The Calling – Halloween Flash Fiction

I always like to post a dark story for Halloween. Enjoy!

When she heard the cry of wolves in the distance, Amy closed her eyes and kept quiet. She already knew nobody else could hear them. Her parents said they believed her. They took her to counseling, and had her hearing checked. Friends found it novel at first, but soon stopped sympathizing with her little quirk. In the end, people became impatient, even accusing her of making it up to get attention. College was hard enough without feeling isolated and weird.

Lately, the howls had grown louder and more frequent, which just made things worse. One afternoon, she stopped studying, covered her face with her hands, and just listened. It didn’t matter what people in the library thought of her. She sort of hated them all anyway.

This time, it sounded different. She felt a message being communicated by the wail. This voice wanted her to go to it.

Amy picked up her things and shoved them into her backpack. As she walked toward the entrance, the sound grew quieter. The autumn wind flowed over her as she entered the sunlight. At the first intersection, she went north toward her apartment and felt the ululations growing. When she went west, they softened. She turned around and the mystical sound seemed to hit her in the face. For the first time the chorus made her feel wanted instead of lonely.

It led her out of the university into the foothills. She kept walking along the trail through scrub oak and pines, passing a few other hikers as the sun set. The voices sank when the path turned back toward the city, so she followed them off the road. Climbing a grassy hill, she found herself on the crest.

Stars filled the night sky and she cursed the nearby lights blocking some of this magnificent show. Amy searched every direction for the wolves that had been calling her for so long. Their summons quiet now, she shivered in the brisk breeze. Doubt seeped in and she crossed her arms. Was she crazy? Had her mind cracked and led her out here to the middle of nowhere in the dark of night for nothing? Still, she felt good. This place felt right.

As the last sunset light faded, the tips of the mountains to the east, took on a yellow glow. Tonight would be a full moon. The thought thrilled her, in a strange way. She felt like pulling the legs off of bugs and pouring soda-pop into her dad’s computer keyboard.

As the edge of the bright disk came into view, her lungs burned. Her stomach cramped and her lower back ached. It scared her at first, but once she realized it was something inside her trying to get out, she calmed. She set her pack down and sat near it feeling the emotional and physical tug speeding up her heart. She took deep breaths as the disc rose higher into the sky.

Suddenly she knew. This October moon was the signal, calling her to a remote place where they could be alone together. She flexed her arms and stomach, repressing the gnawing inside. A monster lurked there, and it wanted out. She knew it as clearly as she knew her own name. It wanted to run and hunt and kill.

Also she understood she she a choice. The beast could be held in. She could turn away and hide from the transforming light and keep the creature inside forever, just as she was doing now. Her life could be normal.

Yearning welled up inside her. This lunatic orb promised exhilaration if she just leant it a little control. She could stop being a marginalized girl and turn into a force of nature. People would die. Probably the people she’d passed on the path up here would be first.

Another pang in her gut made her wince, but when she opened her eyes, it had turned to a smile. This power would be worth the cost. She tipped her head back and let the moon take over.

_____

🙂 Want more free spooky stories?

The Thing I Hate

Fatty-Goth

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99 Cent Sale

Looking for a great Halloween read for less than the price of a soda? Check out WHERE NIGHTMARES RIDE by R. A. Baxter. It’s just 99 cents and it has all the creepy you’re looking for.

And if that’s not enough for you, the publisher has several other spooky stories on sale. 🙂

Reaper Novel

So, in my spare time I’ve been playing with a story that involves the Grim Reaper as a main character. It’s based roughly on a comic I dabbled with ten years ago. Nothing serious. No real end goal in mind, or expectation of it becoming anything I’d commit time to.

Then, this morning, it hit me. A really great ending. Of course I have to trash everything I wrote so far (that’s normal) and start over. And I have to construct a pretty tight outline (not my normal). But suddenly it’s turning into a legit project. And I’m like, “Am I really going to commit this kind of effort to this story?”

Yep. That’s how ideas turn into books.

If you want to see more of these comics, you can find them here. Happy Halloween!

Siege War

(Here’s a serial project I started up last week.)
Siege War
Day 1
Half the hoard descended in mass. Due to the cunningly arranged battlefield, they were splintered and isolated. Despite there being no advantage, two still attempted to breach the fortress wall, with no real success. Supplies are full and so far there’s no word from the castle of any infections among the attackers, but we can’t be sure they would tell us anyway. Politics ever taints the information long before it trickles down to us on the front line. Morale is still high on the inside, but we all know it’s just a waiting game – not a matter of if, but when. And the enemy is very good at waiting. They act casual, mulling around and pretending they aren’t even interested, but the anger is always there. They may keep it down today, tomorrow, a week, a month; but sooner or later, they will find a weakness, a crack in the walls. Then they will strike – not a powerful rush of war calls and broken weapons, but a silent spreading of biological agents. The poison will seep in and defile the unsuspecting. I’ve seen it many times before, but never for such high stakes.
Day 2
The rest of them arrived, like warm Trojan horses. It’s still early days, so nothing seemed amiss. Again, two times one of them pushed against the wall. Why two? Is that how many seemingly innocent attempts they believe they can make without raising any alarm? We aren’t fooled. We know they are searching for weakness. But what choice do we have? All we can do is try to keep things calm and avoid drawing attention to the elephant in the room.
Day 3
The wall has been breached.
Only one attacker came through, and did not get far before being routed. Still, it weighs heavily. Why didn’t the others join the sprint? It’s unnatural. Unlike any normal war.
Including the one that briefly entered the fortress, there were two more attempts on the fortress wall. Why two every day? It’s like some kind of hive mind is making puppets out of the seemingly innocuous hoard. Maybe we are all puppets. In the end, one side will win the war. But will the plight of the peasants change? Will the soldiers be any worse off under one king or another? All these questions are just distractions. Our job is to hold out, and so we continue to dance with an unknown partner. So far we remain in control.
Day 4
Five today. I’m not sure whether to be relieved that the pattern finally changed or worried that it’s accelerating. Are they emboldened by having spent so much time examining the battle field, or just acting out of boredom? We have supplies and are well prepared, but the hardest part of the “game” is the mental gymnastics. Are they going to rally a full scale attack or just try to wait us out? Sometimes I catch myself wishing it would just start so we can get it over with one way or the other. But I know better than to entertain such thoughts. The longer we all hold out, the fewer people will die in the end, on both sides.
Day 5
Only one breach today. Quickly routed. The numbers are thinning. It makes me wonder if the enemy has the resources to lay any kind of sustained siege at all. Of course we’re hopelessly outnumbered if they get past. If they infect even one of us, their work will be done for them. Maybe the others are planning something special where we can’t see them? Can’t let myself get distracted. Just hold the line. Nothing else matters.
If you want to see more, follow me on Facebook at: JasWymore

Mormon Steampunk: A Mighty Fortress

mighty fortress cover

For fans of the Mormon Steampunk series, the latest (and probably final) volume is available today! Edited by Holli Anderson, this volume, like the others, includes amazing stories by bestselling and award winning authors. So wind up your clockwork heart, select the goggles with the reading lenses, and dive in!

In case you are new to all of this, Steampunk is a kind of historical science fiction. Think Jules Verne. It’s set in the past, but contains technology (usually steam powered) which didn’t actually exist at the time. So it’s a specific flavor of historical fiction. All these stories revolve around the the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who used to refer to themselves as Mormons. They are not religious stories, meaning they aren’t meant to inspire faith or sow doubt about anybody’s beliefs.

One might suspect that such a narrow niche might produce a large number of similar stories, but I’ve been shocked by the extremely broad range of these tales. It’s a monument to writer ingenuity.

Here are links to the entire series:

All Made of Hinges (I edited this one)

Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

Press Forward Saints (my story, Spirit Photographs, is in this one)

A Mighty Fortress

 

Discovery Writing

I’ve recently been in a discussion with my friend, R. A. Baxter, author of Where Nightmares Ride, about the difference between Outliners and Discovery Writers. This conversation comes up a lot in author circles or writing conferences. The two names describe different styles or writing processes used by authors.

crime-scene-30112_960_720Outliners (also called Planners or Architects) are authors who write extensive outlines before beginning a book. Before writing the first page, they have bios about each of the main characters, and a chapter by chapter break down of what will happen in the story all the way through the end. The advantages to this method is that you can almost always deliver a satisfying ending and you tend to need less revision work after the first draft. The disadvantages are that sometimes people think it is less emotional and forces characters to do things they wouldn’t have in order to get to the desired plot points.

black-and-silver-gift-boxDiscovery Writers (also called Gardeners or Pantsers, as in ‘fly by the seat of their pants’) start writing the book and just let the story take them wherever it feels like it should go. They may start writing with only a character and a vague idea where to go, relying on the movement of the character to drive the story in the right direction. The advantages to this method is that you get a first draft done faster and it’s more exciting because you experience the ups and downs of the journey with the characters. The disadvantages include it’s easy to get stuck and not know where to go next in the story, and it usually takes a lot more rewriting after the first draft to get the book into good shape.

Most experienced writers agree the ideal process involves some of both. I came to this same conclusion over the course of my writing and publishing career. When I started out, I could have been the poster boy for discovery writing. I wrote over a dozen books (most of which will never see the light of day again). None of them had any plan or outline. I loved being in the moment with the characters as I wrote. However, it sometimes went far off track of anything readers would want to read. Occasionally it produced very bad endings, too. (A bad ending is one that feels wrong and isn’t satisfying.) Once I improved my skill and began doing better editing, I finally got a book contract. But I was still writing almost everything the same way.

Over time (as the Actuator series progressed) I realized I needed outlines more and more to get to the end of some of the complicated things I’d gotten myself into. I even got the point where I forced myself to outline a couple of books before I wrote them and largely stick to the outline. (I posted part of an outline at the end if you want to see an example. It doesn’t include the background and character work, just the chapter summaries.) Outlining produced good work, but it felt less exciting and rewarding during the actual writing of the book. So I compromised. Now I tend to use a hybrid system. I will write some background and character information before I start to get things on track. Then I make a short outline for the first part of the book (10 – 25%). After I write that, I just barrel forward until I reach a snag or get near the last part of the book. Then I retroactively build an outline from what I have and make sure I have all the threads properly coming together. Finally, I discovery write the climax and ending of the story.

Maybe it seems impossible to you for somebody to write an ending when they don’t know how it will end. If so, you’re probably an outliner. That’s okay. Just embrace it. For those concerned that they don’t know how or want to make a big plan before they start, don’t worry. Some of the greatest writers are discovery writers. If you get stuck, you can always make an outline of what you already wrote and use that to decide where to go in the future. What I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to let go of control and enjoy the ride. Trust the characters and the process. They will lead you to a fantastic finale.

__________

Example Outline – The Actuator 2: Return of the Saboteur

Act 1                 Series Act 2ab

  1. 421/421 words. POV Zach.  Zach looks over an idyllic futuristic city and decides to go back to the Actuator.
  2. 1,954 / 2,375 words. POV Red.  An attack by Luis to retake the Actuator.  They hold the orcs and scatters the attackers.
  3. 1,735 / 4,110 words. POV Jon.  In a meeting Jon says he’s going after Saul’s key.  Zach calls in the middle to tell them he’s coming to help.
  4. 1,995 / 6,105 words. POV Glass/Red.  Glass expresses feelings about Jon going.  Red pines over Xenwyn until Cindy brings him a book and mentions some hope.
  5. 2,575 / 8,680 words. POV Cindy / Dragon Star.  Cindy explains to Red that they might have a chance to save Xenwyn in Neverland.  With Zach, Red might be able to leave and try to save Xenwyn.  Dragon Star decides to go after Pete and changes his name back to Choi.
  6. 2,140 / 10,820 words. POV Glass.   Theme Stated by Glass: People do what they think is best for them, but with everybody doing that, nobody is investing in the greater good.  (Prisoner’s Dilemma) Jon proposes.
  7. 1,573 / 12,583 words. POV Red.   Jon leaves.  Moment of Resolve for Red, he has to trust others to keep the Actuator safe while he goes to take care of Xenwyn.
  8. 2,333 / 14,916 words. POV Glass/Choi.  Glass realizes the books in Denver might have information on the Actuator, since it’s a futuristic place made by the Actuator.  She decides to go there and look.  She goes out to meet Choi.  Choi tells her he has decided to go after Pete.

Act 2a                   Series Act 2ac

  1. 2,207 / 17,123 words. POV Zach/Cindy.  Zach’s return to the base with twenty people, after transforming himself into a wizard.  Cindy is unhappy about being left alone with him.
  2. 1,763 / 18,886 words. POV Jon/Red.  Jon makes it through Brian’s sci-fi realm.  At a feast of a meeting, Red tells Zach they are all planning to leave, except Cindy.
  3. 2,046 / 20,932 words. POV Glass/Red.  Glass talks to some of Zach’s people before departing.  The Actuator makes her want to stay, but Choi takes her off anyway.
  4. 1,796 / 22,728 words. POV Jon/Red.  Jon has a run-in with a young tough at the LA station.  Unable to contact Elizabeth, Zach suggests Red do more research before leaving on his quest.
  5. 2,516 / 25,244 words. POV Choi/Zach.  Choi and Glass are ambushed by orcs on the way north.  Glass gets shot.  They discover Ruiz is recruiting and call to tell Red.  Red decides he has to leave right away.
  6. 2,177 / 27,421 words. POV Jon/Glass.  Jon deals with a thug on the train trying to get revenge.  As soon as they cross the border, he sees bandits coming to rob the train.  Choi takes Glass to a Shakespearean apothecary to get the arrow taken out.
  7. 2,132 / 29,553 words. POV Red.  Red takes Xenwyn into Brian’s realm again.  Brian stops him.  Red takes Brian hostage and flies to the edge of Area 51.  He leaves Xenwyn with a stranger and goes into the base.  Stop asking questions for book and series.

Act 2b                   Series Act 2ba

  1. 2,290 / 31,843 words. POV Jon/Choi.  A young couple decide to accompany Jon to Florida.  Glass gets the arrow pulled out.
  2. 1,897 / 33,740 words. POV Red.  Red meets Sam and swipes the list of names of Machine Monks that have used the teleporter.  He calls Elizabeth who says she thinks he can bring Xenwyn to London.
  3. 2,049 / 35,789 words.  POV Jon/Choi/Red.  Jon sees Austin and keeps going.  Choi decides he has to wait for Glass to heal.  Red talks to Elizabeth and solidifies his plans to visit her.  He gets test data from Scott’s time machine.  Then he steals the teleporter.

 

 

Writing the Other

Diverse_people_using_phones

There’s a lot of talk between writers and advice to writers about writing “the other” (someone of a different race, culture, gender, etc., from yourself). It’s a complicated debate. On one hand, there are minorities and underrepresented groups who would like to see more diversity in books and other media. On the other hand, there are many who get upset if people are only represented as stereotypes in the story. On top of that, there are people who feel that if you write a character of a different culture you may take away the ability for people within that culture to write about and have their experiences recognized (it’s called “own voices” if you want to look into it). What is an author to do?

Although I’m afraid people will think this is a cop-out, I think they are all right.

That doesn’t mean you have to do it, of course. It depends what you are writing and what you want your work to “say” to the reader. It’s true that sometimes a homogeneous group of people will interact. So stories about and largely with characters of all the same “type” are legitimate. It is, however, rather limiting in terms of who is likely to relate to the story. It would also be unrealistic to have a book set in any city but the characters never interact with anyone unlike themselves.

It’s also true that just saying somebody is Hispanic or Jewish doesn’t fix the problem. It’s likely to offend people who are being misrepresented. The solution is to actually look up information about these other people and portray them authentically in the story.

What about the old axiom to write what you know? Well, the best solution would be to get to know people outside your own type, well enough to empathize with them. If you really want to dig into social issues and include somebody different than yourself, it’s also recommended to find sensitivity readers. Get somebody who is the type you are writing about to read it and help you get the character right.

If you’re a new writer, this can be hard to do. But as you grow, it’s better to stretch farther. If you only write people like yourself it is likely to limit your audience.

In my experience, no matter what characters an author writes, they tend to put a little bit of their self in each one. The magic then becomes seeing reflections of yourself in people you previously thought to be different.

I started my most recent book, Thug #1, with the intent of writing someone different. Although CJ is not really like me, as I listen to the audio book again, I realize there is still more of me in this henchman than I expected.

See for yourself!

Thug #1 Sale Banner B

99 cent Thug

Thug #1 Sale Banner A

Top Ten Reasons You Should Buy THUG #1 Today:

10- The illustrator, John Christian Perkins, just had a baby and needs money

9- After Avengers: Endgame, you haven’t been able to get your superhero fix

8- Supporting indie authors, artists, and publishers is the right thing to do

7- It’s a great gift

6- If you buy the e-book on sale, the audio book becomes very reasonable

5- The audio book narrator is freakin’ amazing and you absolutely must hear it read by Henry Kramer

4- Winter is cold and curling up with a cup of cocoa to read an action adventure sounds really nice

3- You want to see this mixed-medium project for yourself

2- It’s been too long since you read a really engaging book

1- It’s cheaper than dirt!

BLAM

Get it from Amazon US now!

Get it from Amazon UK starting Saturday, December 14!

Still not convinced? Check out the Thug #1 Page for more amazing information!

Happy Holidays! 🙂

Thug Ch 7

Why Authors Shouldn’t Decide Book Covers

All Covers 2017

Why should authors not decide their own book covers?

In a word: SELF-BLIND.

We are all blind to our own errors. I have had editors give me a manuscript to critique and found many mistakes they had previously told me to fix in my own work. Another time, I submitted a query letter for critique and was told by the editor, “I was in a class on query letters you taught! How could you not see these mistakes?” It’s embarrassing, but an unfortunate aspect of human nature is, we somehow can’t see things we do wrong. Ask any counselor and they’ll tell you they’ve had therapy.

So the first thing any author aspiring to be a professional must learn is that we are all self-blind. We can’t see our own problems with plot or characters in our books. And we can’t design our own covers.

Every author has a unique set of feelings and thoughts on this matter. We all love book covers. And our books are like our children. So there is a huge emotional investment. We desperately want the cover of our book (especially the first one) to validate our idea of the story. Most authors want to see important themes or favorite scenes depicted graphically. the problem is, that’s not what a cover is for. What we want to see on our book often runs counter to the purpose of the cover– which is lure readers to buy it.

Covers have meant different things at different times, but the most important function is to sell books. It’s an important part of engaging a potential reader’s mind and convincing them to invest in the story. We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, that seems to only apply to other things (like people). When it comes to books, we all know that covers make a big difference. The covers of favorite books become imbued with emotional power as they evoke the feelings and possibly changes they inspired in us. Unfortunately, that’s the problem for authors. We want to see a cover which will represent the ideas and journeys we went through making it. First, it’s unlikely a reader will have the same associations as the author. Second, that’s looking backward with the parallax of experience.

TwilightA book cover needs to inspire new readers, not validate people who already know the story. And to do that, it has to tap into marketing methods which have very little to do with what’s actually in the book. Need an example, look at the original cover to Twilight. Regardless what you think about the book, the cover was a stroke of marketing genius. Having two hands holding an apple speaks deeply about forbidden love. Such an idea or feeling is a powerful lure to the target readers.

Book cover trends evolve over time. Sometimes they are painted or busy. Other times they are very high concept (like Twilight) and depict a single key idea. Lately, the trend has been to express more with the actual font and words of the title.

The important point here is, authors are not going to be able to divorce their heart from something they put so much of their self into. Consequently, they usually cannot make good choices about the best way to present the book and draw in the correct readers. Such a choice must be done coldly with careful analysis, and most of the time, that is somebody who isn’t so close to it.

In the past I’ve told the story of how I learned this the hard way, through painful experience. After a long road of writing and submissions, I finally landed a book contract with a small press. They were new and still learning, too. They asked me for suggestions for the cover. So I sketched something out. To my surprise, the artist made pretty much exactly what I described, but so much better.

 

I was thrilled. I ordered cases of books and set up book signings and began selling them to anybody who would listen. Over time, it became clear that there were some really big problems with it. First, most people thought the title was pronounced, “The Crayside.” (Most of my author friends STILL call it that.) Second, many people assumed the two people on the cover were both women. Third, although it’s an action scene from the story, it’s not really a good symbol of what the book’s really about.

(If you’re interested, I still have a few copies of this first edition. If you want to buy one, I’ll sign it and send it to you… just e-mail me.)

As this became clear, I talked to the publisher and they agreed it needed a new cover. I came up with another suggestion  (left), which the new artist improved upon dramatically (right). Again, I was blown away in love with the result.

 

I kept this cover for years. Just like before, though, I began to realize it had a flaw. People might like it, but they don’t know anything about the book based on what they see. It’s great art, but it’s not a great advertisement. So, it fails to do the most important thing a cover should do… draw potential buyers in.

Eventually, the contract ran out and I published the book through a different company. Although I gave them a few suggestions, I left choice of the main art and design to the publisher. They produced a cover which does a much better job of marketing. I’m happier with it because I know it’s doing the right thing a cover should do.

thecrayside 1

It was a long road. But I finally learned that I am self-blind. So, I hope my hard earned understanding will benefit you, and maybe save some heartache. Trust your publisher and cover artist. Not every cover will be a winner, but it has better odds if the author doesn’t interfere.

You can see a few more of my covers which were updated for better marketing in this post: Evolution of a Cover.

Best wishes! 🙂

 

 

Free Audio Story: 99

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I hope you all had a great Halloween! I certainly did. I usually like to post spooky stories to go with the holiday, but this one is a little different. I guarantee her night was worse than yours. 🙂

99 – Just 15 minutes, read by the amazing Zach Bjorge, and this incredible cover by Ashley Literski. Featuring a slew of characters from the Immortal Works crew on my favorite podcast: Flash Fiction Friday. Hope you love it!

How this story came to be: I was in a discussion with Ashley, and everybody else featured in this story, about a cover. I’m a huge fan of cover art, and the early design for the cover in question included this graphic of dripping blood. They were looking to change it because it was supposed to be red paint. I said, because it was nearing Halloween, that I thought it should have more blood. Ashley suggested balloons full of blood. Jokingly, I said if she’d make the cover, I’d write that story. I even typed out the first paragraph just for fun, putting their names in as a joke. To my shock, she posted this stunning cover in what seemed like record time. So, true to my word, I spent the rest of the night trying to imagine a story that involved the scenario pictured here. Two days later, I was done with the first draft.

Give it a listen!

Find more free stories, including several #FFF podcasts on my Short Stories Page.

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