Saturday, August 27, 2016

Slender Man: An Excerpt From An Old Work

One of my favorite activities is participating in a tuckerization of my fiction, using real people as characters in my work. I want to thank Juan for allowing me to make him a character in one of the few actual horror stories I've ever written.

What follows is the prologue of a work that I have yet to complete, but I did enjoy writing it. The delightful challenge of writing about Slender Man was dampened when mentally ill children started committing crimes to appease this made up character. Also, the character of Slender Man, originally in the public domain, is now held in copyright by an unknown third party. I'm not going to invest time in a story I cannot publish for profit.

I shall probably rewrite the story, cleansing it of all Slender Man references and making up my own little beastie. Here is the opening prologue. Enjoy.

Slender Man
by Alan Loewen


“Subject: Juan Claude SimeoƱ. Madison College isolation tank research, number 22. Mark time. Juan, how are you doing?”

Juan floated gently in the heavy, warm Epsom salt solution, his ear plugs making Gerald’s voice sound far away instead of coming from a tiny speaker just three inches above his head. “Doing okay,” he replied. He opened his eyes for a moment to the pitch blackness inside the chamber and then closed them again.

“Everything is working fine out here," Juan heard Gerald say. "Are you feeling the effects of the compound yet?”

Juan let out a breath. “No, not yet. I only took it twenty-five minutes ago. Let’s give it another five to kick in.”

“It’s your experiment. I’m switching my mike off. I’ve got a good level on yours.”

“Good.” Juan concentrated on his relaxation technique, deliberately relaxing the muscles in his feet and working up his body. Floating in the solution that had been warmed to body temperature, Juan enjoyed the sensation of floating. Though the tank was just big enough to hold him, in the blackness he felt like more like a mote floating in the center of an infinite universe.

“Mark time,” he said. “My skin is itching again.” He allowed himself to flow with the unpleasant sensation, a side-effect of his mind freeing itself from the world of the senses. “I suspect I’m a good ten to fifteen minutes away from theta brainwave conversion.”

He took a deep breath and slowly let it out, willing himself into a greater degree of relaxation. “I feel the new compound kicking in. A great calm. Itchiness is gone. Mark time. Here’s a new sensation. I’m gently falling.” Juan allowed the sensation to take him. “I’m seeing phosphenes now. Brilliant. More brilliant than I’ve ever experienced before, the most common being a shade of purple with flashes of red and green.”

He felt himself floating, falling between the cascading colors. “Pretty. They’re starting to take shape. Mark time. I suspect the compound is doing this. We might have finally reached the perfect mix.”

The colors swirled and congealed into a madman’s color palette. “Interesting. Mark time. I think I’m hallucinating. Maybe we increased the compound too much? These colors look solid. Weird angles. Reminds me of some of Lovecraft’s stories. What did he say? ‘Complex angles leading through invisible walls to other regions of Time-Space.’ I have to stop reading nonsense like that.”

Juan floated among the odd geometric shapes. “Wow. I never knew my mind could come up with what I’m seeing. Gerald, I hope you’re getting all this. I really don’t know if I’m talking out loud so my mike can pick it up.”

Gerald rolled his eyes as Juan continued his observations. As long as he got his weekly check, Gerald didn’t care what the psychology majors did with his time. He made a quick scan of the controls. The solution in which Juan floated kept its temperature constant and the chronometer marked off the minutes as they passed.

Stifling a yawn, he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Listening to some psych major ramble on about his hallucinations did not improve his already unpleasant mood.

“Mark time,” he heard through the speaker. Gerald leaned forward and pushed a button that would independently time stamp the recording.

Clean the tank. Punch buttons. Listen to some guy hallucinate. This is what a college degree did for him.

“Gerald? I really hope you can hear me. I … I can’t help but feel I’m not alone in here. Something out of the corner of my eye. I guess I should more accurately say ‘my field of vision.’”

The speaker stayed silent for a minute. “Mark time!” the speaker squawked, more urgently this time. “I saw something. The experience feels real. Something behind the weird angles.”

Gerald punched the time button again.

“Maybe if I look before my peripheral vision detects it. Hold on a minute.”

Suddenly, a scream burst out of the speaker, distorted by the volume of Juan’s terror. “No! Gerald! Get me out of here! No! Stay back! Get away from me!”

With an oath, Gerald jumped to his feet and reached for the hatch to the small isolation chamber.

It did not respond to his pull.

Juan’s screams continued as Gerald struggled with the door. Lacking any type of latch, it should have opened with little difficulty, but now Gerald felt as if he fought against all the weight of the world.

With a sudden pop, the hatch slammed open on its hinges and Gerald screamed.

Expecting to see Juan floating in a solution of brine, the interior of the small chamber opened up unexpectedly into a vast infinity of insane angles and odd geometries. His eyes and mind ached as he tried to take it in. He stumbled back, whimpering.

A shape emerged from the hatch. Impossibly thin and composed of a darkness that spoke more of a void than lack of color. Thin lines of darkness that hinted of obscenely long and thin arms reached for him.

Frozen in shock and terror, Gerald looked up at the ceiling where the head of the figure should have been.The last thing he ever saw as tendrils wrapped themselves around his neck was a featureless face that radiated a palpable evil.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Shrine War Draft Gets Cut To Shreds

Last night I met with two friends who have excellent editing skills. I had sent them the first rough draft of The Shrine War and we sat around my friend's kitchen table and began the dissection.

Let me assure you the first draft of any story is basically garbage. You, as author, are too close to the story to see the mistakes and the errors and that is why it is necessary to have an independent person look it over. Guess what they found?
  1. In the 11,800 word story, I used the word 'carefully' 16 times, sometimes repeating the word in the same paragraph.
  2. A Shinto shrine normally has two distinct buildings: the Haiden and the Honden. I misspelled 'Haiden' several times and in one case I confused the two buildings.
  3. In a number of sentences I had the action refer to the wrong subject.
  4. References made at the beginning of the story need to be repeated at the end to remind the reader of what is happening.
  5. I end the story with a character I introduced only by name at the beginning of the tale.
  6. And quite a number of other errors as well.
I was too close to my story to see these errors myself and I'm grateful for the experience of having the story reviewed.

Of course, I did not agree with every recommendation they made. In one instance they wanted me to explain the result of an action in greater detail, but I will deliberately kept the result vague so as to create suspense as it is a common trope in speculative stories.

So, I now start work on revision and correction. Like I said, some writers are talented and can churn out a short story every two to four weeks. My own experience is that it takes me about 6 months.

I feel no shame in saying that. Story telling is a subjective art. There is no set formula. If it takes you a year to write a short story, then that is what it takes. The name of the game is to have a finished short story that you feel good about, spit-polished and shining bright and ready to make the rounds of submissions.

Write on!

Conversation With a Group of People About Writing

Friend: So what genre do you write in?

Me: Rather hard to explain. I just call it dark fantasy romance with a body count.

Jim George: So its all autobiographical?

I high-fived him for a rapid witty remark. I'm also stealing it.

What? You think witty comebacks in my stories are all from me? I plagiarize, baby! You'd be surprised how much creative dialogue from my brilliant friends ends up in my tales.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

First Draft of the Shrine War is Complete!

Topping the word count at 11,800 words, I wrapped up The Shrine War, brought everything to a conclusion, and did a subtle ending that leaves open the remote possibility of a sequel.

I started writing the tale on May 28th and there are doubts that if it takes this long to write the first draft of a short story, I can forget becoming a millionaire on quantity alone.

And I know writers who can crunch out a short story in a month! How do they do that?

And there are prolific writers who can crunch out a novel in that time!

Well, can't compare myself to others. That way, madness lies.

But I am done with the first draft. Break out the beverages and bring on the dancing bears! Let the party commence!

And tomorrow night (Monday) three editor friends start the look over. I love these people because when they are done the manuscript looks like it came in at last place in a meat cleaver battle.

And 99.99999% of the time, their edits are spot on.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Shrine War Update and Excerpt

After the sudden passing of my mother on Saturday, July 23rd, I took a break from writing to deal with her personal affairs as well as my own grief, but she would have wanted life to go on. So today for the first time in weeks, I traveled once again to Japan and at 8,770 words have finally come to the final part of my story, the final big conflict between the Inugami and the kitsune shrine maidens trying to defend their shrine against them.

Writing a series of complex scenes is a lot like playing chess. Before your big attack, everybody needs to be where they are supposed to be and finally all my characters are in their proper places.

There has been some attrition as you can expect in any conflict. Of the original ten Inugami, three are down for the count, but the shrine maidens are in a serious sticky wicket. Only Sen and Chiyo are left in the oratory in a doomed effort to save their souls and Inari's Mirror from the desecration of the spirit dogs. They assume Hoso to be dead and the twins probably sharing the same fate. Or worse. Inugami use kitsune souls to power their soul crystals to power their magic.

My sole human character is outside hiding in the bushes and freaking out, but his part of the story is not yet done. Not to worry. He's not going to save the day. Sen and Chiyo are going to have to solve this one all by their lonesome.
Here's a rough draft of an excerpt that follows Kiku and Kuwa who tried to defend the shrine entrance from the Inugami. Currently they are hiding in the canopy of the trees that stand on the shrine property


Kiku carefully made sure her feet were solidly placed on the tree branch and tried not to think of the hard ground so far below. Kuwa held onto her twin sister’s back trying her best not to hinder Kiku’s progress across the canopy of leaves and branches as they tried to put distance between them and the attacking Inugami. Kuwa’s left leg dangled uselessly, her thigh heavily bandaged using material torn from her haori. Fortunately the Inugami iron dart had not punctured an artery nor did it appear to have been poisoned.

“Sister, dear,” Kiku muttered through gritted teeth, “perhaps you might consider not eating so many rice balls in the future.”

“We are high enough in the tree the Inugami cannot see us through the branches and leaves. Unfortunately, we cannot see them either,” Kuwa replied. “Still, we are well out of the range of their darts while they are still in range of our soul arrows. Please, sister, put me down on this branch. We can make a stand here.”

Kiku made her way closer to the trunk and allowed Kuwa to stand on her one good leg. She took a moment to massage her throat where Kuwa had wrapped her arms for support. “Do you see them?”

Kuwa carefully looked over the branch toward the ground below. “No. Nothing. I think they may have gone up to the haiden.”

Kiku clenched her fist in useless frustration. “Sen and Chiyo will need our help. How many Inugami did you see, sister?”

”Nine,” Kuwa said. “I saw nine when they charged the human. I know we struck two of them down.”

“But they are not dead. Their soul stones were fractured so they have lost the source of their magic. Our soul arrows went through them, but they will shake off the paralysis quickly enough.”

The two kitsune looked at each other.

“Kuwa, you must stay. I cannot carry you, but I must help defend Inari’s Mirror.”

Kuwa clutched the trunk and eased herself into position where she could straddle the large branch, one leg and two tails dangling on one side and her wounded leg and her two other tails on the other. “Yes, sister, you must go. And with Inari’s help, I will try to see if I can find a vantage point that will allow me to deal with any spirit dogs I see. They will not leave the shrine with the Mirror if I can help it.” With that, she worked her bow out of her torn haori and, with prayer beads in her one hand, she closely inspected her bow so Kiku would not see her tears. Within moments, Kiku was swallowed up by the branches and leaves as she made her way across the treetops toward the hoiden.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Writing Is A Socially Acceptable Form of Schizophrenia

What other form of recreation allows me to have voices in my head telling me what to do as I weave fantasies that have little bearing on reality?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Progress Report on the Shrine War

I am blessed with three dear friends who are writers in their own right and I am privileged to have them edit my work for me. Once a month we get together and we go over each others work and together our writings have improved dramatically. Fortunately, they are intelligent enough to know how to critique a piece for grammar, logic and continuity errors without critiquing the writer's voice.

Halfway through The Shrine War, I was able to follow their advice and the first half of the story is now much tighter and some parts shine much more clearly.

At this stage of The Shrine War, I am directly on the verge of the siege of the haiden, also known as the oratory, but I find the next part difficult to write as one of the characters is going to die.

And I confess I'm a softie at heart. I love my characters, but the story and the readers come first and if one of my characters must die, then, if you will forgive the pun, their fate is already written.

It just doesn't mean I have to enjoy it.

Word count is currently up to 7,714 words after heavy rewriting and editing of the first half.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Goldlust, by A.R. Mitchell: A Review

Goldlust is a collection of short stories from A. R. Mitchell, a collection of tales that pay homage to the golden age of the pulps when the characters and the stories they appeared in were bigger than life.

The opening tale, Goldlust and the one immediately following are both timeslip stories where the protagonists suddenly find themselves in another time, but the locales and tropes quickly change to stories of science fiction (an eerie and unsettling tale entitled Remember Me), post-apocalyptic drama (Armageddon’s Grace) and others spanning numerous times and locations.

Many of the stories are too short leaving the reader wishing they had been expanded into novels, but for this reviewer, some of the real gems besides the aforementioned Remember Me are:

Forty Eight Lashes that introduces a private investigator who discovers his wife of six months holds a secret that drives her to self-destructive acts.

A policeman in Love and Shotguns gives advice to a lovelorn young man.

The Outlaws of Sawdust tells the two-fisted Old West tale of a young cowgirl trailing down a gang of train robbers who stole her five dollars.

In Reliquary of Fear a renegade archeologist undergoes an involuntary rite of passage in a pagan Mayan temple.

It is hoped by this reviewer to see Mitchell expand her tales into at least novella-length stories. These twenty tales are proof she has the talent.

Goldlust in paperback can be purchased here.

Goldlust for Kindle can be purchased here.

A.R. Mitchell's blog can be found here.