The Beginning

Alex slipped, landing on his knees and sliding down with both hands outstretched against the soil that rolled beneath his fingertips, a conveyor that he could not grab hold of.  His father reached down to catch him but the boy gripped onto a hunched, protruding root and came to a halt.  “Are you all right?” the man asked with wide iceberg eyes, curls of black hair dangling from either side of his cavernous cheeks.  He was short of breath, face flushed, not by exertion but instead from the thought of his son’s tumbling and irreversible descent: how a single, fumbled misstep could so callously erase all the life that came before it.

“I’m okay,” Alex said, conscious of his father’s expression.  “I’m okay.”

“You have to watch your step.  This is a mountain.  It deserves your respect.”

Alex nodded and mumbled a vague acknowledgement while regaining his footing.  He pretended to understand the meaning of the word, respect.  He knew it was important, something that adults used to demonstrate their virtuousness, to show that they were kind individuals.  He could understand the meaning of the word when told to respect his Dad, to respect the elders.  But when Alex’s father told him to respect a tree and its fruit, told him to respect a goat before it was slaughtered, told him to respect those insects that survive the most profound of life’s calamities—told him to respect a mountain—then Alex knew just to nod, to feign acceptance.

His father grabbed onto a dangling cedar branch and pulled himself up the exposed rock to avoid placing weight onto his bad foot.  Every other step was abbreviated and yet he remained confident on the steep incline.  “Come on,” he said, holding out one hand to clasp.

“I said, I’m okay.” Alex replied, scampering up on all fours.  “Is it much farther?”

His father nodded.

Alex sighed, keeping both eyes on the red and withered needles beneath his feet.

“Trust me.  It’s going to be amazing.  It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen”

“I know.  I know.”

Alex thought he knew.  He called it The Beanstalk even though aware that it wasn’t a plant and had nothing to do with the fairy tale.  He’d analyzed pencil-sketched drawings on wrinkled white paper.  He’d overheard the words of adults that described this enormous structure with vocabulary and allusions that didn’t make sense to a six-year-old boy.  His father assured that he needed to see it with his own eyes to appreciate its “profound scale.”  And again, Alex’s thoughts would return to their copy of the picture book still occupying a narrow sliver of their living room bookshelf, yellowing lines of tape adhering the many tears that traced the spine and dog-eared corners on almost every page.

“So, what is it?” Alex asked, searching through the trunks of trees in hope of catching a glimpse of its profound scale.  All he could see were other mountains.  The entire world was an endless series of wrinkled peaks.

“I don’t know,” his father said, trying to mask his annoyance, not with the question, but with the fact that this had all been discussed numerous times before.

“But it’s not really a beanstalk?”

“It’s not really a beanstalk.”

“And they made it?”

“They made it.”

“When did they make it?”

“Before you were born.”

“On the Fourteenth of August?”

“Sometime after that.”

“And what does it do?”

His father forced another sigh into a chuckle.  “You know I don’t know.”

“How come I can’t see it yet if it’s so big?”

“Because it’s so far away.”

“Farther away than those mountains?”

“Yes.  A lot farther away than those mountains.”

“I’m hungry.”

“I know.”

“Can we stop and have a snack?”

“Soon.”

“How soon?”

“Soon.”

“We must be close?”

His father didn’t answer.  This was the third time in as many months that they’d attempted this ascent, each of the previous journeys concluding with Alex being carried down on his father’s back before reaching the peak.  Alex lived his entire life surrounded by mountains and yet he clearly couldn’t appreciate their size, their profound scale, how he could hike for hours and still be told that there was so much left to climb.  Perhaps that was what it meant to respect a mountain, he thought: they are big.

 

Although pleased that he was able to take a rest and eat as many dried blueberries as he wished, Alex knew what this meant.  They were still a long way off.  They’d been hiking since the first light of dawn, leaving their home long before the blue sky of day had smothered the last of the swirling, luminous nightlights.  Alex was excited when he awoke; he could hardly sleep the night before.  His father really believed that he was ready to make it this time.  It just wasn’t fair that the trek took so long.  Looking up the mountainside, the arching ferns and wrinkled tree trunks never seemed to extend much farther.  They had to be close.  And yet they weren’t.  Every time they’d come across another pink plastic ribbon tied tight around the stalk of a lanky birch, Alex hoped that this would signal that the end was near.  But there was always another.  He wanted to admit to his father how weary his legs were, but it was too late to turn back.  His dad would tell him that it didn’t matter, that he could do it, that he had to respect this mountain, or something.

Alex stood up, nodding with exaggerated swings of his chin to his father’s reminders of being careful, and grabbed a stick from the ground, his eyes drawn to the smooth bark and a clean snake-tongue split at one end.  He held it towards his father.  “Would this have made a good marshmallow stick?”

The man laughed, caught by surprise, “That would have made a perfect marshmallow stick.”

Alex turned back, holding it in the air above an imaginary fire, fascinated by the idea of a marshmallow.  There were so many things that adults reminisced about that made no sense to Alex and that he had no intention of understanding.  But marshmallows!  As light as a mushroom and yet composed of pure sugar.  Held above a flame, and the snow-white exterior would inflate to a crackling, golden brown.  It was magic.  Edible magic.  Without looking back towards his father, Alex said: “We should try making marshmallows again.”

“I don’t think it would work out like you’d want.”

“But can we try again?  Please?”

“What you’re going to see is way cooler than a marshmallow.  Trust me.”

Alex nodded, not because he agreed with his father but because he knew that it would appease him.  He banged the stick against a rock, looking out towards the distant peaks, recognizing only Skihist Mountian and hopeful that his father wouldn’t quiz him on the names of the rest.

A glistening black slug rested motionless on a bed of bloodshot cedar needles.  Alex knelt closer, now able to trace its glistening, meandering path that originated from the bulging roots of a cedar.  A pair of antennae searched through the space, two fingers feeling around in the dark, oblivious to the hominid that towered above, staring down.  As Alex shuffled another step closer, the creature withdrew its protuberances and shriveled in defense.  He poked it with his stick and the mollusk compressed into a dense mound.  It could have been a fallen nut or a wrinkled, decomposing leaf.  Prodding it further, the slug resisted Alex’s attempts to roll it over.

“What are you doing?” his father asked.  “Just leave it alone.”

Alex sighed.  He wanted to step on it.  He still thought that he still might.

“It’s not hurting you.  Come on, now.  Let’s go before it gets too hot.”

The boy stared at the immobile creature, knocked it one last time with his stick, and turned to follow.

 

There it was.  His father had limped ahead with excited steps and called out.  “You can see it,” his voice breathless, his arm outstretched and pointing through the thinning trunks of trees.  It didn’t look like beanstalk.  No matter what Alex had been told, he still visualized something green, a snaking weave of leafy vines that would extend into the shroud of clouds that capped the sky.  Alex stopped climbing, grabbed on to his father’s outstretched hand without looking.  It didn’t make sense.  It was too distant for details, to have any discernable color.  And yet it could not be missed: a great vertical shadow, snaking like a gnarled branch held upright into the sky where it radiated auburn against the hazy ceiling of the atmosphere, out into the cold dead of space.  It made any one of these mountains that he’d spent the entire morning scampering up appear like a lone fern beneath a looming, ancient fir.  Nothing could be so massive.  It just didn’t make sense and Alex winced and rubbed his eyes as if it was a mistake.  The entire southern sky was cracked.

“What is it?”

“I said, I don’t know.”

“Are there giants up there?”

His father chuckled.  “It’s not a beanstalk, remember?”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.”

Alex kept squeezing his father’s hand.  “I’m scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared.”

“Are you scared?”

“I was.”

“You’re not scared anymore?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“I’m not scared.”

“Why not?”

“Because I think we’re safe.”

“You think we’re safe?”

The man squeezed Alex’s hand looked him in the eyes with a tender smile intended to make his forthcoming lie appear as genuine as was possible.  That same comforting, essential falsehood that his own parents had repeated to him, assured him, on countless occasions before their own vicious and untimely deaths.

“Trust me.  We’re going to be fine.”

Some news!

Well, for the first time in a long time I actually have some news to write about.  Recently, Amazon has started a new service where authors can easily convert their existing books into paperback format.  So, after a few days of tinkering and reformatting, I’ve converted The Most Boringscreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-8-08-37-pm Book Ever Written into a paperback that should be available for $7.99 (USD) very shortly.  I decided that this would be a good book to start with because it’s short, and because it’s still strangely the most popular book I’ve written.   Perhaps people want to have a physical copy of something so very boring?  It took a little while to change all the hyperlinks into page numbers and check all that over (I hope I didn’t miss anything) and soon enough I’ll see just how these Print-On-Demand books look.  Assuming it all ends up looking good, I’ll convert all my other non-choose your own adventure books into paperback form in the coming months.  However, I do not think I will do the same for the other books I’ve written with Daniel.  They are simply too long with too many links that would be far too time consuming to convert.  Maybe some day when I have a lot more time.  And any new books I release, I also plan to concurrently publish paperback versions.  It just feels so much more… bookish.

And speaking of new books, editing of How the World Ends (which is the title I’ve now settled on) is coming along.  I’ve gone through the entire story once, and am now going to focus on making a thorough edit of just Book One, with the goal of having it released on August 14th, 2017 (August the 14th is a significant date in the book).  Assuming that goes to plan, I hope to have Book Two released early in the new year, and then Book Three in August 2018.  These are some long term plans, but I feel good about the time I’m giving myself.  Each book is about the length of The Year We Finally Solved Everything (except Book Three, which is about 40% longer), so short novels of that length should be revisable in the time I’m giving myself.  I hope to get some mock ups of the cover for Book One in the coming months.  I’ll have to email Whitney about that.

Anyhow, there you go.  News.  And it sounds like I’ll actually have more news to write about in the coming months.  Busy year!

Book Three

So the book that at one point I wanted to call The Terror but now feel more secure in calling How the World Ends is now done.  Well, in draft form.  Which means that it’s really, really far from being done.  And I’m not sure how other people-who-like-to-spend-lots-of-their-free-time-writing-fiction* feel about the moment they conclude the final sentence of their first draft of a book.  To me, it’s triumphant–especially in this case at How the World Ends is the longest story I’ve ever written, after almost twenty years of spending way too much of my free time writing fiction.  But I also appreciate that it’s a false triumph.  That last sentence will be changed, along with the previous 175 000+ words.  But it still means something.  An idea–in this case, an idea that came to me in a dream–was able to be put into a complete story.  That doesn’t mean that its a well-written story, or a cogent story, or an enjoyable story… but it’s a story.

What’s it about?  I hate that question.  (Which perhaps begs the question as to why I asked it?)  But that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid one.

So, lets try answering it in fragments.  All movie-trailer style. Lots of details without much context.

It’s about a family.  People all around the world start killing each other in mass slaughters/suicides.  The family survive and have no idea what the hell is going on.  Bad things happen.  More bad things happen.  The family gets glimpses as to what is happening, and yet really still have no idea what is going on.  More bad things happen.  And then the world comes to an end.  Or something like that.

Perhaps a more direct description is this: How the World Ends is a science fiction story about an alien invasion in which the word alien is never used… and in almost 180 000 words of text, that’s a challenge!

Anyhow, next steps.  After a short break, I want to focus all my editing and revisions on Book One, which is the length of a short novel in itself (similar in length to The Year We Finally Solved Everything).  Once I feel ready to publish that, I move on to Book Two, and likewise for Book Three.  I was able to complete all three parts in two years (from the dream that started it all to that last(ish) sentence) and so I’d think two more years just to edit and revise should be doable.  What’s that?  2018 for Book Three and the complete story?  Okay. I can do that.

Well, that’s it.  Now that the draft is complete, I could probably try updating this blog a little more regularly.

* also known as authors, although that sounds like I actually pay my mortgage with this activity.

Book Two

So, a couple of days ago I finished the draft of Book Two of the book that I’d really like to call The Terror but probably shouldn’t.  I was really hoping to get the draft done right around now as my wife is expecting our second child and I don’t see myself getting a lot of writing done in these coming months.

Now I just have to figure out how to finish the damn story.  I’ve always had a soft spot for tense horror movies, but am most often disappointed by their final acts. It’s one thing to come up with a premise, but it’s so difficult to wrap up something that is primarily concerned with being horrific.  I’ve never written a book like this before, and so if nothing else it’s a good exercise.  What to do now…

Anyhow, so far these last two parts have pretty much gone to plan, so here’s the rest of my plan: get to a point where I can begin writing the draft of the final part before the new year.  Finish that by the end of next summer.  Then spend a year editing and revising.  Which brings me to having it all done by 2017.  But once I complete the draft of Book Three, I’d like to focus on the sections one at a time, so perhaps I could release Book One in… well, early 2017.  Or late 2016.

Man, that sounds futuristic.

Five Years to the Day

So, exactly five years ago (tomorrow) I published The Adventures of Whatley Tupper at Amazon.com.  I guess I could write a short essay on all my thoughts and feelings about the self-publishing process here, but I don’t want to.  I think I’ve shared my feelings already.  And if I haven’t, then I guess they’re going to remain my own feelings, at least for the time being.

But what I do want to do is, in a sense, throw up the white flag.  To whom?  To Amazon, that is.  Over these last five years, ever since I first clicked ‘publish,’ I’ve also attempted to keep my work available in other formats for other e-readers.  I’ve had an account at Smashwords for the same amount of time and never wanted my work to be exclusive to one corporate entity.  In this age of put-all-your-shit-online-for-anyone-to-read-and-no-one-discover, it didn’t make sense to me to just put all my attention and time into Amazon and their Kindle e-reader.

Well, that’s now what I’m doing.

Amazon has a program called “Kindle Select” that allowed authors to run promotions and marketing campaigns for books that they enrol in this, as long as–and here’s the caveat–their books are exclusively available for the Kindle e-reader.  I didn’t like this idea before. I still don’t really like it.  But as of now, all of my books are exclusively available through Amazon.  No one else.

Why?  Well, first of all, because the vast majority of my sales have been through Amazon.  I’d say around 90%.  Their interface and website is easy to use and works well for authors.  I have no complaints at all about the Kindle Direct Publishing.  No complaints, aside from having to maintain exclusivity in order to use the above mentioned promotions.  But, these promotions seem to work well.  And so instead of having some books available elsewhere and some only available for Kindle, I’m making it simple.  All my books are available here: at Amazon.

Will I change my mind in the future?  Surely.  That’s what makes the future so pleasant.  Things change.  But for now, I’m choosing to go all-in with Amazon and the Kindle Unlimited Select Gold Club, or whatever the hell it’s exactly called.  And, just because it’s so easy to do, I’m making all my books free on August 22, the exact 5 year date from when Whatley was available to the world… even if the world didn’t know or want it.

So, happy birthday.

The Terror

I wanted to name my next novel, The Terror.

I started planning in in the autumn after a disturbing dream I had–or to be more exact, a dream in which I was watching a disturbing movie.  Upon awakening, I kept thinking about this idea and within days it had usurped the plans for a different novel that I’d been jotting down notes for over the previous few months at that point.  A couple months later, I started writing the draft, not having a whole lot planned but enough to get a good start.  And I knew it might be long.  The structure of the story naturally divided it into three parts and I was not sure if these parts all together would be too large for a single novel, or it would be best as a trilogy.  All the cool kids have been writing trilogies these days, as you know.  Well, I just finished (as in within the last five minutes) the draft of the first part, and it’s a nice short-novel length–pretty much the same as how The Year We Finally Solved Everything ended up (although that book started out being almost twice a long as the version that wound up being published).

I wanted to call it The Terror because the book is meant to be a little disturbing, just like my dream.  It’s mean to be dark and relatively devoid of humour, especially anything explicit.  I wanted the cause of the terror to be ambiguous for a long as possible–perhaps for all of it.  And I really hoped that it would end up being terrifying.  Those are lofty aspirations for a guy who’s written several choose-your-own-adventure novels involving janitors, teachers, and pharmacists.   By no means am I saying that I think I’ll accomplish this (and I’m far from being finished), but that’s what I hoped for.  And a name like The Terror seemed perfectly suited, perhaps not for what the novel would be (I won’t know that for another year or more) but what I wished it could be.

And about a week ago I found out that a guy named Dan Simmons had published a book called The Terror some six years ago.  It currently has 551 reviews on Amazon.  So…  I guess that means it’s taken.

Anyhow, I’m now leaning towards a title I used for a science-fiction novel I wrote back in 1999-2000 and never released, called How the World Ends.  What I’m working on has absolutely nothing to do with that plot, but my new story does have elements of science-fiction to it, and the title is stingily appropriate.

Crap!  A guy named Joel Varty has published a book called How the World Ends  some three years ago.  It has 12 reviews on Amazon.  Not as major.  No offence, Joel Varty, but you’re not as established as Dan Simmons.  Maybe I can still use it.

Anyhow, I’ve finished the first part of my next novel.  I’ll probably release it in parts and then one big novel, but I’d like to complete a draft of all three books before releasing anything.  It’s always tempting to publish things as often as possible on Amazon, but that doesn’t mean it’s something anyone should do.

And so until I have something more to say (like I’ve finished the second book), I’ll probably shut up again for a long while.  If you ain’t got nothing to say…