The Commune Series: Suggestions from the Author to the Reader

I’ve argued with myself for quite a while regarding whether or not I would write something like this.  And then, I’ve also wondered if I should perhaps wait to write this until the initial three book series is complete.  Now that the audio book is out and I’m seeing so many of you jump on board (thank you so much for that, as well, you have no idea how happy this makes me), I’m starting to feel like maybe a little assistance in orientation is in order.

Overall, I think I’ve resisted the idea of this article mostly because I didn’t want to lessen the joy of a potential discovery on the part of the reader – when you solve a puzzle on your own, you invariably enjoy it so much more than if someone were to tell you, “Hey, look here.”  But then, it occurs to me that the game probably isn’t terribly fair if you as the player don’t know that there’s even a game to begin with.

So I thought I might give you a few hints, though you’ll need to seek out the answers on your own as you read through these books.  I will write a listing of points below that are spoiler free, followed by some that might contain spoilers if you’re good at reading between the lines; these will be clearly marked so you can avoid them as desired.

And then, if you don’t want to overturn every little rock, these stories can (it is my hope) be enjoyed passively by the casual reader.

As you read or listen to stories set within the Commune world, I would ask you to consider the following (in no particular order).

  • There was an overall theme I had in mind when I started writing these; a main point that I’m trying to get across to the reader.  Apart from that, I’m using these books as my own personal playground to explore and play with ideas as I go; specifically tied to human behavior.  More specifically, I wanted to explore the idea that we are all two people – we’re the public persona that we share with others and we’re the private persona that we keep hidden.  For some of us, that private persona is something we’re quite uncomfortable with and we avoid self examination.  The structure of the first and second books is designed to facilitate this exploration.
  • To the first point above, there are instances of Billy attempting to hide or obfuscate details from others, if he’s not just making a game attempt to play his cards as close to his vest as he can.  It doesn’t make him a bad person, does it?  We all do this in our day to day lives.
  • The first two books are related completely in interviews of the POV characters, carried out by a secondary character, Brian Chambers.  To this point, consider yourself being interviewed after surviving through some of the events of these books.  Would you share every little detail regarding what you did, thought, or experienced, or would you hold some things back out of shame or embarrassment?  Again, this goes back to the public versus private persona.  There are some things we simply would not admit, especially to an interviewer, though we might let details slip unintentionally as we told our story.  No one is a 100% effective obfuscator/liar 100% of the time.
  • If you find a gap in the narrative, or if a character’s behavior differs when described by two different people, this could tell you a few things…

Beware of Spoilers…

  • You have been warned.
  • You’ll notice that you never get to hear Billy’s side of the story directly from Billy’s point of view.  You have to rely on the accuracy of Jake and Amanda.
  • Does it seem to you as though Jake’s attitude toward killing others undergoes a moral shift between his POV and Amanda’s?  He seems rather broken up after the shoot-out at Pep Boys…
  • When Jake tells his side of the story, he seems more animated compared to how Amanda presents him.
  • Sometimes, a POV character encounters something he or she doesn’t understand.  Such a person might try to describe the experience, and that description probably sounds nonsensical to anyone who wasn’t there.  This is just a failing on the part of that person to accurately convey what he or she saw.  There’s always a logical explanation for what happened.
  • Amanda has many more POV chapters in book one than Jake.  This is probably because Jake makes it a habit to avoid Brian’s interviews.  The first book is the only time we’ll hear from Jake directly.  The definitude of those details which he struggles to convey is, as always, left for the reader to ascertain…

 

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The Utility of the (Unreliable) Narrator #writing #fiction

An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised.”

Wikipedia

“They’re all unreliable. Well, we all are, aren’t we?”

Gene Wolfe

Unreliable NarratorWhen I see a story told from a first person narrative, I always end up being cautiously hopeful.  I say “cautious” because I often times don’t get the payoff for which I had hoped.

It bugs me when I encounter a first person narrator that seems to know everything and never gets anything wrong, whose perceptions are always 100% dead on.  I don’t know anyone like that.  I’m certainly not like that.  50% of the time I’m wrong 100% of the time.

Remember the game “Telephone” that we used to play as kids?  Every time someone picked up a story and relayed it, the story was corrupted just a little bit.  Get a few degrees of separation and it became unrecognizable.  It was like looking at a bad copy of a really bad Xerox copy.  Well, a first person narrative is really just the first degree of separation, isn’t it?

Then too, people aren’t always totally up front when they’re relating a story.  There are certain aspects of themselves that they might just not want to share, whether due to embarrassment, shame, ill intent, self preservation, or any other number of very human motivations.  Depending on the person telling the story (with regard to moral character and fiber), the impact translated to the reader’s understanding of the fictitious reality thereby presented may be minimal…or profound.

Authors cognizant of this very human reality in their work are required to walk a fine line; imperfect human narrators promote verisimilitude yet, being too humanly imperfect (i.e. often wrong), there is a tendency to piss off the reader.  Why the hell would anyone want to read a story peppered with unreliable bullshit?

The challenge set for a practitioner of this technique is an aggregate of several requirements:

  1. Characters get things wrong but the author shall write from the perspective that the character is doing his or her best to get everything right.
  2. If your character is going to purposefully mislead, that character shall come out at the beginning of the story (or before the first falsehood is perpetrated) and state that so the reader can be on guard.  Doing otherwise is simply cheating on the part of the author.
  3. The narrative and flow of the story shall be such that the work can still be enjoyed should the reader choose to consume the plot passively without asking questions (or in those cases where the inconsistencies simply go unnoticed).
  4. As the author, you shall present enough bread crumbs and key hints such that, when inconsistencies in the narrative are detected, the truth may be discovered by the reader (with a bit of deductive problem solving).

Practitioners of this technique as well as readers of the Commune Series are advised to keep these little ideas in the backs of their minds…

Commune Book One is available right now as an ebook for a couple of bucks and as a paperback for only a few bucks more.

Jake Martin: The AK-47

Jake starts the story carrying an Army issue M4; however things tend to happen in these stories and he eventually ends up with a Century Arms C39 model AK-47.  Jake’s likes and dislikes tend to be a bit of a mystery – consequently it seemed right to me that he carried the world’s version of an Everyman rifle.  The AK-47 is without a doubt the undisputed winner in the Most Popular Rifle in the World contest.

The chief reasons for the rifle’s dominance (ease of us and reliability) are also the main factors that drew Jake to the weapon.  He’s just not a gun guy.  He doesn’t care how fancy or whizzbang his weapon is.  He’s not a marksman and the chances are likely that he never will be.  He just wants a weapon that he can count on to function reliably with zero jams or malfunctions, whether he’s run 1,000 or 10,000 rounds through it.

From the perspective of the author, the rifle does little to betray any of the characteristics of Jake’s inner personality – those aspects of himself that he struggles to keep private.  This is intentional.

Commune Book One is available now on Amazon and Kobo.  It is also currently in production by Blue Heron Audio to be released as an audio book on Audible.com.  The narration will be performed by R. C. Bray, whose numerous credits include The Martian by Andy Weir, The Mountain Man series by Keith C. Blackmore, and the wildly successful Arisen series by Glynn James.

Billy: The Remington 870 Tactical Express

Keeping along this theme of weapons matching character personality, I wanted to talk about Billy, who was without a doubt my favorite character to write in Commune Book One.  He was my main point of contact when I needed to inject a little humor back into the story to keep things from getting too damned depressing.  His interactions with the other characters ended up being surprising to me in many cases; I always knew where I was going with him and had each interaction well mapped out but I had such a good sense of his character going into the story that his dialogue was the easiest for me to write.  I was simply taken by bouts of inspiration while writing his parts, finding it easy to shift into his manner of speaking as well as thinking.  When going back through the revision process, there was a lot of dialogue I had to tune up in order to get the personality of each character dialed in tighter so that they would feel like distinct people when you read from their perspective.  They all got revised accept for Billy; I got him right the first time.

If the characters in my story were actually real people, Billy is the one I’d most want to have a beer with.  Well, him or Gibs.  More on Gibs later, though…

Billy is an old-school Cahuilla Indian born sometime around the early 60’s.  He needs an old school scatter gun.  It doesn’t get any more old school than an 870.  The model pictured above is as close as I could find to what he was carrying in my book, minus the two-point sling and receiver-mounted side saddle – it even has the magazine tube extension he mentions in the story.  No, he wouldn’t have had wood furniture on his – he bought it specifically for home defense.  The Tactical Express was the way to go.

He also intentionally does not have any of that Magpul furniture nonsense, AR-style telescoping stock, or pistol grip because, as he said, “You just don’t mess with perfection.”

In the shotgun world, the big three tend to be Remington, Mossberg, and Benelli.  The old guys love their Remingtons, the younger guys swear by their Mossbergs (I certainly love the hell out of my own personal 590), and the guys with too much money for their own good can’t shut up about their Benellis.

Additionally, you couldn’t pay Billy enough money to carry a semi-auto shotgun.  Heresy.

Commune Book One is available now on Amazon and Kobo.

Amanda: The IWI Tavor X95

At some point early on in the writing of Commune Book One, I got the idea that I wanted the weapons used by the characters to reflect their personalities.  This became a bit of an enjoyable side challenge for me, as I had the double duty of both deciding which weapons best fit the characters as well as figuring out a reasonable way in which said weapons would come into their possession.  You don’t just have a bunch of average folks running around with a diverse array of firearms.  Citizens in the United States certainly enjoy the right to keep and bear arms (proudly, I’ll add), however one of the main points of this story is to put average, everyday people into an extreme survival situation and see how they adapt.  They must essentially stumble upon their hardware.  I like to think I presented this turn of events realistically.

In the case of Amanda, I loved the idea of her lugging around the Israeli Weapons Industries X95 bullpup rifle.  I’m personally a big fan of bullpup rifles for close-up work (I can’t bring myself to use CQB seriously in a sentence – I’m just a freaking civy after all).

In case you’re unfamiliar, the idea is that the receiver of the weapon (and therefore the ammunition magazine) is placed behind rather than in front of the trigger.  This allows for an overall shorter rifle without sacrificing barrel length (shorter barrel length means less muzzle velocity and reduced effective range).  So you end up with this cool little all-rounder that maintains an effective range out to four or five hundred yards yet is compact enough to go room to room in tight spaces.

From Amanda’s perspective, I love the idea of a compact (5’5″) firecracker of a woman who starts out as a resilient-yet-essentially-tame Hispanic mother/wife evolving into a hard-ass that the other people in the story learn to respect or fear (depending on which side they’re playing for).  Without giving too much of her evolution up, she ends up being someone I wouldn’t want to piss off.

The X95 was (I felt) a perfect choice for her.  A full sized rifle would have been uncomfortable and clumsy just based on her reach alone.  The reduced length of the bullpup platform combined with the kind of recoil mitigation common to its sub type makes this weapon the perfect fit for her, indeed.

Commune Book One is available now on Amazon and Kobo.

Commune Book One Synopsis

For dinosaurs, it was a big damned rock.  For humans: Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).

When the Earth is hit by the greatest CME in recorded history (several times larger than the Carrington Event of 1859), the combined societies of the planet’s most developed nations struggle to adapt to a life thrust back into the Dark Ages.

In the United States, the military scrambles to speed the nation’s recovery on multiple fronts including putting down riots, establishing relief camps, delivering medical aid, and bringing communication and travel back on line.

Just as a real foothold is established in retaking the skies (utilizing existing commercial aircraft supplemented by military resources and ground control systems), a mysterious virus takes hold of the population, spreading globally over the very flight routes that the survivors fought so hard to rebuild.  The communicability and mortality rates are devastating, leaving only small pockets of survivors scattered throughout the countryside.

Commune Book One is the story of one small group of survivors who must adapt to a primitive, hostile world or die.  As they learn the rules of this new era, they must decide how far they’re willing to go to continue living, continually asking themselves the same question daily: is survival worth the loss of humanity?