Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Kindleboard Portrait by Keith Draws

Amazing Kindleboard Portrait by Keith Draws; that is to say, many but by no means all, of the Authors who regularly post on Kindleboards are here. I recognise everyone, including myself.

Keith who does great work, can be found, amongst other places, here:

Go pay a visit and like his page, if you´ve time.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Keith Draws

This fabulous piece of art and cover design was the work of keith, who can be found here: Keiths web page

Working with Keith was a real pleasure. he is the first artist I have worked with who wanted to read the work before he thought about what image might be most appropriate. He is fast, full of creative input and really easy and fun to work with.

If you just like looking at nice covers (and who doesn't) take a moment to like keiths Facebook page.

He can also be found at Deviantart


Sunday, 9 September 2012

Sample Sunday September 9th

Dangerous Delusions

One of our city’s self-styled superheroes turned up in A&E this Friday, prompting local police officers to request that he and others stop with the costumes and leave the crime fighting to the professionals. Bob?
Monica. The self-proclaimed superhero’s name is Avalanche and earlier this evening he was out fighting crime when an alleged mugger whom he had confronted opened fire.
Well, I guess the bullets didn't bounce off his steely skin, Bob.
No, Monica. Two rounds passed through stab plates built into his costume, wounding him in the thigh and forearm. Two other bullets were stopped by the bulletproof vest he wears. A police spokesperson says that Avalanche is well known to them, as is the mugger who was also arrested, apparently unconscious, at the scene.
Did you speak to the Superhero, Bob?
Avalanche told us that he yet hopes to save the world and warns that, and I quote, if more people stand idly by, civilization itself will come to an end. The spirits of his ancestors have sent warnings to Avalanche, otherwise known as Tony Ohanka Williams. He said that criminals already feel free to walk the city unchallenged and that he himself would not tolerate that. And why, he asked, do you?
Good question, Bob. The crime on our streets seems worse every day, and yet, what are the police and local government doing to stop it? This report coming up, after these messages.

Year 1: Sam

Sam was ill at ease and he wasn't sure why.
The hospital appeared to be functioning normally. The knife-cut to his forearm was clean and stitched and bandaged. The old guy who thought all the police were Soviet spies was secure and was no longer Sam's problem. Sam had gotten the doc to pass him fit for duty and was on his way back to work but something made him move slowly and pay close attention to his surroundings. Maybe he was linking the crazy guy to that stuff in the news. Just paranoia, he knew. Everything was fine. One small town in the middle of nowhere. It was nothing.
A shrill laugh sounded down the length of a corridor, shutting off abruptly as an orderly came through the swinging door. It was nothing.
“That's a nasty burn,” the doctor sounded professionally concerned, but there was an edge to his voice that snagged Sam's attention. He glanced that way as he tried to pin down what was bothering him. He wouldn't go anywhere until he knew what it was. Like a shepherd who had scented a wolf, he was alert to a threat to his people and he wouldn't rest until he had dealt with the problem.
Accident and Emergency was fairly busy, he conceded, but that might not mean anything.
“Had that tattoo forty seven years,” the old guy shook his head sadly as he looked at his arm while the doctor tended the livid burn. “Never knew there was a demon hiding in it.”
Sam and the doctor exchanged a silent glance before the doctor went back to work on the arm. “How did you get the burn?”
“Flat iron,” the old man said without a qualm. “Damn demon screamed and hollered all the way 'til I'd burned out the last of it. Forty seven years my luck’s been rotten and I never knew the cause 'til I heard it whispering and laughing at me.”
Sam frowned in mild concern. Coincidence. Had to be. Two crazy guys in one day was just a coincidence. The doctor could handle it, he decided, but he would hold on a while just in case. He drifted away; heard the doc suggest a psych evaluation and the old guy’s snort of derision at the idea. Across the room a pregnant woman struggled with a man who was trying hard to be gentle with her even as he forced her through the doors. Sam sped up on instinct, already alert, knowing there was a problem even before he got close and heard what she was saying. “Get it out of me,” she was saying, “it's an alien, it's an alien, get it out of me get it out of me get it out of me!”
Three crazy people, Sam thought, three crazy people might not be a coincidence.
He slipped the in-ear monitor back in place and turned on his radio.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Writing Workshops

Scott Fitzgerald Gray has been around for a while, doing good work in a very difficult field. Writing is hard, and he is one of those people who makes it look easy, which is irritating. Scott feels that writing can be taught, and we were half planning to argue about that, but neither of us seem much inclined to argument. My own thoughts on the subject are that if you need to be taught then no amount of teaching will help; and if you don't, then some teaching will actually hold you back and can even lead you astray.

I read some of Scott's thoughts on the subject, here ( and I am quite happy to say that if you don't need to be taught then Scott Fitzgerald Gray is probably the right person to teach you. I hope that makes as much sense as I think it does.  - Chris

• • •

Chris and I recently exchanged a few emails on the subject of the teaching of writing, so that seemed like a good topic to ramble on about. Writing workshops and programs are among the most contentious of issues whenever writers gather round to share stories of our dark art. A lot of people have had great experiences in well-run workshops and love the experience. A lot of people have suffered through workshops that collapse under the weight of ego or a lack of focus. Some people decry the idea that writing can be taught at all, pointing out that many of the best writers the world has ever produced stayed as far away from formal academic writerly training as humanly possible.
I, myself, try to agree with everyone’s opinion on the issue, both because I get into fewer arguments that way, and because I believe that writing can be taught — even as I admit freely that it’s too often taught very poorly. I’m a big fan of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who blogged back in July about the relatively heinous state of academic creative writing programs. [] Her thoughts (which boil down to: academic writing programs are geared toward turning out critics and other academics, not to turning out working writers) are well worth reading, and they echo my views on the subject to a T. In the end, though, that level of high-end formal masters’-program-centric academic creative writing isn’t specifically what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about more generally is why workshopping is, in my opinion, a good thing — and why the reason many writers disagree with that sentiment is that a lot of writers (and, sadly, a lot of workshop instructors) don’t understand what workshops are really for.

Those who take a hardline anti-workshop view typically adhere to a philosophy that writing is always a self-learned art. We write, we read, we write some more, we read some more, and eventually, with time and practice and a devotion to the art based on a love of writing, we get better. And I have no argument with that philosophy, because I think it’s absolutely true. Writers have to write. We make mistakes, we learn, we get better. In the end, this is the only way that great writing ever happens.

An analogy I was prone to use when I led screenwriting workshops was that attempting to become a professional-level writer is akin to a very long personal journey across a very harsh and inhospitable desert — and that within that analogy, a good writing workshop is like a good pair of shoes. The shoes can’t possibly make the journey for you. To be a writer, you’ll always need to put in the hours, to write and rewrite, to read constantly, to challenge yourself by reading outside your favorite genres, and on and on. But a good pair of shoes can make the journey a whole lot more comfortable in the end.

Writing, like all arts, has mechanical aspects to it. Writing has act structure and rising action and dramatic irony and all that kind of stuff. And a writer definitely needs to understand those things in a formal sense, just like a visual artist needs to come to terms with perspective and shading techniques and color balance. And you can certainly learn the formal elements of storytelling style in a workshop, and a good workshop will hopefully be led by someone with formal knowledge that can be shared. But that’s not what a workshop is really for.

Writing workshops aren’t for figuring out how things work. Workshops are about figuring out how things don’t work. Because the hardest part of being a writer is recognizing our own mistakes.
When a visual artist looks at a picture that he or she has drawn, it’s usually pretty easy to tell if the perspective or the shading isn’t working. But when we as writers look at our stories, our sense of dramatic perspective too often gets sidetracked. Because we don’t see the story as it’s written; we see that story on the page overlaid with the story as we feel it in our hearts and heads. The things that are wrong, the areas where the writing falls short, are really good at hiding from us.

But here’s the thing — we have no trouble spotting problems in other people’s work.

It’s relatively rare for any of us to finish a book or walk out of a film and say, “I have absolutely no idea whether I liked that or not.” All of us, on a very primal level, understand story. Even if we don’t adhere to a formal language of dramatic structure, we’ve all been consumers of story our entire lives. Almost from the day we’re born, whether in the form of books, movies, or television, we live and breathe story. And as such, when we consume story, we know instinctively and immediately whether it works for us, how well it works for us, and — much more importantly — where it fails.

We see those things in other people’s work easily. We can love the opening of a story but feel like it slows down too much into interior monologue at the halfway point. We can recognize how having too much of the plot telegraphed in the early chapters of a book or the first twenty minutes of a film made the climax of the story lose its punch. We can see all these things and more with absolute ease — when we look for them in other people’s work.

But in our own work, they hide from us. They stymie us. They drag us into endless cycles of frustration and rewriting, trying to fix something even as we can’t quite put our finger on where the fix needs to be made.
The point of a workshop isn’t the feedback you receive from other people. The point of a workshop is the feedback you give. Your own sense of how other people’s stories hold together and where they fall apart. Your sense of wanting to love a character but feeling like one particular choice made that character too hard to like. Your sense of a plot point that seemed arbitrary, a reversal that came out of nowhere, errors in continuity, misplaced description, a passage that needs to be fleshed out with more description, another passage were too much description is getting in the way of the action.

Hearing other people talk about your work is important. Being able to absorb feedback and constructive criticism is a big part of being a creative professional. But where most writers go wrong in workshops is to focus too much on what other people are saying about their work — and particularly in deciding that they have to endlessly rewrite the work in an attempt to address every single concern raised about it. Because that’s not the point of a workshop.

The point of a workshop is to hone the muscles of the mind that let us recognize where someone else’s story breaks down, because that’s how we learn to use those muscles to see where our own stories are coming up short. The point of a workshop is to learn how to read objectively by practicing on other people’s work. And with that practice, we learn to read objectively in our own work, so that as we continue our progression on the solitary journey of learning to write, we gain the all-important ability to make our writing better.

• • •

Scott Fitzgerald Gray has been flogging his imagination professionally since deciding he wanted to be a writer and abandoning any hope of a real career in about the fourth grade. That was the year that speculative fiction and fantasy kindled his voracious appetite for literary escapism and a love of roleplaying gaming that still drives his questionable creativity. In addition to his fantasy and speculative fiction writing, Scott has dabbled in feature film and television, was a finalist for the Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize from the Writers’ Guild of Canada, and currently consults and story edits on projects ranging from overly obscure indie-Canadian fare to Neill Blomkamp’s somewhat less-obscure “District 9” and the upcoming “Elysium”.

Scott’s latest works are the high-school coming-of-age techno-thriller “We Can Be Heroes” [], and the anthology “A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales” [].

Friday, 24 August 2012

LendInk - Please go borrow a book.

LendInk is a site where people who want to borrow eInk books and people who want to loan them can get together.

I'm really pleased to be able to recommend this site. They just went through a pile of grief that was somewhat unfair (shall we say) and to help support them I would be grateful if you would please go offer my books for loan.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Dangerous Delusions

Just live, Dangerous Delusions is the fourth in the Dancing with Darwin sequence. I'm already very fond of them and have many more in mind. I may have to pause and work on other projects (yes, I mean All The King's Bastards - should be ready in six weeks or so, all things being equal).

Every time I turn around I bump into another story. Another character or characters, a new situation, a new angle and development of the overall story. There are three other stories waiting and I can't wait to get them done (though I will!).

In this one I get to introduce Superheroes! I love Avalanche and Angelfire; in this story they are secondary characters but they will definitely get their own stories later.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

#SampleSunday 17th June 2012

This is the opening few scenes of:
                                       Headed Home: Dancing with Darwin.

The worst part is that the military, called in to stabilize the situation in the major cities of the nation, have themselves become part of the problem.
Yes, Bob, that seems to be the case. The situation has evolved so fast that no response seems adequate to gain or maintain control. Initially, you will remember, the first outbreaks were in small communities and the results were indeed devastating but the worst was swiftly over and the police and other services were able to regain control fairly swiftly. But a major city proved to be an entirely different proposition, and it soon became clear that the local law enforcement agencies were themselves succumbing to what we are now calling AMDS or Acquired Mental Disorder Syndrome.
As I understand it, Monica, the National Guard were swiftly mobilized when it became clear to the various Governors that the situation was out of control.
That's right, Bob, and as this proved insufficient the military were given the green light to deploy on American soil, a move that was itself sensational news just days ago.
Sensational, Monica, just sensational!
Yes, Bob. It transpires that the army contracted AMDS and lost cohesion rapidly and it was only as this became apparent that Biohazard suits were issued to fresh units moving into the major cities.
Though for places like New York and Los Angeles it was far too late; some units found themselves in conflict with factions of earlier units and there have been sporadic reports of running firefights even as the cities burned out of control. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and many other large cities are effectively... what are we saying here, Monica?
Well, Bob, we have reports coming in all the time and I don't know that there is a single word to sum up the unprecedented level of devastation in such a short period of time, though the word Apocalyptic has been used. The death toll is unknown but the displaced must number in the millions.
Millions. Millions, Monica. The displaced must number in the millions.
Yes, Bob. Though we should stress that the President and other senior figures are appealing for calm in this time of national disaster, stressing that all efforts possible at disaster relief are being made, that cooperation with the representatives of government will most swiftly bring this crisis under control.
This just in from the office of the President, voluntary submission for mental evaluation is mandatory at this time. Also, this. If you are a mental health worker and you feel you yourself can function, report to any designated FEMA station or Military Base.

# Year 1

Heading into Los Angeles, the Ontario Freeway was clear of traffic ahead of the massive army convoy that she was a part of. No one was travelling into LA but traffic in the other direction was dense and chaotic. They passed crashed vehicles and were under orders to ignore any conflict they saw, but that didn't stop Sheena from looking.
“This is crazy,” Sheena took one hand off the wheel of the cargo truck she was driving and gestured briefly to her left. She glanced to see what Hall thought.
“Whole world’s going crazy,” Hall looked along the road all the way into LA and pointed at the smoke-filled horizon. “How crazy do you think it is in there?”
Sheena shuddered and mentally winced away from what she imagined. It had been five days since the madness had come to Los Angeles; the National Guard had been called on day three as the emergency services were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of criminal or disruptive activity. Fort Irwin had been in preparation since then and sure enough, the legalities satisfied, the army had been deployed to restore order. “If it were just here,” Sheena said, “it wouldn't be so bad.”
“Don't sweat it, Wilson,” Hall turned lazy dark brown eyes her way, “unless you think we aren't up to the job?”
Her gaze drifted by him and ran up the line of traffic, picked out the burning vehicles and the fights and the random acts of madness that flitted across her consciousness. She knew that behind her the cars were being stopped, the people rounded up and just moved to the side of the road; they would be surrounded by barbed wire and each and every one of them would evaluated for sanity. Those were the orders and they were impossible. “Depends what the job is.”
Hall didn't answer that one, but turned to idly gaze out the window at what was coming up. They both knew exactly how much they were carrying in the way of ammunition. They also knew that their unit was heading for the Tesoro refinery, and that it was too late to save Exxon Mobil; what was left of that was within six kilometers of LA International. It had been burning for days, taking the surrounding area with it.
“This is crazy,” Sheena repeated, knowing it meant nothing to say it, knowing she was going into the heart of it.
“Whole world's crazy,” Hall said again. “Whole damn world.”
Sheena shuddered again. She'd caught enough news to know it was true.

# Year 4

Sheena had watched the small town for seven hours and other than lush foliage and the odd wild thing, she seen no sign of life. If there was anyone alive in Grovenburg, then they were lying in bed with a broken leg or a terminal illness. Any other sounds of life would have carried to her even above the buzz of the nearby distribution transformer that spoke of the electricity she craved. Although she was sure that the fifty odd houses were uninhabited she still waited a while more. She wondered about dogs. Often, in a small town like this, there were dogs. They packed up and became a threat. If there were no dogs then it might be that there was something else, something that considered the dogs prey.
With infinite care, Sheena reached for water and took a mouthful. She moved slowly, just in case. She knew she was invisible as long as she didn't move; the ghillie suit was in good condition and she wore it habitually. No one saw her. No one ever saw her. And if she had her way, and she mostly did, then she saw no one.
She put away her water and cradled the M16. Bringing the scope up to her eye, she began another scan. The long slow dusk was drawing in and she no longer expected to see any hint of human life here; that eased her tension some. She'd already picked out her house; wood, one story, open garage with nothing alive in it. Windows unbroken. Certainly a bathroom. She wanted the bathroom. If there was electricity then there was a good chance that water still flowed and could be heated.
The last sweep showed nothing that made her nervous, so she stood up and headed for the house and the first bath she'd had in ten days.

# Year 1

She watched the guy pull a woman out of his truck and drag the body to the recycling bay. It was the first time she'd had to pause before she responded. Her gaze followed the trail of blood back to the truck, skipped over a shoe, then up to the bed of the Dodge Ram and tangled pile of bodies that filled it. She didn't count but estimated there were maybe as many as thirty.
“It is your duty to recycle,” the man sounded like he was trying to convince himself as he turned from tossing the woman into the bay.
Sheena turned to glance behind her as soon as she was sure the man was unarmed, but there was no help there. Her squad was in the road and they were all busy. They had shut off the West Pacific Highway and South Alameda Street where they joined. Everyone inside the sprawling refinery was already controlled; every vehicle inside had already been put to the side of the road, none too gently in some cases. As soon as the barbed wire and gun emplacements had been set up to secure the area that was their responsibility, squads had been sent out to start the pacification procedure.
“Anyone on the streets is crazy for sure,” the Command Sergeant Major had bellowed out a refinement on the orders already received, “and clearing the streets is stage one, so we start there.”
Sheena turned back to the blood-covered guy and his truck full of bodies. “Anyone acting crazy,” she muttered to herself. “Well, fuckwit, you qualify.” She raised her weapon and stepped forward, angling so that he was never in cover and no part of his body was hidden by the Dodge. “On the ground!” She repeated the words hard and fast as she closed. He hesitated at the side of the truck, gave her a puzzled look as one hand rested on the shirt of a teenage boy who had had his head caved in by some kind of massive impact trauma. She watched him shrug, reach up with the other hand and grab a hold of the boy's belt before heaving him off the side of the truck. He let go the belt and shirt, grabbed an arm and began to turn away as she closed on him. She was two paces away and he was facing her as he turned, ready to drag the body away. Still bellowing, still ignored, she stepped in and punched the butt of the M16 into his throat, putting her weight into it. She followed him down and put her knee into his chest, then grabbed a wrist and got control of him. In a few moments he was on his front and his wrists and ankles were zip-cuffed.
In under a minute she had assured herself that the recycling center was otherwise empty. Hall came up to her as she dragged the guy into plain sight.
“You sure he was crazy?”
Two hours in and it was already a joke. Still, she played her part and kept a straight face as she pointed out the bodies in the truck and the one in the recycling bay. “Apparently he was recycling them.”
Hall nodded. “Best of day so far,” he conceded. “But the day is young and the stakes are high.”

# Year 4

Take your time. Think it through. One thing at a time.
Sheena let the words flow through her mind in slow, relaxing cycles as she checked through the house and prepared to stay the night. The doors were good. All the electrical circuits worked. There was no sign of animal occupation. The water flowed. The heater kicked in. As the dusk deepened, Sheena went to each window in turn and covered it with the thickest material she could find. There were two working light bulbs in the house and she planned to have light in the night; but not to let anyone outside the house see it. When she was confident of the blackout she flipped on the lights, kitchen and bathroom, dropped the MOLLE and then slowly de-armed, checking each weapon in turn. The M16, the Glock 17, the Sig Sauer P226 and the Herstal FNP9. Getting out of the Ghillie and the rest of her kit took time but she didn't hurry it. Each piece was checked, down to the last buckle. The closer she got to skin the more she could smell herself and the more she wanted the bath. Down to thong and t-shirt, she stretched and eased her muscles. She'd not felt so light in over a week and she enjoyed the sensation for a few moments, then looked over her equipment as she longed for the bath and made herself wait for it. Before she moved to run the water Sheena unloaded each weapon and tucked everything out of immediate sight, apart from the Glock, which she kept loaded and carried with her as she set the bath to run.
You are being paranoid, she told herself as she watched the water.
“Better paranoid than dead,” she replied. Somewhere not so far away power was being generated and from there the lines were maintained. That they worked here, where no one lived, was probably not intentional but that was just a guess. Likely there was no reason for anyone to come here and the lines were maintained just to keep the juice flowing to where it was needed, but that was no excuse for complacency. Whatever community might still exist near here, she had no intention of it becoming aware of her. This wasn't home. She would just pass through, invisible as ever, and move on north, unless something stepped in her way to slow her down. The very thought of seeing someone made her tremble.
As the steam rose to fill the room and leak into the passage, Sheena cast an appraising eye around the bathroom. She was glad that a woman had lived here. The number and variety of products was gratifying but most were opened and had deteriorated over time. Some were more obviously useless than others. Sheena opened the door opposite and tossed anything that had curdled, or smelled bad or had something living in it, either bacteria or mold. Of the remaining products, she discarded some that had yellowed, and others that had separated. At the end she was left with a full bottle of shampoo – she could wash her hair! - and a fresh bar of soap. In one cupboard she found a scentless deodorant stick and smiled for the first time since she entered the house. When she was clean she would have a month or two of stink-free living, though no one but her would care about that. She cared.
“Towels,” Sheena had discarded those that had rotted but had some hope that there might be some stored in a cupboard somewhere. “Bound to be,” she reassured herself. After all, a woman had lived here.

# Year 1

“I tell you, she was naked and wandering down the street asking everyone if they wanted some.”
A tent city had sprung up inside the refinery, and Sheena was paying more attention to that than the conversation around her. Breakfast had been achieved in the normal military fashion; get in, get fed, get out of the way. Now they stood by the road and waited for transport; them and their whole platoon, waiting on the last of their company. The noise seemed to go on forever. The refinery covered a mega-block and was full of her own, a purposeful and organized ruckus that comforted her and masked the more distant roar of a city in distress. She turned her mind from that, she would be amongst it soon enough. She took note of the soldiers who escorted civilians, intent on learning from the more rational crazies as they took over the running of the refinery. There was the sound of non-com's endlessly reiterating the naked light policy and extra precautions against fire; part of the noise that also washed over her, the same as the erratic and distant gun fire, the endless sound of sirens that never seemed close enough to be useful. They fell under the category of things that she was aware of but that didn't need her immediate attention. It was the layout of the camp that held her interest. Engineers were setting up RLB’s, there was a mail room, there was a designated MWR, and other indications of permanence that disturbed her. How bad were things if they were planning to be here that long?
“We need a witness to the crazy nympho,” Orvill chimed out and a chorus of 'yo's' rang around the platoon before they dissolved into fits of laughter.
“Okay, I got that beat; this one guy was sitting in his car looking intently at his naked body and as I came up he pushed the car lighter on himself, burning neat holes in his skin; looked like he'd done it a hundred times already and when I asked him why, he said he had to burn the worms as they burrowed out of his skin or he'd not get them at all. Didn't even look up until I zip-cuffed him, then he kicked up a hell of a fuss.”
Sheena shuddered. She'd seen that one, and heard how calm and intent the guy was; then how hysterical he became when he couldn't burn out the worms burrowing in his skin.
Their trucks rumbled round the corner of the next building down and the sergeant spoke with the lieutenant. Any second now they would be called to shut up and mount up.
“We need a witness to the worm-burning guy,” Chuck called it this time.
“Yo,” Sheena gave the corroboration happily enough. She was confident she'd seen the craziest thing of the previous day but knew she wouldn't get to tell it yet.
A truck passed her, the next truck pulled up. The sight and smells familiar but no longer comforting. One kilometer to the edge of the refinery, then two to their outermost perimeter, and then they would be back in the streets, back among the crazies for another long day of madness.

# Year 4

She wasn't surprised to find that there were no cans but had already planned two days ahead. Her skills, knowledge and experience ensured she didn't go hungry. She ate the last of the dog with some tawny daylily roots, wild spinach & violets along with the small can of button mushrooms she'd found a few days ago. She boiled a lot of water and let it cool before filling her canteens. Knowing you can probably trust the water isn't the same as being sure, she reminded herself. She was alone. She couldn't afford to get sick, not even a little bit sick.
After she'd eaten she found a radio and played with the tuning until she found something local. She worked at cleaning and maintaining her kit while she listened.
We are looking for skills in Silverton and you could certainly wind up in worse places. We know you're probably crazy but if we can live with it we will. In particular we're looking for someone who worked in procurement in the nuclear industry; we need to know what you know and we're offering some serious benefits if you want to head our way. Head to Titania if you're coming in from the south, east or west, but head for Blue Creek if you're coming in from the north. These are our two screening and assessment centers; and don't fret, if you're too crazy for us we'll just cut you loose and wish you good luck.
Sheena put down her work and reached for her maps. It didn't take her long to figure where Titania was and that it lay on her intended line of march.
Now for the locals, heads up news. We have reports of a werewolf in the Ginbridge area so you better watch out for that sucker for sure; several deaths have been reported and attributed to the werewolf. As usual, we remind you that the Larisburg is full of damn zombies and you better believe staying clear of that shit is a good idea. Foragers, watch your asses and be prepared to kiss them goodbye.
Sheena picked out the town of Larisburg and saw it would take her away from Silverton and the rest. A town that hadn't been scavenged might yield gains, and she had kit that negated the main threat from zombies.
On a lighter note, Tim Bassen and his crew came in earlier today with three truck-loads of parts and machinery considered essential to the Silverton nuclear power station, projected functionality is now well into the next decade. All you scavengers out there stay tuned for an updated list of bounty parts and prices.
Sheena turned the radio off. She had no interest in other people’s needs. She chewed her lip and considered the risks and potential benefits. After a while she re-worked her route to take in Larisburg, but steered a long route round Ginbridge.
“Not playing with no damn werewolf,” she muttered to herself, “and that's for damn sure.”

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Dancing with Darwin

There are now three of the Dancing with Darwin stories available, and I am pretty happy with all of them. There are a stack of ideas lined up for more Dancing with Darwin stories, and I'm going to tackle a few more before I take a break and see how they are received. My guess from the reaction so far is that readers will like them well enough.

I had an idea in the back of my mind for a long time; the idea that someone might bring about an apocalyptic event deliberately, with malice aforethought and with reasoning that seemed good to him. Crazy people always have reasons that seem good to them, but that wasn't too relevant to the original idea. It cooked for a couple of years but never really went anywhere. I would pick out scenes and characters and try to form stories and not really feel like it was happening.

This is roughly how the idea was sitting in my mind. A virus, lots of people die, there's an antidote that shows up here and there, some people get it, most don't; later on there are monsters created by the same bad guy.

As you can see, the idea just sits there. It's not terrible but it's... inert. I'd drag the idea out every now and again and play with it. Then I was playing music with a friend and listening to her woes, taking turns to pick out songs... and one of the songs had the lyrics “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What's Still Around” and one of my unrelated characters (you know, characters you don;t have a story for but want one) stepped forward and waved.

Her name is Dana, though she didn't have name then. She was a vague Greenpeace enthusiast who changes her attitude when survival becomes the primary imperative. I had the vague idea that she would be one thing at the beginning of the story and another thing at the end. That's what makes good stories. Well, Dana isn't really like that. The story of her protecting the Amazon rainforest at the beginning of the story and chopping someone up with a chainsaw at the end popped into my mind – make the best of what's still around. Dana isn't like that either, but my mind was working now and there was a hint of a spark.

The next song was Gnarl's Barkley with Crazy. And there are some lines that triggered further thought: maybe you're crazy, like me – and do you really think you're in control?

And there it was. The crazy bug. Dana fighting her way out of the jungle with crazy people as the antagonists.

Civilization can't continue if everyone is crazy. That's as clear as glass. End. Of. The. World.

And it seemed nicely poetic in a those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad kind of way. And stories kept popping into my head. Every time I looked at how a given individual would handle the world ending this way I got a new story. I spent all the next day scribbling frantic notes because this idea generated sparks and every spark was a new story. I was definitely on to something.

Dancing with Darwin. So far, Rapture Ready, Headed Home, and Evolving Environment. They can be read in any order.

Hope you have fun with them. I know I am.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

#SampleSunday 20th May 2012

This is part of the first Dancing with Darwin story. These stories (two so far) are firmly Science Fiction and all set in the same changing world; each has textures from other genres, depending on the specific story; Rapture Read, for example, has a hint of horror.

Rapture Ready

The full extent of the horror is only now becoming apparent.
Let me just interrupt you there, for a moment, Bob. Behind you there, is that a military armored car?
It is, Monica, the National Guard are here. This is just, just a small town but the amount of determined fire-power here is quite amazing. The Governor accepted that they were needed after the local police, the state police and then the SWAT team were unable to contain the situation.
This is amazing, Bob. What on earth happened here today?
It just, it just seems that the entire town went crazy.
Do we have any idea what happened? Where did it start?
Really not, but we are now clear to move through the town.
Oh my word, are those what I think..?
Essentially the whole town is under arrest, Monica. At least all the survivors are. In many ways telling the perpetrators from the victims is going to be difficult and from what I've seen so far the likelihood of a single reliable witness is fairly remote.

# Year 1: Claire

Claire often walked to school. Cars ruined the environment and seemed like an indulgence for such a short distance, in any case. It wasn't so far.
Maple Avenue was one of her favorite routes, especially on a full summer’s day like today. Someone hammering in the near distance couldn't ruin her pleasure. The warm sun on her face, even in the early morning, just made her smile. The houses were set well back from the street and it seemed everyone in the neighborhood loved flowers and green things. The scents combined as she walked toward the sun, long shadows stretching toward her, in a confusion of delights.
A shriek of laughter to her left made her turn and look but there was no one in sight between her and the distant house. Claire quirked her lips and looked away. She wasn't sure but that sounded, well she put the thought out of her mind as impure and turned the purity ring on her finger. Her mother laughed at her sometimes, but Claire was old enough to persuade her to mind her own business.
“Hunk like that, you should be enjoying it while you can,” she would sometimes say, though almost always over the phone now that she was in the Amazon somewhere.
“Mother you save the rainforests and I'll save my soul, okay?”
“So marry him already, if it matters that much.”
“Bret and I aren't ready to marry, yet.”
A sigh.
“We have to finish school, focus on study. We'll never make doctors if we don't focus our energies on learning.” Sometimes she thought her mother was dense but she had her degree, she must know how important it was to focus on the task at hand. “It's not so long, just a handful of years.”
“Uhuh, and you can wait.”
“Dana,” she rarely called her mother Dana, “I have to go.”
Claire often finished the conversation early when they strayed into this area. Her mother was a Christian enough soul but not what Claire would call serious about it; maybe like the English she was descended from, she only paid lip service to it. When she voiced this idea, her mother had laughed gently and said that everyone did. It had been their first real fight as mother and daughter. Claire still winced at the memory.
A car crawled past her, slower even than this sleepy street warranted. She glanced right and saw the middle-aged man looking at her, grinning, one hand on the wheel. There was something disturbing about the way he looked at her. He licked his lips and his right shoulder was moving.
The end of the street was close. She had walked almost the whole length and not noticed half the plants she loved because she'd been thinking of her mother. There were only two houses and then a park she usually crossed, but as soon as she realized with a heated blush what the man must be doing, she turned directly away into the shade of a wooded drive. She knew Mr. Valance lived there. He was a nice church-going soul of sixty or so and Claire knew she would be welcome; then she would call the police and report the man. She blushed even more fiercely as she realized that she knew him- he ran a store on the west side of Clearwater, and she'd bought underwear there.
“Thank you lord for making me buy modest underwear,” she muttered under her breath. The crunch of the gravel under her feet masked the sound of the car’s engine and she fought the urge to look back as she wondered for a moment if she had been imagining things, if maybe Mr. Paulson was simply looking for a particular house. But she knew that was ridiculous. He'd lived here probably his whole life and the town was only seven and a half thousand people. Claire's steps didn't falter as she turned the long curve toward the house, and she could just catch the odd glimpse of the bright white building through the flowering shrubs and the cherry trees that blossomed so well early in the spring.
It must be Mr. Valance with the hammer because it rang out one more time. One two three four. “Praise the Lord,” she heard him say.
“Hallelujah,” She murmured in automatic response and then turned the corner to see the whole house - and froze in horror.

# Year 2: Claire

The water ran and Claire washed her hands with great care and deliberation, focusing on the control and calm it gave her. Clean. She was clean. No need to scrub too hard with the brush, just focus on the nails and get good and sudsy.
“Claire,” the male voice was warm with humor and understanding.
She looked and saw the surgeon she would be assisting, tapping his own left wrist in the universal gesture for 'time.'
She felt a brief expression of anxiety flit across her own face before she could control it as gently she bit down on her lip. Her hands were clean. I am clean, she chanted like a prayer. I am clean. Clean clean clean.
“Yes, Mr. Simmons.” She rinsed and tapped the faucet off with her elbow. “I'm ready.”
The gloves were clean, she reminded herself as she slipped into them, and the OR is clean, and I am clean. Better than clean, sterile, but clean was the magic word that worked for her. Clean clean clean. She was one of the lucky ones, she could cope with her aberration, given time and some counseling and work; she could function. It was good, she thought for the thousandth time, that she had already begun her studies in medicine, though her training now was not what she might have envisaged - more practice than theory than it would have been had nothing changed.
She walked into the emergency ward and started work for the day.
Bound in a straitjacket and handcuffed to a bed, the blinded man sat and rocked gently and whispered over and over again, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” She shuddered; the psychotics who were religious were the worst. They bothered her the most. Maybe because there seemed to be so many of them. She touched her cross and said a brief prayer before beginning to work on what remained of the eye socket. Clean, close, stitch. Then move on to the next patient and repeat the process in one form or another, following a doctor who had already sedated and left a note about what needed to be done. Usually it was obvious. Clean, close, stitch, bandage.
Behind her, orderlies came and removed the treated men and women and children from the ward.

# Year 1: Claire

The large clapboard building was painted white, a pure clean color that suddenly contrasted with the lines of bright red that ran down from where Mr. Valance had nailed a foot and one hand to the wall. In his other hand he held a spike and a mallet. He held them out to her but didn't mention them. His pale eyes and joyous smile fixed on her.
“He has returned, sister,” he said, his voice full of confidence and joy. “Are you ready? Are you saved?”
Blood ran in thin trails down the one skinny arm that was raised high above him. A thin silver circlet of razor wire sat on his bald head. His face was sheeted with blood, both congealed and fresh.
Her own blood ran cold in her veins and pooled in her belly. She recognized the sensation for what it was, her body flooding with adrenalin, making her ready to flee or fight for her life. It was a pointless and irrational reaction but body chemistry operates by its own rules. Still, her mind worked with perfect clarity. She was a believer but also a student of medicine. She knew that Mr. Valance was suffering from some kind of delusion, that nailing yourself to a wall was not the act of a rational man. She knew that she had to phone for an ambulance and also the police so that they could assure themselves that no crime had been committed here. Her eyes flicked to the open front door. Mr. Valance had a wife, she knew. And there was enough blood on Mr. Valance to disguise any that was not his. Claire gave a simple nod of agreement with herself; she would go into the house and phone from there. If she found Mrs. Valance dead, then she would just deal with that shock as calmly as she was dealing with this one.
As she moved past him, Mr. Valance held out the mallet and spike to her. “Have a heart, sister. Don't turn your back on him, I beg you.”
Her skin prickled in goose-bumps that even stirred the hair on her head as they washed over her in waves. He must have started with one foot; then the left hand at the wrist, to give himself enough leverage to pull himself upward. And then he was stuck. He could no longer reach the right foot, nor turn his own right hand against itself. A fourth spike lay on the floor, beyond his reach.
She didn't trust herself to say anything. Everything that came to mind was ridiculous. You just wait there, Mr. Valance... like he had a choice.
As Claire entered the cool shade of the house she heard sirens in the distance and had an instinct that she might have to wait some time for the police.

Monday, 30 April 2012

New Stuff

I know that the forth book of The Price of Freedom sequence is due. It's in the works and being worked on...


I'm also working on new stuff; a series of short Science Fiction stories. In a couple of days I'll post something more here; for now, here's the cover for the first story, due any time now. See if you can guess what the story's about.


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Breaking Rules

It has often seemed to me that no matter how firm a rule I make about something there will always come a time when I feel I just have to break it.

One of my firmest rules is not to respond to reviews at all no matter what. BUT... when someone says something like this "I'm not sure that Mr Northern has the life or writing experience necessary to handle relationships between genders..." I think that crosses a line.

Took me a good long while to gather a moderate response. My instinctive reaction had far too many profanities in it. But something like a month later it was still niggling in the back of my mind and the only way to lay something like that to rest is respond. You know, freedom of speech and all that.

To be fair here, I'm going to reproduce the review in full. No problem with most of it; I know that in order to go where I want the story to go there have to be some areas that even in the writing I knew would turn off some readers.

2.0 out of 5 stars Enough with the politico-economic babble, February 22, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Key To The Grave (#2 The Price Of Freedom) (Kindle Edition)
I think Mr Northern has done a good job of creating some wonderful characters - Sumto (the main protagonist), Jocasta (a great female character), Sapphire (a superbly trained spy/assassin). The world they are placed in is also interesting. However Mr Northern way over does the description of the political and economic beliefs that underpin the main geographic power in his world. I will not be continuing the journey to be preached at in that way. While I have much sympathy for the views expressed I'd much prefer to read Hayek or if I want libertarian preachy with great character and plot I'll go for Rand.

Apart from the preachiness the other thing that niggled at me was the waste of the characters particularly the lead female. I'm not sure that Mr Northern has the life or writing experience necessary to handle relationships between genders and perhaps this is why a really spunky female who has taught herself sorcery and the puts at risk all her status in society to races off to try and help Sumto. Sumto is supposed to be smart but all we get is this caveman like need to protect - reacting like a typical male of his society when in fact he is a rebel! The second book seems like Jocasta as a victim, Sumto as the damned but with good company on the road to hell.

Book One engaged me. By the end of Book Two I'd got sick of the Mr Northern's narration - although I am still interested in the characters. I'm just not prepared to wade through his writing to see what happens to them. I think I will make it up myself. Sumto will grow, create an empire in the tribe lands, partner with Jocasta and have Sapphire and Meran to help raise the kids.

End of Review

Breaking Rules

Now, I know and knew when writing that books II and III could be taken to be a bit preachy and that can be taken as a valid criticism. When you take a culture and the impact of the culture on the thinking of an individual and use that culture as though it were almost a Character in it's own right to impact the story.... well, there are going to be consequences. One of them is an appearance of preachiness as the Character of the city intrudes itself into... well, pretty much everything one way or another. No one can engage the Character of the culture of the city in conversation to resolve this, so it intrudes to a greater or lesser degree as the series progresses. Good idea? Bad idea? Only time will tell. I know I will lose some readers along the way. It happens to everyone.

I love to break rules. For example, also in book II, I have Sumto standing in front of a mirror looking at himself - a clear cheat used as an excuse to describe a first person character; the rule is "don't do it" and I break the rule because I can. Sumto doesn't describe himself as such, just what a mess he looks. In the same book, starting round about there, I have Sumto talk and think about the same sequence of events no less than three times (possibly four, I forget). That sequence was already known to everyone. Talk about breaking rules.... but I thought I could get away with being repetitive in that specific instance.

One or two things Gwydion says strike to the heart of the story. Here is just one of them.

"The second book seems like Jocasta as a victim, Sumto as the damned but with good company on the road to hell." Who is the victim? Of what exactly?

And Also to be fair; here is how I eventually responded to Gwydion's review.

You say: "I'm not sure that Mr Northern has the life or writing experience necessary to handle relationships between genders..." and honestly I think that crosses a line and I feel justified in responding (though I had to think about it for a while).

To address the point, which is only fair; It would have been very easy (and was tempting) to keep Jocasta front and centre... if I were writing a completely different story. And I really can't say more than that about it without giving the game away.

I like your ending.... but don't you see that it is impossible and thus would be no more than a lie?


 Well, sometimes these things resolve themselves in a friendly fashion.

The reviewer just left this response to mine. It really was bugging me - and now it isn't. Breaking rules can sometimes be a good thing (which is good for me as I break them all the time when writing) and I have always thought that there is no substitute for doing what you think is right.

Dear Chris Northern, thank you for your response to my review.

I felt that the relationship between Sumto and Jocasta was like a stereotype from our society that did not fit the way your writing had painted Sumto in my mind. In no way was I attempting to suggest anything about your sexual preference. I was implying something about the breadth of life experience you bring to representing relationships. And on reflection given that we have never met that may well have crossed the line and I have removed the specific reference.

I've tried to think of a way to explain myself better but can not. Simply put I very much liked the way you developed the character of Sumto. I did not believe that such a character would treat Jocasta the way Sumto did. What would Sumto's sister say! I am not able to suspend disbelief in Sumto. Therefore i will not be continuing with this story.

I actually think there may be some validity to that point - but at the same time I think, and have to trust, I know what I'm doing. I could be wrong, of course, and sometimes am. I also wonder what Sumto's sister will say; depends rather on how much Jocasta says to her before... well, never mind, too early for me to be thinking about that.

And there, I think, we will leave it lie, quite happily on my part.

Friday, 9 March 2012

At Last!

There are a great many things about the consequences of writing that seem to make no sense whatsoever (sales is one - they fluctuate with a will of their own (I mean I'm now selling twice as many copies in the UK as the US and that just doesn't make sense ... but that's not what's on my mind right now). One of them is reviews, or lack of them. They do seem to be a love-it hate-it thing or - in the case of TKTTG and THI, a 'damn I wish you were writing a different series' sort of thing. sorry about that, but I do know what I'm doing (or at least I think I do) and there are plenty of people telling me 'go for it' so I will.

But TPOF isn't the series I'm thinking of here. It's Prison of Power. Now, PoP has been available for three years, more or less; though - to begin with - not widely so. Still, all in all, more than two thousand copies have been bought or given away and, I can only assume read, without a single comment appearing anywhere. Until now.

I am very relieved and somewhat pleased to say that someone (thank you Sandra Gilbert) has finally taken a stand and given the book some kind of feedback. Four stars, I'm happy to say, but no review as such, which is a pity.

Well, maybe one day someone will say what they like and don;t like about it. I have my own opinions and if I had the book to do over I'd probably do it differently; but there's no sense thinking like that. If PoP gathers some support I might be moved to write the intended prequel and sequel.

There are other projects I'd like to write; and will; but right now Sumto's next step is coming along nicely and I don't plan to work on anything else until this one is finished.