“From the Ashes” Chapter Five Commentary

WARNING!  THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

This post will make much more sense if you’ve already read the novel.  Help out a little indie author and pick up a copy of her book (or books).  You can find them on Amazon, CreateSpace, Smashwords, or my personal online store.

From the Ashes Official Front CoverHello wonderful readers! 🙂

Sorry for skipping yesterday.  I am still completely worn out from the holidays and then I remembered a lot of stuff about chapter five, which made the commentary incredibly long.  I figured readers would prefer a full commentary rather than a half-assed one so I dedicated pretty much all yesterday to writing this one up.

By the way, I updated my appearances page.  If you want to meet me in person, there are some cons I will be at.

So I received a question about why there aren’t more graphics/pictures in my posts.  Um, because this is commentary for a prose novel.  There aren’t a lot of graphics/pictures that I could include.  Unless you want random pictures of my cats for absolutely no reason.  Because I will post random cat pictures if enough people ask (though I will be extremely confused about it).

Here’s the thing, I’m a poor author.  I don’t have the funds to hire artists to illustrate every commentary I write.  If readers are artistically inclined and want to draw something, I’ll definitely post it (so long as I have their permission to do so).  But I’m not going to ask an artist to do work for free or for cheap.  You don’t even want to get me started on how fucking angry it makes me when people expect artists to work for “exposure.”

But yeah, that’s a fair question.  I wish I had a better answer, but the fact is, I just don’t have an abundance of graphics to include.  Sorry.

Anyhow, enough chit-chat.

Chapter five was a really fun chapter to write.  It’s kind of weird admitting that seeing as how this is one of the most violent chapters in the book.  It’s the first time Blitz crosses paths with our established characters.  Because of this fairly important event, I needed this chapter to “pop” in a manner of speaking.

This is also the chapter that marks Blitz’s kills getting more violent and messier.  As her health continues to deteriorate, she becomes a lot more brutal and a bit sloppy.

Shall we?

Page 87 – 90

Naomi Green, the sinister receptionist from the morgue in Through Storm and Night.  I wrote three completely different versions of this scene and this character.  In one, Green was remorseful and scared (which led my brother to observe, “she comes off as a weeping heap of estrogen.”  Thanks, Mike).  In another, she was kind of bland and almost robotic.  In this version, I tried to make her a little uneasy but still loyal to Grenich.

For Green, the most important thing is socioeconomic status.  She’s very rich and wants to stay in the upper class.  There are still some echoes of her former life though.  She has a soft spot for children, for example.

I hadn’t read this scene in quite some time.  I’m actually noticing things I forgot about.  Tracy’s entrance worked a lot better than I remembered.  Her stepping between Naomi and the girl is reminiscent of Naomi’s background.

Revenants often serve multiple purposes.  Naomi is a liaison and is frequently sent to meet with investors.  Her ability to blend into the upper class comes in handy.  Despite this, the Big Bad won’t tolerate any kind of sloppiness (especially not from women).

The Corporation heads are ruthless.  They’re also very smart.  They have figured out a way to use Blitz’s retaliatory response to their benefit without her being in their possession.

When I was writing this scene, I wanted to give readers a glimpse into the hierarchy of Grenich and how it dictates interactions between employees.  Naomi is Tracy’s subordinate.  This kind of disrespect would normally have much more severe repercussions.  They’re in public so Tracy’s a little limited in what she can do.  Still, Naomi’s entire demeanor changes when she realizes her mistake.

I think Tracy is at her most sinister (and scariest) when she’s calm, which is almost always.  She doesn’t need to shout and is therefore very soft spoken.  Her smile is quite unsettling.  I thought she was at her most menacing at the end of this scene.  You never want her hands near your throat.

The unnatural cold of the charm is completely intentional.  Cold is never good 😉

Page 90 – 94

My brother enjoys pointing out what he sees as my obvious disdain for the upper class.  Actually, I don’t really give a fuck about the wealthy.  It’s the power structures built into society that piss me off.  I have a special loathing for those who have power but wear privilege blinders constantly.  Also, those who exploit others to maintain their status, those people are the fucking worst.  But yeah, this could turn into a whole rant (and you can believe I’d be able to turn it back to publishing).

Jensen and Nero working undercover.  God this was a ridiculous amount of fun to write.  Even though Jensen is in a gloomy mood, Nero manages to make the scene lighter.  Like I’ve said before, Nero is an extremely useful character.

For one of the first times, Jensen can’t wear his usual tailored wardrobe.  He is not happy about it.

My brother liked that Nero pointed out Jensen’s slight hypocrisy in this scene.  I was really happy about that.  Nero will often call Jensen out on things like this.

These two always find the most random ways to pass the time.  This was partly inspired by a habit of mine.  I get bored fairly easily and have always had a really busy mind.  I often have to find ways to keep my mind busy.  This sometimes results in my doing extremely random things.  I tend to wander a lot.  Hell, this commentary could qualify as one of my random projects to keep my mind busy 🙂

The visual of Ajax screaming at Jensen not to do anything stupid (through the ear piece) is another visual that made me laugh.  A man in a van, yelling, is funny to me for some reason.  Also, Malone was next to him, just dozing.

Neither Jensen or Nero likes the valet uniforms.  Unlike Jensen, Nero’s not a fan of nice suits.  He prefers regular plain clothes.  In my notes, I wrote that he frequently teases Jensen about his wardrobe.

Weirdly enough, I had a lot of trouble describing the drive leading up to the hacienda.  Sometimes the most random detail will prove extremely difficult to write.  That one small paragraph on page 92 (about the drive) was rewritten several times.  It seemed like no matter what I did, I couldn’t find the right words.

Jensen is in a very dangerous state of mind in this scene.  He’s out for blood, which he has been masking pretty much all day.  He brought a gun with him (big no-no for this particular assignment).  When he sees Green, the logical protector just clicks off and is replaced by this simmering hatred.

Nero’s (possibly) Cockney accent:  Nero has a lot of accents he does (very few of them are good).  This is one accent he knows he can’t do.  Nero’s goal is to get Jensen’s attention on him so he doesn’t do something stupid.

Jensen isn’t typically so rash, but he has been pushed beyond the breaking point.  For most of this novel, he’s right on the edge of snapping.

Nero has read The Count of Monte Cristo before (and that’s a massive fucking book).  It also ties nicely into the main theme of this book 😉

Nero’s not above petty acts of revenge (like keying an expensive car).  He’s not cold or unfeeling.  He’s also grieving.  Nero really hates the Grenich Corporation and those connected to it.  He’s just a lot better at channeling those feelings.

Like Jensen, I’ll often wander if I need to clear my head.  I like characters who wander.  I have always found wandering and curiosity go hand-in-hand.

Page 94 – 96

Perhaps my favorite Blitz infiltration scene.  Originally, I included a bit of archery in this scene.  The more I rewrote and fine tuned it, the less sense the archery made so I eventually edited it out completely.  I knew I wanted Blitz to shape shift a couple times.  Having her start out as an owl was a bit of a nod to Athena (who made Medusa into a hideous gorgon in one of the more twisted myths.  Seriously, that story is like victim blaming on steroids).

My brother referred to this as the “Blitz Parkour” scene.  Interestingly, to get an idea of how experiments move, I watched a ton of YouTube videos of freerunners (Parkour) and dancers.

Experiments will always get into wherever they are trying to infiltrate.  Locks don’t even slow them down.

I have a real soft spot for black cats and dogs.  I think they’re the most beautiful pets.  I have two black cats (Merlin and Arthur Pendragon) and a black and white Border Collie (Turbo) 🙂

As Blitz demonstrates, shape shifting is a very handy ability to have.  Of course, her declining health is making it more taxing on her system.

Page 96 – 100

This was another scene that changed significantly from its original conception.  I had to cut a lot of unnecessary details.

There’s a ton of disdain in this ballroom.  A lot of these people are faking civility.  Originally, I was a lot more descriptive about just how catty and gossipy Naomi’s group was.  My brother pointed out that this went over the top and really served no purpose.  It interrupted the nice flow of the scene.

Character print:  Naomi often fiddles with her necklace when she’s uneasy.

Naomi would have been debriefed on the Four before her stint as the receptionist.  That’s how she recognizes Alex.  She’s really not pleased about being touched by someone she views as beneath her.  Green sees everything in regards to status.

Alex dislikes Green about as much as Green hates her.  Shoving her a bit is a way Alex vents.  It’s also showing who is in control of the situation.  Mostly, Alex is just really pissed in this scene.

I extended this fight a bit.  Originally, Green managed to slice Alex’s neck (and then Blitz helped Alex stem the bleeding).  When I was rewriting, I realized that I hadn’t yet written a fight scene with Alex.  Also a couple bits in the original version just weren’t working.  Changing this fight gave me the atmosphere and flow I wanted.

Naomi and Alex are pretty evenly matched in regards to ability.  Alex has an edge because of being a protector (protectors don’t train different based on gender.  Alex being a woman has never been held against her).

I sort of wanted to write from Blitz’s perspective, but decided against it.  I actually wrote out her plan and had it next me as I wrote this scene (so I could keep track of her).  When rewriting, I worked on the cues a bit so the timing was right.  There’s a lot going on in the background of this scene, which the reader doesn’t “see” (so to speak).  I tried to give a few clues so the reader could get some idea of what Blitz was doing.

More important revenants (those who are used more often) tend to be a bit stronger than regular worker drones, which is why Green is able to hold Alex in place.

Another visual that stuck in my mind and creeped me out:  Green getting sucked into the darkness by an unseen person.  Blitz literally yanks this woman off her feet and tosses her like a ragdoll.

I tried to give each of Blitz’s kills a different feeling.  Two of these kills have a significant amount of overkill (not the first one in the dance club.  She was intentionally more brutal to send a message).  This is one of those kills where there is a fair amount of overkill.  Though she doesn’t experience emotions like normals, there are a couple things that can trigger a violent response in Blitz.  When she sees a Grenich employee attacking, hurting, a shape shifter, a woman, Blitz reacts.  She almost does it without realizing it.  Of course, readers are always free to come up with their own theories and interpretations.

Another important thing to take from the scene:  Blitz is quite scary.  She has been modified to be intimidating.  When all you can is glowing eyes in the darkness, that’s pretty damn spooky.

God, during editing, I spent a lot of time (probably more than I should have) trying to figure out if blood would continue to drip from a shard of glass in a dead body.  My brother said it depends on the angle, but that’s difficult to show in writing.  Hopefully I didn’t fuck it up.

Page 100 – 102

This is one of my favorite scenes in the novel.  It can be interpreted in a number of different ways by readers 🙂

Blitz is obviously starting to get weaker from the virus, but the stress of that trigger was also draining.  Blitz is in really bad shape in this scene.  When you think about it, she’s constantly having to hide her symptoms.  That’s incredibly taxing on her system.  Then she’s overexerting herself on these missions.  Blitz is killing herself.

I originally wrote Jensen pulling a gun on Blitz (it ended with her knocking him out with a sleeper hold).  It always read as a bit too excessive.  I liked the idea of him stumbling on her and then being curious.

Blitz is automatically wary of Jensen.  He isn’t frightened or intimidated by her and as I mentioned a couple chapters back, this throws her.  When normals don’t treat her like a monster or like property, it confuses Blitz.  This is a woman who genuinely doesn’t know how to react to kindness or even civility (she doesn’t understand either concept).  Obviously she has encountered it before, but only in the context of missions.

Blitz is convinced this normal is trying to capture her.  Jensen is too distracted to really see how on edge she is (plus she’s being very subtle and her glances can easily be read as caution).  The protectors still don’t understand just how completely the experiments have been broken by Grenich.  It’s one of those things that can only be understood through experience.

Blitz ignores her instincts for once and even she’s not entirely certain why.  This scene marks the first time Blitz experiences curiosity and that is massively important.  One of the first things Grenich does after “recruitment” is break the recruit’s spirit and will.  This involves beating curiosity out of a shape shifter.  They are flogged for hours if they demonstrate anything even resembling curiosity.  When undergoing rehabilitation, the doctor does everything he can to reawaken their curiosity.  Blitz has been resisting this with every fiber of her being, trying to remain in this almost mechanical state.  Yet something about Jensen has piqued her interest.

Also important:  Blitz recognizes him as an Aldridge because Grenich knows about him.

This scene is meant to resemble the interaction between man and a wild animal.  Years ago, I happened to catch a story about the Brazilian monks who feed maned wolves on the steps of their monastery.  The way the wolves approached always stuck in my mind.  They’re very cautious, slowly moving towards the food.  The wolves are wild animals and therefore naturally apprehensive of humans (they’re not pets.  If you own a wolf or a wolf-dog, seriously, fuck you.  You’re what’s wrong with the world).  The monks don’t try to touch them or anything like that.  They toss them meat scraps.  The wolves inch forward, always alert and prepared to take off.  When I was writing this scene, I wrote Blitz like one of these maned wolves.

Jensen is very patient with her and doesn’t try to force an answer out of her.  He knows he’s not going to get one.  Blitz is prepared for a fight.  She’s expecting Jensen to try and grab her.  When he does the opposite, Blitz is completely dumbfounded.

This was a really nice scene between two wounded characters.  Jensen didn’t do the morally right thing (and he did it for the completely wrong reasons), but his treating her with respect is something that affected Blitz deeply (not noticeably, but Jensen did leave an impression).

Page 102 – 105

Ah the 2nd Man, another fun character to write.

The 2nd Man used to be a smartass, back before Grenich.  No he’s more resigned and grim.  He still has the occasional moment of sass or snark, but mostly he’s just subdued.

The 2nd Man has become an incredibly valuable source of information about the Grenich Corporation for Jet.  He’s very smart, which is a major reason why he survived Grenich.

I tried to work in a small detail here:  most shape shifters who work inside the corporation for any measurable amount of time can’t smile properly afterwards.  Even the ones in power at Grenich tend to have more feral grins.

When the 2nd Man is mulling over a problem, his posture is meant to be similar to “The Thinker”.

Passion gets rather annoyed at the wasted potential of the 2nd Man.  He could have been a great protector (as most of his family was) but instead he became an assassin.  Nobody knows quite why he went down that path and he has never been forthcoming about his reasons (and he likely never will be.  Truth really isn’t in his nature).

The 2nd Man has some insight into the psychology of experiments, but he is genuinely baffled by Blitz’s actions.

The Grenich Corporation has a lot of power and sway.  They have different branches dedicated to different kinds of research.  That’s meant to be a bit of scary thought:  a profit-driven corporation, one dedicated to destruction and war, controlling a massive amount of research.  The Big Bad has access to all kinds of nasty viruses and chemicals.  He’s not the kind of adversary one takes lightly.

While Jet will never trust the 2nd Man, the two are gradually coming to respect each other.  It will take years before they outright respect each other, if they ever do.  These two men don’t like each other, but they can manage civility.

The closest to sympathy the 2nd Man comes is what he feels towards experiments.  He does feel sorry for them to a point, but he’s more aware of how dangerous they can be.  The 2nd Man is sometimes similar to experiments in the way he thinks (but he’s nowhere near as cold and removed as they are).

Page 106 – 109

I really wanted to include a quiet scene between the doctor and Blitz.  These two characters have been through a fair amount together.  The doctor is fond of Blitz, even though she makes it extremely difficult to be.  Blitz has something akin to respect for the doctor, even though she finds his sentiment to be pointless.  If there’s anyone Blitz would ever consider trusting, it would be the doctor.

When Blitz is this quiet, it’s usually due to one of two things:  she’s lost in thoughts and strategies or she’s letting her senses process a multitude of information.  In this scene, it’s a bit of both.

Another one of my favorite scenes (there’s a lot of those in this chapter):  Blitz pausing with her hand resting on the door frame.  It’s such a small moment, but it can be interpreted in so many different ways.  Something about that visual really popped in my mind.

An experiment’s mind is never quiet.  For a normal, this would be torture (imagine being unable to sleep and unable to clear your mind).  Experiments have adapted to it.

When I first wrote this scene, I attempted to highlight Blitz’s isolation.  Then I realized that she isn’t really alone.  Between the ghost, her own vivid memories, the men she lives with, and the world, Blitz can’t find any solitude.  Again, Blitz still isn’t quite sure of who or what she is or where she fits.  She only knows how to be a weapon.

The ghost is almost like a specter of death in this scene.  She reminds Blitz that her end is fast approaching (if she doesn’t ask for help).  And I think this is the first time the ghost appears in a mirror.

Another favorite, I think:  the dialogue between the ghost and Blitz.  The ghost continues to poke holes in Blitz’s logic and doesn’t let her dismiss things as unimportant.  She doesn’t do it in a disciplinarian way either.  The ghost is always rather playful.

Once the ghost vanishes, Blitz puts her fist through the mirror, destroying her reflection.  Her fist almost instantly heals, which shows that she will never be able to hide or forget what she is.

Blitz Symbol Silhouette

So ends the commentary for chapter five.

I hope to get back onto a daily schedule, but a lot depends on chapter length (as I’ve discovered).

I don’t have a convention until February.  I could really use some extra funds, if you’re considering buying a book.  The links are above.  If you already have my novels:  leaving a review, recommending these books to a friend, leaving a comment, or any other way to spread word of mouth.  Thank you 🙂

As always, questions and comments are welcome.  Spammers can fuck right off. 

Until next time . . .

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About Lauren Jankowski

Lauren Jankowski, an author from Illinois, has been an avid reader and a genre feminist for most of her life. She holds a degree in Women and Genders Studies from Beloit College. In 2015, she founded “Asexual Artists,” a Tumblr and WordPress site dedicated to highlighting the contributions of asexual identifying individuals to the arts. She has been writing fiction since high school, when she noticed a lack of strong women in the popular genre books. When she’s not writing or researching, she enjoys reading (particularly anything relating to ancient myths) or playing with her pets. She participates in activism for asexual visibility and feminist causes. She enjoys speaking about genre feminism, a topic she is quite passionate about, and hopes to bring more strong heroines to literature, including badass asexual women. Her debut novel was "Sere from the Green," the first volume in her ongoing series "The Shape Shifter Chronicles." The sequels, "Through Storm and Night," "From the Ashes," and "Haunted by the Keres" are also available. All books can be purchased through Amazon, CreateSpace, or Smashwords.
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