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Chapter One

He didn’t remember waking up.

It came as an awareness that his eyes were open, that he was sitting on something soft that jolted slightly underneath him, and that a woman in a red dess sat across from him, face obscured by a wispy black veil. They were the only occupants of the cramped, wooden compartment that swayed back and forth as if rocked by a gentle, enormous hand. On his left, a single gas lamp mounted to the wall cast rorange, shadow-plagued light through the narrow confines. The figure opposite him sat stiff against the swaying, gloved hands folded in her lap.

As if his senses were coming alive one by one, he noticed for the first time the muffled rumble that filled the compartment. Some kind of engine, perhaps.

And then came the realization, sharp and sudden, that he was riding in the 5th Sanctioned Patrol Lorry of St. Marth’s Cathedral, and that he didn’t know who he was.

Panic pounded in his chest. He tried to rise, but something restrained him. He looked down. His arms were there, gray sleeves meeting black gloves. Tight cords wrapped around his forearms, tying them to the armrests of his seat. He flexed his fingers, straining against the bonds. On his right, he could feel the tautness of leather against skin, but he felt nothing in his left hand, nothing to indicate the movement of the fingers was really his own. Had the hand gone numb?

He fought to keep his breathing under control, long breaths, out and in. He reached back in his mind for a name, a rememberance of something that had happened to him before this lorry, but the groping fingers of his memory only met a dark, impassable wall. There was nothing.

“Don’t be afraid.” A woman’s voice, low and flat-toned.

He looked up at the red-dressed figure. She sat motionless, giving no indication of having spoken.

“I’d appreciate a reason not to be,” he said.

She leaned forward slightly, resting her elbows on her knees. The veil quivered, as if she was breathing hard. “Your name is Gil Grey. You are a thirty-one year old male. You are a Confessor of the New Church of Europania. Did you know any of this?”

Gil Grey. He turned the name over in his mind. Nothing about it was familiar. He shifted in his seat, and it creaked. “I was fairly sure of the part about being male.”

“Yes.” She hesitated, then lifted a slender arm and drew back her veil. Her skin was pale, her eyes dark and luminous. “Do you know my name?”

He studied her—the slender, dark eyebrows, the pointed chin, the strange half-smile that seemed to pulse, like a nervous tic, in the corner of her mouth. The name slowly formed on his tongue. “Del—Delanor.”

Her mouth spread in a slow smile. “Hello, Gil.”

Somehow, he knew this woman’s name. Her name, but not his own. A cold bead of sweat trickled down the back of his neck. “How do I know you?”

“You’ve known me for a long time. We were… are friends.” The hint of a wince passed over her face. “I can’t tell you about that yet.”

“What am I doing here?” His voice was hoarse. “Who tied me?”

Her voice quavered. “You were executed, Gil.”

“What?” He couldn’t have heard right.

“On March first, the Four-hundredth year of our New Birth, you were sentenced to death by Father Horatius for heinous crimes against the Church.” She spoke quickly, as if she was reading the words from a page. “You were executed on March third.”

Had she said executed? Was this a joke?

A strangled chuckle broke from between his teeth. “Wish I’d been informed sooner. I would have attended.”

She continued, as if she hadn’t heard him. “On June third, the Four-hundred-and-second year of our New Birth, you were resurrected.”

Silence crashed into the space between them. Gil stared. Executed. Resurrected. This woman was insane. It was impossible. Wasn’t it? He couldn’t remember. But every corner of his brain screamed that she was insane, she had to be—

But then, he was tied to a chair with no memories of who he was.

He swallowed, trying to squeeze moisture back into his throat. “Resurrected. What do you mean?”

“You’ve been given a second chance.”

“At what?”

“Serving the Church.” The swaying of the lorry stopped, and the humming of the motor raised in pitch, idling. “Gil, I can’t stay any longer. Please do everything he tells you.”

“Hold on.” He didn’t know anything about this woman besides her name, but being alone in this lorry was not an attractive idea just now. “Who are you talking about?”

She stood up, stooping under the low ceiling. The side of the compartment swung open, spilling in grey light that made his eyes ache. An arm reached into the lorry from outside, palm up. Gathering her skirt in a fist, Delanor laid her fingers on the proffered hand and stepped out of the lorry.

Gil strained at the cords tying him. The beginnings of numbness began tingling through his right arm. His left arm still felt nothing. What was wrong with it?

A few low words were exchanged outside the lorry. Then a man stepped into the lorry, swinging the door shut behind him and settling into the seat Delanor had vacated.

He was thin, draped in a loose knee-length jacket unbuttoned at the top, showing several inches of dark brown chest. Grey hair was pulled into a tight ponytail behind his head, and he wore small, rectangular glasses that glinted yellow next to the lamp.

The man slid his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “Do you know who I am?”

The same question Delanor had asked. Once again, the words came almost unbidden to his tongue. “Father Horatius.”

The man inclined his head slightly, and a smile touched his lips.

They stayed motionless for several moments, looking at each other. Then Gil cleared his throat. “I hear I’ve been resurrected.”

“That’s correct.”

“The woman, the one just in here—she was a little unclear as to what exactly that means. Resurrected.”

The eyebrows of the older man raised slightly. “It means you were dead, and now you’re not.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Not quite.” Father Horatius nodded toward him. “Do you know what you are?”

“She told me I was a Confessor.”

Father Horatius smiled again. “Yes, but you knew that already, didn’t you?”

The eyes of the man bored into his own, ice-gray and relentless, and then he knew he had known. It had been somewhere in the back of his mind all along, ever since he’d woken. He tried to swallow, but the muscles of his throat were already tight as a coiled spring.

“Do you know what your duties are, Confessor?”

“To serve and protect the Church. To punish sin and save sinners.” The words came slow and halting at first, and then faster, like a flow of water being released.

“Yes. That’s good. And how are they saved?”

“By the Church’s Absolvement of their sin.”

“Very good.” Father Horatius nodded. “You realize what you’ve been given?”

“A second chance, she told me.” Gil pulled his shoulders back, trying to relieve some of the tension in his neck. “I don’t remember—”

“That’s as it should be. You wouldn’t want to.” Lamplight shifted on the man’s glasses. “Just understand that you were found guilty of the worst kind of sin, and that you were punished accordingly.”

“I don’t understand. What’s the worst sin?” His voice cracked. “What did I do?”

Father Horatius didn’t seem to hear him. “You’re about to be given a test. A mission.”

“What kind of mission?”

“An Absolvement.” Father Horatius leaned forward and reached one hand toward him. Gil thought for a moment that he was going to undo his bonds, but instead the Father grabbed two of the fingers on his left hand and worked his glove off. It fell to the floor.

Instead of flesh and skin, there was dull black metal. A metal hand.

“A prosthetic arm,” Father Horatius said. “It starts at your left elbow. You’ve noticed that all the memories pertaining to you in your former life have been erased—you have become a new person, and you will have to begin getting to know yourself. A new start for a new man.”

Gil stared at the metal hand, palm-down on the armrest. He lifted the forefinger, than the middle finger. The geared joints rotated as the fingers responded, but there was no sensation of movement. It was like watching an insect crawl. He flexed the hand, making a fist and then straightening the fingers. Something caught inside the mechanism, a dull click that he could feel in the flesh and muscle of his upper arm. The feeling was comforting, somehow reassuring him that this mechanical thing was a part of him after all.

He wondered how he had lost his original arm—had it been an injury? A fight? Had it been his fault?

The Father’s hand came down on his shoulder. He looked up. The man’s face remained impassive, but something like affection crinkled the corners of his eyes. “It’s good to have you back with us, son.”

Gil nodded, slowly. Father Horatius withdrew his hand and pulled something from his jacket. “You’ll need this.” He held out a black pocket watch, unadorned except for a silver design worked into the lid. Two perpindicular bars, crossing each other.

The insignia was familiar, somehow—even more than Delanor or Father Horatius. A Crucifer. The symbol of the New Church. A chill skittered up his spine.

Father Horatius popped the lid open with his thumb. The watch’s face was blank, except for a single hand that pointed straight up. “We’ve set your watch for seven hours—you’ll need to have finished your assignment before the hand makes one full turn.” He snapped the lid shut and tucked the watch into Gil’s jacket, into a chest pocket. Gil could feel the ticking through his jacket, almost in rhythm with his heartbeat.

“What about my assignment?” he asked.

The Father leaned back and crossed his legs. “We’re sending you to meet a man on a train. A long time ago, he committed crimes against the Church and crossed the ocean to the United Territories, where he hid for many years. Apparently the weight of his sin became too much for him, and he is returning to have them Absolved.” He smiled, a little sadly. “It’s a bittersweet thing, a lamb coming back to the fold.”

Gil’s left leg was beginning to fall asleep. He flexed his foot. “And my assignment is his… Absolvement?” The word felt strange in his mouth, strange but familiar.

“You’ll need to board the 2:30 train to Wilcox. That’s where the Sinner will board. After he is Absolved, we’ll have a lorry waiting for your return back to St. Marth’s Cathedral.”

Again the lorry stopped. Almost instantly, the cords around Gil’s arms went slack. He raised his arms, shaking his right hand against the tingles that rampaged through the awakening muscle. He started to wonder why his left hand remained numb, and then remembered. It was metal. He flexed the hand several times, each time feeling the click, like a catching joint. He wondered what caused it—a loose cog or something, perhaps.

The door opened once more. Father Horatius reached out and brushed the sign of the Crucifer over Gil’s face—forehead to chin, cheekbone to cheekbone. “Serve the Church, honor God.”

Gil nodded. “Am I free to go?”

“You’ll find the train station just north of here.” Father Horatius paused. “Please don’t fail us again, Gil. Think about what you’ve been given.”

The man’s tone was a strange mixture of threat and plea. Gil stared back at him, unsure what to say. How had he failed? What exactly had he been given? A second chance, apparently. But a second chance at what?

He rose a little unsteadily, sliding his hand across the wall for balance. Then he stepped out into the harsh, gray light.

How To Stay Creative In a Creativity-Sapping World

Posted by on Oct 23, 2015 in Creativity & Productivity | 27 comments

How To Stay Creative In a Creativity-Sapping World

Some would say that words are a writer’s greatest weapon. I would disagree. In the event of being charged by an angry stegosaurus, a 50-caliber elephant gun would be preferable to standing your ground and attempting to stave off the beast with your impressive vocabulary. (Unless by your loquacity you are able to convince the creature that it is, in fact, extinct.) Where actual writing is concerned, I would say that words are pretty darn important, but second only to your creativity. The power of your imaginative, oft-misunderstood right brain.  Creativity is your superpower. It is what people are coveting when they read your stories and say things like, “how do you come up with this stuff?” In truth, they are probably pretty creative people themselves. They just haven’t learned to wield the weapon like you have. Unfortunately, we live in a time and society that is perfectly set up to suck the creativity and imagination from your soul. The technological age, with all its perks, can be kryptonite for the creative individual. Here are some tips for keeping your creativity alive, sharp, and dangerous.   Resist the Urge for Technological Dependance   My phone’s name is Wallace, and he basically wants me to stop thinking. Wallace wants me to hand over the keys to my brain, lean back, close my eyes, and just enjoy the ride. Enjoy a nice foot massage while I’m at it. He can fix all my problems, get me where I need to go, and find me the nearest source of coffee in about two seconds. I am rather a late bloomer when it comes to the smartphone revolution (I’ve had Wallace about a month now), so I’m a little starry-eyed at this not-so-new frontier. But also a little disturbed. If I let Wallace have as much space in my life as he would like to, my brain would get tossed in a dark and cobwebby corner with my old portable CD player, to be pulled out only as a novelty at parties and such. (”Hey, check out this old frontal lobe—remember when we used to use these?”) Creativity is a muscle that needs to be exercised, or it goes into atrophy. Make sure that you’re not allowing the convenience of modern technology to do all the heavy lifting.   Root Out Addictions   Anything can be an addiction. It’s not just the “bad stuff” we usually associate with that word. Food. Video games. Exercise. Internet. Vacuuming the carpet. Addictions are a huge distraction and obstacle to the creative process, because they build an insatiable desire for instant gratification. They steal your focus. And modern science has shown us that certain addictions, like drugs and pornography, actually cause physical damage to your brain. Examine your life, and be prepared to make changes if a particular habit or activity is becoming an addiction. This isn’t just a creativity thing, it’s a quality-of-life thing.   Recognize the Power of Creative Loitering   I am an avid people-watcher, though not a very subtle one. My intense, wide-eyed, Sherlockian stare is probably not a very comforting thing for an innocent bystander to find turned on them. They would be even less thrilled if they realized that I had just created a tragic backstory for them, in which they...

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Is Serial Fiction Dead? (Hopefully not, ‘cuz I’m writing one.)

Posted by on Oct 8, 2015 in Announcements and Shameless Plugs | 41 comments

Is Serial Fiction Dead? (Hopefully not, ‘cuz I’m writing one.)

  A little while ago, I was listening to a podcast in which the subject of serial webfiction was brought up. One of the authors being interviewed said that it was great in theory, but that the online serial format just didn’t really work for written fiction.  I was kind of taken aback. I really enjoy a good serial story—the excitement of waiting for the next installment, watching a well-written character arc play out over an extended period of time, and even the world-shattering heartbreak and denial when it’s finally OVER. It’s a great story experience, and while the online serial seems pretty much ruled by comics and video webseries, I’ve always thought that it would be a fantastic way to deliver written fiction as well. A vast majority of fiction used to be serial, back in the day. Most of Charles Dickens’s novels were written and published in short installments, keeping Victorian England breathlessly speculating and fangirling while they waited for the next “episode”. (Imagine, if you will, a bearded Victorian gentleman in a top hat and monocle, wildly FANGURLING over the latest episode of the Pickwick Papers. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, you must be having a really bad day.) And while there aren’t just a ton of really great or popular webfics out there in cyberspace, there are a few online serial writers (like the notorious Wildbow) who have achieved fame and loyal followings. Andy Weir first published his novel The Martian in serial form on his blog, and it garnered a huge response that led to a publishing contract, and now a movie starring Matt Damon. So it can be done. And soon, I’m hoping to try my hand at it with my upcoming serial webfic, The Firewall Saga. Some of you have heard me dropping hints on social media about this project, and I’m happy to say that, although I’m not sure when exactly it will be happening, it will be happening in the not-too-distant future. Right after I’m finished with the third draft of my current project.   The idea is that it will be organized into multiple “episodes”, which will be somewhere around novella length. Here’s a summary of the first episode:   Soon after cybernetic neural implants became mandatory for all global citizens, the Weedly computer virus was unleashed. Allegedly designed by an underground anti-Cybernetics cult, Weedly swept the nation, turning anyone equipped with neural cybernetics into an Infect–a mindless killer drone.  Now, the remaining population of the world huddles behind the Firewalls, areas of the globe that are protected by teams of engineers who work around the clock to keep Weedly out. Outside, the only living are the Infects and a few surviving anti-Cybernetic cults.   Lyan has spent his seventeen years isolated in a secure cell behind Firewall Three, being trained to fight Infects. He possesses powerful cybernetics that enhance his ability for combat, but the real weapon is the experimental minature Firewall in his brain that, theoretically, makes him immune to Weedly. Bored and lonely, connected to the outside world only by a video feed, Lyan has used his neural implants to discover a new world—the StratosGrid. Here he finds a dazzling new frontier, and a wealth of forgotten information free for the taking. He also finds a...

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How to Juggle Multiple Writing Projects Without Losing Your Mind

Posted by on Oct 1, 2015 in Creativity & Productivity | 16 comments

How to Juggle Multiple Writing Projects Without Losing Your Mind

  I should probably preface by saying that I am the least-qualified person in the world to be writing this post.  I do not multi-task. If you ask me a question while I am stirring my coffee, you will probably get an answer that sounds like Yeeerghblrghaaargha. The part of my brain that is generally used for multi-tasking was removed at birth to make room for immense wisdom. (unfortunately, it had been a long day for the doctor and he missed the step that was adding all the immense wisdom once he freed up space for it.) However, for someone that can’t multi-task, I end up doing a lot of it, because the part of my brain that allows me to focus on one project at a time was also removed, to make room for copious wit and understanding of all things. (Sounds great, but that doctor was having a really long day.) So I end up doing a lot of project-juggling. Currently I’m trying to juggle three major writing projects with finishing a short film and keeping this blog going, and all of that has to come after my day job and general life stuff. I’m not saying I’m doing this very well. But I have found a few things over the years that have helped me a little with my project-management, and I’d like to share them with you guys.   #1: Set Timers   The best productivity technique in the whole world is the simple egg timer. I use timers for everything, from social media to writing to sleeping. Knowing I only have 45 minutes to finish a project keeps me focused, and also keeps me from getting so buried in a particular project that I spend all day on it and neglect the others.   #2: Make Lists   For the chronically distracted, to-do lists are a must. I can’t tell you anything that you won’t find in a hundred other productivity articles out there, but taking a little time every evening to write a list of things to accomplish the next day is a fantastic habit to have.   #3: Find Your Mental Switch   One of the problems with carrying on multiple fiction writing projects is that voices of different stories can bleed from one to the other, making it confusing to switch back and forth. A few years ago I took a four-day intensive workshop with a well-known Irish fiddle player. I complained to him that I was having trouble switching between Classical violin and Irish fiddle and maintaining the purity and nuances of the two separate styles. He suggested that I befin holding my bow with a slightly higher grip when I played Irish music, to psych my brain into understanding that it was now playing a type of music very different from Classical violin. A dirty trick to play on one’s own brain, but it worked. Try finding your own mental switch for your different writing projects. Maybe for your mystery novel you write in your usual spot at your desk, and for your fantasy story you write standing up at your kitchen counter. Or listen to movie soundtrack music for one, and Baroque piano for the other. Something to make your brain understand that there has been a switcheroo...

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Three Secrets of Effective Plot Twists

Posted by on Sep 24, 2015 in Plot | 19 comments

Three Secrets of Effective Plot Twists

  Plot twists. Every writer wants them. No matter what genre we’re writing, we all want that breathtaking twist that makes our reader’s jaws drop right off and fall to the floor, because they never saw that coming. And then keeps them turning pages until far into the wee hours of the morning. (In the hospital, while they wait for their jaw to be surgically reattached.) A common tactic for writing plot twists is to try to imagine the most far-out, impossible event that could happen to a story, and then try to mash it in somewhere. In my opinion, this is often a bad idea that leads to confusing plots and un-organic character development. A plot twist that is forced into a story simply to surprise the reader will often only frustrate your reader. Their jaws will remain affixed to their skulls, and they quite probably will choose getting a good night’s sleep over finishing your novel. Here are three secrets to writing great plot twists:   1. If it doesn’t matter to the characters, it won’t matter to the reader.   It doesn’t matter how twisty your plot twist is, if it doesn’t effect your characters, it will seem shallow and forced. A good plot twist should have the same effect on your characters that you want it to have on the readers—it should pull the rug out from under their feet. It should rock their world. It should raise stakes. It should change their perception of a situation or the world around them. If the plot twist makes a realistic, soul-changing impact on these characters that your readers have come to love and care about through the course of your story, it will make an impact on the readers.   2. A great plot twist changes the course of the story.   This seems like it would be somewhat of a no-brainer, right? I mean, yeah, that’s what plot twists do. But in so many stories I read, the main plot twist has no real impact on how the story ends. Oh, so the aliens are actually being controlled by the disembodied brain of an evil scientist from earth? Wow, that’ll completely change things, won’t it? Well, nope. The good guys have to work a little harder, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The bad guys get defeated and the story ends just the same as it would have. This is the sign of a weak plot twist that was contrived simply for the sake of having one. The main plot twist of a story should have consequences that effect the outcome of everything that happens after it. Maybe some bad consequences. Maybe some good consequences. But at the end of the story, things should be different because of it. That’s how life works, and stories should be no different in this regard. And this leads me right into my next point:   3. The power of a plot twist is in the aftermath, not the twist itself.   How the plot twist changes things for the story world and the characters is really the true power of the twist. Guess what—there are people who are going to guess your plot twist before it happens. Sometimes just a few people. Sometimes a lot of...

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Four Ways to Take Advantage of the Power of a 3rd Person Limited POV

Posted by on Sep 10, 2015 in Characters | 39 comments

Four Ways to Take Advantage of the Power of a 3rd Person Limited POV

  You know you’re a writer when… you often tell people that you’ve always preferred 3rd Person Limited to a 1st person POV. And if you do, I will give you a high-five and tell you that I totally agree, bro. I love 3rd Person Limited—it’s my go-to POV for many reasons. Here are some ideas for maximizing the advantages of this powerful point-of-view:   Understand What 3rd Person Limited Is   The key to writing any POV well is understanding how it works. If 3rd Person Omniscient puts the narration on the shoulders of a nameless, all-seeing observer, 3rd Person Limited is the tiny computer chip in the brain of the unwitting main character, relaying everything they see or feel to the projector screen in the dark room where the reader sits and eavesdrops. Okay, so it’s not quite that shady, but you get the idea. I’ve always thought of 3rd Person Limited as a thinly disguised version of 1st Person, with all the closeness and intimacy of 1st Person, but without many of the disadvantages. (Such as the difficulty of handling multiple narrators, or the suspicion that many people harbor because of all the badly-written 1st Person chapter books they read in grade school.)   Here’s an example of 3rd Person Limited: Fred paused from his trudge along the gravel road. If he hadn’t known better, he could’ve sworn that there was a hint of vengeful malice in the sound of the galloping hooves behind him. The reader is inside Fred’s head, confined to the limits of what Fred sees and feels. As opposed to 3rd Person Omniscient: Fred paused, a confused look drifting onto his face. If he’d turned around, he would have seen Clovis the Cow approaching at a gallop, jaws open in a maniacal moo of triumph. Poor Fred.   Get in the Character’s Head   One of the awesome things about 3rd Person Limited is the ability to get inside a character’s head, have a good look at what they’re thinking and feeling. You experience the story right along with them. I’ve read many stories in 3rd Person Limited that don’t take advantage of this. The perspective is locked to the viewpoint of a certain character, but the narration reads more like Omniscient in that we never really get up close and personal with their thoughts and feelings. This is like being handcuffed to a person who goes about their day without ever talking to you or looking at you. It gets lonely. Give us raw emotion, internal monologue, sensations. Use all five senses.   Stay in the Character’s Head   Fred stopped again, scratching his head. Goshdarnit, those hoofbeats were sure getting close. Mebbe he should turn around. But nah, there weren’t nothing out here but cows, and cows didn’t hurt nobody. Aha, thought Clovis, the fool suspects nothing. Your cowish doom is upon you, villain, he cried in cow-language, in which he knew the farmer was ignorant. Finally, my brother will be avenged! Kay. Anybody see what happened there? Anybody feel confused by anything other than the phrase “cowish doom”? Once you’re locked into one character’s POV, don’t jump to another character’s POV mid-scene. It’s disorienting, it’s confusing, it’s just plain mean to your readers. They had just gotten all comfy in the first...

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Behind the Scenes of My New Short Film!

Posted by on Sep 3, 2015 in Filmmaking | 30 comments

Behind the Scenes of My New Short Film!

  A couple of weeks ago, we finished shooting the main scenes for my new dramatic short film, Stolen Voices. If you’ve ever seen any of the videos my brother and I make, this will basically be nothing like those. It’s longer–about ten minutes instead of the usual three to five. It’s hopefully much better in terms of production quality, due to the talented filmmakers I had helping me. Also, it is not funny. Not at all. It’s sort of on the opposite side of the spectrum, actually. Here’s a quick synopsis:   In the near-future, catatonic victims of life-threatening accidents must undergo a series of tests to determine whether they worth the resources to repair and maintain as continued members of society. Jenni wakes up in an unfamiliar room, and meets a man named Dustin, who informs her that she is in a coma after a severe accident, and that he has been sent into her subconscious to judge her future worth as a citizen. When the tests begin to look badly, Jenni tries to plead for her life–but it seems that Dustin may be as trapped as she is.   See? Not funny. If you found yourself laughing while watching that, I have either failed as a storyteller, or you just have some deep-seated issues you need to work through.   Release date for this video is still a little up in the air–we have one more scene to shoot, and then comes editing, the part of the filmmaking process that generally causes me to think dark and despairing thoughts. But I’m hoping that in the next few months, I’ll be putting this thing online. This project so far has been a big challenge and learning experience for me. Here’s a quick look at what we’ve been doing: (Click the pictures if you want to see ’em bigger. Also, keep in mind that all of these are behind-the-scenes photos, not actual shots from the film.) (You guys knew that. You’re not dumb. Duh.)   Day 1:     Here are the two cinematographers, Daniel and Keifer, going over shot lists at our main location, right before we started shooting. These guys were fantastic, and I was super thankful to have them on board.   We met Kinsey, our lead actress, when she auditioned for the part of Jenni several months ago. Not only did she do some great acting, she helped us acquire two of our most difficult locations, lent her tremendous aesthetic sensibilities to the set-dressing process, and just generally helped lighten the mood. That’s me, all blurry on the right side of the picture, playing the part of Dustin.   Daniel stands amid the various pieces of equipment, probably saying something profound and enlightening.   Keifer bounces light. Between the light kit and the fact that we had to turn off the air-conditioning to keep it from interfering with sound, the room temperature rose to about 87 degrees Fahrenheit during the course of our seven-hour shoot. We drank a lot of water.   Day 2:   We got up at 5:30 AM to drive to our new location, which happened to be a spray booth for painting vehicles. This was the location for Dustin’s subconscious, which looks like an infinite blank white room (kind of like those Mac ads). Turns out a paint...

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The Complete Writer’s Guide to Auto Repair

Posted by on Aug 27, 2015 in Humor | 21 comments

The Complete Writer’s Guide to Auto Repair

  Let us imagine a scenario in which you are driving in your forest-green Tahoe (named Xalvador) down the long, flat, soul-sucking stretch of road that leads from Kansas to Oklahoma, just after the 2015 Realm Makers conference. You are smelly, unshaven, and tired. This morning, you scoured Xalvador’s interior, and found just enough change for half a tank of gas and a Clif bar, which incidentally is the only thing you have eaten all day. (The Clif bar, not the gas.) You have crossed the Oklahoma border and are only a couple of hours away from your own bed and a good dinner, when you think you smell something burning. You sniff, look around, and decide that some farmer in the area must be having a controlled grass fire. (a popular pasttime in this area.) A few minutes later, you notice that smoke is filling the cab. Oh, and coming out of the air-conditioning vents. Also streaming from under the hood. At this stage, it’s important to recognize that something abnormal is going on, and stop driving. You pull to the side of the highway and stop the motor. Then call your father, because he has a giant trailer that is handy for hauling around broken-down vehicles, and he loves you enough to drive out to the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma to pick you up. The call is made, and Dad is on the way. In five minutes, the interior of your vehicle is about a hundred and five degrees, because it is August, you are literally Nowhere, and the nearest source of good shade is in Colorado. At this point it’s a good idea to open the windows (to catch the breeze from passing semis), pull out your laptop, and get some work done on your novel, because seriously, what else are you going to do.   Fast-forward to a couple of days later.   A brand new water pump is on the ground next to you, ready for installation. You’re standing in front of Xalvador with the hood up, gazing bleary-eyed at… everything. You soon realize that you have no idea what you’re doing, so you go back inside, pull up YouTube, and get distracted by how hilariously awful most automotive repair tutorials are. You stare in fascinated horror as a man in camo coveralls smears a tube of grease on various areas of his vehicle, declares the problem fixed, and tells you to subscribe to his channel. Finally, you find a guy who actually seems to know what he’s talking about where cars are concerned, and in no time at all, you are an expert on the subject of replacing water pumps. Armed with knowledge, you go back out and plunge your arms into the depths of Xalvador’s innards. Five hours later, you have learned that basically every step of the water-pump removal process requires its own special tool, designed for exactly that one thing. You try improvising with a monkey wrench. You try improvising with two monkey wrenches, a screwdriver, and a long metal thing you don’t know the name of. You hit random objects with the long metal thing and grunt nonsensical syllables that are probably swear words on other planets. You then requisition your friend Randy, who basically knows how to do everything. A...

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Adventures at Realm Makers, Part 2: CONFERENCE TIME

Posted by on Aug 24, 2015 in The Writing Life | 21 comments

Adventures at Realm Makers, Part 2: CONFERENCE TIME

  Continuing from last week… I was able to catch a ride to St. Louis with my friend, mentor, and fellow writer, Daniel Schwabauer. I never saw much of a point in going to things like movies or conferences alone. To quote Winnie the Pooh, it’s just so much friendlier with two. Also, if aliens or dinosaurs or marauding Huns attack, there’s a chance that one of you can make a quiet escape while the other is abducted/eaten/skinned alive and sewn into gloves.  I just like to be prepared. We arrived at the conference center. It appeared to be largely free of marauding Huns; it was, however, full of people, which was only slightly less scary. But in a room full of speculative fiction writers, the ice doesn’t take long to break. I ate dinner with a crew of really cool people, and was thoroughly enjoying myself in no time. After some introductory speakers, we all jumped into shuttles and rode to the pre-conference party. The driver of my shuttle was named Steve, and had a great mustache. I hit the sack a little earlier than most people. Sleep is important for balanced hormones, good energy levels, and cardiovascular health. Except when there happens to be a group of pre-teen boys having an all-night pool party underneath your hotel window, then it just tends to be frustrating and elusive. It’s always a bummer when you realize that you would have gotten just as much sleep if you’d stayed up with everyone else and had fun instead of lying on your stomach with your pillow over your head, plotting murder against a bunch of middle-schoolers. Robert Liparulo opened the next morning with a great talk about conquering self-doubt and negativity. I hunkered in the back of the room, trying not to look like the kind of guy who sends 45 pages over the critique submission limit. (If you haven’t heard about this, check out Part 1 of this story.) Every class I attended was great. I had much anticipation for the main track I had signed up for, Editing to Greatness, With David Farland, since Farland had mentored one of my very favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson. It did not disappoint. It didn’t have much to do with editing—I would have probably renamed it to Listening to David Farland Talk About Writing, With David Farland—but I don’t think anyone cared, because it was so good. If you ever have a chance to attend a class or workshop with David, you absolutely should. That afternoon, I realized that I had made my second big boo-boo of the weekend. Somehow, when I glanced at my sheet of information that morning, I got the impression that all the one-on-one appointments I had signed up for were on the second day of the conference. At about 3:00, I looked at the sheet again and realized, to my utter horror, that my meeting with Robert Liparulo (during which, of course, I had planned on explaining that I hadn’t actually intended to send him 55 pages and am actually not an egocentric oaf,) had been scheduled, not at some point tomorrow, but about half an hour ago. You know those days when you wonder if you have at any point unknowingly disturbed some ancient civilization’s burial ground? I was having...

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On Sticking With a Story For the Long Haul–a Guest Post by J. Grace Pennington

Posted by on Aug 21, 2015 in Announcements and Shameless Plugs, The Writing Life | 1 comment

On Sticking With a Story For the Long Haul–a Guest Post by J. Grace Pennington

  My friend J. Grace Pennington was recently featured here in a cover reveal for her new book, Implant. Right now she is on a blog tour to celebrate its recent publication, and I’m happy to be able to host her here for you guys today!    When I wrote Implant, I was an unpublished author, still finding my voice and only just learning to finish a first draft.  I had yet to seriously edit anything, I had no blog or website, no social  media, only a few writing friends.  When I published it a few days ago, I had four books under my belt, a decent online following, and a boatload of colleagues who were willing to stick their necks out and help me promote this work.  A lot can happen in a few years. The first draft was essentially what happens when an overactive imagination and the One Year Adventure Novel writing curriculum give each other a very special hug.  I was extremely excited to get the program and I watched through all the video lessons in a matter of days.  For me it was more the One Week Adventure Novel.  And out of a frenzied burst of outlining and scene writing, the first draft was born. I’d call it a premature birth, though.  I didn’t have any clue how to handle the “boring” parts of the story–making plans, giving long-winded explanations, providing backstory–so I just didn’t.  I’d write the parts where things exploded and people died and babies were born and frenemies argued, and then there would be something along the lines of: Here they make some kind of plan to lure Dagny Dalton somewhere, and they do it and then this next scene happens.  Then deaths and explosions would resume. Once I picked it up to start editing it about a year ago, though, I had to actually fill in those holes, and I was stumped.  I’d rewrite along my merry way until I came to one of those sections, and then I’d just stare at the screen for awhile. Somewhere between writing the first story and publishing it, I’d learned it’s really not a very good idea to only do the fun parts, because then later you’re left having to do all the boring parts at once, and that is just not a very balanced approach.  Continuing with the slightly odd childbearing metaphor, it’s as if you had all the fun and laughs and games and snuggles with your child one year, then all the sleepless nights and screaming and diapers the next.  In both writing and life, I’ve found it’s generally better to take the good and the bad all mixed up together.  The fun parts give you the extra energy and morale to carry you through the dragging parts. In the end though, I managed to fill in the holes, smooth out the wrinkles, and get my baby all sent off to college.  Now I can sit back and watch it live its own life, make friends, and hopefully impact some people along the way. They grow up so fast!   J. Grace Pennington has been reading stories as long as she can remember, and writing them almost as long. She is also a prolific medical transcriptionist, amateur musician, chocolate eater,  daughter, sister, friend, and...

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Adventures at Realm Makers, Part 1: Pre-Conference Mishaps

Posted by on Aug 20, 2015 in The Writing Life | 18 comments

Adventures at Realm Makers, Part 1: Pre-Conference Mishaps

  Wow, what a week this has been. What a month this has been. As the dust clears and the adrenaline dissipates, I begin to realize that the floor of my room is covered in books with no shelf to call home, my left shoe is somehow missing a lace, I haven’t written in weeks, and all my clean clothes seem to be hiding somewhere deep in the innards of the dryer.  In the last three weeks, I have visited two different states, experienced my first writing conference, and returned home to shoot a short film. In between, I have put in a few full days of music teaching, been stranded on the side of the road due to a faulty water pump in my vehicle, and spent an agonizing twelve hours trying to replace said water pump. The short film and water pump are stories for future posts.  Today, I’d like to talk about my experience at Realm Makers, a conference for writers of Christian speculative fiction. I first heard of Realm Makers from Jill Williamson, a fabulous speculative writer who I had the good fortune to meet a few years ago. I’ve had it on my to-do list for a while. As some of you know, one of my goals for 2015 was to attend at least one writing conference, and this year Realm Makers happened to be taking place in St. Louis, Missouri, only one state over from me. Somewhere at the start of the year I wrote “Realm Makers” in black Sharpie on an envelope, and started putting money into the envelope on regular intervals. Other than that, I tried not to think about it too much, because quite honestly, the idea of intentionally putting myself in a place where there will be PEOPLE, many, many PEOPLE whom I do not KNOW IN THE SLIGHTEST and who I will be expected to INTERACT WITH is a terrifying thought. But soon it was time to pick my classes, editor and publisher appointments, and any other extra-curricular activities I wanted to be involved in at the conference. What my brain wanted to do: As little as I could possibly get away with. Those chunks of extra-curricular time would be absolutely lovely for, you know, hiding in my dorm room and pretending that I was alone in a submarine hundreds of leagues under the Pacific ocean. What I actually did: SIGN UP FOR ALL THE THINGS. Seriously. I signed up for as many appointments as I could, including the critique group session and a one-on-one critique from the keynote speaker, Robert Liparulo. And then thought What have I done.  I was required to send Robert Liparulo ten pages from my work-in-progress, so he could critique it beforehand and then discuss it with me in person at the conference. I grabbed ten pages from my 2nd draft of Weatherman’s Apprentice and went through the usual process of wrestling Microsoft Word into formatting my excerpt to meet the submission guidelines. I’m pretty sure I broke Word in the process, but when I wiped the blood and sweat and manly tears off my laptop screen, voila. My excerpt was all pretty and formatted. Two days from the conference, I got an email from Robert containing his initial feedback on my excerpt. It was...

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