Poetry: Time

Time is a Polish mandolin
You bought for two hundred PLN
Under tenements weeping plaster slow
To trade for walls of brick and snow.

Time is what you leave behind
When bags spill over dotted lines.
 
Time is a stroll by winter trees
Wrapped in scarves and bitter breeze
With only antique lamps to guide
Dimming paths doomed to unwind.

Time is what you leave behind
In quiets deep and maybes wide.

Time is a Baltic amber jewel
In that necklace you lost at school
That took ages just to be
And vanished just as instantly.

Time is what you leave behind
When friends say it will all be fine.

Time is a song – yeah, sure, why not?
A familiar rhythm you forgot
That still gives the same sedative shine
Of elegiac, illusory rewind.

In kitchens that double as dancefloors
In necklaces that once were yours
On snowy pathways footprint-scored
Or mandolin strings long ignored
I accept that all things change in time

But I won’t forget you, love of mine.

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.

Dab of Darkness reviews ‘Corruption’

Corruption, the first book in my dark fantasy series “The Corruption Cycle,” is finally getting some reviews. This latest one from Dab of Darkness is my favorite one yet. Dab reviewed Lurk, too. There’s also a fun interview after the review in which I get to talk about bed bugs, Gene Wolfe, and other random stuff. One minor quibble: his name is Rat Keeper, not Rat Catcher 😅

Read the full review + interview here.

CORRUPTION gets a new (and vastly improved) blurb

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A dishonored swordsman running from his past.
 
A city shrouded in dark magic.
 
A girl with the key to a nightmarish otherworld.
 
An antihero born.
 
Daniel Harper was champion, until a single mistake destroyed his fencing career forever. With nothing left to lose, he flees to Eastern Europe, where he can start over… where he can be someone else.
 
In the exotic, lantern-lit crevices of a nameless city, Daniel meets two people who open very different kinds of doors than the ones he is searching for: the troubled flower girl Kashka, who holds a strange connection to the world of dreams; and the enigmatic street magician and self-professed love tourist Ink, who has the power to bend others to his will.
 
As Daniel plummets into a downward spiral of hedonism and dereliction, he is tormented by macabre visions of a frozen world in endless darkness where an evil tyrant has stolen the sun, where humanity’s remnants fight to scrape out a cruel existence underground, and wandering spirits inhabit the bodies of the recently deceased. Daniel has become a Visitor, one doomed to return to this Night Country every time he falls into a deep sleep. But the longer he spends there, the more Daniel realizes his curse is anything but an accident…
 
Part one of an epic duology, CORRUPTION is the vodka-drenched tale of when living by the sword goes wrong.
 
***
 
(Want more? You can read the first chapter here.)

‘Corruption’ Is Out

Corruption (The Corruption Cycle, #1) is out today on Kindle.

There are a few loose thoughts in my brain that I want to get out there concerning the three-year journey it took to write this book. But first –

Celebration!

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What a celebration looks like in Bavaria. Also what every day looks like in Bavaria.

Thought #1: This wasn’t always an easy book to write.

I started writing Corruption back in early 2014, before I ever sold a story, when Lurk was still a twenty-page first draft kicking around on my old Alienware laptop. It took me about six months to finish the first pass on Corruption once I picked it up and really committed in late 2015, and almost a year to rewrite and edit it to a point where I was comfortable showing it to friends and family.

Corruption contains three nested stories: the story of Dan, an expat running from his past who flees America to find a new life in Eastern Europe; the story of the Night Country, a fallen, post-apocalyptic world where an evil king has stolen the sun; and finally, the fictional story of a good knight on a mission to save his kingdom in the epic poem Dan is translating at work.

Balancing these three story lines gave me some trouble in the early drafts. As usual, the best advice I received came from my dad. He was my first reader, and while he really loved the story once he got into it, he struggled with the big initial splash. So I rewrote Q1. Not completely. Mostly, I added a POV character that ended up being my favorite character in the book. I love me a bastardly villain, and the Ratkeeper (the guy in the spiral mask pictured below) is in some ways as bastardly as they come.

Thought #2: You can grow even from the harshest criticism.

On the subject of the cover… the second-best advice I received in the production of this book came from /r/selfpublish, who took me to task when I posted the crappy “cover” I made in Gimp, which in my tunnel vision looked awesome, but in hindsight, would’ve killed this book in the womb. Check out that side-by-side for reference. I tried to do this part myself, not for egotistical reasons, but because I wanted the challenge.

Wrong.

Dudes, we should only try to climb the mountains we are meant to climb. I am not a graphic designer and never will be. I scrapped what we will now refer to as the “mood-setter” cover (in real English, the shit one), and ended up working with J. Caleb Clark on the final cover the book has now. He was a godsend. He created an image that was not only beautiful and eye-catching, but also captured the essence of the story better than the best-case scenario I had in my head.

Lesson learned: don’t try to do everything yourself, and always trust your professionals.

day-of-the-dead-bub-the-zombie-reading

Thought #3: This book isn’t for everyone.

I have no illusions about the fact that Corruption will be a difficult book for some people. There are no Elvish musicals or handsome, square-jawed saviors. When I classify this book as “dark fantasy” I am not doing so in an attempt to ride George R.R. Martin’s diamond coattails. There is some graphic sex and violence – more of the latter than the former – but the darkness I chose to write about in Corruption is, if you couldn’t guess from the title, primarily of the social, human variety.

As with Lurk, I wanted to write about ideas and people that I find interesting, and those typically gravitate toward the fringes. The uglier parts of this story include hate, loneliness, dysfunctional relationships, mental illness, alcoholism, Eastern European geopolitics, weird internet subcultures, sex curses, a solar apocalypse, and beyond.

Is a fantasy novel the right place to explore these subjects? I don’t know. This is not the book that I thought I should write for other people; it’s the book I wrote because I wanted to read it. Art is always a mirror. Sometimes it is a mirror we hold up to other people, and sometimes it is a mirror we hold up to ourselves. To me Corruption is a bit of both.

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Thought #4: After three years, it is time to do like the homegirl Elsa and let it go.

Whether you adore Corruption, hate it, finish it, don’t read it, five-star it, one-star it, devour it in one sitting or nibble it to completion, fantasy readers of the world… Corruption is yours now.

Thank you to everyone who helped along the way, and especially, to Hannah.

The Berlin I Remember

berlin

 

This is the Berlin I remember
A glowing winter flame
Where open hands and steaming wine
Lay stones upon old pain.

 

berlin-2

 

When I think of Berlin,
There’s only one that I recall
Not the one of sorrow and blood
But the light that’s growing tall.

 

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Don’t send them empty platitudes
Or Facebook prayers or snark;
Instead become that winter flame
That banishes the dark.