One and Done, redux.

This time, it’s The Cryman.

Finished the first revision yesterday and, yep, I do believe this is the scariest thing I’ve ever written. If it ain’t, it’s in the top 3.

Here’s the first chapter. At least, until the next revision:

The Cryman

“That’s one small step for man…”

Aaron held his breath.

“…and one giant leap for mankind.”

Aaron exhaled with sheer joy, sheer ecstasy, and some puzzlement. What’s the difference between man and mankind?

Who cared! They were on the moon!

He danced before the smoky TV images of Neil Armstrong’s oddly canted leg (made so by the angle of the landing gear camera) feeling around the solid gray surface. “Oh my God!” Aaron crowed. “We’re on the moon! We’re on the moon!”

That was met with a simultaneous “Don’t you blaspheme!” from Mom and “Get the HELL OUDDA DA WAY, boy!” from Dad, followed by an immediate, “So what? It’s just the moon!” from Kathy (who would much rather be watching Bobby Sherman, Aaron guessed), and nothing from Darrell who was, inexplicably, asleep. Little twerp.

“Just the moon?” Aaron gaped at Kathy’s petulant little moue as he, wisely, danced the hell oudda Dad’s way. “Just the moon?” expressed again as he danced out the living room and through the kitchen and out the door, Dad’s, “Boy! You get your butt back in here!” having no effect, no effect.

Because it was a magical night.

And a foggy one. And a steamy one, here in the middle-of-nowhere, swamp-laden, pine-tree’d hotter-than-heck werewolf-haven, deep deep southern Alabama. The mist gathered at the usual spots around the house, camouflaging zombies and vampires and Frankensteins using it to steal closer, eyes bright with hunger, but Aaron felt invulnerable because science was ward, and tonight was all about science. The backyard pole light reflected off the fog and back into his eyes, ruining his night vision, but that didn’t matter, either, because up there, all white and pure and wonderful…

…the moon.

Our moon.

Aaron danced up to the telescope, the one Dad had bought from Sears and Roebuck for Aaron’s birthday a year ago, surprise, because Dad thought it a toy and all toys were for babies—”Why don’t you want a football or a basketball or somethin’ like that?” Because, Dad, Aaron was the most uncoordinated kid in Damascus School and if you really, really wanted to see Aaron at his most babyish, Dad, then just come watch him try to dribble a basketball while running down the gym’s warped floorboard court. That’s how he’d earned the nickname, “Spaz.”

But he wasn’t a spaz with the telescope.

Aaron centered the spotter scope dead in the middle of the moon, set the screws down, and took a preliminary glance through the lens. The sudden blast of white light blew his eye apart and he blinked, stepping back to rub out the afterimages. Be nice to have a moon filter, or a more professional scope, but it was pointless asking Dad for either. In this area, he and Dad agreed—Aaron’s telescope was a toy. But a useful one.

Aaron braced and went back to the scope. Gently, now, take your time. His eyes teared but he held steady and…there. There.

The moon. My moon.

Craters and rays and seas whirled and, at any other time, Aaron would have been entranced, risking permanent blindness while trying to memorize details, but he wasn’t looking for the usual stuff tonight. Oh no. He was focused on the Sea of Tranquility and knew, just knew, if he looked hard enough, he’d see it.

The Eagle.

Aaron squinted, holding his breath. Had to be there, had to be. It was the only man-made item on the moon…well, okay, there was the Orbiter, but that was on the other side out of view, and some Soviet stuff but he wasn’t going to waste his time with Commie crap. So…concentrate.

The image swam and he blinked and then his eyes swam so he blinked again and things wavered and blurred but he stayed with it and there….there! Clarity. He held his breath, staring at the deep gray surface, looking for a reflection, anything, even from the orbiting module…


Gasping, Aaron shot straight up, knocking the scope off target. He stared hard at the fog-shrouded edge of the woods. What the heck was that?

Silence, and that made him even more nervous. This place, this Alabama, was full of strange, degenerated creatures (like his 7th grade classmates, giggle) that called and crowed and cackled in weird, unearthly pitches twenty-four hours a day, continuously raising Aaron’s neck hairs. But he’d never heard anything like THAT sound before. And worse, all the other calls and crows and cackles had stopped. Dead.

Aaron peered intently past the pole light. Nothing. The fog swirled, occasionally revealing a patch of weird Spanish moss hanging from the trees here and there. Aaron caught his breath because Spanish moss was alive. It was. On moonlit nights, it flowed off the trees and wound about the yard like a gray boa constrictor, looking for young boys to smother. How many times had he heard its brittle fingers scraping at the den window while he tried to sleep?

On moonlit nights…

The terror fell on him like an avalanche, freezing his breath, locking his legs to the ground. He was sure, sure! that gray tendrils crept along the ground seeking him, wrapping around his body until he was cocooned, then dragged back to the woods and hung from a tree and then slowly drained of fluids. A little whimper escaped him.


Aaron almost fell down in sheer fright, but terror held him rigid. Something was walking along the edge of the woods behind the chicken coop! Barely able to breathe, he stared hard at the darkness.

A fox?

Had to be, and Aaron almost fell down again, this time from sheer relief. Of course. It was looking for a chicken dinner. A somewhat clumsy fox at that, breaking branches here and there…

Hmm. Foxes weren’t generally so obvious. Was it rabid? Aaron was chilled anew.

An odor began wafting about him. Aaron sniffed, trying to identify it, and wrinkled his nose in disgust. It was repellant, like old leather left wet in a closet for a couple of years, mold and age, dank, with an underlying tang of dried sweat and manure. Good Lord (sorry, Mom), what’s this fox been doing, rolling around the bottom of an abandoned sewer?

The smell expanded, filling Aaron’s nostrils to the point of dizziness, and he knew the fox was coming closer. Oh no. Holding his nose, Aaron peered hard at the woods behind the coop, trying to spot it…

The night moved.

A good portion of it, at least, a giant black shadow creeping along the trees, massive, dark upon dark, and dripping malevolence. Aaron’s heart stopped. He was paralyzed, under the spell of the ogre or troll stalking him under the bright, exposing moon, a monster with the gaze of a basilisk that would stride across the yard, remove Aaron’s head, and suck out his innards through his neck hole.

The thing stopped on the edge of the woods, cocked its tree-shadowed head to one side, and smiled.

Aaron shouldn’t be able to see the red-encrusted, filed spikes that were its teeth, but a trick of moonlight caught them perfectly. He was reminded of a shark, but an evil, gloating, lustful one, the joy of Aaron’s coming murder on its face. Aaron was so paralyzed he couldn’t even wet his pants. He was going to die, and rather horribly, here, in his own back yard, eaten by a nightmare while Neil Armstrong cavorted on the moon above…


Dad’s yell cut through the night, breaking the spell like a battle between two dark wizards. Aaron sagged as if binding ropes had been cut from him and fell to his knees, to be almost immediately yanked to his feet by the lapels of his shirt. “Now just what in the HELL are you doing out here?” Dad, roaring in his face, another monster.

“I…ah!” Aaron was split with two tasks, trying to keep Dad from murdering him and trying to point at the monster in the woods so Dad could get his shotgun and dispatch it. Or at least try to. Aaron wasn’t sure if something so evil could be killed with mortal weapons.

“You WHAT?” Dad yanked him off his feet, one handed, straight into the air, further proof that Dad was the strongest man in the world. As if the beatings he gave with the short Mexican bullwhip weren’t enough proof.

A part of Aaron was deeply annoyed by this. A monster was bearing down on them, and Dad was more concerned about some private violation of his ever changing rules of decorum. Like, really, what’s the problem here? It’s a night of Magic and Science, and Aaron was in his own backyard, bothering no one, participating in a world event in his own small way, and there was no school because it was summer and nothing, really, he had to do tomorrow so what the hell was the problem?

Oh, and, Dad, there’s a monster bearing down on us.

“Dad!” Aaron managed the whole word, despite being choked to death, “Look!” and he managed a frantic hand point at where the monster was…


Gone. Just gone.

“What?” Dad, suspicious, held Aaron suspended but followed the point because he never ignored a warning. Must be those years as a scout for Patton. But there was nothing there for Dad to see.

“A monster,” Aaron choked around Dad’s vise hand, “There was a monster over there by the chicken coop.” Too late, Aaron realized that, without supporting evidence, this wouldn’t be received very well.

It wasn’t.

“A mon…” Dad paused just long enough to gather strength and, mini-seconds later, Aaron was flying through the air and crashing into the side of the laundry shed, managing to catch the foot of the tripod on the way and spilling the telescope. He hoped that sound of breaking glass wasn’t a lens.

“I’ll monster you!” Dad roared, reached down, and, this time, flung Aaron towards the house. “Get your ass inside, boy!”

And, for once, Aaron was grateful for Dad’s rage, as he scrambled up the steps. One monster had vanquished the other.

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Farpoint. Far out.

Never attended a Farpoint convention before and, heck, they were just up the road apiece in Timonium, MD, so Tj O’Connor and I took ourselves up there to see what was to see.

This, of course:

it being winter and Maryland and 40 knot winds with snow and an air temp of,oh, say, -12. But, that was outside.

This was inside:

Yes, Vlad the Corset Impaler was in town.

My setup:

Incidentally, the game on the left is Bryan Hillman’s Dark Legacy. I was challenging passers-by to a round of Cast and Attack, and giving them a poster if they beat me. I ran out of posters pretty quick. Yeah, I suck.

This is Tj’s set-up:

He brought a friend, his ghost writer. Get it?

In case anyone needs to know the whereabouts of Allen from the 501st, here you go:

Got your back, man.

Hey, look! It’s Ben Anderson from Marscon!

You meet the best people at these things. Like:

Green Lanterness.

Rick and Carl, who were looking for this guy:

A Stargate soldier who got stuck in there for awhile:



Hannah Solo:

Baby Groot:

The Tin Hat Brigade:

A Ringwraith and I shared a couple of laughs:

You get past that whole One Ring to Rule Them All stuff, they’re pretty good guys.

Speaking of good guys:

This is Frank, who was sporting a 4th Armored patch which caught my attention, since my Dad was in the 4th. Like any good soldier, Frank was prepared for anything:

Even a Russian, er, American, er, SHIELD spy:

Prince…ess Leia:

The Jedi Windy, Windu…heck, I don’t know. If they’re characters from those horrible pre-quels, I don’t acknowledge their existence:

Sand people. Not from the pre-quels. At least one of them, that is:

Get your hands off me, you dirty ape:

Aren’t you supposed to be on a satellite somewhere?

Captain America and little Bucky, all grown up:

Miss America, Captain-style:

One of these things is not like the others:

The couple dressed like RV salesmen are actually RV salesmen, owners of Leo’s Vacation Center, who happened to wander in and were never heard from again.

The woman in the middle there is Lottie, who seems to show up at every single convention I go to and no, I am not stalking her. I’m not. Really, officer, I’m not.

And, yes, that is Frank on the right. Told you he was prepared.

This is Black Widow from the scene in Winter Soldier during the fifteen or twenty seconds she was walking in the mall with Cap:

You remember that, right?

And this is…this is…just…marvelous:

Overall? Pretty decent. Both Tj and I did well there. But, they should consider having the next Farpoint in a hotel that has more than one staff member.

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The 50-page Rule

I am about halfway through Elizabeth Baxter’s Everwinter, Book 1. I should already be done with it, but I violated the 50-page rule early on.

What’s this rule, you ask? It’s a personal one: when I pick up a book, I give it fifty pages to grab me, no matter how much the story irritates. If, by page 51, I am still irritated, then I throw it across the room. And trust me, on some titles I have sped-read to page fifty-one just so I could throw it across the room.

But, when I first got Everwinter, I stopped reading it at about page 15 or so. Why? Because it felt like bastardized Nordic mythology, which was irritating. See, if you’re going to use a mythology, then don’t bastardize it or you will fall into Twinkly Vampire Syndrome (I’m sure you know to what I refer), which is some author trying to be all original by messing with something that is already established. Vampires don’t twinkle in the sunlight, they burn. Period.

So, why am I now back at Everwinter? Because, a couple of weeks ago, I was perusing my Kindle library and saw it and said, “Oh, let’s give it another shot, this time with the 50-page rule invoked.” And I did. And now I’m hooked.

IMHO, it takes at least fifty pages to set up a world. At least fifty. It takes hundreds more to actually build that world, something I found out when I read Kate Elliot’s Crossroads Trilogy. I had inadvertently grabbed the second book of the series, Shadow Gate, instead of the first one, Spirit Gate, and was completely baffled by page three. So I said to myself, “Self, let’s give this thing fifty pages to make sense.” Well, of course, it didn’t, but that didn’t matter because it was so damned compelling I finished it, discovered my error, and grabbed the first one. Which, if I had not developed the fifty-page rule with the second one, I would have stopped reading at about page ten because I thought it was too corny. Buuut…stayed with it and now Kate Elliot is one of my favorite fantasy authors.

And while the rule is personal, I highly recommend every reader adopt it. That’s because of the movies. Books are different than movies. Yes, yes, you are rolling your eyes and going, “Duh,” but movies, as wonderful as they are, have done books a huge disservice because movies show The Issue right up front, bright, in Technicolor in the first five minutes of the film. So now, everyone’s reading books expecting the main issue to be on the friggin’ opening page. That’s why you’re seeing all these “Opening Page” workshops, which is utterly freakin’ nuts. I’ve had people complain to me that the ship in The Ship to Look for God isn’t standing there at full attention by page ten. Maybe it will be in the Cliff Notes version, but (spoiler alert! Warning! Warning!) the ship doesn’t actually appear until about halfway through. God can build the Earth in seven days, but I need fifty pages just to get the place started.

Which brings me to another rule: if you’re going to read, read. And keep telling yourself it’s not a movie.

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The Cryman

While The Ship Looking for God is marinading, I busted out another first draft that I hadn’t played with in a while called The Cryman. Apparently, it was QUITE a while because I was surprised to find that I had actually finished the story. I don’t remember doing that. See what happens when you get older?

The Cryman is a local monster in LA (lower Alabama). Think of it as the Jersey Devil of the very regional South. It’s somewhat akin to Bigfoot, except it stalks and eats children, and lurks in the Cryman Hole, which is a series of gulches carved into the swamps around Goodman, Alabama. I heard about it when I was living in LA during the middle to late 60′s. A farmer’s wife warned us kids about it, I suspect to keep us from wandering the gulches. Like that worked. It just made our adventures down there all the more tingly.

The Cryman is probably the closest I will ever come to writing YA. I don’t write YA; I’m not good enough. But, the story kept drifting that way so, let it have its head and hang on for the ride. And it is quite the ride.

Because, frankly, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever written. Just downright terrifying. I’ve always considered The Moonlight in Genevieve’s Eyes as the scariest thing I’ve ever written, but this beats it all to hell. Which presents a bit of a dilemma: if it’s that scary, how can it be YA?

Dunno. But it is.

So what am I gonna do with it? Keep revising until it’s done, then publish it.

Then you can judge.

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Substance over form

I saw American Sniper last night at the local Carmike. I usually do not go to Carmike’s or AMC or the other big chain movie theaters; I go to Alamo. Why? Someone brings you beer at Alamo. They don’t bring beer at Carmike’s. The beer at Alamo tends to cut down on the number of crying kids in the audience. Not so, Carmike’s. Alamo shows very funny clips before the previews. Carmike’s brings you PSA’s. I hate PSA’s: they presume all of us are idiots. But, the local Alamo was sold out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was, so, Carmike’s.

And I do not see what all the fuss was.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good movie, the battle scenes alone worth the price of admission. But…but, it’s not Best Picture. I thought Unbroken was ten times better. While everyone and his cousin is gushing over Bradley Cooper’s performance, I found it wooden. Indeed, other than the special effects, it’s pretty standard war movie fare, so what’s everybody getting excited about?

Simple: confusion of subject with form.

See, this is a movie about an American Hero, so you’re supposed to proclaim it throughout the land. Well, you proclaim Chris Kyle, because he is truly an American Hero and quite an astonishing person (and who died in what I think is an astonishingly trivial manner, given all that he accomplished in his life). But, that doesn’t mean the form of the story (in this case, a movie) is up to par.

The same thing happens in books. Proclaim the novel because it’s about Dying Teenagers or very interesting sexual peccadillos but, when looked at critically, those novels are dreck. Poorly written. Want to throw them across the room. Which is heresy! Heresy, I say! It’s about Dying Teenagers and interesting sexual peccadillos so it must be good! It MUST be!

Not necessarily.

And that’s what’s happening here. American Sniper must be good because it’s about Chris Kyle. And it IS good.

Just not that good.

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MarsCon. Can. Con.

Saturday was the 25th Anniversary of Marscon, and since I had never been to the previous 24, what the heck. Drove 3-4 days down to Williamsburg, VA, checked into the Bates, er, Bassett Motel, and then moseyed over to the con. And who were the first persons I saw? The 501st Legion:

They were having a meeting, or, at least, their version of a meeting, and told me to come back and have a drink with them after the meeting and, okay, but I needed to go back to the Bates, er, Basset (I kid. The Basset is a really nice mom-and-pop motel. The desk guy was a rheumy-eyed geezer straight out of central casting, and is just one of the best motel clerks in America) and put some stuff away first. When I came back, they were STILL having a meeting, or a reasonable facsimile, so, forget it. Back to the Bates.

My set up:

which was across from these guys:

(The SciFi Photo Guys, run by Penn and his manager. No, really, Penn. And his manager. Trust me.)

and next to the guy in the background of this photo of the Count from Sesame Street and Gypsy Woman:

the guy in the background being Ben Anderson, who has written a wonderful YA series called the The McGunnegal Chronicles. Get it. Read it to your kids. Make life magic.

The empty table between Ben and I belonged to a couple, Caren Green and Danny Birt, who met at a previous Marscon and decided to get married at this Marscon, hence the unattended table. They did show up on Sunday, where I discovered that they lived about three blocks away from me. First Tj O’Connor, now these two. We’re turning the Shenandoah Valley into a writer’s colony.

Some attendees:

A LARP, a beauty, and Ezio.

Captain America and Winter Soldier, the milder version.

I’m not really sure who they were supposed to be, but she had a flask, which makes both of them welcome. They commandeered the empty table and put on an impromptu concert:

Ballroom dancing Lolita. Okay.

The Yellow Brick Road.

Steampunk Buzz Lightyear.

When Worlds Collide.

Super Deadpool Jedi Scout Regiment girl, later adds Mad Hatter. Oh, yeah, Diana Prince, too.


Trooper and friend.

Sesame Street, without the Count.

While wandering about, I was accosted by a female Klingon Warrior:

Klingon romance involves a lot of broken bones, so I left.

The lovely Anna, hawking CapitolCon:

I think you can figure out who is the lovely Anna.

The guy who brought us lunch:

which I ate with no lasting side effects, except for a brief transformation:

Sith Lord:

who became Nick Fury:


and then another Sith Lord:

Overall, a good time had by all.


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One and Done

One revision, I mean, the first revision of The Ship Looking for God. I finished it this weekend. And I like it.

It turned out to be 82,921 words, which is still well above my 75,000-word threshold for epic fantasy. The first draft was 90,666 words, so it looks like I did some serious cutting, doesn’t it? Not really; I had five pages of notes in the first draft, and all that went into the trash. The rest is due to tightening here and there, but I added some scenes, too, so it all sort of balances out.

And now, to put it away for a while. Maybe a week, a couple of weeks, a month. Because, right now, I feel pretty good about it. Downright pleased. Ready to commit.

The worst time, though, to propose marriage is right after the first date.

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The Adventures of Gracie the Wander Cat: Turn out the Lights

Another Christmas gone, and that D. Krauss guy can now stop acting like a giddy little school girl and get some work done. He keeps talking about all these revisions he has to do, but, trust me, y’all, half his day is spent on Twitter.

Do give the guy some credit, he DID take down all the decorations on New Year’s Day. Shame, ’cause I really liked the tree:

It was a great place to hide:

I did get some rather decent swag this year. No, not this stupid thing:


But, they’re all gone now. That D. Krauss guy used them to put away the decorations, which I think is a bit of a cheat. So, until they show back up next year, I’ll have to find some other place to hang out:

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About the most boring thing a writer can blog about is writing. It’s like a guy who builds Fords waxing poetic about windshield installment: yeah, that’s great, but tell me of the finished product. Having said that, I will now bore you with a tale of revisions, only because I have noted a pattern you might find interesting. Might.

I am a little less than halfway through the first rewrite of The Ship Looking for God and, as threatened, the word count is increasing. That’s because I have committed the same fatal error every writer commits when they do the first draft of any novel: if it’s clear to me, then it’s clear to the reader.

No, it isn’t.

We self-appointed and self-declared smartypants writers know what we meant when we wrote the sentence, and we all assume readers do, too because, well, we’re smartypants. So I’ve had a lot of “Oh, crap!” moments whilst going through it, resulting in the addition of many more words to rectify the crap. But, not to worry, I also have a lot of notes scattered about which shall be tossed, so things should balance. Thinking 82,000 words, give or take, which is perfect for epic fantasy.  If it ain’t at least 75,000, then it ain’t epic.

Anyways, that’s NOT the noted pattern. Here’s the noted pattern:

1. I’ll read a chapter and go, “Man, that’s pretty good!”, get on Twitter or Facebook and waste an hour, then okay, okay, back to it.

2. Read the same chapter again and go, “Man, that sucks!”

3. Fix it.

4. Twitter

5. Fix it

6. Facebook

7. Fix it

8. Get a sandwich

9. Fix it

10. And fix it, and fix it again.

Essentially, I’m going through each chapter about four-five times, beating the thing into submission.

So, how long is this going to take? Probably another two weeks.

And, I swear, it’ll be pretty good.

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Beirut, with lipstick

Things are still pretty much the same outside:

Although they are gussying it up a bit:

About three to five years from now, I’ll have my privacy back.

Posted in Life in the Shenandoah Valley | Leave a comment