Nuts and Bolts

It costs little to nothing to write a good story.  That’s a fact.  We think it, we write it…bang zoom…it’s out there.  We do it out of a love of storytelling and the satisfaction of taking a vague idea and giving it life.  That’s the point of it all.

However, when we take those finished stories and shop them around, money enters the scene.  We pay for office supplies (we do anyway but still), postage, mailing materials, etc, to put our babies in the hands of literary agents and prospective publishers.  It’s how the Traditional Publishing Game is played and there’s no way around it that I have found and I’ve been taking bites out of this particular elephant for a long time.

Self-Publishing incurs many of the same costs with the added joy of having to shop around for a good cover designer, editor, and if you are so inclined someone to assist in promoting your work to the masses. This particular batch of trail mix has an exceeding amount of nuts in it and though you can keep the costs down by doing them yourself, eventually a realization sets in after that first great cover reveal that going back to using the “free” services isn’t an attractive option.

I’ll admit here that I’ve had some Writer’s Anxiety of late concerning Lights and Shadows.  I sit down, stare at the manuscript in Scrivener for several minutes, and then practically dive out of my desk chair.  There’s nothing wrong with the story itself.  It’s as solid as the day I first did the outline. So then why?  I’ve pinpointed my particular dose of anxiety with the cost of a new book cover and a dearth of funds available to purchase said cover.  I’ve since solved that particular issue due to revising my writing budget, but I find it interesting that I would be delayed by something that most wouldn’t consider part of the creative process.  Sadly, when we move our pastime into the realm of income producer, new considerations come into play.

Personally, I’d rather have Writer’s Block…

A Random Literary Thought

Every so often while I’m writing, a stray thought pops into my head and I have to stop and ponder its significance.  Most stray thoughts drift out whence they came and some stick around long enough to get written down. I guess that’s how it works.

Today’s random thought involves retooling Lights and Shadows so that I can fold it into The Parallax Universe as the lead book in a new series that will pick up where The Parallax Trilogy ends.  Of course, that means changing a bunch of stuff (timeline, some characters, etc) to line it all up with the events I’m currently leading up to.  That also means a delay of sorts since Parallax: Genesis and Darkfall haven’t been written yet.  Lights and Shadows was originally intended to be a spinoff set within the same story universe but about seven years into the story future.

Yes, I know that since it’s my story, I can do whatever I want with it.  Yes, I know that retooling L&S has the potential to put it on hold in favor of the Parallax Sequels.  Yes, I know that delays may push the release date way past the end of September and despite the hordes of voracious villagers assembling with pitchforks and torches, I would rather delay a release in favor of a better end result.

My inner voice tells me to consider very carefully before committing to an action like this because internal consistency is very important.

Speaking for Myself

I know it’s been a while since my last post but I’ve been on the horns of a dilemma for the past few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing stories. Love em, love em, love em… I like to think of each story as a potential pilot for a new series.

On my computer, I have an Excel Spreadsheet that outlines the writing projects that I want to work on. It’s not easy for me to work on a schedule so when my inner rebel starts acting up, creativity tends to lag. I’m not making excuses, merely telling it like it is.

During a relatively sleepless night this past evening, I took advantage of the time to do a little self-analysis and I came to the conclusion that I have a bad habit of creating routines that aren’t sustainable over the long term. Lights and Shadows is moving along at a snail’s pace and while I have faith in its potential, I feel the pull of the Parallax Sequels.

In retrospect, I believe that I didn’t take enough time off between projects and because I made a personal commitment to Lights and Shadows, I’ve been feeling a little stuck. Down Time is important whether we realize it or not and while finishing by September is certainly attainable, creating new story worlds and characters for each and every individual story from scratch gets a little tedious after a time. However, the process is as it is and no amount of complaining on my part will change that. It feels good to vent a little though…hehe.

Lights and Shadows: Adventures in Outlining

Stories evolve…

Stories that are works in progress are subject to unexpected changes. That’s a fact of creative life. We work on a scene, we get new ideas, we try to put them in place and suddenly everything that comes after doesn’t have the same feel that it did beforehand.

So we make changes to the outline….and then more changes…and still more changes…

This was brought home to me while working on Lights and Shadows. I reached a point in the plot where the storyline appeared to be running out of steam. Pacing is important to a story’s flow, so I spent some extra time coming up with new ideas to jazz things up. However, as I started to put some new changes in place I realized that my original outline’s events made less and less sense after what I planned for Chapter 13 and beyond. This is where Plot Evolution came into play. Was the story moving away from my original vision or simply becoming a huge pain in the backside? Well, to be honest, the answer was almost yes to both unless I could modify the rest of my outline to accommodate the new ideas that I wanted to use. The great thing about writing is that you can change anything you want and any limitations that exist are the ones you place upon yourself and your story.

Thankfully, the changes that I ended up making to my outline ended up being small in nature and I could resume writing scenes and moving my plot forward. The plot is still following my original vision and though I’m a little behind (in my opinion), I’m still making progress.

What adventures in outlining have you encountered?

Lights and Shadows, Update #12

Note: These excerpts are First Draft stuff, which means that errors may be found within. When the story is complete, it may or may not resemble what you’re reading here depending on later edits. In any case, enjoy. 🙂

“Okay, the first order of business is to take stock of what we can use here,” he said, checking inventory labels, “We’re going to be here for a while and this is as good a base of operations as any. Our priorities are food, water, and weapons.” His nose detected the odor again, stronger this time, and he followed the scent until he came upon the corpses scattered near a cave opening to the east of the camp. Decomposition had not quite set in yet. Ten men and women were simply left where they had fallen. “Finch, come and look at this.”

She came over and made a cursory examination. She nodded grimly. “Same as the outpost. Multiple puncture wounds, blunt force trauma and lacerations from bladed objects. Does it remind you of something?”

“Yes, and I was hoping for a different conclusion,” he bent down and retrieved a fallen rifle, “the power pack’s exhausted. They definitely put up a fight,” he set the rifle down next to its corpse, “the poor bastards never had a chance.”

“We should do something for them,” she said, “give them a decent burial or something.”

“The ground’s too compacted for grave digging,” Matson eyed a large anti-gravity skid and set of tarps, “we’ll take them back to camp and placed them for later burial. The ambient conditions here seem to lend toward slow decomposition.”

Finch waved to Burke and Monroe to grab the necessary equipment and they set about moving the deceased to a place near the outskirts of the camp between an intersection of air currents that while not eliminating the smell of death from the air, it at least diminished it enough to where it wasn’t as noticeable. The effort of moving the dead weight took its toll and after a few hours, they all collapsed within the field office’s control room in exhaustion after Finch had hacked the sliding access doors’ biometric locks.

The corner opposite the doors was filled with an L-shaped console filled with displays connected to a computer system with christmas trees of multicolored indicators. A subsystem marked Drone Control caught Matson’s eye.

“Why would they be using drones down here?” He mused.

“I can answer that,” Burke said, “During the initial exploration stage, we found that deploying miniature drones saved us on resources and had the increased benefit of longer range and increased security.”

“I see,” Matson pulled up a status report and studied the result. “Didn’t benefit the crews down here much.” A smile crossed his eyes. “Excuse me.”

Finch stopped him. “Zack, where are you going?”

“There’s an armory module among that menagerie out there and I intend to find it.”

“What do you expect me to do while you’re out there hunting for firearms?”

“Go over all systems with a fine toothed comb and prep this place for long term. Computers can give false readings.”

Finch opened a small access door and crawled inside. “At first glance, the comms look good.”

“What about the transceivers?”

Finch slid her way out. “I guess I spoke too soon,” she said, sheepishly. She ducked back inside and Matson heard the sound of frenzied activity before she reappeared. “We can transmit and receive locally, but the connections to the surface are in pieces. The fiber optics are in good shape, but the network hub has been removed. A professional job, to be sure. I don’t know why but whoever did it made sure that no one could get a word out beyond the immediate area.”

“Curiouser and Curiouser,” Matson noticed Monroe and Burke talking to each other in hushed tones and turned toward them, “Would you two like to join the conversation or would you prefer to wait for an official invitation?”

“Zack, we were discussing things of no particular import to this situation,” Burke replied, her eyes trying to capture his like a hungry spider hunting prey. “Though I suppose that since Pierce and I are suspects, anything we say must be held to higher scrutiny.”

You got that right, Matson thought as he avoided her eyes. The problem with people like Gemina Burke wasn’t that they were attractive. The problem was that she knew the power of her attractiveness and wasn’t afraid to use it. In this case, on him and he was finding it disconcerting to spend too long under her high beams.

“I need some air,” he said, walking away as fast as his limp would allow. At first, he followed the edges of the clearing, admiring the emerald field as he moved along. Many of the pulsing green and blue stones were as thick as his head as they grew from the ground like trees with sharp points that reached for the ceiling. His mind considered the wealth possibilities as he watched them pulse in time with an unheard beat. The effect was hypnotic, so much in fact that before he knew it, an hour had passed and he found himself lost among the stacks of supply crates. As he checked for hidden holographic projectors, a random thought nagged at him. If there were no projectors in the immediate area, how was the creature able to come in and kill the camp inhabitants? He spent a long time pondering this before he heard Finch’s voice over his ear-piece and turned back for camp.

As he walked back, he noticed a squat black container on a wheeled base resting under a light pole. Closer inspection revealed a container with a large supply of laser batteries, explosives, and to his glee, several cases of smart bullets that were a perfect fit for his weapons. He filled up his speed loaders before unlocking the wheel base and pulling the crate back to the field office. After locking it back into position, he went inside the office.

Upon his arrival, he found that Finch had been busy organizing the remaining rooms into living spaces. Portable beds had been set up and repairs made to the internal plumbing to supply water to the showers and septic system. Adding to her resume, she had coaxed extra power from the portable generators and increased the control equipment efficiency, the monitors dutifully recording multicolored images from microscopic drones that flew from waypoint to waypoint that Finch had programmed in to the computers.

“All the comforts of home,” he remarked as he accepted a written report, “While I have no intention of staying here for any length of time, it’s good to know that we have a surviving chance until help arrives. How are we doing on supplies?”

Finch pointed to a dozen crates marked as field ration kits. “I hope you enjoy Alliance Issue Field Rations because we have a lot of them. Whatever they were doing down here, they planned on staying for a while.” She reached over and gave the evaporator a pat. “Another plus is that we won’t run out of fresh water any time soon.”

“No shortage of possible explanations,” he replied. “The emerald field alone would add up a lot of credits to a properly equipped trade hub. I would estimate potential profits in the millions just waiting to be harvested.”

“More like billions,” Burke said. “One of the preliminary geologic teams tested crystal samples and found them to be the purest examples they had ever seen.”

A flicker passed over the monitors, catching Matson’s eye. He went over to the station and studied the readouts. “Did you guys see that?” He pulled up a location screen. “The anomaly is located in the next chamber.”

“We had issues with the mobile sensors from the first time we deployed them down here,” Monroe stated. “Higher Level electronics didn’t seem to work as well down here than up above. We suspected that the mineral formations were generating interference but we could never lock down exactly a cause or a cure.”

“Just to be safe, I’m going to recall all the drones and keep them in this general area,” Matson said, his hands entering commands into the computer. “We’ll get some rest tonight and start out first thing in the morning.” He studied the monitor’s clock set to regulate day and night in the absence of sunlight. “Whenever that is.” He set the clock to wake them at what he hoped was first light before settling in at the sensor station. “Everyone get some rest. I’ll take the first watch.”

Finch waited until Burke and Monroe were out of earshot before she sat down next to him. “Zack, we need to talk about those two.”

He nodded, rubbing the fatigue from his eyes. “They are the subject du jour. Go on.”

“How long are we let these two run around loose?”

“Look around you,” he replied, “we’re four people stuck underground with limited survival resources and, at present, no way to know for sure how we’re going to get back to the surface. We need every hand we can get.”

“They’ve been evasive since we pulled them out of those stasis pods,” she observed, “and while we’re at it, I’m not happy with this dynamic between you and Doctor Burke.”

He frowned, but had no words. He cleared his throat. “Don’t worry about me. I know my job.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I certainly hope so. Good Night.”

He sighed as he watched her leave before turning his attention back to the controls. It was quiet outside the camp with no movement and even less to keep his eyelids from growing heavier as an hour turned to two and more. When the fatigue became too much to bear, he stood and paced back and forth while keeping an eye on the monitors. The portable food processor synthesized a decent coffee strong enough to keep him going and alert.

He settled back into the high backed padded chair and sipped at his coffee while switching through different monitor views. He stopped at a view of the easter cave when he saw a shape framed by the rounded opening. At first, he was prepared to dismiss it as an optical illusion, but when the man-shaped image lingered for several minutes before retreating, he hunched forward and tried to enhance the playback while multiple questions filled his mind. Was it an illusion? Was it real? Why did it not move beyond the cave entrance? He studied the area around the cave entrance and noted that the emerald field bordered onto the cave entrance. Leaving his post, he located a rock hammer and went out to the emerald field. After chipping off several pieces of the tall stones, he returned to the field office and placed the shards under a portable scanner. Matson was no geologist but the inability of the scanner to properly evaluate the samples provided an answer of sorts. He removed the shards from the scanner and placed them in a belt pouch. When Finch came to relieve him, he handed her one of the shards.

“Why, Zack,” she said, “I don’t know what to say. I’m touched but-”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” he replied, “these stones appear to have disruptive properties. I have a theory that the emerald field was instrumental in keeping our friend out there from moving too far into the camp.”

“So, you’re saying that the deaths could have been prevented by simply moving closer in?”

“I am.”

“Okay, let’s say that you’re correct,” she said, “what do we do with this information?”

“Other than making guns that fire emerald shards, I don’t know,” he pointed outside, “In the meantime, I found the camp’s armory crate and moved it next to the building. I suggest that you grab what you can carry and get ready for our next move.” He stood and bade her sit. “Get me if there is trouble.”

“Where are you going?”

“Sleep.”

She stared at the pulsing shard in her hand for several minutes after Matson left before placing it in the scanner and swinging a twin-eyepiece attachment into place, she aligned the eyepieces to offer a better view in addition to the larger monitor display. She modified Matson’s earlier settings and got to work on a new analysis.

Matson’s watch read 2:30 AM local time as he settled into his room. The area past the control room was partitioned by clear walls that instantly opaqued at the twist of a control knob and bordered on a narrow hallway that ran through the center of the space. The room he appropriated had a small bathroom with a shower and sink. He took a moment to wash up before collapsing upon the small bunk that pulled down from the wall and was propped up by legs that extended out from the bottom. He raised a small remote control and adjusted the interior wall’s picture window to display a view of the outside cavern that punctuated the bare wall with the illusion of space. He set the remote aside and slowed his breathing until sleep claimed him.

Lights and Shadows Update #10

His apprehension turned to suspicion as they made their way down the airlock’s long cylindrical passageway. Matson was no scientist or even an engineer, but as he studied the white corrugated walls, his mind pondered how much effort and resources it took to dig through what appeared to be tons of rock and subsoil. Clearly, someone was exaggerating their claims with regard to the scanner results. He held the Colt at his left side as he and Finch led the others forward, his mind doing a mental inventory of the last twelve bullets he was carrying in addition to the six in the chamber. Finch had her rifle and his other pistol so hopefully that was enough until they could scrounge up another option. As he walked ahead of the group, he became aware of the knife in his right boot. He doubted that a hologram could be cut, much less made to bleed, but it was another weapon in his woefully under-equipped arsenal.

“Deep in thought?” Burke appeared beside him, her scent distracting him from his internal musings. She smiled up at him as she matched his stride. “It occurred to me that I never thanked you for rescuing me and Pierce back there.”

“No thanks necessary, Doctor,” he replied, avoiding her gaze by studying a line of evenly spaced vertical cylinders that dotted both sides of the tunnel. Each of the red cylinders was attached to the walls by cable struts and were topped by a small antenna. They reminded him of self-destruct charges but there was no way to be sure outside of a closer inspection. They rounded a slight corner after which they saw the end of the airlock tunnel. “Serve and Protect.”

She placed a hand on his arm. “You don’t strike me as the type who follows the Party Line, Agent Matson. I heard Agent Finch call you Zack. Is that your first name?”

He nodded, giving her hand a gentle pat until she took it away. “It is. Rather unprofessional of her, but I’ve learned to make allowances for youth and inexperience.”

“Would you mind if I called you Zack?” she asked. “Agent Matson seems so…formal. After all, it appears that we will be together for some time.”

He looked down at her, studying her features with as cold and dispassionate a disposition as he could muster. He had the advantage of having committed what he had read from the outpost computers to memory, but facts and figures never compensated for a warm flesh and blood person in close proximity. Burke was a suspect. Attractive, yes, desirable, definitely. But still a suspect in what all the evidence indicated was an active participation in mass murder. I can’t afford to trust her too much, he thought, but I can play along until I find some evidence to either clear her name or arrest her.

“You may,” he framed a smile for her benefit. “Though I would think that your companion would find such familiarity a little off-putting.”

She smiled, showing perfect teeth. “My relationship with Pierce is purely professional, Zack. He was assigned as my personal assistant and bodyguard during my time here.”

Matson stopped. “Bodyguard? He’s armed?”

“Of course. Aren’t all bodyguards?”

Matson turned away from her and went to Monroe. “All right, Lieutenant, let’s see it.”

Monroe took a step backward. “What you do mean, Agent?”

Matson raised his pistol and casually allowed it to rest on his right shoulder. “Your weapon, which you neglected to inform us of when we revived you.”

Monroe shot an angry glance at Burke while opening his shirt. A shoulder holster was nestled against his chest, the synthetic sheath enclosing a small and slender chrome plated laser pistol. Matson recognized the standard issue S&W ArcFire Pulse Pistol’s brushed finish before it was gently extracted and put into his outstretched hand. He checked the settings before handing it back. “Any other weapons that you want to tell me about?”

“That’s the only one, I swear,” Monroe protested. “I have legal authorization to carry and use that weapon during the performance of my duties.”

“You are a potential suspect,” Matson said. “You have the rights that I choose to give you. Now, you keep that gun at the ready and I expect you to help out if trouble comes knocking.” He studied the wall cylinders. “I have no doubt that we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Monroe buttoned up his shirt and watched Matson move away. “Agent Finch, may I ask you a question?”

Finch nodded.

“Is he always so…that?”

“It’s our first case together,” she replied. “Agent Matson plays by a different kind of rule book. I would strongly advise you to do as he says.”