In the dawn of 2016, I started a gratitude jar. It worked like this: Whenever something positive happened, I wrote it down, along with the date, on a little slip of paper, folded the paper in half, and dropped it into my gratitude jar. Now that 2016 is in its twilight, it’s almost time to open that jar and read back through the highlights of the last twelve months. By the looks of the jar, crammed to the lid with paper in every shape, size, and color, I had a very good year. I know that’s true for my writing. I started this blog and the corresponding Instagram account. I attended two writing workshops, several evening talks, and one writing conference. I pseudo-joined a critique group (meetings are held while I am at work, so I can only attend in the flesh during school breaks). I saw my writing published in eitherThe Richmond Times-Dispatch or writeHackr Magazinefor seven consecutive months. Literary agent Michael Carr commented on one of my blogs posts–little ol’ me! Can you believe it? (You can bet THAT went in my jar.) Elizabeth Gilbert and John Grisham “liked” some of my Instagram posts (that also made it into the jar). I am more than satisfied with and encouraged by 2016’s progress, and I want to keep the momentum going into and through 2017, with the ultimate goal being to find representation for my debut novel, Goodbye For Now, as well as to finish the first draft of the novel I started for NaNoWriMo, tentatively titled The Experiment.With that in mind, here are my Writing Resolutions for 2017.
Write a diary entry at least once a week.
Compose and publish a blog post at least twice a month (preferably, once a week).
Read at least one book on craft per quarter (I started Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir earlier this week, and that will no doubt carry me to January, satisfying first quarter).
Submit writing to various publications at least once a month.
Make a concerted effort to find representation for Goodbye For Now.
Research self-publishing in case concerted efforts mentioned above yield little fruit.
Attend conferences, talks, and workshops as schedule allows.
Engage in any combination of these activities to support my writing at least five days a week.
Whatever your New Year’s resolutions may be, I wish you success. Happy New Year!
Few experiences are more grounding and powerful than stepping where the literary greats have stepped–standing in their writing spaces, looking out their windows, walking down their streets. Something about visiting the places they lived, worked, and played makes them–Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Poe, Twain, all of them–real. They were not ephemeral beings endlessly spritzed with the holy waters of infinite inspiration, ideas, and ability; they were real people with real relationships, real struggles, and real homes. 2017 has just begun. All twelve of its months stretch before us, waiting to be filled with plans, trips, work, vacations, and memories. Below are twelve destinations–one for each month–that can help you feel connected to some of your favorite writers.
1.In Richmond, Virginia, you can learn all kinds of fascinating information about Edgar Allan Poe, as well as view relics from his life, when you visit the Poe Museum in Shockoe Bottom. Admission ranges from $5 to $6. For no additional cost, you can schedule a guided tour, but perusing the museum’s buildings on your own is informative and interesting. The museum is housed in the oldest standing building in the city, which stood when Poe lived there in the 1800s.
2. Within walking distance of Richmond’s Poe Museum, you can visit the gravesite of Poe’s mother, Elizabeth Poe, in the cemetery at St. John’s Church.
3. Working your way just two or three hours north on I-95, you can learn more about Poe in Baltimore, Maryland, another city in which Poe lived, which features a Poe Museum. (You didn’t think they named their football team The Ravens for nothing, did you?)
5. Getting sick of dark romance and cold weather? I thought you might be. Let’s head south, then, to the tropical paradise of Key West, Florida, where you can tour the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Admission ranges from $6 to $13.
Visitors prepare to enter The Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, in August 2014.
The pool at Hemingway House
A partial view of Hemingway’s writing room. Note the cat lounging on the floor, one of the famous five-toed cats that wander the grounds.
My sister (right) and I (left) on the balcony at The Hemingway House in August 2014
7. In Concord, Massachusetts, you can visit Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. The house itself is shown only by guided tours, and information for visitors can be found here.
8. While in Concord, you might as well get a little transcendental and visit Walden Pond State Reservation. If you’re a Massachusetts resident, you can expect to pay an $8 parking fee. Out-of-staters pay $10 to park. There is only one parking lot, and it closes when it reaches capacity, so call 978-369-3254 before you go.
9. Yet another literary destination in Concord is the Concord Museum, where you can get started on Concord’s Thoreau Trail, which features several sites relevant to Henry David Thoreau’s life and works. You can also learn how to visit Ralph Waldo Emerson’s and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s homes.
10. While we’re already so far north, let’s hop across the border to Canada’s Prince Edward Island, where you can visit Green Gables, as featured in Lucy Maud Montgomery‘s Anne of Green Gables books, one of my favorite series when I was growing up.
11. Another childhood favorite for my siblings and me was the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are Wilder destinations around the country, including California, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
12. For our final destination, we will revisit the dark romantics–this time, William Faulkner, whose home, Rowan Oak , can be found in Oxford, Mississippi. Visitors can tour the grounds at no charge, and the house for a mere $5.
Well, what are you waiting for? Grab some maps, book some flights, and head to your first literary destination of 2017! Bon voyage!
By day, Luke P. Narlee works for the government, doing transportation security in the intelligence field. By night, he writes and publishes his own novels. His first novel, Guest Bed, explores the complex issues couples face after years of marriage. His second novel, The Appointment, which he hopes to release within the next two months, imagines a future world devoid of all enjoyments and meaning, a world in which depression runs rampant due to a collective sense of hopelessness and purposelessness–until Jacob Johansen agrees to attend a mysterious appointment. Below, read Narlee’s take on the writing life, including indie publishing.
Mind the Dog: Where did you get your inspiration and idea for your first novel, Guest Bed?
Luke P. Narlee: The inspiration for this story stemmed mostly just from being married myself. There are a lot of emotional ups and downs associated with marriage, and it’s no different with the couple in Guest Bed. Of course, being that it is fiction, my first priority was to entertain and keep readers guessing. But I also wanted to explore some of the deeper issues that tend to occur between couples when they’ve been married for several years. For example, when couples are struggling to make the relationship work, what is it that’s truly causing the arguments? What is it they’re yearning for when they decide to separate or commit adultery? I also wanted a lot of the focus to be on communication. In the story, the two central characters, Ron and Kate, have an abundance of communication issues, which is the cause of the majority of their arguments. I think that the characters in the book say what a lot of couples only think or keep internalized. My hope is that people will find their issues to be relatable.
An Excerpt from Narlee’s Novel, Guest Bed
She narrows her eyes. “You still don’t get it, do you?”
I sit up so that our eyes are level, trying to keep things as even as possible. “No, I guess I don’t.”
“I need more from you, Ron. I want to know what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. You don’t share yourself with me anymore. Yes, we had fun downstairs, catching up on our days and exchanging witty banter. I enjoyed it. But that’s not what I need from you.”
I stare at her, breathing heavily.
“It’s not enough!” she says.
MTD: How long did it take you to write Guest Bed? What was your process like?
LPN: It started out as a short story that I wrote just for fun at least a decade ago. It took me a month or so to write it and set it aside. Then, within the last five years, I found a way to incorporate it into my soon-to-be published novel, The Appointment. Within The Appointment, there are a few chapters that read like short stories, and I thought Guest Bedwould be a perfect fit for that, but eventually my editor at the time convinced me that the story was too good to stay merely a chapter in a novel, and that it should stand on its own, somehow. I had no idea at the time that it would eventually become my first published novel.
Overall, I’d say it took me six months to write Guest Bed, and be fully satisfied with it, and about ten months all together from start to publish.It was relatively quick, considering I’ve been working on the The Appointment for five years.
MTD: Why do you think your progress with The Appointment has been slower in comparison to Guest Bed?
LPN: It’s a much larger book, with a more expansive story. Many more characters and things going on. It has taken me a long time to make sure everything fits together and aligns correctly in order to make a cohesive story.
MTD: How did you find or select your editor? Describe your relationship with your editor.
LPN: I personally have always hired freelance editors to work on my book, the majority of them on Upwork.com. It’s a great website, full of fantastic people who are very enthusiastic about helping people with their stories. I’ve worked with many different editors over the years, some better than others, but this year, in 2016, I’ve definitely found one or two new favorites that I hope I can continue to work with for many years to come.
MTD: What about a specific editor or group of editors appeals to you? What do you look for in an editor?
LPN: For me, it’s all about chemistry. You have to have good chemistry with your editor, meaning they understand your writing and the way you write and are able to help you improve it without ever changing your style. You have to find someone you click with and are comfortable with. It definitely becomes a relationship of sorts because there is so much back and forth communication. You have to have chemistry. It can’t just feel like a forced exchange between two people, where the editor is just doing a job and waiting to get paid. Also, a good editor is very thorough and will go the extra mile to make sure you are fully satisfied with the results.
I personally have always hired freelance editors to work on my book, the majority of them on Upwork.com. It’s a great website, full of fantastic people who are very enthusiastic about helping people with their stories.
MTD: What made you decide to self-publish as opposed to going the traditional route?
LPN: A couple reasons, actually. For one, I don’t generally have a lot of extra money or free time to spend searching for agents, and mailing out my manuscript, and begging publishing companies to accept my book as their own… The whole process felt overwhelming. I’d rather spend that time writing. Also, I don’t really like the idea of being forced to let the editors of the publishing companies have the final say in what is written in my books. I prefer to have full control over the content. Of course, this means more work on my part once it’s actually published, but so far it’s been worth it to me.
MTD: You mention that self-publishing means more work on your part once a book is actually published. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
LPN: When you self-publish a book, promoting it and marketing it are your responsibility. Some people just publish a book themselves and leave it at that, apart from telling close family and friends about it. But I’m definitely motivated to spread the word to as many people as possible because I love talking to people about it and hearing their thoughts on the story after they’ve finished reading it. I’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into marketing it on social media, particularly Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads. I hope to be able to do more in the near future, as well, such as schedule a book signing at a few local bookstores. The reviews have been wonderful so far. The story has already touched a few people in profound way, and to me, that is more important than anything else. That alone makes all the hard work worth it.
LPN: The Appointment is quite a bit different from Guest Bed, which is a much smaller, personal mystery involving only two or three characters. The story in The Appointment affects an entire country and is more dystopian in nature. It involves a government that has become overly controlling due to recent terrorist attacks, and they’ve been forced to put the whole country on lockdown for a year. Nobody in and nobody out. Meanwhile, unexpectedly, all the citizens of the country begin to lose both their memories, and their ability to feel emotions. The main character, Jacob, is one of the last remaining people who still feels something, and is able to conjure little bits from his memory here and there. Then one day he gets invited to a secret facility to act as a guinea pig for a few experiments that may or may not fix everyone. If he agrees, he will be given the ability to relive old memories, enter parallel universes, and also live the lives of other people for a day, all in hopes of fully regaining his emotions. But the real question is… is that truly what he wants? Or is life easier when you don’t have to feel anything? To say that I’m very excited to publish this book would be an understatement.
MTD: How do you make time in your day to write?
LPN: I basically write whenever I have a chance. I don’t have a good, consistent schedule for writing yet, so if I have time between work at my office, I will do some quick writing. And when I’m home, particularly on the weekends, I make a habit of trying to carve an hour or two out of my day to sit with my laptop and write. But I don’t have a specific location or room that I do all my writing. Someday, I hope…
MTD: What do you enjoy most about writing?
LPN: I love the process of creating an entirely new world in my head and putting it down on paper for others to read and enjoy. The characters have a way of taking on a life of their own once you get into a groove. The story and the dialogue will just flow out of my brain without any forethought. Sometimes I’ll be typing, and the characters will surprise me with what they’re saying, like they’ve come alive and I’m just translating for them. That may sound weird, but most writers have experienced this at one point or another. It’s a beautiful thing.
The characters have a way of taking on a life of their own once you get into a groove. Sometimes I’ll be typing, and the characters will surprise me with what they’re saying, like they’ve come alive and I’m just translating for them.
I’m also a big fan of writing stories that are not only entertaining, but also make you think about your own life as well. I want my books to linger in people’s heads for a while after they’re done. There’s almost always a bit of ambiguity to my writing because I don’t like to make things too easy for people. I believe in leaving certain things open for interpretation, so the reader can decide certain elements for themselves. I think that makes for a more interactive experience between the reader and the book.
MTD: What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
LPN: First, write for yourself. If you want writing to be a truly meaningful experience, write a story that you love and want to exist in the world. Next, don’t ever give up on your dream of becoming an author if that’s what you want to do. If I can do it, then so can you. It can feel impossible at times because it’s so time consuming, but it isn’t. You just have to set realistic goals for yourself and stick with them, such as scheduling blocks of time to accomplish each step along the way and planning how long it will take you to accomplish each of these steps. For example, maybe you need a few months to write a first draft. Then another month to do your first round of self-edits. Then eventually you hire a professional editor to go through it for you. Then you have to do more rewrites. You can’t expect any of it to happen too fast. If you want to write something that looks professional, and will stand out amongst the millions of other authors in the world, it takes a lot of time and patience. But it’s worth it. Whenever I hear someone on social media comment that they are losing hope on finishing their first novel, I immediately try to motivate them to think differently. I believe anyone can do it if they set their mind to it and plan accordingly.
If you want writing to be a truly meaningful experience, write a story that you love and want to exist in the world. Next, don’t ever give up on your dream of becoming an author if that’s what you want to do. If I can do it, then so can you.
It also helps to know the ins and outs of the process and when and how to make wise choices, particularly when it comes to publishing. I’m currently trying to get a list together of everything I’ve learned about writing and publishing in the last few years, so I can help others reach their dream of being a published author without breaking the bank or their minds. I haven’t had time to set up an official website or a blog yet, but I plant to, and in the meantime, I may self-publish a small self-help book about indie publishing as well. I’m all about helping people with this. In the world of writing, I feel that it’s absolutely essential that writers look out for one another, share their experiences with others, and act as mentors for those who are just starting out. It’s a team effort, for sure. Writing is a gift–your book is a gift, but it’s a gift that no one will want to open if you don’t do your homework and make smart choices.
Writing is a gift–your book is a gift, but it’s a gift that no one will want to open if you don’t do your homework and make smart choices.
I am (still) reading Roberto Bolano’s 2666, and during my sofa session Friday afternoon, came across this sentence on page 323:
“The oneiric wind whipped grains of sand that stuck to their faces.”
The word “oneiric” (oh-ny-rick) was a new one for me. The “Look Up” feature on my nook told me it is an adjective that means “of or relating to dreams; dreamy.” Merriam-Webster confirmed the definition, and informed me that the word rests in the bottom 50% of word popularity (what a shame). What a whimsical word to add to my vocabulary.
In addition to its inherent whimsy, the word applies to my own writing experience: The oneiric state I find myself in just before sleeping or just before waking seems to generate my best writing ideas. The only problem? Whereas I often remember my dreams, I only rarely remember the words I wrote during the course of them.
Other contexts in which I can imagine this word:
She waited impatiently for the oneiric effects of the medication to wear off.
He thought about the oneiric nature of his earliest memories, which might be memories, but might just as likely be imaginings based on stories he’d heard from his parents and grandparents and siblings hundreds of times, his imagination indistinguishable from reality.
The sight of the couple walking arm-in-arm down the cobblestone street summoned an oneiric sense of a life he felt he had never lived, though the photographs he had not yet removed from his walls told him otherwise.
She stepped off the plane and into the oneiric landscape of paradise.
Lastly, I am quite sure that the male protagonist of my current writing project, a novel in its seventh draft titled Goodbye For Now, feels an oneiric sensation at waking up in a stranger’s body, and viewing his life as an outsider.
For some reason, the confusion between “apart” and “a part” has been surfacing in my professional and personal life with increased frequency over the course of the last week or so. I noticed it in at least a third of the essay tests I finished grading just before winter break began, and it has appeared on my Facebook feed more often than I’d like to remember. Due to its recent, rampant presence, I thought the error merited some attention. Let’s get the difference between “a part” and “apart” all sorted out.
When “apart” appears as one word, it is an adverb that means “separate,” as in, “Take the toy apart” or “His feet were spread far apart from each other” or “He lives apart from his parents.”
When “a part” appears as two words, you have an article (“a”) and a noun (“part”), as in “one piece,” or one involved party.
The most common error I see is the use of the adverb “apart” where what is actually needed is the article “a” and the noun “part.” For example, one might write, “I am so glad to be apart of your special day,” when what one really means to say is, “I am so glad to be a part of your special day.”
If you think of it in this context, “He stood apart from the crowd” means something very different than “He stood, a part of the crowd.” In the former, he stands out. In the latter, he blends in.
On a crisp, sunny, mid-November morning, one of the first that might’ve required a coat, I found myself nestled on a plush couch situated in front of a large window in the new home of Richmond Young Writers in Carytown. The space was bright, airy, and homey. The people were warm, welcoming, and writerly. The event was The Tesseract: A Weekend of Experiments in Writing. I settled in for a day of inspiration, creativity, and fellowship.
The first workshop in which I took part dealt with character development, and began with the moderator asking each of us to consider who some of our favorite literary characters are, and why we feel drawn to them.
My list included Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Abra Bacon (East of Eden), Lee (East of Eden), Jim Casy (The Grapes of Wrath), the creature in Frankenstein, the dog in Up, and the wolf and horse in Dances with Wolves. It seems I am drawn to the conflicted but well-meaning characters, those who are the pillars of a family or community without meaning to be, or without knowing they are, or those who underestimate their own goodness.
From there, we were offered time to write a character sketch of someone we have encountered in our own lives. Mine appears below.
I don’t know what will happen to S. He didn’t come to school until a week or two after the year had begun, and even now, into the second nine weeks, he’ll disappear for a day or two or three now and again. When I called role on the first day of class, all the students chuckled when I sad, “S?” and no one answered. I looked around the room. “Am I saying it right?” I was–but he wasn’t there. When he finally did show up the following week, the class behaved as if they didn’t notice, or as if he’d been there all along. His absence the first day had caused more of a stir than his appearance on his first day. He came in, black hair, hollow brown eyes, gray fleece, blue jeans, and let his backpack fall off his shoulder and onto the floor beside his desk. And then he just stood there. That’s how he enters the classroom every day–wandering in like it was an accident and he’s not sure how he even got in the building. He lets his back pack fall, and stands silently at his desk, facing the back wall, mostly, sometimes turning in a slow circle or two to survey the room. He does a lot of nothing. He doesn’t talk to anyone. He sits like a statue. Sometimes I’ll try to encourage him, coax him along, prod him to do less of nothing.
“S, why didn’t you write your journal entry?”
He slowly turned his head, his empty, doe-like eyes eventually finding mine.
“I was supposed to do that?” he asked softly.
“Yes,” I say with a smile. “It’s a grade.”
He blinks. After a silent second, he asks, “Can I do it now?”
“S, journal time is over. But you need to write every Friday.”
After our character sketching session, we were given a short break to chat, eat, drink, stretch, step outside, etc., and then began the second workshop, which focused on revision. We were given a short excerpt of a story, along with an editor’s suggestions, and asked to act on the suggestions, thereby (hopefully) strengthening the writing and the story. The comment I acted on was: “Finish the paragraph with ‘outside’ moments to let us out of the character’s head.” The paragraph itself related the character’s thoughts about coming home from war in Germany, getting confused, choosing whether to go in this direction or that. My own additions are available to read below.
He can feel the sharp edges of the stones packed on either side of the track push into the thin soles of his shoes, hears the soft crunch as the rocks resettle under the pressure of his feet. His breath hangs in the still air, furling and unfurling like smoke issuing from a cigarette between two fingers suspended above an ashtray, and white moonlight lends a sheen to the metal rails of the track. The cold air makes his ears hurt–a sharp, red pain moving down his ear canals, into his inner ear. He can hear wind above, coursing through the hills that bound the valley on either side. He is alone. It is beautiful. He does not know why he is walking this way.
After making our revisions, we had time to share them with our fellow writers, and the observations and insights revealed were astute and perceptive. For example, one young man, a high school student, observed that an interesting element of my revisions was the fact that while the piece began inside the train, I wrote “outside” the character’s head and outside the train by highlighting the juxtaposition of outside the train–the shock of the cold, the change in pace, etc.–with inside the train. He compared the “claustrophobic train car” to the “striking contrast of the air outside.” I had not consciously done this, but it was true; he was right.
After another break, we were privy to a panel discussion between professional writers like the captivating Slash Coleman, and some of the teenaged members of Richmond Young Writers. Below is a list of some of the questions included, as well as some of my own answers.
1.Would you rather write a stunningly beautiful book you’ll never get credit for, or a pretty good book you will get credit for?
I’d love to say I’m not so vainglorious so as to prefer accolades to a contribution to the canon of great literature with a stunningly beautiful book I’d never get credit for, but my ego is probably not cut out for that kind of humble anonymity. I’m not sure if just knowing myself that I had done something great would be validation enough; I might need the recognition of others. And so, I think I will have to admit that I’d likely prefer to write a pretty good book and get credit for it.
One of the panel participants, a high school girl, offered a much more noble reason for giving the same answer I did: She is a woman, and for a long time, women had to write as men if they wanted any hope of publication. For that reason, they were often never recognized as the producers of some of their greatest works–and she feels allowing herself the recognition pays homage to the sacrifices the women before us had to make. They didn’t even have the option of literary fame. Their books became famous without them.
2. If writers earned merit badges, which ones would you already have earned, and which ones would you be working on?
I would already have the:
Published Poet Badge
Published Narrative Nonfiction Essayist Badge
Completion of First Novel Badge
Writing Conference Attendee Badge
Be Observant Badge
Sensory Perception Badge
Rejection Letter Badge
Fixing Others’ Writing Errors Badge
I would still be working on the:
Writing Space Badge
Eliminating Adverbs Badge
Write Every Day Badge
Fiction Published Badge
Published Novel Badge
NPR Interviewee Badge
Conference Presenter Badge
3. What is your most important rule, in writing and in life?
4. Do you have a soundtrack to your writing? If so, what?
5. What is the first thing you remember writing?
There are a few early projects I remember, and I am not sure which is the first. Here they are:
A story about a bulldog with an old lady’s name, written in orange and purple marker.
A typed piece about a horse that died–and the owner leaning against its still-warm rump (I was a rather morbid and sentimental child).
A typed piece about a tornado that ripped through a town, killing several people.
A piece called Fire in Her Eyes, about which I remember very little, other than it centered around a brother and sister, and something traumatic happened to the sister, leaving her changed forever.
A nonfiction piece called Horses All the Way, which detailed how to care for–you guessed it–horses, and won second place in the Young Authors competition when I attended elementary school in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
6. Have you ever read a book and thought the writing sounded like your own? If so, what?
7. What defines your writing style? How is your writing recognizable, different?
I am not one of this year’s NaNoWriMo winners. In fact, I wrote a mere 775 words of the 50,000 words one needs to achieve to win. That’s 1.55% of the goal. I had the best intentions, and lots of ideas–but none of them coalesced into cohesive storylines during the month of November. And–you know what? –perhaps surprisingly, I’m okay with that. After all, the real point of NaNoWrimo, at least for me, is not necessarily to win, but to write–even if it’s just 775 words. Those 775 words would not have been written otherwise. In fact, they express (and inspired) an idea that likely would not have been born otherwise. And for me, those are both small successes–stepping stones I can build on later. Maybe next week. Maybe next November. Either way, 1.55% is a step in the right direction.
The real point of NaNoWrimo is not to win, but to write.
Below are the 775 words I did manage to write for NaNoWriMo. Give ’em a read. Let me know what you think. (And keep in mind, this is a rough, rough draft of a rough, rough idea.)
Untitled NaNoWriMo Project, 2016
Before Marshall Mitner had finished writing his required annual deathday diary entry, the sun had exchanged its vibrant afternoon blue for a pale lavender nightgown. Marshall sat, scribbling away, at a large, wooden desk directly in front of a window, through which skulked the last of the day’s diffused, white light. He was twenty-eight years old, and had been part of The Experiment for ten years.
“It’s no different than a mother knowing the approximate due date of her baby. Except—more exact,” an efficient, indifferent woman behind a large white desk at the Enrollment Office had told him. Her eyes had flashed up at him and then back down at her desk. “Just think of it,” she had said flatly, “as your due date in heaven.” It was a tagline and a euphemism. Marshall didn’t care.
“Sign me up,” he said.
“Age?” she said without looking up.
“Birthday? Including the year, please.”
“November 11, 2096.”
“Ah!” she said, the first hint of emotion evident in her voice. “You’re right on time then. Happy birthday.”
People had to be at least eighteen to enroll in The Experiment—unless, of course, a baby’s parents enrolled him at birth. The government offered a generous tax deduction to families who enrolled their newborns in The Experiment. Parents were required to keep their child’s participation secret until The Experiment Committee granted them permission to reveal the child’s participation. At that juncture, the child had a choice: Remain enrolled in The Experiment and be informed of his deathday, or withdraw from the experiment and remain ignorant. Children who opted to remain enrolled earned their families another generous tax break. Children who withdrew did not—but were permitted to re-enroll any time after their eighteenth birthday. After that, there was no turning back; any adult who enrolled in The Experiment was obligated for life. The good news? If someone decided he wanted out, he knew the exact day of his departure.
Marshall knew participants who kept countdowns.
The woman’s fingers tapped away on a small device laid flat in front of her on the desk. After several seconds of finger-tapping, she folded her hands on her lap and sat very still, staring at the screen on her desk, waiting. After a moment, the small device emitted a cheerful sound, as of several bells tolling in succession.
“Well, it appears you will be part of Experimental Group B.”
She pushed the device aside, and resumed working on whatever had been busying her before Marshall had walked into the office and interrupted her.
Marshall cleared his throat.
The woman looked up. “Yes?”
“Experimental Group B?”
“What does that mean?”
Her eyes once again cast down at her work, she wordlessly pulled a brochure from a drawer in her desk, and handed it to Marshall.
“Read through that. Then call the number on the back.”
“Thank you for your enrollment in The Experiment,” the woman said. “Heaven is waiting.” Just before the door closed behind him, Marshall heard her say, “Happy birthday.” Surely that had not been part of the script.
Marshall had walked just a few blocks down the bustling street to a familiar coffee shop where he and his friends sometimes studied. He sat down at a table near a window and opened the brochure. The left fold was dedicated to Experimental Group A, the center to his group, and the right to the Control Group, those who had enrolled in the Experiment, but had not been told their deathday. Without reading it, Marshall closed the brochure, leaving it face-down on the table, and approached the counter for a cup of coffee. When he sat back down, he turned the brochure over to its front.
Experimental Group A: enrolled and told deathday; no required to write annual deathday diary entries
Experimental Group B: enrolled and told deathday; required to write annual deathday diary entries
WRITE PHONE CALL THAT TELLS HIM DEATHDAY. AUTOMATED?
Marshall was twenty-eight years old. He had been part of The Experiment for ten years. He had lived for twenty-eight November elevenths. He knew he would live for forty-seven more. He would be 75—almost 76—on his deathday: October 9, 2171. He knew that was 23,741 days away. Twenty-three thousand seven hundred one sunrises. Twenty-three thousand seven hundred one sunsets. Twenty-three seven hundred one breakfasts, lunches, dinners. Well—maybe. All of that depended on the time of day he died. They hadn’t gotten that precise yet. They could pinpoint the date, but the cause and time remained mysteries.