Saturday, 25 May 2013

Spring has sprung, and with it weirdness

   Sorry or the slowness of the update, but I'm stumbling through an interesting spring involving exploded hard drives, new full-time jobs and graduating children. On the plus side I've got the tickle of a really exciting and probably over-involved project. I'll just blame Mervyn Peake for it and not expand past that. Some of you will know what I'm on about, as it's his thematic concerns that attract me the most.
   That little, cowardly portion of my brain is nagging at me that this is an unsalable novel idea, but screw that noise. This is the book I really want to write, despite the time and anguish it will inflict, despite the fact that the form is one rarely used any more, and despite the fact that it's likely to be ridiculously involved.
   Writing has to be love, and I love what I'm thinking about.

Friday, 10 May 2013

I hate technology

   Not really, but bad news. My laptop's hard drive is now a briquette, so we're going to suffer a hiatus while I get another computer and reclaim my work from the cloud and the bad drive. On the plus side I very recently did full backups, both to the cloud and DVD.
    DO THIS OFTEN. That is all.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Glassholes ahoy

       Google Glass. No. Seriously, no. Please don't. Sergey Brin looks like crap in them, and so will you.    
       We don't need or want yet another unnecessary piece of hardware that does what a cell phone does, and makes us look like a moron at the same time. Besides, why pay $1500 for something that begs for a mugging? Something that will be outlawed in cars before you can say "distracted driving"? Something that sits on your face like a lopsided tumor?
       It doesn't make you a cyborg. It makes you a dork, and hat's coming from a self-admitted nerd and geek of the old school. Think of the children. Just say "no" to Google Glass.
    
     (And, by the way, the first Glass wearer at a neighboring urinal who turns their head to televise my junk will, shortly thereafter, be broadcasting the view from inside their own rectum. Caveat emptor.) 


Monday, 6 May 2013

Free Book Dude editorial

       Observations on publishing avenues, and what they have to offer for both authors and readers over at Free Book Dude. Stop in.

http://www.freebookdude.com/2013/05/getting-it-out-there-guest-post-from.html

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The experiment, she is launched

   That post headline should be read in a bad Mandy Patinkin Princess Bride-style voice. But yes, Side Effects is up and running. Now I'll just have to adhere to my weekly chapter updates and hope you, the reader, like what you see and tell others.
   It's a bit nerve-wracking to release content free and hope the little "donate" button does something, but I know how often I've clicked them on things I liked, so we'll see.
    There will be an edited final version of the book after the serial wraps. I may have to figure out a way to track major backers. I think they'll all deserve a final edition.

    Cheers, and keep smiling!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Side Effects: Sex, drugs and espionage

    Side Effects is up at Oh-dark-thirty. So check just after midnight over at http://sideeffectsnovel.blogspot.ca/ and, assuming the auto update doesn't blow up, you will be able to read the first exciting chapter of many.
   Enjoy, comment, Tweet and all that.
 

Friday, 3 May 2013

Queer eye for the writer guy

    I have a lot of queer friends. Lots. That just occurred to me today. I started wondering why while watching a neat panel on non-binary sexuality (this thing).
    It's not a conscious decision. I didn't sit up one day and declare that I would "have more queer friends" like I was collecting pogs. I don't introduce people as "my gay friend" in a failed effort to be topical and cool. So why? I'm boringly heterosexual, so it's not out of a hope of getting additional action.
    That means it has something to do with the queer personality. Something about self-defined people syncs with some portion of my psyche.
    (As a brief aside, I think I prefer queer as a term, as it includes the often ignored people in the middle who are bisexual, or who switch from one fascination to another throughout their lives.)
    So what is it about the queer mindset that resonates with me? It's probably just the fact that many labelled by one of the alphabet-soup LGBTTSPDQXYZ letters have learnt to take people for what they are. They're less judgemental, in most cases. More open to discussion and debate. Those are people I prefer to hang around with.
    Don't take that as a rule in all cases, though. People, regardless of sexuality, can be morons. I've met gays as homophobic as any evangelical preacher where bisexuals were concerned; "They're just fake gay, they need to choose a side" and other such high-hat bullshit. I've heard gay men damn another for "not being gay enough". There are always idiots.
   It may be that queer life experience forces most people to examine themselves, their beliefs and their drives with attention and effort. There's no cultural matrix for them, so they have to work it out on their own. That may be the real secret - that I best relate with people who actively examine their own persona. People who ask "why do I" and "why am I" rather than just taking the stock explanations provided by their peers.
    Also, there's the general contempt I feel for anyone who tries to dehumanize another person for something as silly as who they are in bed with, or what clothes they wear, or what music they listen to. That's a common failing among the ignorant herdbeasts that wander the world; hating a person rather than hating their music/dress/sexuality/politics/religion. I'm perfectly capable of hating your choice in music but still liking you. I may think that your partner, of whatever sex, is an absolute asshat, but that you're okay. I probably think your religious beliefs are a laughable set of self-delusions, but you are a nice person.
    Part of being a well-rounded human being is the ability to understand that the world is complex, with things you like and things you don't. Part of being an adult is to realize that your opinions don't matter to anyone but yourself, so investing your very being in them is a stupid move. Another, often ignored part, is to be able to shrug off the ridiculous opinions of others.
     Especially reviewers and militant evangelists of whatever faith.

   That's too much thinking for a Friday. Cheers all, see you this weekend.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Writer bread and recipe

Yes, sometimes it's better to bake than edit. At the end of an hour your accomplishment is far easier to weigh and, more importantly, smell and taste. So here's some bread. It's good bread. The recipe is below. Do yourself a favour and don't use a bread maker. There's a reason bakers use ovens.


Writer Bread*

2 cups hot water
add 1 tablespoon yeast and a spoon of brown sugar
stir. Watch for a second, make sure the yeast is working (it'll make bubbles). Add a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, stir.
Stir in 3 cups flour for about 2 minutes.
Add 2 more cups of flour, knead the mess for 10 minutes until it's a smooth, rubbery dough.
Oil the lump, stick it in a covered bowl in a warm place until it doubles.
Punch the dough down, then halve it and make 2 loaves. Lightly brush with oil. Drop them on a floured baking sheet, slit the tops, dust with rosemary and garlic powder and a pinch of salt. Let it rise again.
Bake in a 375f oven for 20-30 minutes, pull them when they reach the desired brown-ness.
Let them rest an hour.
Be a pig and eat them.

*Okay, it's really just french bread.

If you thought Stalingrad was bad

    American forefathers (or more accurately -mothers) had a rough time at Jamestown in 1609. The Smithsonian just dug up solid forensic evidence that the settlers ate a 14-year-old English girl to survive.
    The winter of 1609 was a bad one and the settlers were on the verge of disaster. It's generally known as the Starving Time. Cannibalism has long been suspected, but the bones recently found are the first irrefutable evidence. Of 500 colonists, 440 starved to death. Imagining the horrified survivors watching the spring thaw finally arrive is almost beyond imagination. Almost, I say, because the evil writer portion of my brain is busily pondering a short story even as I write this.
   The story is a stunningly impressive one, with Captain John Smith forging a ceasefire with the aggressive Powhatan Confederacy of tribes, and managing to organize a trading agreement that allowed the colony to purchase the food it needed to survive. Then fate intervened, with Smith being evacuated to England following a serious injury and the tribes deciding that, without Smith, the treaty was off. The settlers were left starving, at war, and six months from the possibility of rescue in the midst of an unusually brutal winter. Most of the men were dead, killed by the tribes as they foraged, leaving the elderly, women and children to struggle to survive.
   If you pitched it as a movie plot people would accuse you of being unrealistically grim. All the greatest dramas exist in history. I wish we taught more of that particular subject to our young. Or did it better.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

KDP Select? Naw

   Yes, definitely dropping Behind the Ruins from KDP Select as of June 24. It's too limiting to be beholden to Amazon, with no access to Nook, Kobo, or other platforms like Screwpulp and Smashwords. The only bit of KDP that really annoys me horribly is that I have to let the 90-day enrollment run out. I suppose I could be a dick and just ignore Amazon's ToS, which would get it out quicker.
    Hmmm. I think I'll go examine that option. I'll update what I discover.

    Update: Well, on looking, it's unclear what repercussions that would have, other than Amazon deciding not to carry it in the main lists. Probably best left alone.

   Oh! If you have a book in KDP Select be damn sure to go in and click off auto-renew or it'll be there forever. They've made sure it defaults to "we have your book in perpetuity" unless you pay attention.

  It feels a bit greasy to me. I think Tokyo Pizza will opt out as well. Exclusivity isn't a good thing.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The donate button and Side Effects

You'll note a donate button over on the right-hand sidebar. That button is the start of something interesting. At the moment it's intended as a way to keep enough food in me to allow for writing to continue. Shorty, though, it's going to be a way to pay what you think things are worth.

That's right, I'm going to trust you, reader, to pay what you think stories and books are worth that you download free here on the site.

This will take a bit of time and thought on my part, but expect to see changes through the spring and summer. The first project that will use the button exclusively is a serialized novel-length sequel to the NaNoWriWee shortlister Tokyo Pizza currently entitled Side Effects (which has its own blog now). Having a pop-culture satirical adventure yarn come out in discrete chunks isn't a new thought. It really hearkens back to the days of radio drama, but it is a new thing for me.

I'm excited by the concept, but to make it work I'll have to make sure the wide world of the internet comes and reads and has fun. I'll also have to stick to a tough self-imposed writing schedule. The best way to make sure it works is simple. If you like it, and enjoy the stories, then share them with  others. Tweet it, craft a short blog post, tell your friends at the pub.

It's the wild wild west of publishing these days. Let's ignore the rules and make it fun.

Trolling Ghana

Yes, I'm one of those guys. When the email scammers send me notes, I have to try and troll them back. Today's was from Mr. Edward Effah the  Managing Director and  Chief Executive Officer of Fidelity Bank in Ghana.

He has a terrible issue with $13.5 million that he'd like my help with, and wanted my information. It's confidential, so I can't go into details. I decided to send him my own plan:

I have a counterproposal. In order to show your good faith and prove the reality of your claims, you can show the truth of your proposal by depositing a "good faith" amount of $10,000.00 (US$) into a PayPal account I will specify. The deposit will be returned to you upon the completion of your proposed arrangement, and will be lost should you fail to complete the arrangement.
 
As a first step, please supply the following:
 
1) A scanned copy of your personal photo identification
2) Your physical address
3) A non-Webmail email address
4) Your PayPal account name for the return of the deposit
 
Thank you

I don't know why the idea of trolling some Ghana gangster amuses me, but it does. Besides, I'm curious to see if they're dumb enough to respond to a morphed version of their own horridly stupid shit.

I am easily amused.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Amazon and free books


This last six weeks has been an experimental period, during which I attempted to assess the usefulness of the Kindle Select option through Amazon. Some of the vote is still out, but early returns are in.

For those not familiar with the program, Amazon gives you the option to enter a book into the Select program, so long as you agree that you will not sell it through any other platform. What they give you in return is 5 days in a three-month period during which you may give away the book for free as a promotion.

That’s it, really.

The results thus far appear to be largely ineffective. Reviews are difficult to quantify, but I suspect I’m seeing one review per 500-1000 downloads. That’s unsatisfying, as reviews were really the only reason I’d been interested in the program. I won’t say I was surprised. I suspect that the vast majority of books downloaded for free are never read at all. People just like to grab free things; it’s a monkey-brain reflex. You also run the risk of people who really don’t like your genre reviewing you because it was free – they’d never have downloaded your space opera, otherwise, and didn’t like all the starships, etc.

So is it worthwhile? No, I don’t think so, but the experiment isn’t quite over. I think I preferred to run my promotions using Smashwords coupons for reviewers, contest winners and the like.

In the end, we all value things relative to what we paid for them; this is why the wealthy extoll Ferrari rather than Ford. I suspect that mass free promotions devalue the quality of a writer’s work in the mind of the reader, consciously or unconsciously. I don’t think they’re nearly as valuable as Amazon would have us believe.

Thoughts? Leave a comment!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Autotweets, how I hate thee

   You know those half-dozen tweets you send out every day? The boring ones that fill the spaces between the tweets about your cat or what Fox News/CNN just said in defiance of known fact?
   Wouldn't it be nice to just put  those on a timer so you could write and deal with those "important" tweets? Well, don't look at Dripita for that. I've had nothing but trouble with that particular app.
   It's not like I've asked it to do much. One tweet every six hours from a rotating list seems like an easy enough task, but Dripita squeezes one out, then stops, unable to continue on. Or, more rarely, it kicks out two or three in a little, acidic clump - like those last three tequila shooters you just knew were a bad idea.
   Hateful thing.
   Does anyone know of a happier app? One that maybe, you know, works?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Tokyo Pizza FREE this weekend. Get your reading freak on.








 
     That's right, this weekend is your chance to get Tokyo Pizza for FREE over at Amazon. A lightly satirical thriller complete with public sex, private blackmail, odd humor, questionable plots, octopus pizza and other unmentionables.

    This is your chance to see why Pizza was a shortlisted finalist in HarperCollin's 30-hour Novel competition.

     Tokyo Pizza. It tastes a little different.

http://www.amazon.com/Tokyo-Pizza-ebook/dp/B00C7IHSX0

I'm a featured author at Freebooksy

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Shadowrun Returns - gaming nerdgasm

    An unsolicited squeal of glee for Shadowrun Returns. We'll be seeing it very shortly, and anyone who remembers the great cyberpunk-meets-fantasy pen-and-paper roleplaying game should drop by the Harebrained Schemes website and poke around.
    I've loved the setting since FASA (R.I.P.) brought it out, and it's nice to see the guys managed to float a successful kickstarter and make this game happen.
   For those who have no idea what I'm on about, Shadowrun is a SF/fantasy alternate near-future setting where your elite computer hacking black-ops specialist might be an elf, and your heavy weapons thug could be a troll, with the heat of the action occuring in a very different, yet oddly familiar, Seattle.
   It's a LOT of fun.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Stone Sky teaser

Just a first-draft bit of one of the two novels I currently have underway. It's a fantasy piece, but not the standard sort. No dragons, unicorns or zombies. This is copyright Michael Lane 2013.

Verrin sat on the stone bench outside the Westarch barracks and watched three casteless youths beating an older scavenger with silent, bloody-minded attention.

The trio were doing a job of it. Two held the target’s arms, while the third, a sallow-faced dwarf with a short, forked blonde beard, hammered at the victim’s face with a fist slick with blood. They’d run him down in the street, sandals clattering, just as Verrin had gotten comfortable.

The barracks’ iron gate squealed open and Verrin glanced to his left. Another dwarf, clad in mail identical to his, took a few steps into the street and stopped, staring at the fight.

"Kolosh," Verrin called. The newcomer glanced over, offering a sketchy salute and walking over to take a seat on the bench.


From the future-past

    Anyone with an interest in radio shows or experimental entertainment should check out "Found in the elevator" here.  I didn't find it - William Gibson tweeted about it and Wil Wheaton posted about it on his blog this week, which you should also go read.

   It's fascinating and reminds me of why I go on old radio drama binges. It's basically a message from the future found sans explanation in our present. It has a strange 70s scifi feel that I like. Something like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and THX1138 crossed with Brazil.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Strip Search

  
It's not like the lumbering internet colossus that is Penny Arcade really needs my help, but I have to point people to their oddball reality show Strip Search, in which a group of aspiring web comic artists battle for cash and a slot in the Penny Arcade machine for a year.

I’m not big fan of a lot of “reality” shows. I will watch the occasional Hell’s Kitchen episode because I like to see Ramsay’s face go red, and I like feeling that I can cook better than half his wannabe chefs. Strip Search is a different sort of deal, or has been thus far.

Contestants are likable, for starters. They haven’t descended into the usual metagaming backstabbery that forms the grist of most reality TV, and if that reduces drama, it increases the emotional weight of the eliminations. You want ALL these people to win. That’s a neat trick, and one the “real” reality genre might want to take note of.

Additionally, challenges are interesting and thus far tie in well to the skills a web comic author needs. So far they’ve avoided having contestants bob for hand grenades or chase greased Vietnamese pigs in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Instead, they draw, market, and deal with Twitter trolls.

PA creators Mike Krahulic and Jerry Holkins are amusing as the bastard offspring of Simon Cowell and a Labyrinth goblin, and eliminations are lightened by their transparent attempts to throw competitors off their game. And, my god, the smoothie. Anyone who’s watched knows what I’m on about. Holkins, you are a terrifying force for random ingestion. Robert Khoo does a fine job wearing his Producer’s hat, as well.

So go waste some time. Watch the first few – it gains speed and sucks you in by the fourth instalment – and see what a reality show can be in a world where people aren’t scripted.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Omnibus angst

   I read a lot of omnibus editions.
   Three book series and the like tend to be handier for shelving as a single volume, and I usually fall prey to the nice new covers while wandering through the bookstore, so I buy them.
   They're great, until you get home and are reading one in bed, where, let's be honest, most reading is done. You crack open your mammoth tome, wriggle into the pillow, and find yourself spending the next half-hour trying to discover a comfortble way to hold eight pounds of wood pulp in a position that doesn't kill your wrist, smother you or mangle oversized trade pages. If you are sleeping next to someone else, they'll likely not be impressed by the light or the constant crackling of paper and mumbled curses.
   I like the smell and feel of a book. I like it a lot. But I'm beginning to think the e-reader is edging it with its sheer convenience.
   And they tend to be under a pound.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Writing tips for the month


This will be short and sweet.

DO NOT use ellipses (...) unless showing a section of a quote from which words have been excised by an editor.

DO NOT use exclamation points outside quotation marks, and try to avoid them within, unless someone is screaming.

DO NOT confuse its and it's. The first is possessive, the second a contraction.

DO use short sentences.

DO use simple language.

DO learn the difference between a colon and a semi-colon.

DO read more.

Finally, DO weight story and character over everything else. Description, plot, theme, language, tone, everything else is a distant third. And yes, I do differentiate plot and story. A story is "what if men could fly at will" while a plot is a boring mechanical framework someone stretches that question over like a bloodied hide, forcing it into an unnatural shape.

Keep writing.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Fantasy vs SF

    There's been a long running, sometimes venomous debate as to the relative merits of science fiction versus fantasy. The discussion dates back to the letters pages of Weird Tales and Astonishing SF during the pulp era, so one would assume there's something to it; something meaty to fire up the century-long flamewar.
    You'd be wrong.
    SF and fantasy are buttonholed into discrete genres, and it's a mug's game. It's a nonsensical definition between make-believe settings utilizing make-believe powers in some way that has a measurable impact on the plot or characters of the work. it reminds me of the bickering between the deeply religious and the coldly scientific among the legions of talking heads.
   What the speculative fiction genre (a much better descriptor) does is put characters in situations against a background divorced from our daily reality. That helps to highlight the characters and their motivations, in my mind at least. I'm sure others could argue.
   Good speculative fiction is immensely satisfying. Moby Dick. Rendezvous with Rama. The House on the Borderlands. The Road. The Shadow of the Torturer. The list goes on and on. Readers, please avoid limiting your book consumption to just one of these two "genres" - if you do that you'll miss out on half the buffet of wonderful literature before you. If you gravitate toward one end of the spectrum, step back and choose somethiing outside your comfort zone. Explore.
   Do read with discernment, though. There's a lot of utter crap burying genre fiction shelves, which is due to a whole host of problems, some of which I may go into in the future. If a book does nothing for you, put it down. Leave a bad review. Warn your children. If it's good, do the opposite. Blog it, talk it up, leave reviews.
   Get out there and read.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A message to terrorists

  Wherever you are, and whatever your cause is.

That is all.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Visiting with villains

     I like a good villain. They're generally the most interesting when they're real people with a bit of complexity to them - what actual villain thinks they're the bad guy, after all? I'm sure Stalin thought he was a great Russian hero.
    As a treat, here's a brief visit with Creedy from Behind the Ruins (which you should pick up and review if you haven't):



They had a year or two, Creedy thought. If they weren’t established somewhere in Canada by then, the band would be in trouble. There was little enough room to go further west, and the south was a patchwork of dug-in cartels, cults, gangs and warlords that would unite to kill any interloper quickly. It would have to be the north. There he’d have the space and the time needed to explore future plans.

Creedy had reached the reception hall of the building, with its sandbagged windows and trio of guards, when Gregor appeared at his side.

"Sir? A moment?" Gregor asked. His face and arms were stippled with tiny droplets of blood.

"Certainly, Gregor."

"Harris has received the ordered punishment, Mr. Creedy. He’s unconscious now. I took him to the infirmary, and the doctor says he should live. Also, Max told me that the new staff are in the west wing, in the old classroom, and he’d appreciate it if you could spare a minute to okay them. Any further orders for me?"

"Go inform Max that I’ll be there within the half-hour, then get cleaned up and take some time off. I’ll see you in the morning, Gregor."

"Yes, sir."

Creedy watched Gregor depart. The factotum’s shoulders, swollen from obsessive weightlifting, almost eclipsed his head, and his silhouetted form combined with his shambling gait was trollish.

The three watchmen on duty had stood to silent attention when Creedy had entered the hall, and he took a few minutes to inspect their weapons and chat with each, offering a few words with a perfect facsimile of interest.

He climbed to the second floor, smelling the stale fish oil from the lamps that lit the corridors, and found Max waiting.

Creedy used Max as a recruiter. The little man was glib and harmless looking, with flyaway white hair and watery blue eyes. He smiled at Creedy and held the door for him.

"Afternoon, Mr. Creedy," he said.

"Max." Creedy scanned the three women, one was old and two were younger. All looked scared. The youngest, on the left, was the prettiest, with reddish hair and a body the shapeless smock she wore couldn’t quite hide.

"What’s your name?" Creedy asked her.

"Sam. Samantha Jakes," she responded, blinking. Her eyes were hazel, he noted. Max coughed theatrically. "Sir," she added, remembering.

"Miss Jakes, can you write?"

"Yes, sir, I can."

Creedy nodded. "Good. I think you’ll do. I need a girl for my office - someone to do correspondence as needed, fix tea, perform whatever duties I require. Do you have any questions?"

She blinked several times. Creedy smiled.

"Well, sir, what other duties? And for what pay?"

Creedy gestured and Max escorted the other two from the room. They’d be taken to the kitchens and shown to the dorms. When they’d left, Creedy closed the door and moved to stand looking down at the girl.

"You’ll be housed, fed, clothed far better than what you wear now. You’ll find that I reward service with gifts as well." He cocked his head to the side, watching her hands as she knitted the fingers together tightly in her lap. "Do you prefer straight answers, or romantic ones?"

"I guess the truth’s the best way. Sir."

"Good. I expect you to do whatever I tell you for the next year; two at the outside. Anything. If it’s to wear velvet dress and be on my arm for a headman’s meeting in some dirtball town, or to mop my office floor, or to get down on your knees and suck my cock in front of the assembled troops."

She paled, but kept eye contact. That surprised Creedy.

"If you do just that - obey me - you’ll find your life will improve dramatically. If you say you will, but decide not to - if something I ask of you seems too much - I’ll beat you until you find it less objectionable. If that fails to convince you, then I’ll probably give you to the troops as a fuck toy."

"Well," the young woman said, voice trembling a little. "My gran told me that’s about what I could expect. How long before you kill me?"

Creedy laughed.

"I don’t waste people. I understand my last girl, Dania, bought a saloon in Wenatchee. I expected a lot from her, and I paid her for it when I tired of her. Money is not an issue for me." Creedy paused, staring at Jakes. "You wanted it straight, there it is."

"And if I turn you down, right now?"

"You go work in the kitchens for a two-year stretch like the other pair. You will receive food and a cot and a piece of silver once a month. Keep this in mind: If you say you’ll work for me, and you run, I’ll find you, bring you back and kill you. Slowly."

Creedy clasped his hands behind his back and waited. Samantha bowed her head for a moment before lifting her gaze to his waiting smile. Tears made her eyes shine.

"All right, I’ll do it. For the money. For my own farm. For the money to buy some papered stock, I’ll do whatever you want. Sir."

Creedy smiled. He reached out, ran a fingertip along the curve of her jaw. He felt her flinch. They always sell themselves, he thought.

"Welcome to our little family, then, Sam. Let me show you where you’ll sleep, and get you out of that potato sack and into something more fitting."

Outside, the first flakes of snow swirled on the darkening air of November.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Boston bombings and other painful truths

   I was torn. I had almost decided that I would avoid the mandatory after-action blog post on the bombing in Boston. The internet will be full of them. They'll all say how awful the attacks were, how well Boston's emergency services reacted, and the annoying ones will go on to Monday-morning quarterback the poor bastards in charge of event security.

   Bombers piss me off, because they are cowardly and indiscriminate. Drones piss me off for the same reason, and clusterbombs, mines, chemical weapons, etc. They're the sorts of weapons frightened children would gravitate to, while adults risk arrest and worse to climb onto a soap-box in a square and make their political demands the old-fashioned way.

   When I step back from those normal, unavoidable emotions, though, and put the bomber in context, I realize something about our world-view that's shocking.

   Yesterday, in the US, three died in terrorist attacks
   Yesterday, just on average, 45 people were  murdered in the US
   Yesterday, on average, 230 people were forcibly raped in the US
  
   The inexplicable part? That we should be horrified by the first number, and largely unconscious of the other two. No one deserves to be listed as a statistic in any of these categories.
  
    Hang in there, Boston.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Behind Behind the Ruins

    I was  penning a blurb for Amazon the other day and it answers questions (most start out "why did you-") I field with many readers, so let me go ahead and post it here.

    Behind the Ruins combines several things I believe very deeply about speculative fiction: SF doesn't need to use genre conventions, characters are the real reason people read books and readers are smart.
     I went into the project with the plot fairly well worked out, and with a conscious decision to write it using Hemingway's rules of writing*. Be direct. Be simple. Tell the truth. I wanted to visit the well-trodden wastes of post-apocalyptic fiction and ask some real questions: What would it really be like? What would it do to people?
     Thematically, the book examines the costs and seductions of violence, but the guts of the novel are found in Grey's quest to save whatever remains human in his tattered soul.

   That's the real answer.

* Hemingway's core rules
1. Use short, simple sentences.
2. Use short, crisp first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous, clear English, avoid mushy prose.
4. Use positive words rather than negative ones.
5. Tell the truth.
   (Sounds simple, but it's not.)

Thoreau was a poser - check out Dick Proenneke

   Just a short note. If you're not familiar with Dick Proenneke's story, you should get that way. Proenneke was a retired mechanic and amateaur naturalist who built a tiny cabin in the Alaskan wilderness and then liked there, filming and writing his journals, for 30 years. Interesting stuff. His wiki info is one source, and his friend's film site is another. The National Park Service has more info as well.
   Proenneke's cabin is now an open museum of sorts. If you can get to it, you're free to look around.
   In a world where we think we need so much to live, it's nice to remember how little we really require.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Django? Meh.

   Just watched Django Unchained last night, and I'm in the "not impressed" minority on this one.
   I don't think I've ever spent as much time during a movie conscious of a director's hamhanded references and homages to other movies from a variety of genres (Blazing Saddles being the most jarring). While most of the actors turned in good/fair performances, DeCaprio's abysmal accent and cartoonish acting ruined the latter half for me. Walton Goggins was wasted in the trite little henchman role, as well. The story was as predictable as the gas following a Taco Bell burrito.
   While historic accuracy has never been a concern in spaghetti westerns - which Django wants to be - it's somehow more acceptable to  me to be wildly inaccurate when it's an Italian filmmaker scripting a movie in the 1970s than when you're Tarantino doing it now.
   A shame. I was prepared to like this, but really didn't, despite a few chuckles here and there. In fact, I had to go back and watch Fistful of Dollars afterward and assure myself that I still liked a good spaghetti western. Unfortunately for Tarantino, I do.
   Three out of five.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Stereotypes aren't innately evil


Stereotypes are good. Usually.

I can sense people getting ready to howl, so I’ll just say read the whole post first then unfurl your internet rage.

Stereotyping is bad, according common opinion. That’s a crock. Stereotyping allows you to get out of bed in the morning and make it farther than the closet without your brain exploding. Stereotypes are simply mental shortcuts that allow us to identify something as belonging to a class of objects.

Friday, 12 April 2013

DPRK - what the hell?


      Not really literature-related, but I'm certainly fascinated by the North Korean posturing festival of early 2013.

      Being a writer, I decided I would treat the Kim the Younger as a character and try to decide what his motivations might be. I'm sure the CIA does something similar, and much more professionally, but it's a fun mental exercise.

     Kim's spent the past weeks vocally threatening nuclear attack on his neighbors, the US and, as far as I can tell, Atlantis. He's had missile launchers potter around and look threatening, and the sum total of his profit thus far has been to make China and Russia back away from their historic relationship with the DPRK.

    If I was writing the thriller, what possible reason could Kim have for his visible course of action? We'll discard "he's crazypants" as an explanation because it's boring. If he's nuts there's no reason to speculate. Let's try to decide what he could be hoping to get out of it.

    Whatever profit he expects can't be coming from outside North Korea, as he's alienating everyone (with the possible exception of Iran). Therefore, he must be looking to increase his standing with forces inside the DPRK. Inside, the only major player is the North Korean military - it’s unlikely Kim gives a shit what the people think of him - so we can go with the idea that his posturing is meant to impress the generals.

    Being a hawk often enamors politicians to generals, so the tough talk is probably aimed at them. That raises a more interesting question: Why is he not popular enough with the generals? Young Kim was educated for several years overseas, so is he seen as not sufficiently committed to the revolution? Are the generals actively looking to gain control of the government in such a way as to oust the Kim cult-dynasty? Who knows, but it's interesting to speculate.

   If I had to guess, I'd say Young Kim took the seat of power without understanding the existing interplay of influence in Pyongyang, and others are chipping away at his throne. So, yes, there might be a war, but it would be intended as a distraction from internal conflicts that would, I think, rapidly turn that violence inward.

   I think there's a chance that Kim may suddenly suffer a retirement due to heath issues. We'll see. It's a bit like trying to predict what a cage full of lobotomized cats will do.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Indie House Books guest editorial up

   Ah, my guest post on the future of publishing is up at so swing by Indie House Books and feel free to comment.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Tokyo Pizza, hot and ready


That sounds slightly dirty. But there is a sex scene in there, so I guess that’s fair. Anyway, my 30-hour novel Tokyo Pizza is finally edited and up at Amazon. The book is the result of the 2013 NaNoWriWee “write a book in a weekend” madness that HarperCollinsUK and The Kernel put on. It was a strange, surreal, sleep-deprived weekend, but I really like what came out of it.

Shortlisted finalist in the 2013 NaNoWriWee 30-hour novel competition sponsored by HarperCollinsUK and The Kernel, Tokyo Pizza is a surreal ride mixing satire with pulp adventure.

Five college students on an exchange program in Tokyo in the early 90s find themselves involved in a devious plot to blackmail one of their number. As they learn more about their situation, they discover their opponents are both powerful and distant, with the exception of the urbane and sadistic yakuza boss who is the chief architect of their misery.

To stop him, the ragtag group will have to graduate from theory to practice a little earlier than they might have liked.


The novella is a strange but very fun thing that took on a life of its own. I’m actually quite proud of it. Even before editing it had managed to claw its way into the shortlisted finalists, and now that it’s been polished I think it’s one of my favorites.

It’s a departure for me. It does have the offbeat characters I like, but it depends more on satire, humor and things blowing up than I usually gravitate to while writing. I admit to being a literary nerd; I like my characters to suffer through long arcs that change them at some molecular level, and usually prefer a clear, sparse, Hemingway-like prose style. This was more like I briefly channeled Alan Ginsberg while watching an A-team marathon.

I want to extend thanks to HarperCollins for picking up the reins when, stunningly, The Kernel closed up shop mid-contest. That could have been far worse than it was.

So, get a six-pack and a TV dinner, put the kids to bed, and try some Tokyo Pizza.
 
http://www.amazon.com/Tokyo-Pizza-ebook/dp/B00C7IHSX0/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365295084&sr=1-2&keywords=tokyo+pizza

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Literature for a buck? Sure. Behind the Ruins goes .99 for Spring



Behind the Ruins, 99 cents
99 CENTS!


Following the great response to the promo giveaway of Behind the Ruins, I’m running a Spring special to celebrate the return of those green things that show up once in a while on trees. For a limited time, snag a copy for just 99 cents. That’s a huge deal and helps keep indies alive. GRAB IT HERE


If you missed the promo, here’s a little bit on what you can have for less than a buck:

Grey has turned his back on the life of a raider. He’s learned other ways to survive in a damaged world stripped of its technology. Late in life, he’s made friends and a home - and buried his inner darkness in dreams.

He’s respected, known and trusted throughout the slowly-recovering valley he calls home. He should be happy, and he is.

But a murderous chance meeting shows that others have dire plans for this home. Further, the power behind the plot is a man Grey once called a friend.  More worrying, he has an army, with yet another chasing behind.

Grey is left with the choice of abandoning his home and friends, or risking everything – including those friends - with a desperate and pitiless stand behind the bloody skills of his own ruined youth.
http://www.amazon.com/Behind-the-Ruins-ebook/dp/B00ATH92D0/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1356596475&sr=1-2

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Why is Game of Thrones such good TV?

   I’m sure HBO asks that question and tries to apply the answer to its many other projects. For me, the answer is the characters.

   The minds producing, writing and directing GoT are following rules I think are vital for any piece of fiction, in any medium. They have real, imperfect, human characters dropped  into fantastic settings and situations, and that’s what works. The reverse, typified by your average superhero movie, is rarely as involving or as interesting.

   The why is simple enough: Humans identify with people not unlike themselves. We’re all imperfect, mixes of good and bad, cowardice and bravery, and we respond to that in a character. I try to keep that in mind whenever I write. A character should have moments when they fail to live up to their own expectations, and moments when they surprise themselves. When we watch GoT we get that – plotters who fail in their aims, good men and women brutalized by those who are far less good, madness triumphing over sanity – all the things we see day to day on the street or in the news. Seeing those interactions in a stunningly different world makes them stand out for the reader or viewer. It gives us a contrasting background, a brightly-lit stage where the passions can be easily seen.

   Perfect, idealized characters would spoil it. Besides, who roots for Superman? Give me Tyrion Lannister any day. He’ll go far. If no one kills him.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Surviving Easter and promos

   That was a stressful weekend.
   Doing a Kindle promotion, giving away a mass of books, posting to Twitter and annoying my friends on G+ was a success. I do expect that the novel will see some good reviews in the coming weeks, which is always a help. Most importantly, it got the book out there for people to see and talk about.
   It's a bit of a risk, I think, to do a widespread promo with a genre book that's also an experiment in minimalism - not many SF writers go into a project intentionally using Hemingway's rules of composition - but you have to do it. Work will stand on its own or it won't.
   So to everyone who downloaded a copy, my thanks, I hope you enjoy it and that it makes you think about a few things in a backhanded way. Feel free to leave a review over at Amazon. Be honest.
   Now I can get back to the business of working on the sequel to Behind the Ruins, in which we learn a lot more about both Malcolm Barnes and the world of the Fall, both of which turn out to be stranger than anyone, myself included, suspected.

   In other news the spring weather has finally hit BC with temperatures in the fifties, which is T-shirt weather on my mountain.

   If you get a chance, go read John Scalzi's April fools post. It's hilarious.

  Peace, read lots and support indie writers by leaving reviews. It's good karma.

  As always, indie authors needing editing should check out my professional service at Edit It!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Weekend Warfare - get your free copy

  Weekend Warfare is on! Behind the Ruins is currently free for your Kindle, so get your adventure fix HERE and spread the word. The final day for the promotion is Sunday, March 31, so time is limited.

    As always, reviews and stars at Amazon are wonderful, so please leave either if you get a chance.
   



      So get a glass of bourbon, find a comfy chair and lean back and enjoy a meaty, complex book. Then stop by Edit It! with your own manuscript, if you have one in need of a thorough checkup. Reasonable, professional and timely editing for your own indie epics!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Edit it!

   Yes, a professional, reasonable editing service for indie authors. You can check it out here. I'll bring a decade of professional editing to bear on your next book, and you don't pay a cent until you approve a sample.

   Please use the email link on the Edit It! page to contact me before emailing manuscripts.

   Note: Price lists and service details up now.

   Write every day.

Tokyo Pizza makes the shortlist for HarperCollins

    Well, well. Tokyo Pizza is one of the shortlisted finalists in HarperCollins NaNoWriWee competition, in which over 120-something writers tried to craft and write a novel in just 30 hours over a single weekend. The winner will come out as an Ebook through HarperCollins.

http://blog.authonomy.com/2013/03/30-hour-novel-shortlist.html

   The story is different than most things I write. It's tongue-in-cheek espionage/sex/blackmail/action/satire all through the lens of the early 90s action film ethos (if you can dignify early 90s film with an "ethos"). Anyway, it's fun and I'm happy that it seems to be fun for others.

    If it wins, that'll be excellent! If not, it'll still get a loving edit and will be quite happy at its eventual home on Amazon.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A much nicer cover for BtR

   Covers are important. While the adage insists that readers should avoid judging all those pages by the picture on the front, people are visually-keyed monkeys - me among them - and I really like the new cover for Behind the Ruins, dropped in below in a micro-version.

   Better late than never, but the first two were tragic. Now it looks like it deserves its reviews on Amazon.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Cooking up an idea


Writers don’t just write, and blogs need variety, or at least that’s what Google tells me. So, cooking. I like to cook. A lot. I go through the usual meat-based periods, but I’m on a vegetable-heavy Indian kick lately, with a variety of masalas and curries.

I should offer one disclaimer. I don’t follow recipes. I toss things in until it looks, feels and tastes right to me, so I wind up talking about cooking as a process, not a sequence of additions; even when I bake it’s by eye. But here’s one you can try the next time you feel like Kraft Dinner just isn’t going to cut it.

Start with a hot pan and some olive oil, dump in the base for your marsala – a bay leaf, chopped garlic, half a chopped onion, masala mix (garam or red, or a bit of both) , and work it until the paste is coherent. Set paste aside. Add and stir in cubed chicken or pork, add parsley (chopped fresh or dry) and some grated ginger – keep it moist and add water and paste once the meat is seared, then cook it down. Add diced veggies (broccoli, green peas, whatever you fancy) before it reduces completely so they cook. Keep the heat on until the consistency is nice and thick and most of the water is gone. Dump over basmati rice or noodles or whip up some naan. You could try couscous as well. Garnish with a bit of pickled ginger.

The whole works takes about half an hour and is much, much nicer than instant mac and cheese.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Q: What's the best kind of gnome?

     A: Creepy.

     My short story Least Resistance will be in issue three of Creepy Gnome Magazine. I therefore highly recommend it.

http://creepygnomemagazine.com/
http://www.facebook.com/CreepyGnome?fref=ts

Friday, 8 March 2013

Writing with your nose

    Smells.

    People don't consciously notice them unless they're disgusting or enticing, and writers notice them even less often, if most novels and stories are studied, but smell is one of the strongest memory-tied senses. Smells evoke memories and emotions more effectively than sound or touch, and that's why good fiction uses the reader's nose.

     Smell can set a scene as effectively as any other descriptive method, and do it in a non-intrusive way.

     The hotel room was tattered; stained bedsheets, torn lampshades and a carpet splotched with unidentified stains.

     The hotel room was old, beaten-up, and full of warm, sour air.

     The second sentence is shorter, cleaner and involves three senses, while the first relies on visual cues alone. We've all smelled a bad hotel room. The second sentence recalls it to our mind and we build the stains and tatters and crooked pictures on the walls.

     Remember: Your best canvas lies in the reader's mind. Paint there. Use their senses to help you.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

HarperCollinsUK takes over NaNoWriWee

   In a move that surprised no one who's been reading between the lines, The Kernel just announced it is closing up shop. Luckily for the hundred-plus authors involved in the 30-hour novel contest known as NaNoWriWee, Authonomy and its parent HarperCollinsUK is taking over and will be shortlisting candidates by the last week of March, with a winner to be named on April 7. More info http://blog.authonomy.com/2013/03/the-30-hour-novel-competition-update.html

  I'm actually happy with the news. After reading some of The Kernel's latest opinion pieces, I was becoming concerned with associating myself with them. Now that's no longer an issue. Rather than belabour my worries, I'll just say that one of the chief writers (OK it was Milo) involved with the magazine was treading on the border between misogyny and outright sexist drivel.

  You can still swing by https://docs.google.com/folder/d/0B6aGyXSsx2ABZmo2S191LXZjZDg/edit?usp=sharing&pli=1 and read the entries - Tokyo Pizza is quite fun, even as I promote my own work - but so is POV and several others. Read 'em while they're free!

 Peace.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

#NaNoWriWee books are up for reading

    There're here! Tokyo Pizza finally sees daylight!

    The entries that made it in under the 30-hour deadline in the Kernel Magazine's 30-hour NaNoWriWee (i.e. Weekend) competition are up for all to see here. Note there are lots of people accessing them at the moment and Google Docs can be a bit slow, so be patient.

    I highly recommend my own deathless 30-hour thaladomide lovechild of Chuck Palahniuk and the A-Team: Tokyo Pizza. Assuming I can get that link to work right. Maybe try here. I have decided it's satire, but you can read it as a thriller, of sorts.

    Voting is coming soon at Kernel Mag, more news as it occurs. For now, read and enjoy, note your favorites and remember to give them your love come vote time.

     Anyway - I wrote the thing in 30 hours on the miserable UK timeline, so my two writing days were midnight to 3pm on a Fri-Sat. It was interesting and exhausting. I do like the novella that came out of it. At 22K words it fell far short of a weekend novel, but I am anal retentive and wanted to do something of a length I could finish and give a one-pass typo and editing brush-up. I am proud of it, no matter that it has to wear a special helmet. It's my baby.

    I'm going to try to wade through the entries myself as time allows, and will edit this post and add notes on those that impressed me. Not so much as a guide for voting; just out of curiosity.

   For now, get out there and read!

Edit; I promised to list my favorites, but you know, as a competitor, I can't do it without feeling biased. So I won't. Go browse! there are at least five pieces in there that were quite fascinating.


Monday, 25 February 2013

It's not easy


The hardest part of writing is staying positive.

Not in your story. You can torture your characters, be negative and bitter and deliciously despairing – well, unless you’re in genre fiction and your editor likes fuzzy main characters – but in your daily writing life. It’s easy to fall prey to the niggling demons of self-doubt and depression when your fine prose – so much better than all that other junk out there! – doesn’t garner the interest you think it should.

Remind yourself: It’s a long haul, and those who make it to the end are those who keep trying.

It’s not always easy. In the wee hours, when you lie awake, head full of embryonic plots and characters mixed with stress and worry and self-loathing for having the insane egotism to think you could be a writer, it's hard. It’s hard when you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and think “the teenage dropout who can’t make my change properly made more today than I did”. It’s hard.

But no one said anything good, or important, was easy.

You have to remember that what you’re doing has value. It is innately of value, in fact, by virtue of its nature. You are crystalizing thoughts, scenes and emotions that are utterly unique. You are adding to the sum total of human experience and knowledge.

You are writing.

That’s more important than you know.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Not dead, just writing

   I need to give the blog some love this weekend, the poor thing is sitting here, crying out for attention.
   I've just been very deep in the mental morass of editing one novella, and writing another novel while toying with a children's book that would make Edward Gorey flinch.
   Also February is grey and awful. Make it stop.

   In any case, should be an update here Monday on my NaNoWriWee novel "Tokyo Pizza" - which you may enjoy. It's ... different.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Plotting your story


"How much plotting should I do for my novel?" you hear aspiring writers ask fairly continuously on the web and in coffee shop-cum-bookstores during readings.  It's one of those questions that has an answer which depends on the writer, of course, but there are some things I've learned about my own writing process that might be of help to others who work similarly.

Plot, for me, is a blunt instrument that I try to avoid even thinking about except during the writing process itself. I stump along, letting my characters talk and do, and find the plot sorts itself out on its own. I tend to start with the kernel of an idea, but it tends to be vague. "There's a blackmail event and the characters have to get out of it" is about all I used on a recent project. By the time I was 12,000 words in the plot had developed into something that had several good threads and the characters were doing my work for me - they were in trouble and had to get out of it. Easy peasy.

That's not a testament to my plotting skills, I think it has more to do with having characters that are, in the writer's mind, real people. If they are, they'll do what makes sense for them, whether it's logical or not, and the story will progress smoothly.

Not having a detailed plot also allows you to write quickly, which is very important for me. When I write slowly I overanalyze, become stiff and find myself descending into a haze of fact-checking that impedes the ability to tell a story, and telling a story is your job as a writer. Not being stylish, or poetic, or grammatically creative or anything. You're here to tell a story. For me, going seat-of-the-pants lets me tell the story without hamstringing its pace and "feel".

Besides, when you finish you'll edit, plug plot holes, alter scenes and make any fumbles fantastic. That's what edits are for.

          So crack open the laptop, choose a simple idea, build some real, memorable characters and see what they do. It can work very well.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Behind the Ruins review

A nice review for my novel Behind the Ruins from Jeremy Menefee which you can read right here.

Tokyo Pizza cover idea

Just a rough for my NaNoWriWee novella. Thoughts?

 
Version 2 below, and I like it a lot more:
 
 

Sunday, 27 January 2013

#NaNoWriWee done. Much sleep is lost, much is learned.

   Please forgive the typos and bad grammar, just coming off The Kernel Magazine/HarperCollinsUK's NaNoWriWee, in which crazy people like me tried to write an entire novel in 30 hours over the weekend.
   Given the time differences between GMT and Canadian PST, the weekend is over and the story - 22,000+ words titled Tokyo Pizza - is in. Once judging and awards are done and I have a week to edit I'll post a teaser. For now, suffice it to say I wrote a lot in a very short period, and wound up with a story and characters I actually like a lot. It's maybe too profane and too odd for most readers, but it has a few bits of real gold in it.
   What I learned is more important than what I did, and I'll try to share some bleary insights.

YOU CAN WRITE A LOT - Yes, all caps, because it's the big one. I just did 22,000 words, doing a light self-edit during composition in two days, across probably 24 or 26 hours. That pace equals a novel in a week. Sitting down and staying at your keyboard generates lots of words.

Plotting is overrated - I knew it aleady, but this proved it. I started off with five fictional characters based loosely on an autobiographical group, fearful that with no plot at all I needed a hook to hang my writing on. By the end of the first chapter I discarded all connection to real events and, 22,000 words later, had watched my characters - who were no longer anyone I knew - build their own plot, complete with twists I didn't expect, and threads that all tied up neatly in the end.

Write what you know - I've lived and worked in Japan, so writing a novella set there saved me days of research and I didn't sound like a complete idiot. I hope. people will complain "but all I did was flip pancakes in Belgium" or whatever. Doesn't matter. I took a 5-month exchange program in Tokyo twenty years ago and turned it into a weird Ginsbergian crime thriller. And it was easy. Someday I'll do something with my other years of Japan experience.

Kill fear - I don't write satirical retro-hipster thrillers with lots of drugs and sex, but I just did, and I did it by discarding fear. Someone (lots of someones) will probably be horrified by sections of Tokyo Pizza, but I don't care. It was fun, honest and educational to write. A lot of friends I've had over the years do act/talk like my characters. Sorry, but the world is a spectrum and so are readers. You can't please all the people all the time, so screw them and do the work. Lincoln said that, I think.

  All right, wobbly sleepy and signing out for the day. Peace, all.

    Edit: After getting some sleep, I'm stunned to report that what I wrote is really quite good, and it will - if not picked up by HarperCollins UK - wind up published (after a mass of editing) on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It may even breed a subsequent novel or two. It's contemporary satirical fiction/adventure and it's just plain fun in a hallucinogenic way.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Behind the Ruins interview with ... me

  Many thank to Jae Blakney for interviewing me about Behind the Ruins - a different sort of post-apocalyptic tale. You can go read it right here: http://jaeblakney.blogspot.ca/2013/01/fiction-writer-spotlight-michael-lane.html  While you're there, poke around lots - Jae has a ton of excellent content and a mass of her short works up, free!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Behind the Ruins gets a new cover

Ah - okay, I like this one better. The first was artsier, but this is clean. Thoughts?

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Nerds vs Geeks

   I've decided my wife is a geek. I am a nerd. The two aren't mutually exclusive, but they are different skillsets that may or may not compliment each other, depending on the problem at hand.

Nerds (as one, I feel confident in the following):

Hoarde useless knowledge: For example, I know how to make flint tools and have done so. I know how to field-strip most guns, and own none. I can identify and match most aquatic insect hatches while fly fishing and carry a kit to tie at the waterside. I have memorized all dialogue to all Monty Python movies. I know how many inches of sand it takes to filter organic contaminants from water. I have read all of HP Lovecraft despite the prose and can remember all the Mythos entities. I can bake, but never use recipes. I can identify almost any syndicated TV quote - ditto movies. I have the fashion sense of a small armadillo.

Geeks (Guessing here, based on observation):

Scatter potentially useful knowledge: My wife can explain how to use Red Hat and I never know what she's saying. She can use every keyboard shortcut there is and laughs when you don't know them. She wonders why everyone doesn't have a database and tries to explaain why Excel doesn't count. She veers off in Future Shop muttering "Oooo, shiny" and then tells me why the thing she's looking at is good, then spots something better. She isn't sure what Gilligan's Island was about, other than there was a boat. Discussions of bands she's never heard of bore her. If something either fails to blow up or cry quickly in a movie, she wanders off.

   We nerds seem to cling to the anal-retentive edges of Aspergerville, while the geeks scurry around the suburbs of A.D.D. town. They spend their time discussing tech and wondering what is taking those nerds so long with that flint spearpoint that you can't upgrade the firmware on, anyway.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Ah, the joys of character design


    Why is it that a villain is always more easily crafted than a convincing nice protagonist? I find my own protagonists are generally unlikable, if interesting and potentially admirable in some ways. They're rarely nice; they border on the villainous.

    Grey, the main character in my novel Behind the Ruins is an example. Admittedly I spent the entire writing of the book striving for realism in characters, action and setting, so discovering the kind of man that could survive the apocalyptic destruction of the modern technical world isn't outwardly warm and fuzzy shouldn't be a huge surprise. He's a killer, tormented by the memories he carries but still willing to kill again if he deems it necessary – or even convenient. He's loath to lead, emotionally cowardly and ruthless, but he's still more interesting to me than your average white-hat good guy. Snape always interested me more than Harry Potter did. Voldemort even more, to use a best-selling example. To be a bit more literary, Ahab is the fascinating character in Moby Dick, not good-natured Ishmael or the ebullient Stubbs; so what draws me to antiheroes?

    I think it has to do with a writer's or reader's personality. I'm an analytic, and I like my stuff real, A to B to C. I believe there is no such thing as an absolutely good or absolutely evil person, and thus fictional characters have to be an amalgam of conflicting urges and traits. I'm sure at least once in a while Saint Francis cussed out a novice, and even Hitler painted roses.

    See, this is what writing a thriller with a serial killer/blackmailed cop set of main characters will do to you – now I'm trying to make the bad guy likable, and the good guy slightly repulsive.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Let it snow - somewhere else

   Well, it's writing weather. The Okanagan is now cut off in all directions with avalanche warnings, tangles of twisted metal and snowdrifts.

   Global warming can hurry right up.

Free book promotion service

Check this out - looks quite useful - Ask David's free book promotion database and service:

http://askdavid.com/free-book-promotion

Edit: so you can see, here's what my novel's page looks like. Nice stuff. Has options for reviews and commentary.

Friday, 4 January 2013

FREE is a good price.

   Just to get the word out, I'm offering free copies of Behind the Ruins through Smashwords until Jan 11.
   Coupon code:VQ22F
   Link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/268805
   If you liked The Road, the Reacher novels or similar, you'll like Behind the Ruins. Probably. Well, there's no accounting for taste.
   Do please rate it on goodreads, and if you absolutely love it and want to feed my kids, grab a copy at Amazon and leave a review.

Thanks!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

6 Sentences

   http://www.sixsentences.blogspot.ca/ is Robert McEvily's clever idea. Writers can post a story of six sentences and can vote on other shorts. It's a good exercise in writing and is a ton of fun as a break from the editing grind. Stop by, vote for your favorites and post your own 6s story.
  

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Working on Calvin

      Just started the new book, banged out 3000 words of first-draft nasty. I'll post a hunk here just so you can see how bad a first draft really is:

Provisional title Calvin

by Michael Lane, draft one

Copyright 2013 Michael Lane

All rights reserved

 

Chapter 1



Calvin Joseph Grunvald thought most serial killers had cats. Those like him, anyway.

He supposed the brutal ones, the bloodied souls who enjoyed torturing animals, did not - but he suspected the planners and controllers, the ones who enjoyed the hunt over the kill, did. Cats are plotters, relaxed and always alert. With the right stimulus their eyes shift from sleepy to glistening black, imagining blood and violence and the ceremony of the hunt.

Cats also have their territories, and travel makes them uncomfortable.

"You all right, Cat?" Calvin asked as he scratched the fat orange tabby under his chin, but Cat refused to purr, clinging to his arm with paws filled with needles and staring out the window at the Canadian darkness.

"It's new, I know," Calvin said, stroking the soft, rusty fur. "But it's where we live now, buddy. You'll get to like it. We both will."

He hoped that was true. The company had moved him almost two months ago, and Cat was still spending most of his time beneath the bed in a small ball, his ears back. The house was different than what he was used to; older, with old ghosts of smells the tabby didn’t know and wasn’t happy about.

It was a rambling two-story home the realtor had described as being built in stages through the fifties and sixties. It had that bits-and-pieces feel, with floors in different wings being offset a few inches, forcing the inclusion of toe-snagging half-steps and subtly angled connecting halls. The interior was paneled rather than finished with drywall, and floors were of varnished cedar plank. Calvin had added a half-dozen rugs to the living room and the master bedroom to add an illusion of softness, but it was still a hard house, and chilly. Ductwork brought warm air at a trickle from the old wood furnace in the basement, but it was never comfortable without a sweater, he had discovered. There were beige steel electric heaters mounted at floor level in most rooms, but Calvin disliked the dry air and had kept them shut off. Once winter set in for real in January or February he might have to reassess their usefulness.

While the house was old, and surrounded by trees older yet, the security system he had added was not. When the laptop on his desk beeped he sat Cat down and took a seat in the maple desk chair, waggling the mouse to waken the screen.

A faint green eye icon was blinking on the taskbar, and Calvin clicked it, expanding a window that showed a ghostly green-lit image of the gate on the road at the end of his drive. A dark SUV was parked, nose to the gate, and as Calvin watched a figure emerged from the driver’s side. Leaving the door open, the visitor, muffled in a down parka with the hood up, walked to the gate and flicked on a flashlight. After a moment he swung the iron grills open and returned to the vehicle. He drove onto Calvin’s property, leaving the gate open behind him.

Shrugging on his own wool peacoat and a dark stocking cap, Calvin left the house by the kitchen door, overlooking the tilted back yard and, distantly, the lights of Kelowna across the lake. The moon and scattered patches of snow gave him enough light to see by, and he moved around the house, staying within the edge of the woods, moving from tree to tree as the growl of the intruder’s engine grew.

Modern engines were quiet, he reflected as he took up a position behind a thick-trunked pine that gave him a good view of his own front door. The sounds of the gravel and ice under the SUV’s wheels were louder than the baritone mumble of its exhaust in the chill night air.

The vehicle stopped as the motion sensors triggered the blue-white flare of the yard lights. It was a dark green Ford Explorer with tinted windows. The vehicle sat for a minute or more before the engine died and the lights turned off. Calvin stood and watched, pulling on a pair of lambskin gloves that had been tucked into his coat pocket.

The driver got out and moved to the garage, the lights blooming as he did so. Calvin studied him; dark nylon-shelled parks, jeans, a pair of brown snow boots, black gloves. Whoever it was, he was big, over six feet, and moved with assurance, unconcerned with the rasp of grave under his feet. He peered through one of the porthole-style windows in the garage door, flashing his light within, then turned back and walked to the front door. He raised his left hand to the doorbell, while his right reached under the hem of his jacket and withdrew a black automatic. He let the gun hang at his side while he waited. After a few seconds he pressed the bell a second time.

Calvin could just hear the soft burr of the doorbell. The only other sound was the distant intermittent whine of tires on the road a quarter-mile away.

The man waited for another minute, then descended the three steps from the porch, turnd to his left and began making his way around the house. As soon as he had made the first corner, Calvin strode across the driveway before the security lights could shut off and tried the rear door of the vehicle. It was unlocked, and he climbed into the rear seat, slouching down. There were two suitcases in the rear cargo area and a plastic bag in the back seat. The bag held a half-empty bottle of orange juice and two empty packages of beef jerky.

After another minute, the lights went off again. Calvin lay in the dark, turning an old ivory-handled pocketknife over in his gloved hands. A distant dog barked, one discrete woof, but nothing else broke the quiet until the lights again sprang to life and booted feet crunched across the gravel.

Calvin thumbed the knife open, feeling the blade click into place.

The footsteps were within eight or ten yards when they stopped. Calvin waited, breathing slow, stifling a yawn with the back of his left hand.

"Calvin," a rough voice said in a conversational tone. "If you’re in the car, I’m just here to talk."

Time passed.

"I’ll put the gun on the windshield and step away," the voice added after the pause. The footsteps resumed, and Calvin heard the click as something hard was placed against the windshield. The footsteps moved away in the direction of the house.

Calvin waited for the lights to shut off. In the darkness the tilted widows would shield any movement inside the Explore. When the shadows returned he raised his head just far enough to confirm the L-shape of the pistol as it rested atop the driver’s side wiper. He reached above his head, clicking the dome-light switch to "off" and opened the door opposite the house. The bulk of the SUV shielded the motion, and the security lights stayed off. In the dim yellow glow of the door’s fanlight, Calvin could just see the man in the parka where he sat on the lowest step of the stairs.

"Howard," Calvin said. "What a pleasant surprise."

"Not really. I had to come."

"Why is that?"

"I need to talk to you. You know why."

"No, I honestly don’t. But I suppose we can talk."

Calvin sidestepped and picked up the heavy black Glock handgun as the lights bloomed yet again. He slipped it into an overcoat pocket, eyes on the seated man, whose hands rested on his knees. Calvin approached and stood looking down at him, his head cocked to one side.

"Could you put that knife away," Howard said. Calvin glanced at the thin silver gleam in his gloved hand and then folded it away.

"Tea?" Calvin asked.

"I guess. Can I have my Glock back, now?"

"You still carry that .38 I assume?"

Howard shrugged.

"I’ll leave it on the mailbox, here. You can pick it up on your way out."

"All right."

Cat was hiding somewhere. Calvin followed Howard into the living room.

"Take a seat. Do you really want tea, or were you being polite?"

"I don’t need tea," Howard admitted, unzipping the parka and tossing it onto the grey leather couch. He sat down beside it, careful to keep his hands visible. Calvin took a seat opposite in a matching recliner.

Separated by the low glass coffee table, the two studied each other.

Calvin was slighter and shorter, thin and athletic, with a face a shade too long and narrow to be handsome. His eyes were an unremarkable brown, as was his short hair. His clothing was neat and well chosen, with a wool sweater over a white dress shirt, dark wool slacks and black dress shoes with crepe rubber soles. Howard was bigger, with broad shoulders and a thickening midsection. His face was clawed by frown-lines and stubbled with several days of beard, his hair salt-and-pepper. Under the parka he wore a blue suit jacket, very rumpled, and a light blue shirt open at the collar.

"We agreed to avoid each other," Calvin said, crossing his ankles.

"We did. But I was worried. The news here, you have to understand why I thought you might be, well, losing it." The bigger man frowned and scratched at his left shoulder with blunt fingers. Calvin thought he kept his backup gun on the left in a shoulder holster, and waited until the hand returned to Howard’s lap and laced fingers with its mate.

"I don’t watch the news, Howard. Be specific."

"The trucker. I thought that was you."

"What trucker do you mean?"

Howard blinked and the V of wrinkles between his eyes knotted.

"You seriously don’t know?"

Calvin grinned. "I’ve made a point never to lie to you, Howard. You know that."

"You’re getting better. That smile looked almost real," Howard snapped. He drummed his fingers on his thigh, studying the other man. "You didn’t cut up a trucker a few weeks ago, and pose him alongside the highway?"

Calvin blinked. "No. Why would you think I did it?"

"Well, Kelowna’s not very big, and I’m unfortunate enough to know the address of at least one batshit crazy murderer living here. And the scene was odd."

"Odd how?" Calvin asked, leaning forward.



The RCMP officer who’d caught the call was a young man named Gregory Phillips and he was sitting in his cruiser when the EMTs arrived. The cruiser was slanted across both lanes of the eastbound side of the Connector, the four-lane highway that arced across the mountains between the Okanagan valley and the Vancouver area, 300 miles away.

Traffic had piled up for a mile or more, and drivers would start walking forward to ask questions, only to be waved back by the officer. Phillips sat in his open car door with his boots planted on the pavement, facing the traffic jam. When the ambulance pulled up, jouncing as it crawled down the shoulder to the cruiser, he stood and waved them through. A half-mile further on another cruiser and two unmarked cars were pulled to the edge of the road. The ambulance driver swerved back onto the pavement, the boxy vehicle swaying, and gunned the engine as he hurried toward the scene.

"Waste of diesel," Phillips muttered, his face pale.



Inspector Harrison was standing with his arms crossed over his bulletproof vest, chewing on a blue Bic pen, staring at the tableaux beside the highway, when the EMTs arrived. They umped from the vehicle with their crash bags in hand, but he waved them over.

"I don’t want anyone down there," he said as they came up. "Just look from here and confirm he’s dead."

The pair, a man and woman in their late twenties, took a long look down into the grassy dell beside the highway.

"You’re kidding, right?" The woman said after a few seconds.

"Nope, just keeping the ducks in a row," Harrison said. "So is he dead?"

"Yes, Inspector," the EMT replied. "He’s dead."

"Okay, that’s all I needed, thanks." Harrison dismissed the pair and made his way down the embankment along the fluttering yellow ribbon his investigator had set up.

The body, which would later be identified as Able Julian, a long haul trucker and father of three, occupied an area roughly ten yards on a side. His head formed the centerpiece, mounted on the cut off stump of a sapling, the eyes staring up at the road in gazed surprise. The head had been severed close under the jaw, and the liver-colored tongue dangled below. From the head, in an ornate spiral, the rest of Mr. Julian had been carefully laid out. The four arms of the pattern were made up of sections of muscle and skin, individual fingers, pale loops of gut, even the long bones of his arms and legs, the white parentheses of his ribs, had been excised and set carefully in place. Snow would be coming any day, but the ground here was still covered in matted dry grass and weeds.

"Whaddaya think?" Harrison called. Doctor Kreiss didn’t raise his head from his examination of the victim’s left feet, which marked the termination of one of the spiral arms. The other foot marked the opposite one, and the fingerless hands the other two.

"I think you have a problem when the press gets this one," Kreiss said. Both Harrison and Kreiss were stolidly middle-aged, slightly overweight, with the closed faces of officers of the law everywhere. "This is something different. It’s like some crappy movie. Who kills someone and makes a pinwheel out of them?"

Harrison wrinkled his nose. The cool air was a help, but the sour smell of the corpse and its gut contents was already unpleasant. He rooted around in his pockets and cursed when he discovered he had forgotten his jar of mentholated ointment.

"Maybe it’s a big swastika?"

A tooth-rattling whapping noise boomed overhead as a helicopter barely above treetop height shuddered across the sky. Harrison could see the photographer hanging precariously from the chopper’s open door, clutching a camera with a lens the size of a stovepipe.

"Aw, shit," he said. "Someone get HQ to hurry and get the tents out here, we need to get this covered."

"Smile," Kreiss said, examining the cut end of a severed thumb. "You’re going to be all over the web in fifteen minutes."




Calvin sat at his computer, clicking through the pictures posted on a dozen Web sites, while Howard sat at the kitchen table, peeling an apple. He paused and expanded an image of the site, the shot taken from the helicopter before the RCMP had control of the scene.

The swirl made of Mr. Julian was precise, which appealed to Calvin’s sense of order, but he shook his head.

"It wasn’t me, Howard," he said, closing the notebook. "What’s more it seems wrong somehow."

"How would you be the judge of what’s right, Calvin? You dismembered a gradeschool teacher. You’re insane."

"I don’t mean morally. Something about the precision combined with the amount of bloody, brutal work involved seems strange. It takes a lot of work to cut a body into just a few sections. This would have taken a day or more of hard labor."

Howard sat the apple down, staring at it.

"But what do you care, Howard? Why bother, even if you thought it was me? You can’t kill me, or turn me in, and I can’t kill you, so why do you care?"

"I don’t. You’re a sick animal, and if I had enough guts I’d just kill you now, then eat a bullet myself." Howard’s tone was flat and hopeless. Calvin turned his chair to face him and leaned back.

"Oh, please, spare me the self-pity. You’d have done that years ago if you meant it. Back when you were drinkng heavily and breaking up with your wife. How is the drinking going now, if you don’t mind me asking? I’d heard you were in AA."

"Fuck you."

Calvin smiled his practiced, empty smile.

"Now, Howie, you came to my home. Why is that?"

Howard covered his face with his palms, smelling the applejuice on his skin, then dragged his hands down, distorting his features.

"Because I was afraid you’d lost more of your mind. That you were accelerating, entering a new phase, and you were going to get caught and then so was I. Is that what you want to hear?"

"It’s the truth. I think that in our situation the truth is best, don’t you?"

"Maybe. What do I know. I’m being blackmailed by a goddamn psychotic serial killer, and every day I read the papers and wonder if you’ve killed someone else, because if you do it’s my fault."

"Howard, Howard. There’s no use in beating yourself up with it. You do your work and I do mine, and we agreed not to interfere."

"You’re a murderer."

"Boring and predictable, Howard. So are you. How may have you killed, over the years with the FBI?"

"It’s not the same."

"No, it’s not. Two of yours are worse than anything I ever did, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation."

"It was an accident, you bastard." Howard’s face went pale, his cheeks blotched with hectic red. "And it only happened because you forced it."

"We’re covering old ground," Calvin said, rising and stretching. "Let’s not. Let’s get some coffee in you, then send you off to the nearest Motel for the night, and you can talk to me tomorrow. You don’t listen when you’re angry, and I hate to waste my time."

"God damn me. Will this ever be over?"

"Not while we live, no, Howard. Black or white? Sugar?"

"Save it. I’ll come back tomorrow morning. I need to think."

"No earlier than nine, please. And next time shut the gate."



The Explorer spit gravel as Howard drove it too fast down the winding drive. He raised his middle finger to the gates as he passed, leaving them open, and jerked the wheel as the SUV’s tires lurched onto the blacktop, chirping at the sudden friction, slewing the vehicle into a near-slide.

This was not the way he wanted to spend his vacation days.