Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Black Earth: Dark Masquerade Draft Excerpt #4 - Pearl's Sorrow

It's Wednesday, which means another excerpt from my draft of Black Earth: Dark Masquerade, the third installment in my edgy Christian speculative fiction series, Black Earth.

This scene finds Nathan Pierce, Macayle Harper, and Pear in a medical clinic somewhere in California. Macayle makes it clear he is distrustful of the vagabond they picked up - Ed, and Pearl has a heart wrenching interaction with Nathan.

And if you want to catch up on the other excerpts I've posted over the last few weeks, here's a handy list -

Excerpt #1: Hortus Tenebris - The Dark Garden
Excerpt #2: The President's Dark Advisor
Excerpt #3: The Westgate Plaza Mall

Excerpt from Black Earth: Dark Masquerade -

Macayle stood up. “Let’s grab Pearl and go, kid.”

“What?” Nathan asked.

“I’m not sticking around to see how this all ends.”

“What are you talking about? She said in a half hour a flare is going to go up and we can just follow it to the man who knows where my sister is.”

“Okay. You, me, and Pearl will look for that flare a half hour from now. Right now, we need to get as far away from here as possible. My gut tells me Ed is trouble.”

“We can’t just leave him and Ginger alone. Not with the demon horde scouring the city.”

Macayle turned and pointed at Nathan. “I told you we could get him somewhere where he could get medical attention. That’s this place. He’s all healed up and ready to explore the darkening world…without us.”

Nathan sighed. Macayle had a point about the boy arousing their suspicions. Something about Ed didn’t feel right, but Nathan couldn’t pinpoint what. “Fine. I’ll go get Pearl.”

Macayle nodded. “We’ll tell Ginger she can join us if she wants.”

“Leave Ed here to fend for himself?”

“Everyone is fending for themselves, Nathan. Everyone. He’s no different.”

Nathan made his way to the back room where Pearl was resting and was surprised to find her awake in the dark room, staring out one of the open windows into the residential neighborhood across the street.

“Hey,” he whispered.

She didn’t answer beyond a sigh.

Nathan took a seat next to her and wrapped his arm around her waist. She flinched ever so slightly, causing him to retract his embrace. “Sorry.”

“I’m not upset with you, Nathan. I’m upset with myself.”


“What happened back there? What happened at the mall? I was used, Nathan. Used.” She lifted the hem of her dress, revealing the black key mark on her thigh. “I’m a key, Nathan. That’s all I am. That’s all I was created for.”

“Pearl -“

“Where is Serenity and Katt? Where are the others who were in the mall with us? Where are we, and what did I unleash in from that portal?”

“I don’t know where Serenity and Katt are. I’m not sure they’re even alive. And I don’t know where we are beyond that we’re in a medical clinic. That portal your body unlocked…something…people came out of it. People in masks…”

Pearl broke out in tears.

Macayle entered the room, whispering a comment under his breath about it being so dark. “You guys ready?”

Pearl turned toward him. “Ready?”

“Macayle says we should leave. That man who claims he was run over can’t be trusted.”

Pearl sniffled and visibly fought to hold back more tears. “Macayle, can you give us a minute?”

He sighed, loud and obvious. “I’ll give you guys five minutes. After that, we need to leave.”

“Fine,” Nathan agreed. Macayle left and Nathan took hold of Pearl’s hand. Her skin was cold. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“You know that I was created by Evanescence, that she’s my mother, right?”

“Yes, I know. But you’re nothing like her. You -“

“Stop. I’m not looking for reassurance.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

“She claims she created me. Formed me in her womb, like I was some sort of pet project. I was. I was branded with this stupid mark,” Pearl scratched at the birthmark as if it was a lottery ticket. “It’s a part of me, Nathan. Who I am. She created me to be a key to unleash the fury of the Depths upon Earth. And not just Earth…all over the galaxy. She’s still alive, Nathan.” She gazed dreamily out the window. “I can feel her here, and she won’t stop until I do what she created me to do. Stand by her side and wreak destruction upon the universe.

“There’s something else, something I haven’t told you yet. I killed someone, a human, back in Tucson. I killed him in cold blood. Even though he was trying to kill me, it was because I was robbing his house. I didn’t know he was there, I didn’t think anyone was there. But he attacked, and I killed him. And it wasn’t just his murder that bothers me, it’s the pride I felt when I killed him. Pride of being an immortal. Pride of being who I am. I succumbed to that pride and I killed one of your kind, Nathan.” She broke out in tears again.

Nathan took hold of her and rocked her in his arms, wishing he could take away her sins. He couldn’t, but he could tell her he accepted her for who she was and even what she did. He didn’t care that she had killed someone. He just wanted to be with her. To love her. To spend the rest of his days with her.

“The humans you saw…the ones with the masks. They are from Legion’s world.”

Nathan took a moment to let her comment sink in. “Legion’s world?”

She nodded.

“You opened a portal to Legion’s world? I thought your mother…I thought she came from the Depths.”

“She does. But an alliance was created long ago, between Legion and my mother’s throng of evil. The portals my key mark opens…they traverse the space between this world - or any other world in the galaxy - and Legion’s home world. Specifically to the Hopeless Bastille. The place where Legion’s prisoners are held.”

“What ? Legion is taking prisoners?”

She nodded. “Most of the human race is being killed off here on Earth.” Pearl started crying again, this time letting it turn more into a muffled sob. When she finally collected herself, she took a deep breath and continued. “Most humans are killed by Legion. But a decent percentage of them - the ones Legion seeks to enslave - are teleported somehow to Legion’s home world. Not just humans either, but dozens of different species from all over the galaxy.”

Nathan let the information process in his mind for a moment before even trying to respond. Words came to his lips, but he couldn’t speak them before Pearl spoke up more.

“Those people you saw with the masks…they are humans, but not in the form you are used to seeing them in. The masks contain their souls, and the body the masks are on are simple vessels to fight for Legion. The bodies can’t feel pain, but instead distribute the pain into the soul trapped within the mask. If the body is destroyed, the soul will feel pain like you could never even imagine…and will continue to be trapped in the mask.”

“A creature came out of the portal too…”

Pearl nodded, glancing down at the key mark on her thigh. “A Taskmaster. They lead the Masqueraders into battle. When their job is done, the Taskmaster will bring them back to Legion’s home world. Back to the Hopeless Bastille.”

“Why are you necessary for the opening of these portals?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Legion may have given my mother a key and she may have set it within me, for safekeeping. I don’t have any idea. Once the portal is opened, it stays open until the Taskmaster brings the Masqueraders back through, then it closes.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“My mother explained all of it to me shortly after I was born. Before I escaped her grasp. I didn’t know exactly who - or what - Legion was when she told me these things. It wasn’t until Phoenix, when I was consumed by Legion and trapped in that awful box, that I realized what you humans were up against.” She pulled down the hem of her dress to cover the birth mark and then looked him straight in the eyes. “My God will save you, Nathan. He won’t abandon the humans to this…to this unholy alliance.”

Nathan nodded, unsure what the right response would be. He did believe God would come through, but he was forced to wonder when. The earth was covered in darkness, people were murdering people because of the lighthouses, and Legion and demons were scouring the land, destroying all human life they came across. Or, now Nathan knew, enslaving human life .

Pearl took a deep breath and straightened up. “We need to find your sister. That’s the most important thing to you right now, and I want to help you. I don’t care if my mother is still alive. She won’t win over me. She won’t force me to unlock these hideous portals.”

“Pearl, I…”

She put a finger to his lips. “I love you, Nathan. I love you with everything inside me. The love God gave me for you, the love the Creator gave for a human man, you, is greater than anything else I have ever felt…or known. You are my purpose.” She kissed him madly, passionately, and for a moment, the world stopped and Nathan left the darkness of Earth and rose to the heights of his dreams.

Macayle’s disgruntled grumbling broke him out of his fantasy world and pulled him back into darkness. “Are you two done? We need to leave.”

Nathan nodded. “Fine. Let’s get going. How much longer until the flare goes up?”

Macayle checked his watch. “About twenty minutes, maybe less. Ginger said she would come with us. But that means we need to leave discretely, so the other one doesn’t follow us.”

Pearl stood and walked out of the room with Macayle. Nathan continued to stare out the window for a moment, trying to think of how they were going to shake Ed.

Something cold and hard pressed into the back of his skull.

“Keep quiet or I’ll blow your brains all over that window.”

Copyright © 2012 David N. Alderman

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Check It Out...I'm Over At Reader's Den Today!

I'm guest posting over at Reader's Den today. For those that don't know, I've been taken on by the wonderful Tiffany Cole as a contributor to the blog. Head over there and read my post on Microsoft OneNote and how it can be an author's best friend -

Monday, February 27, 2012

Is It Just Me...Or Is There a Shortage of Christian Fiction Reviewers?

For the past couple weeks now I've been submitting requests to different online reviewers to have my book, Black Earth: End of the Innocence, read and reviewed. My Black Earth series falls into a somewhat specialized genre I like to label: Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction. I think the title says it all, but for those who want a more basic explanation - my work is scifi/fantasy with themes of horror and some Christian themes/symbolism throughout. I know some don't think those genres can work together - in fact some believe they contradict each other - but we'll leave that argument for another blog post.

As far as the reviews go, I've managed to find some great reviewers who are interested in the book and have agreed to read/review it. But in my quest to hunt down review blogs and read through their reviewing policies, I've come across an obscene amount of reviewers with one particular genre on their 'Do Not Read/Review' lists: Christian Fiction.

Now, I'm not naive to the fact that religious fiction isn't everyone's cup of tea. There is a lot of religious fiction out there that doesn't seek to entertain as much as it seeks to prove a religious point or cram a sermon down someone's throat. Even I don't want to read books like that. But I think lately, some religious fiction, especially Christian fiction, is taking a turn toward brighter horizons.

Personally, I've grown to love the writing of Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. Ted Dekker's Circle series is one of the best Christian fiction series I've read. He incorporates an entertaining story, Christian symbolism, and enough edgy, non-corny content, that I find myself enthralled from cover to cover. Tosca Lee's Havah, even though it is a speculative account of the life of Eve, is well written and entertaining, written in a vein akin to historical fiction. Her book Demon is a great example of what Christian fiction can be when Christian writers step out of our protective shelter and try out new things.

I think it might be the term Christian Fiction that really seems to push some readers back. I think the term evokes a sense of dread that the reader is going to get a sermon wrapped up in a shoddily put together story. I never even labeled my work Christian fiction until I had some reviewers complaining that I wasn't being transparent with my book description and was 'hiding' the fact that my work was Christian fiction, like I was trying to feed them a dish of candy-sprinkled ice cream with some poison hidden in the bottom of the cup.

Why would I hide the fact that my work has Christian themes in it? I'm not in this to be a covert missionary. I just want to write great fiction that contains some Christian themes. Aren't we all as writers told to write what we know? Well, I've been a Christian since I was six years old. I'm 32 now. So yes, Christian elements are going to be found in my writing, but it doesn't mean that I am setting out to convert my readers.

One of the first reviews I received for Black Earth: End of the Innocence was from a woman at the church I used to attend -

"My expectations were blown away when I started reading this book. The story line is absolutely captivating. It is refreshing to read a science fiction book with a christian background that doesn't come off corny. By far this is a must read."

Her and I didn't know each other very well when this review was written, so it's not like she wrote a positive review just because we were good friends. And I was surprised, actually, to get a review like this from a fellow Christian who isn't really into horror - an element found sprinkled throughout my books. The line that stands out in this review is that "it is refreshing to read a science fiction book with a Christian background that doesn't come off corny."

And I think that's the key. Some, if not most, Christian fiction has gotten the rap - both in and out of Christian circles - of being corny. Of preaching Jesus' love to the masses through crappy exposition and silly trite. The quality of some of these stories is watered down and pushed aside to make way for 'the message'. If that's all Christian fiction is going to be about for a writer, maybe they are better off writing Christian non-fiction, like a devotional or something. Sometimes I get the feeling when I hand someone my book, they are looking at it like it's an old Christian tract with a message of Jesus and judgment.

That's why I adapted the term edgy Christian speculative fiction. I want to try and isolate my own writing from others found throughout the genre. I don't want my readers thinking that I have an ulterior motive for writing. I write what I know - or what I pretend to know - and I write what comes to me. I've had Christians in my circle downplay my book as being too violent, too sensual, too scifi. Well, my job as a writer isn't to manipulate the story for my own means. It's to tell the story in all of its glorious, raw beauty. Does my writing show clear signs of Christianity dispersed throughout? Yes. I love themes of redemption and of good battling evil. But I want to write outside the typical Christian fiction box too - to lean more toward getting the real story on the paper while at the same time entertaining my readers.

I do want to give a shout out to those reviewers who have taken a chance on my fiction. You know who you are. And I can completely understand why some just don't want to review Christian fiction. I'm not judging you for it. It just seems the decision to avoid reviewing Christian fiction altogether is becoming more of an epidemic than a style preference. But maybe that's just my imagination...I have been known to have one once in a while.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Guilty Pleasure of Playing Ar Tonelico

I used to only enjoy first person shooters and some platform games, but over the years I've fallen deeply, madly in love with RPGs. Currently I am busy building my collection of old PS2 classics like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Final Fantasy XII, and Rogue Galaxy.

There is, however, another game (series) that I attempted to play through a while ago - Ar Tonelico - and quickly quit, due to its...strange nature. I'll admit, years ago, aside from the Final Fantasy series, I didn't dabble in many Japanese RPGs. At one point I stumbled across the Persona series and, after getting part way through the story, thought: What kind of weird stuff is this?

Funny, I know. But lately I've made it a point to start appreciating video games for their artistic expressions along with their gameplay value. When I picked up the first Ar Tonelico game, Melody of Elemia, a couple years ago and played through it a bit, I found myself somewhat embarrassed and feeling childish for entertaining myself to such a strange - and some might say perverted - game.

Well, I'm all grown up now boys and girls, and I'm taking another stab at the series...and I'm loving it.

The basic premise is the world is about to be destroyed and you have to save it. Usual RPG plot. But these games are anything but typical RPG fodder. They are a mashup of platformer, RPG, and even have some mild dating sim elements.

The most unique thing about the games is the female characters called  Reyvateils. They have the ability to sing songs that release magic to help you in battle, but in order to help them craft this song magic, you have to go to a dive shop and 'dive' into their cosmosphere, or soul space. If that sounds a little's meant to. The games take a very tongue-in-cheek route to the male libido. Dialogue in the game is borderline perverted - if taken out of context - which it's hard not to, especially when the back of the first game's packaging states, 'You never forget your first,' and the second game's packaging states, 'Always come back for seconds.'

For those who wonder how far this game goes in bringing sexual content to the table, the games are rated T (not M) for suggestive themes and partial nudity - at least in the case of the second in the series. However, as a comparison, I played Final Fantasy XII and it states on its package that it too is rated T for partial nudity but I think it was only because of some of the character costumes, which I guess according to some prude gamers can be considered risque. Personally, I found nothing warranting the partial nudity claim in that game. And from what I can tell so far, Ar Tonelico is not a porno series.The innuendo is brought into the game in a somewhat humorous fashion alongside all the quirkiness a Japanese RPG is known to have, at least from my experience.Initially, the innuendo is what turned me off from the game, only because I had never played a game of this caliber before. But if one takes the time to move past the immature - yet most times hilarious - dialogue, there is a true gem of a game underneath.

Ar Tonelico has traditional RPG elements - you fight enemies, gain experience, level up, craft items. It all makes for a fun time. Most of the time on the playing field is done up in 2D sprites. The game then switches to beautifully illustrated cutouts during character dialogue. Overall, the presentation is nice and easy on the eyes. A welcome change to other RPGs I've played in the past, and even to some I've played recently on next-gen systems.

The real heart of the game though is the Reyvateils' cosmosphere. The objective is to dive into their subconscious and help the Reyvateils battle their inner demons. There is a deep psychological aspect to this realm - the Reyvateils will struggle with acceptance, insecurities, dark sides to the bubbly or snobbish personalities they exhibit on the surface. There isn't anything particularly challenging, gamewise, to getting through these areas, but it's fascinating to take the trip into their inner most realms and help them work out their less illustrious traits. Doing so enables the Reyvateil to craft powerful song magic you can use in battle, and helps the Reyvateils to enter a paradigm shift, which enables your character to move to a deeper level of the soul space and a deeper level of the Reyvateil's innermost being. I can't recount one other game I've played that takes such a unique approach to the psychological aspects of a video game character.

I know some of the people in my circle of friends and family would immediately shun this game for the sexual content - most of which is innuendo - alone, but I think the core of Ar Tonelico has an entertaining story and rich enough gameplay that you don't see much of in today's next-gen video games.

I managed to nab both Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia and Ar Tonelic II: Melody of Metafalica a little while ago and am currently playing through the first of the series, Melody of Elemia. There is also a third game that just came out in the series, Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, but that's on the PS3 and I don't plan on getting a PS3 anytime soon. Though donations are always welcome. ;) For now, I'll enjoy these guilty pleasures in my epic game collection.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Westgate Plaza Mall

Another week, another excerpt from my draft of Black Earth: Dark Masquerade. This scene takes place near the beginning of the book and introduces us to the situation Nathan Pierce - the main character of the series - finds himself in weeks after the events of the second book in the series, The Broken Daisy. Serenity March, one of Absolute's rebellion leaders, makes her appearance, and a new character, Katt, is introduced. The setting is the ruins of the Westgate Plaza Mall, somewhere in California.

This scene does have some mild language in it, and please keep in mind it's a draft, so it hasn't been professionally edited yet.As always, I would love to hear what you think!


Excerpt from Black Earth: Dark Masquerade -

Serenity March took a sip of her coffee and set the mug on the saucer, rubbing the tiredness from her eyes. The benchmarks that graced her beauty less than two weeks earlier when Nathan first met her - her emerald eyes, her enduringly freckled face, her energetic and confident demeanor - were replaced with darkened eyes clasping tightly to black bags underneath, dirt smudged complexion, and a waning energy like that of a toy whose batteries are on the verge of dying. Her hair, which as far as Nathan could tell hadn’t been washed in a long while, refused to hold its framework around her once young-looking face, succumbing now to tangles and frizz.

To the simple onlooker, she was tired. But Nathan knew the core of her being was more than tired. It was worn out, discouraged, ravaged by doubt and the onslaught of world events. Much like the rest of the rebels and outcasts occupying the Westgate Plaza Mall.

Serenity glanced up from her mug. Her eyes reminded him of witch’s eyes, full of seemingly endless darkness. He took the seat across from her at the little round table. The small café they sat in had once been a busy, bustling coffee house. Now it was a somewhat haunted relic of an age quickly passing them by.

“Hey,” Serenity mumbled before taking another sip of coffee.


“Want something?” She started to get up from her chair. “Katt’s in the back, organizing supplies. I can -“

Nathan motioned for her to sit back down. “I’m good.” One of the many reasons Serenity was so tired and worn out was because she was a woman who tried to do everything. “I can get her if I need to.”

She gave him a fake grin and went back to sipping her coffee.

Nathan glanced up at the counter behind Serenity. The menu items on the chalkboards above seemed like cave paintings or ancient hieroglyphics. When they - Absolute’s Rebellion - first arrived at the mall, the building had been mostly intact, yet deserted. A Legion vessel had crashed into one of  mall’s adjacent buildings, but a close inspection into the debris surrounding it told them there were no seals that the vessel had broken, meaning demons wouldn’t be swarming the mall…as far as they knew.

He kept his observations about the vessel to himself, but Nathan grew a bit uneasy when he saw that the Legion vessel hadn’t created a crater like the other vessels he had seen. No crater, no wipe-out of entire square blocks. The vessel simply crashed through the roof of the building and sunk deep into the surface of the mall floor, so far in fact that the tip of the vessel fell barely below the ground. It was unusual, compared to what Nathan had seen of Legion’s vessels, and it was something he decided to keep tabs on.

Nathan also had to wonder, upon closer inspection of the place, if Legion had come through at some point - possibly from the rogue vessel - and killed off those who were still standing. It could have been his imagination, but the same dust - the red and black particles he and his sister had ingested in the outskirts of downtown Phoenix - had been lingering in the air in very small quantities. It was a sign that Legion’s vessels - or Legion itself - had vaporized someone…or many someones.

Nathan leaned back in the chair and studied Serenity as she sipped warily from the steaming mug. For the last few days, he found himself growing increasingly worried for her well-being. She was their leader - according to Absolute anyway - and she had done a great job of leading them, up until a few days ago, when the signs of exhaustion had begun to settle in. Nathan would admit to anyone that he too was tired and worn, but he was already taking steps to keep himself together. A good nap every few hours, four meals a day - regardless if he had an appetite or not, and plenty of water.

Serenity stuck a hand in her bangs and fumbled with her decaying hair. “Do you know if the reinforced metal has been installed in the doors at the southern end of the mall yet?”

“Yes. A few hours ago.”

She sighed. “What about the skylights?”

“The last of them are being boarded up right now.”

She closed her eyes in a long blink. When she opened them, they looked darker than before. “What about the parking lot?”

“The vehicles in your schematics have been mined, like you suggested.”

“Suggested? I ordered it. Has it been done?”

Nathan took a deep breath. Dealing with Serenity’s constant mood swings - an obvious side effect of her fatigue - weren’t too bad, until she started crossing the line into a power trip. “It’s been done.”

She leaned back in her chair and sighed again before staring at the ceiling. “Legion’s coming for us. I know it. I can feel it.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I just did.” Her dark eyes looked straight at him. “I’ve been having…I’ve been having dreams. Nightmares. They keep me awake at night.” She looked down at her mug. “It’s why I can’t take naps during the day. It’s why I can’t sleep at night. All I dream of is Legion. The black swarm of -“

“Stop!” Nathan felt somewhat surprised at the tone of his voice. But it was a necessary evil. He didn’t want to think anymore about Legion than absolutely necessary and he didn’t want Serenity spreading her fears through the rest of the rebellion. “You need to stop.”

“Did you just yell at me?”

“I didn’t yell. I shouted. There’s a difference. You need to stop talking about Legion. We all know Legion is out there. All too well. But we need to focus on other things right now.”

“What other things? You mean your God, don’t you? We need to focus on the God who’s let this whole world go to shit?”

“I meant we need to focus on securing the mall, on -“

“Finding your sister?”

“Yes. My sister.”

“Geez, you should just count her as dead, Nathan. Haven’t I told you that before? If I haven’t, you need to hear it at least once, from me. She’s one person. This whole world is collapsing on itself and you’re worried about one person.”

“She’s my sister.”

“You have Pearl, right?”

“You hate Pearl, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember. But you have her. Can’t she be enough?”

Nathan leaned over the table, making sure he had direct eye contact with Serenity. “Until I receive proof that my sister is dead, I won’t stop looking for her.”

“Whatever,” Serenity scoffed.

A young woman in a black apron came out of the back room  carrying a large cardboard box, which she set on the counter. “Hi Nathan,” she chimed.

He nodded. Katt was as cheerful as she had been the day they found her hiding in the backroom when they first searched the mall for survivors. She claimed to know nothing about what had happened to those in the mall. She just remembered mass panic flooding the mall when the stars - Legion’s vessels - began to crash into Earth. When she tried to escape the mall and witnessed a vessel crashing into the mall’s adjacent building - the rogue vessel that had Nathan worried - she locked herself in the backroom until Serenity, Nathan and the rest of Absolute’s  Rebellion came around. It was ironic, at least Nathan thought it was, that the woman who once worked as a barista in this same coffee shop was working in it again, in the same capacity, just under completely different circumstances.

And God knew Nathan and the rest of them needed someone who knew how to brew a decent cup of coffee.

“I’m sorry,” Serenity whispered. “I didn’t mean to attack you like that.”

“You need rest. Even if it’s not sleep, you should lay off the coffee and go lay down.”

She took another sip from her mug, glaring at him as if to say, “You can’t tell me what to do.” “How about I just let this whole operation go to hell, huh?”

“These people, this mall, this isn’t all your responsibility. We all take responsibility for ourselves. You’re not a babysitter. Why don’t you leave someone else in command for a bit while you rest? You’re going to wear yourself too thin and then you’ll be no good to anyone.”

Serenity stood up abruptly, almost knocking her mug off the ridiculously small table. “Mind your own damn business, Nathan. Since when do you have it all together? You were a shaking, fearful kid when I met you and now you’re trying to hold me up as if you were an unshakeable crutch. Just do what you’re told and stay out of my way.” She stormed off, exiting the café and wandering into the mall.

“Another day, another bitch session,” Katt said, setting a steaming mug of dark roast in front of Nathan. “Just how you like it.”

The aroma of the coffee was just how he liked it. Thank God for baristas. “She’s just tired.”

“As is everyone else around here. I didn’t sleep too well last night thanks to those strange noises again, but you don’t see me acting like that.”

Strange noises again? For the past few  nights, many of the occupants of the Westgate Plaza Mall had complained to Serenity and her circle - including Nathan - of strange  noises coming from the parking lot surrounding the mall. The noises had been described as loud whispers, the wording of which couldn’t be understood by any of the witnesses. At first, Nathan  had been sure the ‘whispers’ were simply wind currents moving through the abandoned lot of cars and trees, but with so many reports stating the sounds were actual whispers - most in low manly tones, aside from the high pitched woman’s screech Katt swore she heard - Nathan couldn’t pass it off as the wind.

Yesterday he took it upon himself to take a stroll around the mall, checking the lot for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing. He even went as far as the main street, but nothing struck him as odd. He came across a sunspot during his minor trek - many sunspots had broken through the dark ceiling Legion had made of the sky and brought rare warmth to the otherwise chilling air - and spent some time basking in it. During that time, he conversed with God.

Nathan’s dealings with God were growing more commonplace than they had been during his journey to Los Angeles to find his sister. His encounters were full blown discussions with the Creator of the Earth. They were also incredibly private, conversations he only shared with one other person - Pearl. Nathan found himself talking to God about almost everything - the condition of the planet, the darkness engulfing the land, the purpose of Absolute’s Rebellion. He even pressed the subject of his sister many times, asking God where she was and if she was still alive. He gave Nathan the same answer each time, the same answer he gave Nathan when he almost drowned - or technically did drown - in the waters on the way to the lighthouse: You will mount a rescue effort to save her.

The answer was somewhat vague. God didn’t - and wouldn’t - specify if Daisy Pierce was still alive, nor would He specify she would be rescued. Just that Nathan would mount a rescue effort.

The rest of his conversations with God were more than a little interesting and pleasant, if not sometimes cryptic. God wouldn’t give too many details about Legion, except that Legion was an evil as ancient - if not more than - the creation of the Earth. A very grim answer came to Nathan one day when he asked God if the Earth was going to perish: Yes.

Nathan had been so stunned by this answer that he found himself asking the question two more times, with the same answer being given before he finally conceded. The Earth would be destroyed. But not yet. The ‘not yet’ was enough to give Nathan hope that he might find his sister and they would have the chance to escape the planet together.

“Hey, you okay?”

Nathan snapped out of his reverie and looked up at Katt. Her mouth curved into a worried grin. “Just…thinking.”

“Any luck finding out what those noises are?”

He shook his head and took a cautious sip of coffee. “I went around the lot yesterday but didn’t find anything.”

“Someone said they saw you sitting out in one of the sunspots, talking to yourself.”

He didn’t answer the accusation. Not many people understood what he meant when he told them he heard from God.

Katt returned to the counter and started pulling out sealed bags of coffee grounds from the box. “Anyway, I think Serenity needs to lighten up a bit. Especially on you. And what’s she got against Pearl?”

“It’s a long story.” He stood with his mug in hand. “Thanks for the coffee. I have to go check on some things.”

Katt smiled warmly at him. “Anytime, Nathan. Let me know if you find out what those strange noises are. They’re starting to give me the creeps.”

Copyright © 2012 David N. Alderman

Monday, February 20, 2012

What Jack Bauer Taught Me About Creating Compelling Characters

Anyone out there remember Jack Bauer? 24? It was - and is - only the greatest television show of all time.

I'll gush for a moment: I'm a total 24 addict. I was since the beginning of the first episode, and I continued to transform into full-blown fanboy geek by the time Fox aired the last episode of the eighth season. I own every DVD set including 24: Redemption - the made-for-TV movie, along with various comic books, graphic novels, soundtracks, TV Guides, and anything else that had to do with Jack Bauer, 24, or anything in the realm of those two things.

I was obsessed. I'll admit it. Still am a bit. A man crush? Maybe. I'm not ashamed.

Jack Bauer become my all-time favorite character...of all time. Of every book, comic book, television series and movie I ever subjected myself to in my lifetime, the character of Jack Bauer enthralled me more than any other.


Because his character was compelling. His character was edgy, tragic, heroic. The character of Jack Bauer fell somewhere in the gray area of morals and ethics. He did things he didn't want to do because he knew he had to do them if he wanted to succeed in his mission in keeping the world - and his home/family - safe and secure.

Jack Bauer tortures his brother, Graem.
Jack was an antihero of sorts. He rebelled against convention, he went up against the powers-that-be to unveil corruption at its vilest, and he risked the few for the many. He wrestled with the demons of his wife's death, he went up against his own brother and father who were corrupt, he killed an innocent government agent to appease a terrorist - and to save hundreds of people. He made the tough decisions you and I hope we never have to face in our lifetime. He wasn't just a good government/rogue agent - he was an effective agent. He got results, and didn't care what had to be done to achieve those results.

His character helped me in my own writing ventures. When I realized that 'good' characters aren't always good, it dawned on me that I had been raised to believe otherwise: good is good, bad is bad. There are definite boundaries that define the difference between the two, but when you're fighting terrorism at the level Jack was, where the bad guys don't play fair, where the lives of innocent people are on the line, a simple moral/ethic rulebook can't be followed. It has to be thrown out. One man - Jack Bauer - was there to save the day, save the world, even if he had to sacrifice part of himself and/or his relationships in the process.

Jack holds up a gas station - and takes a terrorist hostage!
Jack's character inspired me and helped influence some of the behavior of my own character, David Corbin, an ex-hero from my young adult, scifi-fantasy novel series. In one particular scene taken from Lost Birth, the second novel in the series, David, through a chain of events, finds himself in a jewelry store where the object he's been searching for - a necklace that is said to unlock an ancient timepiece that can save the world - is located. The cops and mall security are on him, and so he does the only thing he can faced with his impossible circumstances: he takes one of the jewelry store employees hostage. (My inspiration from this scene came from Jack's own actions in Season 4, episodes 3 and 4, when he holds up a gas station and takes hostages to buy himself time to catch some terrorists.) In doing so, David puts the jewelry store employee's life at risk, and in the end, his choice has tragic consequences.

I love characters like this. Characters who go beyond convention. Characters who aren't always fighting the bad guy with the twirling mustache, but are also fighting the everyday citizens who want to make the hero's day worse, fighting the demons within, fighting the very stereotype of what a hero is supposed to be.

Jack Bauer opened my eyes to the full potential my own characters can have. And even though 24 isn't airing on television anymore, he'll always be somewhere near my writing desk, adding to my muse.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mid-Month Update

I can't tell you all how happy I am that it's Friday. I love weekends, mainly because my wife is home with me and my son, and I get more solid time to work on writing/self-publishing/marketing related projects.

Speaking of which, here's a little rundown of some of the things I'm currently working on.

For starters, I'm trying out a new schedule on myself to see if I can get be more productive. For a while now I've been trying to squeeze writing and other related projects into the time my son is down for a nap during the middle of the day. It works, just not all the time. As anyone who has a kid knows, they don't always follow the schedules you set for them. The problem with this, is that if my son decides to have an off day, my work suffers for it. I try to use my evenings to compensate, but most of the time my wife and I have plans.

So, to rectify this quandary, I've decided to do something some may think is drastic, but really isn't. I'm going to return to my night owl roots and set 2am as my working punch-out time. This means when my wife and I get done with our plans for the night - or even if we don't have plans at night - I'll have my butt here in this black leather office chair writing - or something relevant to writing - until 2am.

I've been getting up every day at 6am. Sometimes I'm woken even earlier if my son (who has club feet and constantly has issues with his feet hurting him) ends up having a particularly rough night. Mathematically, this means I am only - at best - going to get four hours of sleep. So, I'll be using the naps my son takes during the day to catch up on my Z's, instead of trying to get so much work done during those times.

In essence, I'm simply pulling a switcharoo with my work habits. I used to live and breathe night owl, so this won't be horribly difficult to slide into, but I have gotten older since those days, so it will take a little bit of getting used to - and maybe a bit of Mountain Dew. But it has to be done, because these books/projects HAVE to get finished.

One of the projects I'm working on, as everyone who reads my blog already knows, is Black Earth: Dark Masquerade - the third novel in my edgy Christian speculative fiction series. I've been getting more candid with my writing process and have already posted two major draft excerpts from my work on the novel:

Hortus Tenebris - The Dark Garden 
(a scene with Daisy and a surreal environment called The Dark Garden)

The President's Dark Advisor
(a meeting between President Amanda Stone and her dark advisor, the Man of Shadows)

This book is due in my editor's hands by the 15th of March. And when I send it to her on or before that date, it will be the first deadline I will have kept to without having to alter it because of my poor work habits.

Next project on the list is the Expired Reality Double Pack. Just like I took Books 1 and 2 in the Black Earth series and put them in an ebook double pack, I'm going to do the same for Endangered Memories and Lost Birth - the first two books in my young adult series. I just have to create a cover for it and do some formatting and then a release date will be revealed. I plan on it being soon though.

Another project (well, you can call it a project I guess) that I decided to take on is to be a contributing writer over at Tiffany Cole's website, Reader's Den. I am really excited about this because it will give me the opportunity to reach a crowd of readers/writers that I may not be reaching with my own blog. And I get to contribute to a wonderfully crafted website dedicated to readers and fans of writing. I plan on making my debut post over there in the next week or so, and I'll announce it here before it goes out.

I am also proud to say I am on track with my reading schedule for the year. I have 20 books on my to-read list on Goodreads, and I've already read two of them and am currently on my third. Here's a link to the review I posted for the first book in the Han Solo Trilogy, The Paradise Snare. I still mean to write a review on Awakening Evarun Part II by Thomas Barczak, but know that I gave it five stars. He is an incredibly talented author/illustrator that everyone should be watching very closely. 

The third book in my to-read list, which is the second book in the Han Solo Trilogy, The Hutt Gambit, will be finished and reviewed around February 25th. These Han Solo books are easy to review because I originally read them back in '97 and am rereading them because they were just that flippin' good!

One side note I'd like to include is in regards to my website, I have some ideas running through my head on how I want to add some additional content to the website, like character profiles, exclusive downloads, and even a timeline/chronology that will fill readers in on where each of my books fit into the master timeline of both my series. I'll keep all of you updated on those elements via this blog and the email newsletter.

Well, there you have it. A little update from little ol' me. To boil it all down - I'm right on track with my projects so far. This makes me very happy. And I'm sure it will make those of you who have been waiting for more from the Black Earth series - and my writing in general - happy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The President's Dark Advisor

In my efforts to be more transparent with my writing process, I've decided that from now on, each week I will post an excerpt of draft work from something I'm currently working on. I am going to try my best to make this a weekly occurrence, that way you can all get a taste of my writing style and, at the same time, I can showcase some of my work before it goes to the presses.

Last week I posted an excerpt entitled Hortus Tenebris - The Dark Garden. In it, I gave a sneak peak to the third book in my Black Earth series - Dark Masquerade - and gave you a feel for Daisy Pierce's plight and the surreal, horrific world she's been thrust into.

This week's scene comes from the same project and finds the President of the United States, Amanda Stone, in a conversation with her dark advisor, or the Man of Shadows, as she calls him. This advisor was first seen in the second book of my Black Earth series, The Broken Daisy, and will be fleshed out more in this installment of the series.

Please keep in mind this is draft work, meaning it hasn't been professionally edited yet. And being draft work, it may/may not change depending on how I feel the story is flowing as I edit the manuscript as a whole.

As always, I would love for you to drop me a comment and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Excerpt from Black Earth: Dark Masquerade - 

President Amanda Stone breathed in the musty air of her underground bunker and missed the fresh air from above ground. She had been hiding - rather strategically positioning herself - underground for a little over a week now. Claustrophobia was beginning to sink in. She hadn’t been able to sleep more than two hours at a time, and when she awoke, she awoke to a nightmare of a world that she was finding it harder and harder to get a grasp on.

When Legion’s vessels fell, when she enacted the Falling Star Directives, she did so thinking it would be her one chance to create alliances with the rest of the world’s superpowers and build herself into someone bigger than just the President of the United States. Someone bigger than a dictator, better than a queen.

Her talks with the leaders of other countries proved unfruitful so far. Most countries were still reeling from Legion’s attacks, and a good portion of those President Stone did contact wanted nothing to do with creating alliance. They simply wanted to survive and contain the mess that was forming in their own lands. It seemed, at least to her, that she was the only one with power on her mind. But that could - would - work to her benefit.

The Man of Shadows - her own nickname for him - had promised her it would. Her dark advisor, a man who had no face and could turn to vapor and move through walls, continued to visit her multiple times a day both to bring his cooling touch to her sick and frail flesh, and to instruct her on what to do next. He breathed life into her, gave her purpose, kept her going, like an owner would keep his favorite wind-up toy wound and on a straight path to avoid having it fall off the edge of the table.

Healing is exactly what President Amanda Stone needed. She was growing weaker every day, and on some days she felt it would be better to end her miserable life and meet whatever deity was waiting to punch her number - if there was one. But instead of ending her life, instead of bringing an anticlimactic end to her pathetic existence, she held on for one more day, for one more soothing touch from the Man of Shadows. His healing touch gave her a reason to get out of bed each day.

A mirror on her desk allowed her reflection to look out upon her. Her cheeks were sunk in like potholes and her eyes…her eyes were once green. Right? But now they were void of color, not pure black, but milky black like coffee with creamer in it. She turned away from her reflection, disgusted with herself. Her neck hurt with the movement. It took effort nowadays to move, effort to breathe, effort to even think clearly. She couldn’t remember anything that had happened months ago, and was having a hard time keeping track of what was occurring now. She knew vessels had fallen…vessels from space. Legion’s vessels. Something from Star Wars, something alien had come to their planet and decided to wreak havoc upon it, to wrap it in darkness. But why? Had she somehow been responsible for their presence here?

Of course, the Man of Shadows constantly told her everything was under control. Everything. He promised her the world would be hers, soon. It was a sobering thought, to know she would soon have her insatiable desire for power satisfied. The sanctuary zones, the bar codes, the credit system - all set up long ago and initiated, fueled even, by the fallen vessels. By the darkness sweeping the globe.

I just have to keep it together long enough to enjoy it.

She leaned back in the leather chair and closed her eyes. She longed for his touch. She always longed for it shortly before he arrived to give it. Although worry plagued her jubilant anticipation - she knew he was still mad that they had lost track of the reporter, Ericka Shane. After the woman aired the vile video proving President Stone had helped to kill the Vice President, the riots began. Many of them broke out within the sanctuary zones, however there were rumors of intense violence outside the zones, in the Broken Lands. Many of the President’s supports had been slaughtered by those who felt it was a travesty to have Amanda Stone in the seat of the President.

And that was enough to allow her to initiate another part of her Falling Star Directives. Sentries. Machines - rather mechanical marines - created by SilverTech Industries to keep the peace around the country. Confined mainly to the sanctuary zones, President Stone would make sure some units of these Sentries, all under her command, performed patrols around the outer rims of the zones, just to make sure no…disturbances…interfered with her perfect little sanctuaries. They were necessary, she reminded the public on a newscast to introduce them, seeing how a good percentage of the United States Armed Forces were counted as casualties of the invasion.

The door to her office opened and a Secret Service agent stepped into the room. “Madame President. The Speaker would like to see you.”

She stared at the agent for a moment, another man she didn’t recognize. The last few days - weeks - had been a blur, but it seemed each time she turned around, another agent she didn’t recognize was there to greet her. And they were so mechanical, showing little to no emotion, moving like the sentries she was dumping into the sanctuary zones. Either she was losing her memory - her mind - day by day, or the Man of Shadows - the Speaker as her agents called him - was bringing them in.

“Did you hear me, Madame President?”

She wiped the blurriness from her eyes and nodded half-heartedly. The agent left, closing the door behind him, leaving her to her isolation. Fear filled her insides, making her feel somewhat bloated and nauseous. She didn’t want to see the Man of Shadows . His touch cooled her aches, filled her with calm to ease the pain, but when he left she always felt emptier than before he came.


She looked up from her desk and watched as a black mist passed through the wall on the far end of the office. It moved through the air like dark oil, gliding through the empty space on sheets of silk across an icy pond.

Her anticipation grew as the black mist came together in front of her desk and materialized into a man dressed in a black trench coat, black fedora. Her body trembled and her lips quivered. She fought to control the shakes, grabbing hold of the arms of the leather chair, gripping tightly, yelling at herself to keep control of her body.

The man who had no face - it was hidden beneath the strange shadows the fedora spread across his body, tipped said hat at her. She gripped the chair arms tighter, nearly unable to control herself. Cold sweat broke out across her flesh, pulling her clothes tighter against her form.

“Amanda, why do you fight it so much? I come here bringing a gift for you…”

“Your touch.”

He nodded. “Why do you fight it? You remind me of many other humans I have had the misfortune of stumbling across. So sure of yourself, aren’t you? Full of courage - or what you think is courage. It’s really just stubbornness. It’s really just frailty.”

She gripped the arms of the chair even tighter, sure her fingernails were going to break off at any moment, saying nothing, simply staring at the man.

“Speechless. You have come a long way, Amanda. You used to speak, to spew forth words like a sewer spews its filth. Now you sit before me, frozen in fear, encased in your own sweat. It is insulting.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes, an apology. Apologizing is all you humans know how to do once you’re faced with someone greater than yourself. Your women apologize to the men who beat them. Your parents apologize to the children they want to discipline. These are things I don’t understand, but they make some sense to me because I understand you are a weak sentient, strong and courageous, so ready to face the odds until one comes along who is stronger than you. Then you yield, you give up, you offer your loyalty to the tall and the proud.

“The greatest travesty I have witnessed from your species is the pathetic way you apologize to your false gods, especially to the Invisible One, requesting forgiveness for your human nature. If you believe in this god, this one who doesn’t show his face to your dying world, and you believe he’s the creator of your species, of the galaxy as a whole, then why would you apologize for the human nature he instilled within you? It doesn’t make sense to me. And things that don’t make sense to me upset me.”

Amanda released her grip on the chair and let her hands scratch at her knees. She couldn’t remember him ever being in such a foul mood before.

“Look at yourself. Glance upon yourself in the mirror.” He reached over the desk and shoved the mirror in her face. She turned away, disgusted. “You can’t, can you? You can’t because you hate what you see. You are weak, and you don’t want to be weak. But human nature is weak. It was made to be weak so you would be forced to worship the ones who created you.”

Amanda felt her lungs collapsing upon themselves, the breath leaving her body at a rapid pace. She was hyperventilating and the world was blacking out around her. The Man of Shadows touched her with his gloved hand, blanketing her in his soothing darkness. She closed her eyes and felt her body melt in the chair. The pain - the soreness in her neck, the crushing in her lungs, the dizziness - it was all carried away along the current of his cool touch.

The room came back into focus. She was sitting tall in the chair, her hands on the surface of the desk, her head clear.

He stared at her as if she owed him money for the experience. “We have issues to discuss.”

She straightened out her pantsuit and took a deep breath, feeling somewhat foolish. There was a strange awkwardness that accompanied his ‘healing sessions’.

“It is pathetic how you crave my touch to this extreme. It only further proves my observations about how frail you humans truly are.”

She heard what he said, but she didn’t care. The echoes of his touch melted into her muscles, slid across her bones and traveled through her bloodstream. She felt his presence, dark and soothing, swimming through her like a drug.

He huffed and turned away from the desk. When President Stone looked up, she found him staring at the antique bookshelf housing priceless volumes on American history.

“What issues?” she asked, more to prove to him that she was listening than her taking any real interest in what he had to say.

“You ask, yet you don’t care.” He picked up an old hardcover volume on World War 2. He paged through the book, stopping every few seconds to glance at the information inside. “Do you know why Hitler was so successful?”

She sighed. She hated talking about the past. She wanted to talk about the future. Her future.

“Hitler was successful because he was hungry for power and he didn’t let anything stand in his way of getting it. You…” He closed the book and set it back on the shelf. “You allow too many things - too many people - to get in the way. Right now, the world is yours for the taking. Yet your Achilles’ heel is about to be cut by your inability to follow through.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I know.” He made his way back to the desk. “Ericka Shane has been found. Nathan Pierce is building a rebellion. Daisy Pierce is about to be executed.”

“I know. I have teams looking for Nathan as we speak. Same with Ericka. And I plan to have the execution televised for the entire world to see.”

The Man of Shadows slammed his gloved fists on the surface of the desk. “Your present efforts are not good enough to yield the results we need. You must find Nathan - you must crush his rebellion before it can get any stronger. You must find Ericka Shane and murder her in the streets for the world to see. Everyone under you, those who worship and serve you loyally, and those who oppose you, must see your hands while they are covered in blood so they know who they’re dealing with.”

“I am doing everything I can! I have limited power and most of that limited power is being used to run the sanctuary zones.”

“That is not good enough. Those who oppose you are in the wilderness, underground, hiding out, forging their power into a weapon they will one day very soon use against you. You must strike them now, abort them while they are weak.”

“How do I do that? How the hell do I do that?!” President Stone took a deep breath and calmed herself. Yelling at the Man of Shadows would do her no good. She needed him, needed his touch. The last thing she wanted was to turn him away.

The man’s voice came down and he suddenly sounded overly calm, as if the outburst moments earlier had never occurred. “I have sent out…reinforcements…to find and kill your enemies. All of them. Including Nathan and his rebellion.”

“His rebellion isn’t even a threat. His sister will be killed, soon, and there’s nothing he will be able to do to stop that.”

“Hitler was successful because he did not underestimate his enemies. He knew who they were, what they were possibly capable of, and he worked his terror based on those possibilities.”

“Enough about Hitler. What do you want me to do?”

“I need you to focus your efforts on Ericka Shane. Draw her out by any means necessary. When she crawls out of her dark corner, cut off her head and let it roll in front of those who have chosen to turn against you.”

“What about Nathan?”

“He will be found and dealt with by my hand. You worry about finding Ericka and making sure this execution takes place.”


The Man of Shadows made his way to the bookshelf again and stood in front of it, scanning the volumes on the shelves. “I’m sure it would be much easier to incinerate this world. Its time has certainly come. But not yet, I suppose. No…everything has a time and a season. Now is the Season of Shadow. Next will be the Season of Blood.”

President Stone had no idea what he was referring to in regards to the seasons. She would do as he asked and bring Ericka Shane out of hiding. The woman had eluded President Stone long enough. Now it was time for her to pay for her defiance. As far as Nathan was concerned, she would have liked to have found the boy herself and deal with him accordingly, but she could only stretch her efforts and resources so far. She had entire sanctuary zones, entire cities, to bring under control. Her control.

The Man of Shadows started walking toward the wall at the far end of the office, the same wall he entered the room through. “I will see you again soon, Amanda. Make sure I have reason to return in a less foul mood.”

She watched him break into black mist and pass through the wall, leaving her there alone to find a way to lure Ericka Shane under the guillotine.

Copyright © David N. Alderman 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Stay-At-Home-Writer-Dad

It's 11pm on the dot. I've just finished making myself a tall mug of hot cocoa - chocolate graham flavor - and I've settled into my desk, ready to work for the next hour or two. Even though I have to be up at 6am if I want time to take a shower and eat breakfast before my wife leaves for work and I start my shift with our five-month-old, I am determined to squeeze the midnight hour of all it can give me tonight.

There was a period years ago when I was easily able to stay up till all hours of the night. On top of the many midnight goof-off visits to the local Wal-Mart, early breakfasts at Denny's with friends, or the late-night 'crate surfing', I also remember one particular job that I enjoyed quite a bit - inventory specialist for RGIS inventory services. The job was a breeze - if not a tad tedious. I would help take inventory of a wide variety of stores during their dark hours, and the stores ranged from Victoria's Secret to Super K-Mart to Home Depot. Those were the days of my youth, when a cup of coffee went a long way, and when I didn't have a second thought about how much time I had to sleep.

Nowadays, at 32/married/with child, I find my strength waning by three in the afternoon. Being a stay-at-home-writer-dad, I bounce between changing diapers, to changing character wardrobes; feeding my son, to feeding my muse; keeping my son entertained, to entertaining my readers. The variety of tasks makes for a fairly quick day, but I am worn out most days before the end.

It all inevitably leads up to my wife coming home in the evening, us playing a quick game of Tetris together, eating dinner, and then we're either in for the night - at which point I will get back to work and continue do to so late into the evening - or we'll pour some bottles, pack up the baby, and head to a friend's house, Bible study, or to do a bit of grocery shopping. As soon as the wife and kid are in bed, the darkness is mine to do what I will - I can sit and enter my world away from this world. I can mingle with the characters I tried so hard to mingle with during the day, amidst the distractions, the screaming kid, the noisy neighbors. I can build and construct and design entire continents, governments, and societies. By day I am a dad, by night I am a ruler.

Some days I lose my motivation much easier than I would like to admit. I procrastinate, I fail in the mission to push my novels out there, get the reviews, get the sales, and get the bills paid so my wife can come home and do what she wants to do most - watch our son. Sometimes I skip blogging, I neglect to post blurbs on Facebook, I intentionally shy away from interacting with anything to do with social networking, simply because 'I just don't feel like it'. I'm sure we've all been there, but it's not a place any of us want to be.

Right now though is my time. The darkness shrouds the distractions of the day and lets me do some work on my latest Work in Progress - Black Earth: Dark Masquerade - the third novel in my edgy Christian speculative fiction series. My deadline to get the story to my editor is March 15th. At that point, my editor will work her magic, destroying my darlings, tweaking my grammar faux pas, and polishing that dirty gem into something credible.

There's more to do than just write though. It's funny how when you tell some people you're a writer, they think that's all you do is write. I have a laundry list of additional tasks that need to be done - this blog post, for one, needs some polishing. I have to accomplish my daily goal of submitting my work to at least one book reviewer so I can start making waves in the online markets. There are data inconsistencies with my books on Goodreads that need to be fixed, a chapter that needs to be read of the latest book I want to review, and somewhere in all of that are the daily things such making sure bottles are clean, dishes are loaded, dinner is ready, trash is out, cat is worshiped, sanity is intact.

This is the life of a stay-at-home-writer-dad.

It won't always be this hard. We'll get to the point where my book sales are paying the bills to allow for my wife to come home and watch our son during the day so I can write/blog/self-publish/format/critique/social network/read/etc/etc/etc/etc/etc.

For now though, I'll just take the next hour and thank God I have it to finish up another scene, to rescue another character, to put another period at the end of another 'award-winning' sentence. And I'll enjoy my steaming mug of hot chocolate all the while.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Yes, I Peruse Video Game Magazines For Creative Inspiration

Just recently I broke down and purchased a subscription to Game Informer magazine. Although I love EGM, I chose Game Informer because the subscription was cheaper AND I got enrolled in the GameStop PowerUp Rewards, giving me discounts on games purchased at Gamestop and other various goodies.

Reading through my first issue of Game Informer magazine, I'm reminded why I love reading through video game magazines to begin with. Aside from being constantly updated on various games that I may or may not want to invest in in the near future, video game magazines are also full of great creative material for writers. Each magazine essentially acts as a compendium of various stories, plots, characters and other creative tidbits to satisfy a writer's craving for inspiration. Video games are majestic art form, although I'll get into that in another blog post.

One particular magazine that I used to enjoy for this reason was Play magazine. Even though the magazine is now defunct (filing for bankruptcy in February of 2010), numerous issues of Play sit on my bookshelf as one of my favorite magazines of all time. Play combined reviews of video games, anime, manga and even movies. What's great about using video games magazines for creative inspiration is that they always have a nice bit of visual aid to go along with the game's story, so you can see what the creator's are actually trying to convey.

Along with the monthly edition of the magazine, Play also put out an annual issue titled, Girls of Gaming, which scooped up various female video game characters - both old and new - and placed them into a convenient directory which gave readers both a stunning visual aid to the characters and a brief synopsis of that character's profile and role in their video game. (I only collected Girls of Gaming for character material. I swear.)

As sad as I am that Play magazine is defunct - although I am still hunting down the issues I don't have so I can add them to my collection - I'll continue my scouring of Game Informer for creative inspiration when my writer's well is close to running dry.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Paradise Snare (Star Wars, The Han Solo Trilogy #1) - Book Review

It was my senior year of high school - 1997 - when I first picked up this fantastic book and immersed myself in Han Solo's adventures. This book did for me what so many books I've dived into haven't been able to - it pulled me into another world, it made me feel the emotions of the characters, it made me lose track of time. This book easily became a portal for me to a whole galaxy of adventures and it's a book - and a series - I will never forget. This series has been on my shelf for quite a few years and I decided to start my reading challenge this year by reading through these books again just so I can remember why I love to read.

After Han Solo escapes Trader's Luck and crash lands on the planet of Ylesia to take a job as a pilot, he runs into beautiful Bria Tharen - a lonely colonist working the glitterstim mines (and who later becomes an integral part of the Star Wars universe, especially in events leading into the original Star Wars movies.) Han finds that the religion on Ylesia isn't all it's cracked up to be and he, Bria, and Han's planetary bodyguard, Muurgh, decide to flee the planet after they steal some priceless artifacts so Han and Bria can start a respectable life somewhere else in the galaxy.

What I love the most about The Paradise Snare is how closely it captures the character of Han Solo I grew up. The novel details some of Han's backstory as a very young thief in the form of wonderfully crafted flashbacks. Growing up on the streets, and in space aboard a pirate ship, one can see where Han gets his somewhat arrogant and selfish personality seen in the movies. But really, that's just the beginning of what makes Han trust nobody but Han. In this first installment in the three-part series, we find out how Han develops his loyalty toward Wookies, we witness his first interaction with the Hutts, and we watch as Han falls in love with beautiful Bria Tharen - and is nearly destroyed because of it.

I originally read this series when I was about 18/19 years old, and I just remember the book filling my head with Han's fantastic adventures and remembering how badly I wanted to have my own. That's the purpose a book should fulfill - to whisk you to far-off worlds and enrapture you in the fantasy and science fiction of a great read. This book accomplished that on an epic scale. A.C. Crispin's writing is crisp, and lends to the book's effortless read.

I suggest if you're a Star Wars fan you pick this one up and devote a weekend to it - and the series as a whole. I guarantee you won't regret it. This book - and the series as a whole - have easily made it to the top of my all-time favorites list.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hortus Tenebris - The Dark Garden

I find it to be a fascinating thing when novel series grow darker the further they get into the story/series. This usually happens right before 'good' comes in and saves the day, the darkness being used as a heavy contrast to light.

And so as I sit here and pen my latest WIP (Work in Progress), Black Earth: Dark Masquerade, I can't help but notice that the series/storyline is definitely taking a darker approach then the two books before it...figuratively, narratively, and literally.

In Black Earth: The Broken Daisy, Legion - an alien species that has enacted a pact with the forces of Hell to destroy all of creation - has covered a good percentage of Earth in darkness. Suffocating, maddening darkness.

Dark Masquerade opens up weeks after the unfortunate events of The Broken Daisy, with darkness plaguing most of the land, the President of the United States asserting her wayward ideals on a crumbling world, and strange - albeit alien and demonic - creatures roaming the planet. And we find our hero, Nathan Pierce, taking refuge within an abandoned mall in California with his soul mate, Pearl, his deceased father's friend, Macayle, and part of Absolute's Rebellion. The location of his sister, Daisy Pierce, is still a mystery at the beginning of this novel, but Nathan has already made it his life's mission to find his sister, save her from the execution the President is attempting to enact upon her, and get off the planet somehow - all before Earth is destroyed by the darkness.

It has been a supreme challenge trying to progressively take the novel series from the high school graduation at the beginning of End of the Innocence, into a land riddled with darkness and demonic activity by the time Dark Masquerade comes around. Crafting the third novel in a series is not something I am experienced with and it is a somewhat difficult task to draw the reader into darkness and give them a reason to stay there.

We'll see how well this novel turns out. I only have a month and a half from now until I have to have it finished for my editor, before I move on to the final book in the series - Black Earth: Bridge to Eternity.

In the meantime, I thought I'd post some of what I've been writing here for you to consume. This scene is from a new setting I created called Hortus Tenebris, or The Dark Garden in Latin. This is a surreal and terrifying place Daisy Pierce finds herself in after the man in the red suit shoves her through a mysterious doorway into pure darkness. I'm still not entirely comfortable with posting rough work for my readers to see, I just ask that you keep in mind this is part of a draft and hasn't been completely and fully edited yet. The details found herein may also change as I complete more of the novel.

*** By the way, here's my disclaimer regarding the content of this excerpt - probably not suitable for kids.***

Excerpt from Black Earth: Dark Masquerade -

Moisture settled upon Daisy’s bare flesh, waking her slowly and gently from her dark slumber. The air, thick and brumal, pushed its way against her like a rude host shoving an unwelcome party guest out the door.

It was raining, and the water descending from the dark sky above felt like icicles dropping against her skin. Daisy sat up and took in her surroundings. The last thing she remembered was being pushed through a doorway and into darkness. Horrible darkness.

Now she found herself in front of an iron gate, beyond which looked to be a park or garden of some sort. The black asphalt underneath her felt warm, strangely warm considering the cold wind and rain.

Daisy struggled to stand, her legs feeling like saltwater taffy, her muscles stretching and pulling in ways she felt they shouldn’t be able to. It occurred to her that she was naked, but her nudity didn’t seem to be the issue.

Where am I?

She remembered the man in the red suit stripping her of God’s blanket and pushing her through the doorway into black. That was all she remembered. He had lied to her, tricked her into believing she was going to get another chance to see her beautiful garden, her piece of Eden, once more before her life ended here on Earth.

But am I even on Earth anymore?

Something in the air…the scent of roses…triggered memories of her youth, when her father would bring her a dozen roses each year for her birthday. With the scent of rose, she caught a hint of something faint, but foul. Like putrid trash in a dark alley.

Before her stood the iron gate, surrounded on both sides by tall hedge walls covered in unusually thick thorns and stunted rose buds. Behind her stretched black asphalt into nothingness. An exotic gas lamp with black and red ribbons hanging from its iron framework stood in the middle of the lot, shining light across her and the entrance to the area beyond. But where the light ended, where the edges of the soft orange glow struggled to stretch, the darkness took over. Deep darkness, blacker than black, into which Daisy felt an overwhelming fear to tread.

The only way to go was beyond the gate. But even that direction didn’t feel safe.

Where am I? She asked herself the question a few times with the hope that her mind would conjure an answer. Nothing.

I could be in Hell. But God wouldn’t allow me to go to Hell. What if I’m on another planet? What if I was transported here by a SilverTech shuttle? Don’t be ridiculous
, she scolded herself. I fell into darkness, into space. I could be anywhere. Anywhen?

Maybe I’m dead.

The very thought of parting ways with the world she knew and entering the Beyond both frightened and fascinated her. But she knew she couldn’t be in Heaven…this place did not resemble God’s dwelling place, at least not what she imagined God’s dwelling place to look like.

The rain began pouring down harder, soaking her long brown hair, chilling her flesh and bone. She suddenly desired clothes above anything else. Warm, dry clothes.

She glanced up to the iron fence and saw words running across the top: Hortus Tenebris .

“Hortus Tenebris?”

Voices, whispers, echoed her words in the darkness. She spun around, peering beyond the soft glow of the gas lamp, but could see nobody, nothing. Chills screeched across her dripping flesh, and she suddenly wanted, needed, to get dry, to get away from the darkness.

For the first time since arriving wherever she was, Daisy looked up at the sky. A multitude of colorful planets hung from the dark, starless tapestry like a child’s universe mobile.

I’m definitely not on Earth. Maybe this is a nightmare.

She felt somewhat comfortable with her theory that this could be a nightmare. Maybe the man in the red suit was casting some kind of illusion on her, another trick, another lie, this one made of strung together colors and objects to create the mirage of another world.

Hinges creaked and Daisy turned to see the iron gate had somehow swung open. An invitation into the area beyond.

She wanted to hesitate, to think it over, to find out where she was, but more than that she wanted to get dry and get dressed, and so she stepped past the threshold of the hedge walls. The gate creaked shut, the rain stopped, and her body was suddenly dried of the icy rainfall.

In front of her stretched a cobblestone path through a dark park. Trees and benches lined the path, basking in the soft ember glow of more gas lamps. Outside the path though, she could see nothing but darkness.

At least it’s not raining anymore.

Daisy still wished for clothes, and before she took a step along the cobblestone path, she looked down to find a black square box wrapped in a dark red bow. She glanced around, unsure if she should be moving forward deeper into this nightmare. She knew nothing of what lurked in the darkness, beyond the amber light, beyond the boundaries of the cobblestone path.

She stooped down and lifted the lid off the box. Within she found a folded red cloak of the finest silk. Without spending too much time wondering where it came from, she slipped it on. The silk was surprisingly warm, as if the material had just come out of a dryer. She pulled the hood of the cloak up over her head, warming her frozen ears and cheeks.

She briefly wondered if God had given her the robe, just as he had the blanket. The blanket the man in the red suit took from me. She had grown somewhat accustomed to that blanket, just as a child would to theirs. It’s gone, she told herself. Gone but not forgotten, she countered.

Daisy shook her head, startled that she had begun arguing with herself. She glanced up at the path in front of her, wondering where it led, where it ended. She couldn’t help but also wonder what lay in the darkness to the right and left of the path. She glanced behind her, at the closed gate, assuming it was locked shut. She was stuck here. Beyond the iron bars, she saw the rain descending in a violent downpour.

Daisy started along the cobblestone path. Her bare feet, though exposed, were warmed by the stones, which seemed to emanate a natural heat, as if they had been baking in the sun all day. She doubted the sun ever shone in a place like this.

Gas lamps were erected evenly every twenty feet, spilling enough light across the path to completely illuminate it. Some of the trees off to the side seemed to be wrapped in shadows, looking more like silhouettes than actual trees, and she dared not touch them for fear of what might happen. She felt as if this world, this nightmare her mind had somehow, someway concocted, was extremely fragile and terrifying at the same time. The slightest misstep, the slightest startle she inflicted upon this environment, she feared would cause it to scream out in terror, forcing her to scream out in terror as well. It was a hidden evil, a sudden fright that waited in the shadows, at the tip of her mind, at the shores of her darkest dreams.

Daisy stopped and closed her eyes, praying quickly and fervently to God to rescue her. She would have rather been back in her cell. At least there, she knew what to expect.: a beating and healing. It was not an environment she had any control over, but it was an environment  she knew well enough to know how it was controlled.

When she opened her eyes, a light flickered ahead of her on the path, in the distance. She stepped forward, wanting to know where the light was coming from. In a place of such utter darkness and mystery, light had suddenly become a priceless commodity. She had a sudden urge, somewhat of an obsession, to come into possession of as much as possible.

Daisy hurried along, lifting the hem of her new cloak, her bare feet patting against each cobblestone with intensity. When she finally drew close to the light’s point of origin, she realized it wasn’t a light, but more a reflection off an amulet…held by a woman in a black  cloak much like hers. As Daisy drew closer, she saw that this woman was within a standalone, glass display case. From her right hand dangled a silver chain, the twisting oval pendant on the end  catching various light shards from a bright orb hovering near the woman’s feet.

Around the glass display case towered massive hedges, guarding the entrance to what Daisy assumed to be another section of the park. The woman behind the glass was thin and pale, her eyes sunken in, but her face beautiful, showing hints of the glamorous exquisiteness she held once upon a time. Her other arm hung at her side, her palm cupping the top of the white orb.

She knelt in the display case, dipping the pendent into the orb of light. The pendant sucked in the light quickly, feverishly, until darkness shrouded them and the pendant glowed a brilliant white. Daisy felt exposed under the blanket of black and her heart raced with feelings of claustrophobia and panic.

The woman in the case pressed the pendant against the glass panel. Daisy reached her hand up, and miraculously found she was able to reach through the glass into the display case. The woman dropped the pendant into Daisy’s hand, cupped her hand shut, and pushed Daisy’s hand out of the glass.

Daisy opened her palm to find the pendant gone. She felt something warm against her chest and tugged the cloak open to find the chain around her neck, the pendant nestled between her breasts. It gave off a warm sensation, like sunlight.

She glanced up to the woman in the display and almost stumbled over herself when she witnessed the woman’s body wilting like a black weed. The woman’s skin peeled back, exposing rotting insides, and flies and maggots burst out of her as she fell apart  within the display case.

Daisy turned her head to the side and fought the urge to vomit. “Where am I? What is this?”


Daisy peered into the case, holding the pendant toward the glass to light up the inside, and saw only a pile of dust crawling with maggots and buzzing with flies.“Who were you?”

The towering hedges suddenly lit up in bright blue neon light, filling the area around her with a surreal glow. Angelic voices sang a hymnal tune in a language Daisy had never heard before, but swore had hints of Latin throughout. The light in the hedges moved with the grace of water currents. Daisy felt drawn toward them, toward the area beyond them, and before she knew it, she was already trapped within the dark labyrinth.