“From the Ashes” Chapter Nine 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 wonderfully amazing readers!  🙂

I was letting my mind wander a bit while reviewing my notes on experiments, who are quite important from this point forward.  They’re almost the ultimate outsiders.  Everyone in some way wants to be loved, cared about, accepted, needed, wanted.

Experiments don’t understand this need.  Part of how they’re first broken when Grenich gets them is by isolation.  The only contact they have is from handlers, who are incredibly cruel.  The handlers convince them they’re weak and unwanted until the slowly start to crack (they’re also subjected to physical experimentation and alterations, which changes who they are).  For someone like Blitz, they used a number of methods to convince her she was a monster.  Blitz fought back in the beginning, longer than almost every other experiment, but Grenich has been around for ages.  They know how to find and exploit weak points.  So in the end, no matter how strong Blitz’s will was it didn’t matter.

(Note:  Broken doesn’t equal weak.  I hate how those two terms are inextricably linked.  One doesn’t necessarily mean the other.  And I also hate how these terms are looked at as some kind of personal failing.  That’s so inaccurate and it drives me up the wall whenever I hear the words spat with disdain.  But I’m not going to go off on a tangent)

Writing From the Ashes, I kept Grenich’s ability to find weak points in mind.  I really wanted to explore how a broken character would see the world.  When at the brink, could she turn away?  Is Blitz redeemable?

I’ve always had a soft spot for damaged and/or flawed characters.  It’s really difficult for me to get invested in heroes (or villains really).  I like characters who have dark backgrounds, those who have a chance at redemption but struggle with it.  Too often this narrative is reserved for cis-hetero men (weeping manly tears because so much man pain).  I wanted to follow a woman’s story.  To me, that’s always been a much more interesting tale.  Besides, fantasy can always use more strong, flawed, complicated women 🙂

Chapter nine picks up with our already established characters.  They are attempting to find the last three names on Coop’s list.  They know that Blitz is probably going to beat them to the chase, but the protectors need to try anyway.

This was a chance to get the protectors reaction to Blitz’s rampage.  They saw her brutality when she killed Naomi Green.  That was a one-on-one fight.  As vicious as it was, it’s a bit different than the massacre at the Obsidian Manor.

Shall we?

Page 174 – 176

For some reason, I always imagined Jade being an incredibly fast driver.

I liked the idea of splitting up the protectors into three teams to apprehend the last three names on the list.  This is probably the only way to out maneuver Blitz.  As good as she is, Blitz can’t be in multiple places at once (despite what some of the urban legends indicate).

The one thing Jet kind of majorly fucked up:  he should not have put Jensen on the team tasked with retrieving Onyx.  Jade points out exactly why that’s an extremely bad idea:  it’s personal for him.  Jade admits that even she wouldn’t have been able to set her personal feelings aside and she’s much more experienced.  The Deverells should have been sent after Onyx.  The reason they’re sent after Blackjack is because he’s likely to have the most protection and they have the most experience getting into hostile territories.

Grenich has already “sanitized” the scene of Caleb Brown’s house.

This scene was originally slightly longer with Alex, Shae, and Ace talking as they approached the house.  However the dialogue really wasn’t all that necessary (it didn’t reveal anything or advance the plot), so I trimmed it.

Page 176 – 181

I’m really surprised I haven’t wound up on any watch lists while writing this series.  I look up some incredibly random things.  While writing the previous chapter and this one, I Googled the following things:

*how to light a car on fire
*is gasoline flammable
*how long does it take a pool of blood to dry?

If any government organization is keeping track of my search history, they probably think I’m a serial killer 🙂

I wanted the Deverells to be the ones who saw the aftermath of the Obsidian Manor massacre.  These protectors have seen some really terrible things in their long years but this almost leaves them speechless.  Blitz’s brutality is something they’ve never seen before and it’s incredibly disturbing.

Page 177:  Ajax is genuinely scared of Blitz, despite not having met her face-to-face.  Her actions are just frightening.  He has only seen the death she leaves in her wake.  Blitz doesn’t operate like an assassin.  They have no idea what her motives are and they don’t know if she can be reasoned with.

I had this really gruesome idea that the floor was so slick with blood that it’s difficult to remain upright.  Nero’s not clumsy and neither is Ajax, but they struggle to move across the floor.

Poor Nero really hurt his pride a bit 🙂  This was another nice moment between brothers (Ajax gives him a hand up and doesn’t tease him about being klutzy).

It’s probably a good thing Jensen wasn’t there.  Ruining a suit is not something he’d react well too.  Nero isn’t anywhere near as fastidious as his friend.

Ajax is very useful to have out in the field.  He’s an experienced fighter, but he also has some basic medical knowledge.  In this scene, he’s able to approximate a time of death (nowhere near as accurately as an M.E. would be able to, but something is better than nothing).

The Deverells know each other better than anyone else.  They are very close, which obviously makes it easy for them to read each other.

Ajax also notices that Blitz didn’t use many grenades.  Obviously, being an experiment, those would have impaired her senses and therefore would have been a last resort.

Ajax really doesn’t like leaving Nero on his own in the Obsidian Manor, even if it’s only briefly.  They’re in an assassin stronghold.  There could easily be traps or hidden rooms.  Because Nero is the youngest, the Deverells tend to be quite protective of him (even though he’s capable of taking care of himself).

Ajax and Malone don’t know the security pass they found is the same one Blitz used to get in.  In typical experiment fashion, once she no longer had need for it, she discarded it.

Devin is probably the quietest Deverell.  He stays out of the way until he’s needed.  Devin also knows there’s really not that much to do at the Obsidian Manor.  Blitz has basically decimated the place.

Because Malone is the most protective of the brothers, he often acts as a lookout.  In another life, he probably would have been a great crime scene investigator.

There’s a callback to the first novel:  Blackjack’s ring.  I really hope that wasn’t too obscure (I was kicking myself so much for not mentioning it in Through Storm and Night).

Malone always wants to understand the motives of whoever he’s fighting against.  So do his brothers, but Malone goes a little more out of his way to learn more about whoever they’re pursuing (or being pursued by).  In my notes, I estimated that the Deverells arrived on the scene about an hour or an hour and a half earlier.  Malone has spent all that time outside, walking around and taking in the scene.

This is Blitz’s messiest scene.  She left behind physical traces of herself (blood) and a couple weapons (not her guardian silver ones though).

The Deverells are still mostly unaware of the experiments’ regenerative abilities.  The evidence suggests Blitz was just grazed, when in face she was hit directly in the shoulder with a slug.

I knew at least one protector needed to raise the question of whether or not it was wise to try capturing Blitz.  The guardians are wise and compassionate, which they extend to their few prisoners.  However, they’ve never encountered someone like Blitz before.  This isn’t an assassin.  This is a danger unlike anything they’ve seen before.  If she were to get out, which seems like it could be a very real possibility, there’s no telling how much damage she would do in the Meadows.  She could potentially kill guardians (they’re immortal, not invincible).  They can’t turn her over to human authorities because she could do just as much, and probably more, damage to them.  An experiment like Blitz really forces the protectors to confront some very difficult questions (and there is no easy answer).

Malone would probably be the most likely one to think Blitz should be put down.  It’s not because he’s cruel.  He’s a realist and a protector to the core.  Protectors are sworn to be loyal to the guardians and to protect them from harm at any cost.  Sometimes this requires them to do things they don’t like or agree with.

Damn, fuck, shit!  I found a mistake:  I wrote “mansion” instead of “manor.”  Bad, careless writer!  Oh that makes me so damn mad 😡

Page 182 – 187

Last but not least, we have the group sent to retrieve Onyx.  Again, we haven’t seen her since the previous book (Through Storm and Night).  Onyx has also been living the good life . . . mostly.  She has gone into hiding, isolating herself from the world at large.

Sly’s quite annoyed at being sent on what she sees as a fairly pointless endeavor.  I imagine Sly saying something like, “Oh just let her do the work you won’t.  She’ll murder herself out eventually.”  🙂

This allowed me to include a small flashback of Jade and Sly in bed together.  I got rejected by a couple agents and publishing houses because my novels had “too much estrogen” in them (i.e. too many women.  Because fantasy readers don’t want women).  There were a couple agents who freaked the fuck out because of the queer characters.  And that folks is why I despise fucking traditional publishing.  Once you have enough social capital, you can publish whatever the fuck you want.  When you’re an unknown name (and a woman), you get to hear the most fucked up shit that people deny exists (willful ignorance).  But I’ll go on a tangent if I keep up like this 😉

Sly also isn’t thrilled with Jensen being in this small group.  First, he’s wearing his nice clothes, which makes him stick out.  Also, Sly knows he’s a ticking time bomb.  Sly has a motto:  “You can always count on men to do the stupidest thing imaginable and subsequently fuck everything up.”

Alpha is her usual rebel self.  My brother didn’t like that she had her iPod with her.  I countered that every self-respecting rebel takes their music with them wherever they go.  Alpha may have agreed to a truce with the protectors, but she doesn’t feel the need to engage in idle chit-chat with them 😉

Sly and Shae don’t often interact.  Shae requested Sly keep Steve safe because she knows how good Sly is at fighting.  Shae also asked Jensen, but he’s quite distracted and she is sharp enough to see that.  Jensen is doing his best to keep his personal feelings out of this, but he’s obviously not succeeding.

The skull:  I really wanted to set up a foreboding atmosphere without resorting to using a storm (I had already done that in the beginning of the novel).  Random details like this add a bit of spookiness to a scene.

Jensen is kind of dick throughout this scene.  Normally he’s exactly who you want backing you up.  However, on something as personal as this, Jensen really isn’t the best team player.  I really wanted readers to be nervous about him being there and being as tightly wound as he is.  Hopefully he’s a character they care about.

Sly tends to not make promises or, if she has to, she’ll be really vague in her wording.  So she has never really broken her word.  She would not have given Shae her word to look after Steve, though Shae might have gotten that impression.  If Jensen gave Shae his word, Sly would never let him hear the end of it.

These two scenes were somewhat challenging to write.  I had to keep the plot moving while also figuring out how to approach the villa.  I do enjoy making things as difficult as possible 😉  The nice part about having shape shifters as characters is that they can do a lot of things humans can’t (their bones are stronger, they can take different forms, etc.)

Page 185:  Sly hurling the rope over to Jensen:  this is another moment that made me laugh.  It’s Sly’s way of saying “I’m not putting up with your shit, Jensen.”  😀

Onyx has changed almost everything about herself in the hopes of evading Grenich and now Blitz.  Not a single thing on this property (or inside the villa) reflects who Onyx truly is.

They’re on a tropical island and Jensen is still wearing a suit.  Of course he’s sweating.

I love when Sly is judgmental.  She doesn’t understand the appeal of massive houses or why people would want to flaunt their wealth.

Sly really wants to punch Jensen in the head when he starts kicking open doors.  That’s probably the most idiotic thing he’s done in the series so far.  At the end of this scene, Sly is pretty sure Jensen’s recklessness is going to get them killed.

Page 187 – 199

Alpha almost always carries a switchblade and she knows how to use it.  I love watching people open switchblades.  There’s just something about the deft flick of the wrist that I find fascinating.

Steve is by far the youngest member of this team.  Sly is oldest, then Alpha, followed by Jensen.  They all have different experiences and backgrounds, which makes this group a fairly versatile one.

My brother pointed out that every animal in this series will be looked at/read as a potential shape shifter.  I hope he’s right.  I want readers to always be questioning if the characters are being observed.  Have to keep readers guessing 🙂

Character print:  Onyx enjoys making poisons.  She rarely ever uses them.  It’s more a hobby or pastime.

Poor Steve is always given the thankless jobs and meeting Jensen upstairs is a rather dangerous task.  Of course Alpha has to rub salt in the wounds too 😉

Steve has volunteered for this mission because he’s a protector who works for Jet.  But he’s also there to make up for what he perceives as his past failures.  Steve is still feeling an enormous amount of guilt for bringing Tracy, a Grenich employee, into the protectors’ sanctuary.  [SPOILER!  Steve feels like he personally got his best friend killed.  That guilt will always haunt him]

Steve really gets the crap beaten out of him on a somewhat regular basis (probably almost as often as Jensen).  Of course, being as young as he is, he really didn’t have a chance against an experienced assassin like Onyx.

When plotting this novel and working on the outline, I wrote that Jensen and Onyx were going to fight at some point.  I wanted these two characters to face off towards the end of the novel.  A couple characters have voiced concern about these two meeting.  If they hadn’t, it would have been a real let down.

I’m not entirely certain punching an armed foe in the face is the best strategy.  Though it does work for Jensen, which was luck more than anything.

Onyx is amused by Jensen.  She enjoys a good hand-to-hand match as the next person, but Jensen is just plain entertaining.  She’s older than he is, has a bit more experience, and knows neither of them will underestimate the other.  Onyx knows this is going to be a good fight and she hasn’t had one of those in quite some time.

Onyx enjoys hurting people and she knows exactly where to hit Jensen, both physically and verbally.  This fight is a game to her.

Character print (sort of):  Onyx sees people by how much they’re worth.  This is particularly true of people who have a price on their head, like Jensen.  Onyx is an assassin and it means she’s driven almost entirely by profit.  She sees dollar signs when she looks at Jensen.

Jensen isn’t fucking around.  It’s taking every last ounce of self-control he has not to shoot Onyx in the head.  I briefly considered having Blitz enter at this point, shoot Onyx in the head, and then collapse.  It never really worked the way I wanted it to and it didn’t give me a chance to write the Jensen vs. Onyx fight, so I changed it to the version in the novel.

This becomes a bare knuckle brawl, which is likely a first for Jensen (who prides himself on being sophisticated even when he fights).  Onyx obviously has a slight advantage since this is how she tends to fight.

I tried to write Onyx as being slightly flirtatious (without going overboard).  She presses her lips to Jensen’s ear as if whispering a secret.  Death and violence are a way of life for Onyx.  There’s a part of her that really enjoys it.  Torturing Jensen like this is pleasurable for her.

When Jensen hits the wall, it clears his mind a bit.  He realizes Onyx is trying to get a rise out of him and he won’t give her the satisfaction.  So Jensen dusts himself off and proceeds to take a shot at her ego by reminding her she got stabbed by a target.  Not just stabbed, scarred, which is humiliating for an assassin.

These two are pretty evenly matched when it comes to fighting ability.  They both struggle to get the upper hand as they clash.

“Don’t celebrate too early, Jenny” [193].  My brother told me in no uncertain terms that I had to leave this line in 😀  Onyx is pretty good at taunting, even if she does often fall back on sadism.

As they fall down the stairs, Jensen really doesn’t care if he survives.  He has basically gotten what he came for.  After this, Jensen really isn’t sure what he’s going to do.  He will probably continue fighting Grenich until there isn’t breath left in his body.  It’s a pretty nasty spill down the stairs and Jensen definitely takes some damage on the way down.  Again, for as skilled as he is, Jensen often takes a beating.

Onyx won’t let up and continues tormenting Jensen.  There’s obviously a reason to this beyond her just being cruel.

Sly’s entrance on page 194 is one of my favorite Sly entrances (while editing, my brother wasn’t impressed with it).  She has just been listening to these two beat the crap out of each other, heard them tumble down the stairs, and then sauntered in to finish the job.

Sly cannot be goaded into a fight.  No matter how many insults Onyx hurls at her, Sly isn’t bothered.  Words bore her.  She just wants to bring Onyx back to the Meadows so she can get back to her forest (and away from all these damn boring protectors).

Sly handles Onyx quite roughly.  It’s a way to remind Onyx that Sly is not someone to be fucked with.  Onyx can use as many childish insults as she likes, but she will behave.

Sly’s thoughts at this point:  “Fucking protector men.  They always need a goddamn babysitter.  Like damn overgrown children.”  🙂  (or she’s just completely bored and planning her “I told you so” speech for Jet).

Sly’s actually relieved she doesn’t have to drag Jensen back to the Meadows.  She thinks, “Oh good.  He can walk under his own power.  That’s a pleasant and unexpected surprise.”

The assassins who slaughtered the Aldridges did some pretty horrific things to them before killing them and they mutilated the bodies afterwards.  Jensen has blocked out almost all the memories he has of that night.  Onyx does her best to trigger him by mentioning some fairly graphic things.  She wants to drive him into a blind rage and knows exactly how to do so.  Sly easily thwarts her.

When Sly realizes that Onyx is trying to goad them into killing her, she realizes something is wrong.  Most assassins are incredibly materialistic and much too full of themselves to be suicidal, which is usually true of Onyx.  Onyx is terrified of someone or something.

Sly is really good at taking charge of any given situation and she can usually turn it to her favor if she needs to.  Sly recognizes an opportunity to potentially get some information from Onyx, but needs to send Jensen away first.

Sly uses a couple different tactics when questioning Onyx.  Even Onyx not answering her questions tells Sly something.  Onyx being too scared to even boast says something about whoever (or whatever) she’s hiding from.  They have a lot of power and sway if they can terrify even a hardened assassin into silence.

Alpha is so used to assassins acting like assholes that it doesn’t even faze her.

There’s a nice bit of mystery at the end of this scene.  Readers can decide why Sly’s attention was suddenly drawn to the second floor.  This was purposely vague so readers could fill it in themselves.

I knew this chapter would end with Blitz.  She just missed the protectors.  Blitz was not expecting to be so weak after Appearing.  She greatly underestimated just how much energy that ability required and pays the price for it.

This is the first time the ghost is neither seen nor heard.

Blitz is really suffering in this scene.  She’s about as close to death as one can be.  I hope that readers felt some anxiety at the end of this scene.  Things don’t look great for Blitz and you find out her fate in the next chapter.

Blitz Symbol Silhouette

So ends the commentary for chapter nine.

Well, I think I have an idea for how I can get back on the schedule that I started off with.  I’m not sure if it will be successful, but one can hope.

As always, I rely heavily on word of mouth to spread.  Please, pick up a copy of my books.  Recommend them to friends, leave reviews on websites, etc.  Thank you so much for being a reader 🙂

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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