The Wounded King – FREE

Yep, you read that right.  The Wounded King, Book One in The Martuk Series, an ongoing collection of Short Fiction based on my award-winning debut novel Martuk … the Holy, will be FREE for one day and one day only, March 27th.

Curious?  Here’s an excerpt:

 

“I eat,” Mother suddenly said.

“The flesh –”

She interrupted me with a nod.

“It’s hungry,” she said, her voice low, the words almost a whisper. “Its stomach desperate for the meat, the muscle, the skin. If I don’t feed It, there’s pain.”

Her hand on her stomach, she continued.

“I am powerless, my son. I don’t want to. I don’t want this. It’s disgusting, it sickens me, it’s something I cannot stop, and it’s destroyed me. The taste, the feel of it in my mouth, the smell on my hands, my fingers –”

She stopped, this brief moment of lucidity gone as quickly as it began.

Closing her eyes, she cocked her head, distracted by something only she could hear. The morning had grown dark, the sun shadowed by a rare cloud.

I looked up to see a clear blue sky.

The shadows grew.

“A God is being born,” she finally said. “The pain, the anguish I endure, is this body dying so that this God, this Dark God, can be born. And I, as that God, will rule.”

The dark grew darker.

I moved closer to her.

“Mother …” I began, “the shadows, they’re moving.”

“Yes, It moves and It is only one shadow.”

It quickened, the dark, as it slid along the ground, vaporous fingers reaching out to my Mother as she spoke.

“It needed the flesh, you see. An eternity caressing all those bodies as they slept, lifetimes licking the skin, the flesh on its tongue only a taste, ephemeral, quickly gone.

“It needed to eat. Finally. Needed more. It needed to feel the life in Its mouth. It needed to tear the skin and rip the muscle and gnaw the bone. Experience being alive, experience living, all those deaths feeding It.

“And now It will live through me, with me, as me.”

The shadow grew, an immense cloud around us, the dust lifting from the ground to churn in the black, the warmth of day now the moist, steamy heat of something uncontrollable, unknowable, and wrong.

“Mother, It will eat you.”

She no longer heard me, the silent song of these shadows obsessing her.

I grabbed her hand.

“Please …” I began as the Darkness lifted me.

You will see …

(a small excerpt from Martuk … the Holy:  Proseuche)

“You will see the beginning,” she then said.

With a small shake of my head, I focused on the water.

Another fire.

This one in a small room. A cave, I think, the ceiling low.

And around the flames, a group of people chanting.  Cecilia chanting.

“You will see …” she began.

A dead boy.

“You will see …”

A dead boy who now sat up, his eyes open, his mouth open.

Words coming from the dead boy.  Words that were not his in a voice that was not his.  The voice too deep, too rough, too masculine and wise and …

“You will see …”

The dead boy lifted and held in the air, his mouth open as the words spewed forth, words I couldn’t hear, as the fire behind him grew, the flames reaching the ceiling and then, spreading like water, to ripple across the stone and race down the walls.

“You will see …”

Cecilia and these strangers clambering away, desperate to escape.

From the fire he came.  The Magi.  The Master.

“… this stranger come from the flames,” she finally finished.

I am no dream

(Another brief excerpt from the upcoming Martuk … the Holy:  Proseuche , the sequel to the award-winning Martuk … the Holy )

“So many lies.”

I knew this voice.  Though I didn’t turn, my eyes stubbornly shut as I pretended sleep, my arms hugging my chest and my back turned, the cloak drawn close against the night, I knew who spoke.

And I knew it to be impossible.

“I am no dream,” the voice then said in answer to my next thought.  “And what are you?  What did you think you would be?  At your end, what did you think awaited you?

“Turn and look upon me,” he then said.

I turned.

Judas killed the Messiah …

He kneeled next to me in the sand, the familiar dark eyes watching me.

And then he killed himself …

But he was not real, this Judas who now leaned forward.  He could not be.

Hanged by the neck from a tree …

Unless the words truly were lies and Judas still walked.  I reached for him, my hand almost on his arm.

He no longer kneeled within reach.  In a breath, he had moved, this Judas, this one who could not be real, now standing many paces away.  It had been too quick, this small journey of his.

It had been too quick.

I was going mad.

The money from the Priests at his feet …

“Tell me,” I said to this man who could not be Judas.  “Is that true?  Was their money at your feet?  From the Priests?  From the Temple?”

My voice, though but a whisper, sounded so alone in the desert, the words lost in the emptiness of this sun-parched world and the endless blue of the too big sky.

And I was alone now, the lie that disguised himself as Judas gone with the breeze.

I closed my eyes.

Yes, I was alone, so alone, and I was going mad.

Facebook Bestsellers and the Death of Writing

Writing is dying a very slow, painful death at the hands of self-publishing.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Self-publishing alone isn’t killing Great Writing, though it has set the bar increasingly low.  Facebook Bestsellers are what’s killing Great Writing.

Let me explain:

A Facebook Bestseller is a book that ends up on the Amazon Top 20 list, or something, due entirely to the Clicks of thousands of FB “Friends”.  Usually they’re derivative, repetitive, absolutely painful, damn near unbearable, poorly written pieces of crap.  If you can make it through the Free Sample without screaming out loud or falling into fits of laughter, I applaud  your strong constitution.  I can’t.  I’ve tried.

And you can spot a Facebook Bestseller pretty easily.  Take a look at a handful of those couple hundred five star reviews.  Do they read something like “OMG, this was SOOOO good!”, “Loved this SOOOO much”, or “YES! Another winner”?  If so, then it was probably written by someone who A) hasn’t read the book, but B) wants to show their support for their FB “Friend”.

Now, go ahead and take a look at those few, very brave One Star reviews.  You know, the ones written by “Friends” who are probably “Friends” no more?  That’s where you’ll find the real story.

Yet, still, there it sits at the top of the Amazon Bestseller List.

Because of the best of intentions of “Friends”, we now find ourselves faced with the stomach-churning reality of truly Great Writing by Writers with long, celebrated careers they’ve earned through hard work and talent, writers who actually know what they’re doing, sandwiched between Wannabes whose painful, amateurish prose wouldn’t make it out of an 8th Grade Creative Writing course.

This is the danger with Facebook and all those click-happy “Friends”.  Those who write Facebook Bestsellers, wrapped in the breathless, unquestioning support of FB, believe they’re really good.  They ignore the One Star reviews because, you know, they’re not nice, and continue on, having no clue how bad they really are and how deeply damaging their celebrated mediocrity is.

Readers who may be Writers someday are growing up believing Bad is somehow Good.  These Readers, surrounded by nothing but bad, will soon have no memory of what Truly Great Writing is, having to search before the Time of these Facebook Bestsellers for Good Writing.

You see, a Writer is more than someone who puts words on a page.  A Writer  listens to the words, hearing and honoring their rhythm.  A Writer knows that if there’s one word too many, or one word not enough, the structure will fall.  And that structure is everything.  That’s what cushions the Reader in this fictional world.  A Writer can recognize the balance in a sentence and know when it’s off, feeling, in his or her bones, that it’s not right and what to do to fix it.

A Writer would never be satisfied with what ends up in these Facebook Bestsellers.  He’d immediately see how amateurish and clumsy it is.  He’d FEEL it was wrong as he’s writing it.  He would not rest until it was edited and put right.  It would haunt him.  In fact, it wouldn’t even make it past his fingers TO the keyboard.

I believe a Writer, a True Writer, could never bring themselves to leave their worst masquerading as their best on the page and click Publish.

Yet these Wannabes do it all the time, without apology, without regret, and often to great applause.

I’ve often railed against Traditional Publishing and how, because of their penchant for guarding the Gates a bit too vigorously, a revolution like self-publishing was needed.  But at least, for the most part, we were spared moronic drivel ending up on the bookshelf, let alone the Bestseller List.

But now even that’s changing with Traditional Publishing abandoning all pretense of being an arbiter of taste and strong writing, and following the money to sign Facebook Bestsellers to contracts.  And, once again, the delusion that they’re “good writers” is perpetuated, their oafish efforts being celebrated and rewarded.

But a Publisher following the money is not supporting the writer.  A Publisher biting their tongue, smiling, and eagerly hoping to cash in on the last breath of the author’s FB Bestseller status — these “Friends” tend to tire within a year or two and move on to newer, equally abysmal voices, so it’s best to move quick if you’re a Publisher –doesn’t give a shit about the writer.  They’re read the words, they’ve winced and groaned and shook their heads.  They know this writer doesn’t have the chops to reach beyond their Facebook circle.  And they know, once the writer’s new books hit a wider audience, that’s when the chickens come to roost.  That’s when the One Stars outweigh the Five Stars and those “Friends” start second guessing that all important Click.

A Publisher signing a FB Bestseller is hoping to eke out a book or two before the jig is up, the lie is unmasked, the numbers drop, and people move on.

So, what can we do about this?  STOP FOLLOWING THE HERD!  If you’re one of those “Friends” who buys a book as a show of support to the Author, even when you know it’s not good work, STOP!  If you’re not sure about the quality, read the Sample.  If it feels off, read the lowest rated reviews to see if the issues you’re finding are issues they mention.  And, if they are, DON’T BUY THE BOOK!

It’s as simple as that.

Buying abysmal writing as a way of being “nice” doesn’t help anyone.  It doesn’t help the writer.  It doesn’t help the reader.  And it doesn’t help the industry produce and celebrate better, stronger work.

My hope is once we rid the publishing world of these Facebook Bestsellers, it’ll be easier to go back to once again celebrating the truly great writing of real Writers, not Wannabes who would be nothing without their Facebook Friends.

 

sleep without dreams

There were screams.  A frightening din unlike anything he’d ever heard.

He lay on the altar.

The Elder, a priest, an old priest, an old man, the red and gold of his robes familiar and strange, stood over him.

Another dream, yes, the young priest turning to push his face into the pillow, the sheets clenched in his fists, the sunlight of a Paris day blocked by the heavy curtains, his desperation for rest, for escape, having chased him from the dark of night into the light of day as he fought for sleep.

The Darkness was here.  In the dream.  The Darkness was coming near.  In the dream.   The Darkness would rob him of his humanity. Would make him a monster.  One trapped by time.  Like a mist, a fog, it was, the Darkness.  A black cloud sprouting fingers and toes and teeth, it slid along the blood-drenched floor of the altar, the crowd bellowing for his death below, their appetite endless.

In the wine was salvation.  The wine the Elder, this skeletal man with the dead eyes who loomed over him, was holding, was offering.  In the wine was the poison that would offer relief.

The warmth was around him now, in the dream.  The steamy heat of the Darkness.  The priest, in the here and now of Paris, trapped in sleep sitting up in his bed, falling from the mattress to the floor, dragging the sheets behind him as he crawled to escape.  The Darkness in the dream wound ’round his ankles, his calves blushing red, the sickening steam slithering up his legs to his torso, this ancient evil drawn back like a snake, ready to strike and force its way down his screaming throat.

And that’s how he was discovered, this young priest, his neighbors breaking down the door to find him asleep and screaming at the window, his face pressed against the glass, the sheets wound ’round his legs.

“You need to rest,” the neighbor, an older woman with a kind face, had insisted as he sat later, sipping water and ignoring the remnants of this new nightmare still echoing in his mind.

“Take a vacation,” the second neighbor, a younger man, fashionable, handsome, professionally patient, had urged in accented English, his strong hand resting on his arm.  “You will be no good to anyone if you do not have the sleep, no?”

He shook his head.  No, no vacation.  He needed to be at the church.  Needed to be there when the stranger would return.  He needed …

He didn’t know what he needed.  Answers, probably.  Answers he may never get.

And he needed sleep.  Yes.  Sleep without dreams.

No, he assured them, a smile on his face as he politely ushered them to the door.  He was fine.  It was stress.  Lack of sleep.  He was fine, he then said again, closing the door and clicking the lock.

The bed waited, calling his exhaustion, the dreams waiting.

He ignored it, his body stretched on the floor, no pillow, the sheets left by the window.

The stranger would come, he told himself, a tumble of images rumbling near as the Darkness pulled him back to the world of altars and priests and a screaming that felt as if it would never stop.

He would come.

(excerpt from the upcoming Martuk … the Holy:  Proseuche)

silent and still no more

Another quick peek at the upcoming Martuk … the Holy:  Proseuche

 

I washed away my sins with the sand.

His body I’d left on the road, the Samaritan.  Naked and unrecognizable, his face sunken, his eyes dangling on his cheeks, the nose no more, the skull crushed.  I had taken the robe and the mantle, discovered the hidden coin, and taken this, too, and then slid the sandals from his feet.

Then, leaving him to the birds and the blistering sun and those animals that would soon come to sniff and paw and shred and feast, I left the path and turned, the desert a half-day’s walk.

With the setting of the sun, I found myself alone in a sea of shifting sand.

I stopped.

There was nothing but silence.

I was alone.

This was when I fell to my knees.  This was when I plunged my hands into the heated, soft earth.  When I rubbed my flesh with the pale soil.  Massaged the fingers, my wrists, even my forearms, the red of this kind stranger’s blood pulled from my skin by the persistent sand.

Only when the day died in the deep shadow of a desert night had I wiped the stain of the Samaritan clean.

And then I laid back and looked at the stars.

The thoughts of this, my life, and what waited with the rising of the sun tomorrow and what I would do, then, here in the desert, all of this I pushed far away, my eyes on the black of the sky and the light of the stars, my mind focused on stilling my fears and finding blessed peace.

I inhaled, deep, and exhaled, deep, and listened to the silence.

They spoke.

From cities far away, I heard them.  From rocky shores slapped by white capped waves, there was talk.  From dark valleys glowing with quiet fires that crackled and spit tiny tongues of fire, the voices came.  Plucked from the chaos of noisy tabernaes, the arguments and debates stole into my mind like thieves.

And the desert was silent and still no more.