Serial Saturday Update

Let me begin this post by extending a heartfelt Welcome Home to my father, who recently visited his father, as well as most of his other relatives. He tries to see them once a year and usually I go with him, just to keep him company on the drive and show that side of the family I’m still alive. But this year, I was really not up to it from a health standpoint, so my sister, Cris went instead. (And if you’re wondering why I didn’t say Welcome Home to you, too, it’s because I know you don’t read my blog. I could say anything at all about you and you’d never know. Watch: Cris is a smelly-face! Ha hahaha! Now nobody tell her.)

Anyway, it’s worth mentioning that my father’s relatives mostly live in Utah because they are mostly Mormon. It’s also worth mentioning that my father is ridiculously proud of all my books and just SO into my fanfic series. More than possibly any other book I’ve written, with the possible exception of Last Hour of Gann, which gave him a legit crisis of faith.

Some of you already know where this is going, but for those who do not, whilst visiting with my ultra-Mormon relatives, my father happened to mention the series and talked about it for quite a while. My relatives, many of whom don’t even own a TV much less play video games, had not heard of FNAF and my dad apparently did not communicate the premise very well. The end result was that some of my relatives came away with the idea that I was writing a story about a young woman who had an abusive childhood who moves to a predominantly Mormon town…so far so good, right? Wait for it…meets the love of her life and ultimately finds peace by joining the Mormon church.

Like…wow. I don’t even know what my dad could have said to give them that idea.

 

The Far Side by Gary Larson

I imagine they heard something like this, only with the word Mormon.

Now, you must understand that while I have never been criticized by any of my relatives for writing what I like to write, I have gotten the “Are you sure this is what God wants you to do with your talent?” talk once or twice. I don’t even want to imagine how thrilled they were when they ‘learned’ I was now writing wholesome church-centric family-rated romances. I’d much rather imagine the look on their collective faces when they looked Girl on the Edge of Nowhere up and started reading it. I eagerly look forward to the next visit.

Anyhoo, it once again Friday evening limping along to midnight and my new chapter of my FNAFic, Everything Is All Right, Part Three, Children of Mammon is now up on fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org, so if you’re reading along, head on over and get your fix! If you’re still not convinced, let me attempt to lure you in with this thrilling snippet, in which our brave hero, Ana, gets into a shouting match with a teddy bear!

Flawless segue!

Ana stalked back to the dining room and stood unavoidably in front of the stage, close enough that she could feel the hot air puffing out of Freddy’s knuckles when his arm swept out in a bow. “What did you do with my stuff?”

No answer, no acknowledgment.

“Look, damn it, I know you can hear me and I know you can stop whenever you want, so you better start talking. Where are my goddamned clothes?”

Freddy took his hat off, proving to the phantom audience that it was indeed empty, but before he could reach in and pull something out, Ana snatched it out of his hand.

Freddy’s cheerful, slightly goofy expression changed in an instant to a scowl. He grabbed his hat back and held it out of her reach, pointing at her with his other hand. “DON’T INTERRUPT THE PERFORMANCE,” he said, heartily enough, but with a real growl under his words.

“Well, then, don’t fucking ignore me!”

Bonnie began to twitch.

“CALM. DOWN.” Freddy glanced behind him. “BOTH. OF. YOU.” He turned his glare on Ana again. “THE SHOW HAS STARTED. TAKE A SEAT, KIDS! WE’LL. TALK. ABOUT. THIS. LATER.”

“I say the show is fucking over and if you turn your fucking back on me, I will knock you on your fucking face!”

“ALL. RIGHT. THAT’S. ENOUGH.” Freddy put his hat on and aimed his pointing finger at the front lobby. “YOU’VE. BEEN. GIVING. ME. SAUCE. ALL. DAY. AND. I. AM. ALL. DONE. TAKING. IT. AS. OF. NOW. YOU. ARE. IN. A. TIME-OUT.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“IT. MEANS. WHAT. EVER. YOUR. PROBLEM. IS. YOU. GO. SOME. WHERE. ELSE. AND. SOLVE. IT. AND. DON’T. COME. BACK. UNTIL. YOU’RE. READY. TO. ACT. LIKE. AN. ADULT.”

“I’m not leaving until I get an answer, bear.”

“UNLESS. THE. QUESTION. IS. HOW. FAR. CAN. FREDDY. THROW. YOU. OUT. OF. THIS. BUILDING. YOU’RE. NOT. GOING. TO. LIKE. THE. ANSWER. I. GIVE. YOU,” Freddy retorted, stomping over to put a hand on Bonnie’s shoulder. “I. SAID. CALM. DOWN. EVERYTHING. IS. FINE. AND. STOP. CALLING. ME. BEAR.”

“Everything is not fine, damn it. You remember when I first brought my stuff over and you were digging through my laundry?”

Freddy turned his attention to Bonnie. “OPEN. YOUR. EYES. BE. CALM. NOT. NOW. AN-N-A.”

“Yes, now, Freddy!”

“WE ARE EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES.”

“You’re sure about to be. I’m missing, like, a dozen t-shirts and you took them, didn’t you? Didn’t you?!”

He fussed with Bonnie and didn’t answer, but he knew. Freddy’s ears were not as expressive as Bonnie’s or even Foxy’s, but they moved in ways that were instantly relatable to anyone who had gotten stoned and watched animal cartoons and right now, Freddy’s ears said he knew exactly where her shirts were and he didn’t want to tell her.

“Yeah, yeah, they’re raunchy and you don’t approve,” she snapped. “I don’t give a tin shit for your Puritan sensibilities. I want my goddamn shirts back, so where are they?”

Freddy took an extra pull of air, straightened his ears, and turned to face her. “GONE.”

“Gone where?” she asked impatiently and then suddenly recalled walking in on Freddy on the loading dock, uncharacteristically helping out with the haul-away. She gaped at him a moment, then found her voice and shouted, “Did you fucking throw them away?”

“RULE NUMBER TWO, DON’T YELL.”

“Rule number thirty-fucking-three! Leave Ana’s shit alone! Did you or did you not throw my shirts in the fucking trailer with the trash? You did, didn’t you? You wrapped them in that disgusting curtain and threw them away!”

“IS. IT. UNLAWFUL. TO. REMOVE. GARBAGE.”

“I don’t believe you said that,” she said, almost calmly, then shouted, “You went through my fucking underwear and you have the goddamned gall to call me trashy?”

The West Hall door creaked open just wide enough to show one of Chica’s wide purple eyes.

Freddy looked that way, then at Bonnie, still shaking his way through his part of the performance, and finally at Ana again. “I. DID. NOT. CALL. YOU—”

“Fuck you, you fascist fucking lunatic! My clothes are gone! Do you get that? Gone! That trailer got taken away weeks ago! Oh my God, if you had balls, I’d be kicking them so hard right now, they’d pop out your goddamned ear-holes!”

“WATCH. YOUR. LANGUAGE.”

“Watch my tits, asshole! On the scale of bad behavior, swearing is way down the fucking rail from stealing! You don’t get to tell me how to run my mouth when you’re pitching out my goddamned clothes!”

“IS EVERYTHING OKAY IN HERE?” Chica ventured, pushing the door open a little wider.

“EVERYTHING. IS. FINE. GO. ON. BONNIE. OPEN. YOUR. EYES. AN-N-A. THAT’S. ENOUGH. YOU. DON’T. GET. TO. TALK. TO. ME. LIKE. THAT.”

“I’ll talk to you however the hell I want! Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“I’M FREDDY FAZBEAR. I’M THE LEADER OF THE BAND.”

“That’s right. Freddy fucking Fazbear, leader of the Fazbear fucking Band, not my father or commander in chief of the Fashion Police or the supreme court chancellor of the Intergalactic Modesty Council! You’re a fucking prop in a fucking pizza parlor, and you’re also a panty fetishist and a fucking thief!”

“TIME-OUT. AN-N-A. THAT’S ENOUGH.”

“Fuck you! Get this through your fat plastic head: You don’t tell me what to do! And you for goddamn sure don’t tell me how to dress! I don’t give a chicken-fried shit what you think about my clothes, just keep your fucking hands off them or I will personally buy all the cum-dumpster tees in the whole fucking state of Utah and pound them up your big bear ass!”

“I. SAID. TIME-OUT.”

“And I said, fuck you!”

Freddy’s features shifted, giving her a split-second glimpse of a textbook-perfect, ‘Oh, I am done with this shit,’ expression before he tossed his microphone behind him on the padded stage and seized her by the arm.

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday

I was extremely lucky as a child, for many reasons no doubt, but also in that my parents encouraged us to be independent and to develop our own interests. Don’t get me wrong; that isn’t code for ‘raised entirely without supervision.’ In fact, as they also fostered a number of special needs children from the time before I was born until I was old enough to do it myself, close adult supervision and a strict adherence to routine were pretty much the rule. Because anything could happen with any of the foster kids at any time, spontaneity in other aspects of our lives was reduced as much as possible. Even something as simple as a trip to the grocery store had to be planned in advance. Yesterday, my sister looked at me and said, “Want to go to the movies?” and I did and so we went. That would have been unthinkable as a child, as much as if she had asked if I wanted to fly to Paris for coffee and croissants.

The point I think I started to make was that, although we did not have a lot of the same freedoms other kids had, my parents were awesome about giving us others. They did all they could to encourage whatever hobbies we had. They never censored my reading material, never questioned my taste, and always encouraged open and honest discussion of any subject. Many was the long car ride made into a miniature holiday by an energetic discussion on the relative morality of cannibalism, or the impact of religion on the institution of marriage, or why the hell the food industry decided all raspberry products should be blue. (I believe the consensus we reached was, Because they had all these red fruit flavors, but all this blue dye)

So I was brought up in an environment where we stayed home a lot and had to make a lot of our own entertainment. I read a lot, but I didn’t have a lot of money for new books and probably only went to the library every other week or so, so one of my favorite ‘games’ was to make new stories out of old ones. When I read The Hobbit, for example, I liked to make up my own stories to plug what I saw as gaps in Tolkein’s: Why did the wood elves hate the dwarves? What were they celebrating? Where did Gandalf go anyway? What if there was a magical portal between Middle Earth and my Earth and someone, a small child, say, slipped through to be encountered by the party on their way to the dragon? In essence, it was my first attempt at fanfiction.

And as bad as it was, it was not the worst fanfic that came out of The Hobbit.

However, even way back then, I always attempted to fit ‘my’ stories within the narrative of the greater work. I’m not saying that made them better–I think it’s safe to say they were all utterly awful–but at least I tried to make them work. Maybe if I’d been more imaginative or had less of a conformist stick up my six-year-old ass, I’d have a whole different outlook now. But I wasn’t, didn’t and don’t, so today, I’m going to talk about staying true to the source in…

Fans Who Fic

Part Three:

Fire the Canon! Source Material vs. Original Content

 

Believe it or not, last week’s post could have been a lot longer, but halfway through, I made the executive decision to draw a hard line between world-building in the physical (so to speak) sense as opposed to pre-existing characters and lore, which is arguably more vital to fanworks than the setting of the story. (A shout-out here to Carolyn, who recently asked my advice on what to do about reining in run-on sentences. First word of advice, ask someone else. I let my sentences run wild and free.)

As a self-proclaimed fanfiction purist, I most enjoy those stories that are firmly set in the world of the source material. The fanfiction should ideally fit within the established timeline. Characters should look, talk and act like themselves. Major plot points should stay intact and nothing should be revealed that directly contradicts what I know to be ‘true’. All these things together, as well as pretty much every other scrap of information contained within the original body of work can be summed up collectively as ‘canon’. And in my extremely narrow-minded opinion, fanfiction works best when it draws from canon.

“But R Lee,” I can hear you say. “Doesn’t all fanfiction go against canon? Isn’t that the very definition of fanfiction, to tell the stories not contained within established lore?”

Well, yes and no. There’s a lot of wiggle-room in most fandoms to tell stories outside of canon. There are gaps in every timeline–side-quests, as it were. Within every good comic/movie/series/book are a thousand jumping-off points to ten thousand great fanfictions. Every character has a perspective and a backstory all their own. And as a general rule, the more expanded the universe, the less chance there is of breaking canon, because chances are, another creator has already gone way further out of bounds than you ever dreamed possible. Star Trek, Star Wars, and especially the Marvel and DC universes are prime examples of in-house world-breaking made canon through the power of why-the-hell-not? Conversely, when it’s a small universe, just one game or one book, you can make up all kinds of things and technically not break canon, since technically, the canon material never addressed the same topics.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great fanfiction out there that start from a what-if scenario. What if Harry Potter had been sorted into Slytherin? What if the Enterprise met the Firefly? What if a murder Sherlock Holmes (the real one, not Bilbo Cumberbund) began to investigate led him to a cult of Cthulhu on the eve of His great Awakening? I’m not really talking about Alternate Universes and Crossovers (yet; I’ll be talking about them later, though). However, what I’m talking about here is when the writer simply disregards key elements of established lore because it doesn’t agree with their own personal theory. And, not to tar every fanfic writer with the same brush, but often, the only reason these offenders seem to have is just because they want to see the main character’s sexual orientation change.

And even that doesn’t automatically make it a bad story. One of the first Harry Potter fanfics I ever read cast Harry as gay, not to the exclusion of everything else, but just on top of it all. I don’t remember what it was called, unfortunately, but I have to admit the struggle of a young boy to find his own sexual identity fit in well with leaving an abusive home (where he had to literally live in a closet) and finding out where he fit in a magical new world he had no idea existed all around him all along. I guess what I’m saying is, I may be a purist, but I’m also ridiculously easy to please. Like everyone else who reads fanfic, I want to be convinced. Just give me a reason why this works, that’s all I ask. Just give me a reason, and ‘I ship it,’ doesn’t count. If fanfiction is a house, then shipping is the furniture, not the foundation.

Of course, having said all that, this is a perfect time to point out what anyone who’s reading my fanfiction already knows. My series–mine, me, the one who’s been yammering on all this time about the importance of staying true to the source–is not canon.

In my defense, when I first started writing it, I believed I was coloring solidly within the lines. There were things I made up–like personalities for the animatronics, a town for the restaurants to be in, and a whole cast of characters to move in and out of the story–and there were widely-held fan-theories I did not adopt–such as the one about the animatronics being possessed by the ghosts of murdered children. And yes, I do consider that a ‘theory.’ It has never been confirmed.

This could mean anything.

When I started, there was no canon identity for the Purple Man, so I made up my own. And after I was good and invested in my head-canon, Scott Cawthon went and added to the lore. Like, a lot. Without even asking me.

Now here I am, writing a story that has only the most token resemblance to the game that inspired me to write it in the first place. That’s an uncomfortable position for me, but you know what? At the end of the day, it’s still the story I want to tell. However, it does leave me on the other side of a fence I myself have built to separate what I consider good fanfiction from the bad. If I want to be one of those who successfully hops that fence (wait, I had a house metaphor earlier, didn’t I? Have I now got houses jumping over fences? Maybe I shouldn’t be writing at all), there are two things to keep in mind.

First, you can’t play both sides forever, so pick one and stand by it. If you can solve a discrepancy with a name change and you can think up a plausible reason why your character might have used an alias until now, go for it. If not, don’t just shoehorn something in. Accept that you and the canon have parted ways and focus on telling the story. Most people who read fanfic also write it, and so are very forgiving of head-canons and alternate universes. Even purists like me can forgive almost any deviation as long as the story is told well.

Second, accept criticism, ignore hate and learn to tell the difference. This one is a daily reminder for me. As I’ve said before, I haven’t received any really negative responses to my series, but I’ve sure seen it happen to other people who tweaked with the lore way less than I have and I know it could happen. I also know that, like many introverts, I have trouble with normal social interactions, much less the ones that are text-only, without even body language or tone to help me figure out the intention behind the words. So many misunderstandings online could have been solved or never even ignited if they had only been two people sitting at a table and not two comments on a YouTube video. And this is fanfiction, and fans are often exuberant about the things they love and keen to share their knowledge of the lore. They might not even consider what they’re doing to be criticism; they may just think they’re being informative. On the rare occasions that I am contacted by someone who wants me to know that the ‘real’ Purple Guy is William Afton (uh, spoilers?), I merely reply that I know that now, but didn’t then, and am now committed to seeing this thing through my way. And we chat about the game and that’s it. No hate. I had one person tell me they didn’t like all the swearing. I understand that; my books aren’t for everyone. It’s okay not to like it. It’s okay not to read it. It’s okay to tell your friends what you think is wrong with it. None of that is hate, even if the platform they use is the comment section. Telling me I use too many semi-colons and mix my metaphors is not hate; it’s constructive and I should be listening and taking notes so that future stories are improved. Telling me my book is dumb and FNAF is dumb and I’m dumb is hate; I’ve got better things to do with my time than answer someone whose only aim is to make trouble.

I have semi-colons to dispense. So many semi-colons…

 

 

Serial Saturday Updates

Well, I’m going to make this quick tonight, because the internet has been sporadic at best for the last hour and a half and I have no guarantee that I’ll still have it when I hit Publish on this post.

So no jokes, no rambling anecdotes, no going on and on and on about how I tend to go on, I’m just going to get right to the part where I say that the new chapter of my FNAF fanfiction is up on ff.net and ao3 and if that’s a thing you’re into at the moment, please go check it out, and if you’re still undecided, here is a snippet that probably won’t change your mind, but hey, I gotta keep trying.

I realize that fanfiction isn’t for everyone and this one goes pretty dark, but all modesty aside, I am really proud of what I’m doing with this one. With every book I write, I think, “This is the best thing I’ve ever written. If this is the last thing I ever write, I will be proud to go out on this one,” (and if ever there comes a day that I don’t think that, it probably really will be the last thing I write, or at least publish), but this really is what I consider the best of my books. It’s got kind of a goofy premise, what with the animal-shaped robots and all–

Ladies, allow me to present the heroine’s love interest.

–but I’m proud of it. I really am. I will probably never be able to do this again, meaning take a year (and growing!) off to write a series I let people read for free, but if this is my one chance, I’m glad this is what I’ve done with it. If nothing else, it’s allowed me to cross ‘robot’ off my Bucket List of Characters to Write Serious Sex Scenes For. Number One on that list is, as you all know, Tender Tentacles. But Number Three was Robot (and Number Seven was Furry, which I’d already sort of checked off anyway, given that I’ve already done lizards and bugs, although technically I think of them as aliens).

Of course, having said that, I should warn you there is no sex in this week’s chapter, but it’s coming. (wink) This week, you’ll just have to make do with the next best thing. Swashbuckling!

“I know those ducts connect with the parts room,” Ana said. “If you can lead me there—”

“I ain’t sure I c-c-can, but I be d-d-dead sure I won’t,” Foxy interrupted.

Ana’s even temper visibly tilted. “That stupid rule specified the doors.”

“I could argue what-t-t the word ‘access’ means, but I ain’t even t-t-talking about the rules now. I ain’t c-climbing up in that d-d-damned crawlway, not even if ye were to ask-k-k on yer knees.”

“All you have to do is show me how to get there. I’ll go in on my own.”

“No, luv. All I ‘have to do’ is obey me p-p-programming, do me shows and stay sexy. All else is me own p-p-pleasure. I ain’t-t-t helping ye get backstage.”

“I’m asking you to help your friends. I’m asking you to help yourself.”

“Nice t-tr-try, luv. Yer asking me to side with ye against-t-t Freddy. Well, me programming means I c-c-can’t, me inclination means I won’t and me common sense means I shouldn’t-t-t. And now we’re down to ten minutes, so unless ye’ve something else to say, we really-ly-ly need to get to the tog-slipping and the rum-drinking if I’m going to fire yer cannons before the next show starts.”

“I’ve got something else to say all right.” She stepped back, squared her shoulders, and said, “I challenge you to a duel.”

His right eyebrow twitched up. “Ye can’t be serious.”

“Captain Fox can’t refuse a challenge. It’s part of your core program, you said. Immutable, like your speech patterns.”

“I can’t-t-t go against Freddy either! That’s one o’ the blasted-d-d rules! Absolute!”

“That must be a very uncomfortable feeling for you.”

He barked a laugh, ears forward. “Aye, it is, ye d-d-damned she-witch! Ye have no id-d-dea!”

“Sounds like the only way to resolve it is to accept my challenge and beat me. So. I challenge you to a duel,” she said again, loud and clear. “If I win, you have to tell me how to get backstage.”

“And when I win?” he countered, standing tall and towering over her.

She faced him again, unafraid, and shrugged. “I don’t really need to worry about that, because you’re not going to. But sure, just for giggles, is there something you want from me?”

“Coo, sure st-st-starting to,” he growled, amused in spite of himself.

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday

In last week’s post, I voiced the opinion that the only difference between a good book and a bad one was whether or not the writer told a good story. And I believe that’s true, regardless of whether the book is original to the author or fanfiction (or, for that matter, whether it’s a book at all, since the belief applies equally well to movies, comics, games or really any creative art). The rest of this series will be my attempt to define the components of a ‘good story,’ as they apply specifically to fanfiction.

So what are the elements of a good story? Well, first on the list is what’s known as the suspension of disbelief, in which the writer tricks the reader into forming a genuine emotional connection with a character in a book, and then manipulating those emotions with a ruthlessness that registers on the sociopathy spectrum. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I rarely read for ‘fun’. I don’t want a book to just make me laugh. I also want it to make me apprehensive, angry, hopeful or afraid, and the best stories of all will make me question my real-life beliefs and inspire me to lasting change.

The difference between a good book and a great book? One you stay up at night to finish reading. The other keeps you awake at night for years after you’ve read it.

You might be saying to yourself that those are some mighty lofty goals for fanfiction and you’re right. Hell, they’re lofty goals for any book. But I find it funny that so many people dismiss the notion that fanfiction can or even should aspire to that level of quality. After all, the original game/movie/comic/book is just as imaginary, and yet it had enough power to affect the players/viewers/readers that they couldn’t bring themselves to accept it was over and voluntarily sought out alternate sources for their fannish fix.

When you stop and think about it, the only fundamental difference between the canon story and fanfiction is execution. What about the plot, you say? I say, what about it? You don’t need an epic plot to tell a good story. A plot can be as ambitious as undertaking a quest to destroy the physical remnant of an evil necromancer who stands at the threshold of conquering the world with his dark army (Lord of the Rings) or as small as the story of an abused orphan who makes friends in a hidden society invisible to most people (Oliver Twist) or both (Harry Potter).

Plots don’t matter all that much, honestly. The best concept in the world can’t save bad story-telling; the simplest and most over-used tropes can be made to feel new in an expert’s hands. Again, it all comes down to execution, which itself comes down to suspension of disbelief, which is markedly easier with fanfiction because you don’t have to ‘win over’ a new reader. The emotional connection was there from Page One, an unbreakable bond…that will shatter with the force of a thousand Mjolnirs if you tamper too much with their beloved characters.

And that’s the trade-off. With an original story, a writer has to work to achieve that golden grail of suspension of disbelief, but at least they can do anything they want to get it. With fanfiction, a writer starts out with the advantage of an established fanbase for their characters, many of whom are already carrying torches of lackluster boredom and pitchforks caked in the blood of other fanfics that didn’t live up to their unrealistic expectations.

 

The surest way to step on a fan’s toes is by messing with the characters or the canon lore, and I will definitely talk about that in future posts, but there’s an architecture to any story and before you add the trimming and move in the people, you first lay the foundation. I’m talking about the world of the source material, sometimes a literal world, i.e. Westros or Middle Earth, and sometimes just our world as viewed through the lens of the source material, i.e. the ‘world’ of Mad Men or The Tudors. A reader tends to be more focused on characters and plotlines, but believe me, even if they don’t consciously notice lackluster world-building, they’ll notice that your book lacks ‘color’ or just feels ‘off’. And if you go against established laws of that world, you run the risk of ruining a perfectly good story by confusing or angering your reader. Remember, you are not building the world for this book; the world already exists and the reader is already there. You can’t just go in terraforming at will and upsetting their castles and herb-gardens. Always remember you’re in someone else’s house here. You know. Have fun, but try not to trash the place.

Too late. We already lit the torch.

And so we come at long, rambling last to the subject of today’s post:

 

Fans Who Fic

Part Two

World-Building In Someone Else’s World

 

It is a mistake to think of world-building as being just the place where the story happens. It is, of course, but it’s also everything that fills up that place, all the people who live there and all the reasons they have for doing all the things they do. It’s the food, the furniture, the politics, education, occupations, recreations, prejudice, profanity, love and hope and all that messy social stuff that collects in the corners of our collective social consciousness. It is the story behind the story, and in fanfiction, it’s the story behind the story that inspired you to write a new story. And it is there, even in Five Nights At Freddy’s (the video game which is the source for my current fanfiction, for those who were drunkenly link-hopping and stumbled on this blog purely by accident). For me, it began with the simple question, “Why would anyone come back for a second night of work at this place?” And, because this is just what I do, I found myself trying to genuinely answer the question within the worldframe of the game.

Why would he? It had to be more than just a paycheck; even in 1993, that ain’t a lot of money. Then the progressively disturbing phone calls–is this seriously supposed to alleviate my concerns? Bite of ’87? Wait, why is the qualifier necessary? How many more ‘The Bites’ did there have to be before you had to break them down by year?–and the newspaper clippings with the plot-point of abducted/murdered kids was added, then the mini-games, and by the end of the game, the jumpscares were pretty much just a lethal distraction from the real mystery of figuring out what in the hell is happening at this pizza place?!

And that’s good world-building. Say what you want to about how cheap/lazy/overused jumpscares are as a mechanic in horror, but that game wound me up in a way that damned few games, books or movies ever have before, and let’s face it, the monsters aren’t all that scary. Some of them are quite the opposite.

Ladies…

Yes, sir, my disbelief was off the floor, out the window, over the treetops and heading for low orbit the last I saw it. I bought it all–lock, stock and cupcake. And so, fully aware that I had half a dozen of my own ideas pinned to the old story-board in the office, I opened Scott Cawthon’s door and stepped into his world. I’ve been there for over a year now (as several of you frequently and lovingly remind me) and although the end is in sight, I’m going to be there for a while longer yet. I’ve had a lot of fun here at Freddy’s and I’ll be sorry to go when the time comes, even if it will be nice to finally be back home, so to speak. I’m aware that I don’t quite inhabit the same world Scott built, but I must have done something right, because I’ve picked up quite a loyal following at ff.net and ao3. Despite the toxic reputation of this fanbase, I’ve had nothing but positive feedback (which only goes to show that the most toxic element of any fanbase are the people who make fun of it), and my world-building has been called out more than a few times as one of the best parts of the story.

In another medium, that might be an insult. I mean, if I was the director of a play that had just premiered and the first review I read said, “The backdrops were incredible and the props, so realistic,” I’d probably be in tears. But in writing, world-building is a big deal. I’ve read books whose characters I could not stand just because the world was so interesting, and lord knows I’ve shelved plenty of books because the world was derivative or non-existent. And as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t even read fanfiction that doesn’t at least try to occupy the same headspace as the source material.

But come on, how much credit can I really take? How hard can it be to world-build in fanfiction anyway? Someone else has already done all the hard work.

Yeah. Someone has. And you had better have been paying attention.

The cardinal rule here is the same as if you were writing an original book: Research everything. When I wrote Warcraft fanfiction (and I know I’m dating myself here, but before that, when I wrote EverQuest fanfiction), I made damn sure my characters went to the right part of town to meet in the tavern and were served by a recognizable NPC. It’s not enough just to spell the name right. Hair, clothes, paintings on the wall, layout of the building–it all has to resonate. Yes, the scene should be about the characters and the actual story, but stage-dressing matters and the more it resonates, the better it will read. That does not mean every scene should read like a Family Guy script, just a string of random references thinly connected by core characters, but if you’re in a world, show that world, and if you show the world, get the details right.

I feel like I should break up this wall of text, but I can’t think of a relevant image, so please enjoy this stillshot from the hit movie, Sharktopus!

I lucked out with FNAF, in the sense that the source material doesn’t have a lot of world-building on its surface. The player rarely sees beyond the rooms of the building in which the games take place. Also, since I was shifting the When of the story to a different time than has ever been addressed in the games, I wasn’t restricted to a predetermined location. Heck, there were multiple pizzerias; I could have put a new one anywhere at all. For that matter, it didn’t even have to be a pizzeria. Scrapyards, factories, storage units and theme parks–there are plenty of places one might encounter one of the Fazbear animatronics under one condition or another. However, the imagery of the restaurants in the games was what affected me the most when playing, so it was what I wanted most to recreate.

‘My’ pizzeria is very much designed to fit in the world where FNAF originated. As I was writing the scene in which Ana (and the reader) is first introduced to it, I found some good no-commentary gameplay videos and really studied them, paying particular attention to the backgrounds.

It is not necessary for a reader to know that the curtain in Pirate Cove is deep purple with little gold stars on it or that Chica’s bib reads Let’s Eat in yellow letters with flakes of color like confetti around it, but details like that pull double-duty, resonating with those who already knew about them and creating a richer environment for those who didn’t. I think it’s important to remember that these details are like any decorative element–too many too close together just turns into distracting clutter. So keep it in the background as much as possible and bring it into focus only as you would for any other story element.

This was the main setting for my book and I think I successfully gave it the FNAF-feel (of course I am a raging narcissist with a constant need for self-congratulatory validation, so I would think that whether I succeeded or not), but I knew I wasn’t going to stage the entire book in the pizzeria and that meant building a world around it. As I mentioned, you don’t see much outside the restaurants in the game. On the rare occasions that you do, it’s only through windows or fragments of pictures on the wall or on TV or through mini-games and cutscenes. From those clues, I was initially able to deduce that it was not an urban area and that’s about it. Unsatisfied, I found a likely research rabbit-hole and hopped in. A few days later, I hopped out again, having concluded through a combination of researching the game and researching the man behind the game, plus a generous dollop of follow-my-gut to place my Freddy’s in the fictional town of Mammon, sixteen arbitrary miles from the real town of Hurricane, Utah. And a few months later, Scott Cawthon released The Silver Eyes, which officially set FNAF in…Hurricane, Utah.

That was either a ridiculously lucky guess or a subconscious deductive insight of Holmesian proportions, but was it necessary? No, of course not. As I said, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria was a franchise restaurant; I could have put one on the moon if I’d had a plausible reason for doing so. What mattered to me was creating a place where the events of FNAF could have played out. I believe my Mammon does that (again, raging narcissist) because it is, in essence, another version of the pizzeria, just on a bigger scale.

Mammon is, like Freddy’s, a family-friendly place full of happy people. It’s bit run down, sure, but you can still see the appeal. You have to actually go there before you realize how bad it really is, and even then, you mostly just notice how dark it is, how empty…and the smell.

Later, when I got around to planting the pizzerias from the games in my town, I went back to meticulous attention to detail. I ought to be embarrassed to admit how many times I took screenshots so that I could study the restaurants and decide how best to describe them. I drew maps. I printed out pictures of the animatronics from each site so I could keep references next to my workspace. I pinned up posters and bought plushies. Okay, that was just for fun, but the rest was all work. Way more work than I probably had to do, but the measure of my success is that I’ve heard from three different people that they now use the addresses of my fictional town as their head-canon for which pizzerias are referenced; it’s not the pizzeria from FNAF or FNAF 2 to them, it’s the one on Circle Drive or the one on Mulholland. And I won’t lie, when you hear that, that’s the fanfic writer’s equivalent of feeling like a sexual tyrannosaurus.

Thank you, Google Image. You have never let me down.

If there is a secret to world-building in fanfiction, it lies in recognizing that there’s a middle ground between staying faithful to the source and creating something original. Did I do it right? Yeah, I think so. Is my way the only way to do it? Hell, no. I’ve read a lot of FNAF fanfiction since the game came out, because that’s what I do with stuff I like. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s…well, some of it’s good. And one thing I’ve noticed as I look back at my favorites was that they are all so different. There’s ‘good’ animatronics and ‘bad’ ones. Some haunted by the ghosts of murdered children, some sentient AIs in wholly robotic bodies, and some just up and humanized. I’ve seen a score of Springtraps, a plethora of Puppets, a menagerie of Mike Schmidts. Some were written kid-friendly; others, wow, were not. And yet, I would consider that we all ‘fit’ in Scott Cawthon’s world, with plenty of room to grow and for others to move in.

Ultimately, world-building inside fanfiction isn’t about copying the original exactly. Think about how unnerving it would be to find yourself in a forest made up of identical trees. You want to take the seed of the idea, walk a little ways, plant it and let it grow however it wants to grow. And when you end up with a forest that’s mostly fir, some pine, some birch, a couple aspen, even a few stranger transplants, like that fig or that banyan–

Or that stalking terror-ent.

 

–you end up with a much more interesting landscape. And beyond the forest, there are deserts and mountains and oceans. It’s all the same world.

Serial Saturday Update

Happy belated Fourth of July, my fellow Americans! (To my non-American followers, happy random day!) As my feelings closely resemble Ana’s on the subject of celebrations, we spent the holiday mostly inside, watching the traditional movies about the fight for freedom–

Extended director’s edition, of course. For maximum patriotism, we watch The Hobbit trilogy too.

–and adjourning to the porch after dark, to watch our neighbor set off a truly spectacular display of fireworks, all the sparkly kind and none of the screamers or exploders. Where we live, this holiday falls square in the middle of firefly season, so half the fun of the show was watching the firework go off, followed the other half of the fun: watching thousands of fireflies flash their butts in a desperate effort to flirt with a low explosive pyrotechnic reaction.

Naturally, it is also smack in the middle of the mosquito season, but I remembered to spray myself down liberally with toxic, toxic chemicals before venturing into the wilderness (my porch). Well…everywhere except my shoes. It’s not like mosquitoes are, like, super-super small or anything and can slip through the breathable mesh to sup upon my tasty, tasty feet or anything, right?

*sluuuuuurrrrp*

By the way, let me just take a moment to say that of all the places you can get bit by a mosquito, the sole of the foot is officially the worst. Sure, there are probably more delicate, dangerous or deviant places to scratch, but at least you CAN scratch them. You know what you feel if you scratch the sole of your foot, assuming your foot is as callused as mine because I hate wearing shoes? Nothing. Just the itch. Seriously, you can go at that bite with a steel farrier’s rasp and get no relief. I’m going out of my damn mind.

Anyhoo, another week is behind me and that means it’s time for a new chapter of my Five Nights At Freddy’s fanfiction, so if you’re reading along, head on over to fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org and check it out. It’s another relatively small one (3600 words), on account of the fact that it was originally over 10,000 words, which I did not notice until I was formatting it for upload. I really got out of the habit of paying attention to chapter size when I started self-publishing. So short chapter this week, big one next week, and I promise you, this thing with Ana and Freddy is coming to a head. But it’s going to get worse before it gets better…

The dream did not end as much as shift sideways and melt into reality. Erik Metzger’s deep purple became Bonnie’s lavender, the death-grip on her braid became a few stray hairs snagged between Bonnie’s knuckle-joints, and the light shining off glasses became Bonnie’s glowing eyes.

“Hey,” he said and it was Bonnie’s voice now, low in volume but scratchy with static. “It’s four o’clock—TIME TO ROCK! Goddammit. Sorry-ry-ry. You said four, right-t-t? You up?”

Ana rolled toward him and hugged his outstretched arm, burying her face in his soft, highly toxic fibracene fur.

“Oh, hey! HI THERE! You ok-k-kay?”

Was she? She honestly wasn’t sure. She felt like she had a hangover, only without the headache. Her head felt stuffed with wet, warm cotton; her stomach, the same. Coming down with something, most likely. Summer colds were the fucking worst.

“I’m fine,” Ana mumbled and tried to sound like she meant it. “Bad dream.”

“Yeah.” He stroked her hair, petting her with the hand she hadn’t trapped against her body. “Sure—IS A GREAT DAY FOR—didn’t sound like a good-d-d one.”

“I’m fine. I’m just…wait.” Ana lifted her head slightly and looked around. She saw her cardboard closet, the dark sheets that curtained her table, her day pack pillow and the dusky blue ripples of her air mattress. “Who put me to bed?”

“Um…”

“I don’t remember coming to bed,” she said, pulling away from Bonnie and moving the curtain to see the room beyond him for herself, as if there were any doubt at all she was in the dining room. “I was talking to Foxy. We were talking about…about…I don’t know. I didn’t mean to fall asleep on him, but I sure don’t remember leaving.” She looked at Bonnie, unsure what she was feeling, but just like waking up hungover, it was easier to be angry than confused. “Did you seriously come and get me? You don’t even trust me with him when I’m asleep?”

“No,” he said, ears folding back, only to snap up again as he shook his head. “I mean, yes! Of c-c-course I do! I mean, it wasn’t-t-t me!”

“Was it Freddy?”

Before Bonnie could answer, Freddy’s deep voice came growling out of the East Hall: “WAS. WHAT. ME.”

Ana quickly crawled out from under the table, gaining her feet just as Freddy swept the plastic sheets aside and limped in. He switched his eyes on as he walked, scanning the room and checking the gift shop and the lobby before turning his attention on her.

“WAS. WHAT. ME,” he asked again.

“Did you carry me in here last night?”

“YES.” He left the And? unsaid, but it was there anyway.

“What the hell, bear?”

His brows drew slightly together. “YOU. FELL. A. SLEEP. IN. PIRATE COVE. WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?” His gaze shifted to Bonnie with explain-this all over his plastic face. “WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?”

“I d-d-don’t know.”

“The problem is, I’m not some toy that got left out by mistake! You don’t carry me around and you don’t put me places!”

“RULE NUMBER TWO. DON’T YELL.”

“I’m not yelling!” Ana said, loudly.

“YOU. ARE. YELLING. AND. FOR. WHAT,” Freddy demanded, his eyelids tipping the few degrees that made all the difference between confused and annoyed. “I. PUT. YOU. TO. BED.”

“You put me away! No, you didn’t even do that! You wiped me under the table like a piece of chewed-up gum!”

Freddy spread his arms in a broad gesture of defiance. “YOU. FELL. A. SLEEP. IN. PIRATE COVE.”

“Get this through your thick head: You’re not my fucking babysitter!” Ana interrupted, marching forward to thump him on the chest. “You don’t set my bedtime and you don’t put me in my fucking room!”

Freddy backed up a step, his pupils irising fully open in a split second and slow to contract. “RULE NUMBER SIX. DON’T TOUCH FREDDY.”

“Then don’t touch me! You hear me, bear? You don’t pick me up, you don’t put me down, and if you find me being eaten alive by a goddamn python, you don’t fucking unwrap me! Don’t! Touch me! Got that?”

“OKAY,” said Freddy after a moment. It was not agreement. He turned around, talking now to Bonnie even though he looked at neither of them as he continued on his rounds. “I. HAVE. MORE. IMPORTANT. THINGS. TO. DO. YOU. DEAL. WITH. THIS.”

“Deal with my ass,” Ana muttered, yanking her day pack out from under the table.

“AND. GOOD MORNING. TO. YOU. TOO.” Freddy pushed through the plastic and out into the West Hall. As soon as the door shut, his footsteps could no longer be heard, but his voice came through the open ceiling. “NOT. AWAKE. FOR. FIVE. MINUTES. AND. SHE. ALREADY. NEEDS. A. NAP.”

“Fuck you,” Ana muttered.

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday

So a while back, I decided that after six months of promising more blog-content than just notifying my readers when the next chapter of my fanfiction has been uploaded, it was time to actually follow through. Whereupon I bumped into that age-old question that Man has pondered from the very first moment that he raised his eyes to the starry heavens and dared to question his place in the universe: What should I blog about?

In the past, I’ve shared some thoughts on writing in general and on world-building in specific, which pretty much empties my Barrel of Blogging Concepts. After struggling with it on my own for a few days…

Pictured: My struggle

…I asked my writer’s group for ideas. I figured these people had read most of my books and if I had some sort of skill in some area or another, they’d know. Also, they were probably getting pretty tired of Five Nights At Freddy’s fanfiction and keen to push me on to a new topic.

So imagine my surprise when the immediate response, unanimously seconded, was that I should write this series on the subject of fanfiction. Turns out, most of the members of my writer’s group, all of whom are published professionals, had some of their first writing experiences with fanfiction and several of them continue to write and/or read it. I just happen to be the first one who openly admitted it and brought some to share with the group.

Naturally, I then suggested we all blog about fanfiction and organize a blog-hop and encourage open and discourse on the stigma associated with it. This suggestion was immediately and unanimously vetoed. Because they have careers and want to be taken seriously as authors or whatever.

But hey, I’m your huckleberry! So if fanfiction isn’t your thing, you might want to give the next two months’ worth of Wednesdays on this blog a miss, because we are going there, baby!

And so, without further ado, I present the premiere episode of (drum-roll)…

R. LEE SMITH’S 8-PART SERIES

FANS WHO FIC!

Part One

Fanfiction: The Good, The Bad and The Ironically Terrible

 

That’s a terrible title. Moving on!

As I’ve mentioned previously, I consider myself something of a fanfic purist. If I love a thing enough to seek out more of that thing that officially exists, I don’t want to see people making fun of that thing. And that’s on me, I freely admit that. I was a nerd before that was cool. When I was a kid, getting caught reading comics or wearing Batman underoos was an open invitation to an ass-kicking. True talk: My mom took me out of school every year for the sci-fi convention season, which in those days meant RustyCon, Norwescon and MagiCon. If that was today and my mom was signing me out of class to go to, like, BlizzCon or ComiCon, I would have serious bragging rights over my classmates, but back then? No, man. The only thing I’d be bragging about would be how quick I managed to kick my way out of my locker after I got stuffed into it.

God, I wish that was a joke.

This is funny to me now, because when it comes to movies, I love the ironically terrible ones almost more than I love the real ones, but when it’s fanfiction, there’s a line. It’s almost like prolonged bullying can have lasting effects on a kid’s self-esteem or something. Weird.

Anyway, fanfiction is serious business to me. Keep your trollfics, your Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Ravenway, your cupcake-baking pink ponies and especially whatever the fuck this is far away from me (Link probably SFW, but NSFL). You will never hear me say that stuff should not exist, that it’s toxic and so are the people who write it, etc, etc. Differences make us special, as Chica says (at least she says it in my head-canon), so you do you, whoever you are, and have a great day. It’s not my thing, so I don’t read it, which means I am not qualified to criticize it, so I won’t.

Having said that, maybe I should be reading a broader range of fanfiction, because apparently I do everything wrong. I know this, because a few months after I first started putting Everything Is All Right out there for others to read, I received this private message:

You are everything I hate about ff. You throw out the lore to make up your own, you’ve got the hot OC with a dark past as the main character and the animatronics who were actually in the game are just bit players in her story. And of course there’s a trigger warning so everyone will know there’s sex and gore and hard drugs and so much swearing because otherwise no one would know you’re a grown-up and not some edgy twelve year old. This is everything I hate about ff. It’s a good thing you do it so well. Great job, man. Best FNAF out there. One of the best fics I’ve ever read, period.

10/10 would bash again

Um…thanks? But okay, I get it. I knew exactly what he was complaining…er, complimenting…complimentaining about because I’ve read those fanfictions too. And as someone who considers themself a fanfic purist, I acknowledge there are some hard rules for how to write them.

You don’t upstage the canon characters.

You don’t put adult content into a work that was originally intended for kids.

You don’t world-build.

And last but not least, you don’t fuck with the established lore.

So I get it. I do. There are fanfiction rules just like there are rules for every other kind of fiction. But the thing is, I don’t break the rules just because it’s fun. I mean, it IS fun, I’m not going to lie, but that’s not the only reason. I break ’em because when it comes right down to it, there’s really only one rule and that’s to try to tell a story no one’s heard before. The rest are, well…

Those are what ye might call ‘guidelines’.

Ultimately, the strength of the story is what makes any fanfiction good or bad. There’s no great mystery surrounding the popularity of trollfics and crappypastas; they tell a story no one’s heard before. Some of us didn’t necessarily want to hear it either, but that’s beside the point. The author delivered a strong story and a strong story doesn’t have to be a thousand pages long and have a lot of big words and semi-colons, it just…wow, I made myself feel bad. Anyway, all a strong story really needs to do is get into a reader’s head. In a good way, in a bad way–doesn’t matter. It just has to stay with you.

Is this series going to tell you how to do that? Ha! No. But I am going to address some of the so-called ‘rules’ for writing fanfiction with a tolerant eye toward breaking them, as well as hopefully explain how to avoid making some common fanfiction mistakes. And maybe tell a few dumb jokes and post some silly pictures because, you know, beats working. So hope to see you again next Wednesday and be sure to check in on Saturday as well for links to the latest update on my fanfiction! Cue shameless self-promotion!

Fanart by Peccolia! Thanks again!

Serial Saturday Update

After some bizarre shenanigans messed up my first attempt, I finally got everything sorted out and the next chapter of my FNAFiction is available to read over at Fanfiction.net. It’s also up at Archiveofourown.org (who did NOT give me shenanigans. They don’t lose my reviews/comments in a black hole of “Eh, they’ll turn up someday” either. Not saying that makes them a better platform for reading fanfics, but I’m sure not NOT saying it. Step up your damn game, ff.net).

Whatever. Everything’s all right. (Self-reference ftw!) My weekly obligation as far as the series is concerned has been met, and I have only my weekly obligations as a writer of this blog and then I can have a brownie. That means composing this post. Also baking brownies.

It’s always something.

Flawless segue!

After dinner with Shelly, Ana drove home. Not to Aunt Easter’s house—Erik Metzger’s house—but to Freddy’s. Home was where the heart was, after all. There were kids down at the quarry, making use of these last hours of daylight by chasing each other around the rocks. She couldn’t exactly hide from them, only hope that their game of war took enough of their attention that a truck climbing up Edge of Nowhere and parking in the pizzeria’s empty lot had escaped their collective eye.

The loading dock door was shut and jammed from within. Ana knocked and watched the tiny shouting dots that were kids at play until Freddy let her in. “How long have they been there?” she asked by way of greeting.

Freddy grunted and looked out at the quarry, holding the door as she ducked under his burly plastic arm. “ABOUT. AN. HOUR. BUT. IT. WILL. BE. DARK. SOON. AND. THEY. WILL. GO. HOME.”

“You’re a trusting soul, aren’t you?”

“HARDLY. BUT. I. KNOW. KIDS,” said Freddy. “THEY’RE. ELEVEN. TWELVE. OLD. ENOUGH. TO. TALK. ABOUT. CHASING. MONSTERS. IN. THE. DAY. TIME. BUT. AT. NIGHT. THEY’RE. STILL. YOUNG. ENOUGH. TO. KNOW. THE. MONSTERS. CHASE. YOU.” Freddy closed the loading dock door and hammered the table leg back into place to lock it. “GIVE. THEM. FIVE. MORE. YEARS. AND. THEY. WILL. TURN. INTO. TROUBLE. FOR. US. UNTIL. THEN. I’M. NOT. WORRIED. BUT. I. AM. WATCHING. THEM. HOW’S THE PIZZA?”

“Excuse me?”

Freddy clicked to himself and gestured toward the bag in her hand with the Gallifrey’s name on the side. “HOW. WAS. YOUR. DINNER.”

“Oh. Fine.” Ana tossed the bag into the box she was using for trash on her way through the kitchen, put her day pack on the counter and opened up her food cupboard. After some deliberation, she selected a tub of ready-eat mac and cheese from her dwindling supplies and popped the top. “It went great, actually. Better than I expected. He gave me my job back.”

Freddy grunted, reaching into the trash to lift out the bag again. He removed the plastic container holding her untouched burger and fries, studied it, and set it on the counter. “WHY?”

“It’s a long story. The gist of it is, I apparently have more friends in this town than I thought I did. He’s super-not happy about it, though. I’m pretty sure I’ll be out on the curb again once the library’s his, but in the meantime, I got a steady paycheck again. I start on Monday.”

“GOOD.” Freddy frowned at the messy splat of blueberries and crumbled crust inside the smaller plastic container, then at her. “WHAT’S. WRONG. WITH. THIS.”

“Nothing,” she said, taking it away from him. She put it back in the bag, added the burger and fries, and tossed it back in the trash.

“IS. THAT. YOUR. DINNER.”

“No,” said Ana, taking a swallow of room-temperature mac and cheese to prove it. “No, that’s not mine.”

“AN-N-A.”

“Freddy, we are not doing this. Drop it. What time is it anyway?”

Freddy jerked, laughed and spat, “IT’S TIME TO PARTY!”

“Otherwise known as 8:35,” Ana mused, looking at her watch. “That’s like…half an hour of daylight. Shit. Fine. I’ll call it a night, but I’m putting in a wake-up call for four o’clock and if you hit my bunny’s snooze button again, I may have to kick your ass.”

“THE RULES ARE FOR YOUR SAFETY,” he reminded her, folding his arms with a distinctly unworried glower. “DON’T HIT. AND. DON’T TOUCH FREDDY.”

Ana shook the last few clumps of cheese sauce and soggy pasta into her mouth, tossed the empty tub into the trash, and opened the cupboard again. She contemplated her options and helped herself to one of Rider’s amped-up spikes. She was in for the night and the stuff was getting stale anyway. “Hand me a beer, would you?”

Freddy glanced at the cooler, then at her. Grunting, he went over and fished a bottle out. A water bottle.

“You’re killing me, bear,” said Ana, accepting it with a sigh. “You calling me an alcoholic now? Really? I had two beers yesterday. Not even a whole two beers. Those other bottles were Bonnie’s.”

“SOME. THINGS. DON’T. MIX.”

“What, me and Bonnie?” asked Ana, then looked at her joint and rolled her eyes. “Oh for Christ’s sake. I’ll have you know pot and beer mix just fine. As a matter of fact, you can get pot-infused beer in some places and if anything, it gets me less drunk than the regular kind. Lighten up. You’re not the DARE-Bear.”

Freddy closed his eyes, shook his head, opened them. “WHAT. DO. YOU. WANT. AN-N-A. YOU. WANT. ME. TO. JUST. STAND. HERE. AND. WATCH. YOU—”

“Watch me what? Drink a beer? Smoke some pot? Get over yourself! Prohibition was repealed, like, a hundred goddamn years ago and cannabis is legal to some degree in, like, half these United States! Okay, not this one, but I’m not pushing it on little kids, am I? Who the hell am I hurting?”

“IT’S. NOT. ABOUT. THAT.”

“Horseshit it’s not. But, okay, fine. I’ll play along. What’s it about?”

Freddy looked around, his plastic eyes skipping from one kitchen-related poster to another. Employees Must Wash Hands, read one. Floor Can Be Slippery When Wet, read another. What to do about burns. How to handle knives safely. Avoiding falls, shocks and accidents. A hundred rules for safety and not one of them helpful. When he ran out of walls, he looked up at the open sky, then at Ana again. “WHEN. YOU. SAW. THE. WOOF. WAS. BAD. YOU. DIDN’T. WAIT. FOR. IT. TO. FALL. DOWN. BEFORE. YOU. FIXED. IT.”

All the fun went out of the fight just that fast. Ana stared, open-mouthed, until a distant bang and a short crowing of boyish voices out at the quarry reminded her the world had not stopped after all. She took a breath and that worked, so she took another and said, calmly, “I’m not ‘bad,’ Freddy.”

He blinked twice, then raised his hand and slammed it into his forehead just above and between his eyes. “THAT’S. NOT. WHAT. I. MEANT.”

“I’m not broken,” said Ana, heat rising up from her stomach to throb in her cheeks. “I don’t need fixing. And even if I did—”

“AN-N-A.”

“Even if I did,” she said, louder, “I’m pretty goddamn sure that relying on a giant talking teddy bear to do it for me is the wrong fucking way to go about it!”

Freddy nodded, his hand now rubbing at his forehead, his eyes still shut tight. His speaker was set at a volume that did not allow him to speak softly, but as much as he could, he muttered, “WHY. COULDN’T. SHE. BE. TEN. I’M. SO. GOOD. WITH. CHILDREN.”

 

Ah, the sweet, sweet taste of obligations!