Do I Still Count?

When was the last time I wrote something original? I'm trying to remember and quite frankly, I can't. I edited the TRIAD SOCIETY then I revised JEHOVAH'S HITLIST then I started rewriting WANTED: CHOSEN ONE and now I'm doing yet another pass on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. Somewhere in there I wrote six chapters of THE 7TH SACRIFICE but I honestly can't remember when that was. It must have been January because I remember finishing JH right before Christmas.

It's been two months since I wrote something for a brand new story. The last time that happened it was the beginning of '09. It feels weird to have that absence, like I've given up being original and just dwelling on work I've already done. But that can't be, JH is a brand new story! It's never been queried. But I finished it in December. Hell, I should be 2/3 of the way through a new draft of a new story!

This is so outside my normal method of writing that it doesn't feel like I'm writing at all. I write [edit] every day but it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything at all.

Holy Balls!

I have been pondering it for months and I finally made a decision. An agent gave me feedback on WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING. He wanted Bastin to be the main character rather than Nashau. I've discussed that here before. Bastin is clearly the most likable, charismatic of the group, but the story was Nashau's and I didn't want to give that up.

So after a lengthy amount of pondering, I finally saw the story as Bastin's while keeping Nashau's subtext. Thus, I chopped off the initial four chapters (which were all Nashau and Podome) and condensed them to a single chapter 2. I kept the alive/dead juxtaposition that I loved in the original draft (something you won't understand unless you've read it, but take my word for it, it's awesome) and have moved on through chapter three.

You know how people often say they can't go back and read their own work? That they find it embarrassing? Not me. I LOVE this story. LUVRE IT! I wrote the damn thing and after watching Bastin hoodwink Farmer, I was just bouncing up and down on my seat. Holy balls this is a good story!

I will revise Podome/Nashau's story and hopefully inject more of Bastin's early energy later into the story. And then the hardest part: I'll need to write a new query for it.

JEHOVAH'S HITLIST will be the next story I query once I get beta reader feedback, but this one will follow shortly thereafter. I consider it a significant enough revision that requerying is appropriate. I have tentatively changed the name to FLIMFLAM just so I can keep the two stories separate. Not sure if I'll keep WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING as the final title. It seemed to turn some people off.

(This means I'm suspending work on 7Sac for the moment. I'm having a crisis of confidence following my rejection and can no longer manage the pacing. I'll need to get my feet back under me before I can continue on that one.)

The Waiting Game

So you've written your novel, you've revised it, you've received feedback, you've revised it again, you've written a query, you've revised it, you've received feedback, you've revised it again, you've queried, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've been asked for a partial manuscript, you've revised the partial in fear of it not being good enough, you've submitted it, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've checked your email obsessively, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've been asked for a full manuscript, you've revised the full in fear of it not being good enough, and you've submitted it.

What happens now?

You wait. And wait. And wait and wait and wait and wait.

It's a common enough topic among writing blogs. Don't wait for a response on your current work. Move on to the next one. Publishing is a lot of hurry up and wait. You'll revise your entire book over the course of a weekend to make it as perfect as you can and then nothing.

It can be hard to deal with. The closer you get, the harder the rejection is, and the harder it is not to make it back to that level again. If you come close to touching the sky, nothing short of reaching your hand up into heaven will do. It's maddening to not achieve your goal no matter how hard you try.

But wait you must. Good things come to those that wait. ...crappy things too, I can attest, but nothing good comes from something rushed (just ask my previous girlfriends).

The first time I had a full manuscript (BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE), I was told to expect a twelve-week response time. I was mortified when twelve weeks passed, thirteen, fourteen. Were they JUST about to get to my manuscript? If I asked for an update when they hit delete and tell me to sod off? Was it all a test to see if I would be a low-maintenance client and not pester them a thousand times a day with inane questions?

Finally at fifteen weeks, I emailed to confirm the file had been received and asked if they needed any additional material. That's the polite way of asking, "Hey what the fuck?" They confirmed that they had received the manuscript and apologized for the delay. The assistant was super awesome and I like her a whole lot. She was never anything but professional with me.

In total I received an eventual pass 7 months after I sent the materials off. They offered feedback which was awesome. I never expect feedback on a query. I don't expect it on a partial (though it would be nice). While I don't expect it on a full, after waiting so long and having invested so much, it certainly would be nice for even a paragraph of feedback. But hey, we're not entitled and that's not a statement of how things should be. I got it on my first two manuscripts, though, and it was incredibly helpful.

I thanked the assistant and the agent for the pleasure of working with them and the feedback. I then said I had finished another novel while I was waiting and asked would they like to see it? Sure it was a dig, but only a little one. I really had finished a second novel (and not first draft, the thing was done and in the can). I queried the second one (HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING) and we went round and round again.

They passed and I think it was for the best. This agent wants a manuscript ready to shop as soon as it's submitted. While I hope to be able to produce such a manuscript eventually, it doesn't seem like I'm producing them yet. I'd like an agent who not only points out what (s)he thought was weak but how that could be improved.

Which brings me to the current manuscript (THE TRIAD SOCIETY). This is with a different agent, one that I think is exactly the person I would want to work with. When they asked for my full, they said to expect a turn around time of two months. This is a third less than the previous agent but nothing says it won't be another seven months. Except for my experience with this agency. I queried (twice) my first two manuscripts (for a total of four queries) and they were prompt and always beat deadline. Two months is up Saturday. Of course, that two months covered Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and the general winter holiday.

This brings us to what I'm calling Injury Time (watch soccer to get that joke). Given the number of holidays that occurred during that stretch of time, I really don't think the two-month mark hits until February 5th, three weeks later. If they replied to me within that time, I would still consider it at or less than two months.

Now like I said, that's just an estimate. Things come up, emergencies with existing clients, illness, family emergencies and the like. If it takes seven months it takes seven months. I have finished the second draft of JEHOVAH'S HITLIST and sent it to beta readers for feedback (could use a few more if you're in the mood for adult, dystopian, alternate-history science fiction). I'm also working on the first draft of THE 7TH SACRIFICE. I've got plenty to do. No resting on my laurels here.

BUT, like I said earlier, this folks have always come in before their deadline. The arrival of injury time means that it's likely I'll hear back from them soon.


You can tell yourself not to obsess, not to worry, but really, I consider all this anxiety part and parcel to my ambition. I want this and have wanted it for decades. This is my life's goal and I've taken as many steps as I can take without an agent. That's the next step. That's the next step in my publishing plan. I could query publishers directly or self-publish, but there are other blogs for that kind of thing. Here in the Inkwell, we follow the traditional mode of publishing and we plan on ruling that bitch with an iron fist!

I won't even begin to tell you how many times I've checked my email just writing this post. Granted I have a smart phone so all I have to do is glance at it and see if it's blinking at me. That only enables the obsession.

I started actively tweeting and blogging about my writing before I was published not only to build platform but to document how hard it is to try and achieve your dreams when you can send off a completed manuscript and not hear anything for months and months and months. When I'm the flipping Clint Eastwood of fantasy, aspiring writers will read these early posts and see all this desire and anxiety and worry and think to themselves, Clint Eastwood? Really? I would have gone with John C. Reilly.


Measuring Progress

On my website, I have a page named the Queue where I list all the ideas I plan on pursuing to completion. This includes novels, short stories, plays, etc. My current wip will have a general word count (I don't update it every day) and those works I've finished will be struck through with a final word count (usually of the first draft).

I modified it today and removed the word count on everything except my current work in progress. I only work on one story at a time and with the exception of HOSNR, all of them would be restarted when I get to them. So having a word count there--especially a word count that hasn't changed in years--makes me look like I'm scatterbrained and/or unable to finish work I start on.

So it's all gone. Now, only 7Sac has a word count. I think the page looks much better, cleaner, more focused. It's a laser! bzzzzrrrzzzzzzzz!!!!!

Arbitrary Milestones

I passed 10,000 words on THE 7TH SACRIFICE this morning. This pleases me. I don't know why it pleases me more than passing 9,000 words or 11,000 words. 11,000 is more than 10,000 so why doesn't that please me more?

And it can't be some ridiculous "if I pass 10,000 then I know I'll finish it" because this very novel was abandoned at 27,000 words when last I attempted it (though this time around it's a bajillion times better--I have yet to describe the main character climbing down off his wagon and then climbing back up again).

For all that, I like passing 10,000 words. Perhaps it was all those times in my youth that I said, "I'm going to write a novel" only to fizzle out at 2500 words or some pathetic total that barely qualifies as a short story. 10,000 is progress. It says, you're working toward your goal.

I also like 50,000 words. 50,000 is the big number for me. I've never written a manuscript pass 50,000 words and not finished it. 50k, 100k, 150k are all obvious yet arbitrary milestones we assign because of our decimal-based learning structure. You can rope 10k in there too, as it is the essence of decimal.

It feels good, though. Especially to have done so so quickly. I had a lonely little intro chapter. Then I brainstormed with Liz. Now I have 10,000 words and a week hasn't even passed yet. That's pleasing. That's invigorating. This baby is on its way.

Writing is good.

(I'm coming down with something, though. You should see the stuff coming out of my nose. Not sure how much progress I'll make on the way home.)

Find the Fun in the Boring

I wrote chapter 2 for 7Sac today. This is a big deal because it's the first fully original chapter of this version. Pieces of chapter 1 got held over from my first attempt and much more of it came from the wind sprint I wrote. Chapter 2 was wholly fresh. I actually tried to write a little at the party last night, but how lame was that? And I got stuck on a naming convention (which I figured out either late last night or this morning, I can't actually remember). This morning, though, I knocked out the whole chapter and I am quite enthused.

I am enthused because so much of the chapter was unexpected. I started in a tricky spot with one of the main characters at a gate to a city. Oh how many D&D adventures annoy you with guards who are all flippant and bossy. But at the same time, there isn't a lot of use starting an early chapter with crossing a gate unless it's going to build character or somehow affect the plot. In this case, I quickly recognized the boring that was starting to spread. Cliche and unoriginality threatened to ruin my attempt, and I don't think the story is strong enough to survive a failed chapter this early on. I needed to rescue it. How do you resolve a character vs. gate guard situation without one of them acting a dick or both of them being polite and the scene becoming completely irrelevant?

Introduce another character! Hence Knight General Merchel arrived and saved the day for March Lord Albrecht. We got to skip past the guards and learn a little of both characters. More importantly, they stopped for coffee at a shop and I got to describe people and culture from the Waodian Republic. This is something I had never done in the previous draft and had no thought of doing in this draft. It's awesome that it happened, though, because one of the characters that gets introduced later is Waodian. Woo hoo! Laying the foundation baby!

Mostly, I love writing a chapter where all of a sudden a new and awesome facet of the setting comes into play totally without any planning. And it's rich and involved and I just love it and am so pleased and it gets me all excited., yeah. Happy new year.

Beginning Anew

I revised the wind sprint I wrote a few weeks ago into a MUCH better first chapter. There's a little too much there, but I'll pare that down during revision. The tone and the action are so much better. Less description of action and more action. I am incredibly pleased.

The thing is, today is the first day I've written in a week. Granted, it has been an incredibly stressful week at work, but not writing has exacerbated it. Once upon a time, I was able to go a few weeks without writing. Now it seems I can't go more than a day or two.

This is awesome in that I feel I've moved up a level in my abilities as a writer. But it's terrifying because it is having a genuine impact on my daily life. I wrote today over lunch and when I went back to the office, I was whistling a jaunty tune. I was in SUCH a great mood. A better mood than what was appropriate for having such a difficult work and eating lunch alone.

Writing is my heroine. And like a junkie, I think that's awesome.

Afternoon Showers on the Frontal Lobe

I did some brainstorming with Elizabeth Poole today, which was incredibly helpful. I was wavering on 7Sac, as the scope was too large and the story too small. There wasn't enough steak and potatoes. It was mostly pre-dinner rolls. The story was at risk of falling into too many cliches, specifically the "build a team" story where the majority of the story is building the team and not actually dealing with the threat at hand. Plenty of good books have followed this route, but plenty bad books have too and frankly it's a trope I'm incredibly bored with.

So rather than assemble the team, I'm going to chase the team.

Here's the quick breakdown. The book begins with the main character, Cheshire. Cheshire meets Albrecht who offers the inciting action. Cheshire and Albrecht meet Ananta the Magician and his two slaves.

That was the mistake. Having Ananta and his slaves all appear at once put too much weight on forward action without explaining why these three people have shown up or why they become necessary for the group. I kept focusing on Ananta. The slaves were window dressing even though both of them are necessary for the plot's advancement.

So, the obvious track is to introduce them individually. But that's where the "build a team" thing comes in. Now Ananta doesn't have slaves. They've become Grant Black and Coeas, demon hunters in their own right. Saying something like "we need to find these men" when Cheshire has been hunting demons for 42 years is totally stupid. The man has killed more demons than the rest of them put together, so to suggest he needs to build a team to accomplish what he's been doing for decades rings incredibly false.

BUT! The same inciting action that applies to Cheshire applies to Grant and Coeas as well...IF they're not being recruited but being stopped. All the demons have to be killed within a 24 hour period, hence the demons Cheshire has killed reincarnating every seven years. If Grant and Coeas found and killed their demons as well, the cycle repeats itself and they'd have to wait another seven years (and Cheshire is already old as dirt).

Sure it's still a team in the end, but the task isn't to go find and recruit people, but to find them and stop them from screwing everything up. That pleases me.

I'm also juggling on POV chapters for people who are possessed by the demons. I have a few ideas for these, some of them safer than the others. I think I'll just have to give it a try and see what happens.

Regardless, in this case, I have enough where this is officially a novel to work on. I'm going to take my computer with me to work tomorrow. Huzzah!

Thanks Liz!


I love maps almost as much as I like titles. If only I had the artistic talent necessary to draw maps. But I knew what I wanted to use as a map (also why I changed the name of the acreages). So after a little tweaking in photofiltre, I have a rough map that I will use for THE 7TH SACRIFICE.

I present to you...the Kingdom!

Plontsing the Sac

I've been on holiday! It is becoming a tradition that each Christmas my wife and I go up into the White Mountains for a few days. Though New Hampshire is a small state, the North country and the South Country are pretty different (as we're often reminded by those that live in the North). You can cut the state in half and vary the temperature by 10 degrees. Life is different there, including living in the lower elevations of the northern Appalachian Mountains. It's a great time, though this year absent snow. We are expecting a blizzard to hit tonight, so that should make up for it. Of course, it was supposed to start snowing 2 1/2 hours ago, so who knows if that will actually materialize.

If you're ever in North Conway, consider staying at the Wyatt House Bed & Breakfast. They were great to us. The food was delicious. And it's ideally situated.

While I was there, Jen too copious amounts of naps, more than usual, which gave me the writing time I needed to wrap up JH and send it off to beta readers. That number is down to two, now, which is disappointing. But people have lives and it's the holidays, so I understand.

I had thought to maybe spend a few weeks reading. I'm going to put attention to finishing Tad Williams' SHADOWHEART. I finished MOCKINGJAY yesterday. It was good, but I don't think it was worth the hype that it got. The ending averted being a disaster and ended up being just okay. The whole trilogy almost seems like it was written just to show which boy the character will choose, which is interesting for all of five pages, not three books.

As for me, spending time reading is turning into prep work for writing THE 7TH SACRIFICE (I've officially changed its name to be 7TH instead of SEVENTH).

For starters, I'm no longer calling the counties the counties. I originally conceived this story between writing WANTED: CHOSEN ONE and THE TRIAD SOCIETY. The former puts a lot of focus on duchies and a king. The latter puts more focus on counties. For 7Sac, I had wanted to use counties as a regional boundary because so often people focus on duchies or kingdoms and I like that county is still a word we use today. When I abandoned my first attempt at 7Sac, that bled over to TTS. The problem is, now TTS is a finished novel and the possible first in a trilogy, so using counties again seems like beating a dead horse.

I went horseback riding on my vacation. The farm was 77 acres of an original 1000 acreage granted to the owner's family in 1771 by King George III. Yup, I went horseback riding on a 239-year-old farm. New England is awesome. This made me tweak things a bit.

Basic breakdown. "The Kingdom" is where this takes place. The Kingdom is broken into four areas, originally called counties. Each of these counts claimed the thrown after the king died under mysterious circumstances. That's getting modified. The counties are acreages. Acreage is a little cumbersome to say. I was watching "Valhalla Rising" yesterday (disembowelment on Christmas!) and they calls Mads a terror from the southerlands. Well isn't that nifty. You always hear highlands or lowlands or East and West or what have you. Hell, I even used Southerland in TTS as Soderland (German), but this feels different. The acreages are delineated by compass.

Cumberland Acreage, the Westerlands
Arostook Acreage, the Northerlands
Somerset Acreage, the Easterlands
Kennebec Acreage, the Southerlands

Now, instead of counts, each of the Acreages is rules by a prince or princess, with Cumberland being home to the Crown Prince and rightful heir. The rest claim he assassinated their father and thus forfeited the throne. Each of them now call himself/herself King/Queen, but most just refer to them as the Pretenders (a term I made the first time around that was used much less).

I also used Tinkers in JEHOVAH'S HITLIST, so it wouldn't do to include them again in 7Sac. But I love the tinkers I've created, so really I'm just changing the name since the two types of tinkers were completely different. Now they'll be called Peddlers.

One thing that's getting dropped all together is the varying naming structures. Each county represented a different European culture in terms of naming. I think I'll just stick with Brittany this time as I so often move into other areas of Europe for inspiration. Main character's name is Cheshire, after all, and don't want to change that. So it wouldn't make sense if everyone else had a Russian name.

The visuals in "Valhalla Rising" were pretty amazing, enough to make up for the fact the story (there was a story?) made no sense whatsoever. Quite inspirational. Gave me a lot of ideas on description for the Four Corners, where the four acreages meet and where the abandoned royal palace still stands. I had thought to write the description here, but I'm not in the mood any more, so I'll save that for next time.

Hope you all had an enjoyable week while I was away. Time to get back to work. :)

(Oooo, and I got a Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock t-shirt in my stocking! Woo hoo!)

(And a titanium spork!!!!)


Things on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST slowed down for a couple weeks. It occurred to me that I was fast approaching maximum word count and the pacing was too slow. I also was bored as a writer, which means I'll probably be bored as a reader. I pushed through what I had and sped things up. That has yielded some fresh and fun ideas (I love making iconic secondary character types1). I am now grooving along. Jehovah is about to go up above to which the book will end when he returns.

Since my wind sprint on THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, I have decided that will be my next work. If complete, it should also be my largest book to date. I will revise the first chapter with some suggestions from Nate Wilson and move on to chapter 2 which is already percolating in my brain. Hopefully that will get the ball rolling and will yield an awesome fantasy story2.

Yay for writing. If this all goes to plan, I should be starting the new wip the week before or the week of Christmas.

1 In TTS it was the Triad Society itself. In JH it is the tinkers. ... in fact, in the first draft of 7Sac, it was a completely different type of tinker3. In Wanted it was the Baker Boys and in BM/BBQ it was Cyrus the cat.

2 I'm making a genuine effort to include magic in this one too. Huh, woulda thunk it, magic in a fantasy book!

3 It started with a genuine intention to get certain themes I like into a published book. Since the previous book wasn't selling, I might keep something for the new work. What happens is you can draw a dot-to-dot of my manuscripts where I've taken something (like tinkers) and reimagined it in a new world. I kind of enjoy it.


I'm not keen on giving up on a manuscript, but sometimes a thing is broke so bad it can't be fixed1. THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE was a manuscript I abandoned because it was all wrong. There were a few chapters I enjoyed (the introductions of the tinkers), but it boiled down to Cheshire getting off his wagon and then getting back on. 27,000 words of a whole lot of nothing. AND, where I wanted to take the story was near impossible because of where I started the story.

So, when JEHOVAH'S HITLIST is finished, I'll take another crack at it. It seemed like a good story to use as a wind sprint.

Now aside from my own rules, there are some fundamental rules to writing. You know when people say, "All writing is subjective." That's crap. Don't listen to those people. They don't know what they're talking about. Your enjoyment of writing is subjective, but there is a craft to what we do and any craft has rules.

But rules were made to be broken! Yes they are, but you have to know them to break them, which is why we study our craft the way we do. You have to know what the rule is and you have to determine how you can break it well. Just breaking it to break it won't get you anything but a broken rule and you'll look like an amateur. [/tirade]

So, one of these rules is not to start your manuscript with a fight. Why? Because the reader isn't invested. Fights are usually detailed things. You don't just say "they fought." You choreograph. You build tension. There's a winner and there's a loser. But if it's your first chapter, who the hell cares? The reader is not invested in any of the characters and their life or death is irrelevant to the course of the story so far because there hasn't been a story so far.

With THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, I set out to break that rule. Mostly because I didn't want to dwell on the combat (which I failed at since speeding it up wrecked the pacing of the chapter). More over, I wanted to portray the good guy as a bad guy (which I succeeded at, but possibly succeeded at too well). I also better incorporated the song as a feature of the story. The song appears frequently throughout the book and is pivotal to the ending (which I wrote in the first draft and we're keeping it because that thing is solid gold!). Originally, the first chapter just started with the word "Singing:" a la John Cleese in the Eric the Half a Bee sketch. That didn't work, so I finagled something new.

Now this is a first draft. Really, as a wind sprint, I think it counts more as a zeroeth draft2. It'll get a full pass again later once I take up the manuscript in earnest. Still, your comments, criticisms, and questions are always welcome. The excerpt comes after the footnotes so those of you that want to read the footnotes but not the excerpt don't have to go to the bottom. I'm nice like that.

1 Bonus points if you can name the show and episode I took that line from. It's one of the greatest episodes of television EVAR! So if you haven't seen it, you should go watch it.

2 For the life of me, I can't find my post or Liz's post on this concept. Someone help me out!




Cheshire couldn't remember much of his father. Given enough time and enough distance, memories blended together. Things like eyes and hair became meaningless. Things like a smile for one's son after a hard day's work became priceless.

Cheshire's strongest memory of his father wasn't of his father at all. It was Netty, their plow horse. And not even of the mare herself, but the song his father used to sing about her. When the sun was high, the clouds absent, and the furrows rocky, Cheshire's father sang about the old gray mare.

These many decades later, when Cheshire couldn't have picked his father out of a crowd at a tavern, he still remembered that song. He sang it himself, from time to time. Whenever things got difficult, he sang until they weren't difficult any longer.

“These old legs
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old legs
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't dance no more.”

Morningtide at Field House was the preeminent ball of Grafton County. Lilian Enright was the weakest of the Pretenders which meant she had to throw the most extravagant parties, remind the other nobles of the county who was in charge. Remind them who was queen now.

Cheshire loved to dance and Morningtide hosted the best musicians. Add to that the most exquisite delicacies and the most beautiful women, and the affair was the grandest in the entire Kingdom. He had a special set of dancing shoes made special just for the event. He polished every piece himself: the black leather, the square silver buckles, even the wooden soles. That was his secret, one he did not share with the younger fellows. When they stared and tried to figure how this man thirty years their senior flowed about the floor so smoothly, Cheshire took advantage of their pause to introduce himself to their dancing partners.

That secret was was about to kill him. Cheshire's foot slipped off another rock. He caught himself, abrading his hand, saving himself from a more severe break. He needed to get off these rocks before it was too late.

“These old eyes
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old eyes
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't see no more.”

He had seen her there, at Field House. She said her name was Elisabeth. He said his was Edward He had danced with half a dozen other women, but when he took her hand in the middle of a wheel, he had known she was the one. He took her card away and ripped it up. She would dance with no other than he.

Let her other hopeful suitors complain, and complain they had. He a week before his fifty-ninth birthday, she a week after her sixteenth, it was the scandal of the ball, and her eyes sparkled for it. A dark blue-gray like the ocean in the midst of a storm, she smiled and she laughed with those eyes.

They had danced together until the midnight bells rang. And while other young women bid their partners farewell and returned to their chaperons, neither Elisabeth nor Cheshire would leave each other's side.

He whispered in her ear, and she laughed. He told her there was a full moon, and they should walk on the beach together. Her eyes sparkled like stars and they escaped out the servant's entrance.

Her parents would search the crowd for her, but on the beach, no one would hear her scream.

“These old ears
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old ears
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't hear no more.”

The beach was beautiful, he knew. If only he could get to it. A rill of stones separated the Field House with its manicured lawns from the ocean with its unending waves. It was impossible to walk across with waxed shoes, even harder to do so with haste. The roar of the ocean told him it would be faster to press on than to try and return the way they had come.

The ocean seemed nothing more than a painting from within the Field House. The crash of the waves was turned away by the rocks. What little made its way up the hill was overcome by the orchestra. Here, alone on the beach, he could not even hear himself breath, the waves were so loud. He most certainly could not hear her.

Cheshire climbed atop a boulder the size of a mastiff. It crowned the rill and gave him a clear view of everything. The rocks continued on almost to the waterline, but the tide was leaving and the sand reappeared. In a little while, the beach would be three times as large. That did him little good now, of course.

He should not have let her get away from him..

“These old hands
They're not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
Not what they used to be
These old hands
They're not what they used to be
Soon they won't fight no more.”

The full moon lit the beach in its entirety, but the clouds raced across the sky, and shadows danced everywhere. Cheshire turned every which way, trying to find Elisabeth. He could not let her get away. He would not get another chance at this if she made it back inside. The house was still full of boys with swords playing at being men. If she sicked them on him, he'd be a fox to the hounds.

The waves lulled, and he heard the crunching of rocks from the other side of the rill. He turned about, pulling a knife from his sleeve. Elisabeth ran atop the rill and vaulted into the air. Steel glinted in the moonlight, a blade twice the length of his knife.

Cheshire lifted his knife above his head. Metal clashed against metal as he turned the blow away. His waxed shoes slipped out from beneath him, and he fell off the boulder. Elisabeth wasted no time in striking a second time. The dagger slid just past Cheshire's neck and tore off his favorite earring.

She bounded away just as quick, melting into the shadow of a passing cloud.

“Tell me your name, girl.” His voice cracked. As did the rest of him. Near on sixty years, only the Pretenders could say they were older. Cheshire wondered if their bodies were falling apart too.

“But Edward, you know my name. I am Elisabeth.” She raced by and struck a glancing blow. Again he turned it away. She was gone before you could counter. She was faster and stronger than her size suggested. He could not hope to best her on these rocks.

Cheshire kicked off his shoes and pulled himself up. The rocks were cold through his silk stockings. He stepped aside, putting the boulder between them.

She came again. He waited to see if she went left or right. She leap, ball gown and all, onto the boulder. He took one step back, but gave her no more room to dive atop him. He thrust from the elbow, striking for her ankles. Her leap thrown off balance, she pushed herself back off the rock and slid to a stop amidst the stones. She skipped back out of his reach. Cheshire found the largest rocks he could nearby and began weaving a path toward the sandy beach.

“Is this how you get your jollies, Edward? You wander the counties in search of balls where you can seduce young women?” She made a zigzag of her own, keeping the beach always parallel to them. “Has your manhood finally whithered and now you think to take it out on me?”

Elisabeth held out her off-hand, palm downward, two fingers up. She lifted her right knee and raised her dagger above her head. Cheshire couldn't help but smile. She knew Quintal's Offensive. The master swordsman's Fivefold Strategy had been revolutionary in its day. It had fallen from popularity three decades past. If there had been any doubts whether this girl was the one he sought, that satisfied them.

Cheshire put his left foot out, touching the rocks only with his toe. He twisted to the side, keeping his blade-hand parallel to his leg, Quintal's Defensive. It was a humble swordsman that designed the counter to his own maneuver. Cheshire had always admired that about Quintal. The girl approached. He turned, countered, turned, and riposted. The girl slapped his blade away at its last breadth. It sliced open the side of her dress.

“Want me naked too? Dirty old man,” the girl spat.

Cheshire laughed and smiled at her despite himself. The last one had been younger, scared. It had been quick and easy. Easier than any of the ones before. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed the challenge. Something beside his bladder stirred inside him. Purpose—

“Ow, damn!” Elisabeth's blade slid across his elbow, and opened the flesh to the bone. Cheshire dropped his knife. His left hand shot out and caught it by the hilt before it fell to the rocks. His back popped a staccato beat as he whipped himself sideways.

He held the blade up less confidently than a moment before. He looked between his exposed elbow and Elisabeth who smiled at him viciously.

“This old elbow, it's not what it used to be, not what it used to be, not what it used to be.” Blood was coming on faster than it should. He'd had too much to drink at the party. He'd need to finish this quickly. “This old elbow, it's not what it used to be—”

He leaped forward from large rock to large rock, bringing his knife down like an ice pick. It wasn't graceful, but his size and power finally tipped her balance. She stumbled on the rocks.

Cheshire seized the opportunity to find a path to the sandy beach, making a wide arc across the largest rocks.

“Soon it won't... what? Bend? Soon it won't bend no more? That's a bit boring, don't you think, dear?”

Elisabeth raced toward him, Quintal's Charge. He needed his right arm for Quintal's Shield, but there were other methods to counter Quintal's Fivefold Strategy. As she closed, he kicked. The sand exploded in a cloud. She jerked back, and he put his bare foot to her face. His hip popped.

Her nose cracked and blood spurted down her face. She fell back and dropped her dagger. Cheshire dug his foot into the sand beneath it and flung the weapon into the water. He moved in behind her while she rubbed her eyes clean. He wrapped an arm around her neck like a snake around a country mouse.

“Tell me your name, girl,” he growled. “Or this old arm will snap your fucking neck.” He gave her a hard jerk just so she knew he was serious.

“You bwoke my node.” The girl pawed at her face over Cheshire's arm. He would pin her hands, but his right arm couldn't stand the pressure. It would need stitches when he was done here. He certainly wouldn't be able to bury the body in this state. He was glad he was taking this one with him.

“I'll break a lot more than that if you don't tell me. I won't stab you in the appendix, not this time. I'll cut your arms and legs off and bury you back in those rocks. I'll leave you trapped in that husk of a body until I have the rest. Then I'll know one way or the other.”

Cheshire bent her sideways until her arm was pinned agianst the beach. He pressed against her elbow with his knee and leaned forward. She breathed hard and blood showered across his sleeve. The shirt was already ruined. She panted and grunted but didn't speak. He jerked forward and felt the arm snap. The girl screamed, thrashed about, but he kept his grip firm. She clawed at his face with her good arm, but he bit down hard on her fingers.

“Tell me.” She only screamed louder. He broke her other arm. He let go his choke hold and stood. Her feet dug into the sand as she tried to push herself to her feet. Without her arms to lever her up, she just dragged her face across the sand until blood mixed with the grit and turned into a thick gristle.

Cheshire cut into her leg. The knife point stuck into her bone.

“Helb!” she howled. “Domeone helb me!”

“Scream all you want.” Cheshire circled her but she rolled in the sand, hiding her one good leg from him. “No one can hear you over the rocks.”

“Helb! Helb!”

“Tell me your name!” He kicked her in the side, rolled her over, and cut into her last good appendage. She lost use for speech then. She began a caterwaul louder than a mountain lion with its tail caught in a trap. That was the answer he needed.


The sand beneath the girl was wet and mucky, not only from the tide but from the blood that spilled out of her. There was but a trickle left, squirting out in pathetic bursts, but still she howled. She thrashed and screamed and kicked. Life leaked out of her but still she moved.

Cheshire wiped his knife clean with a rag. He had no idea why. He was not done yet. It felt like this last act deserved something extra. He walked up behind her and grabbed her hair with his bad arm. His elbow burned hot and fierce, and he felt a little light headed, but he was strong enough to manage this. He stretched her neck to the side, then opened the bottom of her throat with the dagger.

Her howling disappeared. She tried to scream, but the air only gurgled out of the hole in her throat.

“That's better,” he said. He wiped the knife clean a second time, then slid it back into his sleeve. He took the cloth and wrapped it around his wounded elbow. With left hand and teeth, he managed a knot.

“Stand yourself up,” Cheshire said. She gave him an incredulous look. “Drop the act, Howler. If you were still Elisabeth, you would be long dead.” She did not move. “You can walk to the wagon and lie down, or I can lash you to the back and drag you to Four Corners. The choice is yours.”

Howler mouthed a litany of what Cheshire assumed were curses, but her throat only gurgled.

“Forty-nine years,” he said. “I've hunted demons for forty-nine years. It will all be over soon.”

When still she did not move, he found a large rock nearby and struck her over the head. He hoisted her up onto his shoulder and carried her down the beach away from Field House.

A wagon was parked where no one would see it. He threw her into the back. Cheshire hopped up onto the buckboard, took the reins in his good hand, kicked the break free, and gave his horse a snap. The wagon pulled onto the road and headed inland, away from the peacefulness of the ocean.

Wind Sprints

I wrote the first draft of THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I didn't like it. It wasn't bad necessarily. It just wasn't the story I set out to write. The story I had planned was this huge intricate intrigue that spanned the politics of the university, the city, the kingdom! And in the end, a meeting made at the beginning of the book would afford the hero an opportunity to make his case and win the day.

In the first draft, he fills out the paperwork for the meeting and then it's never mentioned again. The story took a MASSIVE left turn and finished in half the word count I originally expected. After what I felt was the success of WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING (in terms of story even though I never landed an agent), finishing THE TRIAD SOCIETY with such a mediocre offering really brought me down.

So, I broke my routine. Normally, when I finish a manuscript first draft, I will take a few weeks off and read a book or three. Then I'll go back and revise. This time, I read a couple books, but then I started work on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. I usually start a new manuscript while the previous ms is with beta readers. I'll then stop and revise for the third draft. This means I'm only about 12,000 words into a manuscript.

Instead, I wrote 32,000 words before even starting on the second draft. What happened, though, was THE TRIAD SOCIETY went from mediocre to solid. I still like WANTED's story more, but Liz tells me that she likes TTS better. After struggling to find my rhythm and pacing, I wrote another 25,000 words on JH before revising TTS again.

So now we're done with TTS and it's ready to go to agents in its awesome state. The longer break, I think, saved an average manuscript from remaining average. HOWEVER, it's also affected the newer manuscript in a negative fashion. It's hard to bounce between voices, especially when one is a bureaucratic fantasy and the other is an anarchic sci-fi. It's even harder to do it twice!

If writing is sunshine, revising is sunshine bent through a magnifying glass that burns the ant in the driveway. It's a complete immersion in a manuscript where you question every word choice, sentence structure, and plot point. You can't just revise an entire manuscript and then go back to another manuscript that's 2/3 finished. At least, I can't.

So once again, I find myself without momentum on JH. Maybe I really should stop and try something else for awhile. In addition to breaking the rules, it feels shitting to stop working on a manuscript that is 30,000 words from the end. What I really need is a jumpstart. I'm not having trouble writing JH. I know what comes next. But the motivation is gone. I feel like I should still be working on TTS or even (in total violation of the rules), it's sequel THE RED SOCK SOCIETY.

That is when I thought of a new exercise. Wind sprints. Run, stop, run, stop. Get your heartbeat up before basketball practice where you'll have to run up and down the court and Joe is a chubby little kid and sucks at running, so he needs all the warmup he can get.

I have a number of stories on deck: THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR?, THE RED SOCK SOCIETY, and THE HOUSE ON SANDWICH NOTCH LANE. Plenty of things to dabble in. And dabbling is exactly what we're going to do. I'm going to write the first chapter on all or some of these but not commit to writing any of them. Basically, I'm doing writing wind sprints. I need to get my writing heart rate up so finishing JH doesn't seem so laborious. And, it lets me create some new things with new voices and just revel in creativity for creativity's sake.

Two posts following this one will have chapter 1 of 7Sac and CROOKED. I may post more later if the need arises or I may hop back into JH and finish that thing off.