Monthly Archives: February 2020

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.