RED FLAGS Excerpt

Heard from my editor: Part One is finished. Waiting on the cover, then it’s off to Amazon/Creatspace. Til then, here’s a taste:

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PART ONE: RED FLAGS

“Mars is not an aesthetic God.”
Confederate Commander John Brown Gordon, at Shiloh.

CHAPTER ONE – Mini Puka Boy
Somewhere on the Gulf of Aden.

Abdi was sure he was dying.

His head was dizzy, loose on his neck like a door with one hinge. His stomach clenched with every wave, every jump and roll the boat made. He had nothing left to throw up. He felt empty, crumpled as a paper sack. Surely the angel Azra’il stood ready to escort his soul above the skies.

Thirteen years old, he couldn’t remember ever feeling this bad before.

It had started the second day out at sea. He had spewed hardbread and goat over the rail, and after that, he couldn’t keep anything down. The older soldiers, all SPLM men, had laughed, dubbing him Mini Puka Boy. Now, they sang out the name whenever he came near and wouldn’t let him sleep in the bunks below. Instead, they shoved him toward the ‘puke nest’; a makeshift tent on the bow made from an old tarp and big coils of greasy rope. There, they said, he could vomit over the side whenever he wanted.

Veteran pirates, the older fighters were full of advice, telling him it would pass on the fourth day, that he must stare at the sky not the ocean, claiming that smoking jaad or chewing khat would make him hungry, make the sea-sickness stop.

But nothing helped. The shakes, the weakness, only grew worse the farther out into the Gulf they went. Three days later, all he could do was lay on the deck like a limp rag.

Last night, one of the SPLM men, the one with the dirty pink rubber hand, brought a bowl of mishaari and spooned the corn mush into his mouth. Abdi managed five bites before it went all over his boots. Pink Hand gave up in disgust, and the older soldiers had cackled even louder. Abdi didn’t even have the strength to get mad. He simply curled up and bit his lip when he wanted to moan.

He has felt better briefly, earlier that morning. He’d woken from the metal stock of his old AK-47 digging in his ribs. Shifting, groping in the dark, his fingers had found a half-filled tin cup beside him. One of the younger boys must have brought it sometime in the night. The water smelled dusty, but Abdi sipped its coolness and kept it down.

The world had been silent save the low wind and the soft lapping of waves. He had actually managed to stand for a minute or two, steadying himself on the rails at the very front of the boat.

The Gulf had spread out around him like a great dark field while the stars shone like hard, bright sparks; a thousand thousands of them spilled across the dome of heaven. Wobbly, stretched thin, Abdi had nevertheless sensed something vast in that moment. Perhaps that was what the Hand of Allah felt like.

He must have fallen back asleep, because the sun was high when he opened his eyes again, and the water tasted like boiled sweat. His gut was in knots once more, so he lay there under the tattered blue tarp and tried to muster up hatred for the captain of this torture voyage.

His cousin Ghedi had lied to get him on board. Abdi was sure of that now.

Ghedi had found him at Dhubbato with their grandmother. Like most other members of the Isaaq clan, the massive UN refugee camp was the last safe place in Somaliland. Teeming, filthy, filled with crime and poverty though it was, at least the Hangash, General Dhul-Fiqaar’s secret police, or roving units of elite Duub Cas, the Red Beret Regiment, couldn’t come and slaughter them at night. Not with so many Peacekeepers watching.

Abdi’s cousin was shahiba, a gang-banger, and Ghedi ran with a crew of other Somali teenager boys, all of them orphans, angry, and Isaaq. A year ago, they had gotten their hands on some old army rifles and started calling themselves the “Harimacad”, the Cheetah militia. Soon after, they had disappeared into the bush to join Professor Hamid and his rebel Somaliland People’s Liberation Movement.

Then, all these months later, Ghedi had barged into their tent as if he’d only been gone a day. Mouthing big talk, he claimed he was no longer a shahiba; the Professor had made him a very important man. A captain. Abdi was suspicious, but Ghedi wore tiger-striped fatigues and had two gold pins on his shirt collar. And he flashed a huge wad of Euros. That was very different.

His cousin boasted he and his militia had been ordered to go on a secret mission for the SPLM. But he needed more men. Was Abdi interested? Ghedi promised a handful of bills and an AK-47 if he came. A real gun, a man’s gun, all for a quick boat ride, he had said.

Abdi hesitated. Then Ghedi had pulled out a nice red shirt. Almost new. It could be Abdi’s right then as a bonus.

That clinched the deal.

Abdi looked down at his new shirt now, all foul and puke-stained. Ghedi had bedeviled him. If he’d known the truth about being a budhcad badeed, he would have grabbed that shirt, kicked his cousin in the stones, and run as fast as he could. Now it was too late.

His cousin had only promised those things because this was his first time pirating and he wanted to impress the SPLM men by bringing his own fighters along. Lying wacaal.

Abdi was going to tell their grandmother about this swindle the second they got back to shore. May Allah bring that day quickly. The thought of their grandmother beating Ghedi with her old belt strap like she used to raised a smile on his cracked lips.

A sudden wind shook his little tent and he peered out across the deck of the pirate ship.

It was one of four that had been towed out to the deep water by a much bigger boat. An old twelve meter, Italian fishing boat whose name was long-buried under layers of paint, the nets and winches had been replaced with battered Dushka 12.7 heavy machine guns. The motors were new and strong however, and Abdi had heard them growling in the back. Originally meant for fifteen men, almost two dozen were packed in for this trip: thirteen SPLM veterans and ten of Ghedi’s Cheetah militia.

Twenty-three fighters, five days, the hot sun, endless slapping waves, the stink of diesel, bodies, and vomit… this was misery. The Dhubbato camp was better.
Waiting made everything worse. Abdi couldn’t understand why they didn’t just attack one of the big cargo ships right now. The SPLM men said there were dozens of them passing through the Strait of Hormuz every hour. Pick one, fire the engines, and converge on the massive target like jackals on a buffalo. Problem solved.
Unless the Russian or Indians had a frigate nearby, all a pirate had to do was circle a few times, fire off a RPG, then go aboard. The men said the shipping companies paid most ransoms within a week. The trick was not to ask for too much. The executives figured pay-offs were cheaper than delaying the cargo. That way, no one suffered.

Abdi couldn’t have agreed more. Even getting shot at was better than getting bounced around and roasted like peanuts.

But no. Ghedi insisted his mission had come from SPLM Headquarters, from Professor Hamid himself even. They would wait, starving, vomiting, baking, until a certain ship came by. The Mashona Breeze. No other would do. Ghedi even had a laptop that sent him messages and pictures from planes high in the sky.
Abdi doubted the commander of the entire rebel army was emailing orders to his cousin, but he was pretty sure the dozen fighters had come along to make sure Ghedi carried them out to the letter.

The boat jumped. Abdi swallowed sourness at the back of his throat. No more after this. insha’ Allah, he prayed. Please. Only dry land from now on.
Abdi shut his eyes and let his head roll with the Gulf’s motion. He had dozed off when a burst of rifle fire stuttered loud and close. He sat up, heart in his throat.

Ghedi stood on deck, rifle in hand.

“It is time,” he shouted. “Commanders send the signal to me. The ship is close. We must go, go now.”

Ghedi ripped another burst into the sky for effect. “Crazy fast. Quick. Quick,” he screamed. “The revolution needs us and we will not be late.”

Abdi heard ammo belts clinking, the clatter of weapons being chambered. Brown, shaved heads scurried to pull the anchor. The motors throbbed deep and low.

Thank Allah, Abdi thought, and sank back. Then he saw Ghedi staggering towards him.

Abdi tried to stand, but a wave hit. He fell back, tangled in his frayed blue tarp. He flailed, swept it aside and looked up. A shadow was there; his cousin standing over him, red eyes and little captain gold badges shining. The fat muzzle of Ghedi’s AK-107 was pointing down at his chest.

“As Captain Boss, I order every badass gangsta have his finger on the trigger.” A grin, filled with stained, crooked teeth. “A dog that refuses a bone is not alive. Are you alive, little soldier?”

Abdi nodded.

Ghedi jerked his gun up, fired into the air. Abdi flinched. His cousin laughed.

“We are the fierce lions of the sea,” he screamed. “We will bring this Mashona Breeze down. Strike a blow for the people of Somaliland.”

The motors roared from the back and as the boat swung north, bucking in the waves, Abdi’s stomach knotted tighter with each passing second.

Two emails today


The first from someone in Portugal who wanted to let me know he really enjoyed Running Black and was looking forward to Shift Tense. The wonders of the internet and ebooks. The second from an agent I queried six months ago. Six months for a rejection. I’m not sniveled, really. It’s just no wonder indie-publishing is on the rise.

Mr. Todoroff,

It is with kind thanks that we respond to your submission to Kimberley Cameron & Associates Literary Agency. We apologize for the long delay in our response–the number of submissions we received in 2012 far surpassed our capacity to review and respond. We thank you for your patience as we work to amend this. Please be assured that we have carefully considered your project. Unfortunately, we don’t feel the manuscript is right for us at this time.

Because we receive more than two hundred submissions per week, it is necessary to be extremely selective on a very subjective basis. We wish you the best of luck. There are numerous excellent agents that might be the right fit for your manuscript. Don’t give up!

Sincerely,
xyz…..

Red Flags in June

SHIFT_TENSE_final_rgb_flatten_6x9inches_with_bleeds
Quick Announcement that SHIFT TENSE Part OneRed Flags will be available sometime in June. The manuscript is at the editor and Michal Oracz is working on the first of three new covers, one for each installment. He should have the first completed soon. So if all goes according to plan, the full novel will be released in both trade paperback and ebook at the end of the year.

I’ll post the cover art as soon as I get it.

Thanks.

To Serialize or not to…

Serialize. That is my question.

Several thoughts:

1. I’m a Part-Time Writer
Full-time glass work commands a majority of my creative effort, on top of which comes family, friends, ministry obligations and Life’s usual responsibilities. I strive to write on a consistent basis. I’m part of a local critique group, a member of the Cape Cod Writer’s Center. I’ve got the obligatory notebooks in the car, in the workshop, on the bed stand to catch those random flashes, but fiction is more a pressure-relief valve than a job, and lately carving out time to get my head in a sci-fi space has been increasingly tough.

Serialization spreads out the obligation in manageable increments.

2. SHIFT TENSE isn’t complete yet
I know the second book is the hardest to write. People tell me I’m fussing with it too much. But the fact remains I’m still not happy with the novel’s end. I’m battering my head against the wall tying up the loose ends here. however, the first two thirds of the current manuscript are solid with all the major plot-lines firmly in place.

Serialization give me more time to work out in intelligent climax worthy of the story.

3. Serialization seems a better fit for e-books and the current spec-fiction market
See the earlier post on ‘Wool’ as an example. Serialized stories sell, hopefully build audience anticipation, and generally raise story/writer profile with frequent, compact, releases. With little additional expense/effort, I could release Shift Tense part 1 and 2 over the course of the next six months, release part 3 in the Fall, and have the full novel out at Christmas.

Serialization allows readers to sample the story and grants them the option to continue or cease with minimal cost.

4. Serialization kicks “Shift Tense” out of the house
I already feel like a schmuck, failing to keep my initial deadline. When I finished “Running Black” back in late 2010, I was positive my writing career would rocket into the stratosphere. (BRAAAAAAP! Wrong. Guess again, Pat.) Little did I know about the realities of self-pubbing, marketing, the writing process, juggling competing commitments, etc, etc. I still don’t know a whole lot but now I know more.

Serialization allows me to get the story out there to the readers who have been/are gracious enough to continue to buy my books.

Oddly enough, an early version of ‘Running Black’ was serialized in monthly chapters on Matakishi’s Tea House, a gaming hobby site run by an excellent fellow in the U.K. He formatted the text, added images, and generally made it look much better than it was. It wasn’t until a substantial chunk of it had spooled into the aether that I started hammering out the full-length novel. I have plot arcs and characters for several other novels in different genres clamoring from scraps of paper and Word docs, but I’ve been ignoring them, restrained – right or wrong – by the weight of obligation. I understand the brute reality of ‘work’ in art and creativity. This isn’t all bunnies, hugs and muffins, but I’d like to get back to the challenge and adventure of story telling – the joy of it – rather than treating my time at the keyboard as another chore, fencing with guilt because I missed a deadline.

In the end, if a serialization experiment fails, I can chalk it up to experience and move on. At the moment, the option is under serious consideration and I’m trying to figure out the logistics of such a move.

Any thoughts or experience here?

Thanks.

Interview with author Mark Carver

It’s called Reciprocity.

Mark Carver headshot

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m an American currently living in China with my wife and son. I teach English classes at a Chinese university. My interests include art, tattoos, heavy metal, cathedrals, a cold beer, and of course, reading and writing.

Tell us about your writing. What genre(s) do you specialize in?

I’ve been writing stories of all kinds since I was a little kid, but I’ve always been drawn to sci-fi, action/adventure, and horror. I like to infuse all the elements that I enjoy reading into my own writing. I’m a sucker for intense dramatic atmosphere and melodrama, and I try to make my writing moody and engrossing. My first book, The Age of Apollyon, came out last fall, and it’s the first book in a trilogy about what could happen after Satan reveals himself to the world.

The Age of Apollyon cover

Who are your favorite authors?

I pretty much only read classics. I rarely pick up a book that is less than one hundred years old, though I do enjoy some modern authors. Anything from the Gothic, American Romantic, and Victorian eras suit me just fine, but I also enjoy intense psychological stories, regardless of genre or era. Lord of the Flies by William Golding is my favorite book.

What inspires you to write?

I like writing what I would want to read. I get most of my inspiration from music and movies. I am a very visual writer and I try to replicate what I see in my mind through words. I listen to a lot of bombastic music like death and doom metal, and this helps put me in the mood to write. I love action movies that are explosive and over-the-top, so I seek to combine rip-roaring action with atmospheric creepiness. Of course, when I write in other genres, my inspiration changes as well.

Describe your writing process.

The time of day doesn’t matter, but I prefer to be alone, either at home or in my office. However, living in China and raising a toddler has enabled me to function without peace and quiet, so I can pretty much write anywhere and anytime. I usually listen to heavy metal music when I write. I find my best bursts of creativity happen after I’ve watched a TV program or movie.

Any upcoming projects?

Black Sun cover

Black Sun, the sequel to The Age of Apollyon, will be released in just a few weeks. I’m working on a new book now that is not part of the trilogy and is completely different from what I’ve written before. It’s called Indelible, and it’s a story about a man who designs fantasy weapons. He makes a drastic but seemingly insignificant choice in his life, but it changes everything in a big way. There’s nothing supernatural or fantastic, but it’s still a pretty intense story about how people perceive themselves and others around them. I have a few more ideas in my head that are just waiting to pop out. I’m pretty good about keeping a steady writing rhythm, so I hope to crank out at least one book a year.

Where can we find you online?

Official website: http://markcarverbooks.blogspot.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ageofapollyon

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6152317.Mark_Carver

You can add me as a friend on Facebook too!

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Mark Carver
Foreign Lecturer
Xiamen University TKK College

Bad Words!

BBC NEWS STORY

Remember that old George Carlin sketch ‘Seven dirty words you can’t say on TV’? (Google it if you want. It was funny when I was 13.)
Apparently there are some words I can’t use as a Science Fiction Writer now, one of which is ‘space marine.’

I’m not schooled in the subtleties of IP and Copyright Law, but shouldn’t the Marine Corps of various nation-states be the plaintiff in this? As opposed to a toy-soldier company? Why didn’t the USMC send a Force Recon team to GW HQ the day after they released their first box of heavily armored sci fi human troops?
I’m starting to wish they did.

I get protecting against infringement in a related area (table top wargames) or goods deliberately piggy backing your IP for profit. But even then it gets fuzzy, particularly over generic terms that have been employed as far back as the 1930s. SPACE MARINE WIKI ENTRY

Thing is, M.C.A. Hogarth’s little ebook has nothing to do with the Grim-Gothic-Darkness-of-the-Far-Future-in-which-there-is-only-War.And-Litigation

Unfortunately, this might be a case of which party has deeper pockets to laywer-up. But if the bullies can dictate terms, (pun) and that’s what it is in this case, what’s next? Star Army? Fire Team? Assault Rifle?

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out – I hope GW Legal rolls all ones – but in the meantime, I have the sudden urge to write a space marine story and sell off any remaining GW figs from my collection. Call me petty.

Current Despot and Reigning Figurehead of the SFFW, John Scalzi, weighed in on the dust-up HERE

Fear itself.

Apologies for thin content recently. Am straight out with glass work and Shift Tense. However I wanted to pass on this TED talk and consider its relation to new publishing models and Christian Spec-Fiction.