Monday, March 10, 2014

Choose the novel: Neverend

This is it, the last of the prospective novels I could end up finishing. What you should know thus far: whichever of the six or seven novel openings I post racks up the most comments will be written in full. Of Hidden Shadows is a high fantasy epic. In Times of Cold Rain is noir crime-lit. Women, Weed and Weather is so-called "literary" fiction. Lyon's Den is a genre mash-up between chick lit and detective story. Forged: Book I of the Weaponslayer Trilogy is my offering to the YA gods, and The Heat of the Frozen Road is my offering to all fifty shades of grey. The final one is back in the literary space, with a horror-thriller twist. I present: Neverend.


If you add up the odds of everything that could kill you in any given moment, you're something like two thousand percent more likely to be dead than alive whenever you dare draw a breath. You don't have to believe me. I've died enough times to know at least most of the thirty-four trillion flavors.

Sometimes, dying only sets me back a second or two--barely any lost time at all. That happens most often. Sometimes I fucked something up real bad. Then I have to go back further. It'd be easier if I had someone to talk to. No one believes me when I tell 'em. I can't prove it, of course. Even if I stood in front of a guy and died, we'd rewind to just before it happened, you'd never see the attempt. Not that I've ever tried to kill myself. There's entirely too many other ways to shuffle coil.

I don't know why this happens to me. My best guess, and it took me years to figure this out, so don't laugh, my best guess is that it has to do with a first death that even I don't remember. I figure it happens in the future. And if it ever happens again, if I make it that far, that'll be it. It's game over. That's why I keep rewinding, to keep me off the path that leads there. Leads to really dying.

I could be wrong.

Add up all the lost time over the years since it started happening, I'm maybe four or five years older, brainwise than it says on my birth certificate. I just turned twenty-four according to the doctor.

The most time I've ever lost was nine months. I'd been working as a line cook, til a grease fire sent me back to the day before I'd accepted the job. Too much dangerous shit down that path, I suppose. I'm surprised I lasted as long as I did. Not as surprised as I was the first time I met a girl that I was really meeting for the first time a second time around. It's like meeting a porn star, or trying to hang out with a friend's girl after you've seen her hidden album. She had no idea who I was. I'd seen her naked. It made me feel dirty.

I'd like to say I got over it. I didn't. Haven't seen that girl in a few years. It's happened a couple of times since the first. Haven't seen those girls either. Maybe one of these times I'll die alone. Maybe it'll be less awkward. Maybe not.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Choose the novel: The Heat of the Frozen Road

Only one more opening left after this one. TL;DR of the story thus far: whichever of the seven novel openings I've posted scores the most comments will be written in full online before a live studio audience. Of Hidden Shadows is a high fantasy epic. In Times of Cold Rain is noir crime-lit. Women, Weed and Weather is so-called "literary" fiction. Lyon's Den is a genre mash-up between chick lit and detective story.Forged: Book I of the Weaponslayer Trilogy is my offering to the YA gods. This one? This is a bit of a flashback for me. The Heat of the Frozen Road is a, well, novel. Featuring strippers, debauchery, drugs, gambling and a trip to dancer's El Dorado: Alaska during the rig off-season.  

The Heat of the Frozen Road

She slammed the door shut as soon as I set the last box in the van.  It was hard to believe how much the girls managed to pack.  I looked down at the small bag I was bringing.  Toothpaste.  Toothbrush. Roll of toilet paper. And that's about all of the personal stuff I feel like sharing.  Fair enough; I had a change of clothes, two paperbacks, a carton of smokes, and a twenty-four pack of condoms I bought at Sam's Club.  Those were hidden, covered by the extra boxers I brought along.  Maybe a bit presumptuous, but it was a long drive to Anchorage, and there were going to be more than a few late nights.

"We don't mind leaving you here," the other girl, the one I didn't know very well, or at all, threatened me.  Alicia slapped her ass.

"You said I could bring him with," Alicia reminded her.  She put her arm around me.  I wanted to think it was because she was standing up for me.  Looking back, it was as if I was a well-trained dog and she wanted to show off all the tricks I could do.  I guess it's better to be a talented dog, if you have to be one.

The girl whose name I still can't remember scoffed and folded her arms in front of her chest.  I should have caught that as the first sign of trouble.  No good can come from a woman who has to cross her arms six inches in front of her shoulders.

"Do you have everything?" Alicia asked me.

"Nah, but I'm pretty sure I have enough."  Sometimes I could be a literal minded person.  Other times, I was just an idiot.  The only time it ever really got me in trouble was when I was younger and someone told me to go fuck myself.  After the awkward moment with my dad, I decided that not everything could be taken at face value, and that whenever possible, you shouldn't do anything alone.

She giggled a little bit, and it almost sounded genuine.  The pout on her girlfriend's lips only made her laugh harder.  When the van door slammed again, she looked at me.

"I promise, she's a lot of fun, she'll like you," Alicia said, her thousand watt smile cutting through the early morning fog that had snuck up on us.

"As long as her idea of fun doesn't end up with me in handcuffs and leather underwear, I trust you," I winked.  I headed towards the passenger side but she stopped me.  She gave me the keys.

"You volunteered for the first leg, remember?" she smiled again and actually batted her eyelashes.  She might have been being sarcastic, but it was effective either way.

I settled in and pulled out towards the highway.  As it turned out, the first leg ended up being about eighteen hundred miles.

Day 2 -- Morning

I hadn't been in an IHOP while sober in about five years.  I sat down across from the girls who looked as ragged as I felt.  I almost would have thought that they were the ones who slept in the van instead of the hotel I paid for.  Had there not been a month's worth of costumes and shoes stacked on every available inch, it might not have been so bad.  As it was, I had no interest in looking in a mirror.  I kept my head buried in my notebook, scribbling away, writing ideas for the first article.

"Whatcha writing?" the other girl asked, a drop of water teetering on the edge of her porn-star lips.  Alicia rolled her eyes.  I let her explain what I was doing.

While I listened, I thought about when I pitched my editor on the idea.  I didn't think he'd actually go with it.  Even after driving over a thousand miles, I still wasn't sure it was happening.  None of the sentences were coming out right.  The paper had more cross-outs than coherent words.

"When can we read it?" the other girl asked when Alicia finished explaining.  She leaned over the table, almost falling out of the thin blouse she hadn't even bothered to button all the way.  Alicia noticed that I noticed and slapped my hand.  I pulled it back and used it to shield the nonsense I had scrawled on the page.

"I'm still working on it," I protested.  She recoiled and threw her hands up as if to say she was sorry.  Alicia's laugh was like the sound of silk sheets rustling over a piano; soft, smooth, with a melody.  There isn't much a laugh like that can't make a man do.  It had the same effect on her girlfriend.  The other girl calmed down and ordered them both strawberry pancakes with whipped cream and real fruit.  I got my usual omelette.

"I'll let you read it before I send it in," I said.  I don't know why.  Writing is the closest a man can come to having a baby.  And just like a baby, it's never a good idea to show it off before it's popped out, bloody and crying for attention.  Otherwise, you only wind up with the first part.

Day 2-- Evening

I was out in the van, grabbing a fresh notebook when the first drunk asshole was tossed out.
"I din't ev'n touch 'er," the man belched.  "Bitch is lyin' and shit."  I could tell he was wasted.  It was an impressive feat considering it's barely after seven and the club didn't open until five on weekdays.

When Alicia first told me about the pilgrimage she and the other girl were taking to dancers El Dorado, I had a hard time taking her serious.  The thought that some small oil rig town in Alaska was filled with piles of singles and stacks of folded hundred dollar bills was as ludicrous to me as the prospect of tagging along.
It was her idea, in the end.  I still hadn't expected the editor to sign off on it.  It probably helped that I pitched it to him after we finished a bottle of greasy gin and vodka doubles.

Admittedly, the idea seemed a lot more glamorous back in the Midwest, not crawling around the van listening to some unknown Don Draper wannabe splatter chunky beer on the pavement.  The Lounge dressed itself in flowing neon, the blacklights and red trim giving it a look that wouldn't be out of place in the trendiest neighborhood in SoHo.  Some out-in-the-woods type places settle for a cheap, hand-painted sign and plywood instead of dark tint, but The Lounge went all out on massive jet black bay windows, a valet booth, and an elegant wrap-around drive that had only recently been stained by the stumbling drunk's post-adrenaline heaving.

I found a new notebook around the time the unruly patron fished his car keys from his pocket.  I was glad I was heading back inside.  I wouldn't have been surprised if the van had a few new dents when I came back out.

It is possible The Lounge spent as much money inside as they did with the fa├žade, but it was impossible to tell.  A long walkway led to the main stage, but the only source of light was the red frame of the admissions stall, glowing softly like the emergency lights at a movie theater.  I skipped the ticket window and made my way back inside.

The stage was dimly lit in the way that Hitler was kind've racist.  Red and purple neon trim provided the illumination.  Renting a spot in the line-up was cheap--which was why the girls stopped there--but I could see why in the first two hours.  With the lights as low as they were, the girls became indistinguishable from each other, just brief glimpses of a smile or two, and short flashes of what might have been tits or bush.  I doubted there was any money to be made at the place.

But the bar was serving me free drinks, and the bartender found the idea of writing appealing enough to spend most of the first part of the night flirting with me and tugging on her boobs to push up more cleavage.  I went outside with Alicia and the other girl a few times to smoke, and the lady behind the bar looked sad every time.  I was hoping I might not have to sleep alone in the van when the other girl grabbed me and started pulling me towards the door.  I could almost see Alicia arguing with The Lounge's owner.

"Motherfucker," she yelled, poking her finger into his ribs.  A rather large bouncer--the one I had seen earlier with the drunk--hovered nearby.  "There's, like, four fucking people in here, and the only one getting dances is missing her teeth."

The other girl explained to me that the owner had signed up too many dancers.  I knew that stage time was worthless, more like an advertisement than a way to make any money.  At twenty-five to a hundred bucks a song for a private show, it was obvious why it was a problem if no one was heading for the VIP.

"I told you, it's slow now, but it'll pick up," the owner grumbled in what sounded like a Louisiana drawl, even though we had made it through into Montana already.  "You can't leave now.  You've got six hours."

I was standing behind Alicia when he said it.  The other girl started trying to walk around both of them to the exit.  The bouncer blocked the door.  Alicia is barely five feet tall, but she wasn't backing down.  I couldn't see her face, but I remembered the one time I had ever seen her mad at me.  When someone carrying the delicate lines of an elf princess is fixing you with the kind of glare usually found on arch-villains and lawyers trying to be serious, it's a shock.

"There's no reason for us to stay," the other girl jumped back into the fray, her already dark hair a black halo surrounding her pale face.  She put her hands on her hips and stood next to Alicia.  Even in the dim light it was obvious they were the two hottest girls in the club, and I could see the bouncer almost drooling.  Between the two of them, the girls might have weighed as much as one of the bouncer's legs.

I tried my best to look intimidating, but nobody was mistaking me for a bodyguard.  If you want to look non-threatening, there are few ways better than holding a pen and a pad of paper. Just ask Clark Kent.

"Oi, let 'er go," a very deep, very British, and very female voice came from the office the owner had stepped out of earlier.  A grotesquely fat woman ambled into the space where we were all standing.  If the bouncer was capable of eating Alicia and the other girl, the woman who started eye-fucking me as soon as she saw me would have used them as toothpicks.

It was hard to see in the light, but the most frightening thing about her wasn't the four hundred pounds she had to be hauling under the Coogi tracksuit she was wearing; it was her face.  She had high cheek bones and soft eyes.  Her full pout was wide, showing off a brilliant white smile.  She was beautiful.  A unicorn.  A nothing butterface.  I'd heard of them before but never seen one.  If she sent a picture to you from the shoulders up, it's hard to imagine you wouldn't meet her for a drink.

"It's slow," she admitted, pulling the owner out of the way.  The bouncer gave her a quizzical look, but let us pass.  Alicia tugged on my arm.  The British woman was licking her lips.  As we walked to the car I found myself horrified by at least four scenarios that would eventually give me nightmares.

Choose the novel: The Weaponslayer Trilogy: Forged

So, I'm a little late posting this one. Sorry about that. Quick TL;DR: whichever of the six or seven novel openings I post racks up the most comments will be written in full on this here web log here. Of Hidden Shadows is a high fantasy epic. In Times of Cold Rain is noir crime-lit. Women, Weed and Weather is so-called "literary" fiction. Lyon's Den is a genre mash-up between chick lit and detective story. Weaponslayer: Forged is my offering to the YA gods. 

Forged: Book I of the Weaponslayer Trilogy

                The Rainman crept through the flickering shadows, gesturing for her to sit with his long, twisted fingers.  As he passed by the broken light, she could see that he walked with his arms and legs forming almost a straight line, as if he were sneaking along girders and steel rope even in his own living room.
                ‘I am,’ he stuttered, ‘very pleased to make your acquaintance.  I am Rejil, Rainmaster of Holshard Waterworks.’
                She slunk back into the plush softness of the spherical chair.  ‘My name is Sarah.  I was chased out of the Upper Tier, something was after me, I got lost up here.’
                Rejil nodded grimly in the dark, his violet eyes sparkling in the fragments of candlelight that danced in the wind.  ‘I have seen you, Sarah.  You are not like the others.’
                She shrugged and sat up on one elbow, watching the Rainman perch in a sling.  ‘I’m younger.’
                ‘What was it that chased you?’
                A boy, she almost answered.  The Rainmaster wouldn’t understand.  Something about Azrel was wrong.  His damned amber eyes.  She felt like an insect trapped in sap whenever she saw him.  But he had not dared pass the smog line, and she was alone again.  Well, alone with a rather strange old man watching protectively over her.
                ‘Can I get you something to eat?’  He finally said after she declined to answer his question.
                She nodded.  She had not eaten in hours, and she could feel her quickening metabolism burning calories at an alarming rate to compensate for being so high above the Tiers. 
                ‘How long was I out there?’ she asked when he returned with a steaming broth and a slice of bread.  She sopped up some of the broth and bit into the bread.  She smiled, the soup had been made with Pure water.
                The Rainmaster slung himself around the room, hanging on lines stretching across the ceiling of the cottage.  He seemed to be looking for something, his long limbs flaying about, tossing books and stacks of paper with his hands and his prehensile toes.  ‘Not a long while,’ he said as an afterthought, absentmindedly picking up a worn looking volume and flipping through it.  ‘You should be fine.’
                She could feel how chapped her lips were, and the tips of her fingers felt as if they were covered in rust.  She ran her hand through her hair and shivered to feel the frozen strands.  ‘Thank you for taking me in,’ she said.
                Rejil nodded sagely.  ‘I found it,’ he said, holding up a shimmering red leather quarto.  The pages seemed thin, even from across the room.  She could hear the wind whistle through it as the Rainmaster flapped it in his hand as he made his way back across the room to her.
                She took it from him and wiped the back of her hand across the jacket, scattering dust in the air.  She gasped when she saw the title.  ‘Songs in Silence,’ she whispered.  ‘This was my mother’s favorite book.  She read from it to me every night until I was Gathered.’
                The Rainmaster sat patiently in front of her, not even nodding as she spoke.
                ‘How did you get this?  When I Returned, after being Forged, I searched all of the libraries and bookstores for this.  Everyone said it didn’t exist!’ she opened to the first page, reading the words aloud.
                ‘Your father was a great friend to We Who Live Above the Clouds, we saw him often in his journeys.’
                She stared at the ancient Rainmaster, her jaw open and bubbling with a dozen unasked questions.
                ‘You did not know your father,’ Rejil acknowledged, ‘but he knew very much indeed about you.  He was proud when you were Gathered, and he mourned your mother for years when the Infection took her.’
                ‘She was Infected?’ Sarah mumbled, her head dropping back to the pages of the book.  ‘They never told me.’
                ‘We knew, and some of us were able to recover some of her things for him.  And for you, though only he was confident that you would make your way here.’
                ‘Where is this place?’ she asked, the green glow of the cottage suddenly assaulting her with its strangeness.  Even the sky outside the windows was lighter and falling away from her, as if gravity was tugging on the very color of the air.
                ‘We are far above the clouds, dear child, we are in the Fourth Tier,’ the Rainman said, taking her hand in his own and caressing her forehead.  ‘You ran very far, and came very high.’
                ‘Where is my father?  Is he here?’ she pushed the strange old man away from her, standing despite the rattling in her knees.
                ‘We have not seen Davyd in a very long time.  He left for far Rindaven nearly two dozen moons ago.  He has never returned.’
                Less than two years, if she was as high up as she thought.  The journey to RIndaven would take at least a year if he were going by any of the traditional routes.  ‘Rejil,’ she barked, making a mental inventory of what she had brought with her on her Watch before Azrel had interrupted her.  ‘Did my father know how to Cloudtravel?’  The Rainmaster choked on his sip of broth.
                ‘Where did you hear of that?’ he demanded.
                ‘It doesn’t matter, all right,’ Sarah protested, ‘I just need to know.’
                ‘No, he did not.’
                Maybe the foolish boy who threatened her might have some use after all.  That is, if he really can Cloudtravel, she thought.  They could make it there only a few months or even weeks after her father.  Maybe she could stop looking for answers in the smelly old books of the Upper Works religious catalogs.  It was like Rejil had said, she really was different.  And her father might be exactly the person to tell her why.