Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gargoyle Dreams, Chapter 4

Back to the female protagonist, but I bring her and the gargoyle into the same room, even if they aren't quite interacting yet.

Very nice and measured, like it's meant to be.  I hope it continues like this.

Chapter 4

Father Gregory couldn’t conceal his surprise when Mary actually showed up the following week.  He also seemed both annoyed and pleased at the same time; annoyed to have to think about the gargoyles, yet somehow pleased that someone was finally willing to take the problem out of his hands.
“They’re filthy,” he said. “Be careful. Years of guano.”
She drew plastic gloves from of her backpack and brandished them.  “I’m prepared.  I’m guano take care of the problem.” 
Father Gregory groaned at the pun.
 “All right,” he said, doubtfully. “If you really mean it.  But I won’t blame you if you find it too much.  Do as much or as little as you please.  To tell you the truth, I’m not completely sure these gargoyles will ever be reinstalled.”
She was dressed even more casually than usual, having dug out her oldest clothes out of the back of the closet, a strange combination of a worn dress blouse and some old gym pants.  She didn’t figure anyone was going to see her.
He led her up the spiral stairs.  About halfway up, there was a small bathroom.  “You can get your water from here.  Pour the waste into the toilet if you will.  The sink has old plumbing that clogs up easily.”
There was a small utility closet on the same floor as the storeroom where the gargoyles were stowed, and inside she found brushes and pails.  It was obvious they hadn’t been used in a long time.  There was a bag of powdered soap, and she quickly realized that it was so concentrated she needed to use very little in each pail full of water. 
She stood at the doorway of the storeroom, the steaming pail in one hand, a stiff brush in the other, and stared at the gargoyles, paralyzed by their size and number.
What have I gotten myself into? She asked herself.
The largest gargoyles were toward the back, leaning against the wall just under the window.  The glass was filthy, and the glow of the morning sun barely lit the room.  She looked around for a light switch, but when the bare bulb in the ceiling came on, it didn’t add appreciably to the light.
Near the door were some smaller gargoyles, which had apparently been added to the collection later.  She recognized them as coming from the side of the cathedral, rather than the balustrades.
I’ll start with the easier ones.
A small gargoyle lay on its side, just inside the door.  It was about half her size, and she was able to wrestle it upright.
This is the one, she thought, looking into its eyes.  The stone felt almost warm to the touch.  Despite the glaring eyes, the horns, the gaping jaws, the creature didn’t look malevolent, it seemed almost thoughtful.  As if it had started out angry, full of hate, and had wearied of it, had reconciled with its fate, and was at peace.  She dipped the brush into the water and started on the top of the gargoyle’s head, between the horns.  The dirt and grime and guano at first seemed as hard at the rock itself, but as the moisture seeped in, it started to break apart in chunks.  A big piece slid off, leaving a trail through the dust of the gargoyle’s face.  Underneath was revealed the original stone surface.
The rock had an almost pearlescent shine, and the gray was mixed with streaks of red.  Suddenly, it all seemed worth it.  She wanted to see what this fellow really looked like underneath all the shit.  She pushed down harder with the brush and other chunks came off, and it was as if a bird was hatching new from an egg. The gargoyle’s eyes were shinier than the surrounding rock, as if they had been polished.  It gave the appearance that there was a soul beneath, staring out, pleased with her efforts.
She learned that if she splashed water on the gunk, and let it set for a while, it would loosen it up, making it easier to remove.  It was messy, but she didn’t figure anyone would care.  The water couldn’t harm the slate floor, and she could sweep up the dirt when it all dried.  She had cleaned most of the gargoyle’s head when her cell phone went off.
For a moment, she couldn’t figure out what it was.  It was as if she had somehow been living in the past, in a time before there were such things as phones – when rock and water and air were the principle elements of everyday life.
Her phone was in her backpack. She rose with a groan, realizing that she’d been hunched over for so long that her muscles had cramped.  She hurriedly peeled off her gloves, but by the time she had removed them, the phone had stop ringing.
She felt a sudden dread.  Was she supposed to be at work today?  Sure enough, it was her boss.
“Mr. Sutherland?” she said, when a gruff voice answered.  “Did you need something?”
“Where the fuck are you?” he said.
“It’s…. it’s my day off, sir.  I am volunteering at the church.”
There was a long silence at this.  “I didn’t know you were religious,” he said, finally, as if grudgingly admitting that this might actually be an excuse he couldn’t bully her out of.
“Is there something I can help you with?” she asked.
“Where the fuck did you put the Peterson papers?  He wants the deal done…like yesterday.”
“I put them on your desk before I left last night.  All they need is your signature.”
“…. Oh.”
“I’ll be back first thing tomorrow, sir…” she ventured.
“I see them,” he grunted. Then he asked what he had probably really called her to ask in the first place. “How did Peterson sound? Was he…pleased?”
Mary knew what he was asking.  On a good day, Peterson sounded like he wanted to chop your head off.  On a bad day, he wanted to flay your skin off first.  Mary had sympathy for her boss.  She knew that the rest of the staff thought Sutherland was a complete bastard, but she just tried to imagine herself in his position, having to deal everyday with the likes of that billionaire prick, Gerald Peterson.  It would turn anyone into a cranky S.O.B.
“He sounded…normal,” she answered.  In other words, he sounded like an utter asshole, but no more so than usual.
“Good,” Sutherland said, the relief obvious, but at the same time trying to sound casual.  “That’s good.  I’ll see you in the morning then!”  He hung up without waiting for an answer.
She clicked off the phone and dropped it into her bag.  She turned, starting to put on the gloves, then hesitated.
The gargoyle was looking at her.  Well, of course he was.  He couldn’t help but look at her, facing as he was directly in her direction.  Yet… there was thought behind that look, not only thought, but emotion.  As if the gargoyle was somehow concerned for her, sympathetic to her blight.
“Only one more month,” she said the gargoyle. “Just enough to pay for Mom’s surgery, then I quit.  I swear.”
The gargoyle appeared to blink.
She closed her eyes and swayed, dizzy.  I’ve been working too hard, she thought.  I’m starting to see things. When she opened her eyes, the gargoyle was stone again, and yet the eerie sense of consciousness was still there.
“Look, it’s not my fault that they are ripping people off.  I’m just the secretary.  If it wasn’t me, it would be someone else.”
You are part of the sin, when you ignore the sin, the gargoyle said.
“Okay, that’s it,” she said.  “Just as soon as I finish you off, and I’m going to turn your face to the wall, you judgmental little beast.  Then I’m done for the day.”
Again, she reached for the gloves and again she hesitated.  She reached out with her bare hand and rubbed the top of the gargoyle’s head.
She sprang back with a cry, for it had felt as though the stone had gone soft, like skin, and that it had moved, almost as if their was a living pulse.  It is just anthropomorphism! She thought, in alarm. Hell, you named your damn car Sylvester.  No wonder you think a gargoyle is alive!
She finished cleaning the statue, careful not to look into its eyes again.  When she was done, she stood back and examined it.
It was beautiful.  There was no other word for it.  What had seemed vaguely creepy and threatening covered in soot and grime, was exposed to be a tortured creature, not an evil one.  A creature struggling with its demon nature.  The very essence of guilt and shame.
No wonder I relate to it.
She heard a voice from the doorway.
“I never knew...”  Father Gregory stood frozen, as if stunned by the sight of the gargoyle. 
“Yeah,” she agreed.  “Who knew?”
Father Gregory finally approached the creature and bent down to look into its eyes.
“I think the congregation is wrong,” he said.  “These creatures must to be restored and returned to their proper places.  They are the soul of the cathedral.” He stood and beamed at her.
“Thank you so much for this blessing, Mary Patronis,” he said.
“I’m glad to do it,” she said.  But inside, she was wishing she could back out of it.  ‘The soul of the cathedral,’ the Father had said, and she thought he was right.  At the very least, these gargoyles had the power to expose the soul of those who looked on them.
She left the gargoyle where it was, facing the door.
Just one more month, she thought.  Then I quit that job and never look back.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Gargoyle Dreams, Chapter 3.

Back to the gargoyles POV.  Ties the first two chapters together nicely, and leads to the meeting of the two protagonists in chapter 4.  Nice.

As always, remember this is a first draft.  (Handy excuse, that.)   If you see anything, let me know.

Chapter 3

Mary walked away. The gargoyle yearned to fly after her, to beg her to return. He heard a grinding noise, almost as though he had really moved. An elm leaf, long adhered to his forehead, broke away as if disturbed and floated to the ground.
Mary turned the corner, and Peter was overwhelmed by sorrow, certain as always he’d never see her again. For centuries, life had passed by him on the street below, fleeting and insubstantial. He’d barely noticed. Then, unexpectedly, the soft light of a gentle soul had entered his life.  He was deathly afraid it would be snuffed out, without a thought, without him knowing, and he’ll return to his nothingness, a creature as dull as his façade.
Time, which had passed unnoticed before, slowed like the raindrops falling on his head, dripping down his face, as slow as the erosion of his stone façade, as he waited for her return.  Every windswept passing storm, every bright sunny day, seemed to last forever.  An emptiness without Mary, meaningless except in anticipation.
He never knew when she left whether she would ever come back to the cathedral.  Her faith was weak, almost non-existent, more a childhood memory of God than a real belief, a faith that had come from her parent’s certainty and which had nearly vanished when she’d finally broken away from them.  Her visits to the cathedral were based on nostalgia and whim, and anything stronger that came into her life – another man, another job, anything substantial at all -- could easily replace that soft impulse.
She looked at me!
The gargoyle had tried over the centuries to reach the humans passing below. He stared at them – of course, he could do nothing else if they were in his line of sight, but in addition he concentrated furiously.  “Look at me!”  He’d think.  “Look up!”  Once in a great while, one would look up, as if bothered by a pesky fly.  But the gargoyle had never been certain it wasn’t just coincidence.
She nodded to me!
“A falling leaf from the elm caught her attention,” the ghost of Margerie Marcette said, lightly in his ear.
“Go away,” he said.
“I wish only to save you from disappointment, dear Peter,” she said.  Of all the ghosts, she was his most persistent tormentor.  He’d watched her fall to her death, throwing herself and her unborn bastard child from the parapets, helpless to stop it, long before the elm tree had been planted.  Indeed, the tree was a memorial to her, planted by her sisters.
The unborn child had passed on, a bright light shooting into the sky, into whatever heaven existed.  But Margerie had stayed behind, unwilling to forgive herself, and even more unwilling to forgive the man who had betrayed her.  That man was long dead, but any man served in his stead for her wrath. Even a man who’d been turned into a stone gargoyle, unable to ever tempt a woman again.
“Leave him alone!” Gregory McGwire shouted.  The ghost of the old banker did nothing but shout.  Peter wasn’t certain he could speak at any other volume.  A cuckolded husband on the very steps of the cathedral had killed him.  “In God’s house, as a witness, to be certain you go to Hell!” the man had exclaimed as he fired the fatal shot.
“Witless man,” Margerie said. “You have no idea what Peter is feeling.  You never felt as he feels now.”
That seemed to surprise both Gregory and Peter.  Had Margerie just defended the gargoyle?
“He’s lost in a pathetic illusion,” she continued. “I merely point out the truth.”
“Ah, thank God you’re here to tell us,” Gregory said.  “Otherwise, how would we ever know the truth?”
“Thank God?” she sneered.  “Are you finally willing to face his judgment?’
“A turn of phrase,” Gregory muttered.
Peter tried to ignore the bickering ghosts. Which was difficult, for they stood in the air before his eyes, as firmly as if standing on the sidewalk below. He saw them in human form, with the branches of the elm weaving seamlessly through their incorporeal bodies.  Gregory McGwire was dressed in the height of early 1900’s fashion, top hat and black tie, while Margerie Marcette was dressed in a maid’s uniform from the same era. 
It was doubtless no accident they had found each other.  They were two extremes of the same unending battle.  Their feud had probably kept them anchored as ghosts to the cathedral, whereas alone each might possibly have “given up the ghost” and moved on. Unfortunately for Peter, they tended to linger near his perch, as if asking him to be the judge of their arguments.  He was careful to never express an opinion, but it didn’t seem to matter.  They seemed to be able to read his thoughts anyway.
A human voice drifted down to them and Gregory and Marjerie disappeared.  Ghosts weren’t really there.  Most humans couldn’t see ghosts, but ghosts tended to avoid contact nevertheless. Peter suspected living humans reminded the ghosts too much of their past, and even more of their present, and worst of all, led to thoughts about their future they had long denied. Either way, an end to their hauntings.
He heard the humans coming down the side of the cathedral from above.  It was too early for the cleaning, which cycled around to this part of the building every decade or so.  The repairs were coming closer, but were probably still years away.  Ropes came swinging down in front of his eyes, swaying from the motion of the men descending.
Peter felt a heavy boot scuff up against his right horn.  Once upon a time, the point of the horn might have penetrated the leather sole, but erosion had long sime dulled the point, just as it had faded all his features.  He had wide, glaring eyes, which once upon a time looked as though it was peering into onlooker’s souls, heavy brows, a gaping mouth with the tongue hanging down.  The tongue had once been twice as long, tapering to a point, but it had broken off long ago, the victim of a careless cleaner.  The gargoyles on the side of the building got little attention, and in earlier times had been avoided by most of the workers.
He was crouched over on massive, talon claws, and once it had looked as if he was preparing to leap into the air at any moment. Somehow, over the years, that predatory leap had slowly become less aggressive, as if he was exhausted by the eternal promise of flight.  Now he didn’t so much look prepared to leap forward as to settle back onto his non-existent hindquarters.  He was a blurred version of his once frightening self. 
“Hey, boss,” the man directly above him shouted.  “Come look at this!”
A second set of books descended next to him, and Peter could catch the dusty leather and frayed shoelaces out of the corner of his eyes.
“What?” the second voice said after a moment. “I don’t see anything.”
“Look at the base of this thing,” the first man said.  “See all that broken concrete? It looks like the statue is coming loose.”
“Huh,” the boss said, sounding only half interested.  “Wonder what caused that?  Well, we better take it off, just to be on the safe side.  The holy fathers have been wanting us to either clean or remove these buggers for a long time.” The man’s voice sounded disparaging when he used the words ‘holy fathers.’  “Got your chisel, Freddy?”
“Yeah, the man said.
“I’ll swing a basket down,” the boss said, his voice receding as he ascended back up the ropes.
The ‘basket’ was really a heavy canvas bag.  An overwhelming sense of vertigo came over Peter as he was broken away from his long imprisonment.  For the first time since his transformation his line of vision was upended.  For centuries he’d seen only the part of the universe directly in front of him, now the blue sky tilted above him, the ground looked as if it was falling toward him, and the branches of the trees appeared to be trying to stab him.
The worker struggled to fit the gargoyle into the mouth of the bag, at one point shouting to the passersby below to go across the street.  Men in overalls came from the side and put up ropes around the elm tree to keep pedestrians away.  Bits of concrete showered down, and dust coated the base of the elm with a gray powder.
Peter didn’t so much feel the man’s touch as sense his nearness. 
On overwhelming sense of loss overcame him.  He’d wanted nothing more than to get away from his long captivity, and yet – it had been safe, predictable, and now as he was removed, he felt panic and uncertainty.
Then the canvas bag closed over him, and he was enclosed in darkness and his own thoughts.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tuskers II / Rule of Vampire. 2nd books.

The second books in a longer story arc.

Here's the thing.  I've always thought a book should stand on its own.  That you should be able to read any book in a series and get a complete story, or at least a satisfying climax.

I thought Rule of Vampire worked very well as a book.  In fact, in some ways, I've felt it was my most complete book, despite being the middle of a trilogy.  I liked it a lot.

So it was interesting when Books of the Dead decided to discount Rule of Vampire and Blood of Gold to "Free" for a few months, while putting Death of an Immortal to .99.

I expected that would help sales on Death of an Immortal.  I don't know that it did, much.  But at least over on Barnes and Noble, it pushed Rule of Vampire into the top 2% of the 35K horror novels.  Even when it went to .99, it held that position, followed a couple hundred slots later by Blood of Gold. Not that these are meaningful sales in terms of money.  For instance, in one short burst I sold 170 copies of Led to the Slaughter at the .99 cent rate, which amounted to almost nothing in royalties.  On the other hand, it pushed the book up into higher sales for the next few months.

So basically, free is free.  Got that.

But also, once you've staked out a position on the lists, it appears that the price can fluctuate a little and you can hold that position.

I still think it's kind of weird that everyone who grabbed Rule of Vampire and  Blood of Gold while they were free didn't go ahead and spring for Death of an Immortal for all of .99.  Free is free, I guess.

All this is to get to a roundabout way of talking about Tuskers II.

I like the straightforwardness of Tuskers I so much, I wanted to do the same thing with Tuskers II.  At the same time, I wanted to ramp up the events of II, especially at the end, to make this a worthy followup, but also to make it a stand alone book.

So I'm hoping people will pick it up even if they haven't read Tuskers I yet.  Probably won't happen that way.  I know from the store that people aren't terribly flexible about that.  I read mysteries out of order, for instance, and have no problems with it.  But other people insist on reading them in order.

I was hoping I left enough of an intriguing twist with Tuskers I that people who read it would hurry to read #2, but I wonder if too much time has passed.  Readers may have liked Tuskers I, but that doesn't meant they'll leap to buy #2.

I think what may happen is -- anyone who reads Tuskers I from now on will immediately turn to #2.  And that will take some time to show an effect.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gargoyle Dreams, Chapter 2

I got into the POV of the female protagonist, who is a modern woman so doesn't have the poetic stream of consciousness of the gargoyle.  So a change of tone.

I like how the two chapters fit together, and how they line up a third chapter.

So those of you who are Catholic are probably going to find things wrong here, so point them out if you will.  I will be doing research on gothic cathedrals to get the details right, but for now I'm just getting the story down.

Chapter 2

Mary lit a candle, asking herself why. Bartholomew was an asshole, living the high life with his baby bride. She’d supported him all the way through law school, and when it was over, he was earning a high income and she was left with pretty much nothing.
Why should she pray for his soul?  Why should she even care?
I don’t care, she thought. Yet here I am.
The cathedral was comforting. The gargoyles that decorated its walls didn’t scare her.  It was as if it was filled with ghosts of the past, who were watching her. She walked through those tall doors and it was as if she was home. These ghosts were on her side. The first time she had walked by, she’d been drawn in.  Later, she’d brought Bartholomew, who was a lapsed Catholic.  After that, whenever they had a fight, she would retreat here – until that last time, when he followed her up to the roof.
When he’d struck her, it had felt as if the ghosts of the cathedral had rallied around her in the spectral support, and she had heard herself telling him to leave,  “I never want to see you again.”
He’d just grunted, “Gladly,” and left.
She’d sat on the edge of the roof for a long time, crying, and it had felt as if the gargoyles around her had watched her in sympathy.
Why are they on my side? If they only knew what I do at work.  Why don’t they haunt me instead?
Because I’m a good person, she answered herself.  Because I do my best.  Because…
She had to believe that much, at least. She’d lost faith and hope along with everything else, but she had to try to still believe that being a good person was reward enough, if not in this life, then in the next.
You don’t believe there is a next life.
Mary shook her head. She’d given up trying to understand herself, her feelings toward her ex-husband were probably some of the least confusing.  She didn’t like him, but she had loved him once and thought there was still a chance he might pull his head out of his ass someday.
By lighting a candle?
She laughed, and it echoed in the nearly empty vastness of the chamber.  Lighting a candle to him was really just an excuse to visit the cathedral. An old woman sitting on a bench a few yards away frowned at her, and Mary gave her an embarrassed look.
“Where are you visiting from, Sister?” The question came from behind her, and she rose and faced the young priest smiling down at her.
She realized immediately his mistake. She’d worn old clothes, sensible shoes, no makeup, her hair was under a scarf.  But she couldn’t figure out a way to tell him the truth without embarrassing him.  Could she pull it off?
“I’m…from here,” she said.
“Funny, I thought I knew everyone in the city.”  He spoke with a slight Scottish brogue. He stared at her with the fixed smile, then a red glow began in his cheeks and spread over his round face.  He was a little on the heavy side, his hair was a little long, the way it looked when someone neglected his usual haircut.  He had stylish sideburns and bright green eyes.  “Oh, my gosh.  Don’t tell me…you’re not a nun, are you,” he finished his question with a statement.
Something about his innocent embarrassment made her giggle.  When was the last time she’d seen a man blush?  “Far from it, Father.  I’m not even Catholic.”
She could feel him examining her, and she turned away.  She always dressed down, though maybe not as much as today.  She hid herself in as plain an appearance as possible, because when she dressed up and when she wore makeup she looked like a model.  A true blonde, with bright blue eyes, high cheekbones, a long nose to keep her face from looking perfect.  Looking like a model caused more complications than it was worth.
“Well, the offer still stands,” the priest said.  “I’d be happy to give you a tour of the cathedral, places most people don’t see.  I’m Father Caffrey, by the way.”
“Mary Patronis.”
He laughed.  “A good Latin name, at least.”
“Where are you from, Father Caffrey?” she asked, as he motioned her to follow him to one side of the church.
“I came here from Edinburgh when I was a student,” he said, while descending some wide marble stairs.  “I never went back.  And you, Mary?  What do you do for a living?”
She felt a chill go through her.  She came here because she wanted to forget what her job was. If she thought too much about that, it would spoil this place.
“I’m a secretary,” was all she said.
He led her through the catacombs below, which were strangely homespun.  Rooms were furnished with modern equipment and furniture, and the stone and brick was covered up as much as possible, as if the gothic origins were smothered in a soft blanket.
The second floor naves were ornate and aged, and again the feeling of peace came over her.  He watched her.  “Are you sure you aren’t Catholic?” he asked.
“Maybe in spirit,” she said. 
“Well, that is the point, isn’t it?” he laughed.  “Just let me know when you want to convert and I’m your priest.”
He led her to some narrow stairs that wound spiraling toward the ceiling.  “I’ve got a real treat for you,” he said.  “Something few people have seen.”
He led her out onto the roof.  The city spread out below, bustling and noisy.  They were high enough and far enough away from the action that they were in an island of peace.  Huge gargoyles spotted the edges of the roof, and carvings of other mythical creatures were cared into the stone of the roof itself. It was as if they were greeting her.
“I have a confession to make,” she said.  “I’ve been here before. I snuck up here when you were doing repairs.”
“We never stop doing repairs,” he laughed.  “Well, since you used the word ‘confession’ I guess I’ll have to absolve you.”
She looked out over the city and a feeling of peace came over her. She must have been Catholic in some past life.  Everything about this cathedral felt like home.
“It has a holy spirit, doesn’t it,” Father Caffrey said quietly.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s almost enough to make me a believer.”
He didn’t answer, but stood companionably at her side.  Then he touched her lightly on her shoulder.
“I have to get back to work, Mary,” he said. “But the next time you decide to light a candle, come look me up.  I always have hot coffee in my office. I think you’re a closet Catholic, and it won’t take much to turn you to our side.”
“If you keep being so nice, I may have to join the church just because I’ll owe you.”
“I can think of worse reasons,” he said.  “Besides, I think once you join, you’ll find other reasons.”
He let her go first, and as she descended the stairs, she saw a room to one side that she hadn’t noticed before.  A horrible face stared out at her, and gave her a fright.
“What’s that?” she asked.
Father Caffrey almost bumped into her.  He looked over, confused, and then smiled.  “As I said, this joint is always being repaired.  That’s where they put the construction materials.”
She walked down the short passage to the room and went in. Along with blocks of granite and tiles and piles of wood, there were gargoyles laying about in every nook in cranny.  They looked neglected, as if they’d been pushed to the side, many of them toppled over, looking forlorn.
“Why are the gargoyles here?”
Father Caffrey grimaced.  “They were taken off during repairs.  The plan was to clean them up, perhaps even get some replacements, but there are a bunch of members of the parish who would rather they didn’t go back at all.”
“Oh, no,” she said.  “You have to put them back.  Your cathedral isn’t a cathedral without them.”
“Okay, now I know you’re kidding me.  Only a true Catholic would say that.”
“They really shouldn’t be treated that way,” she found herself saying.  “It’s very undignified.”
“Well, they’re gargoyles.  They don’t care.”
“Are you so sure?” she asked.  He looked at her oddly, and she laughed as if she was making a joke. 
He led her to the front doors of the church, and she started to wave goodbye.  At the last second, she sprinted up the stairs and caught his sleeve.
“Would you mind,” she asked.  “If I cleaned up the gargoyles?  Made them ready to be put back?  I mean, if that’s what you all decide to do?”
He looked at her surprised.  “We don’t have much money, Mary.  And when we do hire, we tend to hire among the congregants.”
“I don’t want to be paid.  I just want to make them look nice.”
He frowned, looking back into the church as if there were answers there.  “To tell the truth, none of the nuns want to go near the things.  And…I doubt they’ll ever spring for a budget to repair them.  So…if you really want to do it, I’ll find a way.”
“Then I’ll see you next week at the same time?” she asked.
“You bet,” he said.  “Be prepared to get dirty, Mary Patronis.  Those gargoyles have generations of pigeon poop on them.”
She laughed and waved.  As she walked down the sidewalk to the parking garage, she felt as if she was being watched.  She looked up, and behind an old elm tree she saw a small gargoyle she’d never noticed before.  It was almost as if it was looking directly at her.
She nodded to the creature, and turned away.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Gargoyle Dreams. Chapter 1.

I started a new book.  (I've put the first short chapter below -- remember it is a first draft.)

Fuck me.

What the hell's wrong with me? 

Anyway, it's called Gargoyle Dreams and is meant to be a very poetically written novel.  Not quite so straightforward as the last few.  I'm going to try to do a thousand words a day, separate from everything else I'm doing.

I'm doing it for the pure pleasure of the language.  I don't know if it will be readable by anyone else. 
But it sure was fun to write the first 1200 words...

I forget sometimes that I love just writing.  When the words flow and sentences pop up that are more original than I expected, when characters start doing things, when the story goes in directions that are surprising.

Sometimes, though, it's just the flow of words, the poetic way it streams and gathers meaning and just feels good to write.

I'm going to take a step back today and try to think through what I'm trying to accomplish here.

I know I want it to be a "Gothic Love Story." Gothic in the classical rather than the genre interpretation of the word.

I wouldn't mind at all if it is a novella, instead of a novel.  Thing is, I can probably always make a novella into a novel by adding a character or two.

I spent most of last night half awake half asleep, while my characters were having brilliant dialogues and I was saying, Shut Up!  Get back in your cage!  Come back to me when I can actually do something about it!

You have to train your subconscious to behave, I tell you.  Or never get any sleep or have any schedule or get anything done or rouse myself from the fictional dream.  Walk through life half here and half there.

When you start a book, there are endless possibilities until you start narrowing down the plot.  While I want this to be an "inspiration" book, that is, a book I write slowly and only when I'm inspired, I have also learned that I need to insert some critical thinking if I want the end result to be worth anything.

Last night was weird because in addition to the brilliant dialogue (which was brilliant because I was half asleep and which I suspect would make zero sense in the light of day) I also saw some of the many directions this story could go from what I've set up in the first chapter.  Many many different possibilities.

I want to feel my way with this one, let the language take precedence instead of the plot.  But I also want to hedge my bets a little by using what I've learned to create a plot.

So anyway, the thing to remember is that I love writing and creating.  Selling is something out of my control, and really, I care about it mostly because I want my publishers to be rewarded for taking a chance on me more than anything else.

But occasionally, like in the writing of the chapter below, just the process of writing is more than enough reward.

Chapter 1

He sensed her coming long before she came into view.  The boulevard was long and straight and he was frozen in such a position that he could see most of the distance to the monument, and what he couldn’t see easily, he had filled in by years of study, catching a broken stone shining in the low sun one day, the high branch of a tree in the last rays of an autumn twilight on another day until he had memorized every square inch of what was possible to see.
Most visitors to the cathedral came from the side nowadays, parking their cars in the garage one block over.  He caught only glimpses of the parishioners as they darted into view below him and then into the building.  People had sped up over the last few decades, flickering in and out of his line of sight like so many birds, and about as important to him.  The pigeons shat on his head and the humans spewed poison into the air and he could feel the acids from both eating into his stone body, but he couldn’t do anything about either indignity.
He felt her coming from the moment she first had the impulse.  Waking up, taking a shower, deciding that she hadn’t lit a candle in the church for a long time.  Putting on sensible clothes and forgoing makeup since she didn’t expect to meet anyone she knew either along the way or inside the cathedral itself.  No one she knew went to church, of any kind.
It was a residual compulsion on her part, a forlorn hope that maybe it did some good, that maybe by a prayer and a thought and a lit candle and a little dust on her knees as she knelt, that it would do some good, that Bartholomew would escape the hell he no doubt deserved.
Was it a blessing or a curse that the gargoyle felt her emotions, sensed her thoughts and desires, suffered with her when she was hurt, exulted when she was triumphant?  He himself wasn’t sure.  He’d been in a dim fog for centuries before she came into his existence, happily miserable or miserably happy to just exist, forgetting his origins, forgetting that he had ever been human, and able to move and think and feel.
Would he have been better off if she had never come along?
He questioned it, but he always came to the same conclusion.  It didn’t matter. He now only existed because of her.  Without Mary Patronis he was just a rock on a wall, carved into a shape that had once been meant to frighten children and sinners, but which in the modern age was a curiosity, a whimsical reminder of a more primitive past.  His consciousness would have eventually flickered out completely, and he would have been glad for it. The world had no need of him and he had no need of the world.
Now he was more vibrantly alive than at any time since he’d been cursed into this shape.  Vibrant in his senses, if not his movements.  He felt the workmen on the other side of the cathedral, striving as always to prop up the bulky walls with reinforcements, pinning the broken stones together to last yet another century when new technology would patch the giant edifice together for yet another century.  There was always the steady drumbeat of hammers and chisels, but where once it had lulled him into a dreamless sleep, it now helped keep him awake, forever conscious of Mary Patronis and her infrequent religious whims.
He lived for these fitful days.  Her blood was his blood, her thoughts were his thoughts, her body was his body.  He walked with her, feeling the freedom of movement as an ecstatic felt the presence of God.
She was coming, and he longed to break free of his perch, to fly to her side, to rub his gnarled head against her.  It would free him, he sensed.  She would turn him back into a man.  Just a simple touch.
But it was impossible of course.  Even if he could move, she would flee screaming, from a nightmare come alive.  Her fear would freeze him in place, just as his creator had intended.  He was the manifestation of human fears and desires, but locked into a shape that was a reminder of sin, but could not sin itself.  The gargoyle was stuck between the living and dead, a reminder to both.
The dead at least recognized him.  They teased him sometimes with their freedom of movement, swirling about him, but he ignored them.  Ghosts were less substantial than he, and they knew it in the remnants of their hearts and souls.  And remnants were all the dead were left with, if they chose to stay in the mortal plane, whereas the gargoyle was alive inside, bursting with hope and love.
All for Mary Patronis.  All because of a drop of blood.
He had been vaguely aware of the human couple arguing above him.  It was unusual for the public to be up there – forbidden by signs and locks, but somehow this man and woman had managed to sneak by the barriers, to carry on their argument alone in the middle of the city, above the congregants below, the non-believers rushing by outside.
The man had struck her and a single drop of blood had flown over the side of the cathedral, dropping past the other, larger gargoyles with their huge spouts to drain the water, past the arched stained glass windows, past the nesting pigeons, landing on the head of a small, neglected gargoyle, half hidden by the tall elm that had burst through the sidewalk below.  Landing in the gargoyle’s right eye.
It had burst from the light of her, the love and the frustration she was feeling toward her husband Bartholomew, so strong and pure of emotion that the gargoyle almost broke free.
Would he have flown in freedom or plummeted to the sidewalk to shatter?  He moved a few centimeters, he was certain.  He could see parts of the boulevard after that day that he had never seen before.
“You shall be stone,” the priest had said.  “You will never again feel movement.  You will linger forever, frozen in purgatory.  And be damned with you.”
The man turned to gargoyle, who had once been known as Peter Carmelo, had secretly believed the punishment to be fair and just at the time.  But even as his features changed, showing the anguish of that curse, he had fought against it.  Not because he didn’t deserve it, but because he wanted to die instead.  The agonies of hell were more appropriate than the timelessness of purgatory. 
The drop of blood from Mary Patronis had awoken his guilt, but something else had also happened.  The chance of redemption.  His long years of reflecting on his guilt and his sins had given him a small piece of wisdom, and inside he knew that he would never again be the evil man he had once been.  Given the chance he would do good.
Mary Patronis had given him that gift.
And he loved her for it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Playing coy with your plot.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that some books are a little coy with their plot. They spend most of their time going sideways, hinting and teasing, not really changing much.


The world is full of possibilities.  Go for it.  Got straight to the point.  Go the the logical extremes.  Satisfy the readers expectations.  It not about spinning out a story for as long as you can, it's about delivering entertainment as fast as you can.

There is always more where that came from.

There have been several so-called 'literary' S.F. and Fantasy books that I've just hated because of that.  I won't name them (OK. I'll name one of them, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: how can you make the Napoleonic wars and magic boring?) that simply never deliver.  They promise great things, and then slip right by them.

Why? Because they think it is more literary to not actually go there?

Hell, unless you can write like Gabriel García Márquez, don't even try.  Magic realism is frankly a pain in the ass, because it is neither real nor magic.  Choose a side, dammit. If you're going to write an alternate history of the Jewish experience after WWII (The Yiddish Policeman's Union) then make it more than about how you have finally reconciled not playing chess with your father.  Really.  I don't care.

It seems to me that you should be able to deliver a complete story in, oh, I don't know -- under 100K words.  It seems to me that there is absolutely nothing wrong with plot.  It seems to me that actually "going there" is a favor to the reader.

Yes life is ambiguous and less than straightforward.

But you know what?  Life is ambiguous and less than straightforward!!!!  Let me read a book that gets to the point and gets to it fast and entertainingly. That's all I ask.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tuskers II is out!

It's finally here.

I hope everyone likes it.  I really tried to up the ante with this one, as well as the next.  Go to the logical extreme and have fun with it.

At least, I had fun with it!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Master Todd.

Spent four days in Portland for Todd's Master's graduation from the Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he got the MFA Applied Craft + Design Program Award.

A year's worth of socialization in four days.  I will now go into a coma for a week.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Art show people.

Went to an art show last night.  Todd is getting his Masters.  So a real arty crowd.  Great for people watching and completely out of my experience.

Got to be too much at one point. Linda and I were sitting on a bench outside and a couple of women came up and said, "Can we take your picture?  You are the cutest couple here."

"You mean the oldest, squarish couple, don't you?"

So they took a picture and walked off in a swirling of gypsie scarfs and peaked hats.  Heh.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Mad Max: everything I should hate.

So went to a movie that had everything I hate.  Revving engines, monster trucks, explosions every few seconds, car chases, overblown spectacle.  Every red flag.

Of course, I loved it.  Going to see it again.

Mad Max: Fury Road.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My wife the continuity hawk.

Linda read The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Murders for me.

She liked it, but she always notices anything that doesn't fit, anything which isn't consistent.

Which is good, you know.  There are so many things she could criticize me for, but she usually reserves her comments for when I describe a character wrong, or for a plot hole, or anything that doesn't ring true.

I've now written enough books that I've dedicated them all to just about every member of the family, as well as significant friends.  So now what?

Well, I could just as easily dedicate every book to Linda.  She is incredibly supportive and helpful.  For those who don't know, we actually met in a writer's group 33 years ago.  So she knew what she was getting...

I hear so many stories of spouse's who don't understand the time-sink, but Linda totally gets it.  In fact, she does the same thing, disappearing into her room for days at a time.

I was very serious about my writing back when we met, but with a new family, I had to compromise and get some real work, which turned out to be owning a bookstore.  I thought I'd get back to writing one of these days, but 30 years went by...

Linda actually took up serious writing again before me.  She's working on the third book of her series, after being waylaid by changes at the Bookmark.  I'm hoping that she's back on track and that she'll finish her trilogy.  She has a wonderful imagination and empathy for her characters, and I think it gives her joy.  When she finishes, we'll get some physical copies to sell at our stores.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Middle of the road music.

Without trying, we've accumulated over 500 music CD's at the Bookmark, which we sell for 5.00 each. Every once in a while, I check them out.

So I'm not going to be judgmental here, everyone has their own taste.  But the selection is the most middle of the road pop you can imagine.  Susan Boyle, Kenny G, Indigo Girls, and on and on.  Not one of them I need to have.

I found an REM album yesterday, a greatest hits Elton John, a Bruce Hornsby, a Willie Nelson standards album, and two Who albums.  (I think the Who CD's where the only ones that rocked in the entire collection, unless you believe Air Supply rocks.)

Anyway, I found it fascinating.  It goes to show, if you will, that our clientele at the Bookmark isn't looking for edgy stuff, apparently.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

To coin a phrase: 'Uncanny Mountain.'

I've noticed in several reviews of Tuskers there is a criticism that a Wild Pig Apocalypse wasn't believable. 

At first, this criticism made no sense to me. So hyperintelligent pigs on the rampage is less believable than, what?  Vampires, werewolves, or zombies?

Not to mention, books like Watership Down or Duncton Wood.  I mean, would you write a review that said: "Intelligent bunnies?  How far fetched."

So why did this book face this criticism?

I think I've kind of figured it out.

There's a theory in robotics, and it applies to animation as well, called "The Uncanny Valley." Here's the Wikipedia definition:

"The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of aesthetics which holds that when features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some observers. The "valley" refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of beings as subjects move toward a healthy, natural likeness described in a function of a subject's aesthetic acceptability."

So we can give life and believability to stick figures, but have a harder time accepting figures that look almost like humans.  We can accept Invader Zim easier than Polar Express. 

We just notice what is wrong more...or if you will, what is far fetched.

So Charlotte's Web can be inhabited by talking pigs and spiders but it's understood that it is fantasy, it's a fable.

In other words, in a totally paradoxical way, you can accept Wilbur as real because you understand he isn't real.

But even try to explain why there are such things as "hyper-intelligent pigs" and suddenly the believability bar is raised.  Letting The Force be vague is preferable than going into Mitochondrial DNA.

I'm going to call this Uncanny Mountain....

I've written Tuskers and The Vampire Evolution Trilogy and The Virginia Reed Adventures as realistically as I know how.  I tried to have 'real' people interacting with make-believe creatures -- and by so doing, I've probably made things more difficult for myself. 

Personally, (of course) I think it works to the benefit of the books, but I realize I am asking people to set aside their demand that things be realistic in every way.  This is Dark Fantasy I'm writing.  Horror.  I just assume that if the readers are picking up a speculative genre, they've already shown their willingness to suspend disbelief.

 I've just tried to set it in the real world.  By doing so, I've created a Uncanny Mountain.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Red Ink.

When I add material on Word, it comes out in red ink.  So far, on the first three chapters, I've added about 500 words each.  Which if extended all the way through the book would make the book about 15% larger.  That isn't the goal at all.  In fact, the faster moving the story the better, as far as I'm concerned.

But I also want it to be fully fleshed out.

I've now done three chapters of The Last Fedora using the "prose poetry" method.

What I do is, I read the original chapter, then go off with a notepad and pen and just let the words spin.  Just visualize the scene and try to tap into the emotion of it and let the poetry side of my brain wander.  It's turning out that the language isn't all that much more "poetic," though I tend to use metaphors more. But it is more descriptive. Then I look for places to insert the new material.

Mostly, it's just adding information about the characters or descriptions of the scene.  Sometimes I can jigger the tone a little.

For instance, I have a little ten year old boy, Tony, who in some ways is the main protagonist in the book.  In the third chapter, I just wanted to emphasize what a positive, upbeat kid he is.  (An impoverished kid stuck in a bad part of town.) He uses the term "I'm gonna..." all the way through.

His friend makes fun of him.  "I'm gonna, I'm gonna..." Andre mimicked Tony's resolute voice.

That kind of thing.  The basic structure and tone of the novel is there.  I'm not making any structural changes.  I'm just trying to fill in, add a little more texture to the backstory.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing?  Does it add or subtract to the book?

I think it's more or less three steps forward and two steps back.  The straight lines of the narrative are disrupted slightly in order to give the reader more information.  I also have the chance to look for the more dramatic turning points and make the payoffs stronger.  Sometimes I can add a nicely formed sentence or a telling detail.

Linda has read the first two chapters and says that overall it probably is an improvement.  I'm feeling like it probably is too, if I do it right.

I'm not sure yet whether it will need another editing job after this.  I don't think I can afford two editing jobs on the same book.  Maybe just ask Lara to look over the sections in Red Ink, and see if they pass muster.

Or maybe just figure that the publisher will be doing a copy-editing job too.  So far, I've been handing them completely vetted manuscripts -- and I'm not sure that is normal.  Certainly, it's a luxury. 

But I'm trying to establish myself, and a little investment at first (if, at first, I mean the first ten books or so) probably wouldn't be such a bad thing.  If it improves the book, I should do it. Because the book is going to be out there, standing or falling on its merits.  So I need to try to get it right.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Boy do I feel it, all the time, at the success of other writers.  No one else ever talks about it, so maybe I'm the only one.

But I take a step back, a deep breath, I think about it, and I try to subdue it.

Linda says, "I like it when you're successful."

"Yeah, but you're a better person than me."

Much like when I get new competition for my store, I have to appeal to both reason and my better nature. Being competitive in the sense of doing my best, trying to learn from the other guy, and responding to their challenges -- that's good.  Being pissed off about it, or trying to 'crush' the competition (which is my first reaction) is bad.

One of Ragnarok's writers, Steve Diamond, is doing very well on Amazon with the book Residue.  

Envy, at first.  Then delight for him.  And then third, the idea that what's good for a Ragnarok author is good for Ragnarok and what's good for Ragnarok is good for me.

I've become much less judgmental about other writers, at the end of the day.  Not only do I fight my envy, but I've become much more tolerant.  Everyone is doing their best.  I'm not going to judge them.

I watch what I say.  I would never post a negative review.  I know how fucking hard this is.

It isn't a zero sum game, this writing.  Their success does not keep me from doing my best.

There are so many factors, that envy simply doesn't enter into it.

What will be will be for reasons beyond what I feel.  So that little burst of envy I allow to exist -- not like I could deny it -- and then I let it subside, and let both reason and mature nature take hold instead. 

Good for you guys.  Good for you, Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  Good for you everyone who is ahead of me in the rankings.

I know how you must feel.  Or I would like to...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

New trick for rewriting.

I've mentioned it before as an idea, but I'm actually trying it for the first time.

The Trick:  I read a chapter.  I set it aside.  I pick up a notepad and pen.  I put myself in my self-hypnotic prose poetry frame of mind.  I just start writing down stuff. 

When I'm finished, I go through the chapter and insert the prose poetry wherever applicable.

The only danger is -- I might be getting a little too metaphoric.  So for instance, here's where I'm describing my main character, who is a Golem.

Here's the original passage:  "He was so quiet, so light on his feet, so unmoving when he didn't have to move, that he could be standing right next to you and you would forget he was there."

And this is the line I added:  "He was impossible to read, like trying to find emotion in a boulder."

So is that too much?  Just enough?  Not necessary?

Another example:  "Jacob moved suddenly, lifting the meth head by the neck.  He raised the man's right arm, and then his left, as if trying to decide."

To which I added: "The tweaker was like a rag doll, silent and helpless in the hands of the giant. Sal shivered.  He would have had no problem shooting the guy. Hell, he would happily take a baseball bat to the man's body until he heard the bones break.  But there was something merciless in the way the Golem held his victim, the casual nature of it, like a cruel boy ripping the arms off his sister's doll."

Too much?  Better?  Just enough?  Not necessary?

I feel like my writing is more than adequate, but I've spent most of my effort on storytelling, not the writing itself.  This has been mostly a good thing, I think.  I get right to it, and don't waste a lot of time on extraneous material.

However, I've always felt that I could use a bit more description, a bit more telling detail. 

The other thing that happens is, once I open that 'changing things' door, I tend to find stuff in the chapter that I would like to improve.  Anything that gets me thinking, or inspires me to actually work on the editing part, is a good thing.

I'm risking overdoing it, I suppose.  But I can always trim it before I finish.  Easier to cut than to add, basically. 

The other problem is that Lara has already edited this book, and I'm making so many changes that I worry that I'm negating her edits.

The way to avoid this is to do the "prose poetry" part before sending it off to her.  Problem is, I need a month of not working to gain perspective on a manscript, about the same time it takes for Lara to edit, so it's kind of perfect timing to do it after she sends to book back. 

So I'm basically taking a chance that in trying to make it better, I'm making it worse.

I don't think my original writing is so off that it doesn't pass muster.  That is, the editing is a bonus.  Plus, well, the publishers also edit, so maybe I can count on them. I think I can trust my instincts on this.

If I just pay particular attention to the added words, making sure they are grammatically correct, I should be able to make it work.

I'm torn about it.  I like adding little artistic touches -- makes me feel like a novelist, as opposed to a writer.  So as long as I think it adds something to the book, I think I probably should do it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Here's a little interview I did.

A little interview I did with Ragnarok Publications.!QA-Duncan-McGeary-Author-of-the-Tuskers-Series/caet/553eab1f0cf2adc1acf37d3c

One change since I did the interview.  I don't eat bacon everyday like I joked.  In fact, I don't eat pork at all.  These animals are like three year old children.  Can't face that fact anymore.

Got a note from Tim Marquitz, who is apparently editing Tuskers II (lucky him).  He wondered about the use of the word "spell" for someone relieving someone else for guard duty.  Interesting, because to me this seems like a natural term -- "I'll spell you soon."  My parents came from Minnesota, maybe it's a regionalism? Or maybe I just picked it up from reading.

So an easy fix is the use the word "I'll relieve you soon."  Right.  Except I used the word "relief" in the sentence before. 

Writing is hard.

 I haven't written for several days now, and it feels weird.  Like I'm not doing anything.  I really believe I should give myself a rest, if only for a few weeks, and come back to the whole thing fresh.  My son Todd is getting a Masters in Art later in the month and I'm going to the event and all and that kind of thing is completely nerve-wracking for me -- brings out my agoraphobia big time -- but I need to be there. I feel myself getting nervous weeks in advance.  So going to go do that, and then come back and dedicate myself to writing again.