Lan’s Mother

Lan picked at her dinner, scowling, then put down her fork and said, “You want to know about my mother? Okay. Here’s pretty much everything you need to know about my mother.”

“I’m all attention,” he said, ignoring her to carve into his bird.

“She lost her coat the night she got here.”

She could see him trying not to react to that, but after a few awkward seconds, he looked at her. “There must be more to the tale than that.”

* * *

In every book I write, there are certain characters, background players who barely get a mention now and then, who fascinate me. They aren’t the heroes. They aren’t love interests. They don’t get big musical numbers to explain their motivations. They just tell their part of the story in a whispering background sort of way and fade out, but these are the characters I tend to gravitate towards the most, because they remind me that everyone has a story, but not everyone gets a book. In The Scholomance, it was Horuseps. In Cottonwood, Good Samaritan. In Arcadia,  oh gosh, a whole slew of ’em, but especially Lily. And in The Land of the Beautiful Dead, it’s Lan’s mother.

Although her influence on the book is strong, she’s not a major player. I could probably go back through and count the number of scenes she’s in. In fact, let me do that.

Enjoy this picture while you wait.

Enjoy this picture while you wait.

 

Okay, I’m back. She gets roughly 150 mentions, spread out over 35 separate scenes and in most cases, those mentions amount to Lan thinking that her mother once said or did this or that. One line, tossed away, which when picked up and pieced together, create a story–I’m not going to lie–I would almost rather be writing than the one I wrote.

What do we know about Lan’s mother? We know she’s not pretty. When Azrael remarks that all children find their mothers pretty, Lan is quick to reply, “Not mine. She was hard. Scarred.” We know she’s resourceful and tough, having grown up on her own not only in a strange land, but in a strange land overrun with dead people who want to eat you. And we know that, even in a zombie apocalypse, mothers say mother-things:

* * *

If this were Norwood and if her mother were still alive, she would have had Lan out of this room and on about her chores and never mind Mallowton or the garden or killing a kid. There were no excuses good enough to mope the day away. ‘If you can do something, do something,’ she used to say. ‘If you can’t, do something else, but quit sulking or I’ll give you something to sulk about.’

Who would have ever thought she’d miss hearing that? Or miss seeing that face, her head perpetually cocked because her left eye was nothing but a socket full of scars? She missed her mother’s hands—rough and chapped, with a knuckle bitten off on one and two fingers that wouldn’t bend on the other, so she was constantly flicking people the Vs if she didn’t consciously fold them down when she made a fist. She missed the heat of her mother’s body close to hers on the camp bed they shared in the women’s lodge and how she’d wake at the slightest cough or rustle in the dark and sit up, knife in hand, to listen…then lean over and touch Lan’s face, so lightly, never knowing Lan was awake to feel it or to hear her mother’s whisper, “She’s okay. She’s just fine,” as she tried to talk herself into going back to sleep.

* * *

And we know she’s dead. The book begins with Lan making her way to Haven, where Azrael rules, after her mother’s funeral, which is to say after her mother’s walking corpse had her back broken and was burnt, writhing and snapping her teeth, to ashes. Memorial service to follow.

In lieu of flowers, the family is accepting bottled water and bullets.

In lieu of flowers, the family is accepting bottled water and bullets.

Lan grew up in a comparatively sheltered life. She had strong walls around her to keep the Eaters out. She had food, although subsistence living is a bitch and starvation was a very real possibility. She considers herself a survivor, but not on the same scale. Familiarity breeds familiarity, as someone or another once said (They need to release Probe on DVD. I don’t care if it was just one season, I’d watch it) and those who grew up after the apocalypse just don’t measure up against those who had to live through it. Lan measures herself against her mother constantly and comes up short. Don’t we all, right?

My own mother died three years ago and the wound is still very fresh. It wasn’t a conscious factor when writing LoBD, (see the previous post for how consciously I write anything) but in my read-over, it is impossible for me not to find resonance in Lan’s memories of this vanished person, who she both idolizes and blames, doesn’t always understand, but profoundly misses. All of my books tend to strike along a central theme of Family and never is it more apparent than in this book. It wasn’t deliberate and I can only hope it reads well, because the kinds of family situations that exist in Beautiful Dead’s world are so far removed from my own experience that it was almost like writing for aliens.

Anyway, please enjoy the story of Lan’s mother and how she lost her coat (it’s not my favorite mother snippet, but my favorite will just have to wait until publication because it’s something of a spoiler), and then it’s back to edits. Also, it’s something of a downer, so be prepared.

* * *

“She was a child when she came to this country,” Lan said. “She didn’t remember how old. Maybe seven. Maybe only five or six. She used to live in a big house, painted grey and white. She said from her bedroom window, she could see the sea, but they never went there that she remembered. Not until the Eaters came. No one knew what happened yet. No one knew it was you. There was a whole ocean between you and my mother’s home, but the dead rose up anyway and started eating people.”

Azrael did not flinch or drop his eyes.

“They couldn’t get out of the city. All the cars were stuck on the road and so people were driving crazy, trying to get through anyway and crashing their cars and then they’d raise up and so there were Eaters on the road, going car to car and no one could get away. So they couldn’t get out of the city, but the city was even worse. People were shooting Eaters and shooting each other, which only made more Eaters, and buildings were burning and no one even knew why or what had happened. But somehow, someone over there came up with this plan to put all the kids in town that could get to them on a boat and take them to England. Just until whatever was happening was over, because they didn’t think it was happening in England and England was the only country they could think of that was far away and friendly. This was the plan. What kind of plan was that?” Lan asked him. That wasn’t part of the story. She hadn’t really meant to ask, but it came bubbling out of her all the same. “What kind of ass-headed plan…? She had no one, knew no one. Her parents thought they were saving her. Instead, they put her on a boat and sent her right into your glorious shadow. And she was five or six or seven. And she was all alone.”

Azrael said nothing.

“The ocean was cold. That’s all she remembered of the trip across. It took a long time and she mostly stayed in her room with the other kids. Sometimes, they were let out on the deck, but the wind was so cold and sometimes it snowed, so even if they were let out, she mostly stayed in her room. All she had was what she was wearing: her pajamas, her rubber boots, and her coat. There wasn’t time to pack others or even to really get dressed. And it was so cold that she hardly ever took the coat off, even indoors. It was pink, with white fuzz on the edges like fur, but not really. When the boat came close to the shore, they called all the kids up onto the deck. It was dark and it was snowing. All the kids were trying to stand in the middle of other kids because it was warmer there, but my mom was so little, she got shoved to the outside. She was right next to the rails in the very front of the boat. So she saw everything. She could see fires burning in the city, but no lights on. And the boat was going to dock anyway,” said Lan, shaking her head. “How could anyone see that and just dock anyway? How could they not know?”

“What would you have had them do?” Azrael asked quietly. “Sail the Earth forever? Perhaps they were out of food. Perhaps they thought…at least it would end quickly.”

“Nothing ends. That’s the point, isn’t it? They all but fed those kids to your Eaters and, quick or not, that’s a fucking awful way to go.”

He did not answer that.

“It was dark,” said Lan, after a few calming breaths and a drink of water. “But my mother could see shapes moving on the shore. She thought they were people, their new moms and dads, coming to get them. But they didn’t stop when they reached the end of the pier. They fell into the water, she said, and they kept coming until she could see this white, churning wave coming right at them. The boat never even had the chance to dock. The Eaters hit the side of the boat and kept piling up. It wasn’t quick, but it was…inevitable, she called it. Like the sun setting. They piled up higher and came over the rails and suddenly everyone was screaming. The boat kept going. It broke through the pier and crashed into the whatsis, the docking place. The hull stoved in and the boat started to flip over. The waves came over the side and kids were being washed overboard, right into the Eaters in the water. My mother fell too, but a wave picked her up. She grabbed hands with a boy in the water and the wave took them both to the pier. It put her down on top of the boards. It slammed him into the side and crushed him dead. That was how my mother came to England.”

“She lost her coat in the water, one assumes.”

“No, she still had it then. It was a big, puffy coat. She used to say it was what saved her, actually. It was full of air, like a life-vest. Anyway, there was no one left of the crew on the boat. No one to meet them on shore. Eaters bloody everywhere and no one to help. All she could see of the city was burning buildings and the boat sinking off the pier. All she could hear was sirens and screams. The kids all scattered as soon as they reached shore and most of them got taken down by Eaters pretty much right off. My mother was one of a group that climbed in through the window of a dockside warehouse or something. Understand, this place was in sight of the boat she’d come in on. She could have thrown a rock and hit it. But she thought she was safe, like a child who thinks pulling the blankets up over her head at night will keep the monsters out. She slept that night with her hood pulled up, the hood on her coat, for just that reason. It was a big, puffy coat,” Lan said again. “She couldn’t hear through it very well. She never heard the Eater come in through the window.”

Azrael raked his eyes across the table, then stabbed a small game bird of some sort off a platter and transferred it to his plate. He began to carve it, somewhat forcefully.

“It was only dumb luck it didn’t get her instead of the little girl it did get. It dragged her down and tore her open while she was still screaming and my mom saw her guts coming out. The little girl’s name was Sharon. My mother remembers that because she was wearing a nametag. It said, Hello, my name is Sharon. If I’m alone, please help me find an adult.”

Azrael put down his knife and fork and tore the leg off the bird with his hands.

“All the other kids ran, but my mom grabbed an axe—don’t ask me what an axe was doing lying around, because I don’t know—and hit him in the back. She severed his spine and no, he didn’t die, but he couldn’t get up either. He lay there and writhed instead, snapping his teeth while Mom tried to drag him off of Sharon. And when she finally rolled him over, Sharon got up. The rest of her guts fell out, but she still got up. Mom had to cut her head off to stop her. Would you like to know how my mother lost her coat?”

“Not especially.”

“She took it off because she couldn’t get the blood out. That’s how young she was—she left behind her only coat just because it got bloody.”

* * *

The Land of the Beautiful Dead

coming soon

 

 

 

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18 responses to “Lan’s Mother

  1. Wow.
    Reading all your posts regarding TLotBD past months, I started calling this book in my head Azrael book.
    But this snippet is all Lan. I can’t wait to meet her… 🙂
    Sometimes background players stuck in my mind days after finishing book. I read a fantasy- it’s about a guy who got separated from his comrades after battle. They are family and lovers and brothers all in one, so we follow him as he’s trying to find surviving ones and gather them again. And there was this character, one of soldiers who is in handful scenes and has few lines. He is not important for plot. He is not tortured, recluse, dangerous or anything… In this gang of warriors he chose to be servant and make them all food, tend to their horses, always runs with a smile and relief to welcome them from battle. But his subtle presence was so powerful I couldn’t shake him off and wanted to know his story.
    And I love Horuseps, love his mind, his wit… I think all quotes I marked from The Scholomance are his. 🙂

    • Honestly, it’s the background players I remember the best from the books I read, too. There must be some quantifiable reason for it. If you’ve ever heard of the Blank-Face Hero Theory of movies, the one that says all the best movie heroes have essentially blank emotionless expressions and reactions because the audience is subconsciously projecting themselves onto him/her, I think it might be something similar. The heroes of books are, by necessity, described the fullest, because the reader has to be able to picture the action, but background players are left the blankest, so the reader can possibly project themselves into that person. Maybe? I don’t know. It’s just a thought.

  2. I am anxiously waiting for Lan’s story. I just love everything you write. It draws me in and the characters are in my head days after I’ve read it. Though Last hour of Gann is my favorite.
    Any chance of getting The last hour of Gann in Paperback?

    • I would love to get all my books in paperback form, but as I am self-published, this means going through a site like Createspace or something similar, which means putting my books into a different format and learning all the ways in which that can go wrong. Once I have it figured out, it will be easy to get everything up, but in the meantime, it’s one more thing on a long list of things that requires my attention. I’m already feeling like butter scraped over too much bread these days (<3 Tolkien) and I just need to cross a few things off my list before I start new projects.

  3. Reading your snippet has me chomping (hehe) at the bit to read Azrael and Lan’s story. A friend and I were just talking about your supporting characters and how they can fascinate. Murgull (Olivia), Horuseps (Scholomance), the sheep herder/master/protector – can’t remember his name (Lords of Arcadia books) and many more captured our attentions and begged for more. Presently, we are re-reading Olivia together and will see if our perceptions are altered the second time around. They were when we re-read The Scholomance. It is now my favorite – one I can’t seem to get out of my head. We will have to read the Lords of Arcadia again soon so I can rediscover the sheep herder’s name – and remember it this time. He captured my heart in the same way Samaritan (Cottonwood) did with their unrequited love of the heroine.

    • Reed. His name was Reed. 🙂
      Yeah, I liked him too. I had a whole chain of scenes with him that had to be cut from The Army of Mab for length reasons (and people think I don’t cut anything) that I regret cutting to this day, although I still think it was the right thing to do.

  4. Hey, I just wanted to say that you are one of my top 5 authors due to The Last Hour of Gann, Cottonwood, and Heat. I think your stories are so original and it is incredibly refreshing to read something that doesn’t follow cliches the way that so many romance books do. Your genre-bending and switching up is awesome and I love how feminist so many of your novels are and how real your characters are. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly sick I am of reading books that sound like something my housewife grandmother would come up with.

    That being said, I didn’t like the “nice/reclusive/scarred” woman character in Heat–I temporarily forget her name–as much as I did the female characters in the other two books that I mentioned. She seemed kind of weak to me.

    But seriously, 9.5/10 for your work.

    • Her name is Daria, and a lot of people felt the same way you did about her, but I still like her. I have a tendency to write female leads who are, let’s face it, unrealistically good at coping with some extremely odd situations. Heat was only the second book I’d written for publication; the first was Olivia, whose titular character’s prime personality trait was her ability to deal. With Daria, I was exploring the idea that not every character has to be strong and dynamic from the get-go. Plus, I thought she made a good mirror against the antagonist’s love-interest, Raven. Daria was a survivor, every bit as much as Raven. I saw her as, well, as lindaria, that flimsy little plant that nevertheless can grow through stone, but in the end, I have to acknowledge that she was not as successful a character as Raven and that’s all on me. It was only the second novel I’d written and I made a lot of bad choices with both of them where editing was concerned in order to please a publisher who ended up dropping me anyway. Mistakes were made, but I like to think I’ve learned from them. Having said all that, I still think if I’d had both women written with tough, can-do attitudes, it would not have made the book or the character any better.

      I’m glad you liked Cottonwood. I get a lot of positive feedback on Gann (which I love, of course, because that book terrified me), but of the two, Cottonwood is probably my favorite. It’s also the only thing I’ve written that I really consider a romance. I genuinely don’t think I write romances and it’s stunning to me to find myself mentioned in that context. All the genre-bending that is attributed to me is really just me writing sci-fi and horror that have sex in it. My upcoming book, Pool, is probably going to lose me a LOT of readers, because it’s not even trying to be a romance. It is a straight-up B-Movie abandoned-house horror movie with subterranean proto-human people-eaters.

      • I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t like Pool. It isn’t simply the fact that some of your stories have romantic elements that I like–it is your writing style and the vast quantity of detail that you put into your stories that helps to make them so unique. I’d read them either way. Although, I do like the romantic parts. Your writing kind of reminds me of the book The Reapers are the Angels, in certain ways.

        Also, I hate finishing really good books in an hour or two and Gann, for example, took me almost a whole night to read! Like I said, refreshing.

        And as for Daria, I think that the concept was good but perhaps you overemphasized certain aspects of her personality too much for her to be successful. She just didn’t feel as real in certain ways. Raven was pretty fucked up, but she was horrifyingly real as a character.

        Pssht, anyways, I’ve complimented you enough! Haha keep up the good work 🙂 Can’t wait to read your new book soon.

  5. Re your comment about Pool and losing readers. For me, I read your books because you are an amazing storyteller. I feel that you go beyond a typical genre. I just like to read good books and am thankful that I found you / your books.

    Do you have an ETA for Land of the Beautiful Dead?
    Any status on your Dad’s book? Please tell him that I would like to buy / read it, if that makes a difference. 🙂

    • Heh. It was supposed to be out by Halloween. Editing is a bitch, plus I am moving my father across state AND my sister across country. Everything had to happen THIS year. Hopefully, next year will be better.

  6. A long time since I have visited your blog – last time I was here was during the build up to Last Hour of Gann. Have to say I really enjoyed that one (along with all your other books) and it was the first time that I had taken the time to read all the snippets and story teasers. it was fun but I decided not to this time as I wanted to savour the book from page one this time! Anyhow took a sneaky look today to see how it was coming along and see that you’re almost there. Hope the release date is soon – it has been too long since we have had a new one!!
    Good luck with getting it finished.

    • Yeah, it’s the first time in a very long time that I haven’t released a book in a whole year. But I’m back at work and working hard, so you’ll know when I know when the release date looms.

    • As soon as I know, I’ll update and let all you fine folks know. All I can tell you for now is that the first draft is done and the first round of edits is underway.

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