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.

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“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:

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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?