My Life As Death: Chapter 1

I’m close to finishing My Life As Death so I thought I’d try something new. I’ll be posting one chapter a week to Wattpad in hopes of generate some interest. But I know that not everyone is on Wattpad, so I’m going to post them here as well. I still plan on pursuing a traditional publishing contract with MLAD, so at some point I may have to take them down, but for now I just want to share it with anyone interested in reading it in serialized format. So here goes:

Premise:

Murderers? Rapists? Child Molesters? Who would you kill for a second chance at life?
When Nate dies in a car accident after leaving a party, he gets the opportunity to return to the life he left too early, if he agrees to act as the hand of death for the five people he is assigned. He even gets a guarantee that they are all killers, rapists or child molesters. But nothing is ever as easy as it appears, especially when everyone, even those closest to you, have secrets.

Chapter 1

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Weed asked, though he already knew the answer. “If things go bad there’s no going back.

“I’ve got to do this,” I replied, though I wasn’t sure exactly why. Usually Weed was the one trying to talk me into doing stupid stuff. The fact that he was trying to talk me out of doing something made me question everything, but only for a minute.

“You know I’m the first in line to watch you crash and burn, but I really don’t know about this.”

“You can either help, or go on home.”

“I’m here for you man,” Weed replied, “Just tell me that for good or bad, this is it. I’ve got my own love life I’ve got to think about.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “Miss December 1995 will always be there for you underneath your mattress.”

“Hell yeah she will.”

I knew Weed hated me obsessing over Shawna, and it had to be awkward for him. The three of us grew up together, best friends since we were eight, and Weed and I went back even farther. It probably wasn’t right, the way I felt about her, but as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. When she first moved to town she was shy, backwards and sad, but I was drawn to her despite all of that; or maybe because of it. I don’t know. But the whys and hows don’t really matter. All I know is that she is the one girl who knew how screwed up I really was, and she stuck with me. Girls like that are rare, and special, so I decided to tell her just how I felt.

We stepped through the front door and into the pounding music while Billie Joe Armstrong told us how neurotic he was. I wasn’t even exactly sure whose house we were at, but that didn’t really matter. All I knew was that summer was almost over, the owners of the house were gone for the weekend, and Shawna was going to be there. She’d been away all summer and it was the first one I could remember without her. I’d gotten my driver’s license, a job, and finally put the finishing touches on my car but she wasn’t there to share any of that. The one good thing to come of it was that I’d finally decided to tell her exactly how I felt.

The place was filled with partiers flowing through every room of the house, mostly by kids from our high school, but there were also some I didn’t recognize. The kids I did recognize normally wouldn’t have been caught dead socializing with us in school, but it was the summer before our senior year and the alcohol was flowing freely so no one objected to us being there; some even raised a glass as we made our way past them and into the backyard.

Several kegs were set up around the inground pool, along with folding tables covered with plastic cups of beer. Weed and I each grabbed one and continued on, passing by other tables lined with the harder stuff. A lot of it was the cheaper junk, the 40 proof store brand liquor. High school kids don’t really care about what it tastes like or how much it burns going down. Mixing it with a good cola or an energy drink made it go down easier, and if you drink enough of it, you’d still get drunk.

I almost reached for a shot of 151 to get things started, but then I remembered Shawna and stopped myself. A little alcohol would definitely make it easier to tell her how I felt, a lot would make me sound like a complete idiot. I erred on the side of caution and decided to stick with the beer in my hand.

“I don’t think she’s here yet,” Weed said. “How ‘bout we get in a game while we wait?”

Several of the tables were set up for beer pong, one of which was standing open, just begging to be played. 

“Well?” He asked as he did his best pathetic puppy dog face.

“Okay, but only one game,” I said, against my better judgment.

The first game took almost no time, Weed really wasn’t that good. I looked around for Shawna, but still didn’t see her. However, our game had attracted a few spectators, mostly because of how bad Weed was doing.

“Let’s go again,” he called out, a little too loud over the Gin Blossoms’ Hey Jealousy .

I glanced around again, hoping to be saved by her smiling face, but to no avail.

“One more,” I replied,” but that’s it.”

He grinned like the cheshire cat as we started setting up the table with full cups.

Keeping my mind off Shawna proved to be a little more difficult as the second game wore on. The distraction wasn’t helping me at all; by the time the game ended I’d drank a little more than I’d intended and Weed had almost beat me.

“Good game,” I said, trying to not so subtly let him know I was done.

“Awe, come on,” he replied,” I almost had you that time! Give me one more shot.”

“I’m afraid not,” Shawna’s sweet voice said from right behind me. “I need to borrow him for a couple minutes.”

I spun around a little quicker than I probably should have, and made myself a little dizzy.

“You guys been here long?” She asked with a grin.

The words caught in my throat as I saw her beautiful face for the first time in months.

“Not too long,” I replied, composing myself, “but you know Weed.”

“Yes I do. That’s why I decided to save you from him, and from yourself.”

“I guess I owe you one.”

“I’ll add that to your tab,” she said. “But right now I want you to meet someone.”

I heard the words coming from her mouth but they weren’t making any sense as she led me back through the house and to a group of kids hanging just outside the front door. A couple of them were from the most popular group at our high school.

“Matt,” she called out, drawing the attention of an oversized abercrombie model in the middle of the group. His clothes were right out of a fashion magazine, complete with a sweater tied around his waist and red and black Air Jordans on his feet. One of those shoes probably cost more than all my clothes. I instantly disliked the guy, and the bleached tips of his over stylized hair didn’t help. Everything about the guy seemed fake, especially his smile, and it made me want to punch him in his plastic surgery perfect face. If he didn’t have at least thirty pounds of muscle on me, I might have.

“Come on,” Shawna said, pulling me into the middle of the group.

I had no choice but to follow.

“Nate, this is Matt. ”

Matt reached out his hand, and I would have been the jackass not to shake it.

“Matt,” she continued, “this is my best friend Nate.”

The words cut through me like a knife, distracting me enough that I almost didn’t notice how hard Matt was squeezing my hand. I gave it right back to him which seemed to catch him off guard for a second but he quickly continued his practiced grin.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, releasing my hand.

“Same here,” I replied while trying to fake his same level of sincerity.

“I’m so glad you guys could finally meet,” Shawna said to me, “I’ve told Matt all about you and I was afraid you weren’t going to be here before we had to leave.

“What?” I asked, not sure I’d heard her right. 

“I know we talked about hanging out tonight, but I kinda can’t stay. Matt’s got a thing…”

“Oh, I get it,” I said, cutting her off before any of the details had a chance to piss me off any further.

“See, I told you if he was really your best friend, he’d understand,” Matt said, with a little too much emphasis on the word friend.

“Of course,” I replied, trying to smile through clenched teeth.

“Thanks,” Shawna said, grabbing Matt’s hand, “then we should probably get going. Don’t let Weed get too out of control, and tell him we’ll hang out soon.”

“Have fun,” was all I could think to say as they headed towards a cherry red corvette parked at the curb.

“I’m sure we will,” Matt replied with a look in his eyes that told me exactly what he meant.

June Update – Writing and Guitars

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve provided an update, so this one is long overdue. The main reason for my lack of updates is because I’ve been exhausted. Like a lot of people, my life was drastically changed when Covid hit. Not because of the actual virus, thankfully no one I know has been hit by it, but because of the reaction to it. Turns out, no one needs a designer during a pandemic, so I lost 90% of my freelance income. Thankfully my wife still had her job, and we had a little money saved back, but without knowing what to expect of the future, I immediately started applying for any and every job I could find. After 3 weeks of almost no income, I got a call about a job at a local factory. I had no idea what the job was, what shift I’d be working or even how much I would be paid; all I knew was that orientation was the next day. I immediately accepted.

Some how I lucked out and got a first shift position. And even though the pay is at the low end of the spectrum, there’s a whole lot of mandatory over time, it’s hot, dirty and physically exhausting, it’s a job. One positive aspect of it is that I lost over 20 lbs in the first month, and over 30 lbs so far. I’m almost down to the weight I was at 28, before I quit smoking and got a desk job.

Another positive about the job is that it really doesn’t require much brain power, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about my books. Unfortunately, I was too exhausted during the first month and a half to do anything with those thoughts once I got home. But my body has gotten a little more accustomed to averaging 25,000 steps a day while lifting 100’s of parts, so I’ve finally been writing again. My Life As Death is really coming along. I am even more positive now than ever, that this will be my best shot at a traditional publishing deal.

I’ve also given a lot of thought to my other books, though I haven’t been working on actually writing them right now. MLAD is my primary focus, and the writing is going so smoothly that I don’t want to disrupt it by trying to work on anything else. Once it’s done ( or God-forbid, I get writer’s block with it) I think I’ll be able to easily switch gears and finish up Zero Sum, and possibly even After the End.

In addition to writing, I’m also continuing to build guitars. Thankfully I’ve sold a few and I have a few orders to finish so I’m keeping busy with them. I also have a few builds started to add some much needed inventory to my online store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/RileyCustomGuitars). Right now I’ve only got one guitar left for sale, so I’ve got to get these done soon.

So my writing and guitar building are slowing coming back to normal, and hopefully my design career will be close behind them.

Writing in Public

Dean Wesley Smith just announced that he’s going to be “Writing in Public” again, and I love the idea. Basically, as a professional writer, he posts updates every day about the book he’s working on. He’ll include his thoughts on the writing, word counts etc…, and I love when he’s done this in the past. Unfortunately, I have not reached the point where I could do daily updates like that, because I don’t write every day, but his announcement did help me realize that I have not been providing updates on my books as often as I’d like. I have several books in process, and people do occasionally ask me about them, so I’m going to try to do better at providing updates, at least weekly. So in order to catch up anyone who’s interested, here is where each of the books stand:

My Life As Death
This is the book I’m working on the most. I believe it will give me the best shot at securing an agent and possibly a traditional book deal, so once it’s done I will start shopping it around. As of right now, based off word count and story structure, it is 60-70% done.
Word Count: 41,421

After the End
After the End is the novella that takes place after the end of 23 Hours. Initially I planned a four novella series starting with 23 Hours, but decided I liked how 23 Hours ended, so I never completed any other books. Right now it’s about 90% done, and I’m not sure if I want to finish it or not. It’s a fun story, and I have ideas for the other 2 parts of the series, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever pursue them.
Word Count: 21,271

Zero Sum
Zero Sum is the sequel to The Consciousness Puzzle. It’s my second highest writing priority, after MLAD. It’s very much a Mike Locke story, with a bit of intrigue, a little humor and a lot of action. It too, is about 60-70% complete. Once I complete MLAD, and as I look for an agent, I plan on finishing Zero Sum and publishing it as quickly as possible. I’be already got ideas for the next 3 Mike Locke stories and I’m dying to write them.
Word Count: 45,378

The Failed Exodus of Daniel James
As the name suggests, this is the sequel to The Dark Genesis of Daniel James. I started writing it just after finishing Dark Genesis, but then got the idea for The Consciousness Puzzle, then 23 Hours, etc… one thing led to another and Failed Exodus ended up neglected. I still think the book, and the plan for the rest of the series, is a good one, but there’s a lot that goes into writing the Daniel James series so it has dropped to 3rd or 4th on the priority list.
Word Count: 15,559

I have about 2 dozen other books I’ve started which will probably never see the light of day. I’ve also got about 3 dozen plot ideas I’d love to work on, but first I’ve got to finish these four.

So now that you’re all caught up, I hope to keep the updates coming. If there’s a particular book you’re dying for me to finish, let me know in the comment section.

“Good” Is No Longer Good Enough

Today I had an early appointment at the car dealership to have my wife’s car worked on. The car only has 50K miles, so I wasn’t happy about it, but it was covered under the warranty and the wait gave me a chance to do a little writing. I haven’t worked on Zero Sum for a while, and it’s been sitting at about 90-95% done, so I really wanted to make some progress on it. Unfortunately, as I read the last bit I’d written, I realized that it really needed some work. The story is good, but I’ve decided that “good” is no longer good enough for me.

When I first started writing it was strictly for myself. I had characters and stories floating around my head and I wanted to write a novel to entertain myself, so I wrote Dark Genesis of Daniel James. By the time I wrote The Consciousness Puzzle, I had already published Dark Genesis and it had been downloaded a couple thousand times, so I knew people might actually read my stories, but I continued to write TCP for myself. I figured The Daniel James Saga would give me the best chance for commercial success so I didn’t really take the Mike Locke books seriously; they were just fun genre stories so “good” was my quality target. But as I said, good is no longer good enough.

As I sat in the dealership waiting room, I thought about the the various scenes and plot points in Zero Sum. About half of them are great and I can’t wait for people to read them; about half are average. While I think the book would be a fun read for just about anyone, I also think that the book overall would be completely forgettable. So I started dissecting those week plot points to determine how to make them stronger; how to use them to keep the story (and subsequently the reader) moving forward. In a very short time I came up with a number a changes that would make Zero Sum a much better story. Unfortunately, that means rewriting; a lot of rewriting.

Normally I try to stick with Robert Heinlein’s rule# 3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand but I also keep in mind Dean Wesley Smith’s thoughts on the matter. Dean believes in a distinction between rewriting and redrafting. What I have planned for Zero Sum is more of a redraft than a rewrite. I’m tossing out large parts of the story and rewriting from the creative side of my brain now that I know where the story is going. I really don’t like the idea of “loosing” 25,000 words but it will definitely strengthen the story and take it from “good to “great” so it will be worth it.

Joe’s Back!

When I first started writing I had no idea what I would do with my book once it was done. It was right about the time that Amazon introduced the Kindle and brought independent publishing to the masses, but self-publishing was also very unproven. I looked into traditional publishing and independent publishing, and one of the most vocal supporters of indie authors, one of the people who convinced me to go the indie route, was Joe Konrath ( http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ ).

If you don’t know Joe, you can read his short bio here: http://jakonrath.com/bio.php , but it really doesn’t do justice to who this man really is. Besides being a “pioneer in self-publishing”, he was also one of the first (and arguably best) to share his knowledge with anyone / everyone for free. He tried new things, blogged about his experiences, and shared exactly what worked and/or didn’t work for him as a traditionally published writer and as an indie-author. Once I found his blog, I was hooked.

Unfortunately, Joe stopped blogging about a year and a half ago. For the first several months I checked back often, hoping that he would have a new post for me to read. That didn’t happen. As time passed, I checked back less frequently, until I pretty much forgot about his blog. There are still a few writer-centric websites I check out from time-to-time, and thankfully one of them (http://www.thepassivevoice.com/ ) alerted me to that fact that after way too long, Joe’s Back!

I’m a little late to the party, so I haven’t had a chance to read all 4 of his new posts, but based off the one I have read, this is the same old Joe so I can’t wait to read all his updates. The post I read ( http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2019/06/trying-something-new-and-different.html ) is very open and honest about what he’s doing as an author, as expected. But what I found most intriguing is that he, an established author with millions of sales, had his latest books rejected by each of the major traditional publishers his agent approached. He listed several possible reasons for the rejections, but regardless of the reason, it did make me start to reconsider the traditional approach for My Life As Death.

I don’t know what the future will hold, but for now I’m going to stick with my plan on submitting to a traditional publisher, though when the book is done I might run a poll to see what you readers think. In the mean time, you can get the first of Joe’s two new books for free at AmazonKoboand Nook.



6 Years!

It doesn’t seem possible that 6 years ago I took the plunge and published my first book – The Dark Genesis of Daniel James. When I first started writing it, I planned on continuing the series right away, and I even have the sequel halfway done, but then I started to play around with other characters and other worlds.

23 Hours came to me in a flash, and I liked the idea so much that I just had to write it. Being a novella, just over 20,000 words, it only took a couple months to finish 23 Hours but by the time it was done, I already had another story I just had to write; The Consciousness Puzzle.

The Consciousness Puzzle took a bit longer to finish than I expected. I was really still so new to writing and filled with self-doubt so I restarted it a couple times, bouncing between 1st and 3rd person view points, and trying different voices before finally trusting myself. I also worked on a sequel to 23 Hours, and hopped back and forth between the two projects for a while before decided to focus on The Consciousness Puzzle. Once I decided on that, and allowed my own voice to flow, I was able to finish the book.

But once again, by the time I finished The Consciousness Puzzle I had an Idea for its sequel, so as soon as I published it, I started on Zero Sum. Everything was going pretty well with Zero Sum when I had yet another idea for a book I just had to pursue – My Life As Death. I tried putting off MLAD until I finished Zero Sum, but eventually I just had to at least start it. So this past year I’ve been working on both MLAD and Zero sum, hoping to complete one so I can get another book published.

So that’s a brief look at the last 6 years of my writing. I definitely wanted to be a bit more productive than that, but I feel this year will be different, and I will definitely have at least one new book out, so keep checking back here for updates.

Looking for an Agent

I’ve independently published each of my books so far, and I love doing so, but with My Life As Death I’ve decided to try the traditional publishing route. There are a lot of benefits to indie publishing, and a lot of negative aspects of traditional publishing but I think it will be worth trying at least once.

To start down the traditional publishing route it’s usually recommended that you have an agent, so the first step for me was to research agents. Unfortunately there are a lot of them out there and I have no real connections to the literary world so it was a bit like trying to research insurance or real estate agents for the first time. But I found several agents that looked reputable and successful so I then started researching what I needed to do to query an agent. That’s where I got stuck.

Most of the agents I am interested in request a synopsis of your book. Since I’m writing MLAD without any sort of outline and it’s only a little over 1/2 way done , I can’t say exactly what’s going to happen in the rest of the book. And I get the impression most agents aren’t interested in half of a synopsis, so the agent search is temporarily on hold, and it sucks.

But that is very indicative of my biggest problem with traditional publishing – the waiting. I’m one of those people who likes to multitask and keep moving forward but everything in trad publishing seems to take forever. Complete the book, write query letters and a synopsis, then wait for an agent to agree to represent you. Then query publishers and wait for one to accept you. Then go through rounds of editing, cover design, layout etc…, then wait for it to finally be published. Just writing out the process depresses me because I can’t wait to get this story to the readers. But I’m going to attempt the trad route which means I’m going to have to learn to be comfortable with the slower process. And in the mean time, I still have a couple other nearly finished books that I’ll be able to independently publish.