Happy US Tax Day! Unless, of course, you make quarterly payments. Then every three months comes tax day!
Really, I do. Sometimes, I find myself writing and writing and writing about them and I suddenly I realize I have bloated my novel.
Let me give you an example. Here is the brief background: various peoples, ruled by a mono-gendered species called Tanvaias, populate the galaxy. This little bit is about two Jen’ari, a war like race found of humans, but not so found of “the tans”.
Doctor Kasarr was am imposing man, even by Jen’ari standards. He towered above most, and his voice was commanding and deep, full. He ran a private medical nano-tech lab, where he and his three assistants produced microelectronic prototypes for various medical conglomerates.
He was unhappy. His old commanding officer, Colonel Hershem, was at his door. Hershem and he departed ways; they used to rub each other the wrong way. Despite that, they were a good team. When they booth retired five years ago from military, the engineering regiment they left needed four people to replace them.
He keyed the door. “Colonel, this is a surprise.”
“Glad to see you still aren’t lying, Kasarr. I note the absence of the word ‘pleasant’.”
“Well, whatever your reason for skulking on my stoop, it can’t be good.”
“Yes and no. Congratulations, by the way, on finishing your medical degree. I can imagine it wasn’t easy. And I hear this lab is quite prestigious.”
“Hit me with the good news first.”
“You’ve just guaranteed your lab funding for life.”
“Then the bad must be really bad.”
“Maybe. We’ve both been drafted.”
Commander Kasarr groaned.
“Do you know a human called Mendal Cheverous?”
“Yes. He invented medical goo. Very smart.”
“Huh. Well, apparently he has a project we will be working on.”
“What? Last time I heard he was retired. The human should even be dead. Medi-goo has been around for decades.”
“This comes all the way from the top, my man, all the way from the top. Central Core. You’re on his team, and I am to lead the support staff and bludgeon anyone who gets in our way. I don’t know what we’re working on but anytime one of these things happens recently it’s usually War related.”
Kasarr looked at the Colonel as if he sprouted wings and turned pink.
“That sounds bad.”
“That’s not the worse part.”
“Oh? What could possibly be worse?”
“Our location. We’ll be working in the colonies.”
“In tannie space.”
Kasarr groaned even louder.
Suddenly transports of every size started landing everywhere.
“These yokels are here to pack up your lab. It’s coming with us. All of it.”
“These MPs here are to escort your assistants home to pack their things. They are also coming with us.”
“And my things?
“Already on the ship.”
“You really hate me, don’t you Colonel?”
“For this? For your damn smarts and skills? Like the heat of a thousand burning suns.”
Kasarr grinned. “It’s good to see you again Colonel.”
The Colonel grinned back. “Shut up and let’s hit the liquor store while we can. The tannies have exceedingly bad taste in booze.”
Oh man, how could you not love these two? They are bit players in the novel they come from, but man, I could write about them for days.
Ever feel that way?
Previously on Hack Writer TV: Characterization
Terrance dreamed about the war again. Each one was different, and this one carried with it an aura of menace, taunting him in his sleep.
The tank wing stopped at the start of the carnage, and they all got out and shut down the tanks, so it was quiet. Sixteen men walked through the blasted Iraqi armor, trucks and tents. The Iraqi dead lay everywhere. In the blasted tanks, the blown trucks, lying out of the tents, strewing this way and that, bodies mangled unbelievably, hundreds of bodies all in name only. To an objective observer, they were just parts. The sand was wet with their blood, the air smelled like burnt metal, burn bodies, burnt fuel, the tang of blood and viscera, and yes, even fear and terror. The wind carried an eerie sound, mostly the tenor of burning accompanied by the whooshing and whirling moans of the breeze low across the sand. When it blew across his face, he could taste death. The sky was a sickly gray-yellow, the sun more of a suggestion.
They found their forward scout’s buggy with a few holes in it, but it was mostly intact. Other dreams had the buggy blown to pieces, but this one was more accurate than most, with just enough changed detail to let Terrance know the dream world trapped him here. Outside the riddled tent next to the buggy was Logan, hands bound behind his back with a bullet hole in the back of his skull. Inside the tent was his crew, more of the same treatment.
The tank wing walked aimlessly among the dead, Terrance noting each man coming to the same realization that he did: their holy vengeance did not serve their slain brothers well. What they did went beyond revenge. It went beyond obscenity; as if some fell, dark forgotten god of vengeance offered his services, and the only price an accurate look into what each man was capable of doing, how far they could go.
How far they could sink.
The LT came back with the white, impromptu flags some of the Iraqis had been waving, most of them stained with blood. He tossed them on a burning tank, and stood there looking at his stained hands.
“What does this mean LT, what does this all mean?” asked Terrance.
He looked at Terrance, a blank look of a man with only a thread of soul left.
“Now we’re all sons of bitches.”
Previously on Hack Writer TV: Setting
There was a knock at the door. Juliana looked at the clock. 5:45 PM. Terrance was early. She went to the door to let him in.
“Hello Juliana. I brought you flowers.”
Juliana once again found it difficult to be mad at the man. Frequently an ass and completely mercenary, he was still a rogue and a charmer. Wearing jeans and a simple buttoned blue shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, he held a vase of yellow roses, and, wonders of wonders, was not wearing that damn gun of his.
“Oh those are lovely, Terrance, thank you.” She took the card and read it.
May your expanded bookstore be everything you wanted it to be. Sorry if my mouth got me in trouble. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Juliana had to fight back tears. The cad. Brute. Meanie. Why were all men so exasperating? Damn it.
She put back the card. “Bunny is in the kitchen.”
Terrance winked at her.
I hate men, thought Juliana, but she smiled to herself, suddenly remembering Terrance from so long ago. Her face suddenly felt hot, and she was glad he was walking in front of her.
In the kitchen, Bunny stopped chopping as Terrance put the flowers on the counter. Juliana noticed Terrance giving her daughter an appreciative glance, but she could not fault him for looking. Bunny was wearing the gray sweater-dress again, all slinky and warm looking, hair pulled back into a ponytail, a wholesome look she realized Bunny recently perfected.
“Oh! Those are pretty, thank you!” said Bunny as she snatched at the card and read it before Terrance could say anything.
Juliana saw Bunny’s eyes go wide and she was frowning. Bunny looked at Terrance then back to her.
Whoops, thought Juliana.
Oh, shit, was the thought written all over Terrance.
Bunny slammed down her knife on the cutting board. “Oh, I see. You won’t fuck me but you’ll give my mom flowers!” She burst into tears and ran from the kitchen, stomping up the stairs. “I hate men!” she yelled and then slammed her bedroom door.
“Ah hell. I suck,” said Terrance.
“My daughter is seventeen,” said Juliana. She sighed. “Thank you for not fucking my daughter. But you have angered Teh Bunnahe.“
Terrance sat down without prompting. “I’m just a guy. I don’t have a lot of experience with women, or even women friends.” He stood up. “I should go apologize.”
Juliana placed a hand on his arm. “Wait.”
Previously on Hack Writer TV: Conflict
They were standing in the gray nothingness, the four of them, holding hands.
Zeke realized this was an errant thought. They were not really standing, nor were they floating. They simply were.
“This is the Void,” said Father, still sounding ghostly. “It is merely a perception of a reality we can only see. There is nothing ‘here’ but us. It is the literal Void. We could, if we so desire, stay here for all eternity. Time marches on based on our understanding of the passage of moments, but the longer we stay here the slower it gets, and after a while, it will merely stop, and that is a dangerous state of being. Your body you see before you is just a reflection of how you used to see it—for you are the Void, not just in it.”
His father took a deep breath, uncharacteristically steeling himself.
“Never tarry longer than necessary.” He looked at Zeke. “Sometimes the sheer nothingness will call to you. Beckon you to stay, because ‘stay’ is a very accurate for what you feel. At this moment, you are everywhere and nowhere. Come here without a destination and after awhile, everyone you know, everything you have seen, is gone, lost to you in the relentless march of time.”
“Where can we go?” asked Josh.
“Good question,” said his mother. “You can go to places that you have been and can recall merely by wishing it so, once you are in the Void. And one other place.” To Zeke, her eyes were sad.
“Where,” asked Zeke, “is this other place?”
“Here,” said his father.
Suddenly their feet were on solid ground, and the transition was sudden, jarring, and Zeke almost fell to the ground even though he transitioned standing up.
He looked around him. No sun was visible, but the incredibly bright stars overhead lit the landscape, as if the atmosphere served as some magnifier. And the night sky here was filled by a gigantic moon—no, that is a planet, thought Zeke, staring at the extraordinary sight of the blue and green cloud filled planet with a ring.
And the smell—there was a slight breeze, and it carried with a dusty, metallic smell of summer, of earth baking in the sun only to cool off at night. It was an overpowering scent, and he suddenly realized, wrong.
Through sheer willpower he forced himself to look at the nearby, not the dream of the beautiful night sky. This is when the horror of the place washed over him. They were standing in the middle of a gigantic battlefield, with bones, armor and broken weapons stretching as far as he could see—and somehow in the place he knew he could see for miles. On all sides of him, off in the great distance, were hills and mountains, as if designed to collect the battlefield and steer the combatants to a titanic struggle for—Zeke looked around again.
For nothing. There were no buildings. No fortifications. It was as if armies clashed here for the sole purpose of killing each other.
For the first, time Zeke felt raw fear. This place was wrong. It was wrong. It was—
“W-w-what is this place?” whispered Josh. To Zeke he looked pale, probably how he himself looked.
“We’re not sure,” said his mother, “but we are fairly certain this is where Great-grandpa and his friends came from. Escaped from. Fled.”
“When?” asked Zeke.
“We don’t know that either,” said his father, “we do know they spent time in the Void, longer than they should have. What your mother and I do know, this place came unbidden to us in our memory. Like a racial memory. No one showed us the way.”
His mother nodded. “We are sorry to show you boys this, but Great-grandfather was, well to put it simply, insane. When your father and I got here it was not hard to figure out why. If he fought in this battle, he saw things, did things, that must have been unspeakable. He and his friends never showed their children anything of the Void.”
“But we figured it out,” said his father, “and here we are. Our parents didn’t show us the Void, but they taught us all of the necessary things about how to access it ourselves. Your mother and I have theories that it takes several generations to remove-whatever the taint was that prevented them from traveling back to their home.” He looked around. “That is, if they had a home to go back to, it could be…”
Suddenly a gigantic sound filled Zeke’s ears—a massive trumpeting, low and malevolent, coming from the mountains on his left. It went on and on and on and ended in a low wail that made his teeth ache.
He did not even know his sword out, but it was in front of him in the low-ready position while Josh, who stood facing the other direction, had his in the high ready. Slowly they circled, looking for the threat. His parents did the same.
“What was that?” asked Zeke.
“We’ve never heard of anything like that here,” his father said simply.
The ground shook with a low boom. Zeke peered to his left but could not see anything at all other than the stars and battlefield, so he started slowly looking around hoping to—
The ground shook again.
“Are those earthquakes or something?” asked Zeke.
THUD. Zeke noticed the bones and battle remnants rattled with each thud.
“Impact tremors,” said Josh, matter-of-factly.
Zeke caught his breath involuntarily. He really did not want to know that. He felt the grip of icy fear anew.
The bones—THUD—moved again.
The low, load moan of the trumpet call went out again, this time slightly louder.
Zeke stared at the bones while slowly circling with Josh at his back. That wasn’t—
Suddenly they moved again.
“Combat is imminent!” Zeke yelled.
“Where?” asked his father, “I don’t see anything!”
“The bones! They are moving by themselves, not just with the impact! With the next call I believe…”
“BARRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” goes the call again, this time sounding otherworldly, alien and very very evil.
Zeke did not hesitate. As the bones around him stood up, he was striking, his sword already moving in a fast arch, obliterating the thing that was forming right before him. Off to his right, another thing has formed—a skeleton of bones, dust and insubstantial, boiling black and purple mist, with eyes of burning red. It grabbed a broken spear stuck in the ground and looked directly at Zeke, a warbling hiss escaping from its bony jaw.
Zeke reversed his grip and continued his swing, this time arching up with the sword tip as he stretches forward and—
“Annette! Get us out of here!”
While it was still hissing obvious hatred, Zeke’s sword impacted the thing’s head in his upward swing. Behind him, he sensed Josh taking down something that rushed him while—
—the things are all around him now, dozens and then a wall of bone and mist and red eyes, Zeke grabbed his brother’s arm, locked his own with it and they whirled against each other, lashing out in a huge, sword filled double-arc. Bones flew everywhere, wherever his sword swung; he connected with a bony, red-eyed monster. They fall from the sheer force of their blades and they do not get up, but there are so many. So many!
“Boys, protect your mother! Form a triangle!”
Instantly they shifted positions and in an eye blink, they surrounded their mother, but in doing so, the things press in at the opportunity their movement created. One bashed at Zeke with a battered shield, and Zeke parried with his sword. The shield and sword impact and make a mighty crash, stinging his hands. Zeke lashed out with his foot, kicking the shield with a mighty blow. It sent the creature flying backwards just in time for Zeke to parry a particularly large thing with an intact sword.
Zeke realized they were now on the defensive. Concentrating, he evened out his movements. Shifting into a rhythm let him press the attack.
Behind him, he heard his mother strike her sword with a tuning fork. It sounds different from his father’s, a rich tone that sets her sword singing in reply—
The chord off the sword and fork stopped, as if never struck.
A part of Zeke’s mind wanted to be more frightened, but he dropped into a rhythm, a deadly cadence that flowed with his father and his brother. The three parried and thrust, go on the offense and just as suddenly, dropped back to protect Mother. Zeke realized they can only keep this up for so long. To tire means death.
“I see it! I see it! Off of my two-o-clock!” screams Josh. “It’s invisible, but the stars shimmer differently behind it! It’s huge!”
Josh is not panicked, but Zeke noted that clearly whatever he saw had shaken him. Zeke picked up his pace by decapitating a rushing skeleton, realizing now he can expend as much energy as he wants. This battle will not be long.
Suddenly his mother sang a clear bright note, her soprano voice loud and unwavering. His father instantly answers, a third below his mother’s note. Zeke sings out with his mother, an octave lower, and Josh answers on the same note as his father.
This time the trumpeting is loud, so very loud, and it rattles Zeke’s head. But he does not stop singing, and neither does anyone else. He delivered a vicious chop to a rushing skeleton, his sword impacting the top of its head. As Zeke continued with his stroke, his sword traveled down its bony, misty body, and it literally exploded outwards in all directions.
Zeke heard a new note, this one from his mother’s sword. It was sweet and metallic, and it blended into their singing, creating a wondrous harmony.
This time the impact almost caused him to lose his footing. It certainly did with the skeleton things around him—most of them fall and he heard crunching sounds off Josh’s two.
Suddenly Zeke felt a pull, a primal tug coming from behind him. There is wind at his face. He did not see it but he knew it is there; surely as if he had eyes behind his head. Slowly he backed towards it in step with his brother and father, as if he had rehearsed the maneuver. As one, the three of them entered the rent that his mother opened right at her feet.
In a blink, they were gone.
Failure was imminent. The scenes were dull. The characters unsympathetic, the plot, which started out whimsical, was not even worthy of clever.
Typing on an antiquated laptop running a version of Windows so old, she was sure if she called tech support, its age would be older than the person answering. She promised herself long ago the laptop would stay until she earned enough money writing to replace it.
Now, every press of a worn key was a validation of her ineptitude.
“Grrrrrr,” she said, rubbing her hair frantically, a nervous habit she picked up from her older sister. There was no other response to her plight she could think of, other than throwing the damn thing out the window.
“What’s up?” asked her lover, walking into the room.
“There is no conflict! So this novel sucks!” She growled at the screen again, this time following it up with a hiss.
Her lover laughed. His laugh was honest and warm, but now it bugged her and she wished he would go away. She harrumphed and started typing again.
“I got your conflict right here, Baby,” he said as he came up behind her. He started to rub her shoulders, and nibbled on her neck.
In response, his hands moved swiftly to her breasts.
“My conflict for you knows no bounds!”
“It’s a long standing conflict!”
“Will you stop?”
“Eventually, this conflict will be messy!”
Despite every ounce of will she had in her body, she giggled. He picked her up and threw her on the bed.
Later, wrapped around him, she sighed.
“You always get so moody when you write,” he said, giving her bottom a small smack.
“Does there have to be conflict?”
“It’s in all the books you read.”
“Didn’t notice.” He started lightly caressing her back, and she sighed again, but this time nuzzled into his shoulder while doing so.
“Isn’t life,” he asked, “sometimes without conflict?”
“Yes, but that’s just not interesting to read. It’s not a story.”
“Aren’t we important, to each other? Don’t we have a story?” His caress was making her sleepy. She fought it, because he rarely spoke to her about her writing. He was going somewhere.
“Yes, but who else is interested in it besides us? What is special to us might not be…”
“Maybe you just need to wait.”
“What…” she closed her mouth and looked into his eyes. Far from being sleepy, they were dancing, engaging.
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe you need to feel more, do more, before you can write, uh, more.”
“Huh.” She was silent for a bit, and reached over and turned off the lamp. “Listen to you, Mr. All Writer Philosophy.”
“I always wanted to be a muse,” he said. She could hear his grin in the shadows.
“A muse is supposed to inspire me to write, not tell me to wait until I grow up!”
He laughed again. “Tell you what. Make love to me all night long. Tomorrow, I will go out and play golf and then bring home lunch. Sit at your craptop and imagine this was the last night we had together. And then start writing.”
She shuddered “Ewwwww, that thought just gives me the chills!” But she kissed him anyway, climbing on top of him, melting into him, loving him with all she had.
In the morning, she sat there, in the silent room. Everything was quiet, and the quiet was disturbing. She imagined life without her lover and instantly she started crying. Soon she was sobbing in great heaves, and it was sometime before she was able to type anything.
The words were hesitant, at first, but after a short while, her fingers were dancing, and the words came gushing forth. She typed and typed, and they would not stop. She suddenly realized they would never stop, she would write always until her very last days.
The knock on the door startled her and her stomach growled while her bladder suddenly demanded attention. She looked at the clock. She had been typing non-stop for hours. Her lover must be back with lunch, wanting her to open the door.
She bounced to the door, feeling elated and threw it open with a smile. “I am so hungry…”
It was not her lover.
It was a policeman, with a priest.
She screamed, and screamed and screamed. Her vision went black, she fell to the floor, and knew no more.
Book Project was such a bitch this last month. I rewrote Chapter Fifteen several times, each time I became more frustrated with the results. With two other books under my belt (the first one now stored under the bed), this is the first time encountering this phenomena.
I began to think the preceding chapter was the real issue. I may be the Hack Writer, but I understand the basics of novel writing: a crappy chapter in a good book inadvertently has a bad intro.
This was not the case. I simply failed to set the right tone, the right bit of atmosphere. Chapter Fifteen is all about atmosphere, getting it right from the get-go.
Here is getting it right:
In my mind, I expected a nasty bit of business crawling through tunnels, destroying shielded kill bots one-by-one—like a jumpy horror vid with aliens bursting forth from dark recesses to impregnate Brittney and Tiffany with devil spawns after wiping their personality from their brains, turning them into mindless baby-factories.
Actually, that describes the last years of the war.
I am not going to reveal getting it wrong, ha. Let us just call a truce, Your Little Sister and I. We now return you to your scheduled program of 1500 to 3000 words a day.
People ask me what my favorite movie is, and I say, without reservations, Gladiator. Oh man, there is not one single good thing that happens in that movie to the protagonist. Not one happy thing, except, at the very end, when he dies and meets his family in the Fields of Elysium.
But I digress, for this is not a exposition on a journey to the bleak.
Lately, I have been reading published authors’ websites and essays. Many of it is a cheerful, welcome decent into humble gratefulness. Sometimes, I find playful arrogance, and who could fault anyone for that? Some people have a forward personality, and that is just their style.
Then I come across something that goes beyond arrogance. I see a distinct pretentiousness, which is, without a doubt, cliché. It is not arrogance; it is a lack of empathy—a lack of understanding of the different viewpoint.
So I did an experiment. I’ve read a few of their books, I sought them out. The prose is neigh perfect. The writing on the money, the characters interesting.
The books are mediocre, however, because they have no soul. They talk to me, but they do not engage me. They are hollow and shallow because they are trying to pretend to be something they are very not. I sometimes wonder, for whom did they write these books?
I’ve mentioned this before, here, that I am a greedy reader. I want entertainment and reflection. I want something that challenges me but also engages me. Color me with your reader brush, in the shade of thought. My thoughts. Not yours.
Luckily, I am an older man, and my library has reached critical mass. I can pull out a book that I have not read in almost two decades and go “Oh, yes, that was so good, give me more!”
Am I entertained? Only with a good story with a heart. Only with a good story with a heart.
From my world building notebook for Your Little Sister:
Her lover is punctual, showing up at her doorstep the very minute she requested his presence.
If she told him, “Come over for dinner at 7:00,” sure enough, at 7:00 PM the bell would ring, and there he would be, all smiles and handsome and holding a bottle of wine.
Other than his spooky knack at punctuality, her lover was a free spirit. He was malleable in many areas. Where they went, when they went out, was her purview. One time she tested him and scheduled a chick flick, then the next date the opera, and finally, a book reading and signing for some sappy book. He enjoyed each and was charming and gracious to everyone he met.
She would have considered him one of those ‘yes’ men that would say ‘yes’ to anything as long as the end of the date he was between her legs. He had absolutes that seemed to absolve him from a limp-noodle nice guy label. For instance, he disliked driving, and he would grump like a spoiled brat when she made him. He did not eat sweet things—he avoided sugar. He had the habit of rubbing his head when he was nervous, which was rare, but he did do it, it was somewhat cute.
One time, he called her to see if she could pick up soup for him. He was sick. She lived in his small apartment for three days, nursing him back to health. He was not infallible, but he seemed strange in a way, as if his life was perfect with not an unhappy thought in his head. For a living, he was a hotel manager, which seemed to suit him well. He loved people.
She envied his life outlook—a simple man, with simple needs. When they made love, he was simultaneously generous and needy. He had a keen sense of pushing her buttons until she was mindlessly moaning and panting. The man was definitely addictive in that regard, his timing was near perfect.
Which is why, when she overslept from her nap, she was very surprised that he did not wake her up by ringing the bell, or calling her if she did not hear it.
This worried her, but she was not prone to panic, merely a frown aimed at herself in the mirror as she quickly took a shower and got dressed. The moment she turned off the hairdryer and decided to call him, the doorbell rang, and she jumped. Goosebumps appeared on her arm, she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand out, and then she actually shuddered.
She peeked out the peephole and there he was. She opened the door and smiled as he raised an eyebrow.
“Are you psychic?” It was a silly question, but she had to ask.
He actually laughed at her, a warm laugh, both inviting and infuriating.
“Well, how did you know I overslept from my nap?”
He came in and closed the door. “That would be because you are the one that is psychic.”
“Yes. You. You broadcasted your desire to meet later, so I simply showed up later.”
Now she giggled. “You’re being silly.”
“Hey, when you think things, I am powerless to resist your superior mind powers.”
“Bah! Isn’t that something like love?”
“Of course it is, and I do love you. I have for quite some time, but have been too afraid to say it. But your obvious powers of psychic manipulation propel me to confess my true feelings for you.”
She opened her mouth and subsequently was speechless, so she closed it rather than stand there looking like a dork. She threw her arms around his neck.
“Oh, I love you too, you silly man!”
Later, after the sweaty love making they skipped dinner for, in her dark bedroom filled with the earthy smell of sex, she suddenly realized he was serious. She rolled over and smacked him.
“Ow!” he said, coming awake. “What was that for?”
“I am not psychic!”
“Whatever,” he said, rolling over and putting his head under his pillow. He did that when she wore him out and he wanted to sleep.
She lay there contemplating his snarkitude.
Why don’t you roll back over and make love to me again, she thought at him, feeling stupid, but putting every ounce of desire she had for him into her thought.
When he rolled over and cupped her breast, it was then she knew she was in trouble.
Your Little Sister is a fun, whimsical story, with a side of grim and a smattering of hot smut—befitting a story about a woman with four husbands investigating a double homicide.
The outline I am using, however, fostered a dark story. Your Little Sister needs to be fun and entertaining. I think the madness of the recession bled through my plotting.
I have tossed the old outline today, which was not hard, as it exists solely in my head. I actually did some plotting a world-building on real paper. Imagine that!
Yes, I am making Your Little Sister more—perky.
This has been a public service by Anthony Pacheco, Hack Writer.