Take the Next Chance, and the Next

For Christmas I received the memoir This Is the Noise That Keeps Me Awake, a big coffee-table book about Garbage, probably my all-time favorite band. Incredibly Mrs. Kuhl and I saw them live for the first time this past summer when they toured with Blondie, and it’s strange to think I’d never seen them in the twenty-plus years of my fandom; but then I remember that in the 90s I was ramen-noodles poor and by the time we had money and were doing well enough to afford concert tickets and big nights on the town, we had babies and toddlers.

Flipping through the book at random I was immediately struck by a quote from Shirley Manson. In 2005 the band took a seven-year hiatus, and during that time Manson acted as a killer robot on the show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It’s not as weird a transition as you might think; Manson had been a print model in her teenage years and intended to segue into acting before, as she said, she “stumbled into music.” She took acting lessons with instructor Sharon Chatten, and although she hasn’t acted much since the show was cancelled, Manson considers it a positive experience:

“She completely changed my attitude to being an artist and my approach to making music,” says Manson. “She taught me how not to focus on results but instead to focus on ideas and taking creative detours and risks; how to cut the strings of who I thought I was and instead be in the moment, completely free of external appraisal.”

No musician, I suppose, begins her career with anything more than a vague idea about playing music. Then one day she may say, I want to record an album, but she has little idea of how the final product will sound, perhaps only a blurred notion at best. There can be no real understanding of the result; she can only understand what she is doing in that day, only in that moment.

She can only record one song, one idea, then another, and another, until she has enough to fill an album. Then later she does the whole process again, then maybe again. Eventually she has albums and albums of music and can look back and see a career and a trajectory which was completely opaque at the beginning.

Having two sons, our family is not immune to periodic Star Wars excitement whenever a new installment appears, and Manson’s sentiment dovetails with a line that hooked me while recently rewatching Rogue One. Toward the story’s climax the heroine Jyn Erso explains her strategy for infiltrating the Empire’s top-secret base. “They’ve no idea we’re coming,” she tells her misfit team. “No reason to expect us. If we can make it to the ground, we’ll take the next chance, and the next, on and on, until we win or the chances are spent.”

Take creative detours, take risks. Take chances. That, I think, is the best new year’s advice I can provide, to myself and to everybody.

Wide Wide Sea

Weirdbook 37This morning I woke to the news that the latest issue of Weirdbook is now available. The issue includes my story “Wide Wide Sea,” wherein humanity has fled under the waves due to an unspecified cataclysm on the Earth’s surface. Also, because I wrote it, there’s ghosts.

“My mother,” says the sailor, “I saw my mother.” And he proceeds to explain to Dupont, in an unsteady tone that grows stronger and higher through the telling, that as he proceeded along the passage on his way to retrieve two washers and a nut to fix a corroded container bolt, he was stopped in his tracks by the apparition of his dead parent before him. She regarded him squarely with an expression the sailor could not exactly define but which he takes great pains to describe, then turned away to walk forward and vanish through the locker door. When he opened the locker, the sailor made his discovery.

“Wide Wide Sea” developed from the recognition that all post-apocalyptic fiction (which I’ve been reading a lot of lately) more than a few years old is a kind of alternate history. Post-apoc by definition pinpoints a catastrophe in time, whether it’s in the past, present, or future. During the Cold War, the apocalypse was going to be nuclear annihilation or alien invasion; nowadays we’re anxious about pandemics and AI and climate change. When invariably that apocalypse fails to pass, the work molts into a kind of retro-futurism, leading not into what-could-be but rather branching into what-could’ve-been.

With that realization in hand, I imagined what events in the 19th century might have precipitated a global apocalypse (I know what happened — do you?), and then fast-forwarded to the early years of the 20th century to paint a story of submerged survival. With ghosts.

And look at that cover art! I have no idea what’s going on there — it’s not from “Wide Wide Sea” — but man is that a great scene of tentacley horror and gloom. It reminds me of my days writing for Dungeon, so evocative of dangerous quests through the hex-map swamps. I don’t know who the artist is, but damn.

You can order a hard copy of Weirdbook 37 at Wildside Press’s site. You can also pick it up at Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

Cyber Funday

Over at Amazon I’m running a promotion where I’m giving away ten free copies of The Dead Ride Fast between now and midnight on Monday, November 27.

It’s 100-percent free. Doesn’t cost you a thing.

Want a copy? The best part is you don’t have to jump through any hoops. You don’t have to subscribe to my newsletter or retweet me or tell me my kids are cute. All you gotta do is go over to Amazon and click away.

Afterwards if you feel inclined to leave a review or award it a few stars on Amazon or Goodreads, I’d appreciate it.

Click here for a free copy of The Dead Ride Fast. Did I mention it’s free? Because it’s free. It’s a free e-book. Free!

The Dead: Now Riding Even Faster!

The Dead Ride Fast is now available on Smashwords and through a number of e-book retailers, including the iTunes bookstore.

I was reluctant to list The Dead Ride Fast with Smashwords and didn’t include it in my original marketing plan for the book, instead choosing to upload directly to each individual site. The price for maximum control was convenience, but as previously noted, control has been my overriding goal from the start.

Smashwords markets itself toward the, shall we say, less technically skilled e-book publisher. Their process uses a Word doc as the basis of an e-book, which it then transmutes into an epub via proprietary software called Meatgrinder before distributing it to retailers. As there is no way on God’s green earth you can produce a svelte, 100-percent functional ebook from a Word doc, I initially refused to consider Smashwords as a venue.

However, upon failing to list The Dead Ride Fast on the iTunes store, I reconsidered Smashwords as an end-run around Apple’s cumbersome process, and after some snooping I discovered you can upload a finished epub of your own making to Smashwords, thereby bypassing the Word/Meatgrinder channel. The only downside is that homemade epubs have to pass a manual inspection for compliance, which (I think) the Meatgrinder products don’t have to endure. That inspection delayed availability for a few days but was hardly a dealbreaker.

Once an e-book is accepted by Smashwords they blast it to practically every e-book retailer on the planet, so if you prefer some other store beyond Amazon, it’s probably available. For a full listing, head over to The Dead Ride Fast page on Goodreads and shop away. Don’t forget to leave a review there or anywhere else! Five stars are a writer’s bread.

You may also notice some shiny updates around this site, including a fresh author photo and a brand new contact page. Too shy to leave a public comment? Feel free to reach out in a non-creepy way by sending a DM! Or even reach out in a creepy way. ‘Tis the season, after all.

The Dead Ride Fast Is Now Available

The Dead Ride FastThe Dead Ride Fast is now available at Amazon and Kobo.

It is not available on the iTunes store. That’s because uploading an e-book to Amazon is easy, uploading to Kobo is extremely easy, and uploading to Apple is a multi-stage clusterfuck. The ubiquity of Apple’s overpriced and cumbersome tech is one of the great boondoggles of our age. Throughout this process, the only serious roadblock I encountered was uploading to iBooks, which ended with me throwing a frustration-soaked towel into the ring.

I also have not uploaded The Dead Ride Fast to the Nook store, mainly because there’s no need. I’ve gleaned from other e-publishers that their Nook sales were either nonexistent or so low that it wasn’t worth the effort; and regardless, a Nook/Kobo merger of some kind appears to be inevitable. Kobo has positioned itself to be the only viable competitor to Amazon in the e-book space.

Anyway, I hope you nerds have enjoyed my adventures in e-book publishing. So what’s next?

I have almost enough material for that second collection I’ve mentioned. I won’t jinx myself by publicly declaring a timeline like I did with The Dead Ride Fast, but having done it once, the process should go smoother and faster next time. I’m already psyched about the cover.

Beyond that I will retreat into my customary elusiveness as I ride off into the sunset. Thanks for reading and maybe even laying down a shiny nickel on the virtual sales counter. Until next time — happy trails.

Cartagena Hotel

Plate III from Our Reptiles and Batrachians by M.C. Cooke, 1893

Of all the stories in The Dead Ride Fast, “Cartagena Hotel” trod the most convoluted road.

I began writing the story in 2014. The original draft was longer than the idea behind it could sustain, so later I returned to it and hacked it down before moving on. Occasionally I would add or subtract, then set it aside again.

I don’t try to openly emulate other authors but the story that eventually took shape reminded me strongly of an Ambrose Bierce tale, very short (around 2,000 words) and revolving around the theme of disappearance — or more specifically, the idea of whether anyone else would notice if someone or something disappeared.

As he was soliciting stories of psychological horror, I submitted it to Eric Guignard for Horror Library, Volume 6. I made the cut. It was my second time working with Eric, who also published “Quivira” in his antho Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations. Eric believed, however, that the story was too curt, too elliptical, and asked that I expand it to let the characters breathe. The result, I think, was a much improved story and three years after its first draft, “Cartagena Hotel” appeared in the aforementioned volume this past April.

For The Dead Ride Fast, I stripped out the scene breaks as I felt they disrupted the story’s flow. Otherwise it appears as it did in Horror Library.