fiction

Writing in process

My writing schedule suffered some major disruption recently as a result of my job search (which ended quite well, incidentally). With that professional goal accomplished, I should be able to ease back into my regular writing routine.

I’ve got three projects in process right now:

  • My novella, The Bazaar, continues inching toward the end of its serial run, week-by-week. I will be self-publishing this once all the installments have been posted to the blog.
  • My short story, “Tail Risk,” is with a beta reader (aka my girlfriend – she reads a lot and ran her college newspaper though, so she’s pretty legit). I am also shopping for cover art. This story, too, will join “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell” on Amazon when finished.
  • My latest flash fiction piece, “Frankenstien’s Monster,” is submitted and in process over at Every Day Fiction.

Updates to follow!

The Bazaar: Chapter 22

Q&A

The more of the prison Emily saw the less she believed it actually held inmates.

All the cells were empty — the equipment disused, rusted and generally falling apart.

“Do they actually hold anyone here?”

Pritchard shrugged. “The ones who can’t pay. Or won’t, maybe.”

The commandante assigned a pair of guards to take them down to see Jefe. He said his staff would beat on Jefe as much as Emily and Pritchard wanted, adding cheerfully that they could torture him themselves for an additional fee. Pritchard of course declined this in deference to their ever-shrinking budget.

He (Pritchard) gave her a pair of sneakers so she no longer had to go barefoot on cold concrete. Brand name knockoffs with a misspelled logo, courtesy of a street vendor. The commandante returned the ear bud pre-loaded with Espanol Made Easy (“Apologies for the inconvenience, my dear”). Her weapon, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. Not that it surprised her. A recent-model compact PDW would probably fetch a full year’s income on the black market.

Jefe had a cell block all to himself. They found him doing push-ups in his cell, banging out reps one after the other with perfect form. Emily gave him credit for that. He wasn’t built for it. Then again neither was she.

He had stripped off his shirt so she could see the muscles in his back work with each rep. A faded tattoo of the Virgin Mary sat square between his shoulders. The Blessed Virgin rippled as Jefe’s muscles flexed. It occurred to her that he was awfully strong, for a scrawny little monkey.

“Why’d you set me up?” she asked. “Is my money no good here?”

Jefe knocked out three more reps before answering. “Their money was better,” he replied, without looking up. His voice crackled as Emily’s ear bud calibrated to his tone and the background noise.

“I didn’t think the cartels were allowed to strong-arm brokers.”

He laughed a little without breaking form or pace. “What do you know about it?”

“They killed your boy.”

In fact, Flannel Shirt was probably still lying face down in that scuzzy hotel room.

Jefe finished a rep. He paused at the top of his form. “I have plenty of boys,” he said, then adjusted his hands for triangle push-ups and began again.

“Okay. We don’t have time to screw around. I’m going to ask you what I want to know. If you don’t answer that’s fine, but these guys-” she gestured to the prison guards “-are going to beat the shit out of you. All I want to know is this: who are the freelancers who set us up, and where do they work?”

Jefe ignored the question.

Emily hadn’t been trained for interrogation in The Program.

At first AEGIS hadn’t authorized her to do interrogations, either.

Not till Syria.

Everything she knew about psyops she learned form the militia. The elder statesman of the Democratic Liberation Front, Dr. Kamel, had a doctorate in psychology. He was a thoughtful, bespectacled man with wispy, receding hair. Before the war he practiced in a wealthy Damascus neighborhood.

Dr. Kamel refined his technique with scientific precision. He kept notes on his methods and results in a thick, spiral-bound notebook, fitting two lines of his cramped Arabic characters into every ruled line.

He did not approve of brute force torture.

Cut a man. Burn a man. Make him believe he is drowning. Insult his family and religion. Spit on the things that are sacred to him. Strip his clothes off and abuse him like an animal.

There Dr. Kamel paused to adjust his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

Hurt a man like this and he may talk. He may tell you this thing or that thing. But he will only give you bits and pieces in proportion to the pain, and only enough to make the pain stop. To break a man you must break his mind. Then it will all come flooding out like water through a crack in a dam. You will know everything he knows, as if by magic.

His technique of choice was burying prisoners alive for days on end with no food and limited air, then digging them up after they thought they’d died. At which point they’d usually spill their guts – in between convulsions and sobs, of course.

Dr. Kamel was living proof you had to worry about the quiet ones.

And while he wouldn’t approve of what Emily was about to do to El Jefe, she had neither the time nor energy to drive the little bastard slowly out of his mind. “Go to work,” she told the prison guards. “Extra money if he begs for mercy.”

The men began rolling up their sleeves.

“Extra?” Pritchard coughed — and she could have sworn his eyes were watering.

A Colder War

shoggoth

A shoggoth

So you’re saying the Russians have these, uh, Shoggoths, but we don’t have any. And even those dumb Arab bastards in Baghdad are working on them. So you’re saying we’ve got a, a Shoggoth gap? A strategic chink in our armour? And now the Iranians say the Russians are using them in Afghanistan?
–Charles Stross, A Colder War

It takes a lot of nerve to write a paragraph like that with a straight face. What’s a shoggoth, you ask? If you don’t already know you ought to quit reading now. Neither A Colder War nor this review are meant for you.

Charles Stross’ novelette (available online here) imagines the Iran-Contra scandal in a world where H.P. Lovecraft’s entire Cthulhu Mythos is real. Not much more to it, really. Rest assured there is a plot. I won’t describe it here because frankly A Colder War is at its best sketching the impact of Lovecraftian horrors on Cold War politics. Readers ought to have the pleasure of discovering that for themselves.

Stross combines a strong voice with deadpan humor and more Lovecraft references than you can shake a shoggoth at. The quote at the top of this post is one example. If you’re not satisfied with that, here’s another:

“It is not the Russians that we quarrel with,” Mehmet says quietly, “but their choice in allies. They believe themselves to be infidel atheists, but by their deeds they shall be known; the icy spoor of Leng is upon them, their tools are those described in the Kitab al Azif. We have proof that they have violated the terms of the Dresden Agreement. The accursed and unhallowed stalk the frozen passes of the Himalayas by night, taking all whose path they cross. And will you stopper your ears even as the Russians grow in misplaced confidence, sure that their dominance of these forces of evil is complete? The gates are opening everywhere, as it was prophesied. Last week we flew an F-14C with a camera relay pod through one of them. The pilot and weapons operator are in paradise now, but we have glanced into hell and have the film and radar plots to prove it.”

If there is a downside to all this it’s that A Colder War is essentially one big gimmick (albeit a very enjoyable one). The story doesn’t feel fully fleshed-out, especially in comparison to Stross’ later Laundry novels. The novelette also ends abruptly, as if afraid to wear out its welcome.

Finally, it requires at least passing familiarity with Lovecraft’s fiction to enjoy. I can’t imagine someone ignorant of “At the Mountains of Madness” and “Call of Cthulhu” would get much out of A Colder War. As I mentioned above, half the fun is spotting the Lovecraft references. The average reader may simply find the whole thing bewildering.

If history and Lovecraft are up your alley, however, you owe it to yourself to spend an evening with A Colder War.

Moment of clarity

The absolute, hands-down, best part of any writing project is the moment when everything suddenly snaps into focus and falls into place, and the piece begins to write itself. For me, the longer the piece, the longer it takes for this moment to arrive.

I am happy to report that I got there today on my latest short story project. Recently I revisited an old horror story of mine that never went anywhere, “Sweet Home.” It was a case of right character, right premise but wrong plot.  Now I’ve finally dropped this character into a worthy story and everything clicked. This afternoon I banged out 1,500 words in under 2 hours.

Incidentally, “Sweet Home” now has the new working title of “Mirror, Mirror.” Yes, I know there is a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode with that title and no, the two don’t have anything to do with one another. The title will probably change again before I’m finished.

Crash and burn!

Sad to report that “State of Grace” crashed and burned at Bewildering Stories. On the plus side it was not a form rejection. I actually got some great editorial feedback on the piece. There is also a promotional option available for “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell,” which I plan to explore in more depth later this week. So all is not lost. They did ask me if I had anything else for them to consider (which I appreciated). There’s just nothing else ready to go out the door at the moment.

I intend to go back through the story with the editor’s comments in mind. With any luck I can improve the piece and get it accepted somewhere else.

Flash Fiction Online submission

As part of my ongoing quest for increased visibility, I submitted my flash horror story, “First Corinthians,” to Flash Fiction Online. In an earlier post I described the story thusly:

“First Corinthians” is about a little girl speaking to the exorcist trying to throw a demon out of her sister. It actually takes place apart from the exorcism itself, while the exorcist is taking a break. This isn’t blood and guts horror. I’m trying for something more cerebral – maybe even philosophical. The story is about faith and God and how one copes in the apparent absence of those things. What if God didn’t exist but the Devil did? Pretty horrifying stuff, methinks, albeit in a much subtler way.

As usual, updates to follow.