So, About Bodies . . .

How’s by all of you? We’re having a blizzard here. The power went out for two hours, but I was already in bed typing, so I just put Mona and Milton under the blankets with me–Veronica has issues and so does not burrow–and we stayed fairly cosy. It was wonderful when the lights came back on, though, along with the heat. I love electricity. And now back to work.

Which is figuring out Nick’s body issues.

So Nick’s dead. His only earthly remains are a skeleton in a tomb in Italy. When Satan first pulls him out of Niflheim to be his assistant, that’s the body he projects/remembers, but that upsets the other demons who are really just another race of people, so Satan gives him the same power he gives his agents to Earth, the ability to create a facade, and Nick creates a facade that’s what he remembers. That’s the facade he brings to Earth, the facade Nita can see through after she drinks the scupper. It’s also the reason he doesn’t have pores and that even before the scupper she thinks he’s been air-brushed; he’s just doing the general impression of who he used to be, there’s no there there. No body, no emotions, just the mind/intellect.

Of course, he’s gonna have to get a body before the book is done, although I think I want him to stay dead. I’ve had enough dead-then-alive-again plot points from the Berlantiverse, thank you (how many times has Sara died now?). So like Marley, Nick is dead to begin with. But then he starts to change. Part of that is being back on Earth which awakens memories, like being uncomfortable on barstools and being tired. Remembering being tired reawakens muscle memory which will lead to muscles as part of the facade which will lead to the need for sleep. He goes to breakfast with Nita and sees not just the food but how much she enjoys it and remembers taste buds. I don’t want anything mystical about Nita making him human again, I just want his human memories reawakened which will change how he imagines his facade which will awaken further memories which will make his facade more life like and so on until one day he looks at Nita and remembers lust.

What I need to know is, does this make sense? I don’t want to have to explain it, I just need to know if people will buy that. What do you think?

(I just talked to Krissie in Slack and told her my hero was a skeleton. She said, “You’re kidding, I hope.” Nope.)

86 thoughts on “So, About Bodies . . .

  1. When he’s just a facade, he can still touch and be touched, right? It’s not like he’s a ghost. So from the outside (Nita’s POV) will he look/feel any different as he becomes more real? Will the pore/airbrushed feeling go away?

    If so, will his demons and Satan see the difference, too? And if they do, would it be natural for them to ask him what the hell is going on, so you can have scene where he figures out what is happening and has to choose to either let it continue or stay a facade?

    Really what he’s doing is building a better facade, one that is more lifelike, even thought he’s still dead. So I definitely think it makes sense. But I also think at some point in time you might have to have an ah-ha moment for him.

  2. I keep thinking of the Velveteen Rabbit. Which is a bit disorienting when applied to a dead Italian boss of demons. Disorienting, but interesting.

    1. Sorry Kate! I read Jenny’s entry and replied without reading the comments first…so I apologize for jumping in with the Velveteen Rabbit reference when you got there first!

  3. “…until one day he looks at Nita and remembers lust.”

    That’s hot.

    The rational is intriguing but might be too intellectual and pull me out of the story depending on how its done. But the line above is a big pay off for me.

    As he remembers more, does he look less airbrushed? Will he get shadows under his eyes? Will Nita notice?

    1. I’m still figuring this out, but remembering gives him a better grasp on a more realistic facade, so he won’t look as airbrushed. I don’t think he’d bother with a five o’clock shadow since it wouldn’t serve a purpose. By the time he’s really changing, Nita knows who and what he is, so she’s already along for the ride.

  4. Works for me. That said, it works with the three paragraphs of explanation you got up there. So I would need that level of information conveyed at some point.

    1. Like garlicknitter says, it needs to be released a little bit at a time, not explained. I think the reader (that would be you all) already knows he’s changing in just the pieces you’ve read.

  5. It makes sense to me, and it sounds like the thing you can build into the story a bit at a time without stopping to explain it. I love that kind of thing when it’s done well.

  6. Makes sense. He starts out as a Ken doll (anatomically, too?) and starts becoming real with bits and she notices he now has a 5pm shadow, and then he’s needing a haircut, and eventually dressing right instead of hardly anything showing. It works for me.

      1. I think he’d remember it. I think after five hundred years he wouldn’t be as obsessed with it, especially since he’s dead and therefore has no blood flow.

        1. +100. Although I enjoyed some of the later Twilight books, mainly because of the werewolves, I thought it was ridiculous that a vampire could still sire a kid.
          Come on. You’re a dead, but your sperm still works? Not to mention the whole going-out-in-the-sun thing. It’s not that I think you have to slavishly follow the tropes, but if you just change every rule so that your “vampire” has no flaws and no downsides, it feels like cheating.
          I’m glad Nick will be more balanced. I, personally, like the idea of him starting off as a skeleton, but as one of my friends said, “You are many things, Melissa, but you are not normal.”

  7. Something similar worked for Hellblazer, though involving physical regeneration, so it should work for Nick too. Do it without explanation, giving him the sense of wonder as each thing returns, but of course don’t wear that tactic out. If you want her to start realizing that there’s something unusual going on she can also notice when some returning sensation catches him by surprise. (I finished The Man Who Fell to Earth a couple of days ago, so this type of thing is fresh on my mind) But I wouldn’t hage a problem with this.
    Besides, your world, your rules. Readers of this kind of work tend to give the author a lot of leeway in the ground rules ofa world.

      1. Another thought hit me — if your intention is to bring him back to the physical realm you’ve got a great opportunity in this. At some point the process of getting real (nice double meaning there, isn’t it?) could require that he get yanked back to his body in Italy. So you could have him disappear at a key point in the story, leaving her to deal with things until he can manage to get out of where he is and get back. Just a thought.

    1. Well, like the Skin Horse, he becomes real.

      ““Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

      Except it’s not love that makes him real, although it’s a motive for becoming real. I’m still working through that part.

      1. No, but wait, what happens when they touch? Is he projecting sensation as well? Or would a person feel bones if they held his hand?

        1. There would a definite ick factor along with a “how is that working?” thought of Nita having sex with a skeleton.

  8. Works for me as long as his facade has physical reality. So he isn’t remembering taste buds, he’s giving himself taste buds, and he isn’t remembering that touch feels good, he’s developing a facade of skin and nerves that does feel good.

    Slight concern that you have eating as one of his first bodily things. I’ll buy taste buds, but digestion is a very complicated unconscious set of processes and requires a whole body. I’m not so sure I’ll buy that as part of a transition. But I may be overthinking it. In the world of your book, I’ll probably accept whatever you say.

    1. At the moment, he’s burning food the way he’d been pulling energy from the things around him, to keep the facade going. It’s why the lights in the bar are dim when Nita walks in; he siphoning off energy to keep the facade going. He can pull from the sun and other sources, too, but once he starts eating, he has a new portable fuel.

      I think organs will be the last thing he’d get. The skeleton is comparatively simple, and then muscle overlay, and then maybe a circulatory system. Once you get to organs, things get much more complicated.

  9. I’d maybe have the awareness come as a result of something that shocks him – a burn? A shock that gets his attention, so then he’s thinking ‘wait, what’s feeling about? when did that start?’ I’d buy in with just a few clues scattered about.

    1. I have a place where he begins to wonder and stabs himself in the arm with a knife: no blood. Then later in the story he cuts himself and bleeds.

  10. In the real world, I’m a sceptic. But in the author’s world, I’ll believe anything, as long as it makes sense in the world of the story, and this does. Two questions
    – is the body still his projection of a body, just more real (ie a more life like facade in your words)? And if so, does that mean underneath it all he’s still a skeleton, which Nita can see? How does Nita cope with that?
    – from a romance HEA view, will the body age? I’d want to know this for my cathartic happy ending 🙂

    1. The body’s real, with some caveats. That is, there’s a point at which he’s working in his apartment without his facade (because why waste the energy) and Rab comes in to tell him something and screams because there’s some muscle there now. Nita gets used to the skeleton but she draws the line when he looks like he’s been flayed alive.

      Nope, he’s not going to age. He’s always going to look twenty-ish and beautiful.
      Nita’s not going to age much, either, though. Spoilers.

      1. I think this is fantastic! I LOVE the ‘Nita gets used to the skeleton’. Says so much about Nita, and I’m smiling already. Can’t wait.

        Have you ever seen any of those Body Exhibition images? They’re preserved bodies in various stages of being flayed/organs etc. I’m not sure how I feel about them, but they’re relevant maybe.

          1. I am a magpie for interesting information, and I am good making links ( I didn’t know this until a work personality training thing, and when I read it, it resonated). On the flip side, I am so unobservant of the world around me that I can walk into a close friend’s house and not notice that she has completely rearranged the furniture. Not a great weakness for an aspiring writer.

        1. Is that the traveling museum exhibit? We’ve have had that one twice to my local Public Museum and I’m too creeped out to go to it.

          I’ll read it but I won’t go see it.

        2. We went and saw that with family one year. It was kind of creepy but it was interesting. Especially for someone like me, who took only the required science classes and then promptly forgot everything. They pose them in humorous ways sometimes – I think there was a group playing poker.

        3. If you ever want to sleep again, don’t watch the film Anatomie with Franka Potente. That kind of anatomical exhibition featured heavily. I’ve gotten used to the models now (we had to watch dissection videos using them in some of my anatomy classes) but the movie still gives me the willies.

  11. Does Nick pickup associations to his former self from anyone other than Nita? It might come across that Nita is the reason this is all happening if she’s always the touchpoint when it’s really that Nick is reawakening old senses.

    1. No, he yawns in his apartment before Nita’s ever there. He loses his temper with Satan when Nita’s not there. He gets hungry watching Nita eat, but I think that’s the only cue he gets from her in the first act.

  12. So…how’s the relationship gonna work if he’s embodied but dead all the way through? Still not clear there, sorry.

    1. Yeah, I’m not sure this is a concept I would buy. I’m sure it would depend on how it’s sold, though. There should definitely be a place where you make us smile, followed by a question to which the answer can only be yes.

    2. Just fine.
      Maybe I don’t understand the question. He’s not unconscious, he’s walking around and talking . . .

  13. When I think of all the weird theories and behaviors and sciences in science fiction and fantasy, this seems pretty mild. Most of my reading is in science fiction, or fantasy, and belief must be suspended for everything to work. I have never had a problem with the world being a flat disc carried on the backs of four elephants, who are standing on a giant turtle, swimming through space.

    1. That’s a different world, though. I’m setting this one in our world, so that makes it tougher.
      One of the many reasons I like working on Paradise Park and Monday Street is that whole alternate history/different world thing.

      1. Which is why I’m looking forward to those. And they don’t necessarily have to have a HEA ending either. I mean, I know that’s what you do but it’s one of the things I like about Bet Me, that the 3 HEA endings “rule” isn’t followed.

  14. If I can buy demons, hellgates, disappearing bodies, and all the rest, an animated skeleton with a facade who gradually becomes more whole won’t be a problem. Although, I gotta say, by the time Nick and Nita have sex, I would have to be sure Nick is more than an animated skeleton, because that is just creepy.

    1. Real dogs come first. Then I put them in books.
      Steve in Faking It was based on Wolfie.
      Wolfie and Milton in Dogs and Goddesses were based on Wolfie and Milton when he was a puppy.
      Veronica in the Liz books was based on Veronica.
      Muffin in the early version of the fairy tale books was based on Mona, who is occassionally called Muffin or Muppet around here.

      Fred in Anyone But You was made-up. The dogs in Getting Rid of Bradley were the dogs I had at the time. Anything before Wolfie is a 50/50 chance of being real or made up.

      1. The dogs in Getting Rid of Bradley are my favorites of all your dogs. I’m still bitter my dogs won’t learn the dead dog trick. They do like pretzels, though.

  15. I understand what you’re doing with Nick and would except the explanation of his facade transforming in the story, but what I have a harder time with at the face level is not his transformation, but with the idea of Nita being sexually attracted to a dead skeleton.

    Like I can understand coming to love him or see him as an important person, but not how dusty bones inspires lust if she sees beyond the facade when she looks at him. There’s no eyes, no lips, no tongue – how is any of that a turn on or like what do you even fantasize about doing with that? (I guess the expression “wanting to jump his bones” must come from somewhere, but I guess I’m saying it just squicks me out to think about when applied to an actual skeleton =P )

    Also, and not to be explicit, but I don’t understand how the mechanics of it all that would even work when it comes to a physical relationship, so I would really need help from the writing in understanding and accepting that part of it too if you’re writing a romance where you want to include sex scenes between them.

    What is she kissing- A facade? A skull? How can he keep up the effort of the facade if he’s swept away in the moment?

    So that’s where you’re going to have to work to convince me as a reader – that she sees through him and is turned on by it anyway. I can understand her loving/admiring, and I can understand him lusting but not her lusting. Not if she’s an alive, flesh and blood being…not without you helping me get there.

  16. I think this would work, especially if it wasn’t over-explained or over-emphasized. (That’s always the trick, isn’t it?) It would probably come up in conversation at some point, possibly in conjunction with the remembering-lust part. (“I don’t know, you just seem so much more… real now.”)

  17. Ok, so as you were explaining it, I was thinking, “Oh! So his projection powers basically get refined.” I don’t know if you ever read it, but there’s a fantasy series, The Belgariad, where the way magic works in that book is a combination of willpower + a word. Willpower, though, also has imagination wrapped up in it. More relevantly: if you can think it up, you can do it. So, in one part, the Hero is trying to become a wolf, and the way to do that is to imagine the wolf, down to the itty bitty details. The first few times it doesn’t work, cause he forgets things like toenails, even though the overall image of the wolf is there (but apparently toenails are important). So, Nick has the overall image of “human,” but forgot things like pores and tastebuds (cause I’m assuming, why bother and who thinks about those things? Good enough for government work, hah). So, as he remembers, his projection improves. See, I got all that, and when you wrote this, ” I don’t want anything mystical about Nita making him human again, I just want his human memories reawakened which will change how he imagines his facade which will awaken further memories which will make his facade more life like and so on until one day he looks at Nita and remembers lust,” I was like, cool, same page. Though, I don’t think I would have ever gotten there had you not said that Satan gave him a projection power.

    I don’t understand the part of pre-projection powers where the demons were upset. Do you mean Nick looked like a skeleton and that upset the demons?

    Also, while I can get projections, how strong are these projections? Is it just broadcasting a look, but if anyone touched, they’d freak out because what they’re touching doesn’t match what they’re looking at (which seems to be the case at the beginning what with Nita seeing a skeleton). Or did his projection power always have the ability to project a change upon himself? I’m assuming it must as the skeleton starts to layer with muscle. So his power must be more than just projecting the image he wants. It also must be strong enough to cause physical change (tastebuds would also be a good example here–it’s one thing to remember pores and add them into the image, but who would actually see the tastebuds?). And he never bothered before, cause…why? Waste of energy? If the power Satan gave him was to only project an image, then why would the skeleton start transforming?

    1. The only thing I’m hazy about is the skeleton because it’s still back in the tomb in Italy. At the moment, I’m doing some handwaving, Satan gave him his human body back or a replica thereof, it was just . . . not in good shape. So when people came into the office or Nick had to go out, there was a yuck factor. So Satan gave him the projection power to essentially change his form physically so that other people/demons saw him as whole, could shake his hand on agreements, etc. And over five hundred years, the original Nick became a skeleton, which was still off-putting, so he kept up the facade. Basically, for Nick, it’s like wearing a business suit. It’s a pain in the ass but it allows him to get the job done.

      However it takes energy, so he’s always burning what ever he can access locally. In hell, that’s easy because they know what he is so there’s always an energy source near him. Like a clothing allowance. On Earth, he has to siphon it off from wherever he can. The sun is always good, but growing things, electricity, anything like that helps, although he has to be careful not to draw on humans or demons because they tend to pass out. It’s why he gives off heat. Dag and Rab only have to change the color of their skin so their energy draw is miniscule. Nick’s building a whole body.

      But he’s been doing it for 500 Earth years/50 Hell years, so it’s no big deal. And he can change it according to circumstances so that depending on where he goes on Earth, he always fits in. He does wear real clothes, though, because that’s one less thing he has to manage, plus they help add to the realism.

      This time on Earth, though, he’s not just bringing back a rogue demon or closing a hellgate. Although he’s mostly ruthlessly efficient, he’s also conscientious, probably from all this years working with Satan who’s a sticker for right and wrong. There was a hellgate, so he sent a good agent to close it. She disappeared so he sent his best agent to close it. He disappeared. He’s come down to Earth himself to find them and in the process of doing that, a human was killed. This is not the way things go for Nick. So even though he hasn’t had a real emotion in quite awhile, there’s a remnant of a memory of frustration and anger being evoked. Then Nita shows up and he doesn’t know what she is, and by this time, he knows everything on Earth and in Hell. A mystery just isn’t possible and yet there she is. So again the situation evokes a very, very distant memory, and he begins to be curious again, although the emotions are faint at first and he rejects them. He’s dead. He doesn’t have emotions. But then he watches Nita eat and decides to generate tastebuds to see what’s happening with her–that’s the curiousity–and that evokes sensual memory beyond emotional memory. He starts having real emotions based on a physical body, like he gets tired and remembers sleep and sleeps.

      And it becomes a cycle where the more physical memories he regains, the more physical his facade becomes which freaks him out because if he gets a physical body while he’s dead, there will probably be rotting involved unless he maintains it, and he’s got enough on his plate. And then he finds out that he can’t drop the facade any more. He’s become a Real Boy. But by then he’s the Devil . . .
      It’s complicated. But yes when people touch him, he appears real. And then later, he is real. Just dead.

      1. The business suit bit is a great analogy–he steps into something, and it can be as simple or complex as he wants, but he has to power it (though it morphed into a space/astronaut suit in my head for some reason). With you there.

        And I think I can get why the body Satan gave him went from decomposing to bones cause that’s what bodies do. BUT WHY THE REVERSE?

        Or, how did the suit become stuck on?

        And yeah, not this much info in one go cause it is complicated and my brain may be hurting just a little. 😀 But in a fun way.

        1. I’m avoiding that as long as possible but there’s really only one possible answer: God. She’s pretty much the only entity who’d have that power unless Jesus is making a Lazarus cameo which ain’t happening. The question is, why would She? My fallback is that God must have a great sense of humor, She invented red pandas and the platypus, so maybe it’s just a momentary whim, a break from running the universe, like Hillary having a beer.

          1. It’s not about redemption. The book isn’t based in Christian theology, believe it or not. Even Hell is based on several different religions. Demons aren’t bad, they’re just another a race. Hell’s not a place of punishment.
            Not a fan of Jonathan Edwards’ outlook on life and death.

          2. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is one of the best pieces of rhetoric of all time. Nuts, of course, but brilliant.

      2. Oh, also, re the body: steal from the Greeks/Egyptians–whatever’s in the tomb gets to go with you into the afterlife? So, the items remain on Earth, but they also copy/paste to the afterlife?

        1. I have a scene where Nita says, “Just show me your real self,” and he does, only this time he’s holding a sword, the way bodies of noble men were sometimes buried with swords. And it’s real. And he say, “That’s never happened before,” and the sword stays.
          The problem is, I have no idea why. It was Discovery Draft. It just popped up. So that might go, except Nita wreaks some really good havoc with that sword. So I don’t know.
          I just make this stuff up, I don’t EXPLAIN it.

  18. The gradual facade improvement/reawakening is cool. I’m good with it up til the love part (physical relations seem to call for physical beings) and wildly curious about how Nita and Nick could get their HEA.

    I have every confidence you can deliver.

  19. I love it. There’s something very poignant about his return to whatever his version of full human sensation/projection will be when it’s layered in like that. And looking at Nita and remembering lust – perfect!

  20. Wasn’t that traveling bodies thing in one of the superhero flicks? Or maybe, it was one of the Daniel Craig James Bond films.

    I’d read about it some time before I actually saw photos, so my mind conjured up something similar to what Dr Oz showed on Oprah a gazillion years ago when he was medical-focused.

    It is pretty interesting.

  21. Paris, not Italy, but still kind of relevant…

    Also, the human brain is an amazing thing. When someone has a stroke and the synapses in certain parts of it don’t work anymore, it actively starts building little nerve/electrical bridges around the broken place. Maybe this is why the ‘business suit sticks? Because when Nick gets curious and builds taste buds, the construction stays? His brain made it, so it becomes real?

    As to why God might allow it, that reminds me of a quote for a YA book I love, but haven’t read in years. It’s A College of Magics, by Caroline Stievermer. It’s a Prisoner of Zenda (which I never liked, love this one though) re-do, with magic. There is a great twist moment at the end, and this next bit is spoilery- one of our beloved characters dies. Then a major power decides to leave and go to the next level, or however (it’s been a long time) but before he goes, he looks at our heroine and tells her, ‘There is so little light in the world. I can’t let the ones that I treasure go out.’ Something like that. Only better. I will look it up. But the upshot is yes, he meddles with time, space, physics, what have you, because he can and he wants to. Because sometime you should.

    1. I did that at the end of Dogs and Goddesses. I killed the hero and then the heroine brought him back because her dog told her to. It was schmaltzy but I loved it anyway.

  22. Just throwing this out right after reading your entry without having read any of the comments…

    yeah, it makes sense. I imagine it’s kinda like what ‘becoming real’ might have felt to the Velveteen Rabbit, no?

    Now back to the comments to see what everyone else had to say.

  23. I think the business suit analogy makes it clear to me. I love the concept of Nick recreating his human self by increasingly greater degrees — to the point at which he has a physical presence he can’t return from / must maintain. That this re-creation requires constant attention & energy is just awesome.

    I hope you find additional analogies like the business suit so that you can forego as much make-this-credible explanation as possible. (Yet I understand that multiple analogies can turn into mixed metaphor soup.)

  24. THere are some thoughts occurring to me but I don’t know if this is how you see things. When you donwload a picture it appears first as just a few pixels – blurry. So Nick experiences emotions and human stuff at first in blurry terms. But as he concentrates on Nita, she and associated appetites (OK, Lust) appear eventually in million-pixel definition.

    But maybe it works in reverse as well – so when you see someone in the distance you don’t take in much about them – they are blurry. And Nick wouldn’t need to project much to give the impression of being “someone” to mst of the people most of the time, because most of us ignore other people (“Incoming passer-by at 11 o’clock, avert eyes and body-swerve”). But as he gets closer to certain people, he has to up the definition rating.

    And, to answer your original question, I think that makes sense, but perhaps if it’s associated with some particular trait of Nita’s – her hair colour, maybe, which starts off – dunno – yellow? And then as his perceptions increase, it becomes 64-colours then 256 million colours etc.

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