My Life As Death: Chapter 3

I’ve made a little progress on the skull logo, so now I’m moving on to some initial cover renderings. I’ll be playing around with variations of the logo and the cover with each chapter I post. For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Every muscle ached but none hurt nearly as much as my head. It felt like someone had driven two spikes into my temples. But I took that as a good sign. If I could feel, then I couldn’t be dead.

The sun was just starting to rise with the first few rays piercing my eyes through the cracked glass of my front windshield. Dried blood was spread across the white vinyl seats and covered my t-shirt so I knew the wreck hadn’t been a dream but something still didn’t seem right. I tried the driver side door, and it opened with a grunt allowing me to climb out and inspect the damage. There was plenty of mud coating the bottom of the car and grass and corn stalks sticking out of the front bumper but I wasn’t in the field. My car, flat tires and all, was parked in front of my house.

“What the Hell?” I mumbled to myself as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing.

My memory of the night before was more than a little hazy, and the throbbing in my head didn’t help at all. All I knew was that the sun was almost completely up and that meant my mom would be home soon. She’d kill me if she saw the car like that, so I climbed back in and crossed my fingers as I turned the key. There was a moment of hesitation, then she fired up with a squeal and a growl.

“Well, at least something is going my way,” I thought as I put her into reverse and limped my way around the garage and parked her out of sight in the alley.

I had no clue how long I’d been passed out in front of the house, but it wasn’t nearly long enough. All I wanted was to go inside and sleep the rest of the day away, but just as I reached the back door the headlights from my mother’s car flooded the driveway.

“Crap,” I said, throwing the door open and rushing inside.

My bedroom was on the second floor, so I took the stairs two at a time, ripping off my bloody t-shirt as I reached the top landing. Mom had a habit of doing a load of laundry as soon as she got home so I couldn’t just throw it in my laundry basket. Instead, I shoved it under my bed, grabbed some clean clothes from my dresser and rushed to the bathroom.

I had barely managed to slip inside the water before I heard the knock on the bathroom door.

“You’re up early,” she said through the door. 

“Yeah,” I replied, “I don’t want to waste the last day of summer vacation.”

“I didn’t see your car so I wasn’t sure if you were home.”

It was really a question wrapped up like an observation.

“It’s at Weed’s. I’m using his garage to work on her.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, just doing a little more work on her.”

I hated lying to her, but I didn’t know what else to do. And besides, as soon as I figured out a way, I did plan on moving it over there to work on. But even though my car made it behind the garage, I knew there was no way she’d make it the couple blocks to Weed’s house.

“Okay. We’ll talk when you’re done,” she replied.

I couldn’t tell if she meant that in any sort of ominous way, but my brain and body hurt too much to really care; I just let the hot water pour over me until I was afraid she’d come check on me again. Then I gathered all the strength I could and finished washing off any trace of the previous night.

Brushing my teeth and slipping on some clean clothes helped me feel a little less dead, but I still felt like I needed a gallon of coffee and a couple energy drinks before I could do anything productive. Unfortunately, I knew my mom was waiting to talk to me so I forced myself to put on a smile and head down stairs.

“Rough night?” She asked before I had stepped off the last stair.

She was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, ‘Sleepy Time’ if I knew her. That was her go-to drink when she couldn’t sleep or after a really rough night as an EMT. Her eyelids looked as if she couldn’t keep them open, while something within her eyes themselves told me she wasn’t ready to shut them.

“I probably stayed up too late,” I replied, trying to play it off. “But you look like you had an even rougher night than I did.”

“It’s nothing you need to worry about.” She replied while trying to fake a smile.

“You know I’m going to hear about it, or see it on the news anyways.”

She hesitated for a second, then took a deep breath. “ It was a drunk driving accident, a teen about your age.”

My thoughts went straight to Weed, then Shawna. The concern must have shown on my face.

“No one from your school,” she continued, “but that doesn’t really make it any easier.”

“Did they make it?”

She just sat there for a minute, looking down at the cup in her hands. I knew the answer.

I went over and put my arms around her.

“So what are your plans today?” she asked after a minute of silence, clearly trying to change the subject. I followed her lead.

“I’m just going to hang out with Weed, you know enjoy our last day of freedom.”

“And work on your car?”

“Yeah, that too.” I wasn’t sure exactly how we were going to get it over to his house, but I knew it was going to have to wait until mom was either sound asleep or back at work that evening.

“What about Shawna?” She continued.

“What about her?”

“Wasn’t she supposed to be back by now?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I’ll probably see what she’s up to.”

“Well, try to be back home before I leave for the dinner shift at the diner,” she continued, “I want to make sure you’ve got everything ready for school tomorrow.”

“Sure thing mom,” I replied, “And you try to get some sleep.”

“I will.”

Heading out the front door, I instinctively reached into my pants pocket for my car keys before remembering where it was and why.

“Guess I’ll be walking for a bit,” I thought, still a little pissed at myself. I was sure Weed and I could get Pamela fixed up, but I hated the idea of starting the school year off without her. Thankfully Weed lived just a couple blocks away, and the weather was still nice so the walk wasn’t bad at all. And the fresh air was helping me feel a little more alive, so by the time I reached the front door and his mom answered it, I almost didn’t have to force a smile.

“Good morning,” she said with a genuine smile, “He’s still in bed, but feel free to wake him for me.”

“Of course,” I replied, stepping inside

“You’ll probably need my little helper, though.”

“Probably,” I replied, grabbing the air horn from her as I headed up the stairs.

Weed’s door opened with a groan as if, like him, it didn’t want to be disturbed. But even with it all the way open, the hallway light barely pierced the blackness. Every curtain was drawn tight against the morning sun. He may not have been in an accident like I was but he was at the party much later, and surely drank a lot more after I left, so I knew he was in worse shape than me. But I didn’t let that stop me from doing it anyways.

I wasn’t quiet as I made my way through the landmines of clothes, tools and empty food boxes that lead to his bed but my footsteps didn’t even faze him. The drool continued to hang from his open mouth, and his snoring continued to rattle the walls as I leaned over him with the air horn.

“Wakey Wakey,” I whispered in his ear just before squeezing the button on the horn.

“Whaaatttt???” Weed screamed as he fell out of bed, pulling several layers of blankets on top of him as I bust out laughing.

The blast from the air horn left my head throbbing, but it was completely worth it.

Weed struggled to climb to his feet, keeping the blankets wrapped around while just staring forward with a dazed look on his face. After blinking a couple times his eyes focused on me and a smile spread across his face.

“That was a good one,” he said with a laugh, “but now you know this means war.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”

“What time is it?”

“7:30.”

“AM?”

“Yeah.”

“So what the Hell are we doing up?” He said, plopping back down on to his bed.

“I really need to talk to you.”

“You said last night that it was done. That for good or bad…”

“It’s not about Shawna.”

“What?”

“It’s not about her.”

“Well, good, I guess, but that doesn’t make waking me up this early any better.”

“You know I wouldn’t be up myself if it wasn’t important.”

Well, can it at least wait until I get some breakfast or even a Mountain Dew?”

“Yeah, sure,” I relented. I really wanted to talk to him about what happened, but I still wasn’t exactly sure how to put everything into words so a few extra minutes couldn’t hurt.

Weed shrugged off the covers and stood up, sharing an unflattering view of his batman boxers as he did. Modesty wasn’t one of his strong suits, but after years as friends I’d learned to deal with it, or at least to ignore it as I followed him down the stairs. His mom had a big bowl of cereal waiting on the table for him, probably her way of apologizing for the part she played in torturing him. Though the grin on her face showed she wasn’t that sorry. The bowl easily held half a box of Lucky Charms, and Weed practically inhaled the entire thing.

“You wanna go for a walk?” I asked as he finished sucking down the remaining milk.

“You serious?”

“Yeah.”

He just continued to stare at me like I had a second head growing out of my body.

“Come on man…”

“Fine, but you owe me,” he replied, trodding upstairs to throw on some pants.

It took a little longer than it should have, but he looked a little more awake when he came back down.

“Ma,” he hollered over his shoulder as he popped a couple ibuprofen, downing them with a can of Jolt, “We’ll be back in a few.”

“Nate,” she hollered back, “you know you can smoke in here.”

“Thanks,” I replied, “but I’m good. And besides, we can use the exercise.”

“Well, at least one of you can,” She replied.

“Thanks, Ma,” Weed replied as he slipped on his still-tied shoes.

Weed was shorter than me, and probably fifteen to twenty pounds heavier, but I wouldn’t call him fat, just slightly overweight. But his mom loved to tease him about it. Normally I would have too, but I felt bad enough about waking him so I kept my mouth shut.

As soon as we stepped onto the porch I grabbed a cigarette from the pack in my pocket and lit it up. Weed held out his hand, and I really couldn’t refuse. With the breeze it took a couple attempts to light mine, then I tossed him the lighter.

“So, you just drug me out of bed for this?” He asked after we’d walked almost the entire way back to my house without a single word.

“I think something happened last night,” I started, “I mean, I know something happened, but I’m not sure exactly what.

We finished making our way to my driveway as I tried to collect my thoughts.

“So who’s the lucky girl?”

“I wish.”

“If it wasn’t a girl, and you’re clearly not dead, then it can’t be too serious.”

I laughed.

“What?”

“This is going to sound crazy…”

“That’s never stopped you before.”

“I’m serious, like arkham asylum crazy.”

“As long as you haven’t killed anyone or hidden any bombs around Gotham, then I think you’re okay…”

I started second guessing my decision to talk to Weed.

“You didn’t, did you?”

“What?”

“Kill someone.”

“No, well…”

“You’re shittin’ me…”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I told you it was going to make me sound crazy.”

“Just spit it out already.”

“Fine. When I left the party last night, I had an experience.”

“Like alien abduction? I’ve always wanted to be abducted…”

“No… What?… Let’s just forget that you said that.”

“Why? I’m not ashamed. I’m not saying I want to be probed but…”

“Back to what I was saying…”

“Right.”

“When I was driving home I got a little distracted and when I looked back at the road I thought I saw something.”

“Like?”

“Like a deer, or a large goat, or something.”

“And?”

“And I swerved.”

“And?”

“And I wrecked.”

“What’d you do to Pamela?” Weed asked a little too loudly as we reached my front porch.

“Shh, you know mom’s sleeping.”

“Sorry,” he said, quieting his voice, “but I’ve got to see her…”

“It’s not that bad…”

“Says you,” he replied. “Take me to her.”

“You probably don’t want to see her, not yet.”

He crossed his arms and stared at me like a disappointed parent until I finally agreed to take him to Pamela.

We walked slowly around to the back alley, like two guys going to see a dying relative; which was a pretty accurate analogy. Weed and I had spent the summer fixing up Pamela, spending way too many hours trying to get her ready before school started. In a way she was almost as much his car as mine.

“How?” He whined as soon as he caught a glimpse of her.

“Like I said, I swerved. I went off the road, flew over the ditch and went out into a cornfield. It felt like she flipped over a hundred times, but there doesn’t seem to be that much damage. She even managed to make it from the front of the house back here without much trouble.”

“But how’d you get it home from the cornfield.”

“That’s the crazy part. I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I told you I’d sound crazy.”

“Maybe you just got a concussion and don’t remember driving her home.”

“It’s not just that I can’t remember getting home.”

“So what is it?”

I looked Weed in the eye and I could see he was genuinely concerned. Still, it took me a minute to decide how to put everything into words. He continued to wait as I lit up another cigarette and leaned against the front bumper. After a couple puffs, I just started talking. I told him everything, about what I felt, and about who, or at least what, I saw. I told him about the conversation and about what I agreed to do.

“So you’re telling me you died and came back after agreeing to become the grim reaper.”

A grim reaper,” I corrected him.

“Right, just one of many because a single reaper isn’t enough.”

“I told you it was crazy.”

“That must have been some good shit we smoked last night. Too bad I didn’t have near that much fun.”

“So yeah, what happened with you and the little hottie you took off with?”

“I don’t want to talk about it?”

“Now I’ve got to know.”

“So you’re saying you can kill someone just by touching them?”

“Way to change the subject.”

“You’re the one who decided to wake me at God’s hours after a night of partying because you wanted to talk about this shit, but if you don’t want to…”

“You’re right man, it’s just that… it felt so… real.”

“I know how we can find out.”

“And that is…?”

“Try to kill me.”

“What? No way.”

“You don’t really believe that happened, do you?”

“No, I mean it was just…”

“Then it won’t work and it’ll prove that you just partied a little too hard.”

“Right,” I said, but it still didn’t feel right. I knew there was no way it would work, but even thinking about Weed dying just seemed wrong.

“You woke me up and now you’re just going to stand there fondling yourself? Come on, man.”

“Fine.”

I reached out and grabbed his arm but before I could even think about anything, I was flooded with images of him and the girl I left him with before heading out of the party. She led him to a back bedroom and they started going at it, making out like a couple of high schoolers; they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. I really didn’t want to watch but I didn’t know how to stop it. They kept at it and she started to undo his pants. He let her, and things kept progressing. Thankfully, I managed to pull my hand away from his arm and the visions stopped.

“See?” Weed said, “nothing happened.”

“Like Hell it didn’t.”

“I’m still here…”

“Something happened between you and that girl last night.”

“Let it go man.”

“I saw it.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I touched your arm, I saw it. I saw her lead you back to that room. And I saw your thoughts, I felt your lust for her. You two started going at it and…”

“And nothing.”

“I saw her start undoing your pants…”

“What! Did she tell you about that?”

“No, I saw it!”

“But you’d left before that happened.”

“No, I just saw it, like the whole thing playing out inside my head.”

“Who put you up to this?”

“You’re acting like it was a bad thing.”

“If you really saw what happened then you know it wasn’t a good thing.”

“Thankfully I let go of your arm before I saw everything that happened.”

“This is some kind of joke, right? You of all people…”

“A joke? Because you had a little too much fun with a cheerleader?” I mean, she looked a little young but…”

“So you really don’t know?”

“Know what? I told you, I saw you guys going hot and heavy so I let go and the image disappeared before I saw anything more disgusting happen.”

“You’re serious?”

“Yeah, man. Congrats to you.”

“No. I’m telling you, things didn’t really end well.”

“I’m sorry. But if it’s any help, they say it happens to everyone.”

“What? No… nothing like that…”

“Then what?”

“You said when you touched my arm you could see what happened.”

“Yeah?”

“So do it again.”

“That’s really not an image I want to see again.”

Weed grabbed my hand and pressed it onto his arm. The images came right back and I saw the cheerleader continue right where she’d left off, undoing his pants, sliding them down to his ankles. I started to pull away but Weed kept my hand pinned to his arm and the image continued. I saw her follow the pants down, but instead of anything sexual happening, I saw her quickly grab the baggies and wallet from Weed’s pockets before rushing out the bedroom. By the time he’d realized what happened, got his pants back up, and made it out of the bedroom, the cheerleader, along with everything she took, was gone. I could sense his anger rising. I could feel it. It was almost a rage.

“Wow. Sorry, man,” was all I could say as I let go of his arm. “You didn’t do anything after she took your shit?”

“Na. I was pissed for a bit but now that I’ve slept it off, I’ve got a halfway decent memory from it. I mean, that’s the most action I’ve had from a girl in a while” he replied, much calmer than I would have been, “I’m just glad I didn’t take all of my stash with me last night.”

“Every cloud does have a silver lining.”

“I still wish she hadn’t taken my wallet,” he continued, “it had my lucky condom in it.”

“Maybe she did you a favor; that thing’s got to be expired by now.”

“Yeah, but I saw my first boob right after finding that thing.”

“And you haven’t seen another one since. Just take this as a sign.”

“Maybe you’re right, but enough about what happened to me. You could really see everything that happened last night just by touching me?”

“I guess so.”

“So what does that mean about the rest of it?”

“I don’t know, but there’s no way I can kill people with a touch; can I?”

“You didn’t kill me by touching me.”

“But I wasn’t thinking about you dying either.”

“Well I appreciate that.”

“Seriously; do you think it could be true?”

“If I’ve learned that anything, it’s that everything is possible. But now to the important question…”

“Which is?”

“What are we going to do about her?”

We both stared at my car, sitting there in her roughened state. It was almost enough to make a guy cry.

“I’ve got to get her fixed up, but I don’t even know where to start.

“Let me make a call,” Weed finally said, tearing his eyes away from Pamela. 

“Just be quiet about it. I don’t need you waking mom up.”

“Of course,” he said, before slipping around the garage.

I continued to run my eyes over my car, almost willing her to share the memory of last night with me. With three flat tires, busted shocks, a shattered windshield and a missing headlight, there was no way I could have driven her all the way home, but there she sat. And regardless of the blood that had been on my clothes, there I stood without a scratch. None of it made a lick of sense.

“You owe me,” Weed said, coming up from behind and startling me from my thoughts.

“What do you mean?”

“A friend of my mom drives a tow truck and he’s on his way to pick her up and take her back to my place. It’ll definitely take a little time and a lot of elbow grease but I think we can get her back in shape.”

“That’s awesome,” I said, but then realized exactly what that meant. “The thing that really sucks is that school’s going to start tomorrow and I was looking forward to being done with that cranky bus driver.”

“How much is it worth to you?”

“Common man, you know I don’t have much cash and it’s going to take most of what I’ve got to get Pamela back to normal.”

“What if I told ya that you could drive yourself to school on day one for only about $200 and about a day’s worth of work?”

 “There’s no way we’ll get her fixed up in that time or for that money. The tires alone are going to run at least that much.”

“That’s why you’re not going to show up in her.”

I stared at him for a minute. 

“I don’t get it.”

“Follow me,” Weed said, and I did so, against my better judgment.

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.

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.

Back to Writing…Sort of

My to-do list is dwindling down to just 43 projects left (plus a couple my wife is trying to sneak in) and the weather in Ohio in January pretty much sucks, so I’ve finally gotten back to writing. Last week I tried working on Zero Sum, the next Mike Locke book, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I made some progress, and recognized a few things that weren’t working, but I didn’t feel like I was getting back into the groove. Today I started back on My Life As Death, and things just started flowing. Something about this story and these characters just comes naturally to me, and I’m very thankful for it. With the projects I still have left, and some up-coming travel I have scheduled for my freelance design business, I am not sure how much writing time I will have, but with great writing sessions like this I should continue to make progress. The book is already about 75% done, so with any luck I should be able to get it finished by summer.

“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.

Procrastinating – Linklings

One of the great things about having a 3D printer is the ability to feel like you’re accomplishing something while you’re really just procrastinating. Load a file, hit print, and then you’re making something without actually doing anything. One of my favorite things to print are these linklings. They print well, print quickly, and you really can never have too many.

Another way to successfully procrastinate is to play around with the 15-or so linklings you’ve just printed. I kind of made it a challenge to see how many linklings I can balance on top of a single one. So far I’ve done a total of 16, in various poses. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve come up with when I should have been writing.

How do you prefer to procrastinate?

Writing Update 4/5/19

My recipe posts have been getting a lot of attention recently but I want to be clear that this will not be turning into a food site. This is a writing site and the recipe posts are practice for my eventual cook book, tentatively titled “Recipes to Make While Drinking a Beer”. I like the title, even though I haven’t actually been drinking any beer while cooking (or really while doing anything else) lately. I have an obstacle course race coming up in a couple months and I’m just now starting to prepare for it.

My fitness training has cut into my writing time a little, but I’m also spending a lot more time on contracted design work. That, plus a couple new grand kids being born and a wife recovery from surgery means that I’ve not gotten a whole lot of writing done the past couple weeks. But I’m getting a routine worked out, and have several hours dedicated to writing today, so I hope to get back on track. My Life As Death continues to surprise me every time I sit down to work on it so I can’t wait to see where it goes. And Zero Sum is so close to being done that I get antsy any time I think about it. I can’t wait to share these books with all of you, so continue to check back here for updates; I’ll be needing beta readers real soon.

Reality Tunnels and the Mandela Effect

I tend to do a lot of great thinking (at least for me) while driving. I don’t know if this is really a good thing, but I enjoy it and I’ve not wrecked because of it (yet). I’ve come up with a lot of interesting story ideas this way, and when I do, I tend to add them to a running list of ideas that will probably never see the light of day. Not because the ideas aren’t good, but because I only have a finite number of years on this earth and I’m not the most prolific writer, so I’ll probably never even get through half of the ideas I’ve already come up with. But I like having these thoughts, and even if I don’t usually share them with anyone else, I find them intriguing and occasionally useful. Sometimes I add bits and pieces of them to other stories I’m working on.

While I don’t usually share my random thoughts, especially ones that I would like to eventually use for a book, this one was very intriguing and I could see it being used in a hundred different ways, so I decided to do a post on it, just to give you insight into how my mind works.

The whole idea started with just a simple thought: everyone sees the world through their own senses, their own experiences, so in a way everyone is secluded in their own reality. It turns out that I’m not the first person (Imagine That!) to have this idea (see Reality Tunnel) but that was the initial thought that got the possibilities racing through my mind. The idea I liked the most was that each of our reality tunnels is being created by an individual A.I. which is linked to all the other A.I.s controlling all the other reality tunnels. The purpose of the A.I.s is to
move us in certain directions and direct us towards certain goals which have been determined by a master program to be the best for everyone. There are two problems with this arrangement though; our reality tunnels must intersect with other reality tunnels and regardless of the reality we experience, we have free will.

This idea opened up so many questions which could lead to a great story such as: Who created the A.I.? What if the master program A.I. starts to break down? Can we, as individuals influence or even get control of our reality tunnel? What happens if our reality tunnel merges with another and there are inconsistencies/errors? Could this explain the Mandela effect?

Seriously, if you don’t know what the Mandela effect is, google it. There are so many great examples, but the name comes from a commonly held memory of Nelson Mandela dying in the ‘80’s. I don’t have many memories as a kid in the ‘80’s but I vividly recall reading about Mandela’s death in one of those elementary-school age magazines the teachers made us read when they needed some quiet time. It turns out he actually died at the end of 2013.

There are quite a few other examples too such as “The Berenstein Bears” are actually named “the Berenstain Bears”, the Monopoly man doesn’t really have a monocle, and Sinbad never played a genie in a movie called Shazaam, though I swear he did (see more examples here). I like incorporating real-world details into my books and I could see using these like a trail for the protagonist to follow. I don’t know if any of this will eventually make it into a book, but I love the mind exercises and I hope you enjoyed a brief look into my thought process.

My Life As Death

I’ve talked a little before about my latest work-in-progress My Life As Death, but I wanted to go a little more in-depth about it. The idea for the book is basically this:

On the eve of his senior year, almost-eighteen year old Nathaniel (Nate to his friends) gets into a drunken accident, totaling his car and ending his life, or so he thought. In the darkness of death, a face appears and offers him a deal; agree to become a Grim Reaper (yes, there’s more than one Grim Reaper), send 10 well deserving souls to the afterlife and he will get to finish out the life he was meant to live. Fail to reap all 10, and Nate will forever be a servant of death.

Now Nate’s not a homicidal maniac; to the contrary, he actually doesn’t like the idea of having to kill anyone, but he’s guaranteed to only have to reap the truly evil, the murderers, rapists and child molesters. How could anyone have a problem with getting rid of those people? Right? Upon touching the guilty party, Nate will even see their evil deed and know the punishment is deserved. Then he just has to decide how they’ll die. But not everything is as simple as it seems, especially when everyone has secrets.

I don’t know exactly why the plot intrigued me so much, but the idea of trying to get through high-school and deal with being a part-time agent of death wouldn’t go away. And it might not just be the plot itself, but the characters that kept me going back to it. I put a bit of myself, my friends and my experiences into each of my books, but this one seems to have a lot more of me in it. While writing this book I tend to listen to more of the songs from my teenage years than normal. I reminisce a lot more than I ever have. I’m only about a third of the way through the book, but I already feel so drawn into it that it’s hard to focus on any of my other works-in-progress. But that’s a really good thing, because this is going to be the first book I try to get a traditional publishing contract with so the sooner it’s done, the better.

And just incase anyone is wondering about the graphic at the top of this post – no, that is not indicative of what the book cover will look like. I have several different ideas for the cover, but I’m nowhere close to deciding what it should be. But I think the skull graphic does share the same feeling as the book. It’s a little dark and creepy, a little cute and funny. And I think that’s a good way to describe the book.

Ghost Writing and Plagiarism

There are some interesting articles over at The Passive Voice (specifically this one and this one) dealing with ghost writing and plagiarism, and I was kind of surprised by the scope of the situation. I mean, from a business perspective, hiring ghost writers makes sense, I guess. James Patterson is well known for “working with” other authors to crank out books at a ridiculous pace and it seems to pay off very well for him, so why wouldn’t other “authors” use the same system? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I have several reasons why I couldn’t use ghost writers that go beyond the fear of plagiarism.

I really don’t think I could use a ghost writer, even if I wanted, because most of the time I don’t know what is going to happen in any of my stories. I tried writing a plot outline for The Dark Genesis of Daniel James, but it took way too much time, and I ended up deviating from it so completely that it was pointless. Now, instead of trying to plot out anything, I just listen to the characters as they develop and let them tell me what’s going to happen.

I also couldn’t use a ghost writer because James Patterson uses one. I like James Patterson’s books; I’m not as fond of the ones written “with” other writers. They don’t have the same feeling, the same voice. Just because he came up with the story outline doesn’t mean it’s a James Patterson book. I don’t want people feeling the same way about any of my books. If someone doesn’t like one of my books, that’s fine but I want it to be my work and my voice they’re reacting to, not someone else’s.

And lastly, I couldn’t use a ghost writer because, and I can’t stress this enough, I like to write. No one forces me to write, I choose to write because I enjoy it! This is what I want to be doing. When I sit down at the computer, I get to be the first to discover what is going to happen to my characters. It’s exciting to find out where the story is going and how the characters are developing. Why would I want to pay someone else to take that away from me?