Writing the Chorus

Chorus of Dust is a book I never really meant to write.

That might sound like a strange thing to say, as the first part of writing anything comes from first sitting down and deciding what story you want to tell. Even if that story is a technical procedure on how to install a light fixture, there must be a starting point. Though the finished product is rarely what you have in mind when starting out, there’s usually at least a decent portion of your original intention still laced throughout your story. With Chorus of Dust, this wasn’t the case at all.

It began out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico back in March of 2011. I had traveled out to one of our company’s offshore production platforms for work. It wasn’t the first time I’d been offshore, but it still wasn’t something I’d done enough yet that I was totally comfortable with the idea. While lying in bed one night at 8:00 PM (the days start early, so you have to hit the sack early as well if you want any decent amount of sleep), I was thinking about just how isolated we were from everything. It was true that we had phones, internet access, plenty of food, and most of the other creature comforts from home. Physically though, I’ve never felt as isolated as I do when I’m out there.  You’re literally surrounded on all sides by at least 100 miles of ocean, and at night when you look out into the darkness over the waves, it becomes impossible to see where the water ends and the black sky begins. It almost feels like you’re sitting out in the middle of outer space. Naturally, this gave me the idea for a story.

I won’t go into all the details or else this post will take you all day to read, but the long and short of it is that my thoughts on isolation eventually turned to my Grandfather’s cotton farm. We used to visit him and my grandmother (we called them Nana and Grandaddy) about twice a year. He had owned the farm since my dad was little, a sprawling plot of land that seemed to go on forever. It struck me how, in many ways, that farm was just as isolated as we were out in the middle of the gulf. If something happened there, something terrible, who would know? What secrets could be held in that place for years, or even decades?

This is where the eventual story of Chorus of Dust took root, and though it was nothing like I originally intended, I’m glad it developed the way it did. It was not an easy book to write. I started the first draft in April of 2011, and didn’t truly complete it until July. After that I went back and worked it over again, then sent it out to a couple of people I occasionally chatted with on a writing forum who agreed to beta-read it for me. When their comments came back, I went back for another round of edits, and then another. Eventually, I finally finished the book as it is now in December of 2011, a full nine months after I started it. Great for creating a baby, but for a 25,000 word novella, this isn’t a real good turnaround time. Still, despite the difficulties in writing it, I’m proud of what eventually turned out. What difficulties you ask? There were two main areas that really hung me up.

(1) Thematic Elements

Religion plays a large part in this book. My faith is a big part of my life, and so I find it hard not to bring it up in my writing. Here, I wanted to ask the hard questions.

The first question was, what is the absolute most frightening thing I could imagine? For me, the answer was simple: the concept of atheism. The idea of there being nothing after death is terrifying to me. So, my way of addressing this was to make the main character, Adem Comeaux, a die-hard atheist who feels the same way. What if the belief you held closest to you was also the one thing you were the most frightened of? That’s the essential conflict Adem must face in the story.

After that, the second question became, what hope can you possibly have when you have nothing to believe in? I won’t go into too much detail on this theme (you’ll have to read the book!), but the story deals with a number of issues in addressing it. The corruption of the church, the abandonment of faith in our society, and secrets that we all pass on from one generation to the next, to name a few. It was difficult to examine my own viewpoint with a critical eye, but in doing so, I believe my own faith has grown because of it.

(2) Swearing

Following from the first issue, this one was particularly difficult for me. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not swear, period. It’s just one of those things I don’t do. So when I sat down to write about this character Adem, and he naturally progressed into this rough-around-the-edges guy with the mouth of a sailor, I was genuinely concerned. How was I going to do this? I could take the easy way out and simply replace the bad words with words that were less-bad, or remove them altogether, but when I tried doing so it simply felt wrong. It didn’t feel true to the story or the character.

So in the end, the bad words stayed in, every last one of them. I’ll be honest, I’m concerned about what people are going to think of me when they read this book, especially people who know me well. I hope they’ll understand that this is a fictional story and the characters in it are not a reflection of me as a person or what I believe. Instead, they reflect a narrative that was begging to be released, and I had no choice but to tell it in exactly the way that I did.

I hope that they’ll understand, but if they don’t, there’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s brutal, it’s harsh, and it can be hard to read. It is by far the darkest thing I have ever written. It’s also beautiful in its own way, and I won’t apologize for it. That will have to be enough.

That’s all for now.  Chorus of Dust will be released soon in eBook format, so keep checking back. As soon as it goes live you’ll find out about it here first!

Chorus of Dust

I suppose I’ve put this off long enough, and I think it’s time to make it official.

My first published book, Chorus of Dust, is releasing this July in limited edition hardcover, and will also be available in May as an eBook.

 

Let me repeat that in case anyone missed it: I have a book coming out in a month. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

So yes, it’s technically a Novella, but as far as I’m concerned that counts as a book as much as anything else does. Think of it as a full novel with all the extraneous pulp and fluff filtered out, squeezed down and refined to a relatively small but surprisingly satisfying nougat of chocolaty goodness. Only, instead of chocolate, you get an extra concentrated dose of mind-bending horror!

Or something like that. I’ve never been all that great with metaphors. In any case, as you can see, I’m definitely excited to see this one in print. I spent the better part of 2011 writing and refining this story into what it is today. To me, it felt like something special, but the hard part would be finding a publisher who agreed and felt that it would be a good fit for them.

That publisher turned out to be Delirium Books. Founded and still run by Shane Ryan Staley, Delirium has been putting out quality titles in dark fiction for over a decade and is one of the leading names in the horror genre, publishing lots of well-established horror authors such as Jack Ketchum, Greg Gifune, and authors such as Lee Thompson and Weston Ochse who I was honored to appear next to in Shock Totem Magazine. Delirium was one of the first publishers I looked at when I first started shopping this book around, but at first I didn’t think I had a chance. Still, you have to aim high, right? If I truly felt this story was special, then anything less would be selling myself short.

So I took a chance, and it paid off. Delirium accepted my novella for publication in January, and from that point forward we were off to the races. I don’t think I can express my thanks enough to Shane and the other folks at Delirium Books for taking a chance on a new author like myself. I shouldn’t be surprised, as they have a long tradition of doing exactly that, but it still means a lot to me.

That’s it then, it’s as official as it can be on this website. As we count down the days and weeks to the release of Chorus of Dust, I’ll be talking a little more about it. Specifically, the process of writing it and the inspirations for the story. Once it’s available for purchase as an eBook and in hardcover, you’ll be the first to know about it right here.

Literal Daze #6

Oh ho ho, what’s this? My semi-regular feature Literal Daze, wherein I review books and audiobooks (and maybe the occasional movie thrown in for fun), has reached a lucky half-dozen! Let’s not waste any time then.

 

Book

The Wise Man’s Fear (Patrick Rothfuss)

The Wise Man’s Fear is Patrick Rothfuss’ second book in the fantastic Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy. This one picks up basically right where the first one leaves off, with the main character Kvothe attending a sort of medieval version of a university for magicians known as the Arcanum. The story takes us from his trials and tribulations there, through to his search for a wealthy patron and then his adventures out in a bandit-infested forest known as the Eld. Eventually it ends up back at the university, bringing us full circle once again.

I’ll be honest. Never has a book frustrated me in the way this one has.

It’s long. Longer than it needs to be. Despite being a thousand pages long, the plot seems to be paper thin. Everything happens, and yet nothing happens. The story suddenly splits off on a tangent at a moment’s notice, like a child with ADD trying to follow an angry cat. By the time it returns to the thread it left so many pages ago, you’ve forgotten what you were doing there in the first place. Never have I read a book where so much and yet so little happens simultaneously.

Despite all this, I still loved this book.

Kvothe is just such a fascinating character, it almost doesn’t matter what’s going on in the story, I don’t know, maybe that’s the point. I could read about his exploits all day, regardless of what he’s doing. It was especially enjoyable seeing how his myth grows in the book, how the mix of truth, half-truth, and outright fabrication mix together to make Kvothe into the legend he has already become by the end, even though he hasn’t even reached his twenties.

Give me more, Mr. Rothfuss. I need more Kvothe like a bad drug. Just please don’t make me wait too long.

 

Audiobook

The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)

I’m genuinely surprised that I liked this book as much as I did. I’m not real big on historical fiction most of the time, and the very fact that this book had so much hype behind it (Oprah’s book club, Television Series, etc) made me wary to give it a shot. However, when I could find nothing else at the library, this caught my eye and I reluctantly decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.

For those in the minority like I was who haven’t read this book, The Pillars of the Earth is the story of the building of a new cathedral in the fictional city of Kingsbridge in England during the Medieval period of time known as “The Anarchy”, around the mid 12th century. Sounds like a snoozefest, right?

Wrong! It turns out, the building of the cathedral is only the backdrop in a story that’s actually about war, political intrigue, mystery, and love. The various characters we follow throughout the story and how their lives interweave with the new church are interesting and three-dimensional, whether they are likable protagonists, hated villains, or the many who fall somewhere in between. The scope of the story itself is impressive, covering about forty years and nearly the entire lives of some of the characters. This makes sense of course, since the building of a new cathedral back then took decades, but being able to pull of such a feat and managing to still keep the plot moving forward and interesting throughout is something that is not easy to do. Here, Follett made it look easy.

Overall, the only conclusion I can draw is that, for once, the hype was justified on this one. It’s just a wonderful book through and through. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

As usual, since I listened to the audiobook version, I’ll also make a quick note on the narrator, John Lee. At first, I wasn’t crazy about his narration. His voice and british accent are well suited to the material, but it almost seemed too soothing, and the voices of the different characters didn’t seem all that distinct. However, as it went on, his style really grew on me. I realized that his different characters actually were pretty distinct, just very subtly so, and his tone and inflections really drew me into the action of whatever was happening in the specific scene he was reading. Overall, he did a great job.

 

Movie

John Carter

I never read A Princess of Mars, the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs that the new movie John Carter is based on. In some ways, I think that’s probably a good thing. I’m always weary of movies based on books that I’ve already read. They never seem to be able to live up to the hype. So, when I went into John Carter, I was fresh to the material and had no preconceived notions about the story. I didn’t even know what it was about.

For a quick summary, the story is about a guy named John Carter (funny how that works), a confederate soldier in the old west. After a series of incidents, he finds himself wandering into a cave, where he meets a strange futuristic figure and somehow ends up unconscious.  When he comes to, he’s on Mars, though he doesn’t know it yet. The premise here of course is that over a hundred years ago, perhaps Mars actually did have an atmosphere and alien cultures inhabiting it. When he comes to, John has to adjust to the reduced gravity of the planet, and soon realizes he is like a superhero there. He can jump higher, he’s stronger, and faster than any of the natives. Eventually, he joins up with the struggles of some of the people there and finds his place in this world, so to speak.

Though John Carter wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy material, or even anything above the level of a popcorn-flick, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it thoroughly. It’s good, pulpy, fun Science Fiction, unabashedly embracing the clichés of the genre and playing to their strengths. There’s no deep message behind the movie, save for the idea that it would be awesome to be a superhero and save an entire planet. It never tries to be more than that, and in the process reminds us of how fun going to the movies can be. Frankly, that’s good enough for me.

 

Next Time

Make sure and come back again when I’ll be reviewing Ghost Story by Peter Straub, as well as the audiobook of World Without End by Ken Follett. It’ll be a smashing good time.

Wet Shaving

Why yes, as a matter of fact, I did enjoy that month-long camping trip.

Ahem.

Okay, so I haven’t updated in a while. It’s been a busy month, and my real-life work has dominated my spare time and practically drained the life out of me. Not a good excuse I know, but there it is. That said, as I hinted at a couple of posts ago, there is some exciting news coming, as well as a new Literal Daze entry, so don’t give up on me yet!

Changing gears, if you would be so kind, I’d like to take a moment to talk with you about my facial hair.

Wait, come back! I promise it will be interesting! Or at the very least, slightly less boring than whatever else you were doing that was so mind-numbingly dull that coming here seemed like a better option.

Like many strapping young lads, I started shaving in my early teen years. Probably well before I needed to, and certainly well before I knew what I was actually doing. My Dad, though he taught me a great many things, never really took me aside and taught me the finer arts of shaving your face. Yes, he showed me how to use a cartridge razor and how not to completely slice my face up, but I’ve recently come to understand that mindlessly dragging an expensive multi-blade cartridge across your face does not count. It might get rid of the facial hair, but it isn’t truly shaving.

Not that I’m blaming him of course. For whatever reason, this was what he knew and he did his best to pass it on to me like any good father would. However, I always felt that there was something more to it, something I was missing. No matter how good the razor was, I always managed to irritate my face, plaguing it with razor burn and ingrown hairs, to the point that I just began to stop shaving on a regular basis. It was as if my face simply couldn’t handle the ravishing effects that shaving imposed. I’d let it grow out for several days before bothering to shave again, despite the fact that I badly needed it. In my job as an engineer, where looking professional is important, this wasn’t the best practice. But what was I to do?

Finally, after doing some research, I discovered the answer. My face wasn’t the problem. It was my method, and more importantly, my razor. I’ve simply been doing it wrong.

Soon, I discovered a whole world of shaving that I didn’t know existed, like the land of Narnia quietly lurking behind the doors of the wardrobe. It was a world of soaps and badger-hair brushes, of facial growth maps, of proper lathering techniques, and understanding the difference between shaving against the grain and across the grain.

It was the world of wet-shaving.

Now, I’m not going to go into all the specifics of wet-shaving, mostly because even I haven’t learned them all yet. It’s surprisingly complicated and deep, but let me share a primer of what I’ve learned so far. Here are the basics.

  1. Wet-shaving is all about never passing a razor over a non-lubricated face. This is why multiple razor cartridges don’t count as wet-shaving. With cartridges, the first razor scrapes away some hair and all of the soap/cream/whatever, and the others drag across unprotected skin. This is a big no-no in wet-shaving.
  2. Due to #1, this means that wet-shaving must be accomplished using single blade instruments. Most commonly, that implies either the use of a safety razor or a straight razor.
  3. Since only a single razor is used, multiple passes are necessary, and each one is generally in a different direction on your face. This means multiple latherings of your face are also necessary.

And that’s why we call it wet-shaving. Of course, there are a host of other guidelines and subtleties that are involved depending on how you go about your shave, but those are the fundamentals. But it sounds like an awful lot of trouble, right? Why go through all of that when it takes so much more time and effort? For me, the answer was easy. I was tired of irritating my skin and cutting my face to shreds with cartridge razors, but I also wanted the baby-smooth shave that I’ve never quite been able to accomplish with electric razors. Wet-shaving gives me an incredibly close shave while also keeping my skin soft and irritation free.

Enough talk now. Here, let me introduce you to someone.

 

This is the Merkur HD 34C safety razor.  She is lovely, isn’t she? A marvel of German engineering and uncompromising beauty. I purposefully call her a “she” because I’m slowly coming to understand that a good safety razor is in many ways like a woman. Treat her well, and her gentleness will repay you twice-over. However, treat her badly, and you will find no end to her wrath.

Yes, I’m being a little hyperbolic for effect, but there is some truth in it. This thing is not a toy, and it’s not your daddy’s razor, although there is a pretty good chance that is quite similar to your grandfather’s razor. What, you thought wet-shaving was a new concept? Far from it, this is the traditional way of shaving that has been lost by the wayside as commercialism and marketing paved the way for expensive, over-produced and over-engineered cartridge razors. We’re only getting back to the basics here, and this fine instrument allows me to do just that.

Though it seems expensive for a razor, your paying for quality. Plus, considering the cheap price of razor blades compared to cartridge razors, you make your money back in savings fairly quickly. It’s a two-piece design, with a nut on the bottom of the handle which loosens the top of the head, allowing access to the razor slot. Here, you place a single, double-edged razor blade, sharp and deadly as… well, as a razor blade. Yes, unlike cartridge razors, the blades used in safety razors could maim or kill a man when used for malicious intent. For those who are brave enough to move up to straight razors (not me), this is even more true. As I said, it’s no toy, and is not to be trifled with.

Thankfully, once you have placed the blade in its slot and re-tightened the head, the more dangerous aspects of the razor are mostly mitigated. Yes, it can still cut you if you aren’t careful, but the cuts will be shallow and non-lethal. Thus, why they are called Safety Razors. At that point, it’s all about technique and getting a feel for how the razor will react to your face, adjusting the angle of incidence and grip and various other factors to ensure a close, clean shave.

This is where I am now, slowly learning how to handle the thing. I’m getting better though, and I can already see the positive effects this kind of shaving has had on my skin. More than that, it has turned shaving from a chore to be gotten out of the way as fast as possible to an experience that I actually look forward to.

You can’t put a price on that.

If I’ve piqued your interest, you can go where I did to further explore the world of wet-shaving at the fantastic website Badger & Blade. There, you’ll find just about everything you ever wanted to know on the subject, and probably more that you didn’t.