Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lamenting Souls

I write other things besides noir/hardboiled.  One of the 'other writes' is Dark Fantasy.  Or, to be more precise, my interpretation of what Dark Fantasy should be.

Over the years I have read a little fantasy.  Robert E. Howard (Conan, the Barbarian creator), Terry Goodkin.  J.R.R. Tolkien,  Christopher Paolini,  J.K. Rowling . . . . others.  And for the most part, with a couple of exceptions, I wasn't impressed.  The fantasy most writers wrote were rehashes of the same plate of over-fried 'taters.  Just warmed up again for another serving.

Fantasy, for me, has a deeper . . . darker . . . purpose to it.  It's a venue to explore that part of the soul which delves into the unknowns of the human psyche and into things that go bump in the night.  The inexplicable.  The unknown---but not the unknown in the nuts and bolts kind of thinking found in, say, traditional Science Fiction.  No.  I'm talking about Evil.  About the conscious and unconscious powers of the mind to tap into forces Science can't quite yet explain.  'Magic' may or may not be real; but the power of the human mind to believe in magic is quite real.

Therefore Dark Fantasy has, in my estimation, yet to be fully explored.  And oh . . . what a journey of discovery could be possibly waiting for us!

I'm writing a fantasy series.  And I'm about to use the same character and begin writing a short-story series.  Thought I'd share a pre-series short story with you.  Maybe you'll like it.  Maybe not.

Hope you do.

Lamenting Souls

Evil burns in colors sullen, Pilgrim.

Aye, Fellow Traveler. In the eyes of a wizard Evil smolders in colors dark and menacing. All life shimmers and glows. Trees. Flowers. The animals of the forest. The denizens of the watery deep. Dragons. Man. All life shimmers a color and a hue unique to its own. Even Magic, Pilgrim. Magic glows in colors unique to the brand of magic used.

I am the one called Roland. Roland of the High Crags. I am a warrior monk of the Bretan Way. My magic is Bretan. Here, in the snow capped peaks of the High Kanris, I have taken vows to protect the weak and the innocent from those which would feed upon their souls. Evil of any kind. My vows are unbending. I cannot flinch. I can not withdraw from the fight. I fight the noble fight. The fight that Evil must be confronted. Must be constantly sought out and defeated.

For the true believer knows, Pilgrim. Evil can never be destroyed. Only constrained in heavy chains if resolutely confronted.

So began this adventure on one bright moon lit night as I rode the warm updrafts rising into the night hair from forest floors below us. I and my good companion, a Huygens-bred Great Wing who called himself Cedric.

A Great Wing, friend, is a giant hawk. A powerful bird of prey found only among the snow capped peaks of the High Kanris. A bird, this Cedric, a hundred and eighty hands high. Roughly fifteen feet tall when wings folded and standing on clawed talons. A fierce warrior. Fearless and bold. With wings strong enough to carry me long distances over forest floor or mountain peak in this rugged land I call home. A great warrior in his own right–a partner who has agreed to stay at my side in my fight against both the Dragon and against Evil.

On this lonely night as we rode the moon beams over a nameless valley, the jagged black peaks of mountains towering over us and capped by snow gleaming bright and brilliant on moonlight, we both heard the eerie voice rising up from below calling for us.

Help, masters! Help this weary soul! Save me and my kinfolk from our tormentors!

Oh, please, oh great wizard. We beseech thee!
The pleading voice of a ghost, Pilgrim.
Aye, the dead doth speak. The night filled with wandering souls. Lost souls. Tormented souls. Sad souls. For one reason or another souls who will not step into the Netherworld and swim in the warm waters of the River of Time. This voice rising up to us as we sailed silently over a valley floor of ancient forests was a tormented soul–a soul wishing to journey into the Netherworld. But one kept here in the Outer Worlds by supernatural forces stronger than it.

Roland of the High Crags: Evil Arises
Cedric, old friend, did not hesitate. With me strapped firmly in the saddle it dipped one mighty wing and circled above the forest floor, one great eye of his peering into the moon light night to find the source of this pleading lament. Eyeing something human eyes are incapable of seeing the great beast folded its wings and dived downward toward a small forest clearing.

With a powerful whoosh! of wings Cedric settled into the high grass of the small clearing. Folding his wings hesitantly it eyed the black forest encircling the clearing expecting some kind of trap to be sprung. Leaping from the saddle, the curved bronze hued blade of my ancient Dragon scimitar in hand, I too expected trouble. Moving away from my winged companion, the tall grass waving in the moonlight in my wake, sword in hand, I waited for our lamenting ghost to make its appearance.

She came, soon enough, floating across the tall grass in a meandering cloud of a million fireflies

Master! Master, oh! You heard me! You heard my pleas! Thanks be to the
to the gods.

Fireflies, millions of them, danced around us, rising and falling, in some kind of merry fugue. The Inner Eye within me, the third eye all wizards and those with magical powers possess and that gives them the power to see the auras of life, glowed with joy and relief. This Inner Eye of mine saw this ghostly entity was that of a child, a small child, a female long absent from the Outer Realms in physical form yet trapped in this world unable to move on.

"Calm yourself, child, and tell me why you speak of others and why you dwell in this valley still?"

I am called Rebecca, master. I and my kinfolk–parents, uncles, cousins, aunts and distant kin–settled in this valley many, many years hence. Far from others like us

we decided to build our homes here in peace, in solitude, in peace. But soon after my birth a great evil came to us. A great evil disguised as a human. One by one it began to take us. It stalked us all. Sank its bloody fangs into our souls and took our spirits from us. Even in death it holds us here, master. We cannot leave this valley. We cannot enter the Netherworld. We have been here

for a long, long time. So long some of us are beginning to fade into nothingness,master! Can you help us? Can you free us from our tormentor? Oh, please, master!

Please help us!

I felt the child’s pain. I felt the faint menace yet reaching out with its cold gripping and holding onto her soul. I knew what had to be done. Yet the perils I knew were great. Great for me. Even more so for the child’s soul and those of her kin.

"I can journey to your time, child. I can find this evil sorcery and I can challenge it. But it is powerful, this magic. I cannot guarantee I can defeat it. If it defeats me, child, it will grow far stronger. Perhaps strong enough to leave this valley which keeps it trapped within."

I will help you, master! I–we all–will help you find this dark magic and defeat

it! This we promise!

"Return to you kin, child. Tell them I travel into the past. Tell them to remain silent upon my appearance. The evil that holds you need not know of my coming until I am already arrived."

The fireflies, millions of them, reacted to my words. The swirled around us twice and then drifted away in a long weaving line in one direction of the dark forest pressing down upon us. Still gripping the ancient blade in my hand I turned and eyed my old friend.

"If we journey back to the child’s time and are caught forever there our souls will be consumed, old friend. We will never escape. You do not need to travel with me. Go you your way and I shall go mine."

For an answer the giant war bird bent its thick neck down and, using its long hooked beak gently, pushed me hard backward, making me stumble back through the high grass two or three steps. From his mind I felt a hot retort of anger for me for even suggestion such an idea.

Grinning, feeling Cedric’s anger in my mind, I nodded and reached up with a gloved hand and slapped the war bird’s great hook beaked fondly. True friend and warrior he was. Through thick and thin. We would ride together in this battle.

"Very well, Cedric. Prepare yourself. The journey will be swift but cold. Colder than the fiercest of any winter’s breath we ever endured together."

Stepping away from my feathered brother I lifted a gloved hand up over bowed head. Closing my eyes I began the process of focusing the Inner Eye. Into the Netherworld we had to enter together. Into that domain that was neither in the present nor in the past. Neither in the future nor in the minds of mortal man. But only after stepping into the Netherworld would Cedric and I be able to travel across the deep waters of the River of Time. Travel into the past. Into the far, far past.

First came the tingling, electrical charge of entering the Netherworld. A surge of wild exuberance–of overwhelming warmth and static electricity, sweeping across us. Stimulating very pore, ever nerve ending in our bodies with a sense of narcotic bliss. The smells–the sounds–the roar of the Netherworld almost overwhelmed our senses. But swiftly it swept past us–and then darkness engulfed us. Darkness yet the sensation of floating on calm waters of a wide river.

Indeed, the River of Time is a an endless river, Pilgrim. A deep, wide river that flows for eternity into the Past and for an eternity into the far Future. It never ends. It has no beginning. It goes on in both directions forever. Time limitless flows in this body of water. And it, like the Netherworld itself, is filled with souls passing across the dark waters, traveling in both directions at once.

But the calm waters began to get choppy. The smooth motion of riding in a boat changed to the hurling, undulating crash of a being tossed hither and yon in a ship riding the winds of a howling hurricane! Cold–cold far colder than the winds of the frigid northern glaciers–howled angrily in our ears. Buffeted and bruised we stood together enduring the journey. Winds howled. Screamed. Faintly carrying the voices of hundreds–thousands–millions of souls crying out to us we hurled past them.

And then . . . suddenly . . . . silence.

The smells of a high mountain valley. The soft touch of a mountain breeze playing across my cheeks. The smells of wild flowers and forests old in my nostrils. Opening my eyes I lifted my head and peered around me. Cedric stood exactly in the same place I saw him last. But, looking up at the stars I could see we had arrived. Arrived in this same valley as had recently being standing in. But in a far, far, more ancient time.

In the night wind I heard the faint echo of laughter and the sounds of a music. Sheathing the ancient blade I walked to my feathered friend and leapt into the saddle and strapped myself in. Cedric spread his wide, powerful wings and leapt high into the night sky. Wings strong and swift had us climbing swiftly into a starry, moon filled night. Banking sharply to the right it did not take us long to spy the small hamlet of simple log cabins setting beside a small river in a not too distant mountain clearing.

Life, Pilgrim. Remember I said Life glows with an aura all its own. Even ghosts have an aura. Life–in a different setting–yet living still. Unless, unless . . .

In the moonlight the cabins looked old and decrepit. The moon’s silver beams played across low roof lines and log walls. From chimneys columns of smoke lifted into the night sky while on the surface of the moving river, like glittering orbs of a thousand scintillating diamonds, moon beams played across its dark watery surface. Twice we circled the hamlet in silence, Cedric’s wings riding the night air like the master of the hunt he was. Pointing to a spot beside the river I said nothing. Nor had to. My old friend heard my thoughts. Twisting around quickly and folding his wings we dropped like a stone toward the river’s bank. Settling onto the river bank like avenging wraiths I leapt from my saddle and then patted the hardened yellow beak of the war bird gently.

"Stay alert, old friend. We hunt that which hunts us. Evil lurks in the night waiting to lunge at our throats."

One last slap on the Great Wing’s beak and I started walking down a well trodden path toward the one building in the hamlet which light filtered through windows and into the night. From this low slung, long building came the sounds of laughter and music. The laughter of adults mingled with the squeals of children. Aye, Pilgrim. On first blush the warmth of the light, the sound of music and much laughter emanating from within this old inn, should have warmed my heart. All seemed well. All seemed as it should. Yet the Inner Eye I possessed told me otherwise. I knew, Pilgrim. I knew Evil hoary and ancient nestled within. And it was waiting for me to step unsuspectingly into its elaborate trap.

Ducking my head to slip under the low roof line I opened the inn’s door and stepped into the brightly lit interior. Closing the rough wooden plank door behind me I gazed at those who gazed at me and nodded. Twenty souls sat around long tables on roughly hewn benches or stood leaning against a long bar which stretched the width of the building to my left. Farmers. Woodsmen. Children of all ages. Warriors wearing habiliments and weapons unfamiliar to me. Merchants in outrageously colorful apparel. All sat or stood silently and stared at me with frozen smiles pressed upon their lips.

Ghosts, Pilgrim.

Souls captured and consumed by the Evil which hid itself somewhere in this room. Captured long, long ago in a far away past and held in psychic servitude all these years in this valley of the damned. Ghosts who’s auras told me they screamed in silent agony yet danced at the whim of that which held them so tightly in his grip.

"Master, thank the gods!" Rebecca’s happy voice came to me as she ran with face smiling and eyes dancing in joy to me. "The terrible thing which had imprisoned us all these years has fled! Fled the moment he felt your presence about the hamlet as you and your giant bird circled in the night. Thank you, master! Thank you! We are free, finally free!"

Tiny little hands gripped my calloused, hardened hand and pressed it against her cheek for a moment and then turned and pulled me deeper into the room. Several of the ancient warriors from lands I knew not approached me with smiling faces and heartily pounded me on my back and expressed their gratitude. An old patriarch, with thick white beard and long white air falling to his wide shoulders, rose from one of the benches and walked to the bar. Pouring something black and strange into a large stone cut, smiling like the grateful head of a large family, he turned and offered me the cup.

"Drink, wizard. Drink! Tonight we will celebrate our release from hell’s grasp. Tomorrow we will journey into the Netherworld and swim in the warm waters of eternity. Drink, kind sir. Drink and let us hear you tell us how great of a wizard you are!"

Evil’s black heart pounded with rhythmic assuredness my ears. Encircling me were the smiling of the ghosts many–their auras twisting and squirming and screaming in silent horror as they knew what was to come next yet powerless to prevent it. Smiling sadly, staring down at the dark fluid that was neither wine nor water, I felt the pain of the many–and the arrogant confidence of the Evil One–and knew what I had to do.

With a flick of the wrist I tossed the black liquid from the cup. It arched away from me in a long graceful curve and eventually splashed onto the rough planked wooden floor of the inn. The moment it touched the flooring it began hissing its killing acid bite and burrowed deep into the ancient wood.

"Your tricks will not deceive me, Ancient One. I feel your presence here. I know you hold these souls in a grip of servitude. Enough with this subterfuge. Release those who have served you for so long and allow them to enter The Netherworld."

Like a black tidal wave of raw emotion I felt the presence of the Ancient One recoil from me, its ancient soul quivering with hot anger as it moved away. Most of the souls encircling me took a step back from me as well. But two–two warriors from ancient lands long forgotten–reacted differently. Rage and anger filled their faces as they unsheathed the straight blades of ancient weapons and leapt at me. Like magic Helshvingar was in my hand. Steel met flashing steel in deadly play and rang out like ancient chimes in a constant clang of a maleficent symphony.


The ancient Dragon scimitar I carried strapped to my side always. A curved blade of steel forged by the gods themselves. Steel. Yet not steel. Blue, like fine forged steel, it was not. No. This blade had a faint bronze hue to it that seemed to glow whenever released from its sheath. Down the length of the blade, on both sides, were some kind of old and forgotten script. No one knew what it said. But the blade’s name was of Dragon tongue. From an old, almost forgotten dialect.


The Killer of All Evil.

We fought, the three of us, in a fierce encounter of murderous intent. Our swords rain down in slashing blows met by counter strokes of equal fury. The din of battle, the dance of three warriors, moved across the floor of the ancient inn in a destructive soiree. Chairs were overturned. Tables were smashed and splintered. The two warriors of old–ancient yet not ancient–fought like madmen. In their eyes and on their faces were portraits of the rage and black murderous intent of the Ancient One himself. Deep, deep underneath the controlling grasp of the Ancient One I could feel the souls of the two men crying out in anguish. They were trapped. Helpless. They screamed in despair and pleaded for me to somehow release them from their bondage. Faintly–like voices heard in a breeze from far away–I heard their pleas.

Grimly I doubled my efforts to save them from their damned eternity.

Their swordplay was good for warriors ancient. I felt the Ancient One’s expertise in the way he forced his bonded slaves to fight. But they fought in a style of swordplay far more simple in structure than what a Bretan warrior-monk is taught. I noticed the rudimentary styles of both immediately and waited for the moment to strike. It came after the fifteenth stroke of the sword when one of the warriors lost his footing and stumbled to one side a half step. Like the strike of a viper’s bloody fangs Helshvingar slid in underneath the warrior’s blade and slashed across the warrior’s upper waist.

The moment Helshvingar’s magical blade touched the ghost’s torso a violent transformation took place. A cloud of black vapor blurred the image of the stricken warrior and hissed loudly up and away from the warrior. The clatter of the warrior’s ancient steel blade falling to the inn’s floor was masked as the scream of a thousand banshees filled our minds and souls with squeals of pain and anger. But the soul of the warrior–the soul of an honorable foe so long held in bondage– lifted above me glowing in the brilliance of bright white. As the newly released spirit lifted up and away from me, on the warrior’s face was the visage of a man suddenly freed from bondage and joyous in his new found freedom. The soul of the warrior rose rapidly, and just before it disappeared through the inn’s rough timbered ceiling above us, a hand waved at me–a gesture of gratitude from a soul who, for centuries, knew nothing but grief and torment and despair.

Waving farewell I smiled. And turned to face the entities who stood facing me in some lifeless facade of existence, lifting the curved, bronzed hued blade of Helshvingar up in the process.

"You cannot win this fight, Old One. This is the blade of the gods. Forged by the immortals to cut the bonds you hold over others. Forged to suck you into the blade itself and imprison you for the rest of eternity. As long as the blade and I act as one our combined magic will defeat you. Release those who you yet control, Old One. Release them and face the fate that is in store for you."

From the Ancient One I felt pain and disbelief. Never before in its long existence had something like this ever happened to him. For a moment or two I felt the black presence of the Evil One quivering in indecision. My Inner Eye saw the Ancient One’s black vapor filling the room recoiling, twisting, contracting. And then, in the blinking of an eye, it made a decision! Again the screams of a thousand banshees filled the inn with a noise that almost was beyond endurance. From the forms of the remaining souls yet in the inn clouds of black vapor lifted from them and congealed into the main vaporous body of the Ancient One.

With a thundering roar the Ancient One ripped open the inn’s roof and began ascending rapidly into the moonlit night. Fleeing from me and from the power of Helshvingar as rapidly as it could. Turning, throwing open the inn’s door, I ran for the black form of Cedric waiting for me at the river’s edge. The giant war bird had its beaked head lifted upward, screeching its war cry, as it watched the Ancient One flying away. With a bounding leap I hurled myself up into my old friend’s saddle. The moment I landed in the old leather Cedric spread its dark wings and bounded into to the air. So rapid was my old friend’s ascent into the night air I was almost hurled from the saddle itself. But somehow I strapped myself in still gripping Helshvingar in one hand.

The vaporous cloud of the Ancient One twisted and dove and climbed in its mindless haste to elude us. But riding the moonlit night’s air currents is the domain of a Great Wing. No entity–not even ancient horrors from the depth of The Netherworld itself–can dominate the skies like a Great Wing! For every move the Ancient One tried in his efforts to elude us Cedric had a counter. Through the night air we hurled recklessly!

But in the end–in the end–Cedric positioned himself over the long, snake-like vaporous body of the Ancient One. And I . . . I gripping with both hands the blade of Helshvingar . . leapt from saddle into the night air and into the depths of the vaporous cloud of this ancient evil itself.

A half hour later we returned to the long forgotten high mountain valley and settled gently into the tall grass on the spot where we first met the child Rebecca. Jumping from the saddle to stand beside my old friend we stood silently . . . expectantly . . .and waited.

She came again, the child Rebecca, in a cloud of a million beautifully bright fireflies. Drifting across the valley floor in a swarm of flickering light. As she approached we saw her take the ghostly form of a child. Each tiny firefly becoming an integral part of the child’s image as she approached and began to ascend into the night.

She said nothing to us. Yet as her ghostly image rose on the waves of moonbeams she lifted a hand up and waved goodbye. And in our souls we felt the wash of an overwhelming sense of freedom and longing drench us in tears of relief and gratitude.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Blogging with Joshua J. Mark

Today I am sharing my blog with Joshua J. Mark.  Josh is a fellow writer at Trestle Press and his speciality is writing YA material. 
I offered blog space to any Trestle Press writer who wished to answer a simple question;  What compelled you to write in the genre you write?  So far Josh has been the only one to take up the challenge.  I find his article interesting in that he says he didn't pick the genre he prefers to work in----it chose him.
But Josh isn't just into YA.  Apparently he has an itch to write some hardboiled/noir.  He has a short story out called A Joke.  A bit of double-entendre there.  Far from a joke . . . but a sketch of black noir if there ever was one.
You'll find the blog . . . and his short story . . . interesting reads.  Give him a try.  I think he's going to increase his writing output here shortly. 

Green Ears and The Monster: How I Came To Be A Writer
I've always written stories, ever since I could write, but I can remember exactly when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was eight years old that summer at camp and this one morning at assembly the head counselor announced he wanted us to submit stories, photos, essays, or poems for a camp magazine. It would be published to look like Boy's Life and everyone could take it home as a souvenir.
At the time I had this dog, a brown and white Basset hound named Milkbone, and I was always writing little stories and poems about adventures we'd have roaming around in the woods behind my house. I missed the dog, being at camp, so I decided I'd write a Milkbone story for the magazine where I'd just place him in the camp setting and tell some story about a day with him as though he came to visit.
When I wrote the story, however, it turned into something completely different. It was a story about a community of Basset hounds who lived in a green valley which looked much like the camp. They were very happy except that, every now and then, this monster from a neighboring valley would show up and eat a bunch of them. There was this one puppy with long, green ears who everyone made fun of. His ears were too long, first of all, and then, of course, they were green. As he got a little older, Green Ears discovered he could hear sounds from far off and could hear the monster coming from miles away. When he told the older dogs about his abilities they laughed at him even more - until they got eaten by the monster one night. After that, the survivors listened to Green Ears and, when he heard the monster coming, they all dug a huge pit and hid. The monster fell into the pit and died. Green Ears was elected king.
The story was pretty much a rip-off of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
I did not so much `select' to write in the genre of Paranormal YA as it selected me. I could not have known it when I wrote that story but, essentially, I've been writing that same story, in one form or another, ever since.
Most of my life I've spent in education as a Professor and so am constantly around younger people. I like dealing with younger characters in my stories because they are more open to experience and possibility than many older people are. The world is new to them and yet they often believe they have a fairly good handle on what's going on. I think that's all of us, however, no matter what our age. We always think we know more than we really do and make choices, sometimes very bad ones, based on this belief in our own rightness. Like the older Bassets in my long-ago story, we resist change and we declare `impossible' any new idea until we've no choice but to accept it. None of us, however, ever really know what's going on at any given moment. All we can do in life is the best we can do with the information we have. I think this fundamental aspect of the human condition is best reflected in younger characters who provide a reader with the opportunity to see, not only who they once were, but who they continue to be.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Is A Fair Price

The conundrum;  what is a fair and competitive price for ebooks/short stories, both fiction and non-fiction?
The pay-off;  have you noticed there has been a renaissance, the classic 'rebirth,' of the art medium called the short-story lately?  And have you noticed the unbelievable surge in sales for ebook readers of all makes and models?  I mean this last point hasn't seen just a modest rise in sales from month to month, or year to year.  It literately has been explosive!  Shocking!  Millions are clamoring to buy an e-reader . . . and by extension . . . millions are eager to buy something to fill them up with and read!

The enjoyable past time of reading something . . . anything . . . has suddenly become both luxurious, and affordable, again.  Because of new technology, and thus more affordable reading material to the masses, the hoary old man called the short-story suddenly has been infused with new blood. 

And let met tell you, pilgrim . . . the number of talented short story writers out there waiting to be discovered is staggering to behold!

So back to the original question.  What is a fair and competitive price for a short story?  A novel?  Even a textbook.  A seminal question if you ask me.  The reduction in the cost of buying something to read has fueled this renaissance in fiction.  Especially the short story.  On the other hand--make the price of buying something to read so insignificant and how does a publisher, and the writer, make a living?

Here's the perfect example;  above is my Call Me Smitty; Fairwell, Brother.   Number eight in the Call Me Smitty series.  Like the other seven installments, this one was/is priced at ninety-nine cents.  Three stories for ninety-nine cents.  If you ask me, one hell of a buy!  But (and if I have enough fingers and toes to count on) I figure out of the ninety-nine cents, and after publisher and ebook carrier get their cut of the deal,  maybe . . . maybe I might get between twenty-five and thirty-five cents per.  And I'm not complaining, mind you!  Royalty payments for ebook writers are far higher and more lucrative that royalty payments given out to those who write in the traditional medium.  So I'm not complaining.
However, you can see rather clearly, for me to earn a living selling short stories I'm gonna have to write a shit-pot load of short stories, or I've got to figure out a way to sell billions of'em per year.

Cut to the newest release in the series; Call Me Smitty; First Kill.  (see right hand column, first selection) After the momentary sales effort goes off for this puppy is gonna be sold at $2.99.  And that's okay by me.  I think it should be.  The three stories in this one makes the totality of the product far larger in word/page count than whats normally found in the first eight.

But is this really over pricing the product?  Or under valuing the product?  That's the puzzler.  On one hand you don't want to as crazy as traditional publisher have done in the last 30 years in jacking up the price of a hardback book right out of the roof.  On the other hand is the desire for, hell . . . people to make a living!

So what's the fair price for the material offered?

I suspect the prices are going to begin inching upward.  There will be all kinds of reasons why it'll happen.  There is no such thing as entropy.  All things change.  Even empty space isn't truly empty.  Which means, I guess, the best we can do is hope the rise in price doesn't take us into a lunar orbit.

A low earth orbit will be just fine.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

An Experiment of Mine

This shouldn't come as a surprise to you but I write short stories.  In 2011 I think I wrote, all told, about thirty three of'em.  Some 'Smitty' stories.  Some 'Turner Hahn/Frank Morales stories; some 'Roland of the High Crags' fantasy stories.
I think the stories are fairly decent.  Some are, in my warped sense of evaluation, just damn good.  I thought I'd share one of them with you today.  Called, "I'll Take Care of It."  It's a Smitty story . . . a bit experimental . . . which I thought captured the dark soul of Smitty perfectly.  It can be found in volume five of Call Me Smitty series entitled, Call Me Smitty, Something Deadly.  I think I should be very pleased with the way this story came out.  What do you think?


I'll Take Care Of It
            In the dead of the night.  An hour before dawn.  The phone.
            Suddenly demanding immediate attention.
            The voice is quiet.  Measured.  Unhurried.  Almost a whisper.  But there’s something in the voice—something dark and lurking.  Something deadly.  Something incredibly deadly.
            “Listen, Smitty.  You got to stop him.  Now—tonight!  Before it’s too late.  Jesus Christ, this is crazy.  Fucking crazy!”
            “Stop who?”
            “Vinny.  He’s gone nuts.  Ever since that cop arrested his brother and sent him up to prison.  He’s gone off his rocker.  Got just enough alcohol in him to go nuts.  He’s gone.  Said he’s gonna make that fucking cop pay.  Make’em all pay for screwing his brother over.  Stop him, Smitty.  Stop him before it’s too late!”
            “Cop lives on Melrose.  That’s all I know.  But Smitty . . . listen.  Vince says he’s going to kill the cop’s family first.  One by one and make the cop watch.  Took a friggin axe with him.  He’s gonna chop’em all to pieces, for chrissakes!  I’m tellin’ya, Vince has flat gone off the deep end!”
            Click.  The phone went dead.
            The night.
            Cold.  Moonless.  Fog drifting in off the lowlands.  Over empty city streets Smitty drove the car.  Black leather gloves on his hands.  Black eyes as dark as the ocean abyss.  In the darkness of the Caddy Smitty makes no sound.  Makes no effort to hurry.  Yet the drive across town went by effortlessly.  The six or more traffic lights clicking green every one the moment he entered the intersection. 
            Fate, brother.  Fate.
            The Angel of Death is Fate itself when he slips through the night looking for his prey.
            The Caddy rolls to a quiet stop behind a large red GMC van sitting in front of 11159 Melrose Drive.  The passenger side of the van is wide open—hanging from its hinges in the night after being angrily flung open.  Rolling out of his car Smitty makes sure each black leather glove is on tightly as he walks around the car and steps up onto the sidewalk leading to the low slung, long ranch house.  Eyeing the house Smitty circles around to the back yard—and finds a sliding glass door leading into the dining room wide open.
            Darkness litters the interior of the house like a heavy blanket.  But it is as if Smitty sees everything in the night as easily as he does in the daylight.  Sliding in soundlessly he moves through the dining room—through the living room—turning to enter the long hall which will take him to the bedrooms of the sleeping family.
            And pauses.
            Ahead to his left he hears the half snoring, half wheezing of a man.   Lying on the carpet in the middle of the bedroom door is a toy stuffed animal.  Vinny is in one of the kid’s rooms.  Axe in both hands.  Standing over the bed of a sleeping six year old blond waif.  A tiny angel with a thumb stuck securely between her lips.  Vinny leers.  Vinny licks his lips, grips the axe firmly, and begins to lift it up and over his head.  Suffer they will, this cop.  Suffer and grieve for sending his brother to prison.
            The axe, high in the air, vibrates with pent up rage as he gathers all his strength for the blow.  With all his might he starts to hurl the axe toward the child’s face, the mask of a grinning madman alit in Vinny’s eyes.
            From behind—from out of the blackness itself—a gloved hand reaches out and grabs the right wrist holding the descending axe blade.  A grip as strong as the jaws of a Great White Shark.   The gloved hand twists to one side violently and the pulls backward.  The pain, flooding through the mind of the madman, is enough to buckle his knees and make him want to scream out in the night.  But a second gloved hand comes out from nowhere, claps around his mouth, and yanks him back and away from the child.
            In the darkness of the hallway they struggle.  Angel of Death and Madness struggle.  Veins on their necks and foreheads bulge.  Twisting, staggering back, every ounce of strength both can muster being used to counter the other’s hold.  The seconds move slowly by.  The short coughs of sudden breaths hurriedly taken the only sound the two struggling forms make.
            But it ends.  Ends with a sudden—definite—finality.
            There is a sharp Crack!  Like the sound of a thick tree branch suddenly being snapped in two. Instantly one of the black figures in the hallway goes limp and starts to collapse to the carpeted floor.  But the second figure catches the falling body, bends down suddenly before standing up.  Over his shoulders is the dead form of Vinny.  Lifeless.  Never to bother another soul.  Turning, meaning to leave as silently as he came, Smitty stops in mid-stride and stares.
            In the hall—for how long?—the dark form of a small child standing in the middle of the carpet and staring up into the night at the black forms in front of him.  In one hand the child drags a small blanket behind him.  In the other is a baby bottle stuck firmly to his lips.  For several seconds child and the Angel of Death laden with his prize stare at each other.  Neither sound does one make.  It is Smitty who moves first.  Stepping around the child, the corpse of Vinny over a shoulder, he makes his way down the hall, through the living room and to the open patio door waiting for him in the dining room.   Behind him the child follows dragging his favorite blanket with him.
            Closing the sliding glass door behind him Smitty takes two steps away from the house—pauses—and turns to look back at the child standing in the house peering out into the night.   For several seconds each observes the other.
            And then a light far into the house explodes into life.
            “Chuckie!  Chuckie!  Are you sleep walking again?”
            A woman’s voice.  A mother’s voice.  Filled with worry and love.  Hurry she does to find the child standing beside the patio door staring out into the night.  She bends down, folds child into loving arms, and stands up.  As she do her eyes turn to stare out into the darkness of the back yard.
            Nothing.  Nothing.
            Only darkness and the vague image of patio furniture and children’s toys littering the patio landing.
            “Let’s put you back to bed, baby.  There’s nothing out there, hon.  No monster out there to bother you tonight.”
            Sleep, child.
            Sleep the sleep of the innocent.
            Sleep, mother.
            Sleep knowing Fate has been kind, this night, to you and yours.
            For the Angel of Death never sleeps.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meet two good friends of mine

Sometimes, by the sheerest of accidents, you stumble upon some people who become instant friends.  That's what happened to me about three years ago (maybe four . . . I don't remember . . . I'm getting old, you know). 

Anyway . . .

About three years ago I needed to find some artists would create a book cover for a fantasy novel I was writing.  I combed the internet to find one and . . . here's where serendipity comes to play . . . I came across the names of Jesus and Javier Carmona.  Two Spanish brothers who hail from Madrid, Spain.

They were not professional illustrators.  But they were gifted artists.  Really gifted artists.  So I contacted them and . . . poof!  The book cover for Roland of the High Crags: Evil Arises.  And we went on to do at least two more covers.  The second one for the Roland series and one for a pirate-detective character of mine named Geoffery Armitage Ffolkes.
And we became friends.  Or, at least, from my perspective we became friends.  Now we are working together again.  The two asked me a few weeks ago to help THEM!  They're hankering to illustrate/create a graphic novel and they asked me to write the story.  And I, in a meager and mild voice replied;

"Whoopee!!  Hell yes, boys!  It's a done deal!!"

So I thought I would also interview the two.  There's been a lot of interviews with writers (mostly) and a few publishers.  But so far, none with artists.  Until now.  Non-professionals maybe; but they're artists.  With remarkably the same emotions a writer has for his craft.  Just goes to show you---no matter what medium an artist struggles in, the emotions are the same.
I think you'll find the interview interesting.  I did.  (I've decided to keep the interview in their original worlds.  Jesus and Javier are worried about their English.  They shouldn't be!  What they should worry about is my Spanish!)
1. Jesus and Javier Carmona are brothers and accomplished artists. When and where did this artistic talent begin? Are both of you trained artists, or did your talents come naturally?
Javier: I remember I was sitting in a round table we had at our parents home. We were drawing there. I don't remember exactly what we where drawing but it should be something related with our toys that at that time were our main subject for our drawings.

Jesus: Yes, Maybe a little bit sooner than Javier were here in the world, I remember to be sited on the floor, just in front a blank paper grabbing a pen and drawing close to my grandmother. I don't remember neither the subject, but for sure whatever caught my child mind at that time, was a good issue to put on paper on my way.
Later when we were around 12-15 attended some painting courses with a talented artist of our town, Miguel Recuero. We have a fond memories of him and those days when we walk around a mile from our home to the place this artist founded his academy. We experimented there the feeling of painting with several traditional media, as charcoal, oils and some others, having different subjects to focus on. Anyway at that time, those paintings were about the reality realm.

And is art your primary source of a living?
Javier: Currently it's not. This is just a hobby, although I don't mind that it would be my main subject.
Jesus: Not to me neither, but it would be really nice. My main job is about technology, and I work for a big company. I'm happy doing what I do, but it would be nice art would be my main subject too.

2. When did this desire to illustrate book covers and do artwork for album covers come from? Did you always want to do this, or did someone suggest it to you?
It was 7 years ago, when reviewing both together the amount of drawings we accumulated over the years, we decided to show them in a web site. Most of them were related to imaginations and envisions we had during the years we play Role-playing Games. So, most of the drawings were about fantastic subjects and many of them about monsters, creatures, and warriors. Once we started the site, we thought that we had to attract people to watch them, cause otherwise that would be unfruitful. So we ended up in some fantasy forums and some fantasy book publishers contacted us. One of those we remember with special affection is Bill Corrie, owner of Hinterwelt Publishing. He was responsible of giving us a great opportunity for illustrating his fantasy series of an RPG based on Roman empire in an alternate history. We owe him that we wanted to give a next step into the world of book and album cover creation. So we got in our first book cover for and RPG book. Later, a couple of years, a music company got in contact with us, and we were commissioned our first DVD/CD cover (that was Molly Hatchet, "Flirtin with Disaster"). We made another additional 5 covers for them. We enjoyed a lot working on them, and was really a good experience too. And the Roland came to the scene...WE hope to see Roland at the tip of our pencils some other time, of course.

3. How do you see art and the written word fitting together? Do you think art can sell more books? Can art sell more music discs? Or can an established author, using your art, sell more art?
We consider that at a first glance to the book or disc selves in the book shop or music shop what can attract anyone close to the product you want to sell depending in its appearance. Later in a closer look at it, the potential buyer will try to get more information about that product he/she has in his/her hands. That's a first step very important that will happen only when a cover is really bright. Art is very important on that first contact. Later, maybe the words has to take to token. But both together should work in harmony and as good fellows to make the buyer to finally buy the product. so, yes, we consider that art or let's say a good design for a cover is really important.
And yes, we think our art can help an author sell more.... ;-)

4. How has the internet helped you in your artistic endeavors? The world is at your fingertips thanks to the internet, so have you had any success finding clients via the World Wide Web?
Absolutely, we have made most of our contacts through internet. Some of the best are still there thanks to internet. You are a good example of that. Locally, it's difficult at the moment to get commissions for fantasy artworks, mainly cause in Spain fantasy industry is not so powerful as it is at United states, France, or UK.

5. I'll be honest with you--the two of you asked me to help you do a graphic novel one night and I just about jumped out of my chair when I read that email! Very excited doing this project. So what made the two of you want to get into the graphic novel business? Was this some kind of natural progression for artists of your caliber to consider?
Oh !! Really? That's great!
We have considered cause we love how and what you write. And we thought on you as a perfect author to work with us on this experiment. We hope to fulfil together this project, but first of all enjoy and learn as much as possible. Cause as said by Buddha : "Happiness is not found at the end of the road, it is experienced along the way."
We think a graphic novel is a nice format to show our art in a wider way. Basically what we want is to express and show the world a project fully illustrated by us, let ourselves great freedom to create. That's our main goal.
Many, many thanks to come onboard with us Bryant.

6. Staying with the graphic novel questions, what do you foresee in the future in this endeavor? Do you want to stay in the graphic novel business or branch out into other areas?
As we commented in the previous answer we want to show what we are capable to create and imagine. So, maybe graphic novel will be just another step, but if we succeed... who knows. Anything related to create art, we simply love it.

7. Your favorite artists--who has inspired the two of you the most?

During our RPG years we loved the art of Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. We let them to inspire us a lot during those years cause it was through their paintings we envision fantastics world. and we meet with fantasy in general. They unlock our minds to unknown imaginations. Later some others came to enrich that world we were already born: Keith Parkinson, Clyde Cadwell, Hildebrandt Brothers, Todd Lockwood & Brom. We owe most of them our always growing interes to improved and became better fantasy artist.

8. Artists are like writers in that, sooner or later, they have to develop their own 'style.' How does this come about for artists? Is it difficult? Or does it come naturally? And finally, what do you say to a young artist wanting to get into the business?
Javier: It's difficult cause it requieres lot of practice along your whole life. But at the same time, it's easy, cause as you like it, it come to you in a natural way.

Jesus: I'm agree with my brother. To me as he said it takes a whole life to define your style. But it's as any other person that walks over the world do along his/her own life. You define yourself just releasing you inner spirit. It's a work of finding you inside yourself, but in this case you are taking out and showing what you have. That's your style.

Javier: I don't find myself able to give advise cause I consider myself a young artist. But if someone is starting first of all is to be constant and never surrender. Although if that person loves art, never will let that interest disappear. From that point, try to showing all what creates in any media. Internet nowadays is one of the best.

Jesus: Me too. I need advise, more than giving them... hehehe. I'm not sure we are so accomplished artist as mentioned at the beginning of this interview, but at least to get closer you need to be exposed to the world. So for me that's a first step. There is no other way, cause you can be a very good painter, but if no more that your neightbougs and friends knows your art (although it's a good first step), you never can be an accomplished artist. Your art needs to be known by the world.

There you are.  Two brothers with unbelievable artistic talent.  And by the way . . . if you happen to be in the market looking for some illustrators . . . .

Find/talk to them here:

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Smitty Novellas

A Dish Served Cold
A Dish Served Cold.  The first Smitty novella.  An attempt on my part to develop the character of the dark-eyed assassin a little more deeply.  But more than that, I wanted to mix in a bit of spookiness--of the supernatural.  Not make Smitty a supernatural character--but to suggest the idea that  . . . sometimes . . . the soul of a human being projects a power into the supernatural which causes a whole string of events to happen, one after the other.
I've said this before and I'll say this again;  writing the Smitty stories is fascinating.  Creating a complex character who, on one hand, is about as cold blooded as a killer can get, yet on the other someone who is far deeper, and a more nuanced personality, than you would ever expect is both a real challenge and deeply satisfying at the same time.

I dunno.  Maybe it is true.  Maybe in all of us we have this inner most desire to be someone like Smitty.  On one hand having seemingly no conscience when it comes ruthlessly taking out his opposition.  Yet on the other hand someone who is quite willing to live by his own personal Code of Honor no matter what the odds are against him.  Maybe the psychiatrists and sociologists are right;  maybe we all are killers way down deep in the core or our souls and only a thin varnish of civilization keeps us from going ape-shit crazy.

Anyway . . .

So far I've written two novellas featuring Smitty.  The other can be found in  volume six of the series, Call Me Smitty Three Deadly Sins.  I'm working my way up to finally cranking out a full length novel.  Actually, I'm working on that now.
Three Deadly Sins

Brought all this up because Trestle Press has a deal going on.   Until the 22nd of January you can Buy One, Get One free of anything any Trestle Press Writer has written.  It's a good deal.  For basically five bucks you could buy one of my, and then choose either one of the above Smitty selections to sweeten the reading pleasure.  In the end you get one full novel, one novella, and a couple of short stories.

For five bucks.

Can't beat that with a stick, momma.

Personally, I would suggest you get my Death of a Young Lieutenant for your novel selection.  If you like a little military history, a little art history, a damn good adventure, and a pleasing whodunit, you can't beat it for a good read.
But I do have other novels with Trestle press you could choose.  Just go to Trestle Press  or Amazon, or any other place the sells ebooks and type in my name.  But make sure it is a Trestle Press outing.  Otherwise you miss the deal.

I know . . . I know.  I'm getting a little pushy on this shameless self-promotion thing.  But that's what makes me so endearing, isn't it?  My pushy . . . although charmingly sweet . . . personality?