Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Weirdo Company: Volume 2 is now available!

The second volume of Weirdo Company chapters is now available in print. Buy it here from Amazon.com.

After the dragon incident in Boston, Lt. Paul Harper and his squad are taken off active duty. When another team runs into trouble in Mexico, Harper defies orders and leads his team into action. On the run, without support, the team gets closer to cracking the enemy plan that threatens to unleash an unstoppable army of evil upon the world. But a spy within their ranks might end all hope of saving our world...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday Scenes 03 - Weirdo Company: Bounty Hunters of the Dead

It's time for Saturday Scenes again. Don't know what Saturday Scenes is? Check out this post to find out.

This week, it's an excerpt from the next Weirdo Company adventure I've been working on. In the first part of the novel, our heroes have been captured by the werewolf terrorist Rupert (who first appeared way back in "Ninja Werewolf Assassins!") while investigating a series of mysterious deaths across Asia. General Thibault has sent in Lt. Kent, recently imbued with superpowers thanks to a series of medical experiments, to rescue them. Kent has infiltrated Rupert's base and found the team in an underground prison, but now Rupert has found him.
“But now it’s time to see if you can play with the big dogs.” 
Rupert launched himself forward, clothes tearing, wolf form expanding in mid-air. The room filled with a howl. Kent put his hands up and met Rupert’s claws. He clamped down hard on Rupert’s wrists and squeezed. At the same time, he fell back into a roll, planted his boot in Rupert’s chest and kicked. 
Rupert slammed into the far wall, yelping in pain. He hit the floor on all fours and charged at Kent a second time. He came up on two legs and swung hard, claws slicing loudly through the air. Kent ducked under the swipe and landed a savage punch to Rupert’s gut. 
The wolf flipped into the air and crashed through the transparent door to Davis’ cell. Davis jumped up on the cot as the wolf crunched against the toilet in a shower of tempered security glass. She leapt over it and out into the bay, past Kent, who stalked toward Rupert with purpose. Davis ran for the cell door controls.

Kent grabbed Rupert’s head by the hair and slammed his face down into the toilet, shattering it. Then he pivoted and threw Rupert back out into the bay. The wolf skidded across the concrete. He came to a stop and pounded his fist into the floor, enraged. It spun and charged at Kent once again, but this time ducked low at the last second and swept its leg out, knocking Kent off his feet. 
The wolf caught Kent mid-fall, spun, and slammed Kent’s body against the wall.

He turned just in time for Harper to slug him across the snout. Rupert growled and knocked Harper aside. He couldn’t recover quickly enough to avoid Davis swinging hard with a metal chair, right in the face. Rupert stumbled back, and Kent wrapped his arms around Rupert’s thick neck. 
The wolf began to thrash, swinging Kent around on his back. 
By now, Rupert’s men had heard the commotion. They poured into the cell bay, weapons ready. Spike had grabbed up an AK from one of the men who’d dragged Kent in and let rip. The spray of bullets tore up the floor and walls and men, spraying dust and blood into the air. 
The mag clicked empty, and Flint, with perfect timing, took up the slack. He stitched a line of bullet holes up the side of the door frame, driving back a second wave of reinforcements. Harper rushed past them, yanking the pin on a grenade. 
“Where’d you get tha--” Flint began. 
“Fire in the fuckin’ hole!” Harper cried. He hurled the grenade through the door then kicked it shut and spun to the side.

Kent jumped into the air and kicked Rupert in the chest with both feet.
The grenade detonated, blowing the door inward. 
It struck Rupert mid-air and knocked the wolf face-first into the concrete. Rupert didn’t move.

“Damn, dude,” Harper said, coughing and waving dust out of his face. The smoke in the room cleared gradually. He looked down at the unconscious werewolf. “That was baller.” 
“So, are you gonna tell us how you’re suddenly Superman?” Davis asked. 
“Um, I was also wondering that myself,” Harper said, raising his hand. 
Kent said calmly, “We should get out of here. Mason is waiting outside for extraction.” 
“Let’s bag this one,” Harper said, giving Rupert a light kick in the ribs. Kent nodded, bent down and hefted the wolf over his shoulder. 
The team scavenged weapons and ammo from Rupert’s fallen guards, and headed out the door. 
As they stepped over the burnt, shredded bodies, Davis said, “I guess we should be thankful they weren’t all wolves.” 
“Or at least not yet,” Harper said. “Whoever or whatever is after him, he was really scared. He wasn’t raising an army, he was creating a protection detail.” 
“Against what?” 
They rounded the corner and stopped dead. 
A figure stood at the other end of the corridor. It was tall, skinny, wearing a dark coat over simple clothing - dark pants, dark shirt. It had human ears and unkempt human hair. And it had the face of a horse sticking out the front of its head. It’s hands were around the neck of one of Rupert’s guards. The man made wet choking noises. The figure jabbed its right arm into the man’s head, piercing right through the skull. The man’s entire body began to shudder and quake, while the creature’s arm rooted around in its brain.

After a moment, it dropped the man’s dead husk of a body. It turned slowly toward them, and the entire team shuddered. The lights flickered above it. 
“Okay,” Davis said, “what in the breakfast-roasted fuck is that?!” 
“Not long for this Earth,” Harper said. He took two steps forward and raised his AK-47. He fired a quick three-round burst center mass. Horse-Face took a step back, rocked by the impacts, but steadied itself quickly. 
Harper took another couple steps forward and emptied the entire clip into the beast. 
It steadied itself again. It poked a finger through the bullet holes in its clothing.

It sniffed. Then, it glared back up at Harper. 
“No bueno,” Harper said.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Saturday Scenes 02 - A Shot in the Dark

This is a couple of scenes I wrote as part of a project I've been working on for over a decade. It's taken on many different forms, beginning life originally as a screenplay for a film, then morphing into a TV mini-series, a graphic novel and a prose novel. 

It's one of those projects that's been rattling around in my head for a long, long time that I pick up occasionally and then ultimately fall off of. But it's a premise I really like, which is probably why it's stuck with me for so long and gone through so many revisions. Some day, I hope I get to release some finished form of it, whatever shape it may take.

So here's an excerpt from The Valiant. These two scenes focus on Amanda Benes, a detective and single mom, and her teenage son, Alex. They live in a city that's about to be turned upside down by a vicious gang war and the appearance of a mysterious vigilante.

The alarm had been going off for three minutes. 
Amanda Benes’ still form was curled under the sheets of her queen-sized bed, on the side furthest from the window, one arm spread across the cool, unoccupied side. The alarm had been going off for three minutes, and still she didn’t wake.
Outside, a black and white roared through the neighborhood, the siren wail mixing in with the aggravating electronic alarm.
Benes opened one eye, saw red and blue flickering just outside her window, then receding as the black and white raced away down the avenue. With a grunt, she rolled toward the alarm clock and slapped it silent. She moved into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, not even looking over at the empty side, alone in the slatted darkness of her bedroom. The morning light, warm and orange, didn’t even register for her. 
She stood and walked into the shower and turned the water up as hot as it would go. 
Steam filled the small room until she could barely see the tiled wall next to her. She leaned against it, her face resting on her forearm as the water poured hot and stinging over her. She sighed loudly, trying to empty her mind for a moment, then stretched. 
Twenty minutes later, she clipped on her holster and slipped in her 9mm. She walked into the kitchen, and she rolled her eyes when she saw what was going on there. 
“Feet off the table,” she said, moving toward the coffeemaker on the counter behind her son, Alex. He rolled his eyes, and put all four feet of his chair back on the floor. He continued to munch on cereal without saying anything intelligible to her. 
The decade-old coffeemaker chugged to life and Benes rinsed out her travel mug. She noticed the paint on the wall was peeling above the sink again. Without turning, she asked, “What time did you come home last night?” 
“Dunno,” Alex answered. “Late.” 
“Your curfew is eleven,” Benes said. “There’s nothing worth doing out there past eleven.” 
Alex twisted in his chair toward her. “I don’t even want to go out until eleven!” 
Benes stuck her mug under the spout, and hot coffee filled it. “Be home by eleven.” 
Alex grunted. It might have been a swear. 
“Hurry up,” Benes said. “I’m driving you to school today.” 
“I’ll take the bus.” 
“I’m driving you to school today, Alex,” Benes repeated. “Get your stuff.” 
Alex stood, a sour look on his face, and walked out of the room. The cereal bowl stayed on the table. A drop of milk fell from the spoon. Benes grabbed it and put it in the sink as if by reflex. She heard Alex stomp through the living room, exaggerating his movements as he packed his bag for school. He tapped his foot waiting for her by the door. She took her first sip of the strong black coffee, made a face, then sealed the mug and walked out of the kitchen.


In the car, Alex stared out the passenger window, not saying a word. Even getting him to put on a seatbelt felt like a chore. Benes sat silently frustrated, weaving her way through the morning traffic, occasionally glancing over at him from behind her sunglasses. As usual, she let him choose the radio station, and as usual, he’d chosen some hard rock song that grated on her ears and raised her blood pressure.

He didn’t even really like that kind of music; he just chose it to bother her.
Amanda Benes was a good detective. 
“Or a mom,” her partner had said once. 
“Same thing,” she’d replied. 
Her cell phone rang. She silently thanked whoever was calling and tapped the ‘Phone’ button on the steering wheel. The music cut out. 
It was her partner, Ed Nguyen. Speak of the devil. His voice filled the car. “Where are you?” 
“On my way to school.” Alex turned and gave her a scowl. 
“Great. Body in Dumper’s Alley.” 
“A body in Dumper’s Alley. Stop the goddamned presses.” 
“I’m there now,” Nguyen said. “See you when I see you.” 
“Sure. Later.” 
The rock music returned as Nguyen ended the call. Alex reached over and turned the volume knob higher. Benes’ jaw clenched. She knew saying something would just cause him to push further. Every morning was like this. At least, the mornings when he didn’t just grab his bag and run out the door to the bus stop down the block. The silence between them was longer than she’d realized.

In a few minutes, Alex got out of the car in front of his school without even looking at his mother. She just drove away.
Dumper’s Alley was buzzing with activity. The yellow police tape always brought out the neighbors, even in an area that goes through a lot of it. Dumper’s was the widest alley in the neighborhood, and lined on both sides with dumpsters, a popular place for everyone and every scumbag in town to drop their trash and unwanteds. Benes parked her car next to a couple of black and whites with their flashers on and walked toward the tape, pulling on a pair of plastic gloves.

Nguyen met her at the edge of the crime scene, steaming mug of coffee in his hands, as usual. Also as usual, he was wearing a crisp dark suit with a red tie.

He’d fill that mug four more times before their shift was over.
He lifted the yellow tape for her, then followed her into the alley. 
“What’ve we got?” she asked, ducking only slightly under his arm. 
He didn’t miss a beat. “Body. ME’s probably gonna call gunshots as COD.” 
“There’s another shocker.” 
“Just wait.” 
Partway down the alley, slumped up against a rust-rotted, scuffed yellow dumpster, was the body of a man in a sharp business suit. There were two holes in the man’s chest, blood pooled all over his stomach and the ground beneath him.

“Hello,” Benes said.

She checked his pockets, though she was sure Nguyen had already done so.

“No wallet,” she said to herself. “No ID.” She stuck a finger in his mouth and opened it slightly. “Teeth are smashed to shit. Hopefully his prints are in the system?”
“Yeah,” Nguyen said. “What are the chances of that?” 
“Right. Doesn’t look like he bought this at Jose’s Thrift,” Benes said, standing. 
“Still, you never know.” 
Nguyen scoffed. “Because we’re that lucky.” 
Benes heard the clicking and snapping of the crime scene photographer behind her. She hoped he was getting the right angles this time. She glanced around the body. 
“No sign of the gun,” she said. “Tons of blunt-force trauma. Someone beat the shit out of him before he was killed. Executed?” 
“Yeah,” Nguyen said, with a strange tone. “About that...” Benes knew she wasn’t going to like what he said next. 
Nguyen turned and pointed toward a nearby dumpster, which had a perfect impression of a boot pounded into the side of it. Benes walked over and knelt down by it, running her hand along the side of the impression. “What the hell...” 
“Yeah,” Nguyen said. “What do we do about this?” 
Benes shook her head in disbelief. 
“Box it.” 
“The entire thing?” 
“The entire thing.”

Nguyen nodded toward the CSI team waiting by the coroner’s van. “Shit. They’re not gonna like that.”

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Saturday Scenes 01 - Such failure

It's time for Saturday Scenes. If you don't know what that is, check it out here.

I initially wrote this as the prologue for a novel I've been working on intermittently. It works basically along the premise of, what if a James Bond-like spy had lost his mission and the megalomaniacal madman had succeeded in dominating the world. It alternates between flashbacks to that failure and its immediate aftermath and the present day, years later, as the spy attempts to start up a rebellion to overthrow the madman's regime.

Here goes:

Richter made a slight sniffing noise. 
“You reek of failure,” he said, his voice barely more than a grunt.
Small fires crackled around the room, a two level cylinder with rings of computer banks around the walls. Control consoles belched out smoke, blackening the walls. The plastic frames of the monitors above them curled. There was an office off to the side, now smashed, the desk within overturned and burning. The walls were riddled with bullet holes from the gun battle that had just ended. Richter stood in the center of it, this ruined cathedral of technology. His body broad and tall, exuding the energy of victory. Richter, who had just murdered billions of people and brought civilization to its final gasp, took in a long breath but didn’t smell the reeking, acrid smoke.

Behind him, Reid Erekson stood, barely. On a normal day, Erekson looked typically heroic. Dark hair, intense eyes, chiseled jaw. On this day, his hair was matted to his head with sweat and grime. A thick line of red cut across his forehead and down his left cheek. His square jaw was bruised, slack with fatigue. Two of Richter’s thugs held him up, his bruised and broken body supported between them. His left leg was broken, a shard of bone sticking through the skin of his thigh. It sent burning tendrils shrieking up through his body with even the most minute movements. He stared at Richter, hatred hotter than his own pain. 
Richter was a fine form. He stood out from the destruction around him. Somehow, his clothes didn’t look rumpled or ruined; his crisp, pressed suit seeming impossibly immaculate. Even the strict part of his slightly-graying hair was unmolested. The man was impeccable, in both form and attitude.

Erekson wanted to tear him in half for it. 
“Nietsche said that man is something to be overcome,” Richter announced, pacing slowly. A show of ego for Erekson. “Today, I have done so. I overcame all the prejudices, all the silly wars and squabbling, economic nonsense.” He turned back to Erekson. “I overcame you.” 
Erekson spat blood on the floor at Richter’s feet. 
Richter let out a small chuckle in response. He got close to Erekson, his hands cupped before him. “The world is mine, now. Clay to reshape as I see fit!” 
He spread his arms wide in the air. On the surviving monitors, red pools spread across an animated map of the globe as the satellites fired their deadly payloads. Richter’s computers had carefully calculated load sizes, wind currents, trajectories, to spread destruction across the greatest area. There was no escape, not even the wide, empty plains of Africa. The United States, for so long such a powerful, envied nation, fell first and quickly. Across the oceans, the other powers, China, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, all began to glow red on the screens. Erekson knew that in each of those places, human beings cried out in fear and pain, huddled together in their final, sad moments.

Just before the pain finally caused his exhausted mind to shut down, he thought of Lauren, of the last time he saw her. He thought of her standing at the door, watching his car back down the driveway. She had that look on her face, the one that silently asked, “Is this the time you won’t come back?” She had that look on her face every time. Erekson’s heart screamed at the irony, clawing at his own collapsing consciousness. She grew smaller in his mind, and everything disappeared. 
Richter watched Erekson lose consciousness, and chuckled again. “Get him to the infirmary.” 
His men hesitated, looking at each other in confusion, then at Richter. Why not kill him? 
“Get him to the infirmary,” Richter repeated, slower and more forceful.

The two men merely shrugged, and hauled Erekson out of the room. Richter turned back to the map, now nearly covered in red, and thought about his new world. 
Around him, his staff sprang back into action, putting out the last of the fires. Others began to reboot the failing computers. The sense of victory in the room was palpable to all, but Richter had gathered his people carefully - they got down to work immediately, eagerly. These were no mere thugs and workers, they were followers. They believed in what they were doing. They knew, like Richter, that in order to make the world a better place it had to be cleansed. 
Richter watched one of his followers work on something under the console. The man sat up straight and reached over and hit a button marked ‘reset.’ 
And he had to smile at that.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gender equality, you say?

This picture was posted on my Facebook timeline:
(Click to enlarge)
I think that's pretty important, especially after my last post. Sort of like the next logical step. And I have to admit that, as with the last post, it has a sort of "oh, duh" quality to it.

And I have to admit, also, to being somewhat hesitant about it. And here's why: I don't feel that violence against women is ever justified. I've never hit a woman, I often feel that men who do are to be loathed. The flipside of that is that the characters in my novel are predominantly in the military, so violence is going to happen to them.

So as I'm going through it and changing the gender of a character here or there, the problem becomes that many of them are injured or killed in violent sequences. And I feel bad about that.

Should I? As I said, these are characters who are in the military, and it is absolutely an action/adventure novel, so violence is part of the quotient here. I feel an awkward guilt over it, and I'm not even sure that's justified.

In the end, I think I'll be okay - it's not like I'm going out of my way to be extra cruel towards these female characters. I'm putting them there because I want to be inclusive, even though that awkwardly means that they're included in violence.

What say you?

UPDATE: I'm going to post a few responses that I've received.

Jessica: Important questions to ponder. I think if the violence they suffer (and dole out) is equal then it's ok. Still tough though because of how prevalent violence against women is. I would encourage an author's note perhaps that offers a trigger warning?
Nichole: see, in the context that you write the stories in, i don't see it as an issue, because it's not like you deliberately write about women getting assaulted without defending themselves. these women are enlisted in the military or something very similar and get into situations where they are likely to be involved in some sort of violent combat. your female characters are usually rather badass and are more than capable of defending themselves.
Masha: I always understood the phrase "violence against women" to not just mean what the words say, but to refer to a specific set of behaviors where women are targeted because of the uniquely vulnerable position women occupy. For example in domestic abuse, or in cases of rape.

I don't think there is anything inherently more wrong in a man attacking a woman, than a man attacking a man. But when he does so in a context when his violence is not judged, when his violence is seen as acceptable, because of attitudes people have about men and women- "she asked for it" or "she belongs to him" or "he cant help himself, he is a man and men cannot control themselves after all" it becomes something different. It's not just the violent act itself that is wrong, it's the context in which men feel justified in taking out their rage on women, free from blame.
Martin: I think as long as your violence isn't consistently driven by gender then the violence itself in the narrative shouldn't be a problem no matter who it's against.
Karen: Seems to me that violence is part and parcel of being in the military, in a combat situation. Women in combat? They're going to get wounded, maimed, killed. It goes with the job.

Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Of Women and Refrigerators

(Image: stock xchng/jumelle)
A while back, I went to my friends on Facebook and said, "I want to create a strong female character. Where do I start?"

The best response I got was the simplest: "Create a strong character. Then make it female."

I mean, whoa, right?

I felt stupid for not having thought of that initially. But, of course, it's totally true. And when I began working on "Weirdo Company," I knew that the Davis character was going to be a major focus and I wanted to make sure that I never made her a victim - that she was always proactive in these adventures - even though to some extent, bad things have to happen to her and she will suffer through emotional crises.

Yes, she's the newbie. She's inexperienced - but we quickly find that she's capable. Throughout the 10 parts of the serial, Davis crisis is whether or not she belongs in this group, not whether she can cut it. I felt that was important, that her competence was not the question - it was whether she felt this was the right direction for her life and her career to go in.

Later, as her romance with Colin 'Rhymes' McCollin blossoms, one of the things I wanted to tackle with the characters was the concept of someone "needing to be rescued." And because I was actively trying to make Davis a "strong female character" that meant I had to struggle with how to explore that dynamic both in the context of a (fairly) light-hearted action/adventure setting and also by not ruining the Rhymes character by doing to him all the things that have been done to women characters throughout the years.

And the question seemed simple enough: Why does she "need" to be rescued? Why does anyone think that she does? And what does it to do her relationship with Rhymes if she doesn't?

One of the things I hate about TV shows is that many of them seem to build drama out of the "will-they-or-won't-they" concept - A romance between two characters who may or may not end up together. Think Ross and Rachel on "Friends." But what always bugged me about that show, and others, is that oftentimes the two characters will finally get together and then the writers simply have no concept of what to do with them. Because the entire relationship so far has been built on suspense! 

I didn't want to fall prey to that trap with Davis and Rhymes, either, and I think strengthening their relationship was key to that. Ross and Rachel went through an aggravating cycle of getting together and immediately breaking up, but I was far more invested in the relationship between Monica and Chandler on that show. Two people who fell in love and went through trials and tribulations without any of the immature nonsense that Ross and Rachel went through. Instead, their problems were all about figuring out how they would move forward together. 

In my mind, that's a much harder drama to get correct. It feels easier to go the Ross and Rachel route because it generates quick and easy interest. And it's a tried-and-true formula. 

And I'd much rather that Davis and Rhymes be more like Monica and Chandler. Their troubles are about learning what the other is capable of and sticking by each other, not about me trying to drive a wedge between them to manufacture drama.

I'm very happy with how Davis turned out. Is it all perfect? No. There's probably a couple of parts in some of the earlier stories where I slipped up with her, but my own journey as a writer and writing her as a character continues. In writing the "Weirdo Company" followup, I included a scene in which Davis is injured and is then upset that Rhymes doesn't get adequate justice for that act. I've decided to remove that scene, or at the very least, alter it to remove that part of it. On a technical level, it all works. But I think in doing so I betrayed the character and my goals in writing her. 

Because I'm past creating a "strong female character." I'm just working on a strong character.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

It's the economy (of words), stupid!

(image: stock.xchng/id_charlz)
You don't realize it, but there are a lot of words you don't need in your novel.

In my earlier post about writing the Weirdo Company serial, I talked about focusing more on actions than descriptions as one way to keep the word count down and keep the plot moving swiftly.

But, there's more to economy of words than just that. Even in describing actions, you're going to run into superfluous words that are going to bog down your sentences. What are these junk words? They're pretty simple.

Boot up your word processor of choice and go to the "find" function. In the search field, type in "then." How many times did it come up?

Searching through just the first part of my new Weirdo Company novel, the word "then" appears 34 times out of a total of 15,159 words. That might not seem like much, but trust me, "then" is a word you can get rid of without really missing it.

Here's what I mean:
But then her eyes snapped open, big and blue and whip-smart.
Or, we can just say:
Her eyes snapped open, big and blue and whip-smart.
The effect is subtle, but it works. The sentence is punchier. To the point. 

Of course, sometimes "then" is useful when describing a sequence of events. As with all things, consider this on a case-by-case basis. Don't just obliterate every usage of the word on my say so. But make finding these junk words part of your editing process.

You'll be surprised by how much you don't need "then" or "seemed" or lots of words that end in "-ly."