Monday, May 30, 2011

Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Chapter 1

The following is a preview of Vampire Hunters: Prelude:

At the dawn of ages
Blood flowed first
No human shell
No form at all
Just the essence
And the suffering

From this fervent pool
Something yearned
To rise up
And feed upon
All in its wake

--From Transient Thorns by G.R. Hollow


I spied them in the branches above, shadows springing from tree to tree. Silently, in unison with the howling wind, bare limbs clattering together, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, masking their advance to the untrained ear.

“Is it always so windy this side of Mayenne?” My frosty breath dissipated before me. The wind swelled, revealing my crossbow underneath, and nearly taking my wool hat with it. I tucked my journal into my pocket, and pulled my coat shut.

“Always.” The guide prodded his black mare forward. He was tall and slender, dawning a white lace shirt and tan breeches, oblivious to the biting wind. Brown curls fell to his shoulders, green eyes matching the emerald stream behind him. “I am Darrien Laroche, son of Hadrian.” He offered a hand.

“No names.” I waved him off, preferring to linger in the shade of the tree. “After you, my friend.”

We dipped into the frigid water, droplets splashing down from the firs above, dousing my glasses and mustache as our horses plodded through. A branch snapped nearby, and fell into the stream. They were clumsy these two; it would not be long before they jumped into our saddles, and broke teeth on us.

I studied Darrien, feigning ignorance of the surveillance above. I waited for him to give himself away: a subtle change of subject or a rise in his voice to mask the assassins edging into place. Instead he looked up, heeding the warning of the woods.

“To be honest, I had hoped another would take my place. The woodlands always give me chills. Wind and snow, not so much,” he conceded, his steed climbing onto the bank.

I held my bow close, acknowledging his prattle with a simple nod as I crossed through. I waited for the ambush that did not come, wading patiently through the murky stream, goading the watchmen to the water where their attack would be halved.

“Quickly.” His icy breath escaped him as turned back to the twisted branches above. “I do not like the sound of the forest this eve.”

We scaled a steep slope where the path gave way to walls of thorns. Yellow hollows peered out from the prickly tangles, following alongside us until the trail widened several paces later. “You must learn to welcome the whispers of the woods, if you hope to keep your head about you.” I cocked my bow, making sure that every living creature in the forest heard me, especially my new companion.

“It is a comfort that you are armed.” He flashed his teeth briefly.

I looked for the obvious signs: the keen incisors, pallid skin and odd stench like preserved meat. He seemed human enough, his teeth round and beaming; but his scant attire and disconnection with the cruel spell around us aroused my suspicion.

The farming community of Avarié was not known to be a magnet for traders and entrepreneurs, but the band of gold around his finger and expensive garb draped over his gaunt frame suggested otherwise. Wealth in remote regions always sparked my curiosity; either Darrien had uncovered a pirate’s trove, or something far more sinister.

Certainly he could be the son of an aristocrat, seeking to escape the mad pace of the city; but for someone with so much to lose, I could not fathom why he would wander the woods unattended. Why not send one of his underlings? Surely they would jump for the proper coin.

Unless, of course, he wasn’t alone.

“Tell me about your infestation. Vampires, is it?” I asked.

Darrien looked around. “I hope not.”

“Have you seen them with your own eyes?”

“Not exactly.” His hands shook. “Ever since we found the bodies, a dark cloud has loomed over Avarié.”

“Did you examine the bodies yourself?”

Darrien hesitated, and then bowed his head. “Yes.”

I stopped my horse, and raised my eyes to the intersecting branches above, slicing the silver moon into several sharp servings. “Tell me about them.” I took out my pipe.

“Sir, shouldn’t we keep moving?” The pink cast faded from his cheeks.

“Not until I know what I am up against. I must know what you do, in the event that you do not make it to Avarié.”

Reluctantly Darrien circled back. “Henry Thompson claims to have seen bite marks on the bodies of his eldest daughter Mary, and her best friend Edna; but this I did not see.”

“Go on.”

“The corpses I found were…ruined…flesh seared to the bone…as one might expect if they were bathed in acid.”

“Or if one needed to cover something up.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Frankly I’m surprised he could recognize her.” Darrien genuflected.

“Vampires are clever at hiding their tracks. Thus the odd corpses, glazed with an acidic wash, hinting at plague, and removing the eye cast upon them. Their necks—how badly were they damaged?”

“Most did not have necks at all.” Darrien’s horse gravitated away.

“Were any organs removed? Vampires have been known to steal a heart or two.” The corners of my mouth turned inwards.

“I do not believe so. Necks and forearms were burned to ash, but otherwise their corpses were unscathed.”

“Fascinating.” I scratched the stubble on my chin. “Do you think Master Thompson would be averse to us digging up his daughter’s remains?”

A branch snapped.

“I’m sure you can convince him.” Darrien glanced at my bow. “Please sir, shouldn’t we be going?”

“Of course.” I pricked the horse gently with my spurs. “We’ll see what the bodies tell us, but I am not optimistic. Outbreaks often precede attacks, leaving a community vulnerable. We can only hope that the malady doesn’t evoke the blood rage.” I lit my pipe.

“Blood rage?” He trembled.

“The dark tide within.” I raised my bow and fired.

Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Part I: Snare is now available for your Amazon Kindle >>

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

3D Cover Art for My Upcoming Novella Vampire Hunters: Prelude

Yes, I cheated. I threw these together using Adobe Photoshop. While they're not the real thing, they still offer a tantalizing preview of the final product. Which do you prefer?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Character Harvesting

Photo courtesy of Vera KratochvilA few days ago, a friend asked if I'd write a short story for The Pink Snowbunnies in Hell Flash Fiction Anthology. I thought about it for a few minutes, and replied, "Sure, why not?" To my surprise, the writing was easy. From the time I accepted the challenge to the time I finished the initial draft, I'd traversed the entire 1,000-word piece in a little less than two hours (I would have finished sooner had I known the ending). It also didn't help that I had to cram my ideas into a finite space, and choose my words wisely to avoid running past the 1,000-word limit (I still wound up with over 1,200 words). To begin, I only had a piece of narrative in mind, like an incomplete sentence. I dove in, forcing myself to discover the punch line to the half-baked adventure.

I'm sure any author would be pleased with the investment of two hours for a rough draft. So what did I do right?

While it would have been easier if I'd known more about the plot, the real timesaver was my familiarity with the characters. By drawing upon characters I'd used in the past, it was easy to focus on the plot. I could already hear their voices, see them in my head; it was only a matter of time before the story solved its own equation.

This got me thinking: why don't I do this for all of my future works? By stockpiling an arsenal of well-defined characters, you can move from one story to the next seamlessly. That's the idea at least, to have one less thing to worry about. This saves a ton of time; changing characters is like changing hats, and more of the troublesome details (past history, idiosyncrasies, etc.) can be hammered out beforehand, limiting interruptions to your flow.

What I am proposing is merely a process improvement to simplify your story universe. By harvesting an entire stable of characters, you are more likely to write about them. You will make the time because they are a part of you, and demand their story to be told. You've made the investment, why not reap the rewards? Hopefully you'll be able to shut them up afterwards.

As writers, none of us are at a loss for ideas; oftentimes they come like the flood. Infrequently do I use this tactic to sketch a specific character or setting; they seem to be lumped in with the story concept, and with varying effectiveness. What I usually wind up with is a piece of a character, perhaps a name only, their voice or some distinguishable feature about them. Rarely do I tell myself, "Hey, you know that character you dreamed up the other day? Although you're working on another story, why don't you write down everything you know about them and file it away? That way they will be ready when called upon."

Up until now, I've focused entirely on plot (I guess I'm both a plotter and a plodder); however, my stories are not plot-driven--it's probably 60/40 in favor of my characters. Typically I organize my thoughts about characters afterwards, but this should be first thing I do, or at least done in equal measure.

Here's what it's really all about: organization, and I need to get better at it.

To illustrate, I've an idea for a short story called Pale where a creature spiders down the moonlight and crawls into a tree. Its arms are long and lanky, and have keen, retracting claws. It does not have eyes, only rows and rows of wicked teeth. I have no idea what it is; that's all I know thus far. Someone spots it in the forest, but I know even less about that unfortunate soul. By crystallizing the characters in my head, it serves as a motivator to enter the story later.

Of course, this is not limited to characters alone; the same should be done with settings, systems, and virtually any object that you intend to write about. In fact, by thinking of your story as an assembly of objects significantly improves your ability to compartmentalize issues, and devote better focus to the things that need them.

Writers like Georges Simenon, one of the most prolific authors of all time, stockpiled details about people and places and how things worked (mostly in his head). He constantly did this, and when it came to the act of writing, even though he knew little about the story itself, he weaved fascinating tales in a short space of time. Why? Because he lived and breathed his work. In many ways his novels wrote themselves, and if one were to follow his fine example, and become magnets of information, the complexity of the writing process would be significantly reduced.

The daunting task of organization should begin with your characters; ultimately it's all about the character's journey. Do you remember the plot from Raiders of the Lost Ark? Probably. And the principal character, Indiana Jones? Definitely. How about Gladiator? Getting a little murky? But who can forget Maximus or Leonidas from 300. It seems the other details are fair game to the fog of memory. Ultimately we are writing about someone, and the more vivid they become, the easier the writing.

Your story needs a voice. Give it one. This is the first step to realizing your dreams.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Entry for The Pink Snowbunnies in Hell Flash-Fiction Anthology

This is killing me.

I have in my little hot hand a completed work I'd like to share, a crude little piece of flash fiction featuring the one and only Übermom, and I can't publish it. I donated it to charity as part of the Pink Snowbunnies in Hell Flash-Fiction Anthology. This doesn't mean that I don't still hold the copyright--I haven't totally lost my mind! But I can't spend the First Use Rights here; I need to wait a bit longer before I include it on my website or in the full-length Übermom novel (whenever that will be). It's possible it will not even make it into the anthology (but I doubt that since it's for charity).
So what should I do? Obviously I can't publish the complete work here...but I can give you a teaser. Without further ado, here is a snippet from:

A Hare-brained Holiday

By S.E. Gordon

The moment Delilah tore through the golden wrapping paper, Nichole Chase knew she was in for a wild night.

"Thank you, daddy!" The blond munchkin hugged his leg.

"Look, it even has skis." George pointed to the box.

"Are those horns poking out of its head?" Nichole raised an eyebrow.

George fumbled with his glasses. "Heh, I didn't even notice," he chuckled.

Nichole knew her husband well. A child at heart, at times it was difficult to tell the two apart. On weekends, and especially holidays, her husband would take Delilah to the store, and spend hours playing with every toy until the manager kicked them out. She could not believe George overlooked this disturbing detail; certainly he'd memorized its vulgar lines by now.

"What can I say? I'm horny, baby," the bunny giggled.

Nichole wanted nothing more than to feed the foul-mouthed fur ball to the fire, and then roast a pair of forty-year-old nuts. "Cute. What else does it say?"

Delilah smirked and squeezed its paw.

"I'm so hot, even the polar icecaps can't cool me off," it murmured.

"Isn't it a riot?" George cackled.

"George, you're killing me." Nichole brushed her auburn hair aside, and rubbed her temples.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Key of Neverhence - Chapter 3: Withered

© Claudia McKinney and Tiffany Mize-Carter
"Welcome to Holloway Springs." A clammy hand fished me from the pile. "You must be Yvan Frollingswyrth, if I'm not mistaken."

"Yes," I replied, shaking faelings from my legs. "And who might you be?" I looked up.

A tall crescent fish with silver scales and purple robes towered over me. "I am Meiser Mipkin, Holloway Spring's dreamweaver extraordinaire. Here, let me introduce you to the rest of the family. This is Kara, Mara, and Sara."

Three beauties stepped forward, draped in rose, peach and violet gowns that curled like petals. "A pleasure," said they, stamping kisses across my brow.
"Triplets?" I said.

"A commonality in the faery lands." Mipkin flapped his fin.

As I wiped the devilish grin from my face, something climbed onto my shoulder.

"And I see you've already met Joomey."

"Na mi na na pu pu," he said once more, and then sprung into the air. Something stank, and it wasn't necessarily my sense of humor.

"And over here-" Mipkin choked.

My jaw nearly cracked the cobblestone. A stunning faery with flowing hair, sparkling wings and a suggestive dress stepped forward. "I'm Keira," she offered, by far the most delicious morsel I'd ever seen.

Before I could press my lips against her outstretched hand, Mipkin pulled me aside. "Keira, don't you have that dreadful flesh-eating fungus growing between your fingers? Or perhaps it was your legs?"

Keira's eyes filled with daggers.

"And look who we have here." Mipkin spun me around, "Why, it's Madame Mipsey."

A plump faery in a mauve dress stared back at me. She was a portly delight for that rare adventurer, but not this one.

"Good evening," I nodded.

Without another word, the ravenous pork chop seized me, and pressed her lips against mine.

"Mipsey, no!" Mipkin cried, but could not pry her loose. Finally I peeled her off, gasping for air. I stumbled into the crowd, wiping away any trace of her. It was a nimble ambush, considering.

"Madame Mipsey, you must behave yourself!" Mipkin snapped.

"My apologies," she licked her chops.

As I collected myself, a little girl tugged my robe. "Sure are small for a human," she said.

"That's not his actual size, Y'lia," said Mipkin. "The dragons shrank him down so he could enjoy the faery kingdoms with his new bride. Right, old man?"

I merely grumbled.

"Still he's a full head taller than the average faery, even without wings." Mipkin leaned in. "Hopefully everything else scaled accordingly." He nudged my arm.

Pain needled through my shoulder. I bit my tongue, trying to hide the obvious discomfort.

"Everything all right in there? Hopefully you're not falling apart already." Mipkin nudged my arm again, just for the hell of it. Behind, a shadow scampered by. "Frollingswyrth?" His voice slowed and deepened.

"I'm fine." I rubbed my temples. "Just a long trip over."

"Great, there's so much more to show you."

Mipsey lingered around the scene of the crime, circling like a shark. When our eyes met, a faery with broken wings and a mangled dress stared back. "Frollingswyrth," she hissed, her colorless eyes piercing my soul.

I shook my head. The real Mipsey stared back and winked.

"Ahh!" I screamed, the pain shooting down the length of my arm. The town rocked back and forth as I tried shaking it off. A pair of mischievous hands snatched my cap from behind, exposing my bald cranium. "Hey!" I barked, my anger sprouting new wings. I gave chase, and tackled the buzzard in midair. Dozens of faelings piled on as well, scrapping for the stolen cap.

It was a nightmare of epic proportions. Faelings clung from every conceivable limb, even yours truly. I waded through the jungle of arms and legs, and seized my prize. "Give me that back," I hollered as another snatched it from me. But it was to no avail; faelings pulled my moustache, and screamed into my ears. Would I be skinned and quartered next? If I only were so lucky.

Then I saw it in all its wicked glory. Withered slats snapped open; its yellow eyes locked with mine, holding me in its gaze. The rotting pile edged closer, flesh falling from bone. I screamed, embracing the fools around me as it reached out. As its cold fingers touched my skin, Holloway Springs spun away. And all was quiet.