Here’s the first chapter of Journey of the Caged, coming soon!

Just like the title says. Enjoy!

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Their guide beckoned them to follow him with fingers writhing like worms.

His whole body moved like that, boneless, fluid, the skin hanging off him in sheets. What had been a stiff gait they thought born of injury was instead some sort of illusion. It sickened and terrified both Will and Marion but still they continued on. They knew who they were going to meet, and they expected much worse than this liquid-bodied creature.

The moss clinging to the trees around them gleamed like rubies when it should have been mottled green and brown. Vines as thick as fingers recoiled from the path. At first they thought it was a trick of the mind, but no, the vines swayed away from the four of them. Snow still packed the edges of the deer trail, as wrong a shade of mucus green as the moss was red. Even the occasional burble of snowmelt running in small streams down the slopes sounded oily and wrong.

Something cracked in the darkness beyond the reach of the glowing bell crystal affixed to the tip of Marion’s walking staff. She and Will jumped, and Marion nearly tripped over a snarled root poking out of the muddy earth.

“Daddy,” Soto whined. Will carried him the last few miles up the trail, and now their child clung to his father as best he could manage with his shriveled left arm. His good eye, the one not covered in incestuous milk, flicked every which way as he stared out into the darkness.

Will shifted him, and murmured as firmly as he could manage, “It’s all right, Soto, it’s all right.”

“Yes, all right, all right,” their guide repeated, turning and waving towards the trees. “Almost there, little one.”

“Not little,” Soto said. His voice was always stuffy like he was ill. It was only through the village doctor’s care as an infant that he could breathe through his nose at all, and the surgery Soto required left his voice later scratchy and muggy.

“No, you’re very brave,” Will said, and pecked him on the cheek.

Marion stiffened at that. This had been Will’s idea after he heard the sugary words of their guide. He had been the one to push her towards this. Now she wondered if he wasn’t too soft to see it through.

The thin path vined its way through the trees as though the creatures making it had been confused as to where they were going. Little surprise there. Even without this corruption, Ter Caymore rarely seemed the same forest twice. Giants nestled in caves could clear out groves of trees in one afternoon. Kelpie, irate at the Daughter and Mother having locked them in ice for the winter, would flood the paths of human and beast alike. Other natural devastation like fire or the howling winds would destroy vast swaths of Ter Caymore, leaving the landscape alien to those familiar with it even weeks before.

Soto’s snuffling turned into wails again. Every cry from her son only made Marion’s resolve stronger. All their children bore the mark of incest in one shape or another. Evina’s eyes didn’t match and her mouth turned up on its left side. Martin grew the beginnings of a patchy beard when he was only ten, and could do no more than the simplest arithmetic. Henton, their oldest daughter, crossed her eyes until a mancer healer cured her when she was about Soto’s age now, and still spoke with a lisp, though thankfully not enough of one that it stopped the neighboring farmer from striking a deal to marry her off to his son for five head of oxen.

Soto though… Soto was their great shame, the son they could not take to the village with the rest of their children to sell their meager vegetables. To bring him was to incite whispers about Will’s first wife, long ago offered up as ash to hasten her journey to the Boughs. The village mayor attempted to convince the brother and sister not to act on their desire to wed. But for Marion, Will was the only one. The only one who defended her against their parents, themselves cousins. The only one who understood her urges. The only one who she would allow to come to her in the night. They burned for the decision in the bent and broken children they bore. And Soto? Soto was the peak of that terrible shame.

Light ahead.

Not a healthy light, like the bell crystal, which even in this mutant gloom could not be dimmed, but a flickering, mad red and yellow swirling together like liquid, not so much rising like a flame should, but rolling.

Beyond was a simple hut built from mud and branches, anchored by two ill-formed trees bent as though desperate to be chopped down. A creature sat at its entrance, and at first, Marion thought it was an enormous dog, or perhaps a small, sickly bear. But as they neared and it rose to attention on two legs, she could see now it was not quite beast, and not quite human. Short, as short as a dog standing. Its legs bent at several different points, and its rough, leathery feet bore claws, as did the five fingers on its one remaining arm. Only the shoulder of the other arm remained, covered in rough, jagged scarring as though it had been gnawed off. The creature was naked and covered in patches of rough, bristly fur. But almost none of that registered to Marion or her husband. Instead, it was the face they both stared at, human, but all the details were wrong. Its huge eyes bulged from their sockets, only barely dimpled by a hint of color save for the sickly yellow where there should have been white. Its teeth, what few were left, hung at odd angles, and a long, dripping tongue flicked out. The ears were nonexistent save for a pair of bare nubbins, and the neck flesh hung in rings.

An abomination.

The mancer of Ter Caymore kept abominations. The bile building in the back of Marion’s throat threatened to spill out, and behind her, Will muttered, “Yakiv, save our souls.”

Their guide whirled as easily as a tornado on his sloughed heels. “We are here,” he said, his eyes gleaming.

Soto’s tears dried. He stared at the abomination, then slowly reached a hand out towards it, as though he wanted to pet it. Father, Mother, and Daughter above, but that would have solved so many problems if the beast killed him. But Will clutched Soto harder, taking a stumbling step backwards until a voice cut through the angry crackle of the fire.

“What do you want?”

Her voice bore no anger, no curiosity. Instead, she sounded weary, and given the late hour, perhaps they had interrupted the mancer’s sleep. Marion swallowed hard. Best not to piss on the shoes of those who could draw out the Resonance, their mother taught Will and Marion, and she instinctively bowed low, sweeping her tricky leg out and grimacing when the old throb in her knee hummed.

“I did not ask you to bow. I asked you what is it you want?”

A pair of blood-orange eyes gleamed in the darkness of the hut before a woman stepped out. Her dress of badly-sewn rags and thick leaves did little to conceal her body. Her sex and one of her nipples were clearly visible through several holes and missing patches. The same could be said for the rest of her. Dried blood crusted near several fresh scabs and scars probably brought about from wandering among the brambles and branches of the woods. She didn’t seem to notice the cuts, or care about the twigs and leaves stuck in her long, graying hair. The eyes were the only truly terrifying part of her visage, but given how human their guide had appeared at first glance, this woman could be hiding her freakish nature under the surface.

“I brought them, I brought them, can I rest now?” their guide pleaded, ending in a whine of desperation.

“You may rest. Come when I call you again.”

The guide burst into tears moments before he simply burst. His skin ripped apart, and thousands upon thousands of fat red bugs covered in tiny, jagged prongs dropped to the gray earth. The bugs burrowed and disappeared like rainfall on parched soil, and Will yelped his fear. Marion was too terrified to say or do anything.

Will found his voice first, and asked, “You… are Emisha?”

“I am,” the woman said. She flicked her fingers and the abomination came to her. She scratched it atop a series of scarred ridges on its head.

Marion swallowed hard. “Your guide, he told us things. How you help those who need it. Always for a cost.”

Emisha stared at Soto, one of her hands curling and uncurling. “He told you the truth.”

The child gurgled, “Baby baby baby,” at the abomination, and the thing’s tongue lolled out to his mad giggles.

Emisha strolled to him and reached out for his milky eye. She pried it open despite his batting hand and her teeth gleamed like broken mirror glass. “Someone tasted fruits they shouldn’t have.”

“Foot!” Soto said, trying to say fruit.

“Our farm,” Marion said, trying to ignore that. “The crops are sickly and we been barely getting enough copper to feed the family.”

“Soil’s bad,” Will agreed. “Oxen’s getting sick. Unless things turn around, we won’t last till Father retreats again for the winter.”

Emisha took Soto’s bad arm and squeezed it. He gave a squawk of pain and indignation, and she ignored him. “And he’s your offering.”

The choice that had seemed like such a relief just hours ago now roiled in Marion’s belly, and she wanted nothing more than to run with Will and her child into the forest. But the same thoughts that led her to listen to the guide with growing need in her heart emerged again. Changing Soto’s cloth diapers every day. Trying to spoon feed him gruel, the only thing he would eat. Wiping down the drainage from his nose and his eye constantly, lest he get yet another infection.

Free. They could be free.

“Yes,” she said, and Will echoed her a second later, his voice trembling.

“Put him down,” Emisha said.

Will hesitated one last time, and Soto grabbed at his ear. He pulled his son away from his favorite toy and stared him in the eyes. “I love you, Soto,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry. But you’ll be helping your sisters and your brother.”

“Evie!” Soto said, grinning when he heard “sisters.”

“Yes,” Will said, and kissed his boy’s forehead. He held up his five fingers, splayed out wide in the sign of the Boughs, and whispered, “Forgive us.”

Marion mimicked the sign too. She was not as religious as her husband and did not believe the spirit went anywhere after death, let alone to the arms of the great trees of the afterlife, but in case she was wrong and her son waited for them after their time, she did not want to risk making her journey decades or even centuries longer.

Soto tottered towards the fire, going to it as instinctually as a moth. He held his good hand out. Emisha knelt beside him, and turned his face towards hers. Finally, their child seemed to recognize the strangeness of the situation, and his humor vanished.

“Yes,” Emisha said, pressing her thumbs to Soto’s temples. “Yes. I will help. I accept your terms. Your son for the health of your farm.”

Marion gasped her gratitude and closed her eyes. Will raised a hand to his breast and said nothing, but drew a deep, shuddering breath.

“I will let you both live, when I am through with his metamorphosis,” Emisha said calmly.

“His what?” Marion asked, one eyelid parting just enough that she could see the woman through a slit.

Soto and the mancer stared into each other’s eyes, and she drove her thumbs harder and harder into the boy’s temples. He whimpered, and as Emisha kept up the pressure, he cried out, “Mo… Mommy?”

Tendrils of the Resonance shot from Emisha’s fingers into the boy’s skull and he shrieked. There was no build-up. His pain was instantaneous and his scream even louder than the time Will broke his arm when he wouldn’t stop bawling.

“What’s happening?” Will shouted. He darted for Marion and grabbed her arm, too terrified to try to run to his son.

“Please, let it be fast, whatever you’re doing,” Marion begged, falling to her knees.

Emisha glanced at them both, her eyes narrowed. The abomination behind her gnashed its teeth, and as the ropes of magic blasted into their son’s skull, Marion finally understood, and she retched up a thin string of putrid yellow bile, getting it all over herself.

“No,” she gasped.

From the darkness at the edge of the forest, something crunched, and a man-sized figure emerged. Its back was bent and covered in finger-length spines. His face was wrong, all wrong, mashed together like a wood puzzle. In his hands was the remains of a meaty bone, stinking of rot. No. He wasn’t gripping it. It was buried in his hand, another part of him gone horrifically wrong. Another creature stepped out almost right behind Marion and Will and they clung together as a gaunt Handar slouched a full two feet taller than them, its stomach flayed and whipping open and closed on a collection of eyeballs and teeth. A winged creature didn’t so much drop from the branches of the trees as fall. Surely its misshapen body was too broken for flight.

Ignoring them, Emisha said, “The transformation never takes the same amount of time. If you would like to stay and watch, you may.”

Marion shot to her feet. “You… you…”

“I shall keep to my end of the bargain. Your soil shall be rich and forever easy to till. In time, such vegetables will grow there that they will become the envy of the nation.”

Marion turned and grabbed her husband’s arm. His lips tried to form words but none escaped his throat. She tugged him towards the forest. Will turned back once, his arm outstretched as though to take Soto’s hand one last time, but then the moment was gone, and they fled.

Emisha returned her attention to the boy as her abominations settled in around her. Magic once flowed through her like wine from the lip of a pitcher. She danced with the Resonance and it danced with her. But when she fell in the Glass Tower so long ago, her connection to the Resonance twisted and changed. Now it coursed over and through the jagged remains of her mind, grinding its way out of her to fulfill her one solitary command in this world. Corrupt. Corrupt. Corrupt.

She whimpered as the child whimpered, feeling every second of what she was doing to him. Through her, he felt her madness, the breath of a million worlds, and his mind, what little of it there was, shattered as hers had. The sorrow did not stop her. She would never stop, not until she walked through the Boughs and was returned to the Resonance.

How long she spent twisting the child she had no idea, but when she was done, he was unrecognizable. His first few steps were awkward, but he adapted quickly. There was little of the boy left. All that remained was monstrous, and despite the sickness in Emisha’s mind, her heart sang out to him, calling him with the same broken tune as her magic. He shuffled around, his new arm sliding across the forest floor, doing his seeing for him since his one good eye was now mostly obscured by the regrowth of his skull.

He was hideous.

He was beautiful.

Her hands twisted as she murmured the words, and the Resonance flowed through her. The abominations came to her, all of them within the pull of the fire. There were others in her thrall, but they hunted elsewhere. These would go southeast and haunt the fishing villages and farmlands.

Emisha would stick to her word. The boy’s family would live. She did not wish for revenge for the abomination. In fact, she could not think in any coherent fashion. Her conscious mind fled her when she began to change the child, as it always did. The horror of everything she wrought was too big, too overwhelming, so rationality fled when she worked, and might not crawl back for days and days.

The smallest abomination rubbed against her fingers, ready and at attention. She licked her lips, wondering how much death this newest creation would bring. It did not please her. It terrified her.

“Hunt,” Emisha said, tears streaming from the corners of her eyes.

The runner’s wall of writing

Creative work doesn’t so much have its ups and downs as it has mountains and Marianas trenches. One minute you’re riding high on a new project, thinking to yourself that every word you’re putting down is taking you up that mountain path, and then hours later, you’re wide awake in bed, sinking like Dexter’s tossing you down in his finest Glad bags.

It’s a vicious cycle. It’s a mean motorscooter of a business because there’s no one there to commiserate with you over a cup of coffee in the break room. No one’s going to pop into your office and tell you good job writing 12k or 15k words that day. No one’s going to understand or give a shit about your accomplishments, and they’re sure as hell not going to know when you’re riding a low of a long, hellish sales slump that just won’t end.

And that? That’s just on a day to day basis.

Now for me personally, I don’t get writer’s block. At least not the way you think of it. I’ve never really been gummed up when it comes to writing words – I can bullshit with the best of them, and if one project’s not going so hot, I just dick around with a character’s backstory or write up something about some otherwise inane piece of history in the novel itself. It’s wound up creating some of the better moments in my novels – the party scene in A Shot at Us, for example, is based off me just basically riffing and trying to decide where several characters should go. Same with the introduction to the Hammerdown in Ghost at His Back.

But I do get a variation on writer’s block, something of a business-end writing wall. There’s almost invariably a point right after I’ve finished a book and I come down off that momentous high to the realization that today is just another day. Finishing up a draft for a book isn’t going to somehow make my sales jump overnight. Finishing that book? That’s cool and all, but now, get to cracking on the business end. Rework your ads. Take a day or two break and then immediately start editing, because time is very much your money. And when you have so little of that to begin with, every second you’re not writing, even when it’s to handle the business or editing ends of things, feels like you’re wasting your time.

That’s my runner’s wall. That’s my moment when I want to say I’ve done enough, it’s time to go home and put my feet up for a few years. I won’t – I am starting to get savagely desperate to move, to start to take part in the world I love again – but it’s so very tempting.

Oh right. I finished a first draft of a fantasy novel. Journey of the Caged. Read it. Or… I don’t know. I really don’t. I don’t know how to sell any of you on any of this. Runner’s wall. Writing wall.

Editing tomorrow, I guess.

Beast no more

Hey all! As the numbers weren’t justifying the expense, I’ve decided to pull the plug on offering Beast as a free novella when you sign up for my newsletter. If you read it, terrific! Thanks very much. If you haven’t, I have some tentative plans to release a collection of short stories and novellas, maybe in time for Halloween. We’ll see! But you’ll get a chance to read it in one form or another soon.

The great mortal sins of my books

My friend and fellow writer Kris Butler and I were online earlier discussing some of the less believable injuries from our novels, and it led me to thinking about the things, in retrospect, I’d change about my writing so far. This is going to deal heavily in spoilers in certain areas so consider yourself warned, you spoiler-phobes.

The Ghost at His Back – The Butcher Dilemma

I’ve stated elsewhere that the original draft of GAHB was wildly different. with a politician for a villain with a shrine to the Blight in his basement. One element that bled through to the GAHB’s final draft was basically the hunt for that politician, except it became the Butcher the heroes searched for. In the first draft, the heroes were able to easily find him because a) they saw a rising tower of souls trapped at his house and b) the guy kidnapped Garrett and an FBI character to sacrifice them to the Blight.

The Butcher became something far less crazy – he’s just what his name implies, save that he butchers people, not animals. Except in simplifying him, I also stripped him of the means by which the heroes could find him. Enter Monica Ames, who comes over to the heroes’ house, and in the absolute worst chapter I’ve written and probably will ever write, she helps them deduce who the Butcher is by having Garrett pretend to be the people in the conversations to “help her be in the moment,” or some such bullshit.

It’s godawful. I admit that. In retrospect, this simply could have been fixed with a slip-up by having Murphy listen to the Butcher stutter his way through a conversation, then later have the Butcher stutter when Murphy’s around Jamie Finson, Sr. and listening in on his conversations.

Ugh. You have no idea how much I hate that chapter.

Shifting Furies: I Gave You a Rib!

Garrett has his ribs broken. Days or weeks later, he’s making love to Brianna. That’s really, really dumb. At least in later drafts I make note of it hurting and make the timeline more ambiguous, but in early published drafts, this is wildly stupid.

For All the Sins of Man: Sometimes You Don’t Understand What the Hard Writing Choice Is

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHOY!

So. Rowen dying was a mistake. A huge one. Having Garrett and Brianna try to take care of her and maybe failing or maybe succeeding would have made for a much better angle for future books, but instead, I killed her off. I’m hesitant to label her death a fridging, but it does provide an impetus to Sloan that otherwise would have taken another hundred or so pages. More on fridging in a few.

Also, re: For All the Sins, I wish I had taken the time to draw out that ending. I think the tornadoes are an important enough event that the falling action of that novel really could have gone on another twenty pages or so. Read it now and the timelines are jumbled and confused.

Bone Carvers: Torture

This one is GROSS and it is highly recommended you not read it. No. Seriously. Don’t.

Brianna – or one of them, anyways – is dropped into a pool of bodily excretions and left to die. This torture, called scaphism, is one of the most disgusting, horrifying ways to die I’ve ever come across, a perfect tool for the sick freaks of Hamber to end the love of the series. Garrett loses his mind, seeks vengeance, and before he crosses a line, all is revealed to him but he’s still broken by that image of Brianna’s ruined body covered in flies, shit, piss, and all manner of other disgusting things.

But see, there’s a difference between me knowing what Garrett is seeing and the synapses in his brain shutting down and the reader knowing what the heck is going on. There are plenty of hints, and in a later published draft I did lengthen the scene in which Garrett finds Brianna’s corpse, but I think I should have made it slightly clearer what had gone on. I also think there should have been one more scene of her in the tub before she dies, describing what she’s going through, but that might have been overkill.

Band of Fallen Princes: Lack of Definition

A reader left a review pretty early on for Band that resonated with me because it asked, “But what is it the Band of Princes actually do?” This is another case of me knowing something and failing to deliver that knowledge properly to the reader. The implication was supposed to be that the Band of Princes largely made its money through the high-end coke, heroin, and pharmaceuticals trade, as well as high-priced prostitution, except that’s very rarely mentioned. In fact, there’s no idea of how large their organization is, or what kind of force they wield in the Flats. It’s not a big deal on the surface and honestly this is probably the least of the changes I’d make to my books, but it’s still something to learn from.

Also, anyone who has ever ridden an elevator anywhere knows how stupid the elevator is at the end of the proper novel. In retrospect, I probably should have just said they killed the power to it.

Smyle: Fridging and Killing All Your Gays

Fridging, for those who don’t know, is killing off or detaining characters in such a way that it drives the protagonist to action. Now that’s not entirely what’s going on in Smyle. The deaths that occur are fine, by and large. I’m okay with those. But what I’d really like to go back and change somehow is the “killing all your gays” trope I unleashed on Monica and Sloan. And anyone who’s read the books knows I don’t actually kill them, but they are tortured and raped at the hands of the villains as a means to break the protagonist and draw out Murphy in the process. But that easily could have been done without Monica or Sloan getting involved. In fact, by dropping them from the plot entirely, the whole novel could have been a leaner, meaner affair, with more cat and mouse between Smyle and the Sparrowhawk.

The thing is, though, I actually needed Sloan to get her mojo back for Plague of Life. Having her get her powers back in this book and then disappearing would have been bizarre, so probably the smart route would be to have her and Monica investigating the city while Garrett and his friends are hiding in the Ranch. All I can do now is learn from that mistake and try to do better in the future.

Plague of Life: Nothing. Now:

Again, MASSIVE spoilers ahead.

The first publication of Plague of Life was dreadful. It’s not an excuse but I was in a dire amount of pain, so much so that I would suffer diastolic heart failure a month or two after this was published. The book was a mess of emo and angry, and though I wanted it to be a hopeful examination of what it meant to know there is a life beyond this one when you’re going through pure living hell on Earth, it missed that point by a country mile.

Flash forward to the republication. I added in a snappier opening, with a man getting killed by the Tamawo (who really did need more of a part in the novel), I changed Rick the Prick’s role entirely and made him quite possibly one of the more intriguing minor characters of the series, at least in my opinion, and I ditched Brianna’s pointless meandering to center more on the emotions and events from other people’s perspectives. I also changed a few minor details about the ending, specifically Stephanie’s flash-forward, which became less cynical and more hopeful. I also changed the way Daniel and Garrett’s story ended, with the conversation between Garrett and Grunty getting ditched entirely in favor of a reception scene between Garrett, Brianna, Daniel, and Isabela. I think it’s a far better ending.

That whole book is something I really, really love as a whole, actually. I know not everyone likes the direction I took with it, or the fact that the villains are essentially a joke. But I wanted Brianna, Sloan, and Monica (and to a much lesser extent, Tom) to win a fight so completely that it seemed effortless. They deserved it. They needed it. And in the context of saving a child, I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying than the idea of three women not fucking around and just getting it done. Writing about Sloan smashing the Tamawo’s heads in with logs and boulders left me, no joke, actually tingling. Here was my character finally allowed to be the complete badass she was, and Brianna breezily gutting the other two satisfies my soul.

Adamanta: Whoops, I Accidentally Duplicated a Movie’s Scene

If you haven’t read them, I wrote a few parts to a multi-author thing called Adamanta, a sci-fi actioner in space pitting humans against some damn dirty bugs. One of the novellas features a scene where a ship captain sacrifices herself by jumping her ship into light speed and ramming into an alien vessel.

Sound familiar? Yeah. I had no clue it happens in Star Wars: Whichever the Middle New One’s Name Is. And it’s certainly not a new idea either. We’ve seen it in war movies and other science fiction, but I thought I was actually being quite clever with that. Turns out I was (unwittingly) borrowing the trope.

How could it be changed? Simple. A suicide run of a different sorts. The ship still has its guns operational, and darts out ahead of the heroes’ ship to make one last desperate run, dropping not just all their ammunition on the alien ship but their life vessels and anything that might make a dent. Easy to see in retrospect, but sometimes writers just don’t know that they’re writing a trope. It happens.

Forever and Farewell: That Last (Real) Chapter Should Have Been Two

Again, MASSIVE spoilers ahead.

So, at the end of Forever and Farewell, Aubrey has left Lauren behind and split for Oregon so that Daddy Winslow won’t unleash the horrific sex tape her teenage boyfriend made of her as he abused and used her. With the whole town reluctantly backing Daddy Winslow now as he consolidates his power for one last town hall meeting before he gains control over the county commissioners, Lauren decides to stand up to him and deliver if not a scorching speech then at least a damning one, knowing full well that her sex tape is going to be revealed to the public. This agoraphobic woman, who at the start of the novel can barely go outside without facing down very real terror, has become the town of Fairwell’s one true hope for salvation.

Here’s where the problems happen with that chapter. Keep in mind, I love that ending. It just needed more to it.

Technically, Lauren isn’t the only one fighting against Daddy Winslow. Milo is running for the county seat and has reluctantly taken on Daddy and his surrogate, a deputy in the sheriff’s office. But the surrogate undergoes a change of heart, unfortunately one that plays mostly off the page, and winds up confessing everything to the town hall, making it unnecessary for Lauren to have to tell off Daddy Winslow and have the truth revealed about her horrific past. Except she chooses to anyways, a wildly courageous choice, and faces down the indignity of him revealing she was in a sex tape only to find the town supporting her through it and yelling Daddy Winslow out of the room as he’s arrested.

All that is great! Except for that one bit – the surrogate’s guilt needed to be played out more on the page. And all of this scene takes place months after Aubrey and Lauren have broken up. Why didn’t I stick in another chapter detailing the surrogate deciding to man up, perhaps revealing he’d made some tapes or something of his boss blackmailing him and strongarming others? Why not show Lauren breaking after Aubrey leaves only to rebuild herself with no one else’s help? Because… well… I don’t know, actually

A Shot at Us: Nic, or the Case of a Writer Liking a Character Too Much to Give Him a Turd Moment

Okay, Garrett sleeping with Brianna after his broken ribs was bad, but this might give it a run for its money. In order to make Nic, an established dealer and best friend of the protagonist in A Shot at Us, seem like less of a bad guy, instead of getting arrested for dealing, he turns himself into the police AT HIS HOME like they’re a taxi service so that I can more easily give him a winning, pleasant character arc later. Nic should have been busted. That’s a fact. The way it comes across right now is hammy and stupid.

I also think constantly about that tornado chapter, but I don’t think I’d change it. It gives it some of “my” flavor and I like the idea too much of this couple in Rankin Flats struggling to make it to change it to another city.

Fundamental Obsession: A Problem with Timelines

This one’s fairly straightforward. The timelines on Fundamental Obsession sometimes don’t jive or don’t come across easily to the page. I don’t know if it actually comes across as a mistake on the page or not. I’m too close to the novel to analyze it. But there are, at least in my head, several questions about when people move in with each other, how they can afford a house at a young age, et cetera, et cetera. Nothing is really glaring, especially if these young ones have parents with money, but still, a stronger timeline outside of the novel would have helped tremendously.

Whew, that’s it. Have you read any significant glaring errors from any writer (not just my dumb butt) lately? Writers, anything you’d change in your own books?

Legally Blind – The Look

There’s this look I get from people time to time when I go out. It’s not just a look, as in mild curiosity, but The Look, something wholly unique to those of us with truly messed-up bodies. It’s the Look that says, “Oh God, how weird is this guy? What do I have to deal with here?”

I get it most frequently from single mothers. That’s not exactly a demographic I deal with on a regular basis, but I do see them from time to time in stores, at the spa where I swim, or walking down the street, as you do. And in their case, it’s understandable, you know? They have a lot to deal with just from regular dudes, so a guy like me must seem like DEFCON-5 levels of weird. Still, it sucks that we live in a world where, when I make a comment about some cool baby-floater thingie without getting close or trying to be threatening, young mothers feel the need to push away and give me The Look.

But they’re not the only ones. Restaurant servers are next on the list, and almost every time, it comes with a certain degree of exasperation when they realize I’m blind to boot. It’s a double-whammy of great feelings. There’s a restaurant here in town where I walk in and immediately feel like a bug pinned to the wall. The Look seems to come with some great internal debate, like, “Ugh, can this homely looking guy actually pay?” Well, yeah, I can. You have no reason to suspect my money isn’t good just because I’m frigging weird looking.

That’s not all, though. It’s impossible to get many people to take me seriously, and when someone busts out The Look, I know I’m about to either be treated like a child or like I’m subhuman. At least I can anticipate it. That’s nice. Clerks can be the worst at that. Ask them to help find something, and out comes The Look, like I’m hatching some master scheme to rob the grocery store of its Butterfingers and Triscuits. I stepped foot into my old office recently needing a map copied and got The Look from a few different angles as I tried to explain what I needed. Try to strike up a conversation with a random person? There’s the Look.

There’s no real point to this post. It’s not something that’s going to change an d I can’t expect it to. There will always be people like me in society, who want to be normal and that’s an impossibility thanks to genetics and bad luck. But… just do me one favor. Try not to be the one giving The Look, okay?

On Failure

I’m going to talk about some stuff that’s going to sound like I’m cutting myself down, but I think this is important, especially if you’re considering writing.

At a vendor sale in Clancy, Montana the other day, an older gentleman stopped by, not so much interested in my books as he was talking about his own desire to collect his memoirs of his time as a soldier abroad and as a coroner. It sounded like he was off on the right foot – he was writing down memories as short stories, and wasn’t entirely sure if he should progress forward with putting them all together as a full-length nonfiction book. I assured him it’s worth the effort, as you do, and he looked me in the eyes and asked me the hardest question I couldn’t actually answer without crushing his spirit.

“How do you know people are going to be interested?”

What I told him was sort of the truth – you can’t know unless you take a gamble, same with anything else in life that’s risky. The fact is, you don’t. And in all honesty, people probably never will be. The cold but honest truth is no matter how talented we are, no matter how great our stories might be, people are probably not going to pick up our books and read them.

It’s impossible to make people sit down and start your novel, and making them isn’t the point anyways. No one owes you a read, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. People will support you in every way they can, but unless they’re actually willing to pick up the book and read it, their words and gestures are empty. And it will shock and continually depress you the people you think would give your books a shot but will let them gather dust, if they bother picking them up at all. Now blow that up to the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people who might stumble across your book in one way or another – and these people don’t even know you, so how likely are they to give YOUR book a chance? You cannot count on success, big or small.

Let me be perfectly frank with you. Only this year have I averaged ten sales per month and enough page reads through Kindle Unlimited that I’m now making a solid three digits every payday from Amazon. That’s three years after I first published The Ghost at His Back. Three years, and I get maybe – MAYBE – five sales on it per month. My romance novels are such an abject failure that I’ll likely never see a financial return on them. Forever and Farewell mostly sells at craft fairs on paperback, and has seen roughly forty lifetime sales. A Shot at Us, the best thing I’ve written, has seen maybe eight sales total. Fundamental Obsession, my soul ripped out and laid across two hundred and eighty pages in a love letter to my friends? It’s seen about two sales. Two. For a book I spent months on.

I say this not to get your pity or more sales. I say this because you have to know what you’re getting into. I am actively pursuing more genre fiction, because if I have a shot at this long term, that’s where I’ll be making my money. I can’t stop because I don’t have a choice in the matter. Pretty soon I’ll be hitting the point when my income will start to affect my Social Security, and I either need to ramp up the sales exponentially or give up. The latter’s not an option. I have too much I want to do to roll back over again for another six years.

So if you’re going to get into writing, go into it knowing you’re going to get your ass kicked. You’re going to put in an ungodly amount of work for people to shrug and smile and say, “Good job!” without actually giving a shit as to what you actually wrote. You’re going to put hundreds or thousands of dollars into projects that may never leave the ground. But at the end of the day, you’ll look in a mirror and be able to say you took your shot. And everything else aside, that’s all you can do with your life, really. Take your chance. If you fail, try again.

With all that said, should you write? Absolutely. Without question. There’s a joyousness to a good writing day that’s damn near indescribable, and finishing your tenth novel is just as amazing as finishing your first. But understand coming into it you are owed nothing and success is absolutely not a guarantee. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. There’s no secret formula except word of mouth that ensures your success. Maybe you have connections in the industry that can change that, but if you do, odds are you’re not going to need to the advice of an indie writer playing the game for quarters. Just be aware of what this business will cost you, literally and metaphorically and write for reasons other than whether or not people will like your books. Write for yourself, for the joy of creating, for the moment and the conclusion alike. Do that, and no matter if you succeed or fail, you’ll be happy.

And as an aside? I’ll take a thousand failed, unread Fundamental Obsessions over doing nothing again with my life.

Fundamental Obsession is available now!

Heya folks! My newest novel Fundamental Obsession is available now. A story about friendship, guilt, loss, and healing, it’s a complex novel with a feel-good romance at its core. If you enjoyed my previous novels Forever and Farewell and A Shot at Us, I think you’ll find a lot to love here.Fundamental Obsession - High Resolution - Version 1

Give it a look here on Amazon! It’s just $4.99 on Kindle, or free through Kindle Unlimited. Paperback versions won’t be available for some time yet, but I’m hopeful I’ll have them done by July-ish.