Friday, February 28, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday #9 - Astrid

Today's piece has no connection to the previous four pieces (which all interlock with one another). This is a fresh standalone piece which seems to me to be an intro to a new location on the planet of Anaisha - perhaps a location we'll see in the third book of the Expired Reality series?

Laughter once echoed through these hallways. A joyous raucous. The people used to dance here, under a blue sky filled with sunshine and a dark sky bleeding with moonlight. Elaborate parties were once thrown here, filled with elaborate costumes, war-torn romances, and dazzling magic. Victories were toasted, glories were reveled in, and successes were shared. This was once a place of beauty and grandeur, a place envied by the outsiders. Here is where crops grew in excess of the population. Nobody here ever lacked. Food covered the surface of every table, and clothing covered all flesh.

This place lived in plenty...once. The Land of Plenty is what the outsiders called it. Me...I called it a mirage. I knew it wouldn’t last long. I watched as each took pleasure without giving thanks to the one they call the Invisible God, the one who blessed them with everything they possessed. None of what once was is anymore. The dark sky – filled with thunderclouds and constant rain – refuses to speak of the prior years. A heavy sadness fills the hallways, whispering regrets in the ears of those who are willing to listen.

I live here only because I have pity and sadness within my spirit for this place. It anchors me to these stone walls, refusing to let me pass through to the valley beyond. So much was possible in the days of Astrid’s glory. But the people became drunk on their own pride, drugged with their own arrogance. The temples which were set up for worship to the Invisible God were torn down first. Then the books – the tomes of the Invisible God’s edicts -  were burned in mountainous piles in the courtyard. Lastly, those who still spoke in secret whispers to the Invisible God were tortured and killed.

I was sent here to give the people one last chance to turn around, to turn back the clock and rebuild the temples, rewrite the tomes. They were given a second chance – and they spit in my face, cast me out into the Wasteland with nothing more than a sack full of fish bones.

And it was with that action that the Kingdom of Astrid fell.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Using Gumroad For Short Story Episodes

A little while back I mentioned in a post (and possibly in my email newsletter) that I was thinking of using Gumroad to sell episodes of my upcoming short story series, The LZR Project. After reviewing the fine print of their website, I've decided this is definitely the route I am going to be taking once The LZR Project is ready to release - which should be sometime next month.

Here are some of the awesome things I am looking forward to taking advantage of with Gumroad - 

As far as payment goes, Gumroad only takes 5% + 25¢ per transaction. There are no setup or monthly fees, and payment is every other Friday for all sales up to the previous Friday. They also allow direct deposit into your bank account.

File Formats
Gumroad allows creatives the ability to post their work for sale on their website, but the service of Gumroad goes far beyond just offering up a display case for your creative talents. Gumroad allows you to post almost any file format - including these ebook file format: ePub, iBook, Plain text, PDF, HTML and .MOBI

Gumroad allows your customers to subscribe to your content - such as weekly short story episodes - and once new content is released, Gumroad allows you to email that new content to your subscriber. This allows your readers (customers) to sign up for a subscription and then just sit back and grab that latest episode from their email inbox without having to go to the website and purchase each episode every single week.

Gumroad enables you to setup a pre-order of a particular upcoming project. Once that product is released, Gumroad charges your customer and then automatically sends them the item that was pre-ordered.

I am really looking forward to using Gumroad for the release of The LZR Project. I will blog on my experience with them after I have released a few episodes, and if all goes well then I may be using them for future projects.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday #8 - Clouds

This week's Flash Fiction Friday entry is yet another continuation to the previous three weeks - Jed, Mr. Worth, and Scars.

Jed stepped off the train with little to no idea of what he was getting himself into. He didn’t really want to work for Sarah – or whatever massive corporation she was being employed by – but he couldn’t think of anything better to do with his life other than sit in Saddle’s Sasspire and drink away his sorrows.

Jeran, his dead wife, haunted him day and night. The alcohol washed her away somewhat, but nothing – not even the few drugs he had dabbled in – wiped her away completely. She always sat aside him, her bright green eyes dazzling in any light, her hair brown and healthy, her chest always swelled with pride at calling Jed her husband. If there were a single trait Jed could say he loved about Jeran, it was that she was extremely supportive of his line of work. Even though she didn’t know each intricate detail of his assignments, she had a general idea of what he did – killed for money. And that money paid their bills month after month so Jeran could stay home and prepare for their coming child.

Jed sensed Sarah coming up beside him off the train. As attractive as Sarah was, nobody could compare to the beauty that Jeran held in those sparkling green eyes.

Sarah grabbed his arm and began to pull him toward the tall set of stone stairs that led to the tower that rose up before him. The massive cylinder spiraled up into the darkness, the surface of the tower smooth, dark purple, and lit up at each level in blue light, adding a wonderful color effect Jed hadn’t seen since Legion had brought darkness to the entire planet.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Sarah asked, pulling him up the steps. Large automatic gun turrets stood posted around the stairs at different intervals, held up on stone pillars. “The lights change color every other day. Tomorrow, they will turn green. Five hundred billion dollars is what this building has cost us so far.”

Jed could see the main entrance at the top of the stairs. The bottom level of the tower had been made completely of glass – at least on the outside. The front door of the tower stood wide open, two figures covered in black armor guarding each side. 

“Where did all of that money come from?” Jed asked, pulling his arm out of Sarah’s embrace. The further he kept himself from her, the easier his job would become. He held no romantic interest in her – nor would he – so there was no point in wooing her or pretending to be her friend.

“Donations.” If Sarah felt hurt by his rejection of her, she didn’t show it. Instead, she kept her pace going up the steps and calmly walked Jed into the front lobby of the tower. A line of small turret guns spread through the room, covering the entire front side of the tower. “These are the line of defense if anyone makes it into this building.”

Jed found himself impressed with the amount of weaponry Sarah had managed to gather around the building. He still didn’t know what the building housed, but he was certain it was something valuable. Maybe too valuable.

“Come,” Sarah said, grabbing his arm again. She pulled him toward silver-plated elevator doors which opened as they approached. Once inside, Sarah pushed a bright red button with a sideways eight on it and the doors shut.

As the elevator ascended toward the top of the tower, Sarah leaned against the wall and slid her hands into the pockets of her black pencil skirt. “You’re a distant soul, Mr. Worth. I don’t expect you and I to be friends. I have enough friends and plenty more enemies. What I do expect is that you treat me as your employer, to which I am from this point on.”

“I never said I’d take the job,” Jed grumbled. “This is just a field trip, isn’t it?”

Sarah grinned. “You really think I’d bring you into my tower just to show you around? This building consists of state-of-the-art technology that you – nor anyone else on this forsaken planet – has ever seen before. You’re in this now, Jed. There’s no turning back.”

Jed glanced at Sarah’s wrists. He couldn’t see through her blazer sleeves, but he imagined the scars she had just finished showing him on the train. “And if I try? You going to do to me like you did to that little girl? That child?”

Sarah frowned. “I’m ready to let you in on my secrets, Jed. But only if you’re willing to be an ally. If you’re not for me, for this tower, than you are against me.”

Jed shuffled his hand to his belt while he slid his other hand into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. “I’ll gun you down if you threaten me like that again.”

Sarah shook her head. “You don’t frighten me. Mercenaries are a dime a dozen. The only reason I specifically picked you out of the fish barrel is because you have serious potential. You’re not quite like the other mercenaries I’ve done business with before. When you put your mind to something, there’s no stopping you. When you find a cause to fight for, you fight to the death. I need you to care about my cause.”

Jed took his hand out of his pocket and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “What is your cause?”

The elevator came to a stop. As the doors slid open, bright sunlight burst into the small compartment, nearly blinding Jed who hadn’t seen sunlight since before Legion attacked Earth. “The hell?”

Sarah took Jed’s arm and pulled him out of the elevator. When he opened his eyes and adjusted his vision, he saw a floor of clouds as far as the eye could see, the sun blazing in the brilliant sky in the distance. Crystal blue sky filled the horizon above the clouds, and the air smelled fresh and cold.

“Are we...”

Sarah nodded, grinning at his awe. “We’re at the top of the tower. Above Legion’s darkness.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Of Dreams and Faith - Cover Design Sneak Peek

I'm in the beginning stages of the cover design for Of Dreams and Faith, my upcoming non-fiction work chronicling my journey of faith as a writer. My wife has helped me with each of the cover designs for my fictional novels, although this one is a bit different to craft since this is my first non-fiction piece.

One of the two ideas that my wife and I had for the main cover design consisted of two paths diverging, to echo Robert Frost's quote, "“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” The other idea we had was the beach at sunset, to represent dreams (aspirations) and God.

The trail pictures didn't turn out exactly the way we wanted them. Well, that is to say the pictures turned out well, but they wouldn't work well with our cover ideas. The cover would turn out too busy once the book title and author name are added to the pic.

So this leaves us with the beach sunset picture. Plenty of skyline to put the book title on, and when it wraps around to the back cover, we have plenty more skyline to write out the book description. We have many versions of this particular scene to pick from - which I will be sorting through - but here's the general baseline image:

Friday, February 14, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday #7 - Scars

Today's Flash Fiction Friday piece is a continuation of the previous two Flash Fiction Friday pieces, Jed and Mr. Worth.

The armored town car that Jed and Sarah rode in stopped at Aberfield’s airport, where they boarded a private Dirge Train capable of traversing the darkness of the Wastelands. They boarded a Model 7, which contained the heaviest armored plating known to the survivors of Earth. The inside of the train carried the most sophisticated electronic equipment, capable of detecting any known anomalies in the darkness and engaging anomalies with the appropriate weaponry, which was all state of the art.

Jed had never seen so much equipment aboard one vessel. He did his best to quell his curiosity and focus on the task at hand – to reach the Princeton and analyze its security risks. Sarah briefed him on the fundamentals first: the contract would last three months, his payment would be split three ways across the three months, and all room and board would be taken care of.

Secrecy was of the utmost importance, a fact that made Jed a bit nervous. Sarah wanted to implant him with a tracking chip that would allow her and her organization to monitor his whereabouts and all communications during the duration of his time at the Princeton, at the end of which the chip would dissolve and he would be free to  go about his merry little way.

Jed didn’t trust Sarah. Something about her – maybe the sparkle in her big brown eyes, maybe the lovely curves on her form, maybe the sharp and pointed way she snapped at him whenever he would ask questions she didn’t want him asking her – it all made him nervous. But he needed the money. And more importantly, he needed the forget.

“You are lost in thought again, aren’t you, Mr. Worth?”

Jed snapped out of his daze. He had been staring out the window of the train for a while now, peering into the darkness, remembering the old days when he had his wife by his side. “Just thinking,” he replied, knowing he was going to get harassed by her for being so vague. She reminded him of his old teacher in Catholic school. Always riding him about his thoughts, about his life. He didn’t like people prying. He especially didn’t like his employers prying.

Sarah took a seat across from him, her blue blouse clashing with the black and grey shades of the inside of the train car. He caught a whiff of her perfume – heavy and sweet. “Short. To the point. I find you to be a man of few words, but also a man of deep, harbored feelings.”

“You know nothing about my feelings.”

“I’ve seen the world, Mr. Worth. Many times over. And I know trouble when I’m near it.”

He smiled. “I doubt you know what real trouble is. Your nails are manicured, your hair is permed, your makeup is put on just right. And you’re wearing perfume. Either you’re trying to seduce me – which I promise you I can’t be seduced – or you’re the one who gives orders in your organization, not the one who gets their hands dirty.”

Sarah turned and took her turn to stare out the window. The darkness outside was almost suffocating, and Jed had to keep from panicking at the fact that they were traveling right through the middle of it. He had been on a train like this only once before, during his escape from authorities when he killed the man who murdered his wife.

“I may keep my beauty intact, Mr. Worth, but I assure you that my soul does not contain the same level of naiveté that many of humanity’s victims do.” She placed her hands on the table between them. Jed noticed a very long scar running across the top of both hands and down around her wrists into the sleeves of her blue blouse. “These hands, they have killed.”

“I don’t doubt they caused death, but did they themselves kill?” Jed asked.

Sarah sighed, and then she retracted her hands into her lap. “You seem highly suspicious of me, Mr. Worth.”

“Can you blame me? You seem to know who I am, maybe a little about my past. But you’ve told me nothing about yourself, this tower I’m supposed to watch over –

“Defend,” she corrected.

“Defend, or why you even picked me for this job to begin with. I know a half dozen other mercenaries that you could have grabbed for this job, each of them just as capable and possibly more willing.”

“But you need the money, don’t you?”

He shrugged and rubbed the stubble on his face, realizing he was overdue for a shave.  “I like money.”

“You need it, Mr. Worth. I’ve seen the debt you’ve accrued over the past few months.”

“What is debt, Sarah? This world is at its end. If I run up a tab at the Silk Spider, I can just hop to the next safe town and start a new life. Nobody is going to chase after me in this darkness, not now, not ever.”

“You underestimate the evil in this world, Mr. Worth.”

“No, I give it just the amount of estimating that it needs.”

Sarah placed her hands on the table, only this time she turned them over so Jed could see the scars clearly.

“These were given to me by a child.”

Jed said nothing, only stared at the scars for a moment before peering deep into Sarah’s big brown eyes.

“A little girl...she was defending herself.”

“From the monster that is you?” Jed asked with venom in his voice.

Sarah nodded.

“So...not only do you recruit mercenary types like myself, you also kill children. Good to know who I’m dealing with.”

“Do you want to know why I tried to kill her?”

“Not really.” He caught how upset his voice sounded and he wanted nothing more than to calm himself down. The thought of this woman in front of him trying to kill a defenseless child – well, not completely defenseless – made him sick to his stomach. Part of the nauseous feeling was indeed the alcohol still working its way out of his system, but he had a rule that he kept in his line of work: kids are not collateral damage.

“I could tell you it was to save this world, to ensure humanity’s existence...but you probably wouldn’t believe that.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Then I’ll tell you this, it was to bring you here. To bring you to Saddle’s Sasspire, to bring you where I could find you, to bring you aboard this train. Her is still carrying you along the currents of time to where we’re headed now, to the tower. To the Princeton.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Black Hole of Writing

Well, it happened again. A short snippet of fiction meant to draw readers into my writing style has gotten the best of me and has now grown into a full-fledged black hole. It began with a simple piece of writing I did for my Flash Fiction Fridays: Jed. Jed's story then it continued to a second piece of flash fiction: Mr. Worth. And now this coming Friday will round out the third piece of flash fiction that continues the same storyline: a man by the name of Jed Worth is recruited by Sarah to defend a technologically wondrous tower from an impending raid by the red army.

These three flash fiction snippets don't compromise the story, rather they lead up to the main story which I am in the process of writing up for inclusion in The Crossover Alliance Anthology. This is what I love about storytelling. Sometimes you come across tiny stories that have to be told and once they are told then they are satisfied.

But then you have those stories which hunger for more. Those stories that begin short and simple and then explode like a dying star, creating a black hole which threatens to consume all of my writing time, energy, and other resources. My Black Earth series began small, a short story for an anthology I wrote for NaNoWriMo one year. It has since spurred four novels.

I can't wait to see what becomes of Jed and this strange tower he is hired to defend. Where did this tower come from? Why is he specifically being asked to defend it? And who is this red army? More importantly, can Sarah be trusted? That name...Sarah...sounds familiar, like maybe she's been mentioned in a book or two before...

Photo courtesy of NKZS

Friday, February 7, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday #6 - Mr. Worth

Today's Flash Fiction Friday piece is actually a continuation of last week's piece, Jed

Mr. Worth
A few hours from his first interaction with the woman in the blue blouse, Jed found himself far from Saddle’s Sasspire, in a fortified town car heading south. He had been reluctant to go with the woman, but something about her seemed familiar to him – he just couldn’t put his finger on what yet. His mind finally started to come out of his drunken stupor and a he was able to think somewhat straight, although now he felt the tiredness of the early morning hour seeping in.

The woman in the blue blouse sat to his left, a black panel of sliding metal between them and the driver. She made it a painfully obvious point to keep the middle seat clear between them, as if her presence would somehow tempt Jed into wanting to get to know her better. He didn’t. In fact, Jed didn’t even want to be around her right now.

Holding his head with one hand and tapping on the window with the other, he watched the neon signs flash by as they passed through downtown. Aberfield stood as one of the last fully functioning, fortified cities in the United States. After the Dark War, most of the planet had been decimated by Legion and Satan’s army. Not Aberfield though. Aberfield had been ready for the enemy’s attack many years before it even occurred. Massive raised walls surrounded the city, powerful pulse cannons guarded the only entrance, and an enclosed ceiling made of weatherproof material kept Legion’s darkness out.

Jed had no idea who was responsible for the building of Aberfield, and he was more than a little suspicious as to how whoever built it knew to do so ahead of time.

“What thoughts are running through that head of yours?” the woman asked. She didn’t turn from the window to ask her question, but Jed turned toward her, his stomach feeling somewhat nauseous.

“My thoughts are my business.”

She finally turned her neck and looked him in the face, her enormous brown eyes nearly engulfing him with their beauty. “You mistake my question for intrusion. It is mere conversation.”

“I’m not in the mood to converse.”

She smiled, her bright red lips reminiscent of a blood-red crescent moon. “Of course not. I imagine you’re in the mood to sleep off your hangover.”

Jed focused his attention on the outside of the car, particularly the neon lights. They did something magical to soothe his temper. They reminded him of his wife.

“I assure you, this will not be a waste of your time. I simply need you to meet with the project manager in charge of the building of the tower. Once he approves your employment, we can secure you passage to Fertain.”

“Tell me about this tower.”

“It would be best that that information come from the project manager. I am not at liber-“

“You want me to talk to your project manager? Then tell me about this tower you want me to watch over so badly.”

The woman placed her hands in the lap of her pencil skirt and looked at Jed as if she were debating on if he could be trusted or not. “Not watch. Defend. Protect. The Princeton is a scientific and technical marvel. I can’t really explain what it is without you seeing it first. Needless to say, you’ll have your work cut out for you. We have...many enemies.”

“What is the purpose of this tower?”

“You will address it as The Princeton from here on out, Mr. Worth. This is not a casual business relationship I am attempting to enter into with you. This is a serious employment contract. The purpose of The Princeton is to change the world. It is the key to ending this war against Legion and reclaiming this planet as our own.”

Jed scoffed. “I see what this is about. You work for some multimillion dollar corporation that is going to try and wipe out Legion and then take control of the United States. I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone rose from the ashes to grab the reins. You really think I want to be a part of that? I have no interest in a hostile takeover of this country. I just want to be left alone.”

The woman laughed heartily, her melodious voice driving railroad spikes through Jed’s skull. “You really are drunk, Mr. Worth. Either that or the death of your wife burned out the majority of your brain cells.”

Jed reached into the inside pocket of his brown leather jacket, but the woman shook her head and motioned to the pistol now sitting in her right hand, aimed at him.

“No, Mr. Worth. Keep your hands where I can see them.”

He placed his hands on his knees. “When we stop, I’m going to make sure I’m the last person you ever point your weapon at.”

She slid the gun down to her side, between her and the door. “My cause is not to threaten you, but I will if necessary. Looking at me like some poor, defenseless woman who can’t defend herself is a grim mistake. You would do well not to make that mistake again.”

“I have no desire to enter into any kind of business agreement with you – whoever you are. I have better things to do with my time.”

The woman took Jed’s hand in hers. “You’re full of strife, Mr. Worth. Pain that came with the death of your wife. Emptiness that came with the death of her killer. Now you are nothing but a wanderer, aimlessly searching about for your purpose. I can give you purpose, reason to live. I just ask that you trust me.”

“What makes you think I’m ready to trust someone I don’t even know? Come to think of it, you haven’t even told me your name.”

“My name, Mr. Worth, is Sarah. And I assure you that I have humanity’s best interests in mind.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The End of One Path, And The Beginning Of Another

I know I'm a little late on posting about this, but I figured late is better than never. Many of you followed the few blog posts I put up a while ago regarding my family's call to move to San Francisco and take part in a great church plant, and it's time to post an update on such matters.

First off, the story of how God brought my family and me to the Bay Area is incredible in of itself, and is something I have devoted an entire chapter to in my upcoming non-fiction project, Of Dreams and Faith. God did the miraculous to bring us to the Bay Area when we barely had a couple hundred dollars to our name and no place to live. But moving beyond that, when we finally got into our apartment here in Daly City - which is just a stone's throw from the city of San Francisco - things rapidly took a turn for the unexpected.

My wife and I became integrated with the church plant and did our best to try and fit in with the rest of the plant members. We went to weekly Bible studies, we tried to move out of our comfort zones and get acclimated within the City, and we dipped our feet into the volunteer pool when a church location was finally nailed down.

All that being said, we quickly realized that the church being planted was not the church for us. Now, before I go into further detail, I want to make it clear that I do not condone casual church-hopping. Every single church on this planet is going to have tics, nuances, and things you just won't like or fully appreciate. Churches are institutions run by humans, and humans are fallible. Simple as that. However, I also believe there are legitimate reasons for leaving a church, reasons which I will not go into right now for sake of blog length and argument.

To sum things up, my wife and I quickly came to realize that the crowd that made up the church plant group were in a completely different season than we were. My son is two, and nobody else in the group had a child even close to his age. Most of the group consisted of college-aged students who had different points of focus than building a family. Those that did have kids had older kids who had grown beyond the age of eighteen and had started their own lives. Trying to integrate ourselves with and relate to most of the group became extremely difficult. There were a lot of meetings we just couldn't join in on because of our son or because of our schedules, there were certain activities we couldn't participate in because of the same reasons, and there was just a strange awkwardness anytime we got together with them - an awkwardness that ultimately led us down the road to start evaluating our place within the church and within the City.

My wife and I spent ample time praying in regards of what to do in our situation. Before we left Arizona and took the incredible leap of faith to move to the Bay Area, we made sure our reasons for moving were grounded where they needed to be. We discussed the fact that we were going to move to California because God called us to - not because of the church plant.  The reality is, if the pastor of the church plant decided to pick up and dissolve the church plant, it didn't mean God wanted us to turn tail and head back to Arizona. We wanted to make sure that we had our foundation set up BEFORE moving, that way circumstances wouldn't have a chance to dictate what course of action we were supposed to take.

Something that eventually became apparent to me was the fact that I was putting all of my time and effort and energy into the church plant when that wasn't what I was called to put all of my time and effort and energy into. I had become so focused on surviving in the Bay Area that I completely lost sight of my vision - my writing. This isn't to say we weren't called to the church plant for a season. We were. But that season ended, and God had to bring perspective to these weary eyes and remind me that my calling, my purpose on this earth is to write. The resources I have been given -  such as time - need to be put forth toward that calling.

We received our own confirmation that it was time to leave the church plant. We left in a cordial manner, although rather quickly after we realized what we needed to do. While the church plant was coming together and Sunday services hadn't started yet, we had started attending services at a church in San Carlos, about a half hour from where we live. When we finally said goodbye to the church plant, we decided to begin attending services at the San Carlos church full time, and that is now where we are each Sunday.

Now that the dust has settled, I have no idea what God is going to do next. God has made specific promises to my wife and I, and I know that He will follow through and not fail in bringing them to fruition. For the moment, we are at a point where we are living in Daly City, attending church in San Carlos, and waiting for the next path to reveal itself to us. I am confident it is going to be another amazing path, just like the ones before it were.