... have deserted if she'd asked them to serve the lich.
In preparation for my three-week press on Harvest of Fire, I'm trying to get my final flurry of queries done and out the door. I'd like to target all the agents I'm supposed to query for Twenty Palaces and send it all out.
Of course, no one has even requested a partial yet. I've been including a five-page sample, and I'm wondering if it might be the problem. Maybe it sucks.
Here is my humble request: I'm going to post my first five pages behind the cut. If you have time, please read as much of them as you want, then leave a comment letting me know if you read it all the way through or, if not, where you stopped reading.
When it comes to criticisms of my work, I'm pretty much bulletproof. You can't hurt my feelings (although you're welcome to try). I've barely looked at these pages in months. For all I know, they're cringe-worthy. Who knows? Feel free to mock my shame.
I also have a question at the end of the sample. If you have an opinion on that, let me know, please.
The most important thing I learned from the society was how to betray the people who loved and trusted me. I found my salvation in that lesson, as well as the salvation of the world.
Once, loyalty meant everything to me; I would have died rather than turn on a friend and I did, in fact, serve time for a man I hated. Looking back at the person I was, I barely recognize myself. It's like looking back at the life and memories of a whole other person.
This is the story of how I became myself. This is how I became a killer of demons.
It's a simple story, but it covers a lot of ground. The stranger who would become me was present for most of it; the rest is educated guesswork. As far as I'm concerned, it's as true as it needs to be. You'll have to judge for yourself.
Let's start the guesswork right now. Picture this:
A run-down house near the University of Washington. It's a typical September night--misty and cool. The foundation of the house is cracked, and the paint on the porch is flaked and ugly. It's a crooked, neglected house, but there's a small, pretty flower garden in front of it. It's quite colorful, although it's also fading in the growing darkness and cold of autumn.
The windows are unshuttered and dark. At first glance, the house seems empty, but then a swirl of tiny blue faerie lights appears in a downstairs window.
Then the lights drift toward the floor and vanished below the window sill. Darkness again.
After a moment, laughter. It's a man's laughter, slow at first, but building in pitch and intensity. He's happy, triumphant and maybe a little crazy at the same time, like a man suddenly freed of a terrible burden.
A wheelchair crashes through the window. It bounces into the yard, tearing through the garden. It lands on its side, one wheel spinning uselessly. The laughter grows stronger, and other voices join in.
That's all the guesswork for now. Let's get to the story of that stranger who would become me. The one whose values were so opposite of mine, and who nearly destroyed the world. His story begins like this:
Raymond Lilly stepped off the bus and squinted in the sunlight. He had been outside in the last three years, of course. He had gone out into the yard nearly every day, but now that he had his freedom, the sunlight seemed harsh.
He was a free man. He was going to stay that way.
A man carrying an overstuffed duffel bag brushed against him. Ray forced himself to remain calm. People around him moved quickly, chaotically, but that was how things were supposed to be. No one was watching. These were all free people, just as he was. He didn't have anything to fear from them. Probably.
At the far end of the bus station he saw his Uncle Karl leaning against a wall. Karl stood as far away as he could without actually standing in the street, and he had worn his big blue uniform, gun, cuffs, hat and all.
Ray walked toward him. Karl wasn't going to make things easy, but that was fine. Ray was ready.
Karl had nothing for Ray but a scowl. He didn't offer to shake hands. He jerked his thumb toward the passenger side of a Plymouth Reliant.
Ray walked to the passenger side. It was locked.
"Other one," Karl said. Ray nodded and climbed into the back seat. He set his backpack and manila folder on the seat. He clipped his seat belt across his chest. He was a seat belt person now. A paycheck person. Please God, let him become one of those happy paycheck people.
They pulled out of the parking lot and drove through the city. The last time Ray had ridden in a car, he'd had this same view--the back of a cop's head. At least this time he wasn't handcuffed.
"Thank you," Ray said. Seat belt people were polite people.
Karl looked into the rear view mirror and scowled. He looked very old and very sour.
It was an uneventful ride. Ray looked out the window. Clouds obscured the mountains, but the trees were beautiful. The blue and gray sky was beautiful. The Thai restaurants were beautiful. The power lines were beautiful. He was on the outside.
Karl drove straight to his home. Ray wanted to cruise by his parent's old house, just to have a look at it. Someone else would be living there now, of course, but Ray wanted to see the trees and lawns of his old street. But Karl drove by that neighborhood without comment, and the set of his jaw suggested that it was a bad time for Ray to ask for a tour.
Karl and Theresa's home was a stolid, middle-class house in Crown Hill. Ray was amazed by the way the neighborhood had changed. Little family homes had been torn down and replaced with houses so large they almost burst through the property lines. Other properties had been split and now held houses as tall and narrow as castle towers.
Karl parked and turned off the engine. They had arrived. Ray walked toward the house, his pack and folder in hand. The front door opened. Aunt Theresa shuffled into the daylight, her thin gray hair flopping in the breeze, her crooked, knobby fingers bent at a painful angle.
If her arthritis pained her, she hid it behind a smile. She hobbled down the stairs and embraced him.
The hug startled Ray. No one had touched him with kindness for three years. His throat suddenly felt thick and his chest felt light. He wasn't prepared for this. Didn't she understand that he wasn't prepared for this?
"Oh, Raymond," she said. "It's good to have you back."
Theresa released him, keeping her hand on his elbow. She led him toward the porch.
"Thank you," he said. Seat belt words seemed to be the only words he knew.
Karl grabbed Ray's other arm and led him around the outside of the house. Ray guessed he wasn't all that welcome after all.
Here's my questions:
Chapter One is obviously a prologue that's trying to pass. Should I just label it for what it is, or should I keep trying to trick people into reading it (since so many folks say they skip prologues?
Anything else you want to say about these pages are welcome. Remember, bulletproof.