Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

The Dogs Project: Part Four

by Daniel Abraham

What is the Dogs Project?

“Hey,” Adam said.  “Sorry about that.”

“Well.  Can’t say you didn’t warn me.”

“They mean well.”

“I know,” Charlie said.  “And I appreciate the thought, it’s just . . .”


Adam stood, neither in the room nor out, his expression friendly.  The moment stretched just a little too long.  If Charlie wasn’t looking to talk, it wasn’t an invitation.  If he did want to, then it was.

“They didn’t find them,” Charlie said.  “The dogs who . . . They never found them.”

Adam stepped in the room, sat in the chair beside Charlie’s desk.  Charlie’s fingers hovered over his keyboard, then folded into fists and sank slowly to his lap.  A telephone rang in someone else’s office.

“It bothers you,” Adam said.

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The Dogs Project: Part Three

by Daniel Abraham

What is the Dogs Project?

The effort of going home exhausted him.  The effort of being home.  Charlie had spent weeks in his new nightmare life, and all his things waited for him, unchanged.  It was like walking into his room in his parents’ house and finding all his things from high school still where he’d left them.  The artifacts of a previous life.

Adam had stacked the mail neatly on the dining table.  Charlie sat there, his new aluminum cane against his leg, and went through them, envelope by envelope.  Dickens capered and danced and brought his old fetch toy, a ragged penguin.  Charlie only had the energy to toss it half-heartedly across the apartment a few times, and Dickens seemed to recognize his lack of enthusiasm.  The little dog hopped up on the couch with a sigh, and rested his head on his forepaws for the rest of the evening.

In the morning, Charlie took Dickens on a quick walk around the block, then fed the dog, fixed himself a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, and called a taxi to carry him to work.  The indulgence wouldn’t work as an everyday occurrence, but for his first day back to the office, he didn’t wan’t to push.  And, secretly, it meant one more day before he had to walk down past the strip mall, past the parking lot.  Better to spend a few dollars and treat himself gently.  There would be plenty of time to face unpleasant memories later, when he had more strength.

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The Dogs Project: Part Two

by Daniel Abraham

What is the Dogs Project?

[NOTE FROM THE MANAGEMENT: The scene following this is part of a horror story.  It’s violent, unpleasant, and possibly triggering.  You have my permission to skip it.]

It had happened on the walk from his apartment to the bus stop.  The morning air was clean and crisp.  The leaves of the trees still held the rich green of summer, but the morning chill was autumn clearing its throat.  Running late, Charlie trotted along the familiar streets the way he did every morning. Past the corner deli with its hand-drawn signs, past the dog park where he’d take Dickens to run on the weekends, past the little strip mall with the head shop that never seemed to be open and the laundromat that always was.  There was a meeting scheduled for ten o’clock and the quarterly reports needed to have the numbers crunched.  Charlie’s mind ran ahead of him, preparing for the day ahead.

The dogs started following him at the park, and at first, he saw them but didn’t particularly take note.  There were three: a buff-colored hound with long, loose ears and a joyful canine smile; a dane cross, broad-jawed and tall; and a bull terrier whose white fur was so short that the pink of its skin showed through.  They were facts of the landscape, like the grass pushing up from cracks in the sidewalk and the smell of garbage from the dumpster.

As Charlie cut across the parking lot, one barked, a high, happy sound.  The dane ran in front of Charlie, blocking his way.  When he tried to walk around it, the big dog shifted into his path again and growled, and Charlie thought it was being playful.  Running claws tapped against the pavement behind him.

Even when the first bite tore into his leg, the pain blaring and sudden, Charlie didn’t understand.  He reached for his calf, thinking that something had gone wrong, that there’d been some sort of accident.  The bull terrier leaped away from him.  Blood reddened its muzzle, and its tail wagged.  Charlie tried to walk, but his foot wouldn’t support him, the tendon cut.  Bitten through.  The fear came on him like he was waking up from a dream.  The parking lot seemed too real and suddenly unfamiliar.

“Hey,” he said, and the smiling hound lunged at him, yellow teeth snapping at the air as Charlie danced back, lost his balance, fell.  A white minivan drove by, not pausing.  The bull terrier jumped forward, and Charlie tried to pull his foot away from it.  The dane cross stepped over to him, bent down, and fastened its teeth around his throat.  The thick saliva dripped down the sides of Charlie’s neck, and for a moment, all four of them were still.  When Charlie lifted his hand toward the dane’s muzzle, it growled once, faintly — almost conversationally — and the jaw tightened.  You live if I let you live.  Charlie put his hand back down.

The attack began in earnest, but he didn’t get to see it happen.  The only thing in his field of vision was the side of the dane’s head, its sharp-cropped ear, the curve of its eye, and beyond that, the clear blue of the sky.  Teeth dug into Charlie’s leg, into his arm.  One of the dogs stood on his chest, its weight pressing down on him, bit deep into the softness of his belly, and then shook its head back and forth.  The pain was intense, but also distant, implausible.  Intimate, and happening to somebody else.  It seemed to go on forever.

The dane growled again, shifting its grip on Charlie’s neck.  Its breath warmed Charlie’s ear.  The smell of its mouth filled his nostrils.  The voices of hound and terrier mixed, growls and yips and barks.  Violence and threat and pleasure.  Something bit into this foot, and he felt the teeth scraping against the small bones of his toe.  A pigeon flew overhead, landed on a power line.  Another bite to his belly, and then something deep and internal slipped and tugged.  The dogs had chewed through the muscle and were pulling out his intestine.

I’m going to die, Charlie thought.

And then it was over.  The grip on his throat eased, the assaulting teeth went away.  Charlie looked down at the slaughterhouse floor that his body had become, the ruins of his blood-soaked clothes, the pink loop of gut spilling out onto the asphalt.  The hound with its friendly face and permanent goofy smile trotted to his head and hitched up its hind leg.  Its testicles seemed huge, its red, exposed pizzle obscene.  Urine spattered Charlie’s face, thick and rank.

Then they were gone, pelting down the street away from him.  They barked to each other, their voices growing softer with distance until they were just part of the background of the city.  Charlie listened to his own breath, half expecting it to stop.  It didn’t.  Another car drove by, slowed, and then sped away.  He felt a vague obligation to scream or weep.  Something.  The pigeon launched itself from the wire above him and flew away, black against the bright sky.

Some time later, he thought to pull the cell phone from his pocket and call 911.  The blood made dialing hard.


Daniel here.

It would be really cool if there was a way to know that this story was working.  Usually, it’s a pretty good sign when I start having some kind of somatic reaction while I’m writing something.  This one, I was aiming for that, and I got there.  Not full on nausea, but a little lump at the base of my tongue.  That’s happened before when I was writing things.  I’ve also made myself cry and laugh.  I’ve got a weird job that way.

I had to make a real effort on this one not to take the language over the top.  It’s really tempting to start throwing in a bunch of abstract adjectives like horrible and terrible, but they don’t mean much.  Instead I tried for a lot of concrete, specific images and evoking as many direct sensory experiences as I could.  The dane’s breath against Charlie’s ear, ferinstance.  I hadn’t planned to have the cars going by at the beginning and end of the attack, or the pigeon.  I think the sense of help being nearby but not helping worked out pretty well.  For some reason, the pause after the dane gets Charlie’s neck — when Charlie puts his hand back down — is important to me.  Not sure why that’s true, but it is.  Also, I got to put in the dog park that comes up later in the story, so that’s already established.  I am starting to wonder what Charlie does at the office.  Clearly, he’s white collar, but beyond that, I got no clue yet.  If it’s important, I’ll put it in, but my guess is it doesn’t matter.

One of the weirdest pieces of advice writers get when they start learning is “Write what you know.”  I’ve been doing this for decades now, and I literally don’t know what that phrase is supposed to mean.  I am one of the 90% of men who hasn’t been on the bleak end of sexual violence.  I’ve also never been mauled by dogs — nipped on the ass by a doberman when I was maybe eight, and that’s it.  Clearly I don’t know from experience anything important in this scene.  Does that mean I shouldn’t have written it?  I have books set in fantasy lands that never existed and in futures that won’t be like that if we ever get there.  Are those somehow immoral writing, because these days, they buy my groceries.

My best guess is it’s an admonition to limit your imagination to things you’ve experienced because otherwise you get the details wrong, and God forbid that ever happen.  More useful advice would be do your best and understand sometimes you’ll get some details wrong.  Imagination’s a muscle.  Gets stronger if you use it.

But back to the scene.  My job with that one was to make it awful enough that the rest of the story makes sense.  I honestly don’t have any idea whether it works for that.  I’m in the middle of the project, and I have no perspective.  And I didn’t expect to.  I’ll take a look at it when the whole thing’s together and I’ve had some cooling off time.  Until then, I’m withholding judgment, except that I’m glad that scene’s done.



The Dogs Project: Part One

by Daniel Abraham

What is the Dogs Project?


“Well, you’ve used a lot less morphine today,” the nurse said, tapping the feed with his thumbnail.  “Keep this up, Charlie, and we’ll have you out of here by the weekend.”

“Go dancing,” Charlie joked.

“That’s the spirit, my man.”

The nurse adjusted something in the suite of machines beside the bed, and the low, chiming alert stopped for the first time in an hour.  The sounds of the hospital came in to fill the void: the television in the next room, the murmur and laughter of nursing station shop talk, monitor alarms from all along the ward, someone crying.

“I’ll get you some more ice,” the nurse said, taking the styrofoam cup from the little rolling bed table.  “Be right back.”

Charlie tried to say thank you, but it was hard to focus.  His mind didn’t feel right, and his body was a catalog of pains that he didn’t want to associate with.  They’d saved his toes, but in five days, he’d only glimpsed the complication of red flesh and black stitching that was his leg.  The muscles of his abdomen were compromised.  That was the word the surgeon had used, compromised.  As if there had been some sort of agreement, some give-and-take.  The fluid draining from his gut had moved down, feeding deep, bloody bruises down both his thighs and filling his scrotum until it swelled up to the size of a grapefruit, the skin tight, hot, painful and discolored.  Strangely, the punctures on his neck where the dog’s teeth had held him were the least of his injuries, and the quickest to heal.

The nurse stepped back in, put the cup where it had been.  Firm white foam holding crushed white ice.

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The Dogs Project: Outline

by Daniel Abraham

What is the Dogs Project?

I have this thing about wordcount.  Anyone who’s worked with me can tell you about it.  It’s idiosyncratic, and usually when people find out how it works, they start looking at me funny.  But for outlining a story, it’s a wonderful little kink to have.

Usually, I can do something in about 750 to 1000 words.  The way I’m thinking about Dogs, it’s probably a novelette which puts it anywhere between 7500 and 17500 words.  So when the time came to make the outline, I figured I was looking at about ten things happening start to finish.  Now I knew what the last one was — the guy with the big dog saying “nice doggie” over and over.  Which only begged the question of what the nine things were that happened before.

This is a horror story; the mandate is to present a malefic universe.  I know I’m not going to end things in a conclusive, satisfying way because the ending scene gets its power from the uncertainty and also because pretending I had a solution to the underlying subject feels cheap and disingenuous.  I know that the well I’m drawing from is sexual violence and its aftermath with particular focus on the paradox of most men being good people, and there still being a lot of predators.  I also know I don’t want to have any of that be explicit in the final text.  One of the things that Orson Scott Card said that actually made sense to me (and he and I agree on essentially nothing) was that if a story’s about something, you never use the word.  In this case, I don’t want there to be a rape or any sex or — and this was a decision I wasn’t sure about, but I think I’m going to roll this way — women.  What I’m trying for here is a translation of how I imagine it would be to live in that world into a different context where that dread is fresh and shiny and new.

And I’ve got nine things to do it in.  Here’s what I came up with:

1) Protagonist in hospital, recovering from having been mauled.  His work buddy shows up to visit, bringing the protagonist’s dog along.  The dog is visibly distressed by the whole thing.

The idea here is that the scene give the reader a good hook — here’s a guy who’s in pain, and people who care about him.  We also set up the “good dog” who we’ll be taking away from the protagonist later.

2) Flashback.  The protagonist walking through the park and being attacked by dogs.

This is the scene I’m already dreading.  I have to traumatize the protagonist and the reader enough that all the stuff that comes after makes sense.  I have some ideas about what would make this particularly unpleasant and visceral. I think one of the dogs should have a very friendly face.  I think the attack should begin with the guy thinking that the dogs are playing.  I think the worst of the attack will be when he’s on the ground and one of the dogs has its neck around his throat to keep him from moving.  At some point, the protagonist needs to believe he’s going to die.  It won’t be like a real dog attack, because I’m not aiming for realism here.  And at the end, I’m pretty sure one of the attacking dogs pees on him.  The rest of the story is going to stand or fall on whether this scene does its job.

3) The protagonist goes back to work

This may be a fairly short scene.  We see the work buddy again, we watch the protagnost trying to get back to normal with the sense that it’s not really working.

4) The protagonist tries to take his dog to the park  [ED: In practice, it turns out this needs to be scene 5 and talking to the work buddy needs to be scene 4, but who knew, right?]

Our guy and the good dog head out to the dog park where they always used to go, but the guy can’t do it.  He sees the other animals and freaks out.  The good dog is confused and hurt, trying to go have fun the way he used to, and having his treat taken away (even though poor good dog didn’t do anything wrong).  Hopefully, there’s a growing sense here of claustrophobia and sorrow and resentment.

5) Talking with the work buddy (1 of 2)

I think it’ll be time to take a break from the horribly emotional stuff here, step back, and see our protagonist actually having a moment’s connection with someone.  This is also where I get to put in the idea that most dogs never bite anyone.

6) Losing the dog

The protagonist at home at night and his dog sulking.  When he tries to cajole the dog into being playful, the dog snaps.  At the end of the scene, the dog does and scratches at the door to be let out, and the protagonist lets him out, clear in the knowledge that the dog won’t come back and the protagonist isn’t going to go looking for him.  The metaphor here — in case y’all hadn’t picked it up — is of the nice guy who can’t handle that his lover’s been raped.  From a narrative perspective, this has the advantage of putting my character in even more pain, and also it frees him up to start looking for a new dog (and deciding if he even wants one).

7) Protagonist on the street, getting barked at.  No one else reacts. (Got this scene wrong too.  Seven and eight wound up switching places as well.)

So now that we’ve taken away the protagonist’s companion, I’m going to make him feel a little more threatened and hypervigilant.  We’ll have a scene — probably on his way to work — where a dog barks at him, and he has an anxiety attack.  But no one else seems to pay any attention, so he tries to keep his reaction hidden.

[grr.  numeral eight, close parentheses, not 8) ]The pet store, failing to get a new dog

Our protagonist in a pet shop, thinking that what he needs is a new dog.  Maybe a bigger one, that can also offer some protection.  We go in with him, talk to the shop guy, look at the dogs available for adoption, but our guy keeps seeing the new pets as possible predators, and he winds up leaving without getting a dog.  Chances are, he’d get a good dog, but the consequences of being wrong are too awful.

9) Talking to the work buddy (2 of 2)

We’re almost to the end here, so it’s time to start wrapping up.  I figure it’ll be a conversation about how to feel safe around dogs, with the work buddy pointing out the trade-offs in each one.  Yeah, you could carry a gun, as long as you never want to go to a bar, a bank, or a courthouse.  Yeah, you could do some martial arts class thing, with the understanding that dogs are always going to be faster and bite harder than you will and they hunt in packs, but sure.  We’ll find out that the work buddy was mauled when he was a kid (I’m thinking by a family pet).  When the protagonist asks how long the fear lasts, I think the work buddy will say something along the lines of “It never goes away, you just figure out how to work around it.”  I don’t know the details on that, but I figure I can put it together when I get there.

10) good doggie good doggie good doggie

I don’t know if I can really use a subway car.  I mean, seriously, what’s a Great Dane cross doing wandering around the subway on its own, right?  But I could put him at a bus stop by himself, maybe around twilight.  Have the dog show up, sit on the curb.  Huge animal.  Massive and young and strong.  Probably some scars on its ears.  Not growling or anything.  No expression on its face, or maybe that little smile dogs get sometimes.  The feeling of threat starts ramping up, and the story ends.

So like that.

Come back next time, and I’ll take a swing at that first scene.



The Dogs Project: Where do you get your ideas?

by Daniel Abraham

What is the Dogs project?

So the standard question that writers always get asked is “Where do you get your ideas?”  And a lot of times it’s said in this tone of voice that is just loaded with impression that getting ideas is the impressive thing that we do.  This confuses and frustrates writers — by which I mean me — for several reasons.  First off, the part that I struggle with isn’t the having ideas part, it’s the making the ideas not suck in practice.  Having ideas is the easy part, figuring out how to deliver them is more than a lifetime’s work.  But the second part is that the question isn’t usually answerable in any satisfying way.  “Oh well, you know, I read a lot and things just kind of come together in my head and then I get excited about them.”  That’s exactly true, and sort of anticlimactic, right?

So anyway, I spend a certain amount of time hanging out on the Westeros forum, and there was this long-running sturm-und-drang conversation that spilled out over two threads about depictions of rape in fiction.  I came into it late, and a lot of it fel into the tl;dr category for me, but I was grazing it some.  For long-time blog readers, I’ve built my own opinions about sexual violence in fiction, which mostly comes down to two general guidelines:

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The Dogs Project: Introduction

by Daniel Abraham

So a while back, your friend and mine Shawn Speakman from over at Suvudu asked me if I’d be up for contributing to the anthology he was putting together as a way to help pay of his chemotherapy bills.  Naturally, I said I’d be delighted, and so yet another little project got put on the end of the list, and I started trying to think about what would be fun to do.  Sean is in some ways a harsh taskmaster, becasue apart from the bit where I write the story and give it to him for the anthology, it’s not like there are any rules.  For a lot of anthologies, there’s at least a theme to work from:  stories with romance, stories with detective themes, stories inspired by Fred Saberhagen.  Something.

So I struggled and I fidgeted.  And then I got a terrible idea, by which I mean I got the idea for a horror novelette that I find very uncomfortable and more than a little disturbing.  I even knew the name of the story:  Dogs.  That’s usually a pretty good indicator that something interesting’s happened.

I am going to try to make this picture intensely creepy

The normal thing to do at this point is that I go sit at my desk and I write the story.  but the more I thought about this particular one and how the idea came to me and how it would be structured, and the ways it fed back into some other conversations and posts I’ve don on the blog here, the more I thought there might be an opportunity here to do something fun.

So here’s the plan.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write this story out here in public where y’all can watch.  I’m going to talk about where the idea came from, and what I did with it.  I’m going to walk through how I think about story structure with this as a concrete example, I’m going to write a draft scene by scene with commentary alongside about how I think things are going (and whether my opinion on that is even vaguely trustworthy).  And at the end, if I’ve got time, I’ll send the draft out to my first readers and tell you all what they said and how interpreted their critique.

The only things I’m not going to do is talk to you about it or post the final draft.  Comments will be open.  Ty will be doing the whole moderation thing, and when I’m done, I’d be happy to chew it over.  While I’m in the middle of it, though, is the wrong time to have a conversation about it.  And the final draft is what I’ve promised to Sean, so he gets dibs.  I’m hoping a few of you fine folks will be sufficiently curious that you’ll pick up a copy of Unfettered when it comes out so we can give Sean a hand.  (Plus which I’ve seen the play list on it, and there’s some damn good names.)

So the posts I’m intending to put up:

1) An introduction to the project (which you’re reading now)

2) The idea.  What it is, where it came from, how I want to approach it, why I want to approach it that way.

3) The outline.  I’ve got a thing for outlines.  And word count.  I have a really weird thing for wordcount.

4 through probably about 14) Individual scenes from the outline with commentary

15-ish) The first draft

16-ish) Feedback from the first readers in two parts

17-ish) Recap of the project and some final thoughts

There will probably be a gap between the first draft and getting comments back, but I’m going to try to keep the other posts coming in pretty quick order.  I don’t mind saying that I’m a little nervous about this.  If you’re coming along for this ride, I promise I’ll try to make it worth your time.  But the story is horror, and it’s going to get a little dark in here.  If you want to go do something else, I won’t think any less of you.  In fact, I’ll probably be relieved.

[ED: Sean, Shawn.  Something like that.  I suck.]



Paying Tribute: The Stars My Destination

by Ty Franck

I’ve been kicking this one around for a while now, trying to figure out how to approach it,  and I’ve come up with no brilliant answers, so here it is.

The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester:

The Stars My Destination is a book I first read when I was way too young to understand it.   Someone bought it for me when I was about 11 in a large collection of short SF novels.  I read the whole collection several times, and I have almost no memory of what else was in it.   The Stars My Destination kicked my ass so hard it literally blew the other stories out of my mind.

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Voting for the Hugo

by Daniel Abraham

For those who are hip to the science fiction awards scene, I wanted to remind y’all that tomorrow is the last day to register for Worldcon this year and still get to vote for the Hugo awards.

For those of you who aren’t hip to the science fiction awards scene, it goes like this.  The Hugo Award (named for editor Hugo Gernsback) is one of the most prestigious awards in the field.  It’s voted on by members of Worldcon, so if you’re going to this year’s Worldcon in Chicago, you get to both nominate works to appear on the final ballot and cast a final ballot that counts.

Or, if you’re not going, you can get a supporting membership for $50 — which has in recent years included electronic access to copies of most if not all of the works that get on the final ballot, and as such is actually pretty cheap for a collection of the most popular science fiction and fantasy work done in the last year.

And this is one of those cases where just a few votes really does count.  Last year, total number of people voting was a little over 2000, and the best novel award was only about 20 votes ahead of the second place title.

The nominations process for getting on the final ballot is oing to be open for a while yet, but if you want to be one of the elect and get a voice in what wins the prize, now’s the time.


The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About

by Daniel Abraham

The very honorable Jim Hines has made mock of one of my covers, and been picked up by Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

I am reminded of the writer who was offered a review of his book in the New York TImes, but on the condition that the review would be an excoriation.  I suppose if anyone’s cover is going to be held up for public ridicule, better that it be one of mine…