Aug 31, 2014

The Power of Disillusionment – by MFRW Feature Author of the Month Lloyd A. Meeker

 For years, I had a quote pinned up on the wall of my work-place cubicle attributed to congressional historian Daniel J Boorstin: “The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance, but rather the illusion of knowledge."

I'd like to share with you something of my enthusiasm for disillusionment – the loss of illusion. Discovery is an essential part of any plot, from clues in a murder mystery, to trust (misplaced, real or withheld) in a romance, geographic exploration in an adventure, or finding inner strength in the Hero’s Journey. While the need for discovery is always present in our stories, the context for the discovery is infinitely changeable.

Perhaps the most important variable is the protagonist’s own attitude toward discovery. That could be the beginning of his character arc: he may be certain he doesn’t need to change, or that he is as self-sufficient as his reputation says he is. He may be convinced a situation is hopeless. He may believe he is not worthy of love. This is where the story gets really interesting! How the hero handles that discovery is a crucial revelation of his character. What is he really made of? What he does when a cherished illusion is dispelled will show it in spades.

The classic example is an altruistic young person who, full of optimism and naïveté approaches the world of commerce as if everyone were as honest as she is. That person soon finds out that altruism, if it is to be a kind influence in a person's life must be tempered with realistic caution.

While I rhapsodize about the profound value of cognitive dissonance, I don’t enjoy the pain and sadness (or embarrassment!) I can feel when a cherished belief proves to be false. I believe emotional pain is probably the worst teacher of reality – certainly the harshest. The problem is that so often it’s the only teacher left to us because we’ve rejected kinder, less cataclysmic ones. We can be so damn stubborn or blind about what we’re certain is true – the illusion of knowledge.

In the case of Shepherd Bucknam, the protagonist in my new novel The Companion, disillusionment is a great but pain-inducing ally, in two particular instances. When the story begins, he doesn’t see any need for him to change. Privately, he carries a bitter disrespect for his dead alcoholic mother, believing that she didn’t really love him. He is also afraid that a recurring nightmare foretells his violent death.

In both these matters he discovers that what he thinks is true is not true at all, and the shock of discovery opens him to new experience and real growth as a human being. What happens next? Well, you’ll have to read the story to find out!

And I sincerely hope you do… :D


Blurb for The Companion

Shepherd Bucknam hasn’t had a lover in more than a decade, and doesn’t need one. As a Daka, he coaches men in the sacred art and mystery of sexual ecstasy all the time, and he loves his work. It’s his calling. In fact, he’s perfectly content—except for the terrors of his recurring nightmare, and the ominous blood-red birthmarks on his neck. He’s convinced that together they foretell his early and violent death.

When Shepherd’s young protégé is murdered, LAPD Detective Marco Fidanza gets the case. The two men are worlds apart: Marco has fought hard for everything he’s accomplished, in sharp contrast to the apparent ease of Shepherd’s inherited wealth—but their mutual attraction is too hot for either of them to ignore.

Shepherd swears he’ll help find his protégé’s killer but Marco warns him to stay out of it. When an influential politician is implicated, the police investigation grinds to a halt. Shepherd hires his own investigator. Marco calls it dangerous meddling.

As their volatile relationship deepens, Shepherd discovers his nightmares might not relate to the future, but to the deadly legacy of a past life—a life he may have to revisit before he can fully live and love in this one.

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In this excerpt, Shepherd is a suspect in the murder of his friend and protégé Steven Lewis. Detective Marco Fidanza, who is soon to be Shepherd’s lover, has called Shepherd to the police station for more questioning.

I DIDN’T see any visitor parking at the police station, so I took a meter on the street and reported to the desk. Five minutes later, Fidanza appeared and steered me to what could only be an interrogation room. Two chairs and a metal table with a welded bracket in the middle—for restraints, I guessed. Not even a wastebasket. That was it. The air smelled of pine disinfectant, but I didn’t want to think of why the place might have needed disinfecting.

He pointed to a chair. “Have a seat.” He put a recorder on the table and sat across from me. He spoke in a brusque monotone into the recorder: date, time, people present, case number, murder of Steven Lewis.

Using the same voice, he read me my rights and asked if I understood them. I said yes, and my attorney was waiting for my call if needed.

He studied the open file in front of him as if he hadn’t heard what I’d said or its warning. But then I’d threatened to call my lawyer yesterday. He probably heard that all the time.

“You say you were a friend of the deceased.” He sounded nonchalant, even bored. Even without Juergen’s warning, he didn’t fool me for a second.

“Yes, I was.”

“How close a friend?”

“I was his mentor. We were intimate friends.”

“Physically intimate?”

“Certainly. Once a month, sometimes more often. For his lesson.”

Fidanza looked up, and his lip curled. “A lesson in sex.”

I shook my head. “A lesson in sexual intimacy.”

“Come on, Bucknam. You’re saying he didn’t know how to do it?”

“Can you sing Happy Birthday, Detective?” I smiled. “I’ll bet you can.”

He scowled. “On the right occasion. What’s that got to do with this?”

“Dmitri Hvorostovsky can sing happy birthday too. Even though he sings the same notes you do, I think you’d agree it’s a very different song when he sings it.”

I leaned forward on the table and stared into Marco Fidanza’s glare. “Most men know the melody of sex and can stumble through it, pretty much in tune. I teach them how to sing their sexual intimacy like Hvorostovsky sings opera. At least as far as they can go, and as far as I can take them.”

The air crackled between us. I could tell I’d gotten to him, and it was clear he didn’t like being bested on his own turf. A small ragged vein on his temple pulsed, and his lips pressed to a thin line. I sat back in my chair.

“Very clever,” he grumbled. “So you were teaching Lewis to sing sexual opera.”

I nodded. “He was incredibly gifted—a natural—but still dangerously naïve.” I fought a lump in my throat. “We were working on that too.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re not naïve in the least, Mr. Bucknam.” He was good. I folded my arms and replied with silence. “Did you introduce him to customers?”

“Yes, a few. He had no trouble finding his own, though.”

He drew some rectangles in a corner of his notepad. “Did you get a cut of that action?”

“No. He offered, I refused.”

“His car had no loan. Was that your doing?”

“Everyone in LA needs a reliable car, Detective. We agreed it would be a loan.”

“What about him using your, ah, studio?” “What about it?”
“Did he pay you for its use?”

“Detective, you seem fixated on money issues. That may make sense in other investigations, but it doesn’t in this one. We didn’t have any money issues. I would have covered all his costs without a thought, if he’d let me.”

He looked up, searching my face for something. “But he didn’t.”

“He was a free spirit. He didn’t like being fenced in.”

Fidanza nodded. “Were you trying to fence him in?”

“Not deliberately. And he had no trouble telling me when he felt like I was.”

He went back to his doodling. “How did you stay in touch?”

“Phone mostly. Sometimes a text.”

“What did you do together besides your, um, opera lessons?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Not very much.” Then I wanted to cry. The truth was that we hadn’t done anywhere near enough together. We could have done so much more.

“He loved his independence, as I said. We’d eat together once a week, maybe twice. Occasionally, we’d attend a wine tasting or some other event. One weekend, we went to a gay rodeo in Palm Springs. He loved that.”

He glanced at the papers in front of him. “So part of your, ah, mentorship included cosigning his lease and holding a key to his apartment.”

“Yes. He’d arrived in LA with nothing. No credit, almost no cash reserves. Sometimes, he was sleeping in dangerous places. He needed a place of his own. I wanted him to stay safe.”

“Right,” he said, his voice cold and dry. “That worked out well for him, didn’t it?”

“How—” I gasped, blindsided by the deliberate cruelty. “I suppose you say that to the children of every officer killed in the line of duty. You must be a real hit at police funerals.”

“I thought that might get a reaction from you.” He looked up, smug. “I was right.”

“Brilliant. You get a reaction by hitting someone with a sledgehammer. Such sophistication. Such finesse.”

My heart hammered against my ribs as I leaned forward, hating that he’d found where I hurt most. “Maybe I could have done more to protect him. I wish I had. But if you think I didn’t want the best for Stef, you are wrong, Detective. Very, very wrong.”

He shrugged, unrepentant. The door opened and a heavy-set Hispanic man, probably early fifties, with a tired, fleshy face and a soft middle came in, half dragging a chair. He parked it facing the table, sat, and sighed as if his feet had hurt all day and he’d just discovered the solution.

Fidanza cocked his head at him. “This is my partner, Detective Tomás Alvarez. He’s here to make me behave.” He picked up the recorder and turned it off before stuffing it in his pocket.

I smiled tightly at Alvarez, still stinging. “You’ve arrived too late for that, I’m afraid.”

He lifted his shoulders an inch, clearly used to the failure. “I do what I can.” He looked at his partner. “Malena called. Nicki’s over, and the little one is sick. If I want to eat, I’ve got to buy stuff at the store on the way home. I want to eat.”

“You go ahead. Mr. Bucknam and I have one more task,” Fidanza said as he closed the file and stood. He stared down at me, and I could tell he was watching for something. “I need you to identify the body, down at the Coroner’s Office. You can ride with me, if you like.”

Sweat pricked along my neck. I didn’t want to see Stef’s body. Then I surprised myself. Yes, actually I did. I wanted to say good-bye. We both deserved that. What if I got sick again? Then I got sick, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to try to get out of it. That’s probably what Fidanza was hoping for.

There was no way I was going to ride in his car, though. He would just try to nail me again to see how I squirmed. I shook my head. “Give me the address. I’ll meet you there.”

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