Readers occasionally ask how the next Burkebook, Keppan: The Blood Oath, is coming along. The answer is sloooooowly. Partly due to extraneous issues like my pesky day job, but mostly because I think the next chapter in Burke’s journey has some significant terrain to cover: issues of loss, disability, and identity. This has made me aware that I really think about the writing process and what I’m trying to say before hammering out the book. Maybe this conviction is a bit pointy-headed for an author who writes what are known as “boy books” in the trade, but I think any sort of writing requires some serious thought and effort on the part of the author if it’s to be worth reading.
So the good news is that I’ve been wrestling with Keppan for some time but am now at the point where I think some aspects of the book are getting clarified in my mind. They were lurking there all along in my unconscious, I suppose (why else call it Keppan?) but I’m at the point where I begin to see how the arc of the story needs to be shaped.
In the meantime, for those readers curious about how Connor is faring, here’s an excerpt from Keppan’s Prologue
I jerked upright in bed, not sure what I had heard out in the night. It could have been a car door slamming, the bang of a truck hitting a road seam on the distant highway, or a cat yowling in pain or desire. It didn’t matter. My heart hammered and I was dappled with sweat. My eyes were wide open, searching the night for dangers that existed mostly in my head.
“It’s called hyperarousal,” the therapist had said. “The sorts of things you’re experiencing: feeling tense, the difficulty sleeping, being easily startled.” She gave me a small, reassuring smile. “With what you’ve experienced, it’s perfectly understandable.” Her voice was warm and calm. She was a scientist, and believed that naming something was the same as knowing it, that corralling up my symptoms and pinning them in a cluster to the relevant entry in the DSM-5 was tantamount to curing me. She was sincere and caring and patient.
I wanted to punch her really hard.
But that’s just another symptom. They weren’t sure whether it was Acute Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—“time will tell,” she said soothingly, “let’s work on getting you better.”
I swallowed my anger and nodded with resignation. During the day, I’m working on it and the symptoms seem to be better, but at night all bets are off. Sometimes I sleep soundly. Other times I rocket up into wakefulness and my heart is hammering and I hear the shooting start all over again in my mind.
I smell his blood.
I rolled out of bed, trying not to wake the woman next to me. I padded out to the rear of the house where there is a room with a bare floor and no furniture except for the low table with a wooden stand that cradles the black slash of a sheathed sword. He gave me that sword and taught me how to use it. Yamashita. Now, I teach others and the action is both a constant reminder that my sensei is gone and tangible proof that in some ways he never will be.
I sat down on my heels in the dark, slick with seat, and tried to calm the wild beating of my heart. When the dreams come or memory surges through me and creates this panicked wakefulness, I take refuge in some of the first things my teacher had shown me long ago: the discipline of the breath, the power of the mind to yoke the body into obedience.
But my breathing was ragged. I shivered. And from behind me, I heard the rustle of cloth and the whisper of bare feet.
Chie pressed herself against my back and wrapped the comforter around us both. She kissed my cheek and we sat there in silence until dawn came and the monsters in my head went back to sleep.