Over the next few days, you may see some weirdness if you try to visit the author site. Rest assured that this is normal, and everything will make sense eventually. Thank you.
I’m a little late to this particular fracas, which started last month, but it’s worth commentary. It concerns some comments made by Chuck Wendig (via) regarding self-published authors. To summarize, Wendig feels that for self-publishing to be considered a legitimate choice, the writers need to hold themselves to certain standards regarding editing and design. None of it struck me as particularly controversial or inflammatory (how out-of-bounds is it to suggest that you put effort into the product you’re selling?) but the internet being what it is, there was a backlash. Many self-pubs stepped up to defend their right to sell crap, which led to another post by Wendig, which led to further backlash, which ultimately led to someone putting a book on KDP that was nothing but hundreds of pages of the word “fart.” I invite you to read the story of that one yourself.
Hello, there. You may have been wondering what I’ve been doing this last few weeks. Well, I’ve always hated my author site – it was a weird, seldom-used portal that I hastily stitched Frankenstein-style onto this blog. I always wanted to combine the two in a more organic way, and guess what? I did.
You can find the new blog here. The format should look familiar, but there have been plenty of changes on the back end that should make it a lot nicer once it all settles down. In particular, this will be home to many of my serials. A rewritten version of The Fabulist is on tap, for those of you who don’t care for JPS – new chapters come up every Monday. On Wednesday, you can read newly rewritten samples of The Dragon’s Heir. Down the line, I’ll have Nerd World there – keep an eye out. You’ll also find new posts and stories put up throughout the week. I’m not abandoning this site just yet, but if you are interested in keeping up, you may wish to follow the new site.
Thank you, and as you were.
Here’s the next part of that original script, covering Chapters 7 and 8.
(The school commons. A crowd of students has gathered outside of the office. One of the students is using a DV camera to record interviews with some of them)
PAUL (V.O.): Registration for Trivia Master lasts for three and a half days, but close to half of the participants sign up as soon as the office opens on Monday. Inevitably, these are the ones who have some deep and personal feelings about the competition.
(The following lines are seen through the camera viewfinder)
STUDENT #1: (almost crying) This contest. . . Two years I’ve waited for this, and now. . . and now. . .
STUDENT #2: This is Striker, herald of the new age of real rock. I’m here to prove that not only can I shred – and you can check out my YouTube channel if you don’t believe that – but I’m also smarter than all y’all!
STUDENT #3: Yeah, Trivia Master is awesome. But you know what’s not awesome? Fiat currency, the biggest lie ever perpetrated. . . (the cameraman starts to move away). . . Where are you going? Come back, I have more to say!
STUDENT #4: This contest is so stupid. I’m only joining so I can quit and mess with the sheep and their masters.
KEN: Last year was a fluke. Let me repeat that – a FLUKE. This year will be a reckoning. We’re going straight to the top, and nothing’s gonna slow our ascent. You want that in writing too?
PAUL (V.O.): Personally, I don’t care for the circus, so I let Ken take care of the paperwork. It gives me a few extra minutes in the halls, where it’s quiet and I can be with my thoughts.
(In the halls. PAUL is walking to his locker, but AARON is waiting for him)
PAUL: Something you wanted to say to me?
AARON: I’m just hanging out.
PAUL: Surprised that you’re not downstairs.
AARON: Oh, I’ve got one of my people taking care of that. Personally, I enjoy having a little quiet time at the beginning of the day.
PAUL: So this is your little strategy? Act all nonchalant, lull me into a sense of false security?
AARON: Don’t be so paranoid, Mr. Sunshine. It’s not all about the game.
PAUL: Oh, don’t even try it, Aaron, I know how you operate. Aaron Bellamy plays dirty from the jump. (starts to walk off)
AARON: And of course, Paul Liston only uses good, clean tactics like splitting up two very old friends.
PAUL: (stops, turns around) What, are you following me now?
AARON: No, but news travels very fast. I don’t blame you. A year like this, you really have to pull out all the stops to stay competitive.
PAUL: Why does everyone keep saying that? It’s the same people every year. What makes this year different?
AARON: You haven’t figured it out? It’s because of you and me. Three years we’ve done this, and we’ve never faced each other. That’s all these idiots are waiting for! And after all this time, they’re gonna want to see blood.
PAUL: I’m gonna go sit somewhere else. (walks away)
AARON: Fine. You can run from me now, but not when we’re on stage!
PAUL: (sighs) I really should have gone to the office with Ken.
(The school office. The room is filled with students filling out Trivia Master submission forms. KEN enters with a notebook, jotting down notes as he works his way towards the stack of forms)
KEN: Brian Booker! I almost asked you to be on my team.
BRIAN: I’d rather be on a winning team.
KEN: And now I’m glad I didn’t. (Looks up) Hey, Isabel!
ISABEL: Piss off.
KEN: Say “Hi” to Jane for me! (under his breath) Bunch of assholes at this school, I swear. (Looks around) Hey. . . Haven’t seen you around.
LEON: Leon Mara. I’m new here.
KEN: Well, good luck!
(KEN reaches the desk. He takes one of the sheets and starts filling it in)
KEN: “Team name.” (long pause) Shit. Uh. . . okay. (He scribbles something down)
(Upstairs. PAUL is seated on the steps, trying to clear his head. LEONARD VAUGHN, carrying his football helmet, walks up)
PAUL: (springing to his feet) Oh, I’m sorry.
LEONARD: Hey, you’re cool. It’s Paul, right?
PAUL: Uh. . . yeah.
LEONARD: You’re not doing the trivia thing?
PAUL: . . . My friend’s signing us up.
LEONARD: Cool. ‘Cause, you know, after last year, you guys are a lock to win.
PAUL: You watched?
LEONARD: Hell yeah! Doesn’t everyone?
PAUL: I guess so. Are you participating at all?
LEONARD: Nah, I’m gonna be real busy this next few weeks. So no time for that. But I’ll be there to watch every round.
PAUL: Well, it’s good to have supporters.
LEONARD: Tell me about it. But I hear that there’s some kid giving you shit?
PAUL: Where’d you hear that?
LEONARD: My older brother knows your cousin.
PAUL: Oh, Diana? (freeze)
PAUL (V.O.): As the designated smart kid, you eventually get used to the fact that people you don’t actually know are discussing you. What I never got used to was my family discussing me with people in other cities and states. It’s a little disconcerting. (unfreeze)
LEONARD: Yeah. Now I know a few things about people who play dirty, so if he keeps messing with you, let me know.
PAUL: Thanks, Lenny.
LEONARD: No problem. Well, I’m off.
PAUL: Take it easy.
(PAUL sits back down. KEN walks up the stairs)
KEN: Was that Lenny Vaughn?
PAUL (V.O.): Jocks vs. nerds is something that I don’t think exists, assuming it ever did outside of bad 80′s coming-of-age movies. Still cultural memories are hard to shake.
KEN: Well, I got us all squared away. Took a few notes while I was down there. Some of these teams are going to be tough.
PAUL: The only one I’m worried about is Aaron Baines Bellamy. He’s already pulled out his bag of tricks.
KEN: I’m not surprised. You know he’ll do whatever it takes to beat us.
PAUL: We’ll deal with him when the time comes. Speaking of things we need to deal with, we never discussed our team name.
KEN: That’s because I forgot about it.
PAUL: You planned every aspect of this team down to the finest detail but you didn’t come up with a name?
KEN: I was gonna do it over the weekend, but I got really distracted. So I had to come up with something on the spot. (Hands Paul a scrap of paper)
PAUL: “The Raging Nerds”?
KEN: It’s not great, but you have to admit that it’s catchy.
PAUL: I do? You really want to compete under this name?
KEN: It’s not really an insult these days, more like a term of endearment.
PAUL: That’s not what bothers me.
KEN: Well, I know you don’t have a problem with rage. I was with you when they announced 4th Ed, so I know you don’t have a problem with rage.
PAUL: Yeah, yeah. Let’s just get going, okay?
(PAUL and KEN walk off together)
So here’s something that I thought might be amusing. It’s been just under two years since I started working on the Nerd World script, back when I thought I might be able to turn it into some kind of video serial. The remnants of that script are still hanging around, and with the release of Nerd World to JPS, I think it’s high time I shared it with someone. Between this and the original novel version, I hope that this will help you learn more about the writing process.
First off, there are a few things to know about the original script and how it differs from both novel versions:
1.) Paul is not just the main character (POV in all but one or two scenes) but is also the sole narrator.
2.) While they did happen behind the scenes, Jane’s and Aaron’s scenes are usually not depicted in the script.
So with that out of the way, here’s the first episode. There were a total of ten, though I’m not sure if I want to post them all just yet. This one covers the Prologue and Chapters 1-5 (Exempting 2 and 3, which aren’t here for reasons listed above).
(7:00. PAUL LISTON awakens to the alarm. As he gets ready for the day, his phone rings)
PAUL: Hello? . . . Hey Ken . . . Yes, I know what day it is. Do you want me to come in early or something? . . . Fine. I’ll see you in like twenty.
(Hangs up. Downstairs)
PAUL: Hey Mom, I’m taking off early, okay?
MOM: Something big come up all of a sudden?
PAUL: Ken wants to talk to me. I guess it won’t wait.
(Montage of PAUL headed through the streets)
(In front of the school, 7:25. KENNETH GREEVEY is standing around, checking his watch when PAUL shows up)
PAUL: How long have you been waiting out here?
KEN: Not long. Come on.
(They walk inside)
PAUL: What did I tell you about calling me early in the morning?
KEN: Hey, you said you get up at seven. I called a 7:02. (He taps a poster on the wall) Check it out.
PAUL: This is why you called me in early? Why do you do this? It’s not like the rules ever change.
KEN: (waiving a stack of papers) Not true. They changed the rule on team member substitutions.
PAUL: (rubbing his temples) Can we talk about this in the library? I want to check my email.
(They walk off down the hallway. Paul stops at his locker to stash his bag)
KEN: That’s not why I called, okay? I just thought we could get an early start this year.
PAUL: An early start?
KEN: On team selection. If we take too long, the best people will all be gone.
PAUL: All right. Hit me.
KEN: Thanks. I spent Saturday compiling some stats on the questions asked in recent history. Here’s the breakdown: Science, 19.7%; History, 17.5%; Literature . . .
PAUL: (interrupting) You really don’t have to read all of the numbers.
KEN: Paul, please! This is important. Literature, 14.8%; Math, 13.7%; Geography, 10.7%; Popular Culture, 6.8%; Sports, 6.3%; Current Events, 5.8%; Fine Arts, 4.2%.
PAUL: Great. Where’s this leading?
KEN: The two of us have pretty good coverage. You’ve got us handled on history, geo and current events.
PAUL: I’ve got current events?
KEN: Well, you watch the news. That’s all they ever ask about, really. I’ve got math covered, of course, and we can both do science. That leaves a few small, yet crucial gaps in our knowledge.
PAUL: You have some candidates in mind?
KEN: A few. I wanted to run some of these past you, get some feedback. . .
(As PAUL and KEN near the library door, it opens and AARON BAINES BELLAMY walks out. Both of them stop talking immediately)
PAUL: (pausing) Hello, Aaron.
AARON: You doing Trivia Master this year?
PAUL: We do Trivia Master every year.
AARON: (grinning) Cool. Just wanted to make sure you’d be in the mix. It’s gonna be a hell of a year. (Awkward silence) Well, I’ll leave you to it. (walking away) See you at the finish line.
KEN: (pause) Mind games.
(PAUL takes a seat. KEN is standing behind him)
KEN: As I was saying, I’ve compiled a short list of candidates for the other two slots. This part isn’t as scientific as the rest of my strategy, so I thought we could have a little back and forth. Are you paying attention?
PAUL: Yes, Ken.
KEN: Brian Booker, Karen Schumaker, Terry Brown . . . Jane Anders . . .
PAUL: (surprised) Jane’s on your list?
KEN: I thought that might get your attention. Listen, I’d love to have her on the team too, but you know she’ll be going in with her friends, just like last year.
PAUL: Yeah . . . well, what else you got?
KEN: I was thinking about those fine arts questions. There aren’t a lot, but they could be crucial. You remember how we got screwed by those questions about symphonic music last year.
PAUL: And Broadway performance numbers. I still can’t believe that one.
KEN: So I figure we get a specialist, we’ll have a leg up on everyone else. That’s why I want to get Scott Carroll.
PAUL: Amateur Dramatics Scott Carroll?
PAUL: Drama club kids don’t do trivia.
KEN: I think I can convince him. Come on, this is a chance to get a leg up on a topic that no one else knows! Will you at least think it through? We can meet up later. I have to make some inquiries. (Leaves)
PAUL: “Inquiries”? (sighs) (starts typing)
PAUL (V.O.): My name is Paul Liston, seventeen years old. Senior at Northwest High. In the high school pecking order, I’m not the cool kid, or the funny kid, or the bad kid. I’m the smart kid. I’ve always been the smart kid. That’s an identity that has a few perks, but it does make me effectively invisible most of the time, with one exception.
Northwest, like many schools, participates in the national Scholar’s Bowl. Now, most schools just pick their teams out of the gifted program, but the administration of Northwest has a bit more flair. We are represented by the winning team in a school-wide event known as Trivia Master.
To most people, competitions like this are just sawed-off game shows, not worth a second thought, but if you’re the smart kid, this is the one chance you get to shine. For two weeks, I am an important man. People wave at me in the halls. They discuss me over lunch. For two weeks, I get to be the cool kid.
I’m not going to lie – I love it. Of course, there are always people who take it too far.
(Outside of the school. PAUL is seated on a bench, taking notes when KEN approaches)
KEN: Hey Paul. Ready to go?
KEN: The drama geeks are having a meeting today. Yeah, I checked around – Scott’s not spoken for, so I thought we could drop by the auditorium and talk to him.
PAUL: There’s no way you’re getting Scott Carroll. Forget it.
KEN: So you’re not gonna help? Why are you even here? (pause) Oh my God . . . you’re waiting for Jane, aren’t you?
PAUL: I was going to have a word with her about Trivia Master.
KEN: You’re so pathetic.
PAUL: I’m pathetic? You’re the one who’s skulking around a drama club meeting.
KEN: You’re never gonna ask her out.
PAUL: I’m taking my time.
KEN: You’ve only got eight more months!
PAUL: Unless we end up at the same college, then I’ve got four years. Don’t you have better things to do than make fun of me?
KEN: Okay, man. I’ll talk to Scott, you talk to Jane. Hell, maybe she’ll join us after all.
PAUL: Speaking of which, who did you have planned to handle literature for us?
KEN: One thing at a time. I’ll talk to you about it tomorrow, okay?
(KEN leaves. A few seconds later, JANE ANDERS comes up behind PAUL)
PAUL: (startled) Oh, Jane! Sorry, you caught me off guard.
JANE: What, you spending your free time outside of the school now?
PAUL: No, I just had to do something for Ken.
JANE: Ah, the trivia masters at work.
PAUL: Yeah, yeah. You doing the competition this year?
JANE: Always do. Isabel’s setting up the team for us. I guess she thinks we have a shot.
PAUL: Well, if anyone’s got a shot, it’s you.
JANE: Maybe. I got things to do, but I suppose I’ll be seeing you around. (Leaves)
PAUL: Yeah. (sighs heavily)
(The auditorium. Various students are milling about, talking. As KEN enters, SCOTT CARROLL looks up)
SCOTT: You Ken?
KEN: Ken Greevey, that’s me. I was hoping I could talk to you for a minute about the upcoming trivia competition.
SCOTT: Yeah, I don’t do trivia.
KEN: I realize that you’ve never done anything like this, but . . .
SCOTT: Look, man, I’m an artist. There’s no art in trivia. It’s just a bunch of boring virgin dweebs memorizing fact sheets.
KEN: No offense taken. And there’s art in trivia. Last year, one of the matches hinged on a question about . . . what was it? “Hair”?
SCOTT: (exasperated) “HairSPRAY.” I can’t believe none of you got that one.
KEN: So you watched us! Man, if you’d have been on my team, we might have won the whole thing.
SCOTT: So I like watching the contest. Doesn’t mean I want to participate. We’ve got a dozen competitions coming up, I don’t have time . . .
KEN: (interrupting) Time? Paul and I take care of all the details. All you’d have to do is show up.
SCOTT: (thinking) I can’t be thinking about this now. It’s all we can do to keep interest up. Our attendance numbers suck.
KEN: Yeah, I can’t imagine how participation in a high-profile public competition could help with that. (Starts to leave)
SCOTT: I’ll be in touch, all right? (KEN nods in response)
(In front of the school, next day. PAUL enters the scene)
PAUL: Hey. Thanks for sparing me the wake-up call today. How’d it go with Scott?
KEN: Pretty good. I think I got through to him. How was Jane?
PAUL: Entering with Isabel, just like you thought. So we still need a fourth. I assume you’ve got someone in mind?
KEN: . . . Yeah.
PAUL: Great. Give me the name, I’ll talk to him.
KEN: You don’t have to do that.
PAUL: I think I do. I did kind of leave you in the lurch yesterday, and I don’t want all this to be on you. So you can go iron out the details with Scott, and I’ll talk to the other guy. I just need the name. (silence) Why aren’t you telling me the name? Ken?
(KEN starts to leave, but PAUL blocks him)
PAUL: Who is it?
KEN: (meekly) Trevor Galloway.
PAUL: Trevor? He’d never be on our team. He always joins with Duncan.
KEN: Yeah . . .
PAUL: You prick! You’re going to try to, what, drive a wedge between them?
KEN: Calm down. It’s not like they have to stop being friends or anything. Believe me, I thought this through very carefully . . .
PAUL: (interrupting) You never think things through. You run calculations, and that’s not the same thing. (rubbing his temples) Why couldn’t we just take them both?
KEN: Duncan’s only good with history, and we don’t need that. Look at it rationally, Paul. It’s just one little event. Duncan will get over it, and so will you.
PAUL: I’m not going to help you talk Trevor into this.
KEN: You’re too late! (sheepishly) I talked to him last night.
PAUL: So what, you were going to hide this from me until the sign-up?
KEN: Just until I’d worked out the details. I wanted you to stay hands-off so that if anyone got upset, they’d be mad at me and not you.
PAUL: You’re full of shit, Ken. (shakes head) I’m gonna talk to them. Duncan shouldn’t hear about this from you.
PAUL (V.O.): Not everyone takes these competitions seriously. For most people, Trivia Master is a chance to have some fun with their friends. Unfortunately, sometimes the fanatics and the fun-lovers come up against each other. It never ends well.
(Noon, outside of the school. TREVOR GALLOWAY and DUNCAN WASHINGTON are sitting on the steps, talking. PAUL walks up, hesitantly)
PAUL: Hey guys.
DUNCAN: Paul Liston! It’s been way too long.
TREVOR: Have a seat, man.
PAUL: Maybe for a minute. (He site down) I just wanted to talk to you guys about Trivia Master.
DUNCAN: Yeah? Well, what I’ve heard, this is gonna be a hell of a year.
PAUL: I’ve heard that too, yeah.
DUNCAN: I’m sure that friend of yours is putting together some kind of super team. Well, we’ll be waiting for them.
TREVOR: Oh, shit, I didn’t tell you? Ken wants me on their team.
PAUL: That’s what I wanted to talk about. Look, Ken doesn’t mean to interfere, he’s just not much of a people person.
DUNCAN: Don’t sweat it, man.
TREVOR: Yeah, it’s not like we’re not attached at the hip or anything. We can play on separate teams this one time, right?
DUNCAN: You’re gonna be on their team?
TREVOR: Well, that’s okay, right?
DUNCAN: Yeah, sure.
TREVOR: Cool. Well, I guess I can tell Ken that we’re good to go. (He and DUNCAN stand up) Hold on, this’ll just take a minute. I’ll be right back. (TREVOR leaves, DUNCAN sits down)
PAUL: I gotta go get something from my locker. (Stands up) I’m sorry.
DUNCAN: Yeah. (PAUL walks back inside)
PAUL: (under his breath) Goddamn it.
It’s been a while. Here’s the deal:
Nerd World is now on JPS. Expect to see updated twice a week, probably on Mondays and Thursdays, with a possible third chapter on weeks where the chapters are short or in which two chapters are closely linked.
And speaking of JPS, keep an eye on The Fabulist if you haven’t already read it. At some point, I plan on giving it a much needed re-edit. Chapters which have been edited will have a new title to indicate it.
Thank you, and go about your business.
This is probably my favorite chapter. When the book came out, I wrote a post covering some of the themes, but that’s only the half of it – there’s plenty going on here. As with Chapter 8, there wasn’t too much that needed fixing, but there was one thing that needed changing. Originally, this chapter contained the line “It’s a little disconcerting, knowing that somewhere out there is a group of graduate students that know all about my life.” This stemmed from a very early version of Paradise Gardens in which Diana and Rebecca were grad students. Now, I could argue that it still tracks – I’d always planned on Diana and Lidia having a friendship outside of class, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that Diana would mention Paul to Lidia and that Lidia would then talk to another grad student. But isn’t changing the line a lot easier than dreaming up new excuses?
Ken and I have a bit of a tradition on Trivia Master registration day. On that Monday afternoon, Ken handles the paperwork while I hide in the library.
You need to realize that, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, Ken loves every part of this thing, and that includes registration. I guess he sees it as an opportunity to mix it up with the other teams, get some info – that sort of thing. I’m not sure what sort of information you’re going to get out of that crowd other than that a lot of them are completely nuts.
Actually, some of you may already know this. Last year, Ron Janowski brought a camera to school and shot some footage outside the office on registration Monday. He then uploaded the footage, where it received a few hundred thousand views in a pretty short period of time. I can’t say that I’m shocked – train-wreck video is always popular, and he got some good stuff. No fewer than three students broke down crying while talking about the competition. One kid pulled out a sheaf of papers as thick as a textbook and detailed his theory – based on the composition of the question sheets from the last three years – that the school was conspiring to hand certain favored students the victory. Another guy used the opportunity to go off on a rant about fiat currency, actually grabbing and holding onto Ron when he tried to move on. The crowning moment, however, was definitely Christine Hekkler, a lead member of the championship team. I’m not sure which was the best part – her belief that she was being stalked by dozens of students and faculty (she knew because they were all wearing red) or when she declared that she never drank anything onstage because she thought the school’s water supply was adulterated with neurotoxins. I often wonder just how many of the other school’s teams saw that video.
My point being that it’s a circus down there, and I never have liked the circus. I don’t relish seeing what fresh madness Ron is going to capture this year, and it would be easy enough to find online anyway. So I always spend my lunch break in the library. The library has been a regular sanctuary for me over the years. There’s never anyone in there at noon, so it’s whisper quiet. I can lean back, read magazines, and pretend that none of this nonsense is happening.
But of course, the library is not a sanctuary. It’s a public space that admits everyone, whether I want them there or not. So when I walked in there on Monday and saw Aaron sitting in my usual spot leafing through an issue of Time, there wasn’t much I could do about it.
“Something you wanted to say to me?” I asked him.
Aaron, of course, played it cool.“Say to you? I’m just hanging out.”
“Why aren’t you downstairs at the office?”
“The registration? Oh, I’ve got one of my people taking care of that.” He put the magazine away. “Personally, I enjoy having a little quiet time during the day, don’t you? Just a chance to be alone with your thoughts.”
“Your people, huh?” The subtext of that line never ceased to amaze me. “And you just happened to come here? To my place?”
“The library is not your secret hideaway, Paul. You don’t own it, as much as you’d like to.”
He was smiling as he spoke. That smile…it wasn’t a friendly smile. Over the years, I’ve become convinced that Aaron isn’t capable of expressing regular human emotions. This was more like a “I’m about to make you regret being born” smile. I’ve seen it many times, always right before he does something awful.
“So this is part of your strategy? Act all nonchalant, lull me into a sense of false security? You really think I’m going to buy that?”
“You’re getting so paranoid, Mr. Sunshine,” said Aaron. “It’s not all about the game, you know.”
“Oh, don’t even try it. You’re forgetting that I know better than anyone how you operate. Aaron Bellamy plays dirty from the jump. And I don’t have to put up with it.”
I started to leave, but Aaron kept on talking. “And of course, Paul Liston only uses good, clean tactics like splitting up two very old friends.”
I turned to face him. “I didn’t do anything!”
“Oh no?” He stood up and approached me. Aaron is a good two inches shorter than me, but he can be intimidating when he wants to. “So that wasn’t you talking to dear old friends Duncan and Trevor? I understand that after you spoke, they went their separate ways.”
“Are you having me followed?”
“No, but news travels very fast. Hey, I don’t blame you. A year like this, you really have to pull out all the stops to stay competitive.”
“Why does everyone keep saying that? It’s the same people, the same teams every year. What makes this year different?”
“You haven’t figured it out?” It was at this moment that Aaron dropped the act. Suddenly, it wasn’t two friendly rivals having a chat in the library. It was a rabid hyena eyeballing his blood enemy. “It’s because of you and me. Three years we’ve done this, and we’ve never faced each other. I mean, what good’s a rivalry when you never get a chance to test your rival? And I guarantee that that’s all these idiots are waiting for. After three long years, they’re not going to be satisfied with a nice, gentlemanly contest. They want to see ugliness. They want to hear the bones break. Do you understand?”
Sadly, I did. “I’m gonna wait somewhere else.”
“Fine. Go and find yourself another hidey hole. You won’t be able to run when we’re on stage! Flee while you can!”
He was still ranting and raving when I left. I imagine that he had that little speech ready and waiting for a while, and he was going to finish it even if no one else heard it.
The library isn’t the only place where one can get a little peace and quiet. Over the years, I’ve found any number of hidden little spots in this building. There’s a little-used classroom with a broken lock on the third floor – it smells funny, but I don’t mind. The choral room’s a good place, too – it’s abandoned after third period. My favorite spot, though, is a side stairway which, for whatever reason, gets very little foot traffic. Over the noon hour, it’s even more deserted – a perfect place to sit and ponder.
That’s where I was sitting when he came down the stairs. First came the heavy thump of footsteps, then a massive shadow covering me entirely. I looked up very slowly, already afraid of who it might be.
“Hey there, little guy.”
I was right. It was Leonard Vaughn.
In a place where football is king, Leonard Vaughn is the emperor. Varsity quarterback. Two-time Junior All-American. Lettered more times than I can remember. I don’t follow sports at all, but even I know that the Northwest Salamanders were consistent losers before Vaughn and his buddies turned it around.
Once I saw who it was, I jumped to my feet and stepped aside. “Oh, I’m sorry. I was in your way.”
“Don’t sweat it, you’re cool where you are. It’s Paul, right?”
I like to think of myself as the kind of person who doesn’t care about celebrity, who isn’t affected by someone’s status. I’m lying to myself. The fact that Vaughn knew me by name made me feel downright special.
“Uh…yeah, I’m Paul.”
“So what’s up? You’re not doing the trivia thing this year?”
“…Oh, because I’m up here? No, I’m in it. My friend is signing us up.”
He smiled at me – a different kind of smile. “Cool. ‘Cause, you know, after last year, you guys are a lock to win.”
Vaughn didn’t just know my name, he had an opinion about me. “You watched the tournament?”
“Well, yeah. Doesn’t everyone?”
“I guess they do.” I never quite got used to having fans. “Are you participating at all?”
“Nah, I’m gonna be real busy this next few weeks, so no time for that.” He actually sounded disappointed – I swear by whatever deity you respect.
“With practice?” Once again, I failed at being nonchalant.
“Yeah, practice. But I’ll be there to watch every round. All of us will. The offensive line’s pulling for you guys.”
I chuckled like an idiot. “Well, it’s good to have supporters.”
“Tell me about it. But I hear that there’s some kid giving you shit? What’s going on there?”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“My older sister knows your cousin.”
“Oh, Diana’s talking about me now?”
That’s another thing I never got used to. As the smart kid, I occupy a specific place in the high school hierarchy, meaning that I’m more visible that I would be otherwise. As a result, there are people I’ve never met discussing me on a regular basis. Since sixth grade, I’ve lived with the fact that, on occasion, a perfect stranger would come up to me, greet me by name, and start asking questions about my personal problems. It’s strange, but I got past it. What I never got past was my family discussing me with people in other cities and states. It’s a little disconcerting, knowing that somewhere out there is a group of strange college students that know all about my life.
“It’s not that big a deal,” I said. “There’s just this guy who has some problem with me, I don’t even really get it myself.”
Lenny nodded. “Listen, I know a few things about people who play dirty, so if he keeps messing with you, talk to me or one of my friends. I’ll deal with it.”
“No problem. Well, I’m off. Have a good one.” At that, Lenny departed, and I sat back on the steps to think about what I’d just heard.
A lot of people might be surprised by how civil that conversation was, but with the benefit of hindsight it makes perfect sense to me. The jocks vs. nerds rivalry is something that no longer exists, assuming it ever even did. The whole thing is based on stereotypes that originated in 1980′s coming-of-age movies – the same movies that we’re still watching thirty years later. It’s become a cultural memory, something no one saw but everyone remembers.
Ken came up the stairs a few seconds later. “Were you talking to Leonard Vaughn?”
“Really?” Cultural memories are hard to shake.
“Did you come up here to tell me something, Ken?”
“Oh, right.” Ken dug through his pockets. “I got us all squared away. Took a few notes while I was down there. Some of these teams are going to be tough.”
“The only one I’m worried about is Aaron Baines Bellamy. He was waiting for me in the library. I got a preview of his bag of tricks.”
“I’m not surprised. You know he’ll do whatever it takes to beat us.”
“We’ll deal with him when the time comes. Speaking of things we need to deal with, we never discussed our team name.”
“That’s because I forgot about it.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at him. “You planned every aspect of this team down to the finest detail but you didn’t come up with a name?”
“I got a little distracted, you know how it is. I’m not perfect. So I had to come up with something on the spot.”
Ken handed me a scrap of paper. Scrawled across it was The Raging Nerds.
“This is seriously what you wrote down and submitted?”
Ken shrugged. “It’s not my best work, but it’ll really stand out on the posters. Plus, you have to admit that it’s catchy.”
“I have to? You really want to compete under this name?”
“’Nerd’ isn’t really an insult these days, more like a term of endearment.” He patted me on the shoulder. “Hell, I’ve heard you use it a hundred times.”
“That’s not the part that bothers me, Ken.”
“Well, I know you don’t have a problem with rage. Do I need to list all the times you got mad over a rules change in some tabletop game or a release delay?”
There’s no point in arguing with Ken over things like this. Besides, it was already done and behind us. Also – and I’d never admit this to his face – he had a point. Trivia Master is a geek’s game, one in which we hold court. Perhaps the best way to attack the game is to revel in our inner dorkiness, to own it and show the world what a nerd can do.
That’s the real reason I keep doing it year after year. It gives me one real shot at a moment of triumph. That’s worth dealing with the odd psychopath, right?
Chapter 8 didn’t need much work, which is to say that there wasn’t anything obviously wrong with it. Most of the work here was touch-up on the dialogue to make it feel a bit more natural. I actually kind of which I’d done more scenes like this – Ken’s such an odd character that there’s a lot of humor potential in letting him go one-on-one with other characters. Eh, maybe in Geeks on the Road.
And speaking of other novels, have you checked out the Illinois Trilogy Christmas bonus yet? It’ll only last another six days…
Registration for Northwest High’s Trivia Master is a very simple process. On the Monday one week before the start of the tournament, a stack of forms are placed in the school office and a handful of classrooms throughout the building. Each form contains eight spaces, one for each participant’s signature and one for his or her name in block print. The completed form must then be submitted to the office between noon on Monday and noon on Wednesday. Doing this makes the team eligible for the entry test, which determines who will go on to compete in the preliminary rounds of the tournament.
Although registration is open for three days, over half of all teams register on the first day. The reasons for this vary from team to team, but the consistent explanation is a fear of competitor poaching. Teams may be decided on handshake agreements the week before, but officially none of these teams actually exist until the form is filed. During this period, any team can persuade a competitor to leave his or her own team, leaving the original team with an unfortunate gap. Many teams are still forming during this period, so this is a definite risk. In fact, I have heard that in years past – when most teams filed on Wednesday – some less scrupulous teams used this as a tactic. They would draw away the weakest member of a strong team, disqualifying his teammates unless they could quickly find a fourth member.
This seldom happens anymore, but registration is still vulnerable to various forms of chicanery. The simplest dirty trick is forging an individual’s signature. Few teenagers have the skill to accurately replicate a person’s handwriting, but even fewer administrators have training as forensic document examiners. In cases where there is some dispute, the office tends to check the order of submission and accept the earliest submitted document as the legitimate one. This is why it is crucial to get the form to the office as soon as possible.
Only one person is required to deliver the form, of course, but it is not uncommon for whole teams to show up at the office. Consequently, the tiny administrative office – which, at any given time, contains perhaps six people – strains to accommodate the fifty or so students who have arrived to submit their forms. To keep the process somewhat orderly and timely, only three students are allowed in the office at a time. The rest of us wait outside the door in a large knot occupying half the hallway. The environment is tense but with no small amount of excitement – a good trivia setting. It also happens to be a perfect opportunity to gather information on our rivals. There is much to be gleaned from such a setting.
Paul does not agree with me on this point. On registration day, he stays on the second floor and makes a conscious effort to avoid the office. While I would certainly prefer it if he would accompany me, I also can not blame him for avoiding the registration process. He does have his enemies, rivals and nemeses who hold a vested interest in causing him harm. Were I in his shoes, I would likely avoid these gatherings as well. So, on the appointed day, I collect his signature and those of our teammates and head to the office myself.
As usual, the office was a terrible mess. I usually try to be prompt, but I was delayed that morning and found myself behind a dozen teams or so. This game me time to conduct a scan of the crowd. It was a typically motley group, but there was clearly some talent present. True competitors always register on the first day – not since 2003 has a team that registered later than Monday made it to the finals. However, the crowd also contained a fair share of oddballs, individuals with agendas outside of trivia. Some were activists hoping to draw attention to their pet issues. Others were performers, with teams named after bands in an attempt to “generate buzz.” There was one girl who creates a team each year, just to quit before the start of the tournament – making some point about the school system that I have never understood.
In front of me was a new student, destined to be so much cannon fodder against the well coordinated local teams. Behind me was Brian Booker, a member of Aaron Bellamy’s team. Brian is a skillful strategist, and I had briefly considered him for a place on our side.
Brian tapped me on the shoulder. “Ken.”
“Brian! You know, I almost invited you to be on our team.”
“I’d rather be on a winning team,” he said with an arrogant flourish.
“You really think that Aaron’s going to be your ticket to the stars? We outperformed him last year, you know.”
“He didn’t have my guidance last year. With his skill and my strategies, you two don’t have a prayer, Greevey.”
Suddenly, I remembered why I had never approached Brian Booker. Simply put, he is a prick.
“Nice to talk to you again.” I turned away from him – no need to bother with such rabble.
“You know what I’m betting for our match?” he continued, heedless of my gesture. “A 200-point blowout. Bank on it.”
I will admit, this statement got my attention. “200 points? You of all people should know how statistically unlikely that is.”
“Oh? Then, how many points do you think you’ll lose by?”
“I’m not talking to you anymore.”
This is the problem with registration – you are sometimes called upon to interact with terrible people. Fortunately, there are always options. I noticed Isabel Morelli exiting the office. She was in uncharacteristically early. I raised my hand to draw her attention. “Hey, Isabel.”
“Piss off,” she replied.
“Say ‘Hi’ to Jane for me!” Sometimes I think this town breeds and attracts assholes. Ignoring the rudeness as best I could, I elected to introduce myself to the new student in front of me. “Hey, I haven’t seen you around. Ken Greevey.”
He turned around to face me. This was a perfectly ordinary young man, the kind of boy who probably faded into his surroundings everywhere he went. He extended his hand. “Leon Mara. I’m new here.”
“And already jumping into Trivia Master, huh?”
Leon shrugged. “Well, it looked like fun.”
“Yeah, really fun.” I did not have the heart to tell him the truth about this competition. No doubt he had experience with a similar contest at a school with more civilized students. Behind him, I noticed the office clearing out. “It looks like we’re up.”
“Oh, I guess we are. Well, nice to meet you!”
“Yeah, good luck!”
It was finally my turn in the audience. The tiny waiting area was surprisingly peaceful compared to the ruckus outside. As I had fully prepared my documents in advance, this would take little time – I merely had to confirm my identity for the secretary. At least, that’s what I thought.
“Excuse me, you didn’t fill this out,” she said.
“Of course I did. I have all the signatures.”
“You forgot to give your team a name!”
The name! In my zeal to prepare for this year’s match, I had completely neglected to create a name for our team. It had never even entered my mind.
This was not a minor point. The team name is a rallying point, a banner around which the team gathers its supporters. It is destined to appear on brackets in every hallway and on placards in the auditorium. It will adorn our picture in the paper and be forever memorialized in the annals of Northwest High.
More than that, the choice of name speaks volumes about its creator. Does one select a name from pop culture, identifying with an icon, using the name as a statement? An intellectual name, to showcase knowledge and refinement? A humorous name, to rally the student body in laughter? An inside reference, to be shared with only a select few and laughed over for years to come? There were many choices, and each brought with it both benefits and detriments.
I wracked my brain for possibilities. Reusing a name from a past year was out of the question – that only demonstrates a lack of creativity, which would not augur well for us. An inside joke was always a possibility, but I feared that I might alienate a mass audience if I leaned too heavily on geek jokes. I needed a name that would reflect our ambition while still appealing to the masses. I needed a name that told the world everything it needed to know in one compact package.
Finally, it came to me – transgressive, satirical, with a hint of self-effacing humor. I scrawled it down into the blank and handed the form to the secretary. I knew it would take a bit of explaining, but Paul would come to like it. Understanding people is a specialty of mine, after all.
Your regularly scheduled posting – with more Nerd World and further announcements regarding The Dragon’s Heir – will return after a brief message.
The holidays are upon us, and that means a lot of people getting new crap that can be used to download books. Maybe you’re one of those people. Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking “I can’t wait to read new books by my favorite best-sellers, but surely there’s some way that I can enjoy new fiction while supporting independent artists at the same time”? Well, you’re in luck. I’ve reduced the price of The Illinois Trilogy to 99 cents through December 28th. That’s as low as I can possibly set the price – less than $0.34 a novel. Just click here or on the image at right to pick up your copy now.
This humble little novel will help you get caught up on the events of everything else that’s been featured here. Delve deeper into Lidia Zhang’s character in Paradise Gardens. Explore the roots of The Fabulist‘s desolate wasteland in The Sunshine Crew. You’ll even have the opportunity to read the original Nerd World before I have an opportunity to cover up my shameful first attempt at fiction writing. And all for less than the price of a candy bar.
“But Andrew,” I hear you saying. “I don’t like e-books. Why are you leaving your readers out in the cold?” That’s a very good point, person who doesn’t actually exist. So how about a discount code good for $5 off the print edition? It’s a gorgeous piece, if I do say so myself – complete with artwork that’s not completely amateurish and design elements that I finally got to work after four dubious attempts. Seriously though, I do love this thing, and by clicking here or on the image at left and entering the discount code YE89FJBM at checkout, you’ll get almost 40% off the cover price. It’s good through the 28th, so don’t miss out!
Now, back to your regularly scheduled posting.
This chapter exists because of a very bad idea I had when I started writing. Because dialogue is my strength, I decided that it would be a good idea to pepper my novels with dialogue-driven chapters – scenes in which I dropped a few characters into a location and let their personalities bounce off each other. What I didn’t realize at the time was just how directionless these scenes could be, or how that lack of focus tends to result in bad dialogue. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that this was a bad idea until The Sunshine Crew, so not only are there more chapters like this in Nerd World but there are several in Paradise Gardens as well.
Anyway, I opted to keep all these chapters and just work on them. In this case, that meant expanding them. Chapter 7 grew by almost 50%, and I needed every word to make it sound real.
So Isabel Morelli is a real social butterfly. There is basically nothing that she can’t and won’t turn into a social gathering of some kind. I’ve lost track of how many little parties I’ve attended under the guise of “study groups” or “organizational meetings.” It’s not my thing, but maybe that’s because these are not my people. Maybe I’m just a little jealous that I can’t call my old friends together on a whim, or that none of my get-together are considered a big deal.
Isabel’s absolute favorite is the “girls’ night out.” It’s an odd concept, isn’t it? I guess modern social interactions are based so centrally around dating that any non-dating situation has to have its own name. Anyway, about once every month or two I get a call from Isabel asking me if I want to hit the town with her friends. Usually, I say yes, though I’m really not sure why. Isabel’s other friends are operating on another wavelength entirely. As much as I have in common with any of them, they might as well be from another country – hell, another planet. A typical night out starts with dinner, where the girls talk about their boyfriends – which I don’t have, so they talk while I sit in silence. After that, it’s only a matter of time before someone breaks out the booze. Well, that may be a bit strong for a bunch of high school dilettantes drinking Kahlua and pretending that they’re wasted. The evening concludes with me driving my not-at-all drunk friends around town, stopping to let them yell at boys.
I’ll admit that it’s entertaining, if a little sad.
Every year, we have a night out with the team, and I knew that this year was going to be the same. I had mixed feelings about that. It’s a more sober crowd, so if nothing else I knew I’d be spared the sight of Isabel chugging a bottle of vermouth she blindly swiped from her house (long story). It would also be a lot more comfortable for me – no more popular girls discussing their perfect lives, this was my crowd. But that’s also what worried me. I really had no idea how Hannah and Karen would get along with Isabel, or with each other for that matter. Being the only one who knows all of them, I might have had to play peacemaker, and that’s really not my role.
Was I too worried? I have a real problem with that.
That Saturday, Isabel set us up at this little Chinese place she likes. My job was to pick up the other girls. Isabel was always good at delegating tasks, so good that I never asked why she couldn’t bring us all down there herself. It was okay – gave me a chance to inform my guests of a few things.
The Bae residence was my first stop. Much to my surprise, Hannah came right out – no awkward dealing with the family, which is obviously good. I popped open the door for her. “Hop in. We just have to swing by and pick up our other teammate, should only take a minute.”
Hannah cleared her throat. “Maybe I should sit in the back.”
That, on the other hand, I was not expecting. The back seat of my car is tiny and filled with a really unacceptable amount of junk. Were I still ferrying Isabel’s crowd around, I probably would have cleaned it out, but this time it just skipped my mind.
“You…want to ride back there?”
“Well…you’re picking someone up. One of us has to sit back there.”
“All right. Help yourself.” I got the feeling she wanted to stay out of sight, and I wasn’t going to fight her over it.
Karen was my next pickup, and she didn’t even wait in the house. She was out on the curb, waving for me when I drove up. “Hey Jane! Over here!” I didn’t even have a chance to park before she ran up and hopped in the passenger seat. “Great to see you! Sorry, I guess I’m a little excited.”
“No problem,” I said. “Oh, Karen, this is Hannah. Hannah, Karen.” I’m not great at intros, if you haven’t figured that out by now.
Karen was halfway over the seat. “Of course! You’re Hannah…um…Bay?”
“It’s Bae,” she muttered.
“That’s right. Oh, my parents were going to introduce themselves to your family, but I guess it didn’t work out.” Karen nudged me. “You know how it is, right? You get caught up.”
“Yeah, sure.” It seemed as good a time as any to introduce my friends to the Morelli experience. “Isabel doesn’t really know any of you,” I told them, “so if she says anything…silly, don’t hold it against her.”
“Oh, what’s she going to say?” asked Karen.
“Just…keep it in mind,” I said.
Isabel was waiting in the parking lot when we came in. “Hey girls! Isabel Morelli, nice to meet you. You’re Hannah, so you must be Karen Schumaker?”
Karen reached out and grabbed Isabel’s hand – something that Isabel clearly didn’t anticipate. “I have wanted to talk to you for so long. Remember winter homecoming last year? Oh, you made such a glamorous entrance. Deep down, I really hoped you could give me some pointers.” She laughed. “I’m not good at that kind of thing.”
“Uh…okay.” Isabel glanced over at me, that old I need help look I’ve seen so many times before.
“We all set up?” I asked.
“Sure,” said Isabel. “Oh, I always order in advance – you know, get everything out quicker. You ever been here?”
“Oh no,” said Karen. “I’m just not that adventurous.”
“It’s nothing strange like that, I just never order off the menu. You get the best service when you know what you’re doing.” Isabel looked over at Hannah for this next part. “Of course, it’s probably not as good as what you’re used to.”
“Goddamn it, Izzy,” I said under my breath. I wondered if I had embarrassed Isabel in front of her friends like she was in front of mine.
Isabel had actually landed us a small room apart from the main dining area. That would be a bigger deal someplace like New York City, I suppose, but I was impressed. It was important to have a little peace and quiet, because Isabel and I had to explain how we did things. The rules on the Northwest website are only the tip of the iceberg. The important chunks are all informal and secret.
“All right, here’s the rundown,” I started. “Registration opens on Monday. It stays open for three days, but it’s always a good idea to get it out of the way as soon as possible so that nothing strange happens.”
Hannah meekly raised her hand. “What sort of ‘strange things’?”
I never did figure out a good way to answer that question that doesn’t make me sound crazy. So I took the coward’s route. “Let’s not think about that. Point is, we get the form in on Monday and everything’s fine. We’ll need your signatures, but one of us will take care of everything else.”
“I’ll take in the form,” added Isabel. “It’s not such a big deal, but it does get a little crazy around the office. You might want to show up early.”
“Crazy?” said Hannah. “I don’t like how this sounds.”
“Well, it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun to me,” said Karen. “I do have one tiny little question. Have either of you ever had a match against one of your friends?”
“I don’t think that ever came up,” I said. “Why?”
“Oh, I’ve always wondered about that,” said Karen. “It just seems really hard. I figured that maybe you’d know some ways to deal with that.”
“Not in particular,” I said. “Why? Do you have a friend on another team?”
“Oh, it’s not for me. It’s for her.” She nodded toward Hannah. “Her brother is on another team, you know.”
That seemed a touch strange. Andrew Bae was a real champ when he was younger, but he gave up trivia years ago. “Someone talked him into playing?” I asked Hannah.
“Yeah,” she replied. “He’s playing with someone named Aaron.”
Isabel and I groaned in unison. That had to be Aaron Bellamy, a little weasel with one hell of a Napoleon complex. If I had a hundred years, I could not describe everything that’s wrong with that kid. He’s a liar, a cheater, and pretty much a scumbag in general. He has a deranged crush on Isabel, and every once in a while he pulls some stunt with the hope of drawing her attention.
“Is something wrong?” asked Hannah.
“He’s a nut, is what’s wrong,” said Isabel.
“Look, if Aaron comes over, stay away from him. He’s a little…intense,” I added.
“Let’s change the subject, huh?” said Isabel. “There is one thing we still need: A team name.”
“Yeah, we’re never very good with those,” I said. “Hope was that maybe one of you – ”
“The Valkyries,” said Hannah. There was another surprise – I’d anticipated having to prod her into the conversation, and here she joins all on her own.
“What was that?” asked Isabel.
Hannah lost her nerve real quick. “Sorry, it was nothing.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Why don’t you tell us? I’m interested.”
“I just said ‘the Valkyries.’ They were the warrior women who escorted dead soldiers to Valhalla.” Hannah looked away. “But you don’t have to use it.”
It was a simple thing, but it got the point across. “I like it. Isabel?”
“It’s fine by me,” replied Isabel.
“I just think it’s terrific, Hannah!” added Karen.
And that was how the Valkyries were born. It turned out to be a fine evening – no one said anything too stupid, and no one threw up in my car. It was the first time since we started gathering the team that I felt really optimistic about the whole thing. Everything was turning out splendidly. Yeah, everyone was saying that it was going to be an especially ugly year, but there was no drama here.
Oh, and as long as we’re being honest, it was also the first time that I felt we could really kick some ass in this thing. In a fun way, though.