Monday, July 30, 2012

Something to look forward to.

Gentle readers, today I began the long climb back toward the sun. If you follow my Twitter (@grshirer), you’ll know that I’ve been moaning all week about an inability to write. I hit the nadir in my creative cycle and spent the last few days sort of wallowing. 
During this time, I did write but it was a laborious process. I wasn’t enjoying myself and I certainly didn’t enjoy anything that I had written. For a little while, I switched gears, pulling out old stories that I’d set aside. I had hoped that a fresh direction would trip the cycle, push me past the black wallows and energize me again. That didn’t happen.
Nothing was working.
So, I put the writing aside and did some other things. I went to the South Carolina State Museum and saw the Titanic Artefacts Exhibition. While I was there, I toured the connected art gallery, where they were showing a collection of abstract art by local artists. I cleaned out the room, taking a bagful of books to a used bookstore for credit. Ironically, as soon as I’d done that I went back to the bookstore to prowl the aisles, looking for something to read.
I’ve been reading a mystery, Death by Darjeeling, by Laura Childs. I’m reading it in slow bites, as the prose is lush and deliciously descriptive.
This past weekend I took a road trip, driving to the Harrah’s casino in Cherokee, NC. There, I lost entirely too much money, considered staying overnight, then nixed that idea and returned home.
As I was heading home, southbound on Interstate 26, in the middle of the night, I could see a storm trying to pull itself together ahead of me. Clouds flared pink and amber as lightening leapt inside them. The storm kept pace with me as I drove home, and if it never happened, watching the lightening illuminate the clouds was entertaining.
I felt like that storm. Fragmented, unable to get its act together, but still full of energy. My skull was buzzing. Thoughts were starting to spark.
The writers block that had plagued me began to erode.
Today, I sat and reread the last page or so of my sequel to Dawnwind: Last Man Standing. Something about it had been bothering me, something I couldn’t really identify. This morning, the cause of my irritation suddenly leapt out at me.
I made a change and it was suddenly there. Not just the impulse to write but the desire. My fingers twitched and I suddenly knew which way the story was going to move.
So, making a mental note regarding that direction, I closed that file and opened this one. Why aren’t I working on the sequel? Haven’t I pissed and moaned about it enough this week? I should be bent over the keyboard, pounding away at it like a madman. Shouldn’t I?
Not yet.
The impulse is there. I’ve started the climb up the mountain. But, right now, my resources feel a bit thin.
No, now I’ll force myself to be still. To wait. To let that tension grow until it is unbearable. Then, and only then, will I release it.
When I do release it, the sensation will be better than eating chocolate or having sex. It will be more satisfying than racing down a deserted highway in the Southwest at a hundred miles an hour or telling someone you despise that you wouldn’t piss down their throat if their heart was on fire.
It is something to look forward to.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Nadir

The flow of my writing is slowing. My creative energies ebb. I languish, wilting like some pale, plump flower on the vine.  My creative cycle approaches its nadir. I do not want to make anything. The thought of putting fingers to keys is just unappealing. I want to put aside the computer, bury my head beneath the bedclothes and come out when the world recognizes my innate genius and decides to give me a billion dollars just for breathing.
Somehow, though, I doubt that will happen.
I have had this recurring, odd thought. A seed of an idea for a possible story. It isn't growing yet, it isn't planted. The idea sits in the dark and the cold, germinating, drawing energy to itself from Other Projects. The greedy bugger.
This idea lurks in the back of my brain. Like some dread sea monster, it rears its head from the dark depths every once in a while, looks around and then vanishes again into the deep.
I do not need another idea.
I really don't.
Not now, not when just sitting here and writing this takes effort.
But I know that I will write this idea down some time. A sketch, a scene, a conversation set in this odd new world. It is inevitable. I am doomed even as I try to deny it. Such is the burden that we have to bear. Our muse rides us like Proteus, that Old Man of the Sea, driving us hither and yon with not-so-gentle strikes of her whip.
I will write it down. I will submit to the Muse's not-so-tender prodding.
Later, when the wheel turns, when I can roust enthusiasm for this idea and the plummet into the depths turns to flight toward the zenith.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Hello, gentle readers! Welcome to Monday! Hope you survive the experience!

Last Friday I wrote a short fictional piece called Anathemas. It was inspired by the date, Friday the 13th, and the mythology that have sprung up around it. You can find the story on this blog, if you’d like to read it. It won’t even take that much of your time; it isn’t a very long story.

I enjoy writing short fiction, but it makes me nervous too. Too many times I’ve had people tell me that my short fiction, complete unto itself in my eyes, reads like the first chapter of a longer story, one they’d like to keep reading.

On the one hand, it’s very gratifying to learn that I can engage a reader. However, it bugs me when they tell me my short fictions reads like a first chapter.

It’s not intended to be a first chapter, it’s not written as a first chapter. It’s short fiction, complete unto itself.

Or, at least, it’s supposed to be.

Which makes me wonder. Am I doing something wrong?

A lot of my short fiction is what I think of as ‘mood pieces.’ One of the first pieces I self-published was The Finishers. Set in a world where the zombie apocalypse has come and gone, where humanity has adjusted to the new rules, it follows a typical night in the lives of two ‘finishers,’ Tobias and Archer. They’re a bit like bug exterminators, going around and ‘finishing’ the new-risen dead. The tag line for the story was, "It’s not an adventure, it’s a job."

The story is basically an examination of the generational gap between Tobias and Archer. Tobias is older, he remembers the world before things changed, when dead people stayed dead. Archer grew up in the new world, where it’s normal for the dead to rise. While Archer is blithe about their job, Tobias is not.

The Finishers isn’t a complex story. It’s not very long. There are two scenes of violence and nothing particularly gory. None of the zombies in the story devour anyone. It’s these two guys, with fundamentally different world-views and reactions, driving around in a van.

That’s what I wanted to portray in the story and, I think, I achieved it.

Sadly, The Finishers is one of the stories that people often remark upon as ending too soon. That drives me up the wall.

So what to do?

The answer is simple: nothing.

What can I do? The story is finished. When it’s done, it’s done.

I suppose, it’s a bit like cooking. No one seasons the same dish the same way. Some people put hot peppers in their vegetable soup, while others don’t. The soup is still edible, it just may not be to everyone’s taste. And you can’t satisfy everyone.

Ultimately, when you write, you have to satisfy yourself. You have to write the story that you want to write, to tell it the way you want to, to end it as you think it should end.

And if people think that your ending is too abrupt? That your story should have been longer?

Well, there’s always the possibility of a sequel.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fiction: Anathemass


"Hey, sweety!"

Melvin Waskill bounded through the front door of his home, cradling a bag of groceries in one arm, and waving his new machete with his free hand.

His wife, Marilyn, glanced up from the latest issue of Better Hatchets & Garrotes. She was a severe-looking woman, her dishwater blond hair pinned into a tight bun, her flesh as white as chalk.

"You’re going to be late," said Marilyn.

"Nah." Grinning, Melvin dropped the groceries on the kitchen counter and hefted his new blade. "I’ve got plenty of time to get ready, sweety! What do you think of the new machete?"

"Very nice," said Marilyn. "How much did it cost?"

"I got it on sale down at Loathes," said Melvin. "That place was super-crazy!"

"You went shopping today? I’m surprised you got out of there alive."

Melvin grinned. "The fun doesn’t start until sundown, sweety. You know that."

His wife sniffed, flipped a glossy page in her magazine. "No, I don’t."

"Aw! You’re not sore that I’m going out, are you, sweety?" Melvin put the machete on the counter and sat on the edge of the couch. "You know, you could come with me."

"Please." Marilyn’s tone was scathing. "What sort of woman goes out tonight?"

"June Locke’s going out," said Melvin. "I saw her in line at the DMV, while I was renewing my license."

"Of course, June Locke’s going to go out," sniffed Marilyn. "She’s a lesbian, Melvin. Of course she wants to stab things."

"So what are you doing tonight?"

"May Charleston invited me over to play cards."

"Oh. That’s nice, honey."

Marilyn glanced pointedly at the living room clock. "You’re going to be late if you don’t hurry."

Grinning, Melvin bent and planted a chaste kiss on his wife’s cheek. "Worrywart. I’ll see you tomorrow."

"Hopefully," said Marilyn. A grim smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.

"Gee, honey! Don’t jinx me!"

She chuckled and flipped the page in her magazine. Melvin left her on the couch, reading about the latest fashion in garrotes.

It didn’t take him long to get ready. It never did. Preparing for the night’s adventures amounted to putting on the approved uniform, making sure you had your license, and then hightailing it to your designated territory before sundown. If you weren’t there when the inspectors came around, your license would be revoked.

The last bit was the tricky part. Melvin’s territory was Albright Park, on the other side of town. It would have been more convenient to hunt locally, but that could cause bad feelings among your neighbors. So he, and all the others taking part in the night’s festivities, had to crawl into their cars and drive like hell to distant locations. Still, fatalities from traffic accidents were all but nil on Anathemass.

Melvin made it to Albright Park with fifteen minutes to spare. By the time the inspector arrived, the sun was setting and he was suited up. The inspector gave Melvin a quick once-over, confirming his boilersuit, boots and gloves were all regulation. He admired Melvin’s new machete.

"Nice. Carson & Carson?"

"Yep. Got it this afternoon."

The inspector tested the blade’s edge. "Really nice."

He handed the blade back to Melvin and fetched a plain brown box. He passed it to Melvin.

"Your accoutrement."

Solemnly, Melvin opened the box. Inside, wrapped in wax paper, was the Face of Anathemass. It was a stiff white, fullface mask. Except for the eyes, it was as featureless as a sheet of paper. A sturdy leather band secured it to Melvin’s head.

He stared at his reflection in his car window. Normally a weedy-looking guy, in the uniform and accoutrement, Melvin thought he cut a rather sinister figure. Grinning beneath the mask, he struck a pose with his machete.

"Very impressive." The inspector held out a clipboard and a pen. "If you would sign for it, please."

Melvin scrawled his signature on the paperwork.

"Thank you." The paperwork vanished into a folder and the inspector gave him the usual spiel. "Your territory is Albright Park. DMV is going to bus in the juvies in about an hour. Please bear in mind that this is the last Anathemass of the year, sir, so there may be more targets than you expect. Justice wants to get rid of as many of these little punks as they can."

Melvin said nothing, but beneath the white mask he was grinning from ear to ear. This was going to be so awesome!

"That said, do not kill anyone outside the park. Do not leave the park. If you do, your license is immediately canceled and you may face heavy fines or worse. We have CCTV inside and outside the park, so we’ll be watching."

As he said the last, he gave Melvin a stern look.

"The juvies are collared and the invisible fence is active. They try to leave the park and they get fried. Expect resistance. Pace yourself. They’ll probably try to gang up on you. The clock starts when the bus arrives and runs out at three-o-clock in the morning. After that, we’ll be back to pick up whoever’s left alive."

The inspector stuck out his hand. Melvin shook it. He hoped the man didn’t notice how his own was trembling.

"Good hunting," said the inspector.

He climbed into his car and drove away.

Melvin took a deep breath. His breathing echoed weirdly in his ears. He glanced at his watch. An hour. Good. That gave him time to prepare.

Swinging his new machete, humming a jaunty tune, the masked man vanished into the growing darkness of the park thinking how much he loved Friday the 13th.

* * * * *
Ah, gentle readers. 
Welcome! It's Friday the 13th, and, caught up in the spirit of the day, I wrote the above piece.  I'll admit that it isn't spun entirely from my own imagination, but partially inspired by an interesting book, Slaughterhouse High by Robert Deveroux.
The world that Anathemass is set in is a bit different from our own. Darker and grislier, it's a world where there are designated 'holidays' for wannabe killers.  Friday the 13th or Anathemass as it's known in-story, is one of the biggies, but certainly not the only one.
On these holidays, wannabes purchase licenses to kill from the DMV, the Department of Mayhem and Violence.  Potential victims are bussed in from prisons and other such institutions. Potential victims who survive their 'holiday' get pardoned. 
These people would consider our versions of Survivor and The Weakest Link incredibly boring.
Anyway, hope you've all had a safe F13 so far and make it through the night alive. ^_^

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why do we write?

Gentle readers, I believe this gentleman's answer is one of the best I've ever read:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hoc vincam

Gentle readers, I wrote this yesterday to a friend during a low point and thought I would share it with all of you today.
I have learned something very important when doing promotions on Amazon. During the promotion period, NEVER look at your number of downloads. Especially if it's your second promotion.
I broke that rule today and am regretting it. When I released Dawnwind last month, with all the free publicity I got at sites like Books on the Knob, Flurries of Words, etc. I had over 400 downloads and cracked the Top 100 Free Sci-Fi Books.
This weekend I've had a total of 18 downloads.
Knowing this and seeing it in black-and-white are two very different things, and now I find my sails have lost all their wind. I'm drifting, not so much lost at sea as just lacking the will to tack into the wind.
This is just a momentary case of the doldrums, I am aware of that. I am aware that second promotions of books without addition promo sources tend to be flat. I am aware that not everyone lives on Twitter and Facebook, so people who might be interested in the free copy won't find out about it until after the promo ends. All of these things, I know.
I still want to shut off my computer, say "To hell with it!" and go see a movie.
But I will not. I will persevere. I will tweet the free promo every two hours. And the next time I have a free promo going, I'll remember the bloody goddamn rule and NOT go looking at my downloads!
Being an indie author isn't easy.  It isn't for the fainthearted.
I try to stay positive, to concentrate on the good things: I've made sales, I've had good reviews, the community of indie authors has been helpful and informative, my friends and family have been supportive.
But everyone has their off days.  Yesterday was one of mine.
I checked my figures at Amazon this morning and was pleased to see that Dawnwind did get downloaded more than eighteen times.  I didn't quite crack a hundred, but considering the bare bones promotions I did, I'm satisfied with the number of downloads that did happen.
Gentle reader, I hit a bump in the road. Not the first, certainly not the last.  If you decide to set out on the path of an indie author, you'll hit 'em too.  Sometimes the road will seem to be nothing but potholes.
When that happens, when you're at the end of your tether, take a break, shut your eyes, breathe and try to remember: hoc vincam.
This too, I shall overcome.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Giving it away for free

Hello, gentle readers!
I almost forgot to inform everyone that this weekend, July 7th - 8th, my book, Dawnwind: Last Man Standing will be avaialble for free via Amazon. 
With 4.7 stars at Amazon, one reviewer described it "as if E.E. "Doc" Smith wrote Stranger in a Strange Land." Another compared it to the works of A.E. van Vogt and Robert Heinlein.
But don't take my word for it.  I am, quite naturally, biased.
Just click on the book link to read the reviews in full, to preview the story or download it for free to your Kindle.
Thank you in advance and I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Devil in the Details

Good morning, gentle readers!  Have a good weekend? Back at the old grind? Buck up! I'm sure you're all going to have a wonderful day!  And if not, I'm sure there's a cheap liquor store on your way home. ^_^
The other night I finished D.M. Cornish's Foundling, the first book in his Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy.  Foundling was an entertaining read with engaging characters, but the thing that really made this book shine for me, was Mr. Cornish's worldbuilding.  The story is set in a fantastic world of caustic oceans, threatening monsters and surgically altered warriors.  There is a tone to this book, anchored in the Germanic-sounding words Mr. Cornish uses as place names and descriptors.  It is a wonderful book.
At the end of Foundling, is a glossary of terms used, apparently, throughout the entire series. This glossary is over 100 pages which suggests to me that Mr. Cornish may have got a little lost in the process of building his world.
I'm afraid, gentle readers, that this is a problem for a lot of writers.  We get so drawn into the act of creating a believable world that we get lost in the details.  Sometimes, we sacrifice time to deliver ten pages of background on the history of a town or a prominant historical figure that doesn't really have anything to do with the story.
It's like 'color commentary' during a football game.  A little goes a long way, but too much distracts from the enjoyment of the game.
As writers, we have to find the happy medium.  Describing a fantasy world you've spent untold hours developing may be personally enjoyable, but most people won't care that the River Volstag is named after an ancient general who explored the region.  Not unless it's germain to your story.
Even if General Volstag's ghost rises from the water every full moon to terrorize the river, we don't need to know his entire biography.
Think of it like this: there's a devil in the details, just waiting to lure you in and overload your story with unnecessary description. 
Resist him.