Thursday, July 10, 2014

Surfacing

Rumors of my abduction have been moderately exaggerated. I'm still here despite evidence to the contrary. 

For those of you wondering when my next book is coming out...I have no idea. 

Bad answer, I know. 

I have several works in progress--including the third Hunter Chronicles book--but health issues have derailed my writing efforts over the last year or so. And no, I'm not that old. 

Fortunately, I think doctors are finally honing in on the problem. Looks like it's either a parathyroid or kidney issue--not sure yet. Either way, I'm hoping to be back to full steam by the end of summer. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Untold Endings to Classic Children's Stories: The Case Against Growing Up


If you are reading this, you are most likely the worst kind of person. A turd. A blunderhead. A jack-a-napes. A one-eyed-lily-hustler. You, my friend, are an adult and there’s not a more horrible creation on the face of all of God’s green earth.

I know. I used to be one.

Wear a suit, a tie. Sit. Do things that rhyme with “sit.” Do what you’re told. Tell others. Use words like “greenhouse gas,” “Boolean,” and “rectal thermometer” with a straight face.

Pay taxes.

Maybe you’ve read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book, or at least seen the movies.

I’m talking about what happened after Charlie, Alice, and Mogli grew up.

Take Charlie for example.

Back in the sixties Willie Wonka could clearly see that the tides were turning for chocolate factories, particularly his American-based holdings after the FCC forced him to shut down the Television Room what with the Mike Teavee incident and all. Lawsuits came aplenty. Willie chose Charlie as his successor and hotfooted it out, leaving Charlie with a magic boatload of problems.

But a Golden Ticket and an honest, good-natured disposition does not a CEO make.

The FAA confiscated the great glass elevator for improper licensing and safety violations. The FDA forced Charlie to destroy all edible trees and rivers of chocolate due to health concerns and unsanitary conditions. The real low point for Charlie came when the NSA raided the factory and deported the Oompa-Loompas who, as illegals, were stealing jobs from Americans. Operations ceased overnight, forcing Charlie to issue an IPO in order to raise funds and keep the factory afloat.

Charlie was getting sick of three letter acronyms, and had a few choice four-letter words he wanted to share—a bad sign that the disease of adulthood was upon him.

At some point, the magic leaves our lives.

Alice grew up to become a politician. She ran for president and chose the Cheshire Cat as her VP. He was all smiles and vanishing acts. She declared Iran as the new Red Queen and swore to slay her with her vorpal sword.

At the age of twenty, Mogli was arrested for public urination. He spent years drifting through the legal system.

In his later years, Charlie, as CEO of Wonka Industries, spent much of his time in board meetings crafting mission statements and sipping water from recycled bottles. He looked over graphs and itemized reports. And sometimes—only sometimes—he thought about Willie and wondered where the magic went.

Being an adult sucks. I know. I used to be one. Like Peter Pan, I refuse to grow up. I will laugh when someone says “rectum” and cry when someone does something mean. I will wrestle with my kids and wear sweatpants to work because I want to. And also because I work at home. I will have fun even if everyone else is serious and I will smile just because.

I won’t lose the magic.

Repeat after me: “I won’t lose the magic.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nathaniel the Noteworthy Eats Delicious Toast

A few weeks ago, someone asked me what the whole "toast thing" was about in Return to Exile. Maybe you remember this. Sky was trying to convince Crystal to help him rather than hunt the Gnomon and he related the story of Nathaniel the Noteworthy, Samuel the Simpleton, toast, and the Tourmaline of Foresight.

In the first draft of Return to Exile the story of Nathaniel the Noteworthy and his encounter with Samuel's delicious toast was far more extensive. An entire chapter in fact. Only a few bits survived. I've included that chapter below to give you another glimpse of how the story evolved over time.

Keep reading if you like delicious toast.


A Note on Curiosity
(Taken from the secret writings of Professor Anastasia Livingstone, Founder of the Livingstone Institute for Science and Mathematics at Arkhon Academy)

Now curiosity is a curious thing, and native curiosity is even more curious—it being such a rare nativity for even a curious person to possess. Take for instance the notorious “Nathaniel the Noteworthy”. Being a common bloke—a non-native curioso, if you will—Nathaniel was obsessed with finding the infamous “Tourmaline of Foresight” (a rare gemstone said to be owned by one “Samuel the Simpleton”).
Nathaniel searched high and low for the gem, traveling from Prestwitch to Germanium in northern Umpshire, until he finally found the Tower of Lowdunderkis, clambered through the Portal of Perfectus the Imperfect, and entered the Edge, where said Simpleton was said to live.
As those of us who have traveled through the Edge can attest, the path was fraught with peril. Nathaniel crossed the Fiefdom of Fidorkun the Fearful, clawed through the Catacombs of Karakus the Cantankerous, and swam the length of the Ingubriate Ocean.
In the Ingubriate Ocean, he only narrowly avoided the Kraken of Trajukistan with the help of Rubber Duckus the Ineffable from the Cape of Lost Hope (not to be confused with Rubber Duckus the Effable from North Emblin, Dorchester County whose drowning in the dregs of an overlarge tea kettle was as tragic as it was unsurprising).
On the Beach of Bungled Dreams, Nathaniel found the Gibbering Pool of Unhelpful Insights and plunged into its fathomless depths. He emerged, confused but determined, and continued on through the Forest of Unfailing Faithlessness until he reached the Desert of Deplorable Deforestation and bought a map off of Oliver the Indirect.
He wandered for twenty years.
After twenty years, Samuel the Simpleton—who had been watching the wandering from his cottage twenty feet away—asked Nathaniel if he was lost, whereupon Nathaniel admitted that he was, in fact, lost and finally asked for directions. Samuel invited Nathaniel in and they had a dialog that went something like this:
“Would you like some toast?” asked Samuel.
“Do you have jam?”
“No; no jam—just toast.”
“How can you eat toast with no jam?”
“How can you eat not toast with or without jam?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What’s that not supposed to mean?”
“I don’t really know what it’s supposed to mean or not mean; how could I know?”
“How could you not know?”
Nathaniel stared at Samuel until Samuel shifted and broke eye contact.
“Um…I have butter…” Samuel admitted.
“Oh, butter’s great then, thank you,” said Nathaniel as Samuel handed him a piece of buttered toast.
Nathaniel took a bite.
“This toast is quite delicious,” said Nathaniel, who hadn’t tasted toast in a good long time.
“Thank you. The secret is to not burn it,” said Samuel, his voice full of confusing portent.
Nathaniel took another crunching bite, the sound echoing in the awkward silence as bits of toast fell and lodged in his beard, which was quite long after twenty years of wandering without a razor.
After another bite—and another minute of awkward crunching—Nathaniel decided to take the conversation in hand.
“I have come for the Tourmaline of Foresight!” he trumpeted dramatically.
Samuel looked up from his toast and stared at Nathaniel until Nathaniel shifted and broke eye contact.
“I knew this day would come,” said Samuel as he took another bite of toast.
“Oh? Did the Tourmaline tell you that?” asked Nathaniel, impressed.
“No. (chew, chew) Oliver told me you were coming after he sold you the map.”
“Oh.”
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
“Sooo…can I have it then?” asked Nathaniel.
“What’s that?”
“The Tourmaline of Foresight; can I have it?”
“And what would you do with it once you had it?”
“Why, I would ask it questions about the future and it would answer them. Am I going to be rich? Am I going to find true love? Will I ever have toast this delicious again? What’s the point of it all?”
“What’s the point of all what?”
“All…this,” said Nathaniel, waving his arms around.
“This cottage?”
“No, no; this! What’s the point of all this! This world! This time thing! This life!”
“Oh that; right, I’m with you now. So you would ask the Tourmaline questions and you think it would give you answers, do you?”
“Um…yes; that’s the point of the Tourmaline of Foresight, isn’t it?”
“Maybe (crunch, crunch, swallow), I’ve never really asked.”
“Never asked?”
“I really think you’d be much happier with the Carbuncle of Self-Loathing,” said Samuel as he stood from the table, walked to an old clothes hamper and started pulling out indescribables.
“Carbuncle of Self-Loathing? I didn’t swim the Straights of Stygian Stench to find the Carbuncle of Self-Loathing! I came for the Tourmaline of Foresight and that’s what I shall have!” declared Nathaniel.
“Just so, just so. Ah! Here we are!” Samuel returned to the table clutching a soiled handkerchief in one hand and a yellowed sock made up of more holes than sock in the other.
He opened the handkerchief and dumped a yellow stone upon the table. At the same time, he upended the sock and a purple stone tumbled from the toe.
“I give you the Carbuncle and the Tourmaline!” said Samuel dramatically.
“You give them to me?”
“Figure of speech; more dramatic than saying ‘lookie here’.”
“Oh. Right.”
“Now, you may ask each stone one question, and whichever pleases you more is the one you may have.”
Nathaniel leaned over and picked up the purple gem. Holding it to his eye, he asked, “Am I going to be rich?”
A moment passed, and then an image appeared in the stone, swimming up from its murky depths. Nathaniel gasped as he saw his future self rolling in a pile of gold coins.
Satisfied, he set the purple gem aside and picked up the other.
Holding it to his eye he asked: “What’s the point of all this?”
Nothing appeared.
“Try giving it a little shake,” said Samuel, “sometimes that helps.”
Nathaniel shook the gem and returned it to his eye.
Watery smoke swirled in the jewels depths, and then, from somewhere deep within, words floated to the surface:
What? You mean this cottage?
Nathaniel’s brow creased as he dropped the gemstone from his eye.
“Um…can I see that first one again?”
Nathaniel left the cottage a moment later. Using the purple stone, he avoided the Bickering Bats of Whitmore, slid past the Stagnant Swamps of Revolving Revulsion, took the stairs up the Cliffs of Maddening Madness, and returned to Prestwitch, Dorset County, where he was greeted—as he knew he would be—by a beautiful farm girl whom he knew was, in reality, a rich princess in hiding. They later married and Nathaniel became rich beyond his wildest dreams—as he knew he would.
Now, after hearing this story, most people assume that Nathaniel the Noteworthy left the cottage of Samuel the Simpleton with the Tourmaline of Foresight in hand. After all, the stone he possessed showed him the future: he married a princess, he became rich, and he never did have toast as delicious as Samuel’s again.
But in this, most people are mistaken.
The difference between the curioso (the natively curious) and the non-curioso (the non-natively curious and the uncurious) is that the non-curiosos are constantly looking for solutions—someone to tell them what to do and what’s next, even if that someone is a pushy stone. They look to the future as a set thing, a place full of answers.
This was definitely the case with Nathaniel the Noteworthy who, it should be said, was most noteworthy for being a know-it-all.
The curiosos, on the other hand, are constantly looking for the next question. They look to the future as a place they explore and create. For them, the future is not set—it is only possible.
Samuel the Simpleton was called Simple not because he was stupid, but because he asked a lot of questions—a characteristic the uninformed all too commonly equate with ignorance, when, in fact, the opposite is the case.
The Tourmaline of Foresight had the foresight to know that a life full of answers is a life without choice, for a person who supposes they know an answer always acts on that knowledge and creates a future that mimics the answer they thought they had. Thus, they do not act, but re-act to their own presumption of knowledge, or to the answer given them by another, no matter how wise and all-knowing that other might be. 
A life full of questions, on the other hand, leads to nothing but choice for questions acknowledge multiple possibilities, and thus, multiple answers that can, in turn, lead to more questions and more choices. 
It is for this reason that questions are to be encouraged, not dismissed. For, if we run out of questions, the future really will be set in stone.
A life full of answers—the life of the non-curioso—is a boring life.
Just ask Nathaniel the Noteworthy who, after only two years, took the Carbuncle of Self-Loathing and walked into Fallowmere Lake, never to be heard from again.

(end note)



Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Original Prologue for RETURN TO EXILE

Some of you might find this interesting. Below is the original prologue for Return to Exile. It's very different from what you'll find in the book. Between the first and second draft I rewrote everything but the opening paragraph. The story, world, monsters, and characters changed significantly between drafts, as you'll see.

Enjoy.


Prologue
       Phineas T. Pimiscule was not what you’d call an “attractive” man. He wasn’t “desirable” or “appealing”. He didn’t like “things” or do “stuff”” or “wash” himself. He was not the kind of guy to “put” “quotation” “marks” around “words” or say things in an unassuming or assuming way.
         He was the kind of guy who wore a monocle.
He was also very kind to little old ladies who needed to cross streets, if they weren’t dead already, and passably kind to poor, nearly drowned puppies he occasionally found in the stream on the west side of his family’s ancient homestead, if they weren’t werewolves.
He also lived in a crypt.
Some people might find living in a crypt depressing. Phineas certainly did. But it was better than dying in a crypt. Now that’s something to think about!
Phineas was, all in all, a curious man--a curiously old man who didn’t look a day over forty, which is really not all that old, if he was in fact forty, which he wasn’t.
What was most curious about him, aside from whom he was, and where he was from, and why he lived in a crypt—and all the other things that were in fact far more curious—was the fact that at this very moment in the prologue, he was running for his life.
I don’t know about you, but when Phineas ran for his life—which he did far more frequently than you might suspect—he ran with style. He picked only the darkest of graveyards, the spookiest of houses, and the corniest of cornfields to flee in.
He also liked to carry old books with him, or scrolls, or possibly maps that led to unknown and exotic places, like The-Twelve-Levels-of-Hidden-Terrors, or Wyoming.
He would occasionally drop said books or maps, leading to countless misadventures for unsuspecting children with too much time and not enough sense, many of whom were, it had to be admitted, living in forgotten closets or under darkened stairs, and, in extreme cases, living in both of these places simultaneously, without adult supervision, or under limited supervision from a wicked step aunt or poor shoemaking single father.
That’s what makes this story different. Our main character, who’s not, in fact, Phineas, didn’t live in a closet or under the stairs, as surprising as that may be. His parents took their responsibilities seriously and were not wicked in any way, making it unlikely that Sky, our main character, would be in a place he shouldn’t be to find a dropped book or map that would inevitably lead to misadventures. But even the best of families can have problems.
But I get ahead of myself. Sky has a whole book about him, while Phineas has but this pitiful prologue, so without further injustice, let’s return to Phineas and enter, as it were, a more action-packed sequence.
Decaying cornstalks towered over Phineas like a big tower towers over smaller less big towers. He paused briefly to get his bearings, breathing in the dust as he gasped great lungfuls of air.
Scattered stalks littered the ground, crunching as Phineas shifted from one foot to the other, pondering his predicament.
The gibbous moon cast blue-black shadows of stalks that looked like monstrous figures eating unspeakable living buffets (this is what’s known as setting mood).
A ROAR echoed across the cornfield, and Phineas knew that the creature had finally picked up his scent. He’d scattered a container of pumpkin pie spice to scare the beast off, but it wouldn’t hold it for long. He didn’t have much time now. He’d fought monsters in the past—it was sort of his thing—but this monster was different. It seemed to be controlled by a greater intelligence, no doubt by the evil mastermind behind the infernal plot that would only be revealed in later chapters of this book.
His only choice was to run. He had to tell people. He had to warn them!
Adjusting his monocle, Phineas cut a path through the corn in what he hoped was the direction of the highway. If he could but make it, he could quite possibly get picked up by a passing motor-coach. What he’d do then, he didn’t know, but he knew that these things tended to unfold themselves in setups and payoffs, and he had no doubt that some benevolent force would intervene on his behalf. He was, after all, a lovable character and there were still so many mysteries surrounding him that needed answered.
Phineas popped out of the field suddenly, tripping on a dangling vine and falling to the ground.
With cut and bruised hands, he pushed himself to his feet and cleaned his monocle with his dirtied shirt, which seemed to make things worse.
He replaced the now blackened monocle to his eye and stared up the highway at the rapidly approaching headlights.
Stepping closer to the highway, he began to wave his hands to alert the motor-coach to his presence.
Just as the headlights were about to fall upon him, a pumpkin clawed hand reached out of the woods and grabbed Phineas by the neck.
As the vined pumpkin hand jerked him back into the cornfield, Phineas had three parting thoughts. First, he was surprised to find that he was not the main character in this story, but only an introductory character who would set voice, mood, etc, a conclusion that you, as the reader, had no doubt already reached. Second, he felt a sense of relief that the burden and toils of being a main character were not his to bear. Still, as a good supporting character, he wished he could have warned someone by dropping a book or map or something. As it was, all he’d dropped was his monocle, which, while not incredibly informative, was helpful and would prove useful in subsequent chapters.
As Phineas was dragged off, screaming, into the cornfields and the awaiting terrors beyond, he comforted himself with his third and final thought of the prologue: The Monster Hunters were still out there somewhere. They would be able to help the boy—the main character—who had so unsuspectingly driven past him in a beat up green station wagon with his family only moments before.
Phineas thought about having a fourth and final, final thought, but as it turned out, thinking of having the thought was as far as he thunk because at that moment, he disappeared from our story.