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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Writing in one genre, or branching out? Considering the order in which you write your work

From 123rf.com

Anyone will tell you--you can google this topic, if you want--that you should write in one genre to establish yourself as an author before you try to branch out. It's why J.K. Rowling used a pseudonym when she wrote a contemporary after finishing Harry Potter. It's why screenwriters routinely learn to have at least three scripts in the same genre finished before they go shopping for agents or producers. Establish your name, your brand, because you are a commodity.

In many ways, this is good advice, but I want to pause and talk a moment about goals before you go on with your day and take it.

What is your writing goal? To become a full-time, self-sufficient author who lives off royalties? NYT best-seller list? Or do you just have one story you just want to see on the shelves? Maybe your goal's just, "published author," and you've discovered that it's HARD to get there, and one-shotting it doesn't usually get the job done, so you've had to write several things you care less about to try to build a career for the one thing. Whatever your goal is...

You need to pick your career path, and your publishing plan, to maximize your shot at achieving your goal, and this means that you need to tailor the advice you take and the statistics you follow according to that goal.

I love that kind of "follow one genre advice" because I'm a total nerd about the business side of writing. I love exploring figures and agents and analyses of author's ages (did you know most people write their NYT bestseller in their fifties?). I'm a professional, published author and I'm damn proud of it--

BUT I NEVER want to go back to writing full-time to make a living. I did it, I proved I could do it, and I'm glad I did it because I learned so much about why I want a more active lifestyle. (You can learn more about the pros and cons of writing for a living here) Your story may be different, but when God put me on this planet to write he knew my writing would stagnate if I didn't become a hero like the ones I write about, so Imma be a doctor, and maybe some other things, too, so that when I write I'll eventually have real iron substance in the blood I drip onto the page. 

So for me, the goal is not to make a full-time living out of my writing career, which means I can take the whole career a bit slower, maybe, than some of you can. I am following the "stick to one genre" advice loosely, because I do want to establish a name, so most of my short stories have a speculative element in them--I'm an SFF writer--BUT I'm also tailoring this advice to meet my specific needs. My needs are more focused on supporting certain works that are important to me, than on supporting the identity of an author per se, because I have certain things I need to write before I die. It's about the stories, not about me. 

Your goal's probably vastly different than mine, but my message to YOU is that maybe you don't want to arrange your writing queue only by genre. Maybe consider:
  •  difficulty (do I have the skills to write this piece as it deserves yet? What pieces can I write as practice before I get there?), 
  • timeliness (when will this have the biggest impact? Am I following or leading a writing trend?), 
  • platform (does this abortion piece really work with my overall career right now, or do I want to build credibility as a doctor first), 
  • current published repertoire (how well does this piece fit will previous pieces I've written? Can I cross-pollinate, and use it to market other pieces?)
  • past readership (will this piece, written for a certain audience like contemporary romance, alienate my SFF readers down the line if they discover it? How do I manage, for example, Christian audiences I attract with my more philosophical work, who'll then read my horror and dick-jokes and freak out?)
  • publishing styles (maybe my traditional publishing's all science fiction, but what if I build a separate name for myself in the self-pub world in romance? It's easier to self-pub if you're building off a platform you already have, but can I maybe build a marketing plan to mitigate that?)
  • representation (will I screw over an SFF-based agent by branching out into my ideological gay/lesbian contemporary romantic treatise that she doesn't know how to sell? How can I build a separate platform for that romance over the next ten years so that by the time it comes out I'm not hurting myself and those who work with me? Am I too widely branched to really get an agent? Or, on the other hand, should I focus on several kinds of agents for several works? Better look up the preferences for each agent to see if they want to rep ALL an author's works or just one!
And things like that.

Career authors are big right now. You have to show the world that you're here to stay, in some way, and building a genre repertoire's a great way to do that. But if you're like me, and you're going to branch out, consider building a separate career plan for each genre. "These short stories will support this novel which I'll time around this career move in my outside life to build credibility"--just an ideal "queue" of releases to create deadlines for you to write towards. I don't always put release dates into my plans--sometimes you just gotta pants your life, too--but I do have my genre plans woven around my MD and interlacing with each other in time. "This kickstarter for this smaller project will help me practice for that kickstarter for that film project in a different genre!" 

Anyway, that's just a thought. Like I always say, I'm just a kid--so if you have any tips for me on this planning stuff, or you're a multi-genre author, share your ideas below! What are your goals? How do you plan your writing career? Where do you see yourself in ten years--and more importantly, what are you going to do TODAY to get there?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts (so don't leave me hanging).

Sunday, May 8, 2016

To Inherit Eternal Life: 1) Hug a Gay Democrat, 2) Hug a Racist Trump Supporter, and most importantly, 3)...

And behold, a certain lawyer, a well-respected activist, all dressed in a sleek black suit and winning grin, stood up and tested Jesus, saying, “Rabbi, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus knew the whole "ask questions to look smart" technique--he knew plenty of over-achievers--so behold, he asked one back, “What is written in the Bible? What is your reading?”

The lawyer answered like a memorization machine: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’"

“You have answered rightly," said Jesus. "Do this and you will live.” Short and sweet--bam, answered. No ceremony.

But the lawyer wanted ceremony to justify his question: he looked around at the other folks nodding in the oaken pews, and with an easy answer like that he looked stupid, like he'd asked the teach what's 2 plus 2. He didn't want to talk the simple stuff, he wanted advanced theology, stuff this construction worker Jesus couldn't handle. Yeah, okay, smart guy, the lawyer smirked, “And who is my neighbor?”

“A certain man," Jesus looked the lawyer in the eye, almost as if the lawyer was that man, "went down from New York to Washington, and his GPS got him lost in a back-alley neighborhood where a gang robbed him, stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and left with his car, leaving him half dead."

The lawyer didn't like imagining himself half dead in a back alley, but Jesus went on,

"Now by chance a certain pastor, a respected pastor, or your yoga guru, the guy who wrote that life-changing spiritual book you love, he came down that road. And when he saw this man bleeding out--he hurried by on the other side.

Likewise a founding member of your political party--the guy you look up to and retweet, the guy you wish noticed you--he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.

Then a third guy came along. What are you, a Democrat? Then this third guy's a hardcore Republican, maybe even a Trump worshipper. Real redneck. You a Christian conservative? This third guy's super liberal and agnostic--his theology's all twisted up. He believes the opposite of all your most important beliefs. Total idolator. Probably gay, too.

So this third guy you don't like, he journeyed, came where the broken man was.

And when he saw him, he had compassion.

So this Third Guy went and bandaged the broken man's wounds, kneeling under the streetlights to pour on expensive antibiotic ointment and empty his first aid kit with balms; and he set the man, dirty and bleeding, right on the upholstered seat of his car and brought him to the hospital. Third guy texted and cancelled all his appointments, and told his wife he wouldn't be home for dinner, and stayed by the broken man's side all night taking care of him. The monitors beeped and the blood seeped through the bandages, but the broken man made it to the next day.

On the next day, when Third Guy departed, he took out his wallet, gave it to hospital billing, and said to them, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’

So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

And the lawyer said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Your neighbor isn't the buddy you invite to barbecue. He's the guy on the street corner who kind of scares you. On the opposite end of your Jew/Samaritan divide--opposing color, wrong belief, and your hated lifestyle.

Do you love your neighbor?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Becominghero.ninja--superhero comic with a meta twist

Hey! I'm really happy you're reading this, because it means finally, after a year of prep, we're ready to launch becominghero.ninja! It's a mixed-media adventure, starting now as a webcomic, about superheroes, their authors, their fans, and representation within media. A guy wants to kill his author, a dude wants to save his best friend, and this is the comic that leads in to the 2017 novel that explores it all. You'll see some whacky medical scifi here and there because I like medicine--that's what I do--and you'll get a healthy dose of just overall weirdness.

So please, come check it out! Becominghero.ninja! Dot NINJA!!! WOOO!


P.S. If you like real world things and being ahead of everyone else, LolBurger and Last Galaxy Comics in Ponce, Puerto Rico will have physical comics of one of the first storylines of this series. Supplies are SUPER-limited, so get there May 7th and eat that right up. Can't wait to share this with you!

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Predator's Game, by Martin Hill Ortiz: Fun and Scares with Nikola Tesla!

A Predator's GameA Predator's Game by Martin Hill Ortiz

A Predator's Game, by Dr. Martin Hill, is a rematch between the intelligent, reclusive Dr. Tesla and the brilliant serial killer Dr. Holmes, as Tesla struggles to uncover Holmes' murderous plots in a complicated game of chess throughout urban New England. It's historical mystery fiction with a touch of scifi and a healthy glob of horror on top, and it's definitely worth a read.

The author's greatest strength lies in his painstaking attention to detail, both in description, and in research. The street names, places, characters, and events mentioned--nearly everything except the actual interactions between Tesla and Holmes--all existed, and readers who take the time to look up any of the aforementioned will find themselves shocked with the sheer volume of information Dr. Hill took the time to conjure up. Recently, he's even uncovered details from old newspapers that have aided historical societies in correcting their records, and because of this he's already relatively popular with hardcore Tesla fans.

This level of detail will not, however, detract from the experience for those who aren't as into the "historical" side of historical fiction. The intimate descriptions, especially those penned through the point of view of the intriguingly evil Dr. Holmes, also serve to add perspective and the uncanny wit which I've come to expect from Dr. Hill's work.

That detail extends to Dr. Holmes' murders, too--you didn't know to be afraid of an X-ray until you read the way the Not-so-good Doctor uses the medical invention on one of Tesla's technicians. That heaping helping of nasty puts this book solidly within the realm of the gruesome--not PG-13 for sure--and actually I think this broadens the audience beyond hist-fic readers to solid horror. It might be a little slower for your standard horror reader, but once you're solidly within the mind of the monster, you're in for a nasty set of scares, both gross and psychological. Nothing's overdone, so I don't think those mystery fans out there should run and hide, but it's definitely not a "cozy" mystery, and I'd definitely recommend this book to my horror fans.

Dr. Holmes does in fact, in many ways, outshine the book's protagonist, the unfortunately more boring Nikola Tesla. I guess I always imagined Tesla as more of a quirky weirdo, and I wanted to see an unusual, semi-autistic play in his character development--maybe a missed opportunity to celebrate diversity of those who are differently mentally-abled? As is, Tesla is a bit too normal for my taste: brilliant, reclusive, and Spartan, but almost too intentionally so. Hill's interpretation of Tesla is struggling with doses of violent thoughts accidentally implanted into his mind by Dr. Holmes (this is the science fiction part)--which should make him more human, and less ivory tower, but for some reason didn't resonate with me, perhaps because I wanted a dirtier, grittier writing style for Tesla to match Dr. Holmes' cold observant brilliance. At any rate in such a plot-driven book Tesla's mild personality doesn't matter nearly as much as the heat of the chase itself--which is expertly crafted--and readers will empathize with Tesla all the same.

All in all, A Predator's Game is definitely worth your time if you're a horror fan, a dark mystery fan, or a historical fiction fan who doesn't mind a little bit of light science speculation thrown in. Parents should definitely read this book first before recommending it to their children, but most older teenagers should be able to understand the book as well, and it would certainly make a fun adjunct read to an upper-level history or literature class, for while, again, this book's plot follows a completely fictional thread, the rest of the tapestry places you soundly in the real life and times of Tesla. A must-read for any Tesla fan, for sure.

Happy reading!

Disclosure: Two years ago Dr. Hill taught a pharmacology class I attended. There is now no professional/personal relationship offering personal gain or any superior/inferior dynamic that would adversely affect the objectivity of this review. On the contrary, having learned a bit about the author, I'm more able to appreciate the time investment of this work.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Skye, from Becoming Hero--Character Interview

I've never gone to a superhero's house before. I wish I had--someone's living space tells you a lot about them, and I would've loved to meet Natasha's mom. Oh well. Ding-dong, goes the doorbell by a little screen door that looks like it was installed in the 80s, and then the door opens and there's a tiny middle-aged Japanese-American woman in--

"Is that your rapper outfit?" I joke.

She takes off the beanie and adjusts the sagging pants. She's not joking. "Mmhm. You've caught me recording. Can I help you?"

"I was actually here to talk to Skye--I'm a volunteer with his mentorship program at school. But now, wow, I just have so many questions!"

"Well, rapping's not my day job. I've been doing some small local shows and youtube MVs. Come on in, I'll call Skye."

I don't know what I expected--it's just a cream-carpet living room and a vinyl kitchen in here--but for some reason I'm surprised. I brush my fingertips across the eggshell-blue walls and the simple picture frames as the little woman scurries ahead of me to shut off the base-heavy beat blaring from the master bedroom down the hall.

"Skye, you've got company!" she calls. To me, "Can I get you something, miss?"

She's back in seconds, before I can answer, and trailing behind her shuffles a teenager in jeans with torn edges--edges worn to a fray not by pretentious Abercrombe fakery, but by real overuse. Skye's eyes glint curiously at me.

"Skye, get the tea box," says my hostess.

"Thank-you so much," I say, "but actually I was going to take Skye out for our volunteering activity, and--"

"One cup of tea won't make you late," she says. Skye's already sliding across the vinyl on his socks, snatching the box off the counter without stopping as he skids over to me. I take out a white "momo" tea.

"Good choice," he says. "Mom won't let you leave until you have tea. I think she's trying to take over the world by forcing nanobots into everyone--through tea."

"Skye!" Mother scolds.

Skye grins. He takes the kettle from his mom and taps her shoulder. "Aren't you trying to finish that hook before Dad comes home? Lemme get this."

"I am, and thank-you, but--well, just make sure you don't steep it too long, or it'll--"

"Mom, it's putting a bag in hot water. I think I can figure out tea."

"I don't know, you did put the laundry in the dishwasher yesterday."

"Mom!" He looks at me, then back at her. "That's embarrassing!"

"So is a son who interrupts when I'm talking." She stretches way up to ruffle his hair. His glowering's as fake as her scolding, and they both laugh at her awkward reach. "So tall," she says as she disappears down the hall again. The beat starts up, and Skye hides the kettle and mouths at me to sneak out the door.

"We can't really talk here," he says when we're outside. He's still hopping on one foot to get his shoe on. "My parents don't know still. About me."

"Your mom seems nice."

"Sorry, she's taken," he says. "She's out of your league."

"Dude, I'm like thirty years younger than her!" I protest as he swings open my car door like he owns it.

"Ha! Don't be hurt, she's out of my Dad's league too. Hey, where we going?"

"Wherever you want."

"You look weirder than I thought you would."

"Thanks," I say. This is normal. My interviewees all know me before they see me, and their brains usually fill in some kind of false memory about an appointment or an interview, or, like in Natasha's case, a therapist. It's my dimension-traveling superpower: they'll never need an explanation about me.

"You're welcome," Skye says. "I hate it when people take weird like it's an insult. I'm weird, too."

"What's weird about you?"

"Turn right up here," he says, pointing at the road. "I guess the way I talk. I'm funny in like a stupid way."

"You think you're stupid?"

"No, I'm funny, in a stupid way. There's a bunch of words in the middle that you missed there, lady."

I'm not sure how to respond to that.

"I'm not sure how to respond to that," I say.

"It's cool. Don't you have, like, a bunch of questions to ask me? Gimme a hard one."

"Sure." I'm feeling mean. "Are your parents fighting?"

"Why you keep asking about my parents? No my parents aren't fighting. They're just hiding a lot from each other right now. My mom's in the middle of recording a song for my dad's birthday, and he's in the middle of planning her dream-vacation to Spain 'cuz she's always wanted to go there, and apparently the thing he wants for his birthday is her smile." Skye grins. "I wish they were fighting--then maybe I could go to Spain instead."

"Really? You wish they were fighting?"

"Nah, just a little." He sees the weird look on my face and explains. "I'm thankful they're cool with each other and all, don't get me wrong, but if they're always on each others' side about everything, and it's just them and me in the house. My dad's head is too big. He doesn't need Mom helping him when I'm in trouble. He's Army," he adds, as if that explains everything. "You know what I really wish, though--left, left!"

We swerve. "Tell me earlier next time!"

"I'll try. Anyway, I really wish I had a sibling. Brother, sister, I don't care."

"Too much pressure as an only child?"

"We call it 'attention,' not pressure. I mean, I don't even know how I'm gonna keep hiding my superhero job. But I want a bro or a sis to have a bro or a sis, not cuz of my parents. I like my parents. But Natasha has five siblings, and she grew up literally never alone. That sounds so cool!"

"Doesn't it also sound a little noisy?"

"I guess, if you're introverted or whatever. Sounds awesome to me."

"Me too, but you must know that makes you weird."

"I know, right? Pull over here."

I do, and we find a lake surrounded by sparse woods and a mulch running track. The track's choked with weeds.

"Check out how the sun hits the water. You can tell it's clean 'cuz it comes off bluish-clear, right? Natasha comes here sometimes. She pointed that out." He picks up a stone and skips it. "I'm not supposed to be here when she's here, she said. Like I'm supposed to read her mind and know when she's here. I mean, I try to avoid bothering her, but it's a cool spot. How's she gonna show it to me and then tell me not to show up?"

"But you're trying to give her space, right."

"Yeah, I mean, she doesn't own this lake though. And sometimes she's all happy if I show up by accident, and then she punches me and tells me to get, and that's confusing, you know?"

"I'd just go by what she says literally and ignore all the other mixed signals. It'd be unfair of her to expect you to read her mind, and you'll go crazy if you try."

"That's what my dad said." He throws another rock. This one goes PLUMPK! and sinks. "Mom says I need to learn to read between the lines, and that Natasha totally likes me. Like, like likes me. Mom's cool, but then there's consent and stuff. You know, how, like, consent's gotta be expressed? You can't assume it. I feel like that should work with everything."

"Aren't you like, fifteen? What's got you thinking about consent and communication and stuff like that?"

"BB spends a lot of time on tumblr. And when she's not, she's arguing with Natasha about what she reads there. I overhear stuff." He shrugs, and flashes a beautiful smile. "You know, we've just been, like, talking. Wasn't this supposed to be like a formal interview or something?"

"I don't mind letting an interview take its own natural path. But we can change it up. How'd you decide to become a superhero?"

He bursts into a long belly laugh. "Ha! Decide? I didn't decide! Robotman drafted me! Ha, decide. Who decides to become a superhero?"

"I think Robotman did."

"Well, Robotman's a real hero. Most of us just got stuck in crap too bad to ignore without fighting back."

"Mmm, but you could decide to stop helping people once you've solved that crap."

"I guess, yeah, but you can't go back once you're in. It'd be boring."

"You really don't have good insight into your own heroism, do you."

"Are you kidding? I'm totally cool. But I'm not like Robotman, or like Natasha, out looking for ways to save everybody from everything. She's crazy." He smiles distantly as he says this, and something occurs to me. 

"You keep talking about your friends and family, more than you talk about yourself, and more than anyone I've interviewed you just keep bringing it back to them. Are the Guardians, maybe, your brothers and sisters? Are they maybe the reason you run around in tights?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, I don't wear tights, I wear tight-fitting armor, and the ladies would revolt if I didn't." He points finger-guns at me and laughs. "No, maybe you're right. I dunno. It's true, I love seeing my teammates. I guess if we did ballet or sewing instead of superhero stuff I'd probably stick around." He glances around suddenly. "I hope Mark didn't hear that. Mark!" he yells. "I don't want to ballet with you!"

No response. Some ducks quack.

"Mark's my best friend. Sometimes he creeps up on people. It's totally weird. Cool, but weird." He raises his voice again. "You're makin' me look crazy, Mark!"

I try skipping a rock, too. "So what happens if a bad guy wins, and those friends die?"

"Oh, I'd straight up kill him." Skye doesn't hesitate. "Not even playing. I mean, I'm supposed to try to understand, and forgive, and justice, and so on, and BB and Robotman would hold me to that, but…"

"But if they're not around?"

"Robotman's like our conscience. I'd try. I'd get to know the killer before…I guess. I don't know if I'd succeed without our conscience, though." He scowls. "Anyway, don't murderers deserve to die?"

"I think so, but--"

"Well there you go."

"But whose job is it to make sure they're murderers? Whose job is it to kill them? You think that's your job?"

"No. I'm not crazy. But I'm gonna stop you right now, because the sun's going down and this is depression city, right here. Next you're gonna ask me something sad about my parents, and I'm just not gonna talk about that right now. Let's go."

"Sorry," I say as we trek back to the car.

"It's okay. Just buggy. As in, that thought bugged me, and the air's buggy with mosquitoes. Bugs."

We talk about rap music and crunchy sushi rolls on the way back, and as I drop him off at home it's dark, I'm tired, and we're both a bit bummed out. We both know people do die in his line of work.

He just doesn't know how soon.

Learn more about Skye when his comic comes out in May! There will be a few limited edition physical prints, and of course it'll also be available for free online at becominghero.ninja. Head over there now, or follow our progress on twitter @petr3pan! To read another character interview, from another Becoming Hero protag, click here

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Interview with Natasha, a superhero from #BecomingHero (Comic coming May 2016; Book Summer 2017)

It's interview time again, but this time we're on a rooftop overlooking a city with the wind in our faces and only a hint of motor oil smell filtering up from the streets below. A river sparkles in the sunset as tugboats and industrial ships honk, and thunder sounds even though there isn't a cloud in the sky.

The thunder grows nearer, and rocketing towards us like a shooting star, arrives Natasha. Natasha lands with a thud on the rooftop, her fists pounding the cement before her knees hit. "You wanted to talk to me?"

She's my favorite.

"Yeah, yeah I did." I shake as she offers me her solid grip. The rings over her gloves pinch me a little; I point at them. "Those are cool."

"Thanks." She doesn't tell me that she shoots sonic blasts out of those to propel her through the air, or take on human traffickers, but she does say, "I designed them."

"Very cool. Aren't you still in high school, though?"

"That doesn't mean bullcrap. If I take out the time and put in the work I can do anything."

"Wow, okay then." She's a little intense, and I'm not sure how to answer that platitude. "Well, I bet you're busy, so let's dive right in. I like to start easy. What's your favorite food?"

She starts and doesn't stop. "I'm trying to eat more organic lately, I guess. I'm also working on eliminating food waste, to drive down world hunger. All the food resources we misuse could go to ending malnutrition. Did you know that if we all just ate what we needed, and saved our leftovers instead of throwing them out, we'd save $165 billion dollars that could go to supporting small businesses in less economically privileged areas?"

"Uh--" Yeah, I did know that (it's public knowledge through the NRDC), but I can't hand her the End of World Hunger on a plate as an interview snack. "You want...peanuts?"

She laughs. "Actually, I just ate. Guardian potluck. Black Butterfly made this awesome rice--some kind of Middle Eastern thing--and Skye brought his mom's takoyaki."

"What did you bring?"

She laughs again. She's the merriest person I've ever interviewed, for sure. "Collard greens and fried chicken. That's not usually my style--I go for that Japanese cuisine--but my mom's a Southern girl, and that's what she made, so that's what I brought."

"You didn't make anything yourself?"

"Ha! I can't cook for crap." She sits on the edge of the building and waves me to sit down, too. I kind of want to decline, but I don't want to let her outdo me, so I inch forward until my legs dangle over the tangling traffic, too. "You know what, though, I could go for pizza," she says.

"That I can do." I crawl back away from the edge, jump to my feet, wave my hand, spin, and when I'm facing her again I've got a piping hot pepperoni. I'm wondering if it's going to be an issue--pepperoni's a major abuse meat--but I couldn't think of anything else. 

She steps back. "Oh wow, that's super-generous. I literally was thinking like we could share a slice or something. This is a awesome--we should share with those guys!" She points down the street to the corner I can barely see.

"Oh, the homeless guy," I say. "Superhero work never ends for you, does it."

"Yeah, I don't believe in small talk, small thoughts, or small people."

"Wait," I tease. "Isn't that discriminatory against people with achondro--"

"Shut up, you know what I meant." Natasha punches my arm and grabs the pizza. "No small spirits, no small dreams. Let's go!"

I follow, a little overwhelmed. The "homeless guy" has a name, and Natasha knows it well. Dave's having trouble getting back on his feet since his wife left him, and Natasha's trying to get him into a temp agency. "He's a super-talented architect, but with his trouble, well." She shrugs and injects an imaginary syringe into her arm. "I'm thinking of taking out the guy who deals to him, but I'm not really done figuring out what that might do to the local trade. I don't wanna make the sitch worse." She abbreviates situation oddly and makes a point of adding, "Not all the folks in this area are users, though, you know. They just really need a chance."

I just nod and smile. Watching her laugh and joke with Dave tells me far more than anything she's said so far. She's a different person in action--the preaching at me, the desire to prove something to a world that refuses to change, the subsurface unease, all drops away, and she's a fountain of strength that Dave seems to know well. She's cool. She's confident. She's not afraid to punch him in the arm and ask when he's going to hit up a methadone center to get off "it," and he's so comfortable with her he's not afraid to be honest about why he doesn't want to deal with getting clean right now.

"It'll be there when you're ready."

"I honestly don't know if I ever will be, Nat."

"You will."

"You're an amazing kid, you know, but some of us just aren't like you. When you get older you'll understand."

"No, I believe in you," she says. She notices me again, standing here like a cardboard cut-out, and jerks her head in my direction. "We gotta head out, Dave. I'll see you around, okay?" She leads the way, and I follow, as apparently she's decided to set a new location for this interview over which I just don't seem to have much control.

"We all have our crap to deal with," she says. "We're all the same. Dave, you, me, the freakin' president, it's all a battle. Everything's a fight."

"Everything? Even love?"

"You kidding me? Especially love."

"And what's your fight?"

"People say I have trouble picking my battles."

"Are you fighting that?"

"No really. It's just a thing people say. They also say I need to focus my priorities and become more realistic. They diagnosed me with ADHD when I was a kid, you know. I'm difficult."

"And what do you say?"

"Nothing. I've got stuff to do." She pauses, and then answers honestly. "I don't know what to do with my life."

She grips a fire escape and starts to climb. I'm out of shape, huffing behind her, as we rise. "What do you mean by that?"

"There's too much need. The hell am I gonna do when I graduate high school next year? World hunger? Human trafficking's a huge problem, and I can fight, but do I want to deal with the politics and corruption of police work? I love experimental physics. I love it! My internship's the highlight of my day. But what would I be doing playing with force and sound in a lab all day while people out there starving?" As she gets frustrated her grammar changes a bit, and I wonder if that's her southern mother coming out. "And now there's this guy I like, and I can't tell him, because I don't know if I have time to be a wife or a mom, and I know that's thinking way ahead but I don't wanna be wasting my time and my body with something that isn't permanent, you know? I'm better than that." She's not politically correct, and the passion's, again, intense, but I don't say anything.

"You believe in fate?" she asks suddenly.


"Fate. Like someone's planning your life."

"Well." This is awkward because she's in a comic book, which is inside a story, and in that story her author doesn't treat her right, and I'm not exactly sure what that says about me, the person who invented her author. But she doesn't know any of that yet, at least not beyond--well--"Do you believe in God?" I ask. There's my way out.

"Yeah. Not like my mom does--she's way baptist--but yeah. And if it's God, or fate, or whatever, I'm wondering why this guy just happens to be in a physics internship, like mine, and just happens to do rescue work in a suit like I do--I mean, how may people in the world do this? Like thirty out of 7.4 billion? And we've met, and I'm wasting time thinking about little things like how sushi's the best thing ever and he likes that, too, and how we both dig folk and weird alternative hip-hop like no one else likes, and I'm wasting my time but--shoot, what if it's meant to be?" She stops. "I sound like those stupid girls who think every thing with a flat chest is their soulmate. Listen," she shakes my hand with both of hers all of a sudden. "This has been great--really therapeutic--but I've got a history reading to do and a history teacher to argue with tomorrow. I'll see you around." 

"Good luck with your--decisions," I stammer.

"I don't need luck." She grins. "But if you're handing it out I'll take some." I wave my hand as if showering her with fairydust, and she bows, and rockets off.

The End

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Magic - a Flash Legend

by Yours Truly

I heard this story once about two competitors hunched over a card game, eyes red, hair greasy, fingers wet with tension and lips fluttering with silent calculations. It doesn't matter who they were. It doesn't matter what color their skin was, or whether they were male or female. It doesn't matter that the winner would gain thousands of dollars, because honestly they invested thousands of dollars to get this far.

It matters that the championship was on the line. 

Picture it. Two armies on the table. Each opponent's hand hovers over a deck crafted of perfect weapons, a tower of magnificent creatures, each hunted down online or bartered for in game shops or won in competitions, each card play-tested for hundreds of hours to work together with the rest. These are more than flat paper rectangles in a pile: they're warriors who have climbed the corpses of their enemies to arrive at this mountaintop. 

A grin. Another warrior falls. Pure battle comes down to numbers, and the numbers on this card just aren't high enough. The card slips, forgotten, into the discard pile, and the attacking player leans back with a sigh of relief. The game's almost over. Attacker's side of the table has so many cards on it, the battlefield looks like a calendar, arranged in rows and ranks--while the owner of the now-dead card sits by a barren plastic desert with only one creature left. Both players are counting down their last life-points; it's the final game of the match.

The czar of the barren desert of loserdom chews a contemplative lower lip and glances from cards in hand to the card on the table. "Stand up and drop this card," reads the text in hand. "Any cards this card touches when it lands are destroyed."

"Is that game?" The attacker interrupts the desert czar's thoughts.
"No." Desert czar holds up the drop-and-destroy. Attacker's eyes glitter.
"It's still game…" Attacker says. "Even if that card manages to land on three of my best creatures, the rest still sweep and destroy you next turn."

Desert czar stands. 

Each card costs: maybe hours of hunting, maybe hundreds of dollars, maybe intrigue and deceit or favors and loss, but each card costs and each plays an irreplaceable role in the army that has become each player's life. That is why each card is carefully protected in a plastic sheath.

Desert czar removes this card from its sheath.

And this player who's spent everything to get here, who cradles cards like children, begins to rip this last chance into ugly shreds.

"What the--" Silence overtakes the gasping spectators. The eyes of the judges grow to cantaloupe size. Is the player throwing a fit? Is the player admitting a loss? Is--

Desert czar's fist juts over the board like a salute, shreds of paper clutched in a grimy paw. 

The Attacker understands an instant too late.

The fist opens like a raincloud over the battlefield, and as the spectators begin to scream and the judges begin to debate and the bloggers and podcasters and internet celebrities fire up their social media with thundering aplomb, torn paper flutters onto the battlefield like hail from heaven. The attacker pretends to argue and pretends to hope, but both players know the rules well enough to know this has never been thought of and never been forbidden: this is the end of the game, for the torn card settles like snow, like hundreds of infinitesimal white doves, over every single card the attacker owns, and:

"Any cards this card touches when it lands are destroyed," repeats the desert czar. 

They say to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs. 

Isn't this a better way to say it? 

The End.

Monday, February 15, 2016

#sonofapitch Neodymium Exodus Query For Feedback

Title: Neodymium Exodus
Age and Genre: YA SF Space Opera
Word Count: 95,000


Showdown in the ice cream parlor. Jungle-world in peril. Lem's diseased, and she's not interested in a cure. They say she's got a contagious brain infection, or maybe she's a witch, a portal for an evil energy-being invading our universe--but actually Lem's a freedom-fighter who's spent her childhood evading the paramilitary group that hunts her for talking to her invisible friend, Njandejara. Njande's kind and strange, like that odd sunbeam in the middle of a rainstorm, and he's only interested in knowing Lem better, not destroying her world.

When the paramilitary group captures Lem, she's sent to a re-education camp to be "cured." Lem resists the treatment--and fed up with her shenanigans, Lem's captors kidnap her space-lemur adopted brother, Cinta. If Lem bows, Cinta goes free. As Lem's resolve fails, Cinta warns her there's more at stake than his life: their connection to Njande might be key to saving the universe from impending thermonuclear collapse. Lem questions his sanity (and her own!) but if he's telling the truth, she'd better find a third option fast--or she'll lose someone she loves either way.

First 250 Words:

Lem wasn't a big fan of warnings, but the people who ran her life were, so she gave the meat-market businessman a loud one the moment he made eyes at her little sister.

“She ain't for sale, Skins,” she said, stirring the dregs of her shake with her straw. She said it for everyone in the ice cream parlor to hear.

The businessman's green hair puffed in offense; his slit-eyes gleamed bright as his ruby scales. “Mind yourself, witch,” he sneered.

Witch, huh? Lucky for him he didn't call her crazy.

A loud slurp silenced the whole parlor as Lem finished off her shake.

Four seconds later Lem had chopped down the businessman like an overgrown holly bush. No one interrupted. No one helped, either. The space-lemur policeman in the corner stared at the phone in his paws, ears perked even as he pretended not to see; the Wonderfrog server behind the counter tapped his bulging fingertips on his skull like desserts really worried him.

Lem tightened her grip on the meat-man's wrist, spitting through her teeth as she ground his face harder into the plastic table. “Whatever I am, everyone in here knows you're selling little girls to the greys, and one day I'll prove it and get Officer Scritch there off his duff for a change.” Her voice dropped to a husky whisper. “But the day you talk to my sister again? Officer Scritch won't be lookin' for you. Won't be a you to find.”

Meat-man grunted.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Brain Worms and White Whales

If you like space, drugs, rude humor, or out-dated literary references, you'll want in on this. It's basically the best, and it's read by this awesome guy, J.S. Arquin from the @NWOvercast, and it's on the @Escapepod, which is basically the coolest.
http://escapepod.org/2016/02/01/ep518-brain-worms-and-white-whales/ So what are you still doing here? Go click!

Edit: While you're listening to that, I wanted to go ahead and just drop a few thoughts here about this piece--goodies for those of you who follow this blog.

First, if you're interested in actual real Vietnamese culture and short-stories, read the true tales in The Land I Lost by Quang Nhuong Huynh. Yes, it's a children's book, and yes, it's a Harper Trophy Book because it's poignant, amazing, and tragic, and it's a great introduction into the stories I imagine Ethan's Ong noi (grandfather) telling him as he grows up in the US, separated from the roots of a heritage that will always be a part of him. I'm a child of immigrants myself, so the second-generation struggles between the culture in your blood and the culture in your face really mean something to me, and under all the silliness and dick jokes, that's what this story's about. Who are you? And then, where are you, really? What do you believe? What's real? 

Kudos, by the way, if by the end of the short you can guess who the sacred one-truth is. Enough of my blabbing--feel free to discuss your silly stories, bad jokes, and heritage in the comments below!

I am the Truth. The Truth shall set you free. (Yochanan 14:6; 8:32)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"The Ice Cream Shop"--Short story/Character Interview: Lem Benzaran, Neodymium Series

I cringe as the lock to the ice-cream shop finally gives with a crack and the door swings open, banging against the wall behind it. The mottled counter, the spick and span ice cream machines, and the pop dispensers all cast creepy shadows over the turquoise tile floor, and only the shop's logo floating mid-air over the counter betrays the 1950s ambiance, revealing that I'm in an alternate future world where ice cream is lumpy and beat-downs take place over root-beer floats.