Beyond The Pale

Fiction, Your First Look at Jacki and the Prefect

Note: This post isn’t safe for the RLC/NWAG crowd, so if you intend to get offended by fiction being written the way fiction is normally written, then don’t read this post.

In Which Jacki and the Prefect Meet in his office, despair by one but rejected by the other.

“Goddammit!” The prefect yelled as he threw the slate against the wall, just missing Jacki’s head and causing a barrage of broken slate and glass from the stained-glass saint that it had just martyred to burry broken bits of shrapnel into the back of her duster. “They aren’t aliens,” he ranted. “They aren’t even all that advanced. They’re just a few astronauts and scientists who happened to be about to test drive a fucking Einsteinium Drive when the Big Shit went down.”

Jacki wasn’t all that well educated, but she’d paid attention in history at the Crèche. “How can that be possible? The Big Shit was what? 2500 years ago wasn’t it?”

The prefect, who had been systematically smashing small bits of glass on his desk with what looked like it might have been either a torture instrument or a bookend, paused. “Closer to 3000 actually, but what does that have to do with anything? I told you, they were testing an Einsteinium Drive. They probably swung by the space station, which we sure as hell weren’t going to need for a while, raided everything usable out of it, and flew out—oh, 20 years or so, hooked a uie and came back. Obviously time dilation kicked in if they are still alive. If they ever come down, which I doubt because they won’t be able to get fuel to exit the atmosphere again, we’ll see how long the trip was for them.” He took his bookend torture device and threw it at his Bibliotype, which also sent shrapnel all over the room. Jacki was starting to be glad that she hadn’t traded in her travel clothes for something more…modern. If she had, by this time she’d probably be on her way to the doctor to get sown up rather than watching the supreme leader of the weirdest religion she’d bumped into so far destroy his own Holy Sanctum, which anyone else would have called a tastelessly decorated office.

Between almost but not quite explaining how people from before the Big Shit were still alive and wrecking his office, the prefect seemed to have worn himself out. He stopped his frantic pounding on things and stood for a moment with his head down, shoulders slumped in defeat; then he turned to look out the window. “We’re in a motherfucking story. The narrator is doing something here, and the writer has a reason for all of this. Everything works out in the end, at least that’s what I tell them.” He shook his head slowly. “But I don’t even know what kind of story we’re in. I can’t find the plot points. I don’t see an arc.”

Jacki was more than a little peeved. At least one piece of exploding plaster had cut right through the left sleeve of her duster, right above the elbow, and while it hadn’t cut her, it would be expensive to get fixed right, so she wasn’t disposed to try to ease the prefect’s little existential crisis. “Maybe it’s ironic,” she said. “A reverse damsel in distress story. I did save your ass back there. Sure, that’s not a novel, but maybe it’s enough material for a short story.”

The prefect’s head slumped again, further, if possible. Jacki felt an almost irresistible urge to walk up and push on it to see if it would fall all the way off. “Then why haven’t we been absorbed back into the subconscious, where those of us he has made real in the minds of others will live forever?”

This pusillanimous, winey bitch was really starting to bother Jacki now. “Maybe he was working on a sequel, but couldn’t sell the original because it sucked. Maybe the editor thought the world would be better if the heroine ditched the damsel, or dudesel in this case, and the story never even got published, so all you have here is a hand written, page on a napkin or notebook that hasn’t been thrown out yet which, if I get you right would annihilate us. Maybe we’re stuck in a journal,” she was getting the hang of this now, starting to have some fun “that he is going to pass on to generations of his kids without ever giving meaning to our creation. Do you think we continue to exist if he dies but the text continues? And what happens when we reach the end of what he actually wrote? We just start over?”

The barbing seemed to steel the prefect for something. He stood up straighter. “It’s not like that.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.” He closed his eyes and put his hands together palms flat, in front of his chest, tilting his head to the ceiling. “Dear reader,” he intoned, for pretentious as the word sounds, that’s the only word that really works here, “please turn your book.”

“Wait a second,” Jacki broke in. “Don’t you only address the narrator? Isn’t the reader the closest thing you nutbags have to a devil?”

“Shut the fuck up.” He sounded serious.

She shut the fuck up.

“Dear reader,” he began again, “please turn your book toward you so that you can see it from above while continuing to hold it open. I’m not sure how I know, but I know. You’re only about half way through aren’t you? Well, I don’t mean to be meta-referential, but the narrator has given me existential pusillanimosity, not physical cowardice, and to be half way through a story with no discernable plot—“

“Maybe your devilish readers see a plot that you don’t.”

“I said shut the fuck up.” Pause. “And to be half way through a story with a lost plot or no story arc is simply something I’m not willing to put up with any longer. Please remember me as I see myself, not ass that asshole presents me. Amen.”

“Um,” Jacki began, her irreverence slowly souring to concern at his “please remember me” comment.

“Yes, that makes me a heretic,” he said as he walked from his window back to his desk, where he pulled opened a drawer and began to rummage around. “Fuck it. Here’s a plot point for you,” he said as he pulled a small semi-automatic handgun from the drawer, quickly pressed it to his right temple, and pulled the trigger.

A shot rang out, but it wasn’t the muffled sound of a small caliber bullet leaving a barrel that was pressed against a sound-absorbing ball of meat. Rather, it was the booming of Jacki’s “Dirty Harry” as it launched a round that turned the prefect’s toy gun into nothing so much as a pile of molten metal, shattered ivory, and burning gunpowder (not good for his complexion), while cleanly removing the three middle fingers of his right hand, leaving only his thumb mostly intact and his pinky finger dangling from a gory bit of tendon. The prefect wasn’t really too worried about his hand at the moment anyway. It’s destruction had been so complete and sudden that his brain hadn’t even registered the pain yet. What his brain had registered was the shattering of his right zygomantic bone, which coupled with burning meat, sent the viscous fluid in his right eyeball splattering around the room and left the sack that had milliseconds before been an eyeball dangling from a cluster of screaming nerves. The prefect was lucky that his brain couldn’t really sort out what was going on at the moment because beyond the whole blown up eye thing, it was also getting signals that in better circumstances it would have interpreted as the complete obliteration of his right mandible, which sent teeth and shards of teeth shredding through his tongue, embedding themselves in his palate, and spraying out the—mostly—unburned left side of his face.

As the prefect crumpled to the floor, Jacki walked over to stand over him and pulled out her bandana, which she used to beat out the growing fire in his long hair. Once the fire was out, she checked his pulse, which was, to use medical jargon, Not Good, stood up, and theatrically blew at the smoke still rolling from the barrel of her ancient .45. When she reloaded her cartridges, she would have to try to get better gunpowder. Then she yelled for help.

“Sorry,” Jacki said to prefect’s jaggedly breathing body as alcolytes came running into the room, not because she had called, but because they had heard the gunshot and explosion, “but if your cool aid drinkers here get you to the hospital in time, I don’t think the narrator is quite done with you yet.”


December 23, 2009 - Posted by | Fiction, NOT SAFE FOR RLC/NWAG CROWD, Writing


  1. This was definitely different than anything I’ve read before. Very interesting. I liked it. Very weird beginning, kind of left me confused for a bit. But I loved it at the end. Good stuff.

    Comment by Jonny E | December 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. Not safe? Because there’s *gasp* foul language? Wait a minute…I’m not part of that crowd, am I?

    You’ve got to read some Terry Pratchett.

    Comment by Rachel B. | December 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. Okay, okay, here I am. You can stop shouting with your silence now (wink wink). When I first read this, I immediately told you that I liked it but needed to read it again later first before being able to give any critical feedback. The thing is that I still like it. Here’s a critique: this is too short, so post more. No, but really I do like this, and I’ve got a couple of small, perhaps premature, critiques, but first come what I like. You know that I like autobiographical critical writing, self-referential writing, metawriting, writing writing. I like that you’re in this piece, and I love the religion focused on the narrator. You’re incorporating yourself as a central character in this section, and that’s something I want to embrace myself, so there you are. I know you say the prefect is supposed to be a prick, but even here I like the character. I hear your own voice in him–obvious, I know–but it’s not an entirely unlikeable part of your voice. Maybe I just need to see more of him to understand. Maybe what I like is A. the exchange between these two characters and B. the situation and subject matter itself. Positioning the reader as possible devil is not only hilarious but totally plausible and accurate in this schema. The idea of praying to the reader as diabolatry may be real genius, just so you know. The language itself is appropriate here, I think, but I like your serious but simultaneously irreverent style and tone (though irreverent isn’t really the right word because irreverence would undermine what you seem to be doing here, I think, so it’s a kind of self-aware humor that I like). There’s a lot I can say about this that I like, including the prefect not being able to find a plot point or arc; I think that’s not only a little relevent to the truth of reality, God, and humanity. It’s a metaphor but not only a metaphor: narrative is built into our reality as a whole.

    Critique? I’m limited in how much critique I can give to such a short clip of a larger work, but I did notice some things that distracted me as I read both times–both of which are probably matters solved in subsequent editing and revision. As such, they may not be helpful comments on an early draft. For one thing, I think this is kind of comma crazy. I know now that there’s really no universal standard for punctuation and grammar, especially with creative writing. MLA likes to give us a grounding point, but ultimately we all use punctuation according to our own personal rules that we develop. Sometimes I think the British style is far more logical, and sometimes I think the American style is. Much of the American style is about appearance, not function, which is pretty appropriate. Regardless, some of your comma usage distracts me and seems to disrupt the meaning rather than helpful to clarify it so that I had to decode. Most of the comma usage is fine, but here’s an example of what I mean.

    “Between almost, but not quite, explaining how people from before the Big Shit, were still alive, and wrecking his office, the prefect seemed to have worn himself out.”

    This reminds me of usage from a couple hundred years ago where the intent of comma placement is hard to discern. Ultimately, there’s a critique for you that tells you what I think about this: in searching for critiques, I’m reduced to punctuation.

    Another comment is some of your language needs to be tightened up and made less passive in places. This is what I mean about an issue more of subsequent revisions. The occasional space between words, as it were, needs to be closed so that it’s all meat and no filling. If this is cut, expanded, compounded, and compressed to a point where everything is solid and necessary and nothing (or little) could easily be cut out, then the power of the writing and what is strong about the language style will come out a lot more strongly. Think about how Atlas Shrugged feels: all meat, little lettuce. But you know this already, so I’m not sure how helpful this is. I really think I’d need to read a much bigger section. And talking to you about it in person would be way better.

    Comment by wordorgy | December 31, 2009 | Reply

  4. Hi, David. Well written. A question… You say, “fiction being written the way fiction is normally written.” Just wondering if you would please elaborate on “the way fiction is normally written.” Cheers!

    Comment by Steve Fox | January 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Christian fiction has a tendency to modify people’s language to reflect an outdated or at least highly censored set of verbal mores. Within the world of secular fiction, characters are normally made to speak as the author imagines that they might speak in real life. Thus, for example, the prefect would have no trouble taking God’s name in vain, but he might have trouble referring to something as “narrator damned” in common conversation. Likewise, a preacher in a book isn’t going to get up in the pulpit and drop the “f” bomb any morel than a Sergeant Major in the Army is going to ask a soldier to get him a piece of paper working without calling it that “fucking” piece of paperwork. Christian fiction sanitizes a world that isn’t sanitary, and secular fiction isn’t required to do that. That’s all I meant by “how fiction is normally written.”

      Comment by davidjgross | January 2, 2010 | Reply

      • I was afraid of that: we’re in violent agreement on how fiction is normally written. I do, though, have a follow-on issue. Each genre has a target audience, and that audience usually has very specific expectations. For example, a “hard sci-fi” author must craft the story around plausible theories that can basically pass a scientist’s “probable or smell test.” Those writing “softer sci-fi,” however, can make broader-brush statements and take more leaps of faith. (And readers of these two types of fiction often literally hate each other as their individual expectations aren’t met! I’ve read numerous comments that the only real sci-fi is hard sci-fi.) Likewise, the target audiences for secular fiction (please forgive the over generalization) and Christian fiction are also usually quite different. Your statement, “Christian fiction sanitizes a world that isn’t sanitary” implies that dialogue involving a Hell’s Angel’s biker, for example, should never be “cleaned up.” However, I work in the real world with many people who generally speak like your Sergeant Major. And, many (…and I mean MANY…) times, once they get to know me, they actually DO “tone down” their language. So, my question: is it really wrong to craft a story in a style that is expected by the intended readers, regardless what how those who enjoy another genre might think, when it can accurately reflect the unsanitized real world?

        Comment by Steve Fox | January 3, 2010

  5. Steve, I agree with everything you said. I have read a lot of Christian fiction in my life, and I can tell you that if there is one thing I don’t want to write, it’s Christian fiction. I don’t mean to imply in any way that there is anything wrong with sterilizing dialog or taking other typical elements out of a narrative, for instance the sex life of the characters; what I do mean to imply is that I’m not down with that. I have no intention of writing for a Christian audience, though I think that my worldview will come through in my writing in other ways, and if you ever see me getting published by a Christian publisher, you will know that I’ve given up hope on ever really perfecting my craft and have, for lack of a better word, “sold out.” This, also, does not imply that those who write for a Christian audience are sellouts, only that I want to write for a broader base of readers, and I want to write about things that the typical Christian–that doesn’t exist, so lets say the textbook evangelical–doesn’t want to read about. I know that many of the people who look at my facebook page are from the church, and my blog feeds to my facebook page. Rather than offend people by not giving them fair warning of what I’m doing with a project–at this point, not much more than a blurb, thought there is a lot more on paper than you will see on this blog–I’d rather just state up front what they should skip. It’s like a website that is kind enough to tell you that a certain article is NSFW for one reason or another. They are free to post such content, but they should let me know about it so that I don’t open the content with my boss looking over my shoulder.

    Comment by davidjgross | January 3, 2010 | Reply

    • Gotcha! Even as a very minor publisher, most submissions that I see are absolutely horrid. Two main reasons: inability to string together two sentences that complement each other and lack of commitment & dedication to a tight, workable style. Drives me nuts!

      Another question: How do you define “my craft”?

      Comment by Steve Fox | January 3, 2010 | Reply

      • I’m going to give you the short answer to this one: my craft is the art of using visual symbols to create a picture or narrative in the mind of another human. That is, storytelling. There’s much more to it than that, but the long answer would probably be less clear than the short one.

        Comment by davidjgross | January 3, 2010

  6. Hmmmmm. Better try the longer explanation when you have time. Otherwise, I have no idea why your publishing something with a Christian publisher would be selling out. Sounds like you actually aim for a specific genre, style, or … ?

    Comment by Steve Fox | January 3, 2010 | Reply

    • As soon as I posted my short answer, I realized that I was going to have to explicate a little bit, especially on the sellout point, so let me give it another try. There are things that I would love to sell to a Christian publisher. For instance, if you have looked at some of my older posts, you will see that there are more than a few entries in a series that I’ve been calling “On Childhood.” These are mainly just short vignets of memories from my childhood, and while there hasn’t been a new one in a while, I can assure you that there will be more. Someday, I would love to take all of the raw material that I’ve been putting together about my childhood and make it into a book, and I’d love to sell something like that to a Christian publisher, mainly because the kind of audience that would be interested in MY childhood would be the kind that buys from a Christian marketplace.

      Likewise, the series that I’ve only just barely introduced, which I’m calling “From the Darkness” or something along those lines might or might not be good for a Christian publisher, depending on where it ends up. Again, I’d love to sell that to a Christian publisher if it ever became something of value, by which I mean if I ever reach the point in my spiritual walk where a Christian would find such a work’s conclusion edifying.

      Fiction, on the other hand, is a whole different story. I can only remember two Authors from when I used to read Christian fiction for whom I have any kind of nostalgia or positive regard, Stephen Lawhead and Frank Peretti. I can also remember two more books that came out of the Christian market that I remember liking, but I don’t remember who wrote them or what they are called. As far as I know, both of the authors that I mentioned above don’t write for Christian publishers anymore, and in the case of Lawhead, when he does, it is pure garbage. For example, talk to my wife (not my dad, who seemed to like the series) about Lawhead’s retelling of the Robin Hood story. Book one was tolerable, but the second one made me want to jab my eyes out, and I couldn’t even finish it.

      So there are two main reasons that I wouldn’t want to sell fiction to a Christian audience: 1) I want to write my fiction the way that I want to write it. I want my characters to talk like real people talk, and I want them to do things that real people do. I have a friend who goes to bars to pick up girls, even though he has a regular girlfriend who he plans on marrying. He says that when they get engaged, he will try to stop cheating on her. Unless I wanted to paste in some kind of conversion experience for a character who behaved like this, I wouldn’t really have a place for him in a novel that I was selling to a Christian publisher because I want to have the OPTION of leaving him as he is and still presenting him as a good person. This is just a weak version of the kinds of things that I want to be able to do. Basically, I want to be able to write whatever I want if people will read it, and the kinds of things that I want to put into my fiction aren’t the kinds of things that are OK for the Christian market. Therefore, I’d have to self-censor in order to be able to write to that market. I know. I know. We all self-censor everything that we write anyways, but I’d much rather censor for readability than for palatability, if you catch my meaning. 2) The quality issue mentioned above. If I can’t write fiction that is good enough to get purchased by a non-Christian publisher, then why would I have the hubris to consider my work done? I’d rather keep on working on it, get better, perfect my craft until instead of “Tuck” I’ve got “Cold Mountain.” If I can’t pull it off, well, that sucks for me. I think that I have the talent to make it happen if I’m willing to work hard enough to develop the skill.

      So there you have it. When I speak of my “craft” in a general sense as a writer, I don’t have any problem publishing to a Christian audience, or for that matter to an audience that doesn’t pay to read, AKA, on the internetz. On the other hand, if we are being specific and talking about fiction, I’ll write to non-paying audiences for feedback before I’ll sell an inferior product to a publisher that has a big readership simply because of who they claim to be serving in their publishing.

      Does that clarify? If not, I’m more than willing to discuss this further, but I might have a hard time making my thoughts on this make sense.

      Comment by davidjgross | January 9, 2010 | Reply

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