’t have introduced my new friend like that. Mom was super suspicious of him so I stretched the account of how I got to know him by saying that he helped me out during some really tough times and I knew him really well ‘cause he was such a nice guy.

So then Mom felt better and invited him to stay for dinner but he said he had to leave because of stuff, so he said goodbye and left.

I lay awake for a long time that night, pondering my newfound abilities and the ramifications of them. Of course, the main thing that had me preoccupied was how in the world it happened. Did I have a rare genetic mutation that caused my cells to react with caffeine and develop superpowers? Would I be growing blades between my knuckles or shooting spiderweb from my wrists a few days later?

Whatever the case, I knew I had to keep it a secret. I dreaded the thought of being experimented on by the government. Which meant I needed a superhero name for my alter ego…but Coffee Woman was the only thing my tired brain could think of.

I fell asleep dreaming about a giant hairy guy going back to his lonely little house.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“So I was thinking, if I carry around one of those weird backpacks with the bladder thing full of water, only I fill it up with super strong coffee, then whenever I’m in a situation that could benefit from the use of my psychic powers I could take a sip and do my little brain-Hulk thing.”

My large friend leaned back and the entire deck creaked. On the other side of the yard, my Dad had a burnt sacrifice going on his grill. It smelled marvelous but if I tried to eat steak, I would bloat up like a dead pig in the sun and have gas for a week, so I had to be content with just smelling the barbecue.

“Are you sure you want to keep triggering it? The side effects look pretty intense.”

I grinned. “It’s kind of fun, though.”

“Exactly my point. Addiction could be a problem.”

“Psh, I’m psychic, who cares about addiction? Think of all the people I could help. I can just see it now…I’m walking home along the street, sipping coffee to keep my clairvoyance alert for possible threats—and also the extra bonus of making me walk about ten times faster than normal. Then I see a white van drive up and a couple men grab a kid who’s playing in front of his house. Only it hasn’t happened yet, so when I see the kid I run up to him and tell him to go inside, and the white van just drives by and I get the license number and call the police—”

“Hang on. You’re not a superhero.”

“Yes I am! I mean, the only other options are being a supervillain, or living in pointless apathy. Wouldn’t I be a bad person if I didn’t use my gifts for good?”

“Well…you have to be sure it’s actually a gift.”

“Look where you are.”

He looked around. “I’m in the backyard of a white middle-class American household.”

“You’re in my backyard, silly.”

“Oh, that detail.”

“You’re a good friend, Beardy.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Then the day came when I realized the problem with being a caffeinated psychic. I could figure out everyone else, but they couldn’t figure me out nearly as well. After that first mind-meld, I avoided touching anyone, because I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough storage space for several more complete minds in my head. But I could still read thoughts when I was high on coffee, and I gained much, much deeper insights about the mysterious complexities of people.

I had secrets, though, and I didn’t think about how the keeping of those secrets might affect someone who didn’t know me nearly as intimately as I knew them.

My giant friend met me at the café one day, and he seemed more nervous than usual. I had a smoothie—no caffeine because he’d been worried that I would turn into Roadrunner or some sort of perpetually hyperactive cartoon character.

We sat down at the usual table and I pulled out my schoolbooks and started working through math. He was a math genius, so my grades rocketed after I absorbed his mind. My teachers suspected cheating but I wasn’t sure if using my psychic abilities to instantly learn math counted as cheating or not.

“So hey,” he said. “I’ve been thinking.”

“I’ve noticed.”

He laughed. “I really enjoy hanging out with you.”

“Likewise, my large hirsute friend.”

“I was wondering if you’d like to be anything more than friends.”

I stared at him and slurped my smoothie. “You mean the type of more than friends involving fancy restaurants and face-battling under the stars and other gross stuff?”

He laughed. “Well, sort of. No need to stick to the stereotypes though.”

What he was saying struck me then, like a brain freeze from drinking a smoothie too fast. “Oh.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Oh.”

“I’m not a mind-reader…”

I shook my head and slurped up the rest of my smoothie. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

I grabbed my books and fled the café. He didn’t follow, and I thought for a moment how bad he must have felt, but I couldn’t turn back. Why didn’t I tell him right away? Why, with all my telepathy and clairvoyance and mind-melding, did I never see this coming?

I spent most of that afternoon sitting on a park bench and staring at a tree. There was no profound wisdom in the tree; I just stared at it because it was there. Eventually I caught the bus home and hid in my room with my journal and wrote a lot of words that didn’t make much sense.

Night fell and I sat by my window, with my chin on the sill, staring up at the stars. The rest of the house went silent as my parents and little sister went to bed.

Then I spotted movement in the yard and got up on my knees, smiling. I opened the window, while the figure climbed on the fence, to the roof, and then up the slope to my window.

The head and tank-topped shoulders of my lanky classmate leaned in and she kissed me before tumbling through the window and closing it behind her. She stood up straight and ran her fingers through her short hair.

“I have a problem,” I said.

“What sort, love?”

“A boy. I mean, he’s a great, great friend.”

“Ah. They always go for that more than friends thing, don’t they?”

I sat on the bed and she plopped down beside me and started twisting my hair into a braid.

“I’m living a triple life,” I blurted out.

“What?” She laughed. “Like a double life, but with another secret layer?”

“Yeah. I’ve got you. I’ve got the nice proper life I’m supposed to have, with my parents and college and all the normal stuff. And I’ve got this condition where drinking coffee makes me psychic.”

She gently slapped my shoulder. “You’re hilarious.”

“No really. I can prove it to you.”

So I proved it to her; I got out my stash of super-concentrated coffee and drank some and repeated her thoughts. She ended up sitting in a chair in the corner of my room, staring at me while I fidgeted on the bed.

“Well?” I asked.

“Wow,” she said.

“I know. It’s crazy. I thought maybe my parents had never given me coffee because they knew, like maybe it ran in the family, but they have no idea.”

“Wow.”

“Are you afraid of me? Are you going to turn me in to the government so they can experiment on me and make supersoldiers?”

She laughed and sat beside me again. “No, dear. Not at all. I’m just stunned. This is incredible.” She laid her hand on my arm.

My vision flashed white and her mind roared into mine. I pulled away and curled up, moaning.

“Hey, I’m sorry, did I do something?”

“No, no…”

I rolled onto the floor and lay flat on my back, gasping. After a minute I relaxed and looked up at her worried frown. “It’s okay,” I said.

“What happened?”

“A mind-meld. If your bare skin touches mine while I’m high on coffee, your mind gets, er, downloaded into mine.”

“And that means…my whole mind? Everything?”

“All your memories, with thoughts and feelings included. It’s really quite freaky.”

“Oh my goodness.”

I got up and crawled into bed. “Actually I think I like having you in my head.”

She leaned over and kissed me again, and at that moment someone rapped on my door while simultaneously opening it. I squealed and yanked a blanket over me. My classmate jumped up but it was too late. I burrowed deeper into the bedding.

Mom said, “What?”

My girlfriend said, “Hi.”

I just stayed under the sheets.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The rough wooden door made a dull thunk when I knocked, and it felt like it dented my knuckles. A minute of fidgeting later, the door opened and my big hairy dude stood there. He looked at me, at my companion, and back at me.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hey, I’m sorry, I kind of freaked out back there at the café.”

“It’s not a problem. I understand.”

He means it, even though he really doesn’t know what’s up.

“I wasn’t sure you did, so that’s why I’m here. Well there’s other reasons too. One thing at a time. As explanation for my hasty retreat yesterday…this is my girlfriend.”

“Hi,” the girlfriend said.

He nodded at her. And then he understood. “Ah…”

“Yeah, well, that’s the other thing. Mom barged in last night and to make a long screaming match very short, I don’t have a place to live anymore.”

He stepped back and opened the door wide. “Sure you do. I’ve got an extra room upstairs, complete with a private bathroom.”

“Oh my gosh really?”

“Rent free, too.”

I hugged him. “Thank you. A lot. So much thanks. Of course when I get a job I’ll help with rent.”

He chuckled. “No problem. And what happened at the café isn’t a big deal. I totally understand.”

We went in and sat on his nice poofy couches and I listened to his thoughts and he really was okay. Such relief.

I leaned back and laughed with my hairy dude and the girlfriend, and we talked and ate pizza and brainstormed wild schemes to make good use of my caffeinated psychic abilities.

Developing Imaginary Voices

In most cases you do not want to hear voices in your head. They can be a symptom of various mental disorders, which aren’t much fun. But sometimes you really need to be able to imagine a voice that isn’t your own…like when you write a story.

I am an extremely auditory person. Often I recognize people by their voices instead of faces. When I start a new story, the first thing I do is figure out who the main character is and listen to their voice.

Every character should have a unique voice. When you can’t actually hear them, they can be difficult to distinguish. You come to a piece of dialogue, and your brain says “Okay, how would I say that?” If you don’t stop yourself, you end up writing a lot of characters that all sound like you. If you can change who said a line, and it doesn’t sound weird for the other character to say it, chances are you need to work more on developing their voices.

But how? Aside from actually hallucinating, hearing voices consists of actively imagining them. How do you create a new voice in your head that isn’t your own? I will attempt to explain.

Word Choice

I have said that dialogue is the fine art of butchering grammar. This is a good place to start. I’ve met a lot of writers who, especially when writing in first-person, make the dialogue sound just like the narrative. Of course, when your first-person character speaks, they should sound much like their narrative, maybe a little less proper. But what about the other characters? Not everyone uses words in the same way. If your standard vocabulary and use of idioms is exactly the same through all the dialogue, the characters will sound quite similar. So mix it up a bit. Whenever writing dialogue for a non-POV character (or even a section of the book in a different POV), stop yourself after the first idea you get, and reconstruct the sentence.

By using your natural voice for the main character, and forcing yourself to use what comes second for a different character, you’ll create a small but noticeable distinction.

When developing the idiosyncrasies of a character’s word choice, pay close attention to details. Do they usually say “I am” or “I’m”? Contractions are a major source of tone. Most people will use them in most cases, but someone who thinks more before speaking, and speaks slowly and deliberately, will use fewer contractions.

Sentence Length

Don’t just dump what the character needs to say into the most convenient sentences. Think about how the sentences might be split up or combined to make them flow differently. Pay attention to the words you use to start sentences—don’t repeat the same one over and over.

Try to keep the sentences in dialogue (and paragraphs if applicable) generally shorter than the ones in narrative. People don’t usually speak in long, complex sentences, but we do write them. Just look at how I structure my sentences in this article…this is not how you want a character talking. I’m writing informative nonfiction right now. You don’t want your character’s emotional revelation to sound like a rehearsed lecture.

Fragments are almost necessary in many cases, to give a natural human emotion to the words. Dialogue is more poetry than prose, so ditch those rules and follow the feelings.

Perspective

Word choice and sentence length are both affected by perspective. How does this character see the world? Is she naïve, emotional, and interested in details? Or is she a withdrawn thinker who deals more with logic? Does she look for the best possible intentions in what someone says, or does she make negative assumptions? I could go on for a long time—the philosophy and mental health and basically everything about a person will affect how they process information and consequently how they speak.

A more creative person, whose mind has to process a lot more sensory input, may speak in longer, more rambling sentences. Someone with a lot of energy will use shorter sentences and maybe get distracted for a moment and go off on tangents because their attention jumps from one thing to another. Quiet and logical people may focus intently on one specific item of interest, and use carefully constructed sentences of average length. There are, of course, many other sorts of perspective. That’s what developing a character is all about…creating a new perspective.

Personality

Of course, once a character collects information, there are a lot of different ways they can use it. Some will ignore things that bother them, while others kick back. Some daydream a lot, some don’t.

The main personality distinction is introvert vs. extrovert—does she seek out people and want to share herself with the world, or is she so reserved that she avoids any personal conversations with people who aren’t close friends?

How seriously the character takes things is another aspect that strongly affects dialogue. The cheerful wisecracking sidekick is a fun person to write, just don’t overdo it. On the opposite end, make sure that serious characters aren’t so totally serious that they become boring. Find where each individual’s lines are, to determine what is an appropriate reaction to any given situation.

To illustrate some of the variety in voices and personality, here are three examples from my own writing, with brief descriptions of the characters and their major defining traits.

—————————-

“What is it, eh? I want to know what’s wrong with me too. Is it really bad?”
“No, it isn’t bad,” Peyton says. She sits down beside me and holds my hand. “You’re pregnant, dear.”
She doesn’t say any more than that. I blink a few times. “What’s that, eh?”
Her eyebrows pop halfway up her forehead and Marlon says a bad word.
“You honestly don’t know?” the nurse whispers.
I shake my head.
“There’s a baby growing inside you.”
“Oy!” I stare at her. “Is it supposed to do that?”
“It does happen…that’s typically where babies come from. Did no one ever tell you?”
“Nobody.”
“And you never wondered and thought to ask?”
“I thought to ask lots of things, but not that one. I only came out of the box five years ago, so there hasn’t been time to wonder about everything yet.”

Larken’s innocence is due to only having five years of memory, although she has the physical body and brain development of a fifteen-year-old. Her unique perspective is something I worked a lot on developing—a strange mix of child and teenager that is affected by her ability to remember every detail about every moment of the past five years. She uses a few large words that she’s learned, but if she doesn’t know a word for something she will come up with a simple quirky way to say it.

—————————-

I glanced at my silent chauffer. “You know when you discover something new and it’s really cool but at the same time it’s terrifying? Oh hey, turn here. I almost forgot I live here.”
The dude hit the brakes and swung around the corner onto the neighborhood street. “Which house?” he asked.
“The one with fake ducks in the yard. I think we’re the only people in the city with fake ducks. When people ask where I live I can just tell them the house with fake ducks and about ninety percent of the time, they know exactly where that is.”
We stopped in front of my house and I jumped out of the car and ran to the door. I burst into the living room yelling “Moooooom!”
She came rushing out of her office with a pen in one hand and a clipboard in the other. “What? Are you okay? Why are you home so early?”
“I had coffee.”
“Oh dear…”
“Is there a specific reason you and Dad never let me have coffee?”
“Uh…no? We just don’t think it’s very healthy.”
“Oh. Okay. I wanted to try it so I did, but it made me feel really weird.”
“Are you all right?”
I bounced up and down, nodding vigorously. “Yep yep. Just fine. Hey, you should meet this nice hairy dude I found at the coffee shop. He drove me home.”

This unnamed character is quite hyperactive. She’s a college girl who discovers that drinking coffee gives her psychic powers. Her voice is snappy, to-the-point, but often rambling because her attention is always jumping from one thing to another.

—————————-

He walked into the sitting room, where she sat spinning wool on her wheel.
“Hello Jeffrey,” she said.
Something about that hello sounded wrong. But it was just a hello. Most of them sounded wrong.
“Hello yourself,” he said. “How is the spinning today?”
“Very well.”
Her curt answer made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
“Have you been out?” he asked.
“No, I was here all day. I made you some cookies.”
A peace offering. Something was definitely wrong.
“I think I will take a shower now,” he said.
“Have fun.”
Jeffrey pondered how he would have fun in the shower. He wasn’t a man given to having fun in general, and showers were more of a chore to him than something that could be had fun with.
“Dang it,” he said. “That conniving woman has got me preoccupied with having fun so I won’t think about what’s going on behind my back. I won’t be tricked that easily.”

Jeffrey is a selfish and shrewd businessman, often suspicious of other people’s motives. His thought process, while a bit out of touch with reality, follows straightforward logic. His wife, in this scene, is sick with fear, which makes her dialogue short and distant, almost an afterthought amid the chaos in her mind. Of course, she’s not a POV character—everything the reader knows about her must come through what the POV character knows.

—————————-

I hope you find that helpful to some extent. Always remember that whether or not the character is the narrator, you still need to know them well. There are some fantastic character trait sheets floating around the internet that can be helpful in getting to know these imaginary people. Look for one—or make your own—that digs into their internal life. What they fear, what they love, their motivations. What would this character die for? What would they kill for?

Favorite color, hair color, height, and other trivial information is nice, but it doesn’t really tell you much about who your character really is. Dig deep into the personality.

Ethnicity and Time

Writing accents is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but my brief advice: do it subtly. Strong accents are often annoying to read. They can be done well, as in Huckleberry Finn, but it’s very difficult. Focus mostly on the cadence of the accent—tweak word choice to create the distinct pattern of your character’s voice. Which is basically what you do for every character, but it takes more thought when writing an accent.

The time period and setting of the book is important. Slang changes so much from generation to generation, and it’s easy to forget when writing a historical fiction that you can’t use a lot of common modern words. This is probably why a lot of historical fiction ends up stuffy and boring (medieval-style fantasy as well), but it doesn’t have to be. Even with a limited pool of words to choose from, you still have tons of variety.

Tags and Beats

In general you do not want to use a lot of dialogue tags. Most writers stick with basic ones…said, asked, whispered, shouted. In addition to avoiding things like “interjected”, try to cut out any tag that isn’t absolutely needed. Why? We don’t have dialogue tags in real life.

Their only purpose is to tell you who is speaking, and to a small extent how they are speaking. But in real life, we know who is speaking because of their unique voice—and because we can see them. How they speak is conveyed through voice inflection, facial expression, and body language. So write those things.

Non-verbal communication is usually expressed with beats, which are small pieces of action used in the place of dialogue tags. They shift the reader’s focus to a different character, so they automatically assume that character is the speaker. For example:

He picked at the mole on his cheek. “I dunno, buddy. The sasquatch could be anywhere by now.”

Try to strike a balance between typical actions and imaginative ones. You don’t want to fill your writing with clichés, but neither should the actions be so strangely described that the reader doesn’t connect with them.

Little actions such as the ones used for beats are one of the main things that drive the emotion of your story. If your character is horrified at something, writing “I was horrified” does nothing. That’s not a horrifying sentence. Instead, you modify the tone of the sentence, convey horror through descriptions of what the character does in response, and make the reader feel horror—or at least sympathize with the main character—without ever mentioning it.

In my third example, I never tell you how Jeffrey felt. Instead I show it through little things like “Her curt answer made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.” He refers to the cookies as a “peace offering”. All these things fit together so that when he thinks “Something is wrong”, you don’t get the impression that he is worried, but rather that he is suspicious.

Additional Idea Nuggets

Read out loud. Seriously, you should do this with all your writing. I don’t do it often, but occasionally I do and I find a lot of little quirks of phrasing that can be improved, words that don’t fit, spelling errors…basically anything that goes wrong will pop up clearer when read out loud.

If you aren’t a very auditory person, reading out loud is a great way to get an idea of what your character sounds like. Or even better, get some friends to read the lines. A fresh perspective is extremely valuable.

Try basing character speech patterns on people you know who have similar personalities. If you know them well enough to imagine what they’d say, that’s the best. Or you can ask them how they’d react to the situation.

Don’t write exactly how people speak. I know, I know…after all that talk about making people sound natural, now I’m telling you not to write how people actually talk. But that’s the nature of writing. You’re not creating reality; you’re creating an illusion of reality. In the real world, people say “like” and “um” entirely too much. Having those filler words cluttering up the dialogue will just irritate readers. There are better ways to make a character sound like an airhead, or uncertain.

Rhythm is your friend. How the words fit together, where the stresses fall, how many syllables, it should all fit together in a good simulation of an actual voice. People don’t speak in tongue twisters, so be careful with alliteration and assonance and a lot of long words.

It might feel overwhelming at first to think so much about all these details, but after a while it should become natural. You may be more comfortable spewing everything into the vast whiteness of the page, and then fixing it when editing. Which can work…but in my experience it is much easier to write a character and understand how they see the world when you already have their personality and voice figured out.

A Return to Writing

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything for this blog. I don’t want to let it die, though, so consider this the beginning of the resurrection. I’ve just written an article about developing character voices, and I’m pondering some series ideas.

I don’t know how many people are still reading this, but it’s time for some serious platform-building. I have a lot coming up, if I can keep myself on track…

-I’m planning a Kickstarter to raise funds for better recording equipment so I can make my first music album as good as possible. If you have friends who love music, and would support an independent artist, or just anyone who has an extra five dollars lying around, I’d really appreciate some help spreading the word. I still need to put together a video and one completed song for that, so watch for an announcement sometime in the next few months.

-I will be publishing another novel hopefully before the end of the year, my longest yet. I’ve actually only published one novel so far–the rest of my books are collections of short stories and novellas. Subliminal is an insane post/pre-apocalyptic sci-fi with a circular plot, about a girl who fell from the sky in a cold metal box a thousand years before she crawled out of it. Some of you may remember seeing it on this blog, since I wrote it as a serial novel and posted every chapter. This time I’ll actually try some marketing, and see if that makes a difference.

-I’m trying to sell short stories to various magazines. Stiff competition there, but I might have a chance. At the very least, it’s been helping me to write a little more regularly.

If you have ideas for articles you’d like me to write, please leave a comment. I’ll write about anything, if I can think of enough to say.