Writing Invasive Species

If you are an author, you may have heard something along these lines: “Writing the first book is easy, but only a real author can write a second.” I took that as a challenge and managed to put fingers to keyboard for long enough to finish my second book, Invasive Species.

I learned a lot writing this book. I cross-supplied a lesson about going to the gym to my approach to the craft writing. Instead of going to the gym to “work out,” go to the gym to “train.” In essence, my approach was to let the work on this book simultaneously make me a better writer. Total self-assessment here – I accomplished my goal.

I’m proud of my first book, Stung, but allow me to tick off some of the ways Invasive Species is an improvement.

  • Consistent POV of main character. I maintain the point of view (POV) of my main character, Josiah, throughout the book. In Stung, I felt free to slip into different characters’ heads without thinking about how that can be jarring for a reader. Changing POV should always be intentional and serve a purpose. I don’t think switching POV characters within a chapter or from chapter to chapter makes Stung hopelessly flawed. But what writing Josiah in Invasive Species taught me is that a writer should question why a POV switch is made and if it is truly necessary. Adding to my “training,” during re-writing , I noticed or was forced to notice all the times I would have a POV error when Josiah couldn’t possibly know a detail I had included the book. For example, saying that everyone in a group felt cold. Well, how does Josiah know this? Have they all expressed it to him? Is he a mind reader? I hired an editor I would recommend – Brian Niemeier – who kindly pointed out a lot of these issues.
  • Economy of words/say a lot with a little. Brevity is the soul of wit, so they say, glibly. I felt free in Stung to take some wordy flights of fancy. Invasive Species is a shorter book, but not the worse for that. I trimmed the fat, then trimmed the fat again. I’m helping out a fellow author with a book he’s written, and as a basic exercise I had him do an “LY” search and question the use of every single adverb. I did the same thing myself. It helps you pick stronger verbs and use better descriptions. As part of my reading diet, I’ve been listening to a few Louis L’Amour westerns on CD, in particular his series of books about the Sackett clan. Admittedly, these books aren’t to everyone’s taste. I have grown to like them. L’Amour says a lot briefly, letting brief crisp descriptions and the terse dialogue of his laconic cowboy characters carry the day. It’s impressive stuff when you’re aware of what he’s up to. I don’t think I achieved these heights in Invasive Species, but I improved over Stung.
  • Bigger cast of characters/more ambition. Stung is a “creature feature” story. I always loved those episodes of the X-Files, where Fox and Scully had to deal with a single monster and there wasn’t too much of the show’s lore to deal with. If the Smoking Man showed up, that probably wasn’t going to be my favorite 4o-some odd minutes of television, though it tweren’t bad. Stung was also, at the base level, a vampire story, with the monster Natalya luring the main character Gary into a trap and feed off of him. I’m a vampire genre fan from way back, and thought this would be a fun twist. Finally, I plugged in the romantic element. I wanted to play with the idea of an almost-divorced down-on-his-luck guy getting a little wish fulfillment. So, it was a creature feature, vampire knock off, romance adventure story. Small cast of characters and basically set in and around Chicago. Invasive Species is also science fiction/adventure, but it goes much bigger. In the opening, Aliens put the Earth’s international bureaucracy on high alert, and then the story transfers to a world within a world, where humans have to navigate adapting to an environment they never wanted to be in. I had a class my freshman year called “On Being Human”, and I viewed Invasive Species as a contemplation of what that means when a human character is stripped of some very “human” characteristics. As I said, I increased the scale and the philosophical issues I dealt with in the second book. Go big or go home.

In short, I think the “training” went very well. The books been receiving great reviews. If you have a chance to read it, no matter what you think, give it a review. I’m interested to see if you think my efforts paid off.

(A)Dam – A short story

I have a new short story available now on Amazon. Here’s the blurb:

In the near future, the categories of male and female are no longer acceptable. Androgyny is the strictly-enforced standard of the state, and preparing citizens for a gender-free utopia starts very early. A steady diet of hormone therapy and education ensures that children never miss the sexuality they never knew they had. But one breeding mother, Dell Glad, refuses to accept the government’s upcoming plan for her son. With only days to act before the state alters him permanently, Dell embarks on a desperate scheme to save him. But Dell is only one woman pitted against a bureaucracy as uncaring as it is vast. Can she keep her son, her Adam, safe against all the odds?

The cover design is by my friend and terrific artist Davina White.

If the concept intrigues you, you can buy (A)Dam here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B089GJQVHK

Thanks for checking it out.

Graduation Party (A poem)

Blink blue sky face at a gathering

Marking the passage of time

My child my daughter

The blue carnation corsage on her slim wrist

Legs long stretched like taffy

When did it happen that I’m standing

In the heat of this day?

Sweat on my upper lip

Sweets on the tray

My wife rattle crash in the kitchen

Squeal of the screen door oil it

Maybe later and she rolls her eyes at me

We’re in on the joke, but it’s taking its toll

Is she really hunchback fatigued

Or has she been magazine-programmed?

Shakes her head at my every line of reasoning

This dish, this seasoning

The leavening of our family bread

And we shall rise

Phoenix from the ashes

College scholarship! Make something of herself!

All so banal

And we crawl, on our knees to the god of supposed-to-come-next

Take the ticket

Dim thoughts on a bright day

The dog races toward me

Tongue lolling and his smell

As I bend to pat him mingles

With that of cut grass from the neighbor’s yard

Where’s my cross to guard me

From the vampire time sucking

Dry the years and my son

Blond ambitionless pulling at his lip

Flicker screen blue sky blank

I wonder what they’re pumping him

Full of not love not nothing double negative

A plot? He puts his phone in his pocket

Catches me staring, shy smile, whatta guy

I ache because he’s the best I’m a sentimental softie

From me of me not me paradox enigma

I worry too much not enough and my wife shakes her head

Again conspiracy lunacy fluency

What’s the frequency?

Blink up at sky, hot sun, moist under my arms

Suffer my mother-in-law’s charms

Lipstick in the cracks of her lips

I see the shadow of my daughter

In her chin and the generations stretch back

Flicker movie screen blink all gone and slack

Moment blip sip the punch, cold and sweet on throat

Sherbet lolling in the pink soda like a pig in mud

As I stir the bowl with the ladle

Joy joy I tell you future oh suture seal this wound

And I saw it all and it was “chasing the wind”

Writes the Ecclesiastical and my daughter

Leans her forehead toward a friend

Laughs prettily her future my future blend never end

I am a stream narrowing to a trickle

No blame, dear one, you wax and I’ll wane

She touches her friend’s arm a glance my way

“Smile, Dad,” she says, pursing lips shaking head

And I do but blinking look away

Flash blip blue sky gone soon never ending

Paradox party streamers hang from the deck

She wanted “something small”

We’ve got this infinitesimal moment under the massive sky

Infinity is a blip stream narrow trickle gone

Crying, “here we are” at this party on the lawn

Push-up Challenge

At the risk of violating one of my own rules. Rule #54325 of Chad Olson’s rules for life: the fitness solution that works for you won’t work for everyone so don’t go on and on about how awesome it is and how it can change people’s lives. It’s a lengthy rule but it has broad application.

Regardless, I think it’s worth sharing this one because it *may* have broad application and it’s easy to implement for most people.

A friend of mind whom I play ball with has a son who made it into the NBA. This friend agreed to do some coaching sessions with my son, and one of the first things he told us was: “we’ve got to work on little man’s strength.” To do so, he recommended doing ten push-ups and day and working to add more to the ten in a row total. Flash forward a couple of months and my son, who could not do one decent push up, is up to ten in a row and they’re looking pretty good.

Applying the advice to my own life, I realized that between traveling to the job and trying to squeeze in basketball and throwing in a little swimming, I wasn’t getting to lift weights as much as I would like. And I thought – what about push ups at work?

I know about the two-minute push up challenge – do as many as you can in two minutes – and would start my at-office work out doing that following it up with a few sets so I reached at least a hundred.

I have to tell you, it worked wonders. I recently went to a friend’s house for dinner and he said I looked great. What was I doing differently? Two months of push ups at work has made all the difference. Okay, I violated my rule but I feel like it was for a good cause. If you have 15-20 minutes at work to devote to this quick workout, try it and see if it can work for you. It did for me.

The Burger Debacle

I’m a bring-your-lunch-to-work kind of guy. When earn your keep in the downtown of Chicago, that’s for the best. Getting a meal at the local food court sets you back at least $15. Any sit down restaurant where you need to tip is $20-$25. I tell you all this to bring some context to my emotional reaction in the narrative that follows.

Continue reading “The Burger Debacle”

Saberhagen’s First Book of Swords

Just finished the First Book of Swords and it blew me away. I experienced one of those moments as a fantasy reader where I grew depressed that I hadn’t read the book sooner.

Saberhagen is a virtuoso. He plucks some of the typical fantasy trope strings as the story rolls along – “oh look, a young boy on a quest” – but just when you think you’ve got the melody figured out, he takes you in a wholly new different melodic direction – “the goal you thought the boy was setting out to achieve isn’t what you think it is.” Saberhagen plays with ambiguity. A pantheon of Greek-ish gods are involved. Vulcan, for example, crafts the twelve swords that bedevil the characters in this book. But the gods seem to be playing games. And other, older, deities get involved who feel compassion for the humans caught up in, what can best be termed, heaven-induced shenanigans.

Let me sprinkle out a little dusting of the plot. Mark is the “boy with the goal.” He’s from a remote village. His father (really his cuckold father but only Mark’s mother knows this) has a magic sword he helped the god Vulcan make years before. The powers-that-be want that sword, and the book opens with a battle royal, where the sword falls into the hands of Mark’s older brother, who dies in the melee. Mark takes up the sword and escapes the village. So far, so normal fantasy fiction, right?

Not quite. Here’s what I like about the book, and it starts right from the get go. The swords are not above killing the people who wield them. Think the One Ring from Lord of the Rings combined with Excalibur. They have minds of their own, and they are using their “owners” far more than the owners are using them. Actually, it makes me think about the joke with cat “owners.” The cats actually think they’re in charge. Same thing with the swords.

Saberhagen also keeps the happenings happening. This is not a book for lollygagging. Mark no sooner sets out on his own, then the powerful local duke (who might or might not be his father) is after the sword. His agents trap Mark and he’s only saved by a roving band of dragon hunters who have a magical sword of their own that specializes in, you guessed it, slaying dragons. It’s all fun, and the characters are grounded in reality.

Also, unlike some of the other serious fantasy writers out there, Saberhagen isn’t scared to include some humor. There’s a bit about a nobleman wanting to convert prisoners by educating them that is very deftly handled. His is a doomed mission (the prisoner betrays him as soon as he escapes) but the nobleman thinks its a worthy cause no matter what. And that endears you to him even as you chuckle at his futility.

I mentioned the book isn’t like others. Part of that is the quest being skewed. The other part is the final battle sequence. The good guys lose (they get trounced actually) and the main characters limp away in the dark to fight another day. You don’t hate them for it. Far from it. There was nothing they could do. But definitely isn’t the main character striding out in a sword and sandals fantasy to slay the hordes by the…horde.

So, I say, give it a read, give it a chance. I loved it. Maximum stars. I’ve already moved on to the second book and I’m a confirmed Saberhagen fan.

Quick Reviews: Halloween Horror Movie Fest

2018 Challenge: Watch one scary movie a night in the week leading up to Halloween.

Challenge accepted. My friends from Phoenix came to town, ready to join me in my quest. These aren’t just any friends; these are hardened scary movie veterans ready to face down all the monsters, demons, oogly-booglies and what have you’s the cinema has to throw at us. We accepted the challenge with gusto. What fright-films filled the bill? Hereditary, The Changeling, The Thing, The Witch,  A Quiet Place, and Bog. Read on to find out how that went. (Some spoilers so beware). Continue reading “Quick Reviews: Halloween Horror Movie Fest”

Inferno – Mike Resnick

A quick book review for you of Mike Resnick’s lightning-quick read, Inferno. In a nutshell, this book functions as a ringing endorsement of Star Trek’s prime directive, where you’re not supposed to interfere with an alien species. Personally, I never really got the “prime directive.” Why are Kirk, Picard, and the rest of the capitans tooling around the universe exploring, boldly going, if they’re never supposed to get involved. I guess it created tension for the series. Continue reading “Inferno – Mike Resnick”