No Grave: Meet Harley

Hey, guys!  Just another friendly reminder that No Grave is coming out in a few weeks!

So are we ready for another sneak peek?

Today we’ll be meeting the secretive Harley, (of the Four Horsemen from Nicole’s Assignment) a non-narrator character caught up in the plot woven between Cyrus, Tristan, and Nicole.

If I had to describe her with a single phrase, I think I’d say she’s “aggro as fuck.”

A descriptor we get right out of the way the moment she’s introduced.

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Today’s sneak peek:

 

[Cyrus had] opened his mouth to ask Miranda his next question when the door swung open and a new customer stepped in.  She was a tall woman, five eight or so, made taller by the six inch blood-red mohawk erupting from her scalp.  Her face was all angles, pronounced jaw and chin and high jutting cheek bones.  She had a thin, narrow nose set between brilliant blue eyes, and standing out against all her pale, paper-white skin, were lips painted in the same dripping red hue as her hair.

The lapels of her leather moto jacket were peaked and sharp, the epaulets crowned with inch long spikes.  Her pants were ripped and weathered, held together by pins and old patches, one of which was the printed image from the album cover for ‘London Calling,’ on her right thigh.  She strutted across the bar with heavy combat boots, steel toed, and right up to the counter.  “I need a drink,” she purred.

Cyrus watched Miranda roll her eyes.  The woman looked familiar to him, but he couldn’t place from where.  “Any specific kind of drink?”

Her tongue seemed to be the same lurid shade of crimson as her hair and lips, its tip poised between her teeth for a second before vanishing.  “Do you do bottle service here?”

Cyrus furrowed his brow.

Miranda snorted and sneered.  “’Do we do bottle service?

The woman turned towards Miranda and said in a chilly voice, “Are you mocking me?”

Miranda quaffed a third of her vodka in one slug and set the glass back on the bar.  “Mocking you?  The woman who came to Bushwick, Brooklyn, looking for bottle service?  No way, not me.”

The woman’s long fingers flicked out faster than Cyrus could follow, suddenly clutching the rim of Miranda’s glass.  Miranda let go of it, jerking away from the bar.  The woman’s hand flexed, tendons popping.  “Mock me,” she demanded.

Cyrus took a step backward toward the register.

“Th—that’s my drink, you—” Miranda stuttered.

Mock.  Me,” the woman snarled in reply.

“Who the hell are y—”

The woman’s hand clenched down, fissures forming and splintering across the rocks glass until it shattered.  Stinking vodka splashed across the countertop, exploding out from the jagged foundation.  Shards stuck in the woman’s hand, and tributaries of thick, dark blood ran from the wounds and dripped into the pool of clear alcohol.  Miranda jumped back with a yelp and the remaining patron quietly ogled the scene.  Nobody moved.

“You don’t know me well enough to mock me,” the woman said, plucking a jagged fragment from her palm and licking the dark blood from the wound.  She set the broken bit down on the counter and started picking other small slivers out of her hand one at a time.

Cyrus backed up to the register and slid his hand underneath, clutching the grip of the revolver.  He started to peel it away, and the woman’s eyes flicked towards him.  “Do you want to talk about bottle service?” she asked.

“I want to talk about you getting the hell out of my bar.”

She dropped the slivers of broken glass into the pool of spilled alcohol and dug her bloodied hand into her jacket.

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No Grave Inspiration Soundtrack

I create soundtracks when I write, particularly if I’m writing long-form (No Grave, for instance, is a novel).  I find it helps to surround myself with music with similar motifs and emotional resonance when I write.  This is, of course, after all the initial brainstorming is done and I actually sit down at a keyboard or notepad to start work on the actual words (brainstorming is a whole different bag of cats–er–crap).  I usually start off by making a soundtrack of anything I think matches up remotely with what I’m doing.  For No Reflection and No Grave (as well as a couple other half-finished projects I haven’t announced), the first-draft playlist runs about 40 songs.  In perspective, the final draft playlist for No Reflection was 12 songs, and the final draft playlist for No Grave is…15 songs.  There are overlaps between the two soundtracks because they have similar themes, overlapping characters, and, of course, similar setting.

The playlist gets cut as I learn more about the story.  The more I write, the deeper I get into the narrative, the characters, and the action, and the more I figure out what the story is really about in terms of themes, motifs, metaphor, politics, etc… the fewer of the original songs make sense, and the fewer of them serve to put me in the mindset of the story.  They get sloughed off so that by the final draft the playlist is significantly shorter and more poignant…actually, they’re rather like the words, themselves, in that way.

I was under the impression, for most of this, that nobody really cared what I listened to when I wrote things.  Since I have had three different people ask about it, this week, however, I’m beginning to think that maybe I was wrong?  In any case, instead of simply answering the people who asked, I decided I would put it out for anyone, anywhere, at any time, to read.

Without further ado, the track list for my inspiration soundtrack for No Grave (I have added links to those artists who have posted their work online — I’ve done my best to make sure the link is sourced from the artist, so if I’ve messed up, please let me know):

1. Lauren O’Connell – House of the Rising Sun
2. Johnny Cash – Ain’t No Grave
3. LEGS OCCULT – There’s a Sadness
4. Dinah Washington/Max Richter – This Bitter Earth/Nature of Daylight
5. Lorde – Biting Down
6. Johnny Cash – Hurt
7. LEGS OCCULT – Breathe
8. Nine Inch Nails – The Wretched (Keith Hillebrandt Mix)
9. Marilyn Manson – Golden Age of Grotesque
10. Lauren O’Connell – Oh Death
11. John Murphy – In the House – In a Heartbeat (from the 28 Days Later OST)
12. The Crawdiddies – Ain’t No Grave
13. Marilyn Manson – This is Halloween
14. Tom Waits – Dirt in the Ground
15. Marilyn Manson – Spade

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Oceanrest Flash Fiction: Birth

I can feel my skin stretching over it, taut like the flesh of an overripe peach. I press on myself and I can feel it push back, feel it organic and ready, pushing, pushing its way out…

I don’t know what it is. I don’t remember when I first felt it. Sometime after getting to Oceanrest, after my first nights sleeping in the empty house by the shore, listening to the song of the Sargasso Sea. Listening to the sound underneath the song.

Now it plays violin with the hairs on the back of my neck.

Did it come in from the ocean? A microscopic thing? A spore that grew? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

I’m not afraid. I can feel it running its long tendril fingers gently along the folds of my brain. It doesn’t want to kill me. It just wants to change me. It wants to change the world. I can relate to that. Anyone could relate to that.

This body? Just a precursor to my next body. I can feel it, working its way through the old human skin…soon I’ll be born again. It will come out of me like light spilling through a stained glass window. I am the stained glass animation of the resurrection. “Come,” it sings in the tune of the Sargasso, “come live again with me.”

I push in on the flesh of my arm, so tight. Ready to break open. Ready to birth me, again.

Won’t you join us? Won’t you sing the Sargassan hymnal with us? Don’t you want to change yourself? Don’t you want to change the world?

Come live again with us.

Come live again.

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Downtown Dark One, Pt. 2

It has eaten my gods.  My tiny deities.  It has rolled over my life like an oil-slick tsunami and wiped away everything I’ve ever had.  Its worshipers gather around with their earpieces, muttering unintelligibly, eyes dead and busy, vultures around a carcass.  Here comes the estate sale.  I want them to bury me deep, put me somewhere where I won’t have to be part of the world anymore.  They won’t.  They don’t bury the dead.  They carve them up and sell them off one bone at a time for maximal profit.

“What are you willing to do to survive?”

The market’s voice is like Diet Coke but with too many chemicals.  Carcinogens growing cancer through my frail bones.  When it speaks, I think of syrup poured over purchased flesh.  I think of children reaching between spinning machines with tiny fingers, grease stains on their foreheads.

“What are you willing to do…for me?”

(“The more you do for me, the more I can do for you.”)

Eat all my stars.  Eat my jellied eyes.  Crack open my skull and eat my rotted brain.

Eat my tongue out before I answer.  Kill me.

But It won’t.  It purrs in Its sucralose voice and waits, all Its little servants watching me with cellphone eyes.  Waiting.  Waiting for me to cave in and fill my head with It.  Let It drill Its way inside of me and see how long It takes to drive me insane.

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Maps! (Map of Oceanrest)

While writing No Reflection and No Grave (almost done, guys, I swear), I never had much use for any kind of reference map.  I live in the city they’re set in.  If I need specific details that I can’t recall (say, at Coney Island, for instance, ahem, hint hint) I can jump on Google Maps and walk their little dude-dad around the streets for reference.  I have spent time in these places and I can draw on those experiences.  PS: Coney Island is pretty unpleasant in the fall.  I shot two different films there, both during late-September and early-October, and let me tell you…what looks golden and sunkissed in the summer can be gray, sludge-like, and rancid in the autumn…

Back on topic, though: I don’t need a map to work on those books.  I live here.  Details are easy to find.  There are MTA maps in every subway car.

Doing worldbuilding stuff for Oceanrest, however…places characters in an entirely fictional town (in Maine), and I thought it would behoove me to draw up a map.  And fill the map with landmarks and story ideas so that I’d have plenty to write about.

Since I haven’t posted lately (working on No Grave very intently, drawing the map, jotting down character/plot ideas, etc…), I thought the least I could do would be to share this map with you.  It’s even hand-written (in pen, with cross-outs) because I don’t know how to make fancy computer maps.

Take a look!:

OceanR1

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Flash Fiction: Oceanrest Murder Confession

I did kill them, I’ll admit that.  I murdered them all, one at a time, using the curved, sharp edge of a seven inch blade.

But I didn’t write those words.

The blood wrote the words long ago, and I read them.  It was a sanguinary scripture.  Destiny scrawled out.

People used to read entrails and see the future in the guts–this was like that.  When I was a boy I looked up at the chalkboard and saw the blood dripping down the walls like runny jam.  The words were already there.  I saw the future in them, in their glistening shapes behind my teacher’s head.  I memorized them over days and weeks and never forgot what they said.  I knew the scripture forwards and backwards long before I ever contributed my hand to its diction.

You don’t seem to understand me.  To understand it.  You say that my fingerprints were found smudged in the gore, you say I chose to do it myself, taking their life from their throats and using my hand as a brush to paint my religion…I didn’t.  I am beginning a long standing prophecy.  You have to understand.  My actions, my subsequent arrest…this isn’t an ending.

This is a beginning.

I didn’t write the words.  The blood wrote the words for me, long ago.  I only read them.

The blood is still out there, writing.

Other people have read.

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Flash Fiction: Note From Oceanrest

(today’s flash fiction is not a macabre translation of life in NYC, but rather a little world-building exercise I did for a concept I’m working on)

treesinfog

[she found the papers in a ruffled pile in a disused stall in the woods]

[there was no explanation for them: what they were about, how they got there, how long they’d been sitting in undated excrement and woodrot]

[she has to read them.  The breadcrumbs led her this far, and she isn’t about to turn back, now.]

[she picks a sheet from the middle of the pile, like a child taking a card from a magician]

DATE UNKNOWN

The empty hallways fold in on each other like nesting dolls as I walk them, always empty, footsteps calling back to me in echoes, stretching on infinitely, longer and longer dialogues with the tiles.  One hallway becomes the next hallway becomes the next hallway.  Walking in circles.  Walking an ouroboros.  The hallways eat themselves while I’m still inside.

They fed me pills in every color of the chemical-spill rainbow.  I took them with water that shone like sunkissed oil.  All that color spilled darkness in me.

There’s something under it all like music but it couldn’t be music because the whole complex (the long repeating hallway) is absolutely silent.  Only my footsteps and the shadows pouring words into my ear.

I remember things, but I don’t know how I remember them.  There are three kinds of memories I find in the endless hallways: memories of impossible things, memories of things that never happened to me, and memories of things that happened too long ago to be clear.  I remember being followed by a woman in all white and a plague mask as her face, writing my life down on a clipboard.  I remember shadows whispering to me in every voice I’ve ever heard.  I remember a pale prince dying in my arms, the yellow sign blotted in the rorschach of his blood.

I remember you finding something hidden in your breath against the glass.

[wind rustles the autumn leaves and she glances over her shoulder.]

[but it was just the wind, wasn’t it?]

[she stuffs the papers in her backpack.  She knows she shouldn’t be here.]

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The Peripheral by William Gibson (Review)

GibsonPeripheral

 

Today, we’re going to review The Peripheral, by William Gibson.  I think we can probably begin with the TL;DR version of this review: go out and buy this book now.  If you’re a fan of neo-noir, cyber-thrillers, cyberpunk, or general sci-fi, you should already own it.  If you’re not really a genre-fan, but you have an appreciation for watching well-crafted characters unpack their struggles in the wake of a difficult plot, you should also buy it.

William Gibson writes fantastic characters.  The sci-fi genre is full of massive space-operas and overwrought narratives, often putting the characters in the backseat to the setting or just throwing fifty one-dimensional cut-outs at the reader.  Historically, weak characters have been a go-to criticism for genre fiction.  William Gibson doesn’t have those, or, at the least, has so few of them as to be statistically unimportant to the books he writes.  Ever since Neuromancer, I have loved the intriguing and often subtle ways he reveals his characters inner-stories, whether it’s as simple as when a character excuses herself to the restroom or as complicated as the web of lies they tell to distance themselves from an alienating world, it all comes off as believably human and poignantly deep.  The Peripheral continues this trend.  The characters are unfolded and unpacked in wonderful ways, stunning ways.  Their relationships, simple or complex, are revealed and spotlit in admirable, potent prose.  One of the less-subtle examples:

The protector had a thin white elastic cord.  She pulled it on, settled the eye-shaped steel cups over her eyes, and sat in pitch darkness, while Macon positioned the soft tips of the thing’s legs on her shoulders.  “When do you start printing?” she asked him.

“Printing the circuitry already.  Do this headset stuff tonight.  We pitch an all-nighter, might have it together tomorrow.  Now hold really still.  Don’t talk.”

Something began to tick around the ring-shaped track, headed to the right.  She pictured the stuff in Conner’s yard, humped over with morning glory vines, and imagined him never joining the Marines.  Failing the medical, for something harmless but never noticed before.  So that he’d stayed here, found some unfunny way to make a living, met a girl, gotten married.  Not to her, definitely, or to Shaylene either, but somebody.  Maybe from Clanton.  Had kids.  And his wife getting all the morning glory cleared away, and everything hauled off, and planting grass for a real front yard.  But she couldn’t make it stick, couldn’t quite believe it, and she wished she could.

And then the laser was right behind her head, still softly clicking, and then beside her left ear, and when it was back around the front, it quit clicking.  Macon lifted it away and removed the eye shield.

The stuff in his yard was still there.

The cast is full of dynamic and intriguing characters, from the more intrinsically relatable Flynne and Netherton, to the increasingly alien, such as Lowbeer or Daedra.  And, of course, the entire gamut in between.  Watching these people unpack before you, interact with each other, act and react to their changing world, and struggle to exist on their own terms was a reward all on its own, but Gibson also offers us a stellar setting and complexly believable plotline.

Gibson, for anyone who is somehow unaware, has always had a reputation for interpreting the cultural meaning and narrative trajectory of our technology.  This book continues that reputation.  The two examined settings are in the 2030’s and 2100’s, and somehow it all seems to make sense, with most of the technology from both eras traceable back to our current one.  The culture makes sense.  The stepping stones seem easily visible from where we currently stand, as if this technology should be available ten years from now, and maybe less if you’re a big fan of Raymond Kurzweil.  Of course, that makes sense considering one of Gibson’s better-known quotations:

I’m not trying to predict the future.  I am trying to use science fiction to somewhat understand an unthinkable present.

It works.  Through the lens of the setting and plot, we’re challenged to consider our technological culture, and the society  built around it.  Of course, there’s also The Jackpot…but I won’t spoil that for you, since you’ll be reading about it soon.

The plot couldn’t exist without the setting, the technological culture of the setting, the strange way it all makes sense to today.  Again, I shan’t spoil it for you, but I will say that the complexity of it all is the sort of complexity you’d expect to come out of a machine with so many moving parts and so much data.  It’s tightly paced, woven around the characters seamlessly, and incredibly intriguing.  The ending isn’t your typical thriller-ending, either, which I appreciated.  It’s much more believable than your typical high-octane series of reveals and action sequences.

I will say that it begins, as these things often do, with a witness to a murder.  Except, at the time, she isn’t aware she’s a witness, or even that it’s a murder.  Part of the reason for that is that the crime happens somewhere around seventy years in the future, and she was just playing a video game.  After that, things build up, revealing decisions made for personal, political, social, and economic reasons that begin to spiral out of control, and at the center of the intrigue…a broke freelancer in 2030, and a washed-up publicist in 2100.

Worth every minute.

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