A Murder for You

I read today someplace that if you are a writer, you should have an entire website, which should display excerpts from your work.  Good heavens.  How is it possible that I’ve written this blog for more than three years and never posted a single bit of my fiction (not to mention the utter absence of a website)?  Well, except that one time when I was trying to write about sex, and thought, “Now, THAT’s an interesting thing to post,” so I did. In 2007.  Otherwise, nada.

But I am indeed a writer, and I have in fact written an entire novel, and a number of short stories, one of which will shortly be coming out in a fine journal (in a separate post, I plan to flog that journal like mad, encouraging all of you to buy it, so they will know that I do have a few friends, despite the weird subject of that story).  So, I’ve decided I will follow that somewhat random piece of advice, and here post an excerpt from The Secret War, which someday might actually be for sale at your local Barnes & Noble (not to mention your local independent bookstore) if all goes well.

I picked the shortest, most coherent thing I could excerpt, which is the part where the first murder takes place.  This murder occurs in an interesting location, because all murders should.  The book itself is set in a small town in Bavaria, on the border of East Germany, West Germany, and Czechoslovakia.  From the names of those places, places that no longer exist, you might also guess that it is set in the past.  If you did, you would be correct.  It is set in 1969, in fact.   The village is home to a small American military base — on top of the highest hill on the base is a listening post.  There are a lot of antennas on that hill, and a mushroom shaped hut where guys sit around with big black headphones over their ears eavesdropping on the enemy.

What are they listening for?  Well, the main idea was that if a lot of planes started to head from, say East Germany, to Western Europe, the guys in the headphones would let people know.  The listening post is not very secret –the antennas are hard to hide– but it is still not a place just anybody is allowed to be on.  And that’s why it’s good to have someone murdered up there who isn’t supposed to be there.  So, with that in mind, here it is — an excerpt from my novel.

Chapter 6

Every night, a few hours before the end of his shift at midnight, the soldier ran between the two buildings at the top of the hill, clutching the rubber pouch full of the night’s reports, eluding the spotlight that slashed the darkness with streaks of light. When he’d been a boy he’d played a game like the one he played tonight. Coming home late from a friend’s house, he’d cut around the puddles of light created by streetlamps, passing cars, and porch lights, eluding the lights as though they were his enemies. Darkness meant safety. Tonight he was not far from boyhood as he ran toward and through the darkness on this foreign hill in this foreign place, like a swimmer moving through clean, cold water.

Before he’d come here, when he’d thought they would send him to Vietnam instead, he had often dreamed of death. But he had never dreamed of the actual dead, only of their sudden absence. In his dreams, a loved one would fall silent or no longer be in the room. He’d notice their silence and know they were gone. Sometimes his dreams would be of the event right before death — the explosion, the burst of gunfire, the menacing face of the enemy. And so, before tonight, he had never seen the dead, not in repose and not in the moment immediately after they make their passage from life into death.

At first he thought the body was a bulky pack left on the path by a soldier during a march that had ended abruptly. He bent to move the object out of his way and saw it was a man, sprawled across the path as though he had known the runner would come this way and help him. But the young man knew instinctively it was too late to do anything to help.

He touched the body and his hand came away warm and sticky. The spotlight fell across the body and illuminated the dead man, the spreading pool of blood beneath him and the truth that our skin only just barely keeps at bay our blood’s desire to free itself from our bodies, the way a weak dam barely contains the water behind it.

The dead man — for the young soldier knew without a doubt the man was dead — was almost his age. His angelic face under a mop of light hair stared wordlessly at the dark night sky. He wore black trousers and a t-shirt that might once have been white, but was now soaked and dark. The sharp object that had ended the man’s life had slashed through the t-shirt.

But the young man didn’t think about any of this until later. At this moment, he thought immediate and terrified thoughts, chief among them being whether whatever dark and angry thing was out there in the night might be coming for him too. He turned from the sight he’d dream about for the rest of his life, and ran back toward the light of the listening hut, no longer a stranger to death.

24 thoughts on “A Murder for You

  1. Can’t wait to read the book Lily! A personally signed copy, of course, bought at an independent bookstore here in Santa Barbara when you come for a book-signing!

  2. Debby — there are so many good reasons to come to Santa Barbara! But THAT sounds like a lot of fun. And then afterwards we can go and have margaritas. xoxo

  3. Definitely remind us when your story comes out! — It’ll be what tides us over while we wait with bated breath to read your novel! Thanks for this taste, bloody tho’ it is. xo

  4. The location sounds like Bindlach, which was considered a post instead of a base. (Different terminology depending on which branch of the service.)

    I’ve enjoyed what you’ve posted so far.

  5. Wow.
    So beautifully written. I love the comparison between the soldier, as a child, dodging the puddles with light in them, and the spotlight.
    I can’t wait to read more!

  6. WOW!!! Very well written and beautiful. The comparisons are great and the scene is one you can easily imagine. 🙂

    let me know when it comes out!!!

  7. Debra, Jy’lenn, and Firedrake — thank you, and welcome!

    Sue — I’m so glad. And thank you for the post/base clarification. I’m sure if I ever manage to sell this an editor will have plenty of things like this to say.

    Dear lovely Charlotte — you’re so sweet. (I’m looking forward to reading your book, by the way!!)

    Thank you ms. Jade.

    Marie — I will indeed. I just e-mailed the journal and I think November. xo

  8. I also noticed the blood’s desire to escape, oh isn’t that so true? Every time I slash myself with a knife or run into a blackberry bramble that desire is evidenced. What makes you a great writer is that you have noticed it too and managed to put it into a narration in such a way that it doesn’t make the reader notice how clever you are; it fits into the tale seamlessly. This may sound like shameless flattery, but I would read this book for sure. I love mysteries and I’m always looking for a new author to fill my insatiable desires.

    thanks for posting an excerpt.

  9. You know, Ms. HMH, I value your opinion and would never even suspect you of shameless flattery. Thank you.

    But I will say that I’ve realized, after posting this excerpt, that one reason I’ve never done it before is because it’s not really a proper blog post. In fact, I think it’s a little embarrassing to your friends, and I do think of the people who come here and visit as my friends, to read what you’ve written because it seems so personal in some ways. Now, I don’t think of my fiction writing as personal in the least — it’s the furthest thing from autobiography there is, in fact. But what do you say when someone offers their writing? (Well, of course, you say you like what you like …. but it’s still a little awkward for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, and not always awkward at all, because I’m always interested in the things my friends invent.) I do know that reading an excerpt on your friend’s blog is quite different from reading someone’s entire book — you get to do that in privacy, on your own terms, liking and disliking what you wish, and you don’t have to say a word about what you’ve read. But I know some people are curious about how the writing is going, and what it is about, so there you have it. I think what I will do in the end is find someone to make me a beautiful website, and then I will have a little section where I put excerpts of my fiction, for those who want to read that. But a blog is for other things! Except, of course, a blog that is all about writing, and one’s work, and then this sort of excerpt is just what you come expecting to read. Also, another place I’ve seen my friend’s work is when they’ve done something like the write a poem a day thing, and posted the day’s draft, and then made it disappear a day or so later. (Marie Gauthier, who is an accomplished poet, does this, and I love reading her drafts.)

  10. to keep the reports dry.

    in fact, everything in the listening hut is rubberized — making it (theoretically at least) difficult to eavesdrop on the eavesdroppers.

    and thanks

  11. “…the truth that our skin only just barely keeps at bay our blood’s desire to free itself from our bodies…”

    Add me to the list of those who think that’s a great line. I have a new appreciation for my skin. I’m going to better about applying sunblock.

  12. As one who has been writing only 15 months, and who is mightily resistant to all those suggestions that something…um…larger…ought to be forthcoming, I so enjoy posts like this from “real writers”.

    It helps to make the writing process itself more accessible to those of us who are still scared to death of it. In the midst of all the inconceivably casual chatter about writing – “I just finished the 19th chapter last night, whilst preparing a lovely sorbet for the dinner party” – comes a perfectly straightforward example of good writing, without any hype at all.

    I not only appreciated the writing, I found myself encouraged by it. The fact that it’s still “in process” may be the key. In any event, thanks for the decision to post.

  13. Bloglily! Wow! I didn’t know your novel contained murder and mayhem! What a nice scene in addition to its suspensefulness.

    (Funnily enough, speaking of this post’s lead-in, I’m going to have an official Web site here pretty soon–and just for the reasons you state!)

  14. Wow. I am deeply impressed by the SHR (having been brought up south of The Line and “edicated” at a fine southern school with a competing journal. Can’t wait to read it when it comes out.

    You’ve inspired me to dig out and finish my own story of murder and general upsets!

  15. Ms. Floating Ink — well, I’m deeply impressed with what you can do with some raspberries and a few words. Murder and General Upsets! Yes!!

    Lisa, It does indeed. Not a lot, but enough. Or so I hope. And let me know what that official website launches, o kay?

    Oh, dear Ms. Shoreacres, I think of you as fearless, so do not let writing in any way create any sort of fear, okay? If you write only what you want to write, which for me is pretty much only what i love to read, you will be fine. And you are right to resist all urgings that you do things you don’t want to do!

    OP — Yes, it is, isn’t it!!

    Dear Ben, I think you might have to pick up some armor at the sunblock store. xo

  16. I’ve saved this post for a moment when I knew I would be able to read it properly. I’ve been waiting for an excerpt you know. Now I can only say…surely you’re not going to keep us hanging? Who is this soldier and why has he ended up there? And more importantly who is this body and what was he doing? Is the soldier just the ‘discoverer’? Or will he be more involved? I love the setting–the 60s in eastern Europe–nice and ripe for some good tension! Thanks for sharing and can’t wait to read more!

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