I Am Un-Publishing One of My Books

It is with mixed emotions that, as of today, I am removing my second novel, Corruption from sale. There are a few reasons for this.

The first, and most important, is the book is unfinished. After two years of writing and editing the manuscript, I was antsy to write other stories and was concerned that too much time would pass after my debut if I didn’t publish my second novel ASAP, so in April of 2017 I made the hasty and short-sighted decision to put it on the market without having it professionally edited. Well, that isn’t entirely true – I was working as a professional editor at the time, so it was, in a sense. But as Elvira advises Tony in Scarface: “Never get high on your own supply.” So while I certainly feel the story has many great, memorable characters and scenes, and in general is free of any typos, it simply was not ready to be published. There are plenty of reviews out there voicing many different opinions you can read as to the “why.” My own take: the pacing in the first half is too slow (many readers enjoyed the second half much more), and there were a handful of creative decisions regarding certain characters that would have been better executed with some editorial guidance.

Not to say that I would change the story itself, about a young man’s moral fall at the hands of a bad mentor. But rarely does what we say matter more than how we say it.

Corruption is also unfinished in another way. It is the first book in a series that I planned as a duology. I spent a lot of time drafting the sequel, Virtue, which currently sits at around 70% finished on my hard drive. I have no idea when I am going to complete it. In the mean time, I’ve written two other novel manuscripts, several short stories, and a screenplay. For now I feel my heart is simply too set on other projects to give this series the time it deserves, which brings me to my next point…

The final reason I am un-publishing this book is my conscience. While I still love this story very deeply and have always written with the ethos that a writer’s first, and only job is to be honest, an honest effort doesn’t always guarantee success. The story is undercooked, and that no longer sits well with me. If the book had sold a thousand or ten thousand or a million copies, or if I didn’t own the rights, it would just be another “oh, well.” But it didn’t, and I do, so I can do what I want.

I do intend to finish this series, someday, after a significant re-edit of the first book with the helping hands of a professional. Maybe I will release both books as an omnibus, or as separate “definitive editions,” or together as one huge, Russian-length novel. I don’t know when it will actually happen, but that’s the plan.

However, for now, it is coming down.

Some dates:

  • The paperback version is no longer for sale, as of today.
  • The Kindle version will be removed from the Amazon store on December 26, 2020 when its current KDP period expires.
  • The audio version is still available on Audible for the time being, but will be removed in the near future.

What is Death?

I was driving on the freeway with my father when he said to me, “I am not afraid.”

I was taking him home from the hospital. We’d been there to see his oncologist, who told us that his cancer – which at that point had spread to his pancreas, liver, brain, and lymph nodes from where it had originated in his lungs – was not responding to chemotherapy. This was two weeks before dad’s oncologist made the recommendation that he go on hospice. But the truth of his death, that modern medicine was no longer going to be borrowing him any more time was already too heavy in the air to remain unspoken.

I will never forget how he said those words to me, “I am not afraid.” He said them with bluntness, honesty, and sadness. I responded, “I don’t think there is any good reason to be afraid.” We both accepted that the conversation was too difficult to go much further than that, so it didn’t. Not then. Less than a month later, he was gone.

I was with him when he took his last breath at 2:21 in the morning, kneeling at the side of his hospital bed in the living room of the house I grew up in. My mom, sister, and a smattering of aunts and uncles were there, too. There are so many details about that night that I somehow both wish I could forget, and that I am grateful I never will. Every time I shut my eyes I am back in that room with him. I have dreamed about it. Had nightmares about it. Written poems about it (though I won’t claim they were good). Had flashbacks akin to the kind that resurface years after a bad trip, usually triggered by something terribly mundane – a half-finished package of saltines in the back of his truck (his comfort food after the nausea got bad), the childish drawings and “get well soon” notes still displayed above the fireplace, or any reference at all to sleeping on the floor (where I was supposed to crash that night, because every other bed and couch in the house was full).

I want to be out of that room. But simultaneously, I don’t. I have ran through it over and over again in my head. Every detail that is also somehow one huge, amorphous blur. Part of me wants to remain there for the rest of my life, because he is there, too. There is nothing I wouldn’t give just to touch him again. To hold his hand. To hug him one last time. The most painful memory of my life, of the night my father died, is also somehow the one I hold nearest to my heart.

What even is death?

722px-Dore_woodcut_Divine_Comedy_01.jpg
Dore, “Farinata degli Uberti addresses Dante,” from The Divine Comedy

Death is Confusing

Confusion makes up the largest percentage of what death is to us. This confusion is the source of its power, its gut-shaking ability to make us fear.

The reason why that is, at least, is not a mystery. No one has ever come back to tell us how it is. Death is a one-way gate, the farthest point at which the living may walk together. Once passed through, no individual may tell us, write us, email us, or comment on our Facebook to advise us on anything, much less what they see beyond the opacity of that point when they leave this world. No one, without exception (unless you count ghost stories and religious parables, but – and I say this with the utmost respect – the things we believe on faith are not the same as those empirically sourced from our senses).

My father was, and then he wasn’t. At one second, he was a living, breathing actor; matter that could question and want and wonder. The next, there was only the matter; there was no “him” there anymore, at all.

What greater mystery could there possibly be? And what can we even attempt to do in the face of one that cannot, by definition, be solved?

I ask myself, “Why him?” all the time. Why did he have to die from a disease I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy? Why did he have to die only four years after he retired from a lifetime of service to our country and to this planet? Why did he have to die so young, on the morning of his sixty-seventh birthday? Why didn’t I get another twenty, thirty years with him? Why will my children never get to meet the most amazing and loving man I have ever known?

Why?

Why?

My girlfriend told me she still goes through this when thinking about the partner she lost several years ago to stomach cancer. “Why him?” And I agree. Why? I never met this man, but from what she tells me, he was an incredible person: kind, joyful, just; the kind of individual this world needs more of, not less. Few things more clearly illustrate to me the inexplicable unfairness of death than a bright young man being taken by stomach cancer before he turned thirty. And yet, he was.

We all know someone who has died. Most of us know, and love someone who died far too young, from some terrible disease or other unfathomable circumstance. If that is not you, I consider you incredibly lucky. But even if your only exposure to the unfairness of death is from reading the news, we all know what it means to ask, “Why?”

Why him? He was so young.

Why her? She was so kind.

Why can’t some evil bastard get cancer for a change? It’s always the good ones.

Why Alex?

Why dad?

Why any of them?

“Why?” is the ubiquitous question we ask in the face of death, except in those rare cases of grandparents who were fortunate enough to die old, surrounded by their loved ones and content with their life’s achievements.

Because none of it makes any fucking sense.

3oeLGKeNPj0.png
Böcklin, “Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle”

Death is Acceptance

My godfather Chris, who also died from cancer in his sixties, used to joke when passing a cemetery, “See? None of us is getting out of here alive.”

There is no mincing words about this. I am going to die and so are you. People who have not witnessed the death of someone they love may read that sentence twice. Those who have will not need to.

Death is us. It is the father and the mother and the daughter and the son. Death is all the people you ever knew and all those you never will. Death is you. Death is me. So long as there is a “me,” there will be death. We can’t escape it or choose it any more than the skin we are born in, because it is who we are. Not “what,” but who. Death is the cessation of our existence, the end of our time as conscious actors, at least in this physical universe, and as a lover and sometimes writer of stories I can tell you wholeheartedly that always, without exception, the ending is just as important as the beginning and middle.

You are not a whole person without your death. Sorry. But it’s true. The story of your life cannot be complete without that last period at the end of that last sentence. Your death is part of who you are, and in some ways, is the key thing that defines you.

Do not mistake this to mean that I am saying “we are how we go,” because I am not. There were many things that defined my dad, from superhero father who would have done literally anything for his kids, to environmentalist bad ass who spoke truth to power, to doting grandfather AKA the Papa Monster who would chase my shrieking nieces around the house making fake munching sounds if he caught them sitting in his favorite stool; he was all these things and more, but “cancer patient” is not on the list. His disease was something he suffered greatly from, and ultimately what ended his life. But he never complained, and it was not who he was.

So no, I do not meanwe are how we die.” But we are how we live, and the moment we die is when the book goes from open to closed.

1351766717-fountain-tree.jpg
The tree of life from Aronofsky’s “The Fountain.”

Death is (Least of All) A Biological Process

The following description will likely be scary to contemplate for those who have not been with a loved one when they died. For those who have, it likely will not be.

At some point, for whatever reason the Fates choose for you, your body (as well as mine) is going to stop working. You will stop breathing and your heart will stop beating. At some point shortly before or shortly after that, your consciousness will end, and the warmth you took for granted for however many years you were alive will start to disperse, until the body you formerly inhabited eventually reaches equilibrium with the ambient temperature of the room. By then, all your memories and thoughts and dreams of your life will have permanently vanished. If there is a soul, and I hope there is, by this moment it has gone to wherever it needed to go and will not be coming back. And then the matter you once animated will be lifted into a casket and buried/cremated at high temperatures/turned into a tree/disposed of in some other cool way some San Francisco hipster tech startup markets as “the latest revolution in ethical funeral practices.”

The important thing about this description is that it is a biological process no different than eating, drinking, sleeping, pooping, peeing, getting drunk, getting sick, throwing up, daydreaming, having sex, bleeding, suffering from vitamin D deficiency because you work in the video game industry, or losing your temper when your significant other eats all your cereal.

Dying is what bodies do. You breathe because you must. You also stop breathing because you must. There is not one bit of difference between these two phenomena. Death is not the negation of being born, but the fulfillment of it.

Dr_nYhCXQAA28to.jpg
Death, from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman

Death Is Not Inherently Terrifying

It is a philosophy major cliché to boldly and pretentiously wax about how we shouldn’t fear death. I know, because I was that philosophy major, and the only academic recognition I ever received while I was in school was for a paper I wrote about the Epicureans of Ancient Greece, which I presented at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Student Philosophy Conference, and was titled “Should We Fear the Pale Horse?”

The Epicureans were men who hung out naked in a walled garden all day eating grapes and philosophizing, with no “distractions” that could lead to fleshly attachments, such as allowing the presence of the opposite sex. Wait, what?

But those Epicureans were still pretty smart dudes. They were avowed materialists in a time when denying the existence of the gods was a serious crime, and they didn’t give a fig leaf about being executed for their lifestyle, because they (famously) held that death is nothing to be feared. They believed there is only matter and void, and that when you die, you simply go back to being matter of the non-thinking variety. To put it in philosophy major-friendly terms: if there is no subject left to feel the pain of dying, then it causes more pain to fear death while you are alive than it does to actually die.

Yes, they denied the existence of a soul, of an afterlife, and of a creator. I do not deny those things. But they were right from the biological perspective. And I agree with them that we should not fear being dead, because it means our suffering has ended. It is pretentious and meaningless and stupid and empty to say that.

It is also true.

I am thankful my dad is not suffering from his cancer anymore. I miss him and love him so much it brings tears to my eyes just writing those words, “I miss him.” But watching him in agony the first time the pain truly crippled him and he had to leave my nieces playing in the backyard on Easter Sunday to go to the fucking emergency room in an ambulance caused my heart to hurt worse than it ever had in my life (and there were a few times my heart got hurt pretty bad). The pain hit him like a knockout punch. I watched him physically wilt.

For the last six months of his life, he was in and out of the emergency room or urgent care every other week. When he wasn’t in the hospital, he was asleep on the couch. I spent half a year at home, but I feel like I barely spent any time with him at all. I wish I could turn back time and just sit with him there again, listening to him quietly sawing logs. My dad had a great snore, which no doubt caused my mom some irritation over the almost four decades of their marriage, but even that, I miss. The more his health declined and the closer the end appeared, the more I grew to value those little things.

There is, to be sure, another side of death that more closely resembles the movies, the side that rears its ugly face during war and terrorist attacks and Tarantinoesque rampages of glorious revenge. But I do not think that is the norm for most people. For most of us, our face of death will be that of our loved ones. And now that my eyes are open to this, it is very difficult for me to associate death with the emotion of fear.

The “death is scary” zeitgeist, I think, mostly comes from Hollywood. Our view of the transition we all must make from living to dead as something inherently terrifying and bad is the amalgamation of a lifetime of seeing people dying in horrible ways on screen, as if the death of a person is something to be exploited, or that the physical event that ends our biological life is the main thing about death we should concern ourselves with. In either case, it isn’t.

“But bro, these ghosts have unfinished business out here. Brains are gross! Tiddies AND brains? NC-17! Click click pop, problem solved. OMIGOD that part where the old lady was like SHAMBLING through the hall toward her and the music was like REE REE REE? So freakin’ scary dude! LMAO dracarys on all you punk Lannister bitches!”

Listen, I am not shitting on violent-ass movies. I love violent-ass movies. I am simply stating that the reality is much different.

The reality is:

holding-hands-caregiver-patient.jpg

Death Isn’t Fear; It’s Heartbreak

When I got the news that dad’s targeted treatment was no longer working and the doctors were recommending more “aggressive” treatment with chemo (which is U.S. Medical Industry Newspeak for, “The shit is killing you, and it’s time to move to our last lines of defense and say a few prayers”), I moved home. This was six months before dad died.

We made plans. We made plans to go wine tasting. We made plans to go to his favorite Korean restaurant. We made plans to go kayaking, and when it grew clear that was impossible, just to go for a drive out to the coast. None of it ever happened. We made plans upon plans that never came to fruition, because my father, a former park ranger, EPA agent, volunteer at the Point Reyes National Seashore, and lifelong lover of the outdoors, spent the last six months of his life in too much pain and too exhausted to do much of anything but sleep.

A week before he died, he suffered a stroke that completely immobilized him. He couldn’t even turn himself over in his hospital bed. I am grateful – no, that is not enough, I consider it a sacred privilege – that I was able to care for him at the end of his life the way he did for me at the beginning of mine. But that doesn’t make it hurt less.

That is what death is. Death isn’t “the most terrible of all bad things.” It isn’t a horrifying monster that snatches you up in the night. It isn’t being asked to leave the party while everyone else gets to stay.

Death is a piece of your heart that gets taken away forever, that you can never have back. All you want is to hold it again. One more reassuring hand on your shoulder. One more loving goodnight kiss. One more scolding word. One more warm embrace. One more time rolling your dying father on his side so he doesn’t get bed sores. But you can’t, and you never will, because that piece of your heart is gone.

Am I scared to stop existing? You bet. I don’t want to go in some horrible way that will make my last minutes/days/weeks/months on Earth a living hell. Being shot. Stabbed. Burning to death. Drowning. Dying young. Or maybe dying young would be better. But probably not.

I am terrified of death, but it isn’t because I fear the void is dark. What I fear is that I will arrive at my own end with regret that I didn’t spend more time with the people I love, or that I didn’t live the way that I wanted to and create enough meaning and purpose for myself. And, as a selfish and often thoughtless person, what I fear even more than those things is that I will not have done enough good in this world to help ease the suffering of others.

In dad’s case, thankfully, that last one was never a question.

1024px-Caspar_David_Friedrich_013.jpg

Friedrich, “Stages of Life”

Death is a Paradox

So, what is death?

Death is confusion that leads to understanding. Mystery that leads to acceptance. Fear that leads to courage. Pain that leads to gratitude. Warmth that leads to cold. A phase change that cannot be reversed. A 3000-word post that has bled from my heart onto these empty pages, but somehow leaves me no more comfortable with its subject than I was before.

Death is the last and greatest paradox. Paradox: an unsolvable problem. I don’t have any answers. But I do want to propose something.

I propose we tell the truth. Speak about death and what it is. We may never fully comprehend it. But maybe we don’t need to.

Share the dead with the world. Their ideas, dreams, and lessons only continue so long as someone wills it. Keep their echo going.

Find the equality in death. Death is the one thing we all have in common. No one is born to the same conditions, or with the same talents, abilities, or deficiencies. Death is the one thing that makes us all perfectly equal.

Find the fraternity in death. There is no medicine that can help ease the pain of a loved one dying, except the kindness of those who have gone through it, too.

I will never forget the drunk dude who approached me at a dive bar the night of my dad’s funeral and told me how his mom had passed from cancer a year before, who embraced me like I was his brother and said that it was going to be okay.  This man was a complete stranger who in other circumstances would’ve been giving my friends and I the stink eye.

Or how about the random lady at the yacht club the night my dad died, when my buddy invited me out so I wouldn’t be alone? She hugged me like I was her own son after telling me how her husband had died of liver cancer seven months earlier – they had four kids in college.

Or how about my Aunt Margaret, who took such good care of my mom, taking almost a month out of her life to stay at the house and dealing with a nightmare rental car corporation that tried to charge her $5,000 to change her drop-off location in the bargain?

Or how about the way my Aunt Louise cooked huge pots of minestrone soup for all the tired family members who were coming and going the last week of dad’s life? Home-cooked minestrone. That is delicious.

Or how about the way my Uncle Chris kept our fridge stocked with beer? Always 805, the good stuff.

Or how about the way my nieces kept wanting to play hide and seek even after the grownups were ready to head home from the wake, because “the sadness [was] in the house?”

Or how about all the people I had never met or couldn’t remember, who came up to me before and after the funeral to tell me stories about my dad, and immediately treated me like we, too, were dear, old friends?

It helped. All of it. That’s the point. Death gives us a glue that cannot be found anywhere else and cannot be undone. In a way, it makes those relationships bulletproof. You do not understand the thing that is bringing you together. But goddamn, does it force you to open your eyes to the light in that other person.

The dying get morphine. We get each other.

And this is what I have learned.

Poetry: “Love”

Love is a father
Holding tight to your hand.
Love is the losses
That you never planned.
Love is the laughter
Drifting from the yard.
Love is the gatherings
When times grow hard.
Love is the cradle
That swayed you to sleep.
Love is the bedside
Where your family weeps.
Love is a close race
Down buttered corn.
Love is the embrace
When voices grow worn.
Love is a treasure
That crossed half the world.
Love is a note
Wrought from misspelled words.
Love is the piece
Of the Endless we scrape.
Love is a bus
When no one is awake.
Love is the first light
That makes way for dawn.
Love is what remains
When all else is gone.

 

In memory of my father John

6/21/1952 – 6/21/2019

Remembering Gene Wolfe (From a Fan Who Never Met Him)

“It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future.”

The moment I read those words, as I sat on the deck of my college house cracking open my first copy of The Shadow of the Torturer the summer after sophomore year back in 2006, I knew in my gut and in my heart this cat could never be put back in the bag. Gene Wolfe’s monumental Solar Cycle was already old then – it was originally published in the 1980’s – and Mr. Wolfe had been on my radar since I was a kid, when I saw the below illustration of the Alzabo in Wayne Douglas Barlow’s Barlow’s Guide to Fantasy. But I knew from the instant I opened the first volume of Book of the New Sun that I would never read another work like it, or come to know through his words another author like Gene Wolfe.

So much digital ink has been spilled over the years attempting to interpret Wolfe’s dense and mind-boggling opus that I will spare spilling more of it here. To the uninitiated, Book of the New Sun is the fictional autobiography of the supreme ruler of an Earth (stylized as “Urth”) so far in the future that the sun is dying. The hero of the story is Severian, and the prose acts as his personal confession booth for his long and zig-zagging path from lowly orphaned torturer tasked with murdering the political enemies of his government, to traveling headsman famed for his mercury-veined executioner’s sword, to short-lived stage-actor, to war hero, and eventually, savior of all mankind.

ee2f435aefbf04badbf80299e67cfb07
“The Alzabo,” from Barlow’s Guide to Fantasy by Wayne Douglas Barlow

Needless to say, Severian is not always a good man… much less an honest narrator. He’s an asshole. He hand-waves away any number of violent crimes (sometimes without even an attempted justification). He lies to the reader about a ton of shit, and portrays himself as the best thing since sliced Lembas bread in pretty much every situation he retells. He uses big words and obscure words and words that have been retired from the English language altogether for no goddamned reason other than to confuse and derail you. He leaves out important details of events, and leaves it up to you to read between the lines (or rather, reread between them) and find out what is really going on.

Yes, he was written this way on purpose, although that purpose changes depending on who you ask.

To me, aside from being a complex and deeply flawed character, Severian is a masterful exercise in the age-old idiom that “the villain is just the hero of the other side;” he is a clever deconstruction of the “Chosen One” archetype, a self-confessed bad man who ultimately turns it around, though his redemption is far from total, and comes at a high cost to those around him.

wraparound-cover-illustration-for-gene-wolfes-science-fantasy-classic-the-shadow-of-the-torturer-drawn-by-bruce-pennington-1980
U.K. Cover Art for The Shadow of the Torturer by Bruce Pennington

For many of us, this series was our first exposure to an unreliable narrator, and opened up worlds within worlds we never thought possible concerning the power of storytelling; it gave us a glimpse behind the magician’s curtain, and there was not a Great and Powerful Oz, but turtles, turtles all the way down. For others, Book of the New Sun is a maddening, unreadable,  problematic slog that one would be better off throwing against a wall before that infamous traffic jam in the portcullis that closes the first book.

Book of the New Sun isn’t an easy read by any means. I’ve since read the series four times cover-to-cover, and I still find it difficult. I am still finding new secrets and cooking up new fan theories to explain the murkier and more vile parts of the story with each successive read-through. Those of us who love this series, and the rest of Wolfe’s work, may indeed be crazy for loving it. I don’t know.

What I do know is how it changed me, not only during that first read-through that summer after sophomore year on my favorite sunny spot on the deck of my college house, but upon every subsequent reread.

a5a30e7eaeae7e109d132a9b5b5ca87c-d5r2fmd
Severian and friends as Adventure Time characters, by artist PandaFunkTeam

I can cleanly divide my life both as a reader and a greater individual into two distinct eras: before Book of the New Sun, and after. It was the gateway drug that hooked me on the author who would eventually become my favorite of all time, whose every word I would one day cherish. It was the story that convinced me villains are more interesting than heroes. It was the masterful lesson to an immature and undisciplined pupil that a writer does a far greater service to their audience when they assume that audience to be intelligent, and write their stories accordingly.

Gene Wolfe was the writer who taught me to say fuck you to my lingering doubts, and to put my own stories out there. Because I realized that if even one reader out there enjoyed the stories I wrote and found some meaning in them, it would be enough.

Gene Wolfe’s readers don’t number in the single digits, though. From at least the 70’s on, when his breakout novella The Fifth Head of Cerberus was published, he was a household name in science fiction and fantasy literature. As far as I can tell, he was considered a “writer’s writer” almost from the beginning – which is not to disparage people who don’t try to write fiction, only to say that for those of us who do attempt this typically punishing and only sometimes rewarding hobby, every one of Wolfe’s novels dually acted as a master class on technique, as well as a plethora of renewed inspiration. Ursula K. LeGuin called him “Our Melville.” George R.R. Martin sought his advice. Neil Gaiman wrote an extremely flattering essay about how to read Wolfe’s work with an open mind (and a dictionary at hand), and the New Yorker even named him “Science Fiction’s Difficult Genius.”

1138897-Gene-Wolfe-Quote-We-believe-that-we-invent-symbols-The-truth-is.jpg
A quote from Book of the New Sun.

But I don’t really care about any of that anymore. Maybe I did, once. Maybe seeing those platitudes attached to a writer whose stories I was head over heels for did cause some psychological transference on my part and make me feel cooler or better at books for having read him, not to mention a bottomless envy at a level of skill and imagination I was (and am) certain I could never possess.

On top of all that, you will find no excuses that “we must separate art from the artist” here. No one I have ever read or heard from ever had a negative word to say about him. By all accounts, Mr. Wolfe was a kind man and a gifted teacher; a devoted Catholic, loving husband, decorated veteran of the Korean War, and a regular of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop who helped countless up-and-coming science fiction and fantasy writers find their own voices. He not only wrote the books other writers wish they could  write, he was the writer other writers aspire to be.

Although I never met him, as I process the news today that he is gone, at the age of 87, I feel like I’ve lost someone I knew deeply and personally, a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. Someone whose voice guided me through the years and rekindled my imagination when the winds of pain and hard times threatened to extinguish it… for whatever one person’s imagination is worth. Maybe it isn’t much, but I know I’m not the only one.

Bebergal-Sci-Fis-Difficult-Genius.jpg

I will never forget reading The Shadow of the Torturer literally to pieces. It was the first book that I read so hard it fell apart, not least because it (and I) pretty much lived on that deck that summer. Well, technically it was the omnibus edition of Shadow & Claw – the first two books in the series – but whatever.

I will never forget the lyrics to the cheesy love song about Severian and Thecla that I wrote and played to a few of my college friends, who I was disappointed to discover had no idea what the hell I was so poorly singing about.

I will never forget the first time I discovered the Urth.net newsletter and stayed up until 7AM reading it with my mouth agape in despair to learn that all my perfectly-dotted theories about the last twelve Gene Wolfe books I’d read were completely and utterly wrong.

I will never forget how much Pirate Freedom rekindled my love of seafaring, swashbuckling adventures after spending five years of my video game career in the doldrums of making games about pirates whose main concern was experience points.

I will never forget what it felt like waking up early for weeks on end while traveling through Europe to read and reread On Blue’s Waters and In Green’s Jungles because I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. My kindle spent so much time plugged in during that trip I was worried it might kick the bucket and explode.

I will never forget rolling my eyes and laughing out loud at all the weird, perfectly Eastern European bureaucratic nightmares in The Land Across, which I read while living in Poland, where it took the government the better part of a year to issue me a work permit.

I will never forget the impact these stories had on my life, the compass they became for me, and at times, the spark.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Wolfe, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Sincerely, a fan.

Looking for beta readers for my next novel

My next novel, a standalone horror story about a lost town in the desert tentatively titled The Drying, is currently in the motions of editing and revision. No, that is not the cover. I made that cover in Canva in five minutes. I don’t have a cover yet or a professional editor. I’m still undecided on whether I want to seek traditional representation for this one, or self-publish.

This is my third full-length novel. It is much closer to Lurk than it is to Corruption in style and content. The characters are less unlikable than my last books, which is a big departure for me, since I usually write about assholes. This story is an homage to the survival horror games I played growing up, and is heavily influenced by them – most obviously Silent Hill. But there are some other tasty mixers. There’s a little bit of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run, and Stephen King’s Desperation/The Regulators. Maybe even a pinch of the Tremors movies, too.

This will not be the next great American novel. I doubt it will be the next great anything. But it’s a little fun, and if you dug Lurk, you will probably dig this one, too.

What I need:

  • someone who will read the story in its second draft form and offer ideas about how to make it better.
  • someone who likes and reads horror.
  • someone who is patient and can look past occasional rough bits of dialog and typos.
  • someone with a sense of humor.

Jesus, this is starting to feel like I’m writing an online dating bio, so I should probably stop there. If you think helping an indie author craft his next story sounds like a good time, smash me a message on that contact page.

 

I Was a White Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for Twelve Years

I was recently promoted to the rank of blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by Professor Hans Hutton. But my first BJJ class was all the way back in late 2006. At the time of writing, that was almost twelve years ago. Yes, you read that right. I was a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for twelve years.

Blue belt promotion under Professor Hans Hutton, June, 2018

I initially became interested in the martial art and sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu while in the home stretch to earn my shodan (first degree black belt) in Japanese jujutsu. I was the personal student of my sensei, and was training in that far more traditional art 5x a week.

So I can’t say it didn’t hurt when I realized upon learning about “that other kind of jiu jitsu” that most of the techniques I had spent so many years trying to master would not be any more useful to me in a real fight than knowing how to tie the belt.

1928947_508618567218_7366_n
Japanese jujutsu black belt test at UC Santa Cruz. Hakama give you wiiiiiiiiings!

My first Brazilian jiu jitsu class was in 2006 at the University of California Santa Cruz, in the school BJJ club run by Paul Schreiner and Garth Taylor. I distinctly remember one day asking Paul if wrist locks worked from standing; Paul held out his hand and told me to turn his wrist. I couldn’t. So much for my black belt in Japanese jujutsu.

And so I jumped in, head-first. Within days of starting, I became totally enamored by BJJ. I watched every Gracie challenge on YouTube and went to as many classes as possible. I got pinned to the mat by 1,000-pound knees belonging to guys who had used their training in real fights, in MMA matches, or at the beach, or wherever. My second week, one blue belt got frustrated with me being unable to perform a hip throw during a self-defense drill and told me, “If you do that again, I’m going to toss you on your head.”

It was awesome. What was normal in BJJ class would’ve been grounds for immediate dismissal in my former, more traditional art. Bloody, drenched in sweat, and aching in muscles I didn’t know existed, I was hooked.

IMG_0282.jpg
East Cliff, Santa Cruz, CA

But, as painful as this is to admit this even with more than a decade of hindsight, I was also undisciplined and immature back then… even more so than I am now.

I brought friends to class who ended up training more often than I did. We were all so stoked on “the Jits” that we would even hold fight nights in the living room of our college house and wrestle each other to submission on the carpet, sandwiched between a huge, probably lethal brick fireplace and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that led out to the porch. Not the greatest or safest place to train. We would talk on and on about jiu jitsu at parties like we were guests on the Joe Rogan podcast, but with each passing month I began to dread training, because I secretly hated to lose.

I was young and dumb, and didn’t understand the value of consistency. Twenty-one year-old me was too much of an egotistical little shit to realize that I had to get back on the horse as soon as I was done falling.

So I fell, and I fell.

1909767_508617554248_4960_n
Fight Nights at Sunnyslopes, AKA “The Real Sunny Hill,” ft. Sean and Josue. I miss that Lord of the Rings poster…

By early 2008, within a year of starting BJJ, I had quit. Of course, I didn’t know I had quit. In my heart, mind, and occasional YouTube comments, I was still 100% “in” jiu jitsu. But I started making excuses and stopped going to class: “I’ll go next week,” “I tapped that new guy with an Americana from mount, so I don’t need to go to class,” or the most common, “I still hurt from the last one… I’ll go back next week.”

I still wanted to train, and dreamed of one day not tapping every five seconds. I constantly told myself I would get serious about it again “soon,” but could not bring myself to put in the mat time necessary to improve.

Days turned into months and months into years. I spent the next eight years being THAT GUY, the one who shows up to class once or twice a month, takes it personally when he gets steamrolled, and disappears again. I moved from school to school, and city to city like a drunk looking for his next storefront to sleep in. I took my inevitable defeats on the mat as personal bruises rather than what they are, as opportunities to grow.

zk8rfcj
Don’t. Quit.

Although quitting jiu jitsu back in 2008 is probably my life’s biggest regret, the lesson I take from it is that it’s never too late to pursue the things in life that give me a sense of purpose, just as it is never too late to try to amend my mistakes.

I have struggled with depression since I was a teenager. Sometimes, it was crippling. When I moved abroad for work in 2013, the demon came back in a bad way. Then one night, after an eye-opening conversation outside a Scottish bar with a fellow martial artist (and now dear friend), I had an epiphany and saw that maybe self-medicating my problems with alcohol, funny memes, and horror fiction was no longer the only option.

Why not go back to jiu jitsu? Why not try again? Is there anything stopping me but fear, and my regret about quitting? 

I asked this to myself, and I had no decent answer.

IMG_4865
Krakow, the city of Polish kings, and the place where I fell in love with jiu jitsu again.

So, I enrolled in a BJJ academy in Krakow, Poland, where I was living at the time. The instructors spoke English very well, and immediately welcomed me on the mat despite that I was foreign and my Polish was terrible. Those first few months back in were rough. I got my ass kicked by 16 year-old prodigies and big new guys alike. Three months in, I tore my groin and had to sit out for another few months. That false start, and the guilt I already felt for being gone so long, took their toll.

But I did what I had never successfully done up to that point, and I got back on the horse. My injury healed and I kept going to class. Eventually I reached the point where I was training 3x a week. I pushed myself to not miss class unless I was sick. I was sad to leave the academy when it came time for me to go back to the United States, but I knew that no matter where I landed, I had to keep training.

My career as a screenwriter for video games has given me many opportunities to travel, but this has also meant I never stay in one place for long… jiu jitsu academies being no exception. In the three years since I started training again, I’ve been enrolled at four academies: in Krakow, in Boston, in Los Angeles, and my current school in Munich. I’ve done two BJJ Globetrotters camps, and dropped in at at least ten schools in the USA and abroad while I was traveling. At each of these places, I got my ass kicked, I made dear friends, I learned great techniques, and most of all, I felt like I was with family.

IMG_3488.jpg
A finer group of human beings, I have never met: Hidden Hand Jiu Jitsu in Hermosa Beach, CA.

That is what jiu jitsu is to me. It is the family I get to choose. And family isn’t only there to make you feel good or support you when times are tough. Family is also there to push you and force you to try to become the best version of yourself.

My experience in jiu jitsu so far fills me most of all with a deep sense of gratitude. What a privilege it is to take these first steps on my journey with so many incredible people. How lucky I am to learn these lessons from them: that no matter what negative bullshit life throws my way, I still have the power to grow; and no matter how dark things get sometimes, there is still always a place I can go to feel welcome and where my problems vanish, where I can find tranquility: the mat.

IMG_4721.jpg
BJJ Globetrotters Summer Camp in Copenhagen, 2017.

Whenever I travel to a new city, whether it’s for work or leisure, I always bring my gi. A few weeks ago I was vacationing in the Black Sea region with some work friends. We were in Chisinau, and my first Google search was for BJJ academies. I found one and dropped in for a few classes. The experience was incredible. Most of the guys had only been training a few months under their instructor, a brown belt, and I don’t think any of them were older than twenty. Yet the students were tough, and the instruction amazing despite the language barrier. After only a few classes, I felt I had made friends who I would be happy to see again ten or twenty years from now.

Some people tell me I am crazy for training when I’m on the road. But I know that deep down, there is a quitter in me who would love nothing more than to win. I cannot let him. If I take a break of one or two weeks for no reason other than I’m in a new place, he might peak his ugly face out and throw me off the path. Weeks could turn into months again and months into years. Of course I still struggle with putting my ego in check every time I get smashed and feel butthurt about it, but here is one example of where ego can be a good thing: if I let my inner quitter win, it would mean one more fall, and I’ve already been down that path – I don’t want to go there again.

34045749_10103534654331248_2128976616741666816_n
Dropping in for a class at Bercut Fight Club in Chisinau, Moldova

To me, Brazilian jiu jitsu is the most miraculous invention ever created by man. It teaches the weak to become strong, the cowards to become brave, and the smaller person to prevail by using leverage and gravity. But jiu jitsu is even more miraculous than that. It taught a depressive, lazy, pessimistic fuck like me the value of discipline.

I have learned that defeat, injury, and illness are not merely frustrating setbacks, but inevitable ones. Even with the desire to train hard and improve, sometimes there will be real reasons I cannot; from viruses,to broken digits, to my life uprooting and thrusting me elsewhere across the globe. There is nothing I can do to prevent temporary set backs. The only thing I can control is picking up and moving forward again.

Killers in action at Hutton Academy, Munich, Germany

I try to think of cities that have never been rebuilt. I cannot. I try to think of artists who created works I admire who did not similarly go through many periods of self-destruction and rebirth. Again, I cannot. My friends and family have changed – and I have changed also, haven’t I? I have, many times, and often I have grown and adapted with or because of those people.

Perhaps, so it is in jiu jitsu, it is also in life: the things that are most meaningful to us are those that we must perpetually rebuild in the hope of making them better.

I know this is only the beginning, and I eagerly await all that lies ahead.

IMG_1634.jpg
Lots of gis at the BJJ Globetrotters USA Camp.

Poetry: The Barghest’s Revenge

I.

The Barghest rose from stirring gloom
Through creeping shadows of my room
The dangling keys about his wrists
Like tiny bells foretelling doom.

O’er to my bed he slithered, black
His skin mottled like mordant wax
All tufts of hair in ancient cysts
Sprouting from nose, toes, ears, and back.

With a voice smooth as mercury
Thus he whispered, musically
“Find you the door that matches this,”
And in his hand offered a key.

The toothed, black spindle in his palm
Was twisted, sharp, nine inches long.
Heavy as ages in my grip,
It filled my ears with eldritch song.

“Go you to Edinburgh, my dear,”
The monster said into my ear
“In Robert’s Close, when moonlight-kiss’d
By his name, you must dig near.”

“There you will find a secret trove
Buried ‘neath the roots and bones
With this key I to you inflict
The chance to see your sweet love, Rose.”

I did not ask him what he meant
I did not call him when he went
Drifting like some poisonous mist
To dissipate into the vent.

A year had passed since Rose’s death
Nights I spent whoring, whiskey-vexed
Her shape was still equally missed
On unwashed sheets only half dressed.

For every love has its goodbye
All bright flowers wither and die
Time and death, we cannot resist
And sirens stir in the decline.

 

II.

I left my silver weapons home
‘Twas ten good years since they had shone
Our land dreaming and safe adrift
At last its final devils gone.

We cleansed the highlands and the low
Purged clear loch to Roman stone
Bags of copper spilled through our fists
With not a monster left to roam.

The last ones fled, or hid, or died
I can still hear every black cry
Those loathing hexes, gravely hissed
The Barghests’ were no milder kind.

And now I traveled those same roads
Until that Royal Mile I strode
Robert’s Close, could such place exist?
The cobbles cursed under my brogues.

In Grassmarket, at last I found
An alleyway, all spectral-bound
A name was written in dark script
Of a prince who’d never been crowned.

I scored a shovel for my work
In rusted iron, solace lurked
Imagining my future tryst
I staked it in the hardened earth.

Three feet deep, lay a small casket
A crude, wicker, coffin-basket
Its hard shell made my shovel slip
I kneeled down and unlatched it.

Inside the box, a woman’s skull
But no, not human, not at all
The fangs, the hair, those silver wisps
All bound within a crown of awls.

 

III.

The Barghest rasped into my ear
“How could they bury my love here?
Give her a grave as poor as this?
Monster hunter, it was but fear.”

“During your righteous purge for men
You toxified my family’s den
Never will my wife part her lips
To sing our babes asleep again.”

“See you why I had to infect her?
Why your Rose never got better?
The great trouble with fairness is
Blood for blood just makes us wetter.”

Oh how I raged, debased, and howled
I slashed them, punched them, kicked, and scowled
But my foe had returned to mist
I lay amidst a leering crowd.

I was street-side, covered in filth
A madman preaching madmen’s ilk
I closed my eyes and reminisced
As watchmen drove me up the hill.

Now in my cell, dank, black, and bare
I can taste the old, piss-sour air
I dream of secret doors promised
And retch at demons hidden there.

‘Lurk’ BookBub Post-Mortem: How I Quadrupled My Sales and Doubled My Reviews in 30 Days

Hey friends. This is a breakdown (for educational purposes) about the outcomes of my recent free book promotion with BookBub for Lurk. It will probably not be of interest to you unless you’re a self-published or small press author, thinking about becoming a self-published or small press author, or are just really really into the process of marketing books (if the last one is you, you’re sick).

After about 30 days, the steady flow of reviews, KENP page reads, ebook and paperback sales is finally starting to peter off back down to my normal, pre-promotion levels, so I thought I would do a quick post-mortem to show how exposure really is everything, and that even giving away your ebook to thousands of people can be a huge boon to sales and visibility.

batman-spiderman-fantasy-reality
Thankfully, not this.

The Promotion

Back in August, I was accepted to BookBub’s promotion newsletter for my first novel, Lurk. At the time, Lurk had seen some moderate success, but was still mostly unknown. I’d sold about 1,000 copies across all media, long since made back my initial $1500 investment in cover art + editing + promotion, and was taking in about $250-350 a month in combined royalties (ebook, paperback, audiobook, and KENP). Some authors may not wish to discuss sales and income but since my sales are pretty pathetic, and the purpose of this post is transparency, I don’t mind. When I was accepted for BookBub, the book had 26 reviews on Amazon, around 40 text reviews on Goodreads, and 100~ish ratings on Audible (my main source of sales).

I made my book free for five days. The BookBub promotion was on the first free day. For a free book promotion in the horror category, BookBub charged me $160 dollars. I opted for the free promotion rather than a $.99 or $1.99 promotion both because it was much cheaper, and because my main goal was not sales but exposure. I just wanted to get my book on as many people’s Kindles as possible, as I was confident that once most started reading it, they would be hooked and want to finish.

866
26,000???!

The Initial Results

More than 26,000 people downloaded the book in the first three days of the free promotion. Reviews began flooding in almost instantly, most of them positive, some glowing – one lady said she thought I was Stephen King writing under a new pseudonym (she was being super nice, but that felt pretty good). Lurk reached the number one spot in all of its categories, and the number 4 overall (free) book on the Kindle store. For a brief moment, I got a taste of the pie that the very very very most successful of you self-pubs are eating, and it was awesome. Seeing my book hit those ranks alone was worth the $160 bucks I paid for the promo.

IMG_6178

The Aftermath

However, the real benefit came later, from Kindle Unlimited. Lurk is in Kindle Unlimited, something I never paid much thought to before this promotion, as I was only hitting about 10k KENP pages read every month (around $40). But at the height of the promotion, and for about two weeks after, I was getting 10k pages read or close to that every day. As of writing, I am still getting around 4k per day.

Because of this massive boost, my combined royalties for the past month are going to be over $1k. That is a milestone I honestly thought I would never reach in my writing career, much less with this book. In a way it feels like winning the lottery. There are many of you out there who probably see $1k as a bad month, but I write weird books about weird shit, my audience is niche, and I’m admittedly terrible at finding it, even worse at the whole marketing thing.

The first two weeks after the sale also saw my normal ebook and paperback sales get a massive spike. At one point I was moving 10 ebooks and 3-5 paperbacks a day. Again, shit numbers for some of you, but for me, this was huge. Audiobook sales hit a snag, though, which is interesting. A bunch of people who got the book for free during the promotion downloaded the audiobook through Whispersync, and maybe that particular well has gone dry, because the past month has been the worst for my audiobook sales since I released Lurk on Audible. Not complaining, but it is interesting.

5820f8b8190000a502c31714
You knew this post would contain at least one Bryce Dallas Howard…

How Did This Promo Affect My Reviews?

As for reader reviews, that magic, ever-elusive phenomenon we all know is worth more to us than all the BookBub promotions under the sun – Lurk * currently has 65 reviews on Amazon, most of them verified. I’m a little bit peeved the top review is a 3-star review that talks about plot holes/character inconsistencies that are resolved in the first chapter … but I digress.

The vast majority of the new reviews on Amazon have been four and five stars. Lurk is currently sitting at around 300 ratings and 70 reviews on Goodreads. Goodreads in general is a bit of a tougher crowd, and the spread of positive to negative reviews is a little wider there. Still mostly positive, although I have seen some interesting trends on there that I haven’t seen on Amazon (like a few people one or two-starring several different editions of the book at once to lower its score).

IMG_6197
Beep beep, Ritchie

Conclusion

My conclusion is that the BookBub promo, if you can get it, is a massive boon to helping your book find its audience. I made back my $160 investment for the free promotion more than six-fold, got a ton of new reviews, and am extremely happy with the outcome of this promotion. It’s a myth to say that nothing good can come from giving away your book for free. I wonder how my results would’ve differed if I’d asked for a buck instead of nothing during the promotion, but I’m content enough with the results to not really care.

Corruption

The Book Addict's Reviews

Hey guys! Today I’m reviewing the audiobook Corruption by Adam Vine and narrated by Kevin Meyer.

I definitely enjoyed the story’s premise and the plot. I thought it was a very unique concept and I got hooked straight away. I like the whole not expected hero ploy and the fact that we kind of dislike Daniel throughout most of the story. He’s not very heroic, yet he does step up to the plate. I’d give the story a 4/5.

For the narration, I did enjoy it in parts. But there were also a lot of issues for me. I found that Meyer sounded the same for a lot of characters. The men voices were done well and pretty distinctive for the most part, but female voices seemed to have the most issues. They didn’t quite sound female nor did they have a good distinction between them. I’d have liked to…

View original post 56 more words