Alif Negotiates (Another Hinterland Excerpt)

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Hi there friends… It’s been awhile again, but for good rea­son. I’ve actu­al­ly been steadi­ly and active­ly writ­ing, although I haven’t updat­ed the word count in the mar­gin in awhile. I’ve been work­ing on a short ten­ta­tive­ly titled The Book about a girl named One. This tale address­es issues of cen­sor­ship. It is very strong­ly influ­enced by 1984 by Orwell and Fahren­heit 451 by Brad­bury. I love both of these books.

Alif’s first incar­na­tion
by The Artist (http://theartist23.tumblr.com/)

 

In any case, I wrote Alif Nego­ti­ates quite awhile back as I was doing a lit­tle char­ac­ter explo­ration. Alif is a char­ac­ter that will show up lat­er in the Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles series. I have plans for him to be the even­tu­al part­ner to Bilqis’s daugh­ter. Of note, his char­ac­ter start­ed here in Honor&Truth, my incom­plete online ser­i­al nov­el. I stopped writ­ing H&T because it had so many plot holes. I went back, rethought things, re-out­lined, and it turned into The Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles. I still go back from time to time and read it and despite how raw and unedit­ed it is, I still like it a lot. Enjoy the excerpt and let me know what you think.

*****

It’s bright out there,” said Mali.  The ven­dor waved Alif fur­ther into the tent so that he could stand beneath the canopy and out of the sun.  “Don’t think I’ve ever seen you this ear­ly in the day.  Some­thing up?”

Alif wore an old straw hat with a wide brim that wob­bled with each step he took.  Had any­one oth­er than Alif been wear­ing the hat, Mali would have laughed.

Got­ta make a run lat­er this evening and I want­ed to catch you before you left.”

I under­stand.”

Mali made his runs through the mid-Atlantic province on a strict sched­ule.  Each week he’d set up camp at a dif­fer­ent set­tle­ment to sell and trade goods. His spe­cial­ty was elec­tron­ics.  He’d been doing busi­ness with Alif for near­ly two years and he’d come to know the tac­i­turn male quite well.  Alif always vis­it­ed his tent on Fri­days, Mali’s last day encamped, and always after sun­set as Alif’s translu­cent skin was too sen­si­tive for day­light rays.  

I have a trans­ceiv­er set I believe you’ll be inter­est­ed in.”  The ven­dor reached beneath the table where he dis­played his wares and pulled out a ragged card­board box.  “They look like brand new, don’t they?”

Nice.  They don’t make these any­more,” said Alif accept­ing the trans­ceivers, weigh­ing them in his hands.  “What’s wrong with them?”

Mali enjoyed hag­gling with Alif.  He was almost as shrewd as him.  There wasn’t an elec­tron­ic gad­get that Alif couldn’t dis­man­tle and reassem­ble into some­thing bet­ter than it had been when brand new.  In the past Mali had tried to con­vince Alif to leave Set­tle­ment #53 and trav­el with him and be his repair­man.  He even offered thir­ty per­cent of the prof­its.  With Alif’s skill, Mali would be able to sell more goods and expand to include repair work.  And Alif’s cool demeanor would cause would-be ban­dits to think twice before tar­get­ing him.   

Alif refused each time sight­ing oblig­a­tions to his set­tle­ment, but Mali couldn’t see what kept Alif so attached to the set­tle­ment where he lived prac­ti­cal­ly as an out­cast.  They called him Inuwa, ghost, behind his back and the more super­sti­tious among them whis­pered that God had cursed Alif’s black moth­er with him, an albi­no, for refus­ing to iden­ti­fy his father when she grew large with her preg­nan­cy.

So you read minds now, is that it?” asked Mali chuck­ling.

No man can read minds or divine by touch. That’s all super­sti­tious non­sense. But we all have a sense of things, if we would just trust that sense.”

Alif han­dled the trans­ceivers, turn­ing them over in his hands and manip­u­lat­ing the but­tons.   “You have bat­ter­ies?”

Mali reached into his pock­et and hand­ed Alif two bat­ter­ies he’d recharged that morn­ing for just such a pur­pose.  Alif slipped the bat­ter­ies into place and adjust­ed the dials, pushed the but­tons, and speak­ing into one held the oth­er up to his ear to hear his voice echo back.

Alif removed the dark shades he’d been wear­ing to pro­tect his eyes from the sun and turned his atten­tion back to Mali.  His eyes were red rimmed with iris­es the col­or of water.  “I don’t see any­thing wrong with them.  Like you said, they’re like new.  But of course,” he said prob­ing Mali with those eyes, “there is some­thing wrong with them.  Come clean, friend, if you want me to give you the mon­ey.”

Mali laughed again, but this time to dis­guise the chill that trav­eled down his spine when Alif pressed him with those col­or­less eyes.  Did he not know the effect he had on peo­ple?

You’re right.  There is some­thing wrong.”  Mali reached into the box and removed a mon­i­tor about half the size of the trans­ceivers, and like the trans­ceivers it was sil­ver with yel­low trim.  “There is a track­ing device hid­den in them.”  He pressed a but­ton on the side of the tiny mon­i­tor and two green dots appeared and an irri­tat­ing beep­ing sound emit­ted from the speak­er.  He quick­ly turned the mon­i­tor off.

Alif hand­ed the trans­ceivers back to Mali and stepped back.  “You should know bet­ter.”

Of course Mali did.  Track­ing tech­nol­o­gy had nev­er done their peo­ple any good.  The city dwellers used it against his peo­ple time and again to find them, jail them, cheat them out of what was theirs, the lit­tle ragged bit of it that there was.  Those in the cities rev­eled in tak­ing from his peo­ple and as such any­one among the Pros­e­lytes caught with any­thing resem­bling track­ing tech was con­sid­ered a trai­tor and a dan­ger.  At worst, such a per­son might end up dead.  At best, such a per­son would be exiled from his set­tle­ment, which was worse than death.

The thing is, broth­er,” said Mali lean­ing in close so that no one could hear them, “I couldn’t pass up such a beau­ti­ful set of trans­ceivers.  When I saw them, I thought of you.  If any­one can deac­ti­vate the track­ing tech, you can.”  Mali slipped the mon­i­tor into his pock­et when a man approached his tent to inspect his goods.  He greet­ed the man with a smile and a nod, but he was too pre­oc­cu­pied with an old alarm clock radio to pay him any notice.  “Look at them,” he said drop­ping his voice fur­ther, “they’re too beau­ti­ful to pass up.  And you could put them to good use, or resell them your­self and for a pret­ty sum, I might add.”

Alif’s eyes nar­rowed as he con­sid­ered Mali’s words.  “So, you couldn’t sell these to any­one else, could you?”

Mali chuck­led.  The boy was quick as a spark before the fire.  As cold and con­trolled as Alif appeared, Mali had no doubts that there was a fire brew­ing beneath the sur­face.  He also knew that he nev­er want­ed to bear wit­ness to it.

Okay, I’ll take them,” he said, “but at a reduced price.  And I won’t nego­ti­ate.”

I’m the one who is sup­posed to refuse nego­ti­a­tion.  Remem­ber?  I’m the one with the prime goods here.”

I’ll be doing you a favor.  If you get caught with these, you’ll be wish­ing you nev­er saw them.”

Sev­en­ty-five cred­its.”

Twen­ty.”  Alif held up his hand before Mali could protest.  “And my promise not to tell any­one that you had track­ing tech.”

Mali looked long and deep into those red rimmed eyes and knew that he wouldn’t be able to change to his mind.  Besides, he hadn’t expect­ed to get even the twen­ty cred­its for the stolen prop­er­ty.  “Alright, broth­er.  Twen­ty it is.  Shall we shake on it?”

Awesome Sauce, Zombies, and Self Publishing Dos and Don’ts

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I’m excit­ed to wel­come Matt (Awe­some Sauce) Williams back to my site. For those of you who don’t know, he is an ubber pro­duc­tive author and blog­ger whose taste for top­ics knows no bounds. He recent­ly pub­lished a zom­bie nov­el enti­tled Whiskey Delta which he first seri­al­ized on his blog. Today he’s here to tell us about Whiskey Delta and his most recent for­ay into self pub­lish­ing. Pull up a chair, you just might learn some­thing. Talk to us, Awe­some Sauce.

1. For those who don’t know, give a brief run down of WD. What was the inspi­ra­tion? When did you pub­lish?

Whiskey Delta is basi­cal­ly my take on the zom­bie apoc­a­lypse. After read­ing and watch­ing numer­ous fran­chis­es on the sub­ject, main­ly for the sake of research into what makes the genre work, I real­ized they all had some­thing in com­mon beyond undead crea­tures. With­out excep­tion, they all focused on the lives of your aver­age cit­i­zens, or on a mot­ley crew of peo­ple who were thrown togeth­er by neces­si­ty. Always these peo­ple were unpre­pared, untrained to deal with their cir­cum­stances, and had to impro­vise and strug­gle to stay alive. Frankly, I want­ed to see a sto­ry where the peo­ple fight­ing the undead were trained, pre­pared, and knew how to deal with it, even if they still had a hell of time doing it.

Nat­u­ral­ly, I was inspired by the recent upsurge in pop­u­lar­i­ty that zom­bie fran­chis­es have seen in recent years. 28 Days Lat­er was a big one, as wasThe Walk­ing Dead, the minis­eries and the comics. I also gained a lot of knowl­edge from the minis­eries Gen­er­a­tion Kill, which chron­i­cled the 1st Recon Battalion’s exploits dur­ing the 2003 inva­sion of Iraq. Between all that, I had a strong desire to write about zom­bie killers who know their trade, warts and all!

I began pub­lish­ing it chap­ter for chap­ter in the spring of 2012, and fin­ished it just shy of the sum­mer. I took the plunge and decid­ed to make it avail­able to the pub­lic one year lat­er, in April of 2013. While I still want­ed to fin­ish up work on its sequels and edit it before release, an unex­pect­ed shout out from Max Brooks kind of forced my hand and I uploaded it to Kin­dle with­out seri­ous edits. The result was pret­ty rough, but still con­tained the sto­ry I had cre­at­ed with­out alter­ation or dis­tor­tion.

2. WD is self-pubbed, which I think, aside from being brave, is the smart thing to do these days as it leaves con­trol in the hands of the author. That said there are pros and cons. Tell us what they are in your expe­ri­ence.

Self-pub­lish­ing means cut­ting out the mid­dle man — or the gate-keep­er, depend­ing on how you view pub­lish­ers — and being able to take your work direct­ly to the pub­lic, which is a big plus. This is espe­cial­ly use­ful con­sid­er­ing that tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing is los­ing mon­ey on a dai­ly basis due to the expan­sion in social media, direct pub­lish­ing and print-on-demand hous­es. As a result, they are tak­ing less chances on new authors. Lucky for us, the source of the prob­lem also presents a solu­tion.

On the down­side, there’s the issue of being com­plete­ly respon­si­ble for your own suc­cess. As an indie, you are respon­si­ble for all of your own edit­ing, pub­lic­i­ty and pro­mo­tion. As such, you real­ly have to com­mit to a long, hard slog and hold out while peo­ple real­ize you exist and see the mer­its in your work. You also have to con­tend with the per­cep­tion that indie works are sub­stan­dard, ama­teur­ish works that aren’t worth people’s time or mon­ey. Over­com­ing this is not easy, but hope­ful­ly with time, you’ll estab­lish a read­er­ship and dis­tin­guish your­self from the herd.

3. You’ve dis­cussed the good and not as good news about WD on your site since self-pub­bing it. Tell us what you feel you’ve done right/wrong. What would you change if you could?

Well, one should always be hap­py that review­ers are find­ing nice things to say about your work. And every review has said that they liked the sto­ry, but were both­ered by the qual­i­ty of edit­ing. Nat­u­ral­ly, I feel like I was wrong to pub­lish it so soon and wor­ry that these reviews which call into ques­tion the qual­i­ty of the work will affect long-term sales. So even if I do release a 2nd edi­tion that’s error-free, the dam­age has been done.

How­ev­er, I remem­ber quite clear­ly why I put the book up when I did. I knew that a nod from Max Brooks might trig­ger inter­est in my book and send some peo­ple over to Google to look for it. And I knew that inter­est would quick­ly fade if peo­ple couldn’t find it. I have since come to the con­clu­sion that the fact that it falls under the head­ing of zom­bie fic­tion is what is attract­ing read­ers, but at the time, I was con­vinced word of mouth pro­mo­tion from an estab­lished author would make all the dif­fer­ence.

So real­ly, bar­ring some kind of pre­scient fore­sight on my part — which would have told me to just wait until it was edit­ing before pub­lish­ing, or drop the sequels and focus on the orig­i­nal — I can’t imag­ine hav­ing done things dif­fer­ent­ly at this point. Live and learn, I guess!

4. What advice would you offer oth­er self-pubbed authors?

Best advice I could give was the advice that was giv­en to me over the years. I kept it in point form for the sake of sim­plic­i­ty:

  1. Do what you love, the rest will take care of itself with time.
  2. In the mean­time, keep your day job. Until such time as you’re mak­ing enough mon­ey to sup­port your­self, you’ll need that steady income!
  3. Don’t wait to be dis­cov­ered. Use the tools that are at your dis­pos­al to pro­mote your­self and make things hap­pen.
  4. Do your home­work. Before you can put your idea into prop­er writ­ten form, you need to do your home­work and learn what works best for you.

5. Which of the char­ac­ters in WD would you most want to befriend in real life? Why?

Tough ques­tion, but I think the Mage would be a very good per­son to meet in real life. He’s enig­mat­ic, even to me, and I know for a fact that he’s the kind of per­son who’s had some very inter­est­ing expe­ri­ences. Not only that, but he keeps you guess­ing. You’re nev­er quite sure how much he knows, or whether or not he’s a good guy…

You can catch Matthew Williams here:

Sto­ries by Williams

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Permission to Play

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For the last month I’ve been doing some­thing rather unchar­ac­ter­is­tic.  I’ve been pow­er­ing through the Mass Effect tril­o­gy along with as much ancil­lary lit­er­a­ture about the Mass Effect Uni­verse as I can cram into my over­stuffed over­worked brain.  Why is this sig­nif­i­cant?  I’ve always played games, here and there, but noth­ing to com­ple­tion since… can any­one remem­ber Tur­ok Dinosaur Hunter on Nin­ten­do 64?  Yes, that long ago.

Beware­Obliv­ion­IsAt­Hand (mas­ter cheat)

For­get it.  I’m not pat­ting myself on the back for fin­ish­ing the ME tril­o­gy, because I played in easy mode all the way through, even though I did fair­ly well.  I’m offer­ing a vir­tu­al pat on the back to the mas­sive tal­ent over at Bioware for cre­at­ing some­thing so engag­ing that I couldn’t stop play­ing until it was com­plete.  A month.  I spent a month sub­merged in a char­ac­ter, Com­man­der Shep­ard, who looked like me, and made deci­sions much the way I would have (or believe I would) in tough sit­u­a­tions.

 

Does ME have its faults.  I think so.  Among those faults is the very dra­mat­ic premise that the fate of the entire uni­verse hinges on my abil­i­ty to unite frac­tured alien nations under one ban­ner to fight a com­mon threat.  The con­cept is melo­dra­mat­ic at least and utter­ly ludi­crous at worst.  And yet, the sto­ry presents a cer­tain urgency, a desire to do right, and a need to see what will hap­pen next that kept me play­ing like a fiend.  Some­times I even woke up ear­ly just to get in an hour of play before work.  I usu­al­ly get up ear­ly to write.

In came the guilt.

I should have been writ­ing instead. Right?

Oh, but I was.  I wasn’t actu­al­ly putting words down onto paper, no, but I was writ­ing in my head.  Heh.  I know that sounds lame, but allow me to explain.  Most writ­ers would prob­a­bly tell you that every­thing in their lives and the lives of oth­ers influ­ences and informs their writ­ing.  Me includ­ed.  Gam­ing, read­ing, work, exchanges in the gro­cery store, the news, day­dreams, a con­ver­sa­tion over­heard in line at Starbuck’s.  All of these snip­pets find their way into our work in some form.

ME is a role play­ing game, where­in I get to be some­one else.  I was some­one else for an entire month.  Bioware cre­at­ed the premise but in a sense allowed me to write my own fate (to a degree).  I wrote my own sto­ry, so to speak, and I gleaned some ter­rif­ic ideas for my own tales along the way.

I’m glad that I gave myself per­mis­sion to play instead.  Now I have to give myself per­mis­sion to get back to writ­ing.

What guilty plea­sures help you focus on your writ­ing?