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Blast From a Past WIP

I spent some time this week tidying up old manuscripts (VERY old, like , 1990’s old.) I expected to be disappointed in them, but it turns out they’re actually damfine books.  Here’s a snippet of one in case your weekend needs a bit of sci-fi adventure. Say hello to Agent Neil McAlister and Dusty Collins from Walk A Thin Line.

The intruder aircraft could not be fooled by evasive maneuvers, cheater missiles or any trick Neil knew. In desperation, he nudged his own jet into a dive towards the sparkling blue ocean thousands of meters below. One breath from watery oblivion, he executed a series of commands that sent every tell-tale on his heads-up display shooting into the red. His ears filled with the scream of tortured metal as the plane’s fuselage protested the abrupt transition.

His opponent’s craft couldn’t pull out of its dive; the plane disappeared in a spray of pixels. The glitch resolved into a steamy fireball erupting from the water. Neil circled it once and turned his nose towards home. “Shit,” said a voice in his earphones. “The fish are laughing at me. That’s rubbing it in, don’t you think?”

Neil stripped off his helmet with a grin. At the end of the bed, Dusty removed her own helmet and glared at him. The unit on her lap was a little entertainment datapad, functionally and physically dwarfed by the computer on Neil’s swing-out desk.

“You cheated,” she said. “You knew this little thing couldn’t process those dive parameters.”

“Guilty,” Neil admitted with a smile. “I wanted you to show the mods I put in, and you had to ditch into the water to see them. After I saw your seabird mod during the dogfight, I had to add something too. So, fish mods.”

Dusty threw her headset onto the desk and glared at it. Then she brought up the source code for the sim and scrolled through it. “Mods,” she whispered.

“Do you want to try again? We can swap. Or …there’s time for a walk before supper.”

Dusty’s face relaxed into a blank mask, and Neil waited for nearly ten minutes hoping she’d come back on her own before he touched her arm. “Dusty?”

The look she gave him was molten emerald, boiling over with frustration. “I got time-lost, didn’t I?”

Neil nodded. The episodes were rare now, but according to Evelyn they should’ve stopped. She had warned him that Dusty’s brain might never release the last chemical dregs, might never stabilize. She’d told Dusty too, and Neil could see the fear in her eyes now.

She whispered, “I didn’t even recognize the birds. I look at my work, and I’m a stranger to it. I hate this, Neil. I feel like a ghost.”

In case anyone’s wondering:
The story takes place about 5 years before Controlled Descent and the events are referenced in that novel as The Summer Secession. (A drug kingpin and a crime boss decide to make Chicago an independent country and back their play with stolen orbital weaponry. The Restored US government can’t respond in force…but the programmer who stole control of the platform under duress can. And she wants revenge.)




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A Peek Under The Hood

This post is a look inside my storysculpting machine.

As soon as I have the basic storyline for a novel sketched out, I begin adding elements earlier in the plot that highlight character development as it happens (as opposed to when I noticed its necessity, usually while writing climatic action. Pantsing. It has its moments.)
Sometimes a few lines of dialogue or a descriptive sentence are all I need to emphasize a point. Other times I need to write or expand scenes like the one below.

It may not make the final cut, like two sex scenes I’m still on the fence about including. Despite all the hours I spend on research, details, and dialogue, good material must be scrapped to improve pacing or maintain consistent tone. Those aspects can’t be properly judged until the whole story is completely sculpted and rough-polished.

(Me, I think the sex scenes illustrate personal growth that leads to later, plot-critical choices, but so far I am a minority of one in that opinion. And no, I’m not posting explicit M/M  or M/M/F action out here on the open web so you can judge for yourself. I haven’t even completed the second one. Sex scenes are hard. So to speak.)

ANYway. Here’s a an out-of-context snippet from Prodigals, a Restoration prequel novel.

* * *

Parker passed Yoshi on the way upstairs, taking the steps two and three at a time. Yoshi gave him ample space, but the man stopped and turned back a few steps up.

Now what? Yoshi froze. Parker was even less comfortable company than Wanda. Like her, he gave off a tangible sense of contained violence. Right now he also smelled like a full waste bin out back of a nasty bar. His gray uniform was sweat-stained, his upper lip was split and swollen, and his face was impressively blank.

Yoshi had spent an hour making the man’s brother cry. Please don’t blame me, he thought. “What’s up?”

“You did good tonight,” Parker said.

He had eyes almost as pretty as Carl’s: equally intense but in a warm palette of greens and browns that complemented the tan of his skin.  Yoshi could imagine him lurking in jungle like the jaguars that showed up on signs everywhere here in Panama. He would blend into the shadows without need for camouflage.

Not that Yoshi had to imagine Parker in a jungle. He’d met the man near a grubby bar in Davao City, surrounded by lush overgrowth and the burnt wreckage of the third Filipino civil war. Looking up at him like this was an dramatic reminder of how much had changed in a few short years.

For one thing, Yoshi was wearing a lot more clothes. “I try,” he said. 

Parker shook his head and went back to to stair-vaulting, leaving Yoshi to wonder if he should’ve said something more. Everyone knew Parker was banging the boss. That wasn’t supposed to matter, but Yoshi couldn’t shake the fear that getting on the man’s bad side might get him on Terry’s bad side by association.

“Wait,” he called, and hustled after Parker when the request was ignored.

That was exactly how he’d met Parker: sprinting barefoot along a packed-dirt alleyway behind the astonishing puti who’d knifed his way out of a bar brawl—the same one who’d started the brawl over a customer taking liberties with Yoshi.

Hope and desperation had sent Yoshi after the man that day.

“Hey, wait, ‘kano,” he’d called then. “Don’t hit the main street looking like that. You’ll end up in a police cage. I got clean water, clean towels back at my place. Yours for cheap.”

The man slowed down, turned. “I saved your ass in there, and you’ll charge me to wash up? You’ll sell anything, is that it?”

His disdain hit like a slap across the face. The man was bold and dangerous in that way all the occupation mercs were. Bright eyes, hard muscles, big hands. Bloody hands, at the moment. Not someone Yoshi should’ve followed. Maybe he should’ve stayed behind and begged for his job back.

No. This is opportunity knocking. Working that bar was as close to rock-bottom as Yoshi wanted to get. He needed money so he could get to a bigger town and get a decent job. If he could get seed funds he would be fine. He couldn’t back down now.

His spine straightened, and his stomach tightened. “I got paid to sell booze and not cause trouble,” he said. “I’m out of a job, thanks to you. Least you can do is throw me a bone. Your spare change is my rent for a month.”

The man laughed and turned away. “You want a bone, puppy? Follow me home.”

Gathering up his courage and running after Parker that day was the best decision Yoshi had ever made. He gathered it again and caught up to Parker outside Carl’s room.

And when Parker spun around, Yoshi swallowed down the rush of nerves and said, “Thank you. That’s what I meant to say.” Thank you for this life.

Parker’s eyes narrowed, and then he tipped his head forward, acknowledging all the unsaid things before he palmed open the lock to Carl’s room. The door closed behind him with an emphatic click.


Yoshi grinned all the way to his quarters.

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Win a copy of Flight Plan!

To celebrate my second novel’s first anniversary in paperback, I’m giving away two copies through a Goodreads raffle that ends 12 October, 2015.  That’s right. Only one more week to enter. Want the details? Here they are, and I’ll even throw in an excerpt:

11/2015 Update: The giveaway is over, but I’m keeping the excerpt for posterity, and the book is available for a mere $4.99 here: Flight Plan on Amazon

Making New Friends: An Excerpt from Flight Plan

The plane’s small galley opened over a bar into another seating area with two facing couches. Naomi almost fell over Carl when she followed him back there. Carl abruptly stopped and bent over to look at something on the floor, and Naomi barely caught herself on the counter in time to avoid him.
The man Naomi had only heard so far, the one named Justin, had mentioned something about zeroing out back here, whatever that meant. If that was him, lying there on the carpet like a lump, then ‘zeroing out’ evidently meant passing out cold.

“Can I help?” Naomi asked.

“No, I’ve got him.” Carl carried Justin to one of the benches, then retreated to the opposite side and hunched over to face the floor. His hands were so tightly clenched together that the knuckles were white.

Naomi considered follow-up questions and went with, “Is he okay?”

That one should pull Carl back from whatever emotional edge he was teetering on. Caregivers were predictable that way, and even if Carl had lied about everything else, Naomi was sure she hadn’t been wrong about that. It took one to know one.

Carl sighed. “Okay is a relative concept with Justin. So is normal. What do you want from me? I’m busy licking my wounded ego here. If you can’t be grateful, can you be elsewhere?”

He couldn’t have picked a better way to hurt Naomi’s feelings if he’d tried. Selfish child, whispered the memory of Mam’s voice. Naomi’s throat went tight around her next words. “I wanted to apologize. Jaybird didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. She couldn’t know the insult would hit you so hard.”

“Let her apologize for herself, if she wants. It isn’t your job.” Carl put his head in his hands. “Sorry. That was an awful thing to say too. Please do me the favor of leaving me alone.”

The odd phrasing left little room for discussion. Naomi turned to leave, but when Justin moaned, concern made her hesitate. “Are you sure he’s okay?”

Carl sighed again, more heavily this time. “And he calls me nosy. Yes, I’m sure, but that won’t satisfy you, will it? Go on, rub your curiosity bump until it stops itching.”

Since Carl wasn’t watching, Naomi stuck out her tongue at him before she knelt beside Justin. The man looked normal enough. He was broad-shouldered and wiry like a gymnast, on the short side of average height, with dark wavy hair and Caucasian features under sun-browned skin. The stubble on his throat was scratchy and thick, his skin was moist and hot, and his pulse thudded along fast and shallow.

Naomi checked for signs of injury. Justin’s left leg was impaired severely enough that she would’ve suggested corrective surgery, not that anyone had asked her. The damage wasn’t recent, though, and the odd cuff on the man’s ankle served no obvious purpose. It definitely wasn’t a splint.
She sat back on her heels.

“Unconscious with elevated pulse and fever doesn’t worry you?”

“Not yet. If he starts shivering, or he doesn’t wake on his own by the time we land, then I’ll panic.”

“Whatever.” She was hardly in a position to argue. She toyed with the odd splint-like device. “What’s this on his ankle? It isn’t rigid enough to be a brace. And it isn’t a bond cuff.” She knew what those looked like. “Those don’t have buttons and switches.”

“Don’t touch—”

Carl’s warning came a little too late. Naomi fell back from the bench as its occupant abruptly disappeared. Her rump hit the floor, and a slight breeze warned her just before something landed on her feet. Static tickled her legs.

“Shit.” Plastic crunched. The panel under the bench developed an elbow-sized dent. “Shit.”
Invisible Justin cursed the whole way to the rear of the cabin. A pocket door slid open to reveal bathroom fixtures and slammed shut again. Naomi looked back at Carl.

“A relative concept, you said,” she said, fighting down giggles. “That’s what you meant? That’s his normal?”

“I did warn you,” Carl said mildly.

Intrigued? Tempted? (I hope so!)

That link again: Flight Plan on Amazon