***Full Disclosure—this is a long post, discussing key plot points and twists for my novel Burn. If you haven’t read the book, consider yourself warned***
So, you read Burn, have you?
First, know that I thank you. I’ve been thinking off and on about that story (and the saga to follow) for four years before I finally starting writing it. It was a cathartic experience, getting to burn the world after living in Seafare, Oregon with Bear and the boys for so long. I am sure you can imagine the delicious cackling that followed certain scenes in Burn. Oh, Bear! I thought. You think you have problems.
So! I’ll cover history, Easter eggs, questions, a deleted scene from Burn and all the way at the end, you’ll get the title and first line of Book II. Let us begin!
A History Lesson (there will be a quiz afterwards, so pay attention!)
Burn was not an easy story to write, due to a different kind of research going into it. The idea of a registration act and violence against certain sects against the population came from two very dark periods of time. The first, which is mentioned briefly in Burn, is the treatment of Japanese-Americans in WWII following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. FDR signed what is known as Executive Order 9066. It allowed US armed forces to declare certain areas of the United States as “military areas”, which allowed them to “exclude any or all persons” in this area. Even though it wasn’t spelled out by specific ethnicity, the target became obvious as 120,000 people of Japanese descent were moved into internment camps, or prisons. These camps were self- sustaining by those who lived there, each party made to work to help grow food, or provide other essential services. There were schools, stores, minor medical services. But there are also some horrific descriptions of the living conditions in these camps, of which there were 10, including one here in Arizona about 200 miles from where I live. People died there. Yes, this was a time of fear, the nation just having suffered an extraordinary catastrophe with destruction of Pearl Harbor and the loss of American lives. However, it should be noted that 62% of the Japanese that were forced into these camps were either American-born children of immigrants, thus making them American citizens, called Nisei, or they were Sansei, the children of the Nisei. The rest were Japanese immigrants. It’s fascinating to read what a country paralyzed by fear can do to their own people. It should also be said that in addition to Japanese, there were Americans of Italian and German ancestry who were interned, as well as some of Jewish descent.
The second example, of course, was the aftermath of 9/11. When stories dominated the airwaves of people of Middle-Eastern descent being dragged from their homes, or assaulted on the street by those who thought that all Arabs were Muslims were Pakistanis were Iraqis were terrorists. While there were no specific camps in the US (that we know of), the parallels between the two events is chilling.
That is what I wanted to build a story around (oh, and I also wanted God to be a Tree. Go figure, right?) People living their lives as best they could, but being singled out because of something they were born with, something they could not change, even if they wanted too. Obviously, there are some not-so subtle parallels as to the current gay-rights movement, but I couldn’t help but write the political elements (ha! get it?) into the story. You don’t have to agree with my politics (nor should you be forced too) but I couldn’t escape writing at least part of my beliefs coupled with the idea of singling out a certain sects of the population. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for (but I will say who NOT to vote for: Newt Gingrich. Really, Newt? You’re a douche!) This book was probably as “political” as I will get. Well, until the series continues.
Okay, no quiz. I was just kidding.
Careful, kids: we’re heading into spoiler territory now. Don’t say I haven’t warned you. Repeatedly.
“TJ!!! HOW COULD YOU?!?!?!?”
“WHAT. THE. FUCK.”
“TICK & TOCK ARE MY FAVORITES!!!” (twenty minutes later) “NOOO!!!!!!!”
Ah, the joy of the internet, being able to see real time updates on people reading Burn and getting to Chapter 11. Remember what I said about cackling while writing Burn? This was what I was cackling about. You see, as soon as I knew there were such people as The Clock Twins (and they were two of the first characters to come into play in my head), I knew it was going to be Tock. I knew Tock was the betrayer, and I couldn’t wait to write that scene. I almost skipped ahead and wrote it anyways, but I made myself wait. I thought it would be cuh-RAZY.
I didn’t realize how much it would hurt.
You see, when you spend three months straight with people, you either love them or you hate them. I hate Kammy (though, I often wonder about her motives.) I hated Nero for a time (even though I don’t think I do now. I dislike him greatly, yes. But I don’t hate him.) But the Clock Twins? Holy fuck, I loved the Clock Twins. I loved everything about them from their banter, to their obvious love for each other, to their love of all things tech-related. When I finally did arrive at that scene? I chickened out. I made it Kammy. I was going to make her the avenging bitch I thought she could be. And I wrote it that way.
And it was crap.
It didn’t have the emotional sucker-punch I was going for, when you have to go back and re-read that paragraph just to make sure you read it right.. The reader doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with Kammy, doesn’t really get to know her except to say “Ewww, fall of a cliff and let go of Seven, you canker sore!” But Tock? Man, you knew everything about him. You knew what he was capable of! Hell, he jumped off a building and struck one of the Scarred King’s Elementals in the head with a brick at the attack on Jason’s apartment! You knew him, right? No, as it turns out. You did not. So I went back and wrote it as Tock. And man, it did hurt. But it went exactly as the story was supposed to go. I'd always seen as Tick as the more innocent of the two, and I wanted others to see him that way.
I wanted to make the mother as the Scarred King kinda-sorta obvious so you wouldn’t see Tock coming. And beyond that, that you wouldn’t see that the Tree (God) had been corrupted. That you wouldn’t see Dan as the one dying in the Tunnel. That you wouldn’t see Maxius Paracel (though, some of you clever kiddies figured that one out. Kudos). That you wouldn’t see Felix’s sacrifice to save Seven coming. I wanted the last couple of chapters to be a complete clusterfuck compared to the rest of the story. And this plays to how you see Felix too. To me, he was soft at the beginning, and that was intentional. By the end? By the end I think he was a hard-core motherfucker. By the end, he could feel the oil in him and he was no longer completely a “good” guy.
So do I regret chapter 11 in the slightest?
You bet your fucking ass I don’t. The majority of the reviews (even the negative ones) thus far have cited the last 20% of Burn as batshit-insanity, and I am glad people are seeing it that way.
These are some of the theories and questions I’ve been asked so far (and of course I’ll answer them right now! Duh!):
Q: So, since the Findo Unum has a heart sworn, and Felix has Seven, does that mean that Max also has a heart sworn since he is Split?
A: Okie dokie!
Q: We heard the first part of the prophecy, but what is the second part?
Q: Ah, man, Tock! TOCK!!!!! But what does that mean about Tick? Weren’t they always together? Is Tick bad too?!?!!? WAIT! THAT PART WHEN THE CLOCK TWINS STOLE THE LAPTOP FROM SEVEN IN THE FLASHBACK, DID TOCK DO THAT ON PURPOSE BECAUSE HE WAS ALREADY EVIL?!?!? ANSWER ME, DAMN YOU!
A: I had a granola bar for breakfast this morning. And orange rind tea. Both were good.
Q: Where are the Prima—the Firsts—that came down from the Tree?
A: Seafare, Oregon, living in the attic of the Green Monstrosity. Burn/BOATK crossover!
Q: How did the Scarred King find Max, and which one of them is the main bad guy?
A: Who said they would be the main bad guy? Or maybe they are. One of them. Or both.
Q: They gray-eyed man. What’s his deal? He seems…anal. And I want him to fall off a cliff for what he did to Otis. And land in a pool of lava inhabited by sharks that can live in lava for the sole purpose of eating the gray-eye man as he burns. In the lava.
Q: You’re not going to kill off anyone else are you? (And by that I mean it’s okay to kill Kammy, but if you harm one hair on Otis’ head, I will cut you.)
A: In all seriousness: No one is safe. No. One.
Q: I love Otis!
A: Hurray! But that’s not a question.
Q: Why does Felix hate cats so much?
A: I had started writing Burn and had gotten through the prologue. I stopped to get a drink. My fucking cat jumped up onto my laptop and somehow managed to delete five thousand words. I hadn’t saved it. Therefore, Felix hates cats.
Q: Is there any significance to Seven being named “Seven”?
A: Yes, there is.
Q: Do you know where the whole story is going?
A: I do, for the most part (things can change, as I think I’ve shown). I know how the entire series will end, what the last scene will be. I know the major twists coming up. And if you thought Chapter 11 was crazy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Q: WHEN WILL BOOK II BE OUT?!?!?! IT BETTER BE TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It’s the Easter Bunny!
Read Burn? I sure hope so if you’ve gotten this far! Throughout Burn, there are a few Easter eggs for the intrepid re-reader to track down. You’ll notice that there is a LOT of Latin the book, especially the names of places/locations/events. Some of those places give hints to the story. For example: remember the Gemellus screen in Quadratum Plaza? Gemellus is a Latin form of the word “twin.” Oh, and the vecuronium bromide, the drug that acts like a liquid version of the Suppressor? Real thing! And a nurse in Japan did use it to kill 10 patients in 2001 (non-Elementals. I think.) Crazy stuff. What other ones are there? (Oh, and you may want to see if you can find any Burn Easter Eggs in the BOATK sequel, Who We Are, out in April. I’m so totally not kidding.)
Okie dokie. So, remember when Seven revealed to Felix on the rooftop of the Station that Felix’s mom was the Scarred King, and all the shenanigans that followed? This is the next morning, the day they go to Quadratum Plaza that last time. I deleted this scene because it covers some of the stuff already said on the rooftop, and I didn’t think it added much. But it does show Felix’s mentality toward Seven and where it could potentially go in the future (you know, if Felix ever returns from the field.)
I woke the next morning, curled in my bed, Seven pressed firmly against my back. For a moment, as is often the case when waking, things were okay. Everything was fine. Then my brain began to catch up with my eyes and cracked open wide, and I could hear him say it again—
your mother didn’t die that night
—and I moaned quietly to myself, trying to keep the big guy from hearing the pained distress in my breath. I should have known he was awake and probably had been for some time, watching over me as I slept in a place so far below the surface that even dreams of fire and Trees and darkness couldn’t follow me. She couldn’t even follow me there, no matter how hard I’m sure she tried. Seven wrapped himself around me tightly as silent tears leaked from my eyes, carving a path down the stiff skin under my eyes. I felt one of the big guy’s hands cup my face and rub the tears away with his thumb. It was almost too much for me to take.
“Don’t,” he whispered to me, his breath hot against my face. “Please don’t, little man. I don’t know if my heart can take it.”
This, of course, made it worse.
I was angry. I was angry at crying yet again, what weakness those exhausted tears showed. I was angry at the Tree for making me what I was (never once questioning when I had started believing that yes, there was a Tree, and yes, It had started this whole fucking mess, and yes, I wanted it to burn to the ground). I was angry at the people of this Station. I was angry at the Council, the Circle. I was angry with my father. My mother. But him? The man who held me like I was the most precious thing in the world? Like if he could take away all my sorrow, he would? I was angry with him most of all.
“You bastard,” I cried out softly. “You unbelievable bastard.” I struck his face, his chest, his arms. I wanted him to hurt, to feel the same pain I was, the way my insides felt as if a great rift had opened up in them and everything I knew was falling down into that dark crevice. “I fucking hate you!”
Seven let me struggle in his arms, never once stopping me from striking him, but never flinching or readying himself to move off me. He stayed where he was, taking the miserable punishment I doled out upon him. I could burn him, I thought frantically. I could burn him if I really wanted to. He may be heart sworn, but I bet I could burn him if I really tried. It could be easy. It would be so easy.
It would be, it whispered.
“I know,” he said roughly, pawing at my face as if it would stop the tears from falling. “Don’t you think I know that?”
He grabbed my chin in his hand and forced my eyes to his, and my breath caught in my throat as I saw the ocean in his eyes, the way the waves rolled and thundered, the pain there searing straight through the darkness I still felt in my chest. The look parted the oil, if only for a moment, but it was enough to cause me to gasp out as I lunged my face forward to his, kissing him with everything I had left to give. He pressed back, a moan escaping from his mouth as his tongue forced my lips apart. It burned, and I knew he was trying his damnedest to exorcise whatever it was I had in me. I felt his fingertips brush over my eyebrows, and then he growled, and for once, I rumbled back at him, that low sound that seemed to always come from the deepest part of him. I took it then from him for what it was: a chance, a belief, a hope for something more, for something that I knew was almost lost to me. He gave everything he could, and I took it all until I was filled so that I thought I would burst. I jerked away from him, and he pressed his forehead against mine.
“You think she’s going to be there, don’t you?” I breathed. “You think my mother is going to be at the Plaza.”
He watched me sadly. “If what we think is correct, if something will happen to all those people, something beyond whatever test is going to happen, then, yes, Felix. Yes. I think she will be there.”
“Because she knows,” I whispered. “She knows that we’ll be there too.”
He kissed me lightly. “Yes,” he said simply.
I tried to struggle against him again, but it was no use. He was too big. “And what am I supposed to do about it?” I snapped at him. “Just what the fuck do you expect me to do?”
Seven sighed. “I expect you to do what you planned on doing before all of… this. I expect you to be the man I know you are. I expect you to protect those that can’t protect themselves.”
“So easy for you to say,” I snarled at him. “So easy for you to sit there and tell me what to do. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what it’s like to be lied to. About everything. For my entire fucking life! What else is there, Seven? What the hell else is there that you think you need to protect me from!” By the time I finished, I was shouting in his face. He never flinched, but his face turned to stone, and I knew I was getting him angry. Good, I thought savagely. Good.
“I am Iuratum Cor,” he said through gritted teeth. “I am your protector. I am the one who knows you best. I fucking decide when you get to know anything!”
“You think so?” I snapped. “You think that just because the Council told you you’re something special that you are? That because you think you love me that you get to control me? You think you know what’s best for me? Think again. I don’t fucking need you. I don’t fucking need your goddamn protection. I was fine as I was! Why’d you have to ruin that? Huh? Why’d you have to fucking come for me like you did? I don’t want you! I never did!”
“Really?” he sneered at me. “You don’t want me? You don’t want me to tell you what to do? Then why the fuck are you so hard right now?” He reached down and grabbed my traitorous cock, squeezing it roughly. “Why the fuck do you keep rubbing yourself up against me if you don’t want me? You can say whatever the hell you want, but your words are a lie. You give your own self away. You know as well as I do that you’re mine.” He jerked his hand against my dick, and I hated myself when I arched against him.
“Get off me!”
“Like hell,” he muttered as he buried his face against my throat, his tongue lashing against my neck.
“Seven, I’m warning you.” I could feel the air around us begin to shift, and a soft breeze blew through my hair.
“No,” he said as he bit my neck and sucked the skin.
The wind grew stronger as I rolled my head back, allowing him better access to my neck. “I could make you,” I whispered harshly. “I could so make you.”
“Try it,” he challenged as he slid his hands into my shorts.
I felt myself begin to sink into him, his grasp so strong, my body like a bundle of live wires. The air began to settle but I dug deep and found the anger still in me, molten and flashing, and I dived into it. I dove underneath and thought a single word—
—and the air whipped back up again, roaring in my ears, and I pushed and Seven flew off of me, across the room. I had a confusing moment of undeniable triumph until he crashed into the far wall ten feet away, the plaster cracking behind him as body snapped back upon impact. He made only a quiet sound—oof—before he slid down the wall to the floor. His head slumped forward as he collapsed onto the floor, and at that moment, I wanted to take it all back. I wanted to forget everything horrible I’d ever done, that I’d ever said. I’d done the one thing I had promised myself weeks before, the one thing that I never thought I’d be capable of: I had hurt the one who mattered the most to me.
I croaked out his name as I stumbled from the bed, unable to run to him as fast as I wanted to. It felt like it took minutes, hours, days before I slid to me knees beside him, taking his head in my hands, grimacing in dismay as I felt the wet blood drip over my fingers from the back of his head. “Seven,” I whimpered. “Oh God, oh my God, Seven.” He groaned again, and his eyes fluttered open, unfocused and hazy as they moved toward my face. “I’m sorry. Oh, Jesus, I’m so fucking sorry.” I stripped off my shirt and pressed it to the back of his head, pulling him against my chest. For a moment, his arms hung at his side as I felt him tense against me, and it was the worst moment of my life, hyperbole be damned. But then I felt him circle my waist and I dropped the shirt as I crawled into his lap and he rocked me back and forth as I babbled incoherent apologies in his ears, kissing his face, careful of the open wound on the back of his head. He shushed my words with his lips, and I knew he wasn’t angry with me, I knew he loved me, I knew these things and so much more. I knew this because I knew him. It didn’t matter what came, if she was alive, if she was coming for me. He was here, I was in his arms, and that was all that mattered. That was all I needed. This is my home, I told myself wildly. Oh, please, please just let him be my home.
You’ll run, it promised. You just don’t know it yet
Below, you'll find the song I'm playing over and over while writing Book II. Lyrics, kids. Lyrics are always important (consequently, the author of this video must like Elementals. Check out the color of the lyrics. Badass.) Play it, listen to the lyrics, as you scroll to the last part.
The Current Work In Progress
Elementally Evolved Book II: Break
Seven Cassius Fortis said, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”