Saturday, April 12, 2014

Giving the Garden Another Look

Of all of the books and stories I've published in the last few years, without question the thing that has gotten the least attention is a fantasy novel called Garden of Dust and Thorns. I attribute its lack of attention mostly to the fact that the cover art and title don't give much of a sense of what the book is all about. Even the blurb doesn't give a compelling sense of the story, the characters or the unique strangeness of the novel. Of course, since the book is self-published, all of these things are my own fault. But that's the way it goes.

I am convinced more people would really enjoy the story if they had a better sense of what it's really like. I happen to be very fond these characters and this setting, and I won't have them ignored, I tell you! Just kidding. But maybe I should do a little more to get the word out, what say? Fine. To that end, here is an excerpt of the book to give a good sense of it. It is slightly spoilerish, but read it anyway if you haven't yet tried the book.

This particular scene takes place after our protagonist, a young woman named Adhi, and her shepherdess friend, Evirsi, flee from an invading army and take refuge deep inside the massive garden that is the setting of the novel.

Chapter 3: The Spirit of the Old Planter

The first light of morning was just peeking through the trees, when Adhi finally stumbled to a stop in the shelter of an overhanging rock. A crude nest of moss and leaves had been laid down here by an animal, but it looked long abandoned. Adhi curled up on the nest and tucked her hands under her cheek, thoroughly exhausted, her dress covered in grass stains and mud and bits of leaves. A small pear tree cast shifting shadows on the ground beyond the rock, and Evirsi lingered there, her knees drawn up to her chest. She rocked back and forth, looking half-crazed. But the forest around them was quiet now, still, as if it had no memory of the night before.

“You should rest,” Adhi said. The images of men in black and gray moving through the clearing were fresh in her mind, but she felt strangely calm.

“I don’t hear them,” Evirsi said. “Maybe they turned back. Maybe they lost track of us. I know I did. I have no idea where we are.”

“Rest a little while,” Adhi said. “We are safe here. Can’t you feel it? Can’t you feel the spirit of the Old Planter?”

Evirsi cast her gaze around at the endless trees, bushes and shrubs and creeping vines, flowers blooming in a myriad of colors.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, after a moment. “I don’t feel anything but sick to my stomach. Is that the spirit of the Old Planter? Sickness in my stomach?”

“No,” Adhi said and sighed. Why couldn’t anyone understand? What was it that made everyone so insensate? It was impossible to explain.

Finally, Evirsi scooted back under the rock and lay down on her back, folding her hands on her stomach. Adhi closed her eyes, listening to the familiar sounds of the Garden but alert for anything unusual.

“I hope Omaan got away,” Evirsi said. “Do you think it’s possible?”

“There are many tall rocks along the ridgeline north of the city,” Adhi said. “It is possible to find a good hiding place there. Or so my brother says.” She wanted to believe it as much as Evirsi did, but the words came out of her mouth and dropped right to the ground like bits of lead.

“So many people to hide,” Evirsi said. “I hope there are many, many tall rocks. I hope…” Her voice trailed off, and when Adhi finally looked at her, the shepherd girl had fallen asleep.

Adhi closed her eyes again and she, too, felt sleep stealing over her. How could it be? That was her last thought. The city overrun by strangers, the Garden invaded, people scattered in all directions. How could it be?

She slept for hours, dreamless, though it felt like mere minutes. A sound, indistinct but forceful enough to make her whole body shudder, pulled her out of sleep. She opened her eyes, but the light was painful. Clapping a hand over her face, she peered out between her fingers, seeking the source of the sound. Evirsi had rolled onto her belly, her face hidden beneath her long hair. Beyond her, hazy rays of light danced between the trunks of trees.

Adhi rubbed her eyes and sat up. She heard the sound again, but it was clear this time, a low melodic echo, as of some great gong being hammered. With the sound, the rays of light became brighter, the whole forest suddenly filled with a pale brilliance. Adhi gasped and held up both hands.

“What is it?”

The sound faded and with it the light. Once again, only yellow sunlight trickled down through the branches. Adhi rose, brushing the damp moss off her backside, and stepped over Evirsi. She moved out from under the overhanging rock and approached the small pear tree. There was an open space just past it where the grass grew knee-high, but then the trees closed in.
She saw a cluster of banyan trees, straight as pillars, an enormous chestnut tree that had cast its spiny burrs all over the ground, and a pair of skinny birch trees with papery bark. Nothing out of the ordinary in that direction.

Adhi leaned against the pear tree and looked back above the rock to a high hill covered in a thicket of lavender and periwinkle, many different shades of purple. But this, too, was as always. The strange light was gone, and she began to think she had dreamed it.

A sudden wind shook the branches, bent the pear tree almost double and sent Adhi stumbling backward. It swirled around her, lifted her hair, filled her nostrils and forced her eyes shut. But it passed quickly, a brief gust, as of some giant’s breath, and then all was still again. Adhi opened her eyes, and there before her, standing beneath one of the great banyan trees, was an elk. A great red bull elk with a massive set of antlers, it stood as if it had always been there, calmly regarding her. It was taller than any she had ever seen, a good seven feet from the ground to the tips of its antlers, and it had an enormous shaggy mane around its neck.

A long quiet moment passed, and Adhi held her ground, crouched slightly in case it charged. But the great beast only stood there, large black eyes fixed upon her. Finally, it tipped its head, as if in greeting, snorted and turned. With a loud crash, it leapt through the underbrush between the banyan trees and was gone. Adhi listened to it moving through the Garden, swift as a jackrabbit, headed west.

To the heart of the Garden. A voice spoke, soft as a whisper, and Adhi did not know if she heard it with her ears or only in her head. But the words were distinct and very close. To the heart of the Garden. Where the first tree rises at the confluence of every stream. Come.

Shaken, Adhi went to her knees, clasping her hands. She stayed there a long time, waiting for the voice to return, waiting for something else to happen. And finally she felt a touch on her shoulder. Startled, she lurched to her feet, caught herself against the trunk of the pear tree and swung around. Evirsi stood there, bleary-eyed and frowning.

“What are you doing?” Evirsi asked in a sleepy croak. “Are you sick, too?”

Adhi blinked. “No. No, not sick. Didn’t you…didn’t you hear anything, see anything?”

Evirsi shook her head. “Was it the men approaching? Is it time to move on?” She looked around, turning a complete circle. “I am completely lost. Which way is forward?”

Adhi took a step in the direction the elk had gone. “To the heart of the Garden,” she said. “Where the first tree rises at the confluence of every stream.”

“What?” Evirsi said, stepping up beside her. “What does that mean?”

Adhi shook her head. “I’m not sure.”

Evirsi seemed to consider this and shrugged. Then she reached up on her tiptoes and plucked a ripe pear from the tree. She turned it this way and that and rubbed it against her dress. Clearly, she meant to clean it, but her coarse linen dress was filthy with dust and dirt. She only made the fruit worse. Nevertheless, she took a big bite, devouring to the stem.

“It doesn’t seem real,” she said, spitting out bits of pear as she spoke. “Last night. Maybe it didn’t really happen. Maybe we imagined it.”

Adhi moved to one side to avoid the flying bits of chewed food. “I wish you were right,” she said. “But it did happen.”

Evirsi sighed and tossed the remnants of the pear over her shoulder. “Well, maybe they left. Maybe they took what they came here for, and they’ve gone back. It’s so quiet now. We should go to the city and check.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea,” Adhi said. To the heart of the Garden. Where the first tree rises at the confluence of every stream. Come. “In fact, I think I—”

She heard it before she saw it, a high whistling sound, and then she caught a blur of some spinning object out of the corner of her eye. Adhi turned back in the direction of the overhanging rock, just as something slapped against her legs. She felt it wrapping around her, and then she went down. Only as she fell did she see what had hit her, a long rope with large spherical weights on either end. She slammed into the pear tree and slid down to the ground on her back, as men stepped out of the high tangle of lavender and periwinkle.

“Evirsi, they’ve found us,” she said. “Get out of here!”

The shepherd girl watched Adhi fall, a confused look on her face, as if she thought Adhi had simply thrown herself down. She shook her head and turned. Three men stood on the hilltop, wreathed in black and gray cloth. Even their eyes were hidden in the shadows of heavy hoods. Two of the men bore long spears. The one in the middle was currently unwinding a bit of rope. Adhi heard the clink of stone weights.

“Get out of here!” she shouted.

Evirsi started and nearly fell. With a whimper, she glanced down at Adhi, opened her mouth as if to speak but then took off running. She leapt through the space between two banyan trees just as another weighted rope came spinning after her.

“Don’t stop,” Adhi yelled. “Keep going!”

Evirsi shouldered her way through the underbrush and disappeared from sight, as the rope and weights slammed into one of the banyan trees and wrapped around the trunk. Adhi sat up and began untangling the rope from her legs, surprised at how tightly it had wound itself. She grabbed one of the weighted ends, a smooth and polished piece of granite, and lifted it.

Shadows hit the ground on either side of her. Two of the men had leapt from the overhanging rock. One of them knocked her hand away from the rope with the butt of his spear, and the other pointed his weapon at her chest. The third man stood at the edge of the rock. He drew a small curved sword from a sheath at his belt and hopped down to join the other two.

“Chase down the other girl,” he said, gesturing toward one of the men. “Magesh wants every single person brought back.”

* * * 

Okay, that's just a tiny sample. There are some major action scenes, intense battles, a lot of really strange magic, rampaging animals left and right, and ultimately a story with something to say. Well, maybe that sounds cliche, but it's true enough. Anyway, that's my pitch for Garden of Dust and Thorns. Follow the links and check it out.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mary of Cosmos

Well, the Young Adult book series that began my writing career will come to a dramatic conclusion in September. Mary of the Aether was my first published novel, my first attempt at writing Young Adult fiction, and it was a huge learning experience. Three out of four books in the series are now available. They are:

1) Mary of the Aether
2) Mary of Shadows
3) Mary of Starlight

And now I'd like to share the blurb for the fourth and final volume, Mary of Cosmos. Of course, if you haven't read the rest of the series, you might want to skip the blurb. It is not incredibly spoilerish, but it still contains things you might rather wait to learn about. With that warning, here is the blurb that will appear on the back of the book when it comes out:

Mary of Cosmos

"The epic conclusion to the story that began with Mary of the Aether and continued with Mary of Shadows and Mary of Starlight. One enemy remains, a creature more devious, cunning and cruel than any Devourer. Mary the Lightbearer will face this enemy in a last world-shattering battle that will change the fate of universes. But it is a battle like no other against an evil force greater than anything Mary has ever known. The truth about many things will be revealed, and no one will ever be the same."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Ongoing Prancery of Pradeep

Well, I'm still working on my next novel, Fading Man. I'm about 45,000 words in, which means I am slightly less than halfway. I just got done with a passage that was dark and troublesome with a lot of skulking through underground tunnels and cities. There's a kind of steampunk vibe in parts of this novel, which is a genre I am modestly fond of. Mostly, however, it's just post-apocalyptic decay and ruin.

Since my last blog entry, I have written the following chapters:

Chapter Nine: Kingdom of Sickness
Chapter Ten: Cities of Ruined Flesh
Chapter Eleven: A Brutal Philosophy
Chapter Twelve: Hell to Pay

There are so many flat-out weird characters in this novel that I can't wait for reader to meet. I've already mentioned Pradeep, who is my favorite, but the beautiful duo of Hilda and Billiam are the latest. They are just delightfully hideous.

But this novel is not all about ruined cities and hideous people. Thematically, it is more about the emotional wreckage that comes from a relentless pursuit of self (or perhaps instead of "self" you could say "identity," "meaning," "contentment"). If I pull it off, a certain point in the story should be obliterative.

I really like the word "obliterative."

In other news, Mary of the Aether, my first published novel, was the Indie Book of the Day for April 2, 2014. Here is the actual award:

Click it to go to the award article. Anyway, it's nice. I guess I can now technically call Mary of the Aether an Award-Winning YA novel and not be lying. So I shall. In fact, henceforth, I shall include the term "Award-Winning" in every single reference I make to the book, so brace yourselves, people.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Wonderful World of Pradeep

So my latest novel, Fading Man, is a few months from completion, at best. I'm almost 30,000 words in, which is about a fourth of the total story, depending on how much I digress and detour along the way. Despite this, I just have to say I'm really feeling the vibe of this one. Though the characters are very different, it has a lot of similarities to Shadows of Tockland. There is definitely a rising and relentless sense of peril, punctuated now and again by acts of desperation and violence.

I've written eight chapters so far. They are:

1) Admiral Vinegaroon
2) Pradeep
3) All Places are Bad Places
4) Hasty Retreat
5) Desperate Measures
6) A Warm Welcome to Tulsey Town
7) Secrets and Souvenirs
8) Shadows and Substance

Just like Shadows of Tockland, there is a certain point in the book where everything just goes absolutely violently insane, and the story takes a descent into madness. Not literally, because none of the major characters are actually insane. Though a few minor characters certainly are.

However, with all of the crazy stuff that happens, I think and hope that it is the emotional core of the story that will ultimately resonate with readers. The relationship between the main characters is on a clear trajectory, and if it works, it should be the thing that really sticks with people. We shall see.

Anyway, I've got a long way to go, but I'm getting there, day by day, a thousand words at a time. This one's got post-apocalypse, environmental devastation, hideous underground people and weirdos aplenty. Just you wait and see, people. Just you wait and see.

In the meantime, here is an article I wrote about my previous novel, Children of the Mechanism, in which I expound in a little more detail what I wrote about in a previous blog entry.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Idea and A Mood

So my novels usually spring from two things: an idea and a mood. The idea is usually a single scene that springs into my imagination somewhere along the way. Once that scene comes to me, I play around with it in my head, fleshing it out, usually before there is any real sense of character or an overarching plot.

For example, with the Mary of the Aether series, the scene that was clearest in my head from the get-go is now the climactic scene of volume three, Mary of Starlight. It's the scene that takes place on Mount Magazine. Before I had even written the first book, that scene was the one I was running over and over in my mind. In a way, the whole series flowed out of that scene.

Now, at some point as I sit down to start a novel, that idea meets up with a mood. These two things aren't always initially connected. The mood tends to reveal itself as I work out the overall plot. It doesn't always arrive embedded in that initial idea.

For the Mary of the Aether series, the mood was definitely one of angst, which Webster's defines as, "a strong feeling of being worried or nervous : a feeling of anxiety about your life or situation: a feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity." 

The interesting thing is that the novel I choose to write at any particular moment usually coincides with the mood I am feeling in life at that particular time. Actually, it is usually an exaggerated version of what I'm feeling, but nevertheless, in order to really get into a novel, I have to be on a similar emotional wavelength. When that happens, the writing of the novel becomes profoundly cathartic. 

And although my novels are never really autobiographical, I can usually go back after I've written them (or while I'm writing them) and see what things in my life were getting thematically regurgitated into the story.

However, because of this, I think one thing I really have to be careful of is creating a mood that is relentless. I think this is a risk when a novel is a cathartic experience, when you are really digging down to a specific emotional root while creating it. But on the other hand, if readers are worn out by the end of the book, then perhaps the happy, or semi-happy, ending will mean more to them. At least, that's how I approach it.

In other news, Children of the Mechanism is out now. The publisher corrected some formatting errors and typos that got into the e-book, and reviews are starting to appear. So far, they are really positive, so that's good.

Anywho, that's all for now.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Children of the Mechanism - The Official Blog Post

Hey there, folks. So my latest novel just came out, and I thought I might talk about it a little bit. Of course, I've mentioned it in the past, and I even gave a brief synopsis of how it came to be. But let me go in a little more detail today, and dig into some of the thematic elements that went into writing it.

Children of the Mechanism might be a little bit startling to people who have only read my Mary of the Aether series. Why do I say that? Well, because at times it is profoundly bleak and bloody. It is not a Young Adult novel.

On the other hand, if you've read Shadows of Tockland, then you probably know what you're in for. It's not the same sort of story as Shadows of Tockland, but it exists on a similar plane, in a manner of speaking. If you can handle one, you can handle the other.

Children of the Mechanism is an adaptation of a short story I wrote way back in 1995 as a creative writing assignment for a college class. For some reason, I had watched a documentary on CNN about children in the Holocaust, and the thing that disturbed me was the thought that there were kids who basically grew up in concentration camps. The evil and awful things they experienced on a daily basis were their only version of "normal," because they didn't know any other way of life.

And that led me to consider the condition of workers and child laborers in third world sweatshops. While my own children spend their days at school, at sports, playing video games, jumping on the trampoline, there are child laborers who endure long, miserable days of drudgery, hard work and pain, all for subsistence wages. It is the only life they know.

The thought of some kid working twelve to fourteen hours a day making soccer balls so that kids in wealthy countries can run around and play disturbs me greatly. But I can't tell their story. I haven't lived their story.

Science fiction gives me the opportunity to deal with the same things thematically in an artificial environment of my own creation. So in Children of the Mechanism, we are introduced to a series of young people who live and work in various room inside a massive, mysterious factory. They are guarded by cruel robots called Watchers. Life is full of daily misery and pain, but it is the only version of "normal" that these workers know.

Of course, at heart I am a hopeful person. I can't bear to leave people in that bleakness without the possibility of redemption or deliverance, so in the course of the story, strange things begin to unfold, and some of the workers escape from their rooms into the corridors. That is the gist of the story.

Writing Children of the Mechanism was emotional and cathartic, and I hope it is as impactful to readers as it was to the writer.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Isn't It about Time You Got to Know Pradeep?

Well, I'm working on Fading Man, my latest post-apocalyptic adventure novel. I'm only about three chapters in, but it's shaping up to be a possible magnus opus. I know I said that about Shadows of Tockland, but there is something so profoundly significant and personal about Fading Man.

When I set out to write a novel, any novel, there is always some emotional subtext driving the story--or, more accurately, driving the author. Whether or not that emotion comes through in the story itself is never a guarantee. But I can say that if Fading Man ends up reflecting the driving emotions and mood of the author, it will cut pretty deep.

At the same time, the story has a certain beautiful strangeness. Just look at the chapter titles. The first three chapters are titled: 1) Admiral Vinegaroon, 2) Pradeep, and 3) All Places Are Bad Places. That should give you some sense of the strangeness.

In other news, Children of the Mechanism comes out very soon. Both the e-book and the paperback will be available on March 5. I am interested to see how people react to the story. It's quite a bit different than Mary of the Aether. I don't want to scare people away from it, but my wife's response after reading the first draft was, "this is really bleak."

Of course, it also has memorable characters, some really intense scenes, and I think it's ultimately a hopeful story (as I believe all of my stories are ultimately hopeful stories). But we shall see how other people feel about it.

As a final bit of news, I updated the Mary of the Aether page with a bit of temporary graphics for the fourth and final book, which comes out in September. If you've read the first three books in the series, then you can go click on the picture for Mary of Cosmos and read a sample chapter.

And that's all for now. It is super later (or super early, depending on your point of view). Good night/morning.