Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Resolution

Not cryptic at all, no...
And here it is, because I knew you all were waiting for it, my resolution to Make Lively Stories, Nurture Strengths And...

I don't mean to be cryptic. Here's a quick explanation.

This is based on the Six Word Story website. Go ahead and check it out. Back? Did you like the Hemingway story? There are so many possibilities in those six words, aren't there?  Okay, so back to why I do this.

The first half is pretty obvious -- "Make lively stories" applies to what I hope to write, but also to how I hope my year goes. I want to have some lively stories to tell or at least use in my fiction. This assumes I will be in the right place at the right time to gather or experience these stories, so we'll see how that goes. It's a resolution, anyway, to try to be there.

The second part, "nurture strengths" is a little more vague but a little more in my control. I can continue to be a better writer and a better manager at my day job. I can also continue to work hard at losing weight and that means eating less and exercising more. Both things I can do, and I consider them strengths. My weakness is that I can't continue either thing for an extended period so I end up in the roller coaster of loss and gain that most people experience. My goal for the year in this part of my resolution is to even out those peaks and valleys a little more. So by nurturing my strengths in general, I will be better overall.

Finally, the last word (with ellipsis) "and..." is meant to encompass everything else. It's mysterious enough to mean anything and that's what attracted me to using it this year. The mystery of the coming year is enticing, entrancing and enigmatic. What lies ahead? More of the same?

I don't know.

I based the design on the now famous "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster. The two stars superimposed over one another represent day and night, the sun and the stars. The dark blue field is the endless possibility of the sky at dusk, the white words are maybe clouds or the Milky Way if you prefer.

If you want to share your resolutions below in the comments, please do. If you don't do resolutions, tell me why.

So I wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year. I hope you have a great one. I know I'm going to try.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What a Year

So many good things happened this year that I am so thankful for. I met so many people who have been so supportive I am grateful beyond words. I have my health, my family is well and things are looking up for next year, too, on a couple of different fronts. It's just been a good year both personally and professionally. Hope yours has been, too.

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to download the entirety of The Long Range for free in DRM-free PDF format. It's good until 930 AM Central Time in the US for one week from today. If you download and read it, let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I'll be on vacation and will return after the first of the year. (Maybe a thing here and there, but nothing's planned so I never say 'never'.)

Wishing you and yours the best of holiday seasons, whichever holidays you celebrate. Happy New Year everyone!
Presents we can haz?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What I've Learned: December 2010



  • Being a husband and a dad is the best job in the world. Hands down.
  • I’ve been a visual artist, a musician and now a writer of fiction. I think I’m better suited to being a writer than anything else. I can come and go from it a little more easily.
  • I just got this criticism again recently that I put too much of myself into my work. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it can be overwhelming for others.
  • I have no regrets about my life. Maybe I’ve done regrettable things, but I don’t think that, in the long run, I ever really hurt anyone.
  • I’ve ‘met’ a lot of people online, but there are probably only two or three that I’d consider friends. I hope I get to shake their hands and see the twinkle in their eyes when we meet. I hope their voices match what I have in my head, but it’s okay if they don’t.
  • A friend is someone who says, “You did this cool thing? Great,” and then treats you like it’s really no big deal.
  • Patience will get you a lot farther than being pissed off.
  • I have a lot of anger in me about all the stupidity that is so pervasive around the world. It all boils down to people being selfish and inattentive. How hard is it to hold a door for someone who’s three steps behind you? What does that cost?
  • Most people don’t care about the arts unless there’s some tangible ‘gain’ from it. I think we don’t put enough value on the joy that comes from seeing something beautiful or hearing something that stirs one’s feelings. Not that I want to get all touchy-feely, but if you can take a moment and identify with a piece of art or a story or a sound, do it. Your life is richer in feelings than you’ll ever be in money when you pay attention and it costs you a lot less than your monthly cable bill.
  • My grandfather was the best storyteller I’ve ever known and I’ll never be as good as him.
  • I know my limitations but I try not to let them limit me. They’re only obstacles that have to be overcome or surmounted in some way.
  • I say ‘yes’ way too much and I take on tasks that interest me. When deadlines for completing those things overwhelm me, I turn into a person I don’t much like.
  • “Done is the engine of more” really is true.
  • Waiting for notes from an editor can be nerve-wracking, so it's best to have another story to work on while you're waiting.
  • If you ask Who, What, Where, When and How and you still don't know all the answers then it's time to ask Why at least three times.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

It Was Thirty Years Ago Yesterday...

... that I was a teenager who'd fallen asleep watching the Patriots and Dolphins on Monday Night Football when I woke to hear Howard Cosell announce that John Lennon had been shot and killed. I turned off the TV, rolled over and went back to sleep. (The owner of this video's disabled embedding

It was thirty years ago today that I woke up and told my mom that I'd had a terrible dream that John had been killed. She told me it wasn't a dream and I was devastated. I'd been to see Beatlemania in October that year, I think, and was totally enamored of the music. All of it. The Beatles, Wings, Plastic Ono Band, George's solo work, even Ringo's stuff. It was John who affected me the most, though.

I loved his new album. The music was great, the words were easy to understand. What I'd been able to read about John and had seen on TV had informed me that he was perhaps the Beatle I was most like. (I harbor no such illusions now, though. This was back in the day when there was no internet and we had to rely on things like network TV, newspapers and Rolling Stone for information about music, arts and everything else. I know what John probably was as a man and an artist because there's so much more accessible information now, but I digress...)

I was morose. I went to school wearing my Beatlemania shirt and a lot of my friends didn't understand why I was so sad. It was just some old dude who made some old music. I didn't bother to explain, we were all in seventh grade and I just didn't have the energy. I accepted that I was the weird guy who was sad about a celebrity death. The whole thing, as it unfolded in the papers, was insane and I won't spend any time on the murderer here. I've never read Catcher in the Rye, though, largely because of Mark David Chapman.

Despite all the negative sides to John (and there were a fair few that even he would admit to), he was an artist who I respected and still respect. I was sad a little yesterday when I heard people remembering him. I'm sad today thinking about how I felt all those years ago. I'm older than John got to be now, and I still miss the possibilities of what he could have been as an artist. I've admired that he was obviously head over heels in love with Yoko, and I think that's the best part of him that I may be most like. (If that makes sense.)

I'm head over heels in love, I made it through my 30s just fine and came out on the other side more an artist than I was when I went into them. John's not been a role model, exactly (how could he be?), but I've tried to live with love in my heart and offering peace where I can, though I'm human and that means that I haven't always been successful. That he affected me in that way is perhaps his legacy to a boy from Kansas who grew up listening to the message in songs on the radio.

I miss him. I have the music and a wealth of books and movies about him and his music. I heard the message, I tried to rephrase it for others. It's up to them to hear it, too, right?

I've never written this down before and only told the story a handful of times. In the comments, if you want to share something about John that affected you, please do. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Post-NaNoWriMo Thoughts


I've won NaNoWriMo for the third time in three tries. All this means is that I've written 50,000 words or more in 30 days or less. My first two years I wrote complete stories (51,000 words in 2008 and a little over 59,000 in 2009). This year I wrote less than I did in both years and my story's not complete.

That's okay.

I like my story. I'm going to turn it into a novel and hope to have a draft of it done by the end of March. It's about four amnesiacs battling the aggressive and mysterious Sovereignty Board for the fate of our Earth. That's all I'll say about it for now except that I love some of the character names a lot. I was highly influenced by Lev Grossman's THE MAGICIANS (which you should read if you haven't; it's not a Harry Potter clone, not by a longshot) even though I had no idea that book had had any effect on me prior to starting. I also felt the influence of Ray Bradbury as I was writing, too.

This doesn't mean that the book's anything like those two authors' works. I don't know what it's like. Only that I felt them both looking over my shoulder as I was banging out words day after day.

My daily pace was less than last year and the year before, and I finished on the 27th, like I did last year. The important difference from 2008 and 2009 is that I did not exercise during November and I gained weight. I spent so much time just sitting at the computer writing that I didn't take care of my body the way I should have.  I vowed that this year would be different.

Not only did I not gain weight (and with Thanksgiving in the month that's a major accomplishment!) I actually lost a pound. I feel very proud.

So even though I didn't write as many words and I didn't finish my story like I had the previous two years, I feel like I did even better than I had previously. If, once I've finished the manuscript, I feel like the book is still good I'll keep going with it. I'll let you know at the end of March on that.

I'm curious how many of you tried NaNo, and if you did -- what was your experience this year? If you haven't, why not? There's a terrific amount of support from your local NaNo group and from the Office of Letter & Light, too. Plus there are cool opportunities and goodies at the end if you win (a free proof copy of your novel from CreateSpace, great deals on writing software, etc...) and the sense of having done something you've always wanted to do, too. It's not too early to begin thinking about next year...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Deep in the throes of NaNoWriMo and nearly finished with my 50,000 words for the month, so expect some more regular blogging (and maybe even a couple of stories!) going into the New Year.

This clip is mostly for my parents, who I watched this with back in 1978, if I remember correctly. Hope that you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you have a lot to be thankful for. I do.





         
Happy Thanksgiving - WKRP Turkey Drop - kewego
http://www.sharkhost.com Happy Thanksgiving from Sharkhost.com! This is a blast from the past, WKRP in Cincinnati Famous Turkey Drop. Sharkhost does not own any copyright to this material. Web host, web design, marketing and promotion.



More next week!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Big Empty

I really hadn't intended to let October go by without a post here, but it's nearly happened. I'm stopping in to give you some updates and a couple of links of interest.


  • I've been writing, as is my usual excuse. I hope I'll be able to tell you what I've been writing (and even show you) before too long. Such, though, are the vagaries of publishing. More to come on all of this, soon.


  • I urge you all to go out and vote this Tuesday if you haven't already done so. We have early voting here in Kansas and I felt very satisfied when I left the booth today. You may not think your vote counts for much, but it does. If everyone voted, the United States would be a very different place than it is today. Americans should never, ever let anyone tell them what to do. I understand realities, believe me, but it is your RIGHT to vote. It's guaranteed. 
  • I'm participating in NaNoWriMo again this year, for the third time. My idea this year is, I think, good enough to actually do something with it. I might make it my first try at a true novel. All I have to do is write 50,000 words of it in November to be a winner.


Okay, those are the updates. Here are some things I wanted to share with you:

Jon S. Lewis is having quite a discussion about self-publishing that's really interesting. You should hop in and check it out by clicking on his name there.

Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn created a wonderful comic book call Firebreather at Image Comics many moons ago, and now on November 10th it's going to be a movie on Cartoon Network. Here's the trailer:



I'm really excited about seeing this. It's directed by Peter (AEON FLUX) Chung.

You'll notice a few changes around here, too. Most notable is the top header there and the ability to share posts via Twitter and Facebook a little more easily. Feel free to make use of any of those things.

Stay tuned. More to come.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On Baseball

I just got done watching The Tenth Inning, the follow-up by Ken Burns to his brilliant Baseball documentary of the 90s.  I'm a fan of Burns, a fan of baseball and a loyal supporter of the Kansas City Royals.

My first Royals game was in 1978, the night that Cookie Rojas retired as a player from baseball.  I went back to Kauffman Stadium pretty regularly from then through the 1994 season. I've been back since then maybe three times. Maybe four or five. The '94 strike really hurt me. My team was competitive in '94 and in the hunt for a wild card spot. I got to see Ken Griffey Jr. play in KC that year. The team was actually pretty good and certainly a helluva lotta fun to watch.

But the strike killed me. I thought everyone involved was being greedy and not considering the game. The Game of Baseball is what I meant to say. I watch the stats every year for the first two, maybe three months, then I lose interest in the game as the Royals head for the cellar and I don't really care about any other team. I mean, I hate the Yankees like any other baseball fan and I hate the trend that Barry Bonds started of strutting down the first base line to watch his homers sail out of the park. I don't hate a lot of things, but those I hate. (Actually by 'hate' I mean 'really dislike'. I don't expend the energy to really 'hate'.)

I grew up playing baseball with friends and briefly in the local Parks & Rec league. I played until I got 'traded'. Yep, traded in the Parks & Recreation league. I tried to be a pitcher, but center field was my real home on the field. My only home run came when I hit a ball beyond the lights during a night game and the center fielder was too scared to go out into the shadows to get it. I chugged around the base path while the left fielder came over to get it and make the throw back in. I quit playing soon after in any sort of organized league.

My love of the game came from my grandfather, who played professionally in the 50s. I've told that story elsewhere, but one of the things I always looked forward to was talking to him about the Royals. We knew, every year, that there was a chance they could be good and that it would likely be squandered but we connected through baseball. He had a million great stories about being a player back then and so that was probably where I got my inclination to want to tell stories, too.

Burns' series is brilliant, I said that above. More importantly, it's unflinching in its look at the game I love. The Tenth Inning is brutal about all that's wrong with the game but also celebrates what makes it great. It's a terrific balance between the dark and the light and if you love the game you need to watch it.

I remember Monday Night Baseball on network TV. I remember Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount and Graig Nettles and all those guys who made the game so GOOD. I was disappointed that my Royals haven't been good enough over the last fifteen years to merit much of a mention in Burns' update, but I understood their omission. There's been so much since Burns' 1994 original that needs to be talked about.

In the end, it's really about Baseball the Game. My team isn't one of the good ones, isn't even in the same league as the Cubs or the Padres or the Giants. It's a small market team and we've only had one star, George Brett, who made an impact. Lots of others have passed through on their way to greater recognition (Johnny Damon, David Cone, Tom Gordon, Jermaine Dye and so many others) but no one says Kansas City like Brett. He stayed here for his entire career. At times, it's looked like the Royals are really a farm team for the rest of the major leagues.

So those are my thoughts on Baseball for now. If you're inclined, tell me what you think about your team or Ken Burns or just baseball in general.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Influence Map meme

Influence-map

Based on the template here. I'll give you some insights and all the names later on, but I want to see how many you can figure out for yourself. You should be able to click on it for a larger view.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Kind of Announcement

So I mentioned in several tweets that I was writing a 'very cool story'. I can tell you now that it's a new series for Actionopolis but there's an official announcement coming later on as to the title and content of my work so we'll keep that under wraps for now. Here is a press release that was picked up by a lot of folks, including Publisher's Weekly.

I'm REALLY excited to be doing this. I've been keeping you updated on my progress on Twitter and just a little bit here.  I can tell you that I've made several rookie mistakes that the editor is guiding me through. The first batch of notes stung a little, but once I got over it (about ten minutes later) I started learning and made my writing BETTER. With each batch of notes I learn more about structure, about plotting and about tension (as I mentioned below).

So, even though for a year I put a story each month up here for you to enjoy and haven't put anything up for a while now, I've been busy and you'll get to see the fruits of it in (I hope!) not too long a while. Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tension

So I acquired a copy of Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook because Borders didn't have a copy of Writing the Breakout Novel this weekend.  I started reading yesterday and doing the exercises as I go along and I already can see where I can make the story I'm working on BETTER in significant ways.

In order to have some backup material to digest in between chapters, I also bought Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and in the first chapter alone I've been schooled on scenes.

It helps that I know a little and have done some research on my own, but if you've heard of these books and you're waiting for reviews of them, consider this my endorsement of the two titles. These are really workshops disguised as books and if you're serious about the craft, then go ahead and buy them. We'll see how it goes as I'm revising my current story, but the notes I got back about 'increase the tension' definitely make more sense and I know HOW they make sense, not just WHY.

Back to the grindstone.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Pitfall of Being a New Writer


One of the things I've had to learn and have had a very difficult time in running this blog is that I really shouldn't make promises.

Not that I don't want to keep them, it's just that I get excited and want you to know that something's coming. Then real life gets in the way.

My latest failure is finishing sharing The Stone Man. What's happened is that I can't find pages for the second half of the story that will scan decently.  It's not much of an excuse, but combine that with the fact that my day job kicked into high gear as it always does during the second week of August and that's what's happened.  I know that at least one person is probably disappointed and for that I'm sorry.  I didn't get any comments on the first twelve pages of the story (not that that's at all unusual for this blog) and so I ascribed the lack of attention to a general lack of interest.

I'm a writer, sure, but I also have a day job. I spend as much time as I can writing and there are things I'm working on that I really want to tell you about, but I can't. The reason I can't is that what I'm working on is a Work For Hire and it's very cool. (I promise! Uh oh, wait a second...)

So I won't promise anything to you any more.  I will tell you that what I'm looking at is a tentative schedule to resume regular updating on Wednesdays in October.  I'm taking September to really get my feet back under me while I'm working the WFH stories.  It's my intention to drop in once a week to give you some tidbit of information or say something pithy just to keep my blog up on your reading list.

There's a lot to come; I just need to finish a couple of things first.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ha Ha I'm So Behind

My apologies to anyone who's waiting for the next page of The Stone Man.  I've been trying to get the rest of the pages scanned and ready to go, but --- well, there's really no excuse.  I've just been busy, as we all get, and I let it get away from me.  I'll get more pages out to you next week, okay?

In the meantime, this is why you never go to these kinds of events:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Stone Man 6




Updating every day this month, but if you're only just now joining in, click to start from the beginning!


Click here for the Next Page

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Kind of Afterword

Once upon a time, as all good stories start, I wanted to be a writer.


And so I am.

Thirteen stories and over 80,000 words later, you can read a sometimes exciting collection of interconnected characters and events that make up an overarching tale I called The Long Range.  I’m pleased with it as a first effort.  I can see the problems with the work as well as anyone, but I’m still proud of it.  It’s complete.

So, what’s next?  I’m glad you asked.

When I did my author chat at The Penny Dreadful back in May, there were some questions about comic books and how they were put together and about my own work.  In August, I’ll share a 24-page story that I did back in 2002 I think, called The Stone Man. (You can read a review by Steven Grant here and one by Tony Isabella here.)   I wrote and penciled the whole thing and my friend Ron Fontes inked twelve pages of it for me.  He definitely improved the work with his brushes and pens.  I’ll give you a page a day, Monday through Friday for the entire month. 

Then I’ll take September off, essentially, to prepare for another longform work called The Missing Fundamental which will bow in October.  This will be another year-long serialized work for you to enjoy or ignore as you see fit.  We’ll go back to the updating every Wednesday format.

By October, you’ll be able to purchase paper copies of both The Long Range and The Missing Fundamental, but they’ll both remain free on the website forever.

I’m also updating the blog/website to make it easier for you to read.  That should be done fairly soon, but will probably be a bit of slow going.  I had intentions of launching a completely new site, but this is better for me in terms of time spent.

Some thankyous are quite in order:

First and foremost thanks to you readers.  You have made my day more times than I can count with your comments and your visits.  I hope that you’ve been entertained.  I’ll keep trying.

My compatriots at The Penny Dreadful: you have been so supportive and generous with your time to let others know I was out there doing this.  I can’t thank you all enough for everything but most especially for letting me be part of your community.

The folks who have re-tweeted my silly little notices that a new chapter was up and ready for you to read.  I’m grateful to you for giving the space on your timelines to help out.  Jason Gusman was a great help in promoting the work early on.

Wendy Morrell, aka Quillfeather, was there almost from the beginning and awarded me some blogging prizes.  She always had time to drop in and say ‘hi’ and to let me know she liked the work. 

Thanks to everyone who I met during the Sunday Twitter #writechats.  Those conversations are always stimulating and enlightening.  You all definitely influenced my approach to the second half of The Long Range.

Finally, thank you to my family and most of all: my wife.  Without her support and understanding I wouldn’t be doing this.  She’s decided it’s much better to have me be a crazed storyteller living in her house than a morose introvert mumbling about strange monsters and alternate dimensions somewhere on the street.  She is the light of my life and the reason I work so hard to be better in every part of my life.

And that’s the end, everyone.  Thanks for coming; get home safe and I’ll see you soon enough with new stories. 

I’ll turn out the lights when I go.  I just want to sit here for a second.

Best,

Jason

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writer's Notes 4

We’ve come to the end of the thirteen-month long run of short stories that comprise The Long Range.  Here are some notes on the final three stories.

April’s tale, HONEST WORK, is a Heinlein pastiche, a tribute to the grandmaster of SF.  The idea for a professional witness came from his Stranger in a Strange Land and setting it on a space station from The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.  R.A.H. was such a huge influence on me for such a long time that it’s inconceivable to me to not try and write like him, although that’s exactly what I’ve been conscious of not doing, especially while I was writing this story.  Heinlein made SF sexy and real.  I wrote this story while thinking of the things I’d learned from reading Ray Bradbury and then putting a little more of myself into it.  I think I achieved a little more of my ‘voice’ in this story and it has that going for it, though it’s probably not the most satisfying ending for anyone but me.  It does, however, set up Emily as the major villain of the piece, rather than Brahmen.  He’s the energy behind her, but it’s her that’s doing most of the work.

In SOUL STRIPPER (a nod to AC/DC, there) it was imperative that even though Bettie left Frank behind (again) that I didn’t wallow in that.  We’re all insecure enough that when our loved ones keep acting the same way over and over and over we start to think a lot of strange things. Frank, however, is so focused on his work that he doesn’t.  It’s not that he doesn’t care, he’s just more involved in finding answers.  Thus, he was the perfect person to take over Strangiato’s role as the Seeker.  When I wrote …LIKE THEY ARE, I knew Strangiato was going to die.  How he died was interesting and none of anyone’s business, at least not for now, but I will admit that I was surprised at who Bettie turned out to be.  I didn’t know that until Frank did, but it made sense and explained a lot about why Bettie behaved the way she did. 

I love the setting of The Well, and I hope that someday I’ll return to it to tell a more compelling story.

Finally, the last story to be written and the last story in the cycle, READER ended up being a lot longer than I originally intended.  We had to go back to the castle to find out what happened to Marion.  You remember the odd dreams in THE INSULATED MAN?  No?  Well, they set up the end.  Way back then, I knew Marion was coming back, the same way that I knew what was in the box at the end of TELLER.  To answer one question: No, Ray isn’t me.  Yes, TELLER was a wish/dream of mine, but Ray isn’t me as is evidenced by the end of READER.  The lush foliage they walk through to get to the floating house was inspired by Roger Dean’s great album covers, in case you were wondering.

READER was a story that really took on a life of its own.  It owes a great deal to the aforementioned Ray Bradbury and to the fact that during the entire run of The Long Range I had been reading a lot.  That’s probably the biggest thing that influenced the work.  Next week I’ll share what amounts to being an Afterword of thoughts about the entire project, why I started doing it and what’s coming up next.

Thank you to everyone who’s been reading and especially commenting.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this.  There’s more to come. 


Click here for A Kind of Afterword.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reader 7






7




The monstrous claw snapped at empty air.  A booming roar followed them as they shot upward.

"Hang on," Marion said.  "This is the complicated part."

Ray looked up and saw the stone ceiling.  "Too fast! We're going too fast!"

"Quiet," Frank said putting his hand on Ray's shoulder.  "Trust her."  He held his breath.

A tingling feeling swept over Ray and he nearly collapsed from fright as the globe passed harmlessly through the top of the tower into a clear night sky.  Brad, Hodgkins and Frank all exhaled together.  Marion was still concentrating, guiding the globe as it navigated the wind currents.

Ray laughed and looked down.  "I don't believe it," he said. 

Below stretched a forest that surrounded the castle, which was a sprawling complex of buildings and fortifications that must have been the size of ten square city-blocks.  He recognized the little part of the castle that he'd entered a lifetime ago, when his wife had sent him in search of his dead grandparents.  The rest of the buildings were too much to take in.  He sat down, crossed his legs and covered his head with his hands.

"You okay?"  Brad knelt down. 

The globe continued its flight, circling the castle complex, slowing a little.  Marion was peering down, looking for something.

"Imagining something like this is one thing," Ray said.  "Reading about it is another, but living it, experiencing it is just too much.  I don't know what to think."

Brad smiled.

"You were an old, old man when I met you," Ray said.  "Now look at you.  You're what? Maybe thirty-five?  Hodgkins hasn't changed from the time I met him all those years ago.  I know there's magic here, that there's magic in the universe.  There has to be.  I've just never been this close to it, I guess."

"Well," Brad said, "magic and science aren't all that far apart.  They're really just different ways of describing things.

"And that's what humans do: describe things.  We compartmentalize, define, limit what we see.  We have to in order to understand," Brad said sitting down next to Ray, "but those things also limit what we can understand.  Once we take a pure concept and wrap it in words that make sense to us, anything that falls outside of that description is hard to believe."

"I don't get it," Ray said.  "I mean, I do, but I don't know what you're getting at."

"You'll have to wait to explain, dearest," Marion said.  "We're ready to go."  The globe began a slow descent

Brad, Ray, Frank and Hodgkins watched as they came down through the tops of trees into a clearing a hundred yards wide.  Gently, they bumped into the ground and the green light of the globe faded away.  Ray immediately sat down.  Frank turned, scanning the edge of the little dell, looking for something.  Hodgkins stood by, not watching as Marion and Brad embraced, kissing each other, whispering.

A flash of light and a sharp crack sounded across the soft grass from the far side of the clearing.  The acrid smell of brimstone wafted to them.  "He's here," Marion said looking over Brad's shoulder and pointing.  "There."

The man that stumbled out of the woods was unremarkable: he had wavy brown hair, a goatee and wore faded black and white striped chef's pants with a stained white tee shirt.  He coughed and saw the party ahead of him.  "Marion!"

She pulled away from Brad and opened her arms to hug him as the chef ran over to her.  "Oh my god," he said and held her tight.  "I thought never to see ye again!  How'd you get free?"

"Ray," Marion said and pointed.  "He came and found me."

"And Bea?  Strangiato?"

"Both dead," she said.

"Ah," he said.  "Still, you're here, you're alive."

"I'm Brad," her husband said, sticking out his hand.

"Yeah, shit," Jimmy said.  "Sorry, man."  They shook hands.  The two men locked eyes and sized each other up like two tomcats about to fight.  Brad relaxed his grip, gave Jimmy a slight nod and a vague smile.

"This is Jimmy Cavanaugh," Marion said and introduced the others. 

"I know Hodgkins," Jimmy said.  He squinted at Frank.  "And you're the new Seeker, eh?  Got some big shoes to fill, man."

"You're not the first to tell me that," Frank said, shaking Jimmy's hand.  The chef nodded.

"Ray," Jimmy said.  "Thanks for gettin' her out of there.  You don't know how much this means to the world, to the universe, really.  You're a hero to a lot of people."

"I'm just a writer," Ray said.  "I don't know what I did or why it was important."

Jimmy frowned, looked back at Marion.  "He for real?"

She shrugged. 

"You'll figure it out, then," Jimmy said.  "Being a writer and all."  He smiled and clapped his hands. 

"Well," he said.  "We're not out of the woods yet.  We still have to make it down Dean's pathway to the floating house."  He saw the look on Ray's face.  "Don't worry, man, it's not far and there's no danger between here and there.  Just a little walking is all.  We can't get there any other way."



|||



The landscape shifted as they wound along the wide path that appeared before them.  Everything seemed to be bent, but not unnaturally.  Vines wound around and over rocks and through trees; scrub bushes were scattered across the lush green as though thrown from a gardener's hand without care, some ferns mixed with lots of trees, evergreens and deciduous of both familiar and strangely alien varieties, for good measure.  There was a long-tailed bird with feathers of unearthly colors calling as they passed.  Jimmy was right, it wasn't far, maybe a mile and a half.

"It's all like an album cover," Ray said, looking upward.

"There," Jimmy said, pointing ahead of them.  "The floating house."

"Indeed," Frank said. 

Hodgkins nodded.  "I've heard of it, of course," he said, "but I've never seen it before.  It's lovely."

Brad held Marion with one hand across her shoulders.  She leaned in closer to him.  "It's beautiful," she said then kissed him on the cheek.

"I've dreamed of this place," Brad said. 

The house was tall, three stories, with high gabled windows on the top floor and a mostly flat roof peaked only enough to run off rainwater.  There were two skylights they could see and a long deck around the second level, with supports extending to the bottom of the first level.  Painted a kind of forest green, it hung in the air against all the laws of physics.  It was surrounded by flora that included a couple of shade trees and a waterfall that ended in a pool just below the bottom of the house.

"This is impossible," Ray said.  "It's like a magic version of a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  Not quite Falling Water, but..."

"Come on," Jimmy said.  "Let's get inside."  He started walking up the little rise.  When his left foot came up off the ground and was followed by his right, he stopped.  "Stay close to me.  If you reach out to your right, you can feel the rail that'll guide you up."

One after another, they all followed the chef up the invisible stairs, a strange ascension, until they walked through the front door of the floating house.

"Welcome," a voice said as the door shut behind Hodgkins, who was the last one in.  Ray turned to meet their host and went pale.

"Erika," he said.

"Hello, Ray."  She came across the parquet floor in bare feet, wearing a yellow sundress and looking like she did when Ray first met her. 

He stumbled backward and Frank caught him.  "I thought --- you were..."

"I've been here, waiting for you," she said.  "Your grandparents say hello."  Erika leaned in, kissed him on the cheek.  She stood back then, her hair a halo of sunlight from behind.  Her smile radiant and full, infectious, he couldn't help but smile back.

"Am I dead?"

A little laugh from her.  "No," she said.  "Not quite.  Will you come to the library with me?  The sitting room is through there, if the rest of you don't mind."  She held out her hand to the left and when they'd gone through to the sunken room, she put her right hand out for Ray.  He didn't hesitate, took it and they went into the library.

"There on the desk," she said.  "You have to decide by the time you're done reading it.  You don't get to ask any questions."

"What is it?"  Ray held her hand a little tighter, looked worried.

"A proposal from the powers that be.  I can't tell you anything else."  She sat down across from the desk and watched him walk over and pick up the envelope.



|||




Half an hour later, Erika and Ray, arm in arm, joined the others in the sitting room.

"You've decided to stay," Frank said.  Sunlight streamed through the bay window with a spectacular view of the lush valley filled with strange trees cut by a thin river winding across its floor.  It was a big room, full of heavy, overstuffed furniture.

Ray nodded.  “I raised my kids to live a meaningful life and they don’t need me any more and I get to write all the time.  Yeah, it seems a good deal to me.”

"You're staying with him?"  He looked intently at Erika.

"Yes."

Frank was impassive, weighing the news.  He turned to Marion and Brad.  "And you?"

"I'm going back," Marion said.  "Brahmen is still trying to dominate everything.  I can't stay here."

"I'm going with her," Brad said.  "I won't lose her again."

Frank shrugged, looked resigned.

"Hodgkins?"

The butler sat down.  "I don't know.  I can't go back."

The floating house was solid.  The view through the bay window in the sitting room was the only indication that it wasn't connected to the ground outside.  Jimmy came into the room with a small tray of sandwiches and set them on the sideboard.  He took a triangle and bit into it.

"If you like, you're welcome to come with me," Frank said.  “Honestly, I need some help t maintain the estate I’ve inherited.”

The shadows crept across the room as the sun swept along its path.  The silence grew.  The calls of exotic birds were barely audible from outside.  Marion sipped her wine, Brad drained his glass and set it gently on a side table.  His wife glared at him and he wiped up the little ring of water underneath it after he moved it to a coaster he took from the front drawer of the table.  She patted his hand.

Frank set his glass back on the tray that Hodgkins had put back on the sideboard.  "We all have our assignments," he said.  "I should be getting back to mine."

"Hold on," Ray said, walking over to Frank.  The writer was close to the Seeker and said in a low whisper, "Is this all real?  Am I going to wake up back home in my own bed in a few minutes?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"This all started with you and me in a bar, having a drink," Ray said.  "And --- well, I dream about Erika all the time since she died.  I just don't want this to be a dream."  He was concerned, looked over his shoulder at her, then Marion and Brad and Hodgkins. 

"It's real, Ray Briscoe," Frank said and clapped a hand on the writer's shoulder.  "I'll look forward to seeing you again."  They clasped hands and nodded at each other.  Frank turned and bowed to Marion.

"You know how to reach me," he said.  Frank gave Brad a little salute then took a step toward the hall. Hodgkins stood up.  "I'll see you all again, I'm sure."

The two left the room side by side and Ray heard Hodgkins speak.  "You're starting to sound like him."  There was a gentle closing sound as the front door shut.

"Sandwiches," Jimmy said.  "In case anyone's hungry."  Marion looked over the back of the settee at the chef and smiled.

"Thanks," she said.  "Not right now."  Jimmy shrugged.

Ray and Erika talked with Brad and Marion and Jimmy for hours.  The view through the bay window showed that the floating house turned gently.  When the full moon shone over the valley, the sandwiches had been eaten, a lot of wine and liquor had been drunk.

"There's a lady waitin' for me," Jimmy said.  "I should be going." 

"We have to go, too," Marion said.  "It's time to get back."  The women hugged everyone and the men shook hands with each other.  Jimmy, Marion and Brad left through the front door.

Ray looked around.  "This is what I get for staying on and doing this job?"  He took Erika in his arms and kissed her.  "I can live with this."

"We should go to bed," Erika said.  "You've got to start first thing in the morning."

"I don't know what I should write," Ray said as they walked up the wide stairs. 

"Start with when you and I met," Erika said, “and go from there.”


<<<<>>>>





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Thanks for reading!  I'm grateful to those who've been here since the beginning and have stuck around for a little over thirteen months to see this through to its conclusion.   Come back next Wednesday for writer's notes on the last three stories and the week after that for a kind of afterword about why I did this and how. Tell your friends won't you?  There's LOTS more to come!


Click here for my Notes.



©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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