Kindle Story: In Progress…

Semi-big announcement. I’ve come to a rather unexpected decision about my writing.

I’m going to self-publish a couple of short stories on Kindle. There will be other stories I’m trying to get published traditionally, and my novels will, if possible, “go traditional” as well. But I’ll have a few sci-fi and fantasy shorts up for purchase on Amazon, partly to get a little income and partly to get more of an audience. I do hope you’ll read and enjoy these works, and tell you friends about them when they reach the store. 🙂

The first one will be ready to buy for $0.99 within the next few days. I don’t have a title for it yet, but it’s a prequel to my novels. Here’s the pitch: Battle is only the beginning when a young soldier, Morent Wolfglen, develops a dangerous ability. It won’t be a very long story, but hopefully enough to get more people interested in the book when it finally comes out.

So, here goes. First things first, I just need to make sure I tell a good story. Of course, this little self-published portfolio will be added to as time goes on. I’m excited about this opportunity, and look forward to seeing how it plays out. Thanks for your time!

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A Brief Thought on Superheroes, Justice, and Violence

I’ll just come out and say it: I am irritated. Sorry for the grumpiness; it seems I’m going through a phase right now.

The astounding Avengers movie and the mostly “Amazing” Spider-Man reboot are keeping bright tights and larger-than-life heroics on the silver screen, while Christopher Nolan prepares to unleash the conclusion of his masterful Batman trilogy later this month. So, just about every blogger or critic with an opinion is weighing in on heroes, antiheroes, and supervillains.

The reason for my griping, in a nutshell: There is an increasing trend in commentary on superheroes, the trend of ascribing the laws made by (and for) normal humans, and using them to indict comic book characters.

More and more of this commentary looks at classic heroes, no matter how noble or selfless, with a suspicious and sour eye. It’s starting to sound like the prologue from Pixar’s The Incredibles, where an increasingly litigious society contends that heroes are causing more harm than they prevent. Anthony Lane, from The New Yorker, has weighed in on this fashionable sport of taking potshots at the heroism of fictional characters, in a shoddy Avengers review. (My guess is that the New Yorker crowd is starting to realize they can’t spend all their time staring at abstract art and chuckling dryly over glasses of wine at dinner parties) If you’re not already a diehard fan of the Avengers and therefore biased in their favor, Lane waves off the film as an experience where the audience gets “mugged by a gang of rowdy sociopaths with high muscle tone.”

No, sure, let’s just let the UN get into a bureaucratic nightmare debating how to deal with an alien invasion. After all, heroes who save the world are no better than the villains threatening it! (See above — he actually implies that) Or let the NYPD deal with the Lizard (despite their repeated failures to do so) as he’s killing people. Peter Parker can’t just swing around a few skyscrapers and subdue him, because that would be recklessly disregarding the law.

In one especially insane online discussion, a certain…gentleman asserted to me that there is no real difference between Captain America and the Punisher, and that their actions and motives don’t look all that different.

What? All right, let’s do a little comparison. If you have read tons of comics and you can note moments where Punisher or Cap acted differently, let me know — I’m generalizing here.

Captain America, doing double-duty as a soldier and a patriotic symbol. Kills enemy combatants while defending others from unprovoked harm.

Versus…

The Punisher, antihero and vigilante who fights urban crime through many unsavory practices, including torture, murder, and extortion. Vents his anger on criminals by maiming and killing them.

I will go out on a limb here — I’m not quite seeing double.

And going back to The Avengers…what was the UN going to tell the Avengers? “Sorry, but this isn’t authorized under the Geneva Convention. You can’t just go firing weapons at assailants and throw the city into chaos.”

Yes, they can. The aliens were trying to kill innocents. When you just found out there is an alien invasion about to arrive in New York City, and you have at your disposal some assassins, a technological genius, a giant green rage monster, a Norse god, and a supersoldier, all of whom are willing to help, you get them between the incoming enemy and the civilian population. Forget about the question of whether the statutes of conventional warfare would, theoretically, apply to an alien race. When civilians are being targeted, you get in the way and throw the biggest hammer you’ve got.

This hammer, to be exact.

There are these little things in life called “emergencies,” when certain legal issues need to be put aside for the moment. Even though most comic books are fantastical, larger-than-life, and just plain wacky, they depict events that I would think qualify as “emergencies.” Regular cops and soldiers can be trusted to deal with the more familiar forms of crime and evil. Generally, superheroes are for super-threats.

When it comes to Batman…ah, now that might be a different matter. Certainly in the Nolan trilogy there are legal consequences to Bruce Wayne becoming the Caped Crusader, even though everyone with half a brain stem was glad Batman was there when Ra’s al Ghul or the Joker set their sights on Gotham. But that is probably best left for another rant, another time. This particular rant is, I think, finished.

Have your own thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Want to yell at me that I’m full of it? There’s the comment window. Use it as you please.

Battering Ram: A Dinosaur Story for Chuck Wendig

Since dinosaurs are kind of my obsession, I admit to giggling like a gleeful mad scientist when novelist and smart aleck extraordinaire Chuck Wendig gave an assignment to his readers: write flash fiction (very short story, up to 1,000 words) with dinosaurs in it. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/05/04/flash-fiction-challenge-must-love-dinosaurs/

For better or worse, this is my entry, a sort-of prequel to the short story Battle at Engorlash that I wrote a while back. More like a battle scene in a larger story, in my opinion, but I’ll decide later if I can do something to expand it.

It’s just under the limit, at 989 words. Thanks for having a look, and I hope you enjoy!

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On the wall and beneath it, pikes and swords glinted like silver grass in the hot sun, dazzling Morent Wolfglen even when he pulled down his visor. Here and there, a flintlock’s shot threw its echo over the battlefield. Blood and metal and gunpowder combined into a familiar stench. Shouts of dying, of agony, of challenges and insults, thundered in his head.

He was tucked away into one of the corners of no man’s land, while the fort’s defenders concentrated most of their attack on the main army. Here he stood among officers and war machines that hadn’t been used yet.

“Morent!” The commanding voice of General Halthrin called him back to the side of the fort. “Morent, don’t freeze now. The harness. Help me get the harness!”

The general’s gloved hand shot down, pointing at a hemp rope, thick as an arm. One end was tattered like it had snapped, and the other snaked across fifty feet of gravel and gore to the muzzled snout of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The dinosaur’s ivory fangs seemed to glow against its black skin, shimmering with drool. Its nostrils and pupils dilated as vapors of blood tantalized it. So much raw meat…

“General?”

“We’re going to unlatch the muzzle and let him out. It’s our last chance.”

Morent couldn’t have been more shocked if General Halthrin had turned into a giant hornet. He certainly seemed angry enough to be one.

“We?”

“And today, preferably! While they’re focusing on the other garrisons. Just pray they don’t have a dragon in the fort. Come on, Corporal!” Spittle flying from him, the general hefted up the rope and tossed it to Morent. It landed in his hastily extended arms like he had just been handed a tree.

Struggling against the portcullis door of a massive siege wagon, the Tyrannosaur snarled, banged the sides of its wood and iron cage. Another soldier stood next to one of the table-sized wheels. He sweated as his fingers tapped the release lever, waiting for command. Waiting to escape the creature’s line of sight.

“Wait,” Morent said, dropping the rope. He realized their battering ram was now under a tangle of the corpses of Halthrin’s men, and the door it was meant to break had had molten lead poured into every crack once the siege started. They had no way of getting in. Not unless they made a door….

The general’s purple face darkened further. “What do you mean, wait?!”

Halthrin may have been crazy, but Morent was going to aim that insanity. If he was going to die, he’d rather make his last act a smart one.

Producing a vial of clear liquid from a pocket in his belt, he flung it across no man’s land. It shattered on the red and gray stones of the fortress wall. Within seconds, he picked up the sharp scent of garlic extract rising above the miasma of carnage. Tyrannosaurs could pick out scents better than any hound or vulture. Just as a dog could be trained with verbal orders, the monster now struggling to free itself had been conditioned to take specific smells as commands. And Morent had bought the extract a month ago, just in case.

“Now we’ve given him something to do!” Morent said, grunting as he picked the rope back up.

The general smiled through his tightening expression. He lifted up another section of rope and threw it onto his shoulder, puffing under the weight.

Normally a rex would be used like a scythe to cut down phalanxes, or a hammer to bash apart other siege engines. But Morent could see their side was losing, and fast. With walls still intact, they could lose half the army.

“Now!” Halthrin cried.

The man threw the lever down and bolted away. In a chorus of metal clanks and sliding chains, the portcullis swung out to the right.

All six tons of the black leviathan charged forward, pounding the gravel with heavily muscled legs. Once its tail cleared the giant wagon, Halthrin nodded back to Morent. Pulling violently backward, they jerked the rope taut. There was a loud snap as the harness on the steel-and-leather muzzle came undone, and it thudded to the earth beneath. Morent felt himself shake under the dinosaur’s bellow, scarred jaws opening to throw slaver and the stench of decay over the battlefield. Crossbow bolts and pikes stuck in the obsidian hide, only angering the beast. It must have caught the garlic smell, because forty feet of muscle and nightmares threw all of its weight against the wall, where the vial had broken.

Its neck clenching like a spring, the dinosaur slammed its head into the barrier again and again. Faults opened up and stones were jarred loose. Their beast of war had broken all the way through. Morent was dimly aware of cheers from his side. The fortress was almost theirs.

A storm of fire erupted from the other side of the wall, fingers of flame smothering the rex’s head before it could lunge away. Its wail of sudden pain seemed to reduce the monster, like a big dog yelping from injury.

Its legs buckled, tail shuddering as something else lunged out of the caved-in wall. A set of slender jaws, as large as the rex’s head and crowned by ivory horns. Through the smoke and shadow, Morent discerned the dragon’s jaws clench around the Tyrannosaur’s seared face. Fangs plunged through bone and muscle, anchoring the titans’ heads together just before the dragon wrenched around in a sharp tug. Bones shattered, and the rex crumpled dead under the wound it had bashed open.

Morent and the general stood there for what seemed an hour, dumbstruck, hearing the dragon’s shrill and triumphant scream. The battle itself must have gone silent.

It must have been the end. Morent had tried to help the general win, and failed. In his gut, he was convinced that this was his last day.

More Thoughts on Reader-Focused Fiction

Considering the rhetoric of self-publishers and indie publishers these days, especially in regards to traditional publishing, you’d think that authors are finally unshackled from the chains of tyrants who cruelly eviscerated work that “didn’t sell” and denied them entry into the life meant for them, the life of a Writer. Even if you’re not looking for Stephen King-caliber popularity, you are apparently being cheated out of your true potential by going with a gatekeeper. The image of the big publishing companies has rather swiftly evolved into something a little like this.

Meet my pet. His name's Skippy. Yes, you read that right. Skippy. Don't judge me.

But as happy as I am that everyone now has the option for selling their work and becoming known as an official Author, I want to reiterate from a previous post: your writing is meant to serve others.

I mentioned that I appreciate the gatekeepers, and that some people are running away from them for the wrong reasons. Even though the self-publishing industry is thriving more than ever, it seems to have lost a great deal of focus on serving readers with great storytelling, and shifted its focus to marketing. That could be just my limited exposure to such talk, so please tell me if I am wrong.

Most writing talks and articles nowadays are geared toward self-pubbers, with instructions on how to format a book, what price the Kindle edition should have, and how you can advertise your name through social media (Maybe that’s just “most” articles and talks I’ve seen and I need to hit the Writer’s Digests again).

I’m here to ask all fiction writers, no matter what they write or how they publish it: how high is excellent storytelling on your priorities list?

What of the readers who need a great book in their hands? What of the complex characters and patiently built plots they hunger for, flowing in the veins of a living story that tells them something True about themselves and about mankind?

Are you willing to kill your ego and send the book to an agent, or hire an editor for it? Remember this: every writer goes to war, picking up a rifle and doing their part. And whether or not they know it, they’ll need a drill sergeant to let them know what they’re getting right, and what they’re totally screwing up. If you’re a writer, you need such a colleague because you are bound to a cause that serves others, gifting them with an endless supply of new stories that they will care about. Readers want and need stories that challenge, that bewilder, that terrify and amuse and race through the blood until it becomes a part of them. Renewing your commitment to excellence is more important than ever, for your readers have so many excuses to be distracted.

Don’t let them be distracted. Give them a story that captures them as surely as a spell, and do this by honing your skills and wit until they are as sharp as obsidian. Learn to care about your readers more than whether the story needs to run through a gauntlet of “gatekeepers” to reach them. Your readers are starving for wonderful new fiction. They need the best tales you’ve got.