as the gods ate our sun

In honor of the upcoming “Great American Eclipse” August 21st, I thought I’d offer an excerpt from my book The Wounded King (blurb below) where – surprise surprise –  there’s a total eclipse! And in ancient Uruk one thousand years before Christ, if the sun disappeared during the day, it was never, ever a good thing.

Certainly wasn’t for the Wounded King.

Enjoy.

***

There was no crown.

They surrounded the city, their swords raised, their shields ready.

They kneeled in the streets, young and old, their hands clasped in prayer, the words, the pleas, the begging, the cries, spilling from their lips.

High above, I sat, surrounded by Priests, an orphan.

A King.

And soon the day would grow dark as the Gods ate our sun.

I was told there were stories.

It was said my mother, the Queen, had flown down the countless steps of the Temple that day, her gown in flames.

It was said my mother, the Queen, was herself in flames, her arms, her legs, her head and lovely hair, all on fire as she ran through the streets that day surrounded by screams.

There were even those who said they heard my mother, the Queen, call to the Darkness to save her that day, the words lost in the terror of her torment.

And then it was said she, my mother, the Queen, had stopped in the marketplace, a great torch alight with massive flames, and simply fallen, crumbled to ash before the winds lifted the pile and scattered it to the sky, a delicate cloud of grey carried far from the city and deep into the mountains.

Yes, there were stories.

Those barbarians in the streets also said the Old Woman, the Ancient in the Temple, had called on those Gods older than the Dark Gods. Willed Them with secret words to do her bidding, her power so strong, so deep, that it conjured a Great Thunder which rattled the stones of the city and shook the very ground itself.

And there were those who had lived long and seen much who said she, this Ancient, had shouted prayers not heard since the Time Before the Moon, her power so fearful it made my mother burn. So ancient it called the deadly flames from deep within the poor Queen’s soul.

Then she had grown wings and flown away, this Old Woman, escaping the Elder yet again.

Yes, that’s what they said.

But then there were those who insisted that, no, she had not grown wings. The Old Woman had instead called a great daemon, a lesser Dark God perhaps, who had stood behind her, looking like a man, quite like a man, yes, but who then unfurled his wings, great feathered wings, which rose high to arch above his head, the tips meeting in the air.

It was he, this winged daemon, who had lifted her out of the Elder’s grasp. Who flew her out of the courtyard, away from the Temple, and into the sky.

That’s what was said in the streets of this great city.

None of it mattered.

I was now King.

I was now alone.

And the Gods were going to eat our sun.

They stood near, the Priests, the Elder watching me.

The Army had not supported his desire to rule. They had loved my father, the First King, a warrior like them. They had respected my brother, the Dead King, a man who had fought alongside them in many a battle. With more power than mere Guards, and less likely to do the bidding of the Priests, these true warriors, this Army, would ultimately decide who ruled.

And it was to be me.

The Elder’s victory had been short lived.

A din rose from the streets outside.

The Priests turned to the open walls, a rustle of expensive fabric as they peered below.

Incense choked the air as the prayers grew, the day growing dark. From the walls, swords beat shields and warriors screamed and shouted and cried and bellowed as the light dimmed, the sun in a celestial war with the approaching darkness.

Of course, It was here.

Were I to close my eyes, I could smell It, sense It, feel It, the moist heat now gentle as It stroked my arm.

Beneath the feet of those many men in red and gold, It waited. It moved when they moved, stopped when they stopped. Waited, Its knowledge secure, trusting Its victory was near.

They surrounded me, they did, this prison of red and gold.

I glanced at the wine in my hand.

The skin on my arm grew warm as it blushed. A small red blister appeared, wept, and then disappeared, the tender, round wound sinking into the flesh.

I am here …

It spoke.

I have always been here …

The shrieks, the cries, the prayers, screams and shouts from below swallowed us while swords clanked and warriors bellowed and day turned to night.

The Elder watched me.

I will never leave …

I thought of my father then, his eyes sunken and bleeding. Not even a great warrior like him could win this fight.

And of my brother, a greater warrior still, his tongue thick, his teeth blackened, his eyes sealed shut with dried puss as he sobbed, his hand on mine.

And I thought of my mother at one with the Darkness. Robbed of her health, her sanity, her soul. Haunted by the regret that was her life as she ran, burning.

What could I, an Almost King, a Pretend King, do?

The barbarians below erupted in a full-throated panic as the dark deepened.

I was no warrior.

Those on the wall shouted and threatened, swords raised high.

I could not fight.

The Priests calmly waited.

I put the cup to my lips.

You are mine …

And the whole world screamed as the sun went out.

***

The Wounded King Final - cover

A sacrifice. A dying King. Bones in the stone, blood in the wine. A Queen consumed by the Darkness.

From ancient Uruk, The Almost King tells his tale. Of The Elder and his cunning Priests in their robes of red and gold. Of an Old Woman who can call the power of the Dark Gods. Of his mother, the Queen, and his dying brother, the King.

And of the Darkness, an evil from before the Time of the Moon. Inescapable, its hunger never-ending, its shadow fed by the Priests, slowly overwhelming his family.

Drowning in a sea of red and gold, the Almost King battles an unwinnable war as he navigates the wreckage towards his fate as … The Wounded King.

***

The Wounded King is the first in The Martuk Series, a collection of Short Fiction based on characters from the full-length novel Martuk … The Holy.

rewrite the myth

Stitch by stitch,
day by day
this prison I’ve built
now blocks my way.
Smile by smile,
strength by strength,
the Myth I’ve made,
that I need to be,
is endless years
and many lies
from the Me I see
when
moment by moment
and
dream by dream,
falling to crash
or cutting to slash,
I rip out the stitch,
escape the days,
leap from prison
and run,
dart,
dash,
to stand in silence,
and
with a final thought
stop.
Then seam by seam,
and hope by hope,
rewrite the Myth you sometimes see,
praying that
this Newfound Tale will somehow meet
the Never Me I long to see
and still need to be.

fearless and noisy, quiet and desperate

A quick excerpt from an interview I recently gave to Joe over at Crystal Lake Publishing. One of those times when I surprise myself by sounding smart, accomplished, wise…sane. 😱

Enjoy! 😃

Joe: Instead of just focusing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are?

JW: Although Eidolon Avenue stands head and shoulders above anything I’ve ever done, without doubt or hesitation Martuk… the Holy, my first book, is what I’m proud of and captures perfectly the surprising journey I found myself on at that time: someone discovering, page by page, that he could really write!

For someone who’d never written a short story or an article or any piece of prose fiction to sit down (without an editor or even an experienced beta reader—I was new, remember, and knew no one in the writing community) and slam out an 80,000 word novel is beyond audacious.

Is Martuk perfect? No. But it’s ambitious. A sprawling epic covering two thousand years. It’s fearless and noisy, quiet and desperate. It’s wounded and yearning, violent and hungry. Martuk may lack the polish of its sequel Proseuche or Eidolon Avenue, which is on a different level entirely when it comes to the writing and storytelling, but what Martuk has in spades is the passionate, carefree excitement of a writer finding his voice.

And that, right there, is worthy of applause. In fact, sometimes I find myself wondering ‘Where the heck did that guy go?’

You can read more over at Crystal Lake Publishing.

writing our wounds

The other day, while writing the sequel to Eidolon Avenue, I found myself facing a familiar fork in the narrative road. That moment when, like it or not, I have to put on the page something I find abhorrent and confusing and wrong. Something painful. Something only the most shattered of souls could even think of doing. Something the story demands, that the story has been building towards, but which still makes my heart wince and my soul sob.

As I said over on Facebook:

…I’ve just ended up on a road I dread because I know what’s coming next and it screws with my head and makes my skin crawl to have to write it. The depravity and pain and wounding and heartbreak is something I simply do not – thankfully – understand or comprehend.

Now, after writing that, a reader who’s familiar with – and thankfully a fan of – my work sent me a PM with a simple question:
How do you write what you write when it’s obviously so difficult to do?
After some thought, this is what I sent back:
Writers, in many cases, as odd as it seems, write what they know, to some extent. A lot of creativity and imagination goes into it, of course. And if you’re writing in a different genre – romance or self-help or something – then, obviously, the arc from personal to page doesn’t bend too dramatically.
But those who write horror are digging into their wounds whether they realize it or not. Only when you touch the darkest, deepest, most vulnerable parts of yourself, your psyche, can you put the worst of the worst fears on the page. And when you write with your body and soul, you feel that worst of the worst. You feel those wounds. You write with blood and tears and dread and hope.
And that’s what readers respond to. There’s a tacit acknowledgement, more subconscious than not, of the courage it took to tell your story. As if the writer’s taken a metaphorical bullet in order to guide the reader, from the safety of the page, into the dark and then safely out again.

After some thought, I suspect the above is more accurate than I realized. And that’s why I strongly believe horror is a necessary genre. And the stories we tell – as dark and f’ed up and terrifying and “wrong” and twisted and boundary-pushing and unique and brave as they are – are as widely accepted and applauded as they are.

We’re the brave ones who forge the trail and cut back the brambles and, torch in hand, show you, the reader, the way into fears you didn’t even know you had. And then help you back to safe ground. Because we’ve been there. We’ve opened the way. We dug the earth with our bare hands to make the trail. It’s our home.

In writing our wounds, we, in some way, help the reader face and hopefully heal theirs.

Then again, this could be the second cup of coffee talking, so-

 #backtowork #writing

one big bloody tent

The Guardian recently ran a piece about what it called the “post-horror” movement. Where the new films coming out were somehow different than what’d come before because, in the writer’s opinion – and I’m gonna simplify it for you – the filmmakers were relying less on blood and gore and more on a sense of dread and quiet scares.

Although it’s always great to see the horror genre being openly and actively discussed – which leads to open, active discussions in the community – I’ve noticed a trend, an annoying trend, that I need to discuss. And it’s basically this:

Horror is one big bloody tent. And to forget that simple, undeniable fact is a disservice to what we – writers, filmmakers, readers – do.

Horror is Saw. Horror is Get Out. Horror is Friday the 13th and The Others. Horror is The Fog and Hellraiser and Nosferatu and Phantasm. Horror is Alien as well as a documentary on the rise of Hitler and the chaos of World War II.

Horror is Anne Rice and Stephen King and dozens if not hundreds of writers – some known, many not – in-between.

Blood. Gore. Mysteries that lurk in the shadows. The creeping dread of something unseen but still felt. The terror of an unexpected, impossible sound coming from the dark. The fear of being surrounded by a group of strangers that could go from docile to deranged in a split second.

You see? Horror can be a great many things. That’s why it’s a genre I love and which speaks to me. You can do almost anything when it comes to horror.

So, instead of laying down a false marker by saying “Well, this was horror back then and this new stuff, now, is post-horror” doesn’t do justice to everything horror was, is and will be.

In fact, one could say that without Bela Lugosi there’d be no Lestat. Without The Texas Chainsaw Massacre there’d be no The Green Inferno. Without The Strangers there’d be no The Purge.

As disparate as these examples seem – and I’m well aware I’ve now become The Guy with All the Lists, but I’m proving a point – the earlier courage of one in some way gave birth to the other. Horror, as a genre, whether it be fiction, film, TV, short stories in magazines, whatever, it’s all tied together.

One drop of blood spilled years ago in some way, somehow, gives birth to a scream heard in the here and now.

That’s why, in my opinion, “post-horror,” as a label or, as I said earlier, some kind of marker, just doesn’t work. New-horror. Modern-horror. Those might work. Maybe. If we absolutely NEED to somehow play with Before/After and categorize things into a haphazard row of unnecessary boxes.

Or, heck, we could just KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid – and just continue calling it what it is:

Horror.

 

nope nah nyet

I pride myself on having a strong work ethic. One of those oh my god he’s so boring all he does is work work work-type of work ethics. I write every day, often balancing several projects – all in various stages of development (active fiction WIP, outline, first draft edit, new script, script polish, etc) – at once while brainstorming not only new projects but also new ways to expand the ones I’m already working on (adaptations, comic books, graphic novels, novelizations, amusement parks).

So it should come as no surprise to say that when I sat down the other morning, coffee in hand, and brought up the Word Doc of the Day, my brain said

Nope

Nah

Nyet.

Yeah. Just drew a huge blank. No words. Nothin’. It was like I was looking at some foreign language I could kinda maybe sorta understand but, in the end, made absolutely no sense.

I switched to a different WIP. That sometimes work to get the gears a’going’.

Same thing. Nothing. Not even a glimmer of where I was supposed to go next on the page or what direction the story was supposed to travel now.

Of course, keenly aware of my self-imposed calendar, I started to very quietly have a full-blown – but quiet – panic attack. Started rescheduling, moving projects around, buying myself a day here, a week – maybe – there. Started feeling guilty for letting people down if something didn’t show up on time or, I don’t know, when they expected it to.

And then I did something I rarely do: I shut my laptop. Just closed it. Left the WIP alone, stood up and took a walk. A long one, actually. Enjoyed the, what’s it called again? the sun?, on my face. The breeze.

In short, I played hooky.

But my creativity demanded it. To run yourself ragged on a self-imposed – I use that word a lot because everything I do is dictated by me; I am my own worst boss – treadmill without touching base with your humanity not only stifles your creative voice, it silences it.

So, in truth, my stories, my characters, their narratives, all stood up and stepped forward to shut me up, steal my voice and get me out of the house.

And what happened when I came back?

Nothing. I took the day off. Shocking, isn’t it? 😁

But, hey, sometimes we gotta be daring and break the rules in order to get those words on the page.