Sunday, June 29, 2014

And The Rejection Continues

I posted two weeks ago about being rejected for name usage by a company I'd contacted.  There is some debate about whether or not you can use a company's name or product without permission.  Some areas - sports logos, song lyrics, novel passages - are unambiguous, and you should only use such names in your work after you obtain explicit permission.  Some products - certain brand names for food, cars, restaurants - are open to a bit more gray area.  You can say your character is drinking a Coca-Cola, for example, as long as you don't use that as a generic(in the South, every soda is called a coke, as lame as that sounds, and it would be wrong in this example).  The basic rule of thumb is that you shouldn't use the product in a negative light.

The problem is difference over what constitutes negative.  Two more companies have denied me permission to use their product name in my novel Akeldama.  I didn't disparage the brand name in my work, but the context of the usage - in one instance, it was when the main character was being tortured and gave a phony job to spit in his captors' faces - was enough to make the company skittish.  Another saw the mere presence of violence as negative, as if a real vampire attack might happen at their business and such publicity would drive people away.

Of course, this is their right.  Out of an extreme of caution, I will always change a name that might be in conflict in my work.  For me, it's better to use a generic or another name rather than risk a lawsuit.  Fortunately, none of the brand names I've used in my work are instrumental to the plot and can easily be changed.  The reason I like to use specific products is that I feel they add a sense of familiarity and realism to the piece.  Readers can relate to a character powering a home with a Honda Generator or eating a Big Mac.  This makes them part of the same world, and so the suspension of disbelief is easier.  None of that means the book doesn't work if I talk about an SUV rather than a specific brand.

I'm continuing to contact companies for permission, and I'm grateful for the permission I have so far from some.  Beretta has already granted me permission to use their name under the condition that "bad guys don't use Berettas."  This isn't an issue, for only the good guys use guns in Akeldama(the bad guys are vampires, and thus have other means at their disposal when they want to use force).  Beretta was only an initial brief mention in Akeldama, but the other firearm company I contacted has yet to grant me full permission, so I think I'll probably give Beretta the benefit of free advertising, even though I originally wanted another product.

This asking stuff can be challenging, and I hate rejection, but it makes everything seem more real.  That may be the biggest benefit I'm getting from this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Lieutenant Joe Schalker scanned the road in front of him.  It was a hot day in northern Mexico, and there were miles to go before they reached the company perimeter.

“LT,” his driver called, “think the druggies are out there?”

“Maybe, but I don’t think they’ll bother us today.”  His tone was almost one of regret.  They hadn’t seen much action since this incursion, and he was too young to have been deployed in support of either Iraq or Afghanistan.  Listening to the sergeants tell their stories made him burn with envy.

Something else made him burn – the sun.  Being from upstate New York, Schalker wasn’t used to the intensity down here.  Even though he reasoned that no time of the year would likely have been good to drive around the desert, why the President picked July for this action made no sense to him.

The continued stream of undocumented workers and drugs flowing across the border was causing enough of an uproar that the President had to do something.  Some people were saying the US should just reinforce the border, while some were saying the country should let them in.  Others were even calling for a full scale invasion akin to the 1840s.  Creating a five mile buffer zone inside Mexico seemed like the best compromise.

Of course, no one liked it, especially the Mexican drug runner who the troops affectionately referred to as druggies.  They initially tried taking on the US military directly, but one lopsided battle was all it took for them to scale it back to sniper attacks.  When even those started getting taken out, the enemy resorted to the favored weapon of folks in other conflicts – IEDs.  The weapons weren’t changing the tactical situation, but America’s sons and daughters coming back missing limbs – or, worse, not coming back at all – was definitely changing the political situation.

Schalker shook it off.  Such matters weren’t for him to decide.  At the moment, his chief concern was getting to the base outside of Hermisillo before it got dark.  Looking over his four MRAPs, he called into his radio, “Bandits, let’s roll.”

The pace wasn’t fast, but it was steady.  The patrol rumbled along at about 25 mph while the vehicle commanders in the bullet proof commander’s hatch looked around for anything that might be out of the ordinary.  However, to Schalker, there seemed to be nothing out there but ordinary…miles and miles of ordinary.

That’s why the blast of the IED caught him off guard.  The deep buried device went off in front of him and caught Sergeant Michael’s MRAP right underneath, lifting it off the ground by 40 feet.  Although his own vehicle didn’t catch the full force of the device, the explosion still knocked his MRAP sideways and caused it to tumble over.  The last thing he wondered before blacking out was whether or not the sun would bake him alive, or if he’d die before that.

The sun wasn’t on Schalker’s face when he woke up, but it was definitely still hot.  He quickly discovered he couldn’t breathe through his nose with it broken in several places, but trying to take breaths through puffed and bruised lips wasn’t fun either.

“Eh, I see you’re awake, pendejo,” a voice said from somewhere in front of him.  “We were starting to wonder if your brain turned to jelly.  Good thing for us you weren’t too hurt…yet.”

When his vision finally came back into focus, Schalker managed to make out two others in the darkened room.  The one who’d spoken was short, with a muscular build and whiskery face.  He wore a white t-shirt, as opposed to his taller friend who wore a long sleeve plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up.  That one had a cigarette dangling from his mouth and just stared at Schalker.

“What have you done?” Schalker asked.  Even in his own ears, his voice sounded mushy.  However, wanting to sound confident, he said, “The United States won’t tolerate you guys taking hostages from its armed forces.  I demand you release me immediately.”

The command was met with a chuckle.  “Listen kid, you can save that fake machismo stuff right now.  I got a little boy your age, and he gets scared of his own shadow sometimes.  You ain’t got the stones for what’s coming, so you might as well save the tough talk.”

Schalker’s heart leapt.  The man was right – for all his bluster, the lieutenant hadn’t been in a real fight since he was 12.  He talked a good game in ROTC, but this was a little too real.

Switching tones, he said, “What about the rest of my guys?  Are they here too?”

“Those dudes?  Nah, they’re all dead.  The ones Big Betty didn’t get, we got with our guns.  Picked ‘em off easy.  Still, we’re happy as hell you’re still alive.  We need you.”

“For what?”

“Gonna let you Yankee pigs decide if you live or die.  They leave us alone and get out of Mexico, you’ll be fine.  They don’t, you get to find out why the folks around here don’t like us too much.”  He made a throat cutting gesture across his neck.  “I personally don’t think they’ll do anything.  You know, that whole ‘we don’t trade for hostages’ mess.  Don’t matter – you getting your head lopped off on TV will make more mommas and daddies scream to pull out.”

They walked out of the room at that point.  Schalker did all he could to keep from screaming, but a few whimpers escaped nonetheless.

His eyes were getting a little more used to the reduced light in the room, but he still couldn’t see in great detail.  There was a little light coming in from a small window near the ceiling.  The room itself was dirty, with a few shelves against the back wall and a heavy door just beyond.  And it was hot, so very hot.  He’d heard stories of prisoners in the Philippines during World War II being put into hotboxes for punishment and reckoned this must’ve been close.

They left him there for a long time, but how long, he didn’t know.  Some flies buzzed around and dabbed at his sweat while he waited.  His hands were bound behind him, so he couldn’t swat.  It just made the time even more unbearable.

When they finally returned, both men wore black masks, and one carried a video camera.  He set up a light in the corner and turned the video camera on before coming back in front of the device.  The first man drew a long knife and started to speak.  It was in Spanish, but Schalker understood it well enough.”

“You sick American pukes come in here uninvited and think you can threaten us?  You bunch of hypocrites.  You demand our drugs and then get mad when we deliver.  You say you’re based on capitalism, but you know no such thing.  You are not wanted, and if you don’t leave, we’ll send even more of your people to their graves.  Not too many – someone’s gotta buy our stuff…like we both know you want to.

“This fool here is only one, but I’ll bet he has someone missing him.  If America isn’t pulling back by sundown tomorrow, I’ll cut his head off and use it as a soccer ball.”

For good measure, the man put the knife against Sckalker’s throat and pricked out a dribble of blood.  Once that was done, the second man went back to the camera and switched it off.

They quickly gathered the equipment and headed for the door.  Just before slamming it shut, the first man said, “Sweet dreams – they’ll be your last.”

The clang of the door went through Schalker’s mind as well as the room.  He knew he needed to do something, but his battered body and the ropes that held him kept him from doing much.  He sat there as darkness flooded the room and night fell.

He tried twisting his hands, but the ropes didn’t move.  Once that didn’t work, he tried rocking the chair he was tied to, succeeding only in tipping it over.  On his side, a sharp pain rose through his body as his IED injuries took hold.

However, once that pain subsided, he noticed a new one.  It came from the palm of his hand.  Feeling around, he discovered why – rocking the chair exposed a small metal shard on the chair, and it sliced into his flesh.

He’d never been so overjoyed to be cut in all his life.  Yes, cutting through the ropes would be a long process, but the possibility gave him hope.  He worked his wrists until he was sure the ropes were over the shard.  He knew he needed to cut through either the ropes or his arms if he was going to survive.

But the cutting became tedious.  It was hard to tell if he was making any progress, and the night just wore on and on and on…

…and on…

…and on.

As the faintest glimmer of purple entered the room through the window, he felt the ropes break.  His wrists and arms were stiff, but he didn’t know if that came from the ropes or the IED.  He hurriedly untied his legs and stood, finally free of the chair.  The window was his first thought, but as he looked at it, his hopes took a turn for the worse.  It was bad enough that the window was high against the celing, but there was a series of bars across it from the outside.  His only way out now would be through the front door.

Stumbling to the door, he put his hand on it.  It was metal and felt heavy, but the knob turned smoothly enough.  Schalker weighed whether or not to wait for someone to come in and check on him, but he didn’t know if the next time they came in would be to decapitate him.  Deciding the risk was too great, he pulled back on the door.

To his amazement, not only did it give, but it did so pretty quietly.  He glanced down the hallway, which wasn’t any better lit than his room, and saw it came to an opening 20 feet later, where he could hear the sound of a TV.

Schalker crept down the hallway and, taking a deep breath, peered around the corner.  Three men were in the next room, sprawled out on the floor and watching a Mexican soap opera.  The closest man was right next to the wall in front of him, and the door to escape was on the far side.

There was no way to run through the room without being tackled.  At that point, he knew he’d be dead.  There was only one way out – audacity.

Spinning around the wall, he kicked the closest man in the side and then reached down and punched him in the head.  While down, Schalker grabbed a knife that was on a plate the man used to eat whatever he had for dinner, and he shoved the knife as hard as he could into the man’s chest.  He pulled the knife out and jammed it two more times into his opponent, once in the shoulder and once in the side of his neck.  Schalker then reached for the AK-47 on the ground.

The other two men were shocked by Schalker’s sudden appearance, but they finally reached for their guns, one of them even managing to get off a shot.  The bullet knocked the plaster off the wall behind the lieutenant.

Schalker prayed the weapon wasn’t on safe.  He was unfamiliar with the AK-47, and the time needed to find out if it’d fire or not could cost him dearly.  However, his captors were either supremely confident in their abilities or fanatically stupid, for the weapon spat several bullets that Schalker guided onto his target.  The first man spun around and fell on his face while the second man was caught as he lay on the floor.

Finally taking a breath, Schalker hadn’t even realized he was panting.  The adrenaline still flowed through his system, but it was coming down.  He knew he’d need to leave soon, because if someone was around, they’d have heard those shots.

A small truck stood guard outside, and he had to fumble through the dead men’s pockets for the keys.  Fortunately, the keys were in the second man’s pocket he searched.  He rammed the keys into the ignition and floored it.  He had no idea which more Americans were, but he used the rising sun to gauge direction and headed north.

There weren’t even paved roads out here, just cuts in the desert that felt like roads.  Before too much longer, he saw a glint of sunlight on the horizon – MRAPs!

He sped towards safety, but he forgot that troops around here were a little edgy, and they fired a burst of .50 caliber machine gun fire over his vehicle.  Schalker slammed on the brakes, made sure his weapon was in the seat next to him, and got out.

“Don’t shoot!” he shouted.  “I’m an American!”

He knew he’d be difficult to identify at this distance, but he hoped whoever was out there had binoculars out.  It was something he made sure his own soldiers carried on every patrol.

Dust trails soon told him that they were on their way.  Two vehicles stayed at whatever checkpoint was out there while two more lumbered forward.  It was a technique Schalker knew was intended to provide covering fire to the oncoming MRAPs if they needed it.  He hoped they wouldn’t be trigger happy.

The MRAPs stopped about 50 feet from him.  Someone got out and shouted, “Who the hell are you?”

“Lieutenant Shalker, 5/20 Infantry.  I’ve been held by the druggies.”

A grin spread out over the face of the soldier who had his weapon trained on the lieutenant.  “Sergeant Mills, 1/502nd.  Damn glad to see you, sir!”

They took him back to their checkpoint where the medic started treating his wounds,  Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, Schalker was becoming acutely aware of his injuries.  His body felt like one big ache.

The sergeant got on the radio and called headquarters.  It took some doing, but they finally managed to convince the captain of who they had.  Schalker was quickly picked up and taken to a field hospital near Juarez before being flown back to the United States.

The next few days were a whirlwind.  He was treated and taken off to every press conference that could be called.  The story of an American soldier who escaped the druggies was propaganda gold to the military.  He smiled as best he could and answered the questions he was allowed to, but he felt a bit like a show pony.  He had no idea if they’d let him go back to his old company, but he hoped they would.  After all, there was still a war to fight.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Finding My Voice

She had to be around here somewhere.  Unfortunately, no matter where I looked, she'd mysteriously vanished.

"Come on out," I called.  "This isn't funny anymore."

Kneeling down, I looked under the bed.  Nope she wasn't there, nor was she hiding in the pantry.  I pulled open the closet doors, but she wasn't among the coats and hats either.  Desperate, I started running through the house, flipping on every light I could.

Still, nothing.  It was as if she'd simply left me.  She'd been gone for stretches before, but I could always count on her being there if I put enough effort into finding her.  Was that what this was, some dramatic game of hide and seek?  Did I need to prove I still had feelings for her to get her to show back up?

"I won't take you for granted again," I pleaded.

Only silence pervaded.  My Muse had gone.  Without her, I had no energy to start a new project.  For that matter, I had no energy to continue old projects.  She provided my push while traveling or after work.  Her being gone left me feeling hollow.

Why had I ever taken her for granted?  I thought she'd always be there.  Sure, I discarded her on occasion when I felt as if I had better things to do, but she always came back.  Even during that period of five years during which I tried to ignore her, she was always on the edges, urging me onto success.

Now there was nothing.  I pined for her.  She was one of my main reasons for being, providing meaning and structure to my life, but she was the one ignoring me.

"Please come back.  What am I going to do without you?"

Still nothing.  My computer sat on my desk, a half-finished page staring back at me.  In the files were two half finished novels that were quiet(Half-finished?  Who was I kidding?  They were barely at the beginning of each).  I used to have to push her off since she was giving me too many ideas, yet now she wasn't helping with me any of them.

She had to be here somewhere.  As an immortal being who'd been with me since childhood, she couldn't die.  At least I thought she couldn't.  Could my neglect, egged on by a life that was busy even without her, have caused her a fatal event?  Surely I could find a way to breathe fire back into the dying embers of her counsel.

I kept looking.  I went outside, searched my car, and even flipped over the lawn mower.  The neighbors gave me the stink-eye when I peered in their window.  After slinking away, I shook my head and sighed.  She wasn't anywhere in sight.  She had to be out there somewhere...

...didn't she?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Kneel Before Me!

Like a number of writers, I like to read the Writer's Digest website.  They have a lot of great articles about how to improve yourself as a writer, as well as some of the business side.  They also send out a number of emails that direct you to stories that come up...including whenever a new literary agent appears.

I've long since ignored these, but the titles of some of the articles have recently begun to grate on me.  It took a while before I figured out why, but it eventually hit me.  Everything from "Do you have what it takes to impress an agent" to "Agent XXX will be doing a workshop this Saturday for writers" screams out "YOU ARE A PEON WHO WILL BE LUCKY IF I NOTICE YOU!!!!"

This tone permeates everything I've ever seen from literary agents in the modern world.  Nowhere is there mention of "here's how I can get you a great deal" or "I love representing new talent."  Instead, we are constantly subjected to that which resembles some mighty lord on high who we are lucky enough to have grace us with his or her presence.

I know this will sound wacky, but agents work for writers.  It is we who should be choosing who we want to represent us, not the other way around.  Too much of the way agents present themselves make them sound like shills for a dying publishing industry.  They too often talk about what they are seeking.  As a writer, it should be hard enough to find a legacy publisher who might be interested in your work, so it shouldn't be a double sales job.  Agents are for us as writers, not for the publisher who invites them to swanky Manhattan cocktail parties.

The problem is that so many writers are incredibly desperate for that one break that will rocket them to fame and fortune that they forget that publishers, and especially agents, need them more than they need the publisher or agent.  It's like the crack dealer who forgets that without addicts, no one buys the drugs.

This imperious tone in agents is nothing new.  I've railed for a long time about the way agents react to the folks they're supposed to be representing, as if they're doing us a favor.  Their job is to get us published, not pretend we're barely worth their time.  When more writers start to understand this, the attitude of those who are supposed to work for us might start to change.  Until then, they will continue the arrogant parade they're the grand marshals of, all because we let them.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Short Story - Farm Rules

Joseph peered through the large brush and into the pale blue sky.  One of the demons roared overhead, its large tendrils leaving a cloud of vapor in its wake.  The boy didn't think it would come after him today should he expose himself - he was, after all, still obeying all the rules - but better to be safe when the demons came around.

He was average size - around 5'4" - for the boys in the valley at his age(226 lunar cycles).  His height made climbing trees to get fruit a challenge, but his well muscled frame lent itself to tearing out of the ground what he needed, and his bronzed skin protected him from the sun

Corn was on his mind.  The family crops were scattered around the valley - a stalk here and there, usually placed in a random pattern over 100 feet apart.  He loved corn, which was one of the few foods he could tolerate raw.  Demon activity would mean that father wouldn't risk them burning a fire tonight, so raw vegetables it would be.

His stomach growled as he thought of the roasted beaver they'd eaten last week.  Something had already wounded the animal, so it was easy to catch.  Demons hadn't been in the area at that point, so, under the cover of a shallow cave, father allowed them to build a quick fire and cook the critter.  Joseph mused that life would be easier if he could fashion a sharp stick and stab at the animals, or even build a small trap, but such things were strictly taboo - they attracted demons, who were supposedly ruthless when people displayed any kind of technical ability.

That meant that he had to carry the corn by hand.  It was difficult to do so, and it usually meant several trips to the cave.  The scattering of crops throughout the valley made it that much more physically exhausting.  As such, it was near dusk when he made his final trip for the day.

"A good haul today," father said.

"Yes.  We can eat well...although I'd like to have some meat."

His mother sighed.  "Son, we've been through this too many times.  Any meat we had now would be bad for us since we couldn't cook out its poisons."

"But we could hide a cooking fire with pine boughs.  And we'd be quick - just long enough to turn it pink."

"Joseph, you know the smoke cannot be concealed, so we'd have to go into the cave or further into the mountains," father said, his voice stern.  "Even then the demons have been known to spot the heat from fire, and their migration through the area leaves us vulnerable.  Besides which, we have no meat right now anyway, so this whole discussion is academic."

Joseph plopped on the ground and crossed his arms, his face sullen.  "I've never seen the demons attack anyone.  Why do we do what they say?"

"Well, they've never actually said," Joseph's father conceded.  "However, tradition and oral history dictate the demons' rules.  And we've seen them strike the gatherings several valleys over - the fires raged for a month after they hit.  Yet they don't kill the bear or the owl, for those creatures are naked and use no instruments besides their wits to gather food.  For this reason, we shun the deviled tools of others, and we've remained unmolested as a result."

Still sullen, Joseph grabbed an ear of corn and bit into it.  His mouth ached as a kernel hit his bad tooth, so he moved the glob of mush to the other side of his mouth and continued to chew.  He hated being so afraid of the demons that he hid his ability to do better.

According to the stories his parents had told him since he was young, the creatures went after anyone so arrogant as to assume he could use more than basic gathering to improve life.  Apparently, long ago, people gathered in clusters and used fire on a regular basis to cook, as well as adorned themselves in the skins of animals and plants to protect from the cold, but the gods grew angry at mankind's presumption to do that which should only be the province of the heavens.  Therefore, they sent the demons to drive humanity back to perfection.

Joseph despised both the gods and the demons.  The demons could fly, and there were even stories they shot lightning from their bodies to punish those caught in contravention of the gods' edicts.

"Father," Joseph ventured, "we could try to capture a demon and use it to negotiate for a better set of rules."

Now his father laughed long and loud.  "My son, even if we could get close enough to a demon to capture it, my own father once saw the hoards destroy one of their own in going after the fools that attacked them.  They are merciless in how they enforce what the gods want, so we have no hope of changing their minds."

"One day I'll get one of them," Joseph murmured.  "I'll make them see, and then I'll use my sticks to get fish and wear the pelts of the bear.  One day."

It was the same fantasy he went to sleep with every night.  As he was closing his eyes, he could see one of the demons' rotating eyes overhead, blinking light and watching for anyone who broke the rules.  Rumors said that some people escaped their grasp long ago, but those people abandoned the rest of humanity when they tried to get to the gods.  Joseph cursed them as much as the demons that had been around as long as anyone could remember.  A world without them was but another story.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Words Versus Pictures

We're always hearing "the book was better," or "the movie let me see what the author meant."  We have a wide variety of entertainment mediums, yet instead of picking one and sticking to it, we argue and gripe about which one is better.

I'll go ahead and state the obvious - if the same story is brought out in both mediums, someone is going to be disappointed, and some will be pissed.  This isn't due to some evil plot on behalf of filmmakers or writers, but because of expectations.  Quite simply, we go into one or the other thinking we'll see one thing, yet we get something quite different.

Usually this happens from the book to the movie, and it happens for one of two reasons.  The first is that, in the absence of visual effects, we have to use our imagination when we read.  No one is putting that dramatic battle or poignant funeral scene right in front of us - we have to envision what is there.  I've been known to assign who I think will be in the lead role, as well as whether it's raining, windy, or traffic is heavy.  In the absence of definites, our minds fill in the gaps, and that creates expectations in us.

Then some enterprising producer comes along and gives life to what we already birthed in our heads.  With breathless excitement, we naively believe that the movie will conform exactly, or near exactly, with what our vision is.  Unfortunately, unless we're on set with a blank check, that never happens.  Things change - that blond we envisioned now becomes the brunette actress we think isn't serious enough for the role; our main character appears more hesitant; or the constant rain that provided mood goes from steady to mist to downpour.

Even worse, the story sometimes changes.  Characters aren't even seen(I'm talking to you, Peeves), or the ending doesn't match the book and we walk out feeling cheated, as if we paid for one thing and were given something else.  We scream and shout "I paid to see XXX and they made me look at YYY.  It's not the same thing!"

In order to come to terms with this, I think we have to accept that most of the public doesn't read.  Whether out of laziness or daftness or whatever, they just don't like it and would rather watch something on screen do all the imagining for them.  That means that film studios have to make films that have much more mass appeal than we might like.  They must cater to enough people to turn a profit, and that means drawing in more than readers of the book.  Accepting this, as well as the fact that what you're watching won't match with what you read, is the key to watching anger free.

Although on a smaller scale, this can work in reverse too.  However, it also often comes back to we readers.  Movies will do amazing, and we'll exclaim, "Then you have to read the book!"  Of course, the viewer already has in his or her head what the movie laid out for them, so that severely taints the process of imagination.  People may read the book and say, "Meh, it was okay."  This produces outrage in us when they had the gall to not love the book as much as we knew they would.

We need to accept that we're dealing with different mediums - imagination versus optical - and know they'll never match.  If we can't, we'll always be left wanting at the final result on either end.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


I've recently begun seeking permission from various businesses to use their names in my novels.  For some stuff, it's not necessary, but that line isn't always clear, so it's better to be safe than sorry.  I use actual businesses and products, as many authors do, in order to help give the reader a feel of familiarity.  However, none of those products or businesses are so vital to my book that I couldn't change the text to something generic and still have the story work.

It's been exciting as I started getting a few places to agree.  There's been a gun manufacturer, a car company, and even one of the best sandwich shops in LA that have given me permission.  I was ecstatic to be moving along with virtually no snags.  A few places still owed me answers, but I was on my way!

Then I hit a bump.

Sports teams, whether professional or college, are particularly protective of their trademarks, so I made sure to contact those that exist for real in Akeldama.  Near the beginning of the story, one of the vampires uses a midwestern college as a hunting ground.  This is done for no other reason than to establish the character and let us all know that there are vampires in the world.  I initially received permission from this place, but their reply said that I could use the name only if I could assure them that there was nothing violent, sexual, or drug/alcohol related in the usage.

I let them know about the vampire part since I knew that technically the attack was violence.  But surely, I thought, this won't be an issue since the attack isn't vampires parading through campus bouncing human heads like basketballs, and everyone knows vampires aren't real anyway.


The person I was corresponding with told me in no uncertain terms that such a thing would be too much violence and they didn't want it associated with them.  I cursed very loudly and thought that they needed to take the stick out.  This is a supernatural story that exists in a fictional world about people who aren't really alive.  However, the mere mention of violence - the character in question takes some blood from two victims, but he lets them live and erases their memory - was enough to spook them.  Have we really arrived at the point where we're so scared of anything remotely violent that we don't want our names associated with any of it?  I kept thinking that if my novel was successful, wouldn't the place in question become an even bigger draw and spur interest?  Isn't this exactly what happened with Twilight?

Of course, in the end, I'll omit any reference to the college in question.  I even plan to omit any reference to businesses or products in my novel that don't respond to my queries.  Like I said, nothing is so vital that I can't make it generic and still have a great story.  It's just that I feel it would have been better for the readers to include more of the "real world."

Maybe reality is overrated.  After all, isn't that why we write fiction in the first place?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Baby Bird

Let me apologize for missing the last week or so.  Many things in life came up that inhibited my blogging.  Of course, it's my blog and the republic won't collapse if I go some time without a post(except maybe my readership), so nyah.  :-P

Now that I'm back on track, allow me to present a new short story.  This was inspired by a recent real life incident at my house.
"Look, mom - it's so tiny!"
Cheri peered down at the pitiful creature, and then she looked back up at the tree from whence it came.  The birds around here apparently didn't know that the branches couldn't support the weight of their nest.  The end of the branch broke under the weight, and the newborn birds fell out.  Unfortunately, the parents weren't anywhere to be seen.
Not wanting to scare her seven year old daughter, Cheri said, "Gayle, honey, I don't know how long the birdy is going to survive.  There are lots of hazards in our yard, from the dogs to neighborhood cats to your clumsy father who might accidentally step on it.  Don't get too attached."
"Yes, mommy."  The words Gayle spoke may have agreed with her mother, but her tone said she was expecting this bird to grow strong.
Cheri shook her head as Gayle continued to squat over the bird and coo at it.  It wasn't very pretty - patches of covering that looked more like small cactus spines than feathers, and scrawny legs that flailed uselessly underneath it.  It had blinked a few times and looked around, but it didn't seem to have any awareness that it was prematurely on its own.
Going back to watering her garden, Cheri looked over to see Gayle race to the house and return a short time later with a bottlecap.  Her daughter knelt down by the bird and laid the bottlecap next to it.  In response to her mother's inquisitive look, Gayle said, "I filled the cap with water since Tweety might be thirsty."
Yes, she'd already named it.  While Cheri loved Gayle's compassion, she worried about what might come next.
Over the next several hours, Gayle also laid down several pieces of corn from her plate in the sink, as well as some pine needles for a nest.  She was careful to not touch Tweety, but she wanted it to be comfortable as possible.
"Mom, do you think Tweety will like her nest?"
"How do you know it's a girl?"
"She just seems like a girl," Gayle said with her unassailable seven year old logic.  "So, do you think she'll like it?"
"I'm sure she'll love it, honey."
Gayle continued bringing out capfuls of water(despite Tweety not taking a sip) and admonishing the two dogs they owned from getting close.  Neither Spotty nor Scout seemed all that interested in that part of the yard at the moment anyway, but Gayle still did all she could to discourage treks into the area.
Later that night, Cheri tucked Gayle into bed.  "Good night, dear."
"Mommy, do you think Tweety will get cold tonight?"
"I don't know.  It's summer, but baby birds don't have the same tolerance grownup birds do."
"I wish her parents would pick her up and put her back in the nest."
"I would like that too.  Maybe it'll happen."
"Yeah, I hope so."  With that, she rolled over and closed her eyes.
Cheri went downstairs and opened her book.  It was one of those trashy romance novels everyone said was bad for you, but she didn't care.  It was a good escape from the worries of the world and let her dive into fantasy instead of reality for a few minutes.
Unfortunately, she was unable to escape as much as she would've liked.  Her daughter had never experienced real sadness before.  Sure, she'd seen a sad TV show here and there or bumped her head when she fell, but she'd never experienced death, which is what Cheri felt would likely happen to poor Tweety.
For a few minutes, she contemplated going outside and removing the bird.  She could tell her daughter anything she liked in the morning, such as it figured out how to fly or the mommy bird came by to retrieve her child.  It was a tempting thing to do since she hated seeing Gayle upset.  True, nothing had yet happened to the bird, but Cheri knew what the odds were.
However, she never got the chance.  Cheri fell asleep in the recliner, her book open on her lap.  When she opened her eyes, the sun was shining through the blinds and Gayle was already headed out the door.
"Where are you going?" Cheri asked.
"Good morning, mommy.  I'm going to see if Tweety had a good night."
"Did you brush your hair and your teeth?"
"Yes.  And see - I even put on my outside clothes."  She was right - she now wore an old pair of jeans and her play-tennis shoes.
"Okay," Cheri sighed, "but you can't stay out there too long.  Breakfast will be ready in a little bit."
"Okay, mommy.  Love you.  Bye!"  She blew a kiss to her mom and raced outside.
Cheri got up and stretched before beginning her morning routine.  Coffee percolated while she got the cereal out and started pouring the orange juice.  She finally looked outside, expecting to see her daughter kneeling and cooing over Tweety, but Gayle was nowhere to be seen.  Curious, Cheri went outside and saw her sitting on the swing in the side yard, tears glistening in her eyes.
"Mommy," Gayle said in a choking voice, "I think Tweety died.  She's not moving, even when I poked at her with a stick."
Cheri walked over and looked down at the bird.  It was laying on its side, its eyes closed.  There was no sign anything happened to it, but it clearly hadn't survived the night.  Whether that was from starvation, or the cold, or something else, it didn't really matter - Tweety was dead, and nothing would bring her back.
"Honey, I'm so sorry."
"We should bury her," she said, a small catch in her voice.  "She needs to know that someone loved her."
"We will.  Where should we do it?"
"Can we do it right there?  She'd be near her home."
Cheri thought at first about the ground she'd worked painstakingly to maintain, but then she looked in her daughter's eyes.  This was clearly important to Gayle, and that dried up any doubt she had about digging in the yard.  She agreed to the burial site and went to get a small gardening shovel from the shed in the yard.  After digging a small hole in the turf, she gently scooped up the bird and placed her inside the hole.
"Would you like to say anything?" Cheri asked.  "It's customary to say something nice about the deceased at a funeral."
Gayle's lip quivered, but she nodded.  Folding her hands in front of her, she said, "I'm sorry I didn't know you for very long, Tweety.  You should have lived longer, but I guess God had other plans.  I hope you're warm in Heaven and have lots of worms to eat.  I'll miss you."
The words rang in Cheri's ears.  She didn't like seeing Gayle sad, but she was now glad she didn't remove Tweety last night.  Gayle needed this experience in order to grow as a person.  Difficult though it may be, death is as much a part of life as birth, and better for Gayle to start small with understanding about it than get blindsided by something bigger later on, for eventually something else will happen.
"Amen, sweetheart," Cheri said, wiping, much to her surprise, a tear from her eye.
Although Gayle had been the one to try and take care of the abandoned bird and had been most affected by its actual passing, Cheri thought that, in the end, it had a more profound impact on her.  Gayle would be out climbing trees and running around with the butterflies later that afternoon, but it was the poignancy of the moment that captured Cheri.  Her little girl was experiencing life, both its good parts and its bad.  In the end, allowing her those experiences would make her a more complete person.  Cheri resolved then and there to allow her daughter to learn from such things rather than pretend they didn't exist.  After all, without the experiences, could life truly have any of the beauty either?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Missed Posts

My apologies for missing yesterday's post.  Life got hectic.  And given that I'm going away on business, the next few days will be hectic as well.  I know consistency is important, but my next post won't be until Friday, June 13th.  Sorry for the lapse.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cry Me A River

Poor little Hachette has been crying up a storm over its dispute with Amazon, and it has only gotten louder over the last week.  Hachette is upset that the world's biggest book distributor has basically told them to get bent.  Of course, given that Amazon has told its customers to go to other avenues to get the books they want, Hachette has a real easy way to build up a little good will in this dispute - lower the prices of its e-book selections.

But that's just crazy talk!

We all know that neither Hachette nor any of the other Big 5 publishers will do that.  It hasn't even been a year since a judge ruled that the major publishers, in conjunction with Apple, colluded to artificially inflate the prices of e-books.  When companies go to such lengths to stack the deck, they won't suddenly turn around and do something as drastic as lower their prices for the poor customers they claim to care so much about.

I find all of this angst towards Amazon amusing.  It's not that I have any great affection for Amazon - after all, they're a business as well, and they'll do what they feel they have to in order to make a few bucks.  However, at least they're honest about it.  The major publishers are all sunshine and unicorn farts to the rest of us about how Amazon is putting brick and mortar bookstores out of business.  It's funny that they weren't lamenting Barnes & Noble of Borders putting small mom and pop independent bookshops out of business in the early 90s.  And the major publishers sure as shit weren't protecting authors when they started consolidating and putting smaller presses out of business.  In those days, self publishing was a joke, the last resort of the failure.  However, now that circumstances have changed, they want to claim they're the big protectors of the literary world.

For years - nay, decades - traditional publishing has used its power like a club, intimidating writers into signing woefully one-sided contracts and maintaining its own market share.  Now that this model no longer holds true, they're crying like scalded calves, and we're supposed to feel sorry for them.

Forgive me for not buying the bullshit.  They had their chance.  Now that the market has changed, they still won't move into the present.  That speaks less like someone who understands its customers than it does like someone trying to hold onto power that is rapidly flittering away.