Saturday, July 27, 2013

Location, location, location

I didn't blog yesterday, and I don't feel bad about it. The every day thing just felt like a lot, and there didn't seem to be much of an increased readership, despite my updating the content every day. Nor am I really torn up over that, either.

Did chapter 5 today, and that was interesting. Was sort of a full circle bit. The main character of the 8th book is an antagonist in the 1st, and what she was doing and why were left somewhat up to the reader to infer. I feel good that I get to tie up all these loose ends, although, writing it down and getting it so people can read it are two very, very different things. The way things are going, the last book of the series won't be out for another few years. Little sobering to consider that.

I was reading another author's blog, and they were complaining about someone stealing an idea from their books.  I don't know any of the specifics, so I won't speak on it further, but it's a strange thing. Intellectual Property. Just the other day I was watching a spin off of a popular, supernatural show. It had a black vampire. In the first episode, someone alluded to where he was a century previous, in what kind of miserable state, and they were juxtaposing it against their situation in the story's present. He was likened to king of New Orleans. When I wrote about an African American vampire, back in 2007, I was happy with the concept. As the years have rolled by, I've watched the niche integrate. One here, with long locks and light eyes, one there with short hair and a chip on his shoulder. I imagine eventually they will try to take full advantage of the black experience in America, and lay vampiric experience over it. I wouldn't be very mad, shouting that I did it first, but nor would I be upset if someone read my book and made a movie about that instead.

But I'm not naive enough to assume that the idea occurred to me first. I'm not nearly as well-read as most people, so I really can't be sure. But I've been in a book store or two in my day, seen the stacks upon shelves of different authors all writing, so I'm sure the idea occurred to someone else.

I have it in mind to draft chapter 6 tomorrow. I'd like to take full advantage of this momentum for as long as I have it. I wrote about the difficulty of getting the ending right, weeks back, and I haven't thought about messing it up, not until right this second. Maybe it's not so much about doing the ending well, but telling a good part of a good story. It being the end is of marginally related relevance.

Saturday night, and I'm not out, but I am in a good place, I think.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I say, I say, woosa

Done and done. The synopsis, along with the RTF of my fantasy manuscript went into the aether today. I hope it returns with something more positive than rejection. It was weird, looking over it one last time. Up until I was double checking everything in the email itself, I had totally forgotten that a book was going along with the synopsis. It was like the only thing I had to send of note was those three paragraphs, every word scrutinized, every paragraph compared for content and character. After that, I felt bad because I felt that maybe I hadn't given the same consideration to the novel itself.

I think that's why I sent it. Being neurotic wasn't going to help past a certain point. I worked, I worked hard, refined, edited, analyzed, all that. It couldn't be perfect, and just becaise it was good doesn't mean they wouldn't say no. I just needed to put my best foot forward, and trust that it was the right foot. So, the clock starts now. I figure I won't hear anything back before Halloween, and that is the normal turnaround. I've heard stories of worse, and worse, I've heard stories of success that included a 12 month wait time. Patience is a virtue... and a pill.

I also sent off my 1,998 word Sci-Fi Western submission. I called it Man in a Bottle, after ruminating on the double idea I was working on, the idea of the man being trapped in the town and being trapped inside the bottle of liquor that webbed his mind. I found my way to that title through a stop over with the idea of the Impossible Bottle, of which the Ship in a Bottle is only one sort of puzzle. That sort of thing is really interesting to me, not so interesting that I would want to do it, but something that would make me stop and marvel at. The competition is to run from August 1 to 7. We'll see how Rupert fares. If you are interested at all, here is a link to the page where the entires are accumulating.

I feel pretty relieved, headed into this weekend with only writing to do. Just writing. Just right. My next book comes out next Thursday, and I guess I should be tearing my hair about how to promote it, but I'm sort of really not. Although that does remind me that I'm still waiting on the review to my second book... I wonder if they forgot about me... I wonder who I would even talk to about that. Would it be rude to send a humble email of inquiry? Was it posted somewhere and they just failed to tell me? What if it was posted, and then got taken down already? Heh. I think I can imagine a version of myself that might have been freaked out about that, like before people learned to shrug.

I'd be lying if I said that something couldn't happen tomorrow that would ruin my calm. But I think right now, if only just for right now, I'm good.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A few pillows closer

I won't say eureka, but after working somewhat extensively today on both the synopsis and the short story, I got both to places I can be happy with.

This is the new first paragraph:

The footsteps didn’t wake him. They unsettled the wooden planks that made up the dusty flooring, first ones farther away, then ones closer. The wood was aware of the people’s walking before their boots arrived, like they were walking behind their own shadows. When the door opened, they were behind their own shadows. Dark fingers reached across the room. He couldn’t wedge himself any farther into the corner of his cell. The light flashed between the figures’ shoulders. In the dream, Rupert screamed, but really, all he did was start awake.

This is much, much closer to what I wanted. It still establishes the notion of the dream, yet it allows for a double interpretation of the reality the character wakes into. There are sights and sounds that say other, but he wakes up in a recognizable, terrestrial place. 

And while I did work on the synopsis, I am not as happy with it. I do feel as done with it, however. I opened the file today and I read through the details, and it seemed fine. I say seemed because reading it, feeling satisfied, made me suspicious of my own feeling. It was bizarre, to feel lured into any kind of sense of security because it was actually good enough to send off. Or maybe I'm just tired. 

Certainly, I am ending this blog here, in lieu of sleep.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

At the 50, the 40, the 30, the 30, the 30...

Day one of the weight loss program... for my short story submission. I sent it to two different readers. The first one liked it, but was shaky on the passages I feared would be wobbly. The second one also liked it, but had a lot of questions about what was going on, what it all meant. He pointed out something I could only discover by writing: 2,000 words is not a lot of words. I told him that I felt the prompt of the story had to be part of the whole process of reading the story. So much had to be left out, replaced with pointers to specific bits in the premise. I wasn't very happy with things.

Good news is I did get it down to under the word maximum. That is, unless the title counts as part of the word count. If so, I still have some suctioning to do. Through it all, I still didn't figure out a better way to start it. What's worse, nothing has occurred to me since. Normally these things occur to me with rumination. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes days. I told myself, I told you, that I was going to spend the week improving the story. And maybe I felt like I'd be farther along, but I think the truth of the matter is I thought I'd be done today. I set a target, I shoot, I miss. Then I calibrate, which is what I'm trying to do now. The closer to the mark I was in the first place, the easier it is. So, I'm guessing I didn't even hit anywhere on the target. I know that the story could be good, but the way I write seems to force whatever I do to either be good or bad. It can't be mediocre. It's either clever, and thoughtful, or it's confusing and clumsy.

Another day of not even looking at the synopsis for the fantasy novel. I think maybe tomorrow will be a target day to spend some time approaching both projects with fresh eyes. I'm going to avoid a past mistake and not even give a date for when I have in mind to send the fantasy synopsis off. Suffice to say that this short story is the only thing I want sharp enough for submission, so it's the only thing that's going to get in the way, and it will only be in the way, at the longest, for another week. And then... and THEN... and... then...
Well, I guess then I'll write some more... on something. I got some ideas just today about more stories, another book. I wonder if I just started right now, with no sleep or food or time off, how long it would take me to finish it all...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Imagine (the) skinny

Rupert's story was drafted and I'm not upset about it. It isn't due until the end of the month, so I think I'll actually try to do a good job and edit it at least half a dozen times, get some folks to look at it, etc. The biggest problem so far is that it is about 90 words too heavy. It doesn't matter how amazing and epic a piece one rights, if it doesn't conform to the rules of whatever competition, it loses. 

In addition to hat, I have identified a first hurdle for the fine tuning. I give you the opening paragraph of the latest draft:

"The footsteps didn’t wake him. They unsettled the wooden planks that made up the dusty flooring, first ones farther away, then ones closer. The wood was aware of the people’s walking before their boots arrived, like they were walking behind their own shadows. When the door opened, they were behind their own shadows. Dark fingers reached across the room. He couldn’t wedge himself any farther into the corner of his cell. The light flashed between the figures’ shoulders. In the dream, Rupert screamed, but really, all he did was start awake."

Now, I mentioned last week that this is an abduction story, or, is at least about a guy who was abducted. I only have 2,000 words to tell the story, too, and the detail and dialog later have soaked up a lot of that, so this first bit has to do a few different things. I want it to set tone as well as lay the groundwork for clues that occur later. What we have here is 3rd person limited perspective, so I can't speak on anything omnisciently, yet I would like the reader to know things that the character is only loosely aware of. In this case, a parallel between where he was abducted to, and where he is in the first scene of the story. And, if possible, I'd like to do all that in fewer words. 

Although, this isn't really how I tackle problems like this. However, I did think it would be interesting to post some Before and After paragraphs. Since sketching is akin to revealing how I go about telling stories, it only made sense that I could also talk about how I go about editing. It may be that that opening paragraphs changes very little, but I feel right now that it's somewhat confusing. At least, it could be much, much sharper. But then, most 2nd drafts are pretty dull. 

So yeah, imagine an unhealthy person. In a week, hopefully I can show you someone in much better sorts.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cancel the weekend

Another weekend done, which means I've got another week of staring at the three paragraphs of my synopsis ahead of me. Looking back, the weekend was good. I wrote another chapter this morning. I'm trying not to examine it too much, the healthy pace. I chalk it up to having thought about the novel for a while before sitting to put it down. Today's chapter was a little emotional. I feel a little embarrassed saying I got a bit choked up, though I can't say why. I do wonder if the feeling of the author is better transmitted through the words if the author is actually having feelings.

Also managed to hang with friends and take in a show downtown. I enjoyed myself. I thought the actors were well utilized, and the subject matter of the movie, though grandiose, was given a good bit of dignity with a combination of attention to detail and well-paced story telling. I've seen most of his American work. Del Torro is the kind of guy I'd like to meet one day, shake the hand of, and show my writing to. He has a good mind for saying what needs to be said, while not rushing, or overstating.

On that note, I'm going to keep today's post short and sweet. I'm tired, and I seem to do my best work in the morning, and I seem to have my best mornings when I go to sleep in preparation for them. I really hope I don't dream about giant evolving alien dinosaur monsters from the bottom of the ocean. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sweety Angst, and the license to print money

Woke up at 2 am from a dream about a friend I haven't seen or thought of in years. My perplexity over the vision was more than a match for my sadness at how people move in and out of each others' lives. I went down parallel thought roads. In one, I thought about how in the dream we were back in school, and regressing, further and further, before high school, before middle. In the other, I wondered why our parents weren't friends like we were. It struck me that maybe people who may not like each other very much might tolerate one another so their children might be happier.

I had a bit of a brainstorm as I was looking down my options, standing at that dream crossroads. I ended up outlining a whole series of young adult supernatural-themed books. Buffy Potter, and the Lightning Thief, or some such. I imagined a young man listening to his parents argue, about what he doesn't know. Then the divorce, and the move. To Nowhere. At least, that was the working name for the out of the way town. Other, was another front runner. I had it in mind to google "most remote places in US" when I woke up, then I forgot. West Texas. Utah. Colorado. Wyoming. Okay, so, West. Curving roads, dry hills, mountain ranges, clear skies. Nothing, and then everything. A fully independent, lush, populated, city with modern amenities. I imagined the odd transition from the back seat of their SUV, the parent, probably the mother, telling the son about opportunities and adjustments and cheering up.

Then, first day of school, his guide finds him and gives him "the speech," the one where he points out all the different groups, who to stay away from, and why. High school as a microcosm. Except in my version, the jocks were werewolves, the goths were vampires, and the geeks were psychics. I had a funny interchange in mind where the main character, who I've chosen to name Ingram in honor of my friend, makes a reference to the nerds being picked on, and the guide's response is, "Yeah, this isn't that kind of school." I spent some time not sleeping, thinking of how they would probably want to avoid violent sports, and a lot of class schedules would feature a whole afternoon of "gym." I thought about a preceding aptitude test followed by a trade school style education, very practical and technological, so the graduates could go on and be productive members of society... while never leaving the small town.

The love interest, because it couldn't be YA without it, would be the child of a Fae. I was recently roleplaying in a game where one of the characters, a very attractive woman who asked too many questions, ended up under the spell of one of the powerful outsiders, and was tricked into making the wrong deal. In a dramatic turn of events, she ended up pregnant, and agreed to give herself over to the monster if her child could be born in the human world and never harassed by him. I imagine the guide telling Ingram about the "Ice Princess," and how she was #1 on the "do not disturb" list. Like her mother, she's attractive, and is intrigued by Ingram's complete inability to ascribe to the customs of a society he doesn't belong to.

The problem is I couldn't think of a world-shattering crisis that only the team of inexperienced main character teenagers could solve. Not their parents or even recent graduates, more experienced or more powerful members of the community. I couldn't think of a reason why it had to be them. When I was fully awake, it seemed like much less interesting of an idea. By the time I sat down to write chapter 3, I had mostly forgotten the idea, but I guess not enough to avoid typing it into the internet for safe keeping. What was interesting to me was how fully the idea took me and gripped me and prevented me from going back to sleep. That hasn't happened in a while. I think maybe instead of giving this more thought, I'll pick up the Facebook and call my friend.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Shawshanked

I seem incapable of stringing two productive days together in a row. Looking to change that this weekend. I RSVP'd  "no" to the Sunday Write In for the writing group, but that doesn't mean I won't be writing. Actually, in addition to writing, it looks like I'll be taking in a show. Imagine that. Last thing I saw in theaters was... well, suffice to say it's been some time since I've been out. 

I had another back and forth with the one reviewer of Silver Age. After he put his finger on what items threw him, I pointed out which deliberate items I put in to curb that confusion. His reply included the half-hearted digression "Okay, when you put it together like that, I can see it. Part of the problem is that the sections of the story dealing with any particular character tend to be widely separated...I like letting the reader fill in the blanks, myself, but I think you've just left the blanks too big and too far apart." The whole conversation, and story can he read here

This morning I went back and pinpointed what I hope was the focal point, the part where a) it made the most sense to more neatly tie all the clues together and b) information could be given to the reader to tie it all together. I didn't say anything; I just fixed it. A friend of mine asked me why and I told him that further conversation would be less constructive and more of an argument. The guy complimented the story, while pointing out what he thought were holes. When I told him I had already addressed such things, and in the varied ways I had done so, it became less about my writing and more about his reading. Moreover, if such a fix can help the next person make sense of things, then it needs to be made. The same friend accused me of writing for students of literature. He saw the original version of the story, so he might be right. Every time I go over it, it gets easier to understand. Hopefully that also means it's also better written.

I still don't have any movement on the Diablo Canyon town drunk, Rupert, but yesterday I did remember the second person story I wanted to attempt. Years ago, my mentor told me several things that stick with me to this day. One was that I was allowed five exclamation points, total, in all the professional writing I would ever do. Not sure why I took that lesson to heart, but I've been keeping count. I've used two. The other thing he told me was to never, ever tell a story in the second person. That evening I think I tried my first one. I won't say that it shouldn't have even been attempted, but I can say that it was bad. My poor critique group suffered through it, and I didn't even realize what I had done at the time. I might use the simile of "like being stabbed in the brain."

And here I go again. It's a sci fi concept, putting the reader in the guise of the main character. I think I figured out a few conceptual pieces that will make it less awful, but honestly, I'm not planning on it being good. I am planning on writing it, though. I couldn't tell you why. I'm not really the type to look down when someone tells me not to. I understand why people say that. That's a safety thing. But when people tell me not to pass go? Not to collect my $200? Well, I turn into the guy with the pilfered cafeteria silverware, digging at the wall of his cell at night. I went to school and all, but I can't say that I'm really the type to learn. In that way, when I'm done with this new version, maybe I'll post it here, and subject you to it. 

Nice guy. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

3|\|6|_15|-|

I got back on the horse today and dove right into the synopsis for the fantasy novel submission. I'm thinking maybe the day off did me some good. What probably helped even more was showing someone else the synopsis. I presented it to a friend's wife. She had read up through the first few books of the Sword of Truth; she knows what fantasy is. "Here," I said, "have a look and tell me what you think." I didn't know what to expect. I was just hoping to be able to improve it.

What I got back was a bit jarring. It actually challenged my notion that I have a firm grasp on the English language. "What does this mean?" she asked and "Did you mean to say this?" she questioned. It was refreshing to get a different perspective, and also a little terrifying. She maintained that everything made sense, but simply required a couple passes back through. I hung my head. I am 99% sure I'm not going to get more than one chance at this.

So, I wiped my brow and settled into the idea that I wouldn't be submitting anything this week, at least not before this weekend. As long as it took me to get the manuscript as a whole to the point it is now, my thinking is a few more days couldn't hurt. I also resolved to show a few more people those all-important three paragraphs. So far, they've highlighted other things that I've gone in to fix. At time it feels like I'm sharpening a scalpel. At other points, it feels like I'm trying to square hole a round peg.

So far the post of Silver Age has received one review. It feels a bit early. It is a good 25,000 words. I was happy to get any feedback at all, even though I wasn't expecting it. The reviewer didn't delve too deeply though, not at first. His initial comments had the ring of the haiku I posted from three years ago. When asked though, he did spring into action and provide me two specific points that rubbed him the wrong way. I had tried to address both at numerous different points, but clearly the dots didn't connect for him. However, with that specificity comes the ability to directly attend to the problem. It isn't a funny sound. It's a loose piston.

I wish I had some handy quote about language being only as useful as the proficiency of the person listening, but if you're speaking gibberish, you can't expect someone to mistake you for Shakespeare. Hm. Guess that'll have to do.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sketch: The Riddle(r)

I got precious little done today. I did manage to get over my distrust of technology and make almost a dozen forum posts, one for each chapter in the Silver Age story. Not sure about the site's readership, but I guess I signed up for the possibility, so we'll see where that goes.

I did do some more thinking on the 1861 abductee in the town of Diablo Canyon. Among the "heroes" possibilities, there was actually a Town Drunk mentioned. I thought about that, and wasn't sure if the character, we'll call him Rupert for now, if he's actually a drunk. Drinks, sure, not sure how else he would cope with the event of being abducted. I mean, people don't really have a lot of language to describe it now in 2013, and alcohol was used to cure everything from pain to strange lumps. So, that's one question: how does Rupert cope, with not being able to articulate his troubles, not being believed?

I also had the thought of a nurse practitioner of sorts, but I thought that Rupert might be nigh on useless to do any kind of work. But I hadn't really thought it through. I mean there are functioning alcoholics, why not functional alien abductees. Maybe he keeps it tucked back, way back, behind all the bravado an 1861 American male might have (and I'm sad to say, I didn't even consider the abductee to be a woman. chauvinist I). And it's not to say that this caregiver is necessary or depending on how Rupert is coping. He doesn't have to be an invalid for her to be in the story. She could be a confidante: the one person who entertains the possibility, a friend, a saint, a spouse, a family member. I can feel the story opening and closing, like a lens, to incorporate this other person, and even other people, depending...

Another idea I keep coming back to is the 1861 alien. I don't know exactly where, but the "little green man" idea doesn't seem so radically old, however every culture has their bogey man. Back then, sadly, it was the "other." The strangeness of the foreigner, weird cultural science, and "barbaric" tribal practices. The Indian. The Negro. The Chinese. Except, of those three options, it seems like only the American Indian had teeth. Take people in the night and ride off, never to be seen again kind of teeth. Whether or not they did, or could, isn't the point. The point is they were feared. So, if a man in 1861 was taken, experienced weird figures with strange shapes, weird lights, and odd artifice, being abducted and drugged up by Indians seems like the kind of explanation a rational person might come up with. Then again, there's nothing to say that Rupert is a rational man...

In any event, this is a glimpse into my process. I have a lot of questions when I sit down, and as I go to answering them, checking them off, I find bones, and after the bones there comes flesh, muscle, ligaments, veins, organs. I'm reminded of the scene from the Fifth Element. What I'm saying is eventually I end up with something that can walk and talk, and the hope is it can kick serious butt and even handle a few gunshot wounds. Falling in love with Bruce Willis is optional.

So, after some hours of brainstorming, what I have is a concept name. Yeah. Some days you hardly work, and some days you work hard. I tip my hat to you, Wednesday. Well played. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Truth ain't pretty

Finished the edits on Silver Age today, right on schedule. Hit a bit of a snag submitting it, but the plan is to iron that out this week as well. After that I moved forward on the submitting of the fantasy novel. It requires a "one to three paragraph synopsis" which I agonized over, and did not complete. I won't even say that I plan to finish it tomorrow either. I'm putting a lot of emphasis on it because those one to three paragraphs might be the difference between getting my novel read, and getting it thrown into the slush pile. The last editor that had it told me there were too many POV shifts, and too many characters that the POV could shift to. The first problem I worked on. The second problem... well, the story is about several different people. I didn't know what to say then, and I don't know what to say now. I shall now grumble about "some other authors."

But I'm happy to say that nothing else is really on my plate. Aside from the weekend writing, I'm free to consider other ideas. One of those at the forefront was a prompt suggested by the same man who emailed me about getting my stories done in audio. He put a prompt on his website, a sci-fi western premise that presupposes that the American Civil War was actually started by a shadowy, potentially extraterrestrial group operating out of a small town in a place called Diablo Canyon. I have to admit that I blinked at the idea at first, but have gone on to take it as a challenge. My first thought was to find an interesting angle to tell a story, any story, from. My first task on how to get to that place was to, generally, disregard the greater idea of the war and its cause. I've always believed character is key, so my search wasn't for an event, or an invention, but for a person. Who in the town, I wondered, would be interesting to tell a story about. The man provided several lists titled "heroes" and "points of action" and "enemies" which I hopped, skipped, and jumped over.

I have to admit that so far I've got nothing. Part of the prompt had to do with inserting some kind of technology into the setting that would allow the group to control South Carolina's succession and influence other states into fighting a massive conflict (there was another list of items labeled "devices"). And it isn't that I'm particularly attached to the conflict starting over the economic shuffle that would be created by freeing the slaves. I just don't know a whole lot about technology in 1861 to insist what kind of gadget could so completely offset things in whoever's favor.

I did have a brief thought to talk about alien abduction. I had an idea about the town crazy person, and the unwed woman who cared for him out of charity. I have a certain fondness for deranged people in stories. A rule I was taught in a Shakespeare class I took in college: fools are allowed to speak the truth. They can cut right to the heart of the matter, speak directly to the audience, even in a different accent. Why? Because they're crazy, and no one would believe them anyway. However I only got that far because I wrote a series of abduction stories a few years ago that reminded me of the prompt somehow. I thought it would be a neat exercise to add to that series of stories by adding abducted people throughout time.

Geographically, the town is supposed to be surrounded by impassable mountains, the only way in and out is a narrow road and a river that runs beside it. Caravan leader, no river boat captain, I think to myself. I think that to myself, then I circle back around to the crazy man no one believes. Yellow teeth? Missing teeth. Stubble, hm, beard. How much did a bath and shave even cost back then? Man he must smell. Oh, wow, his breath. Has dirt everywhere. Skin like old worn gloves, hair the color of brown dirt. Cletus? Marvin? Rupert. Disgusting.   

Monday, July 15, 2013

Time machining

One weekend and two chapters. I also finished the edits on the first book of the fantasy trilogy. One of the goals for getting back into the writing was shopping that manuscript around. I had it on my mind ever since I found a book on the coffee table of a writer friend. I liked everything about the book, and thought to myself maybe I would stop trying to get in with Tor so fiercely. It's a huge publishing house, but it isn't the only one putting out books people are reading. That was almost two years ago, when I made that promise to myself.

Next week I'm going to be making my first sojourn down that road. The website for submissions says they don't consider anything less than 95,000 words. When I started smoothing things out in the fantasy ms, unpacking convoluted sentences and giving crisper meaning to important details, it was hovering around 90. By the time I got to the end, it was up about 96. I was happy to have gotten over the mark, but I also felt really good that I was able to more fully focus the intervening years of learning on something I wanted so much to succeed.

I also got halfway through updating Silver Age. I have to admit that I expected it to be much worse off than how I found it. I came back around to my initial idea that the criticism I received was off base. However, even though I thought that, I did take certain steps to be "less fancy with the spices." I spelled things out more, and repeatedly. Not a lot, but maybe just enough that when people read it again, there will be more sounds of understanding than of confusion. Working on it as if it would be read out loud was also an interesting exercise. I normally try to read things to myself that way, and to also write them for audible pleasure and smoothness, but this time I was really self conscious. I thought about what the natural way to say a certain sentence would be, how an actor might change up the words as they were reading along.

I didn't finish it though. Much like deciding not to write on the novel for a third day was, and thinking about trying to get words down on a page somewhere everyday, it's about the steady, diligent work, not the surges. It's all building towards something, but that thing is so far away, and so high up, that rushing doesn't seem like the smart plan. Also, going through Silver Age made me go back, way back, into my files. I didn't know I had so many stories I had started, taken notes for, and never looked back at again.  I saw titles I didn't recognize, names I knew were important but triggered nothing in my memory. I think maybe I'll blow some dust off some things once I get done with my current restoration project. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sound it out

So, I've been actively trying to publish my work for three years now. I guess I've done alright, though it feels like I've been at this for much longer. I've already missed my five-year college anniversary, for instance. Over the years, I've had a handful of people ask me about an audio plan, my poetry, my short stories, my novels in a way that people could listen to. I didn't so much lack interest in such a thing as much as I lacked control over such. When I tell people about my publications, I only mention the novels (whose audio rights I don't own), primarily because it seems like unless people can hold it in their hands, it's of less value to them.

But out of nowhere I received an email about the very first thing that was ever put online in a publicized fashion. In 2010, I wrote a series of stories about super heroes in the 60s in a stylized Chicago I called Galena. I called it Silver Age. I liked the story, thought it was good, but I can admit that it wasn't as good as it could've been. It certainly didn't benefit from the years of writing I've done since. On the forum of the website it was published through, it warranted one comment, although the editor did take the time to make it poetic:

A spring of heroes.
Chapters like puzzle pieces
Don't fall into place.

It was about nicest and most creative "I didn't get it" I had ever received, or have received sinsce. I tried to get out of the poet what didn't work for him, and a different editor cited not being able to tell if the powers involved were "like Watchmen" or not. I couldn't reply to that, because his question made even less sense to me than apparently did my writing to him.

But I digress. The emailer cited that he had seen my work up on the site, and wanted to work with me on getting other things of mine produced in audio. A maven of confidence that I am, I first assumed it was some kind of hoax. Turns out it's a pretty legitimate operation, and focuses on audio production. I got even more excited about polishing up Silver Age. I was already thinking about the story because a friend was talking to me about the necessity of the origin story in super hero tales. He wondered why every movie, or every first movie had to do with how the normal character became not so normal. I argued that a company would find it difficult to market such a thing to audience members that didn't own, or hadn't heard of, the graphic novels and comics that preceded the movie. I went on to say that part of the point was the transition from the normality. "The origin is the story," is what I told him, and I went on to say that I believed that is what created the draw of the super hero, the cool gadgets, the slick powers, the hurtling above the hum drum. I told him I didn't know of any story that never really went into how the heroes came to be such. I thought about it for awhile, really puzzling out if what I had said in the moment was something I really thought.

And I thought of my own writing, and how Silver Age never gets into that. In fact, in planning it, I went into assuming people would know what a super hero was (and maybe that is what created the "Watchman" problem; maybe it isn't). Regardless, I have a reason to dig up three years ago and see about its bones. Maybe I'll post the new, updated version on here as apart of these sketches I've promised to keep churning out.

Or maybe you'll hear about it elsewhere. And I mean literally, maybe you'll actually hear it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

On the off clock

Today marks the first Saturday I've written in a while. Chapter 1 is drafted, and the outline for the next few is coming along. There have been some interesting developments, character wise. Three months ago, I had the broad idea for the last book, and as the weeks went along I chiseled more and more ideas out of that rough whole. And just today I had six or seven thoughts that made me go back all over everything again and take a good, hard look at things. I don't want to think that the ending will be good, or that things have become well in hand. I say that because I want to keep myself open to the better idea. I don't want to be settled until it's settled.

So, before I started writing, the outline looked a certain way,and now that chapter 1 is drafted, I have to go back and fiddle with it. It reminds me of some terminology I learned at the last meetup. The two extremes seem to be "Pantsers" and "Outliners." The first group "writes by their seat" and the second group is more self-explanatory. For years now I've always outlined my ideas, but I've never considered them so rigid that I couldn't write outside of them. Feels natural for me; at least, I've recognized it's very important for me to have some idea where I'm going, long term, but so long as the short term helps keep the vehicle moving in the right direction, I'll adjust the specific route as needed.

One of the things that happened that I didn't plan was a nice role reversal. One character, who was in a mentoring role in an earlier book, has found herself in a desperate situation. She's behaving recklessly and letting her frustration get the best of her. It takes  another, younger character, one she mentored, to shake her out of her thinking. It was the kind of organic thing I could saw happening as I was writing. I don't imagine i'm alone in that phenomenon. Those times when an author thinks "Huh, well, how about that. I guess we'll go with it." I'm not mad about it at all.

Something else happened was that the time table was thrown off somewhat. I thought I'd be at point B at the end of chapter 1, but it turns out I'm still at point A. I guess to a certain extent that's a by-product of my word count style. Not sure how it happened, but the vast majority of my chapters have similar word length. I don't necessarily cut them off, or under or over explain. It just so happens that when I'm done covering a narrative chunk, I'm within 200-300 words of the same number. I hope it gives the novels some amount of consistency when they're read. My fantasy novel, which I'm also editing during all of this, does not do that. It seems to buck that trend on purpose.

Seems like something might be there, about genres and setting and what is required of each, but between the writing and editing and blogging, I'm feeling a bit drained. I'm going to rest my head on some television, and take it easy.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Secrets in

Yesterday, a guest blog I did for another writer I recently met went live. Here's the link. It was a little different because the woman was more involved with the process than others I've worked with. She through out some ideas, and the one that caught me was looking back on the series up to this point, and why I had written it all in the first place. It struck me in that I didn't think it was a story I would ever tell. I was glad for her idea. This is the same author who introduced me to the group that ought to be producing a review for one of my books pretty soon. That situation had some firsts, too.

In my mind, it was a good plan. Get someone to review the first book. Get someone else to review the second book. Announce the publication of the fourth book. I think it was one of those situations where it felt like a whirlwind in my mind, but really it wasn't even a full lung of air. It turned out the reviewers called me, saying they liked the second book, but were a little confused about there being indications of a first, and they asked if they could also read that. It was good to hear that they were interested, but it also revealed my initial plan to be a bad one. Still, it was nice for once that what looked to be a wrong number turned out to be someone who was actually looking for me, and what's more for the author me.

But that experience made me realize that I shouldn't be trying so hard to publish so quickly. Just today, a friend told me he had started reading the second book and he was excited. Meanwhile, I have plans for another chapter on the 8th book this weekend. Oops.

They say a mistake only becomes an error when one refuses to correct it. And that's not to say that I've come to realize the right thing to do, only that writing more is at the worst a lateral move. It can't hurt, much, and still has the chance to yield something great. So, I'm going to cut this short in lieu of some overdue sleep. I have work to do that only a few people know about. And you.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sketch: Challenge Accepted

Got asked by a friend if Super Mario Bros. could ever be presented in a serious, literary fashion. He said he saw some show or movie that had attempted to do it differently, but not necessarily seriously. He mentioned Bowser as a gangster, and Luigi being hopped up on mushrooms. We joked back and forth for awhile, and later last night I lost some sleep over taking the concept seriously.

I thought about Mario and his profession first, how plumbing can occur on scales. As is my wont, I decided to make his larger. Instead of a handyman level plumber, I thought instead of making him a civil engineer. And to keep plumbing key, I pushed forward the idea of the turning of the industrial age, the transition from outhouses to centralized plumbing. I thought about what kind of grand undertaking that would be, how epic, all the muck and sweat, the earth and cement.

I thought of a kind of steampunk era New York, where an Italian-American industry man was working his way up from the bottom of the social order. In his home country, he would've had a good job, earned an excellent wage, been respected in his community. But alas, he believed too much in the legend of America. Came over, no doubt with a brother, and decided to roll the die on a new, more prosperous destiny. As a bit of a story turn, I thought it would be neat to present the New World as a myth, and the fantasy Mushroom Kingdom as the actual land of promise that he tumbles down into. The landslide is one of those industrial accidents that occurred fairly often back then. Too many unknowns pile together, and the low man on the pole gets shafted. All those not found are presumed dead, and the great machine presses on.

Except, he doesn't die. And his Wonderland is not the afterlife one would expect, but it is the inciting moment of the story. In the spirit of Jules Verne, I imagined the Mushroom Kingdom as a series of caverns of impossible size. Light coming from strange fungi feeding on the molten primordia of the center of the world. Strange creatures with stout dimensions and no familiarity with humans. Conflicts that a humble engineer from top side New York is hard pressed to understand.

The plot of the games was of the constant quest to rescue the princess from the villain. I think where everything before was a metaphoric touch up of those old, vague notions, the change of that plot point would be a direct diversion. Maybe the princess is fine, who would not be pretty and blonde, but likely not recognizably feminine, if still a respected monarch. Maybe she is fine, but the kingdom itself is in danger. Maybe there's war, and the protagonist falls down into the center. Believed to be the chosen one, or, at least in a position to be helpful. Maybe when the fire breathing demon turtle shows up to trigger the final battle, Mario tell him to find another castle.

Heh. End, and note.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Houston, houston, the stars, the stars

Got my first contact email today, brings to mind the scene in the space ship movie where the pilot takes the vessel out for its maiden voyage. All the planning, all the building, all the praying didn't make it as real as the sleek, irrepressible thing coasting out among the stars, the act of defying gravity. That is to say, that email was confirmation that this thing is happening. The book is coming, the fourth in the Where Shadows Lie series.

But I want to post a review I got today for the first book. The second has few, and to my knowledge the third still has zero, but it would be improper to complain. At least someone is reading me. Maybe not loud, and maybe not clear, but it's better than static.

It's not so hard to imagine a book written with precise and deliberate language. Happens all the time, right? You can find it in classic literature, even in the Magical Realism of writers such as Isabel Allende. Such authors have a way of setting up a world not only through their descriptions, but by the evocation brought on by the language they use.

Not so common is this writing style to the fantasy genre, though it seems like it would be a natural fit.

Enter JE Cammon.

With the world of Where Shadows Lie, Cammon has created a modern world that is of our world, but slightly apart. It is peopled by the natural and the supernatural, but not in ways that you've seen before. Or at least, that I've seen before. And I've read a lot of fantasy/sci fi.

By using precise language, and imbuing his characters with this language, we see a more scholarly approach to the genre. Which is not to say that it's not full of action, suspense, and the other things that you've come to expect from the genre, but Cammon does it in a way that transports you from the POW! ZAM! zaniness we've all come to expect and survive off of and makes the clarity and deliberation of the characters come to life. Violence is employed, but it is employed in such a way as to be a logical extension of the characters as opposed to "it's time for a fight scene."

It's kind of like eating filet mignon again after surviving on sirloin for years. You forget the power of language, and its ability to communicate just through altering it's use.

Therefore, five stars, and high recommendations.

I say that I can remember Hemingway, not like we met, but like when I was reading him, it felt like we had a relationship. He had rough hands and a harsh tongue. I couldn't always understand him, and I didn't always want to either. He was like an irritable, convalescing neighbor my parents made me look after. I cut his grass and sometimes, when he let me inside his home, I stared at old black and white photographs of his memories. 

Damn but it feels good to be mentioned in the same heartbeat.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sketch: Motherly

                She met him at a state fair, one her mama forbid her from going to. Something about how the sky looked over it, or how the wind felt around it, the ground beneath it. But forbidding Magdalena from doing anything was similar to buying her the ticket and driving her there. Her mother had a word for it, had words for a lot of things, but Maggie never bothered learning the language.
                “It’s fine,” her father had said. “She was born American, so let her speak it,” though, her pa might have wanted a reason not to put up with the little fetishes and dangling sigils. Maggie didn’t know why they had stayed together if they had such differences, but she wasn’t likely to care. At least, not on that day, the day of the fair.
                Luke was tall and put together in a fine sorta way, standing by the Ferris wheel. Not waiting, just standing. Maggie had been attracted to the highest point in the little mobile amusement park, had wanted to stand up when her bench was at the apex of the machine. She never got her chance, however Luke did take her away and showed her great heights. Three in particular were inside of her, and when each popped out, she named them after their father, in a way. Matthew, Mark, and John. Life was good, so good that she never once questioned what her mama had been so afraid about on that day.
                Maggie came to know fear, growing into motherhood. When Matthew jumped off the roof of their modest little one-story. Not fell, jumped. Or when Mark put a nail through John’s foot. Then later when John put a similar looking tool through Mark’s hand. She knew fear, but also laughter. Then, one day, like it was perfectly normal, Luke sat all the boys down and told them about his other self, the side even Maggie had rarely seen. Like all the scars on his body were a language she couldn’t quite read. Maggie just thought it was because Matthew had opened his father’s trunk, and found out where the man went sometimes when he claimed to be hunting. But no, the revelation came because strong children, nothing but boys, meant it was a sign to pass on the legacy. It was a bit of a sour note that Luke believed as much in portents and omens as her mama. That’s when Maggie learned the difference between the small fears, the ones that kept the heart strong, and the big fears, the ones liable to kill a whole person.
                Maggie found her first gray hair when they left on the first trip. Luke was going to introduce his sons, the youngest of whom was 15, to his friends, the ones Maggie forbid from ever coming around. Like her mother. When they came back, all of them, and whole, she kept quiet about it, but she liked to beat Luke to death in his sleep for the terror. That went on for seven years. Long enough for Maggie to learn some things herself, and to grow complacent. And for her boys to grow confident.
                By then they had moved, and she had memorized the look of a car that meant to turn down the long dirt path instead of keeping on down the interstate. She was on the porch, like she always was when her boys were gone. Then, she saw it, the pick up with the smoking engine. It was Matthew’s, Maggie knew, and she could see that it was alone. She was up and on her feet in an instant, hoping that maybe if she was upright, then the nightmare wouldn’t affect her so. Still, on it came.
                The windshield was busted, a rear mirror was missing. The hood was bent partially open so the smoke could come out in big gouts. It made the driver difficult to make out. Maggie didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know who to wish it was. Then the door opened and out Luke stepped. Or, out the thing wearing Luke stepped. It sneered with her husband’s bloody lips and stared at her with his vacant eyes. Maggie had overheard from the kitchen what they had been planning to hunt. A demon. The kind of creature that consumed lives and wore the skin of its victims.
                “Magdalena,” Luke’s voice called from the end of their dirt road. “I’m home, Honey.”
                Maggie ran inside, in tears. There was nothing else to do. She was afraid to admit to losing them all, in ways she couldn’t imagine and to such a degree that not a stitch of them could be retained. It took its time coming up the stairs, dragged its boots across the porch. When he opened the door, he seemed more than a little surprised to find her brandishing a shot gun in his direction. Her hands were shaking, and gripping hold of the weapon was of extraordinarily little comfort.
                “Maggie, darling,” Luke’s voice said. She wanted to close her eyes, so, so badly, but she was listening to a different voice, right then.
She had told him about her mother’s fear, the day of Matthew’s birth. But he hadn’t laughed it off at all. He had told her that a parent’s worst fear concerned the fate of their children, and obligations that such a stern responsibility entailed. It was the most articulate Luke had ever been, and it was a sentiment that put his beautiful soul in words. It hurt, but she could never dishonor such a man.
                She pulled the trigger, killing them both. That is to say, he was already dead, and blowing the body of her husband in half didn’t so much end her life as it set her down a much different road. Previously, there was no reason to go off with her boys, because then there would be no one to keep the light on for them, or make their meals, or tend to their wounds. It wasn’t that she couldn’t. With each of her boys growing, she knew more and more each time that they weren’t getting all their strength from their father alone. So, from there, she ceased to be one woman, and became someone else.
                The last thing Magdalena did was admit, if just a dash, that maybe she ought to have listened to her mother that one time.


                So last we have Maggie. By the time we see her in Where Shadows Lie: Hunting Grounds, she has officially achieved ‘tough old bird’ status. She’s the leader the hunters Nick comes across. She is no nonsense in the same way her favorite weapon is. No one points and fires a shotgun casually, and neither does Maggie go about anything without the ones she lost in mind. It makes her driven, and sometimes a bit obsessed, which itself can be good, but also bad. When she first gives her name, she tells the listener that Maggie isn’t her real name. A truth and a lie. It is her name, but she also doesn’t think she is who she was.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sketch: Out of Nowhere

                The phone rang at 7:30, a half hour past full dark. He wished he hadn’t heard the noise of the slim device vibrating against his desk, but he knew who it was, not only who but where they were calling from.
                “Yeah?” he asked.
                “Oh thank god, I thought you weren’t gone pick up,”
                “What’s the problem, Doug?”
                “It’s tank four. Something’s off with the mixtures, it’s,”
                “The pink foam?”
                “Right, yeah, the pink foam,” and the conversation went on like that, back and forth, for minutes. He just wasn’t listening. Chat text was flying by on his monitor. People half a world away wanted to know what he was doing. Doug wanted to know if he was coming in to fix the problem or not.
                “I’ll be right there, Doug.” He logged off, stabbing the keyboard with a middle finger. Of course he was going in to fix the problem. That’s why he made the ‘big bucks.’
                The drive from his rented townhome to the plant on the edge of the little town was done in silence and in darkness. The facility was the newest thing in the entire zip code by decades. Everything in the place survived because of its existence. People who grew up in or near the town worked jobs that facilitated it in some way, worked shifts on the floor, provided goods and services to the employees, and cared for the children of those families. If anything went wrong with the plant, it would kill practically every man, woman and child in miles of its vicinity. If anything serious went wrong, it would do so much more rapidly.
                The man at the gate didn’t bother stopping his vehicle. His dirty SUV was known, because he was known. He was one of the few engineers that worked at the facility, brought from out of state with fancy degrees. People called him Shaw because of the name on his Masters. Everyone in town knew the name, and knew where he was going before he arrived. Doug was waiting, dry washing his hands near Shaw’s parking space, by the side door that he failed to slip out of every Friday. The door that he sometimes came back in through during the dead of night when something or other went wrong.
                “Hey there, guy,” he said, shutting his door and looking at their work boots. “You didn’t have to wait out here,” and he started walking. He stopped when he realized he was going off alone.
                “Uh, Doug, there something else wrong?” Doug was a broad man that had only most of his fingers. He also had chemicals burns of some variety from multiple incidents. He wasn’t the skittish type.
                “There was something else,” Doug started. His upper lip, covered in a bush of hair, looked odd quivering. “I didn’t want to say it over the phone.” He broke eye contact. “I saw Hank,” and he stepped forward to break into explanation, “but it wasn’t just me. We all seen him,” however he was speaking to Shaw’s back.
                Hank was a cautionary tale, more like a legend of the facility. Most safety codes were put in place after a precedent. Some things are common sense, but sometimes it takes a person mixing two items together and exploding before warning labels are slapped onto bottles. Hank was the unfortunate victim of one of those precedents. Sometimes, only during the late shift, people would claim that they saw him about. It made sense to the locals because Hank had worked the late shift, too.
                Shaw didn’t have time for ghost stories. He was hearing his online friends as he went through the procedures, donning his helmet and mask and gloves, before approaching the tank. He grimaced at the distance growing between him and his old life, and at some of the goop starting to drip onto the floor from in between soldered plates. Shaw shut down the system, looking around for a moment for Doug. The man was supposed to have at least done that. As he looked around, the machines within the tank shook and jostled. Intermingled with the sound were footsteps. At the end of a hallway formed by several more of the huge machines, he thought he spied movement.
                “Doug,” he called. “Doug come on, you know you have to shut it down as soon as you notice the mixture’s off,” then he went back to what he was doing. He exhaled loudly. The entire system needed ten minutes rest before the container could be opened. Shaw wiped futilely at the glass pane that looked into the mixing tub. Another wasted evening. “Dammit,” he said, looking left, and then right. He activated the drain. Inside, the pink mixture, which was supposed to be a dark green, swirled and swirled. Shaw did some mental math. If could be get back in time…
                Every light in the vicinity flickered. One, at the end of the hallway of machines stayed off. Shaw stared for a moment, then went back to the drain. It was finally emptying. He rechecked his safety gear then opened the system. He waved a gloved hand as if that would help with the aerating. He eyeballed the inside of the machine, paying close attention to the fine grating of the drain. Normally the contaminate was visible. He leaned in, squinting, then he stopped. Could he just turn it back on? Shaw thought about having to drive back across town twice in the same evening. He sighed and stepped forward, bending his knees. Replacing the drain completely would be a surer way of fixing the problem. It was a $5,000 piece of equipment, but it wasn’t his money. Or he could just suggest the unit not be used for a day. As he knelt, he wondered how much money that would cost.
                When the system closed behind him, he stopped wondering about everything. He turned, slipping awkwardly. He jumped to his feet, pressed his face against the glass. Then, he moved his face backwards slowly.
                When the machine activated, began filling again with the mixture that was supposed to eventually turn green, he looked down at his situation and froze. Shaw had a million thoughts, and not one was primed for action. He was going to die. He was going to die in a horrible, stupid, unexplainable accident. And that was it. Dense liquid pushed his boots tight around his feet and ankles. First, he beat his fist against the glass slowly, then the action became fast, and more frantic. His pants clung to his calves. Then there were the very slight pin pricks of acidic burns. Shaw screamed. The fumes were oppressive, but he knew he couldn’t pass out, couldn’t fall backwards. Hanging on seemed like the natural thing to do.
                Someone activated the drain after what felt like ten minutes, though it was only up around his knees. The mechanism opened a moment later and Shaw jumped out of the machine, falling as he went. Someone caught him, and he looked up into Doug’s face. Shaw was happy to be alive, but Doug was dragging him to the nearby emergency wash. He’d be the reason Shaw would survive with only mild burns. Later, the safety board would decide that Doug was the reason an engineer was trapped in one of the facility machines about to die. Shaw wondered himself, at what he saw outside the tank before he knew he would die. He wondered if his testimony could’ve helped Doug and his family, if a lie would’ve been more valuable than the truth.
                Even though his job was saved, he never went back to the facility, not for months. What clinched it was an older woman with a southern drawl and a shot gun. Shaw had been expecting friends from the next town over that evening, and she didn’t look like she played online games. She wanted to hear what Shaw had to say, and she believed him when he described what he had seen.
                “You get the sickness, yet?” she asked, “the headache?”
                “What? No,” Shaw said. He had no idea what she was even talking about.
                “You will.”

                I figured since I had covered one of the hunter trio Nick meets in the second Where Shadows Lie book, I might as well talk about them all. Shaw is a chemist and computer expert. He doesn’t have Claus’ combat experience or skill with weapons, but his talents are just as valuable to the group. Knowledge is power after all, and Shaw is a voracious learner. And maybe because of that, Shaw has a somewhat dangerous edge to him, unlike Claus. He wouldn’t call himself an addict, but he does have access to a lab and the wherewithal to self medicate. He would say he has a drug problem, but I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

                

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Not so fresh beginnings

No sketch today, though I did write. I wrote in at a write in, whatever that means. Local meet up I joined recently had a gathering at a coffee shop. Going in, I didn't know how it would work exactly, but then again, I also didn't know it would rain. So basically, I was enthused to get in and out still fully clothed.

I sat on a couch in a corner, trying not to think too hard about my seating position and what it communicated, or how upwards to 16 people would cram themselves in a near enough vicinity to write in as a cohesive group. The place is an L-shaped building filled with an obstacle course of tables, chairs (both tall and short), and couches. As it turned out, less than the number that RSVP'd were there, and other people encouraged by our herd status joined up during the meeting.

I finished a draft of the prologue for the last Where Shadows Lie book, wedged into the couch, pecking away at my laptop, distracted only occasionally by the odd smell that seemed to be wafting from some unknown location. Might have been whatever my couch-mate ordered, some pressed sandwich plus leafy green pile combo, or the gentleman in the next chair over's shoes. Or the couch I was sitting on. Or me. Regardless, I even managed to switch gears after an hour, to be social. A woman I only knew of last week showed me Scrivener, which is apparently a "word organizer." She and the man sitting next to her both sang the program's praises, though neither seemed fully apprised of its utility. He brought some very helpful looking books. They had titles like How to Write Science Fiction that Sells, and The First Five Pages. When I met him on last week, he told he had been through Orson Scott Card's writing boot camp. His story idea was written on a little sheet of paper, surrounded by a bubble, and there were arrows and sentences jetting off in all directions from it. I got a little dizzy looking at it, and did not look at any of his books.

All in all, I think I've joined a good group. I counted no less than five people who were actually writing. I left early, but then, my writing was done. Plus I felt like I was getting in the way of the people who were finally get into some kind of groove, with all my "My name is" and "We met whens." Talk first, write second. Talk first... write second?

Hm. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sketch: Life of a Beholder

                The man couldn’t remember who had proclaimed it, but he regretted confirming it with his own eye. War is hell. Even more, he regretted discovering that war is not the only hell there is.
                Working for the government, even as a teacher, he could see that change was coming. Still, he tried to keep his head down and work, for the children’s sake. They knew nothing of economic systems and cold war hangovers, political gerrymandering and social unrest. One day, perhaps, but not then. As if he alone could have stopped the fragile globes of their worlds from shattering.
                When the war broke out, others in his neighborhood came to him like they went to every other man. He was no soldier or tactician. He wasn’t even brave, but very soon he discovered his options were few and desperate. The UN was not going to make it in time. All those days and nights, they called it madness, chaos, bedlam. Later, with patience and poise, people used the word cleansing, as if what was being done was good or right.
                He prayed for the last time before shooting the first man in the heart. In the beginning, he was no great marksman. Pointing the hunting rifle and squeezing the trigger with his eyes open was the best he could do, throw a grenade and run screaming for his life. Then, slowly, things became more quiet and more calm. Trying to sleep in the ruins of a burned out office building, imagining faction soldiers and their tanks creeping around the next city block, remembering the faces of the children when they were still alive, that was when the quote had first occurred to him. War is hell.
                Maybe it was because of the skills he had learned, maybe it was because there was no one else, but the day things changed again was the first of their few offensives. He couldn’t disagree with the logic. Allah would oblige their fighting back against those who would slaughter them, although he had not thought much of his god since killing the first man. Thinking at all seemed to take too much time, too much energy. Survival was all he and the others clung to, looking and fighting ahead. Years later, he wondered at the confused mire of memories, pondering on how he had endured the things he had seen.
                He discovered that there were other kinds of hells when he shot that man in his head. It had been over 100m with little to no wind. It had been repaired half a dozen times, but that same hunting rifle fired true. Through the scope, a tiny dot was painted on the man’s brow as the bullet passed through, then he saw a scattering spray erupt from the back of the head. The man, wearing the stripes of their enemy and the uniform of an officer, rocked backwards and fell from the back of the jeep. No one cheered, because all of them had grown quiet, just like him, but there were palms on his shoulder, hands on his arm.
                Then, his spotter called out once more to their god. His scope came up in a moment, and he watched, along with some of the others, as the enemy captain rose to his feet. It wasn’t groggy or disoriented. He stood up as if he had lapsed into slumber, and now he was awake. The jeep returned to retrieve him as if nothing strange had happened.
                It was an event that none of them spoke of again. And when stories from other groups funneled through of soldiers who would not die, and men who fought like animals, pouncing from the darkness and tearing at throats, they still kept silent. The man kept silent. He watched through his scope through all those years. He took more lives, and he never saw the man with the dot on his forehead ever again.
                Eventually, the UN did arrive, and a kind of peace was enforced. But peace couldn’t restore lives, or rebuild souls. Peace could not erase what he had learned. The man knew. In a different life, he had been a teacher. He knew the name of the creature that had been born on those battlefields, a thing which profited from death and could not be killed with a bullet to the brain.
                So, he left his homeland, the one whose name had changed so many times already, and he left his god, whose name he could only scarcely recall, but he took his hunting rifle, and the memories of all the things he had seen through its scope.


                In my second book, Where Shadows Lie: Hunting Grounds, the main character, Nicholas Hughes meets a group of hunters on his travels. One of them is a tall, solemn man that goes by Claus and speaks in an accent. He is a sniper and look out of the group, and I don’t go too far into his past, but he is a survivor of the Bosnian Civil War. Along with Maggie and Shaw, he educates Nick on how normal people survive against things that are faster, stronger, and tougher. Claus specifically illuminates the harsher necessities of the life of the hunter, and all of it is because of the things he’s seen.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sketch: Lost Boy

                Lil Ray knew people in the neighborhood stared, just like he knew his family was different. He just couldn’t say why. His first inkling came when he compared the outside of people’s apartments to their insides. Lil Ray’s place had the same cramped little porch, with the same cracked street beside it. Everyone used the same creaking stairs with the same rusted handrails. Inside though, their place was different from others, and eventually he thought people were the same as project tenements. Lil Ray’s dad had suits in all different colors, shoes made from serpents. His mom had a box just for her jewelry, and it was made from wood, strong perfume that came in beautiful bottles. When he would visit his friends, the insides of their apartments lacked those things. And he was never allowed to bring anyone over, not even to eat dinner.
                As he got older, dropped the Lil and drew the rest of his name out, Raymond started to test the night. Despite the darkness, even more things came to light. Dice’ pops worked for the city, went to work every morning, came back every evening. His mom worked at a hotel. He wore a tie and white, short-sleeved shirts; she wore the same uniform dress every day. Smoke’s dad was a janitor. His mom was a secretary, and they both had the same hours. In the morning, the projects emptied of adults, and it stayed that way until they all came home, just before the sun. It wasn’t that Raymond’s dad didn’t leave, it was just that his hours never seemed set. There was a certain authority in that flippant disregard for someone else’s clock.
                “Who do you work for?” Raymond had wanted to know. Up until the answer, he thought everybody had to work for somebody else to live.
                “I work for myself, son,” his father had replied. When he said it, he said it like he really wanted his son to know it. Not like when he left at night when he thought Raymond was asleep, not like when conversation between him and his mother would stop when he walked into the room.
                That was when Raymond started noticing things, when he felt that people were trying to keep things from him on purpose. The way other men, older men, didn’t pat his back or smile at him, the way they steered their daughters clear. Once, just once, he had lashed out in misdirection at one of the boys who seemed to hang around on purpose.
                “You mean you don’t know?” his name was Sean, but everybody called him by his last name, Means.
                “Know what?” Raymond had asked.
                “Man, your dad is made.” Made, like everyone else was just figments, imaginary, specters composed of hearsay and wind. In the same sense, Raymond didn’t know if what he most strongly desired was to be real, but he had marched directly to his father anyway. The man had been wearing a white undershirt adorned only with a slim gold chain. On the den table, he was cleaning a gun meticulously while sitting on a leather couch. A big screen television was projecting a comedy hour that his father wasn’t paying attention to. In the kitchen, Raymond could smell his mother cooking steak.
                His father had looked up and stared, stared like he had when he had given Raymond the first clue.
                It was his choice, to accept what he saw, or continue to ignore it, like the child of the days previous.
                Raymond Bethel sat next to his father on their leather couch. He had to move a velvet cushion out of the way. He split time between the television, the biggest in the entire projects, and watching his father work.


                In my fourth release, Where Shadows Lie: Campaign Trails, a major character is Raymond Bethel Sr., and a majority of the character’s motivation derives from the premature death of his son, Raymond Bethel Jr., who was somewhat of a minor character in the first book of the series. This was a bit about that character's upbringing, and how his father might have become to be such a sad, regretful man.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

No not less

The editing is done. The fourth book is due out next month, and will complete what I have begun called Cycle I. The first book, Where Shadows Lie: Bay City, is followed by Hunting Grounds, Steeler's Mill, and Campaign Trails, respectively following the stories of Nickolas Hughes, Jarvis, and David Cruz. Readers who read the first, and liked the first, will all have their opportunity to follow their favorite character, or them all, deeper into the greater story and world. I feel a wee bit accomplished, and that's mostly not a lie.

However I also think it's time to take a step back. These past few years in publishing found me making a lot of mistakes, most of which I will not enumerate here. Suffice to say, I might be farther along my way if I had tried to published less, and attempted to network more, or at least advertise my first publication more. I still spend time trying to get people to start the series, and I get questions from people about where the story begins. Oops. Moreover, what got me to this point was all the hours of writing I put into the whole process, and more and more these days I feel like it would behoove me to go back to that. So, we're going to get back to writing. I'm serious this time.

I also plan on changing this blog, at least in the short term. I've always known about the ravenous nature of potential readers, that a blog has the best chance of surviving by being updated, early and often. I just couldn't see myself blogging everyday. A good friend gave me a great idea though, in that I wouldn't have to talk about me, or even talk. Just write. He suggested I post character sketches, little write-ups about imaginary people who may or may not one day exist. "That," I said, "I can do." I even built on the idea, to post about characters that are in my books, ones that get less time on the pages but are no less developed or detailed. So, the goal for that is to write and post everyday, for four weeks. The thought, I guess, is to see if it yields in more hits, more readers, more fans. More something.

And I have very little else to report. I will not only talk to you again in four weeks, but in three, in two, in one. Tomorrow.