Welcome back, folks. Glad you’re joining me again. As I said yesterday, Room 3 is releasing on November 12th, which means just six more days until you can read it on your favorite e-reader (savvy customers wishing to purchase a print copy can find a place to do so now *cough cough*). Yes, that means that, unlike my minor releases, this one is going to be multi-platform. Amazon has done enough for me to feel I need to diversify in my reader base. I may, in fact, switch my focus toward Smashwords in the near future. Still mulling that. But we’re not here to discuss sales and promotion. We’re here to talk story!
Room 3 revolves around three central characters, with a varied supporting cast. Today I’m going to talk about those three characters.
Kelli Foster is the protagonist and narrator. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Kelli has wanted to be a singer and songwriter for most of her life. The earliest events in Room 3 occur when she is tending bar at a dive in Boston, helping to pay her bills while she works to achieve some sort of breakthrough with her music. She lives close to the bar, so it’s just a short walk home after closing each night – a walk that is generally fairly safe. On that night, she encounters a seemingly familiar man who is encountering car trouble. He convinces her to hand over her cellphone and, in the process, knocks her out. She awakens in a cabin known as the Khesnaa, and the events of Room 3 truly get underway.
She and her initial roommate, Gina, are shot up with an unknown hallucinogenic drug and endure bizarre visions where they must unravel mysteries related to their creative gifts. Kelli, in particular, is expected to solve a musical puzzle to free an unknown captive.
Kelli begins the story as a cautious, though generally trusting woman who sometimes allows her ambition and drive to blind her to her surroundings. As events in the Khesnaa progress, she is transformed first into a bitter woman, distrustful of anyone and everything and then into a determined, savvy person who dares to fall in love even in the face of utter nihilism.
Kelli falls for Samarta, the night watchman, who has a lot more in common with the two captives than either expect at first. I’ll talk more about Sam shortly, but for now, here’s a key scene between the two of them.
I stopped in front of him, hands on my hips, cocking my head. “You’re an interesting fellow, Samarta.”
“I think of myself as the opposite. But thank you.” He cleared his throat. “You said we needed to speak…?”
“Oh, you’re no fun. Right down to business, huh?”
“I, uhm, suppose that is the best.” He shifted.
“Have you seen anything weird around here?” I said.
He walked over to the old wooden couch that sat before the monitors and plopped down on one of the ratty plaid cushions. He dangled one arm over the side. “Everything about this place is strange. You will need to narrow this down for me.”
I sighed. “I don’t know how to ask you without sounding crazy.”
He rubbed his chin. “Interesting.”
I walked to his side. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“All of this –” He swept his arm across the room – “And you worry about appearing insane.”
Yeah, why was that?
Could be that you care what he thinks. Could be. That sounded a lot like Momma’s voice, floating around in my head. That was just what I needed.
“I’ve got a reputation to protect. Can’t have word getting around, you know?” I said.
He smiled. At that moment, I couldn’t remember if I’d seen him smile before, but it made me a little light-headed. “Of course. I would never harm a good woman’s reputation. Please. Tell me your concerns.”
“First, you have to promise that you won’t think I’m crazy.”
He waved a hand. “Of course. I would never think you crazy.”
I bit my lip. All right. Here goes. “Have you…seen people who shouldn’t be here?”
His body went rigid, his expression turning very serious. “What have you seen? Intruders?”
I held up my hands. “Whoa, calm down, chief. I don’t mean I’ve seen people like that. I mean…you know…”
He raised his eyebrows. “I am afraid I do not understand.”
Damn it, he just couldn’t make it easy, could he? Fine.
I’d go out on that limb. “Dead people.”
Carla is key to the events in the Khesnaa; her arrival at the Khesnaa marks a turning point in Kelli’s life and represents the culmination of the Organization’s plans. Carla is also a Boston area native, but last remembers being in DC when the Organization nabbed her and brought her to the cabin. Thrown into the experiments almost from her arrival at the cabin, she is pushed harder and farther than Kelli has ever been pushed. Her visions are less puzzles and more a nightmarish melange of traumatic events from her history, pointing to her much larger purpose within the project.
Carla and Kelli develop something of an uneasy truce; paranoia drives both to play their cards close to their chest and eventually becomes an obstacle to their continued survival. In the end, however, a profound discovery about their pasts brings them together, with Carla fiercely defending Kelli.
Carla’s voice jarred me. “So what’s the deal with you two?”
“Thought you were going to sleep.” I crossed the room and sat at the Korg, facing her.
“I am. But if you think I can sleep without knowing the story between you two, you’re crazy.”
“There’s no story to tell. He’s the only decent one of the lot. He was there when Gina died, and we’ve been friendly ever since.”
She scoffed. “You don’t look at him like a friend. He didn’t exactly look at you like one, either.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“Right. Tell me another lie.”
“Your choice whether you believe me. I can’t prove a negative.” Her questions hit on the nose, as usual, and her persistence was going to drive me crazy. I turned to the keyboard, hoping she’d shut up.
Alas, no such luck. “I don’t think it’s messed up or anything. It’s not like he kidnapped us. My old man used to tell me, ‘you see something you want, you need to go grab it’. I figure that goes double here.”
I didn’t look back at her. “That your inspirational speech?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, thanks, Oprah. It means a lot. Gayle here has to do some work now.” I plunked a few keys. “Am I going to bother you?”
“I don’t think so. Way I feel, I could sleep through a war.”
“Good. Get some rest. We can talk more in the morning.”
Samarta. Finding a photo to match this guy is near-impossible. Samarta is tall, incredibly pale, and bald, with a stoic demeanor and a heavily muscled body. the picture on the left is the only thing that even approaches his appearance.
Samarta is a tribesman with a troubled past, held hostage and forced to work for the Organization with his family held as collateral. Sam, as he’s called, believes in doing the right thing in all circumstances, no matter what the cost – though this is a result of having sold out his principles with horrific consequences.
Sam and Kelli connect almost from the beginning, as Sam sees a reflection of his own hopelessness in Kelli’s false bravado and cynicism. In some ways, he hopes that by protecting and rescuing her he can make up for the terrible mistakes that cost him his family.
Now there was a nasty little surprise. But should it have been? He had pulled his hand away from mine so quickly. I wondered if he had been thinking of her. I turned to him, my mouth open wide. “Since when do you have a wife?”
He blinked. “Since long before my arrival.” He waved a hand. “This is not important.”
“No, this is important. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was never any of your concern.”
“Maybe not, but I thought we were friends,” I said.
“We are not friends. Friendly, perhaps –”
Like a kick in the teeth. It put some fire in my words. “Well, that’s great to know. I’m sure glad I shared about my life with you, then. Good to know you can’t reciprocate now before…”
“Before what?” he said.
Carla’s eyes swung back and forth between the two of us. I worried she might get the wrong idea about us, that we were falling for each other or something. Heaven forbid that.
I waved a hand. “Guess what? It’s not important.”
He looked at me a moment longer. I wanted him to burn up inside, to know the irritation that scratched the back of my mind.
There are some other fun characters, such as Maple and Zito, but I’ll get to those in due time.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the locations in the novel, because the story happens in a lot more places than just a solitary cabin.