Before we begin, let me warn you: there are some mild spoilers below for a number of TV shows, and a LOT of spoilers for The Walking Dead in particular. Carry on at your own risk.
Lately, I’ve expressed to a lot of people my absolute disdain for AMC’s The Walking Dead. Meanwhile, I expressed my absolute adoration of HBO’s Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead’s counterpart on AMC – Breaking Bad. I tried to explain WHY I hate The Walking Dead so much in comparison to those other shows, and I think I did a decent job. Still, I’ve given it a lot of further thought, and I thought I’d try to clarify, and to broaden the discussion a bit.
So let’s talk about The Walking Dead, about Game of Thrones, and about Breaking Bad. And to make things even more interesting, let’s throw in another highly influential (and controversial) show from recent years: Lost.
Why do I think Breaking Bad is the best of these shows, followed by Thrones and then Lost? And why do I think Walking Dead has become a heaping mess of dogshit?
It’s all about the planning.
From my perspective, that’s the difference between all four shows – each show’s ability to engage me, thrill me, surprise me, and please me directly correlated to the amount of planning the show’s creators put into it. I get the distinct impression that Vince Gilligan always knew more or less exactly where he was going with Breaking Bad. Sure, there were some gray areas that needed to be filled in, and he had to react to his audience and his investors to some extent. But he had a plan.
On the other hand, I think that the show runners and producers of Walking Dead have so deviated from Robert Kirkman’s original comic book (which I don’t think is that well planned itself) that it’ll take a Herculean effort to turn the mess they’ve made into anything cohesive and satisfying. I see the show petering out into oblivion as other, better shows come to the fore. All it takes is someone producing ANOTHER zombie apocalypse story (or something similar, since zombies are getting played out) which is better written and better structured. When that day comes – and I have a feeling a script is out there somewhere – it’ll be the bullet to the brainpan that puts Kirkman’s creation down for good.
In between lies Lost and Game of Thrones, and I mention them here to demonstrate how varying levels of planning contribute to a show’s ultimate success.
Anyone who’s read the books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series knows that HBO has done a remarkable job in staying true to the books. Again, that’s a qualified statement – there ARE differences, as there are wont to be when you’re adapting page to screen – but as much as I think they can, the show’s producers are not “interpreting” Martin’s vision, but genuinely sharing it. Thank God for CGI. (On a side note, I think the new Hobbit movies, while enjoyable, are shitting on Tolkien’s quaint little book).
The problem with Thrones lies with Martin himself. I believe in my heart that he, too, has a plan – but he’s writing the series awfully slowly, and I think the scope of what he envisioned now scares the crap out of him. His “plan” is for two more books, but holy cow he’s got a lot of terrain – both figuratively and literally – to cover. And he’s running out of time.
The power of Thrones SO FAR is that there are existing books that will carry the series forward for three, maybe four more seasons. That gives Martin some time. Also, the show’s producers haven’t deviated from his existing storylines, so they’re on track and everything makes sense. Sure, that means those of us who’ve read the books weren’t that surprised by things like Eddard’s execution or the Red Wedding. But so what? It was still great television, and think about all the people who WERE surprised.
The only problem I foresee is if the show catches up with Martin. Then what? I hope to hell that doesn’t happen, but it could derail Game of Thrones, especially if they start making stuff up as they go along, the way Walking Dead seems to be doing now.
It’s been well documented that Damon Lindelof, J.J. Abrams, and Carlton Cuse had a plan for Lost’s early seasons. And it showed. The show was tight, fascinating, exciting, and profound. But in the end, the mythology behind the mysterious island was murky, and the plot and pacing suffered. I personally stuck with them until the end – and what an ending it was – but was it an ending the show’s creators had planned? From everything I’ve read, the answer is no. They had a plan for the beginning, and they stuck to it. But eventually they were winging it, and that showed as well.
Which brings us back again to The Walking Dead.
As of now, the comic book on which the TV show is based is up to around issue 115. It’s been around for almost 10 years. If you read the letters pages in the back of the comics (I have) as well as other things Kirkman has said about the book, you get the impression that his approach was similar to the one the Lost guys took: he had a plan that would sustain the book for quite a while, but after a point it became really, really vague. Kirkman admitted several times that he wasn’t sure what would be happening a year ahead of wherever he was then. He sort of knew what he wanted to accomplish, but he didn’t know the details.
Now this next part is just my impression, and if I’m wrong, then correct me in the comments: I believe that he had a DISTINCT plan that would carry him up to the prison, and the survivors’ experience with The Governor and Woodbury, but after that… nothing. Since that point in the comic, I think he’s been winging it.
After the prison, I stuck with him, hoping some forward movement would happen. After all, there are only so many people in the world who could become zombies, and over time wouldn’t the zombie numbers grow less? Despite the tyrannical nature of The Governor, wouldn’t other, similar pockets of humanity and civilization eventually rise up and prevail?
I can tell you that as of issue 100, there have been gleams and glints of it, but they were all quelled and destroyed by a horrifyingly bleak outlook on mankind’s capacity for compassion and peaceful coexistence. In Kirkman’s vision, the zombies are only the initial threat – tyrants, demagogues, and murderers are abundantly able to finish what the zombies started.
Kirkman has said repeatedly that no character was safe, with the possible exception of Rick Grimes. Trust me, he meant that. But what THAT means, folks, is that there IS NO POINT in investing emotionally in anyone (except Rick, whom I HAVEN’T been able to invest in because I don’t like him). It is my opinion as a writer that the most engaging literature requires you to emotionally invest in someone. Again, that’s qualified – you can have literature that contains no one worthwhile, but the best literature does.
I quit the Walking Dead comic book when one of the best characters was senselessly pulverized. Not just killed – pulverized. I won’t tell you who.
Adding to the problem inherent to the book itself is what the show’s producers are doing to the existing material. Did you know that at the point in the comic book that the show has reached, Andrea was still alive, and she was one of the book’s best characters? She wasn’t the annoying, indecisive creature Lauren Holden was required to portray. Dale was still alive, too, and he was also very likeable. Sophie, too.
You know who’s dead? Tyrese. Carol. The baby Judy. Lori. Herschel. THE GOVERNOR. Shane died early in the mix – before he became so unlikeable we WANTED to see him die. And every single one of their deaths were affecting and powerful and even meaningful.
At this point, what we’re seeing on AMC is resembling Kirkman’s already chaotic vision less and less. If the show’s producers and show runners had stuck to the script the way the Game of Thrones producers have, you would have been terrified of The Governor. You would have been shocked at what Michonne did to him. And you would have been as horrified and surprised by the end of Woodbury and the time in the prison as so many people were when the Red Wedding happened, when Charlie drowned, and when Todd visited Jessie’s ex-girlfriend and her kid.
All that opportunity for good, even great television? Gone.
Kirkman said that he wanted to change things up, to add a few surprises, but I think it’s gotten out of hand. For instance, I LIKE Daryl, and I liked Merle – he was actually a better right hand man to The Governor than Kirkman’s Sanchez was – but now I think they’ve gone too far. I think they’re spiraling out of control.
And when you let things spiral that far out of control, when you deviate from the plan too much, you lose it. The writing itself gets sloppy. You lose continuity and opportunities for solid story-telling. You have actors who become unsure about how to play their characters. I see all of this happening to The Walking Dead, and just like Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse, there’s no end in sight.
Last week I teased you a little about an upcoming story of mine based on an ancient Genesis song. The story still isn’t out yet - I think it’s going to be released sometime either next week or the week after that. Definitely this month, which is cool because the last time I got a story published, it was also right at the end of October.
The new story is going through edits right now, but once they’re done it’ll only be a matter of days.
For now, though, I can at least share with you the cover art for the story, designed just like all my story covers are designed, by the indomitable Jason Snape. I’ve given visitors to this site some insight into Snape before, here and here. Once again, I find myself in his debt, for the cover to this story is sublime, evocative, and just about perfect.
And here it is!
As a quick aside, in between doing this cover and the covers for these other stories, Snape and my friend Matt Link managed to get a game of their design accepted by Game Salute (the folks who also did Alien Frontiers and Nothing Personal). The game is going to get Kickstarted next week, so look for it. Here’s an overview of the game.
Consider this a plug for it. So… given all that, next week you can get all sorts of wintry goodness all over you, what with Kickstarting The Great Snowball Battle and reading The Three Trespasses, Part One. Enjoy!
I came to Genesis kind of late in their game and in a way that other hardcore Genesis fans may scoff at - I first fell in love with the Phil Collins song ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’, and that led to me really liking the later Genesis song, ‘Mama.’ That meant that my first real exposure to Genesis was the 1983 album titled Genesis - pretty much the last thing they did before spiraling into pop music banality. There were a few really good songs on their biggest album, 1986’s Invisible Touch, but let’s face it - as much as I loved that record when I was 16, it’s mostly crap.
Fortunately, I loved Genesis so much, and I’m so much a completist, that I had to have every song they made in my library. I also had to have everything by Genesis’s original frontman, Peter Gabriel. And now, almost 30 years later, I truly believe that Peter Gabriel’s music has enriched my life and affected me more than any other artist from any other artistic medium, ever. As much as I love reading, and as much as I love movies, I don’t have a favorite author or director who’s impacted me as much as Peter Gabriel has.
I think that his power over me comes from the transcendent nature of his musical moods and his lyrics. That’s why he’s my favorite artist. Even though I only dabble in playing music, a musician is one of my chief influences.
Peter Gabriel’s songs are cinematic in scope - I think that’s why they appear so often in movies and television shows. (See Birdy, Wall-E, Gangs of New York, Red Planet, Waking The Dead, Babe: Pig In The City, City of Angels, The Craft, Natural Born Killers, Strange Days, Angus, Philadelphia, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Say Anything.) And for me at least, his lyrics have demonstrated that music can tell engaging, inspirational, even rapturous stories.
One of the earliest examples of Peter Gabriel’s genius came at the beginning of his tenure with Genesis. More hypercritical people have said that early Genesis was pompous, overblown, and pretentious. I’ve read those critics. And while I do agree that Peter Gabriel’s theatrical posturing at early Genesis concerts might have been a tad on the gimmicky side, when I listen to the music, it blows me away that songs of this level of complexity and magnitude were written by a bunch of kids barely out of high school, barely out of their teens. Early Genesis songs were, with few exceptions, nothing short of epic. It’s because of early Genesis that my favorite music these days comes from bands like Tool and Elbow and Mastodon. Give me epic over catchy any day.
At the same time, Peter Gabriel’s lyrics were chock full of literary references and adaptations of existing stories which made me have to go to my mythology and history textbooks again and again. My love for referential literature, like that of John Ashbery, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, came from the referential lyrics of one Master Peter Gabriel of Surrey, England.
The influence of Peter Gabriel on me is so high, in fact, that I actually concocted an entire novella based on the lyrics to one of Genesis’s earliest recordings.
In late 1970, when I was just over a month old, Genesis released a 6-song album called Trespass. The second song on it, ‘White Mountain’, was a 7-minute opus about a pack of wolves chasing a lone traitor to their pack across a frozen wasteland atop a snow-blasted mountain. The song may or may not reference Jack London’s novel White Fang, which has characters in it with names similar to those in the song.
‘White Mountain’, along with most of Trespass, had lackluster sales and got low marks from critics.
Except in Belgium. Go figure.
But to a teenage boy coming to the music a decade and a half after it was written, ‘White Mountain’ was an effective and haunting fable which would stay with him for many years, until he became an artist in his own right.
Sometime after that, he’d sit down and write a 10,000-word treatment of the story, fleshing out the background of the anthropomorphic wolves involved, elaborating on their relationships, and giving their story new life. Then, a few years after he wrote the story, a small press would be willing to e-publish the novella. Novellas are notoriously difficult to publish in traditional paper form, but the advent of e-books makes them more attractive and feasible.
So here it comes - The Three Trespasses, Part One, the story of a family of wolves living on the White Mountain, a story first imagined by one of my musical and artistic heroes, Peter Gabriel.
As many of you know, in 2011 I self-published a couple of stories, just to see what would happen. I did it strictly eBook, because eBooks cost nothing except time to produce, and reading books on electronic devices is becoming more and more ubiquitous every year. Soon we’ll all have eBooks, and “real” books will be to publishing what vinyl is to recorded music.
Anyway, “what happened” was a I sold a respectable amount of copies - enough to encourage me to do it again, and enough to encourage a small publishing company, Hallowed Waste Press, to throw in with me. About six months later we published another, slightly larger set of stories, and over time that small collection sold about as well as the first.
Sometime last fall, I found out about a document-sharing web site called Scribd.com. And yeah, Scribd has been around a couple of years and for someone who’s supposedly as aware of places like Scribd as I am, I was a total idiot for not looking at them earlier. They came to my attention because I was looking for a good place to put teasers up for my upcoming novel, and maybe for my existing stories as well. The guys over at Hallowed Waste said they were going to use the site to tease a story from a new writer they’d just contracted with, and suggested it to me.
I figured why not, and on December 13th put up a free copy of one of my self-published stories, ‘The Littlest Goblin’. I tweeted that I’d done so, put a link up on Facebook, and then went and enjoyed my holidays.
When I came back a few days after Christmas, I discovered that ‘The Littlest Goblin’ had almost 15,000 reads! Curious as to the impact 15,000 free reads on Scribd had on my performance at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I immediately went over to my reports pages there and saw that indeed, my stories had picked up steam again.
I mean, think about it: the typical literary magazine in America has an average circulation of 1000 to 5000 readers. A “no name” writer like me MIGHT get paid anything from contributor’s copies (effectively, nada) to MAYBE $200 for a story, and that story will be seen by 1000 to 5000 people. ‘The Littlest Goblin’ has already made me around $50 by itself, AND has now supposedly been seen by 15,000 people (actually, though new reads have fallen off, as of today I’m up to 17,000).
To follow up that momentum, I posted another story, ‘The Thrall of Fate’, my homage to Edgar Allan Poe. Over the last month, though ‘Thrall’ didn’t hit as hard as ‘Goblin’, it’s still garnered 2700 reads, which is still formidable, considering the comparative exposure short stories get.
And to follow up THAT momentum (and maybe cash in, because it’s possible), I took both collections that I had previously published and whose sales momentum on Amazon and other sites had slacked, added another previously published story called ‘Galahad’s Message’, and posted all six stories as one collection in Scribd.com’s store. Sales of that larger collection have already begun to trickle in, and the number of people sampling it is already pretty impressive.
Ultimately, what I’m trying to say with this post is that I think Scribd.com is an awesome tool for hard-working writers who are willing to take a few risks. The chance of exposure is there if you have something attractive enough to get noticed (which it appears with ‘The Littlest Goblin” I did). I’m not saying it’s the end all and be all, but it looks pretty good from where I’m sitting.
I’m also saying that 17,000 people can’t be wrong: there’s probably something worthwhile on Scribd.com written by a certain writer we’re all familiar with that MIGHT, just MAYBE, be worth looking into.
Just before Christmas I was asked by my friend, the illustrious poet and novelist Collin Kelley, to take part in a self-interview meme called The Next Big Thing. The idea is to talk about your current or forthcoming book using a pre-determined set of questions. You also have to tag other bloggers/writers to take part in the meme. Blog memes used to be commonplace back before I was on anybody’s radar, but since blogging has dropped off a bit they don’t come around as often. I was pretty happy to take part in this one - fun stuff to think about, even if some of it’s a bit silly. Anyway, here’s my answers and you’ll see whom I’ve tagged at the end.
What is the title of your book? The Survivor of San Guillermo
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A plot involving a newly invented time machine sends several people back to various points in history, each of them vying to alter the future in some way: some go to a day just before World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, while others go back to the 1860s during the peak of the American Civil War.
What genre does your book fall under? Several actually: science fiction/Weird West/Western/historical fiction.
Where did the idea come from for the book? My wife challenged me to write a murder mystery, and at the time I was watching a lot of Sergio Leone movies. The book started out as a murder mystery with a Western setting. Then it blew up.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 17 months exactly.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? Sergio Leone, my wife Aida, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and a book titled Day of Deceit, which presupposes that FDR knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor and let it happen for political reasons. I don’t believe that, but the notion of the book is fascinating.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Agency.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre? Stephen King’s Dark Tower comes to mind. So does some lighter historical fiction I’ve read over the years.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I first finished the book back in 2001, so a lot of the people I envisioned while I was writing have aged too much. Looking at current actors and actresses who fit the bill, I’d say Thom Reynolds could be played by Gerard Butler or Hugh Jackman. Japanese actress Kyoko Fukada (from the original Ringu II movie) looks exactly like Haruko Matani. Olivia Munn is spot on for Lucy Baghdadlian. Idris Elba could play Ray Easley. And for the bad guy, Martin Evenson, I’d say Tom Felton, he of Draco Malfoy fame.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The book is part of a trilogy, and throughout the story, several real people from history make appearances. In this first book, there’s Henry Slocum, who was one of General Sherman’s top men, there’s Larry McCutcheon, whom most agree was the first casualty of the attack on Pearl Harbor, there’s Admiral Husband Kimmel, the man in charge of the fleet at Pearl Harbor, and Ronald Reagan, former President of the U.S.
Here it is, as promised to everyone who’s been paying attention: a teaser. The first chapter of my upcoming novel, The Survivor of San Guillermo.
Without giving too much away, let me tell you a little bit about the plot….
It involves a scheme during the mid-21st century to use a newly invented time machine to go back and alter history. Things get mixed up and people end up going to several points in time: some go to a day just before World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Others go back to the 1860s during the peak of the American Civil War. Then stuff happens. In this chapter, you get to meet one of the book’s major protagonists: a physicist named Ray Easley, who’s found his way to Decatur, GA toward the end of Sherman’s sacking of Atlanta. Just FYI, Henry Slocum was a real person.
November 15, 1864
The November wind pushed Henry Slocum’s thick, graying hair away from his sunburned face. He gazed down the hill at the flames that leapt from tree to tree and building to building in the city of Decatur, and held his Federal officer’s cap tight in his hands. Acrid smoke filled his nostrils. It billowed in from the west, behind his back, where Atlanta lay in ruins.
Few trees adorned Atlanta — it was mostly a rolling plain of criss-crossing railroad tracks and dusty, sprawling streets, and the smoke that came from it had a heavy coal content, the scent of scorched earth and hot iron.
By contrast, Decatur had been a haven of trees just a few hills away. Now, although the burning smell of Decatur’s once proud oaks and maples was fresher and cleaner than Atlanta’s heavy industrial smell, both were twins of fiery destruction — exhausted by the War, burned by John Bell Hood as he retreated, and finally leveled by Sherman. And Slocum.
“General?” a nervous voice said from behind him.
“We’re having trouble with a couple of the new recruits, sir.”
“Which new recruits?”
“Couple of the Negroes, sir. Couple of the ex-slaves.”
On the whole, Slocum thought Sherman’s plan to advance toward the sea was brilliant — use the resources left behind: the summer harvest left in silos, the livestock set free on acres of grass and hay, the fresh man power in the form of freed slaves. Minor annoyances like this occurred, however, and often he had men charging through the woods after squealing pigs, had ex-slaves whose new-found freedom caused such a euphoria in them that they became less of a resource and more of a liability. For every three new men they enlisted, one hung from the makeshift gallows erected near the burned depot.
Still, these nuisances should not come to his attention directly. He had subordinates he trusted to handle this sort of thing. With a sour look, Slocum turned to face the officer, a young, nondescript lieutenant.
“Tell Captain Morris. He’s dealt with this before,” Slocum said.
“Captain Morris sent me to fetch you, sir,” the young officer replied. “He said it involves a decision only you are authorized to make.”
The general scowled and mashed his hat back onto his head. It appeared he would have to deal with this nuisance himself. Afterward, he intended to deal with Captain Morris. “Well, then, son. I guess I better go to him, since he’s fetching me.”
The lieutenant winced as the general brushed past him. Slocum walked a little ways, stopped, and turned to find the young man still standing in place.
“Lieutenant?” he said to the man’s skinny back. “You mind leading the way? General Sherman may be a mind-reader, but I am not.”
The lieutenant jumped, whipped around, and stumbled timidly past Slocum. “Y-yes, sir,” he said, heading down the hill.
They walked through a bank of trees, which circled the hill like a crown. Beyond the trees lay a small, orderly encampment of the whitest tents and healthiest men Slocum had remaining. Off to one side, a line of black men stood waiting on a local tailor to measure them for uniforms. Most of the uniforms would come from men recently buried, and many would come with badges of blood stain that couldn’t be washed out with all the water of the Chattahoochee and all the soap in the Union and Confederacy combined.
Several hundred yards from the white-tent encampment stretched a row of dingier tents that almost blended into the brown and gray terrain surrounding them. A casual observer probably wouldn’t notice them, except for the groans emanating from them, and the stomach-churning smell of feces and bile that hung in the air around them like a cloud. Slocum’s regiment had suffered a small outbreak of dysentery, probably from some undercleaned pork, and several men had to be isolated. Most of them would probably never see Savannah.
Slocum himself groaned as the lieutenant led him toward the tents, then sighed in relief as they skirted the encampment and came to the edge of a trim lawn just past it.
The lawn, dotted here and there with tall maples and oaks, stretched up another little hill to where a small, bi-level plantation house stood, alone and forlorn-looking. A group of men gathered at the foot of the hill, all but one of them white Federal officers. Slocum recognized Captain Morris, who stood before the one black man there, his hands on his hips and a hard look on his face. When Morris saw the general his hard look softened, and he smiled and waved.
“Sir!” he shouted. “Thanks for honoring my request.”
Slocum shook his head as he approached. “What is so all-fired important that you had to come get me? I thought you were capable of handling the Negroes, Captain.”
Morris stood up straighter, cleared his throat, and shot a look of quiet indignation at Slocum, which the general only shrugged off.
“Ordinarily sir, I’d simply do my duty — but as you will see, sir, the circumstances here are a bit unusual. I took care of the one Negro that was looting. He’s in the stockade for a spell. This one, though, well, I don’t know what to say or do with him.”
The general took a place at Morris’s shoulder, facing the tall, square-jawed black man, who towered above both of them by a good six inches. Immediately, the man impressed Slocum as remarkable — he had a look of studious intelligence in his eyes, and his skin was clean-shaven and healthy. He had an air of almost perfumed freshness about him, and when he flashed the general a momentary smile, his teeth were white and straight and all there. He wore pressed trousers, an immaculate white cotton shirt, and… shoes — this ex-slave wore shoes. If Henry Slocum hadn’t known better, he would have sworn that this man was one of those wistful-eyed students at Yale or Harvard who protested the War, that this man wasn’t a slave at all.
But Slocum did know better. All he had to do was look at the man’s dark, slightly glistening skin.
“What’s your name, boy?” he asked the ex-slave, who visibly flinched.
“Ray Easley… sir. And you are Major General Henry W. Slocum?”
The general raised his eyebrows. The man’s voice was as remarkable as his appearance — it had a crisp timbre, a warm lilt, that marked this man as being from somewhere other than the deep South. He had absolutely no accent that Slocum could detect.
“I am. What’s all this about?”
Captain Morris answered. “The Negro wants us to burn Dr. Campbell’s house, sir.” The captain waved in the direction of the plantation house on the hill. Without taking his eyes from the black man, Slocum grunted.
“That so, boy?” he asked the man.
“To the ground, sir,” the man answered.
“Are you former… uh… property of Dr. Campbell?”
“Then to whom did you belong, Ray Easley?”
“No one. I was a free man.”
Everyone in the cluster around Ray Easley laughed aloud. Slocum himself chuckled, but he felt a cool certainty that the man was telling the truth. Still, he pressed on.
“No Negro in Atlanta was a free man ‘til a couple of months ago. If you were a Negro and free, you didn’t stay ‘round here,” he said.
“You’re right, sir. I wasn’t here a couple of months ago. I only arrived in Atlanta the day before yesterday. I came specifically to find you and to ask you to destroy Dr. Campbell’s house.”
“Where are you from then, Ray Easley?”
“To be honest, sir, Canada.”
Ray Easley grinned. His teeth were so clean that they sparkled in the November sun. “No, sir. I’m actually from Los Angeles. But I’ve lived in Vancouver for many, many years.”
Los Angeles, Slocum thought. That was as unusual as everything else, so why not? “Well, then…” he said, “Are you aware that Dr. Campbell is a prized physician who has agreed to treat our wounded and sick in exchange for us keeping his homestead intact?”
“Yes, sir. I know. But did you know that Dr. Campbell has a secret compound hidden in his house, which contains a weapon that the Confederate Army intends to unleash on your men once they’ve had a chance to test its effectiveness? As soon as the smoke clears here, Campbell intends to send a sample of his weapon west, to be tested in the desert.”
Slocum’s jaw dropped.
“You see, sir?” Morris said. “We’re under orders to leave Dr. Campbell’s house alone. Your orders, sir. And this all seems so… so… far-fetched.”
The general shook his head. “Yes. Far-fetched indeed,” he said. He couldn’t believe the next words that came out of his own mouth. “Captain Morris, your orders have changed somewhat. Do not destroy Dr. Campbell’s house. Yet. Instead, search it from top to bottom. Twice. If you find what this man says you will find there, then burn it down and bring both Dr. Campbell and Mr. Easley to me. If you don’t find anything, apologize to Campbell. Then hang this man.”
Thanks for reading! Check out the San Guillermo web site to see some original artwork from the book. Look for The Survivor of San Guillermo in 2013!
About a year and a half ago, I decided to self-publish a couple of short stories. The impetus behind my decision is better explained here, but in a nutshell: I’d keep clawing my way up the ladder in the traditional publishing world, but I’d also throw some stuff out there without it because A) I wanted to see if I could generate a little hype and B) I was tired of writing and writing and NOT sharing what I wrote with people who’d appreciate it.
Now, I didn’t blow up or anything because of those stories. YOU’RE here and you know who I am (and I’m happy as shit to have you), but for every one of you, there’s a thousand people I’d like to reach whom I haven’t. Yet. Still, I consider that little pair of short stories I sent out there a success:
I sold a respectable number of copies, even for an eBook only format.
I expanded my tiny following so that it was less tiny.
I learned a LOT about eBooks and eBook sales.
I got to have those conversations I wanted with people about something I created.
I formed an alliance with a small press who would go on to help me publish ANOTHER set of stories.
And that’s what this post is about. This is the one where I thank Atlanta-based fledgling publishers Hallowed Waste for having the gumption to attach their name to my efforts. Granted, they benefit as much from me as I do from them, since technically my name is better known, but it’s always encouraging to have someone express a belief in your work, and it’s good to have the additional resources to draw from when you need.
Hallowed Waste only has two authors that I know of in its “stable”, me and a guy named Todd Wiley. But I believe they’re looking for more. They’re also looking for artists and illustrators who work for cheap or free - basically, if you’re good but relatively unknown, if you’re looking to expand your portfolio in a professional manner, and if you like to draw the sort of stuff they need (dark, esoteric, horror, sci fi), then shoot them an e-mail.
As a writer, if you’re looking to make a foray - the way I did - into eBook publishing, if you’re down with small, independent presses, and if you write the kind of things they’re looking for, ALSO hit them up. Start a conversation, find out what they’re up to and if you fit in. They’re looking to grow, and since I am too, it’s worked out for me.
It might work out for you, too.
Their e-mail and Twitter handle , plus their submission guidelines, are on their web site. In case the hyperlinks above didn’t work for you, here it is: www.hallowedwaste.com.
Sometimes I get jealous of my gay writer friends. I think that compared to me at least, they have such a rich life - filled with things that I can never experience since my sexual orientation is NEVER called into question, never outlawed, and mostly never prosecuted. They have this whole world of things they can draw from to write about which I simply… lack.
Then I think about the things they have to put up with which make their lives so full and rich, and I decide I’m not so jealous after all.
Now, I don’t know if my friend Eric Sasson has been to all the places his characters visit in his short story collection Margins of Tolerance - although I know he’s well traveled. But if he’s been to even HALF of them, then I’m jealous once again, and not of his experience as a gay man, but of his experience as a world traveler. I’ve been a LOT of places, but now that I have two school-aged kids, I don’t get to go to far away places so much anymore.
What Eric has done with Margins of Tolerance is brilliant. He’s taken those two things I’m jealous about - his experience as a gay man and his experience as a traveler - and combined them into a rich and varied commentary on things which transcend ALL experience.
Two common threads run through each of the stories contained in this volume: the first is that every protagonist is a gay male. (I think that’s obvious from the things I’ve implied so far.) But if these stories focused solely on what it’s like to be gay, then I think it would be easy to dismiss Eric as a writer who’s found a comfortable niche - something to fall back on and rely on and repeat. I know some writers who happen to be minority, and who inhabit THAT personae in all of their writing - to the point that, even though I sympthasize with them and support them, I sometimes find their reliance on their status tiresome and uninventive.
Eric doesn’t do that. The SECOND thread which runs through Margins of Tolerance is how very DIFFERENT each story is. The protagonists are all wildly different - the only things they have in common are their gayness and their maleness. Other than that, they’re a different as anybody you can imagine.
The settings are also all different, ranging from a cheap hotel in Peru to a bar in St. Petersburg, Russia to a writers’ conference in Lake Tahoe. Eric has evidently visited many of these places, and if he hasn’t then he’s done his homework - he KNOWS these places in a profound and intimate way, and he uses them to great effect.
Not only are the characters and settings varied - even the style and language change from story to story. This is no small feat, I can tell you from my own experiments in changing style, voice, and cadence between stories. It’s very difficult to be tongue-in-cheek and sassy in one instance, then somber and melancholic in another. Many writers can’t pull off first person, and others revel in it. To see a single writer pull off such a variety of styles in such a small space is somewhat astounding.
Finally, the themes in Margins of Tolerance vary as well. I recently reviewed a book of short stories, that while enjoyable and worth reading, did dwell a lot on a number of contained and related themes. Margins of Tolerance defies that as much as it defies any other border. It’s a great irony and a triumph of sorts that this book, which sets itself up to be about the lines we as humans draw in the proverbial sand, crosses those lines again and again.
The power of Eric’s stories here are that each disparate piece - the characters, their situations, the setting, and the themes - are perfectly put together. Like a talented confectioner building the perfect cupcake from scratch, Eric somehow knows that THIS person experiencing THIS emotion and circumstance in THIS particular place will yield THIS transcendent message for the reader.
Some of these stories will disturb you - especially if you’re homophobic. Some of these stories will offend you. Some of these stories will make you cry, some will make you groan, some will make you shiver, and some will make you stand up and say “FUCK YEAH, that’s how it is!”
All of them will make you think - about your own person, about your own surroundings, and about the margins which you have established regarding your own tolerance.
And if you’re me, they’ll make you jealous.
Jay Magidson has dwelled in the art world for years, dealing with the artists and the buyers of some of the finest contemporary art in the United States. From his own gallery in downtown Aspen, CO, to his current position at Ann Korologos’s gallery in Basalt, Jay has had a long and successful career using his skilled eyes and vast knowledge of art. He seems to have a strong notion as to what works and what doesn’t in the visual realm.
Jay also happens to be a writer, and in everything I’ve read by him, I get a distinct sense of Jay’s visual sensibilities and acumen. His writing is among the most vivid and visually STUNNING of all of my peers. And in his current collection of short fiction, Colors, he hits SEVERAL monumental pinnacles in portraying scenes and scenery like no one else I know.
Does it always work? Well, no. But does it work enough to make Colors a worthwhile read? Absolutely.
Thematically, Colors varies. One of Jay’s favorite settings is in the dystopian future, but his vision of the days ahead is not singular. Using different versions of the future as a backdrop, Jay posits a variety of questions about man and man’s place in the universe: In one story, life in the future boils down to a day-by-day routine that everyone follows unquestioningly. There is no room for creativity, deviance from what is expected, or even the consciousness that one is an individual. In another story, the world is in ruins, in the dark, and we get a view of the post-apocalytic moral afflictions of one of the men who plunged it there.
There are other themes in other settings - in just a few pages, Jay makes comment on the problem of evil, the existence of free will, the nature of fear, and the consequences of selfishness. There’s nothing new here, but Jay’s approach is made fresh by his eye for effect and his uncanny ability to convey space, color, and detail.
The weakest part of Colors comes with the vignettes Jay uses to try to pull the stories into one cohesive piece. I think he’d have been better off simply leaving each story as a stand-alone, and let us inhabit them as ourselves and in our own way, rather than implying that the vignette character of Paul is there somehow, inhabiting each story’s respective protagonist in turn. Paul’s story, though vividly told - starting off strange, then moving into creepy, then veering off into terrible and surreal - actually lacks an urgency which is desperately needs. It also acts a succinct resolution. I’d be okay with no resolution were Paul’s story simply one of the many presented in Colors, but its position as GLUE makes me expect more from it.
Take Paul’s story away, though, and you have a series of tales that start off rather quiet, then build to a crescendo. And the thing which makes this volume successful, to me, is the visual power of every single scene. Even the Paul scenes are interesting in a visual sense. Jay Magidson convincingly conveys the vast and the claustrophobic, the euphoric and the melancholy, the intricate and the mundane, and he does it so that you can SEE it. Somewhere in his mind, Jay has seen it all - and he can describe it for you perfectly.
Time. Space. Eternity. All in color.