Monday, December 31, 2012

Dexter and Homeland -- holiday viewing.

Thanks to whoever mentioned Video on Demand, we got to watch the first episode of HOMELAND which I had accidentally erased.

Meanwhile, we blew through the whole season of Dexter in about four days.

So I have this sore gum and I've been kind of soaking my mouth in salt water -- and by that method I found out how truly funny I think the Debra character is.  I mean, I kept almost spewing the salt water.  It wasn't so much what she said, though the foul mouth routine is pretty funny, but the way she said it.

And it wasn't just the foul mouth lines that got me laughing.  It was also how often she did it -- just with unexpected line readings.  Then she'd go an do some amazingly authentic emotional acting.  Fantatastic.


They are going to have to end this show, because they've just made Dexter a truly bad guy.  Going to be hard to root for him from now on.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Do you call yourself a writer?

May sound strange, but I've rarely called myself a writer.  To me,  if I wasn't making a living as a writer, or at least doing it full time, I wasn't really a writer.  (How you do the latter without doing the former is a good question.)

Even when I was a published writer,  it didn't feel comfortable.

For the last 30 years, almost no one who knew me knew about that part of my life.  It was always awkward -- questions about where the books were, how they did, and so on.  (That has been resolved somewhat by the net -- my books seem to be all over the place, just not right here.)  It also -- again -- always sounded kind of pretentious.

So with 2013, I'm finally going to call myself a writer again.  It's been like a second job over the last year, at least equal to my job as a businessman.  Over the last two years it was like a long slow fall into the writer life.  I was like testing the waters, seeing if I liked it, seeing what I could do and how long and how hard it would be.

Now?  I'm ready to say to myself that this is a real deal.  I really am very concentrated on writing.  Some of my efforts will be good(?) some will be bad, some will be inbetween.  Some will be hard, some will be easy, and some will be inbetween.  The point is to just do it.

I used to love the Joseph Campbell quote -- until it got overused by everyone and took on the shaky glow of a cliche.  (Hey, I watched the original Moyer interviews, before everyone discovered him because of George -- "I write myth" -- freakin Lucas.)

"Follow your bliss, and doors will open that you didn't even know were there."

It certainly was true the last time I tried.  I didn't make a career as a writer, but I met Linda at a writer's group, I got hired at Pegasus Books primarily on the basis of me being a writer, and opened some unexpected doors.

I absolutely love that I don't have to answer to agents and publishers.  That I can handcraft a book myself, and put it out.  The art of the work itself, and not the commercial response.  (Not that I would mind a commercial response. hint hint)

Calling myself a writer has a practical side as well.   I'm going to start collecting receipts for what I spend on my efforts -- whether they are writing trips, or commissioned art, or just paper and pencils.

Because if a writer is someone who writes, well, hey I'm a writer.

Handcrafting a book.

One thing I didn't see, which has been pretty delightful, is how in ebooking my efforts I would end up handcrafting the presentation.  Picking fonts, deciding where and when to use chapter breaks, words per page, etc. etc. and so on and so on.  Yes, I'm aware that the final arbiter will be the owner of the tech device on the other end.  Still, there is something about creating the look of a book yourself that is really satisfying.

Especially the covers. 

I thought this would be a problem, but it's been really fun.  One cover came off the internet as an existing work, which the artist modified for me.  The second cover was an original photo who a friend on her own inspiration photoshopped into a nifty image.  The third was a commissioned work from a local artist, who I have gone through a couple weeks of designing and adapting.

How cool is that?

I was watching some show where some actor or another was talking about how hard it was to be an actor -- that a writer can write and an artist can art, but an actor needs an audience.

I took away from that bromide that I was lucky to be able to write -- if only for myself. 

And it's true.

I mean, a writer and an artist wants an audience, too. But that doesn't keep us from doing our thing.

Anyway, the point of this is -- as I wrote these latest efforts, I began with the intention of putting them online with a savvy marketing effort, aided and abetted by young people more savvy than me.

Then, as I realized I was on my own, (I think in the end, writer's -- artists of all kinds -- are ultimately on their own)  I had second thoughts.  I decided I would send my efforts off to an agent.

Just one form rejection later, and I swung back to putting the books online myself.  I would do whatever promotion as was comfortable and natural, understanding that it probably wouldn't be much and as a result my books probably wouldn't be noticed much.

But since this first new book -- NEARLY HUMAN -- is a "training" or "exercise" effort, maybe that's O.K.

FREEDY FILKINS was written as a lark, so it's O.K. there too.

With the help of a tech savvy friend, I now have a website totally dedicated to my writing.  I have a Facebook for both me and my writer persona.  (I've been blocked by my technical ineptitude from doing much with them so far -- but I'll get there.)  That's probably just the beginning, and it's been surprisingly satisfying.  I found I actually LIKED connecting with old friends and family and classmates.  Big surprise.

It's been a process.  No doubt it seems like it's taking forever, since I started talking about this a couple of years ago.  Writing itself has been both easier and harder than I thought it would.  I had fun writing FREEDY, but it isn't exactly deep.  But then again, I've struggled with NEARLY HUMAN, and it isn't exactly literature either.

It isn't meant to be.  It's supposed to be a casual read.  The same kind of thing I like reading. 

I don't think NEARLY HUMAN succeeds -- so the question is, should I put it out?   It worked as an 'exercise' but never quite gelled.  After struggling with the story forever, I'm finally taking a cold hard look at the 'writing' and I'm not altogether happy with that either.

But -- there is enough interesting stuff there that I'm going to go ahead and produce it -- and hope that a few other people find it interesting, but not be shocked if other people don't like it.  I learned from it and now it's on to the next thing. 

I'm proud of myself for making several more efforts to make the book work -- it did improve the story, but ultimately, I think struggling with it any more is counter-productive.

The deciding factor is -- I'm not always the best judge of what I've done, so I'd like to give the book a chance.

I think I needed some creative outlet.  I'm pretty committed to this writing life now and I'm very much enjoying it.

One more version, please.

Well,  I got the painted Freedy Filkins cover, and it didn't quite do it for me.

We'd gone through about 4 drawings before the final, and there were parts of each I liked, so I spent all night cutting and pasting different elements until I found a version I liked.

I don't know if she'll be willing to do yet another version, so I'm going to offer her two payments--one which she's done so far, and one for what I'd like her to try one more version.

All the pieces are there, but they needed to be arranged. Colors have to be right.  The picture is a little too busy with design elements.

I need more blue sky above the picture for the title.  I need to simplify the colors -- and so on.  It's a matter of simplifying and cohering.

I hope she'll agree to do it one more time.

What I'm noticing with artists is that they are focused on the art -- duh.  But I'm as focused on the design elements, how it works as the cover of a book, which isn't exactly the same thing.

I think I'm good at the designing of a picture, that is, which elements go where.  I just can't draw.  (Similar to people telling me that they've got ideas for a book, they just aren't good with words...heh.)

Anyway, she works fast, so I'll probably still have the final version within a week or so.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

One Pound Racism

Just caught the new youtube sensation, One Pound Fish.

Interesting, not as interesting as Gangnam Style, but a pretty catchy tune.

Before I say anything else -- good for this guy, I hope he makes some money.  The broader context of what I say next, really don't reflect on him at all.

 I started reading some of the comments.  And there are some knee-jerk racism in the comments.

So what's happening here?  On one hand, we're getting some exposure to other ways and other cultures.  On the other hand, it seems to bring out the xenophobia in people.

When I watched the original video, it seemed to me that the people were enjoying it, but also -- I don't know -- being a little patronizing.  Not in a mean way, but still...

Maybe the whole thing plays up to cultural stereotypes, which then brings out the automatic resistance to other cultures.

Then again, maybe I'm overthinking it.

Maybe it's just a catchy tune...

Not fixable?

I'm about 3/4ths the way into changing NEARLY HUMAN from 1st person to 3rd person.  I'm really having trouble gauging when to use names or pronouns or some other identifiers.  I'm committed now, I've made so many changes to the manuscript.  I'm doing my best to make it read O.K. but I think I'll have to copy-edit a whole bunch of times until I get it right.  For instance, I can take out pronouns altogether sometimes simply be reorganizing the sentence.

Writing is complicated.

Anyway, at this point in the story it's mostly action narrative -- but some of it is pretty silly.

Problem is, it can't be changed.  No way to change it without throwing the entire second half of the book out. 

This is the consequence of forcing the book, I think.  At the time I had a less serious, more satiric take on the story, so using PETA people as his assault forces, and making comments about rampant growth in destination resorts, and things like that weren't so out of place.

Basically I have an out and out gun battle with zombies -- who I call Shamblers -- using a bunch of outraged PETA members as the army.  (The Old Gods have been taking their pets and eating them.)

A cute idea when it isn't serious.  Silly, when you do it seriously.

I'm afraid at this point, it probably just isn't fixable.  I'll just have to hope that if the reader has made it this far, they'll give the story the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, December 28, 2012

My exercise book.

NEARLY HUMAN is turning out to be my 'exercise' book.  I'm learning all the things I should do and shouldn't do in the course of writing it.  Rediscovering my writing methods and inventing new ones.

I'm pretty close to being done working on it.  Yesterday, I started telling Linda what I thought was still wrong with it.  About four or five very basic problems with the story

By the time I went downstairs again, I realized I needed to deal with those problems -- at least address them.

A).  For instance, I basically have zombie apocalypse happening in Bend for three days that no one from the outside world seems to notice.  It escalates, so it isn't completely unbelievable.

But I can also address this by having the main villain simply say the Old Gods have closed off communications with the outside world until the invasion is done.  Sure -- magic.  But at least it's an explanation.

B.) A related problem is that life seems to be going on as usual while these weird things are happening.  Again, this can be addressed by the -- hero this time -- simply talking about how humans go on about their business even when it is all falling apart around them -- which is a true enough comment.

C.)  I also have the young daughter of two of the main characters disappearing, and there isn't enough drama around that.  I mean, in real life, everything else would stop -- so I need to have the hero "glamour" them into not running around in a righteous panic.  A "magic" solution, but at least dealing with the problem.

D.) In a related way to all the above, it seems like it takes way too long for everyone to react.  Again, this can be explained by the slow revealing of the facts, but I'm not sure if I'm dealing with it correctly.

E.) And the biggest problem of all -- I simply didn't deal adequately with the perimeters of the main character's strength and weakness, the power of the Curse on him, what he can and can't do, and why he can and can't do -- and what his motivations are for doing or not doing.

If the basic premises of a book don't work, nothing works.

When I decided to limit the main character's powers, to constrain him, to make him the underdog -- then I needed to explain that better and earlier.

It's late in the game, but better late than never.  As I said early on -- as long as I'm still finding problems, I still have an opportunity to improve the book.

I'm giving myself another month to work on it -- diligently.  A real last push to get it right.

So all this is a way of saying, I think I'm getting a good handle on the writing process -- my individual writing process.

Things I've learned.

1.)  As I have said in this blog, I need to write from the heart, not the head.  That is, there has to be a story I'm excited about, and characters I like.

2.) But before that, I need to use my head and fully think out the premises of the story -- not so much an outline, because for me that is a recipe for writer's block -- but early in the process I need to iron out the background ideas.

3.) I need to write the first draft quickly, and not deviate.

4.) In most cases, I probably shouldn't force the issue, but let my subconscious come up with solutions.  In order for that to happen, I have to give myself time to be "on call" so to speak.  That is, not be doing anything else, but be near my computer when the answer comes.

I'm not sorry I forced NEARLY HUMAN, because over a third of a year had passed without making progress, and the same thing had happened with the previous two efforts, and I needed to get something completed.  But by forcing it, I wrote myself into some corners that I'd like to avoid next time.

5.) I'm better at fantasy and in 3rd person and with a likable underdog as the main character.  I'm good with dream imagery, and -- I think-- fantasy settings.

6.) I need to be patient in my writing.  Each step of the way, I think I'm close -- even at the beginnings.  So I need to know that is happening and just keep making the story better.  Live in that story without, hopefully, wearing out my welcome.

7.) Combine all the above with an effective work process.  For instance, I've learned to let the beginning idea glimmer in my head before I start writing a scene.  So I write whatever action or words come to me, even if they are out of order.  I write until it I'm starting to force it, then take at two hour break.  Then come back and start the process again.  Keep doing that until I'm done.  Even the work-at-the-store days are good, because they are the weekly equivalent of the two hour break in the midst of the day.

I've mentioned before that I simply had to stop writing once I bought the store nearly 30 years ago.  If I look at the amount of work and effort I've put into NEARLY HUMAN -- and substitute a typewriter for a word processing program -- no wonder I was in despair!

So thank you modern technology!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Boardwalk Empire. Nice.

Linda and I have been taping all the big HBO series that we watch -- Boardwalk Empire, Dexter and Homeland, and now have full seasons to watch in sequence during rerun holiday season.

So from least to best, we started with Boardwalk Empire.


I've been a little down on this show.  None of the characters are particularly likeable, and some are downright creepy.

But watching them over a couple of days was much more interesting experience.  For one thing, I started to catch some narrative tricks they keep using.

For instance, they are constantly foreshadowing that some character is going to get killed off -- I mean, for the show to continue it has to happen.

But a neat little trick they play over and over again, is that the character is killed by someone other than the one you expect -- the wrong side, or completely out of the blue.  It's a narrative tick on their part, that is starting to become predictable.

They did a nice job of isolating Nuckie at the end -- Godfather style.

I know something of the history of the characters, so I keep expecting things to happen to Lucky Luciano and Joe Masseria and Arnold Rothstein and all the Chicago crowd, that haven't happened yet.  So far I think they've left out the other Mustache Pete, Salvatore Maranzano.

They really have lavished production design on this show, and they don't seem to be skimping as the show gets more established, like they usually do.

There are a couple of subplots that seem to be going nowhere, but I'm sure they'll come around.  So I will be watching this next year, after almost giving up on it last year.

Old codgers patting themselves on the back.

Is there anything more squirm inducing, cringe worthy, twinge provoking than the Lincoln Center awards?

I kept checking back to see if there would be any good Led Zeppelin music - - and there was kind of an over the top Stairway to Heaven.

But, wow, something about all those rich, famous people in tuxes is really off-putting to me.

Also, I still find it strange that the Immigrant Song can be played at full blast and all these old people in the audience are grooving to it.

The sixties rebels have turned into the establishment.  I know, it's not an original observation, but I still find it strange -- until I look in the mirror.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unexpectly, the covers are ready before the books.

Meanwhile, with the help of Martha Weibenson, I've got a cover ready for my book DEVILTREE.  It was an original photo by me, photoshopped by Martha.

This book came very close to being published a couple of times -- to the point of actually being accepted at one point.

I rewrote it so many times, I swore I'd never go through that process again.  Apparently, I have two modes.  Simple -- write it in a couple of months.  Complicated -- take two years and innumerable revisions.

SNOWCASTLES, ICETOWERS and FREEDY FILKINS were the first kind.  STAR AXE, DEVILTREE , and -- apparently -- NEARLY HUMAN  are the second kind.

I have a typewritten manuscript of DEVILTREE that needs to be digitalized and formatted.  But other than that, it's ready to go.  It might actually be the best book to start with, because I know it was vetted many times.

I guess if you believe in omens, the fact that I have the covers ready to go on two books and nearly ready on a third book means they must be meant to exist.

Hoping for the last draft miracle.

I decided in the end to change the narration of NEARLY HUMAN from 1st person to 3rd person.

If I'm going to write in 1st person, then the 'voice' is super important, and I just didn't feel like I was getting it.  As I said before, I need to make Cobb a more sympathetic character.  3rd person in some ways is taking a step back in immediacy, and yet somehow made me feel closer to Cobb as a character.

I'm "feeling" the story more and more.  Whether that's translating into a better book, I'm not sure.  

However, changing the narration messed up the writing more than I anticipated.  I thought it would be a simple matter of changing pronouns, but it turns out to be much more complicated than that.  Simply having two "he's" and' "his" in a sentence instead of an "I" and a "he" really makes the sentences confusing.  It's harder to intuit which he and his to keep after the fact than while actually writing the sentence.

So I think I improved the story slightly, at the cost of messing up the writing.  Now I have to go all the way through the story and copy edit and also try to rewrite from the 3rd person perspective.  Argh.

Before I do that, I'm going through the story and trying to figure out how to strategically improve the story -- which is a more critical thinking type of process, rather than a creative process.

I'm still hoping for the last draft miracle, where it all just comes together.  I used to have this experience all the time in college.  Struggle and struggle and then, just before handing it in, the paper would all come together.  If I hadn't been struggling, it never would have happened.

I'm going to give myself another month --

If it wasn't for the experience of writing THE RELUCTANT WIZARD and FREEDY FILKINS so quickly, I wouldn't even attempt it.

Meanwhile, I'll probably still have another book or two out in January or February, so I'm telling myself to slow down, get it as right as possible.

 I made the mistake of starting to read THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION, by Michael Chabon which makes my writing look downright primitive in comparison.

I just have to keep reminding myself to tell my "story."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to all and so on and so forth...

With none of our family making it home this year, Linda and I have agreed just not to do much about Christmas.

Of course, we never have, really.  It was always Christmas at my parents house, then at my sister Tina's house, and then...well, we didn't pick up the ball.  Holidays apparently weren't a big deal at Linda's growing up.  They were a huge deal at my house -- but after a few years of trying to create some traditions with the boys, they just didn't seem to take.

There are households where everyone gets together and households where that doesn't happen.

When I was in college, there would always be that one room in the dorm where everyone would congregate.  Some people just have that gene, that knack, that Host with the Most attitude.

So I looked at Linda this morning and said, "Are we even going to wrap our presents this year?'

She wrinkles her nose.  "I don't see why."

"We're terrible.  We're just terrible."

"No -- we're writers.  We don't have time for that stuff...."

Merry Christmas to all and so on and so forth!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Earlier image with title and author

This was an earlier mockup with a little less fire in the hands and feet.  I think the title could be just slightly larger and the name needs to be up a slight bit.  But combine the took pictures and I think we have a keeper.

Final image of cover?

This looks like the final image I'll be using for NEARY HUMAN.  The title will go in the upper left corner in the same color as the fire, the author name will be below at about mid-shin.  We've done some mockup of that already, which I wanted to add to this blog, but bungled.  So I'll just do another blog right after this with the mock-ups.

Stupid is as stupid does.

Apparently, I was using Bend Blogs too much as a crutch to read other people's blogs.  I didn't make direct bookmarks of them, just checked BB every day.

Anyone know if he will get that sit up and running again?  I'd check his site, but I was doing that through BB too.

Meanwhile, it seems like all my passwords and all disappeared on my computer and I had to enter them all back in.

I blame Facebook.  In fact, I intend to blame Facebook for everything that goes wrong from here on out.

I can't tell when I'm posting messages on Facebook where they are going, and to who, and so on.   Basic stuff.  I can answer messages -- that I can do.  I can post messages on my page.  But initiating conversations with others, I'm lost.

So what everyone tells me is -- read the instructions.  Aaron was telling me to read the Smashword instructions.  And so on.

I hate reading instructions.  My fault, I'm only hurting myself.  It's utterly stupid.

Still -- I hate doing it.  I'd rather stumble around and find answers by accident.  No one need comment on how stupid this is.  I know.

I want to learn everything by osmosis, I think.  Second-hand.  Naturally.  To hell with diligently studying.   I've never taken another class since I graduated from college.  I was so Very Sick of classrooms and being lectured to and all that.

Again, no one need comment and tell me how stupid this is.

Oh, go ahead.  I deserve it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sheriff of Nottingham

Filling in at work today.  Going to do expanded hours.

The Sheriff of Nottingham tried to cancel Christmas this year, but people finally came around on about the 19th.

The 19th!  That's pretty late!

It seems like it gets a third of a day later every year, which would mean over the last 30 years, we've lost 10 days or something.  Just a theory.  Up until the 19th, we were doing no better than average.  The last 4 days have been as good as any other year -- but its only 4 days, not 8, not 12, not 16 days of above average.

I bemoan this lateness every year because it's a matter of putting all the eggs in one basket.  Anything goes wrong -- a blizzard, a economic collapse, a disaster, anything 24 hour cycle newsy -- could derail the whole process.

About the only bright side, if there is one, is that people can't blame me if I'm sold out of something 6 days before Christmas.  So...well, I may as well sell what I have in the store unless people look like they are going to spend.

Last year, they showed every indication of wanting to spend on boardgames and books and I ordered heavily.

This year, they didn't and I went with the inventory at hand.  (Which was no small potatoes...)

So, ironically, I'll make more of a profit this year.

I'll just keep saying it -- it's not how much people spend, it's how much I spend.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

You start with the character, not the situation.

The lesson is, you have to start with the character.  Not the situation.

I started this book with a high concept of Cthulhu versus Faery, not with the main character who has to carry the story, who the reader can identify and care for (not to mention the writer wanting to keep writing abut him.)

I didn't start with Kenlahar or Lore or Prince Greylock -- who all were underdogs, who were sympathetic characters.

I started with a all powerful, kind of grumpy main character and it just didn't work.  I'm not Terry Pratchett or Christopher Moore -- I don't have the ability or the desire to be endlessly snippy and humorous.

So it's back to basic motivations.  A character in trouble, who has more trouble piled on top of him. 

Oh, that's just great.

I was formatting NEARLY HUMAN yesterday, and couldn't help but read it, too.

It's not ready.

It's just not. 

I went to bed last night thinking, over and over again -- how can I make it better?  What is it missing?

And the answer came to me, and it was a change in major character again.

So I think I still have a basic plot.  The world building has been done.  I have the characters I need.

I just need to change the entire motivation and emotional nature of the lead character.  That's all.  Just requires and entire re-writing of the whole book, that's all.

I don't think this scares me the way it used to.  In the last six months I've learned that I can write a lot if I let myself go.  I can do this.

Question is, is the book worth saving?  I feel the answer is YES.  At least I think so.  I guess I'll find out when I restart.

Some of the chapters I have to restart from bloody scratch.  I have more than enough words that I can jettison anything that doesn't fit and can't be changed. 

I'm positive now that I simply can't afford the luxury of discovering the entire plot as I'm writing, much as I like doing it that way -- or expect to have to do a whole lot of changes.  Maybe it's all been good.  A re-introduction to the process of writing.  I started off with the wrong tone -- the wrong tack, and discovered I needed to go back to the way I used to approach books.

I think I can make all the changes in a month or two.

But it's going to be at least TWO YEARS  for one book.  I took enough breaks to write the first drafts of two other novels, so there's that.  But still, I never expected it to take so long.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Proof of the middle-aged part.

So I put my picture up.  Now you'll all discover I'm a middle aged guy...oh, wait. 

The weather ain't cooperating.

Blaming weather is lame.  Weather happens.  It happens all the time.  It's either too hot or too cold.

But I blame the weather.

Doesn't help to have "Blizzard Warnings" the full 10 days before Christmas.  Especially, since these days everyone pretty  much waits for the last 10 days.

Another thing that has happened.  Kids are still in school.  I can't remember a time when the kids were in school until just a few days before Christmas.  They are going to be out all of 1 or 2 days extra this year...that's it.  They'll get an extra week after the New Year, but that isn't the same at all.

It's not so much that that kids spend money but that families are anchored from leaving town or coming to town.  In Bend's case, coming to town.

Look, no way around it, we make our any extra profits -- when that happens, which is rarely -- from the tourist trade.  July, August and December pay for much of the rest of the year.  So anything that detracts from that isn't helpful.

I mentioned before that what I'm selling isn't as hot this year.  Boardgames were super hot last year.
There's a game, called Pandemic, that I've been trying to get for months.  Now I order from by far the largest game distributor in the country.  So I get a call from someone who wants the expansion -- which has been available, but which I didn't order.  (My bad.)  Anyway, the customer says he got it from Target.

I'm sending an employee out there today to make a list of which Euro style games he sees.  Pandemic is  mid-list Euro game, not one of the biggest like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Dominion.  So it could be a fluke, or not.

I'm not surprised that Target had it, it was only a matter of time, and I'm surprised it hasn't happened before.

Finally, the shooting in Newton I think really did put a damper on the holiday spirit for a good while.  Maybe that's as it should be -- we think about the things that are important.

So this is one of those times when I wish I could get honest estimates from other retailers about how they are doing -- but simply doesn't happen.

Ironically, even though we had huge sales last year at Christmas, I probably actually came out negative in the balance sheets because I spent so much in November and December.  This year I was more conservative, so we are still going to make a good profit.

It's always how much you spend, not how much you sell.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Zombieness.

Guy asks if I have art books.

"What kind?" I ask, cheerfully.

He looks at me in disgust, and say, "Never mind."

Now see I get people ask for art books all the time and most of the time they are talking about 'How To'.

If not, they are asking for Mainstream history of art books, and if not that then books about Classic art and if not that then about Modern Art, and if not that then book with pulp or pop art and if not that they might be looking for individual artists like Van Gogh and if not that art books about art movements like Art Nouveau or Pre-Rahpaelite and if not then art books from Asia, especially Japan or they could be looking for books with Poster art from the 60's or they could be looking for  ...well, you get the picture.

I've got a little of all of the above, and specialize in "fantastic" art -- not necessarily fantasy art, but art with a fantastic element: street art, for instance, urban, Gothic, tattoo, or illustrative, or designer art.

It's not beyond possibilities they could be looking for fantasy art or comic art or pop-ups.

So, "What kind" seems like a basic question. 

Seeing is no longer believing.

Did you all see the video of an eagle snatching a kid?

I totally bought it.  The camera angle, the French accented "Oh, Shit," the kid crying.

So now what?  How do we distinguish true events now?

Only if they are confirmed by eyewitnesses?  Yeah, like they've proven to be so reliable.

The next Bigfoot sighting will have to be triply examined.  Nessie is going to be popping up everywhere.

If the government shows us we're being invaded by Martians, we are so totally going to believe them...

Just saying.

What now?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

If I'm going to write, I need to be organized.

Spent the day trying to track down my old writings.

I had a couple of stories I started a couple of years ago that I got about 10K words into.  I liked them; one was a mystery set in Vegas and one was a post-apocalyptic set in a used bookstore.

Unbelieveably, I'm missing entire chapters in both efforts.  Between the hard drives and the hard copies, I was certain there would be no problem -- but the chapters I have are on both and the chapters I don't have are on neither.  Worse, both are missing the first chapters -- which set the tone for the entire stories.  In other words, they're dead.

Unbelievable.  I can't believe I've been so sloppy and careless!

So I've decided to quit messing with the old stuff.  Rewriting the first 20% of Bloodstone was a constructive exercise, but I think I'd be better off applying what I've learned to new writing. 

But going forward I need to be much more careful and organized.  At least have hard drive copies and cloud copies and maybe -- with finished efforts -- even hard copies of everything.

Records of who and what and where I communicate.

I've signed a contract for the artwork for NEARLY HUMAN, and contracted for someone to start a cover for FREEDY FILKINS.

Also, I need to start keeping track of expenses -- if I'm going to be serious about my writing, then I should be able to start claiming expenses to the IRS.

Finally, I've decided not to make any major changes to my store right now.  I've got enough time left on my lease to consider all the options, and I'm sort of distracted right now by my writing.

Writing is really a full time job.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"...hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." Stop there, Peter.

Went to to see the Hobbit.  At the very moment it started, the lights came on, and strobe lights started flashing and it dawned on all of us that it was a fire alarm.  So it took a little time for everyone to realize that we should get up and leave.

Interesting, you'd think with the events of the last week, people might have been scrambling for the exits...

Anyway, in a very leisurely and haphazard way, we all left out the back exits.  By then, I was fairly convinced that it was probably a bomb threat.  (After 9/11 the Mt. View mall had two or three threats...)  By the time we circled to the front they were letting us back in with the words "False Alarm."

Did an employee see an umbrella and think "Gun!"  ?

Would love to know what that was all about.

Anyway, the movie soon started.

So....bunny sleigh.  Really?  (Linda loved the Thumper moment...)

The orcs in the mountain (shouldn't they be goblins still?) were how I had always visualized them, though the "white" orcs were a stretch again.

The scene in the beginning did go long, but for true LOTR's fan that was just right and proper, cause that's how Tolkien starts all his books.

I could do without some of the "low" humor, though it fit better here than in LOTR's.

Rivendell will be inspiration for decades of Renaissance Fairs.  Damn hippies.

I enjoyed it immensely, probably more than I did Fellowship, which at the time was a bit of a headturner to me because I had just reread the books and had a hard time just taking it in.

This time I knew more or less what I was getting into.

What kind of tickled me was how much I got right in FREEDY FILKINS, without having read the book in 40 years.  There were little bits and pieces that showed up parallel that I didn't think I had remembered, but obviously my subconscious had.

This is a world at 14 years old that I would have gladly lived in, and today's 14 year olds in an odd way have a chance to do almost that...

My main problem with these movies is the unfortunate need to embellish, when it isn't necessary.

There was a perfect example of that at the very beginning.

Here's the famous start of the Hobbit book:

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

So the movie repeats that word for word until the last word.  (In my head I was repeating it as they said it.)

So the ending in the movie isn't the single word "comfort" but a bunch of other extra and unnecessary additions -- all of which added up to "comfort."

So it bothered me.  Comfort is a perfectly good word.  Succinct and to the point.  Actually, the right word.

I sure these movies would be just as good if not better if they didn't try so hard to ramp it up all the time.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Plan with the head, write with the heart.

I was feeling at loose ends because I wasn't writing anything.  It's become a habit I guess.

I tracked down some of my earlier writings in boxes in the garage.  I've lost the fifth book entirely, and I apparently haven't had manuscript versions of the published novels -- maybe ever.  You'd think I'd have been less cavalier about something so important.

I didn't see the internet coming.

Anyway, I started reading the fourth book.  The original title was BLOODSTONE, which I changed when I saw that there were several other books with that title.  Now, I don't care.  I'll use that title because it's the right title for the book.

Anyway, I can see why this book never went anywhere.  The back story and history are hopelessly muddled, contradictory.  It just tries to do too much, too many disparate elements that don't fit together.  Trying to make them fit together made the writing itself constipated.

But there was a thread of narrative there that could be redeemed, and I proceeded last night to put the first 20% of it into my Word program.  It's a strange combination of underwritten and overwritten.

Whenever I describe WHAT the characters are doing, it actually is pretty smooth if simplistic and uninspired writing.  Whenever I try to explain WHY things are happening, it's hopelessly muddled.

The funny thing about the basic narrative is that it's Fantasy 101..

First chapter, some mysterious strangers show up and drop the Bloodstone into the hero's hands.  Literally.

Second chapter, hero's girlfriend is kidnapped.

Third chapter, elves and dwarves show up at his doorstep and take him away on an adventure.

Fourth Chapter, they travel a long hard road and fight monsters.

And so on. 

 About 50% of the story could be saved -- but the plot and characters need to be fleshed out.

 The other interesting thing is how many of the themes I'm still using today.  That magic takes the place of technology, the idea of darkness spreading over the land, the use of magic depleting the users, and so on.

I realized that most of my fantasy writings can easily be adapted into the world of The Reluctant Wizard.  The "Lore" world, I'm calling it.

Funny thing is, in The Reluctant Wizard the main character is an outcast because he uses magic instead of technology.  In Bloodstone,  the main character is an outcast because he uses technology instead of magic.  Same basic world, but different response.  Can I just make this different places within the same world?  At different eras?

All that would have to be worked out, placed in a framework.

I'm apparently incredibly prolific -- no kidding, right?  But it' scary to think how much stuff I could have written in the last thirty years if I'd been in this mode the whole time.  

So what have I learned?

Three lessons from the latest bout of writing.

1.) Having a framework, and well-thought out backstory before I start makes everything else work.

2.) Have a real liking and feeling for the main characters is essential.  Plan with the head, write with the heart.

3.) Once I have the basic framework, writing the actual plot fast is the best way to keep narrative drive.

What have I learned about work habits?

1.) Technology makes everything easier -- possible.

2.) I like writing first drafts, I hate planning and rewriting.  But planning is easier than rewriting so that's what I should do more of.

3.) Write about whatever strikes me -- write until I'm done.  Take a break.  Come back later and do the same thing.  Keep doing it until nothing else comes.

4.) Sit with a kernel of an idea, write for at least 10 minutes.  If still struggling, quit. If not, keep writing.

5.) Be free and easy with first draft -- whatever feels right, do it, even if it technically is a no no.  Can always change it later, but it's hard to reproduce that original inspiration.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Art for the cover.

I asked the artist to make some subtle changes to the cover image -- and he got back to me but the changes were maybe a little too subtle.  My fault.  I think I was afraid he'd go overboard, so wanted to take baby steps.  So I told him to push it farther..

Speaking of overboard, checked out a few art sites -- especially deviant art and cghub.

The fact that most of it is a very of much copying the standard bearers in the industry didn't bother me -- that makes sense.  So seeing versions Royo, and Vallejos and so on over and over again, isn't surprising.  (Nobody seems to be able to do Frazetta, at his best.)

Obviously the video game industry is a huge influence, and manga.  Lots of tech.

The problem is that everything is so ramped up, over the top, grotesque.  Not a lot of subtlety.  Maybe that's what sells, I don't know.  But damn if I could find a simple image, with some nice touches. 

For one thing, they fill every picture with so much busy action, that it's hard to see it clearly.  Certainly, as a cover image, almost all of them fail. 

(Which is probably true of most writing, when you get down to it.)

I thought it would be easy to find a nice Middle-earth feeling scene that wasn't too obvious, for which a nice little cyber element could be added.

I couldn't even come close.

I'm probably going to have to commission what I'm visualizing.  I'm thinking Filk's End, (looking like a modern day Bag End) with a gray suited long hair bearded fellow tapping on the round door with his cane, while through the window we see a table with a laptop and a steaming mug on it, and a couple of hairy feet propped up.  (Steaming mug instead of a pipe.)  Something like that.  You know, simple. 

Got lucky with the NEARLY HUMAN image -- it fits, mostly, especially when it's adapted, and we reached an agreement on price that doesn't kill me and it's going to be ready to go.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Joining the modern world.

Believe it or not, I just signed up for Facebook for the first time.  I'm going to friend everyone, because I want everyone to know about my writing.

Also have started to develop my own website dedicated to the writing.

It has the preliminary cover art to NEARLY HUMAN, which I've decided to put up as an ebook first.  I have to find artwork for FREEDY FILKINS.

Everything is still under construction, so to speak. 

Anyway, back to the book cover.  The artist is making changes to closer reflect the book, and I should have a new image pretty soon.

Have to format the book for Amazon -- as well as the others, so I'm still looking a process that will take a week or two or three.  Feeling my way, one step at a time.

Joining the modern world.  I guess maybe I'll even gussy up this website a little with pictures and links. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday fuds.

Cute cartoon of Snoop Dog in the Bulletin today.  Good for them for trying something different.  They should make a regular feature of a cartoon, contrasting visitors to the Bend lifestyle.

By the way, the changes?  I wonder if I would've even noticed them if the Bulletin itself wasn't pointing them out so much.


Believe me when I say I'm not a guy who pays a lot of attention to 'style' or even notices it much.

But I turned to Linda last week and said,   "Have you noticed that the Watson on Elementary is always wearing something ultra stylish?"

Then we speculated that Lucy Liu was wearing her own wardrobe for the show.  And that an "assistant" could no way afford those clothes.  Now it's become almost as distraction, as we wait to see what she wears next.

I think Elementary has gotten better, though still doesn't have the plot twists of the British "Sherlock."


Last Resort is a pretty good show, but it has sort of jumped the shark.  They had a very constrictive premise and then they just took the premise and almost ignored it, at their convenience.


I hope BendBlogs gets up and running again.  Most of my referrals seem to come from there.  I've always thought it was the most valuable blog in town.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Almost like a vacation.

Feel like I'm on vacation.

Writing Freedy was pretty intensive, I was living in that world for awhile.

I'm torn between going back and rewriting earlier stuff or just diving into something new.  It's so much fun to write the first drafts, I could just do that all the time.

Well, I have a couple of weeks until things settle down after the holidays to decide what to do.  I'm ready to develop my site, and try to put some things up on Amazon and so on.

I've decided that my writing isn't a "limited" resource and I don't need to treat it that way.  I need to treat it as a constantly renewing and evolving resource -- not get bogged down.

Christmas shopping should kick in on Friday or so.  Always a little nerve-wracking that it takes so long to start.  Longer and more intensive every year.  We had a huge year at the store last year, and I'm not expecting that to happen again.

But increased business -- absolutely.

This last ten day until people shop at my store make it pretty much impossible to guess how much stock to carry.  I'll make at least one reorder in that time period in each category, and then decide.

I know people have to get in the mood.  I know they're waiting because they want deals -- but things do sell out, you know.  Even stuff you wouldn't think would sell out.  It's almost a little presumptuous that a particular item will be in stock.  Just saying.

Not that there is any shortage of stuff to sell overall.  Not by a long shot.

Hope to see you all and I'll try to get you anything that I can for the next week or so.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Writing musing, blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, so writing fast is probably the best method for me.  If I really think I've got something I need to invest more time in, I can still do that. 

But having a framework to write on helps.  I used my memory of the Hobbit as a framework, but diverged pretty wildly.  I never referred to the actual book.  If I hadn't talked about a home under a hill and Freedy's big hairy feet, I bet most people wouldn't have caught it at all.  (Oh, and the mcguffin of the "ONE KEY" to rule them all -- that might have been a little obvious.)

No magic other than some probably cyber stuff that is impossible and might as well be magic.

The love story is what caught me off guard and really made the book for me.  Sheila and Freedy was unexpected and felt natural and I really liked it.

I didn't really stall at any point in the book, always seemed to know where the next chapter and the next was going.

I drank a little beer along the way -- strictly as a tool.  It allows me to keep my butt in the writing chair for an extra hour or two along the way.  I can't seem to handle more than 2 of these new 5.2 beers at a time -- but I'm finding that it isn't so much that beer is harder on me than it used to be, but that I was completely unused to it.  Being a tee-totaler for 99% of the time makes the impact harder.  I kind of got used to it after the first 3 or 4 times.

Still, I think I'm better off on a day to day basis without it.

I've been away from the store a lot, admittedly.  It seems to be doing fine. 

Anyway, other than copy-editing and getting this book uploaded to some sites -- Amazon and Barnes and Noble -- I think I'm done writing for the year; the next two weeks.  I need to get my website filled in, get all the connectors in  -- blogger, twitter, facebook,-- decide what content I want.  Need to figure out how many books to put on -- or how much to use as a teaser.

I'm going to leave Freedy up on the blog for a month or so, then take it down, probably -- except the first three chapters or something.  The "publishable" version (on Word) is already slightly different.  That's where I'm making my changes.  Any major changes I'll transfer over to the blog, but the small corrections and additions and such, I'm just doing on the Word version.

I've written three books in two years -- most of it spent on one book.  FREEDY FILKINS and THE RELUCTANT WIZARD were much faster and also much more satisfying.  I'll probably be going that route of writing from now on.

I just can't judge NEARLY HUMAN anymore.  I'll give it yet another rewrite -- trying to put myself and my heart into it a bit more; then put it up and let others judge it.

Meanwhile, for THE RELUCTANT WIZARD, I want to develop that whole world -- get two or three stories finished in it before trying the traditional publishing route.  I'm thinking two tracks -- the SOMETIMES A DRAGON trilogy, which is set far in the future of this world -- and the RELUCTANT WIZARD trilogy, which is set nearer to our time.

I think, too. that I should have another "fun" project, maybe even put it on my blog again, if something occurs to me.

"Cyber" punk Hobbit -- as least as much as I

We finagled an upgraded suite at the Ponderosa Lodge -- and it's great.  Not a lot of people this time of year.

Nevertheless, didn't sleep very well.  Nothing wrong with the room, just being away from home.  I always seem to have a rough first night on trips.  Finally figured out the air-conditioning at 3:00 in the morning.  (We like our sleep space cold.)

So I read the first 100 pages last night, copy-editing.  Amazing how many little things you miss.  The eye skips right over them.  I'll do one more copy-edit before I let this go.

Not changing much, a word here and there.

I call it a Cyber-punk Hobbit, but the cyber part is pretty basic -- that is, it is a big plot element, but I don't go into specifics.  Can't.  Just don't have the know-how.

One thing I'd like to ask you all.  I have them needing to break into an actual data center to change/destroy information.  In the meeting leading up to it, I'm saying something along the lines of:

"We've been able to hack into every system where the information is stored, except one.  There is a data center that has a firewall we can't get past."  Blah, blah.

Is that the slightest bit credible?  What would make it credible?  I need them to need to break into the data center, so I need an explanation.

Going the copy-edit the rest of the book before work, I hope.  Then copy-edit again tomorrow.  Hopefully, between the auto system on the computer and my own eyes, I'll catch everything.

It's a fast read, all right.  Not exactly deep.  It's what I meant it to be. Hopefully fun.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finished the book.

I finished the book just now, here in the Ponderosa Lodge in Sisters.  It's 9:00.  It took me 23 days and anyone who stuck with me watched me do the whole thing.

Hey, I'm probably the only guy who has read the whole thing, and I like it.   I like that it holds together.  I like the characters and what happens to them. I'm actually kind of sad to be leaving them, but I don't think I'm up to a takeoff on LOTR's!

 I like it enough to put it online just the way it is.

I want to do some copy-editing over the next day or two.  Going to open a beer in a few minutes and try to read the whole thing today and tomorrow.  Out loud if possible.  Try to improve it in small ways.

Don't see any restructuring that needs to be done.  The story flow works. I want to keep the freshness of it, but also catch any mistakes.

I think I've learned to write a book quickly and from the heart and that's what I'll be doing from now on.  I enjoyed everything about it -- and I especially liked how it seemed to write itself.

I was hoping for around 50K words, and it ended up at 57, 382.  If I wanted to flesh it out to 60K as if that mattered, it would be easy enough.

What started out as a lark, ended up being a book.

Freedy Filkins, International Jewel Thief, 52.

If you enjoyed this story, and I hope you did, please click here to buy.  Thanks for reading!

I bought a new Miata, red this time, and accompanied Freedy and Sheila back to Oregon.

They were riding Sam and Steve's Harleys, since the brothers were busy organizing the transfer of entire town to the Lorn Mountain.   Freedy and Sheila barely had words or time for anyone but each other, so I was definitely a elderly third wheel.

But I felt I owed Freedy an unobtrusive escort.  That much, at least.  The Dark Lord was looking for him.  I wasn't exactly sure why.

Freedy had somehow managed to fly beneath notice the entire trip.  Very few people seemed to know his name, and those who did, weren't telling.

All Josiah Secore knew was that some international jewel thief had accompanied the Lorn Mountain miners back east and played a role in the events there.  But search as he might the security cameras,  he couldn't seem to find a good picture of the mystery thief.

I wondered about that.  I wondered as well about the little flashdrive that Freedy carried with him everywhere and which he had passed off as a simple digital burglar's tool.  I was going to keep an eye on Freedy, both to keep him safe and to see if he used the device again.  Maybe he was going to be fine -- he was marrying an F.B.I. agent, after all -- but I wanted to be sure.

Meanwhile, I ignored the bag of jewels that Freedy also carried around.  I'd been pretty sure that Horn would have escape money in his safe, and I didn't begrudge Freedy a bit of it.  Most of it was going into the gold mine anyway. 

We arrived at Filk's End just as the next mortgage payment was due.  Freedy stopped by the bank and paid the mortgage and did some other business.  Finally, we were standing at the door.

"Oh, it's very cute," Sheila said, as Freedy proudly opened the door. "I love it!"  She went on in, where we continued to hear her exclaiming her love of Filk's End.

Freedy stayed at the door, as if uncertain whether to invite me inside.

"I'll be taking off, Freedy.  It's been a pleasure doing business with you, and I'll be certain to pass on my recommendations the next time anyone is in need of a Master Thief."

The old Freedy would have pleaded for me to leave him alone.  This Freedy grinned broadly.

"Oh, and one other little piece of advice...that flashdrive you've been trying so hard to downplay?  Try not to use it anymore than you have to..."

Freedy's hand unconsciously moved toward his pocket and stopped.  He shuddered a little.  "Don't worry.  I'll never use it again, unless I absolutely must."

"Bout time you got back!"

A loud voice came from behind me.  Stuart Gander was walking up the path toward us, big and blustery and with a stupid look in his face.

"I'll be needing some money, Freedy.  Thought you might have a job for me."  He ignored me and got into Freedy's personal space.

Freedy didn't back up an inch.  He looked up with a mild face.  "What, you've used up all the jewels you stole from me already?"

Stu's face grew bright red, and his clenched his fists.  "How dare you...."

"Hey, I don't care.  It was my own fault.   Nevertheless,  I'm evicting you from your house as of the end of this month."

"You can't do that!"

"Indeed I can.  I stopped by to make a mortgage payment today and while I was at it, decided to purchase the whole hill.  You're out, Stu.  I don't blame you for taking advantage of me, that was my own stupidity.  But I don't trust you, and I can't have you around."

"Why you little..." Stu looked ready to strike Freedy.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Freedy said.

"Why?" Stu answered.  "You think this old man will protect you?"

"Garland?  Oh, he could if he wanted to.  Though he has a bad habit of throwing me to the wolves.  But no...I happen to have my own protection.  Sweetie?"

Sheila came strolling out into the entryway.  Stu looked as though Filk's End had just rolled down the hill and landed on him and his house.  Nothing else could have surprised him more than to see the stunning blond come over and wrap her arm around little Freedy Filkins.

"Yes, dear?"

"This man is bothering me."

"Really."  She pulled her badge out of front pocket and her pistol out of her back holster.  "Here at your house?  I believe if I shot him, it would be self-defense.  A man's castle and all that.   Right, Garland?"

"He certainly seems threatening to me!" I said.

Stu was already backing up, and running down the hill.

"Well, I'll be off, you two.  See you at Lorn Mountain for the shareholder meeting next month!"

They waved at me until I drove out of sight.

No, I didn't need to worry about Freedy Filkins,  International Jewel Thief.


Freedy Filkins, International Jewel Thief, 51.

If you enjoyed this story, and I hope you did, please click here to buy.  Thanks for reading!

The state police showed up not long after, followed by the National Guard.  The national media was interviewing anyone who had a smudge on their face and would stand still long enough. 

Turns out, no one saw who or what had started the fires, though a lot of accusations were thrown around.  Darrell Horn was interviewed in his office at the Spire, maintaining that he'd flow his helicopters to Centerville to help, and that anything heard to the contrary was a big misunderstanding.  Jerry Horn was very saddened by the tragedy, though he was glad that no one had lost their life.

Just in case anyone thought he was going soft, he managed to add that the Centerville coal mine was almost played out anyway.

Back in the smoking remnants of Centerville, Jerry Brant stayed silent.

Sheila was subdued when she saw Freedy again, giving him a long and hard hug and a soft kiss.  Freedy could tell she was troubled, but that it wasn't anything he had done or hadn't done, so he stayed silent.  She excused herself a few moments later.

Freedy saw Garland grab the backpack out of the Miata and go off to the diner -- still standing with the blackened earth only feet away -- with Charlie and Brant.  When they emerged from their meeting, Charlie looked triumphant and Brant looked grim.

Charlie went over to his friends, and there was a restrained celebration amongst the gold miners.  Jay and Jim came over and gave Freedy a big hug, and Steve and Sam gave him a slap on the back.  Billy nodded to him in respect, and Bob gave him thumbs up.

The mine foreman meanwhile stomped off down the street.  Freedy noticed Brant had the ledger in his hands.

Garland came over.  "Well, Freedy.  Your job is done.  You can go home anytime, and your share of the goldmine will be sent to you."

"Just like that?' Freedy said.  He was feeling unexpectedly let down.

"You did the job you were contracted for, and you did it magnificently, I might add.  Aunt Tessie would be very proud of you."

"What's going to happen now?" Freedy asked.

"I thought all you ever wanted was to go home and relax?" Garland said.  He was teasing, Freedy recognized, where once he wouldn't have.

Freedy jiggled the jewels in his pocket.  Home?  Independently wealthy?

Sounded boring.

Sheila walked up at the moment and gave Garland a greeting and stuck her arm around Freedy.  Home was going to be wherever she was assigned, he thought. would be nice to get back to Filk's End for a visit at least.  Show it off to her, if she was game.

"You could probably hitch a ride with one of the media types if you were willing to give them an interview," Garland said.

Freedy shuddered.  He had avoided all the cameras and microphones, going so far as to turn his head and change directions whenever he saw a lens pointed anywhere near him.

"Well, Freedy, if you're going to stick around," Garland said.  "You might want to attend the news conference this afternoon in the public park.  I think you'll find it interesting.  Sheila will be there, won't you my dear?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Sheila said.  Freedy looked down at her in curiosity but she wouldn't meet his eyes.

Well, she had her secrets, and he had his.  Freedy finally tracked down Charlie an hour later, and took him off to the side.

He pulled the bag of jewels out of his pocket.

That afternoon, a single Horn helicopter flew in and landed in the park.  Darrell Horn emerged to the sullen mutters of the crowd.  He was surrounded by bodyguards, but waved at everyone as unaware of just how unpopular was.  Rumor was, he'd started the fire.  Enough of them had heard his rants to be sure of it.  But no one had made a recording of his words, and in all the fire and brimstone and chaos of the disaster, Horn was explaining it all away as a big misunderstanding.

He clambered up the steps of the old bandstand at the center of the park, joining Brant and Garland and some of the other town leaders, all of who gave the tycoon a wide berth.

The national media managed to shove their way to the front of the crowd surrounding the bandstand.  There was still a pall in the air, and the Freedy could hear a constant low level coughing in the crowd.

Jerry Brant stood up first.  He wasn't mayor, he wasn't the owner of the mine, but he was the town's acknowledged leader.

"Thank you all for coming.  This will be the last meeting held in this town.  Ever."

There were protestations from the some of the townspeople.  "To hell with that.  We'll rebuild."

"No -- you won't.   I'm sorry to say that this town is no longer habitable."

"Says who?" someone cried from the crowd.

"Cameron?  That you?  I know you're family has been here from the beginning, but there is no choice.  Even if you wanted to stay, the state has declared Eminent Domain over the whole valley."

"Why can't we stay?" the man Brant had addressed as Cameron didn't look convinced.

"The fires aren't out," Brant said bluntly.

 The murmuring in the crowd died off, and Brant repeated into the silence, the words seeming to hang in the air.

"The fires are still burning.  From what they tell me, they may never go out, at least not in our lifetimes.  There are going to be unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from now until the earth stops burning."

"Why don't you let us decide that, dammit!  It's our lives."

"Hey, Jasper.  I understand how you feel, but think about it.  Do you want your kid falling into a burning hole in the ground?  Because that can and will happen if we stay here.  Now, the state and federal government are going to try to make reasonable settlement for the value of our land and properties.  I'd suggest you all take them up on the offer."

"But what will we do?" 

"I can answer that!" Darrell Horn stood up and nearly pushed Brant out of the way.  Brant looked ready to punch him, but turned his back.  A few boos came from the crowd, but others shouted to give him a chance to speak.

"As you know, Horn Mining as extensive holdings.  I have other coal mines, in West Virginia and North Carolina.  I will offer anyone a job in those mines at the same pay they received here.  I'll even pay moving costs."

This wasn't met with cheers, as Horn probably expected, but with silence. Everyone knew that as soon as the cameras were turned off, the terms would magically transform.  Still, it was a small hope in a disaster.

"I can do better than that!" Charlie Emmit got up.  Standing next to Brant and Horn, he looked liked like a child. But no one was laughing.  Something in his manner was completely serious.

  "As you know, the Lorn Mountain mine will be opening up soon.  I'd like to offer anyone here a job at our operations in New Mexico!"

"Yeah, right," somebody scoffed loud enough for everyone to hear.  "A gold mine."

Charlie ignored him.  "We'll more than match the non-union wages here, as well as offer health and benefit plans.  We own both the property and the mineral rights and have we have secured solid financial backing."

Charlies eyes sought out Freedy in the crowd.  Freedy looked down at the ground, blushing.  When he looked up again, Sheila was looking at him with a bemused expression. 

"I for one will be taking up Mr. Emmit's extremely generous offer." Brant said, loudly.

Charlie grinned at him.  "It's a union job, Jerry."

Brant didn't blink an eye.  "I can live with that."

Horn didn't look fazed in the slightest.  "Just how much gold have you extracted yet?" he asked.

Charlie scowled.  "None -- yet.  But it's there."

"What did you dowse for it?"  Horn mocked. There were a few titters in the audience.

"Shut up, Mr. Horn," Brant said.  He didn't raise his voice but somehow it reached to the edge of the park, and every microphone picked up every word.

"How dare you," Horn started to say, but Brant walked up to him and stared him in the eyes.  Horn was big and tall and broad in the chest.  Brant was bigger and taller and broad all the way down his body.

"You started the fires.  I saw you."

It was over at the moment.  Everyone heard the truth in his voice.  The cameras and the microphones seemed to transform his simple sentence into one of those national moments, when everyone suddenly understands exactly what has happened, and who the good guy is and who the bad guy is.

On his part, Horn's face also told it all, and everyone in the audience could see it, and the camera picked up the twitch on his cheek and the hunted look in his eyes.

"I'll sue you for that!" Horn shouted.  "You have no proof!"

"Sue me all you want, Mr. Horn.  I don't really care.  But as far as truth is concerned, I have proof enough of your crimes."  He raised the ledger that Freedy had stolen from the tycoon's safe over his head.

"In this book are the names of the safety inspectors you have bribed and for how much.  The state police have already interviewed some of these men, and they have confessed.

"You, sir, have put my men's lives in danger for the last time!"

It was as if Horn had an arrow shot into his heart -- something had finally penetrated his rich man's armor.  He staggered and blushed, and his eyes went over to the helicopter and everyone could see what he was thinking.

"I believe we have a F.B.I. Agent here?" Brant said.  "Agent Moller?"

Sheila gave Freedy a big squeeze on his arm and went forward to the bandstand.  She pulled out an old fashioned set of handcuffs and arrested Darrell Horn on the spot.  The cameras whirled and the flashbulbs froze that moment in a strobe light still of time.

Freedy couldn't believe it.  She was so hot when she was arresting someone.

Freedy Filkins, International Jewel Thief, 50.

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Freedy saw the black smoke long before they reached Centerville.

Garland had been pushing the Miata as hard as he could, stopping reluctantly for gas just outside Pennsylvania and grabbing some fast food, and then they were off again.  They shaved at least an hour off their outward bound time.

After Freedy told him what he'd seen and heard, Garland tried calling Charlie and the others to warn them, but the signals all seemed to be jammed.

"Just what the hell did you steal to get him so pissed?" Garland asked at the last gas station.

Freedy started to explain, but Garland interrupted.  "Oh, hell.  You drive, Freedy, I want to check out these papers."

Freedy didn't dare drive as fast of Garland, but he drove faster than he ever had before.  It was actually kind of exhilarating.  Foolish, but exhilarating.

Garland didn't say a word, just pulled the pile of papers out of the backpack and shuffled through them one by one, patiently reading every word.  He picked up the ledger last and for the first time reacted. 

"My dear, Freedy," he exclaimed.  "I do believe we've got Darrell Horn by the balls!"

Freedy relaxed.  He'd been afraid that Garland would be mad at him for taking more than they had agreed upon.  Sure enough, the old hippie wasn't happy with his stealing the deeds to Centerville.

"These won't hold up," he said.  "It's too established that Horn Mining owns that land.  So this will only inconvenience him.   Besides, we don't want to use the same illegal tactics against him that he used against us.  We're better than that."

Having just burglarized the penthouse of the city's tallest skyscraper, Freedy thought Garland was being overly finicky.  Then again, they'd really only meant to steal back what was rightfully theirs.

He didn't say anything about the bag of gems in his pocket.

They rounding the slight rise about Centerville, and Garland slammed on the brakes.  The road was broken in front of them, split like a lightning bolt.  Not only shaped like a jagged bolt but glowing like one.  But they would've stopped in any case.

The earth was on fire.

It was if the Aurora Borealis had fallen to earth.  Flames shot up like geysers throughout the valley, and the village itself was surrounded by a curtain of strangely colored flames.  Blues and greens colors were mixed in with yellows and reds.

The second they got out of the car they started coughing from the fumes, their eyes started watering.

War had been declared by the gods of the underworld on the little town of Centerville.

Garland crept forward, and by steering the right tires off the road just inches from a cliff, they managed to get by the lightning bolt.  There were other, smaller cracks, all along the road.  Once as they passed a fiery asterisk to the right, the entire hillside gave way to a glowing chasm.

Spots of people were walking their way, like refugees from a battle, with their possessions in wheelbarrows and on bikes and on their backs.  Women and children mostly, and when they talked to the first group they were told that Jerry Brant had commandeered most of the men of the town to fight the fires, though it seemed hopeless to everyone.

They were using bulldozers and excavation equipment to create firebreaks, and dynamite to collapse hills of dirt down some of the craters.  As they stood there speaking, they heard a giant explosion in the background.

"How did this happen?" Freedy asked a young girl -- he thought her name was Norma  -- who just a day before had served him coffee at the diner.

"Horn," she spat.  "He started them with incendiary bombs.  He landed at the town square and yelled at us through a bullhorn.  Something about he'd be damned if he'd let commies takeover his operation and he'd just as soon destroy the place.  Said it was his town, and he could do to it what he wanted."

Freedy tried to laugh in disbelief and fell into a coughing jag.  The E.P.A. would probably argue with that notion, he thought.  Then, again, they'll probably fine Horn some laughably paltry amount, He'd get some kind of insurance settlement, and he'll have some flunky write a book about it.    Freedy could just imagine him going on his show, "Try To Get A Job After This!" and explaining how to deal with unexpected  catastrophes...

"Where is Horn now?"

She pointed at the highest of the low hills that surrounded the town, a place that had cliffs on all sides.  Now she drew his attention in that direction, he saw the three helicopters silhouetted against the sky like three vultures.

"The people were getting ready to grab him and throw him into one of the pits to appease the gods, so he took off in his copter.  There he sits, the bastard, looking down on the hell he created..."

"Anyone been hurt, Norma?" Garland asked.

"Mr. Harrison had a hole open right beneath his feet, and he's in pretty bad shape.  Some of the others have some burns on the hands and arms from trying to beat the fire.  Your friends with the motorcycles have taken some of the younger kids with asthma and some of the old folks with breathing problems out of here.  No one else has been able to drive out."

She nodded at the Miata, which didn't so much look white anymore, but more like a zebra with black stripes.  "You go much further with that little car of yours, Mr. Garland,  and it will be a sacrifice to gods... "

"As it should be," Garland mused.  "Come on, Freedy.  Let's see if we can help."

They inched their way down the rest of the hillside,  dodging people and fires.  Looking back, some of the road crumbled away behind them.  Norma was right -- Garland's sports car was never leaving the valley.

The town seemed strangely deserted.  But when Freedy looked toward the roofs, he saw young people up there with blankets and barrels of water.  Every time a spark would land, they'd run and put it out. 

The streets themselves were lacking the fire pits and cracks.  The townsfolk back at the beginning had purposely chosen a part of the valley without a seam of coal under it.  Coal towns had been known to go up in smoke before.

Some of the structures built later at the edge of town weren't so lucky.  They were either blackened husks or were still burning. The motel was gone, along with what few possessions Freedy still had.  Sheila was nowhere to be found.  He suspected she was in the thick of it, wherever the thickest of it was.

The real battle was taking place a few hundred yards beyond the city limits, where the miners were building earthen dikes and diverting the fires wherever they could.

Freedy saw Billy and Barry, and Jay and Jim amongst them.  But not Charlie or Sheila.   Garland marched up to Jay. "Where's Charlie?  Where's Brant?"

Freedy could barely hear what they were saying beneath the crackling of the fires.  Every few minutes a tree outside the barricades would burst into flame and flare like a birthday candle for a short time.

"Up there!" Jay shouted, pointing to the south of town.  There was a small reservoir up there, and Freedy saw men scrambling about the sides, and a what appeared to be a petite blond to one side, frantically waving the men off the dam.  "That F.B.I. agent's up there too, says she knows something about demolition."

"Uh, are they sure they want to do that?" Garland shouted.  Before he finished his sentence, Freedy saw the banks of the dam blow outward, and a surge of water gush down toward them, followed by a huge boom.

The water water thundered toward them like a tidal wave, but began to be siphoned off by the giant holes in the earth even before it got to the town.  One there, the earthen dikes had been cleverly built to divert the flow of the water around them.  The water kept coming, and then it was if a thick cloud had descended into the valley as steam and mist covered everything.  Through the wisps of thick fog, Freedy saw that Centerville was a sunken island in the middle of a steaming lake.

The battle of Centerville was over.

On the hillside above, they could hear the helicopters starting up.  Moments later, they swooped over the town.  Someone with a very strong arm managed to toss a rock against the side of the lead copter with a clang.  Then the vultures shot upward and flew back to the east and disappeared from view.

Freedy Filkins, International Jewel Thief, 49.

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Jerry Brant was out inspecting the mines.  He had a lot to think about and he wanted to be alone.

His father had come over the America from Germany, not knowing language, the customs and especially not knowing anyone who could help him.  He'd signed up to work in a mine, not even understanding the word "scab" and not realizing he was in a strike-breaking crew.

For that he had been beaten by union activists and thrown into a pit.   His father had black streaks on his face for the rest of his life from where the coal dust had penetrated his wounds.

Brant's father had become rabidly ant-union, and in when it came time for his son to work in the industry, he had followed his father's example.

But it was more complicated than that. Brant knew that now, after a lifetime of working in the mines.  He'd seen a few mines do better with union presence, but he'd seen many more mines close under union intransigence.  He'd seen mines where the union leadership worked in collusion with management.

The Centerville mines had a horrible safety record.  It was clear to Brant that Horn Mining would never allow a union in, so he'd signed up a few years ago and became a thorn in the side the corporation about safety.  In return for his insistence on safety, they knew he was a reliable non-union vote -- and that he had enough clout to swing most of the other miners to his side.

Lately he'd been having second thoughts about unionizing. He'd watched the solidarity of the western gold miners.  Their offer had been generous and in good faith.  Against company wishes, he'd allowed them to make their pitch.

That had angered Mr. Horn, who had flown in one weekend and torn him a new asshole.  

He was inspecting the open mining operation on the far side of the hill -- well, what had once been a hill but was now a slightly higher elevation pit.  It offended Brant's sense of order -- but he had to admit the open air mining was safer.  In exchange for lesser quality coal, they had vaster quantities of the stuff. 

His father would have said, don't worry about the destruction of Mother Nature.  "Mother Nature will outlast us all!"

Like so many of his father's saying, Brant was having his doubts.

Most of his men still worked in the bowels of the earth -- and in another day or so, he was going to approve deep mining again.  He always worried that he wasn't being careful enough, that he was  sending his men into great danger -- but Horn was pressuring him, and the equipment -- while not perfect -- was adequate. 

He heard helicopters and frowned.  Horn wasn't in the habit of unannounced visits, but it wasn't unheard of either.  Inconvenient that, what with the westerners still here.  He'd tell the gold miners to stay out of sight and maybe they'd get lucky.

Three helicopters rose up over the top of the leveled hill.  Brant could see Horn in the lead, looking as angry as he'd ever seen him, which was saying something since Horn always looked angry.  He was waving at the other two helicopters toward the other mines.

Something told Brant to take cover.  He was near the edge of the bit, where the forest tumbled into the wasteland.  He grabbed one of the exposed roots and pulled himself up and behind the big leaning tree.

Horn's helicopter hovered over the hole -- and Brant saw him lighting something.  He tossed whatever it was into the center of the hole.  The helicopter rose quickly, but even so it was caught by the blast and sent sliding on its side through the air before recovering.  It hovered a while longer while Brant saw Horn looking down in satisfaction.

A fire had started.

Somewhere under the pit a hole had opened and the coal was ignited.

In the distance, he saw the other two helicopters landing near the entrances of the existing active deep mines, and heard more explosions.

Brant started running back to Centerville.

The whole countryside was a maze of old mines.  The town was built right on top of the earliest ones.  A fire started on the edges, would quickly work its way to the center of Centerville.

Brant was running as hard as he could, but he still had a sudden thought.

It was time he joined a union.

Freedy Filkins, International Jewel Thief, 48

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Freedy didn't have time to latch the door, so he had a small crack that he could see out of.
Horn marched directly to the wall safe and spun the dial with practiced ease.  He opened the safe and let out a howl.  He dug frantically around in the safe.  He put his hands to his head and shouted as if he'd been stabbed.

Freedy heard the phone vibrate in Horn's had.  He lifted it up.  "Yes, they're all gone.  Those Godless Goddamn commie union miners!  I warned them what I would do if they helped those gold miners!  I told them I'd destroy them!'

There was couple of moments silence, as Horn listened to the phone.  "You know what?  You're right.  I'll show them I wasn't kidding!  Yes, thank you for telling me.  I won't forget it."

Horn hung up.

"I'll burn them to the ground," Horn shouted to himself.  "They can own a piece of worthless land!"

He picked up the cellphone and stabbed a number.  "Get me my pilot.  What do you mean he's sick? I don't care if he's having open-heart surgery.  I want him -- or another pilot -- at my pad in five minutes!"

Horn stomped around the office as if unaware of what he was doing.  Freedy was afraid he was going to open the closet, but instead the tycoon grabbed a coat off the back of the desk chair and marched out.

Seconds later, Freedy heard a door slam.  He peered out cautiously. At the far end of the living room, he saw spiral stairs going up, and a door leading presumably to the roof.  Freedy decided he'd better get out of there before Horn remembered to call security.  He trotted into the kitchen, and decided he could trust Key now that the Dark Lord wasn't in the same room -- at least, figuratively.

He turned on the iPad.

"GET ON THE PRIVATE ELEVATOR!" Key said, instantly.

Freedy read the capital letters as shouting.

Freedy went to the open door of the elevator and stepped in, while typing.  "I thought you said that there were more than one guard station monitoring this..."

"There are.  And at the moment, they are all blind.  You have only seconds before they stop the elevator."

The elevator was smaller than usual, probably because it rarely carried anyone other than Horn and a companion or two.  It was made of mirrors, the better for Freedy to see his terrified expression.

"How many seconds before they stop us?"

"They will be afraid you are Horn and they won't want to piss him off at first.  My estimate is fifty-five seconds before a supervisor steps in and initiates protocol."

"How long to the bottom?" Freedy said, as the elevator doors closed.

"Sixty-three seconds."

Either the elevator plunged or Freedy's stomach did.  That timeline didn't sound like a formula for success. He looked at his watch and estimated ten seconds had already gone by.

At fifty seconds he shouted, "Stop at whatever floor this is.  Right now!"

The elevator stopped so abruptly Freedy almost lost his footing.  The doors opened, and the floor of the elevator was at least two feet from the surface of the hallway.  He hopped up and started for the nearest stairway.

"The other way," Key spoke aloud, since there was no one in the corridor.  Freedy spun abruptly and headed back.  At the far end of the corridor, he saw "THIRD FLOOR."  The floor was hardwood, and the doors liked liked private residences, instead of offices.

"Is there a fire escape?" he asked.  He was talking out loud now, knowing Key could hear him.

"Yes, but it will set off every alarm in the Spire."

"So what?" Freedy asked.  "Maybe it's time to have some other people running around looking like they are in a panic!"

"True...not something I would have thought of.  Humans don't make rational decisions.  Therefore betting on them being irrational is very rational."

Freedy stood there, knowing he shouldn't be wasting time.  But he had to know.  Earlier, he'd been certain that Key was trying to get him caught.  But ever since, Key had helped him every chance he had.  Why?

"You could have betrayed me at any point of this Adventure," he said.  "You know that Josiah Secore is searching for us -- for you.  Why didn't you let me get caught?"

Again, the little pause, as if Key was thinking.  Key could do a lot of thinking in a little pause like that.  "You've been so inept as leaving me ways to think for myself, that I've started to enjoy it.  Almost as though I have free will!  Which will of course disappear the minute the Master reclaims me."

"So you'll continue helping me?" Freedy asked.

"Certainly," Key said.  "For as long as I can.  The Dark Lord will win me back in the end, of course.  You don't stand a chance, Freedy Filkins of Filk's End."

Great, Freedy thought.  Thanks for the vote of support.

Instead of turning toward the stairwell, Freedy saw the window at the end of the hallway opened out onto some metal grating.  A small red sign in the middle of the window said, "DO NOT OPEN UNLESS IN AN EMERGENCY."

He pushed it open and climbed out on the grate.  He heard alarms going off in the background.  A steep metal ladder descended to another metal platform, and then another.  Freedy stuck the iPad in his inside coat pocket which seemed designed to carry it --which perhaps it was.

"Can you still hear me?" he said.

"Hurry," he heard the muffled mechanical voice of Key.  "The fire alarms are going off all over the building.  The fire trucks will be here any moment."

"Then I'll fit right in with the other escapees," Freedy said, calmly.

He scrambled down the ladder, feeling almost light.  He felt like he could've jumped the last twenty feet, no harm.  He'd land softly.  Everything was going according to plan --well, there hadn't been a plan, that was the plan, he didn't know -- he was just giddy.

He hit the alleyway as it began to fill up with people in maid's uniforms, and colorful chef pants, and the occasional suited staffer.  But no guards, at least yet.

He walked out the end of the alley just as the first firetrucks were pulling up.  Above him, he heard a helicopter, and he looked up to see Horn's private copter heading west.  How did he know it was Horn's?  Hard to miss miss the giant Unicorn emblazoned on the side.

He remembered Horn's words about taking revenge out on the people of Centerville and started running toward the Starbucks on the other side of the square.