Author Archives: David North-Martino

About David North-Martino

DAVID NORTH-MARTINO is the author of WOLVES OF VENGEANCE and the forthcoming YEAR OF THE DEMON. His short fiction has appeared in numerous fiction venues including, Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers, the From Beyond the Grave anthology, the Daughters of Icarus anthology, Afterburn SF, and Dark Recesses Press. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, he holds a BLA in English and psychology. When he’s not writing, David enjoys studying and teaching martial arts. He lives with his very supportive wife in a small town in Massachusetts.

NaNoWriMo – Chap 5, 6 & 7 Black Magic Bullets

Day three of NaNoWriMo and I’ve made word-count. Anyway, this is a very rough draft. Although I was trying to create a character arc, I came to the realization that my protagonist might not be a strong enough character for the genre. I attempted a slight course correction. Also, I write by the seat of my pants without an outline. I have no idea what’s going to happen from writing session to writing session. And as always, this is only a first draft with very light corrections. Feel free to let me know what you think. Don’t worry. I have a think skin.

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 5

“You’ll know what to do,” Stone assured me before we began. “I can tell you’re suffering a crisis of confidence. That’s not who you really are. I want you to think back to all the training you’ve had, not just in wizardry but also as a fighter”

Stone was right. I wasn’t feeling myself. I had let my life circumstances rob me of my mojo, let them make me feel less than. I knew who I was. I had fought full contact not just in the dojang martial arts school but on the streets, against bullies. Had I won all my fights? No, who could? But I had never backed down from a fight. Thinking back, I had logged plenty of ritual sessions, even if most of them took place in my parent’s unfinished basement. 

Feeling better, I nodded my head. 

Peal began the process, walking around the circle, lighting each colored candle with a matte-black Zippo, calling upon the creatures of each direction, invoking a pentagram by cutting each line in the air with an athame. 

Voice booming, Peal uttered words of power, infusing his thoughts, and his words, with his actions. 

When he had finished, We entered the center of the pentagram. 

“Computer,” Stone uttered the wake word. “Protection.” 

Tiny tubes in the circle of the pentacle released the creature of salt until the grove had completely filled. 

She spoke the wake word again followed by the word undine, and I watched a tile on the floor slide open to reveal a hole in the floor filled with water. I knew why but thought it odd. Never in all the rites, I had observed, had anything like this been utilized. 

“Ritual,” Stone said right after the wake word and the lights shut off leaving them with only the illumination and moving shadows cast by candlelight. 

“It’s time to enter the Collective,” Stone said. “Are you ready?”

I took a deep breath to slow my heart. 

“I’m ready.”

Placing the mask over my nose and mouth, my other hand worked the valve releasing the gas. The seal was tight, the gas did not leak, and I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply. 

When I opened my eyes, everything had changed. 

The mundane world had been replaced by what Stone called the Collective. 

I realized I was in the collective now. One foot in waking reality, the other in an interdimensional dream. 

“Can you see it?” Stone asked when she opened her eyes. She hadn’t relied on the gas to enter and neither had Peal. A meditative state allowed them passage. I longed for the ability to transgress from one waking world to another naturally. 

I nodded. 

By the green candle stood a diminutive being, a gnome. His eyes black, staring, perhaps dreaming, lending power to our rite. 

A sylph fluttered her wings as she circled the yellow candle in ecstatic flight. 

A floating orb of light, an elemental of fire, referred to in medieval times as a salamander buzzed the red candle. 

Finally, I looked to the small water pool which had been revealed by the blue candle. Up came the head and shoulders of a beautiful undine water elemental. I averted my eyes to keep from being transfixed by her radiance. 

Never in all the rites, I had witnessed had I observed the manifestation of even one elemental. They had been called upon and believed to be there to protect and empower. Yet, they remained invisible. Only their presence could sometimes be felt. Seeing them in their natural or unnatural form, I couldn’t decide which, was somewhat disconcerting. 

At each quarter a pentagram hung in the air. Peal had created each one expertly, the cuts as precise as any human could accomplish. 

Peal used the athame to activate the sodium in the grooves of the circle, augmenting the natural protective qualities of the ordinary substance. 

A blinding white energy beam shot down through Peals head and out the athame, alighting the salt as it burned like a white-hot fire. 

“Welcome to the collective, Mr. Thorne,” Peal said as he placed the dagger on the floor. “The test is about to begin.”

 

Chapter 6

“I don’t think I need to tell you,” Stone began. “Whatever you do, don’t break the circle.”

What did she think he was… new? That was the first rule of ritual magic. Breaking the circle could be dangerous, seeing into the collective sent the message home in a big way. All of this had been invisible to him for so long. 

“Are you sure you’re ready?” Peal asked, concern wrinkling his brow and the skin under his eyes. 

“You don’t need to worry about me,”  I said. I had once again found my place of strength Let it rip. Get this thing over with. 

Peal said the invocation. Nothing happened. 

For some reason, I turned. I can’t remember if I had some objective or reason, but I immediately regretted it. 

Just beyond the circle stood a being not quite dead, not quite alive. A state of being sometimes described as undead. 

The thing stared at me with dead malevolent eyes. I gasped, stumbled back. I heard Peal’s sharp call too late. I had stumbled outside the circle taking the ethereal fire and the elementals with it. 

The thing was upon me then constricting my throat with powerful hands, lifting me into the air as it screamed banshee-like, a primal fit of rage. 

Tunnel vision set in. The constriction deprived me of both blood and oxygen. Below, Stone and Peal screamed for me to do something, anything. The life was draining out of me along with my strength as the creature screamed, tossing me around. 

With only seconds left before I blacked out, I hissed words of power between clenched teeth allowing the white light glow into the crown of my head and into my hands filling them with what the Chinese sages call chi. 

I hit the blasted thing with a double hand palm strike, releasing stored energy, blasting the creature into the opposite wall.

Free from constriction, I plummeted back to the floor. Peal dragged me back inside the circle. 

Picking up the athame, Stone summoned energy, and then closed the circle–walling us off from the evil being. 

“What the hell was that?” I managed to ask. My whole body hurt and I rubbed at my throat. 

“Lemur,” Stone said. “And she hasn’t left yet. Can’t leave until we release her.”

I looked across the circle and saw the lemur crouched, ready to pounce if given the chance.

“I’ve never heard that name,” I said, and I hoped never to have to deal with one again. 

“The lemur is an angry spirit,” Peal said. “One who wanders without reason.”

“We give them purpose,” Stone said, crawling to the edge of the circle to confront the lemur. 

Tentatively, I followed, careful to stay well away from the edge of the circle. If there was a next time with this thing, I might wind up dead.

“Observe me while I negotiate,” Stone said. 

The lemur looked like some form a wraith to me, like she had clawed her way out of an early grave. Her clothing, what was left of it, hung off her body, reduced to rags, and her long hair appeared matted and as dirty as her clothing. 

A once handsome face had succumbed to sharp angels and distorted features. Bulging eyes accented milky white sclera as if the iris and pupils had sunk below the surface.  

“What was your name in life,” Stone asked, uncharacteristic compassion warming her voice. 

“Dedra,” the lemur said her voice raspy, her eyes vacant as if she could see back to another time before the endless cold and perpetual darkness. 

“Dedra,” Stone said. “A very pretty name. Would you like to be called that name again? 

“Yes…”

“We would like you to do something for us, Dedra,” Stone said, licking her lips before speaking.

“What…?”

“A client of the Dreadstone Corporation needs someone like you to guard their property. They would address you as Dedra. You must leave the client and their guests alone, but you can kill anyone not authorized to be on the property. Would you like that?” 

“Yes…” A cock of Dedra’s head let me know she wanted something in return. Stone picked up on this as well.

“Name your price?” Stone asked.

“My body…’ Dedra hissed. 

“If you’re willing to start now,” Stone said looking up at me. “You have a corpse to find.”

Chapter 7

Full death-cycle recruiting, from the grave to all eternity. That was the responsibility of an Inhuman Resources Recruiter. I wondered if I was up to all this. My whole perspective changed when the brunette who had given me a once-over walked into the conference room. 

I was immediately struck by her beauty, her sophistication. Her graceful confidence made me believe there was something more to her, something hidden under the surface. 

I had known men who exuded this type of confidence but rarely a woman. The look in her eyes was both alluring as it was dangerous. 

“Meet Kenzi Harper,” Stone said as we all stood in greeting. “During your probationary period you’ll be working together.”

“You’ll follow my lead,” Kenzi said by way of greeting. “This is a dangerous business and I don’t  need a wet behind the ears newbie getting me killed.” 

I didn’t like the idea of taking orders in the field. It had nothing to do with her gender. Perhaps I had a deep-seated distrust and dislike for authority. My poor grades in high school certainly spoke to that. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, I just chose not to listen to those who considered themselves above me. 

I nodded, held my tongue. There would be plenty of time later to test my boundaries. Discretion, after all, has been called the better part of valor. 

“We’ll see about that,” I said under my breath. How about that? My mojo had returned. 

“What was that?” Harper asked. 

Well, at least somewhat.

I said nothing.

“Good,” Harper said. “Let’s get you to the storeroom. You’re going to need a shovel. 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Chap 3 & 4 – Black Magic Bullets

This is only my second day working on my NaNoWriMo novel. I wasn’t sure about joining in on the festivities, but after writing a short 800 words yesterday, I felt like I might be on to something. Also, had an encouraging Twitter comment from a very kind reader comparing my scant pages to Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Wow! Those are big shoes to fill! Although very flattering, and it certainly made my day, I won’t let it go to my head.

200px-Skin_game_cover

I got up early and after helping my wife get off to work, and feeding our cat, I wrote the 1st draft of the 3rd and 4th chapters. I made word-count easier and quicker than expected. Sometimes it works out that way. I’ll take it. While I might write more later, I still have the 3rd draft edits of an 80,000-word horror thriller on my plate and some short story work I need to revisit.

award-honorable-mention-wotf

While I have you here, I  wanted to mention I’m now officially listed as receiving an Honorable Mention in the 3rd quarter of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. My story ended up in the top 2% of all submissions. This is one of the most prestigious contests in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre with thousands of entrants every quarter.  A contest like this can make your career. If you write SF&F, you will be well served to enter this contest. Bring your A-game and strive to be better every submission. And like Han Solo famously said, “Never tell me the odds!” If you want to see all the contest winners along with the Finalists and Honorable Mentions, click the link here.

Never Solo

 

I know I owe you another The Scribes Arcanum blog, where I talk about short fiction sales, and I hope to post more shortly.

Now without further ado, the next first draft chapters of Black Magic Bullets. Click here to read chapter 1 and 2.  Let me know what you think in the comments or on social media. I wish you all the best with your writing.

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 3

As I approached the elevator bank I caught sight of a young brunette, very well put together, very corporate, stepping out of the cab. She stopped for only three-tenths of a second. Gave me a once-over and then headed out to, I could only imagine, a trendy restaurant for her lunch break. Almost a full foot taller than me, I mussed that dancing might be out of the question. 

Feeling like a geek all my life, I was taken aback. Did that girl just check me out? I wasn’t used to it, but I couldn’t say I didn’t like it. Must be my new suit. 

They were waiting for me when I stepped off the elevator. It wasn’t the 666th floor but the ascent felt like it. My ears popped more than once on the way up. 

“Jasmin Stone, Executive Vice President of Human Resources,” the woman with the black silk skirt suit and the morticians smile greeted me with a cold handshake and spidery fingers. 

“Harrison Thorne,” I said

“Do you go by——?”

“Just Harrison,” I interrupted. Hate is not the word for what I think of nicknames. 

“I’m not a fan of names with three syllables,” she said with a wink. 

“Harris,” I said, trying not to sound exasperated. Seemed like a fair compromise. 

“Well then, Harris,” She said splaying her fingers palm up, directing them toward a man in an equally shiny silk suit. “This is James Peal III our Director of HR. We’ll be conducting the interview. Come this way please.” 

Instead of a cold clinical corporate headquarters, the expanse of hallways and offices exuded warmth and reflected the refined taste of the CEO and executive management. Yet, instead of classic prints or success platitudes, oil paintings that can only be described as ghoulish adorned the walls. I wondered if they had been purchased from a serial killer’s estate sale. 

The conference room held nothing out of the ordinary, a long mahogany table, set with a water pitcher and glasses on a tray in the center, with plush crimson chairs surrounding, and a 75-inch flatscreen obelisk hanging on the wall, as reflective as any mirror. 

They sat across from me, my puny resume placed in front of them. I had no experience to speak of and very little education. What did I have to offer? 

“We don’t care about your resume,” Jasmin said as if reading my mind. If the rumors were true about Dreadstone, maybe she could. She tore the paper in half leting it float back to the tabletop. 

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. My heart raced and my palms felt clammy. I placed my hands below the table to wipe them on my pants. 

“What Ms. Stone means,” Peal said interjecting to break up the silence. “Is we’re not interested in your previous work or schooling. We want to see if you can recruit for us. It’s a very special type of recruiting that only those who have spent time in the environments you have could accomplish successfully.” 

“How will you know?” I asked. It was no idle curiosity. I had a very bad feeling about what was going to happen next.

“We’ll test you,” Stone said, with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. 

“How?” My mouth went dry and I found it hard to wrap my lips around the word. I pointed toward the water pitcher. Stone nodded. I waited a beat but when it didn’t look like Stone nor Peal were planning on playing gracious host, I reached for a glass and helped myself. 

She sat patiently until I’d hydrated before continuing. 

“There is a… place we call the Collective. The old joke is that you can’t get there from here. That is more than true. You can’t walk there or call an Uber. No bus, train, or plane can reach that destination.

“It says here that you have martial arts training,” Stone said, pointing to the ripped resume before her. 

Not having much work experience I had listed my black belt and assistant instructor status, but I was really pushing it with that. The assistant instructorship wasn’t anything formal.

 “Have you pursued mediation?” 

“Yes,” I said, then qualified, not wanting to oversell myself. “A little.” 

“Good,” Stone said, a smile coloring her voice. “The best and safest way into the Collective is through transcendental meditation, but it will take time for you to develop the skill.” 

“What do I do until I gain the ability?”

“I’m glad you asked that,” Peal chimed in. “You might not be, though.” 

With that, they led me out into a hall and to another room.

A placard read: RITUAL 667. 

What was I getting myself into?

 

Chapter 4 

The ritual room was more refined than any I had visited. In my teenage years, I hung out at The Chasm in North Hampton. Even in the wilds of Western Massachusetts, the owners went to great pains to hide the place from the inquisitive and the hostile. 

Normals fear what they don’t understand and during The Chasm’s early years someone threw a brick through the decorative plateglass window. After that, the owners had cast a masking spell around the store.

A friend I had met at another occult shop had given me the procedure to get in. 

I would pull up on the opposite side of the street, and shut off my mother’s Hyundai. Looking across the way, I’d see a cluster of businesses accordioning in on themselves. 

My retinas didn’t register The Chasm. It stood all but invisible until I closed my eyes and relaxed, pushed away my desire to visit, and remained still. 

As my mind quieted my body calmed, my heart rate slowed, and once I opened my eyes again, I’d see The Chasm as if it had materialized out of nowhere. 

Maybe I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. 

The ritual room in the basement had been outfitted similarly but was more utilitarian. I had only walked through the ritual space at the Chasm, never having the confidence nor the courage to do more than observe some basic wizardry or a local coven celebrating the change of the seasons during Samhain or Beltane. The sexually charged Beltane rituals were always my favorite. Can you blame me? 

Here the ritual room had been tiled, the same as the hall, in a rich black stone. A ubiquitous pentacle had been etched into the floor, porcelain white over ebony granite. 

Dim red recess lighting kept the place dark and reminded me of a photography darkroom. 

Yet, the glow remained bright enough to reveal all the tools of the trade: a small portable altar, stick incense–I could see that it had been hand-dipped, the kind of quality and attention to detail that relieved the inhaler of headaches caused by caustic additives–very expensive–a bakers dozen of double-sided antheme blades, a bowl for the creature of water, and another for the creature of salt. A solitary black candle waited on the alter for the creature of fire, and a red, blue, green, and yellow candle stood on pedestals at each cardinal compass point. 

A dozen-plus suit valet lined the far side of the room. 

Why are those here?

I didn’t have to wait long for my answer. 

“Undress,” Stone said simply as she and Peal to-the-third-power led me over to the valets. 

“What?” Had I heard her right? I didn’t see a changing room.

“What, are you that modest?” Stone asked before her crimson lips upturned into a devious smile. “I was under the impression that anyone who made time at The Chasm or Phantasmagoria would have no problem disrobing around others.”

My mouth went dry again and all I could manage was a nod. 

Sure, I had observed Beltane rituals, one of the few nights where outsiders to the covens were allowed to watch the Alexandrian or Gardnerian witches do their thing skyclad, but I had never been the one disrobing. 

When in Rome, I suppose.

Averting my gaze as much as my curiosity would allow, I tried not to stare at Stone’s porcelain skin or her chiseled curves. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. 

Now with all of us metaphorically clad only by the sky, Peal removed a portable breathing mask connected to a canister from a draw in the valet. 

“You’ll need this if you hope to enter the Collective,” he said, handing it to me.

“What’s in it?” I managed, not relishing the idea of inhaling some unknown substance.

“Ethylene gas,” Stone answered. “You’re holding a concentrator. Turn the valve one turn widdershins when you’re ready and breath deeply. No more than that at a time. This is the same inhalant, with a couple extra additives, used by Pythia the Oracle of Delphy. If you over concentrate you’ll end up babbling gibberish and will be no use to us. Not only will you fail the test, but you could end up dead. No pressure.” 

Yeah, no pressure. Sure. 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Black Magic Bullets

While I’m finishing the 3rd draft of a horror thriller, I figured I’d add more to my plate and join the NaNoWriMo fun. The working title for this novel is BLACK MAGIC BULLETS and is an Urban Fantasy. I only have a little over 800 words drafted, but it’s a start. If you want to buddy up, I’m listed as dnorthmartino on the website. #NaNoWriMo

Meanwhile, here’s a first draft of the opening pages. It’s very rough but will give you a good idea of how my first drafts look.

 

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

by

David North-Martino

 

CHAPTER 1

Everything was going wrong in my life. Magic is a more subtle thing than movies have led people to believe, and so are curses.

 First small things begin to break down, then large. Your car breaks down, you crack a tooth requiring a root canal. 

All of these things add strain not only on your finances but your relationships. Believing people you once loved would do something like this to you is hard so you push it all away unbelieving, chalking it up to bad luck. I believed it was all bad luck until I saw the demon standing in my magic room (come up with a name). Then I began to put it all together. 

To explain what happened I have to go back to the beginning. My stories always have to start at the beginning. That’s a family curse all its own, one that my father passed on to me. So settle in, grab a mug of coffee or a cup of tea and we shall begin. 

My childhood was spent reading grimoires both widely circulated, available at book stores and those that had been privately published. Sometimes, understanding my interests, my parents would bring one home to me. Mostly they found them at curio shops and the occasional flea market. The occult in all its forms fascinated me and this led me to delve deeper in my teenage years. At that time it was all academic, I never dared attempt a spell and I certainly never acquire the ingredients necessary to make one successful. 

School held no interest for me and I spent my days daydreaming. Being the geeky type, I suffered bullies relegating my nights to martial arts classes. I found a school teaching a combination of original Tae Kwon Do and western boxing mixed with more than a splash of Taoist philosophy and Yin & Yan (light and dark) magic.  

My weekends were spent at the occult shops in North Hampton and Amherst. The college towns were the perfect venue for the avant-garde and anything alternative to mainstream society. 

I still accompanied my father from time to time during a hunting expedition or a trip to the range, helping me keep at least one foot in the natural world. 

Once high school ended I found myself free and eager to begin my real life. The bullies had been beaten back, the classes survived, and the ink on my diploma had dried. Now what? I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. 

Returning to the mundane world, I only had thoughts of how I might eke out a living and get a place of my own. 

I began reaching out to my network at the occult stores and some friends who practiced shamanism and witchcraft put me in contact with the Dreadstone Compay. Dreadstone was looking for an Inhuman Resources Recruiter and they were willing to train. I was eager to learn. 

This is as good as anyplace for the story proper to really begin.

CHAPTER 2

The Dreadstone tower rose impossibly tall, dominating the Boston skyline. No one could remember when the building had been erected and although many considered it an eyesore it had become the type of anomaly that ordinary people forced themselves to forget. They knew the structure was there but they never talked about it, and if you happened to ask them about they would feign a type of absentmindedness where it was easy to believe they had never seen the building before, had no knowledge of its existence. 

Inside, the floors and walls had been decorated with a dark tile, immaculately cleaned and polished, that created a mirrored reflection that was easy to believe could transport you to another world. 

Security here was different than I had ever noticed before. I looked at the guards behind the reception desk with an unconscious understanding that something wasn’t quite normal about them. They dressed the part smiled and frowned at just the right moments but it was like the flesh that stretched over their frames hid something other than blood, tendon, and bone. 

Nevertheless, I sat in the lobby, balancing a clipboard on my lap while filling out an application as best I could. When I had finished scribbling on the form, wondering why they didn’t just let you use a computer, I returned the horrid thing to the first guard who smiled as he took it. 

“You can go right up,” he said handing me an access badge. “They’re waiting for you.”

To be continued…

 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Hours of Sleep Part 2

 

I had momentum behind me from recent sales and figured it wouldn’t hurt to have another story acceptance. I had already tried to sell The Hours of Sleep to all the professional publications but no one wanted vampire fiction. Then I came across the open call for an anthology called You can’t kill me: I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology. Here was a market tailor-made for my story. 

The editor was only offering royalties and a free e-copy of the book, but there was another reason to submit, besides money or placing what seemed an unmarketable story. Cool kids. Yes, I was keeping up with upcoming writers. When I found out that some were submitting or had been accepted, I wanted to be included with that group. I also knew that if they were submitting to this anthology, it would be quality and a worthwhile venture. 

Eric J. Guignard, a Bram Stoker Award winner, a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize has probably had the most success of all the alumni of that anthology. Good company to keep, and pages to share.

I also met a writer in that anthology who has also worked as an editor and invited me to submit to his print magazine and podcast. 

Pro Tip 2: Sharing pages with up-and-coming authors and editors can lead to friendships and market invites. You never know. 

Vampire Antho

Here’s the blurb and a list of the authors included in the book:

“You can’t kill me, I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology” presents the chronicles behind modern vampires and provides a chronological tour through vampire literature. Vampires have long captured the imaginations of famous writers, who wrote novels, stories, poems, and plays about the creatures of the night.

Nikki Vogel

James Harley

Eric J. Guignard 

Rebecca L. Brown

Elise Thomas

Joseph A. Pinto

Norman A. Rubin

Jay Wilburn

Kenneth Whitfield

Gregg Chamberlain

David North-Martino

T. Fox Dunham

Mark Slade

Steven Deman

Tyson West 

Denny E. Marshall

D.J. Currivean

Joseph J. Patchen

Alan Russo

The editor sent an acceptance on 11/25/12 and then on 12/2/12 sent a contract for me to sign electronically. 

In the end, I found a home for my story, connected with other up-and-coming writers within the community, and continued my momentum.  

You can’t kill me: I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology is available for purchase here. 

Next time we’ll continue this discussion and we’ll also touch upon editorial feedback and how it can enhance your career. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Hours of Sleep Part 1

I was hoping to tell you by now that I made a short fiction sale this year. Although that hasn’t happened yet, I’m pleased to report that I received an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. I’m also told that it puts me in the top 2% of all entrants. I’m awaiting my certificate and will tell you more once it’s posted on their official blog.

award-honorable-mention-wotf

Last time I mentioned I would talk about giving your work away or, in this case, gambling on the potential for royalties, and a free electronic copy of the anthology. Think long and hard before you give up “first rights.”  Once you give those rights away, you can never get them back, and the next time you sell the manuscript, you must do so as a reprint. Reprint sales are not as lucrative as new story sales. 

Pro Tip: It’s never a bad thing to give your work away to a legitimate charity anthology.   

The idea for The Hours of Sleep began as, of all things, the original lyrics to a song. Back in 1996, I was working an interim job, and I had some extra time on my hands. My wife had purchased an entry-level keyboard/synthesizer for me to mess around on and burn through some of my creativity. This was a year before I began writing and submitting short fiction. I decided I wanted to write a progressive rock/thrash metal/goth-pop album. All I had to work with was a boombox with a double tape deck, an omni-microphone, the synthesizer, my voice, and a coffee can for reverb and echo. 

Back at my parents’ house, I would have been able to use my dad’s DJ and production equipment. But here in our new apartment, I didn’t have access to those niceties.  I no longer had a drum set, and I wasn’t hanging around musicians like I had in the ‘80s. Still, I was determined to make an album. 

Without going into the full story, I ended up writing a song called Vomit Dirt Cascade. Haha! I know… Great title, right? The title meant to call up the image of the undead exploding from a fresh grave. 

The Lyrics that inspired The Hours of Sleep short story:

Numbness kills the pain

The night was black in vain 

Latent Precambrian 

Urges to kill and win

I’ll make you my slave

Steal your blood from vein

When there is nothing left

You will be twice dead

Thirst in your black hole soul

Carrion has claimed his toll 

Now you’ve become the naïve 

But if I was the grave

Vomit Dirt Cascade! 

Vomit Dirt Cascade! 

The original title of my story was Twice Dead, but I took another song called The Hour of Sleep (inspired by John Carpenter’s Brotherhood of Sleep in the horror movie Prince of Darkness) and made it plural. 

I’ve been thinking about posting the audio on YouTube. If I do, I’ll provide a hyperlink here later. 

 Back in the year 2000, my wife and I made a return trip to New Orleans. We hadn’t been back to NOLA since our honeymoon in 1995. We stayed at the Bourbon Orleans, and a bellhop had given us some advice on where to visit and which areas to avoid. The dark and dangerous streets of the French Quarter excited my imagination. Then, in our youth, being adventurous, we had drinks at a vampire bar, as part of a tour led by a self-proclaimed “real-life vampire,” living in what is known as vampire reality, who called himself Vlad. In the center of the space, there was a cage large enough to hold a human standing upright.

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When we returned home, this experience (along with my song lyrics) coalesced into the story I eventually titled The Hours of Sleep. 

After finishing the manuscript, I sent the story out and began collecting rejection slips. One editor said he thought The Hours of Sleep was the most original vampire story he had read in ages, but he didn’t take vampire fiction any longer and wouldn’t be buying it. 

I sent it to the now-defunct Dreams of Decadence and got a great rejection letter.  The editor thought the story was original and well written but she also passed. I would later study her magazine to discover why it wasn’t such a good fit. I talk more about this in my posts about the story, Despair. 

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With The Hours of Sleep returned to my virtual trunk on my hard drive, I gave up on the story and moved on. 

In 2012, I noticed an open call for You Can’t Kill Me, I’m Not Dead Yet: a Vampire Anthology and tried my luck. 

I’ll tell you what happened next time.

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Phantom Chasers Part 2

Having noticed the From Beyond the Grave anthology’s open call for submissions, from Grinning Skull Press, I sent out Phantom Chasers, and received an acknowledgment on September 26, 2012. 

During this time, I was finishing up the final edits of a novel I’d been writing, a reimagining of the original manuscript, and coordinating with a cover artist and a professional editor for a self-publishing effort. 

On December 25, 2012,  an acceptance from Grinning Skull Press hit my in-box. I couldn’t believe it! With the help of excellent editorial feedback and my wife’s brilliant proofreads, I had edited Phantom Chasers into print! 

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The work that came after the sale: I signed the contract, provided the publisher with an author bio, reviewed and approved the galley proof, and received payment. Then, as with every anthology or magazine where I’ve been published, I assisted with promotion. 

I was included with a very noteworthy group of writers. 

Brent Abell

Gordon Anthony Bean

Rose Blackthorn

Tim J. Finn

Scott M. Goriscak

Marianne Halbert

Jeffrey Kosh

Lisamarie Lamb

Mark Leslie & Carol Weekes

Edward J. McFadden III

Adam Millard

David North-Martino

Jeffrey C. Pettengill

Nelson W. Pyles

Michael Thomas-Knight

Robert W. Walker

Cynthia Ward

Jay Wilburn

Jennifer Word

 

Description: 

For some, death is not the end. There are those who are doomed to walk the earth for all eternity, those who are trapped between one plane of existence and the next, those who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not let go of the lives they left behind. These are the vengeful spirits, the tortured souls, the ghosts that haunt our realm. Welcome to FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, a collection of 19 original ghost stories.

You can buy From Beyond the Grave here. 

From Beyond The Grave cover 2

The editor contacted me with an opportunity for feedback. Turns out an author he admired, on the condition of anonymity, offered to give a critique to the writers in the anthology. This author read the stories and commented. If we were interested, the editor would send the author’s comments and suggestions for future improvements. You bet I was interested!

Pro-tip #3: Always take feedback. You don’t have to use it, but constructive criticism should always be welcome. You don’t get better through praise; you get better by accepting that you’re not perfect and neither are your stories. Then you get to work making them better, learning with each experience until you reach a professional level. It doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a long time. For some, it never happens. All you can do is work as hard as possible to reach your potential. 

I’m having a hard time finding the original un-redacted comments. Here are the positives I’ve shared publicly. I pulled it from an earlier blog. I’d love to know who this author is, but I respect his or her privacy. 

“Another good one. A very unusual idea which was extremely well executed. Even as short as it is, the character development is pretty damned good. We know who these people are in just a few lines. The foreshadowing… is a mite obvious, but it doesn’t matter. We KNOW that someone’s going to… die from very early on, but the author makes it work anyway…” 

Okay, first, what can we take away from the anonymous author’s comments? The author felt the story was unique and well constructed. This reinforces my proficiency with story structure. Also, character development is noted as a strength. I’ve been told that previously by other editors. Always concentrate on your strengths. I’ll write a blog on why that’s so important in the future. 

On the negative side, I telegraphed the ending. Yet, the anonymous author thought the story worked anyway. Not a big deal, since genre stories often follow a pattern. The idea is to make the story so enjoyable that the reader forgives formulaic structure. Readers will excuse your deficiencies as long as you excel at other elements of the story. 

If memory serves, the anonymous author took umbrage with my description of behind-the-scenes television. He felt that I didn’t know that TV shows need plenty of people off-screen to produce a TV program. Fair enough. That is how I present the pre-production in the story. 

I am taking liberties. Ghost shows, especially Ghost Adventures, make it appear as if the main people are alone during the investigation. This might just be TV magic, but isolation is a big part of the show. 

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The same with crafting a horror story. A sense of isolation, a feeling of being trapped, is important. If there’s avenue for escape, why don’t the characters leave? 

You must also condense a short story’s narrative.
For those reasons, I didn’t fret realism.  

Now, just because it’s fun to write about, I have some experience in television. In the early 90s, for a few semesters, I completed a work-study program in the broadcasting department of a local community college I was attending. I worked with students on their projects, including taped TV programs shown on a local cable channel. 

I ran audio and worked as on-screen talent. I even had the chance to learn old school linear editing. I ran audio and lighting for Dr. Timothy Johnson (ABC) at a lecture he gave in the college auditorium. I performed the job of many people that night (yes, I did it all alone). It was hectic, but it was a lot of fun!

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Anyway, the anonymous author was right. Anyone who has worked in TV would shake their head at how I presented the production in the story. Most readers don’t know what it takes to create the shows they watch so it’s safe to keep the story as is. Most will never know.

Yet, it is important to acknowledge where the weaknesses in the story lie, and then to weigh dramatism against realism. Bruce Willis loves to squeeze through air ducts in the movie Die Hard even though it’s not possible to do this in real life——and we love it. For 90 minutes we believe he can do it! Drama wins out!

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In our next thrilling episode, I’ll go over the judgment call of giving away your stories. Is it ever worth not getting paid for your work? We’ll talk “sharing pages” with the cool kids. When you’re starting out, can association be as good as money? I’ll try to answer these questions next time. 

Thanks for reading. 

Hey, feel free to give me feedback. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about your own attempts at publication and about any successes. I’m sure readers of this blog will benefit. Better yet, blog about your experiences and leave a link. We can never have too much information. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Phantom Chasers Part 1

Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and I was still receiving small royalty payments from Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever. I had found some momentum and was riding it for all it was worth. 

One night I was watching a TV program called Ghost Adventures. Now, before I continue, I am a believer in the paranormal. Although, I don’t automatically accept what I see on these ghost-hunting reality tv shows. But for the sake of argument let’s assume we all believe in ghosts (even if you don’t). Now, if you accept that spirits could contact you from beyond the grave, the last thing you would do is antagonize and make them angry at you. Well, the main guy on the show had been doing just that, and now according to the program, these spirits were pissed at him and calling him out, telling him through voice recordings that if he returned, they would kill him! So what does he do? Yup, he’s going back to confront the ghosts. Stupid? Absolutely! But what a great idea for a story! 

Ghost Adventures

Using that premise, and without a market in mind, I began a new manuscript. A classic style horror story, a cautionary tale if you will, began to develop. 

Pro-tip #1: When you have a story you’ve written without a market in mind look to anthologies. Magazines need to follow the structure and tone of the other stories. Many times there’s a house style, intentional or not. You must decipher the house style and write something that matches. With an anthology, editors accept a wider range of stories. As long as it’s a good story, and it meets the theme of the anthology, you have a better chance of being accepted than if you submit that same story to a magazine. 

Anyway, I sent the story out a couple times to various markets and the editors passed. Then I sent it to the open call for Epitaph’s: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The editor liked the story and told me it was publishable, but not strong enough to get past the shortlist once they had read all the stories. The editor had best-selling writers on tap slated for inclusion and experienced small-press writers sending her submissions.

Pro-tip #2: If you’ve been shortlisted, your story is publishable with no or little need for extensive editing or rewrites. You have a good story and the editor would have no problem publishing it if no other stories struck their fancy. The problem is, despite being well written and crafted, your story is not compelling enough for the editor to purchase on the spot. The editor puts it aside and if some other story comes along and knocks their socks off or is a little more interesting; they send that author an acceptance letter and you a rejection. When this happens with a pro or semi-pro market, you can pat yourself on the back for crafting a well written publishable story and get to work strengthening the manuscript in a rewrite. You want to make sure the reader can relate to the narrative or the main character and is wowed by the ending. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong, focus on the ending. Think of ways to make it more impactful, raise the stakes, make it personal, give your main character a lot to lose. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the editor asked me if I had anything that was timeless or had a gut-punch ending. I had neither but wrote a story that included both requirements. 

I relate that story of how I sold Malfeasance, my second attempt, in my blog post——here. 

Based on what I had learned from editorial feedback, I set about fixing the story.  I had decided on the name Phantom Chasers as I was looking for a title similar to Ghost Hunters, a very popular show at the time. (I hear that it’s coming back in another incarnation.) Here’s the question I wanted to leave in the reader’s mind: are the Phantom Chasers in the story hunting ghosts or are they in fact, well, chasing phantoms? Ultimately, the reader has to decide. 

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To revamp the story, I made a separate Word document, cut and pasted the original manuscript into the file, and began to read with an eye for weaknesses. Some scenes didn’t connect well. Some scenes needed editing for clarity. I went about fixing those areas. I punched up the ending, making it darker, scarier, and more impactful. 

The only thing left to do was send it out. I’ll talk about that next time. Also, stay tuned for more pro tips!