Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fixing a problem

So . . . how to fix a problem?  The Decimus Julius Virilis novel (As the Emperor Slept) apparently has a problem.  Or problems.  It starts too slow.  And, apparently, the 'motivation' for Decimus to investigate a serious of vicious political-tainted homicides, is questionable.

So how do you fix a set of problems like this without going through a massive rewrite?  You keep everything intact and just add a 'starter button' at the beginning.  One that's guaranteed to grab the reader's attention and get the ball rolling.

(By the way, dig the rough draft for the book covers?  Back cover, spine, and front cover--just the rough drafts, mind you.  But still . . . )

So I thought I'd share a few of the opening pages in an effort to see what you think of the 'starter' idea.  Whatta think?

            The crowd was in a festive mood.  Today's races in the Hippodrome held the promise of being quite exciting.  Phillipus The Greek, the number one driver of the Reds, would be racing against his fellow countryman, Titus Magnus, the Green's best driver, in the fourth race of the day.  It promised to be a hard fought battle.  Neither Phillipus nor Titus could tolerate the other.  Both had promised bloody mayhem if one saw the other ever again in a race they participated in.
            The crowd, sensing the action soon to come, milled about in front of the gigantic stone structure of the racing track waiting to get in while food vendors, dozens of them, barked their wares as they wove in out of the growing entanglement of humanity.  The aromas of a dozen different meats and even more delicious looking pastries wafted through the clear Roman air seductively.  Wine vendors especially were doing a brisk business selling their watered down blends today.  But the crowd seemed docile enough.  Perhaps it had something to do with a large contingent of purple clad soldiers of the Praetorian Guards moving quietly through the crowd in groups of two, eyeing the crowd and looking formidable in the process.
            Apparently the rumor was true.  Caesar was coming to observe the races from his color canopied box.  It was said the old man had a passion for the sport.  Whenever he graced his presence at such a sporting event the presence of his newly created Praetorian Guards were obvious and intentional.  As the old saying went, Better to nip trouble in the bud than to quell a full fledged riot.
            Caesar was a master at finding trouble and nipping it in the bud long before it became a problem for him.
            Standing to one side of the main mass of crowd were three men quietly eating some Germanic delicacy of sour kraut and pork.  It smelled awful.  But the way the three were intent on consuming every possible morsel of it belied its pungent odor. 
            Two of the men were dressed in the plain, functional clothes of a Roman freeman.  Hard looking men.  Tanned and weather beaten.  Reminding onlookers of dried strips of leather that had, over the years, endured much and survived all.  The third stood between the two dressed in an off white toga which had a fine purple hem, distinct but subdued, prominently displayed in the cloth.  A patrician.  A Roman nobleman.  An older man with a high sloping forehead, a receding hairline, and dark, piercing brown eyes.
            A soldier.  Unquestionably.  And a veteran.
            He had the commanding presence of a Roman officer.  It was obvious.  Especially for a Roman.  Almost every male milling about in the crowd had, at one time or the other, served his time as a legionnaire.  The Dalmatian revolts of 8 A.D. were not that long ago. Prior to that was the revolt in the forest of Germany to quell.  And before that . . . not that long ago . . . were the wars fought against fellow Romans.  The long wars Caesar fought to subdue the radical Marcus Antonius and his fabled mistress, Cleopatra.
            Yes, this middle aged patrician was a Roman officer.  One who saw action and knew hardships.  One who knew how to command men and expect to be obeyed.  Dressed in civilian clothes he was now.  But that meant little.  For this kind of man, a soldier was a soldier.  There was no other way of life.
            "You are sure we are being followed, Gnaeus?"
            The patrician's voice was soft but filled with a resonating quality of quiet authority and confidence.  Soothing to one's ear for now.  But promising a harsh reality if aroused to anger.
            The smaller of the three man nodded gently, a hand coming up to form a gesture or two toward the patrician in the process.  Both patrician and the other freeman watched the little man's hand and nodded as if they knew exactly what the man was silently saying to them.
            "I did not see him.  Describe him quickly."
            More hand gestures.
            A small man.  My size.  With curly blond hair and a dirty face. He was dressed like a Greek peasant.  He kept moving through the crowd some distance from us.  First he would be in front of us.  And then to our rear.  But always close enough to observe us, tribune.  I last saw him standing to our left. Over by the fountain.
            "Humph," grunted the taller of the two freeman.  A dark complexion figure from the deserts of perhaps Libya or Morocco. "Your old friend,  Menelaus, coming back to haunt us again, tribune?"
            The patrician's dark eyes looked into the face of his second companion for a moment or two thoughtfully before, finally, shaking his head.
            "Menelaus is an old, old man by now.  Too old and too sick to have any desire to seek revenge.  Besides, there are no better spies and assassins than a Greek.  Anyone could have hired this creature to keep us in view.  Until we have more information it is useless for us to conjecture over."
            The small man's hands flew into action again.
            Our orders, tribune.  Do we capture this man alive?  Or do we quietly dispatch him to his just rewards?
            The patrician smiled.  A wicked, sinfully cruel smile of a man who knew how to hunt.  And hunt not just any query.  But hunt the ultimate prey.
            "We spread out.  Each of us will stay within sight of the other.  One of you will sit in the stands above me.  The other to one side.  If this Greek spy is seen, rub your nose with the index finger of your right hand as a sign.  If he has accomplices in the crowd working with him, the signal will be the index finger of your left hand. We will encircle him and try to catch him. If he sees us and flees, perhaps we can follow him and see where he leads us."
            Both freeman nodded.  And disappeared into the growing crowd as if they had been nothing more than smoke from a burning vizier blowing away in the wind.  The tribune's smile widened minutely on his thin lips. It was like old times.  Working the streets again in a foreign city playing the spy. A spy hunting a spy.  It was an exciting game.  A deadly game.  One that he so much enjoyed and sorely missed.
            The crowd began moving.  Above, high on the walls of the stadium, trumpeters were telling the crowd the races were soon to begin.  Making his presence conspicuous, nevertheless his eyes roamed the crowd casually yet alertly.  He wanted visual contact with this talented blond haired spy.  But as he and the crowd filed into the Hippodrome he saw no one that fit Gnaeus' description.  He was not surprised.  If this man was as good as Gnaeus suggested he doubted he would get much, if any, of a glimpse.  Yet he remained vigilant.  There was a question which yet remained to be answered.  Was this spy here to just keep watch on him?  Or was he here to assassinate him?
            An assassination attempt made sense.  He had enemies.  Many enemies.  One did not serve in the legions as long as he had in various roles and not make enemies.  Especially if one considered the many special 'detached duties' assignments he had been given over the years.  Spying on allies as well as enemies were some of the special assignments.  Others were more deadly.  Far more deadly.  And secretive.  Not the kind one bragged about in the open.  Not if one wanted to live quietly in retirement in Rome for their remaining years unmolested.
            But if the Greek was spying, keeping tabs on his whereabouts, then a whole new set of questions came to mind.  Who?  Why?  Why take the trouble to spy on an old soldier who had recently retired from the army and was, for all practical purpose, unemployed and uninvolved.  He led a quiet life.  He rarely accepted invitations to social gatherings.   He kept himself out of sight and out of mind from those in Rome who still wielded power.  With the reputation he had it was better for him to remain sight unseen for as long as possible.
            But if Gnaeus was right, and he was seldom wrong in these matters, someone had taken interest in him.  That did not bode well for his long term safety or quality of life while here in the city.  It would be best to find out whom, and for what reason, this new found interest had been generated over him.
            He appeared to be interested in the races.  The first two races pitted some of the up and coming chariot drives of each of the six more renown racing associations in four and six chariot sprints.  Teams draped in the colors of their various racing teams paraded around the long, narrow track below before each race, giving time for the crowds to place bets their bets.  He made it a show of betting on the Reds in every race.  Each time he laid a wager he would stand up from his seat and lay the wager.  Each time he stood his eyes played across the crowd around him.
            Twice he thought he saw just the suggestion of blond hair in the crowd.  Never a face. Just the movement of a body and blond hair submerging deep into the standing crowd and disappearing from view.  A casual glance toward Gnaeus found his old companion in the wars eyeing the crowd but seeing nothing.  On one wager he stood up and turned to face the crowd behind him.  Three rows up sitting in the crowd directly behind him was the long, darkly tanned face of Hakim, his other companion.  He too made no gesture indicating anything amiss had been observed.
            Below in the dirt young drivers were driving their chariots recklessly in an effort to make a reputation.  As would be expected thunderous crashes and splintering wood came all too often.  With each mishap the crowd would leap to their feet and roar in delight.  When they did he felt more than saw bodies moving through the crowd.  Bodies inching closer and closer to him in a patient stalking of predator toward prey.  When the attack came, not unsurprisingly, it came from a totally unexpected direction.
            There was, below, the resounding collision of three teams of horses and chariots crashing into each other.  Horses screamed in terror.  Splinters and chunks of various chariots flew in the air.  Bodies of drivers, thrown from their chariots, hurled through the air before tumbling across the stadium's thick sand.  The crowd went wild.   Everyone came to their feet.  For several long seconds the crowd roared and cheered and booed all at the same time.  And then, to his right, quite unexpectedly, a fight broke out between partisan groups sitting too close together for comfort.  Four burly looking men dressed in the colors of the Greens began pushing around five men dressed in blue.  Fists began flying.  The fight pulled in additional participants.  Pandemonium broke out in the stands.
            The crowd was packed in tight in the seats around him.  As he watched the fight to his right grow in intensity, followed by loud cheers and jeers from those surrounding the spectacle near him, behind him he felt bodies moving suddenly to one side in an unnatural fashion.  Someone was pushing through the crowd behind him.  Half turning, he caught the glimpse of blond hair directly behind.  More importantly he glimpsed the long narrow iron blade of a dagger held low and partially covered by a cheap tunic appear beside the assassin's waist.  It flashed forward with astonishing speed straight for his lower back.  A deep wound to his liver would be fatal.  He had to move!
            He used his right arm and swept around him in a swift, hard move.  His forearm caught the assassin's knife hand at the wrist and knocked the deadly blade to one side.  Rotating around his left hand came up and reached for the assassin's shoulder while his right arm moved, allowing him to grip the man's right forearm firmly with an iron grip.  But the assassin was good.  He twisted his shoulder away from the tribune's attempt to grab it and used a foot to kick hard at the tribune's right leg.  The assassin's foot caught the tribune just above his right knee with a powerful blow.
            The pain was excruciating.  His hand fell away from the assassin's knife hand.  He staggered backward and bumped into someone directly behind him.  Angrily the man yelled out something unintelligible and shoved the tribune off him.  The violent push helped the tribune to regain his footing.  But all for naught.  The assassin was gone.  Like the ghost he was he had slipped somehow deep into the sea of faces and disappeared altogether.
            When the brawl in the stands was finally subdued after a squad of Praetorian Guards descended onto the menagerie of fisticuffs with bludgeons and iron bars the crowd quickly settled back into their seats.  But the tribune, his right leg throbbing in pain, slowly withdrew from his seat.  As he ascending the steps to the cause walk he was joined by Gnaeus and Hakim.  Neither had seen a thing.  To their dismay they had not even seen the attack on the tribune.
            The long walk back to the tribune's small house was a trek of pain filled with grim silence.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Roland of the High Crags.

Okay, okay;  I know.  I've ranted and raved and written a ton of shit about this dive off the deep end into the Fantasy side of the pool.  But I can't help myself.  Roland is like one of my children.  He's complex, deep, a born killer . . . yet likable. A hero in a world filled with villainy.

He's a warrior-monk for chrissakes!  Trained in the martial arts since a child.  Unsurpassed in his skills in handling sword, lance, or bow.  Ah . . . but to top it off, he has that gift 'in the blood.' He has the gift of magic.  He's a trained wizard in the Bretan Way; that version of Magic which allows him to control the almost uncontrollable powers of the Netherworld.

The Netherworld is the supernatural.  It is the afterlife where all souls go to reside after leaving this plane of existence.  The soul naturally drifts into the Netherworld.  It is a vast river; a place which pulses with infinite power.  It is the abyss.  Madness resides in the Netherworld.  All the forms of madness a sentient mind can acquire.

It is the home of both Life and Death.  The home of the Past and the Future and the Present.  Magic, in all its forms, resides in the Netherworld.  Only those who are touched in the blood can tap into this power and mold it and use it in whatever shape and form one wishes.  Consciously being aware, however, that if one using Netherworld Magic too much, one eventually goes mad with insanity in the process.

So I developed this fantasy series of complex, dark, contemplative novels which invites the reader into a fantastic world of adventure and intrigue.  Or . . . at least . . . I thought I did.  As typical with most of my writing, I could not find one Sci-Fi/Fantasy publisher intrigued enough to take it on.  Bummer.  It meant it the series would not get it heaved over the pile of other fantasy bullshit and get it discovered by the reading public.  So I had to self publish.

Which meant, of course, Roland was swimming in an vast uncharted ocean of other fantasy novels similar in scope and range.  The end result being that damn few of anyone has discovered Roland.  Even though those who did turned around and wrote some glowing reviews for it.

So my conundrum. My perpetual problem.  I can't let go.  Roland needs to be read.  His adventures needs to be followed.  He needs to be discovered.  But how?  How do I go about this without selling off my house, my car, my kids, and my grand kids in an effort to find the finances to push Roland out into the Land of Discovery?

I dunno. All I can do is maybe create a set of different artwork for the covers and try it again.  Revamp and expand Book One of the series along with the new artwork. Shake the trees in the few social web sites I swim in letting everyone know that he's out there waiting to be discovered.

And hope.  Always hope for the impossible to happen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Jack Reacher is back


He's back.  Jack Reacher.  That 6'5 monster of a man created out of the mind of Lee Child, is back with a new novel entitled, Make Me.  I confess; I've been waiting impatiently for this book to land in a bookstore.  Reacher, the character, is a powerful addiction that is hard to let go.  Once you meet him, you can't forget him.  So that causes you to go out and read all the other Jack Reacher novels.  With this newest one, that'll be 20 novels, thank you very much.

An ex-army officer, a top notch investigator in a special unit he led in the Army's military police, Reacher is that kind of guy whom you think the word 'primeval' fits perfectly for a descriptor.  The guy is a monster physically.  And very, very good at figuring out how to contain the violence a violent world likes to spring onto the unsuspecting.

Most of the novels have Reacher out of the Army and just thumbing his way across America . . . and getting into trouble . . . without any kind of anchoring device to tie him down with responsibilities.  

Interesting.  And definitely different as far as story plotting goes.  Never being tied down to one spot means that anything for a situation can happen.  And usually does.

(The two covers you see are the same novel.  One is the European cover.  The other is the American cover.  I'm thinking the one on the right is the American one.  Technically, the novel is not supposed to come out in the US until around the 18th of September.  But obviously you get a copy of it now.)

Lee Child, the creator of Reacher, is an interesting character study himself.  An Englishman who, for some reason, creates an American army officer for a character, writes in the same way many writers, including myself, do.  He just starts writing.  No outlining.  No plot in mind.  Just sits down and goes. Everything about the plot is worked out as he goes along.

My kind of writer.

I bring all this up because the news is out that the second Jack Reacher movie is going to start filming soon,  Called Never Go Back, the move roughly follows one of the earlier novels.  Reacher goes back to his old haunts in Washington D.C. and his old army command to sort out problems which, naturally, involve him,

If you are a Reacher find I can hear you starting to go ballistic right about now.  The reason for this
psychotic meltdown is obvious.  Guess who plays the screen version of Jack Reacher.  That's right; it's Tom Cruise.  That Tom Cruise.  The one that stands, if he is wearing thick soled shoes, maybe around 5'5.  A good foot shorter than the Jack Reacher found in the books.  A good 70 to 80 pounds lighter in weight. Considerably less intimidating if held up to the original.

Yet . . . .

If you have an agile mind, if you can separate the Jack Reacher found in the novels from the cinematic Jack Reacher . . . you'll make a damn interesting discovery.  The cinematic Jack Reacher is just pretty damn good.

It's not so much size (although, for many it is, admittedly) as it is about attitude.  The attitude Cruise brings to the cinematic Reacher is, as some friends of mine in England say, spot on.  Both versions have this no-nonsense, just below the surface violence ready to pop up into full view at a moment's notice.

Smarts and violence.  I think these are the reasons why Jack Reacher is so popular.  I know it is for me.