Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Violin Boy

I hope you all enjoy the short story, The Violin Boy, which the author succinctly describes as a story about "a man, a boy and an event." Personally, I think that's all we need. The author, Gavin MacFayden, has published short fiction in various publications and his non-fiction has appeared in newspapers in Canada and the U.S. He is currently finishing a YA novel about 9/11. Here's The Violin Boy.

The Violin Boy
By Gavin MacFadyen

A bubble of solitude surrounded him.

He could not have been described as serene but he was removed from the swirling life around him. He stood four feet tall in the middle of the plaza and he played his violin. He was no more than ten years old.

He always wore the same black pants and white shirt with bow tie - not the usual dress of a child to be sure. But, on him it looked appropriate - as though he shouldn’t be wearing anything else. He had long blond hair and an elfin face; he was not girlish, as boys of that age sometimes are.

The face disturbed William Cornett. It was not a face that a young boy should make. His face was frozen in a concentration which gave the appearance of pain. It was, however, not a concentration born of unfamiliarity with the instrument.

It was the expression one made leaping across a precipice, unsure of reaching the other side. It was a face that obsessed William Cornett from the first instant he saw it. It came into his dreams; it appeared before him at work.

It was the face of the Violin Boy of the plaza.

William Cornett was twenty-six years old and walked the plaza as a way to fend off loneliness and boredom. The pedestrian promenade was a welcome relief from the confining smallness of his office above. He sought out its life and lights; he sought out its smells. The chatter of people was a welcome punctuation to his strolls.

He wanted to speak to the boy - he felt compelled to speak to the boy - but had never saw him stop playing his violin long enough to make an opening possible. The boy played and played and seemingly never tired.

"Will, where are we going? Will, stop!" Kate planted both feet in front of the restaurant. Cornett stopped when he felt the jerk of her arm on his.

"I want to show you something," Will said. They were only a short walk away from the plaza.

"We’ll be late," Kate said gesturing to the door.

Will nodded and walked inside. Throughout the meal, he could only look at his watch and wonder if it would be too late once the after-dinner drinks were over.

But it was not. The plaza still teemed with life. Street performers abounded and Will could recognize them at a glance. He held Kate’s hand and rushed past the Russian acrobats. The Violin Boy perched and played in his usual spot - his lips and eyes scrunched together as though he were about to cry.

"What?" Kate asked. "This?" she said gesturing to the boy. "It’s a kid playing a violin. Big deal."

"Just look at him," Will whispered. "I’ve never seen anyone around him. No parents, no adult at all. It’s always just him."

Kate was unimpressed.

He took her home and they made love. He thought of the beauty of the Violin Boy and her inability to recognize it. Whether from disappointment or alcohol, he cried as their bodies moved together. Kate thought Will was crying because she was beautiful.

He let her think that.

Will continued to descend from his office to where the boy played the violin. It was better without Kate. He would not involve her again.

These trips were necessary for William Cornett. He had become an architect because he wanted to create lasting beauty. Watching the Violin Boy was to witness a beauty created without effort. He had no deep appreciation for music nor did he especially marvel at the boy’s skill. His own musical knowledge was too unsophisticated to allow him to make any judgment. William Cornett simply reveled in the boy’s existence.

Much of this was provoked by the mystery which attached to the Violin Boy himself. He had never seen a sign of a familial group. The hours the boy kept bore no relation to a schoolday schedule. He had never heard the boy speak. Had he done so, he suspected he may have heard a foreign tongue that could have connected him to the Russian acrobats - a new life in a new land being paid for with each pass of the bow across strings.

He never succumbed to the urge to linger long enough to see the boy finish playing. He liked the idea of him frozen in eternity - existing only in this place and in this time.

On this day in particular, William Cornett felt the need for beauty and continuity. He and Kate had fought the night before and he left her apartment while she slept.

Only in the infancy of his architectural career, he felt confronted by his own mortality. It came with a realization that the buildings he helped design would be here long after he was gone. Their very permanence had become a rebuke. He feared he was incapable of creating anything truly beautiful.

The telephone rang simultaneously with his entrance into the office.

Will looked down at the blinking light. The private line. It could only be Kate. He picked up the phone.

"Hello," a neutral voice - non-committal.

"Baby," she said. "I’m sorry."

A long pause. Social skill demanded that he now join her in an apology and then the world would turn again.

"I’m sorry, too."

He wasn’t.

He hung up the phone.

He stared down at the plans spread across his desk. Had he lived in another era he might have built cathedrals or castles. As a student, he had imagined himself a modern-day Christopher Wren. Instead, his task on this project was to place the bathrooms in close proximity to the elevator.

The morning sun streaming through his window was all the encouragement he needed to sneak down to the plaza below before work began.

Will Cornett sat on a fountain ledge to watch the Violin Boy from a distance. He wondered why others weren’t stopping to look.

Will wanted to apologize even if the boy was oblivious to their indifference.

The right arm moved sometimes swiftly, sometimes slowly, but always with purpose and form. The violin and the boy seemed to exist for the sole purpose of being joined. Will would scarcely have found one of any interest without the other.

A violin.

A boy.

It was as if neither existed unless they were brought together.

Passers-by would toss change into the violin case but moved quickly away without so much as a glance.

Can no one stop and see this boy? To William Cornett, it was ugliness that people would not stop and see the Violin Boy.

Will was looking at the hair of the Violin Boy.

He was looking at the golden hair on the Violin Boy.

He was looking at the golden hair on the Violin Boy as the plane hit the building above.

The tower.

He screamed.

The Violin Boy screamed.

Man and boy screamed together.

There would be another

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Healer

Hi all. Sorry I missed this week's story on Wednesday, but here it is to bring you into the long weekend. Today's post is a short story by Donny Rowles called The Healer, which the author is currently turning into a "Doogie Howser meets The West Wing" television script. The author runs a small production company in Minnesota cleverly called "Hey! Original Television" and is working on a TV pilot called For the Love of the Game, about athletes who don't make much money doing what they love. Enjoy The Healer and have a great weekend!

The Healer
By Donny Rowles

I was 3 hours old, surrounded by family in a hospital room the first time it happened. Grandpa had a heart attack a few months before, and he'd regained some strength, so he picked me up. For 2 hours, when he tried to put me down, I shrieked, until he picked me up again.

It was funny initially, but it became strange. Mom asked the nurse: "Have you seen this with other babies?" "No", the nurse said, "I've been doing this 20 years and I've never seen anything like this."

I laid there, fidgeting, but oddly, I appeared to be, intentionally, leaning into my grandfather's chest.

With a half-embarrassed, half-proud look, he said: "The kid already has strong family roots."

A week later Grandpa had a check up on the heart stent he had implanted after his heart attack. The doctor was puzzled, looking at his X-ray. "Mr. Donnelly, it appears all your heart valves have, somehow, some way, spontaneously widened themselves. We're going to go in and remove your stent, because you don't need it anymore."

At 9 months I stood atop a set of stairs with no kid guard fence. I strolled out into the air like there were no steps.

Mom was in mid cigarette-puff when she heard me nose-dive the stairs. When she reached me I was crying, shaken, but uninjured. Soon I was calm, over it, completely. While glad, she thought, "who's kid is this?"

At 6 my brother crushed my hand in a door jam. Not only was there no blood, there was no bruise. At 8 I stepped on shards of glass; no cuts. At 10 my friend Eddie and I rode our bikes down a neighborhood hill when his front tire fell off. It was ugly. He face-planted into blacktop. Mom came running, yelling, "Eddie!" Eddie laid there a mess; crying and bleeding from the three-inch gash on his forehead. I touched it. He pushed my hand away and kept crying.

But just before my Mom reached us, he went quiet. "Are you ok!?" she yelled.

She grabbed Eddie, looked him over. "I can see your bloody, but...I can't find a cut on you anywhere."

Eddie calmly said: "Andy fixed it." I stood there plainly, with an innocent face and bloody hands.

In bed that night, Mom told Dad: "It happened. Maybe it's possible - he's never been hurt himself, has he?"

"There's one way to find out," Dad said.

The next morning Mom, Dad me and my two older brothers Dave, 12 and Cody, 13, ate breakfast. As Dave and I argued about NFL quarterbacks, Dad stared at Mom. "What?" she said. He looked down at his hands, a knife was in one of them. "Jim no." She mouthed.

"Hey Andy, do Dad a favor and grab me some juice, will you?" As I crossed to the fridge my brothers didn't notice Dad run the blade across his hand, drawing blood. "Ouch, damn it!" Dad said. "Jim!" Mom exhorted. "What happened?" I asked. "Your Dad cut himself." I reached out and touched his hand. The blood remained, but the cut disappeared instantly. "Good Lord Karen this boy just healed my hand." She and my brothers got up to look at it. "Ten seconds ago I was cut, and damned if now my hand isn't completely sound!"

My family looked at me a bit strangely, but with awe.

"Andy, you're amazing, you know that?!" Mom said. I beamed at the best feeling of my young life. It was the start of a lifelong addiction.

My brothers found ways to have fun with my new found skill. The three of us stood next to a red hot stove top burner in the kitchen.

"Ready?" Cody asked. I said yes. Cody reached up and placed his hand on the stove burner, for a 2-second count, then, predictably...."ahhhhhhhhhh!" he screamed. We touched hands. The pain disappeared as tears slid down his cheeks. "Man that hurts!" he said. "Let me try!" said Dave.

Over time, this was a source of fun for them, not so much so for me.

I was 11 the day I learned my purpose in life.

Our family was in the car when Dad screeched the brakes to a stop.

"Karen," Dad motioned Mom toward something - a blind man in his 50's walking on the sidewalk, using a cane.

"What?" she asked. "What do you think?!" he said. "Well ..I don't know."

He pulled the car over, then turned to me in the back seat.

"Andy, do you want to see if you can help this man?" "Help him?" I asked. "Yea, he's blind, maybe you can help him to see. "Umm, sure, I can try." After an introduction and nearly ten minutes the man broke down at Dad's insane requests to let his son try to heal his blindness. "Oh, just go ahead." The man said. "Even I have places to be."

"Can you take your glasses off?" Dad asked. He did.

Dad picked me up so I was at face level with the man. "Go ahead, son." I reached out and touched his closed eyes one at a time.

He slowly opened his eyes, blinking repeatedly, then he jerked his head back as if he'd been slapped by an invisible hand. "Oh my God, Lord in heaven." He looked around, then focused on my face. "I've been blind 31 years, young man, and today, I can see!"

He hugged me so tight I couldn't breathe. My life changed forever.

The media ran with the story. I became a household name. In a week.

I lived in a town of 12,000. It became too small, quickly.

People came in growing numbers; first locals, then statewide folks, then people from across the country, then from countries I'd never heard of.

Soon we moved to a bigger town that could handle 15 thousand visitors every day.

I was immediately paid big money for "medical services."

My family bought a big house. Several years later at 18 I bought a mansion with a wing on it for seeing patients. We had a large waiting area, offices and evaluation rooms. I could heal brain tumors, cancers, and organ failures, but I couldn't stop the aging process. And I couldn't heal everyone, sometimes, particularly with old patients, it just didn't work.

Randy and Maggie Dellen were in their 80's when they came in. "Thank you so much for seeing us." Maggie said, with a bright, grateful smile. Randy had throat cancer.

I tried to heal him, but it didn't happen.

It was horrible sending them home not just with no hope, but having lost a hope they had when they came in.

I met my wife Sophia when she came in with her father, whose lungs were failing. She had piercing blue eyes and a smile that could power a small town.

I healed her father, and afterwards she asked if I would like to call her. "Absolutely." I said.

A year later we married. Three years later we had 2 kids, Benjamin and Karen.

But I wasn't present. 10 hours a day I saw hundreds of patients who just kept coming. I could have slowed down, but "then I'd lose people," I'd say. It was a poor excuse, we lost people anyway. It's impossible to keep up with all the people who were dying and didn't want to.

So she raised the kids.

"Can you help Benjamin, he needs help potty training and I need you to dedicated yourself to him today." She said.

"I can't, I've got patients to see all afternoon."

She walked away with angry, hurt eyes.

So I focused on what I could control; my work.

Healing people was a thrill I got used to and eventually came to rely on.

"You're amazing!" A grateful mother said.

"I can't thank you enough, you've given me a second chance." A now cancer-free man said.

It's a rush. And it's easier than dealing with the ups, downs and struggles of a real, intimate relationship. Eventually Sophia left me and took Benjamin and Karen with her.

So I grew older in the mansion. I healed hundreds of thousands of people. The mansion was big and bright but one day it turned cold and dark. I was 53 on a Tuesday when I called in my first patient, a 42-year-old woman with uterine cancer. I couldn't heal her.

Next, a 22-year-old with early onset Parkinson's. What I did, didn't work. By the 4th patient it was clear. My gift was gone. The crowds left as fast as they'd come 40 years before. A few weeks later I was alone. Really alone. I had been the healer. Now I needed to find a way to be healed myself. And my family was gone. Last week I was told that Benjamin was hit by a car. He stood up, brushed himself off, and walked home. Witnesses stood by, speechless.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Damn Yankees, and Other Ways Self-Publishing Holds Itself Back

I like writers. That's no secret. I like publishing their stories on this little blog, helping my clients bring their books into the world, protecting them from getting taken advantage of, and giving unagented/unpublished writers advice. Writers are my people. Which is why it makes me sad that there's a civil war happening in publishing right now when it should be the time we're all celebrating together.

Author Chuck Wendig just posted about this very topic, and even though I may not add a different opinion than his, self-publishing "ego," as Chuck puts it, is still a subject I think needs discussing. (By the way, if you aren't reading Chuck's blog, Terrible Minds, then what are you doing with your life?)

The continued "us vs. them" mentality with self-publishing makes me, for lack of a better word, disappointed. Self-publishing, 15 years ago, was by and large made up of people who just wanted to see their manuscript bound in book-form to give to their family and friends. Not exactly the stuff long-lasting careers are made of., but that's OK because they weren't looking for that anyway. They didn't know they could look for that in self-publishing. At least not until about five years ago. After the digital wave hit, there were not only more outlets to get your work out to readers, but the opportunities for self-promotion increased too. Now, self-publishing really can be the way toward a career in writing, albeit a modest one.

And yet.

Most self-published writers still think of self-publishing as the "alternative" to traditional publishing and not as its own viable option. When I attend conferences, the number of people with self-published books in their hands is staggering. They tell me they got tired of waiting, so they "went ahead and self-published," as if going ahead with the decision wasn't a big deal that could impact their future career as an author. Further, they ask me "what I can do for them," while handing me their books, not realizing they've already chosen a path that doesn't include me.

And writers, there's nothing wrong with not using an agent. You can self-publish! It's OK! The time is perfect for self-published books to be taken seriously. The only thing holding them back is you.

It's true, there is still a stigma. And here's why: The number of writers self-publishing out of impatience outweighs the number of writers who self-pub because they're making it a career. Which means the overall quality of work being produced through self-publishing is too low to have credibility.

There are so many self-published authors who've spent just as much time researching and planning as they would have if they chose the traditional route. They treat self-publishing with respect and don't just see it as a way to avoid the "shackles" of traditional publishing. To the self-published authors who are doing it right, thank you. You give me hope that publishing's civil war will soon come to an end.

Because the thing is, most of the traditional publishing world has moved on and we've stopped thinking about you. We'd rather focus on ourselves. Frankly, we think you should go and do your thing if that's what you want to do. More power to you. This town is big enough for the two of us. We promise.

The self-pub vs. traditional pub war reminds me of the pre-2003 Yankees/Red Sox "rivalry." I use the term in air quotes because, let's face it, before 2003 the rivalry was pretty one-sided. Before they "got good," the Red Sox felt the need to prove they weren't just equal to, but better, than the Yankees. The Yankees had the power and the money and the World Series rings that the Red Sox thought they deserved.

So Red Sox Nation had their "Yankees Sucks" chants and relished in anti-Yankee sentiment and convinced themselves that despite their team's many losses, they were better. Meanwhile, during this pre-2003 era, the Yankees would pat the heads of the little kids throwing rocks at them before riding off in their fancy cars with their supermodel girlfriends.

Then came 2003. It was like a switch was flipped and people started paying closer attention to them. Even more significantly, then came 2004 - when the Red Sox finally beat the Yankees in the playoffs. This, I'd wager, meant more to them than winning the actual World Series.

Since then, the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry has been meaningful for both sides. No, the Yankees didn't suddenly decide to humor them. It's because the Red Sox pulled together a team that the Yankees could no longer ignore. They got good and they started winning and before the Yankees knew it, they were real competition. And honestly, it's been way more fun ever since.

As a Yankee fan, it pains me to say this, but self-published authors need to be more like the Red Sox if they want to be taken seriously. Right now, self-published authors are the pre-2003 Red Sox - an emerging force that has what it takes to be a bona fide equal - but unless they get it together and make the impatient, the bitter, and the amateurs the minority, they'll never make it to 2004.

So, self-publishing community, for being called "self," you're not very autonomous. If you want to convince traditional publishing you're its equal, stop drawing comparisons and start recognizing yourselves as your own entity. Self-publishing is not an offshoot of traditional publishing, and it's not a gateway to traditional publishing. You're something new. We traditional folks won't be mad, hurt, or think you're foolish if you choose to self-publish. Like I said before, we're not even thinking of you at all. Go write an awesome book, take your trade seriously, and treat self-publishing the way you would any other career path.

AND STOP CALLING YOURSELVES INDIE. You're not that either. Using "indie" interchangeably with "self" only confuses people who want to self-publish and pisses off actual independent publishers. There is a clear difference between publishing with a small press ("indie") and using a vendor ("self"). Misusing/stealing pre-existing terms doesn't give you credibility; it makes you look unprofessional.

If you feel the need to run away from a label just because it has a stigma, ask yourself why the stigma exists and how you can make a difference. The Red Sox didn't start calling themselves the Pinstriped Sox to hide from their losses. Instead, they embraced their history of being a losing team. They changed their stigma from the inside by working together, and if self-publishing can do the same, I bet it'll be way more fun.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Unyielding

Today's story is an excerpt from a YA fantasy novel that I hope you have as much fun with as I did. It's the first chapter from Unyielding, a high fantasy re-imagining of the last temptation of Christ. The author, Amber Mauldin, is a writer from Alaska who is influenced by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. She's currently querying Unyielding and working on her next project, a memoir, currently titled My Walk With JOB. Enjoy!

Unyielding
By Amber Mauldin

The first battle...

Glass shattered, piercing the silence of night. Gabe leapt from bed in a state of panic and his blankets tackled him to the floor. Flailing around, he wrestled the material in a chaotic display of acrobatics.

Pins and needles pricked in his palms. Not again! He froze and took a deep breath, trying to settle his anxiety to keep from setting his cover ablaze. His power calmed.

Finally he broke free and sprung up, alert. What was that!? Gabe stared at his opened door, searching for signs of movement beyond his room.

The house slept. Silent.

Good, it was just a dream.

No sooner had the thought entered his mind, a shadow dashed through his door. Before his eyes had time to warn his brain of potential danger, she was at his side, arms outstretched.

“Sis,” he said, exhaling a deep breath. “Why are you out of bed?” He bent over and picked up the frightened, little girl.

“The noise scared me,” Kyla whimpered, wrapping her legs tightly around his waist and throwing her arms about his neck.

She heard it too! Hisheart quickened. What should I do? Did Mom and Dad hear it?

He attempted to lower the six year old to the ground, but she squeezed tighter, moaning.

Suddenly the house shook, booming as if a rocket had barreled through the living room.

A scream shot up the stairs. Gabe knew instantly who it was. Mom!

Kyla cried out. Gabe clasped his hand to her mouth and darted to the safety of his closet. He pealed her from his waist, placed her on the ground and began ripping shirts from their hangers in a frantic effort to barricade her in. “I’m going to go see what’s happening downstairs,” he whispered, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat.

“No,” she bellowed, trying to wiggle out from her shelter.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.” He hoped. “But I need you to stay here.”

Gabe finished packing her in then knelt. Her deep, brown eyes streamed with tears, stabbing his heart with each droplet. He longed for words to comfort her, but what do you say to a six year old in a time like this? “How about we play a game?” He forced a smile. “Let’s pretend you’re a princess.” It was her favorite game. He’d outgrown childhood make-believe when puberty crept up and had stopped playing with her, something he now realized was a mistake. “Let’s pretend you’re trapped in this closet, and you can’t come out, or make a sound until I come and rescue you.” He gulped, fighting the tears. “Okay?” Watching her face streaked with pain, he made a silent oath right then. If I make it back, I’ll be better to her.

She nodded somberly, grabbing the nearest shirt to wipe her nose.

He kissed her forehead, whispered, “I love you,” and scurried out the small closet, quietly shutting the door behind him.

Slowly he crept out his room and down the hall, avoiding each creek in the floor by memory as he made his way to the top of the staircase.

He made it a few steps down when-

“Gabriyel,” a man’s voice called to him.

His eyes shot wide. Who? Nobody called him by his full name. How did this person know it was him?

“I’m glad you finally worked up the courage to join us,” the voice taunted. “Please come and sit with your parents?”

“NO!” his mother screeched.

At the sound of her anguish Gabe sprang into action, forgetting his fears. He bounded down the remaining stairs and charged into the dining room, ready for a fight. His hands throbbed as electricity surged through him, an adverse reaction to anger; one he was grateful for at this moment.

Rushing in, he found a reality his nightmares couldn’t touch. He jerked to a halt. His eyes darted around the room, desperately searching his options. It didn’t seem real.

The dining room was demolished. Remains of their table scattered the room with fragments of plates and glass on the floor. None of it compared to the sight of his parents though, lying on the rug, bound and beaten.

The top of his father’s head held a large gash, oozing blood. His mother’s lip swelled with fresh crimson seeping out and her eyes were puffed shut.

His father looked up at him, eyes saturated, and mouthed one, silent word. “Run.”

Gabe loved his parents, but this was one request he wouldn’t obey. He tore his eyes away to look upon their attacker.

The man hovering above them glared at him with cold, black eyes. His skin was porcelain and seemed more like stone than flesh, with no lines or markings. He looked to be nearly forty, maybe older, but his pristine skin made it impossible to guess. A red-stained cloth, gripped in his hand, was being used to remove the blood off his knuckles; remains from the latest punch he’d given to Gabe’s mother.

Gabe lost it. Everything in the room seemed to vanish. All he could see was the man who would pay for hurting his mother. Any fears he had were extinguished as anger moved to the frontal lobes of his brain, bringing its closest friends- wrath and rage. He flung himself at the man, channeling his electric fury to his hands. Only one thought ran through his mind. I will kill you.

He heard his parents yell for him to stop, afraid for him, but the madness inside had been unleashed and needed to be satisfied.

He drew back his right arm and launched it with all his strength. Swinging through the air, his fist collided with the rock-hard face of his opponent. Agony shot up his arm and he faltered, but only for a moment. He recollected himself and sprung again, reaching with both hands to wrap around the man’s throat. His right hand was worthless, unbending and rapidly swelling, but he held it there, allowing his left hand to do most of the work. His anger was stronger than the pain.

The man’s lips curled as if he were enjoying himself. He hadn’t flinched when Gabe charged, and even now he seemed unfazed. Calm.

What a freak!

Gabe concentrated, surging electricity into the man’s neck. A hum began to radiate off Gabe from the intensity of the currency in his veins.

The villain’s eyes shot wide, and his smug grin fell. He flung his hands to Gabe’s face, laying them on Gabe’s cheeks, finally fighting back.

Gabe’s warm skin pricked in reaction to the cold hands on him. He sucked a breath and braced for the impact of what was to come.

As if being swarmed with bees, every inch of his head felt like it was being stabbed with tiny needles. He wanted to scream, but he stood firm, never releasing his grip. If I die, you’re coming with me.

The villain’s eyes began to roll to the back of his head. Gabe could feel his body wanting to give in as well.

Just a few more seconds...

Suddenly, Gabe caught movement out the corner of his eye. He turned in that direction, immediately wishing he’d kept his focus.

An older man with onyx hair and red eyes, dashed toward him. The man flicked his hand and Gabe’s body was ripped away from his opponent, propelled across the room and slammed into the outer wall, rendering him unconscious.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Watching What You Read

Here's a question.

Is your literary taste the same as your taste in other forms of entertainment?

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen I recently threw in the towel on steampunk. The thing is, steam-powered machines, Victorian settings, and time travel are all AWESOME. But visually, when I'm reading it on the page, I just can't make sense of it. A steampunk movie or TV show though? Yes, please.

Film-making and novel writing are two different art forms, and both excel in different areas. For me, I almost always prefer to read literary fiction and magical realism than to see their film and television equivalents. Other genres, specifically urban fantasy, high fantasy, and noir/detective stories, are personal favorites, but only when I'm watching them on screen. It's not a stretch to say that novelists are more cerebral and film-makers are more visual, so I prefer to let the experts offer me the best interpretation of a story based on what matters most in that story. *Note: There are always exceptions on both sides.

So what about you? Any gamers out there love the new [insert popular video game here], but hate the high-octane movies that cater to you? Romance fans who roll your eyes at chick flicks? Members of the Sylvester Stallone Fan Club who can't stand reading thrillers?

Tell me in the comments what you yawn your way through in one medium, but get completely absorbed by in another.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Guardian

Hello everyone. I'm bringing you something a little different today, which is always fun. It's an excerpt from a supernatural YA titled Guardian, a " twisted little Cinderella story," according to the authors. Yes, authors (plural). The excerpt we're getting today is by S.B. Rodgers, a sisterly writing duo from Canada made up of Becky and Sara Rodgers. Be sure to visit them at their blog and their Goodreads page, and then check out the awesome book trailer for Guardian once you finish reading!

Guardian
By S.B. Rodgers

Mammon stalked in front of the boy, the soles of his shiny black shoes clacking against the damp cement. He stopped and turned to face him. The young angel was bound, his arms tied with a length of thick old rope that smelled as much of the sea as the nearby docks did. The roughly woven cloth bag was pulled off of his head by Freja, who dropped it carelessly to the ground as she walked gracefully to her master’s side.

The boy shivered, pain, terror and exhaustion all working against him. One of his wings was gone, sliced off cleanly by Fenris when the boy had tried to escape. He hadn’t tried again, and they had managed to pull him into a warehouse on the docks with no real difficulty.

“Even in a city named after a holy man, you seem to be at a disadvantage.” Mammon said, eyeing him coolly.

The boy shook on his knees, feeling the blood oozing down his back and pooling at the base of his spine. He gritted his teeth to keep them from chattering. The bay breezes were cold, seeping in through the old corrugated metal that made up the building and piercing his wet clothes. “Wh-what do you want with m-me?” He managed to stutter out, unable to keep his voice under control.

“Information. I need to know something; something about a guardian, here, in America.” He stared at him, his pale eyes burning into the boy’s own dull blue.

“I’m j-just a messenger. That b-bag has my delivery.”

Mammon looked at Freja for confirmation. She nodded, gesturing to her brother. “Fenris.”

He grinned lopsidedly at her “Yes?”

“The bag, brother. Check the bag he was carrying.”

“Ah.” Fenris produced a heavy paper bag from inside his filthy camel coat, opening it and sticking his hand inside. He spoke as he rummaged noisily “Feels like…some sort of…bread? Maybe? And a…a paper!” He pulled his hand out of the bag, holding up a piece of paper and a loaf of strange bread. Fenris handed the paper to Mammon reverently, who showed no interest in the bread. Fenris took it as a sign and took a big bite of it.

Freja stared at him in exasperation, shaking her head in disbelief. Fenris munched away, not bothering to swallow before he took another bite “What? It’s good!” he spoke around the food, his words coming out garbled.

Mammon ignored them, intently reading the note he held in his gloved hand, his piercing eyes running across the page. “Who was this for?” he finally asked, fixing his gaze on the boy, who sat silently shivering in front of him.

The boy sniffed, inhaling through his nose “What does it matter to y-you?”

Mammon tilted his head, staring at him for a moment. “Fenris.” He called out. Fenris paused, his hand in the bag, reaching for more bread. “Break his leg.”

Fenris swallowed the food in his mouth before grinning happily. “Which one?”

Mammon smiled unpleasantly, the motion not reaching past his lips. “Surprise me.”

* * *

The boy had put up less resistance than the others. It was mildly disappointing, Mammon thought. The dogs got so much more enjoyment if the prey was stronger. He had given much more information than the others, though. After his legs were broken and Freja began working his remaining wing, the boy had talked. Well, sobbed, more like.

But his information, if it was true, was invaluable. If it was true, they were looking for a man named Aiden. That had been the name on the boy’s lips as he died. That was the man they would seek out. According to his network of minions, Aiden was a very powerful guardian, and apparently he had a young daughter.

Mammon smiled his unsavoury smile again. A plan had formed in his mind. He called out to his dogs, who were standing together at the end of the pier. Fenris was hunched over the body, plucking at the wing with his fingers. At the sound of their master’s voice, both of their heads whipped around, seeking him out with their blue eyes in the gloomy, late-night fog. “Throw it in and let’s go. We have a young lady to visit.”

He turned and began walking away through the mist, a chill breeze playing with the pale, damp hair that clung to his forehead.Dreadful wet place, he thought, his lip curling in distaste. He heard the splash, somewhat muffled in the fog. Mammon nodded curtly in satisfaction. The night had ended well—for himself, at least.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Checking References

If you're the good, professional writers I think you are, I bet you do research before you query agents. And I bet in doing that research a few of you have come across big letters on some agents' websites saying they are CLOSED TO QUERIES. This happens. Sometimes agents get overwhelmed with submissions, decide they don't need any new clients at the moment, or just need a break to focus on their current client list. You may have also noticed that of the agents who are closed to queries, there can be a loophole. Sometimes they will still read your manuscript if - and only if - they requested it at a conference OR are open to referrals.

No Means No is a hard rule to argue with, but I suppose if you meet an agent at a conference you can try to convince them they did, in fact, request your manuscript. The chances of that working are pretty slim. 

That leaves referrals.

I get a lot of queries from writers claiming they were referred to me. Sometimes they give a name of the person who referred me, and sometimes they do not. Of the "referrals" I receive, so far about five of them have been real. Because I'm an optimist and I love writers and I like giving people the benefit of the doubt, I choose to believe that the non-referrals were simply mistakes, and not a conscious attempt to trick me. After a few dozen non-referrals, I'm beginning to wonder whether some writers don't know what a referral is. That maybe, like "upmarket" and "high concept," it's a word that's been getting thrown around so much that people stopped trying to figure out what it means. Maybe.

A referral is a personal recommendation based on knowledge of an agent's taste, and more importantly, a personal relationship with the agent. That's the only time something can be called a referral. More often than not, the person who referred me to a writer will call or email me to say "Hey, I just sent someone your way." That way I can be on lookout for a query that I know will be tailored to my interests. 

What's not a referral?

1) The editor or friend who referred me is someone I don't know.
Many of the non-referrals I get involve the name of an editor and the writer saying "________ is interested in my manuscript and suggested I contact you." Having interest from an editor is a big deal, and I appreciate when writers let me know about it. But I have to pause when they claim the editor suggested they contact me. Did this editor really say my name, or did the editor simply tell the writer to find an agent? If I don't know who the editor is or received confirmation from them, I have to assume it's the latter. Similarly, I get queries from writers saying a friend gave them my name. This is probably true, but again, who is the friend? If your friend read that I represent your genre and gives you my name, then that's good advice, but it's not a referral.

2) The writer offers a vaguely phrased, "I was referred to you" or "You came highly recommended," and doesn't say who did the referring. 
In these cases, I fill in the blank and say "by the Internet." Sites like Writer's Digest, Agent Query, Query Tracker, and all the other curated lists of agents out there are great resources. Every writer should know them and use them. Just don't pretend a general reference list is the same as a personal reference. If I can't take your referral source out to lunch to discuss your manuscript, then you shouldn't mention it in your query.

3) The writer is querying me with a genre or topic I don't represent.
This one should be obvious. 

Sometimes I think the word "referral" sets off alarms in writers' heads, like it's a secret code word they think they need to say to get their query noticed. Writers, you don't have to do this. We know you're lying as soon as your "referral" isn't backed up by facts, an actual human, or knowledge of what the agent represents. That reflects poorly on you as a professional, and could very well backfire even if your book is great. Agents want to work with writers we can trust and develop a good working relationship. It's a waste of your time to query the wrong agent for your work, and the right agent wouldn't need to be misled. We just need to love your book. No bells, whistles, or false claims attached. 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Animal Kingdom

Hello everyone! I am very happy to bring you a piece of flash fiction from a writer who's shared work with us before, Dominic Laing. Dominic has made short films and documentaries, and is currently querying his first novel. You can find Dominic on his blog or on his vimeo page. Enjoy!

Animal Kingdom
By Dominic Laing

“Pretty dress, baby.”

“Better be. Short enough.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning you bought it. It’s December and you buy me a dress that’s too cold even on the Fourth of July.”

“But you wear it so well.”

“Thank you, James.”

“Love you too, Baby.”

James and Baby sat in the club. James adored Baby and her legs, the way the skirt pulled tight and pushed down into the fat of her thighs. He could pick out the lights and their multi-colored gels reflected on her skin. Baby pressed her middle finger into James’ left shoulder blade, sliding two inches left and sliding back the two, over and over, sinking her line.

II

Baby’s eyes drifted up to the stage. She saw a man, sitting.
“You see that?”

“What?”

“His hat.”

“Yeah.”

“Kinda low, don’t you think?”

“Maybe he has his hat pulled down low for a reason.”

“Maybe he’s ugly.”

“He likes the brim to push against his forehead.”

“The hell for?”

“Wants to feel like it’s sown to his head.”

“Who the hell does he think he is?”

“He wants to feel a resistance.”

“James, it’s a hat.”

“No doubt there’s method to his madness.”

“His madness is present and accounted for; he must’ve left his method in the cab.”

“Baby--”

“And the jacket--”

“Baby--”

“What’s this Easter-Egg purple bullshit?”

“Fashion statement.”

“Statement, yes. Does it have to do with Fashion? Yes. Fashion Statement? No.”

“You seek to break me?”

“No, I seek to illuminate.”

“Fooled me.”

“Calling his Velveteen Rabbit-Jacket a ‘Fashion Statement’ makes as such sense as watching the clean-up hitter die on three called strikes and calling it ‘athleticism.’”

“Sea snails...”

“Wha?”

“For the purple. They used to glean the dye from sea snails. Either you’d attack the snail, and it’d secrete it a defensive mechanism, or you’d crush the snail.”

“Why would someone crush the snail?”

“You get more dye that way. Less labor intensive.”
“Maybe he should’ve tried milking snails; might’ve helped him realize what a stupid idea it was to wear purple.”

“Baby--”

“If the good Lord wanted us to wear purple, He would’ve made it a helluva lot easier to make the color.”

“It’s a royal color.”

“On Palm Sunday, The King of Kings rode an ass into town.”
“Was the ass purple?”

“No, but keep it up and your face’ll be blue--”

“Baby--”

“You gonna sit here and watch old No-Name, fedora half-way down his face and wearing a jacket that makes him look like the Joker?”
“I’m an optimist.”
“You’re a fool.”

“And you’re a queen in that dress.”

“Thank you James.”

“I love you too, Baby.”

III

The Musician swung the trumpet to his lips, and James only had a split second before a note would break the air; the gap of Time where, if he felt like it, James could dive under the surface and make it last forever.

A stage light hit the curve of the trumpet bell, and James knew it beyond all shadows and valleys of doubt. James knew the golden glow of a new trumpet, the sheen of a polished horn and the leprous rust of a discarded instrument.

The Musician had painted the bell of his trumpet.

James saw the paint and the patten. He saw the orange enclose the bell and fade toward the front of the horn. James could count each black gash, from the edge of the bell on back toward the valves. Immediately he saw the Bengal Tiger in the pasture of light, in the most divided of split seconds before unleashing itself on its prey.

James’ mind tumbled and fell beneath the waters.

IV

When a child, his father took him out into the country. The Father collected his child while still asleep, and James woke in the car, still no sign of the sun outside. By the time his father stopped the car, everything recognizable and familiar had long since vanished.

James sprinted out of the car and into the maze of woods. His father’s voice receded to nothing but the faintest whisper. He turned to catch the fading voice, instead locking eyes with a family of deer; father, mother and baby. No more than ten feet away from him. He froze, as if he’d been wandering aimlessly and opened his eyes to find himself in the Tabernacle. James didn’t know whether to run, square his shoulders or fall to his knees. He wasn’t sure if it was Holy Ground or a Killing Field.

The baby deer bounced across the trail, paying no particular attention to James. James’ eyes shot back to the Father, who looked above and beyond James. If the Father was thinking about James, he wasn’t gonna let him know it. James fought for the Father’s eyes, all the while entranced by his antlers, extending out and up like two hands, palms out and pointed skyward.

The Mother scared him most. The Mother locked her eyes on James and never let him out of her sight. James looked in her eyes and saw her sleekness, her grace and flow. James knew Time was moving, but elsewhere. Locked in a trance with the Mother, Time had slowed. It had run out to sea, and James knew it was up to the Mother as to when it would rush back ashore.

At this moment, James realized he was ten feet away from a deer who could cover the distance in the most divided of split seconds and kill him.

All at once she showed him elegance and rage. Her beauty and Her violence.

V

James came up from beneath the waves in time to see the Bengal, hovering above the waters, claws extended and about to roar.