Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Next Novel: The Eight-Bit Bard

My next novel hit a major milestone today. I basically completed the early reader's draft. There's a few stray notes and a little cleanup left, but all the major writing and editing is done.

This project is very different from the first: a fantasy novel with heavy references to early computer role-playing games. I think it stands on its own even if the reader isn't big on computer games, but it may resonate especially well with anyone who knows Ultima, Bard's Tale, Pool of Radiance, Wizardry, and other classics, and also with more modern gamers.

The current working title is The Eight-Bit Bard, but that's still up for review.

In coming weeks I'll be sending copies to advance readers for some commentary and revisions. Any enthusiastic readers are welcome to contact me for a copy, if you're interested. 

I'm not sure how long revisions will take. Somewhere between two and four months from now is likely, depending on feedback.

Once things get cleaned up a little more I'll be posting some excerpts and maybe some candidate artwork for the cover.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

'Chicagoland' Excerpt: DEFCON Drunk

The car I was in got back to the house first, while Moses’s car with Dan got delayed. Not wanting to waste any minutes of the bachelor party, everyone with me started drinking quickly. When Dan arrived, we shoved drinks at him so he could catch up. Then we had more drinks so we could stay ahead and keep stringing the late arrivals along.

We talked Dan into doing some shots, him individually against several of us, before the party moved upstairs. A while later, I went back down to the kitchen to find him doing a shot against himself. “Nobody else wanted one, and I wasn’t going to waste it,” he said.

“Why not just pour one shot?”

“I didn’t think of that.”

Soon after that, I found Dan slumped over the kitchen table, head on his arm, muttering to himself in German. I didn’t even know Dan spoke any German. “Mein freunde, mein freunde,” I heard him say, which I barely recognized as “my friends, my friends.” I tried to shuffle him off to bed, but some switch had flipped, and he ignored everything I tried to tell him in English, only responding with more German. I had maybe thirty words in the language total, but thankfully one phrase I could remember was “good night.” Heavy repetition of “gute nacht” got him to agree it was time for nighty-night. I grabbed his shoulder to help move him toward a couch.

Apparently that was a mistake. Angry, belligerent, Dan turned on me and shouted in an evil robot voice, “DEFCON 3, defenses rising!”

“Hey, wait, I’m just helping you to bed.”

Again, in the robot voice. “Does not compute. Nicht Deutch. Error.”

“Look, can we just go and-”

“Misunderstood. Mein freunde sprechen Deutch. Escalating. Approaching DEFCON 2. Nuclear assault imminent.”

“You’re a vegan, damn it; you’re supposed to be a pacifist!” He approached me threateningly, regardless. “Freund! Freund!” I shouted, desperate for any friendly German words. “Gut! Liebe! Freund!”

Dan started to deflate. “Freund recognized. DEFCON levels decreasing. Nuclear arsenals on standby. Gute nacht.” With that, he turned and walked upstairs, lay down on the couch, and didn’t move until morning.

This was an excerpt from Chicagoland. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

'Chicagoland' Excerpt: Brownies

As soon as they were cool, Rob cut up the brownies into tiny pieces, handed out a chunk to everyone, and hid the rest before the roommate could return. Then we pulled out Trivial Pursuit and played for a while as we waited.

“Nothing’s happening,” Rob declared after half an hour.

“Yeah, I don’t feel anything either,” Greg said. The rest of us shrugged or nodded in agreement. Rob brought the bag of brownies back out, and everyone took another couple of cubes. Doing the math, I’m pretty sure this gave us each about eight times more than a reasonable dose.

We continued playing. I would have sworn I still didn’t feel anything, but the questions in the game kept on getting weirder and weirder. Someone ate ten pounds of what meat in a challenge? (Eel. Naturally.) From what country is so-and-so from? (Forgive the double preposition.) “Red Dragon” is a sickly prequel to what prickly sequel? (Huh? Is that a spoonerism?) Investigating a horse murder, being what book? (Seriously? What the hell?)

I placed the last card back in the box, convinced it left a broad swooping trail behind as it moved through the air. “Okay, I think maybe I’m feeling something after all. But I swear this game is also independently getting weirder. I’m not understaying what they’re sanding half the time. Um. Understanding, saying. If I didn’t know better, I would say it was on pot brownies, too.”

Everyone agreed that was a perfectly reasonable suggestion.

With a start, I realized five minutes had passed, everyone sitting in motionless silence. I felt oppressed by my own thoughts and weighted down by an unusual inertia. “I don’t think I can play anymore,” I said.

“I want to lie down, but I don’t even think I can do that,” said Langston, scooched so far down on the couch his head was almost touching the seat, and with his legs splayed across the coffee table. Gravity would get him there eventually.

“I can’t …” groaned Rob. Finish the sentence, apparently.

“We need music,” said Greg. He oozed in pudding-esque fashion across three feet of floor and started flipping through a huge stack of vinyl records. Nobody else moved. It was about ten minutes before he spoke. “Wow, these are oooooold.”

Langston said, “Yeah, I got those from Mom when she moved to Chicago. There’s some good stuff in there.”

“And some really bad stuff.” Greg grinned devilishly. “Ooh, this looks awful. I’m going to put it on.”

It was awful, we all agreed, when we could summon the strength. Greg went from record to record, listening to some for as much as ten minutes or as little as ten seconds, trying to find something worse than the previous song. He was cunningly accurate with his picks.

It did not occur to any of us to suggest maybe we put on good music instead. We just sat and/or lay there and groaned, wishing it would stop.

Greg gasped, eyes wide with a child’s enthusiasm. “This! Here we go! John Barleycorn Must Die. That’s got to be the worst possible name for an album. It’s going to be terrible.” It was. It really was. He played it through five times in a row.

I finally found the strength to stand up. “I think I have to go lie down,” I said, dragging myself back downstairs to my temporary bed. Not since my first experience with the stuff—when I was convinced my arms were shriveling up into little Tyrannosaurus rex claws, and I could feel my tongue turning thin and forked like a serpent’s, darting around evilly inside my own mouth—had I been so disoriented by mere tea. Slumping on the couch, I lay for hours, half-catatonic with one foot in the land of Nod and one foot firmly planted in outer space.

This was an excerpt from Chicagoland. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon

Sunday, March 1, 2015

'Chicagoland' Excerpt: The Call

As the meal wound down, I realized Moriarty was still missing. Nobody else had seen him. Loud and noisy inside, I stepped out and tried calling him.

“Yeah?” slurred a confused Morty, barely audible over street traffic, bad reception, and noise from the El he was on.

“Where’d you go?”

“Look, man, it’s no good. I tried and I’m sorry, but I failed, and there’s nothing left.”

I almost joked that when everything is gone, there’s always Nothing left, but Mort didn’t seem to be in a playful mood. “You sound drunk. What are you talking about?”

“I’m through with it. I’m going to go down to the roof of my office, and I’m going to end it all.”

I felt a real jolt. Everything tingled, and my brain seemed to be floating. I desperately tried to pull myself together. “Please tell me you’re joking!”

“No, man. Look, I’m sorry, but this is the only option. I love you, you’ve been a good friend, but I’m through. You can have all my stuff. Except the guitar. Moses gets that.”

“Please don’t do anything crazy. Can we talk about this?”

He said something garbled, and then either hung up or we got disconnected.

I called back. No answer.

Again. No answer.

A third time.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” he shouted.

“Morty, I’m begging you, please. Don’t do this. Tell me where you are. I’ll come get you.”

“I’m, I don’t know. On a hell. In train.” More noise, more garbling. “I’m so fucking sick of this,” I think I heard. It was hard to tell.

“Look, come back, or tell me where you are. We’ll talk.”

He said something I couldn’t follow and hung up.

I called again, but no answer. I tried a second and third time, but he refused to pick up, or he had no signal. I left a pleading message on his voicemail, asking him to call back, asking him to wait and give us a chance to do whatever he needed. All the while, I’m pacing up and down a street, but it’s not a real street. The people on sidewalk aren’t real people, and the passing cars aren’t real cars. They’re imaginary, illusions I barely register as I walk back and forth, shouting and begging on the phone, my only connection to the one thing that matters right now. I heedlessly step in front of a turning car. It brakes. I walk on as if it doesn’t exist, through ghosts of people I do not see. If anything happens to Moriarty, all of this may as well not exist. The only reality is at the other end of the line, where I’m leaving a desperate message for a lost soul who may or may not ever hear it. It could be the message that saves a life. It could also be the message the police listen to as they investigate the phone record of a dead man for clues. It could be the message I play to myself, over and over, when I inherit all his stuff, except for the guitar.

This was an excerpt from Chicagoland. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

'Chicagoland' Second Edition Now Available

The new edition of Chicagoland has been published on Amazon. I'm very proud of the new edition. While at its heart it's basically the same story, the streamlining makes it a more coherent read. I've also cleaned up some things that, upon further reflection, shouldn't have been included in the first edition for one reason or another.

Readership to date has been small but generally positive, with an average rating of 4.5 stars on Amazon. I'm very pleased with that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

'Chicagoland' Second Edition Coming Soon

In the months since Chicagoland was first published, I have learned a lot of things. Some of them about editing, some about storytelling, some about marketing. Quite a few of the most valuable lessons have been outside the realm of the book itself, but have affected how I want to tell a story, and what I ought to include in one.

Because of all those things and more, I was convinced to do a round of revisions to the book. It's now shorter, snappier, and more focused on scenes that are emotionally important to the main character. I have simplified a few things, including combining a mess of about forty minor characters into a neatly packaged dozen or so. Finally, I fixed some large issues with the pacing and chronology in the latter third of the book, which hopefully helps draw it to a more satisfying conclusion.

More details to come once the new version is published. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

'Chicagoland' Excerpt: Rhymes with Silver

Moriarty went back to his guitar, strumming and, noodling around with lyrics. “I will buy you a bracelet of silver … that every thief would want to pilfer … Ah, that’s no good. Hey, what rhymes with silver?”

“Nothing, really. It’s one of those un-rhymable words. Silver, orange, purple.”

“What, really?”

“You never noticed, mister poet? It’s weird they’re all colors. One of those odd groupings that make me wonder about the English language. Have you also noticed most of the words that have the same singular and plural are nearly all animals? Deer, moose, fish, rutabaga.”

“I don’t think rutabaga is an animal.”

I laughed. “Just testing. It also uses a normal plural.”

“And isn’t the plural of moose meese?”

“No, you’re thinking of meeses, and that’s the plural of mice. And it’s not the real plural, it’s a joke cartoon plural.”

“Oh, right. But nothing rhymes with orange?”

“Can you think of anything?”

“Borange, morange, porange … no I guess not. That’s so incomplete. We need to make up words that rhyme so songwriters like me won’t get stuck. Let’s see. We’ll do gurple, pilver, and lorange.”

“But what are they going to mean?”

“Say a couple's gettin' it on. So he puts his gurple in her pilver and reaches for her lorange, which will be her boobs, and—”

“It doesn’t count if you’re just making up slang terms. Besides, we’ve got enough words for genitalia already. You need to use the new word to fill a definition that doesn’t exist yet. Find some new shade of meaning, or a way of relating two things, or wait until we invent a new technology and lobby to have the word used instead of J.A.A.”

“J.A.A.?” Morty asked.

“Just another acronym.”

“Gotcha. But wait, you want me discover some way of describing the world that nobody who speaks English has ever needed so far, but that’ll make sense to everyone once explained?”


“That sounds hard.”

“Keep in mind, since you’re inventing these words to rhyme with other words, they also need to go together. It wouldn’t do any good to decide lorange is a step-aunt’s second cousin and then still not ever be able to use it in rhyme with orange. Unless she’s been eating too many carrots or something.”

“You know what, let’s just forget it.”

“And that’s why we don’t have any words that rhyme with orange.

This was an excerpt from Chicagoland. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon.