Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Only the Moment

I stood with my back against the front door, attempting to barricade the entrance to my home.

Certainly, I thought, this will do nothing in the long term, but it'll give me a last minute feeling of control. I laughed humorlessly and added, one final last minute.

I should have listened to what other people told me about the man, years ago when I made the decision to trust him and move my life eight hundred and fifty miles from home.

They warned me; saw something I was unable to while blinded by his generous offer; an offer he never fulfilled. I think friends and family were more familiar with the Post Office ad that states, 'if something sounds like it's too good to be true, it probably is', or they at least understood what the phrase pie-in-the-sky means.

Each of them said, "Don't trust him," or "Think it through," or "Get something in writing."

My response, however, was clear. "I'm a forty-year old man from New York," I told them. "I've been around. I know when someone's out to screw me."

What I did not know was that my new employer knew little about the company he purchased and did not care to learn more. Add to that his age--seventy-five--and his failing desire to communicate openly, a serious medical crisis at home, and a time consuming effort to "save a wilderness area" that just happened to coincide with his vested interest in local water rights and you can see the 'In retrospect' problem.

At first, the transition seemed simple enough. I was to help them set up the company after it relocated to Bluffton, South Carolina, then go home.

However, the new owner had to make an offer too good to refuse. He talked the talk and I listened as if he recited the Gospel according to...well, live and learn.

I tried for four and a half years to influence him to change his business practices, invest in his new company's future and failed, which brought me to where I stood, back pressed against the door, out of work, and soon out of a home.

I leaned heavily and yelled, "It won't help to knock," and hoped my words would carry through the wooden panel as I heard footsteps land on the front porch.

They knocked anyway, and my heart jumped as if seeking an escape route that might not necessarily require the rest of me to follow, and shouted, "Damn it!"

The door moved against my back; the people outside began to force it open.

"What I like about America," I shouted, "is that the people in authority don't really give a damn about whom they hurt. They just blindly follow orders as if the person on the receiving end were less than human."

I turned my head and shouted louder. "Throw in a canister of poison gas crystals! Break a goddamn window and climb in with a can of mace! No, no, better yet, stand back and raze the place with AK47s. Who would gives a good goddamn if you kill everyone? It'll be easier for you after that, you'll only have corpses to drag out and dump with the rest of the remains of my life on the frigging front lawn."

I was breathing rapidly by the time I finished.

What the hell's wrong with me? I thought then. I trust the bastards of the world because they say what I want to hear, when I need to hear it. How many good, simple people have died because of that over the last several millennia? Well, at least I'm not alone, I informed myself as if accepting the consolation prize for the 'World's Biggest Chump' was the same as winning the lottery. I can do the stoop-shouldered shuffle on a bread line, tin cup in hand, begging for a place to sleep...a prelude to a better tomorrow.

"Oh well," I muttered as I opened the front door. "Come on in."

Two of them, one male, and one female, garbed in the county's finest tan and brown uniforms, pushed passed me. They boot stomped into the living room, heads swiveling like robots examining an alien enclave seeking what, for them, would be the easily detectable (we all know androids have infrared-sensitive vision) cache of paraphernalia.

I didn't have the heart to tell them that all they'd find was the last week's dirty briefs.

Tears welled, pushed toward freedom as I watched my belongings unceremoniously dumped on a pile at the foot of the driveway.

I asked them if they needed a match.

"Just burn that shit. Isn't that what you people like to do to the helpless?" I sat on the porch. "Here!"

I cursed as I pulled off my shoes and tossed them out on the roadway. Item by item I stripped until I stood bare-assed and angry alongside the pile they continued to build from the things I had kept in my life.

To my surprise, they did not give a damn that I had violated one of America's most sacred taboos, that I committed the heinous crime of indecent exposure.

And to make matters worse, to my utmost humiliation, the female Gestapo agent stopped and patted my stomach and informed me, "Need to lose a little weight, my man."

Sighing as loudly as possible, I dressed in whatever I could find, and ended up with only one sock and one shoe, different feet of course. I climbed in my car.

My old Audi was the only thing left to offer me shelter. I pounded on the steering wheel until my fists ached, then moved to drumming the seat.

By the time the agents from hell had finished trashing my home, leaving it all in a mound for the rats to nest in, my anger had abated. Fear slithered in to fill the void, but found itself shouldering a long lost, dark companion, Depression.

"Hey," I said to the once buried, now resurrected emotion, "I haven't seen you in a while."

Depression snickered, "About twenty two years, nine months, six days and three hours since my last visit."

Then it sounded hurt, and added, "but who's counting? Certainly not you."

"Listen," I said, trying to speak kindly; after all, it meant well and probably thought I needed to be depressed. "As I remember it, your last visit was an occasion I'd rather not relive...if you don't mind."

Depression was quick to retort. "I had a great time. Do you remember the shuttered windows? Not eating for days on end? Moreover, how about the self-esteem bashing? Crushed that little bastard half to death didn't we?"

Depression glowed with pride and a sense of accomplishment as it wedged itself between Sadness and Fear.

Sadness would be the clear loser, I could see that much. Fear was powerful, shoving, poking, and doing its best to stand its ground.

"Hold on! Wait a minute!" I talked aloud to be heard over the three of them while they jostled for position. "It took me years to recover from my last bout with you, Depression. I'll skip the entire visit this time, thank you very much." Before either Depression or Fear could get a chance to respond, I heard Sadness take a final breath, shudder, and succumb to the pressures the other two had exerted on its life force.

Without wasting an erg of energy, I seized the small advantage gained by Sadness' passing, jumped out of the car and went to my stuff.

Carefully I sifted out what was important, filled my car, backseat, trunk, and front seat with as much as I could cram in, and then squeezed into the driver's seat.

The steering wheel looked a little out-of-round. Shrugging, I started the car and braced myself for a renewed onslaught of negativity. Depression and Fear remained silent, although in waiting for an opening. Sadness was dead of course, and so for the moment I felt rather victorious.

And in the end, isn't it just the moment that counts?

Copyright 2009, all rights reserved. Larry Schliessmann

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Looking at the parts of Convergence : dissecting a short story

Now that it is finished, it is time to separate the pieces, and take a look inside.

First, what are the parts of a story?

The most basic are opening, middle, and ending.

The opening should have a hook to make the reader want more. Let the reader know enough about the central character to make the person seem real and interesting. The writer should also give the reader a glimpse of what upsets or intrigues that character into action. Where all of this takes place helps establish an anchor point. When it happens, may or may not be relevant. Lastly, the why of it all, the conflict, leads directly into the plot.

In Convergence, I used Stephanie's curiosity and her husband's secretive nature. This primary conflict made her act in an unusual way.

After six paragraphs, the reader glimpsed both personalities and discovered the dilemma their intersection created. The reader knew who Stephanie was, where she was, what upset her (again the conflict) and even got a glimpse of how she wanted to resolve the issue: (Across the middle of the page in unfamiliar masculine handwriting, she read: Friday, 8:00am rear parking lot 1111, 63rd Street.).

The middle. The story should build steadily leading the reader to the pivotal point where action carried the protagonist, Stephanie to make one decision that sent the story over the edge to conclusion.

In Convergence that point was: She threw out her hands, but her head slammed into the pavement and she collapsed, blacked out.

I used the middle as a turning point. The pace now must build more to reach conclusion.

The ending: First and perhaps most important, the protagonist should change. She cannot be the same person she was in the first sentence. The theme of Convergence is: sometimes getting involved in an event you would normally avoid may land you in a place or situation you were meant to be in. Had she not decided to investigate what her husband did, Stephanie would not have become the new Dragon Master, which became her destiny.

The ending should tie together all of the component parts, and resolve or answer any questions readers had as they went through the story.

The first clue that something extraordinary would happen was the blood on the paper. Blood usually dries quickly on paper since paper acts like a sponge. This blood was still tacky. The second was: an older brick three story that seemed dwarfed by its modern ten-story plus surroundings.

What was it? A portal, but it blended into the city. Any city you visit will always have several buildings that seem leftover from previous centuries, like churches, or residences. These are fine locations for strange events.

Then there were the cobblestone alley, and the bricked up windows and finally a fenced in courtyard. Not a backyard, a courtyard, and in the center was a depression that held a pool of blood, not dried blood.

When Stephanie confronted the guardian of the portal, he was a dirty gruff man who frightened her, threatened her, and treated her as she expected when caught trespassing.

The guardian needed to be rough to keep out the unwanted. I hid his identity to keep from spoiling the surprise once Stephanie awoke. Although, I did hope the reader would understand his purpose after her location became clear.

Throughout the story, I tried to use dialogue to create tension and conflict, and finally resolution. A goal I did not meet was 40% dialogue, which is a good average, or minimum amount of a story.

For what I desired to do with the story, I would have needed several more characters to achieve 40%, which I did not want. Sometimes too many characters confuse, and convolute the plot. I felt this story was one of them.

What was the plot?

The plot for Convergence: Stephanie spies hotel stationary in a drawer that is usually closed. She cannot resist temptation and examines the paper, discovers a tacky smear of blood, which she at first believes is lipstick.

After reading the address written on the paper, she worries that her husband may be in trouble and decides to investigate.

When she arrives at the address, she walks into a situation that changes everything she believes and alters her life.

A brief confrontation with a man who seems upset by her attempt to enter his property ends with her knocked out.

When she awakens, Stephanie learns she lies in a wooden ship's hold. She believes she is alone, sees distant lights, but when she examines the lights, she learns she is in a place she thinks could not be on earth.

A stranger who seems to appear magically with a candle that emits enough light to illuminate an area around him only then confronts her.

The confrontation ends when he pierces her hand with seven special teeth, and transfers his essence to her making her the new Dragon Master.

I think that is everything, conflict, action, dialogue, imagery, and resolution.

Questions? Did I leave something out? God, I hope not.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Writing a story from conception to completion: part three the conclusion.

As it worked out, not knowing the end when I started this story allowed imagination to dictate conclusion. In addition, for me, writing is about imagining people, places and things, so this worked out in the best way possible.

I think a story should build from an idea, a vision, a picture, or even overheard words. If I envision an ending when I begin writing, fine. I will try to reach that ending, but know along the way something might happen to alter it some, or even completely.

It's all about the story, period. Writing is a joy. Therefore, here is the complete first draft (thanks to my wife's suggestion that Stephanie wake up and find herself in a ship's hold) with but one read through. I'll tinker with this some later on, and try to do a story anatomy by breaking Convergence down to link its components together beginning with the title.


Convergence (2462 words)

Stephanie walked barefoot to the bedroom door. As she passed the bed, the partially opened drawer in her husband's nightstand made her pause. Since her husband was very secretive, she grew curious and attempted to peek inside. She felt a quick tingle of trepidation as she reached for the small brass knob.

A glance over her shoulder let her see that the bathroom door stood closed, yet she still felt the need for caution. She pulled her hand back.

As she turned away, trying to decide whether to look or leave the room, she saw her reflection in the mirror over her dark oak dresser. The frown pinching her thin blonde eyebrows into steep arches changed her mind.

Once she heard the shower running, she quickly slid open the drawer, lifted out a white sheet of hotel stationary and saw what she believed was a ring of lipstick halfway down its right edge.

Jealousy lanced her heart, brought a sob to her lips, but when she held the paper under the light, she realized that the red smear was blood. Hesitantly, she pressed her fingertip to the surface. The stain felt slightly sticky as if it had not dried completely. Stephanie looked at her finger, saw nothing on it, but wiped it against the edge of the drawer.

Across the middle of the page in unfamiliar masculine handwriting, she read: Friday, 8:00am rear parking lot 1111, 63rd Street.

Glancing up, she attempted to picture the address mentally but failed.

Abruptly, the shower shut off. Her heart skipped and she tossed the paper in the drawer, closed it completely and lay back on her side of the bed with her eyes closed while she wondered, where did the blood come from? And who is he meeting?

She opened her eyes enough to see him as dressed in shorts as he slipped under the sheet, and seconds later, she heard his steady breathing.

Waiting until she felt certain he would not waken, she left the bedroom, and dressed in the laundry room. With her shoes in her hand, she went outside, sat on the white wicker porch chair, and slipped them on. Five minutes later, Stephanie drove into town.

63rd Street wound through the central business district. Stephanie parked near the corner where Peterson Avenue bisected 63rd. She fed the parking meter, and glanced up at the street entrance of the building next to her.

"1001," she read under her breath, and walked to the next building, found it was 1013, and continued until she confronted an older brick three story that seemed dwarfed by its modern ten-story plus surroundings.

A narrow alley ran between 1111 and 1121. When she entered it, she discovered a well-worn uneven cobblestone path. The modern stone and steel wall to her left was lined with windows shaded by vertical blinds.

The brick wall on her right had three windows, two of which were bricked up. The last was at the rear corner, and behind it, she saw soiled curtains that obscured the interior.

Enough sunlight lit the alley that she felt confident that she might find some answers. As she reached the back corner of the building, the alley opened into a small fenced in courtyard.

Woven wooden fencing stood five feet tall and blocked access to the property. She approached it, lifted onto her toes, and peered over the top.

"Oh my God," she said louder than she wanted, when she spied what she believed was blood, gathered in a depression about fifteen feet away.

Determined to learn what her husband had gotten involved in she boldly looked for an entrance, saw one directly behind the brick building, and made for it as stealthily as possible.

She raised her hand to press the latch, and heard scuffing behind her, felt a hand grasp her upper arm tightly enough to force her to cry out.

"I'm sorry," she cried. "I just wanted to--"

"Nothing," a deep male voice demanded. "You will do nothing but turn around and leave here."

"Okay," she agreed and struggled to get free, glancing down at the fingers squeezing her arm and saw that his nails were raw and dirty, stained red.

"My husband is coming here soon." As soon as she said the words, she knew she'd made a serious mistake.

"Why would he come here?" The hand grasping her arm, twisted hard, forcing her to lean into it to avoid serious pain.

Nearly on her knees, looking up into his shadowed face, Stephanie gasped, "You're hurting me."

"Answer my question or you will know pain." He twisted again.

She felt her knees press into the stones yet he did not release her.

"I don't know why," she cried. "I found it written on a piece of paper and there was blo--" she stopped abruptly.

"There was what?" He leaned applying enough pressure to grind the bones in her elbow.

"Blood, there was blood on it!" Stephanie screamed.

He lifted her and then shoved her hard, releasing her arm at the same time.

She threw out her hands, but her head slammed into the pavement and she collapsed, blacked out.

Stephanie opened her eyes to pain and darkness. She thought she heard creaking wood flooring over her head. She reached out, touched the cool surface below, drew her fingers across it, and knew she felt wood.

Using her arms to lever her up, she sat and stared into the blackness, blinking when she thought she saw glittering lights like a mirage, or a distant city. The white-yellow pinpoints winked bright then went out.

She heard male voices shouting, but could not distinguish their words. The headache pounding behind her eyes worsened when she turned onto her hands and knees and struggled to her feet.

"Oh my God, where am I?" she whispered, hearing the flat sound of her voice as if she were in a small chamber with sound deadening walls.

Placing her hands against the nearest upright surface, she leaned to rest, and felt movement through her palms. She turned, pressed her back against the wall, and still felt the vibrations of movement.

Ignoring the headache, the soreness of her muscles, she sidled along the wall in the direction of where she believed she'd seen the lights.

Five minutes of slow progress brought her to a perpendicular wall. She stood in the corner. Directly in front of her, she saw a long split that appeared to be a separation between two hand-hewed timbers.

Forgetting her pain, Stephanie leaned close enough that she could see through the crack as if there was nothing before her. What she saw sucked the breath from her lungs.

"My God, I'm on a boat," she whispered. "But where is this place?"

She stared at the shoreline and realized that the lights she saw flickered because they were flames. Along the docks, and lining the streets leading into a small city of one- and two-story buildings, torches lit the way for the people she saw moving about.

"This doesn't make any sense," she said, shook her head, thinking, I must've gotten a concussion. I'm imagining this place. There is nowhere on earth like this.

She turned away, closed her eyes, took several long slow breaths, and turned back. Something had changed, but not what she wanted to see.

Drifting about fifty feet above the long ancient looking dock, a large red dragon, a least a hundred feet long she guessed, flew by with slow wing strokes. The beast opened its mouth as if to yawn, and spit out a thin spiral of flame that hissed into the water beneath its massive nearly translucent wings.

"Oh this isn't right. These creatures do not exist," she cried, covering her mouth with both hands. She felt her eyes open wider when the dragon acted as if it had sensed her presence, turned its gigantic head in her direction, and then lifted its wings high, their tips turning inward slightly, pushed down forcefully and flew right at her.

She felt a scream tearing at her throat, fought hard to swallow it. Don't let it know you're here, she warned. Please God, please don't let it see me.

The dragon flew nearer. Stephanie used both hands to stifle the scream she could not stop from escaping, and then when a second dragon, a black giant nearly twice the size of the red, dropped from above where she could see, her effort was lost.

Stephanie's scream sounded loud to her, as if it squeezed through the split in the wooden wall and echoed off the surrounding waters.

The black dragon fell onto the red dragon's back, driving them both into the sea. She saw wave boil up as if the two fought to keep each other below the surface.

Then, as one, they reappeared heads first, and like enormous arrows flew straight up and out of sight.

Stephanie felt her knees weaken as she sank to the floor. She crawled back to the place where she woke up, and stopped when her hand landed on something familiar, her Blackberry.

"Thank God," she said as she felt its surface with her forefinger, found the power button and pressed it on.

The screen lit, but displayed nothing more than one line of two words. "No service." There was one other thing she saw in the light from the screen. Blood. The tip of her finger glowed deep red.

I didn't wash after touching the paper Jacob had in his drawer, she realized, and then knew, He hadn't cut his finger, he didn't kill someone or even witness an accident. This is dragon blood.

She held her hand up to eye level, blew on her finger and a moment later heard the bugling sounds of dragon cry. Not one or two dragons but many as if the scent of blood off her finger lifted onto air currents and as fast as time itself, alerted every dragon within a thousand miles of her presence.

"That's perfectly ridiculous," she said disgustedly.

"And why would you believe that?" a deep male voice asked.

"Who are you?" she cried still holding her finger up.

"You sit there with your finger in the air, calling dragons and you did not expect me?" A tall thin man walked to where she sat. He held a lit taper. The flame flickered as he walked to her, illuminated his long narrow face, golden eyes, and flat ears that ended in sharp peaks. Around his neck, she saw a gold chain. On the chain hung a twisted knot of ancient runes that surrounded a single emerald the size of her thumbnail.

She nodded and said as sarcastically as possible, "And you would be the dragon master of course."

"Clever girl," he said, lifted his feet, crossed his legs, and floated to the floor. "So truth be told, you have no idea who I am or what you are doing here."

Stephanie felt foolish. "Well, no actually I don't know either." She sighed and looked at her hands now resting on her lap.

"Your headache is better I assume?" He asked wisely.

"What? How could you know, oh of course. You're a magic elf and once you knew I was in pain, you waved your hands in the air and magic dust fluttered down onto my head and voila, my pain was gone."

"Well they did not tell me they planned to send us a cynic. That makes my task much more difficult."

"Since you obviously do not intend to answer my questions up until now, how about this one? Exactly what is your task?" She leaned forward enough that the illumination from the candle lit her features.

He pulled his head back slightly as if she was too close for comfort. His wide thin lips pinched together as if he needed a moment's contemplation and then he nodded solemnly.

"My task is to train you to replace me." As she opened her mouth to protest, he raised one hand to silence her. "I admit I was expecting a man, but women have been in my shoes in the past so there is no reason that you will not be able to fulfill your ambitions."

"My ambitions! My ambitions, did you say?"

"Well of course you are sitting here in the hold of the Silversmith's ship anchored outside the City of Silver Mountain, home of the world's last silver dragon, are you not?"

She frowned, narrowed her eyes as if she planned to burn him with her glare, and then she thought, Oh my God, this is all a joke of some kind. Jacob is getting even with me for snooping.

"Okay," she said. "You win, tell Jacob I'm sorry and that I will never look at his papers again, and--"

"Jacob? Who is he? Should I know him?"

His tone of voice was like a spike of ice that melted in her chest turning her blood cold.

"Can I touch you?" she asked sounding almost shy.

He shrugged and held out his hand.

Stephanie's fingers looked small resting on the back of his hand. Gingerly, she brushed his flesh. It felt leathery, yet soft and pliable. The hair on his hand was wiry, and moved as feathers might.

She glanced up at his face. "You're not human are you?"

"Did someone tell you to expect a human?" he sounded both annoyed and curious. "We all begin as such, but to fulfill our destiny, well, remaining human would be ludicrous at best, now wouldn't it?"

Then, he dropped the taper and grasped her wrist. Although she struggled to pull free, before she could, he lifted her hand to his mouth and bit the mound of muscle and flesh at the base of her thumb.

Stephanie yelped, "Ow damn it, you're hurting me," and then heard dragons trumpeting outside as if they knew it was time to rejoice.

When he dropped her hand, and picked up the taper, she examined the spot where his teeth penetrated her flesh. Seven small perfectly round holes drilled deep into her muscles, and as she watched they healed, weaving runes between them that matched the pendant she saw on the gold chain around the elf's neck.

When she looked up eyes filled with wonder, she discovered she sat alone. The taper remained standing as if it had been mounted into melted wax accumulated by hours of burning. On the ancient wooden floor, lay the chain and pendant, which she knew belonged to her.

Bravely, she lifted it and draped the gold chain around her neck, stood, waved her hand over the taper, extinguishing the flame, and with a nod and a blink, stood on the forecastle of the Silversmith's ship.

Around the ship and over the city where she now saw hundreds of torch-bearing people walking towards the docks, dozens of dragons filled the sky bellowing their pleasure as dawn rose over the mountains, and a new day of Silver was born.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Drop Dead Cadillac Cover Blurb

A red 1951 Cadillac half underwater, the bodies of a man and woman drowned in the trunk, one rapist, a reporter and his sister, a mobster and his father-in-law who's a Brooklyn Don, all tied together by one crime.

Add to that the return of the man who killed Marlowe Black's fiancée. And of course, some women. Oh, and a world famous writer who hires Marlowe Black to unravel and tie up the loose ends by discovering who killed the two in the trunk and why, after the writer witnesses their death throes late at night.

Did I mention a dancer who only eats food cited in the titles of popular songs? Oh, and a man who loves his dog more than he loves his wife even during their divorce, which happens after the dog died?

The "what" and "when" is a matter of history. The "why" it happened might even sound easy. The "who" that committed the crime and "how" it was done and covered up might prove more difficult to learn.

Before he discovers the answers, Marlowe Black makes a couple of new friends, but needs to shoot his way through a few new and old enemies first.
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