Revamp

I’m excited about the new look on this page. Apparently I’ve had this going for four years or so. (Thanks, WordPress, for making me feel old.) But I kept with the same theme for the better part of that timeframe.

I played around with my original theme’s sidebar widgets to see if I could display book covers with the pages giving a preview of those books’ contents. No dice.

So eventually I chose a new theme, moved things around, supplied some new links, and clicked “Save & Publish.”

Yay!

I know, I know. Good job, Dave. You did the basic things necessary, things that probably every blogger has to figure out sooner or later. Would you like a high-five or a cookie for all your hard work? TOO BAD.

One thing I’d like to point out is that I’ve added a link to my WattPad profile on the right hand sidebar. In addition to similar previews of my self-published novels, it also has a collection of some short stories posted on this blog as well as the ongoing adventures of Grant & Teagan from my BlogBattles entries. Those are compiled in:

explorer
The Ginger of Galway on WattPad

On top of that, I have an almost-finished WattPad novel that’s only available on that site:

Echoes
Echoes on WattPad

Hooray for linking social media together!

I Like to Make Drawrings

So I got the first part of Chapter 1 of DIffusion critiqued in my writers’ group. And while I am pleased with the feedback, the magic confused one reader who hasn’t read book 1. (Diffraction, available here, shameless plug!) 

The primary magic is Refocusing, where the four Aristotlean elements (earth, water, air, fire) are transformed from one into another. Some elemental shifts are complementary – air turns into fire pretty smoothly, with minimal loss of energy. Others are contradictory – fire to water and vice versa, for example. These conversions waste significant energy, so the amount of the end result is the amount you start with, cut in half or more.

Additionally there are two secondary elements produced by combining two primaries: magelight (fire and air), and shadow (earth and water). 

The impression my crit group member got was that I had written something like Avatar, where one learns to bend a particular element only. I obviously have some clarification to do in the writing so that the idea of transforming one element into another comes through clearly.

But I thought there might be other ways to convey this information.

I love books that include art or “scholarly perspectives” on aspects of the story. Sanderson has been doing this with his Stormlight Archives, and it’s awesome. To me, that level of detail helps reinforce the idea that this is a coherent world.

One of my favorite hobbies is drawing to pass the time. So I took a couple hours and whipped up an artist’s rendition of sorts for the elemental continuum in my fantasy series.

Starting from the top left, Aqua, Aera, Flagros, Terros, with Tenebrae on the left side and Lux on the right (plus Lyllithe’s strange Void in the center)

I still have some annotations to add… maybe a couple arrows or connections showing which elements are contradictory… and I’ll have to fix the parts where the top sheet of paper sticks up from the bottom layer. (The perils of drawing with pen instead of pencil, I suppose. I finished the outer parts without any deal-breakers, then totally botched the magelight on the right side and had to start those parts over. 

Still, overall I’m happy with this and intend for it to be close to Chapter 1 in the eventual print version of Diffusion. 

Saturday Night’s Alright

I’m so excited. 

Our base chapel started a Saturday evening service, which works well for lazy old feeble folks like me that want that slow Sunday morning. 

And they have a choir director who has been filling in playing keys but doesn’t particularly want to do that.

They also have this poor, unattended grand piano.

And I have a wife who plays violin…

So last week, I stepped up to say “You know who’s got two thumbs and plays some good piano? This guy.”

It’s a small, intimate service, but it’s contemporary and the music is pretty much everything I enjoy.

I know I shouldn’t pick a church based on what I like / what suits me. But I’m not going to complain at the chance to serve and contribute something missing to this small part of the Body of Christ.

Off for now, it’s time to jam!

Early May Diffusion Update

May is off to a good start on the ol’ word count tracker.

In January to April, I only had one other week where I reached >7K words.

Roughly a thousand words a day, on various projects, for the first half of May. I can live with this.

Additionally, I enjoyed some opportunities to hone my craft and improve my understanding of all things writing. I picked up Sol Stein’s much-lauded classic, Stein on Writing, and I attended a workshop on story structure led by an award winning sci-fi author who for various reasons retired and decided to teach on Okinawa, Japan.

Not only that, but my local writer friends and I finally held the first full-fledged, in-person critique group that we’ve been talking about off and on for over a year. Getting fresh eyes on a segment of Diffusion chapter 1 helped me identify what’s working well and what I should clarify.

Also I discovered–to my chagrin–as far as readers are concerned, I named a character “G-Mail.” One of the things I love to do in crit groups is read portions of everyone’s submissions out loud. Your ear catches things your eye glosses over when reading silently… like the fact that Gemail (pronounced in my head as guh-mail) turned into Gmail.com for everyone else.

This morning, I’ve been working on the overall outline. I’m a planner with sci-fi and fantasy… and pretty much everything I write, now that I think about it. Planning means I need to know Point A and Point Z, along with several landmarks and stops in between. There’s room for some creativity between these points, so characters can still surprise me as I write. But conflicts and character developments have to lead to certain key events–especially if I want the reader to get to the end and look back, thinking, “Oh, there it was all along, how did I miss that?”

I’m definitely not doing the “seat of the pants” method of “write whatever comes to you.”  My multiple Grant & Teagan posts for BlogBattle entries are the closest I can get to that, since it starts with a word prompt that gives me an idea for a scene.

So one of the unrealistic things about fantasy and YA fiction is how the main character just so happens to be the linchpin of the entire world, connected to and holding everything together. And there’s room for that in the genre–it’s kind of expected. 

Sure, you have stuff like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), where riveting, beloved characters are killed with extreme prejudice. And as a result, certain fans look down on books that don’t have a double-digit death count of potential fan-favorite characters. But that’s the exception, not the rule.

Still, even if the hero/heroine is the center of that novel’s universe, there has to be a reason for all this attention. And in fantasy, one favorite way to get there is prophecy–partly because it fits the genre, partly because it ties current events to the past, and partly because the myriad ways characters misinterpret it can lead to wonderful conflicts (spoilers for my book 2 and beyond, haha).

Also you get to dabble in poetry, because as The Lego Movie taught us, “all this is true, because it rhymes.”


So, in first draft form, here’s a part of the “Daughters” prophecy that helps explain the motivations of and manipulations by characters in positions of power. It also plays a big part in the growing conflict between Lyllithe and Josephine:

In centuries yet far beyond I see four years of blight

When ev’ry soul is shaken and their hateful foes delight

As all the pow’r of Hell breaks forth with endless appetite

For blood and death and chaos plunging nations into night 

In centuries yet far beyond, behold the Naurchoth’s rise

Whose rifts shall tear asunder and darkness blot the skies

Whose wrath—though slowly kindled—shall break forth as a flood

Let mankind’s candle dwindle, drowned in a sea of blood
Daughter of Puremight, hold back no more

Daughter of Twilight, fulfill what you swore

For the Daughter of Midnight stands at the door

With an army of Shadewrought ready for war.

Daughter of Puremight to break and restore

Daughter of Twilight, to bind up the core

Of the Daughter of Midnight whom all abhor

As she shatters and scars Avatars we yearn for

Daughter of Puremight, do not stand alone

Daughter of Twilight, move past what you’ve known

Lest the Daughter of Midnight come into her own 

And annihilate all that remains of the Throne 

The Duplicitous Dare (part 2)

I was just going to use the snippet I wrote last week for this week’s entry. But I have way too much fun picturing these characters and their antics. Also, I get 500 extra words to play with? How could I resist?

So here’s the continuation of the tale of Agent Dare (pronounced dah-rey in Japanese, meaning “who?”).

(1,494 words, Genre: Adventure)

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer of the Unknown, Finder of the Undiscovered, and Protector of the Undefended
…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

There was no avoiding the unpleasant fact, Teagan realized. Her partner, Grant McSwain, was a colossal fool.

He and the Empire of Japan’s agent Dare dove into Teagan’s hiding spot behind the battered delivery truck riddled with bullet holes. Slugs from Yakuza tommy guns thudded into the vehicle’s steel body, and the rat-a-tat of multiple machine guns resounded in the narrow Little Tokyo alleyway.

The lithe Asian woman held a pair of revolvers like a misplaced cowboy from the cover of a pulp Western. Grant knelt beside her and reloaded his own six-shooter.

The gunfire died down to sporadic thunder, and Dare gave Grant a rather forward look, her lips parted as if for a kiss, her husky breath promising more. “Mister McSwain,” she said in that frustratingly exotic and enticing accent, “do we have a deal?”

Teagan’s face twisted in confusion. What?

“We’ll get you out of here with your wealth so you can start a new life,” Grant said. “You’ll give us back the classified notes about the German submarine base. Yeah, we got a deal.”

The air stank of sulfur and gunpowder, a combination of fireworks set off in celebrations and the ongoing shoot-out between the Tong and Yakuza. Both sides had been double-crossed by this woman known as Dare.

And us caught in the middle, Teagan thought. No thanks to Grant.

The tommy guns hammered the truck again. In between bursts of gunfire, the Tong’s Colt revolvers let out deafening booms. Most aimed at their Japanese rivals, whose turf the Tong invaded by coming after Dare. But some of the rounds thunked into the truck. Neither side would let her go without a fight.

“This lorry is going to be scrap metal if they keep this up,” Teagan said, unconcerned whether Grant or Dare heard. Never one for modesty, Teagan hiked up her skirt to draw a pair of two-shot Deringers from a garter holster. She smirked when Grant’s eyes bulged at the sight of her exposed thigh. Even Dare raised an eyebrow and nodded approval.

Teagan leaned low and aimed around the front of the truck. As one of the Yakuza spotted her, his head blossomed in a spray of crimson. She rotated the barrels—the double-shot pistol’s imitation of reloading—and popped a round into one of the Tong creeping toward their position.

Dare dropped prone beside Teagan and fired under the truck.

Men screamed and heavy bodies thudded to the ground. Dare picked them off with ease. “Two more down,” she declared, and flashed Teagan a smug look.

Grant took out another Tong gunman, then hit the dirt as slugs tore holes in the side of the truck’s cargo bed.

Dare popped off a couple shots over the truck’s hood, then crouched beside Teagan. “Your weapons are poorly chosen,” Dare said. “Foolish Westerners, with your ‘Saturday night specials.’ You already expended half your ammunition.”

Teagan slipped the empty Deringer into her handbag and drew another from the garter on her opposite leg. “Who says I only brought two?”

Grant shook his head, his cheeks flushed. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Teag! What sort of Saturday nights are you having?” Then he feigned irritation. “And why haven’t you invited me?”

“No blasphemy,” Teagan scolded. “And trust me, you couldn’t keep up.”

Dare laughed and dropped another Yakuza. “I am beginning to appreciate you, Miss O’Daire. The accounts I heard are surely the fiction of men put to shame by the weaker sex.”

If the praise was a clever ruse to disarm Teagan’s suspicions, it worked. She found herself grinning, and replied, “You must have quite a collection of similar stories, Agent Dare.”

“I never stick around to find out how they end,” she said with a light-hearted tone. “Presumably with torture and death. Neither the Tong nor the Yakuza are very forgiving.”

“Good thing we’ve earned both their ire,” Teagan said as she took aim.

A Yakuza rose to spray the truck with his tommy gun, but fell with a bloody hole in his forehead. Teagan rotated the Deringer barrels and scanned for another target.

“I’ve got an idea,” Grant said.

“Oh swait Jaysis,” Teagan muttered, her Irish coming out under stress.

“Hey,” Grant objected. “No blasphemy, right?”

“Wasn’t blasphemy, ye dunce. ‘Twas a prayer for protection,” she said. “From stupidity.”

Grant huffed but made no objection. “You two are going to cover me,” he explained, “and I’ll grab a couple of tommy guns off the dead Yakuza.”

“Ye trust this one that well, Grant? Ye’ll put her sights at yer backside?”

Dare stiffened. “We have an agreement. I am honor-bound.”

“You an’ the Tong had an agreement,” Teagan said. “Same with the Yakuza. Sure an’ both of those went arseways, yea? Now ye expect we’ll be trustin’ in your great sense of honor?”

Dare glanced at the two-shot pistol remaining in Teagan’s hand. “I do not see that you have any choice.”

Teagan sniffed with as much derision as she could muster, then drew her last Deringer. “I got four shots, not two.”

Dare rolled her eyes and took aim at the Tong.

Teagan stuck out her tongue when Dare turned away. It wasn’t so much Dare being right that irritated her. And Grant’s willingness to charge heedless into danger didn’t bother Teagan at all. Quite the opposite, in fact—although his last few expressions of bravado had been ill-conceived and poorly timed.

Maybe her source of frustration lay elsewhere. The intensity on his face when his eyes met Dare’s… the eagerness with which he formed an alliance with her… the obvious interest when he regarded this vivacious—and deceitful!—woman.

Grant dashed around the truck, ducking and dodging. Gunfire erupted from both ends of the alley, and Teagan snapped out of her thoughts.

She shot a Yakuza struggling with a jammed weapon, then took out a wounded man aiming at Grant.

Behind her, smoking revolvers in each hand belching fire, Dare fought back the Tong. She fired a couple shots, then spun low to the ground and popped up in a new position, keeping the distant Tong guessing.

Teagan put down another Yakuza, then dipped behind the truck. “I’m empty.”

Dare crouched but kept her eyes and guns trained on the Tong. “My assessment proves accurate,” she said. “You should have brought something more powerful.”

Grant slipped around the front of the truck and tossed Teagan a tommy gun. “This should suffice.”

Teagan hefted the weapon and aimed toward the Tong.

“Now, that fires over a dozen rounds a second, Teag,” Grant said. “You’re gonna want to—“

Rat-a-tat-a-tat!

The spray-and-pray method did little to incapacitate the Tong gunmen. But fear of that rapid fire drumbeat drove them to hiding each time Teagan squeezed off a burst.

Grant moved to get a better angle and strafed the Tong position. “Now’s our chance, Dare,” he shouted. “The Yakuza are down and we’ve got the Tong at bay. Tell me where to find the classified files.”

Dare checked the alley behind the truck. “It’s with the satchel of safe money, stashed in the cabin of Fortune’s Favor on pier six. Shall we withdraw?”

They dashed down the alley, Teagan and Grant taking turns spraying bullets to deter pursuers. Then they heard the sirens of police paddy-wagons approaching.

“Ditch the weapons,” Grant said as he tossed his tommy gun in the back of a parked car. “We need to split up.”

Dare scanned the streets, a look of trepidation forming on her all-too-perfect face.

Grant put a hand on Dare’s shoulder. “Take that alley down two streets then turn right, heading west. You’ll avoid main roads the police will use. Teag and I blend in a little easier. We’ll head up another block and meet you at the pier.”

Dare nodded. Then she took Grant’s face in her hands and kissed him full on the mouth.

Teagan felt her fists clench, and the rage within flared when Dare gave her another triumphant look.

The woman took off in the direction Grant indicated.

“Come on, Teag,” Grant said, “let’s get to the boat.” His long-legged stride covered ground swiftly, and Teagan had to nearly jog to keep up.

“Aren’t you worried she might beat us there?” Teagan asked, breathless.

“Not really,” Grant said. “My directions lead to a dead end next to the police station. I know better than to trust a pretty face.”

Teagan stopped, her heart full of surprise and unexpected joy. And yet that last statement stung.

Grant noticed her and drew near, placing his hand on her cheek. “All the pretty faces except one, that is.”

They recovered the files and money eventually. But for Teagan, the details blurred together with the sensation of floating on air all the way to the pier.

Story By Numbers

“Story-telling and writing fiction are very different skills,” the professor said.

I immediately wanted to disagree with him. But then I thought about that dictation software I purchased and rarely used. For somewhere around $70 I had a top-of-the-line program ready to turn my speech into text. In the end, it turned hard drive storage into wasted space.

Telling a captivating story out loud is not the same as writing a page-turner novel. I’ve written some decent stuff over the years, and I’ve told some decent stories to my friends. But you can’t transcribe the latter and automatically have a great piece of prose ready for readers.

So I decided to listen and accept that maybe Dr. Guthridge knew what he was talking about.

(His awards and successes could have sufficed.)


Last week, a local college with offices on-base provided a free two-hour workshop: How to Write a Short Story

Dr. Guthridge provided a formulaic method for plotting and outlining short stories–one that presumably works pretty well with full-length novels. 

Cool idea

Protagonist

Emotional problem

Outer problem

False solutions

Final solution

For sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, start with your cool idea. Maybe it’s a magic system, a piece of technology, or a creepy monster. Honestly, you can also come up with cool ideas for mainstream fiction–you just need an interesting fact or two upon which to base the story. 

Brainstorm a protagonist and a problem that protagonist might have, based on the cool idea or historical inspiration. The protag should have an inner, emotional problem that needs to be resolved… insecurity, hatred, fear, anger. Something they’ve tried to keep at bay, but it clearly affects everything about them.

The outer problem is the conflict that forces the protag to deal with their inner emotional baggage. It’s the issue that pulls all of that junk to the surface to be confronted. 

Brainstorm a few false solutions. These don’t have to be super intellectual and creative; in fact, we often distract ourselves and delay coming up with useful ideas by looking for the most creative, least expected attempted solution. These solutions are intended to fail, so it’s fine–maybe even preferred–if they’re the “obvious” answers to the outer problem. Unstable magic energy is creating a disturbance? Great… send in a magician to collect or contain it. A piece of technology isn’t functioning, and threatens innocent lives? Pull the plug… it’s a no-brainer.

Also brainstorm easy ways that these failed and false solutions will make things worse. Skynet starts a global thermonuclear war when the military tries to pull the plug. Noble men go mad with lust for power when they try to use the Ring of Power as a weapon against Sauron. Bullets don’t stop Jason Voorhes, they just make him chase you.

The final solution is where brainstorming and creativity come into play. This has to be unexpected. (Readers will be unsatisfied if they guessed the ending from the beginning.) This has to be unique and intelligent. (Readers will be frustrated if the answer is something obvious and simple like pulling the plug.) And this solution has to not only solve the outer problem but also resolve the protag’s internal conflict–because that’s really what the story is about.

Since “everyone is a unique snowflake,” the creative person in me hates the idea that good fiction usually has some clear structure we should mechanically duplicate. Where’s the freedom of expression? Where’s the special quality that sets apart one writer’s fiction from another’s?

But this sort of construct works really well as a framework upon which we build and decorate a house.

It reminds me of James Scott Bell’s LOCK concept: 

Every story has a relatable and interesting Lead. The lead character must have an achievable and important Objective. There must be considerable and meaningful Conflict preventing the lead from easily achieving the objective. And the reader expects a Knockout ending that wraps it all up in an exciting way.

The fact is, the meat of telling a good story or writing good fiction hasn’t changed much over the centuries and millenia of recorded human history. These are the tales that speak to us and capture our imaginations over and over again.

Even if it feels formulaic, why fix what isn’t broke?

What do you think? Is this too simplistic a view? Is there more to the story (pun intended)? Let me know in a comment.

Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously.

Remember when Apple being innovative and progressive meant coming up with technology and functions that benefitted the consumer?
I know I’ve repeatedly “lost” files on my iPhone, and I assumed it was just dumping off files to make space for new photos or updates.
But I never joined Apple Music… and I’m sure glad I didn’t.

vellumatlanta

“The software is functioning as intended,” said Amber.
“Wait,” I asked, “so it’s supposed to delete my personal files from my internal hard drive without asking my permission?”
“Yes,” she replied.

Angry man crashing laptop Maybe I’m Not Pressing the Keys Hard Enough.

I had just explained to Amber that 122 GB of music files were missing from my laptop. I’d already visited the online forum, I said, and they were no help. Although several people had described problems similar to mine, they were all dismissed by condescending “gurus” who simply said that we had mislocated our files (I had the free drive space to prove that wasn’t the case) or that we must have accidentally deleted the files ourselves (we hadn’t). Amber explained that I should blow off these dismissive “solutions” offered online because Apple employees don’t officially use the forums—evidently, that honor is reserved for lost, frustrated people like me, and (at…

View original post 1,263 more words

The Duplicitous Dare #blogbattle

Genre: Adventure (999 words)

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain and His Hapless Assistant, Teagan O’Daire—Both the Unsuspecting Victims of the Unnamed Vixen 


Teagan flung the dim sum restaurant door wide and crossed into the crowded street to meet up with Grant. The moon stood high above Los Angeles, its soft radiance overwhelmed by the glow of a hundred paper lanterns on ropes between buildings. A wave of sounds and smells crashed over Teagan—stewed pork, stir-fried vegetables, dozens of voices bartering and bantering in a harsh, tonal language.

Lots of restless bodies on the street, Teagan noted. Many looked homeless, their clothing dingy, their hair greasy and unwashed. Desperate eyes sought paying work, but who had money to spend? Even in Chinatown, the Great Depression took its toll.

“Any luck?”

Grant shook his head, then looked up and down the street. Fake pagodas and decorative Hollywood style façades captured the attention of Westerners, while stylized Chinese characters in gold-leaf calligraphy mystified the uninitiated.

“No one knows anyone named Dare.” Grant said it like the English word for challenge.

Dah-rey,” Teagan corrected. “And in this part of town, you should ask about Shei. Little Tokyo is a couple streets south of here.”

“Maybe that’s where we should be searching, Teag.” Grant rubbed his face in his palm. “No one here tells me anything. Watch.”

He approached a food cart with a sign proclaiming the best soup dumplings in Chinatown. A wiry gray-haired man behind the cart smiled wide. “You want hsiao-lung-pao? Two dollar one dozen.”

“Sorry,” Grant said. “I’m looking for someone named Shay.”

Shei?”

“Yeah.”

The merchant cocked his head. “Ni zhao shei ah?

“That’s what I said.”

Teagan snickered. “I told you, her alias means ‘who?’ He’s asking who you’re looking for, and to him it sounds like you don’t know.”

She drew a bill from her purse and handed it to the man. “Six please. Hsieh-hsieh,” she said with a grateful nod.

The man placed the steaming swirled buns on a disposable mat of woven straw and offered the makeshift plate to Teagan. His eyes flickered toward Grant and he laughed. “Ta de naozi huailema?”

Rusty Chinese filtered through her mind. Is his brain broken?

“Indeed,” Teagan said with a smile. “Grant, let’s try Little Tokyo.”

They strolled south, eating dumplings and enjoying the foreign atmosphere, each pointing out oddities and unknown attractions that caught their eye.

Then Grant stiffened.

“What is it?”

He kept his eyes forward and whispered, “Don’t turn or make eye contact. But we’ve got tails on our left. About two houses back now. I’m guessing Tong.”

Teagan fought the urge to search for the threat. “You sure?”

“Grew up running ‘shine for a mob boss in the Prohibition days. Seen enough gang toughs to know—they’re not just guarding their turf.”

“Maybe they’ll have information we need?”

Grant chuckled. “Tong ain’t known for their friendly disposition, especially to us foreign devils. We should get into Little Tokyo quickly.” He picked up the pace.

“They won’t enter?”

“And tangle with Yakuza? Nah.”

Teagan hesitated. “Yakuza too?”

“You’re the one that suggested following our leads to Dare.”

She sighed.

“Dah-rey,” Grant corrected.

They entered Little Tokyo and saw drifters seeking work. Teagan examined the faces watching her, and felt palpable hostility. She edged closer to Grant.

He offered her his muscular arm. “We’re not particularly welcome here, are we, Teag?”

“The government’s been saying the same thing to the Japanese,” Teagan said. “Coolidge’s Immigration Act cut off all new arrivals from the Empire. Since then… well, maybe President Roosevelt will change things.”

“We have enough problems of our own to deal with,” Grant said.

They approached an older woman with a rack of shoes on display and Teagan checked her notebook. She spoke in a slow, clipped tone. “Dah-rey doko dess-ka?

The woman laughed and repeated the question. “Dare?

Grant crossed his arms. “This is searching for a twig in a pile of chopsticks, Teag.”

Teagan ignored Grant and considered her question. Maybe if I add an honorific term, it’ll be clear who I’m looking for. “Dare-san doko dess-ka?

The woman’s eyes lit up, and she glanced around before leaning in close. “You seek Dare-san? Yakuza seek Dare-san too.” She pointed a bony finger toward a truck with a covered flatbed in an open lot between two tall apartments.

Teagan and Grant dashed toward the lot, then Teagan paused to look back.

The woman had gathered up her rack and hustled into one of the apartments with uncanny speed for her age.

Grant approached the truck and froze when four Asian men jumped out. Two held tommy guns, and two carried cudgels. One pointed his club at Grant. “What you want, gaijin?”

“I’m looking for a mysterious woman—goes by Shei. Or maybe Dare.” He finally said it with proper Japanese pronunciation.

Face twisted in anger, the man stalked toward Grant. “You Shei’s partner or something? Did she bring you the opium she stole?”

The scrape of footfalls behind her caught Teagan’s attention and she turned to find half a dozen armed men. One stepped forward and pointed his pistol at Grant. “Where is the Yakuza piaotzu named Dare, laowai? I heard you say her name. Where’s the safety money she took from us?”

The Yakuza raised their guns. “Get off our turf, Tong dogs. And don’t come back unless you bring us Shei.”

The lead Tong laughed and aimed at the Yakuza who spoke. “Give up this Dare and our money, and we’ll leave at once.” His men formed a rank beside him.

Teagan pressed against Grant. “Sounds like we all got played. Got a way out?”

Grant raised his hands and scrunched up his face, narrowing his eyes with a wide toothy smile. “Evelybody carm darn,” he said with a poor mockery of an Asian accent. “We awr go home now, no trouber!”

Rivalry forgotten, every gun pointed at him.

Teagan stood horrified and dumbfounded, jaw hanging open.

Grant shrugged. “Yeah, I got nothing.”

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 8

This is the eighth and final preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

“This way,” Jamal called. Chris followed the big teen through the warehouse. They’d kicked open a locked door when the gunfight broke out. With no way of knowing which side was winning, and with sirens going off heralding the arrival of the cops, they decided to make a break for it through the building.

“Get away from the window, man!” Chris yanked on Jamal’s hoodie pulling him to safety as bullets punched through the thick glass. The boys dropped to the ground and crawled deeper into the dark building.

“What about Lamar?”

Chris shook his head. “Dude, screw Lamar, screw the Kings and the Pinoy and whoever else. Let’s just get outta here!”

He ducked low and hustled in the shadows between shelves stacked with boxes. Jamal chased him. “Where you goin’ man?”

“Tryin’ to find a safe spot to hide.” Chris pulled out his cellphone and tried to get a signal. There wasn’t anything Mom could do, but she was close and he was desperate.

The sound of glass shattering and distorted shouts echoed across the wide warehouse. Jamal grabbed Chris’s arm. “They comin’ in here for us. No witnesses. Or maybe they think we got some of the Kings’ product they can steal. Either way, ain’t safe here. We gotta leave.” He rose and looked around the dim room.

“Exit light that way.” Jamal tugged Chris and ran.

Chris followed, panicked, furious at Jamal. Jesus, let him figure out how stupid this is so he gets out of it for good.

They ran up a flight of stairs and found the fire escape door. Shouts below spurred them on. Jamal shoulder-checked the door and it burst open, leading to a wrought-iron walkway and railing that stretched around the building. Sudden sunlight blinded the teens.

Chris ducked through the doorway and squinted. A siren warbled nearby. Frequent gunshots snapped on the other side of the warehouse. Chris held up his hand—clutching the phone—to block the brightness. He spotted a ladder to the ground at the far end of the balcony. “Jamal, follow me, there’s a way down.”

He hopped down onto the second rung and hooked his feet on either side, hoping the move worked like in the movies.

It almost did.

Chris hit hard, crumpling on the ground next to the ladder. Someone shouted from the street, but Chris couldn’t make out the voice through the pain. He struggled onto a knee and thrust his hands up when he saw the flashing lights of a cop car.

 

 

The gunman in the alley fired three shots at the other gang further down. Mason took aim on the gunman’s cover. Pop up again, punk. See what happens.

The radio chirped inside the cruiser. “Ambulance ETA three minutes. Backup enroute. Car Seventeen, say status.”

Something thumped to Mason’s left side.

Mason spun, staying behind the cover of his cruiser door, pistol ready. A thin-frame teenage suspect lay on the ground next to the fire escape ladder. “Freeze!” His voice squeaked at the end of the full-throated roar.

Another one—a bigger guy—ran along the balcony, heading for the ladder down.

The thin guy rose to one knee and extended his hands toward Mason. Something black in his right hand caught the light.

Gun! Mason double-tapped the trigger.

The teenager fell, his weapon scraping across the concrete. His partner hit the ground at the bottom of the ladder then dropped to his knees next to the suspect Mason shot.

“Oh Jesus! Chris!”

Mason did a double-take at hearing his name, but the chaos and panic drove the thought away. Training kicked in. Gain control of the situation. Hunkered down behind the door, Mason took aim and shouted. “Hands behind your head! Get down on your knees!”

He is already.

The new suspect complied. But his eyes seethed and his muscular body shook with anger. He swore at Mason. “You shot a kid! He done nothin’ wrong.”

More gunfire from the alley. A scream.

Mason kept his weapon trained on the kneeling suspect, tuning out the tirade. He took quick glances checking for the gunman in the alley.

A body slumped against the bloodstained wall behind the dumpster.

Tires screeched in the distance and an engine roared. Mason hopped to his feet and ran to the car where Kaz lay. He pointed his gun down the alley and caught sight of two suspects sprinting from the far side of the warehouse, fleeing on foot.

Mason almost gave pursuit, but Kazsinski groaned. Those guys are long gone, and my partner needs me. “Kaz, hang in there, man. Ambulance is coming.”

He moved back toward the cruiser to check on the subdued suspect. You never actually subdued him, idiot. The big guy was gone.

Mason checked for threats, found none, and ducked into the cruiser. He snagged the radio and called in. “Car One Seven status: Shots fired, officer wounded. Two armed suspects fleeing east on foot, one vehicle fleeing scene.”

The radio chirped and the female voice replied, sounding relieved. “Good to hear you, Car One Seven. Ambulance should be there any second.”

Mason heard the sirens approaching.

“How many you got in need of medical attention?”

“At least four suspects wounded in gunfight. Plus two armed suspects neutralized by responding officers.”

He looked over the scene to confirm his facts. One gunman that had Mason pinned down, taken out by the rival gang. At least two bodies at the other end of the alley, probably shot early in the fight. The dead guy by the driver’s side door of the black sedan. The gunman Kaz took out. And the thin guy Mason shot, who lay unmoving on the concrete…

Next to a black smartphone, scuffed and cracked. That’s no weapon.

Mason stared at the device. Oh my God oh my God oh my God.

He tried taking deep breaths to slow his panicked heartbeat. What do I do? “Oh God, Kaz… what do I do?”

Be courageous. Own up when you’ve done wrong.

His voice cracked as he keyed the mic. “HQ, Car Seventeen, correction. Unarmed possible civilian shot on scene by responding officer. Need that ambulance stat.”

The handset thunked in the floor of the cruiser, next to his discarded body cam. Mason scrambled to the kid on the ground, clamping a hand over each bullet wound to staunch the blood flow. Through tears, he barely saw the medics rushing toward Kaz and screamed to get their attention.

“Civilian down over here, I need help!”

 

 

Author’s note: Thanks for reading this far, but the novel is really about the aftermath. If you like what you’ve previewed, you can find Not to the Swift at my Amazon author page here.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 7

“Oh my Lord,” Kazsinski ranted as he steered the cruiser out of the parking garage. “You believe that load-a-crap the Captain foisted off on us?”

Mason said nothing, watching the shops and houses pass by.

Kaz took on a mocking tone. “She’s all ‘How many people trust you? How many people want to hug you? How many times do the people in the Twenties bring you flowers?’ God. Whadda tool.” He laughed and punched Mason’s arm. “At least she had a nice rack, right?”

Kaz ignored Mason’s silence and kept venting. “I got an idea for how we change things. Throw a few more in prison. Stop pussy-footing around and bring some SWAT gear down here, maybe clean out the gangs. Can’t be on the street committing crime if they’re in a cell at the pen. Or in a damn box.”

He turned a corner and pulled up behind a driver. “Looks like a tail light burned out, don’t it?” Blue and red lights flashed with the flip of a switch. “Let’s see what this guy’s up to.”

The driver’s Hispanic. Surprise, surprise. Mason sighed. This is ridiculous. Kaz can’t be the face of the police force in this community. Evidence or no evidence, I need to talk to the Captain about this.

 

 

“We don’t need to do this, J. Maybe they ain’t coming. Let’s get out of here.”

Jamal hunkered down with Chris Washington in an alleyway between Madison and Nelson. “They’ll be here. Trust me.”

Chris scoffed. “I trust you. I don’t trust them. What time they s’posed to get here?”

Jamal showed Chris his phone and laughed. “Four twenty, man.”

Chris shook his head. “Figures.”

A car pulled into the alley from the east end. Jamal watched them for a moment, then rose. “They here. Let’s go.”

It’s not too late to leave. Chris looked to the other end of the alley. The sunlight on the street looked like freedom beckoning. He almost made a break for it.

But I can’t leave Jamal behind. Chris turned and followed his friend to the meet.

Two Hispanic guys with a bouncer’s physique stepped out of the car. A blocky bulge revealed the outline of a gun tucked into one’s waistband. The other had something bulky in his pocket. A thin black man with narrow eyes and a scowl stood between his guardians. He scanned up and down the alley as Jamal approached.

Jamal extended his hand. “Lamar, my brotha, what up!”

Lamar ignored the greeting and nodded at Chris. “This the kid you told me about?”

Jamal paused. “Yeah, I’m tellin’ you man, he don’t look like much maybe. But dude is a beast with numbers. He could keep your cash flow straight, help you figure out, y’know, some fool stiffin’ you on profits or something.”

Lamar folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t like this. He looks risky.” He turned to Chris. “You look risky to me, kid. Like someone who will fold if he gets caught. Someone who’ll cry to mama and spill details to every cop that’s listenin’.”

Chris should have been happy to be excluded, but a touch of pride rose up within. Man, you don’t know me.

Jamal waved his hands to get Lamar’s attention. “Hey, dawg, nah, it ain’t like that. Look, you give us some product to store for you, I keep it at my place, not his. You know me, man, you know I’m good for it. No risk.”

Lamar cocked his head at Jamal. “Then why is he here?”

“Man, he gotta learn somehow,” Jamal said. “Someone need to take him under the wing, be his mentor. That’s me, a’ight? I know he ain’t what you need right now, but gimme some time an’ he will be.”

Lamar considered the suggestion.

Jamal pressed it further. “Did you ever have someone come alongside and teach you how to hustle, how to get by on the streets? I want to be that guy for Chris.”

“A’ight, we’ll try it out,” Lamar said. He handed Jamal a black duffel bag. “I’m givin’ you two brick for you to hang onto until we get some permanent arrangement set up. And I got half a brick for you to push in your set. Chris can help you sell it if you want, and get some of the profits—on one condition. The part you’re sellin’ on your set—that doesn’t stay with the part you’re storing for us.”

Chris stepped forward. “Wouldn’t spreading it around increase risk?”

Lamar glared at him. “I don’t want it all in one spot. You fools get caught sellin’, they’re gonna check Jamal’s house before they give you your phone call. If you lose a few bags of my goods, it won’t be hard for you to replace that. But if you lose whole bricks… that ain’t all you gonna lose, let’s just say that.”

Jamal nodded. “Sure, dawg. ‘Course. We can use Chris’s place.” He shoved the bag toward Chris.

Chris stared at Jamal and took the duffel. You know I can’t store nothin’ at my house. What are you doin’, J?

“Now about my set, I was thinkin’ if I could cover—”

A car squealed to a halt in the other end of the alley. Gunfire and shouts erupted, and Chris pulled Jamal to the ground.

 

 

“All vehicles, Headquarters,” the woman’s voice blared from the cruiser radio. “We got a two forty-five in progress between multiple four seventeens. Two suspected gangs in an alley between Madison and Nelson on the southside eighteen hundred block.”

Kazsinski spun the wheel. “That’s us, man. We’re almost on top of it.”

“Multiple shots fired,” the radio squawked. “Possible injuries on scene. Any available officers, please respond.”

Mason grabbed the transceiver and keyed the mic. “Cruiser One-Seven is on it.” Oh God, oh God, this is really happening. Shots fired.

The lights danced on buildings and reflective surfaces as the cruiser tore through the streets, siren blasting. The police car caught air on a downhill. Eyes wide and intense, Kaz let out a “Whoo!”

Mason checked over his equipment. Body cam secured. No helmets, can’t help that. Weapon loaded, safety off. The double-action trigger wouldn’t misfire even if dropped. He reached in his door panel and donned his ballistic glasses. These aren’t stopping a bullet, but every little bit helps, right?

In the distance, Mason heard soft popping sounds like firecrackers going off in clusters of two to four. Kazsinski barely slowed as the cruiser sped through the school zone of Pulaski High. It’s after four. All the kids should be long gone. I hope.

Kazsinski slammed on the brakes near a black sedan blocking the alley. The driver’s door hung ajar, its window shattered. A body lay on the ground among the glass shards. Gunfire echoed around the corner.

Mason looked to Kazsinski for guidance, but Kaz burst out of the car as soon as he hit the emergency brake. He rushed to the wall of the nearest building then slid toward the alleyway, his Beretta held level, clutched to his chest.

A young man’s voice resounded in Mason’s ears. “This is Pinoy turf now. Run home an’ tell the Kings.” More gunshots punctuated the demand. Someone wailed for help out of sight.

Kaz thrust his pistol around corner as he leaned to get a view. “Police,” he screamed. “Drop your weapons, hands above your head.” He whirled back into cover. Brick chips and dust sprayed past Kazsinski’s shoulder as bullets riddled the other side of the building.

Laughing voices swore in English and some other language, but Mason could make out “pigs” among the curses. He hunkered down and hustled over to where Kaz stood.

The vet swore. “That was close. Shoulda just let them shoot each other up a while and arrested whoever survived.” He tapped his temple with his left hand. “File that plan away for another day.”

Two more gunshots rang in the alley. Footsteps of tennis shoes on gravel sounded as the gang members sought new cover. Mason drew his weapon and checked the safety once more. “What’s the plan?”

Kaz pointed the pistol toward the car. “I’ll move behind there for another view while you cover me. We can’t both be at the same position and overlap our fields of fire. Ready?”

Mason and Kaz traded places so Mason could lean out to fire down the alleyway. He took a deep breath to steady himself. It didn’t do much good.

“Now!” Kaz dashed behind Mason, seeking cover behind the sedan. Mason stepped to the side and thrust his hands out, supporting his weapon and searching for a target.

Gravel sprayed and bullets whizzed past as the gang members fired at Kaz. Mason popped off two shots at one of the assailants before spinning back behind the corner. Kaz ducked behind the sedan’s trunk.

“Looks like two left in the middle,” Mason called. “Three or four at the other end of the alley. At least one wounded there too.”

“Ain’t worried about how many wounded,” Kaz said. “Gonna make some more of them before this is over.” He popped up, fired off two shots, and dropped back into cover. Someone in the alley screamed in pain.

More gunfire broke out at the other end of the alley. They’re distracted, still trying to kill each other. Mason poked his weapon around the corner—scraping his body cam across the wall. He found a target and took a shot.

One of the big guys at the other end jerked with a hit to the shoulder. His weapon fell in the rocks, and he dove to retrieve it.

Someone in the middle loosed a burst of bullets that riddled the man Mason wounded. The body flopped into the gravel and twitched once before going still.

A twinge of guilt struck Mason. Did I just get someone killed? He shoved the thought down. The guy was clearly a threat looking to be neutralized.

Kaz fired a couple more rounds, alternating fire from the left and right sides of the car. Then another gunman sprung from the corner of the building across the alley from Mason. With a clear view of Kazsinski, he cracked off three shots with a pistol. Kaz spun and returned fire, striking the shooter in the chest and head. But he fell to the ground, blood soaking through the shoulder and side of his uniform.

“I’m hit!” He writhed on the ground and swore repeatedly. “Oh god, it burns.”

Mason froze. He almost ran to Kaz, but more gunfire down the alley cut him off. “What do I do, man?”

“Get to the radio. Call for backup and an ambulance. Son of a—what are you doin’ standin’ there? Go, dammit!”

Training kicked in. Mason ran to the driver’s side door and ducked inside, snagging his body camera on the doorframe as it swung open. He keyed the mic as he grabbed the transceiver. “HQ, officer down at Eighteenth and Madison. Officer is responsive but bleeding heavily. Situation still in progress with sporadic gunfire and multiple offenders. Send backup.”

A woman’s voice crackled through the mic. “Hold position, drag officer to safety if able, backup enroute. Ambulance support will be dispatched.”

The body cam swung loose and rattled with Mason’s every move. He ripped the thing off, left it in the car and called out to Kaz. “I’m coming to get you, man. Hang on. Ambulance on the way.”

Kaz lay still, the gravel and dirt beneath him stained red.

Bullets struck the hood of the cruiser, and Mason dropped to the ground behind the open door. One of the gunmen tried to flee the alley but got pinned down behind a dumpster on the other side of the sedan. Concrete shattered as bullets sprayed the wall above the dumpster. The gunman whipped back and forth between keeping Mason in cover and shooting at his enemies down the alley. He fired again, creating a spider-web in the cruiser’s windshield.

Mason held his gun at the ready and tried in vain to calm his racing heart.

 

Literary Karaoke

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 634 other followers