Baby Steps and Growing Pains: Learning to Write Good…I Mean…Well

baby-writingI’m a baby writer. I don’t write about newborns, I mean, what’s to write unless they’re the Omen? Nor am I a literal baby, needing attention, selfish, cry a lot, need to be held and pampered, suckling breasts and belching milk, pissin’ and poopin’ in their pantalones baby. I’ve always been that way. What I am, is a fledgling writer, learning the craft of writing one story at a time (standing, then walking and falling, at times running faster than I’m able), eyes wide to the wonders and terrors of publishing, questioning everything I do, wanting to go everywhere at once. Starting a new career as a relative toddler in a field is hard on a guy in his (cough) mid-fifties.  But there is one consolation. Who hasn’t said they would love to be young again, knowing what they know now? As I said, I’m essentially a baby writer, but with an adult mind (I know some ladies that would disagree) and I no longer believe I know it all, and my shit does stink. I do seek and listen to advice with a proper skeptical mind as I’m not the blind follower of superstars as I did when I was young. I prefer standing on the shoulders of those that have gone before then try to prove my badassery, and learn lessons already learned, by running blind through the minefields where others have already tread.  I also have a keen eyes for bullshit.

Saying that, in the past 3 years, since I’ve started taking writing seriously, I’ve learned how to learn, my craft taking leaps and bounds, never thinking for a minute that I am there. It is painful, the rejections after the hard work, the realizations that sometimes (most of the time really) my writing is less than…um…pristine, for lack of a better word. No. A better word would be shit. But I don’t let that knock me down. I shake my fist at my mind and my computer and say, “I’ll show you…you…baby writer! Growup and get a job!”

Okay, I’m going to give you a little taste of what I see as progress from three years ago to today.

First is an excerpt from my first attempt at a novel (unpublished, the cover is a mockup), written at high speed for the 2010 National Novel Writing Month competition. It is called…

ImageHELLBUG (excerpt)

It was as it had been left some one hundred and thirty years ago, when Charles Tabor’s  heart stopped and he drew his last breath and left a young girl to scream her way to death. The dry air  in the room had left them mummified; Charles in a perpetual grin of pain, the girls mouth agape her lips pulled wide from her teeth in an eternal scream, her blonde hair barely clinging to her skull. All was the same except for the large chunk of stone that lay near the far wall.

     “This is one hell of a find, I’m telling ya. How old is this? How long you think they’ve been here?” John was excited. In all his years of caving never had he stumbled across something like this.

     Chris stumbled in too with Lisa and Patrick just behind. Patrick and Chris exclaimed following wo’s as Lisa swipe something imaginary from her rear. “I know you had a good view of my ass, but no reason to cheer,” she said her eyes on Patrick. But his eyes were up, scanning the vast carved room.

     “Wow, what is this place?”

     “It appears to be some kind of ritual room,” said Mal. She was walking around the altar, her head beam light on the mummified girl. “Possibly Satanic.”

     There was a collective gasp from the men. “Really?” said Lisa. “And how do you no this, Miss Know-It-All?”

     Mal turned her head, illuminating the pentagram and the symbols, and the five mounds of melted wax. “And of course, this body is a clue. Don’t you think, Lisa?” Lisa’s eyes widened at the arcane sight, then she shrugged. “Anybody could see that.”

     John was crouching over the remains of the fallen back body. He touched the silk shirt on its emaciated arms and it fell apart at the touch. “Careful,” Mal said, as he checked the bulge in the vest pocket. The cloth pulled easily away and crumbled from his fingers. He picked up the shining gold watch and gripped in his palm. It’s short hand pointed straight too twelve with its long hand barely at two minutes past. He turned the spring winding knob atop it and slapped his palm against it. Its second hand didn’t move. “Damn.”

     The two boys and Lisa stepped into the circle to get a closer look. Chris stopped, holding his hands up as it feeling for something invisible.     

     “Did you feel that?”

     Patrick looked a him, clutching at nothing on his face. “Yeh, what was that. Felt like a big spider web.” Mal and John traded a look; that had felt it too, a tingle across their bodies as the had crossed the circles perimeter.

     Lisa was taking off her harness. “God, is it hot in here or what?” she said, dropping the harness to the floor. She un-zipped the top of her tight synthetic caving shirt. Two lights converged on her double mooned cleavage, then just as readily left. Lisa giggled and shook her hair back.

     Patrick turned and step past Chris, the back of his hand patting Chris’s stomach. “You could’ve fooled me,” he leaned in and whispered. “Dude,her nipples are rock hard.” Chris nodded, his eyes shifting to Lisa and looking away, trying hard to not let his head lamp give him away again.

     The three walked around the altar. This is where that musty smell had emanated, the heavy smell of the dusty dead swirled around them. Chris made the observation that the bodies looked untouched by vermin, their corpses intact and biteless. There was not a roach in the room, or spider for that matter. The room was as lifeless as the granite.

Besides the bad punctuation, passive voice, repeated words, which is easily corrected, is the POV. As you can see, it’s all over the map, from Omnipotent to bopping around the characters like a mad rabbit. This is from early on in the book, and it only gets worse, replicating and splitting like horny mad rabbits as it gets deeper into the narrative. I didn’t see it then, and it took an editor to point it out. And I noticed on my own, it has no singular voice to give it life, making it jump off the page.

So I spanked myself for thinking I was such hot-shit right out of the gate, took it as a lesson, and trunked HellBug for the time being. I realized I had taken on too big of a beast, and needed to focus my narrative and work on the craft. So I took on short stories, a much smaller and easier beast to handle, but no less a challenge.

There’s a reason that creative writing instructors have their students compose their first stories in first person; it focuses the point-of-view to a single person and takes you directly into a characters head. I worked on first person narrative, simplifying my writing, trying to make me disappear and let the character shine. It paid off. My first story accepted and published was for an awesome collection of stories and writers called, Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous (Angelic Knight Press). Told first-person, I was starting to feel a stride…

ImageThe Long Death of Day (excerpt)

     “It’s beautiful,” she said.

     Her name is Selena and she is the love of my life. We laid together on a hillside in the cool grass, her body warm against me, and head on my shoulder. The comet’s tail fanned out across the sky like a great white wind-blown horse tail. Though traveling at immense speed, it seemed frozen in the sky just for us. For thousands of other lovers, too, I suppose. I pulled her tight against me and whispered something weak, as lovers do, comparing her beauty to the stars and how it didn’t compare. I believed it then. Still do. Her face, before the darkness and death’s arrival in the sky stole her radiance, is the only beautiful image that remains for me now. I hold it to save me from the swallowing maw of insanity. It’s all I have left.

     She patted my chest and called me a silly sweet man. Like most women I’ve known, she never believed herself to be attractive. Sometimes she chided me for saying it or sighed and shook her head, thinking I lied to get in her pants. It wasn’t a lie and I had no agenda. To me, Selena was beautiful; that smile and those eyes made my heart thump harder every time she gifted me with them. And her heart, her soul, touched me and kept my cynical spirit from turning darker and brought out a love in me that I had no idea existed. But that night she accepted my compliment graciously and, I hope, believed it just a little.

Focused and starting to have a heart; I think I’m starting to get something right.

Then came my second story published, but this time it’s in third person. When writing it, I knew I had to  carry that feeling of first person in the narrative, but taking a step away, looking at the character, instead of through the character, and retaining his voice, his view of the world. To accomplish that, I wrote the first draft in first person to keep me from drifting, then switched it to third person in the second draft. I think it worked out. The following excerpt is from my story contained in the zombie erotica anthology, Fifty Shades of Decay (Angelic Knight Press)…

Reveal.50Shades (2)Love Stinks (excerpt)

Now dead and struggling to eat him, Stellar was all his.

After breaking into the secured house and a bit of a tussle, Edwin had Stell spread-eagle on a St. Andrews cross, arms directly overhead with her wrists leather cuffed to a cross-beam. Oven mitts, with a stitched SEXY on one and CHEF on the other, covered her hands and had been duct taped to stay on—getting scratched by those long ragged nails would not be good. The usually vibrant red hair had turned to rusty iron and lay on her shoulders like al dente noodles. Her porcelain white skin had turned a steel hot summer sky, giving her a jewel-like quality. Those trademark 36D breasts stood round and perfect, as natural as God’s fruit, with gray tinged, tight aureoles set-placing her forever erect, inch long nipples. Edwin had found her wearing only a pink G-string and left the lingerie on for now, preserving some of her dignity. Not a mark marred her, not a cut, bite, or bruise; the empty bottle of Thorazine and Jack Daniels in the dictator-size bed testified to her way out.

Stell bucked against the constraints, her moaning and growling muted by the red ball gag. She stretched her neck out, still trying to get a mouthful of him. Unable to resist, Edwin pulled the small red satin crotch-swatch out; Brazil waxed and smooth as the satin, her bared blue vulva disappeared between her legs. The thought of those lips lubed and wrapped around his erection caused his cock to turn and stretch in its slumber.

Edwin felt surprise at the combination of disgust and his swelling penis, at the thought of sex with the undead. He was not into necrophilia, no way, no how. Technically, the total submission of the dead-as-a-rock is what turns on necrophiles, and Stell was anything but that— dead, but kicking and scratching and very bitey. Who was he to demand she change for him? Edwin loved her unreservedly and his need to be intimate with her was too great. Edwin could overlook a small thing like a heartbeat.

Another step closer away.

Feeling more aware and confident in what I was doing, I decided to tackle the big beast again; the novel format, with multiple characters. A short story idea had been rolling around in my head for some time, taking the zombie apocalypse out of the usual urban American/Euro setting and slapping it smack down in the middle of the boonies of Tibet. Then I saw that it could be a bigger story, a novel size one. How would a Buddhist Monk and a young Tibetan boy view the undead, and what would be their version of survival?

680302_490607197626294_94479491_oHungry Ghosts (excerpt; unpublished)

(The boy, Chodren’s POV)

The twilight was fading, and their faces glowed yellow and flickered with the light of the fire. The breeze carried fire-bug like embers up and away, disappearing to set in the sky as stars. To the east, a full moon rose just above the horizon. Chodren looked into its large face.

“He’s coming soon, isn’t he, Dorje?”

The monk looked to the horizon and nodded his head.

Cheung yawned. “Who?”

The boy crossed his arms, feeling a chill despite the warmth of the fire and looked at the Cheung. “The Medicine King, of course.”

Cheung chuckled with a slight roll of his eyes. “Oh. That.”

“Do you think, Dorje,” Chodren said, turning his eyes to the monk. “Do you think he will heal them? Maybe Tenzin, too.”

Dorje looked into the bowl and paused with a finger-full of rice halfway to his lips. He seemed to be far away, thinking of something else. Sad for his master, Chodren thought.

“Dorje?”

“Perhaps. I do not know. It is a small hope,” he said and continued eating.

Cheung snorted. “What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. Kid, that star that you think is some magical ancient guy, isn’t. Hell, it isn’t even a star it’s a damn planet. Venus. Been there long before man came along and it’s never done anything more than blink at us.”

Chodren frowned at that, not knowing what to think. Cheung knew things he did not, but even so, his words seemed cruel. Cheung sat up, pointing at Dorje and Gu-Lang with his cigarette.

“I heard you praying in there, the old man too. Praying to whom? For what? A miracle? Fuck, there isn’t no miracles and what happened proves it. All your prayers and prostrating and belly gazing didn’t do a damn thing, did it? The old man died and became one of those things and you had to take him out.”

Silent, Dorje ate. Gu-Lang glared at Cheung, her eyes becoming cruel slits as she blew out a cloud of smoke.

“Had to face reality, huh? Had to do what you had to do because there wasn’t a god around to help out. That’s fucking reality, boys and girls. There’s only us and sometimes we got to do cruel things to live. All there is to it. Chairman Mao knew that. That’s why we’re here, China and the army, to show you ignorant people the truth. What a waste.” Cheung shook his head. “What did you have to do, huh? Something pretty nasty I bet. Poor stupid old man, spends his whole life checking out the workings of his navel only to end up a monster with a knife buried in his skull and brain. What a waste. I say he deserved it.”

Gu-Lang’s cigarette flicked from her fingers and flew like an angry meteor, striking Cheung in the face and exploding in bright embers. He flinched and cried out, and she was on him. She jerked him to his feet by his collar and rushed him backwards, slamming against the wall. Plaster crumbled as his head smacked. Dorje’s knife pressed against his throat as she held him helpless with her forearm.

“Fuck! You could have blinded me!”

Chodren stood, fear and confusion enveloping his face. “Stop!”

Cheung blinked in Gu-Lang’s close and angry face. The knife pressed into his neck. He blew ashes from his mouth and grinned.

“Yeah. Stop, bitch. Or do you think you can cut my throat before I pump three bullets in your gut?” His pistol out and pressed into her stomach, Gu-Lang showed no concern.

Chodren looked to Dorje for help, but his eyes were on the fire as he ate bite by methodical bite.

“Do something, Dorje, they’re going to kill each other.”

Dorje swallowed the last morsel then wiped the bowl clean with the cloth, and hid it back into his shirt. His tongue ran around his teeth and he smacked his lips. A sigh and he looked to the rising moon. Their shouts had carried, causing a rise of dead moans to echo back, sounding like mountain ghosts. Thuds came for the entryway door.

The monk said, “Do you think she will die by your gun before she cuts your head off? I have a feeling this is something she’s done before. And she seems very determined to me.”

Everyone is going crazy, thought Chodren. The image of them killing each other and leaving him alone to fend for himself made his heart thump and breath quicken. He looked back to the clinched pair. Gu-Lang had not given an inch; instead, she held the knife tighter against the smiling soldier as her bracing arm came down and gripped the gun.

“Easy now,” Cheung said, his smile faltering. His finger slipped into the trigger well.

She lifted it to her head, with Cheung keeping his hold, and pressed the barrel onto her temple. Now she grinned, opening her eyes wide.

Cheung looked worried. “What the fuck are you doing you crazy bitch?”

Dorje spoke, his eyes still on the moon. “She is trying to tell you that if you’re going to kill her, you had better do it once. Otherwise, she’s going to kill you, living or dead.” Dorje looked at him as if he were looking at a tree. “Look into her eyes. Determination can overcome many things.”

Unable to keep it in any longer, Chodren spoke, the words flying out of him.

“All of you are acting crazy. You can’t be like this, fighting like wild dogs. What will happen to us? What will happen to me? Please stop. I don’t want to see you become like my…sister…or my…mother. I can’t fight them alone. I don’t want to be alone.” Anger clinched his face and he picked up a thick branch from the fire, glowing and aflame at the end. “If you don’t stop right now, I’ll beat you on your butts and teach you not to act like animals!”

All three were staring at him now; Dorje expressionless, Gu-Lang’s eyes wide and tinged with reproach, and Cheung sneering in relieved surprise.

“Jeez kid, don’t blow a gasket,” Cheung said and flicked the safety on. He looked back at Gu-Lang and raised his eyebrows. She released her grip on the pistol, moved the knife away from his throat, and stepped back, but not before giving him a warning shove. Cheung returned the pistol to the holster.

Chodren tossed his stick back into the fire. “Now sit down and act like grown-ups and be nice.” His legs were shaking as he plopped his butt back to the ground, relieved. They did, keeping a wary eye on each other. Gu-Lang returned the blade to its wooden sheath and handed it to Dorje, who looked again to the moon, now higher in its nightly arc, and below it, peeking just above a distant peak, a bright winking light.

“The Medicine King has arrived,” Dorje said.

And…

(The monk, Dorje’s POV)

Dorje sat back and rolled up his window. “We are in a fold of the mountain. Not far ahead after we take this turn we will be on the outside, in open space for a good distance.”

Cheung looked at him. “Really? And how will that help us? Make it easier to plunge off a cliff?”

“Certainly,” Dorje said matter-of-factly, “that is a possibility. But I do not see how that would help, except to send us sooner to our next lives. Are you prepared for that?”

Cheung looked dumb-founded. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Another shrug from Dorje and he said, “I know that radio waves are easily blocked by hills and mountains, and that perhaps, when we exit this chasm and reach the sky side, we may more easily transmit and receive radio signals.”

Cheung huffed in disbelief. Dorje smiled. “You are surprised. Do not let appearances fool you. We monks do not spend all our day in prayer, as Tenzin can attest. Actually, science was my favorite subject.”

Tenzin stopped his song and chuckled. “Oh yes. So many questions from you, such a wonderful doubter, his teachers would run out of answers.” Even in the dark, Dorje could see the dotted reflections of sweat beading on his friend’s forehead.

“A monk and a man of science, huh?” Cheung said.

Dorje pushed the scan button on the CB and watched the line of red LED lights race back and forth. The radio went silent.

“The path of the Buddha does not conflict with science,” Dorje replied.

Tossing the microphone in Dorje’s lap, Cheung sat back with a smug grin. “So, monk-of-science, what do you think is happening?”

“It is difficult to say.”

“What? The words are too big? Or is it some Buddhist shit about demons and possession? Go ahead, you can’t scare me.”

The thought of the boundaries of the spiritual realms breaking down and the hungry ghosts, crossed Dorje’s mind. It had been the first thing he considered, but now it seemed too simple, too childish. Such an event would be cataclysmic, involving the crossing over of billions of separate beings from multiple worlds. This seemed too finite and localized. Besides, how could one being know the answer and of what good would it do?

Dorje sighed and looked toward the boy, making sure he still slept. “Perhaps it is a virus or bacteria causing the madness. Or some sort of mass hysteria.”

“A virus?” Cheung said. “So fast? Why aren’t we going crazy? And why here and why now?”

“All good questions. It could be in the water. Or the air. That would account for the instant contamination of so many.” Dorje recalled the lack of pulse in the neck of the thing in the village square. “And we could already be infected and the right condition has yet to manifest to trigger the sickness for us.”

“But why here in the middle of nowhere?”

Gu-Lang looked in the rear-view mirror at the soldier. She glanced at Dorje with narrow eyes and gave a pinched pull at her shoulder. Dorje looked at her questioningly, then nodded when he got the inference. He did not like the idea, but governments had done such evil to its people before; secret experiments in isolated locales. The thought sickened him. To express it now to this boy, this soldier of China, would not be prudent.

I’m learning, I think. You tell me.

******

The two books above can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. Just click on the pics and you’ll be taken there.  They can also be found in other ebook formats at Smashwords…

Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous

Fifty Shades of Decay

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5 thoughts on “Baby Steps and Growing Pains: Learning to Write Good…I Mean…Well

  1. Few informative author and I can only imagine how good it feels to know that you are making strides in your craft.

    I have just started my own journey and I haven’t seen the light at the end of the tunnel, or come to think of it the tunnel.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Like

    • I don’t think the journey ever ends, Tyson, and the goal moves ahead like a carrot before a mule. The best thing for me now is the writing is coming easier, the words don’t get stuck in my head. I’m happy for that, as writing once felt like a chore, or a constipated visit to the restroom.

      Like

      • Really need to look at what the ipad is putting in the comment box, autocorrect can be awful. Glad you could make heads or tails of what I wrote.
        I know it is a constant work in progress but it must be nice to see where you came from. Thanks again.

        Like

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