A Conversation with Conrad Glover…

Conrad Glover, filmmaker.

Welcome back to filmmaker Conrad Glover, currently on set in Las Vegas filming his series “Shades of Sapphire.” I’ve been following Conrad’s work in film ever since he hired me to do some set photography for a horror feature he was directing. (2005’s Woods of Evil.) Since then, he’s been doing ever bigger and better things with his production company, JOCO Films. He’s in the middle of production and all the craziness that entails, but he stopped by to answer a few questions and give us some quick peeks into the world of Sapphire.

“Shades of Sapphire.” The Series. Sapphire, Arlo and Mack discuss their plan of action on the rooftop of the club. Photo by Danwen Li.

Q (Infamous Scribbler): What is your current project?

A (Conrad Glover): Sapphire St. Clair, known as Queen St. Clair, has a heart of gold, but is the most feared woman in Las Vegas underworld. This is her story. She is the great granddaughter to Stephanie St. Clair, who was the right hand man to Bumpy Johnson, Harlem’s notorious gangster and crime boss. This is how Sapphire learned the street game that was passed down to her as a small child.

Once released from Danbury federal prison after doing a 10 year stretch, Sapphire St. Clair moved to Las Vegas to start her own criminal enterprise. As Sapphire’s success grew in her many businesses, this brought on unscrupulous attention from dirty law enforcement who tried to stop her, all for a piece of the wealth that they knew Sapphire obtained from her illegal dealings.

“Shades of Sapphire” is a crime action/drama that is full of plot twists and turns. Las Vegas will serve as the backdrop of this web series. The show will be shot at a high production value. The WIRE meets POWER type of story, but with more action!  

Q: There are tons of filmmakers out there, trying to bring their project to life. How did you get yours off the ground?

A: I was able to get this project off the ground after talking with my distributor Doug Schwab, CEO of Maverick Entertainment. We have had a long working relationship for over a 10-year span. We talked about “Shades of Sapphire,” he liked the concept, so he decided he wanted to come on as the Executive Producer on the project.

“Shades of Sapphire” The Series. Sapphire handles Ms. Bowdon for wearing a wire on her. Photo by Danwen Li.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced doing the project? How did you overcome them?

A: The biggest challenge with this project I would have to say is scheduling the day-to-day shoot. Shooting a series is much harder than doing a feature film, because you’re casting more actors, and you’re constantly on the hunt for new locations for each new episode. It can be very stressful at times. 

Q: You are working in a bit of a stylized genre. What do you do to keep the project aligned with your vision? 

A:  This project is more of drama/action. I think what’s different about this project is that the female lead is black for one.  Second she’s running a crime organization in the heart of Las Vegas. Plus no one is squeaky clean in this series. We have all types from the Russian mob, Italian mob, street thugs to the Mexican cartel, etc. 

“Shades of Sapphire.” The Series. Venus takes out a trick for Sapphire’s Organization. Photo by Danwen Li.

Q: What are some aspects of working with actors that you find integral to the process?

A: I love working with actors. Acting is where I started in this business. I love being able to speak the language of an actor, knowing what strings to pull to get the performance I want from them.  (IS Note: For more of Conrad’s insight into the craft of acting and film, check out my 2013 interview with him on filmmaking and the work he was putting in to his career.)

“Shades of Sapphire.” The Series. Sapphire sits with her psychiatrist Dr. Brown to deal with her many problems. Photo by Danwen Li.

Q: What is the next step in finishing the project? What comes after that?

A: Post- production, which usually takes two months if everything goes as planned. Once that’s done, the project is sent to the distributor to be cleared. Then it’s just a waiting game on a release date. In the meantime, it’s back to writing and preparing for the next project. 

Q: Anything to add?

A: Anyone thinking about becoming a filmmaker? Learn to write, write, write, I can’t stress this enough. Everything starts with a good script. Also learn to write stories with a budget you can put your hands on to make your movie. I’ll close this out by saying…. Always follow your dreams, never give up.

Conrad Glover, filmmaker.

Excuse Our Dust!

It’s the sign that retailers put out when they’re going through renovations, but still want to stay open for business. And now, as I find myself in the thick of NaNoWriMo, I am also going to be slowly renovating this Web site to reflect some new directions, new writings, and a new focus on coaching the writing process.

Part of this renovating process includes doing more “Characters and Conversations” interviews. If you check out the “Conversations” category tag, you will find a series of blogs spanning a few years at this point. The posts are conversations that I have had with authors, entrepreneurs, artists, Army commanders, homesteader/preppers, teachers, journalists, filmmakers, and a whole host of other folks who have shared cool information about themselves and their lives.

During the past year or so, I’ve mostly been focusing on author interviews, which are totally fun and enable me to spread the word about upcoming releases. On the other hand, my original intention was to first, keep a hand in my old journalism training by interviewing people outside the realm of my experience. Additionally, I find that learning about real-life characters not only helps to inform my writing, but might inspire others who are also working on their own writing projects.

So, stay tuned. Check back in. Check out some Conversations. Maybe shoot me a suggestion for someone cool to interview (even if it’s yourself. Don’t be shy.)

And now, back to my regularly scheduled NaNo writing panic. Peace!

Introducing: Scribbler Coach

Good morning! I hope that your week is short and started with a bang–at least for all the folks on this side of the pond, and squished between Canada and Mexico. Which has got to be the most awkward way of saying, “Happy Fourth of July, my fellow Americans.” But hey, that’s what edits are for!

Speaking of edits, I am posting to introduce a new service on this site. Scribbler Coach, an on-site offshoot of The Infamous Scribbler, will offer a full suite of coaching, writing, and editing services. Whether you are trying to figure out how to start, or you’ve gotten halfway and gotten lost, or if you are done and are trying to figure out what to do next, I can help you.

How did this come to be? I started receiving requests from authors and aspiring authors, with whom I worked in various writers’ groups, for extra help on the side. Some of these authors needed a beta reader, others needed help putting their thoughts together for an outline, and some just needed the motivation that a deadline and a willing ear could give them.

Also, as I started introducing myself as an author (a helpful tip if you’d like to let people know about your work), I started getting variations on the response: “Oh hey, I have this great idea for a book, I just …. don’t have the time/don’t know where to start/am not sure if it would be viable/would like someone else to write it for me, how about you?”

And I thought to myself, you know, I can help people with all of those issues–except the last one. If you need a ghost writer, I’d advise advertising on Upwork, because I do not have the time to write anyone’s novels except my own. And even that is tricky.

If you take a look at the Scribbler Coach page, you will find the services broken down with descriptions of and rates for what I am offering, as well as some testimonials from people I’ve worked with in the past. I’ve got a some discounts for students and military/veterans, and as a biz launch incentive, I’m offering every fifth coaching session free. If you like what you see–drop me a line at infamous_scribbler@yahoo.com.

Happy Writing!

A Conversation with Dan Jolley…

Welcome back!

Today, the guest here at Infamous Scribbler is artist, author, and game creator Dan Jolley. His latest novel, Gray Widow’s Walk, is the story of an angry young woman, Janey Sinclair, and the powers she must learn to control, before they end up consuming her. Today, Dan discusses being a multimedia creator, good and bad writing advice, and of course, gives us a peak into the world of his new creation.

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Q (Infamous Scribbler): I noticed in your bio that you are from Georgia. How has your natal geography influenced your writing?

A (Dan Jolley): I don’t know that it’s been a huge influence on my actual prose or scripts, but I definitely do like to set stories in Georgia when I can. When I first came up with the idea that would eventually become Gray Widow’s Walk, many years ago, stories set in Atlanta were relatively rare. Now, what with The Walking Dead and various other media projects setting up shop there, it’s a lot more commonplace. One thing I did have a little fun with, though, was in my comic book series Bloodhound, when I set the fictional Red Clay Federal Penitentiary in my hometown of Ringgold, Georgia. I had a few hometown folks approach me and say, “Of all the things you could’ve put here, it had to be a prison?”

Q: In your new book, Gray Widow’s Walk, your protagonist is an angry young woman. What were some of the decisions you made and challenges you faced when writing Janey?

A: Yeah, Janey Sinclair’s life has been a series of cruel, unfair tragedies. Her mother died of cancer when Janey was nine, her father was shot right in front of her (Janey herself was shot in the same encounter and almost died) when she was sixteen, and she lost her husband in a horrible way when she was twenty-five. She’s got some seriously pent-up emotions. Most people deal with that kind of trauma in one of three ways: they handle it in a healthy fashion, usually by going to therapy; or they disappear into drugs and alcohol; or they let it consume them completely and self-destruct. Janey has the opportunity to exercise a fourth option, because—in a way she still doesn’t understand—she’s developed the ability to teleport from one patch of darkness to another. So she’s got an outlet that no one else has, and decides to try to prevent other people from going through the kind of trauma that she has.

There are definitely some superhero tropes in the book, though it also has elements of science-fiction and horror, and one of the decisions I made early on was not to make Janey too powerful. Teleportation is already an incredibly potent ability, so I wanted be certain that she had reasonable vulnerabilities, and not ones like “the color yellow,” or “alien space rocks.” That’s why she stole a suit of military body armor before she started prowling the streets. Janey’s a little stronger than most people, but she can be hurt by things like bullets and blades and poison gas just like anyone else.

As far as challenges, definitely the biggest one was writing a convincing female protagonist, since I am terminally male myself. But I’ve had some practice with that, in the form of three original YA novels I wrote back in 2007 and 2008, a trilogy called Alex Unlimited. The protagonist of those books is an 18-year-old girl named Alexandra Benno. When I first pitched that property, the protagonist was a boy, and the publisher said, “We really like this, and want to pursue it, but would you mind changing the main character to a girl?” I wasn’t sure how that would turn out, but I agreed, and to my own surprise, it worked out beautifully. (Apparently my inner child is a teenage girl.)

Plus, for Gray Widow’s Walk, I was diligent in getting as many female beta readers as I could. The last thing I want to do is make some boneheaded mistake thanks to being entrenched in a male perspective.

Q: Your work spans a variety of media, including video games, comics, and of course, novels. Is it a challenge to work in different formats? How do they affect your writing process? Did they bring anything new to the Gray Widow’s Walk series, and if so, what?

A: There’s definitely some mental gear-shifting when I go from one medium to another, but I’ve worked out a few different methods to make that easier. I got my start writing comic books, many moons ago, and over the years, largely through trial and error, I’ve gotten it down to a sloppy sort of science. I actually have a series of blog posts on my website, www.danjolley.com, called “How To Write the Way I Write,” that explains all the nuts and bolts of comic book scriptwriting.

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Learning to write comic scripts first was a big help. I sometimes say it’s like learning to drive on a three-speed, stick-shift, two-ton flatbed truck. If you can drive that behemoth, you can drive anything. Comic book scripts, even though there’s no set format for them the way there is for a screenplay, are incredibly rigid in their parameters; your page count is set, your panel count per page has to be tightly controlled, your word count per panel also has to be tightly controlled, you have to take into account the page turn, which means all your big moments and surprises should really be at the beginning of even-numbered pages, etc. Writing in other media doesn’t seem so difficult once you’ve mastered all that.

One of the biggest successes I’ve had with techniques for writing prose might not work for everyone, but for me, using a walking desk is the way to go. I set up a shelving unit over my treadmill, got my wireless keyboard and laptop in the right positions, and now whenever I write prose I plod along at two miles an hour, typing as I walk. It gets the blood flowing through my brain just right.

And probably the biggest benefit of working in deadline-based creative jobs for as long as I have is that I’ve gotten really, really fast. Once I have a solid outline in place, knocking out a chapter a day is pretty standard. You can expect the next two books in the Gray Widow trilogy to come out on schedule.

Q: Without giving away too much, what plans do you have for Janey and the crew?

A: Well, the biggest question Janey has in the first book is where the hell her teleportational ability came from, and in the second book she’ll probably regret not being more careful what she wished for. Also, that same source is what “augmented” Gray Widow’s Walk’s principal antagonist, the twisted, grotesque, bloodthirsty shapeshifter named Simon Grove. Janey will definitely encounter more people who’ve been affected, not quite in that exact way, but in similar fashions. Plus, there’s the question of where Janey and Tim Kapoor are headed, as they try to figure out exactly what their relationship is, and how Janey’s past will influence it.

Basically, life doesn’t get any easier for anyone.

Q: What is the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever been given?

A: The best advice is this: Finish what you’re writing before you start editing. Just plow through that first draft. Don’t go back and try to get the first page, or the first paragraph, or the first line exactly right until you’re done with the whole thing, because if you do, you run the risk of getting hung up in the editing and never completing the story. Now, what this means is that your first draft will probably be really shitty. That’s okay! First drafts are supposed to be shitty. My first drafts are the ripest heaps of camel dung. But once you have a first draft, you can go back and fix it. You can’t fix what isn’t there. (I’ve heard it described as shoveling sand into the sandbox. You’ll have time to sculpt your castle once the box is full.)

I don’t know that I’ve ever been given any really, truly bad writing advice, but I have been given some really, truly bad feedback from an editor. At one point, I was writing a monthly comic book series, and after I turned in a script, the editor called me and said, “I don’t think you’re firing on all pistons, Dan.”

I sort of sputtered, and said, “Okay, but, uh…what did you not like? What do you want me to change?”

He sighed and said, “I just don’t feel like you’re bringing your A game.”

Talk about useless. He refused to give me any specific feedback, so I had to flounder around in the dark, and ended up doing five or six drafts of the script until he finally decided I had delivered what he was looking for. To any editors out there reading this? I know you’re overworked. I know your job is massively hard. But please, don’t do that. Don’t be that guy.

Q: Anything to add?

A: I’ll be a guest all four days of DragonCon this year, set up in Artists’ Alley, and I’ll be part of the Seventh Star Press crowd at Imaginarium in October. Come say hi! (IS Note: We’ll definitely stop by! I need a signed copy…)

Also, please give me a shout on Twitter (@_DanJolley) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/dan.jolley1). Or both! I’m there more often than I probably should be. (IS Note: So say we all…)

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There you have it, folks. Stop by, pick up a copy, come to DragonCon, get it signed, and say hi! Until then, happy reading.

#WriteFridays Number … Something … Writing Exercise

It’s been a while since I posted a writing exercise or prompt, but I’m feeling inspired. I sat down with one of the ladies from my writing group, who mentioned that she was having a hard time coming up with a certain part of the plot of a short piece she was working on. She just couldn’t think of what to have the character do, or what part of the plot to develop. I looked around and found a few exercises that might help, but this lady in particular had responded well to a timed exercise previously, so I wanted to add in a personal touch.

So, here is a writing exercise if you are trying to sketch your way through some writers’ block. It may also be a good technique if you are doing some pre-writing and outlining. Hope it helps!

WriteFriday Exercise: Character vs Plot

Character/Plot Exercise

Instructions: Print out or fill in on the document. Before you start, read through the questions to start them percolating. When you have reflected on the character and the questions, start a timer. Give yourself 15 minutes per section for 1-3 with a 1-2 minute rest in between (shorter or longer if necessary.) Once you are done, sketch down a few notes for Section 4. If you start to feel inspired, get back to your story!

Section 1: What is the BEST thing that could happen to your character…

This year?

This month?

This week?

Today?

Right now?

Ever?

Section 2: What is the WORST thing that could happen to your character…

This year?

This month?

This week?

Today?

Right now?

Ever?

Section 3:

What does your character fear most?

Who/what does your character love most?

What does your character hope for?

What does your character need RIGHT NOW?

Section 4:

Take a look at the section you are stuck on. Which of the above make the most sense to use in order to heighten a sense of conflict and let the reader know WHAT’S AT STAKE? Push the intensity as far as you can. And—go!

A Conversation with A.L. Butcher…

Good morning, Happy Monday, and welcome to A.L. Butcher, the British author of the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles fantasy series, and featured author of the week at the Goodreads Paranormal group. I invited Ms. Butcher here to talk a little bit out her work, her writing, and a few other topics as well. Without any further ado, let’s get started –and don’t forget to click through a few links and check out her stuff!

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Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing — something that I won’t read in your biography.

A (A.L. Butcher, Fantasy Author): A bit about me – when I was a kid I was obsessed with squirrels, LOVED THEM!!!!! I wanted to be a squirrel… When we bought our first house last year what sold it to me for certain – squirrels in the garden. So now I suppose I’m an honorary squirrel. Oh and I’m coulrophobic.

A bit about my writing – I have a whole folder full of Phantom of the Opera fanfic.

Q: Who was your most challenging character to write — why? How did you overcome the challenge?

A: All the characters have different quirks and different challenges to maintain. Novel-wise I’d say it was Dii (Dii’Athella) the elven sorceress. When we meet her she starts off as an escaped slave in a world where her very existence is illegal. She has seen very little of the world and knows even less about her own origins. As the books progress she becomes stronger, braver, more resourceful and who she truly is, not who she believed she was. It’s hard keeping her as the sweet, kind soul after her terrible treatment but she needs to remain true to herself, her real self. It’s an ongoing challenge.

Short story-wise I’d say it was Ilsa or Rufus from Of Blood and Scales, which is featured in Heroika: Dragon Eaters. Ilsa is a Bloodsister – think nuns who use blood magic to fuel their spells and worship an old deity. Her abilities meanshe sees the world differently to other people, seeing what is REALLY there, reading emotions people don’t even think show and generally being pretty suspicious. She needed to be more mysterious, ‘other’, than the non-magical characters, who all have their own skillset.

Rufus Redblade was an embittered mercenary trying to support a regime that’s failing. He’s not a bad person, but he knows he needs to do what he must to succeed and prevent civil war.

Heroika 1 Perfect promo 6&9Q: What is the most valuable piece of writing advice you’ve received? How has it helped you in your work?

A: Write what you want to write and what you want to read. My work is not mainstream. It’s been described as ‘sex and sorcery’, that is sword and sorcery with a goodly helping of bedroom fun. That said it’s fairly dark. But I like fantasy with a hint of erotica, a hint of romance, a lot of heroes and morality, and I use morality as a relative term here. I read gothic horror, sci-fi, fantasy, crime fiction, history and lots more. I like the mythic aspect of fantasy and the world building. I’m a fan of Tolkien, Janet Morris and Terry Pratchett with their supreme world building and mythos, their complexity and the feeling that these adventures take place somewhere which is both real and unreal. An alternate Earth, if you like.

The companion series to my novels are tales of lore, legend and myth from the world. I read ancient tales of the Greek and Roman heroes and gods and I think a lot of that gets reflected in my work.

A wise green fairy man profile, beautiful colorful painting of a radiant elven creatures and energy lights, detailed abstract background fractal effect

Q: What was the most surprising thing you’ve discovered in your writing?

A: Friendship. I am a bit of a recluse really but since I’ve been writing I’ve made some really good friends, including my best friend. We talk daily even though we live thousands of miles apart.

Q: Scene: A big Hollywood producer calls, wanting to put your books on the big screen. Who is your dream cast?

A: Archos – Ian Mckellen

Olek – Chris Pratt or Chris Hemsworth or Luke Evans

Dii – Evangeline Lilly

Ozena – Emma Watson

(IS Note: I’d watch that! :D)

Q: What would you like people to know about your writing, process, or characters, that they may not know?

A: Writing is a stress release for me. I suffer with depression and writing helps. Often it’s poetry – which I doubt anyone else will see.

Thank you very much, Ms. Butcher, for stopping by! If you enjoyed this conversation, check out her presence on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, or her blog.

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A.L. Butcher Bio: A. L. Butcher is the British author of the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles fantasy series, and several short stories in the fantasy and fantasy romance genres.  She is an avid reader and creator of worlds, a poet and a dreamer. When she is grounded in the real world she likes science, natural history, history and monkeys. Her work has been described as ‘dark and gritty’ and her poetry as evocative.

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Just keep writing…

It’s been a long few months since I’ve had the opportunity to get some good butt-in-seat, words-on-paper writing time. For one thing, I spent the last two months up at my parents’ home in New Jersey, making an attempt to turn over command of my Army Reserve unit in order to focus more on, yes, my writing career (or lack thereof.)

Things most assuredly did not work out as planned (angry face here), and I am still in command, only now with all of the creative work that I committed to when I thought I was going to have more time. Which leaves me with a serious time management problem.

Also, somehow, I registered for a sprint triathlon at the end of June. Whaaaaaat? Yeah. I do this to myself.

In the meantime, Ladybug is going full speed ahead, which means that anytime I try to get work done at home, I am the immediate recipient of grasping toddler hands over the top of my eminently reachable desk (sometimes she climbs up on the couch for easier access) and then I’m treated to her little diapered butt running away with an open Sharpie or something important like my notes for whatever I’m working on. Super cute … but not conducive to increasing my word count.

Luckily, now that I’m back home, I have access to hourly day care, which in the past week has allowed me to put about 10,000 words into Steel-Toed Blues and shore up the plotting for the last section. Additionally, I’ve managed to work out a schedule that allows me to get a good workout in, whether it’s swimming or using the bike or jog stroller to spend time with Ladybug in the process.

Anyway, my next step is to work out places on that schedule for all of the other things–languages, music, crafting, READING, some laundry, editing and coaching, and travel to Conventions. It can be done. I have a lot of coffee.

In the meantime, I just spent a wild and crazy Friday night finishing up The Man Who Invented Fiction by William Egginton, which was an absolutely wonderful birthday present from my parents. I also started a new hoodie for Ladybug in a size that she will likely fit into sometime next winter, which is also when I estimate that I might actually finish it.

I hope that if you are reading, this blog post finds you well, and that your weekend is lots of fun!

Ladybug helps out in the garden, which is growing mostly thanks to the efforts of my green-thumb roommate. If I were in charge, this would mostly be weeds taller than LJ. :D

Ladybug helps out in the garden, which is growing mostly thanks to the efforts of my green-thumb roommate. If I were in charge, this would mostly be weeds taller than LJ. 😀

Hello? Hello? (tap tap) Is this thing on?

Okay, first of all, never tap the mic to see if it’s on. You will piss off the sound person and damage the equipment. Second, you know it’s been a long time since you blogged if the URL no longer autofills with your http address.

THIRD!! Writerpunk Press has revealed the cover for its next anthology, Merely This and Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk. In three … two … one …

Merely This Cover

Ta-DAH!! Isn’t it fabulous?

Among the stories will be included my story, The Case of the Lonesome Cigar Girl in the Sixpenny Temple, which is a steampunk riff on Poe’s story, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt. It will be out in May, so prime your Amazon one-click’s and get ready to purchase a copy. Also, it’s a charity anthology, so you will also be helping puppies and kittens. Really, buying a copy of this book is for the good of humanity. For real.

For those Poe fans out there, the Mystery of Marie Rogêt was the second, and least-well-received of his detective stories featuring Detective C. Auguste Dupin, the first being the Murders in the Rue Morgue and third being The Purloined Letter. It was based on the facts of a widely known case at the time, namely the murder of Mary Rogers, and Poe claimed that he would solve the case in his story (a claim that was mostly responsible for getting the story published and little else.) The entire story can be found in Daniel Stashower’s excellent nonfiction book The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Invention of Murder, upon which I relied heavily while plotting my story.

When setting out to write a punk version of “Marie Rogêt,” I knew that I wanted to first, set the story in the world of my steampunk detective series. Second, I wanted to use the same device that Poe did, namely that the main detective character is confined to chambers, and solves the mystery through the information gleaned from the newspapers and other characters. In my world, this allowed the secondary characters a little time to shine, and showed that my main character could solve a mystery using her brains (and not simply luck or her fiddly little devices.)

(I may also have an ulterior motive in that someday, once reprint rights revert, I hope to publish a collection of these detective stories. But I have to write a few more for that to happen. To get a taste, my first story was published in eSteampunk Magazine, and the second has been accepted for an Emby Press anthology that has yet to go to print.)

And lastly, I wanted to highlight some of the issues that the stories of the time addressed, but not in a deconstructive way. Mary Rogers was, in some part, written off as a light-skirted female who, although no one came outright and said it, was seen as someone who invited unwanted, scandalous male attention that eventually resulted in her downfall. Without giving away the ending, it became important for my story that a female detective was on the case, bringing to it a perspective that understood without judgement, and concluded without condemnation.

If you like punk genres and Poe, this is the anthology for you. If you like punk genres, period, check out the first two Writerpunk anthologies. If you are a writer and would like to submit to future Punk anthologies (we’re currently working on an “English Class Goes Punk” project), come join us in the Writerpunk group on Facebook!

Until the next time, my friends!

 

Pop Culture Mash Up Special

If you’re procrastinating from writing by writing, it still counts as being productive, right? … um, right? Help me out here…

Okay, gotcha. Anyway, I was perusing some of the flash fiction posted up on Chuck Wendig’s challenge from last week, when I accidentally read through his flash fiction challenge for this week. And then I accidentally used the random number generator. Twice. And came up with a pop culture mashup … and an idea … and suddenly, a 1700-word story to go along with it.

In a dystopian future where the bioengineered simians and primates have taken over, only those humans with selectively evolved genes survived. Now, both species are caught in an existential struggle for dominance over the world where humans once reigned supreme. Think: X-Men meets Planet of the Apes.

~ ~ ~

When the planet fell, it covered the library in dust so thick, that fifty years passed before anyone remembered it was there. Fifty more years passed before anyone thought to dig it out to discover what treasures might remain under the canyons of paper, ink, and sediment.

A single, green beam cut through the dingy murk. It narrowed then widened to illuminate the long, wide room. Phasar adjusted the headpiece that assisted in the control of his light beam. “There, that should do it.”

“Just try to keep that away from the windows.” Adjusting her weapon for an easier grip, Clockwork wiped her face. The grime clung to everything. “The last thing we need is some Patrol to wonder why this old place is glowing.”

The old building had been spared the worst of the immediate destruction and, being neither a food depot nor other sort of supply source, had been spared most of the looting as well. Under the faint green light, the shelves still stood tall, bordering the open area where wide tables still stood, squat sentries waiting for patrons who were long dead.

“Let’s check the tech first.” The rebreather distorted most of Starkiller’s words. The device topped off a Kevlar-articulated bodysuit that regulated the genderless mutant’s body temperature. Without it, any variation in temperature, emotion, or even the thoughts of others, could set off a chain reaction that had destroyed things, including close friends and allies. “There might be something left.”

“Eh, I doubt it.” Phasar rubbed his forehead. The beam of light that his body generated was typically painless; when he used the headpiece to condense and control it, the tech generated a migraine that would last for days and have him collapsing under the weight of the pain if he left it on too long. Made it hard to hide from the Patrols, who would love nothing less than to add one of the more infamous muties to their trophy wall.

“Rough today?” Clockwork ran a finger along the top of a tall, narrow ledge.

“Spots haven’t started yet.” Phasar blinked away the blurriness outside the edges of his vision. “Should be good for another day or two.”

“Let’s get what we need and get the hell out of here,” Starkiller growled. The mutant sat before what looked like a plastic box. Gloved fingers pressed buttons at random on the rectangle tech before the box. “Longer we sit around here yakkin’, sooner we find ourselves at the other end of some Patrol business.”

“I’m going to check the shelves.” Clockwork dusted her hand off on her cargo pants. “Let me know what you find.”

* * *

Behind the ledge, she found only a few books, and what looked like primitive writing instruments, the kind that actually held some sort of paint inside, rather than a tech stylus. Giving up on finding anything useful, Clockwork followed the long curving wall to the far end of the room where the shelves ended.

Stumbling in the dark, she brushed up against one of the strange rectangles hanging on the wall. As she bent down to readjust the tech boot where it attached to her knee stump, she noticed colors, rendered different shades of green and black. She brushed at the rectangle and more dirt fell away. “Huh.”

“Anything useful?” Starkiller’s voice echoed strangely from across the room.

“Some sort of local cultural artifact.” Clockwork squinted at the words labeling the artifact. “Main Street.”

“So, not useful.”

Clockwork chuckled at the dismissal and disdain that her colleague managed to convey even through the rebreather filter.

“Hint taken, flamer.” She rolled her eyes. “Checking the shelves now.”

This deep in the building, a strange smell arose. It tasted of mold and vanilla, of rot and some unidentified floral acid. Clockwork reached up and pulled down one of the ancient pieces of tech—two cardboard pieces encasing a sheaf of paper. As she opened the tech, the smell sharpened. For some reason, her breath caught.

The rows of black marks appeared to be related to Primescript, but were just different enough to render the language unintelligible. The effect was uncanny—at first, she could almost read it, then the script faded into gibberish. Clockwork folded the tech back and returned it to the shelf.

Back in the main area, Starkiller still sat in front of the plastic tech.

“Any luck?” Clockwork gave a wide berth to her fellow mutant, who looked pissed even under the mask.

“Negative,” Starkiller rasped. “I think something might be wrong with the power terminal.”

“You mean, like it ran off a battery?”

“Or something like that.” The mutant slapped the box on the side. “Either a battery, or maybe a solar cell, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s dead.”

“I don’t know what Psi-on expected us to find here,” Clockwork said. “All we’ve found is antiquated tech and mold. I think some of the shelves are growing mushrooms.”

“Was worth a—”

Clockwork tightened her grip on her weapon, raising it half an inch. “What? What is it? You hear something?” Her own sense strained, but all she got was more mold and that weird, fruity smell.

“Nothing.” Starkiller tugged at the long cord that dangled from the plastic box. “Thought I heard something.”

“Sweet evolution, you gave me a heart attack. Jerk.” She kicked the chair with her prosthetech. “I’m going to check on Phasar. See what he found.”

* * *

Clockwork followed the light until she found Phasar tucked away in a nook, separated from the larger, open area of the building by a wall of waist-high shelves. The tech on these shelves was thinner, more colorful under the murk. They set off an area where small chairs, now rusted and grimy, sat lined up in a semicircle. The chair at the end had tipped over onto its side.

“What’ve you found?”

At the sound of her voice, Phasar jumped and turned. The grime had left strange tracks on his face.

“Does it ever get to you?”

“Whattaya mean?” Clockwork frowned.

“You know … just, being here.”

She didn’t know how to answer. Instead, Clockwork reached down and pulled one of the devices off the shelves. Opening it, she found, under the layers of water damage and mold, more bright colors and drawn figures. There was no Script on the pages, just a story told through reds, blues, and animals. This must have been the repository for the children of the time period. Understanding dawned.

“I try not to think about it.” Clockwork gently closed the tech and slid it back on the shelf. It had been over a century since any human child had sat in these chairs, or pored over the stories in the pages of tech along these shelves. For more than fifty years, there hadn’t been any human children anywhere, disadvantaged during the uprising by their lack of selectively evolved genes. Only the mutants remained, and they were fighting a long yet inevitable war of attrition.

A searing portrait of blood and pain crashed through her reverie.

“Oh shit—get your shit together—they’re coming!” Clockwork racked the slide of her weapon and turned on her good leg, the tech that kept her mobile whining against the sudden acceleration. “Starkiller—exfil, now!”

Behind her, the green ambience went dark as Phasar dialed up his headset to lethal settings.

“Let them find our ash.” Starkiller stood, kicking back the chair as he rose and planted both hands on the table next to the futile, plastic box. His hands glowed red, then orange, then erupted in blue fire. The sparks drew circles and lines around the tabletop before flashing into a blaze of white-hot flame.

Satisfied that the conflagration was well on its way to consuming the entirety of the building and all its useless tech, Starkiller followed the other two toward the front of the library.

Clockwork led the way through the open doors and into a smaller entryway. She paused in the shadows, Phasar covering her back as Starkiller slid into position behind them both.

“Anyone coming?” Starkiller’s gravel tones filtered, disembodied through the gloom.

In answer, Clockwork closed her eyes. The short future-jumps that jarred her vision from time to time were easier to see if she closed out the competing visuals. “Patrol, about three hundred meters out and closing fast.” She opened her eyes and cast one last sweeping gaze around the outside. “Follow me. Stay close.”

Adrenaline pumping, she slipped through the doors and dashed across the open area. Her compatriots waited until she had melted into the shadows of the alley across the street before following, one at a time. Starkiller’s shadow had barely faded when the tromping boots of the patrol arrived at the clearing.

* * *

The leader of the patrol, a tall, well-formed Chimp sporting lieutenant rank on his shoulderboards, shook his head sadly as he watched the blaze. Set aside from the other ruins as it was, he wasn’t worried about fire spreading. Still, to see such an old artifact from pre-uprising times disappear in smoke was regrettable.

“Any sign of the intruders, Red Patrol?” The question crackled over the radio. Lt. Sigmar picked up the handmic and keyed the receiver.

“They were gone before we got here. Pursuit unsuccessful. Request fire support, over.” He double-thumbed the receiver to signal end of transmission.

Next to Sigmar, the Patrol Sergeant, a grizzled old Silverback, shook his head. “Damn shame, this old place. Destroyed. And for what?”

“Have the troops set up a perimeter. Keep this place secure until Fire Control gets here.” Sigmar replaced the handmic. “Tell them to keep an eye out.”

The Patrol Sergeant saluted and left to begin moving the troops into position. Some of them would take a crouch outside the building—others would scale whatever buildings or outcroppings they could find to open up a wider field of observation.

“Damn shame,” Sigmar muttered to himself, echoing the Patrol Sergeant, as part of the roof collapsed into the blaze. “Damn, dirty mutants.”

THE END

 

 

Dodging the Idea Train…

Darn Chuck Wendig and his crazy idea-generating flash fiction challenges … After writing a short piece for last week’s challenge, I made the mistake of glancing through this week’s. What can it hurt?, I thought to myself, as I hit the random number generator one more time. As fate would have it, up popped “X-Men” and “Planet of the Apes,” and there I was, in some dystopian future where the bioengineered simians and primates took over and only those humans with selectively evolved genes had survived. Now, both species are caught in an existential struggle for dominance over the world where humans once reigned supreme.

DAMMIT.

Still, it’s flash fiction, so I’ll get the story out of the way and then dive back into Steel-Toed Blues.

In other news, an Army colleague who has since left active duty has started a fiber arts business, Iona Rose Studio. She has been my fiber mentor for about a year now, and is embarking on a schedule of traveling and teaching, and encouraging her students to submit to fiber competitions. This weekend, Andrea will be at the Carolina Alpaca Celebration, showing her work and that of her students, and teaching fiber classes. One of those students, whose work she will show, will be me.

The stages of a project. Not pictured: Panic, Hesitation, Procrastination, and Overwhelming Relief at Being Finished.

The stages of a project. Not pictured: Panic, Hesitation, Procrastination, and Overwhelming Relief at Being Finished.

This is the first time in a very long while that I’ve shown something in an arts competition, and definitely the first time I’ve let someone see a single that I’ve spun with a drop spindle, before it’s plyed and knitted up into a garment, at which time the fiber is much more forgiving. I would not have done this on my own, but I wanted to support my teacher and friend, and her studio, so somewhere in the world is a purple and green skein of yarn, known as “The Green Goblin,” which will someday be part of a larger project. Go, me. And Andrea. And Iona Rose Studio, LLC.

The Green Goblin entry, complete with description and ready to be sent in!

The Green Goblin entry, complete with description and ready to be sent in!

Last but not least, I’m working on setting up a series of workshops and convention appearances, some solo and some in conjunction with other creative partners. As much as I am more comfortable hanging out on the Internet and posting pictures of yarn and Basset hounds, I am at the point where I need to start getting out there and making personal connections, and looking a potential customer in the eye and telling him/her why my books are worth buying and reading. Also, I enjoy coaching people through the writing process, and I would like to expand that part of my business. Because it’s fun. And one of the most rewarding things is when one of the people you are coaching pitches that they are getting favorable feedback with submissions.

To that end, I’ll be re-working my Web site to make it easier to navigate (and update), and include a schedule of workshops and appearances, as well as the list of publications. (As the list stands, it’s very, very outdated.) But, in the meantime, it’s time to get back to the actual part of being a writer, which is to say–time to write!

See you behind the keyboard.