Thursday Thoughts: Excerpt, PTSD and The Mockingjay

pexels-photo-38892First–I haven’t put those trigger warnings on my books yet. I put in a lot of hours–like 12-14 hour days–into my website and needed some time off. Coming back from the time off into the real world was a huge jolt for me. The real world is not a great place right now. So it’ll be a little while before I get that done.

Second, I have put on and taken off my socks about 5 times today so far. For some reason arriving at the optimal temperature and clothing weight for my feet is a difficult thing for me to achieve. . .and I’m only telling you this because I figure sometimes people come to writers’ blogs to read about writers’ quirks. That’s one of mine. (I have a lot of ’em)

Now on to the stuff.

If you’ve read much of this blog you know I started The PostPlague Trilogy because of an obsession with The Hunger Games series. I read the books and watched the dvds so many times that the words pop into my mind all the time. So much good in that series! And yet, one of the things I had a difficult time with was the darkness in The Mockingjay.
This is when Katniss starts to pay mentally and emotionally for what she has done and most importantly for what the Capitol has done to all of them. She is experiencing PTSD big time. Because it was the last book in the series, I put the books down feeling almost defeated, even though Katniss & friends won. I’ve thought about it a bit, and the “fault,” if there is one, is not Collins’ writing. It’s the story–it’s the lives of these people and the situation they were in. Katiniss was always going to end up with PTSD and it was always going to be in the last book.

That might be difficult for readers to understand, that writers don’t always have a choice in their work. Let me explain it this way: Have you ever read a book and thought, “that’s not what this character would do?” Yeah, I think we all have. And while it’s entirely possible that we are interpreting the character differently than most because of something in our own lives, I would hazard to guess that a lot of times you feel that way because the writer is pushing the book into a direction that the story is not “supposed” to take. Writers will tell you, at least those of us who have done this for awhile, that our books don’t always go the way we want. We start them, we plot them, we outline them, but in the execution we often just follow the characters.

I don’t know if that’s hows Collins felt, but it’s how I view the series. Just based upon who Katniss is, the life she lives, the PTSD problems she had in The Mockingjay were destined to happen. Still it made me sad and depressed and so I decided when I started The PostPlague Trilogy,  I would consciously set it up so that Neri would work through those emotions mid-way through.

That is not to say that PTSD is something you get over. It’s not. You can learn how to handle it and it will lessen with time but it’s with you, probably, for life. At least that’s what I’ve read. I have never suffered from it, not the real version anyway.(the designation has been diluted over time so that now we say we suffer from it if we’ve lost a game of cards or something. The actual disorder is very difficult.) What I put in Children of Liberty was from research. Yeah, people say “write what you know” and I don’t know PTSD. But if writers only wrote what they knew, most of the novels we love would never have been written.

At any rate, Neri is destined, based upon her background (there’s evidence you’re more likely to suffer from PTSD if your childhood was messed up) to end up with PTSD. Although she didn’t have a violent childhood, it was hardly loving. Near the end of The Liars she is barely making it through the days. The rough way the book ends–no spoilers!–pretty much guarantees that the next book is going to have a harsh opening.  I worked it so that we could see Neri “recover” from it, or at least handle in ways that The Mockingjay could not. Collins told us how Katniss gets by, but we don’t really see it.

So here’s the excerpt, where Neri finally melts down completely. She’s been on this trajectory since the first sentence of the book. If it sounds a little choppy, it’s because I’ve removed parts that would give away the story. I’ve also filled in XXXXs for characters I don’t want you to know because Spoilers! This is one of my favorite parts of the book. I always love the emotional stuff. (Point: This reads more like depression than PTSD, but depression is common with the disorder, and the flashbacks and nightmares Neri has experienced has brought her to to this point)

“Fine! You want me to prove my loyalty? Have I not spilled enough blood for you? How about this.” I grab my steak knife with my left hand and before anybody can stop me, I draw it over my scarred right wrist. Helen gasps and I hear chair legs scraping on the floor.

“Good God,” xxxxx exclaims.

Evan, on my left, grips my shoulder. I pull away. Pain radiates down my arm as I hold my wrist out to Kyan, my blood dripping bright red on the white tablecloth. “Is that enough for you?”

“You’d have to bleed out for it to be enough!”

Stefan seizes Kyan’s arm. “Stop it! Now!”

Callie’s fingers curl around my forearm. “Neri, give me your wrist.”

“She’s crazy, Stefan!”

Because it’s Callie, I relax my arm enough for her to pull it toward her and wrap a napkin around the wound. Simultaneously, Evan gently, but firmly, takes hold of my left wrist. His touch sends a ripple over my nerves. Distracted, I turn to him. His brow is furrowed and worry lines are gathered around his eyes. “Let go, Neri.”

I’m trembling. From anger, from fear. I release the knife and it falls to the table with a tanging thud. Then I scan the other members of COL, who are all staring at me, at my wrist, in varying degrees of shock and wariness. Kyan forced my hand. I’m crazy. I’ve known that for a couple of months. Now they know it too.

Yanking my wrist away from Callie, I snarl, “To hell with you all.” I stomp out of the room, down the hall, and finally through the front door, slamming it so hard the house shakes. A steady drizzle falls from a dull grey sky. It’s not a problem. XXXX designed the shooting range for all-weather use. When I reach it, I retrieve a rifle from the vault, call up a military program and start shooting Inquisitors. I go through a clip. Two. Three.

Nobody comes for me.

Twenty minutes later the rain is falling in earnest, plastering my borrowed green gown to my body. Still nobody shows up. At first it irritates me. Then distresses me. Finally depression sinks in. They aren’t going to come. Once upon a time, when I was High Priestess, people cared if something upset me. Not Grayson, of course, but everybody else. Everybody went out of their way to please me. If I stormed out of a meeting—which I wouldn’t do, because I didn’t throw fits back then—somebody would chase after me. Bring me back. I mattered.

Not anymore.

I’m not High Priestess. I’m just another soldier in COL, and not a particularly good one at that. I can shoot, sure, but my mental state makes me a liability. They aren’t coming because they don’t want me. At best I can function as a figurehead to recruit more soldiers—lure people to their deaths—and they can probably find someone else to do that.

I am dispensable.

It takes another ten minutes for me to fully understand that. By then it’s raining so hard it creates a kind of whitish filter between me and the screen. Even with that, and even though I’ve crossed that imaginary border between normal and insane, I’ve hit every target. I should be proud.

My arms are too heavy suddenly and the gun falls to the ground.

I’ve killed people, on that screen and in real life, and I’ve endangered people, too many others to count. I can’t get to Grayson, so this mission may be my only shot at redemption. Saving XXXXX might mean saving COL, and ultimately the nation. All the better if I forfeit my life in the process. I could make it right.

Or I could until now.

I sink down into the mud and hug myself as tears morph into sobs. I cry for xxxx and xxxxx. I cry for the friends I’ve lost, the dead, and those here who’ve forsaken me. I cry because Kyan’s right. I’m a self-centered witch who married a sociopath and I knew it. I must have. How can I not have known it? I ignored the signs and I brought the beatings on myself. Me and me alone. I am the reason for my scars and broken bones.

(deleted spoilers)

 

I’m not sure. I do know I was ready to sacrifice myself, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t want to die for nothing, but I don’t really want to live either. It hurts too much.

“Neri.”

The rain is so heavy I don’t hear the squish of Evan’s boots in the mud until he’s standing next to me. His voice is deep and warm. He offers his hand, but I ignore it. I don’t want his sympathy. I don’t deserve it.

“Neri, it’s time to come in.”

I shake my head.

“You’re soaked to the skin. Come with me. Callie’s making you cocoa.”

Cocoa. Hot chocolate in milk, a treat among treats, reserved for special occasions like Forgiveness Day and Testing Day. Even that offer can’t penetrate my gloom. I want him to go away. I want to stay here and slowly become one with the mud.

Dropping his hand, Evan squats next to me. “Neri, we’ve worked it out. They’ll let you come on the operation as long as you promise to follow orders, okay? Now let’s get out of the rain and bandage that wrist.”

I gaze down at it. The rain and my blood have turned the napkin pink. The wound still stings, but I haven’t noticed it.

I turn to him and my heart takes a tiny jump. The rain has straightened his dark hair and is streaming down his face. He’s a rain-melted mess, but his eyes hold that beautiful, ever-present kindness.

God, I miss him. I missed him after we parted ways in school, and I missed him the first two years in Temple City. I missed him for six years after that even though I refused to think about him because I was married and living in Hell. And now, here, right here, even though we’re living together, I still miss him because he feels even farther away than he ever was in SouthMid. Distance isn’t always physical.

“I’m falling apart, Evan,” I whisper.

He reaches up his work-callused hand to push a strand of hair off my face. It’s been sticking to my cheek, giving the rain a conduit to drip off my chin. “Then I guess I’ll just have to put you back together.”

“I don’t think it’s possible.” The tears start again.

“Neri,” he breathes. Then he shifts to sit next to me. He wraps his arms around me and pulls me against him. “You’re not that broken.”

 

“Kyan’s right. I should never have married Grayson. I should have listened to you and never left SouthMid.”

He doesn’t answer, just pulls me tighter. I can’t seem to stop crying. I take a quivering breath now and then, and try to gather myself together.

“Oh God, Evan, it won’t stop. I keep trying but then I remember something and it starts again. I can’t get past it. How did you ever get past it?”

 

 

Clothing from The PostPlague Trilogy

 

Neri's ceremonial robe
Neri’s ceremonial robe

When building a dystopian world, one of the ways to set scenes, and bring the new world to readers, is through clothing. When I decided on what that clothing would look out, the first thing I took into account was the protagonist’s, Neri’s, position in society. She is High Priestess, married to the most powerful man in the nation. Her clothing, therefore, has to be pretty and elegant.

Secondly I needed to create clothing that made sense for the dystopian society I created. After the plagues took down the world, the survivors, headed by religious icon, Brayden Rey, decided they needed to control the survivors progeny (I’m trying not to put too many spoilers in here–sorry if I’m being cryptic!). Therefore they decided clothing needed to assist in the prevention of “temptation”, both for men and women. I wanted women to wear long gowns and men to wear suits.

The third thing was to consider that we’re in the future. I wanted something a little different to take readers out of this world. I searched the internet and decided that Indian wedding clothing (with some alterations for the men) did that.

In The Temple each sect (governmental departments) has its own color and the priestess and priests ceremonial silk robe is that color. Their regular clothing reflect that color as well.  Prints are allowed, as long as their sect color is the dominant color.

When Neri attends parties or other events for a certain sect, she honors that sect by dressing in its colors. When she is representing only herself or the Prophet, however, her colors are off white and gold, as is her ceremonial robe.

The following are representations of what Neri would wear for each sect (or what female sect members might wear for formal events)

 

royal blue and gold gown

 

 

 

 

First sect–Temple Guard and security. Royal Blue

 

 

 

even better pink - Copy

Second sect–Arts and Education (Neri’s “home” sect)

 

 

 

 

 

orange ankara

 

 

 

Third sect–agriculture and commerce (the sect Neri’s shrimper family would fit into, although they were laborers, not members of The Temple)

 

 

 

 

sea green embroidered gown

 

 

Fourth sect–Building and Parks light green

 

 


 

better purple dress

Fifth sect–National Security and Reparation (The Inquisitor and Auditors are from this sect) Because this sect has, over the decades, gone from purple, to deep purple, to black, Neri may choose to wear either purple, black, or a combination of both. Neri would prefer to avoid the 5th altogether.

 

blue - Copy

 

 

6th sect–Medicine and Science (the biological geniuses of The Temple)

 

 

 

maroon embroidered gown

 

 

Seventh sect–Law enforcement and order (the Enforcers, but also attorneys, although they are overruled in cases of “national security” which is pretty much anything Grayson Starling, The Prophet, says is national security.

 

 

alternate yellow

 

 

Eighth sect–transportation and communication. This is an example of how a combination of two colors, but the overwhelming color is yellow, which makes it suitable for the eighth sect

 

 

 

emerald green two

 

 

 

Ninth sect–energy and technology emerald green

 

 

 

 

silver gown

 

 

Tenth sect–Treasury–The High Council. (on the nation’s symbol the color is light purple but the council wears silver)

 

 

 

I’ve added some of the original links to the pictures. However, the links I copied for some of these pictures are no longer available. Most of the gowns came from Cbazaar

 

Recipe, The Liars, Raspberry Squares

For anybody who’s read The Liars, during one specific meeting, Neri and others are eating pastry, specifically raspberry squares. I’ve been making these for years. I love them and it’s pretty easy. I got this out of Food and Wine magazine, the May 2005 edition. They call them Raspberry Shortbread Bars, but for us they’re raspberry squares. Here’s the recipe just in time for Thanksgiving (here in the U.S.) and Christmas.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup seedless raspberry preserves

Whisk together the flour and baking soda. Set aside
Cream butter until fluffy (I’m not quite sure what this means, but I just beat it for a minute or so). Add sugar, and beat. Beat in vanilla and *yolks. Mix in flour mixture. It’ll form a stiff dough. Cut it in half. Form each half into a roll, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

In an **8 1/2 by 11 inch glass baking dish, using the wide side of a cheese grater, grate on roll into the dish. Spread it out to cover the bottom of the dish, but not to press it down. Spoon out little dollops of the preserves and spread it across the grated butter/flour mixture. Again, try not to press too hard. When done, grate the second loaf over the preserves.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, until it starts to brown. Cover lightly with tin foil and bake another 15 to 20 minute. Let cool completely before cutting into raspberry squares.

*Tip for separating yolks. Ordinarily if you crack an egg flat against a hard surface, you’ll end up with less pieces of egg shell. However, if you want to separate the yolk, it’s best to crack it against a sharp edge. I’ve found that using a flat surface makes it more likely that you’ll break the yolk before starting to separate.

** I don’t have one of these. I’ve used a square 8 by 8, and used less of the loaf mixture. I’ve tried a 3.8 quart stone baking pan as well. It’s really a matter of adjusting the cooking time and the amount of the butter/flour mixture you use. The raspberry squares always come out great, no matter what you do though!

What is Dystopian Fiction (and giveaway)

First–Giveaway. On goodreads. I’m very late getting this up, and the giveaway is only going on for a few more hours. And if you’re late to the party, because I’m really late on the invitation, I will be doing one more in November. I promise I will post the details on my blog and facebook pages a week in advance this time!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Liars by D.L. Eagan

The Liars

by D.L. Eagan

Giveaway ends October 23, 2015.See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/widget/158465

And now on to my post.

So, for people who don’t know, I first started The Post Plague Trilogy after reading (and watching) The Hunger Games series so many times I could quote it. I really love that series, but you can only read something so many times before you have to try something new. Next up was Divergent, and then The Giver and finally The Maze Runner series. I was well into writing The Liars, book one in The PostPlague Trilogy, when I read the last two.

Still, I wasn’t quite sure what genre I was writing. I called it post apocalyptic for a long time, but it didn’t really seem right. I mean, yeah, there was an apocalypse–the plagues that take out the world, also known to the characters as The Plague Wars–but the book starts almost 300 years after that. It didn’t fit. Especially since I’d read books and watched shows that really do feel post apocalyptic–The Postman, Waterworld, Mad Max, The Omega Man (yes, I’m dating myself there) The Day of the Triffids and a lot more. So I looked at various categories for my most recent reads and discovered that what I’d really been reading was dystopian fiction.

Cool! In that dystopian is a really cool word. Since I was writing similarly to those other books, I stuck that description on my book and started to lump all the other books that inspired me into dystopian category. After that, I started searching dystopian fiction on Amazon (because I really, really like it) for books to read.

I bought some really fantastic books, but still. . .something was wrong. Dystopia is the opposite of utopia, right? And utopia is the ideal world.  It’s the one mankind is striving for. Perfection though, really isn’t possible, and sometimes what we think is utopia has a whole lot of cracks in it, thus a dystopian government, a dystopian world. Not all of these books had any version of utopia at all, however, so are they truly dystopia?

The Maze Runner series is probably the most blatant in that regard. Sure, the world Thomas is first introduced to has a certain beauty to it, but that beauty quickly dies. Nobody tells the characters that it’s perfect, and none of the boys feels it is. You get more of a Lord of the Flies feeling, to be honest. Even that dies in the next two books of The Maze Runner series. The government, we learn, is working on creating a remedy for the mess that the world really is in (I’m trying not to give spoilers here) but nobody thinks it’s utopia. People are dying horribly, terrible stuff happened that destroyed much of the world. and there’s not a whole lot of hope. There’s no utopia, so there’s no dystopia. It’s actually post apocalyptic.

The Giver is definitely dystopia. Everybody believes their world is perfect and it is. Except for that whole no-real-emotion thing, and the lack of color thing and a hundred other problems. In The Giver people are happy all the time in that they don’t really know what happiness is.

Divergent?  It doesn’t have quite the “We are happy, oh so happy!” feeling of The Giver, but there is a perfect test that puts people in perfect situations. Everything is wonderfully controlled. The apocalypse is referred to somewhat, and we know something terrible happened because they’re all living in the ruins of Chicago, but whatever happened is long since past. Most of the citizens in Divergent are content, but you see cracks pretty quickly in the Factionless and the fact that if you choose a different path than your family, you never really see them again. It is dystopia, but the demarcation isn’t quite as strong as in The Giver.

The Hunger Games. . .well it’s not post-apocalyptic. People aren’t trying to build a new world, or recover from the end of the old one. Sure, there was a war, but that’s 75 years prior, and before an apocalypse-type situation, which is hardly referred to at all in the series. For the main characters, Katniss, Peeta, Gale and Haymitch, it sure doesn’t feel like utopia. Considered, this way, The Hunger Games is more broadly science fiction. On the other hand, the people living in the Capitol do feel like they’re living in utopia, and the government tells them that they are happy and the government is incredibly benevolent (to be fair, it tells the districts that they’re happy too, but nobody is buying it there). However, even there we see cracks in later books, especially in the final book. So I guess dystopia is the correct genre from the Capitol’s point of view.

The Twilight Series comes up under dystopia on Amazon too. I won’t even start on that. So doesn’t Stephen King’s Under the Dome. I don’t know about the book, but I’ve been watching the series, and it is definitely not utopian, dystopian, or even post apocalyptic. The Stand however, definitely post-apocalyptic. (and one of my favorite books of all time!)

As for my book, The Liars, it is absolutely dystopian. The characters are told by the government that they are living in a virtual utopia, and that religion they all adhere to has perfected society; everybody is living the life that is most suited to them. There are tons of cracks in that scenario, though, and their world really is pretty terrible.

So there, that’s a clear definition. Will Amazon or anything else ever truly reflect that? Nope. Dystopian sells these days, so that’s what people will try to fit their books into. But I feel better saying it because I’m a writer. I like words, and definitions matter to me.

Excerpt, The Liars, book one dystopian trilogy

Liars cover for ebooks 300An excerpt from The Liars: (buy link)

Evan nods, then slowly rises. He shuffles the few feet to the barred door like a man forty or fifty years his senior. When he reaches me, he lifts his uninjured arm over his head and leans his forehead against the bars for support. And smiles. His face is battered and God only knows what’s wrong with the rest of him, but for all that, his smile sets butterflies loose in my stomach. He is still Evan, a grown-up version of the boy I knew before I left for Temple City. With his brown contact lenses removed, his one open eye is that same soft green, and his smile has the same sweet warmth that caught girls’ hearts and eased my teenage angst. I expect he’ll have it until the day he dies.

 Which will be three days from now.

 His uninjured eye runs over my blue jacquard gown, accented in gold, which I chose because it’s his favorite color. It’s a slow, quiet perusal, as if he’s trying to commit me to memory. When he’s done, his gaze rests on my face again. “You shouldn’t be here, Priestess.” In spite of the harshness of his voice, the same gentle lilt of those long-ago days rides in it.

“You saved my life.”

He lets out a dry, pained chuckle. “Yeah, see the good it did me?”

It’s my turn to wince. “They’ve accused you of being a dissident.”

“Which is why you shouldn’t be here.”

“You threw yourself on top of me. . . . ‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem like enough considering. . .” Considering that it guaranteed his capture.

“The debris would have killed you instead of that woman behind you.”

“Yes . . . but I don’t understand. When you planted that bomb, you meant to kill—” My husband. The Prophet. “People. You must have known I’d be nearby.”

He just stares at me. Agreeing with me is a confession. He doesn’t argue, though, and isn’t that a confession in itself?

He’s right; I should leave. I should never have come. I’m not making this better. Jarvis’s friends are arranging for a merciful end. That’s the best anybody can do for Evan. My spending time with a criminal, a dissident, will only look bad for me and get me killed too. Still, a thank-you followed by accusations, specifically accusations that have just forced him into making a not-confession confession, is hardly enough.

I run my eyes over his injured arm, over his battered and bruised face and the thin mattress on the bunk against the wall. It’s speckled with blood. Evan saved my life and then took a beating for it. Lord only knows what else they’ve done to him.

He could be dying right now, could be dead before the scheduled execution. Could he have escaped it all if he hadn’t saved me? Had escape ever been part of his plan? Or had he planted the bomb knowing his life would be forfeit anyway?

It doesn’t matter, any more than the reason he did it. What matters is that for a few minutes I am going to be the Emoter he knew years back, the one that may still exist behind my wall of lies. “I can at least get you medical treatment, something for the pain.”

His arm across the bar starts to tremble and he takes a breath. “Don’t bother, I’ve been worse.” He pauses. “Thank you for coming, Priestess.”

“I have to bother,” I say before he can turn away. I lower my voice to a whisper and pray that no one hears me. “You know I do.”

His one good eye flickers and that long ago sadness enters it, along with an all too familiar longing. Deeper, stronger than I remember. “No, you don’t. You shouldn’t be here,” he says again. He lowers his voice to a quivering whisper. “You’re in danger, Neri.”

Damn. His warning wasn’t just about the bomb. He has something more he needs to tell me, but he can’t. And now he’s used my real name and they’ll know he knows me, too.

But don’t they already? We’re from the same parish. We were in the same Sectioning. Surely those records are in the archives. Surely as soon as they learned his name, they examined his background. Discovered his mother’s subversion, maybe even wondered if he and I have maintained a secret connection through the years.

 His eyelids start to droop. The tremble turns to shaking. As he loses his battle against unconsciousness and slides to the floor, I spastically press the call button and wonder if they think I am a dissident too.

 

The Liars, Book One of the PostPlague Trilogy

pretty pretty cover

Book One of the Trilogy is here. Available on Amazon.

Freedom is the first lie.

274 years have passed since hatred, greed and corruption created the plagues that took down civilization. Out of the chaos comes a new religion, Reyism, and an ideal government, the Temple. The Temple generously provides all citizens with daily injections of life-saving serum, and an ideal test to assign them to their ideal jobs. They have achieved utopia, or so the Prophet preaches.

It’s a lie.

Neri Symmes’ survival depends upon lies. She must lie to stay alive. She must lie to keep her sanity, because anyone who challenges the benevolence of the Temple, or her husband, the Prophet, risks savage punishment and execution. Then Neri discovers that two friends, one of them an old flame, are embroiled in a desperate scheme against the Temple. Joining them might mean true freedom, but it also means deceiving her sadistic husband, who has all the power–and all the serum–on his side.

 

Soon to be on other platforms.