Heavy Heart

Photo (C) 2016 Ting Shen

I spent last night sitting in my living room, my heart filling up with grief.

It sorta felt like that all week, honestly.  Terrible things keep happening out there, and I feel completely powerless to stop them.

I’ve never had to deal with fear of the police.  Sure, I get anxious when a cop is driving behind me, and one time in high school an off-duty officer in an unmarked car chased me across town at midnight, but I’ve never believed the police were just searching for a reason to pull me over or that there was much of a chance I would die if I didn’t do exactly what they said.  I’m a straight white male (or “the lowest difficulty setting,” according to author John Scalzi), and that stuff just doesn’t usually happen to guys with my skin tone.

The fact that I can qualify that statement with a snarky reference to my pasty-pale skin is kind of sickening.  No one should have to worry about being shot by a cop just because their taillight is out.  No one should have to explain to their kids that you have to behave absolutely perfectly when interacting with a cop to avoid being killed, and even then you may still get shot.

And none of that is to say that cops deserve to get shot, either.  My uncle was a cop in Tulsa for years.  He’s a big, gruff-sounding teddy bear of a guy.  He looks and sounds imposing as hell, and he once took out a chainlink fence with a guy who was resisting arrest (or so the story goes), but he also tries to break up fights between teenagers (he’s in his 70s now) to help prevent bad things from happening.

I’m an empathetic person.  Watching people be upset upsets me.  Other people crying will switch on my waterworks in a trice.  And this morning, as I go about my usual business, there’s a part of me that just wants to curl up and mourn.

Featured image (C) 2016 Ting Shen.

Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July, folks!  If you live outside of the US, happy Monday, I guess, a pair of words that’ve never gone together in the history of ever.

Getting To Know You: Eddie Hazzard

I thought it might be fun to give you guys little introductions to some of the characters you’ll encounter in the Hazzardous Pay books.  We’ll start today with the hero of our story, Eddie Hazzard.

Eddie is too damn clever for his own good.  He’ll be the first one to tell you that, too.  He sounds far more educated than he actually is; he likes using big words and proper grammar and punctuation.  This might be the real reason he drinks constantly: grammar.  Not a dark and mysterious past that will be slowly unspooled over the course of several novels.  That would be boring.

Eddie is half-Cherokee, half-European mutt.  He doesn’t know much of anything about his father, except that the man didn’t hang around after getting Eddie’s mom pregnant.  Eddie’s pretty philosophical about his family, though the philosophy is mostly, “Dear sweet Jesus, keep me away from all of them, they’re crazy.”

Physically, Eddie is about 6’1″, broad-shouldered, and in his mid- to late-30s.  Eddie got his mother’s complexion and hair, though he doesn’t seem to take very good care of personal hygiene.  “Unkempt” is the word that springs readily to mind when you see Eddie.  He’s starting to get soft around the middle – too many liquid lunches, and breakfasts, and dinners – and he’s a habitual smoker, despite the fact that almost the entire city of Arcadia has outlawed tobacco products.  He’s still fairly athletic, though he’s prone to serious coughing fits and a short wind when it comes to endurance tasks.  He likes to dress like a walking anachronism: gray suit, tie always loosened and the top button of his shirt undone, and a battered, stained old trench coat over it all.  He also wears a fedora, because sometimes narrative conventions are stronger than fashion sense.

Like so many pulp heroes before him, Eddie’s strength isn’t that he’s the strongest, or the smartest, or the fastest.  About the only thing he really has going for him is that he’s a determined guy, beneath the apathetic facade, and a loyal friend and ally.  He can also take punishment, soaking up pain and damage and still getting back on his feet.

If you peel away all the layers, you’re left with a guy who wants to see justice happen, even if it means bending a few rules.  Especially if he can get a decent paycheck out of it.

Featured image is the original character sketch of Eddie Hazzard by Adam Askins.

#amediting

I’m still neck-deep in the first draft of Book 5, but I was chatting with my publisher the other day and she asked when she could expect to see Book 2.  She wants to go ahead and get it placed on the calendar for next year.  The publisher has added a couple of new authors in the past few weeks, which means more releases, which means forward planning becomes a must.

And that also means that, today, I started going over The Hidden Throne and doing some edits and revisions.  It’s going to take some time – there were a couple of plot threads that I left dangling in The Invisible Crown that I want to pick up and weave into Book 2 (see how I extended that metaphor?  Yeah, that was good), and just some general clean-up and revision on a book that I haven’t touched in over a year.

I have an uneasy truce with editing.  It’s far from my favorite part of writing, but I recognize its importance.  Sure, I know an editor will look over the manuscript once I pass it along to the publisher, but it’s sorta like those folks who clean their houses before they have a cleaning service come in to clean.  You don’t want the pros thinking you’re a complete slob or crap at this thing, so you do your best to have everything all tidied away and make sure the proverbial underwear isn’t hanging from the metaphorical lampshade when the house cleaners arrive.  It’s sorta like that.  I’m sure there will still be a few missing words here and there, typos and misplaced commas and run-on sentences and things like that.  I’m sure there will be bits that need revision and work when the manuscript gets back to me.  But I still want what I send out to be as polished as possible.  Plus, there’s the new bits I want to work into it before it goes out.

So, the long and short of it is, I’m in editing mode for the next week or two at least.  It’s probably for the best, because I was about to hit a wall in Book 5’s progress, and I need a little time to recharge the ol’ batteries.

Anyway, if you hear a scream of eternal suffering from Northern Virginia, that’s just me editing.

Wrapping Up

The end of another school year is upon us!  Praise be!  And for only the second time in my adult life, I’m not working this summer!

Well, I am.  Just not, y’know, at work.

This summer is actually shaping up to be a busy one.  I’m actively searching for tutoring clients and editing clients (hint hint), and I’m planning on doing an awful lot of writing.  Here’s the writing plan:

  1. Make some changes/edits/alterations to Book 2 and get it sent off to the publisher so we can start on the editing process and get it placed on the schedule for next year.
  2. Work on some of the old Hazzard short stories so we can work something up with all of those.
  3. Finish the first draft of Book 5.
  4. Maybe write some new short stories?
  5. Maybe write one of the other novel ideas I have kicking around in my head?\
  6. Profit.

Now, that last one is probably going to be the sticking point, but you get the idea.  Lots of writing time scheduled!  I should designate a space in the house for writing instead of just, y’know, sitting on the couch to do it.  There are too many other distractions (like the X-Box and its access to games and movies and Netflix).  Plus, I’ve got this nice desk up in the bedroom that never gets used (except as a flat surface upon which to stack random junk, in which capacity it’s used constantly).

Anyway, off to go email my publisher about what we’re going to do with all the short stories and Book 2!

The Quiet One

I was a quiet kid.  Spent most of my time reading books, as shocking as that may be.  Sure, I could get loud and boisterous when I wanted to; my brothers and I were famous for yelling at each other when we were fighting, which happened pretty frequently.  But, on the whole, I was a shy, introverted individual who spent most of his time lost in his own thoughts.

It’s kind of bizarre, therefore, that so many of the things I enjoy doing now are performative.  I mean, I spend my days teaching, which is 90% performance, 10% planning, and 5% knowing when to pick your battles (those may not add up right; I teach history, not math).  In my free time, I’m either drawing, writing, or playing music, all of which I end up putting up on the internet somewhere (or sending off to my publisher so she can get books made out of it).  It’s like, in order to balance out my natural inclination to be withdrawn and isolated, I’ve chosen to put this massive chunk of who I am – my creativity and my effort and my enthusiasm and my dreams – out there where anyone can criticize it however they want.  I don’t know if I’m just masochistic or what, but it’s a little odd.

I’m still a rather quiet person.  I can spend hours not saying a word, or hours talking non-stop, depending on my mood.  For instance, on the morning I’m writing this, I’ve said maybe two dozen words since I got up.  I may end up talking a lot more when my students come in, or they may spend the period working quietly and independently on their assignments.

All I really know is, you have to watch out for the quiet ones.  We contain multitudes.

Bad Poetry (A Poem)

I spent (or misspent) a good chunk of my youth writing really bad poetry.

Now, I can admit that it was bad, ’cause most of it certainly wasn’t good.  But, in keeping with internet memes I see on a near-daily basis, you gotta get the bad words out so you can get to the good ones.  If that’s true, I’ve got a lot of really excellent words coming up.

In celebration of remembering that I still somehow have an active livejournal, I present to you a new poem about writing bad poems.  I hope you enjoy it.

“Bad Poetry”

Everyone should write bad poetry in their youth

Something to look back on in your dotage

And cringe at

Share it with your children and loved ones

Only once

Then put it back in the shoebox

You took from under the bed

And burn it as an offering

To who you once were.

 

Experiment with form

Play with iambs and meter

Couplets and triplets

Haikus and free verse monstrosities

Toy with structure

and design

capitalization (and unnecessary punctuation)

 

Follow all the rules

Break all the rules

It’s poetry

That’s what it’s designed for

 

Above all, be passionate

Be fiery

Write words wringed from your soul

Vomit them up on the page

As if you had no choice in the matter

As if keeping them inside

Would light a bonfire in your belly

Revel in the joy or the angst of it

Because the worse it is, the more you felt

The more you felt, the more you lived.

 

Influences, Part 2: Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes

I loved the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes.  Growing up, it was always the one comic I looked forward to reading more than any other in the newspaper.  My freshman geography teacher in high school read them to the class first thing every morning.   He also – mind you, this is just speculation – added a bit of something extra to his coffee every morning.  But it was his last year before retirement, so I think he was a little beyond caring at that point.

My own comics reflect more than a little influence from Bill Watterson’s masterpiece of sequential storytelling.  I’m nowhere near his mastery of facial expression and body language, and I’ve struggled to achieve his seemingly off-hand skill at suggesting a very detailed background with a few simple strokes, but he gives me something to aim for.

Above all, though, I fell completely, head-over-heels in love with the Tracer Bullet character.

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(c) Universal Comics Syndicate

A lot of my approach to the tone and rhythm of dialogue and narration in the Hazzardous Pay books owes a pretty massive debt to Calvin’s imaginary private eye.  When I imagine Hazzard’s world, there’s more than a healthy dose of Tracer Bullet in there.

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(c) Universal Comics Syndicate

Tracer Bullet may not have been the most frequently-recurring character in Calvin & Hobbes, but he was always one of my favorites.  Tracer’s look, his implied heavy drinking and chain smoking (crazy to think this was a comic strip that ran in thousands of papers, was viewed by millions of people, and featured a kid imagining he was smoking and drinking), his over-dramatic narration…they’re all pieces of Hazzard now.  Just as Watterson was doing an over-the-top homage to the film noir of the Golden Age of Hollywood, I like to think Hazzard is an homage to the beautiful absurdity of things like Calvin & Hobbes.

And they’re a damn-sight better than any of Frank Miller’s noir-influenced comics.

Paperback Writer

The Beatles were my first musical love.  It’s not that unusual, of course.  Lots of folks claim the Fab Four as their favorite band.  They’re one of the most popular bands in history, with scads of #1 hits, platinum albums, and a sound that, while it evolved from album to album, was always clearly and definitively them.

The first song I can remember singing is “Yellow Submarine.”  I couldn’t have been more than four or so, singing along with my dad while he strummed his guitar.  I’ve memorized their lyrics, listened to their albums over and over and over until they are etched upon every fiber of my being, watched the movies…hell, even Magical Mystery Tour, and that thing is difficult to watch.  I tear up at the end of Abbey Road with those final lyrics from “The End.”  And I’m a little bit obsessed with “Paperback Writer.”

Is “Paperback Writer” the reason I want to be a writer?  Maybe.  I’m not entirely sure.  But it doesn’t really matter, honestly.  It’s a bit of a mission statement for me, at this point.  I’m building up quite the backlog of written work now.  I’m well into book 5 (I know, book 1 isn’t going to be published until December, but hey, why wait to get ahead?), figuring out how to get the short stories back out there so folks can read them, and thinking ahead to what I can do in the future with Hazzard and maybe even some other characters and settings and genres.  Maybe I’m getting too far ahead of myself.  I still don’t know how well the first book will even sell, if there will even be a market for what I write.  But I kinda hope and think there might be.  Everyone likes snarky protagonists, right?  And mysteries that have actual, genuine clues scattered throughout, so the twist feels earned instead of just being a, “Haha, the killer was this character who had never even been mentioned until just now!”

I guess I’m saying I think I’m a pretty solid writer, and I think folks will like what I do.  And it’s probably all because of a song about a guy writing novels in his spare time.

The Hazzardous Pay Series

So, with the reveal of the official publication date back on Tuesday, I can start talking a little bit more about The Invisible Crown and the series it’s a part of, Hazzardous Pay.

Anyone who followed my self-publishing adventures of the past couple of years knows that Eddie Hazzard’s adventures were originally called The Hazzardous Materials.  I decided to go with something similar for the new novels that will be published with Royal James to maintain that sense of connection (since a lot of the new material is drawn from the old material; more on that in a second), but I didn’t want to re-use HM because that might create confusion, and this is all going to be weird enough as it is.

So, about The Invisible Crown, the book coming out this December.  The challenge I was facing with my self-published material was that the first story of the series – Missing Person – the one that established the whole premise and most of the main characters, was just a 22,000-word novella.  There’s nothing wrong with novellas, per se, but I followed it up with a collection of short stories and then a full-length novel, The Hidden Throne.  Then another short story/novella collection.  And then…well, I wasn’t sure what was next.  Probably a novel or two.  I have them already written, after all.

But I was never satisfied with starting off with a novella.  I wanted to do more with it.  Plus, it was by far the oldest story I’d written (the bones of it are about fifteen years old.  In its published form, it was about four years old), and I’d improved a lot and the characters had changed some and there were some holes in the story I wanted to fill in.

So, last November, I decided to re-write Missing Person for NaNoWriMo.  Turn it into a complete novel.  Why not?  There was a lot of material from the novella I could just copy-and-paste over, and a good chunk that would need just a bit of tweaking, and some dialogue polishing, then add some new subplots I’d been thinking about and set up some bigger mysteries that I could play with down the road in later books.  Easy!

And it was.  I wrote The Invisible Crown pretty quickly, though not by the end of November (it was more like two weeks into December.  In my defense, I’d been finishing up novel #4 at the beginning of November and thus didn’t jump into TIC until a week and a half into the month).

But just self-publishing it…I dunno.  I felt it would be pretty confusing to keep replacing the first book in the series (I did this when I released a compilation of Missing Person and the first short story collection).  I wanted to find a publisher.  I wanted the extra marketing and promotional muscle.  And Royal James is providing that, which is groovy.

Anyway, here’s how it’ll go: I’m in the middle of writing book #5, tentatively-titled An Ill Wind Blows.  Once I’ve got the first draft on that in the can (probably sometime early July), I’ll be revisiting The Hidden Throne, originally the first full-length novel of the Hazzardous Materials self-published stuff.  Once I’ve fixed it up to better match the events of TIC, I’ll send it off to the publisher to start the process on that one with editing, cover design, etc.  It’ll be going through all that by the time TIC is published in December, I’d imagine.

Beyond that, there’ll be a mixture of editing/revising/sending in finished manuscripts (for books 3, 4, and 5) and writing up the first draft to book #6.  I’m also talking to my publisher about what to do with all those short stories I wrote and self-published.  There’s about a dozen of them, total.  Maybe we’ll release them as Kindle singles, or publish them here or on Royal James’s website, or something like that.  I want them back out there in the wild.  The shorts were always my favorites, and there’s a lot of characterization that goes down in there.  I like the space to spread out that a novel affords me, but I also like the quick done-in-one cases of the shorts.  We’ll see.

What it means is that, assuming everything goes as planned, there’ll be a steady stream of stories from me over the next few years.  Stories filled with ninjas, and explosions, and heavy drinking, and snarky one-liners, and more than a few weirdos and tough guys.  Arcadia’s a fun place to play around, and I’m glad I get to do it for y’all.

The Invisible Crown Announcement — royaljamespublishing.com

We are excited to announce the official release date for the first novel in the Hazzardous Pay series. The Invisible Crown by Charlie Cottrell will be released on December 19, 2016. Pre-sale starts November 21, 2016. The cover reveal will be November 11, 2016. To be a part of the cover reveal day click here to sign up! Blog […]

via The Invisible Crown Announcement — royaljamespublishing.com

Flash-Fiction Friday #1: Snake Handlers

 

There are basically two types of tent revivals.

First, there’s the hoopin’ an’ hollerin’, hallelujah-callin’ jumped up revivals, where everyone is dancin’ in the aisles and throwin’ their hands up in the air and shoutin’ praises.  There’s lots of singin’ – some of it is even on-key – and folks sharin’ their stories and their joys and their lives.

The other kind is all fire and brimstone, hell and damnation and suffering eternal.  You’re a sinful creature and you rightly belong in the deepest pit of hell for all of eternity.  The preacher wants you to know you’ve done wrong, and there ain’t nothin’ you can do to overcome your depravity.

But they’ve both got the same message, the Good News, capital letters an’ all.  In the good times tent revivals, it’s all about celebrating that fact, reveling in the joy of salvation.  In the darker sort of revivals, it’s the spark of hope, the single lifeline to grab hold of an’ cling like the Devil his-own-self was tryin’ to drag you under into darkness.  But you can only get there if you repent, if you accept your depraved nature and strive to earn that hope you can’t ever possibly earn.

When I was a kid, we had more of the latter kind of revivals than the former.  My daddy wasn’t much for softness, either physically or emotionally.  He’d hide us good when we did wrong – and my daddy could always find things you did wrong, even things you weren’t aware you’d done – and drive us hard even when we were doin’ the right thing.  He drove himself even harder, though, preachin’ as though there was a fire in his belly eatin’ him from the inside out.  He’d shout and holler and accuse, hurl invective and judgment from the pulpit like he was God sittin’ in judgment from His throne.  My daddy’d sweat and spit and near as like to catch fire; he’d work himself up into a frothing lather, foamin’ at the mouth like a rabid dog, screaming at the depraved congregation.

And they’d take it, accept his judgments as God’s own truth.  And they’d strive to be better folks.  They believed every word my daddy told ’em, all evidence to the contrary.

When I was 16, daddy decided to try snake handling.  He’d seen another preacher do it down in Okemah in early June, and he liked how it grabbed everyone’s attention.  So daddy found a snake wrangler and bought a whole mess’a snakes and put them all in a glass case and brought them to the next revival.

Daddy was a good preacher, full of fury and fire and passion, but he weren’t the smartest guy around.  He didn’t pay real close attention to the snake handler he’d seen, didn’t notice that the guy had only used harmless, non-poisonous snakes for his bit.  Daddy missed that part, and ended up with a whole bunch of poisonous snakes.  I dunno if the snake wrangler he used was stupid, too, or just didn’t care much for daddy’s preachin’, but he loaded daddy up with a couple dozen cottonmouths and a copperhead or two.

The night daddy tried out the snake handling, the tent was packed.  Every makeshift pew – usually made with a couple of boards and a few barrels – was stuffed so full the boards sagged and groaned.  People stomped and clapped and hollered along to the hymns, and the heat in the tent was so great that a couple of folks in the back passed out.  Daddy said it was just the Holy Spirit takin’ hold of ’em, but of course he’d say somethin’ like that.

It was gettin’ towards the end of daddy’s sermon, and he was tellin’ everyone their faith weren’t strong enough.  “But if you believe with all your heart and soul, the power of our Lord Jesus will descend upon you, and you can do wonders!”  And he reached into that glass case and pulled out a handful of angry snakes.  I remember watchin’ ’em writhe in his hands, coiling and hissing and lookin’ none-too-happy about the whole situation.

Of course, when a snake ain’t happy, it’s only got one way of lettin’ you know.  An’ these snakes sure let daddy know.  They sank their teeth into the flushed flesh of his hands and forearms, pumpin’ venom into him faster than the dickens.  Daddy yelped and tried to rip them snakes off his arms, but it weren’t no use.  They weren’t gonna let him go.

Daddy collapsed beside his pulpit and went into convulsions, shakin’ and shiverin’ like a body possessed.  Folks cried out in fear and surprise; some figured it was the rapture, others thought it was demon possession, and some folks with a bit of know-how recognized it as the venom killin’ daddy.  No one wanted to get near him, not with all those damn snakes sittin’ there, so we all just watched in fear and anguish as my daddy died.