Tag Archives: characters

Researching Characters- An Example of Diving into the Rabbit Hole

In 2011, I was in a writing program called the Athenaeum through The Attic, a writing school in Portland, Oregon. I focused on my novel Zizkov as my “opus” of the writing mastery program. (If you want to check it out you can go to the category labeled The Novel- Hello from Zizkov, and that will I give you a general idea of the style.) I remember one of my teachers telling me that he never published his first novel. He wrote it. Put it in a drawer, and basically never looked at it again. I had thought at the time, “oh no, that will not be me. This baby’s gonna see the world.” Yet, it turned out to be me, but I think today I understand his point. It’s the lesson of writing. So, why am I writing this now? Well, I have been going through many old blog postings and cleaning house. I came across a post on researching characters for my novel. Since, I have been spending tie here breaking down processes and techniques and methods for writing (particularly creative writing) it seemed that this was a perfect platform for that old post.

It follows many of the points I had made on my blog posts about character development. It’s very detailed, and if I may say, rather impressive. I was surprised with the research I had put into building backstory and characterizations. Admittedly, I do enjoy research, and as some writers have pointed out research can be a distraction or form of resistance to writing your story. So be aware. That said if you read Game of Thrones you know that George R. Martin puts some serious time and research into his characters. Epic amounts of time equals epic stories.

Asking the questions

In the first part of this old post I reflected on some questions I needed to answer about the time and place of the setting (Prague) and what it would have been like to be a young person during that period.

I know a lot about Americans living in Prague since I was one of them, but I have some Czech characters to write, and where do I get the perspective on them? This has posed a challenge in the sense that, sure it has been easy to find a lot of books on Prague, and the Czech Republic which gives one a basic understanding of what it was like to be there between the year’s of 1939 to 1989, but what if you were too young to really know what it was like to live under an oppressive regime? Your parents did; your grandparents did; you know your history; but by the time you became a young adult it had already been 10 years of a new democracy.  The main Czech character is 24, and would have been 13 when the Velvet Revolution took place. My huge question is: what was it like to be a teenager growing up in a new democracy with opportunities? Opportunities your parents and grandparents never had, yet at the same time, experiencing an overwhelming flood of consumerism, and influx of foreigners, and a struggling economy. What would that have been like? (2008)

The Character and the Research

Next I wrote about one of the characters for my book. A character based on a real person I had met the first time I had lived in Prague. This real person’s history gave me a starting place for my first round of research.

My story is fiction, as I mentioned before, but the characters are based on real people. I remembered a conversation with the woman that Zuzana is based on; she had told me that her father was a member of the Czech Philharmonic– this is a very different upbringing from someone whose father worked in an industrial plant (which is where many people worked). So I started with music. I went back through Czech History dating all the way back to the 5th century when Bohemia and Moravia were first formed through separate tribes. No, I do not expect my characters to know this far back into their own history, but I felt that if I wanted to avoid making stock characters of Czech people why not know the birth of those people? I skimmed of course until I got into the 20th century, and along my journey through Czech/Czechoslovakian history I found what I wanted to latch onto- it was called Charter 77 and then something called the Jazz Section. (2008)

Imagining the Characters

At this point I imagined a scene with this character and the history of her life. I even included a little quote from the book that I had written at the time.

As I would go for a walk, I would imagine the main character’s, Annabelle, conversation with Zuzana as they visited a small town outside of Prague. On these walks Zuzana would to speak in my head, and she would tell me the story of her family. As soon as I’d return home I’d sit down and hand write out Zuzana’s family history dating back to her grandparents on both sides: When they were born, how they met and married and the years Zuzana’s parents were born. From there I moved onto her siblings and so on. It was a lush history that took me through 6 decades of Czech History. Will I write any of this history down in my novel? Hardly, but without a doubt I know who Zuzana is and why she is the way she is, and although a small character in the book she is a rich and beautiful character. (2008)

When the women get off the train in the small neighboring town, Zuzana tells Annabelle that when she was a girl her mother moved her and her two brothers to live here.  It was after her father was arrested. She says: My family is of a long line of teachers and musicians. It is almost expected that myself and my brothers will also be teachers or musicians but now that Czech is open, my brothers do not agree. They both have left  the Czech Republic. Which no one has done since before 1930. Even before the war I don’t think anyone had wanted to leave. Not from my family. It is good in Czech to be a teacher or a musician, at least it was.” (2008)

The Music, The Books, and The Research Links

I ended with sharing what music I was listening to at the time to help influence my writing. I also wrote about who I was reading at the time, again to help influence and inspire my writing. Then I added many links to the research on the history of Czech jazz and music subversion during the communist era. If you have the time allow yourself to fall down the rabbit hole. There’s some fascinating stuff there. Maybe you’ll find yourself inspired to write your own story.

Since I was basing a lot of Zuzana’s family history around the music of Jazz, that was what I decided to listen to while I wrote- so once a again thanks to pandora.com, along with this line of incredible musicians; Charlie Parker, John Hendricks, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, Lester Young, Shorty Rogers, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, Al McKibbon, Thelonius Monk, Sonny Stitt, Kai Winding, Gerry Mulligan, Lucky Thompson, and  Joshua Redman.

And of course,  always following with Mr. Stephen King’s advice, I’ve been reading. My reading material has been of course from Czech writers. I just finished Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal- it is a perfect book for a lover of books. The main character/narrator compacts trash and has spent his 35 years saving books from the hydrolic press, he has been unwittingly educated. It is a beautifully written book and at some parts disturbing, I’ll leave you with this quote from the book:

“I can be by myself because I am never lonely, I’m simply alone, living in my heavily populated solitude, a harum-scarum of infinity and eternity, and Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me.” Too Loud a Solitude, Bohumil Hrabal

Here is a link from the NYTimes about the Jazz Section.

Here is a link from the NYTimes about the Jazz Section.

Here is a link about the 1986 trial when seven people of the Jazz section were arrested.

An article on the Prague Spring of 1968

A blog with music info (among other things) in Prague specifically and the Provakator a webzine that the blog spot mentions in a post. And lastly an article about the The Plastic People of the Universe another dissident musical group out of the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia

How ever you go about your writing, taking the time to do some serious development on your characters will make your characters more believable. The degree of that development is up to you, and as you can guess you can get lost in it, but don’t skip it.

Keep writing those stories.

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A Final (but not truly final) Note on Characters

Many years’ ago I took a screenwriting class. Amazingly enough I still have some of the notes. These notes focus on asking yourself development questions. It was a screenwriting class, but the genre doesn’t matter. These notes can still apply to any other writing format.

  • Whose the main Character? Why? What so great about them that they get to be main character?
  • What’s the character look like? Who are they what are they like to the other characters in the story what are they like to the readers? To the narrator? What’s their history?
  • What do they want and and what’s in their way? What do they need to do to get what they want? I was watching the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch which he gave at Carnegie Mellon and he talked about things that we dream about. Things that we want out of our life. He described obstacles as the brick wall- Randy said, the brick walls are there for a reason- they are there to see if you want it enough- they separate those who do from those who don’t. You can break down, climb over, do whatever as long as you get over that wall. What is your character’s brick wall, and do they want it enough? My teacher expressed this idea as the “spine” in a film story. Actors use this too- it’s the ultimate goal, what drives the character.
  • What are the conflicts? They have a problem but they can’t just solve it easily, there are all these tiny obstacles that lead up to the main obstacle- the devils in the details, right? Try to think of it from every angle, think of the idea prompt- the most unlikely thing to happen. Make a list-a list can turn to a scene in a film a scene in a book and scene on a stage.
  • How do the characters change? How do they grow? This is something I’ve asked myself and oddly struggled with, I’d write something and then ask myself, but did they change? How? This is where you can build structure. What happens along the way to move the character towards change? Again my teacher had described the structuring of events as what builds the plot- and yes there are stories without plots or where the plot isn’t the main driving point, but most stories have plots. What’s it all about?
  • What is the dramatic situation that sits at the center of the story, around which your plot will form? So I took that one word for word from my notes. Those are my teacher’s words. The dramatic situation is the set of circumstances around the plot that are the events that affect the character as they try to achieve their goal- like what are the circumstances involved in the characters life at the moment that something happens? What does he/she want and what brought him/her to the place where they are now?
  • How does the character affect the dramatic situation- if the character wasn’t the way he/she is then how could things be different? What is so unique to this character to this circumstance that this story is being told?

Why tell your story? Because you must.

What drives us? What’s our obstacles? – And of course there is the eternal why? WHY? Why is it this way or that? Why am I living? Why are any of us living? Most of the time there isn’t even an answer in our own lives, but this is your story, your character, your world. You can see the purpose and the outcome and it’s up to you to let us know if we should see it or not. Isn’t that exciting?
Go be exciting.

Character Development 2

We are returning to some ways to build a great character, a believable character. In the last post I wrote about some ways to brainstorm for your characters. Questions to ask about your characters, and of course the always important, researching your characters.

Now what about the deep inner life of your characters? Do you really need that? Sure, you’re building human beings (and other creatures) out of words. You want your readers to be lost in a world that you created. You want them to put down your book, and forget where they are for a few seconds as they adjust back to their own reality. You want them to believe your characters. One way to do that is to give your characters inner life, dreams, a backstory, and supporting characters that are just as real.

The inner workings, relationships, supporting characters and backstory

The inner workings of your character

  1. Were there any traumatic incidents in your characters past that may affect their present behavior? Are there good influences from the past that may affect their present behavior?
  2. What are the unconscious forces that are driving your character? How do those forces affect their motivations, actions and goals?
  3. Is your character too nice, too bland, too normal, too bad? Is there anything abnormal about them? How do their abnormalities cause conflict with other characters?

Character Relations

  1. Is there conflict between the characters? Is the conflict shown through the action, attitudes or values?
  2. Is there contrasts between the characters? What is different between them?
  3. Do they have the potential to transform each other?
  4. Will the reader understand why they would be together? Is the attraction clear? Is the impact they have on each other clear?

The Supporting Characters

  1. Do the characters have a function in the story? What is the function? What is the theme of the story? How do the supporting characters help the theme?
  2. How did I create my minor characters did I give them enough attention? If I used types did I avoid the stereotypes?
  3. Do I have contrasting characters? Do they add texture to the story?
  4. How have I defined the supporting characters and the minor characters?
  5. Do I have villains? What are their backstories? What drives them? Is there a good that they pursue but use evil actions to get that good?

Backstory

  1. Is my work with backstory a process of discovery?
  2. Does the backstory unfold in the story?
  3. When giving backstory am I only giving information that is relevant to the story?
  4. Am I writing the backstory in short sentences that can reveal within the action of the story or am I heading off into tangents?

 

That should give you enough to work with.

Character Development 1

This post was originally a page, but I’ve decided to turn it into a post as I think that is a more effective and appropriate placement for the post.

Anyone who has ever crossed over this blog knows that I am a bad writer. I don’t mean as in bad quality. I write some decent stuff, I have a good imagination, and on a spectacular day I can even wow my self critic with some of my writing. I have potential. The same as anyone. Writing is a skill. I know this. You know this. We got this knowledge.  I’m not a bad writer, I’m a misbehaved writer. I don’t do the work. I know how to do the work, and I know I could do the work, but I don’t do the work. So there you go. I’ve admitted it. As I’ve admitted it many times before. Supposedly its the first step to recovery. No one tells you that it’s the second step that’s more difficult.

Although, I am an undisciplined, somewhat self destructive, and self sabotaging, but filled with potential (no matter my age) writer, I still know a thing or two about writing. Like I said, I have the knowledge, I just lack the will power. I feel like I’m a whiskey bottle or two shy of being an aging, pathetic, failed artist. Don’t feel bad about reading this because, there is humor in my words. You may not get the humor, but I’m smiling. I enjoy the verbiage. So picture me, sitting in my sweat shirt and leggings sunk into a chair, holding my whiskey glass, and slightly tipsy, yet working on wasted, as I extol the wisdom from my student debt inducing English degree with the writing minor.

Let’s develop a character. Part 1.

Development or Who is this being that you are about to create?

This should take you a lot of work. That’s why I don’t do it, but I’m not telling you to do as I do, but to do as I don’t do. As I said, if you want to make a believable character you need to do a lot of work. Make them real to you and they will be real to me. I watch Game of Thrones and I’ve read about four of the books and one thought that keeps coming to my mind is this: My god, the world he has created! Really, it’s incredible. We won’t even talk about the settings, and the storylines, but just the characters alone. The thing about the characters is that they have history, a long rich deep, deep history. Your characters should too. You are building a world, and even if you are writing about a real person you still need to give that character a life with a history, and life events, and likes and dislikes, you are basically building a replica and you want it to pass the Voight-Kampff test.

So where do you find this person, this being or this talking animals/object? You have two choices internally or externally. You decide.

  1. Your ideas; observations or experience or both.
  2. Inspiration from outside sources.

Okay, now what? Brainstorm and or create an out line. I used to describe this as the vomiting out words. Literally, I would just blahhhhh all over the page. No stoping just writing out all the ideas in a great big mess to clean up later. Here’s some basic questions to ask yourself about you character.

  1. what is the character’s core, what makes the character consistent?
  2. what are your character’s paradoxes? what makes them complex?
  3. emotions, attitudes, values to round the character out.
  4. add details that make them unique and specific.

You have your idea and or inspiration now what? Research the Character. If it’s a real person then by god, you need to do your research, but if it’s an imaginary person then…by god you need to do some research. Below is a list of some questions to think about as you do your research.

  1. What do you need to know about the context of the character(s)?
  2. Do you understand their culture? What is their culture?
  3. Rhythms, beliefs, attitudes that are a part of their culture.
  4. Do you know or have you met or spent time with anyone from their culture?
  5. How is the character different or similar to you?
  6. Do you feel you know enough about people from a culture and have spent time with them so that you don’t create a stereotype based on a few encounters or others outside opinions?
  7. Do you know your character(s) occupation?
  8. Do you have a feel for the occupation, an observation of what the work entails and how people feel about their work?
  9. Do you know the vocabulary enough that it comes out naturally and comfortable?
  10. Do you know where they (characters live) live? Do you know the lay of the land, what it is like to walk the streets of their neighborhood (city, country, seaside et.) ?
  11. What is the climate, what are the leisure activities, what are the smells and tastes of the place where they live, their setting?
  12. How is their location different and similar to your own?
  13. If your story is set in another time period, do you know the historical details, in regard to language, living conditions, what they wore, how they behaved in relationships, their attitudes and influences?
  14. Have you read literature or any other sources from the time period that might help you understand how they spoke and what words and terms they used?
  15. In your research have you reached out and been willing to reach out to ask for help with resources from knowledgeable people from a specific area?

Whooo. Are you done yet? Nah you’re just getting started.

Next post.

In the Tenderloin

The Tenderloin. 11:30 a.m. November. 

Hey, you how ya doing? You look lovely today.”

He was youngish, somewhere between 19 and 30, with dark brown skin the color of wood smoked oak. His head shaved with new hair growing a shadowy crown of ebony. His face was fine; Swazi nose, Zulu chin, Xhosa face, a child of ancestral Southern Africa whittled away over a century of abuse, and replaced with poverty, drugs and anger. An American boy.

He was such a good boy when he was little.” Grandma used to say. “Such a nice boy.”

(Grandmothers cry a lot these days. )

His dark brown slacks sagged slightly over a practiced limp in his walk. Swagger. His jacket oversized and bulky, black, and worn, but kept as clean as the streets allow.

“Thank you.” I said. My heels clicking against the sidewalk. The sound loud and obtuse. I had bought them recently, put them on layaway and made small payments. I had wanted nice shoes. Heels that were good for my feet but also flattering. This was an expensive requirement that took two months to pay off. They seemed too loud now.

He matched my step never looking at me always looking around or forward. If he glanced my way it was only to look at my body never my face. I forced myself to look at him to not allow fear keep my head down. A “nice” woman keeps her head down. This tactic has never worked in history, and yet we repeat, repeat, repeat.

He pulls out a phone from his coat, and I wince at the movement. Don’t be silly, don’t be silly, I think, keep walking, don’t slow down, don’t speed up, maintain the pace- maintain the pace. Nothing is wrong and I am not scared.

“Can I have your number?”

I keep walking. I don’t change my speed. I keep the same pace. I wonder how long he is going to walk with me. He holds his hand behind his back, and I wonder what he has hidden there. It is mid-day, but the light, and the people do not give me feelings of safety. I have stumbled unsuspectingly into the Tenderloin.

He leans heavily onto his right leg and swings his left forward in a well rehearsed strut. It’s so rehearsed that now it is his natural walk.

“When he was a baby he would stick out his belly and it would lead him around.”

Another man, gaunt face, chestnut skin pulled taught over his high jutting cheekbones, passes us. As he does he holds up two fingers. My unwanted companion nods. The chestnut man brushes against my shoulder, like a dying twig on a fall branch snags a sweater, and I am like a ghost to him; invisible in his world.

Another man pulls his car up to the curb. He rolls down his window and sticks his out his shaved head. His dark eyes and high cheekbones eclipse all other features nearly erased by his bone skin. He reminds me of pictures of boys in Southern Eastern European. I can see his blue track suit and automatically I think he is Russian. I secretly smile at my assumption- how do I know he’s Russian? Television? Magazines? Track Suits? He probably is Russian. He nods to my unwanted companion and lifts two fingers in the same manner as the chestnut man. My new-friend nods in response, but never stops walking alongside me.

As we share this walk, on a San Francisco street block that in my mind suddenly became the size of four city blocks, more men pass with nods and raised double digits. We were waking through a wave of nods and fingers.

His hands have been behind his back the entire time hidden under his heavy dark jacket. I wonder what he has under that jacket and if he will use it on me. I balance on the edge of fear and reason.

“So what do you do for work?” He asks me.

“I’m a teacher.” I say.

“A teacher?”

“Yes.”

He takes this information in like a fine cognac, inhaling first before placing the words to his lips and slowly sipping, then swallows with a nod to no man on the street but himself. He shifts his hands and arms but doesn’t reveal  them.

‘You know,” he begins, “I’m tryin’ to get back on my feet.”

“Such a good boy. And so smart too. Just whip smart.”

I don’t say anything. I just keep walking. I know at this point that he isn’t going to ask me for any money, not that it mattered, but if he didn’t want money, what did he want? Why the long walk?

“So, can I have your number?”

“I dont live here.” I say.

“I don’t either.” He says, “What does it matter? I want to be your friend. I’ll go where you are.”

“You gonna go to China?” I say, half smiling at his friend request. I still want to see his hands.

“I’m tryin’ to clean up. I’m thinkin’ about gettin’ my G.E.D.”

“You should.”

“I don’t know what I want to be yet.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Grandma asks. “I wanna be a police man so I can save people!” Baby says.

“Doesn’t matter.” I say, “Start with your G.E.D. You can be anything. Imagine what you can be.”

Grandma must have said that more than once. “Momma? Poppa? Can I be anything? Anything I want? Momma? Poppa?”

I look at his face. His young dark face already too old. Twenties? Thirties? Maybe, just maybe a teenager in the body of a hardened man.

“I wanna be your friend.” He says, “Can I be your friend?”

He never looks at me. Never looks at my face not the way I look at his face. I make him human he doesn’t do that for me.

He brings his hand out and holds a phone ready to take my number.

“We can’t be friends.” I say. “We can be acquaintances.”

“What’s that?” He says finally looking at me.

“Doing what we are doing right now. Walking together to the end of a block. We talk. We’re friendly. We say good-bye. We leave each other.”

“Oh. Well. I don’t want to waste anymore of my time.” He spins on his heavy leg and turns back up the street.

And leaves me with no good-bye, and like that I was dumped. In the Tenderloin.

My are you lookin’ lovely today!” A  giant black man with shiny skin is standing akimbo and yelling at me as I walk toward him. His white bleached shirt white as his teeth and tucked into pressed blue jeans stretched over colossus muscles. Huddle at his legs like a frightened children are a frail lady tweaker and a pile of rags with a toothless grin. They all smile at me. The woman’s skin which was once white is yellow and dry with a red sore on her chin and one on her cheek. Too much picking. Her clothes are dirty, but no where near the level of muck that is the Raggedy Cousin It hunched beside her.

“You sure are lovely.” The man yells again, and his voice is booming a deep rich baritone. The tone is to warm to be bothered, and only exasperated amusement rises into my being.

“Thank you.” I boom right back.

They were all children once too.

They all smile, and laugh cheerfully as I step off the curb onto the next block.

This new block is empty except for a schizophrenic man who is yelling to his invisibles.

“I know! I know! I’m upset! Yes! Yes! I am because that’s not what it’s about! I’ll gut it! I swear, I’ll gut it out! They’ll get it! They’ll get it!”

I walk pass him without incident. I am not a part of his visions.

I smile in the Tenderloin.

The banter is not cheap on the sidewalk, and it’s full of visions and monsters. Men and women who were once children shrink into reptiles because the light is too harsh and too cold. This is a place where the light is evil and the dark is good. A person can’t help where they were born. Not everyone was given equal opportunity, no matter how American one is.

“Fluorescents! It’s the fluorescents!” The man yells, and his voice falls behind me.

I agree with him it is the fluorescents. The grey pale light steals all the color. Whitewashes even the white.

Hunger suddenly diverts my thinking. I too am reptilian. I think of food. I could snap in a single jump to catch my prey, and everything else like fear of the street, fades in this one impulse of hunger. I must eat.

The Olympic cafe.

An old diner with faded pink linoleum tables, and a black and white checkered floor. Black  stools line the bar. I take a seat at a small single style booth. This is a place that once had smoking and non-smoking separated by this side of the room and that side of the room. I order bacon and eggs and black coffee.

Sometimes, I want to be an old man, anonymous, and alone with my shot of whisky, my cup of hot coffee, and my cigarette: “You youngsters you look at me and think I am sad, lonely, and pathetic, but I’m just sitting here being fine lost in my thoughts. My stimulants are small as you binge in your excess of partying such reckless youth. Now, I, I ease into my drink like a sage wrapped in a single sheet of bourbon: not a lake, there is no need to drown just to float. I am not waiting to die like Dylan Thomas. I am not gently waiting for the night to take me; I’ve a fine life. Leave your projections at the counter”.

I dream about being an old man. I will be an old woman. I want them both.

My thoughts are interrupted by an old black man his skin ash with age and the street. His hands in prayer shaking with pious pity and true religion. The owner of this timeless diner stares through the glass with dark Greek eyes. Pain through pane glass. The owner slowly shakes his head closing his eyes, he is hard-nosed, but not angry. “No.” He says.

They have a history these two.

Two old men. Old Americans: one stolen, sold, and bought; one who sold himself to come to the new country. Choices and no choices. America in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin in America.

All babies grow old. Come little children, let’s play kick the can ’cause all babies grow old. Hey, little baby’ll be an old woman soon. An old grandma looking at old men staring at each other through windows of pain. I want to be them both at once. I want to be the old America, the grizzled broken dream; the death of a salesman and the raisin in the sun.

I eat my eggs, and drink my coffee in the Tenderloin.

Version 2

 

Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 6, pgs. 209-214

Feste’s was raucous and crowded, and most of the commotion was coming from our area. I looked at my beer. I didn’t think I could take another drink. I was pretty drunk. We’d started in the morning and the whole day just turned into one extended shot glass of Bekerovka. It was like we were swimming in it. Eight or nine of us were gathered around a table near the bar. We met up with Koontz’s band, whose lead singer was a screaming, aggressive, brown dreadlocked man with a permanent scowl. He had a thick goatee and huge unkempt lamb chops. He wore black and torn hand-stitched clothing, and every sentence he said was punctuated with a fist slamming against the table. Marco sat between the singer and another band member, dwarfed by their size and staring into his beer. I felt disengaged almost high. I knew it was because I was tired, and I just wanted some quiet. I didn’t know exactly how we had gotten from the apartment to Feste’s. There had been so much drinking, and yelling, and spitting. I couldn’t figure out why I was still there and why I wouldn’t just leave. I’d gone numb. My fingers clasped my pint and I vanished into the swirling bubbles floating at the top. Occasionally, I would look over to Marco and start giggling at him, at the way he sat, expressionless, between the two Norwegian giants. He was probably wondering how the hell he had gotten there in the first place. I was wondering how he ended up in the middle.

Francisco, who had been wandering indiscriminately around the bar, brought a Czech girl named Ruby to join us at our table. He was in his element, matching the lead singer with every yell and slam of pints and fists onto the tables. Ruby, who was just as loud, shook her head when she yelled and her bright pink flapper bob shook wildly like it was on fire. Her wiry arms were covered with self-made tattoos, burns, and scars, and multiple black plastic bracelets and silver bangles that dangled from her wrists. She preferred to stand and swing the heavy wooden staff that she was holding in her hand. Francisco whispered into her ear. She pushed him away from her and slammed her staff onto the table. I looked at Marco who remained seated in a seemingly catatonic state.

“Hello Annnnnna.” Endres fell into the chair next to me. I wondered why he was so thin and quiet while his fellow countrymen were so big and loud.

“Hey, Endres.” I said. I was relieved to see him. To imagine the drug angel as the calm in the sea of giants was comical, but I couldn’t have been more grateful to see his throbbing and dilated pupils.

“When you left Annnnna, I fell back to sleep, then when I awoke I had time to think of you.”

I looked at him as he swayed forward and then back in his chair. “I thought,” he said, “about how you left and how nice it was to be near you. A girl I lived with back home her and I did what we did last night, what do you call it?”

“Sleeping together?” My words came out slowly and hesitant like a question. I wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about. He was confusing me. Every moment felt heightened and confusing.

“Sleeping together.” He said, “It was nice. I think it was good Annabelle. Not making love but sleeping together.”

I felt my head spin a second, and I sat up straight. There was a loud bellowing yell as the Norwegian death metal singer slammed his fist on the table. With every outburst everyone in the bar turned to look at us. Canada Mike looked at him with a nervous expression as he wiped down a wine glass. Endres stood for a moment unfazed, and said something to me, but his voice was drowned out from all the sounds. I looked over at him swaying. He looked as drunk as I felt. I gave him a meaningless nod of my head and then looked back to my beer. I couldn’t hear anything. The room had turned into a giant single rumble, and my eardrums were humming. I slid the beer onto the table, and then slowly turned away. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going but my body wanted to move. I didn’t feel sick, but I needed air. I walked past the table. Koontz grabbed me, and pulled me down onto his lap. He squeezed me tight around my waist. I didn’t have the strength or energy to fight him off.

“I like you.” He said looking up at my face. “I don’t mean I want to sleep with you; I just like you.”

Endres stumbled back to his seat.

“You like him?” Koontz asked me.

“Sure.” I said, sighing. I just wanted Koontz to let me go and leave me alone. I was tired. I hated people pulling and grabbing at me.

“You should go to him.” He said giving me a gentle push toward Endres. “Get off me.” I said swatting his hands away. I was annoyed and drunk. I shuffled back to my seat forgetting why I got up in the first place.

Somewhere between my swatting Koontz’s hand and returning to my seat pandemonium had broken out. By the time I sat down the singer had Koontz by the neck and his back on the table. He was screaming in Norwegian into Koontz’s face as he shook him. Koontz had his arms out holding his hands up in submission. Everyone had left the table except for Marco who held his drink closely to his body, as he stared emotionless at the wall across from him.

“What happened?” I asked Enders, but he didn’t seem to notice the choking that was taking place a few feet away. This was how waitresses got their throats slit in alleyways next to telephone booths.

Ruby started laughing and jumping up and down cheering the singer on. She swung the staff around. I waited for the cane to make contact with any one person’s head. I couldn’t seem to react as the bar blew up into absolute anarchy. It all felt so wrongly normal. Marco was vacant. He had no reaction to the chaos that was ensuing around him. He was centered between the two death metalers. The dreadlock guy had to reach over Marco’s body in order to grab Koontz’s neck. I wondered what Marco was thinking right at that moment. Suddenly, Ruby began singing to Marco, and dancing. Like in a striptease act she dropped to the ground, and carving figure eights with her hips, holding the staff between her legs like a pole, she slithered up the staff then slammed it onto the table as she climbed onto it and starteed crawling across the table toward Marco. The singer had Koontz by the shirt and had pressed him up against the wall, which gave Ruby tons of room to crawl as people quickly grabbed their beers before she knocked them off. Koontz and the singer screamed at each other in a slicing language. I knew things were happening in a rapid succession, but every moment had been condensed into what felt like an extended minute; a time-elapse, it was like watching thunder storms fly over a midwestern sky. I looked back to Marco. He looked bored. I looked at Endres. He looked stoned.

“I’m gonna make love to you all night long… Gonna make love to you…” Ruby crawled onto her hands and knees and leaned into Marco’s face, nose to nose, and sang louder.

“I’m gonna make your juices flow.”

He shook his head like he was done. He took another sip of his drink then set it quietly onto the table.

“I’m gonna make you sweat.” Ruby straddled Marco who promptly stood up with her legs still draped around him. She hung on Marco like he was pregnant with her. He turned to Francisco, peeled her off, and held her out as she squirmed and kicked.

“Can you take this please?” He handed her to Francisco.

Francisco held her trying to avoid her fisted swings and punches.

“Get the fuck off me! Where is my goddamn it fucking American boyfriend!” She said thudding her open palms against Francisco’s broad chest.

“It’s not me.” Said Marco. He climbed over chairs that had been tossed to the ground during the fight and drunken band members who had returned to the table to watch and cheer the fight on.

“I’m going home,” he said to Endres and me.

“I’ll be home in a second.” I said.

“Suit yerself.” And he left the bar.

“Would you like to go outside?” Asked Endres.

“Yes.”

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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 6, pgs. 204-209

The man grabbed three shot glasses from the shelves above my head and immediately poured the liquor into each one. He turned with a drink in each hand one for me and one for Marco.

“I see you’ve met Koontz.” Said Marco looking with disgust at the shot. “Mutherfucker didn’t you hear me in there puking out my spleen. I’m dead man. My shit is fucked.”

“You’re funny, Marco.” Koontz said as he pressed the drink closer.

Marco relented and took the shot. With a resigned moan, I grabbed my glass. I knew how this day was going to go. Friends in town, even ones we don’t know, and it’s a celebration. I sneak in from not shacking up in a dorm room, it’s a celebration. Marco throws up from the night before, it’s a party. I was getting to know the drill. I felt a little laissez-faire to the whole thing. I really just wanted to go to bed. Koontz picked his shot up from the table and held it up high over his head. “We toast. To friends and crazy days.”

Marco and I glanced at each other. We both had the look of defeat: drooping eyes filled with water and down-turned mouths, not that we put up much of a fight. With simultaneous shrugs we knocked back the sweet powerful shots of Becherovka. I was already wondering why I made such a bad decision, and so early in the morning too. I usually wait until noon before making such a bad choice.

Koontz howled, his head bent back toward the ceiling, and slammed his glass on the table. He pulled the glasses out of our hands as Marco lurched like he was about to gag but managed to just release a short convulse.

Koontz poured three more shots.

“Oh fuck.” Said Marco, and he rushed into his room and slammed the door. Leaving me alone with Koontz. I looked to the door shocked and dumb. Why would he shut the door? That bastard.

Koontz turned to look at me. I rushed to sit in the chair as if sitting in the chair was the safest place to keep from getting an embrace. It was about the equivalent to putting my head under the covers. As Koontz moved toward me I grabbed the shot glass and held it to his chest, stopping his forward motion.

“To American pants! ” I said and swallowed my drink with a throat-burning gulp. With my thumb I pointed back toward the shower room. “So I think I’m just gonna-’

Before I could finish he spun my chair out to the center of the kitchen and climbed onto my lap.

“Marco!” I yelled. I also laughed because I could not believe this scenario was actually taking place. I had just consumed two shots of hard liquor before eleven a.m. and now I had a pygmy wrestler sitting in my lap. What were the odds? I just wanted to sneak into my bed.

He put his head to my chest like a child. “I want you.” He said.

“Oh. My. God.” I moaned. “Listen,” I said trying to get up from the chair. “I just want to go to sleep. By myself.” He moved his hand toward my face and I grabbed it with a firm squeeze. He looked at my clenched fingers like it was a romantic gesture and then back to my face and placed his other hand on the back of my head, like he was petting my hair. He smiled showing several crooked yellowing teeth. The entire act was non-threatening, but it may have been that I was tired and already felt buzzed, so any fear I should have had over some stranger creeping all over me was lost, but if he tried to kiss me I was going to punch him. I figured he’d probably like that, though.

“Marco!” I barked. “God Damnit! Come out here!”

Marco pulled the door to his room open and stared at us for a moment. “I’ll leave in a second so you two can be alone.”

“No!” I yelled, and I shoved Koontz off my lap. “No, no non no. What the hell? Do you think this is mutual? Koontz is trying to molest me here. Aren’t you? ”  I said turning to Koontz.

“Yes! Yes! I like a lovely woman.” He roared out a laugh.

“Some friend and protector you are.” I said crossing my arms.

“Shiiit girl—” I never got to hear Marco’s response since Koontz interrupted him by jumping up and lifting Marco off of his feet, and spinning him around.

“Put me down mutherfucker! I ain’t your goddamn girlfriend.” Marco struggled against Koontz’s embrace.

As funny as it was to watch him swing Marco around the room, I decided to make a break for it. I made a quick dash for the door, but Koontz grabbed me by the back of my shirt and pulled me into an embrace with Marco. “I like you both.” He said squeezing us both tightly and nuzzling into us like we were pet bunnies.

“Oh Christ.” I moaned.

Marco looked at me from over Koontz’s shoulder, the edges of his eyes wrinkling into a narrow scowl.  “This is your fucking fault.” He said.

Koontz let us go and grabbed the bottle to pour more shots then pulled a couple more beers out of the paper bag.

“My fault?” I said rubbing at my arm. “I didn’t bring him home. You knew his name.”

“I didn’t bring him home either.”

Koontz raced around the kitchen like a spastic child.

“Did you load him up on Pixi Sticks before bringing him home?” Marco accused me.

“What? Me? I told you I never saw this guy till I walked in a few minutes ago. Then next thing I know he’s putting my hand to his heart. Where the fuck were you last night anyway?” I said.

“I don’t remember. To his heart? Hmm girl that weren’t his heart.” He looked me over and a mild smirk danced over his face. “Where were you? Comin’ in this mornin’ mm chil’?”

“Do you remember this guy?” I pointed at Koontz who beamed a smile at me then held out two shots.

“Yeah. He’s with some Norwegian Death Metal band.” Marco said taking the shot glass and holding it in his hand.

“What? You mean like burning churches and eating each other’s brains?” I grabbed my shot.

“What the fuck is you talking about?” He swallowed the shot.

“Something I read once.” I drank my shot and threw my head back.

“That’s some sick shit.”

We both handed our glasses back to Koontz . He immediately poured two more shots and held them out. We stared at the shots.

“There’s so much fucked up about this moment, Marco,” I was beginning to whine, “I cannot even bring words to my mouth.” I grabbed my shot from Koontz’s hand and spilled the liquid over my fingers.

Marco grabbed his glass and mumbled something about being sick.

I watched as Koontz stuck his head out the window and began to howl.

“So if you didn’t bring him home, and I didn’t bring him home, how did he get here?” I asked still watching Koontz bark and howl at the construction workers.

Marco and I heard a moan from behind us. We turned to see Francisco standing in his tiny boxers and stretching in the doorway, his body filling up the entire door space.

“Whaaaaaat’s going on here?”  He said with a yawn.

“Put some goddamn clothes on man.” Marco’s face was contorted and pinched, “Nobody here wants to look at your package.” He threw his shot back. “Shit’s disgusting.”

Francisco chuckled as Koontz ran to hug him and then brought him a drink and they toasted. Francisco drank then threw the glass into the sink and it shattered against the metal.

“Goddamn it.” Marco tossed his arms into the air. “Now I gotta steal more glasses from Feste’s.” He let himself fall back into the recliner and pouted.

I was starting to feel loopy from the last couple of shots mixed with the drinks from the night before. I looked at Marco. “There’s no escape.” I really wanted to feel sober right at that very moment, but I knew the day was lost. I had a choice, I still had a choice, but I was swept up into the early morning madness. It was senseless and I knew it.

“No goddamn escape.” Yelled Francisco spitting out the window.

Koontz danced around the room stomping and howling and spitting.

“Don’t leave me alone with that guy.” I whispered to Marco.

“Don’t you leave me alone wit’ em.” He whispered back. “My shit is fucked.” He said as he dropped his head into his hand, and closed his eyes.

I looked at him curled up in the chair and I stared at the CDs circling his toes. The potential for this day was lost. I knew it. Marco knew it. I watched Koontz and Francisco drinking and spitting out the window, occasionally howling toward the morning sky. This was Francisco and Koontz’s day, and the potential had not even been breeched- they were the minions of chaos. It wasn’t hard to figure out how Koontz got into the apartment. I didn’t know where this day would end up. I hoped it would be in my bed, by afternoon, and alone.

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