*Looks around furtively to before starting to blog*
I’ve sneaked out of bed to write this and hopefully Lila is too exhausted and um, satisfied to notice that I’m missing. Still though I’m typing very quietly lest she catch me as I’m about to do something very naughty.
As you hopefully all know, Lila’s latest book Have Monster, Will Travel has been available for pre-order from Amazon for the past few weeks.
Well it is (finally) released on Tuesday and while there is supposed to be a Rowling-esque embargo on it until then, I’m risking, life, limb and perhaps even endowment in order to post the first five pages for you, dear readers.
I better go, Lila seems to be waking up so I better go and, um distract her. Enjoy the excerpt and remember, this is our secret!
She’d always heard Hollywood was full of monsters. She didn’t know they meant actual Monsters.
All of Hollywood is talking about Calypso Production’s new top-secret action movie, and Joanna is tapped to be the Production Designer. There’s just one big issue: the lead actors are monsters. Literally.
Bound by tradition and discipline, Tokaki’s clan of shapeshifers has maintained the old ways even as they’ve retreated from the human race. When members of another clan come up with a plan to expose and explain their hidden existence, he agrees to help. As the warrior who trains all others, he knows how to inflict both the maximum, and minimum, amount of damage. Because of this experience he’s asked to become something they call a “stunt coordinator”.
When Joanna and Tokaki meet it’s electric, and not just because Joanna watches him shift from a massive white tiger into a handsome, naked man. Tokaki is fascinated by the outside world, especially Joanna, who’s colorful in more ways than one. When he takes Joanna to a hidden temple deep in the Chinese mountains, neither expects she’ll be risking her very life. In order to save the woman he loves, Tokaki must turn to his family for help, risking the secrets his clan has kept for a millennium.
They wouldn’t be able to keep the secret much longer.
“What are our options?” Lena sat at the head of Calypso Production’s conference table, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art visible through the floor to ceiling windows at her back.
Jane sat at her right, a copy of the script in front of her. “Without the rest of the pre-pro crew, we can’t go forward. We need more people.”
“If we bring them on, we have to tell them the truth.” Luke, Lena’s boyfriend, tapped his fingers restlessly on the table.
“No. No more people. We have to keep this quiet for as long as we can.” Margo’s voice was grim. The usually sassy Latina was dressed causally in a T-shirt and jeans, hair back in a loose ponytail. Her fiancé was seated next to her. The over six-foot tall Runako leaned forward, planting his elbow on the table hard enough to rattle the cups.
“I’ll protect you.” Before Runako had, er, kidnapped Margo, the real magnitude of what they were doing hadn’t hit the five friends who owned Calypso Productions. They’d known they were taking on something big when they agreed to make a movie about Runako, Luke, Henry and Michael’s people.
When Runako and Margo fell into the hands of those who wanted to dissect and kill Runako barely escaping, the project had gone from exciting challenge to grim life-or-death battle. If they screwed this up, they would lose more than production costs.
“Once it’s out that we’re releasing a monster movie in the summer, everyone will start asking who’s working on it,” Lena said. The reality of Hollywood was that if they were going to produce a summer blockbuster, they needed to attach blockbuster names to the project, above the line.
“It’ll come out at some point anyway, and wasn’t that all part of our publicity campaign?” Cali, the movie’s director, held up a copy of a Hollywood tabloid, folded back to a picture of Akta with Runako, Henry and Luke on the red carpet at a charity gala. They’d purchased the tickets and sent Akta, who was a recognizable star, with the guys as a way of introducing them to Hollywood.
The caption under the picture read, “The stars of Calypso Production’s top-secret new project. Akta Patel and her unknown escorts.”
Akta tipped back in her chair, bracing her knees on the conference table. She sat between Henry and Luke, who would star in the movie with her. Calypso Productions had only recently learned that Henry and Runako were both actors—Henry considered the best actor of their people. They’d started script read-throughs, and it fell on Akta to give them, along with Luke, a crash course in acting for the screen. Jane, the resident screenwriter, had written the script for them, so they’d basically be playing themselves, but still, if they didn’t translate to the camera the whole thing would fall apart.
“Our publicity campaign is to make sure everyone falls in love with them,” Lena said, gesturing around the table at the guys, “so that when the movie comes out, and then they come out, they’ll already have people on their side.”
“We know that, we helped come up with that plan.” Cali wasn’t known for her patience. “But I’m telling you, we’ve gone as far as we can with just us. Two producers, half the lead actors, a screenwriter and a director don’t make a movie. If we’re serious about starting production—” Cali motioned to Margo, who, in her role of line producer, had been working up start-date-less timelines. “—we need a production schedule, we need the rest of the above-the-line people. We need to know how we’re making this movie.”
“What does above the line mean?” Runako looked to Margo.
“It basically means anyone who could have any real influence in how the movie is made, or the storyline.”
“But we are all here.”
Margo grimaced slightly. “Yes and no. We know what we want to do, we have a lot of it figured out, but usually a casting director is above the line, and in our case special effects may have better ideas as to how to shoot this. Special effects—which usually means actual real effects like blowing up cars and fake blood—means we need the special effects coordinator.”
“But it will be easier to make, we won’t need all those special effects…” Akta interjected.
“Fucking actors.” Cali threw her hands back. “So when Runako’s character dies do you want me to actually kill him? What should I do on the second take?”
“Fine, sorry. What do you need?”
“At least a director of photograph, production designer, VFX supervisor and special effects supervisor. Location scout. Casting. SpecFX make-up since we have no idea what it will take to make-up these three.” Cali jabbed her finger at the men. “Akta, don’t talk to me about how you were art director on some crappy indie film or I swear to God I’ll come across this table. We need big guns.”
“Who are you thinking?” Lena’s voice was calm as she tried to keep the tension down.
“If we’re serious about keeping this tight, I know who we could get to serve as PD. She’d be able to pull up-and-comers in visual and special effects.”
There was a beat of silence as everyone put together who Cali was talking about. The four men seated at the table looked blankly at each other.
“Uh, Cali, she hates you.” Jane bit her lower lip.
“Yea, I don’t know why.” Cali slumped back in her seat, tugging on the frayed cuff of her USC sweatshirt.
“You told her she was getting fat senior year.”
“She was getting fat, and I said it in a nice way. I thought she’d appreciate the heads up. Sixty hours a week in front of her computer or sketching crazy stuff while eating those weird fish crackers was not doing her any good.”
“There’s no nice way to tell someone they’re getting fat, and telling her she was fat was the least of what you did,” Akta said.
“Well, now she’s one of the best creative minds in the industry.” Lena was twirling her pen as she considered. “She’s never handled a summer action film, but she’s an amazing designer, has contacts at Industrial Light and Magic, and she knows everyone.”
“Exactly. We need her.”
The mountain rose out of the mist, jagged and white. Henry circled the southern slope, dropping lower with each pass, until he entered the clouds that frothed around it. His wings snapped as he drew them in, the thin membranes ballooning up as he caught the mountain’s updraft. There were patches of snow at this elevation, but the speckled black stone of the mountain dominated the sky.
Henry spread his claws and angled in. He hit with a thud, claws on all four limbs digging into the rock. Stone screamed as he slid down a few feet, his massive body weight pulling him. With a snap he folded his wings against his back.
He clung there for a moment, checking to be sure that he wasn’t about to fall, before raising his head and squinting at the mountain face. Twenty feet above him a shadow in the rock was barely visible. With a grunt he started climbing.
The cave entrance was nothing like the cave mouths on the mountain Henry and the rest of his clan called home. Once inside the narrow passage Henry dipped his chin and roared. The sound reverberated down the dark passage.
There was no response, but he hadn’t expected any.
At least, not yet.
Wings tucked tight to his back, Henry proceeded down the twisting, uneven passage. He could just make out the shapes of the rock walls as gray shadows, though there was no light in the tunnel. After twenty yards, the natural tunnel abruptly ended in a beautiful carved stone passage.
Torches in bronze metal brackets lit the high, wide space. The floor and walls were the same black stone as the mountain, but the smooth texture revealed the chips of quartz buried in the rock, causing the passage to sparkle with reflected light.
The far end of the passage was blocked by heavy doors made of blocks of stone held together by crisscrossing bands of metal.
The left door opened.
“Why are you here?”
Henry couldn’t see the speaker. The voice was low and rusty, speaking the old language with a faint accent this clan had never lost—because they’d never given up their ways.
“We need your help.” His answer was blunt, but the question had been too.
“You went to the humans.” It was halfway between a statement and a question.
“Yes.” Henry, Luke and Michael’s mission to expose the existence of their people to the humans before the situation deteriorated into war or mass suicide had not been a secret. There’d been opposition, Runako being one of the most vocal, but this clan, which had never integrated into the larger single clan the “monsters”—to use the human word—had formed, remained neutral.
“Has the war begun?”
“No, we met some humans who will help us. They have a plan. To succeed we need your clan’s help.”
“Who among us?”
Henry unfolded and refolded his wings. There was no good way to ask this. “Tokaki Baekko.” The other monster’s full name echoed in the hall, the last “o” bouncing back to Henry like an accusation. He unfolded his wings and wrapped them around his arms and chest as a shiver overtook him.
“Tokaki? You would leave our clan defenseless.”
“You would be welcomed at the great clan. It would be safer for you there, even if Tokaki doesn’t come with me.”
“Your great-grandfather’s grandfather may have given up on his breen, his clan joining with another, then another, until there was only one, but we have not.”
Henry bowed. Though he couldn’t see the other monster, he had a feeling he was being watched. “Forgive me. I meant no insult, only to offer you safety.”
“We are safe, with our warriors, in our mountain.”
The clan lived in one of the coldest, remotest mountains in China. Henry thought they were stupid for staying. The humans here were expanding faster and more aggressively there than anywhere else—it was only a matter of time before the monsters were found.
“You are safe, for now.” Henry couldn’t help but add the little dig, reminding the unseen speaker that they could not continue this way forever.
“Tokaki goes to the great clan every year to train the ones you call warriors.” The sneer was subtle, but Henry caught the insult.
“Yes, and we appreciate that.”
“Then why would you need him, unless you’ve lied to me about the war?”
Henry took a moment to mentally curse in both his own language and every one of the human languages he’d learned. He’d walked right into that trap. “There is no war. You surely have ways of knowing that.”
“And my first question?”
“Why we need Tokaki? We need a warrior who can…plan fights. Fights that look real but aren’t. Fights like the ones used in training.”
“How will this help your mission with the humans?”
That was what Henry had been hoping he wouldn’t be asked. He had no idea what this little holdout clans exposure to human culture was, but if they didn’t know what a movie was, let alone how much impact movies could have on the humans, there was really no way for him to explain.
There was a long pause. Henry could hear the sound of thick flesh, maybe scales, scraping against stone.
“It is said that Runako has joined your mission with the humans.”
“Runako thought we were fools until he met the humans who have decided to help us and heard our plan. Now he is with us.”
“That comforts me. Runako is a warrior, he will not let anything happen to my brother.”
Henry flared his wings in a show of elation, barely biting back the roar of triumph. Tokaki was coming with him.
The scratch of scales against stone increased. The door was knocked open a little wider and Henry watched as a blue snake-like body covered in diamond-bright scales undulated past.
When the dragon was out of the sight, Henry let out a breath. This was only the first part of what was sure to be a difficult mission. Tokaki wasn’t winged, and Henry had never asked how the other monster got from his home to the protected caves in the Rocky Mountains the larger clan called home. Henry had to get him all the way to Los Angeles. Then Henry would have the pleasure of introducing him to all the joys and stupidity of the human world, as they’d be sharing a condo.
Until last week, Runako and Michael had been living in the condo also, a nice place with many of the things Henry had seen on human TV commercials. Cali’s father owned the building and had agreed to let them use it. Michael, who fell in love with Jane the first moment he’d seen her, had just bought a house with her in Los Feliz, and Luke and Lena, who’d been the first to fall in love and move in together, were currently house hunting.
Runako had moved in with Margo since they were engaged and he spent most of his time at her little guesthouse anyway. Runako was fixing up his cave to make it more human friendly—Margo complained a lot about the bathroom—and planning a festival where he could introduce Margo to others in the clan, most of whom had very bad feelings towards humans.
That left Henry all alone in the condo, surrounded by human things, human smells and a building full of human beings.
The first night it had been so overwhelming, he’d taken to the sky, flying hard and fast, hoping no one saw him. He’d bedded down in a tree in Griffith Park after avoiding night joggers, some werewolves and the humans known as geeks who’d been having a mock Moon of Endor lightsaber battle between the trees. Any other time he would have found this seriously awesome and gone to get Luke (who’d picked his human name for Luke Skywalker), but that night he’d been sick of humans.
When they’d decided they needed to ask Tokaki to come out and help them choreograph the fight sequences between the monsters—Runako, Henry, Luke and Michael all knew how to fight, they just didn’t know how to mock-fight—he’d volunteered, wanting an excuse to leave the human world behind for a little while.
The air vibrated with old magic and the crystals in the floor brightened. Ripped from his musings, Henry spread his wings, braced his legs and prepared for an attack. It was not that he didn’t trust these males…he just didn’t trust them.
A massive white tiger, almost the size of an elephant but with a long body and thick legs that kept it crouched low to the ground, shouldered open the right door. The tiger’s head was massive, much wider than a real tiger’s. Two large, dark eyes dominated the face over the snubbed nose and tusk-filled mouth.
The tiger slid fully into corridor, big body undulating with an eerie lack of sound. The stone-block doors scraped shut behind him.
“Tokaki, it has been too long.”
The tiger tilted his head, mouth opening to reveal an over-large jaw of huge, white teeth.
“Mir’ek, you have been too long among the humans.”
Henry jolted, unused to being called by his real name anymore.
“I…have learned much there.” Tokaki was looking him up and down, and Henry had to stop himself from worrying that his time in the human world had made him soft or weak. “We should leave. How do you travel?”
“That is not your place to know.”
“It is when I’ve asked for your help, and so your safety is my concern.”
Tokaki laughed. The great drafts of laughter came out as a chuffing sound, blowing between his teeth as he swung his head side to side. “I do not need your protection.”
Henry gritted his teeth. “You will have it.”
“Tell me where we go.”
“Los Angeles. It’s a city in the human country of the United States, next to the Pacific Ocean.”
“I know Los Angeles.”
“I will meet you there.” Tokaki brushed past Henry. Up close his fur was striped with pale gray bands.
“We need to go to the clan’s home first. You cannot be among the humans looking like that. Let her give you the spell that gives you a human form.”
Tokaki twisted, his head coming back at an impossible angle so he could look at Henry. “I do not need the wise one’s spell. I have always had a human form.”
With that Tokaki padded down the corridor and out of the cave.
Henry remained frozen with shock for no more than a moment, but by the time he reached the mouth of the passage the white tiger was gone.
Read more about Have Monster, Will Travel here.