The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of an Indie Novel—Wolves of Vengeance Part 2

 

As an organic writer, I firmly believe in letting the characters dictate the narrative within the plot structure. To that end, I created the first three main characters. 

Jack Amon

Jack, much like his real-life counterpart, was a former bully in high school, a drug user, and a problem drinker. Turning his life around, he moves out of the fictional Wellington, Massachusetts, and gets a job in construction in the equally fictional Farmington, MA. When he hears about his old friends dying from wild animal attacks, he remembers the curse Michael Matheson put on all of them. A curse they had laughed off. He returns to Wellington to attend a funeral and to investigate the real reasons his old classmates are dying. Writers often use the name Jack for the quintessential hero, but I also had another reason. As I mentioned in part 1, I received partial inspiration from Flatliners (1988), and Kiefer Sunderland’s character in the film. The TV show 24 made me think of Sunderland as Jack Bauer. I decided Jack would be a good first name.  In high school, I loved King Diamond’s horror concept albums and took Jack’s surname from the house (Amon) in the albums, Them and Conspiracy. 

Michael Matheson

Michael was bullied which eventually led to him attending Gold’s Tae Kwon Do to protect himself. But Michael had a dark side, dabbling in black magic and the occult. Finding a spell in an old grimoire, he performed a ritual to awaken the Wolves of Vengeance, a corporal curse to attack his bullies. After performing the ritual, nothing happened. Michael chalked it up as a failure. Twenty-something years later the Wolves finally arrive and begin killing their marks. Michael never left Wellington and took over the school when Gold retired. Michael comes from my middle name and Matheson as an homage to Richard Matheson, the author of such works as I am Legend. Like Jack, he’s a composite character, drawn from more than one person, but he’s somewhat based on me. 

Katty LaRocque

Katty was an aspiring musician in high school (a guitarist to be exact) and a self-described rocker chick. She, like Jack, has a problem with alcohol. Unlike Jack, she’s a full-blown alcoholic. Her pet name derives from her high school persona (catty) and Andy LaRoche’s (King Diamond guitarist) last name.  She’s based on various musicians I knew in high school and a real-life rocker chick from my high school. 

 

Welcome

Welcome to Hell: A working Guide for the Beginning Writer

I had read Tom Piccirilli’s Welcome to Hell: A Working Guide for the Beginning Writer. Pic suggested newer novelists lightly outline the first half of their novels. I took his advice. Once  the outline was complete, I realized the manuscript would only reach novella length. Needing to beef up the manuscript, I asked myself this question: 

What characters do I need to tell this story?

Police involvement was a given. Adding a detective made sense. 

The only thing I worried about was voluminous research. What experience did I have that I could transfer to the character to make him believable? Turns out, I had more than I thought. 

I had worked a decade in private security, part of the criminal justice field. First, as a patrol officer, then as a security manager, and finally as a human resources recruiter. Security work put me in regular contact with police, fire, and EMS. As a security manager, I had performed investigations and later worked for a security and investigations firm, picking up interesting information directly from private investigators.  

My dad had also worked in private investigations, safety & security, special police, and fire, along with being one of the first EMTs in Massachusetts. He had been in charge of makeup and effects for emergency response training. When I was a kid he’d sometime practice the makeup effects on me. I grew up with this stuff! 

I had also recently visited my local PD to renew a license and got the nickel tour. I used my hometown police station as a model for the one in the book. 

The Writer’s Digest Howdunit series filled in many of the gaps. 

How

Police Procedural: a Writers Guide to the Police and how they work

With the research and experience in mind, I set about creating Detective Adrian Callahan. Originally, he was nothing more than a generic Irish cop. My wife would later express an idea that would help flesh out his character. More on that later. 

All in all, I consider my detective a success. I had a former law enforcement officer say as much.  He felt my  detective was accurate and believable. You can’t get much better than that.

With the decision to include a detective, I then decided that the military in some form might also be involved. I thought about adding a grizzled military captain but not wanting to  include another generic character, I cast a woman as my military captain. At that moment, Captain Amanda Rann was born. 

Next time, I’ll discuss how Callahan’s changes made him a controversial character, and how Rann becomes a driving force in the novel. 

Get Wolves of Vengeance here!

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of an Indie Novel—Wolves of Vengeance Part 1

Note: Since most people are sheltering in place, I figured I’d make my first novel FREE for as long as Amazon lets me. You can get Wolves of Vengeance here. If you read it, and you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to post a review on Amazon. Just a few sentences and whatever star rating you feel it deserves would be perfect. Thanks! 

Back in 2006, I abandoned my first novel. I had spent four long years trying to wrangle that mess of a manuscript into a cohesive whole, and by the time I figured out how to save it—I had a big problem. My skill level at the time was no match for the complexity of the story.  I stepped away from the project.

I decided to develop an idea originally envisioned as a screenplay. 

The seed of that idea came from an incident in high school and the aftermath that would stay with me forever. 

The “stranger comes to town” motif of Stephen King’s novels, along with the “man and woman come together to defeat a great evil while healing themselves in the process” motif, often seen in Dean Koontz novels, inspired my approach to this story.

 

Salem's Lot

Buy Salem’s Lot from Amazon*

Also, the film Flatliners, where Kiefer Sunderland’s character “flatlines” and has a confrontation with the “ghost” of the child he bullied when he was younger, was very influential.

Flatliners

Buy Flatliners on Amazon*

Here’s some background information: 

In 1987, after dealing with bullies in my freshman year, I attended an old school Tae Kwon Do dojang (training hall). Our teacher ran the place like a fight gym. The students were motivated adults, mostly working-class men who liked to beat the crap out of each other for fun. It was a rough tutelage. We maintained military bearing, conditioned ourselves like fighters, and lived for continuous contact sparring practiced every night without safety equipment. 

Within a short time, the fierce reputation of the dojang, along with winning a few school fights, ended the bullying.  

In my senior year, I slacked off a little with my training. Without the constant need to defend myself, I lost my motivation. 

Then providence intervened. 

Without going into the details, I had an altercation with a student. We’ll call him Jack. After the encounter,  he said he would beat me up after school. 

I waited for him in the parking lot, but he never showed. That should have ended it. 

Instead, the next day, a female student asked if Jack and I had fought. I told her he never showed. And then, stupidly, I added: “He must have been too scared to fight me.” 

My comment didn’t allow Jack to save face. I had just been afflicted by the symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease.  My remark made it back to him, and this time he was waiting for me after school. 

We had a standoff and a shouting match. The principle broke it up. Although we threw no punches, we both declared victory. 

Of course, neither of us wanted to fight and is the reason we ended up in a stalemate. But from that point on, I needed to train just in case we ended up throwing down.  I went straight back to hard training at the dojang. Two years later, I would earn a black belt. You can watch the highlights of that test here. Skip to near the end for sparring. 

Jack and I never had words again. We ended up at the same party once, not long after high school, but we kept to ourselves. 

The last time I saw him, he was walking around the downtown area. I was driving my girlfriend’s (now my wife) brand-new car. We made eye contact. That moment seemed like a little victory. 

I never forgot about our skirmish, though. Without a resolution, the incident nestled insidiously in my subconscious. 

A few years later, my dad called to tell me Jack had died of a drug overdose.

I began to wonder what would have happened if he had turned his life around. That gave me an idea. I could give him a new life in the screenplay idea I had always meant to write. In that instant, Jack Amon and Wolves of Vengeance were born. 

In 2006, I decided to develop that idea into a novel. 

Next time, I’ll explain how I expanded the idea into novel form and how I developed the main cast of characters.

 

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Free Kindle Version of Epitaphs!

I hope everyone is doing well during these crazy times. Just wanted to let you know that Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers is free for a limited time on Kindle. This anthology includes my story, “Malfeasance.” Happy Reading!

329497_2380596282434_1476502813_4611496_1310210381_o

If you’re interested in how I wrote and sold this story you can read about it here.

Before I go, I want to let you know I’ve been behind on my blog writing. You probably already know that. Haha! But I will be continuing The Scribes of Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale series. I also want to get back to my NaNoWriMo novel, BLACK MAGIC BULLETS.

On an encouraging note,  I just received an acceptance from an award-winning webzine. I’ll have a  free story online for you to ready sometime in July.

I’ve been plugging away at the final edits of a 90,000-word horror thriller. Hopefully, I’ll be finished soon and can put it on the market.

The better part of this week was spent rewriting a short story for an anthology open call. I really love the story, but it needed a lot of TLC to bring it up to my current standards.

I also sent out a Lovecraft inspired story to another anthology open call.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back soon. Stay safe out there!

 

 

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of Writers of the Future Honorable Mention—Blade of the Vagabond Part 3

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. 

Realizing I could resubmit Blade of the Vagabond to the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, I set out to put the 8,000-word version through a final polish. I uploaded the manuscript into ProWritingAid and began making my prose lean and mean. With an even cleaner manuscript, I went through the process outlined on the Writers of the Future website and submitted it through their web-portal. 

WOTF-35-Front-Cover

Writers of the Future Volume 35

There was nothing else to do but wait and keep working on my current project. After facing rejection a few times with this story, I had no expectations. In fact, I sent it off only to keep the manuscript circulating. I didn’t feel the story in its shortest form, grabbed a top spot, and I didn’t have time to re-edit the longer version to make the submission window. Truly, I would need to add back between 1,000 and 1,500 words to sand down what I felt was an awkward transition. 

Imagine my surprise when I received this email: 

Dear Entrant,

Your story has been judged and is an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. (You entered between 1 April and 30 June <2019>).

Congratulations!!! You were in the top 2% of all entries. 

Getting an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest is a big deal. There are no figures on how many enter the contest each quarter. It’s a very large number. From the information I had, we could estimate something like 14,000 entries! I’m not sure if that number’s accurate, but if it is, it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to make it public. They want you to send in your story, and if that number intimidates you, you’ll be less likely to submit. Probably the largest and most prestigious contest in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre. If you want to get any recognition—bring your A-game.  

Receiving the Honorable Mention was a nice pick-me-up during a long dry period in sales. It showed I was on the right track, encouraging me to redouble my efforts. 

It also made me reevaluate my writing career direction. Previously, I’d been submitting mostly short horror stories and writing a combination of novel-length thrillers and horror thrillers. After the Honorable Mention, I began not only working on an Urban Fantasy novel but reevaluated some of my unpublished short fiction to market it as dark fantasy or rewrite it as Urban fantasy. No matter which, I’ll probably work on more fantasy and Science fiction as I go forward. 

A list of all the Honorable Mentions and Winners for that quarter can be found here.

A great post with tips on writing for the contest can be found here. 

So, that’s it. That’s the full story of how I got an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. If you enter, and I hope you do, I wish you the best of luck. Keep plugging away.  I know I am!

 

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BOTVWotFHM

Black Magic Bullets: Chapter 17

 

I have finally returned to Black Magic Bullets. This chapter is very short, but after so long a wait, I wanted to post something. I’m sorry for the delay. Before I present this next chapter, let me explain what led up to the previous chapter.

I had no idea what would happen when Kenzi and Harrison entered the basement. Usually, I’d just write out of order and go to a scene a little further along in the narrative, but since I’m posting the first draft publicly, I didn’t want to leave the audience hanging. By moving on, the next scene usually tells me what needs to come before. In that way, I can become unstuck and move on. Since I wasn’t going to do that, I had reached an impasse. Luckily, an idea arrived quickly.

Everything I read, watch, and experience tends to inform how the story develops. Black Magic Bullets is no exception. 

Interestingly enough, we ended up putting on Bright with Will Smith on Netflix one night. Not a great movie, even when just streaming in the background.

Bright

Bright reminded me of Alienation meets Lord of the Rings in an Urban Fantasy world. I thought it interesting how close the orcs and elves were to J.R.R. Tolkien’s creations. After the movie ended, I realized I wanted to put orcs in the basement level of the building in Black Magic Bullets. I was intrigued but didn’t want my story to be derivative of Tolkien’s world.

LOTR

The Lord of the Rings*

Then I remembered Ogre, Ogre by Piers Anthony, a novel set in his Xanth series. I hadn’t thought of that novel since the mid-80s. Using an ogre appealed to me more since they’re derived directly from world mythology.  And that’s how ogre’s ended up in my manuscript.

 

Ogre

Ogre, Ogre (Xanth)

Now, without further ado, here’s the 1st draft of Chapter Seventeen.

 

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

Chapter Seventeen

The next location went much the same way as the first, this time—thankfully— with no ogres. That was a relief. But all this searching was eating up time. 

Cyber contacted us not long after we dejectedly left the second abandoned structure. She had an idea for a place to check out that I would never have imagined. I supposed that was why Dreadstone employed her. She had thought through the situation and trusted her, but I still didn’t have much hope of finding Dedra’s body. 

When we arrived at the maze of small buildings, the sun had reached its zenith. 

“Take another hit,” Kenzi said. 

I already hated this part of the job. I couldn’t wait until my mystical abilities matured. 

I took the hit of the gas and stepped out of the BMW. 

Entering the maze, we snaked our way through squat metal buildings. Kenzi followed my lead. Each unit painted blue reminding me of the identical prefab houses in the culdesacs of the middle-class and the ubiquitous brick government housing of the underprivileged.  

Then I saw the signature and told Kenzi as much. I wish I hadn’t. 

The storage locker looked the same as any other, but this one was different. Would the locker contain Dedra’s body? I didn’t want to know. 

Kenzi stepped in front of the locker, raising a crowbar. 

Metal struck metal. Once, twice, a third time. Finally, the padlock gave way. Plucking from its resting place, Kenzi tossed it. The padlock bounced once off concrete and came to rest. 

Squatting, Kenzi lifted the gate and immediately turned her head. 

Foul air escaped the confines. Now I knew the odor of the dead. 

Kenzi turned her head as if slapped. I suspected once we found the body, I’d turn green and throw up. Unlike the male body in the basement, this one had succumbed to heat and cold and was generally worse for wear. 

Although I felt queasy, my stomach didn’t betray me. I was grateful. The last thing I wanted was to lose my cookies in front of Kenzi. 

“If this is her,” Kenzi said, examining the body. “We won’t be needing that shovel.” 

“How will we know?” 

Kenzi grabbed a body bag from the trunk and then returned. 

“The body’s female,” she said. “We bring her back to Dreadstone.”

“And if it is her?” I asked. 

“Then we have a murderer to find.” 

To be continued… 

 

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The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Writers of the Future Honorable Mention—Blade of the Vagabond Part 2

In part 1, I examined the  inspiration that led to writing Blade of the Vagabond (you can read that here). In Part 2, we’ll continue as I turn BOTV into a novelette and send it out to the  L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. 

Originally, Blade of the Vagabond had a subtitle. The first 20,000-word version was called Blade of the Vagabond: Heaven, Earth, and Woman. The subtitle is a play on a Confucian concept of Heaven, Earth, and Man where, in very simplistic terms, man acts as the harmonizing force between the spiritual and material realms or perhaps between the opposites of Yin and Yang. The place in-between where truth resides. That’s close enough for a laymen’s understanding, but I’m sure I’ll get some criticism for it.  If you have a more succinct explanation, feel free to post in the comments. I welcome your thoughts. 

Heaven-Earth-Man

Anyway, I changed Man to Woman in the subtitle as my main character is female. 

I was introduced to the term through my martial arts practice and have been fascinated ever since. The concept became the central focus of the story. 

Once I had finished the first draft, I put the story away, awaiting a viable market. As I mentioned in Part 1, the open submission period  ended before I completed the first draft.  Luckily, soon after, the original publisher reopened for submissions. 

I edited my draft and then gave it to Patty for a proofread. After reading the initial draft, Patty dubbed this story her favorite of any I had written.  After a polish edit, I felt satisfied enough to send it and await a response. 

Feeling this story represented my best work,  I was convinced it had a good chance of selling. I sent it to them with high hopes. What happened next would change the course of how I submitted the story. 

The editorial team from the publishing house contacted me and their response surprised me. Originally, the story had a prologue. In the opening, we see one villain, a henchman to the Big Bad, not the protagonist, as he prepares for infiltration and assassination. It was a long opening filled with action and intrigue.  The idea was to pull the reader into the action before we reached the first chapter and met the protagonist. I felt this high action opening increased the danger and tension, setting up the story for the final confrontation.

The editors, however, had mistaken my prologue (which was clearly labeled) with the first chapter and the villain’s henchman with my main protagonist. They felt too separated from the  “protagonist” as if watching a movie and weren’t fully engaged by the writing. I found this odd since my story’s subtitle was Heaven, Earth, and Woman,  how could they mistake my male antagonist for my female protagonist?  

Here’s what they wrote:

I appreciated how this began in media res, watching someone on a mission , but there was a lot of action with no motivation. Movies often open this way and perhaps it works better in cinema because camera angles and music can create emotional sensations in the audience, but with prose our connection is a little more difficult to forge. I spend too much of this story following the protagonist without sharing the feelings, which hamstrings our ability to anticipate or experience true tension. This is subjective and another editorial team may feel differently, so I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Pro Tip: Editors are overworked and if they’re confused by your submission, they’ll reject you. They won’t give you the benefit of the doubt. They don’t have time.

Yet, there’s more to learn. Many wannabe writers base their stories on films and TV shows and use a cinematic technique throughout the whole book. Because of this, the cinematic technique may brand you as an amateur. It’s unfortunate but understandable. 

Also, there’s an important reason I didn’t share the antagonist’s feelings: he doesn’t have any. Using a potion and mind-altering meditative techniques, the antagonist blots out his feelings. 

What I thought was obvious wasn’t. Would every editor feel the same? There was no way to know. Removing the Prologue didn’t hurt the story. With a few tweaks, I annexed it. Cutting the story lowered the word count making it more marketable. 

Pro Tip: Novellas and novelettes are a harder sell for newer and less established writers. 

I also wondered if readers who liked the prologue would enjoy the main story and vice versa. Both sections had a different tone. 

Next, I sent a modified version to a top pro magazine.  The response I received was encouraging. This editor enjoyed the writing. He wrote, “some really good writing here,” personalizing the rejection letter. 

Pro Tip: Getting compliments from professional editors at top magazines is a very good sign. It may mean you’re writing at a professional level or are close. 

Here’s the thing: did I think a top magazine would buy a 16,000-word novella from a virtual unknown? No, but it was worth a try and gave me valuable feedback. You can’t win if you don’t play. 

Encouraged by the pro editor’s response, I sent the story to L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. The 16,000-word version didn’t win. 

Then I heard about another contest at a very large and popular SF and Fantasy Independent press. The problem? Their upper word count was 8,000 words. If I wanted to send them Blade of the Vagabond, I’d have to cut the story in half. Could I trim the story to its essence, reducing it to the low end of novelette form, while keeping enough plot for the story to make sense? That was a good question. Some poignant moments and a subplot or two would need to be removed, but I believed it could be done. I set out on a mission. 

I whittled it down to 9,000 words without losing the main plot, but I had to do without some poignant moments and some of what made the first two versions of the story unique. 

Now to shave the manuscript to 8,000 words, I had to lose a connector scene. The story still worked well enough, but I wasn’t happy with the transition between one chapter.  If I wanted to submit to the contest, I’d have to live with it. 

Once sent, I returned to my novel (working title: The Tower) already in progress. 

When the contest ended, and they announced winners,  it was time to send Blade of the Vagabond somewhere else. 

WOTF-35-Front-Cover

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Vol. 35*

I received an email notification from the director of Writers of the Future that there was still time to submit a story for the 3rd quarter. Could I send a different version of the same story to the contest? I’d have to find out. If allowed, I figured it was worth a shot. 

Next time I’ll tell you what happened, how I edited my manuscript into shape, and what I learned in the process. I’ll see you then.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Writers of the Future Honorable Mention—Blade of the Vagabond Part 1

 

Today I’d like to discuss how my story, Blade of the Vagabond, was created and how it was ultimately awarded an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. 

The idea to write Blade of the Vagabond came when I noticed an open call from a major science fiction and fantasy publisher. They were looking for fantasy novellas inspired by non-European cultures. An idea hit me so powerfully that I stopped work on my novel in progress to focus on this new project. 

At the time I had no hope of making the deadline, but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I put everything aside and pushed on. 

The first inkling of a concept for this story began to sprout while taking an Arthurian Literature class at UMASS Lowell. The professor, Dr. Archer, assigned a paper where we were to write about any topic on the Middle Ages we wanted to explore. I knew exactly what I wanted to research and became excited by the prospect. 

Having been a martial artist all my life, and having years of training in a system centered on Japanese Feudal combat, I decided to research Medieval fighting systems. My focus was on sword schools as there was ample woodcut evidence through surviving woodcuts that depicted the techniques. 

I used books like Sigmund Ringeck’s Knightly Arts of Combat: Sword and Buckler Fighting, Wrestling, and Fighting in Armor by David Lidholm. 

Knight

Knightly Arts of Combat: Sword-and-Buckler Fighting, Wrestling, and Fighting in Armor

As I crafted the paper, I thought about how interesting it would be to include realistic combat dynamics into fantasy fiction. The concept stayed in the back of my mind but remained just a potential idea jotted down in my notebook. 

When I learned about the open call for non-European inspired fantasy fiction, I thought it would be fun to create a world based on ancient Japan. Although, I also drew from ancient Korea and China. 

Conan

The Comming of Conan The Cimmerian*

Wanting to create a swashbuckling sword and sorcery epic fantasy drama, I drew upon many inspirations including Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and Kull the Conquer series of stories. Inspiration also came from the Seven Samurai (1954) and the Jidaigeki (period dramas) and chanbara (sword fighting Amurai cinema). 

Samurai

Seven Samurai*

However, I didn’t want to include the samurai or the ninja as this had been done to death. Instead, I used an obscure book as my inspiration for a fighting wizard character: Leung Ting’s Skills of the Vagabonds. The book had capitalized on the 1980s ninja boom comparing the  Chinese Vagabond assassins to Japan’s ninja assassins. Marketing at its finest! The glowing eyes on the cover of the book had stayed with me over the years and I thought it would be great fodder for fantasy fiction. 

Skills

Skills of the Vagabonds 

Delving deeply into Japanese mythology, I began to craft the story into a 20,000-word novella, the low end of the word count required for submission. 

For the title, I decided on a mixture of Skills of the Vagabond and a variant of the “Swords” titles prevalent in the fantasy genre like Swords against Wizardry (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser sequence) by Fritz Leiber and Sword of Destiny (Witcher Saga) by Andrzej Sapkowski.  Blade of the Vagabond sounded like a fantasy story to my ear. 

Witcher

Sword of Destiny (The Witcher)*

Despite the open call ending before I finished, I soldiered on completing the first draft and then shelving the project until, six months later, they opened for submissions once again. 

Next time, I’ll delve into the submission process that led to receiving an  Honorable Mention. I’ll also reveal the original title and how and why it changed. I hope you’ll follow my blog to find out what happened.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.