Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Excerpt: 'On the Nature of the Gods,' a steampunk weird western.

The following is a scene from what is clearly a very silly book indeed.

After a confab with the equine members of the party, the two men and Hope went back into the hotel. There were a few bleary-eyed patrons in the wide expanse of barroom, but the piano player was slumped across the keys in an alcohol-induced comatose condition. The bartender was nowhere to be seen and Hope wondered if he was asleep on the floor behind the bar. Either that or out in the privy abusing himself, she thought. Gripping the handrail tightly as they made their way up the narrow stairs, she longed for sleep, the last refuge of the truly unhappy.

Her room was first on the right, and she pointedly slammed the door upon entry.

She flung her clothes off, not caring where they landed, and slumped into her lumpy bed, a straw tick of about two and half inches thick, very itchy as all the ones out here were stuffed with bad hay and pinon nuts.

While there was still the distant rumble of talk from below, for the most part silence reigned, and she was just so grateful, no matter how bad the bed. It lasted all of thirty seconds.

A drumming came from the ceiling above. A few seconds later, it came again. After all they had been through! Her first wonder was if someone was trying to get her attention, perhaps in some kind of emergency. Maybe they had fallen and couldn’t get up or something like that.

There was another drumming, a thudding of something hard, and resonant, but of course the floor was just planks. She knew the sounding board of a piano was spruce, right? It made sense.

She knew she would never sleep with all that ruckus going on.

Grinding her teeth, for they had been days passing the Unpainted Desert, a raw, untamed wilderness of gypsum and silica sand, and that damned racket came again. It was all white, hence the name.

“Oh, God, am I tired,” she said aloud in sheer resentment.

Hopefully the idiot could take a hint.

She made a similar observation, only louder this time.

Was it a reporter? Or was it some pimply-faced wannabe pulp fiction author, pounding away at his tripe-writer? Poor fellow! She had some empathy for all of the losers in the galaxy, but she had been averaging three and half hours of sleep per night for about the last ten days or so. The thought that a genetically-modified hammerhead diamondback rattler would sneak under the blankets and then try to crawl up into her puss-puss had kept her tossing and turning all night.

Hopefully, they were a little more scarce here in town, rinky-dink as it was. For some reason it just creeped her out.

Thuds, thuds, thuds…more thuds.

Hope reached under her pillow, and pulled out a 7.63 millimetre German-made Mauser pistol, a long and awkward thing, but deadly enough at close range, and shouted up at the ceiling. She had a spare clip or two under there as well. It was the Turkish export version, given to her as a gift by a love-crazed firearms aficionado. She’d had it anodized a pretty royal blue at a little shop in Greenwich Village. The guy lived at home with his mother and after a while the thing clearly wasn’t going anywhere…

“Let a lady get some sleep down here,” she called in the most commanding voice that a shy, half-naked young mere slip of a woman lying in a bed could generate.

Like the pitter-patter of mules getting at ‘er on a hot tin roof, the danged pounding and stomping came again, with the soft moonlight through the windows illuminating her high cheekbones and wide, sensitive mouth. But her eyes were hard and her lips set tight and firm, like concrete.

Hope emptied the magazine, spraying it back and forth, up and down, carefully peppering the ceiling surface above her with little round black holes. Quickly changing clips, she completed the cross-wise sweep. A cloud of pale smoke hung in the air, her ears rang with the concussion, and a thin haze of dust fell slowly down from above. The thuds and jumps seemed different now, more uneven…something crashed into the far wall up there, and then hit the floor with a resounding thud.

Her door smashed open, hitting the wall with a hurried crash and Rufe stood there with a wild look in his eyes.

“No! No, Hope, no!”

“What?” she asked. “I’m tired Rufe, not now, okay?”

“That’s Michael Flatus up there,” he hissed, tip-toeing up to her bedside and gently prying the gleaming blue weapon from her reluctant hand, although it was empty now anyway.

“Who? What?” she gasped.

“Yes!” he assured her. “Michael Flatus, the Broadway star, and a headliner in Danse of the Mucky Old Creeks.”

“That one was off Broadway, so far off Broadway you could say it was in the Bowery,” she noted doubtfully.

“I don’t care if it was Staten Island! He’s frickin’ famous,” Rufe stuttered.

It was quiet up there now. Blood dripped out of some holes over by the corner of the room.

Jaw hanging, eyeballs bulging, Rufe turned and stared at the ever-widening pool of blood in the corner.

“Now, if you don’t mind, sir, I would like to get some sleep,” said Hope, and with firm resolve, she turned over on her side, pulled the blankets up under her chin and closed her eyes.

“But…but…” he stammered.

“They’ll never hang a good-looking woman, Rufe,” she said without opening her eyes.

He thought about it for a moment. This was the woman he loved, and would, forever-more.

There was the sound of cautious footsteps, and then her door closed. She popped her eyes open, craned her neck, and made sure Rufe had really left the room. She leaned over, and checked under the bed. Then a very tired Hope Ng put her head down for good that night. She was snoring in ladylike fashion all of three minutes later, with visions of dumping magazine after magazine of 7.63 ball ammunition into carnival shooting galleries chock-full of sugar-plum fairies dancing in her head. She’d never actually fired the thing before. It was a really nice gun, when you got right down to it, even in that daze-like state between wakefulness and downright dreaming.

'On the Nature of the Gods' is available on iTunes in the iBookstore.

Monday, February 27, 2012

POD Cover and notes.

Above: A simple book cover using stock CreateSpace options.

So far, I have the interior file pretty much ready to go, but there are still questions and issues regarding this project.

First of all, the best I can do so far is to have page numbers centred at the bottom of each page. I would have preferred right and left, mirrored.

Secondly, because the headers and footers appear to be linked in Microsoft Word, I only have the title at the top of each page, rather than the title on one page and the author name on the other. That doesn't look too professional. When I try fix that, one set of page numbers disappears, either odd or even.

Third, this is going to cost me $25.00 for each title I upload, and after fifteen years on disability, living at about 2/3 of the poverty line, (or $7,000 under, whichever is more clear to the reader,) I don't know how fast I can go on this.

That being said, I might be able to do one a month.

I haven't calculated the retail price of the product yet, but if I set it to earn $2.00 clear profit per sale, I have to sell thirteen books to cover the cost.

Finally, if CreateSpace is anything like the parent company Amazon, they have 'thresholds' authors have to meet before they will cut a cheque, and as a Canadian, it is virtually impossible to open a U.S. bank account without going to the U.S. and doing it in person. And, since I don't have a birth certificate, nor a passport, this brings up other costs, including time spent and administrative delays on the part of the government. It's $25.00 for the birth certificate and $80.00 for the passport. Also, getting a birth certificate involves a 'garantor.' Just who in the hell is going to do that for me is a bit of a mystery at this point, as you can't use relatives and they are asking for 'persons of standing' in the community, i.e. a member of parliament, a judge, a cop, whatever--just the sort of people I hate to ask for anything. The reader's experience may vary.

So I don't know what to think about that, but I'm obviously not going to do this if there is no chance in hell of ever making any money at it--and for reasons unknown Amazon and probably CreateSpace don't deal with PayPal. The threshold for EFT on Amazon is $10.00 accrued in one month, and it's $100.00 for a paper cheque to be issued.

That sounds simple enough, but what is implied there is not. If I'm not mistaken, as I often am, 90 % of the authors on Amazon will never meet that $100.00 threshold, but then U.S. authors can just use their local bank and get Electronic Funds Transfers. If I'm the first guy to figure that one out we'll call it a 'scoop' but I'll bet the company knows that very well. What's really interesting is that they don't use the in-house AmazonPay either. I could speculate as to why this should be so, but I won't. Not yet. It might have something to do with the razor-thin margins and the fact that they are trying to take over the world...right? That's hard to do on a budget. The way I see it, if they take over the world, fine, do a good job of it--and make sure I get my piece of the action.

Tens of thousands of authors around the world will probably never figure that one out, but I like to ask a 'bleep' of a lot of questions, and I guess we'll just leave it at that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Formatting a POD in Open Office

In between bouts of writing my new novel 'On the Nature of the Gods,' I've been spending a little time working on the POD (print on demand) version of 'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery.'

If I can get it to work, it will be a 6 x 9 trade paperback of about 230 pages. According to CreateSpace, that opens up the most distribution channels. Sounds simple enough.

It's a little bit frustrating, because while I did it before, with the 4 x 7 'The Case of the Curious Killers,' (see below, right side,) the learning curve is still there. That's because I did that POD at least a year ago, maybe even longer. I also did 'Core Values,' but never published it, as there was a heavy dotted line running through a page in chapter three. I could never get it out without totally reformatting. I lost heart or something at that point.

Those books have mirrored pages with left and right numbering on the bottom of the page. Theroetically, the header can have left and right pages too--author name on one side, title on the other. It's a nice-looking, professional thing, and that's what I want, right?

So far I'm still having trouble getting Open Office to do that with this project. I've read a couple of tutorials and followed up with a few threads attempting to trouble-shoot the problem. Basically, it's difficult if not impossible to do it in Microsoft Word. And if you click and drag a .doc file into Open Office it clashes and maybe you just can't do it.

I still have ideas, not least of which is to read a few more tutorials. Also, somewhere in the back of my mind a voice is saying that I saved the link from the tutorial that I read a year ago, the one that helped me to succeed that time. So I might have a dig through the files for that one.

Then there is always the nuclear option: take the .doc file and save it as a .txt document, and bring it into Open Office that way. Then there's no clash with Word, although the whole file has to be formatted from scratch. Maybe I could have taken better notes last time...

The reason I didn't use CreateSpace's basic template is that it only had ten chapters, and the page numbering is centred, and I couldn't find a way to change it.

When I tried to paste another template at the end of the template, it just wouldn't go, and my book has twenty-seven or so chapters.

One way or another, it might take a couple of weeks to find the time and figure things out, and then there is the whole wraparound cover challenge--just looking at that template makes my head spin for some reason.

There are times when I wish I was in a position to throw a little money at a problem, but I'm not. I don't know about you guys, but I got a funny feeling that's either never going to happen or it is slated by an indifferent fate for some time in the far-off future.

I'm sure I'm capable of re-learning a new trick, and I guess I have nothing better to do. The most serious thing is that I really haven't written anything today.

My new e-book has a deadline of Mar 31, but I just got my new ISBN and things are going okay there. Then, if you really want to get technical, there's the whole question of making money out of all this...

We'll talk about that another, maybe when we have something valid to report.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coming soon.

This is the proposed marketing image for my work in progress.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dense Prose.

Have you ever heard someone absolutely butcher an old joke, one that you are familiar with and found funny in the past? They’ve gone off track. They took too long. They had trouble finding appropriate words, and keeping the attention of the listener. The listener ran out of patience.

Dense prose is like a well-written joke. There’s not a word out of place, and not a word wasted. There will not be one inappropriate word choice. Each word chosen must be the perfect one for the job. Second best isn’t good enough. There are no ‘slacker’ words that don’t do anything. Every word has its job to do and it must pull its own weight or out it goes. The words have to be in exactly the right place.

That sounds so obvious, yet I often move words around in a sentence.

Here’s an example of dense prose:

John walked down the corridor, his leaden footsteps ringing hollow, echoing around and around as he went.

That one has some problems, although it’s okay up to a point.

Leaden footsteps rang in the hallway. His heart heavy with the news, John reached Mary’s room.

The second example just did a whole lot more work, didn’t it? It’s still a little shorter than the first one. Is ‘rang’ okay, or should we substitute ‘echoed?’ I like it either way.

Here is an example from an unpublished story, ‘Leap of Faith.’ It’s about a reconnaissance team in special survival suits jumping out of spaceships during time of war. While this could be augmented with more detail, it’s hard to see how it could get any shorter.

It was a leap of faith every time they did it. Everyone knew the odds, and the statistics didn’t lie. People said that when you lost the fear, it was time to quit. Jason Bridger had passed that point a long time ago. Now, he just felt resignation, a kind of fatalism. He no longer cared if he lived or died. While his body still wanted to live and reacted just as it should, his mind was cold and jaded.

The secret to dense prose is good editing. Another secret to dense prose is to be specific. Let’s edit the short piece above. We’ll look out through the editor’s eyes for a second.

'It was a leap of faith every time they did it.’

Did what? What were they doing? –ed.

'It was a leap of faith every time they jumped.’

Oh, okay, so they’re jumping, then? –ed.

It was a leap of faith every time they jumped. They all knew the odds. The statistics didn’t lie. People said that when you lost the fear, it was time to quit. Jason Bridger had passed that point a long time ago. Now, he felt resignation, a kind of fatalism. He no longer cared if he lived or died. His body still wanted to live and reacted like any organism should, but his mind was cold and jaded.

The author has made changes. He’s taken out some words and added some somewhere else. Now in the opinion of the average reader, which version is more ‘dense?’ The first example is eighty words and the second seventy-eight. It must be denser. I said exactly the same thing, I said it better, and I saved two words.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hidden depths.

When I decided to write science fiction, (this was some years ago,) I got a library card and borrowed every book I could find, based on a list of writers that I had read when I was younger.

This included something like a hundred and fifty books by forty or fifty authors.

In some ways that was a mistake, as most of the books on the list dated back thirty or more years to classic authors like Robert A. Heinlein, and while that isn’t so bad in itself, it left out most of the authors who are currently active and financially successful in today’s market.

A better idea would have been to go to the bookstore and see who was on those shelves on that very day. It would have been a better idea to make a list at the bookstore. Then go to the library, and borrow them all for free, three or four books at a time. I should have read them and studied them, for two or three weeks or until my time ran out.

Try it sometime. Look at the books with whole new eyes. Look at them analytically.

Did you see anything you didn’t like? What did you like? If you had to write an objective review, not just fan-praise, what would you say about the book? If you could write anything you wanted, who would you most like to sort of ‘follow in the foot-steps of?’ If you can’t analyze somebody else’s work, you can hardly expect to be able to analyze your own stories, objectively or otherwise. A good exercise after reading this article might be to grab three books out of genre, read them, and then write a short 200-word review for each one.

Robert J. Sawyer said in a 2005 interview, ‘Isaac Asimov’s work would not be publishable today because it is not up to modern literary standards.’ I like Asimov, who wrote hundreds of books and technical papers, and that seems harsh. But if anyone is in a position to know what he is talking about, it is Sawyer, the ‘go-to’ guy in science fiction, (at least for Canadians,) and I’m not contradicting him. I listen pretty well—but I’m not contradicting. But think of the competition we are up against.

Outside of my particular genre, I got a bag of old Dick Francis novels, about twenty-five of them. Francis wrote ‘horse-racing thrillers.’ My grandfather loved those books. Why? He liked horses, and in fact my grandmother used to ride the sulky in races at county fairs. Putting them in chronological order, I read each and every one of them. For one thing, the books followed a common structure and formula. What I found was that the story-telling ability of the author improved over time. The author had a few recurring themes, such as confinement, kidnapping, and the basic corruption behind the cheater’s mentality. It really was a finite list over the course of his career. I began to see his limitations, and his strengths. His perspective as a former, very successful rider was that he didn’t mind people gambling. It was a legitimate enterprise, and he loved the sport.

He didn’t much like cheaters, who weren’t content to rely on luck or good judgment, but tried to fix results, and often resorted to violence when things went wrong. In that sense, every novel has some sort of moral component. It’s best to figure out what we are trying to say before we get too far along. Not every theme is of equal importance. Francis also seemed to buy and rebuild old houses. I’m sure he did it at least once. It made a big impression. Some of his characters did the same thing—the basic message was that it was time-consuming and expensive. Surely this is a theme, and surely it is a lesser theme than the one about violence, or more specifically the bits about kidnapping, threats, and assaults. Re-building old houses is a kind of ‘be careful what you wish for’ theme.

A really dense story has a lot of themes interwoven together to make a coherent whole.

Human beings are complex, and so characters should be too. With human beings not everything is on the surface. There are always hidden depths.

If you want to write a western, study modern western authors, (the successful ones,) or romance authors, fantasy authors, whatever you want to write, but also study outside of your chosen genre. This somehow makes it easier to keep an objective point of view. It’s better than getting sucked into a story completely, because you’re enjoying it so much. Now you can figure out why it works and how it works.

These tools will work in our own stories. That’s not to say we should read bad books or only popular ones. It’s about trying to keep an open mind when cracking open any work.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Excerpt: 'The Four Horsemen.' Louis Shalako.

Add caption

Louis Shalako

"I don’t know about you fellows, but I’m getting kind of old for this,” advised Jeb Snead, circling warily to the left with his dukes raised.

It never hurt to try, but this wasn’t a talking matter.

Neither one said anything. They spread out and then came at him. Two other weather-beaten and dust-covered men sat astride their horses, not reaching for their guns just yet.

The one on the right jabbed, and Jeb snagged him a nice fast one right on the kisser.

He stood there flatfooted, staring at the sight of fresh blood on his black rawhide gloves in disbelief. Jeb socked him again and he went straight down and laid flat on his back.

“We’re looking for someone, mister,” said the tall, bearded man still confronting him.

Telegraphing every move, the bruiser, all of two hundred eighty pounds, came in dead straight and Jeb laid him out flat on his back with one punch to the solar plexus, a foot-plant behind the ankles, and a quick push on the shoulders.

“Keep looking,” advised Jeb.

The men on horses reached for their guns, but Jeb held up a hand.

“No need for that,” he assured them. “You gentlemen probably just want to borrow a rope, or something.”

The two looked at each other for a moment. Jeb focused on the eyes of the older one, sitting with an air of quiet authority upon a fine bay gelding. The man regarded him soberly.

“No, sir,” said the young one, avoiding his eyes. “No. We don’t want to borrow no rope.”

“Do you mind if we help our friends back onto their horses, sir?” the older one inquired politely.

“Not at all,” said Jeb, standing clear.

His own gun-belt hung on Rooster’s pommel, as he was just shaving and washing up.

“Was there something I could help you gentlemen with?” he asked as they dismounted, noting an air of gratitude upon the older one’s face.

“We’re looking for a special sort of a man, sir,” said the younger.

He was about twenty-five years old and had some resemblance in the set of the shoulders and neck to his father.

It took a moment or two, but the other members of the little posse were soon remounted. They were dazed, and hurting, and sullen to some degree, but under the older man’s authority.

They kept their mouths shut, but their eyes spoke volumes.

“You’re Jeb,” said the man. “Jeb Snead!”

“Yeah!” he agreed.

“Our apologies, we should have known right off,” said the gentleman. “Sheriff
Ackroyd, in La Pierre, has been getting a little too big for his britches these days.”

“We’re the RB ranch,” he added after a quick spit to the side.

“No fighting for money prizes within the town limits, without his written permit,” said Jeb. “He waited until I could actually pay the fine…or buy a permit, then arrested me and seized all the winnings!”

The other three sat up a little straighter upon hearing it.

“He earned his money,” admitted Snead.

“Sooner or later, he will pull that stunt on the wrong fellow,” said the mounted stranger with a strange, small grin. “They say you smashed a hole in the wall and just walked out…heh!”

“Ackroyd sittin’ in the saloon braggin’,” noted the son.

The younger went silent upon a slight move of his father’s shoulders.

The gentleman thought for a moment.

“The county line is about four miles due west of here,” he advised, as a visible shock went over the faces of his crew. “The sheriff of Mule Creek, south about two miles, is probably sitting in his office in town right about now. It is dinnertime, after all. If you run across any mysterious strangers, travelling alone, maybe with some kind of a strange story to tell…I would imagine it’s a different story every time…well, you watch yourself, Mister Snead. Listen…listen very well to what he…or she, or it, has to say, Mister Snead.”

He tipped his hat and then they all spurred up, and continued on up the hill. No one looked back. The sounds of their hooves quickly faded from his ken. Jeb listened well for a few minutes, still shaking his head. He planned on a few hours of hard travel. Jeb tucked in his shirt and put away the shaving tackle.

Clearly their business was none of his business, and he was glad enough for it.

“Come on, Rooster,” he said.

The horse tipped him a wink.

Mounting up, he carefully walked the big black Antarean barb into the water and down the river for about a mile and a half, then turned up the right bank and picked his way across a stony plain.

It was a good idea to make some ground before nightfall. His own belly rumbled, but the horse had plenty of grass and the water was good. Jeb pulled the brim of his hat down low and rode into the sunset. While the broken hills, winding watercourses and scattered brush gave good cover, he knew enough to listen as well. He made a conscious point of stopping, and waiting, to check the back trail after crossing any big open spaces. He was smart enough not to ride directly over the top of any big hills.

A couple of hours later, Jeb relaxed, riding a little easier in the saddle. He was poor but free, and for the time being, that would have to do.

The gentle tug of Rooster’s heartstrings indicated to the intuitive Jeb that the barb was in perfect agreement with these sentiments.

Ever since bringing the wet, suckling colt into the world in an impromptu Caesarian, with a Bowie knife and his own hands, Rooster’s dam mortally wounded by a neo-Blackfoot arrow, there was this special bond…indescribable to the normally taciturn Jeb. Gifted with his fists and in the use of his iron-hard noggin, although not the most erudite of men, Jeb Snead knew he was lucky to have Rooster.

In this life, if you made one good friend and died with your boots on and no big debts, you were doing all right.

In this weird, half-lit and artificial world, a completely plastic planet, illuminated only by the sick and perverted science of the evil Doctor Schmitt-Rottluff, he would need all the help he could get to save the buxom but leggy Miss Kitty from the clutches of pure and unadulterated greed. There might be some element of lust involved as well, he reckoned, and not just on the part of Doctor S, as he and Rooster had taken to calling him in their unique, telempathic lingua equus.

Rooster sighed, blowing big shots of air out through his lips in a language known ever since the Dawn of Time to horses across this fair Galaxy.

The mournful sentiments coming from the horse confirmed that the barb really liked Miss Kitty, however futile that must ultimately be.


'On the Nature of the Gods' is available at Smashwords and other fine online bookstores. We're always grateful for ratings, reviews, likes and re-posting.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lending Enabled: the sport of kings.

All of my titles on Amazon have lending enabled as far as I know, and currently my new thriller 'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,' is free for Kindle from Amazon. I am not however enrolled in the new KDP Select program, which is where Amazon has a fund to pay out to authors who make their book available for free.

The offer has some rules. Authors may promote their books free for five days, and it must be exclusive to Amazon. The prize kitty is divvied up based on the percentage total of books loaned out monthly, according to stats kept by Amazon.

Fair enough. I didn't enroll, and I didn't really have any good reasons. Maybe just caution, or a wait and see attitude.

When 'The Handbag's Tale' went free a few months ago, it was because I was giving it away on Smashwords and Amazon has a price-matching policy.

I wasn't even online, being in the midst of 'temporarily transitioning between places of abode.' I was signing onto other people's computers and basically just trying to maintain some sort of a web-presence.

Imagine my surprise to discover that I had given away about 800 books and it wasn't even nine-thirty on a Monday morning. During e-book week on Smashwords the previous March, I worked my butt off to give away 130 e-books, and thought that was doing okay, right?

Over the course of two or three months, I gave away about 7,800 copies of 'The Handbag's Tale.' When 'Core Values' went free on Amazon, we gave away something like 6,300 copies of that e-book.

Since 'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery' went free a week ago Monday, I've given away less than 600 copies in a week. This is probably due to the fact that a lot of authors have clued in on the value of giving away free product, and have signed up for KDP Select. Essentially, there are a lot more people doing it, and Amazon promotes those books in a separate area, and my book is not in there.

'The Handbag's Tale' was as high as #7 in its category at one point, and spent a fair amount of time in the top 20. 'Core Values' made it up into the top 20 briefly, but even then, it was quickly apparent that once she starts to fall, there's not a whole lot a relatviely unknown author can do about it, bearing in mind the limited audience I have so far managed to build.

It's quite a kick to see a book flying out the door, even when it's free, yet the second time the rush was somehow diminished...I wouldn't say it has become routine, but maybe our expectations are a little more realistic. That's not to say we won't keep going, because we will. Right?


As far as 'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery' is concerned, it got up to #450, and then quickly began to plummet once more. Now it's around the #1500 level, and seems likely to keep on going.

Other than that, lending is enabled and so is 'text-to-speech,' a feature that I consider a wonderful option if you're considering e-books for the elderly or the disabled.

This really is the sport of kings.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Excerpt, 'Redemption'

Cold wind blasted at his face, the stench of petrol ever-present. Focused as he was, thoughts of fire reveled in the back of his mind. Huddled over the stick, bundled in layers of clothes, his guts still ached from the hours of shivering.

Looking over the side, the crossroads he sought passed under his wheels. Huddled in the cockpit against the icy chill, inscrutable in the helmet, mask and goggles, the beauty of the land below, darkened in irregular blotches by patches of cloud, a low mist still hanging in some of the valleys, meant nothing. The brazen sun came in over his right shoulder, and the details leapt up at him, but there was no joy in this revelation. It was irrelevant.

The clock on the instrument panel mocked his every desire, and reinforced his every terror. If only she knew what he knew, she would never forgive him. But for her, he had sacrificed everything, and it still wasn’t his fault.

It wasn’t his fault and he didn’t want to pay the price. White knuckles gripped the control column, and his head swung on a pivot, his gleaming dark eyes probing everything with rapier-sharp focus from behind the thin glass. He had no choice in the matter.

The fearful burden that he bore must go with him to his grave, for surely the truth, a truth so obvious, would never be accepted. It would never be accepted of him, never in a thousand years.

One little lie to get somewhere in life, and it had led to this inescapable moment in time. The barrier looming ahead made his lower guts tighten up in anticipation. Heavy straps tugging at his body in the sudden turbulence gave little reassurance.

The white fog obscured all vision and even dulled the sound of the motor. Rarely for him, the tension rose a thousand-fold, but this was different. There was no going back now. He stared at the turn-and-bank indicator in fixed concentration. What people said was absolutely right—there was just no way to tell if you were in straight and level flight inside of the cloud, or if you were in a one-way, one-gravity death spiral, with the cold and indifferent earth rising up to meet you. If the instruments had shaken, or tumbled, or gone off in any way, he might have given up and just let go, but they were serene in their confidence to measure simple forces. Theory was nothing when confronted by the reality.

The parachute bulging so uncomfortably under him was of no comfort at all. The thought of using it for anything other than an emergency, a fire in the air perhaps, had always terrified him.

People also said you couldn’t really tell the difference between vertigo and sheer horror. They said it was a kind of physical, totally-detached temporary insanity, where the whole world was spinning on you. In his experience, people said an awful lot of stupid things.

Normally a very confident young man, he was finding that this one was unfortunately true. He felt sick, deep in the pit of his stomach, a feeling that had been constantly with him for many hours.

Perhaps it would be just as well if he did lose control. He could die with a little dignity and his honour intact.

'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,' is presently free across all platforms, so whether you have a Nook, a Kindle, or an iPad, a Sony Reader or other device there's no excuse not to take advantage of this offer.

I hope you enjoy the story.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Raven

Watching with a baleful eye
A black scavenger,
Sentinel of the sky
Looking for a weakness,
Looking for a chance
Looking for an error,
Young lovers, caught up in the dance
With a shriek and a pounce,
He seizes on his prey
And another newborn baby
Is safely stole away
Lurking in the darkness
Clutching a branch so cold
Raven has the desperation of youth
And the sour wisdom of the old
In spite of all the raucous noise
In the end he is alone
And when I look out through his eyes
I can see why he is so bold
For the world is a big and empty place
And the nights get very cold.

Appears in 'Selected Poems,' available from Smashwords in several popular formats.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Entity.

(Chris73 Wiki Commons 3.0)

No one can say how the entity began or who started it. Speculation among analysts is that the entity was conceived by one man. Some say he did it just to see if he could do it. Others believe it was revenge against a system gone mad. As for the real or intended purpose, or whether the perpetrator even realized where it would end, no one knows. It is believed by some that the entity was conceived by an obscure science-fiction writer, sitting in the basement in their underwear, drinking beer, dreaming of Star Wars conventions, and ‘surfing the internet,’ as they used to say in those days.

The entity is the first truly alien intelligence in human experience. That is, if you discount the existence of God and other supernatural beings. The entity has taken over the planet in a most benign fashion. Of course there are those who pine for better days.

Can you blame them?


Elmer Brentard sat across the polished diplomatic table from the Ambassador of la Republique and other senior officials.

“Pardonnez moi?” he asked in mild astonishment.

“Yes, it’s true,” said Pierre De Seneshchal. “The thing started off as a Paypal account, and a few ebooks, and a couple of deceptively simple apps. Some chess playing game, one or two other little things, ‘watch’ features, and the buy-low-sell-high program on the Exchange. It’s all cloud-based. He could smash his machine with a hammer. It wouldn’t matter. Our analysts have traced it all the way back to day one. The author of this, er, ‘prank,’ has been dead for several years. Cancer.”

“We looked for back doors, all of that stuff,” said Brentard’s aide, Mr. Radcliffe O. Stephen. “How did you pull this one out?”

“We’ll be providing details,” said the Ambassador. “We are hoping that with inter-service cooperation, along with our EU and other stake-holders, we can shut it down before it owns every last thing on the planet…I pray.”

“Duh, yeah!” said Jensen. “We’re seventeen wars behind now! We’re going broke! The Entity keeps buying our companies, making ploughshares, and providing micro-finance to third world partners! This thing is just hammering us! You’re not going to believe this, but it’s taken to designing smaller, more efficient cars with big doors and comfortable seats!”

“That’s enough, Radcliffe,” said Brentard, patting his arm paternally. “Of course, you will have our fullest cooperation.”

“Thank you, merci,” said the other. “Delighted! Absolutely…er.”

He rose with a quiet and gentle dignity, and they shook on it. Enough said.


When the Ambassador and his aides got down to the sidewalk, their car was gone. They discovered after a few phone calls that their privatized limousine had been bought and sold three times for the depreciation, and then scrapped as a tax write-off. The driver was laid off as well.

For some reason, it was extremely difficult to get a taxi in that neighbourhood, although it wasn’t a particularly busy time of day. The evening was warm enough, and so they ended up walking back to the Embassy.


The entity explores a world which it believes to be very real. It roams the internet(s) seeking more things to acquire and consume. Whether the entity is aware of that other world of meat popsicles surrounding it, is unknown to this author. That’s okay, there are three or four hundred of me at last count, and the micro-payments always come through.

‘Heh-heh-heh. Heh.’