Do you remember text adventure games on the computer?
Before the detailed graphical user interfaces that we see now became ubiquitous, computer adventure games were text-only. The dragons, castles, and treasures weren't generated by an expensive graphics engine, but by a much more powerful and flexible thing: the gamer's imagination.
"You are at the edge of the forest. There is a white house to your left. A path leads west."
I loved text adventures. When I first played Adventure (also known as the Colossal Cave), I entered into an agreement with the game designer. I agreed to believe whatever he told me as long as he promised me an intriguing and exciting ride.
The mystery plays a similar game with the reader.
There's a crime to be solved, and it's up to our sleuth (usually an amateur who somehow got embroiled in this mess) through circumventing the usual methods to outwit the perp(s) and probably the police. The game is that the reader has a fair chance of guessing right along with the sleuth, and it has to be fun. And authors have to play the game such that at the end, the reader says, "Oh! I never guessed. But now that you've told me, I see it. How could I have missed that?"
I've read mysteries that don't play fair, and I always feel like hurling the book against a wall. But when I as a reader stay fooled for a good portion of the story, I feel an extra satisfaction as all the threads weave together and the tale wraps up in a way that feels inevitable.
As for me, I also need to like the main character(s) if I'm to enjoy a book. Even when I don't immediately connect with a heroine, there has to be something that intrigues me about her or some reason that I'm giving her a chance to prove herself. Some of my favorite novels have turned out to be the ones in which I couldn't imagine finding a foothold, though. I don't like vanilla settings, either; if an entire book consists of scenes at an office, then at a restaurant, then with the hero waking up in his home and getting dressed for the day (yawn), then with a bunch of talking-heads phone calls (double yawn), I start to drift off. I read for a vicarious experience in a place I've never been to, doing something I wouldn't generally do myself. And that's what I try to give my readers--while telling an interesting story that hangs together.
It's not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. Wait--aren't they? It seems like it, if you look at the wealth of free material out there. But are they all doing it right? You as readers are now the new gatekeepers, and you get to decide which books succeed and which fail. It's a bold new adventure out there. Will you take the plunge and read a few small press and indie authors?
The forest awaits.
*~*~*~*Keep reading to get a sneak peek of NICE WORK. Enjoy!
"I don't think it's a good idea to go to a sex club, ever." Jacquidon shook her head to emphasize this. "Even if I do think Yancey's killer hangs out there."
Chantal shrugged. "How bad could the place be? Right here in Renner."
"At the edge of town. In what passes for a red light district here."
"It'll be fun. What shall we wear?"
"We're not going anywhere."
"I need something to eat, and I can't eat THAT." Chantal held her nose and pointed. A disgusting smell leaked from the oven.
Jacquidon opened the oven door, but couldn't even bring herself to stir the mess. She turned the oven off, leaving the failed casserole to deal with later.
Chantal had disappeared, probably into Jacquidon's closet to find suitable costumes for going to a club that was oriented towards . . . what? Jacquidon skimmed the article they'd found again, but it didn't say specifically.
"Oh, God," she said to the dog. "I can't believe we're going to do this. But what could it hurt to ask around a little?"
Fala tilted his head and regarded her solemnly.
Chantal was deeply into costuming and always had been, ever since she was little and used to clomp around in their mother's high heels draped in whatever satiny garb she could find. Still, it was a surprise to see her step out in a faux 1960s airline stewardess getup, complete with white pleated miniskirt and white go-go dancer boots with tassels.
"Surely that wasn't in MY closet. You look like a redheaded Nancy Sinatra."
"Thanks." Chantal tossed her hair. "Now, let's do you. Think Madonna in the eighties, or Bettie Page in the forties. Which do you want--gypsy whore or pin-up?"
She finally acquiesced to a "modified schoolgirl" outfit: white blouse with lacy black bra peeking through, plaid miniskirt (actually a skort), white ankle socks, black Mary Janes with a two-inch heel. And a bow on top of her head that made her look patently ridiculous.
"You look great!" Chantal grabbed her keys. "We'll take my car, in case the entire CSD employees club is there. They won't recognize it."
"Oh, God." Jacquidon took a last look in the hall mirror, fluffed her hair, and sighed.
# # #
"No wonder the mayor is afraid of this dive," whispered Chantal into her ear as Jacquidon followed her into the club's dim lobby. The concrete floor was littered with trod-on cigarette butts and dead leaves from the withered landscape shrubs outside.
The pulsing music was loud even out here, and Jacquidon had to shout through the opening in the ticket window. "What's the cover charge?"
"Sliding scale," the attendant yelled back. Somewhere between twenty and eighty, he was leather-clad from head to toe. Around his neck was a spiked dog collar the likes of which Jacquidon hadn't seen since Sid Vicious went out of style, but otherwise he was unremarkable-looking. "Five if you're dressed according to the theme, eight-fifty if you're in club clothes, ten for street clothes." His eye roved over them. "That'll be ten each."
Chantal popped forward. "How would I look if I were in accordance with the theme?"
He rattled off a list, a bored waiter reciting specials. "Leather, boots, teddies, whips, chains, vinyl, hoods, Goth."
"We're on Yancey's guest list," Chantal lied. Jacquidon freaked a little.
But the man frowned. "That a handle?" He scanned papers pinned to the inner wall. "Folks don't use mundane names here too often." He shook his head. "Don't find the name."
"Are you sure?"
He looked them up and down again. Chantal fluttered her lashes.
From behind came a cranky voice. "What's holding up the line?"
The gatekeeper shook out his spiked dreads. "OK, I guess for you two it's five each, just 'cause it's you. You look like first-timers. Remember--we're no-sex, no-nudity."
"So's my sister. But I'll bear that in mind, love." Chantal threw him a kiss and a ten.
He chuckled and waved them through the curtain.
Beyond a thick black canvas drape lay the unknown: the smoke, the stink, the noise.
"I really don't think this is such a good idea," Jacquidon said. "You've got work in the morning." She didn't even want to touch the curtain; it looked dirty. But Chantal pushed her way through, and she felt she had to follow. After all, she was the big sister.
A techno-metal cover version of "Crimson and Clover" filled the room. As her eyes adjusted she could sense that a crowd clad largely in latex and leather pounded the dance floor. The newspaper writer hadn't been making it up.
The decor was dim: flashing candlelight with mild fog machine, stone fountains splashing into themselves on small square tables, and lots of candles. Red-cushioned benches lined the walls and strange people lounged on them. The sound was being spun from a Juliet balcony over the bar by someone looking much like Alice Cooper in his prime or Tim Curry in his signature "Dr. Frank-N-Furter" role, except for the black fingernails.
On three platforms scattered around were go-go dancers wearing kitty-cat ears and fuzzy boots. Two girls inhabited cages hung from the ceiling on either side of the DJ balcony. They seemed to be having fun playing Solitaire, even if they looked slightly jaded.
"I suppose it's like any other club in which most of the occupants could be characters from an old Prince video," Jacquidon said. She stood next to Chantal surveying the chaos, standing among several multiply pierced bikers and punks, what looked like a tall child in an Energizer-pink latex bunnysuit, and a mild-looking, slightly overweight middle-aged guy in chains. For these first few moments the two of them were Untouchables, surrounded by a Sphere of Isolation about three feet wide. That seemed to bode ill.
"Let's get out of here," Jacquidon croaked into the smoke, but after a moment the crowd accepted them and swallowed them up.
"They just wanted to check our scent," said Chantal. "Remember the city council and the ongoing fight. Gotta be sure we aren't ringers."
"Someone said 'wringers'? Tell me more," said a squeaky voice behind them. Jacquidon turned to find a stalky, anorexic-looking teenager (he looked at most fifteen) in a priest's cassock. But it was the wrong color, a dark maroon--rather, a blood-red. Noting her discomfort, he laughed. "If it's any comfort, I do have limits; they're just way beyond most people's."
"Come on." Chantal latched on to her upper left arm and pushed their way through to the back wall, which was a long glass-topped bar. Under the glass and up the wall were displayed various gizmos and fetish gear for sale, which in her mind meant the city council was correct about the place qualifying as an SOB (as they had so delicately put it). The store was indeed openly selling plain-brown-wrapper stuff (and presumably paying sales taxes on it), the milder of which were a pink-and-black vinyl neck collar for a hundred and fifty dollars and fetish items Jacquidon didn't recognize. She preferred not to look too closely.
The barstools were almost filled, but Chantal landed on a free one and spun.
"Don't get anything to drink," Jacquidon hissed into her ear. The glassware was sure to be dirty. "Remember what we're here for."
"Do you see anybody you recognize from CSD?"
"How can you tell?" Chantal swiveled her head, her eyes going from hazel to green through the smoke. "Look beneath the surface."
"I wish I were invisible and could wander through here, looking."
"I knew you had kinks." Chantal laughed.
That attracted the attention of the barkeep. While the bartender tried to wait on Chantal and she flirted back, Jacquidon glanced around. She accidentally locked gazes with someone who looked familiar underneath all the Goth makeup and the face glitter. A pale, bony social X-ray a little taller than herself, thin flyaway hair in a gelled hi-lo bob . . . she knew this woman.
The woman's face tightened in recognition, as if seeing someone she'd rather not run into. Jacquidon opened her mouth to speak, only to realize all at once that it was her human resources nemesis, Ms. Hazelwood.
"Take care of things" could've meant "Get rid of Jacquidon legally" for him. And she'd have easy access to the office supply cabinet.
"Ms. Hazelwood? Remember me? Jacquidon Carroll? I left you a message about my boxes?" She hated sounding like one of those insecure women who inflect everything they say as a question. "I worked for Yancey. Didn't he used to come here a lot?"
Ms. Hazelnut broke eye contact and bolted for the back. Jacquidon gave chase, but there wasn't a place she could be cornered, just a back hall that was lit only by red bulbs. One step into it and Jacquidon was suddenly inside this really creepy movie she'd seen once, Heart of Midnight, and she froze. Turning tail exactly the way they did in the movies, she fairly ran back to find Chantal still at the bar, playing the coquette.
"Where did YOU go?" she asked. "You missed the excitement. No licking, no restraints, but one guy asked to worship my boots. I let him. There was widespread applause."
"I saw her," Jacquidon said shortly. "That awful HR representative. She comes here."
"Obviously she does, if you just followed her. I was afraid I might never see you again."
"You almost didn't. But I know now who left that paper behind on the conference room table. She must not have realized it was in with the stuff she had me sign. She didn't want to chat. I don't know what she could've been afraid of, but anyway." Jacquidon glanced around again, but didn't see any other familiar faces. "I'll bet I know now who is watching over those thefts. If not something even worse."
"Now that you-know-who's gone--y'know--won't it stop?"
"The investigation hasn't. I'm going to report what I know to the police. It could be important." She didn't mention her concern about the cops claiming that the note had been written to her--which would be tough to fight, since she was the one giving them the note, and she couldn't explain for sure why she had it.
A movie began flickering on the wall behind them. Jacquidon realized the entire side wall was a screen of sorts. It was some kind of old stag-party film from the fifties or thereabouts, and everyone started hooting. The razzing and comments created even more cacophony.
"I don't want to do a MST3K on ancient porn," she said. "Let's bail before we're ruined for life."
"I already am," Chantal said, but allowed Jacquidon to lead her away as the bartender waved fondly. "I paid ten bucks. I'm not sure I got my ten-spot's worth yet."
As they hurried through the lobby, the ticket boy smiled, apparently remembering them. "Too bad you're leaving us--it's almost late enough for the BDSM crowd to get here. You were way too early."
"A pity," said Jacquidon. "But some of us have to work in the morning." Sadly, she didn't.
"Work, work, work," he said, waving one hand. "So how was your first time, ladies? Too much? Too little? Boring? Freakish? Or, perhaps, hypnotic and addictive?"
"We declined to participate, but we filed the experience under 'adventures to tell your grandchildren," said her sister brightly.
"Who will surely think it's as quaint and prudish a story as we thought the 'Girl on the Flying Trapeze' song was," said the jaded recruiter, turning to the next customer. "Welcome!"
Out in the parking lot, Chantal rode an adrenaline high. "Look at that car," she said, pointing at the wreck parked next to her old-style Volkswagen. "See the license plate? IMA-DV8. Think about it, Jac." She pirouetted in front of her fender. "I feel so vanilla."
"Thank God," said Jacquidon, leaping into the passenger seat. "Putting cinnamon in chili is offbeat enough for me. Let's get out of here."
Visit Denise's blogs at shalanna.livejournal.com and deniseweeks.blogspot.com (and be sure to leave a comment!)
You can also visit her Her Amazon author pages:
Nice Work is available now from Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
You can also visit her Her Amazon author pages:
Nice Work is available now from Amazon in paperback and Kindle.