Monday, December 10, 2018

Mutilated Text


Back in October when I wrote nineteen opening lines for a writing prompt, when I was running out of ideas midway through I just rearranged the words on the back of my student ID. Since then, I’ve tried experimenting by making reordering sentences into something new. I let myself change various elements of a word like form, tense, or pluralization (for example, the noun “players” could become the verb “play”), but kept myself limited to the words on the page. The results probably aren’t too impressive in themselves, but it’s an exercise I’d recommend for any writer. When you take out a blank page or open an empty text document, you have hundreds thousands of words to choose from. So many options can get intimidating, so we writers all too often fall back on clichés in language or storytelling. Constricting myself to a couple unpoetic words on the back of a napkin forced me to look carefully at every word and consider its value in a way I don’t think I ever would have otherwise. Anyway, here they are:


  • Mica plates the loose clergy and offers all as food for the cash-funded pious. (From the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church bulletin)
  • Manufactured friends offer free college! (From the text on the back of a Grinnell College Napkin)
  • The key guard’s beltings surpress gnome waggling rings. (From page 94 of The Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook: Fifth Edition).
  • Control your creature-horrors, and you control Critchlow, liege of the blue and green coast. (From the Magic: The Gathering card “Murkfiend Liege”)
  • Speak legendary, Zegana! Speak among the creatures, on the battlefield, with the greatest power, the greatest control! (From the Magic: The Gathering card “Prime Speaker Zegana”)
  • Sacrafice the library, search the land, the wilds, and find the shape of nature. (From the Magic: The Gathering card “Evolving Wilds”)
  • Why ask for trust and money in Tobias? Remember, he has left  Gabael in rage and death. (The book of Tobit, 4:1-2)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Anticlimax


In an odd coincidence of scheduling, I’m going to be writing the final scenes of the novel that I’ve been planning and writing for the past four months at the same time as I’m taking finals. At first this seems like a nice way for things to work out: just as all the plot threads and characters arcs that I’ve spent so long planning converge in the climactic episodes, my classes will be reaching a similar kind of conclusion. But I’m not exactly looking forward to it. Part of the reason is because I tend to get into high-intensity writing binges during the end of the story, and I just don’t have time for that during finals week. The larger reason, though, is that I know that the two won’t line up as nicely as I would like. Unless I veer wildly off from my plot map, my story is going to follow a nicely laid out wave of rising and falling action which will hopefully leave the reader, or at least me, with a firm sense of closure. If that’s what I’m hoping for my semester too, then I’m damned to disappointment.
The disconnect between stories and real life has been bugging me ever sense I started reading the Harry Potter books back in elementary school. While I understood that the magic was fiction, I unconsciously expected that my school years would follow the basic plot beats of the novels. And for the most part they did: summer ended, I went to school, I took some classes, there was some drama between my friends and some vague foreshadowing of dark events just outside of sight. But then the last days of school came and went without a master of evil magic arriving for a showdown that tied up all the themes and mysteries of the past year. Instead, final exams came and went, I got stressed and then calmed down, and things ended.
I know that it shouldn’t be surprising that life isn’t particularly well paced, since there isn’t any writer watching over my life to make sure that it conforms to the three-act structure. But, when you live surrounded by stories from childhood, you start to expect that life should follow the tropes of fiction. Sometimes it felt like I was stuck in a poorly written world, waiting for whoever was in charge of my story to die so someone with an iota of narrative intelligence could take over.
And, when I realized that my writer, pathetic as he was, was going to cling onto his worthless life with everything he had, I started trying to write my own climax into my year. I would pretend that final exams were the difference between life and death for me and listen to the soundtrack from boss fights in video games as I studied. I would even try to identify the villain in my year’s story who it would be my duty to confront before things wrapped up (though usually I chickened out before actually facing them, which is probably a good thing, because most of my villains turned out to be pretty decent people in the long run).
I lost sleep and sanity worrying that finals week would be the moment that my whole life had been leading up to. When I turned in my last exam, it really did feel like I’d slain some kind of monster. But the feeling only lasted a couple of seconds. In minutes I was just looking forward to having an evening free from studying, and within a week of vacation I was already bored.
It should go without saying that I’m glad that I don’t live in a story. Most characters in the fiction that I read and write go through more trauma and stress than any human being should ever have to suffer. Moreover, if my life were a story, then what happens after the last page? Even if it was happy ending, there’s no way that I could live in the kind of euphoria that you feel at the end of a novel forever. Eventually, it would get boring.
I suspect that I’m the only one who has grown his life around expectations that life reflects fiction. Actually, I know that I’m not. In my Victorian Literature seminar, I learned that nearly every novel written in the Victorian era ended with a marriage, especially if the protagonist was a single woman. I might think that the way fiction brainwashed me is bad, but it must have been worse for a Victorian woman, learning from the cradle that marriage is the culmination of everything in your life, only to be left wondering “What comes next?” after the ceremony.

I don’t want to say that fiction is evil or manipulative or that we’d be better off without it,  and I really don’t want to discard the concept of the linear plot entirely because, even if it doesn’t  perfectly reflect life, it’s so damn satisfying. Maybe all that I can say is that it’s worth it to think about these things every so often, and to give a little thanks that life keeps on going, even after the final scenes of the latest arc.

Monday, December 3, 2018

A Memorial Service For the Novel That Philip Kiely and I Tried to Co-Write


For the past two months my friend Philip Kiely and I have tried to write a novel together about a group of college students who run a semi-popular Youtube channel and discover a hidden community of aliens. We did a lot of planning and had an very detailed plot worked out (I think the plot-map shows that maybe we went a little overboard on that front), but we still couldn’t get the project to work out. Last night we had a conversation about it and realized that, as much as we both loved the story, taking on an expansive collaborative novel as novice writers was like skipping to the boss battle before you finish the first level of the video game. So, in honor of our novel’s untimely passing, I’m posting my prototype for the first scene. I wrote the first draft and Philip cleaned up the prose and made the technology more realistic.
Nick Pecka learned early on that you can never get rich enough that you don’t have any problems, since as soon as you have enough base wealth to cover food and water and shelter, you start making up really silly needs for yourself, like love and self-actualization and the creation of a flying airsoft gun/infrared sensor shaped like a cyclops-bird’s head. Even being around people with enough money to choose their own dilemmas can bring your own needs into a new tier of silliness, as Nick found out when, in March of that year, he had been recruited by his affluent friends and became immediately invested shooting video to chronicle extravagances in engineering such as their flying, shooting, one-eyed bird’s head project. He had spent the summer wandering around the edges of the group working in the abandoned bank they used as the headquarters for their engineering Youtube channel and made vague noises and hand gestures to make it seem like he was helping. He couldn’t help, because making a propeller-headed attack bird requires a lot of engineering and artistic knowledge, none of which his three years of studying Romantic-era poetry gave him.
There was something deeply satisfying in seeing them work. There was Jeff Nash’s technical jargon about PSI and RPM and Brook Gramarosa Ziegler’s artistic jargon about the surreal fusion of organic and mechanical elements and such artistic language that didn’t mean anything from the interns, who were pretty clearly just contributing enough brain power and muscular strength to get paid. It hadn’t been clear to him at first, but after the long summer Nick understood that Teresa Williams wove the whole thing together, synthesizing all the random ideas into a single vision, a single product, a single, supremely disturbing bird’s head. It was subtle, the cutting motion of her hand to stop someone when they were rambling or lightly nudging one idea a little closer to another, but Jeff could see that she was playing them like one of those mob bosses in the in infinite stream of 1920s crime novels he’d been subjected to by well-meaning grandparents while growing up.
“What do you think of Bella’s new hairstyle?” Brook asked, petting the drone’s green mane.
“You’re not really calling it Bella,” Nick said.
“Yeah, the name really speaks to me,” Brook said, “have you been calling it something else?”
“That creepy flying nightmare,” Nick said, “or, Deathbird. Winged felt-of-hell. Birdman Cyclops.”
“You’re just jealous that she looks prettier than you,” Brook said. Nick winced.
After another few minutes of tinkering, Nick had his shots framed and the others had the disturbing thing running. It would look pretty weird if it were just the functional parts: a four propellers sticking out of a mess of metal and plastic, with the lens of an infrared sensor settled just below the rotor and the orange-tipped barrel of an airsoft pistol just below that. But Brook wouldn’t settle for purely functional, so she’d fit a sharp, slightly open beak over the pistol barrel, made the lens look like a single bloodshot eyeball, and covered the rest of it with furry green fabric. The end result was a beheaded cyborg monster, pure nightmare fuel. This was Brook’s surreal style, and by extension had become their channel’s style, which made it a little less family friendly than some of the other builders on the web, but a whole lot more distinctive.
The idea was that the bird’s head would detect signals coming from small circuits inside balloons and shoot and pop them. In its final form, the drone would zip across town and shoot balloons miles apart, but they hadn’t found the time to navigate the legal and moral grey area of sending a dangerous, unregistered, and deeply unnerving automated flying machine out into a highly populated area, so for now they were keeping it to a limited test: four balloons, one in each corner of the bank. The creepy robot wouldn’t have to fly more than a couple of feet to hit each target.
“Hey, wait,” Nick said as the group set up for the initial test. “You know we don’t start until the camera is rolling.”
“It’s not really that important,” said Jeff. “It’s just a quick test.”
“Yeah, but say it goes psycho and shoots Teresa’s head off?” he said. “Don’t you think that’d fit pretty well into the blooper reel?”
“Sure,” Jeff said, “I’ll go get the mop.”
As Jeff headed for the large plastic bin labeled “cleaning” in the stacks against the wall, the interns filled up balloons, Teresa readied the drone, and Nick got the camera trained on Teresa. The lighting was a little too dim, so he propped open the door out into Meredith main street. 
“You ready?” Teresa asked. Nick nodded, started the camera, and Teresa turned on the drone.
It rose into the air, then just hung there for a second, rotors whirring but everything else completely still as its turret and eyeball stared Teresa down. Through the high-definition preview lens on The Good Camera, Nick saw little parts began to break away from the machine’s tiny vibrations. The thin material that made up the eyeball cracked, slightly at first, then deeper, so half of the white hemisphere hung off, revealing the mechanisms underneath. The green fabric that made up its skin tore in random spots. The bottom jaw of its beak clattered to the bank’s marble floor.
Teresa turned to the camera, an unusual note of concern in her voice. “Should we-”
Then the drone shot forward. Teresa screamed as the rotor tore a bloody streak across her cheek, more in shock than pain. The rest of the crew was paralyzed as the bizarre little machine went rogue, but, acting on pure adrenal instinct, Nick sprinted after it as it whizzed out the door. On his way out he picked up a second airsoft pistol, one that they’d bought when they considered making the bird head double-barreled. There was something unusually natural in his action, like a machine working just right for the very first time, as he slipped the clip in, cocked the gun, and flipped off the safety in time with his step.
In a few long-legged strides he was out on main street. The drone hadn’t gone very far horizontally, only across the road and over to the next sidewalk square, but it had gained two stories of elevation, going on three, and soon it would be disappear above the roofs and their project would be lost to whatever error in programing the stupid thing was following.
It was still all new instinct for Nick, pleasant instinct, as he stepped out into traffic and raised the gun. The screeching brakes and honking horns and swearing drivers shouting that they’d almost run him over were just background noise, a cinematic score to set the mood. The only sound that really mattered was the sharp pop as the plastic pellet sped from the gun into the drone’s rotor and the crash, muffled somewhat by the drone’s artificial flesh, as it hit the sidewalk. 
As Nick approached it, the sounds around him faded from pleasant noise to simply void. His victory was silent, save for the mechanical whirring from the dying machine’s weak spasms. Nick picked it up by the rotor the way you’d hold a freshly caught fish and, smiling, showed it off to his friends, who were gawking from the bank’s open door. In a surprising show of quick thinking, Jeff had picked up the camera and aimed it straight at Nick. Even if he never put the footage online, Nick was glad it existed and hoped that Jeff had caught the badass moment of him standing in traffic and making his perfect shot.
Then a single, slightly wary voice punctured all the glorious silence. “Sir, could you please drop the weapon and the, um, whatever the other thing is.”

“Yeah,” said Nick with a sad smile. “Sure, officer.”

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Loop-di-Joop


I’ve always thought that the most beautiful words in the English language are the ones that I’ve contributed. That sounds about as narcissistic as you can get, but it’s true. There’s no logic to what makes a word sound nice, it’s all illogical intuition, and who knows my intuition better than me, after all? My all-time favorite word is Loop-Di-Joop, which was the name of my imaginary friend from Venus back when I was three. I don’t remember Loop-Di-Joop at all (I only know of the name because my parents told me later) but there’s something undeniably pleasing to me about the sound of it. That’s what baby babble is, after all, making noise for pleasure. To anyone else it’s nonsense, but to me, nothing will ever match the elegance and glory of those three syllables.
That’s what’s so wonderful about childhood, isn’t it? You don’t care what your words mean, you just say them because you want to. It doesn’t matter if anyone else can see the strange and wonderful world inside your imagination, it’s enough fun that you don’t need any company. I get discouraged pretty often when I’m sitting at the keyboard, trying to transpose the story in my head into a language that I didn’t create. If only I was content to close my eyes, lean back in my chair, and just live in the illusion.
Only I can’t, because I can’t think like a child anymore. It’s a fun fantasy to believe that there’s a secret world of monsters under the sewer grates, but I can’t jettison the fact that there’s nothing down there but sewage. Somewhere along the line I traded imagination more powerful than anything I’ve felt in the real world for some self-sufficiency and communication skills and about two feet of height. It’s a trade that I never agreed to and, for years, it was one that I wished I could take back. Starting in middle school, I got a feeling I couldn’t shake that I was losing a vibrant imagination that I’d never be able to get back.

It took me a long time to realize, but now I think that maybe losing it isn’t all bad. Looking at the very short, very confusing novel I wrote at age six, it’s pretty clear that I had an active world living inside my head, full of slime monsters and clocks that can stop time and an odd amount of emphasis on keeping your shoes dry, but none of it translated into the real world very well. And, even though I have to admit that it sucks not to be able to conjure worlds from nothing the way I did back when I was a kid, at the same time that I lost that, I learned how to let other people into my head a little with my writing; first with an underground satirical newspaper, then with sharing short stories and novels I’d written, and finally with this blog. Best of all, with writing groups like the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio or the New York State Summer Writer’s Workshop or tabletop RPG groups, I can see that I’m not the only one with an imagination, and that living in someone else’s imaginative world for a little while can be pretty great too. Growing up is a compromise, in the end I’ll never know Loop-di-Joop as well as I used to. But now maybe someone else can know him too.

Monday, November 19, 2018

That Time I Got so Fed Up With Edina That I Compared it to the 19th Century Russian Monarchy


In my senior year of High School, after successfully publishing a bizarre, Edina specific horror story in the student newspaper and almost getting away with a satircal article where the whole joke was the word “horny,” I decided that the paper really didn’t care what I wrote, so I went ahead and compared the school’s administration to the late 19th century Russian Monarchy. I succeeded in the sense that no one suggested I get suspended this time, but it did lead to an awkward meeting with the school's media specialist. If you want to support the school paper by reading it on the actual website, here it is.

The Edina tech policy everyone’s currently up in arms about is the new cell phone confiscation rule. And, while I think it’s absurd that Edina is trying to saturate the student body with technology, then trying to exact total control over those devices, that isn’t the issue I’m going to tackle today. No, today I’m going to talk about an issue that’s been around as long as Edina computers have: blocking websites.

It’s a good idea, in theory. Anyone who’s ever gone through the comments section on YouTube knows that the internet is often an ugly, hateful, inappropriate place, and Edina High School is an institution charged with educating young people, most of whom are legally still children. Providing some sort of internet safety is a basic necessity. I mean, we can’t have students pulling up pornography on learning devices.

The problem is, the internet is often hateful, ugly, and inappropriate, but also unbelievably large and complex, so trying to toe the line between too much freedom and total censorship has lead to some strange results, especially when certain classes deal with adult themes. In Film and Literature class, for example, there are assignments that are impossible to do on school owned Chromebooks because of restricted mode on YouTube.

Then there are totally banal sites that the school insists on blocking. If I want to read this morning’s Pearls Before Swine comic strip, check the Ask.fm account for the literary magazine I work for, or see the newest Magic: The Gathering spoilers, I have to go out of my way to get around the firewall. I could get it if the school blocked all social media or game sites, but they allow Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and other time wasters way more dangerous than GoComics.
And, in its ultimate goal of keeping students from adult content, the firewall fails. It is possible, on school wifi, to access an image of Jesus, Moses, Ganesh, and the Buddha all having graphic sex with one another. But it would be simply awful if they blocked the site this appears on, because that is The Onion, an excellent source of political satire with enormous educational potential.

This example really underlines the essential problem with blocking websites: there isn’t some binary designation between safe and unsafe sites. School is a place to learn about the real world, and sites that display how the world works will inevitably have borderline inappropriate content.
And Edina Public Schools doesn’t really have a problem with adult content (The God of Small Things, The Color Purple, and Slaughterhouse Five are all required reading for some classes, after all). What they really fear is a lack of control. In the end, the firewall operates on the same principle as the new, wildly unpopular rules concerning cell phones in classrooms. They’re operating like the Russia in the late 19th century, when the monarchy wanted to urbanize without the social progress that inevitably comes with urbanization. The EHS administration wants the benefits of technology without the costs, namely the lack of control of information.


I’m not saying that it’s wrong to strive for that, I’m just saying that it’s futile quest.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Grinnell


We were having a conversation about the precise definition of “hipster” at the cross country table the other day, and I started to make the point that, by definition, no one at Grinnell was really a hipster, since what could be less hipstery than living in the middle of Iowa? But I cut that idea off mid-sentence when I realized that going to Grinnell might just be the most hipstery thing one can do. I’m sure students at other schools ask each other “So why did you decide to come here?” but I really doubt that anyone but Grinnellians say it as “So why did you decide to come here?” As if they’d made it to the pearly gates, been offered a prime spot in heaven by St. Peter, and said, “Nah, I think hell is a better fit for me, you know?”

And Grinnell matches my idea of hell a little better than I’d like to admit. It has nearly the same bitter cold of Minnesota without the picturesque snow, and the wind gets vicious once you get outside of town. Sometimes everything smells like manure for days on end. The train cutting through campus is pretty cool, I guess, until you hear the wheels grinding and the whistle blowing outside your dorm at three in the morning. And, even if everything in Grinnell were absolutely perfect, you can’t deny that there really isn’t all that much to it. From three years as a cross country runner, I know all too well that you can’t go more than ten minutes in any direction before you’re looking at an endless straight road with rows of corn on either side.

So yes, Grinnell totally seems like the kind of place that a hard-core hipster would go to college ironically. But I think the connection between Grinnell and hipsters is wrong, because every supposedly sarcastic enjoyment that defines that outdated cliché is ultimately shallow: no one gets unnecessary surgery for ironic enjoyment or joins a cult because religious deviance isn’t mainstream. No one can live four years in a place that they really hate, and I think, under all that sarcasm, everyone here really finds something meaningful about living in this tiny, smelly, rusting town.

I thought I had a non-ironic reason for going to Grinnell when I came here. At that time I had about as many theories about how the world works as you’d expect from a nineteen-year-old aspiring writer, and none of which were particularly accurate. I’d read The Great Gatsby the year before, claimed to love it because it’s the sort of book that an aspiring writer is supposed to love, and found a common thread through the text (or, actually, through my mom’s old notes in the margins) that portrayed New York as an ethically blighted place, while the Midwest still held some sort of moral purity. Being a guy from Minnesota and Texas, I’d take any snobbery over the coastal states that I could get, but I took an extra strong hold on that theory when every East Coast school I applied to turned me down. Since the Midwest was the only place left to go, I doubled down and went to the most Midwestern school I could think of in hopes that I was making it seem like some kind of big plan.

The town and school were charming at first, but it was charming in the way that a joke is funny: spend long having it repeated over and over and over again, and any enjoyment you used to get from it drains away. Living my life on the one square mile patch of campus got old quick, and before long I’d seen all I thought there was to see in the rest of the town from wandering aimless running and wandering. Within my first few months, I’m pretty sure I had gone down every street the town had to offer, and couldn’t find very much worth looking at in any of it.

There was never a single moment when some light switched on in my head and Grinnell started looking brighter. But, even if I don’t know why or how, it looked brighter all the same. The way the rooms inside a house seem to expand once you’ve lived in them for a while, little scraps of the town that I hadn’t noticed before emerged from the blurred landscape. In the second semester of my first year I discovered a tiny game store in the basement of a law firm. A little while later I found out that a building I’d taken as just another old house was actually the Grinnell History Museum. Not everything I discovered was quite so positive: despite all the clean, new, college subsidized buildings, it doesn’t take much searching to find real poverty in Grinnell. In a town this small, you can’t shuffle it off into another neighborhood.

Yesterday, my art history class took a minor field trip to the town bank. I’d noticed the unusually elaborate front facade before, but until then I’d never really paid much attention to it or even acknowledge its beauty. Smooth, vegetal patterns weave together into the town’s logo of interlocking squares, centering on a green-yellow stained glass window that makes the shades of corn into a celestial glow. It was designed by Louis Sullivan, the first architect who tried to make skyscrapers into something of unique aesthetic virtue. After his style went out of fashion in the big cities he bummed around small towns for the rest of his life, making little jewel box banks like these. I wonder if he pretended like he was retreating from the corrupt costal elites into the land of unspoiled virtue. I wonder if he thought of himself as something of a hipster.


Whatever his story was, I’m glad he came here, and I’m glad I did too. Maybe if I’d gone to school in New York or Chicago I could’ve found pieces of art and history around every corner. But I’d probably never have had the time to pay them any attention. After all, it took me three years to give Grinnell its due.

Monday, November 12, 2018

I, The Person (An Abandoned Novel)



Looking for an archival post for this week, I found an old document in my Google Drive that looks like the start of a novel, though I have no idea where I was going with it (aside from everything that the very on-the-nose foreshadowing in the prologue implies). For me, it’s a fascinating look back at my writing style a few years ago, back when I started a lot of novels and abandoned them after less that 1,000 words (as opposed to now, when I write at least 100,000 words before abandoning them) and was more open to crazy ideas like starting a novel at the inception of the universe.

Prolouge

For most of its life, nothing very important ever happened to fifteen uninhabited square miles out in the middle of Texas. If it has a consciousness, it probably spent its billion-year lifespan complaining about its mind-numbingly boring.
It, like most land on earth, had been created during the formation of the sun. It was molten magma for awhile, then cooled down. Awhile after than, it was part of the ocean. Then, for reasons that were never entirely clear for that little scrap of land, water covered it and there were a lot of fish. A little while later the water drained away, the fish left, and trees and grass started growing.

Native Americans crossed it a couple of times, then some Mexicans, then some white settlers, then a couple of guys got shot there. Those murders were probably the most interesting thing that happened to those fifteen square miles, and even they weren’t all that interesting. Most of the rest of the land, especially the land in Texas, has much more interesting slaughter stories.
Someone built a house, a wacked out writer who tried to retreat from society to become one with nature and become their true, uncorrupted self. It didn’t work out, though, and she left almost immediately.
A highway cut through it, filling the big, hollow Texas nights with the yellowish glow headlights and the sound of tires tearing across pavement, trying to get somewhere more interesting than this bland bit of land.
There was one interesting thing that happened to it, though.
It lasted just one year. Really just a moment, a flash, a microsecond for a piece of land that had already been around for billions of years and had another couple billion to go until the sun exploded. It seemed like it was over as soon as it had begun.
For that year, the only thing people seemed to talk about was that piece of land. Not just people in central Texas, people all over the country, all over the world. Every few days another a news crew came to do a story on the piece of land that no one had ever given a rat’s patoot about. The trees were cut down and houses were built and cars drove about and people flocked from miles around to take pictures on their phones and post them to social media and get into spirited debates in the comments about the nature of freedom and law and nationality and all sorts of other things that the land represented.
And then it was over. The land was scarred and gorged and littered with trash and dea and, ultimately, forgotten. Every once in awhile someone would bring it up casually in conversation, but never more than a passing mention. It got a brief notice in some history books, a footnote of a footnote.
But that didn’t matter. The land got more than it ever could have hoped for, a sudden flurry of attention that all began with a 911 call.
“Hello, this is 911, what’s your emergency?”
“Am I on the phone with the government?”
“Sir, are you or anyone around you in immediate danger?”
“Answer the question, dammit! Am I on the line with someone from the government?”
A deep sigh. “Yes, I am on the government payroll, if you insist. Now, if you please, are you or anyone-”
“Well listen up, government! I’ve got fifteen square miles of undeveloped land out by Interstate 35 and me and it are seceding from this socialist hellhole of a nation. Pass it on.”
“Sir, please, are-”
There was a click as the man on the other end hung up the phone.
Thus, a nation was born.
And fifteen square miles of land got its story to tell.

Chapter 1
Sarah Hartley got home after a long, depressing day answering 911 calls. There had been a woman who had called right after being robbed and attacked. A child who had misdirected two fire engines and an ambulance to a nonexistent fire as a prank, and a man who had just cried into the receiver for awhile, then hung up.
In the midst of it all, she almost forgot about the man who claimed to have seceded.
She was young, just out of college, and already back to living with her parents. At first she’d tried to maintain some level of independence by renting her own apartment. The building burnt to the ground a few weeks before after her roommate had been smoking in bed, however.
It was sort of ironic that, when she called 911, she personally knew the receiver.

Sam was gone for hours and