Musings from a published author...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Excerpt from Noggle Stones Book III: The Tattered Knight

Here's an excerpt from the next Noggle Stones book, "The Tattered Knight".

The rider eased his pale horse to a halt. Through the visor of his helmet his milky yellow eyes regarded the old farmer on the side of the road. He was hammering a spoke back into a broken wagon wheel. The rider found this curious… something mundane, yet somehow profound. There was something about wheels that he found magical or holy. Their round shape. Their ability to make things move. Their place in history, second only to fire, as man’s weapon in an endless war against nature.

And here was this simple little man doing the work of gods… forging this holy relic on the side of a dirt road outside a drowsy little village.

The farmer looked up as he heard the murrd-ghoraa stamp its hooves. “Oh, howdy there, stranger!” he chortled as he wiped the sweat from his brow. “Yes sir. Howdy.”

The rider nodded.

“Something I can help you with?”

The rider cocked his head. He swung from the saddle and landed on the dirt road, his worn leather boots kicking up dust and pebbles. He slowly walked towards the old man, the bits of rusted and mismatched armor on his body clinking and clanking like an out-of-tune wind chime. The rider stopped before the farmer and looked down at him.

“Caer Coblyn,” he hissed.

“Caer Coblyn?” the old man repeated. “That the goblin town? Caer Coblyn?”

The rider nodded.

“Well, I ain’t been that ways myself,” he answered. “But I understand it’s between here and Gary. You keep on this road and I reckon you can’t miss it. Yes sir. Can’t miss it.”

The rider nodded again and turned about to remount his horse.

“Wait a second, Mister!” the old man called to him.

The rider turned about.

The old man smiled and held up a hand. “Just a second. Yes sir. Just a second.” He scurried to the buckboard of his wagon and snatched a brown jug from underneath. “Share a drink before you go? Before you go? Yes sir.”

The rider paused. His breath was heavy and uneven. This was a ritual among these kinds of folk, he recalled. Something about the sharing of fermented beverages created a kind of symbolic bonding. Engaging in such socializing might provide valuable insights into the culture of man.

“Yes,” the rider said as he strode towards the farmer.

The farmer laughed as he uncorked the jug. He handed the jug to the rider and smiled, exposing more gum than teeth. “You first.”

The rider took the jug and lifted just enough of his visor to expose his mouth. He put the rim to his lips and took a long draw. He lowered the jug, wiped his mouth, and handed the jug back to the farmer.

“Good stuff, right? Good stuff?”

The rider nodded.

The farmer laughed and took a sip. He let out a loud “ah” after his drink. He smiled and pointed to the rider’s armor. “Quite an outfit there. Quite an outfit. That Ayis dannie? Or maybe dwarfy? The duster there looks Texas, I reckon. Yep. Texas, I reckon.”

“It is all,” the rider replied.

“Oh, well,” the farmer said. “You a half-breed then? A half-breed? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Nothing wrong with that. No sir. I’m with Roosevelt on this. With Roosevelt. We all gots to get along, we does. Yes we does. So you part human and part Ayis dannie?”

“I am all,” the rider replied.

“All?” the farmer gasped as he took another swig of moonshine. “All, you say? Well, I didn’t think the worlds was joined long enough for one half-breed to be born, let alone a half-breed that’s all-breed. But I reckon them fey folks work fast. Born fast. Grow up fast. Live fast. Yep. Fast, I bet. Yes sir.”

“We all get along,” the rider said.

“Yes, sir. That’s exactly right. Yes, sir. Just like in this here book.” The farmer reached around to his back pocket and removed a worn and tattered dime novel. “Just like that Asherby fella what fought the Baymaari with his goblin friend. He was fighting for a better world, he said. Yes, sir. A better world, he said.”

The rider’s eyes narrowed. He reached out for the book.

“You want to see it?” the farmer said, handing the book over. “Careful. I ain’t finished it yet. Ain’t finished.”

The rider held the book in his hands. He flipped through the pages and saw the strange words, and stranger pictures. Humans, goblins, dragon brides, ogres, dwarves, Aes dana. They were working together. Like spokes holding a wheel together, they were holding their world together.

“It’s something, ain’t it,” the farmer said with a mostly toothless grin. “Yes, sir. I’m looking forward to this better world. Looking forward to it. Long as no one raids my crops or rustles my cattle that is. None of that. No, sir. None of that.”

“You are for unity?” the rider asked.

“Sure am. Yes, sir. Sure am.”

The rider removed his leather gloves. He offered his pale, purple veined hand to the farmer.

“Why yes,” the farmer beamed. “Yes. Let’s be friends.”

The farmer grasped the hand. The rider gripped it hard, squeezing until bones and flesh began to crack and pop.

“What are you doing?” the farmer screamed. “That’s too hard! Too hard!”

The rider continued to squeeze until the farmer fell to his knees. And then like thick, knotty roots, the veins in the rider’s hand throbbed and turned black. The essence flowed from the man to the rider… all knowledge, emotion, and self. The farmer started to shrivel, turning pale, then gray, then black. His flesh withered and wrinkled, stretching over his bones. And finally he collapsed into a pile of black soot.

The rider put his gloves back on his still throbbing hands. He picked up the jug of moonshine and took another long draw. He sighed and looked off to the setting sun.

“Unity,” he hissed. “Fighting for a better world. Yes, sir. A better world.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

An Almost Career in Comic Books

Back in 2000 I applied to a new comic book company down in Florida called Crossgen Comics. I didn't think I had much of chance, having absolutely no experience in comics outside of a few amateur attempts.

Imagine my surprise when Barbara Kesel, the Head Writer of Crossgen, sent me a letter asking to see more of my work. I eagerly complied, as both my wife and I were anxious to leave the Indiana winters behind for the warmer climes of Florida. Plus, anyone who's known me for more than a few years knows how I feel about comic books. So you can imagine how excited I was to have a chance to actually work full time for a comic book publisher!

Soon after sending the writing samples Barbara called me up asking to meet at Wizard World in Chicago. This was my first comic book convention, and man was it an experience! I saw Chewbacca talking on a cell phone, Darth Maul eating dinner, and I stood in an elevator next to Sabretooth. But most of all, I got a little shred of hope that I would soon be a professional writer.

Over the next few years Crossgen started building their comics empire. Unfortunately, like many empires, they extended themselves too far, and by 2004 they had collapsed. Disney picked up the pieces, and my dreams of being a professional comics writer seemed dead.

That is, until a few months later when I submitted some work to a new company called Platinum Studios. I can't even really recall the timeline for the Platinum deals, as it all happened so fast. But within a few months I had signed contracts for four projects that Platinum would publish as comics and develop for TV and Film. When they scored an article in The Hollywood Reporter about the deal, I thought for sure I had arrived.

But the years passed, and although there was some great artwork produced for the comics, the contracts eventually expired and the rights reverted back to me.

No comics published. No TV shows or films on the horizon.

With the the Platinum projects in hand, I reached out to a few contacts I'd made over the years. A former Platinum exec who was working for a film producer was interested, but unfortunately, his boss passed. A few others expressed interest, but eventually declined.

It was only when I got in touch with Kevin Cleary at Pooka Entertainment that I found someone as passionate about my projects as I was. I'm pretty sure that of all the choices I've made in my writing career, signing with Kevin was by far the smartest.

And that's where I stand 14 years after sending in that first submission to Crossgen Comics. Between I had a few novels published, along with a couple of games, and a really awesome archery line through 3Rivers Archery. And I've held down a very unrewarding job as a video editor, and a very rewarding job as a Creative Specialist.

So, the past has been educational. And I'm looking forward to a bright future.

As for the present, I'm having taco salad for lunch. I'd take that over a career in comics any day of the week!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

In Defense of Humans

I sometimes get tired of hearing people complain about the human race. We have our faults, sure. We could stand to clean up after ourselves a bit more. We should probably stop shooting at each other, and trying to take each others' stuff. And Lord knows we should stop "Keeping up with the Kardashians".

But when you look at what we've accomplished compared to what other animals have accomplished, we're really quite amazing. The bird sings beautiful songs, and the spider spins elegant webs. But the bird sings the same song today that his ancestors sang thousands of years ago. And the spider only spins his web to catch flies... not to dazzle and inspire.

But humans sing many songs in many voices. And we build skyscrapers, and houses, and amusement parks. Sometimes we do it because we have to, but sometimes we do it just because.

We build, and we sing, and we write, and we paint. And we do these things because more than any other creature in Creation, we have a drive to Create.

So, the next time you hear someone talk about how horrible human beings are, sing a song, or draw a picture, or do a dance. Because in all the world, you're the only animal who does that for the pure joy of it. And that's a pretty special reason for us to be here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Braving the Hollywood Heat

Thoom! Thoom! Thoom!

Somewhere beneath the ensorcelled hills that surround the hamlet of Hollywood, hammers of ancient power pound virgin steel on battered anvils.

Thoom! Thoom! Thoom!

Fairy-fueled forges breathe billows of black, filling caverns with a cancerous cast thicker than the alliterations in this sentence.

Thoom! Thoom! Thoom!

Fat, meaty hands grip hammer and tong, bringing form to molten metal. A miracle wrought from fire, sweat, and dreams.

Thoom! Thoom! Thoom!

This is the Great Smithy of Hollywood... where ideas are hammered until turned to treasure, or shattered to tears.

While I have never personally been to Hollywood, I have heard the distant thunder of her forge. For close to a decade I have been pitching projects, scalping scripts, and dabbling in dreams.

I must confess, I have thus far failed to meet hammer to anvil. And yet, I have felt the withering heat of that infernal furnace... often little more than a passing flash... but occasionally a sustained flood of fire.

And like all fire, the Hollywood heat can be soothing or painful. Most often both at once.

For example, I recently signed a management contract with Kevin Cleary of Pooka Entertainment. As my manager, Kevin advises me on what projects I should develop, helps me polish my scripts, and most importantly, pitches my projects on my behalf.

In other words, he takes the heat from the forge so I can stay back here in Michigan and shovel snow off my sidewalk.

Signing with Kevin has probably been one of the most exciting developments in my writing career. Sure, being a published author is cool. Signing books at Book Expo America in NYC was a high point. And being called a M*ther F*cker by Ted Nugent is something I’ll probably have carved on my tombstone. But having a manager out in Hollywood is just about the most educational and inspiring thing that can happen to an author.

Kevin has been at this for quite a while. So, whenever I speak with Kevin on the phone, he always has some new insight or anecdote to share. Every conversation is like taking an Honors Course in Hollywood 101. He knows when the forge is hot, when it’s cooling down, and when to strike the hammer.

Most importantly, he knows how to get pitch meetings. Since signing with Kevin, he’s pitched my work to Fox, LionsGate, Cartoon Network, and others. These aren’t phone interviews, mind you. They are in-person pitches. Kevin is right in the heart of the forge on these.

One of the most exciting developments happened a few months ago. After pitching a series I had been developing, Kevin received an email from a development executive at Fox. We’re definitely intrigued by this one, and have just sort of been mulling about it.”

Wow. Fox. Was. Mulling. My. Work.

I had to read the email a few times over, and then confirm with Kevin whether or not this was a good thing. Kevin assured me that it was indeed a good thing. However, as with all steel that reaches the forge, a few things needed to be hammered out.

First of all, there was a re-write. The exec wanted more character development for the heroine and more motivation for the villain. No problem, as far as I was concerned. These were valid concerns, and I immediately knew how to fix them. In fact, within a day I had a revised script implementing her suggestions. So Kevin immediately fired off an email with the revisions.

Then came the waiting.

Thoom! Thoom! Thoom!

Standing before the forge. Heat blasting my face. So intense that my sweat evaporates before it can even leak from my pores.

Thoom! Thoom! Thoom!

Then finally, word from the smithy.

A pass.

I’m dejected. But Kevin is upbeat.

“Why?” I ask. “She turned us down.”

He tells me that the executive’s initial reaction is encouraging. He has pitched projects to her in the past that got rejected immediately. The fact that she took time on this one and had such a positive initial reaction is a good sign.

In fact, he already has pitch meetings set up with LionsGate and other studios.

And so, the steel that Fox shattered is gathered up to be re-forged.

Thoom! Thoom! Thoom!

And again the waiting. Will LionsGate’s hammer once more shatter the steel... or seal the deal?

I may not know for weeks or months.

But I’m kinda getting used to the heat.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Writer Wakes Up

My first short story was published in issue #49 of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. I've been slowly waking up ever since.

Would-be comic book publishers. Publishers who go out of business before they can cut the check or sign the contract. Agents who are well meaning, yet out-of-their-league. And slime buckets who bully, lie, and hold your intellectual property in a death grip... I've faced all of them over the past 11 years.

But I've finally woken up. I've finally taken control of my writing career. I've finally realized that all of the traditional alliances and contracts the publishing industry has brainwashed writers into thinking they need, are nothing more than hindrances... inspiration vampires that need helpless dreamers to survive.

Well, no more publishers. No more agents. No more letting others guide my destiny. I'm wide awake now, and I have work to do.

In the next few weeks I'll reveal my bold, new plans for the Noggle Stones franchise. The books, archery line, card game, and role-playing game are just the start. Now that I've shed the dead weight, abandoned the false hopes, and set a new course, the dreaming is over... and the day has just begun.