Dumb it down?

A friend of mine, someone with the best of intentions, said something the other day that nearly stopped me in my tracks.

“Maybe you’d sell a lot more books if you dumbed your writing down.”

Now, I had to think about that for a second because he wasn’t referring to my subject matter — the immortal Martuk slaying his way through a lifetime of endless centuries — but more to the way it’s written. It’s intelligent. It has a unique voice that still follows the basic rules of sentence structure and grammar. It’s ambitious but still accessible. The sentences are more lyrical than not. There’s character development and several story lines all spinning around a central narrative held together in a clever framing device. And this narrative is designed to not only stand alone, but stretch over a three-book series as well as an ongoing collection of short fiction.

Ah, you see? There’s the problem.

Publishing these days — and I’m talking about indie, single author, and the Big Five — isn’t as focused on quality as it could be. The mediocre is applauded. The abysmal is celebrated. Anyone writing anything that would be considered “normal” ten years ago — story, appropriate dialogue tags, realistic conversations from people who could actually exist — is thought of as an anomaly. Something new. Different.

And that worries me.

That the bar would be so low that the telling of a story would be thought of as something newsworthy is not a good thing. In fact, as I said in a recent interview, we, as Writers, should be expected to tell a story. Telling one should not be seen as something cool. It’s our feckin’ job, for Christ’s sake!

But so many have found success doing so little. Or doing so little so poorly that their attitude is, Well, people seem to like it, so why change?

Why change?

Because you can do better. Because your readers, whether they know it or not, want you to do better.

Because if you keep half-assing it, that will become the New Normal, you won’t grow as a writer, and there will be generations of readers who won’t know Good Writing from a hole in the ground. Though you know damn well at least the hole will have a backstory as to how it got there whereas your book will be a long series of events that end up leading to a big fat Nothing.

So, here’s the deal:

I’ll continue writing the way I write. That’s the little I can do to change the tide. And when readers tire of piss-poor writing revolving around non-existent stories peopled by cardboard cutouts murmuring, sighing, giggling, growling, breathing, whispering, moaning, laughing inane ridiculous dialogue no one would actually say, my work — and the work of hundreds if not thousands like me — will be there waiting for them.

‘Cause I’ll be damned if I’m going to dumb it down.

 

 

What secrets … what mysteries …

“What need have they of their bodies, the dead?” Her hand rested on her throat, the fingers caressing her voice before it traveled to her mouth and rolled from her tongue. “If our pleas, our words, our demands can coax them from their slumber and they can rise and join us, then, of course, they can be of use.”

“How? How could the dead be of any use?”

She watched me. “What can they bring back from the dark?” Her hands were clasped in her lap, her shoulders suddenly square and tense. “What secrets can they share? What mysteries? What answers can they drag with them from that netherworld of shadow and fog and the dreams you dream in the deepest of sleeps?

“That’s why we would dig them up and lay them in front of the fire. That’s why we would carve words into their flesh. Sacred, secret words. Words which can only live on the tongue of a blade and in the slicing of skin. That’s why we would then raise them up and hope beyond hope that there would be something to learn. Something more. Something wonderful and mysterious. Something wise that we could use.

“And then one day it went wrong. Horribly wrong.”

There was a sudden quiet. I let Cecilia have this brief moment of peace, knowing the pain one finds when stumbling through the jagged rocks of memory.

I gave her a quick glance.

Her eyes had found me.

She reached forward and took my hand.

Her eyes closed and she breathed deep. “A man appeared in the fire.”

She then opened her eyes as she continued.

“A man appeared, wrapped in flames, and, with a look, stole our breath, stole our life, our knowledge and power. With a look, this stranger in the flames brought it all to an end.”

— excerpt from Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche (July 2015)

Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche

Proseuche, the long awaited sequel to Martuk … the Holy, is slated for a mid-July 2014 release date.

So, between now and then, you can expect news on upcoming interviews and blog stops, excerpts, peeks at the cover and back cover synopsis, and perhaps even a few blurbs from some of the best authors working today.

Real excited about this one, guys. :)

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.

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.

new look for The Elder

In the run-up to the release of Red and Gold, the third installment in The Martuk Series, I’m sharing the NEW cover to The Elder.

The Elder Final-cover

 

Once again, cover artist Timothy Burch knocks it outta the park.  Don’t you agree?  :)

 

warriors and Queens

The great thing about writing sequels — my creative mind currently ensconced in Red and Gold — is revisiting earlier work and, pushing all that useless false modesty aside, remembering just how damn good you are.

Ergo, an excerpt from the most recent in The Martuk Series, The Elder:

 

The Child had stopped, her body still, her blood-drenched toes far from the ground, her face stained red as she watched me with bleeding eyes.

The Seer had stopped, the bent body now still, waiting.

The wolves were quiet, their bodies hidden in the dark, waiting.

She spoke, The Child, her words silently on The Seer’s lips.

“Made of ash, of stone, burning from the bones, warriors and Queens, a woman trapped in time, a rival drawing near, hatred, love, pain, hatred, love, pain, hatred … “

The bones crunched and snapped as her head circled, the neck rolling chin to chest and then back, her jaw snapping open and shut.

Then she paused.

Breathed.

And spoke again.

“He will come, the one you seek, with the death, the life, stepping through the light, walking on the bones.”

She then closed her eyes as she bent back, back, back, her bones snapping with a crack as she broke her back, the golden locks of her silken hair touching the delicate heels of her tiny feet.

The body dropped to the ground.

From the shadows, the wolves pounced.

The Seer breathed deep, heavy, thick.

I stretched out and rested my head, the Whispers drowning me as the world spun and throbbed and tilted.

Fiend …

Evil …

She waits …

Who? I asked, my eyes closing.

She comes …

The wolves dragged the broken Child away, jaws around her skull, her arm, even the delicate heel, hungry to rip and shred the succulent flesh and gnaw the tender bones.

Who? I asked again, the cool soil against my face, my forehead.

I opened my eyes, the air too hot, the rank taste of bile on my tongue, and the thick scent of age and rancid sweat and death in my nostrils.  And from the shadows the wet sound of the girl being devoured as the wolves ripped and shredded and tore in my ears while the world heaved and lurched.

The sound of wings.  Great wings.  From behind me they came, the unexpected whoosh, whoosh, whoosh coming closer.

But I was too tired.  Too tired and too sick.  Too sick and too weak and too confused, the ground buckling and spinning too much for me to keep my eyes open, to turn, to see what had wings.  Wings too large and too great.

She comes …

From the mountains? I asked with a sigh as I exhaled and ended the fight, allowing darkness to take me.

From the ash …