Forever a WIP

RE: my absence. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up: lost my job, went on vacation, now back to writing.

Yesterday, my boyfriend (who composes music) and I were having a discussion about our creative processes. He’s been writing music for nearly as long as I’ve written stories. During that time, he’s gone and re-recorded/remastered older tunes. My version of this is to edit the living hell out of an existing document. Kind of like making a layer cake, but instead of something yummy, half the time I felt I was covering the errors with prettier words. Anyway, I thought, ‘Hey, why not take a scene from an early version of a story and rewrite it?’ For this, I went with my much loved, yet much edited sci-fi RENEGADE. I have always liked how I introduced Simon’s character, even if the original version is pure 80s action movie camp. So here they are for your reading pleasure. Intro to Simon 2005 and Intro to Simon 2016. I am presenting the 2005 version in its original form. This is to better compare the two scenes. Let me tell you, I was damn wordy back in 2005. On with the writing!

Intro to Simon: 2005 version

Autumn reached her car, where she unlocked the back door to place her tote bag on the seat.  She closed it, readying to open the driver’s side door when she heard footsteps behind her.  Autumn glanced over her shoulder, catching sight of three people slowly making their way across the level.  There was something odd about them in spite of the casual way they were dressed.  The one in the middle looked around as if seeking something, while the other two moved in perfect unison.  After a moment Autumn relaxed.  They looked like they had lost track of their car, and were simply looking for it.  She hoped they would find it and turned away.  Just as she went to get inside the car a hand appeared over her arm, placing gentle but firm pressure on the door.  She whirled around, surprised and angry at the intrusion.

“Excuse me, but this is my car,” she said, glancing at the three who now hovered close to her.  Uncomfortably close, actually, and Autumn stepped aside to give herself room.  The man on the left followed her, blocking her way. 

“Autumn Welles,” the man in the middle stated in a crisp yet strangely accented voice.  Autumn held her car keys close to her, silently thanking her sister Samantha for talking her into buying the can of mace that hung from them.  It looked like she was going to need it very soon.

“Yes?” Autumn replied, trying not to sound as nervous as she felt.  The man on the left stepped closer to her, forcing her to retreat until she stood before the driver’s side door again. 

“You must come with us now.  Your presence is immediately required,” the middle man continued, reaching for her.  Autumn jerked out of the way, her hand tightening on the can of mace. 

“Come with you where?” she asked warily. 

“That is unimportant.  If you will just follow us-“

“I don’t think so,” Autumn replied shortly, surprised by her boldness.  The three looked at one another, as if their expressions alone conveyed what was on their minds.  Autumn knew she was trapped, and the need to say such a thing was nothing more than a stall tactic.  If she continued with the ploy, then perhaps she’d find reason to use the mace.  One spray was all it’d take to ward off the three strangers. 

“You can’t expect me to go with you without telling me where we’re going.  There’s also the fact that I don’t know who you are.  And another thing-“ Autumn’s words died in her throat then, for the man on the right leveled a strange-looking weapon in her direction.  She swallowed nervously, fear paralyzing her mind. 

“We are not asking you to come with us.  We are telling you,” the man with the weapon declared calmly.  Autumn shook her head, wanting to speak when the middle man laid a firm hand on her shoulder.  She jumped, suppressing a cry of protest before she was dragged away from the car.  Autumn tried to pull free but to no avail.  The man yanked her forward so that she was walking before him, his hand locked on her shoulder with an unyielding grip.  Her eyes darted to and fro nervously, hoping someone, anyone would see her and come to her aid.  But the parking level was empty. 

The three men led her toward the stairwell, the one holding her forcing her through the doorway as soon as it was opened.  Autumn went inside, nearly tripping when the man hauled her up the stairs.  She was literally dragged the whole way until they reached the top floor.  The man on the left pushed open the door, Autumn’s hair whipping about her face thanks to the wind that passed over her.  Upon scanning the immediate area she saw no waiting car.  In fact she saw nothing but scattered lamp posts and empty spaces. 

“Where are you taking me?” Autumn demanded.  Her captors said nothing; they merely walked across the level in the direction of the far edge.  They had cleared the center when all of a sudden the one on the right stopped, bringing an arm out to halt the others.  He glanced over at his companions, speaking in an odd, guttural language that Autumn could not understand.  It was then she saw what they must have seen materialize across the way.

A tall figure draped in black was casually leaning against a lamp post, his arms crossed over his chest and right leg propped up.  His head was angled down, the shadow of his hair shielding his face from view.  After a moment he lifted his head and slowly turned his gaze toward the men, allowing Autumn to see that he wore a pair of sunglasses. 

“I believe you’ve got something I want,” the man said, his voice also slightly accented but not as mechanical in its delivery.  Two of the men approached the black-clad one slowly, while the third remained behind to keep Autumn still.  Her fear steadily grew as she watched.  Suddenly she wished she had gone home earlier, if only to avoid this strange confrontation.

The black-clad man watched the other two with nonchalant disregard, yet when he uncurled his arm one of the men made an exclamation.  A firearm slid into the black-clad man’s hand, the light from above gleaming off the barrel.  Autumn recognized it as the same as the one that was pulled on her, but she had little time to reflect on the coincidence.  She was shoved to the ground by the one who held her, and as she scrambled to her hands and knees she saw the weapon barrel glow with an eerie yellow light.  What could only be described as a laser beam shot out, catching the man on the right in the shoulder.  As soon as the man dropped in a heap the other two advanced, leaving Autumn alone.  She was too transfixed by what she saw to think to escape.

The stranger darted away from the lamp post in a half-spin, his other hand producing a weapon.  He hoisted both guns up, firing several times.  The lasers burned through the second man, and after his body was sent spinning awkwardly he collapsed.  Autumn felt her stomach heave at seeing the blood pooling around the man, prompting her to cover her mouth to keep from retching. 

In the meantime the third man came at the stranger, an angry cry escaping his lips.  Autumn watched, amazed, as the stranger sheathed both weapons before reaching out to halt the other’s forward progress with the flat side of his palm.  The man staggered back from the hit, yet before he could muster a counter the stranger grabbed his head and slammed it against his upright knee.  When the man fell onto his back his attacker stomped on his neck with such force it severed the head from the rest of the body. 

Autumn cried out and scooted backwards, pushing herself away from the carnage in a frantic attempt to escape.  She kept going until she backed against a wall, causing her to jump to her feet.  The moment she did she found herself face to face with the stranger and screamed.  He brought a gloved hand up to cover her mouth, an expression of distaste coming to his lips.  Autumn watched him with wide eyes, her nostrils flaring as she heaved.  Her hand tightened around the can of mace in spite of the paralysis the situation cast over her mind. 

“If you scream again I will kill you.  Understand?” he said coldly.  Autumn found herself nodding, and he removed his hand from her mouth.  The instant he did she brought the can of mace up, emptying the whole thing right in his face.  She had the sudden urge to smile; this man had single-handedly killed three others only to be felled by a can of pepper spray.  Autumn was on the verge of laughing her triumph when she realized the stranger did not stagger back to wipe at his eyes.  Instead his expression turned more grim as he reached up and slowly lowered the sunglasses so they rested at the end of his nose.  Autumn pulled in a breath at the glowing intensity of his blue eyes.

“I’d appreciate it if you refrained from doing that again.  Your types have no idea how foul this smell is,” he remarked.  Some of Autumn’s fear faded, replaced with annoyance.  It suddenly didn’t matter that he displayed immunity to mace, only that he had insulted her. 

“What do you mean by that?” she demanded angrily.  The stranger dutifully ignored her as he wiped his sunglasses clean of the pepper spray using the sleeve of his coat.  After replacing them he reached for her.  Autumn jerked out of the way. 

“There’s no time for this,” he said in an annoyed tone. 

“I don’t care.  Who the hell are you anyways?” Autumn snapped, moving aside each time he attempted to grab her.  At length he took hold of her forearm, bringing her forward with such strength it caused her to gasp.

“If you don’t keep quiet and come with me, you won’t be alive long enough to learn the answers to those questions.  Now come on,” he insisted. 

***

Intr0 to Simon: 2016 version

The stretch of road featured a fair amount of traffic. Overhead, the stars were blotted out by the distant glow of the city to the north. Autumn picked out a few constellations as she walked, her thoughts drifting to the times her grandfather took her stargazing. He’d taught her how to identify Polaris, Rigel, and Sirius. She knew the best times to view Venus and Mars thanks to him. His desire to see these places was so strong her grandfather reassured her that once he passed, he would use the time to explore the universe. Autumn smiled faintly at the sky, wondering, not for the first time, if her grandfather was still traveling, and what he had seen.

The buildings to either side grew closer together as she walked. Dark, narrow passages marked the boundaries between them. As Autumn passed one, she heard footsteps. She expected to be overtaken by whoever was behind her. But the steps kept time to hers. And they were gaining.

Overcome by a sense of warning, Autumn hurried her pace. The Mexican restaurant was still a few blocks down. Autumn quickly scanned the buildings, hoping to slip into a convenience store or something. It was too dark and quiet for her to feel comfortable. But when she neared the corner, a man appeared in front of her. It was the same one she’d seen at the hotel.

Frightened now, Autumn tried to go around him. He cut off her escape.

 “Autumn Welles,” he said. His pronunciation was strange, as if English was not his primary language.

Autumn gulped. She gripped the purse strap at her shoulder. If he tried anything, she might be able to hit him and run.

“What do you want?”

The man withdrew a black object from his coat. Two more men appeared to either side of her. Autumn flinched at their proximity, but it was the strange handguns each aimed at her that stilled her movements.

“You must come with us now.”

One grabbed her shoulder. Autumn’s panicked cry was muffled when he covered her mouth. Her thoughts frayed, only to reform as the instinct to escape. Despite her efforts to twist free, the man dragged her into the alley. The rancid stench of garbage invaded her nostrils. It was such a sickening scent, she felt momentarily dizzy. Tears burned her eyes. Who were these men? What did they want with her? She hastily looked around, hoping someone, anyone would help her.

And then, almost on cue, a tall figure with long, stringy blond hair and wearing what appeared to be armor inspired by TRON: Legacy appeared at the far side of the alley. His eyes, while a striking shade of blue, were cold as he stared at them. Autumn’s belief he was associated with her kidnappers fled the minute he opened fire.

His using the same gun as her kidnappers was lost as what could only be described as a laser beam shot through the air. It struck the first man in the chest. He screamed in pain and dropped. Autumn cried out as her keeper thrust her toward the wall. She sank to the ground, trembling all over. The scent of rotting food nearly made her pass out. She pressed her hand to her nose to reduce its effects. Fear, however, kept her transfixed on the scene unfolding before her eyes.

The other two advanced. The man in black fired again, hitting one of the two in the neck. Blood spurt forth to coat the wall. Outraged, the remaining man raced toward him. The knife was a flash of silver as he threw it.

Autumn watched, speechless, as the stranger holstered his weapon before extending his hand. The knife collided with an invisible force. It spun away into the distance. The stranger finished his enemy off by shooting him in the head. When he looked down at Autumn, the gleam in his eyes freed her from her paralysis. She screamed and scrambled toward the street.

The man in black caught her by the arm and dragged her back. She struggled against him as he spun her around. His hand was like a lead weight across her mouth.

“Don’t scream again,” he said. His voice was as cold as his eyes.

Autumn found herself nodding, and he removed his hand. The instant he did, she attempted to swat him with her purse. He gestured. The purse was torn from her hands so fast the strap snapped. It landed between a pair of overflowing garbage cans.  

Heart pounding, she stared up at his face, all sharp angles and lined with faint scars. In her terror, she swore she saw another face pass across his.

Her voice shook as she did. “Who are you?”

 

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Getting ready for Camp

Despite a low success rate with my previous Camp experiences, I decided to give it another shot. It pleases me to announce I have begun work 0n the outline for this year’s project. It’s the hard rewrite of my untitled NaNo 2015. I’m not quite done with Cassie and Drew yet. I also think entering football’s off-season will help sharpen my focus. Drew’s face and body model is pretty damn distracting.

andrew-luck-portrait-800-2

The Chiefs and Patriots fan in me writhes with such shame, but I also don’t care.

I also crafted an updated synopsis. Have a gander!

Earth, 2202. Ten years ago, the New Frontier Corporation’s attempt to sustain the world’s first colony die when Bright Hope is ravaged by a solar flare. Its survivors, mostly young children and adolescents, are left to fend for themselves when the company abandons the colony. Enter the League, the newly-formed intergalactic arm of the North American Football Association. The League takes over the remains to promote lucrative football games using the survivors as players. But it is not without cost, for soon Bright Hope becomes nothing more than a subsidiary of the League.

Cassiopeia Tennant, like the other survivors, is considered a ‘burnt colony kid’, her social status that of a second-class citizen, her prospects no higher than just above poverty. With everyone she ever knew dead and left with less than nothing, Cassie works to find a way off the colony.

Like Cassie, Drew Thomas lost all he knew in the flare. In the years since, he has experienced nothing but success, popularity, and pride as the quarterback of the immensely popular Central Sector Spartans. Yet when he comes across vital information that reveals the League plans to replace all players with more durable clones, he runs.

A chance encounter with Cassie prevents the League from taking action against Drew, but his appearance draws her into a world she has no knowledge of or great admiration for. Along with the help of a reluctant geneticist formerly of the League’s clone project, Drew and Cassie take a stand against the very company that saved them.

It’s my hope that the draft that results from April’s Camp proves more substantial than what was born from November’s frenzy. I’m also debating on not participating this year. I noticed that the pacing from my previous two drafts was set to ludicrous speed. How can I expect readers to develop connections to characters if there’s no time to get to know them outside of their roles in the plot? The reverse is just as bad. Too slow a start can result in bored readers. The best example I can come up with is LOST VOICES by Sarah Porter. I was fascinated by the premise- a lonely and forgotten girl who becomes a mermaid- but the pacing killed it for me. I read up to chapter four before putting it aside. All events these chapters focused on seemed to have little to do with the plot other than worsening the MC’s already shitty situation. It was overkill. Not even the passages describing the girl’s transformation into a mermaid was enough to hold my interest. And they were among the best.

However, Peter Liney’s THE DETAINEE- a sci-fi featuring an older male character exiled to an island with other 60+ people for the crime of being old- kept me engaged despite a similarly slow start. The reader is fully aware of the MC’s shitty situation, one that’s complicated by groups of crazed, drugged-up teenagers slaughtering the people he lives with. An offhand observation about the MC feeling he was being watched turned out to be a direct link to events to come. I think the difference here is I established a connection to the lead in THE DETAINEE, while the girl in LOST VOICES didn’t jump out at me at all. Every reader’s experience is different. I’m sure there are those out there who sympathized more with the girl and sympathized less with the older man.

Bottom line: pacing is something I think depends more on the story rather than the writer. But it must be balanced. That is my personal challenge to myself. For those of you participating in Camp or just writing, I wish you good luck in whatever challenges you set for yourself. They will make us all better writers.

Submissions and one awesome sci fi 90s cartoon

Good ol’ spontaneity had me send my fantasy, The Shadow Conflict, to Baen Books for publication consideration. Anyone even a little familiar with popular science fiction and fantasy titles will recognize it as one of the leading publishers of the genre. They’re up there with DAW Books and Tor Books as far as I’m concerned. They’re also one of the few houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts. I’ve only ever submitted directly to a publishing house once before, and I received a nice rejection on company letterhead. I recognize it now as a form rejection, but at the time it was proof that someone had looked at my 300K epic fantasy, even if it was for a moment. That house was DAW, and the manuscript was The Last Hero, which is currently available on my Scribd page. I even remembered to add the cover my friend made for me all those years ago. Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t tried shopping it around again (I have plenty of marketing materials), but I think I’d need another three years just to get it ready. Took me three years to write the damn thing. Years should only be applied in submitting a story, not its creation. But I digress.

My sister’s recovery is going well. Work continues on Renegade’s sequel. That is, when I can tear myself away from watching Exosquad. If you grew up watching 90s cartoons, you may have heard of this hidden gem. I remember watching it on Saturday mornings, and I had one of the toys, seen below:

exo_ser1_2_crop

I purchased the first season through Amazon, and am about halfway through the second season. I’m blown away by how awesome it is. One of the only episodes I recall watching dealt with the Exosquad leader being sentenced to death, and his complaining about R rations being a ‘lousy last meal’. Even Batman: The Animated Series, as incredible as it is, danced around the concept of death. Before you come at me with the episode where Batgirl plummets to her death from a building, allow me to remind you that it was a dream sequence. When people die in Exosquad, it’s permanent.

Granted, some of the animation is a bit underwhelming, but a show can have crappy animation so long as the story and characters are solid. And holy hell, this show has it in spades. Batman: The Animated Series received praise for mature story lines and adult themes, but Exosquad is in a class of its own. The scope of characterization is unlike anything I’ve seen in American animation. You have good guys turning traitor, and bad guys maintaining a sense of honor even when ordered to set off a bomb. Things of this nature is often found in Anime such as Full Metal Alchemist, only minus the blood and gore found in Attack on Titan.

Well, except it has scenes like this.

kids show

Usually, this is the part where I’d show my age and rant about how today’s cartoons aren’t like the ones I grew up with, etc etc etc. Only I can’t make that distinction with any certainty. With the exception of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I don’t watch today’s cartoons. The darkest FiM ever got was in the season five opener. The Mane Six were locked in a room while being subjected to the same message playing over and over again in order to brainwash them. This, in a show about magical talking horses. Crazy stuff. And I love it.