My Life As Death: Chapter 8

I still haven’t had a chance to work on the cover any more, but I’m happy enough with how it is right now.
For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

Shawna seemed to avoid us for the rest of the day, but with our schedule that wouldn’t have been very hard. And though I was keeping an eye out for her in the parking lot after the final bell rang, I still didn’t see her.

“She’s probably just staying after with some study group or something,” Weed said as he noticed my wandering eyes.

“Probably,” I replied, slipping on my helmet.

“Don’t worry about her; she’ll be fine.”

The ride to Finkenbine’s salvage yard was some much needed freedom after being stuck in classrooms all day, but following Weed in the Weed Wagon did put a little damper on things. While his Chevette was much faster than it appeared, the mail truck was not. I’d never really noticed how slow it was until I was stuck behind him waiting for it to get up to speed. When I finally couldn’t take it anymore, I kicked the bike down a gear, twisted the throttle and blew past him like he was standing still. I’m pretty sure he gave me the one finger salute as I flew by.

It didn’t take long for me to reach Finkenbine’s place, but Weed was still far behind so I kept going, enjoying the empty road for a few more miles while making my way to the old quarry before turning around and heading back. Even with my little detour I made it back to the salvage yard before Weed, though he pulled up just as Finkenbine and dumbass came out to greet us.

“Not cool,” he said, emerging from the truck as I slid off my helmet, my grin clearly showing. “But that’s actually why we’re here.”

“Other than living up to your end of the deal?” Finkenbine asked, his hearing surprisingly better than I’d expected.

“Of course we’re here so you can check out KZ,” Weed explained, “But I also think it’s time to add a little pep to the truck.”

“After we’re finished with Pamela, right?” I asked, feeling my face get a little red.

“Of course, of course…”

“So the KZ, then Pamela, the Ventura, right?”

“Right,”

“…Then the mail truck. You’ve got quite a bit going on.”

“You know what they say about idle hands,” Weed said.

“We really don’t want to know what you do with your idle hands,” I replied, before I could stop myself.

Finkenbine just stared for a second, then burst out laughing; a roaring heartfelt laugh that made you just want to join in.

“I knew I liked you kid,” he said, directing his attention back to me, “and we’ll get to the truck, but first thing’s first.”

I felt like a little kid, getting judged on a science fair project as he bent close to checkout every piece.

“You probably need a bit more lube on the chain and the rear shocks could probably be adjusted a little to make it easier for you to flat-foot it, but otherwise everything seems to be in order.”

I literally breathed a sigh of relief.

“She sounded really good too,” he continued. “I knew it was her the first time you went past. Decided to take the scenic route, didn’t you?”

“I got stuck behind some slow moving traffic so I needed a few extra miles of open roads to truly enjoy the ride before I stopped.”

I could feel Weed’s glare.

“Well then, let’s see what we can do about that slow moving traffic?” Finkenbine grinned as he motioned to Weed. “What’d you have in mind?”

“It’s still pretty original so anything would help, but I don’t think a turbo would do that much.”

“Not if that’s still the 2.5l i-4 tbi iron duke engine. Those things really hate the high RPMs you’d need for a turbo.”

“So then I was thinking about doing an engine swap, something a little unusual.”

“Like?”

“Like a 3.0L Mercruiser.” Weed said with a grin. “I wasn’t sure what exactly he was talking about because I’d never heard of a Mercruiser.

“A boat engine?” Finkenbine said, his grin beginning to match Weed’s. “I like it.”

“You’re going to make that thing faster by putting a boat engine in it?” I asked. “And you think I’m nuts.”

“You are nuts,” Weed replied, “but that’s beside the point. The 3.0L Mercruiser is about double the horsepower and should practically bolt right in.”

“And being a boat engine,” Finkenbine continued, “means it has a more robust crank that is designed to operate under full load for a long time.”

“If it’ll help that thing go faster, then I’m all for it,” I said.

“Good,” Weed said, “I’m going to hold you to that once we get Pamela fixed up and out of the garage.”

“Now the only question,” Weed continued as he turned to Finkenbine. “Do you think you’ve got one?”

“Let me check my database,” he replied, lighting up a cigarette. “Ah, yes. Southeast side of the yard, almost to the very back.”

I couldn’t tell if he was serious or just pulling our legs.

“I’d help you,” Finkenbine said, “but I think you two can handle it. And besides, I’ve got to answer the phone.”

Weed and I looked at each other, neither of us hearing the phone, but just as I was about to say something I heard a faint ringing coming from the trailer. Finkenbine was already heading that way so Weed and I just went towards the gate leading to the salvage yard.

The sun wasn’t really close to setting yet but the junk yard looked darker than it should have, like perpetual twilight. It might have just been the stacks of junk limiting the amount of sunlight that actually reached us, but I couldn’t say for sure; it just felt creepy.

“This way,” Weed said suddenly, causing me to jump. 

“I thought he said southeast.”

“He did, but I saw something last time we were here that I wanted to check out.”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “he may not want us just roaming around, and I really don’t want to get on his bad side.”

“Don’t worry about that, we’ll just be taking a slight detour.”

I really didn’t want to be wandering around the piles of junk by myself, so reluctantly I followed Weed as he took off down an aisle running parallel to the back of Finkenbine’s trailer.

“I thought so,” Weed said, stopping at the end of the lane where a car was stashed, mostly covered by an old tarp. Only the headlights and a small portion of the grill were visible, but apparently that was enough for Weed to recognize it. All I could tell was it was a little bigger than your standard car, and from the looks of the headlights it was really old.

“This is so cool,” he continued as he bent down to get a better look under the tarp.

“Cooler than you even know,” Finkenbine said from right behind us.

We both jumped, and turned to face him, expecting him to look a lot more angry than he did. Instead, he looked a bit proud and even a little sad.

“‘47 Buick Roadmaster, right?” Weed asked, obviously trying to get back into his good graces.

“Close, it’s a ‘48…the ’48, or at least the only one that matters; Mort.”

“You named a car Mort?” I asked, a little confused by the less than badass name I would have expected.

“I didn’t name it…” Finkenbine started to explain before Weed cut it.

“You’re not saying that this is the Mortimer Hearseburg, are you.”

“The one and only,” Finkenbine beamed, the sadness fading slightly for a moment.

“I don’t get it,” I blurted out before I could stop myself from looking stupid.

 “Mortimer Hearseburg is what Neil Young named his first car, a 1948 Buick Roadmaster. The song “Long May You Run” was written about this car. But it broke down in Canada in 1965,” Weed continued, turning to Finkenbine, “How’d you end up with it?”

“That’s a story for another time. Right now we’ve got to get you that engine,” He said, directing us back towards the southeast end of the junkyard. “Then, for sticking your noses where they don’t belong, you can help me get Mort cleaned up.”

With Finkenbine’s help it took no time to get the Weed Wagon’s new engine loaded up. Then we followed him back to the hearse and helped him remove the tarp. For being older than dirt, it was in amazing condition, and when Finkenbine turned the key it fired right up. At his direction we climbed in, enjoying the smooth ride as he guided it through the piles of junk and to the front drive, parking it right in front of the trailer. Neither Weed nor I had ever been inside a hearse before, let alone one so vintage. It was so interesting that we were still checking out all the little details when Finkenbine returned, dropping a couple pails of soapy water beside us.

“I need this thing parade ready,” he said.

“Where’s the parade?” I asked, absentmindedly as I grabbed a sponge and started washing.

“Over in Southview, from the Dogtown Pub to the cemetery.”

Weed and I both stopped washing instantly.

“Cemetery?” I asked, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer.

“A friend had a little accident last night, that’s what the phone call was about.”

Weed and I just looked at each other for a second.

“I’m sorry…,” I started, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“To tell the truth, he was an asshole who probably didn’t deserve to live as long as he had, but whenever a two-wheeled brother goes down I like to break out Mort for their last ride.”

My heart sank, and my mouth went dry. I felt both flooded with emotion and numb at the same time. Weed just kept staring at me with his jaw on the ground.

“There’s a big ride the day of the funeral, I’m sure you’d be more than welcome to join on your KZ if you want.”

“Thanks for the offer,” I managed to say, though I couldn’t bring myself to look at him as I did.

Weed and I took a little longer than we should have, cleaning up the hearse, but neither one of us said a word as we did. I felt him looking at me a few times but whatever he wanted to say, he didn’t. And that was probably for the best.

90’s Inspiration

My teen years took place in the 90’s, and My Life As Death has a lot of me in it, so it only makes sense that it would take place in the 90’s as well. I knew this from the very beginning but I didn’t realize how important it would be until recently.

I’ve been working on MLAD for a while now, and never really had a problem with writer’s block until a few days ago. I sat down to write, and had a scene envisioned in my head, but I just couldn’t write it. The scene was about the main character and his best friend (both high school seniors) out on a Saturday night so it should have been something easy enough for me to whip through but I just wasn’t feeling it. I thought about stepping away, but instead I decided to turn to Amazon music.

I started by pulling up the obvious Pearl Jam, STP and Nirvana, along with Green Day and Blink-182 but then I switched to a “Rediscover the 90’s” playlist and then to another one. Each song led me deeper and deeper into the memory hole. Before long I was listening to Skinyard, L7 and Gruntruck. There was also plenty of Collective Soul, AIC, Soundgarden, and Chili Peppers. Every song brought back so many memories and feelings that I was instantly able to continue writing.

I’ve always used music to motivate me while doing anything; writing, working out, running or even just doing the dishes, but this was the first time I used it to bring about senses and feelings from a particular time in my life. It worked surprisingly well, so I thought I’d share some of the nostalgia. You can find my 90’s Rock and Grunge playlist HERE.

The Changes Continue

As things started to settle in with the new factory job I really expected to be able to once again focus on my writing. Unfortunately life had other plans. Because the factory had a union, and they were shutting down operations at the other end of the plant, I was going to be bumped from my position. This meant a different job and different hours so I decided it was time to move on.

Thankfully I was able to find a new job within a week, and it’s a much cleaner environment, but it’s still a lot of hours and a lot of walking so I’m not nearly as energetic as I hoped to be at night. And while I have managed to get some writing done, it’s not been as much as I really wanted, though I do expect that to change shortly.

I’m finishing up three guitar builds this week, and I’m not currently taking any new orders, so I should have more time and energy to finish up a few projects around the house and also get more writing done. My goal is to have “My Life As Death” and possibly even “Zero Sum” completed before I start back to school for a second degree.

With everything that has happened this year I came to realize that I want to pursue a Mechanical Design Engineering degree. A nearby college offers the program so I decided now was the time to go after it. I’m sure it will slow down my writing and my guitar building but I’m also sure that it’ll be worth it in the end.

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.

Traditional or Indie?

The writing is going very well, and I can’t wait to share “My Life As Death” with everyone. I didn’t know what to expect when I started writing it, but it has turned into something I never could have planned; probably because I didn’t plan it at all. I just started with an idea about a teenage Grim Reaper and I let the story lead the way. But early on in the writing of it, I knew this would be my best shot at going the traditional publishing route.

I knew absolutely nothing about publishing when I began writing; I just had a story to write. But as I continued writing, I began looking into the various publishing options. This was around 2011-2012 when the Amazon Kindle and independent publishing was just starting to get big. Writers like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey were becoming some of the first “Kindle Millionaires”, and even traditionally published authors like Joe Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith were sharing their advice on forgoing the traditional route. I read everything I could on the subject, and when The Dark Genesis of Daniel James was ready, I went the indie route.

Going the indie route was the right decision with Dark Genesis. As my first book, I was very unsure of myself and I very much wanted to have complete control over the entire thing; it was my baby. I don’t think I would have done well with the submission process, let alone the editorial / revision process if it had actually been accepted by an agent or publisher. Most likely, that book would have been my last.

23 Hours, at around 20,000 words was an awkward length to try to get published anywhere, so traditional publishing it wasn’t really an option. Trad publishing might have been worth considering for The Consciousness Puzzle, but as much as I enjoy the book, and especially the main character, there really is nothing that makes it stand out from the sea of action/adventure fiction already available out there; I just wrote what I wanted to read. Having TCP as my debut (trad published) novel would have probably been the end of my trad publishing career.

So that brings us back to My Life As Death. After 8 years of writing I’ve definitely matured as an author, and I like to think I’ve gotten quite a bit better. I also think that story and the characters in MLAD are the best I’ve written. They’re a bit unique, a little deep, and extremely entertaining (at least to me). I think it’s the perfect book for me to be able to get an agent and a traditional publishing deal, so that’s been the plan, until I read this article by Dean Wesley Smith.

The monetary breakdown wasn’t anything new to me. I’ve read this sort of math before, but seeing it again made me question if I still wanted to pursue the traditional route. It wasn’t just the money aspect though, it also reminded me what sort of time frame I’m looking at from the traditional path.

Yesterday I started writing the first draft of my query letter. I’m sure I’ll write several more versions before I’m content with it. Then I have to write a synopsis of the book. Then I have to research probably 100+ agents so I can identify a couple dozen I will query. Then, as far as this book goes, all I can do is wait. And even if by some chance I get an agent to agree to represent me, we have to try to get a publishing company interested. That alone is a huge battle, but even if it’s one we eventually win, there will be rounds of edits followed by production concerns, etc… to further push out the actual publishing. This means it could be (and most likely would be) years before the final book is available. This is what really has me reconsidering the Traditional vs Indie route.

I want to get this book in front of people. I want to share it with readers everywhere, as quickly as possible, and I know publishing through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Draft 2 Digital, etc… would allow me to get it out there the quickest. I also know that I suck at advertising and marketing my books. A traditional publishing deal doesn’t guarantee my book would be marketed any better, but it gives it a better chance to be marketed by someone who knows what they’re doing.

So that’s my dilemma, “Traditional or Indie?” What are your thought?

Writing Again!

There’s been a lot going on lately that has taken my focus off of writing, either my books or this blog, not the least of which was my youngest son moving and getting married. Both of these events required a good bit of my time, both for the actual event and for the projects he requested to got with them. I got to enjoy making various items I probably would not have attempted otherwise (a headboard, folding ladder-shelf, decorative wooden crates, hatchet display boxes and a cake topper to name a few). I appreciated the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone with these projects but I really missed writing. Then two days ago my wife had surgery. Surgery is not usually a great thing, but it did force me to spend several hours in the waiting room with nothing much to do, so I decided to crack open my little travel 2-in-1 laptop and give writing a shot.

I’m probably about 90-95% done with Zero Sum, and Mike Locke is such an easy character for me to slip into, so I thought it would be the best place to get me feet wet after a little time off. I opened up the file, read the last couple chapters I’d written and tried to continue. After ten minutes I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. I don’t know why, but sometimes the story just flows, other times I see way to many options and I hop all over the place, and sometimes my brain just freezes. That day, it was the latter. I just couldn’t see what happened next. I thought abut just shutting down my laptop but decided to try again with a different book.

My Life As Death is totally different from Zero Sum, and apparently that was exactly what I needed. I re-read a little of what I’d already written, and just continued from there. I wrote pretty much the entire time I was in that waiting room, and even though it’d been over a month since I’d last written, it was like I’d never stopped. That never happens when I take time off, so for that I was very grateful. Then the nurse called my name and the writing came to an end so I could go back and see my wife. Everything went well but by the time we got home both of us were exhausted so I didn’t get any more writing done.

I also didn’t get any writing done yesterday, choosing to focus on design work and caring for my wife, but most of the big projects around the house are now complete, and there shouldn’t be any more major events in the near future, so once again I can make writing a priority. And when I talk about making writing a priority, I mean both my books and keeping up on this blog. The guitar build continued, even though I haven’t given any updates on it, so you will be seeing the rest of the build soon.

Projects

I’ve always had multiple projects going on at once, but lately it seems that my mental to-do list just keeps growing. Between the household projects, my writing, 3D printing, guitar building, etc…, it seems like I’ll never get done with all of them. My wife is big on creating lists, so as much as I hate them, I decided to put together a list of all the projects I’m either currently working on or plan to start in the near future. A lot of the projects are household projects but some of the projects are personal projects (like adding a rasberry Pi/ Octopi to my 3D printer), some are for my online shop, some are for my writing (like finish the four books I’m currently working on) and some are for family and/or friends, but all of them can currently be done if I make them a priority. Additionally, each of them is an actual projects and not just a routine task I have to do often (such as mow the yard, cook dinner or do the dishes). So once I compiled the list in excel and had everything documented like that, I realized why I haven’t been writing much. As of yesterday morning I had 74 projects on the list.

At first, seeing the entire list laid out was a bit intimidating, but then I realized that very few of the projects had a specific deadline. Stuff for my son’s wedding has to be made before the wedding, and the pool landscaping would be nice to have done before we close up the pool for the winter, but otherwise the timing is up to me. And, while some of the projects are large, many of them will only require a couple hours or possibly even less. So with the list made, I now just need to determine my priorities.

I’ve already knocked out a couple projects, and prioritized some writing time, so I think the list will definitely help keep me moving forward on all of the projects, just don’t tell my wife she was right about making a list.

New Web Address

For those eagle eyed few who might have noticed, yes, the Keyboard Monkeys web address has changed. WordPress was having a flash deal so I went ahead and got the domain keyboardmonkeys.blog to make this site’s address easier to remember and to get rid of the annoying ads. Otherwise, the site should look the same, at least for now. I may eventually play around with site layout but for now I think it works well.

Writing Update 2/15/19

I’ve had several people email and message me about my books recently. which really makes me feel good. Most of the messages have been asking about the new books, for which I really haven’t done a good job putting any updates out there, so hopefully this will help anyone wondering what’s going on.

The second Mike Locke novel, tentatively titled “Zero Sum” is about 90% done. I love the story and the characters, especially a new one introduced at the very beginning and I planned on having it ready for release before spring. As far along as it is, there’s still a good chance it will be released before summer, but for the past couple weeks just about all my writing time has gone to another project; “My Life As Death: A Grim Beginning”.

I had the idea for My Life As Death a couple years ago but I kept putting off working on it, trying to finish other projects first. Then a few weeks ago I couldn’t put it off any more. I don’t know why I jumped into it, but writing it has gone much smoother and much quicker than almost any other book, besides 23 Hours. The ease of writing it is a big reason I’ve continued to focus on it, but there is also another reason. After self publishing my first three books I’ve decided to explore the traditional publishing route, and most publishers aren’t interested in starting with the second book of a series. I don’t know what it will take to get a traditional publishing contract, or even what it will take to find an agent, but I think My Life As Death will give me the best chance at it. I’ll be doing a quick write up/blurb about it soon, but if I do get a publishing contract for it, then I assume the book won’t be out for quite a while; it’s my understanding that the typical publishing process is 1-2 years. The timing/release schedule is one reason I haven’t pursued traditional publishing in the past, but I really want to give it a shot.

The second Daniel James book is pretty much where it’s been for the past several year, about 25% done. As with the Mike Locke series, I love the characters and story, and there really isn’t any writer’s block preventing me from finishing this book, it’s just been a matter of priority. Writing the Daniel James series (which I tend to refer to as the Aether Chronicles) is a bit more in-depth than any of the others. It requires a lot more planning and research which really slows down the progress so for the time being I have kind of put it on the back burner, though it will continue; Daniel’s got a big future that will eventually come to light.

And as a surprise, I’ve also got another book to announce. As I said before, “just about all my writing time” has gone to My Life As Death. The little bit that hasn’t gone to MLAD has gone to another one titled After the End, the sequel to 23 Hours. Originally 23 Hours was just the start of a 4 part miniseries so I started writing After the End before 23 Hours was even published, but I stopped writing just before finishing it because I felt 23 Hours had the perfect ending. But upon reading it again a couple years later, I decided that the rest of the world should know what happens next. I don’t have an exact publication date for After the End yet, but I will definitely be posting updates here.

So there’s the status on each of the books I’m working on, and with this new site I will be doing much better job keeping you up-to-date with each of them in the future.

Recipes to make while drinking a beer

One of the books I’ve been working on for some time is not a fiction book like all my others; it’s actually a cook book. But I don’t want the book to just be a collection of recipes that I’ve come up with over the years, I want it to be fun to read. Initially I wanted to have the book done in time to send it with my youngest son when he went off to college but it is taking a lot longer to write so that didn’t happen. Instead, I’ve decided just to post the recipes here as I get them done. These will not be in any particular order on this website, and will not necessarily be the final version that makes it into the book, but they will be very close.

Intro

I’m a guy. And like most guys, I like food. I’m also broke which means I can’t afford to go out and eat all the great food at the fancy restaurants. So that really left me only two options; learn to make do with hot dogs and mac n’ cheese, or learn to cook. I actually enjoy learning new things so the decision was a no brainer.

One of the great things about cooking is that you can use it as an excuse to have a beer, and though it’s not required, I highly recommend it (hence the title). But try to keep it to just one or else the food might end up tasting better to you than to everyone else.

As I present the various recipes I’ve come up with, I’ll also share bits of advice and information that I’ve learned over the years. But I’m not a trained chef, I just watch a lot of them on TV, so feel free to take any advice with a grain of salt.