Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Inspiration, Matchmakers, Shifting Isles, Transitivity, Treble and the Lost Boys, Uncategorized

Crime and Punishment in a Free Market

I’ve had a few readers ask why “police” didn’t get involved in certain situations that come up in my stories, so this is a long-overdue response to those queries. The short answer is: There are no police. Nor jails. Nor courts.

Now for the longer answer…

(And warning here that there may be spoilers for various books mentioned below.)

***

One of the fun things about writing stories set within a fictional world is that I can explore possibilities that the real world doesn’t allow. Like magic, for instance. Or telepathy.

Or actual freedom.

Agoran, one of the lands in the Shifting Isles world, is characterized by having a free market. Namely, a complete absence of government. Also known as anarchy.

Quick vocabulary lesson: anarchy does not mean chaos. Anarchy means “no rulers”, not “no rules”. It means every individual human being has truly equal rights, with no group of human beings having more rights or power than another (unlike our real-world system, in which the government/tax-eaters have more rights and power than citizens/taxpayers). (I could go off on a tangent about how the only legitimate rights are negative rather than positive, which would eliminate a whole lot of the talk of so-called “rights” in our society today, but that’s a topic for another time.) Basically, a free market would be a far cry from what we have in the real world. The moment you have so much as one law or one government official, the market is no longer free, but regulated. (And have you seen a law library lately? Or the current tax code? All those pages! Our society and our market are far from free. Miles and miles from free.)

So I wanted to theorize how a free market might work. And one of the aspects of a free society would be figuring out how to deal with crime and punishment with no governing authority to handle it. Since a free market has never been tried, possible solutions to the problem of crime are all theory, and actual practice might lead to all sorts of different solutions I haven’t thought up.

First, there would be the matter of crime prevention.

This comes up in a few of my novels, but most obviously in S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (Shifting Isles, 2). That story centers around Hawkeye Insurance and Personal Defense Agency, a company that offers various insurance and protection programs. For instance, a life insurance policy could be tied in with a security package that offers various options: A client could have everything from a full-time bodyguard to an occasional drive-by checkup by a security officer. Or nothing at all. It would be entirely up to whatever contract a client signs with a particular agency, or what each individual competitive agency offers.

Does that mean a security agency wouldn’t ever come to the aid of someone who’s not a client?

Not at all. Yes, they’re in business to employ people and to make a profit (and I’m sorely tempted here to go off on a tangent about how profit is a good thing rather than the dirty word that people make it out to be, but that’s a whole article in and of itself, so I’ll leave it for another time), but it would also be good advertising for them to help when needed. Companies in all sorts of industries in the real world offer freebies or loss-leaders all the time as a matter of trying to create new business, and this would be the same thing.

S.P.I.R.I.T. Division itself (part of Hawkeye Insurance and the source of the novel’s title) is a free service because it has to be. In this particular instance, it involves Asenna’s telepathy picking up on victims of crimes as they’re occurring, so there’s no way to get those victims as clients ahead of time. It’s entirely unpredictable. They’ve had to figure out the protocol as they went because it was something that had never been dealt with before, but they eventually work out a system in which Asenna is able to identify the victim so the agents can determine if the victim is already a client, and if not, they can contact whichever agency the victim is a client of and work together to try to save the victim before he or she dies.

Sometimes, though, as in the case of Mistress V’dynos, the client refuses aid, and the agency has no choice but to stay out of it. Also, in reference to her case, sometimes there’s the complication of having to deal with a victim being the client of a competing agency, and the competing agency refusing to cooperate because of their contract with their client, which they have every right to do.

So crime prevention in a free market would be like using private security to replace all of our current police forces, but rather than people being forced to pay for such services by way of taxes, they would only pay for the services they specifically want.

Then there’s the matter of dealing with a crime after it has occurred. So what could replace courts in a free market? How about something we already have in the real world?

Mediation.

In Agoran, when a person is accused of a crime, that person will be called in to mediation with the victim, both the suspect and the victim being allowed to have their insurance agents present to assist them (rather like lawyers do in the real world) while an impartial mediator is hired to review the facts of the case and try to help both sides agree to a solution.

Is this objective? No. But neither is our real-world system, even though it’s supposed to be.

Is this fair? I would argue that it is far more fair and realistic than our real-world system because it allows the victim to truly have a say in what it would take to make him or her whole again, whereas the real world does not (and, in fact, punishes the victim by making the victim pay taxes to support the courts / prisons / etc., which, as the great Murray Rothbard wrote in For a New Liberty, would be utter nonsense in a libertarian society).

Would there be negotiation required? Absolutely, but this is also necessary. You couldn’t have a robbery victim asking for a death penalty, after all. That would hardly be fair. Thus, a mediator and negotiation between the victim and the suspect would bring about restitution for the victim without causing any cruel and unusual punishments for the suspects.

Unless the suspect agrees, of course.

Take the case of Broken (Shifting Isles, 4), for instance. In this book, orphaned Daivid is a repeat offender when it comes to theft. He started stealing to fund his costly search for his parents, and inevitably got caught. In order to afford to live while paying back the money he stole, he winds up stealing again. And then again. And so on and so forth until he’s constantly having to steal again in order to pay back old debts. Because of his record, he can’t get a job anywhere, but he still needs food and a roof over his head, as well as continuing to search for the parents who gave him up as a baby, so he keeps right on stealing.

Up until he gets caught stealing money from a gay nightclub.

Now, Daivid is straight. Very straight. But when the nightclub owner offers, through mediation, for Daivid to work off the debt by coming to work for him, he agrees.

Why? Surely, he’d be uncomfortable working as a stripper in a gay nightclub. But when he weighs out his options, the choice of being employed (able to pay off his debt and make enough to pay the rent) sounds much better than being homeless, jobless, and in debt.

Unusual? Yes. But it was his choice to agree to it.

But what about crimes in which restitution is not so simple? Theft is one thing. The thief can simply return the stolen items or their equivalent in money (as well as being responsible for the mediation fees, of course). But what about rape? Murder?

Those would go through mediation, too. As for the punishments? Again, that would be up to agreement.

A rape victim, for instance, could easily make a case for a monetary settlement that would cover therapy / treatment / etc. Same with an assault victim, who could seek out compensation for whatever hospital bills are involved. There could even be a case for emotional damages, just as is done in the real world.

Murder, of course, is a unique situation because the victim cannot be present, and, technically speaking, there are no other victims. However, a victim’s agent can try to argue a case on the victim’s behalf and come to an agreement that will help the victim’s family or heirs.

What about if a criminal refuses to come in for mediation? That is certainly a possibility, and the criminal couldn’t be coerced into attending (for instance, physically restrained and brought in), because that would be a crime in and of itself. However, in that case, it could be publicly broadcast that not only is this person a criminal but that he also refused to come in for mediation in order to make up for his crimes, which would very likely cause ostracism in society, such that people would refuse to interact with, sell to, or do business with him. He very well could find himself in the position of not being able to buy food because no one will sell it to him. Faced with that, submitting to mediation would be the better option.

One other solution I haven’t yet used in my novels, yet has been suggested in libertarian circles, would be the use of debtor’s prisons, which would allow such ostracized members of society a place to live while working off their debts to their victims. For more on this idea, be sure to check out The Market for Liberty, an excellent book by Morris and Linda Tannehill, available for free (at the time of this writing) at Mises.org.

Different types of situations and cases that have come up in various novels include the following:

Return to Tanas (Shifting Isles, 3): In self-defense, Dr. Graeden Crawford pushes his girlfriend away when she comes after him with a knife, and she winds up falling and hitting her head, causing irreparable brain damage. Being vegetative and having no family beyond Graeden himself, neither Lorel nor any relatives can seek restitution from Graeden, but Graeden’s own guilt drives him to take justice upon himself and do whatever he can to try treating her. It turns out being to no avail, since there’s not much he can do for her beyond keeping her comfortable, and she winds up passing away, but he does attempt to make it right in what little ways he can.

Second Chances (Matchmakers, 1): Remy is repeatedly molested by his step-father, but never pursues mediation because he simply wants to get past it and move on with his life. As for being drugged and raped by Matty, Remy was too torn up over losing Chance in that situation to even worry about the drugged assault, besides the fact that he doesn’t remember it and that Matty is his best friend (who then dies before the situation can be taken any further).

Heavens Aground (Treble and the Lost Boys, 2): Three-year-old Ryley’s parents are murdered right in front of him, and then Ryley’s magical powers manifest in his anger, and he turns the knife around on the murderer, thus killing the man. There are arguments in libertarian circles that “an eye for an eye”, when it comes to rape/assault/murder/etc., is not a legitimate solution, but I won’t get into the morality of that particular discussion. Sticking purely to the stated events, Ryley inadvertently takes justice into his own hands and murders the man who murdered his parents, so there is no case to be mediated. At least, not for him. As for what happens off-page? Perhaps Ryley’s aunt and uncle, who discovered the scene, had to go through mediation with the murderer’s agent/family, assuming he had any. Perhaps the murderer’s family didn’t seek anything since the entire crime was caught on tape and it was clear that the murderer committed the initial crime, and was unexpectedly punished for it.

Illumined Shadows (Treble and the Lost Boys, 3): Cam Lucius’s attacker is never identified until many years later, after Cam is dead and has become a ghost. Cam and his brother, Vic, go to face his attacker, but rather than pursuing mediation, Cam is satisfied with simply being able to face the man and tell him he’s no longer anonymous. Cam and Vic could spread the word at any time that the man was guilty of rape and assault, which would utterly ruin his reputation, so that people would ostracize him, but Cam decides to leave that as a threat rather than taking action because he’s had enough time to get past it, and seeing the look on his attacker’s face gives him enough satisfaction. Although, in his guilt, Cam’s attacker winds up donating a bunch of money to the missing persons department where Vic works, a voluntary restitution of sorts on his part.

(As a quick aside, remember how I mentioned earlier that S.P.I.R.I.T. Division’s services are free because of the unique circumstances? The same is more or less true of Vic’s job, with Vic being the missing persons expert at Sturmwyn Insurance and Personal Defense Agency. Because most of his “clients” are children who have run away or been kidnapped, they can’t very well pay for his recovery efforts, and sometimes don’t even have families who can pay on their behalf. As such, and as is mentioned in one of the books in which Vic appears, his department is funded both by charitable donations and by subsidies from other departments in the company. Anyone who purchases an insurance policy with Sturmwyn, for instance, is made aware that a portion of their premiums go to subsidize the missing persons department. There’s also the factor that sometimes the kidnappers aren’t caught or even identified, and so can’t be made to provide restitution to their victims, so the donations and subsidies allow Vic to continue doing his job.)

Yikes, this is starting to sound like a lot of people aren’t getting justice. So how about a case in which some do?

In the Transitivity series, Hunter Fitz is guilty of manipulating several of his students into sexual favors in exchange for various things they request (or even flat-out demand), such as better grades, exceptions to being late for class, missing assignments, etc. When Hunter finally confesses to his despicable actions, he offers mediation to any of his victims so that they can sit down and get his apology as well as determine an agreed upon restitution. Some of the victims come forward, but not all of them, the latter being mostly those who don’t want it publicly known what they did.

So do some people get away with their crimes in my fictional world? Absolutely, but so do people in the real world. Is a free market solution to crime a perfect solution? No, but there is no perfect solution. There will always be bad people, or good people who sometimes do bad things. Until human beings become gods, there will always be criminals. No legal system of any kind will ever change that.

And, in fact, our real-world legal system creates criminals where there otherwise wouldn’t be. It’s insane how many things are illegal that harm absolutely no one. And how can you possibly have a crime without a victim? It makes no sense. The free market solution is far more fair and logical because it only focuses on actual crimes rather than “crimes against society” (which is utter nonsense) or mere potentialities (for instance, driving under the influence, on its own, should not be a crime, since it harms no one–until and unless it does, at which point it does become a crime).

In a free society, individual human rights would be sacred. Specifically, each individual human being would have total rights to his or her body, mind, labor, and property (which we do not have in the real world; not even close!). Realistically, the only crimes in a free society would be theft, rape, murder, trespassing, destruction of property, and assault. Running a stop light wouldn’t be a crime (unless doing so causes you to trespass onto someone’s property). Doing drugs wouldn’t be a crime. Collecting rain water wouldn’t be a crime. Starting a business without a license wouldn’t be a crime (because there are no governing bodies to issue licenses in the first place!). Speeding, driving without a seat belt, or driving while talking on the phone wouldn’t be crimes. Building without a permit wouldn’t be a crime (because there would be no entity to issue permits, nor would there be a governing body that would have any say in what you can or can’t do with your property). Prostitution wouldn’t be remotely illegal. Arbitrary delineations between “minor” and “adult” wouldn’t be a thing, so there would be no legalities about underage drinking, for instance. Feeding the homeless or having a lemonade stand wouldn’t be a crime.

I could go on and on.

So it may seem, in my novels, like people are getting away with things, but that happens in real life, too. And you have to take into account that a whole lot of things that would be considered criminal in the real world are not even on people’s radar in my fictional world. They simply don’t matter.

I, for one, would much rather live in a free society.

I think I’ll go escape into one now and write another story. 🙂

***

(Hat tip to Storm Agorist for his insights that helped improve this post).

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, News, Publishing, Shifting Isles

What Matters Most

So, a funny thing happened on the way to this post. I was all geared up to go into some serious ranting. So much ranting. All the ranting. I had a whole list of people who needed to be eviscerated in print and I was ready to rip into them.

From the guy who got pissed at me because I couldn’t tell him why another business across town wasn’t answering their phones (Seriously? Am I fucking omniscient?) to the SJW morons who don’t know a thing about economics (Hello? Supply and Demand is called a law for a reason, and do you know what happens when you mess with natural laws? That’s right. Bad stuff.), from the woman who let her children run rampant around my office while I was trying to answer the phones and couldn’t hear a damned thing (Discipline, anyone?) to images.duckduckgo.comthe people who get pissed at me for not wanting to work late or on the weekend even after I’ve told them I’ve already been stuck in the office over 60 hours this week and I’m exhausted and can no longer think straight (Apparently I’m supposed to be a robot just because I work in customer service?), from the guy who threw a fit because we charged him for a service he agreed to, signed for, and we performed while he proceeded to tell us we were thieves and must be raking in the dough (What part of “We actually lose money on this service” did he honestly not understand?) to the guy at the parts store who had no fucking clue how to do his job and I wound up doing it for him over the phone (Seriously, what are they teaching kids these days? Nothing?), from the people who assume I’m a Democrat just because I’m trans to the people who assume I’m a Republican just because I shootback gadsend flagpractically run a small business in a conservative town (Actually, if you want to know, I’m neither. I’m anarcho-capitalist, the best of both worlds. I’m more economically conservative than the conservatives and more socially liberal than the liberals.), from…

Well, you get the idea.

Lots of people. So many people. I had a whole list of people who were two second away from getting punched in the dick. Possibly even myself (even though I don’t have one…yet) because all the noise and stupidity of the day had gone well beyond the limits of my high sensitivity (yes, apparently, it’s a thing – complete mental overload, and boy have I got it) and I was quickly turning into an asshole. Hence, the desire to punch dicks.

So violent, right? Like, so much violence. All the violence. There was going to be blood. So much blood. All the blood.

Alright, so maybe I’ve been reading a bit too much TJ Klune lately…

Anyway, moving along.

So I was in a fully misanthropic state of mind, ready to go on a rage-blind rant, because my life, when I got a phone call.

Let me back up a bit, first.

A few months ago, the outside sales rep for one of our suppliers came in for one of his usual visits. He brought along a representative from one of their manufacturers. This representative (read: Completely Stereotypical Salesman) proceeded to give his little presentation, all the while spewing obligatory compliments and flashing cheesy grins like any Completely Stereotypical Salesman would do. Since I have a little ad propped up on the counter for my first book, BookCoverImageThe Prisoner, he of course had to filter into his sales pitch some gushing remarks about how wonderful it was that I was a writer and self-published and how proud I ought to be of myself. I’ve had lots of salesmen behave exactly like this when they come into the shop, and it always falls flat. No matter how much they gush, it’s obvious they don’t mean a word of it. So I did the polite smile-and-nod thing like I always do in this situation, just knowing he was spewing bullshit (shows what I know), and the conversation went on.

At the end, just as he’s about to walk out the door, he turns back and pulls out his wallet, saying he wants to support a budding author and buy my book.

Now, I was pretty sure he wasn’t actually going to read it, but…hells, a sale is a sale, so I sold him a book and he left.

Then, yesterday, completely out of the blue, I get a phone call.

You probably don’t remember me, but I was in there with Larry…bought your book…finally got a chance to read it…”

I was just starting to get a vague memory of who the guy was when he completely bowled me over.

I just…wow. This book … It’s absolutely amazing. Like, I couldn’t put it down. I just totally got all the relationships between the characters and the tragedy of the guy feeling like he failed his son and how the woman died and it all just worked and…”

Jaw, meet floor.

Please tell me there’s another book out because I have to have more.”

Jaw now permanently married to floor.

The phone call left me giddy and grinning and, quite frankly, a little bit stunned.

And it made me realize a few things.

One, I did exactly what I accuse so many other people of doing: categorizing a person into a particular box just because of a particular trait. I should have known better, and I was wrong.

Two, all that ranting stuff, in the long run, doesn’t really matter. Yeah, stupidity and ignorance and rudeness pisses me off, but life is too damned short to be angry. Why let myself get sucked into those moments when I’ve got moments like this to revel in? Why let myself get mired in despair over the fact that this country is never going to be free and people as a whole are never going to understand how things work (though I keep trying to educate them even when I know better), when I could be enjoying what life I have while I have it? Why dwell on all the negative when I’ve got so much beauty in my life because of fiction?

Three, it made me remember just how great a story The Prisoner is. Not trying to be an egomaniac when I say that, but just reflecting the reactions to it that I’ve gotten over the past year since its release. The response to it, though small so far, has been overwhelming in its intensity. People who read the story call me at work to tell me how much the book meant to them, how great the story was, how much they want more. And it reminds me just how much I loved that story, how much I enjoyed writing it, how many emotions it invoked as I wrote it. The Prisoner is a great story, and I’d forgotten that.

I think I’ve pushed myself so intently on always getting to the next step, the next book, that I’ve lost track of the depth of feeling I originally experienced when I started the series. I got that back somewhat with the Matchmakers trilogy, even if those books did get me completely off-track, but when I try to think of continuing the Shifting Isles series, I get bored, to be honest. I’d lost my love of the series because I’d lost track of the beauty of the stories that I first clung to when the series started.

MatchmakersThat probably has a lot to do with why I got so far off my writing schedule when the idea for Matchmakers came along. The stories in Matchmakers just called to me in a way that the main Shifting Isles series no longer was, because I’d lost touch with the feeling that The Prisoner gave me, the feeling that carried me through to S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (S.I. Book 2) and Return to Tanas (S.I. Book 3), but started to slip away with Broken (S.I. Book 4) and The Five-Hour Wife (S.I. Book 5).

Clearly, I need to dive back into The Prisoner, reconnect with it, and get that feeling back. No wonder I didn’t feel as excited about books 4 and 5 as I did with the first three, nor as excited as I felt about Matchmakers (hells, those three novels went from Idea to Published in just about five months, so if that doesn’t scream passion and excitement, I don’t know what does). Outside of Matchmakers, I lost track of the emotion, the story, the experience. I need to reacquaint myself with those stories and those characters, or the next books are going to suffer, and neither I nor my readers will be happy.

So the next book, Betrayal (Shifting Isles, Book 6) will probably be even later coming out than planned, even though I’ve already pushed back the release date, but I’m not going to rush it. I’m going to dive back into the world, and instead of rushed and forced, it’s going to be good. It’s going to get to people the way The Prisoner does.

Because The Prisoner is a great fucking story. And I need to remember that.

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Publishing, Shifting Isles

Broken — Now available!

41f+T193FWL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Finally! It’s done! Wow, you have no idea how glad I am to have this one behind me. After having Return to Tanas absolutely explode out of me in a matter of days, getting stuck over Broken for over a year was beyond frustrating.

But, it’s done. It’s published. It’s now out of my hair.

And it turned out a lot better than I originally thought it would. This story line went through so many changes along the way until it finally flowed well and everything tied together. It still amazes me how moving a key event from one plot point to another dramatically changes the pace and tone of the story.

With Broken, we take a slight change of course in the world of the Shifting Isles. From Benash’s story in The Prisoner to his daughter Saira’s story in S.P.I.R.I.T. Division to Saira’s son Graeden’s story in Return to Tanas, we now drop down one more generation, but the Crawfords are now just supporting characters, and the protagonist is Daivid Thaton, a grown orphan who crosses paths with the Crawfords, and not always in a good way.

Daivid has committed several thefts throughout his life, and gotten caught every time, so he pays the price over and over. On one hand, he doesn’t mind getting caught, because he hates being indebted to people, and he always intends to pay back his victims, but each time he gets caught, he accumulates a new mediation debt on top of the amount he stole, so he’s perpetually broke and quite often homeless.

I got to amuse myself a bit with this one in terms of free market justice. There are no police and courts like we have in the real world, so crimes are subject to a mediated agreement between criminal and victim. Because of his criminal record, no employer will hire Daivid, but he does have a job — only because it was offered to him by his victim as a means of paying off his debt with his own labor.

And Daivid hates the work, but he accepts it because he’s simply thankful to be employed at all, and thus able to not only work off his debt but also (mostly) keep a roof over his head. Why does he hate the work? Well, you’ll just have to read it and find out (keeping in mind that he agreed to the mediation terms, since the alternative meant no employment, certain homelessness, and an even greater mountain of debt that he would have more difficulty paying off — his choice based on his subjective scale of values).

(Thank you, Ludwig von Mises.)

And on top of his debts, Daivid is also trying to track down the parents that abandoned him, not to mention trying to get through the drama of his upcoming wedding.

But then an accident puts a stop to everything…

Broken is now available at CreateSpace.com, as well as on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats. I’ve also unlocked the Pinterest board for the book if anyone is interested in a few visuals for characters or settings (as well as a few interesting articles on up-and-coming technologies that are used or at least hinted at in the story). The book is also listed on Goodreads for those of you book junkies like me who like to keep track of what they read.

Happy reading!

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Inspiration, JA Wood, Publishing, Shifting Isles

A Year of Excess

Wow. 2015. What a year! And I can’t believe it’s about to end already. Where has the time gone? I swear it was just yesterday I was packing up 2014 files at work to store away, and now I’m about to do it all again.

As for writing? That’s been a rollercoaster all on its own. It certainly didn’t help that life was seriously getting in the way all the while…

 

Excessive Anxiety

To people who have never experienced shyness or social anxiety, it’s difficult to explain just how debilitating it can be to try to be social. Add in any other layers to this anxiety, and it can be downright earth-shattering. Even something as simple as going to the grocery store requires an internal pep talk, deep breathing, and a whole lot of hurry.

It can be terrifying to go through the day feeling like you have a spotlight trained on you at all times, when all you want it to just curl up in a dark corner in the safety of your own house and hide away from the world. You don’t want to be seen. You don’t want to be acknowledged. You definitely don’t want to have to interact with anyone for any reason whatsoever.

That’s not to say I’ve been a complete hermit. I did get up and go to work every day, but it was robotic. Habit. Familiar. Fifteen years of going to the same office every day made it easier to stick to that routine without having to talk myself into it each morning. I did go to the grocery store, because it was necessary. Other than that, I pretty much stayed home. Home was safe. Home was comfortable. Home was my own familiar territory where I could be myself and not have to constantly put on a mask for other people and pretend to be something I wasn’t.

Through all that, I could turn to my stories for solace and escape, except for one problem:

 

Excessive Writer’s Block

Gah! How completely frustrating! After having written Return to Tanas (Shifting Isles, Book 3) in pretty much a matter of weeks, it then took me over a year to complete the next book, Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4), which is due out at the end of this month. I struggled with this one to the point that I almost threw my hands up and quit. I just could not get the plot to come together. It was almost unbearable to reach the point at which I realized the story wasn’t working and demanded a complete rewrite.

So, I finally gave in and did a rewrite. Scrapped some 50,000 words (half a novel), and started over entirely from scratch.

Twice.

Then, thank the gods, it finally started to come together. Move a few key scenes to different plot points, and what a difference! The character arcs and plot progression finally flowed the way they were supposed to. After battling this one for over a year, Broken is finally and blessedly finished and about ready to be released. Now, of course, I’m way behind on the writing schedule I had set for myself early in the year, and though I know it’s not true, there’s a part of me that’s inclined to blame that at least partially on…

 

Excessive Work Hours

For the last year and a half or so, I’ve been working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week at my day job. No lunch breaks. I pretty much park myself at the desk and I’m there until closing, eating like a Hobbit (every two hours) between answering phones and writing up invoices. I’ve done this schedule before, and I’ll probably do it again, whether I like it or not.

Alright, so, it’s not quite as bad as I make it sound. It does pay the mortgage. It does pay the bills. It does give me a definite sense of security and familiarity. I don’t take lunch breaks mostly by choice — it’s just easier to be there all day rather than leave my customers waiting, easier to be there rather than coming back from a break and trying to play catch-up. Still, it’s exhausting. For a person who thrives on solitude and silence, being in a noisy environment all day long, especially with the constant drone of conversations layering over one another, it leaves me at the end of the day with a bone-deep ache for peace and quiet.

It also leaves me with little time to take care of things for myself. Even just trying to get to the dentist or the chiropractor can be a challenge. And one thing I’d been wanting to do all year, but hadn’t managed, was to go visit my old high school so I could take my English teacher, Ms. Mayfield, a copy of one of my books. Though I was always the math wiz in school, and never thought I’d pursue a hobby or a career in writing, Ms. Mayfield helped foster a deep and long-lasting love for philosophy and the written word. Finally, just the other day, I had an opportunity to stop by the school. I didn’t get to visit long, but to see her again was so cool. She has such a passion for words, something I’ll never forget. And to see the smile on her face when she had my book in her hands — that made all the struggles worth it. Ms. Mayfield is one of those teachers who makes you love school, who makes you excited to learn, and she’s definitely a person I’ll treasure forever.

But, after a bunch of hugs, smiles, laughs, and shared memories, I had to get back to work. The office was a disaster when I got there, and a bit overwhelming, but I managed to get everything righted and caught up and then finally take a breather when I found a few minutes of quiet.

One of the perks of working for the family is that I’m allowed to write in my downtime. When the phone gets quite and the flow of invoices slows down, I can fire up the laptop and knock out a few thousand words, if I’m lucky. I’d never be able to get away with that working anywhere else. And for a while I really thought I was going to be stuck having to find another job until we started getting…

 

Excessive Good News

Thanks to the very nasty divorce my mother put my father through a few years ago, the family business wound up with an obscene amount of debt in order to buy her out. We’ve been teetering on the edge of collapse because of that for so long, there wasn’t even a tunnel, let alone a light at the end. Every day I woke up thinking this would be it, that we’d lose everything, that I’d lose my house, that I’d lose my writing (alright, so I’m a bit dramatic). Then, this year, everything turned around.

Debt still there? Yes, but suddenly it’s more manageable. The bills are all paid. I don’t have this terrifying stack sitting beside my computer anymore. I sit at my desk and look around helplessly because I have nothing to do. No budgeting to plan. No bills to decide which to pay and which to let go another month. No stressing over how to shift things around to make sure my employees get paid first. The To-Pay slot in my filing rack is empty. It’s so weird! And after having put myself on voluntary cut pay for almost two years, I finally got my regular wage back, so I’m saving money again. No more fretting about losing my house, my sanctuary, my safe space where I can be alone with my characters and forget the world for a while.

But not having to stress over work meant that there was suddenly all this new space in my brain to worry about other things, which meant my anxiety spiked. Until, one day, I finally got angry, put my foot down, and decided to make a change. First discovering and then attacking the root of my anxiety meant I could finally see a possibility of life — not just existence but life — in my future. Which led to…

 

Excessive Happiness

Now, if you had asked me, any time prior to a few months back, if it were possible to be excessively happy, I’d have laughed in your face. Excessively happy? No such thing, right? What could possibly be so bad about being too happy? Was it even possible to be too happy?

Oh, yes. It’s possible. It’s so incredibly possible.

Once I decided to do something for me and started moving forward, the happiness started out exquisite. I hadn’t felt true happiness in so long that it was such a relief! Finally, I was starting to feel alive!

The happiness was so intense that it was almost erotic. I would lie on the couch on a day off work, just staring out the window with a big smile on my face, almost (and I never in my life thought I’d use this word in a serious manner) writhing with pleasure just from being so damned happy.

After a few days of this, it got to be overwhelming. I couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, giggling. After two weeks, it became such a burden that I found myself wishing for sadness or anger or even numbness just to have an emotional break!

Eventually the happiness tapered off to a sense of contentment. Things moved forward, I took some necessary steps, and I had high hopes for the future.

Then I wound up with some time off work to recover from an operation, and I went into it thinking this would be exactly what I needed. A nice little break from work, some quiet time at home, a chance to get caught up on my writing and editing. Ah, yes, I was definitely looking forward to it. What I was not expecting, however…

 

Excessive Boredom

Yeah, so…being at home, post-op, sounds like a nice relaxing time in theory, but reality was a bit different. I wasn’t in much pain, but I was so damned exhausted while my body healed that I couldn’t seem to get my brain out of a fog. I had eleven straight days of not having to go into the office to look forward to, and suddenly I had nothing to fill them with.

I couldn’t write. I tried. Oh, believe me, I tried. And I knew I had so much to do in order to get back on schedule, but I just could not get my brain to properly engage. So, I took a break from trying, and tried to read instead.

Couldn’t do that, either. I couldn’t focus.

I did ultimately manage to put on a show and zone out while watching it, which provided a bit of a distraction, but even that didn’t hold my attention for long. So I wound up on the couch, staring at the wall, bored out of my gorram mind.

At any other time, I could easily spend a Sunday lying on the couch with nothing but my thoughts and characters to keep me company. I love that. It’s my favorite way to spend a weekend. But during post-op recovery, my brain couldn’t even handle that. So…I got nothing done. Ugh. All that productivity I was looking forward to, and none of it came to fruition.

Eventually, things stared to go back to normal. I went back to work — on restriction, which sucks (no hauling around cases of antifreeze for a while, dang it) — and got back to my stories. I finished the last of the editing and formatting of Broken that I’d been putting off, and the writing for The Five-Hour Wife (Shifting Isles, Book 5) is going well, so I should be just barely on schedule for the posted release dates I’d set for myself. That is, if I can keep on track while my imagination is bombarding me with…

 

Excessive Book Ideas

I was nice and focused on the Shifting Isles series, sticking to my schedule and looking forward to hitting my target release dates. Yet, in the meantime, I keep getting ideas for more books.

Sometime earlier this year, the J.A. Wood series popped into my head, and hit me with such intensity that I knew I’d have to ultimately write it (a series of books set in the world of the Shifting Isles, but taking place prior to the events in that series). Based on the ideas I currently have for it, this new series will probably fall somewhere in the 5-6 books range.

So far, anyway.

And then I got an idea for another new series, also taking place in the world of the Shifting Isles, but pulling in stories of some minor characters you’ll meet in the Shifting Isles books and delving deeper into their own stories. This will be the Matchmaker series, and is currently sitting at a total of three books.

Hopefully it’ll stay that way. For a while, at least. In the meantime, I’ve got a book to release and another to finish, so, I had better get to work. Which means, of course…

 

Excessive Coffee

Mmmm….coffee…..

Inspiration, Lethean, Shifting Isles

Epiphany, Self-discovery, and Other Writerly Insights

10857995_1655437044682890_3877588118554457830_nThe more time I spend writing, the more I realize the truth in this statement. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned about myself because of the writing process, and I keep having these little flashes of insight that jump out and surprise me. Sometimes, they even shock the hell out of me.

I recall expressing this very sentiment once, a few years back, about how I was learning about my own philosophical and emotional growth by watching how a particular character grew and developed over the course of writing her story. My sister’s response was, “Yes, but you wrote it, right?”

Right. Exactly. Which probably meant it should have been a conscious thing. Yet, the more I think about my writing, the more I realize there are things coming out that I never even really knew were in my head, and the meaning I’ve been able to derive from those things has impacted me in various ways over the years. Some, trivially. Some, of vital importance.

Somewhere in the middle range of that would be about where I’d put the insight I got tonight while thinking about the latest manuscript I’m attempting to wrestle out of my brain. After three solid months of flying over my keyboard and producing three complete 90-100k word manuscripts, I came to a screeching halt when I tried to attack the fourth. That was in November, and I’ve pretty much been dragging the brake pedal ever since. Four months of almost zero progress. Ugh.

It drove me nuts. (Alright, that’s already too many automotive-related metaphors. Clearly I’ve been working in the family business too long).

I feel a massive void when I get writer’s block, like a piece of my soul is missing. It gets to the point that I want to tear my hair out and throw a fit because I can’t understand why. And, of course, I can’t just step back and let it go, give myself a breather, and come back to it later. I keep trying to force it, which, of course, never works.

So, I start looking for excuses or explanations:

-I’m not exercising enough, so maybe I need that to clear my head. Except, well, really, I’ve gotten along with my writing just fine without exercise before.

-I’ve been under a lot of stress at work for the last year. And that’s an understatement. But now that stress is (mostly) behind me, and has cleared a TON of space in my head. So it shouldn’t be an issue, right?

-I’m suffering a bit of a personal crisis, one that is difficult to talk about in the decidedly red zone in which I live. Hell, it’s the kind of thing that’s not even often accepted in blue circles; and, since I quite decidedly subscribe to neither of those colors, it leaves me feeling a bit stuck in the middle. But, surely, since my writing has always been an escape from real life, why should this one issue hold me back when others in the past have not?

-It’s this time of year. I always get stuck this time of year. Right? Maybe? No, maybe not.

-I’m too distracted by excitement over releasing The Prisoner at the end of the month. Yes, true, quite true, but even that shouldn’t really be stopping me from staying on schedule with the rest of the series.

Well, then, WHAT THE HELL COULD IT BE?!?!

Thus, we arrive at a moment, earlier this evening, whilst in the shower (and, really, why is it that those flashes of insight or plot inspiration always happen when one is covered in soap and nowhere near a pen or a keyboard?!?! *sigh*). All along, these last several months, I’ve been laughing at myself over the fact that I can see bits of myself in many of my main characters in this upcoming series, and was inwardly joking about which one most closely resembled me.

Then it hit me: The protagonist in the current manuscript is someone with whom I absolutely cannot identify whatsoever.

*blink dumbly*

*stare at the wall*

*bang head against said wall*

Bloody hells, why did I not realize this before?

Then, in a rush of tumbled thoughts that followed that insight, it struck me immediately, over the course of all my work, which books were easiest to write and which were most difficult.

Wanna guess which were most difficult?

Yeah, the ones with protagonists I just couldn’t get into, because it was unfamiliar territory.

And if I as the writer can’t identify with a character, how in seven hells am I going to make him or her convincing enough for a reader to identify with as well?

So, not counting the first few novels I wrote a few years back and which will never see the light of day, I started really thinking about my protagonists:

In The Lethean (Lethean Trilogy, Book 1), both Victoria and Landon are bookish and independent. *insert big glaring sign over my head that reads, “That’s me.”*

In Hale and Farewell (Lethean Trilogy, Book 3), Hale is part of a team out of necessity but is naturally an independent player. She likes to work alone. Yep. Me.

In The Prisoner (forthcoming work), Benash loves his routine. Even though he really hates it, he also loves it because it’s safe and reliable. Yep. Me for sure.

In S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (forthcoming work), Asenna is a neat freak, a bit OCD, and a perfectionist. Sounds familiar.

In Return to Tanas (forthcoming work), Graeden doesn’t like restrictions and regulations, especially when the prevent him from doing the right thing, or something he wants to do that would harm no one. As a libertarian / anarchist myself, that’s remarkably familiar territory.

In The Five-Hour Wife (forthcoming work), Jani is a reclusive writer with a side job that’s her true passion, and she idolizes talented individuals from a distance. Yeah, I don’t know anyone like that. *ahem*

And so on and so forth. Then I compare these to the two books so far that have given me the most trouble.

In Uncommonly Strong (Lethean Trilogy, Book 2), I had a remarkably difficult time writing Joseph and Sati’s story. Joseph I could semi-sorta relate to, but writing Sati was like pulling teeth. With tweezers instead of pliers.

Thomas and Spencer, on the other hand…

I loved writing that couple. I loved their quirks, their relationship, everything about them. Thomas and Spencer were so ridiculously easy to write.

For a while, I thought I was simply distracted by the dynamic of Thomas and Spencer because of a few personal quirks of my own, but tonight it hit me:

Thomas was the real hero of the story. Not Joseph. Thomas. The one who was always supporting Joseph and doing everything he could for the sake of Joseph’s happiness. The rock in the family, despite his own sufferings. The one who always put aside his needs and feelings in order to make sure everyone else was alright first. Thomas was the one in the hospital urging Joseph to hold on, and there was no way Joseph was going to survive that moment without his brother’s support.

Why the hell didn’t I write that story with Thomas and Spencer in the lead roles? Looking back, that would have made much more sense, and it all probably would have fallen together a lot more easily than it did.

Then I look at this current manuscript with which I’m struggling (Broken, Book 4 in the next series), and I realize that there is absolutely nothing about Daivid that feels familiar. Nothing with which I can identify.

No wonder writing him feels like pulling teeth all over again.

Clearly, I’m going to have to go through a few dozen more “What if” scenarios to see if I can’t tease out the right detail to make Daivid’s story work.

Because, if I can’t, then the rest of the series either falls apart or remains at a grinding halt.

And I am so ridiculously eager to get to the book and series that follow this one (gods, I must be insane, juggling all these story ideas in my head), that I simply must make this one work so that everything will tie neatly together and progress the story along.

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Inspiration

Take pains; be perfect

ad5fd8beb858b65c90fdcb0882b69842I found this image on Pinterest this morning, and though it has an element of humor to it, it also really strikes home on something that really bothers me about the modern world.

Where are all the men of the mind? Where are the people who actually care about what they do, and how they do it? Where are the people who believe in doing something, and in doing it well?

It’s so frustrating, on a daily basis, having to deal with people who have no competence whatsoever. I find myself doing other people’s jobs for them more often than not because they simply aren’t capable (or, even worse, just don’t care). It is such a rare and precious thing these days to encounter someone who actually does something well, and I tend to be almost worshipful of that.

So many of us stop at “just good enough” or the bare minimum. So few go the extra mile. So many do just enough to get by. So few take pains to do something completely and well.

Should we be perfect? Of course not. We’re human. That’s impossible. But there is an enormous difference between doing just enough and doing something with competence.

I’m guilty myself when it comes to certain things. I know that. I’ll be the first to admit it. But as I look out at the world, I find it becoming so rampant and all-encompassing that it’s utterly depressing.

Perhaps that’s another reason why I disappear into my stories, and idolize certain people. There’s no true craftsmanship anymore, except in rare occasions — and when I see it, I feel almost brought back to life.

As an example: I was walking around my local neighborhood one day, a few years ago, and passed by a house with the most exquisite concrete work I’d ever seen.

I know, a rather silly example, is it not? But completely true. Concrete, as a rule, doesn’t exactly inspire, but I was so struck by how beautifully this path and stairway was constructed that I actually had to stop and stare. I’d never seen anything like it done with such care and precision.

And the same can be applied to just about anything else we encounter on a daily basis. The saying “They just don’t make things like they used to” is painfully accurate. The same could also be said, not just for things, but for services. Actions and behaviors are done with minimal effort, just as things are made with minimal care and quality. But on that rare occasion when one finds something well-made, or a service well-provided, ah! Now there is something to treasure — perhaps even to celebrate.

Yet it remains such a rare thing, and the lack so disappointing. After spending an entire day in the company of the general public, as well as those who work in related industries and can’t seem to do their jobs to save their lives, at the end of the day I simply crave escape.

Thus, my stories. True, my characters aren’t perfect (indeed, they can’t be, or there would be no stories to tell), but they allow me to take a step back from a disappointing world and delve into something a little bit better, where I can encounter a phenomenal musician, or a dedicated security officer, or a precise scientist. For a few hours, I can turn my back on the dull, the mundane, and the “just good enough”, and immerse myself in the lives of people who truly care about what they do, and in doing it well.

This isn’t even restricted to the realm of work, either. The same can be said of relationships or just about any other aspect of life. I was watching Miss Austen Regrets last night, and one line in particular stood out to me: “My darling girl, this is the real world. The only way to get a man like Mr Darcy is to make him up.”

Whether it be within families or romantic relationships, people just don’t seem to take the time and care they once did. Everything is a matter of taking people for granted, or making assumptions, or not communicating, rather than really trying to be present for the people we claim to love. Mr Darcy seems not to exist in the real world because no one strives to be him — and by this, I don’t mean just someone like the character, but the general idea behind that sentence, in terms of all people: We have all these ideas of how families and relationships ought to be, but few of us seem to take pains to be those people for others, so neither can we find those people for ourselves.

Hence, again, I find people disappointing, and disappear into the lives of my characters, or the characters of others. Fiction gives the relief of being able to live, just for a moment, in the lives and with the people we’d wish to encounter in the real world, yet find sorely lacking. We devour works on brave adventurers and romantic heroes and daring achievers because we find those grand, inspirational, competent people missing from the real world.

So, yes, funny as it is, I wouldn’t even mind finding someone in the real world who was competent at adultery. At least it would be a competence! Something done well, if one can be said to commit adultery well. I suppose it’s possible, morality aside…

Alright, we won’t go there. Perhaps we should stick to competence in zoology. Anyway, moving along…

So, please, for the love of all that is holy, whatever you do — in your work, your studies, your relationships, your hobbies — take pains, and do it well. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but at least go a step beyond.

And for those who show competence, go the extra mile, and do things well, you have my eternal thanks and adoration. I would actually love to meet you and shake your hand.

In the meantime, I suppose it’s back into my fictional world I go. I have a date with a man who is trying to escape from prison.

 

 

[Post title is from Act I, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream]

Lethean

Cheers to a Bad Review

Yes, you read that right. I’m actually pleased I got a bad review (note this particular review isn’t something someone posted publicly but sent to me personally after reading my first book, The Lethean).

Since we live in the real world, a bad review was bound to happen. It’s just a simple fact of life.

You can’t please everyone.

And that’s a good thing! You’re not supposed to please everyone. If you did, there’d be something radically wrong with the very fabric of reality and human nature. Human beings are unique individuals — no two alike — so we’re not all supposed to like the same things. We’re not all supposed to fall into the same categories. We’re not all supposed to agree. And that, my friends, is a beautiful truth.

This, of course, is the foundation of libertarian / anarchist ideology, to which I wholeheartedly subscribe. It not only accepts but embraces the fact that each human being is a unique creature with his own wants, needs, likes, and desires. Any other philosophy attempts to squeeze individuals into confining categories that don’t apply at all times and places, lumping people together under labels that aren’t truly accurate.

Thus, I embrace the fact that this particular reviewer did not like my book. That’s a good thing. I don’t want everyone to like it. Besides the fact that, if I did want everyone to like it, I’d only wind up sorely disappointed, I would also be guilty of denying human nature and my own individuality. I don’t want everyone to like the same things I do. I don’t want everyone to be just like me. I want to be myself, and no one else needs to be that but me.

Now, is that to say a bad review didn’t sting? Sure it did, on some level, but for that matter it also provided a good learning experience. Some of what this reviewer complained about told me that he didn’t give it quite as close a reading as I might have liked, but he also gave me some truly helpful feedback that I can put to good use. A weakness of mine was pointed out that I can now learn from and correct in my later works, and this will only help me build up my tool chest when it comes to crafting a good story. Thus, I am thankful for the reviewer’s constructive criticism.

So cheers to the (constructive) bad review! Now I’m off to continue working on the next series, and with every little bit I learn and discover, the better these stories grow in my mind. I can’t wait to get them down on paper!

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Lethean, Publishing, Teasers and Excerpts

Hale and … Pause

Hale and FarewellLook at this beauty! Another wonderful cover by my dear NFD. So dark, and grim, and dystopian — just right for the final installment of the Lethean Trilogy, Hale and Farewell, which takes place in a futuristic dystopian United States (or, at least, what’s left of it).

Right now, the proof is slowly making its way to my mailbox, and the book is scheduled to be released for sale on June 29th, the second anniversary of the day I started writing The Lethean.

Once again, I must extend my sincerest thanks to author Lisa Clark O’Neill for all her guidance and encouragement, but also her suggestion that I serialize The Lethean, which was originally intended to be a standalone novel. I find it amusing that, of all three books in the trilogy, Hale and Farewell wound up being my favorite by far, considering I — qua reader — absolutely devour all things Regency England (hence the setting of The Lethean) and actively avoid all things dystopian.

Took me by surprise, but I couldn’t be happier. I absolutely love Hale and Farewell.

Well, I suppose I could be happier. I realize now — too late, of course — that I made a mistake with Uncommonly Strong, the second book in the trilogy. I got overeager, wanting to plow through releasing these books, mostly because I was far too excited to get the third book out, that I rushed the second. It’s not perfect; it lacks a certain proper pacing; it has some unnecessary scenes; it’ll never get rave reviews…

Yet, in a way, that’s okay. It was a good learning experience, and now I know what not to do from now on. In the meantime, I’m studying story craft (something I obviously should have delved into much more deeply before I even thought about publishing in the first place) and using it to fine-tune my upcoming works.

Right now my computer is bursting with files in progress. I’ve got a 14-part fantasy series that will explore a variety of themes, people, and ideas: oppressive government (no surprise there), murder, the sanctity of the mind, economics, magic, addictions, rape, technology, travel, war, love and marriage, GLBT issues, philosophy, and much more. I’m hoping to have the first one ready to go by the end of the year, but we’ll see how that goes, considering there’s another standalone project I also have in the works: the one book that I really must write, a massive reworking of the book that got me started writing in the first place, five years ago now.

Goodness, how time flies! Seems like just yesterday…

That book, in particular, will probably be a while in coming. I’m doing some massive outlining and trying to make sure it all weaves together properly before I even think about tackling a single line of it, let alone a chapter. Thus, in the meantime, a pause in releasing new books.

But for now: Coming soon! Hale and Farewell.

Happy reading!

Here, have a teaser:

She took one step forward, putting herself one step closer to the Tower than to the Underground, and felt her chin come up, her spine straighten, and her shoulders square. That single step was the most difficult thing she’d ever done in her life, but she knew in the very depths of her soul that it was right.

Chances were great that she would lose everything she wanted, but it would be worth it. Better to die with honor and truth than to live with shame and a lie.

She clenched her hands into fists. The choice was made.

‘Sleep well, Marcus Thane. Tonight will be your last…’

Inspiration, Publishing

Write To Live

A running theme in several conversations I’ve had lately is the overabundance of people who work at jobs they hate (but pay the bills) and would rather be working at something they love (but likely wouldn’t be able to make a living that way).

I know this very intimately.

When I first started working at the family auto repair shop (6 June 2000; I was 16 at the time), I absolutely loved my job. Loved it. I was excited for the new skills, the new responsibilities, the chance to prove myself and earn an income. As an introvert, I wasn’t too keen on the constant interaction with the general public, but as time went on I got to become acquainted with these people, learn their stories, share their hopes and woes — all the little things that get discussed in and around the process of writing up repair orders.

Time passed, and the more I continued at this job, the more I became frightfully aware of the big, looming monster always hiding in the shadowy corners of the room. The more I learned, and the more responsibilities I was given, the more I discovered all of the ever-present negative sides to my employment:

Taxes. Regulation. Taxes. Fees. Restrictions. More regulations. And did I mention taxes?

And, over time, these things only got worse. And worse. And worse.

Coming up on fourteen years at this job, I’m so completely burned-out and disgusted by the limitations that I find myself now operating on autopilot rather than being eager to come in to the office everyday. From the moment I walk in the door to the moment I leave, my coworkers and I are so hemmed-in by financial burdens (due to taxes, licenses, fees, etc.) and legal burdens (having to word a repair order just so, having to store items just so, having to constantly fill out any number of reports and forms for the State, etc.) that it just makes work a burden rather than a pleasure.

I now literally despise my job.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not ungrateful. I am very thankful to have a job. I know a lot of people today are out of work and would probably be eager to take my place. I know that, very well. I am exceedingly thankful for being employed and being able to (just barely) pay the mortgage that keeps my sanctuary intact. I am also exceedingly grateful that the conditions of my employment are such that I am permitted to write in my downtime. Still, because of all the governmental interference into my workplace, I just can’t stand being here.

Thus, writing — my love, my passion — is my solace, and keeps me sane when my paid work leaves me feeling empty and meaningless.

And it seems as though a lot of people are in the same boat. Work is not exciting and fulfilling. It’s no longer a chance to learn and grow. It’s just a paycheck — nothing more.

I look back on my high school years and recall all the constant pressure from teachers and counselors to figure out a career path, to determine a passion, to find a direction in life. Back then, I had absolutely no passions whatsoever. I had not a single clue what I wanted to do with my life. I had no direction, no desires, no goals except to go to college and continue getting straight A’s — but in what field, I couldn’t even begin to decide. Thus, like many of my peers, I took a job that paid the bills and kept waiting for inspiration to hit.

And waiting.

And waiting.

And still nothing struck me. I just kept going to work everyday, and waiting for a passion to strike me. My job didn’t inspire any ideas, nor did college. I found myself mechanically wandering through existence — not life, but mere existence — and wondering what was the point of it all.

Then came the best and worst thing to ever happen in my life: I was raped.

I know, right now you’re thinking, “Best and worst?!” Let me explain.

Obviously, rape is traumatic — in that sense, literally the worst thing that had ever happened in my life. Immediately after it happened, I slipped into an even more mindless existence, turning into an emotionless robot that simply went through the motions of working and feeding and bathing, but not actually feeling anything or engaging in life. I could go on for hours about the aftermath, though it’s not particularly relevant here (though, of course, I am writing a book about it all — surprise, surprise). The important part, though, is why this traumatic evil turned into the best thing in my life.

When medication and psychotherapy failed me, I sat down one evening and started writing about what happened to me. I’d never been prone to writing in journals or doing anything with the written word other than for school assignments, but once I got that first page down, describing the most vivid memory I had of being raped, suddenly I found that I couldn’t stop.

The words just wouldn’t stop coming.

In five weeks, I had a 300-page novel on my hands, and a couple months after that, I had a 600-page sequel, and a few hundred odd pages of scraps of ideas for a third. Then came ideas for another book, and another, and another, and before I knew it, I wound up with something like twenty novel ideas stored on my computer. The high school math wiz had suddenly turned into a wordsmith.

And I was happy. I’d found my passion. I’d found my purpose. Without even the slightest inkling of ever actually publishing anything, I kept writing, and kept getting story ideas. I just couldn’t stop.

Writing brought me back to life, gave me something to love, and gave me a reason to live. It’s all I want to do, and though it’ll probably never be an income source sufficient to pay the bills, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. In and around doing my day job, my mind is always on my stories, working out plot lines and figuring out characters. It’s darn near all I think about in the morning while I’m getting ready for work, and all I think about in the evenings while I’m exercising or having dinner. When I’m not reading someone else’s book, you can be sure my mind is on one of my own.

I feel free, and alive, and whole when I’m writing. The day job will have to stay, since I still have to pay the bills, but now I’ve got something more, something worthwhile.

I love to write. And I write to live.

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Inspiration, Lethean, News, Publishing, Teasers and Excerpts

Round Two (Teaser Included!)

Uncommonly StrongUncommonly Strong (Lethean Trilogy, Book II) is finally here!

I know, I just put out Book I less than two months ago, so it’s odd to say finally in this case, but considering how much I had to fight the plot in this book, finally feels very apropos.

Whereas The Lethean (Book I) and Hale and Farewell (Book III) seemed to practically write themselves, Book II gave me a world of trouble. There were huge chunks that I tore out and rewrote several times before I became even just content with the story, and finally got it to a point where I was happy with it. It could still probably use some improvement — what couldn’t? — but as a reader, I quite enjoy it now, particularly for the characters.

Though I do rather adore Landon and Victoria from Book I, I had a little more fun with the personalities of the characters in Book II. Sati is always making lighthearted comments that no one finds funny (I don’t know anyone like that…*ahem*…); Joseph is all about the love of his family, even when they drive him crazy (cue plugging his ears when Thomas and Spencer start in on their openly intimate talk); Thomas is Joseph’s three-minute-older twin brother, the stylish, suave one who is the most open-minded and often the voice of reason, though he does have his dark side, too; and Thomas’s partner, Spencer, who is pretty much the adult kid in the family, always smiling and enjoying life.

As a bonus, Uncommonly Strong includes a short story at the end, partly inspired by the 2013 documentary Bridegroom. The overall theme of the Lethean trilogy is that love is love, despite what society or the law may have to say, and after watching that film, it triggered some inspiration to delve a little more deeply into the characters of Thomas and Spencer. In general, though, it’s not just about any particular minority rights, so much as general human rights. In The Lethean, Landon and Victoria come from vastly different social circles, and their relationship would have been at least frowned upon if not forbidden in Regency England. In Uncommonly Strong, Thomas and Spencer being a gay couple certainly has its related persecution — and even Sati and Joseph’s relationship is questioned by Sati’s very religious foster family. In Hale and Farewell…well, I won’t spoil it. That one is not as obvious a forbidden romance but the element does come into play.

I am so thankful that author Lisa Clark O’Neill suggested serializing The Lethean. It was originally meant to be a standalone novel, but after she mentioned the possibility of turning it into a series, I started looking more into certain aspects of the Lethean lifestyle and culture and wondered how those aspects would play into different situations. Thus, Books II and III came to life — and I’m so glad they did, because I absolutely love Book III and can’t wait to get to that one! It’s already written, just waiting for a few final rounds of editing, and should be available in July.

By the way, Lisa has a new novel out as of yesterday. Be sure to check it out here. And if you haven’t come across her Southern Comfort series, I highly recommend it.

And, of course, I must once again tip my hat to the beautiful and talented Natalie Fawn Danelishen for her work on the cover art.

So, without further ado, here is Chapter 1 from Uncommonly Strong. Enjoy!

 

Chapter 1

Are you ready?”

Joseph Hale put the question to his twin brother, Thomas, as they stood side-by-side at the mirror in the immaculate men’s bathroom on the twenty-third floor of Haven Marketing. Just down the hall was the conference room where they were scheduled to present a new ad campaign, and they had ducked into the bathroom to check their teeth and straighten their ties before meeting the new client.

The brothers were nearly indistinguishable. They had the same straight nose, the same diamond chin with the same short boxed beard, the same broad shoulders, and even the same steel grey eyes. Other than the fact that Joseph favored pinstripe grey suits, while his brother preferred his signature taupe, the only way to tell them apart was that Joseph’s hair was so dark it was almost black, while Thomas’s was closer to chestnut brown. Even then, people still mixed them up – and once, back in high school, when Thomas had dyed his hair to match that of his three-minute-younger brother, not even their own mother could tell them apart without reading them by touch.

I’m always ready.” Thomas grinned confidently, and pulled out a comb to run through his hair.

Joseph laughed. “You’re not ready.”

Thomas pocketed the comb with a sigh, rolled his eyes, and turned to face his brother, grabbing Joseph around the back of the neck and bringing their foreheads together.

Joseph’s laugh vanished as he and his twin turned serious – head-to-head, eyes closed – and he realized he was more anxious about the presentation than he wanted to admit. Without thinking about it, his hand copied that of his brother, and they stood there for a long moment, clasping one another’s necks while they shared encouraging thoughts through the touch of their foreheads.

It was a habit that had developed from childhood, an unspoken ritual that they never failed to perform, especially when something important was about to occur. They tried to do it where they wouldn’t be seen, strange as it must look for two men to stand so close and so silent for so long, and hoped that if anyone ever did witness it, they could chalk it up to nothing more than a twin bond.

Yet, it was so much more.

Thomas focused all his thought on the celebratory drinks they would share once they succeeded in their presentation; and Joseph, reading his brother’s thought, grinned.

* * *

Peter Jenkins, President and CEO of Haven Marketing, rarely had a chance to sit in on a campaign pitch – and seldom visited the San Francisco office – but when it came to a potential client the size of Carson Electronics, he certainly couldn’t afford not to be present.

Especially,” he muttered to himself, “not after two of my best teams have failed.”

He watched the Hale twins stroll down the hallway toward him, looking composed and confident. At least, he certainly hoped they were confident. Carson’s Board of Directors were being extremely gracious coming for a third presentation, and though circumstances weren’t exactly dire, Jenkins wanted the security of this contract in order to help Haven weather the shaky economy.

Jenkins stuffed his hands into his pockets and tried to swallow his nerves, wondering if the Hales’ presentation would be accepted where the others had not been.

The first two teams had taken radically different approaches to the sample television spots they’d made for the Carson Board. One was raucous and colorful, the other pale and muted. The only similarity between the two presentations had been the dull monotones of the team leaders’ voices.

Both presentations had been utter failures.

Jenkins had asked the Hale brothers to rehearse their pitch for him the day before. The ad itself took rather a middle ground between the two failed presentations, being neither too boisterous nor too quiet. It was a good, professional product, but what struck him most were the brothers themselves. Whereas the other two teams had been so businesslike as to be almost boring, the Hales had given an energetic, masculine introduction to their ad. Jenkins hoped this more impressive lead-in would be what it took to capture the attention of Daniel Carson – a man who looked like he belonged in a plaid shirt with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder rather than in a business suit with a pen in his hand.

Good morning, Mr. Jenkins,” the twins said in their annoyingly perfect synchronicity.

Good morning, good morning,” he responded, a little too gruffly, shaking their hands in turn. “Are you boys ready for this?”

Yes, sir, Mr. Jenkins,” the light-haired one responded. Joseph? Or Thomas? He wasn’t quite sure and was too anxious to bother asking.

You both know how much we could use this contract,” he said sternly, and watched them both nod in reply. “I like your presentation, and I’ve heard good things about you from your department head, so if you can pull this off – if you can succeed where Edwards’s and Benson’s teams failed – it’ll mean tremendous promotions for you both.”

We’re ready, Mr. Jenkins.”

We won’t let you down, sir.”

Jenkins looked from one to the other, opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a secretary coming to an abrupt stop at his side, nervously clutching a binder to her chest.

Mr. Jenkins,” she said quietly, “the Carsons are here. I’ve just shown them into the conference room.”

Jenkins swallowed and forced on a smile. “Thank you, Tina. That’ll be all.”

The secretary nodded and hurried off, while Jenkins spun on his heel and led the way to the conference room, hearing the light footfalls of the twins behind him.

* * *

The first handshake was always the most stressful part of meeting a new client. Joseph knew that both he and Thomas were steeling themselves for the physical contact that would give them the competitive edge they needed – or would reveal their secret.

Upon Mr. Jenkins’s introduction, Joseph and his brother took turns shaking hands with Daniel Carson himself, and both twins inwardly sighed with relief when they realized their secret was safe. Then it was Mr. Carson’s turn to introduce his associates: a wiry assistant named Brian and a voluptuous blonde named Gertrude. Their handshakes with Gertrude lingered ever so slightly, and as the Carson team took their seats, Joseph and his twin shared a look of understanding.

* * *

Jenkins was already irritated. He didn’t think anyone else could tell, but he had seen the extended handshakes the Hale twins had shared with the woman, and his first thought was that his boys no longer had their focus on the task at hand. He had to admit, Gertrude was quite the distraction, and he realized he was already bracing himself for another utter failure.

Across the room, at the foot of the conference table, he saw the twins share a brief look, and the almost imperceptible nod one gave the other right before they both turned their attention to the Carson representatives.

Jenkins clenched his fists in his lap, waiting for the rugged, manly presentation he’d seen rehearsed the day before, and felt his jaw drop when he began to witness something entirely different.

Whereas, the day before, the twins had been the very image of a boys’ night out – an approach that Jenkins was sure would work on rugged Mr. Carson – they had now slipped into entirely different mannerisms. Their movements were fluid instead of rigid, their voices soft instead of bold. The words were precisely the same as they’d been during their rehearsal, but what Jenkins saw now was something that bordered on sensual.

To further his dismay, he saw that, while certainly not ignoring Mr. Carson, the twins were directing their attention and presentation primarily toward the woman.

Carson Electronics,” Thomas wrapped up, giving the woman a look that could only be described as smoldering while he delivered the tag line: “One step ahead.”

Jenkins felt himself turning red with anger. He was going to throw both of these boys out on the street as soon as they received their certain rejection from the Carson team.

Very impressive, Mr. Hale, and Mr. Hale.” Daniel Carson nodded to each of the twins after a brief, whispered conversation with the woman at his side. “I just have one question for you. No one has ever seen through our farce before. How did you know that Gertrude has the final say?”

Jenkins choked on a “What?” as his jaw dropped again, and he saw the twins share a look, grinning with satisfaction.

* * *

Alright, explain to me what just happened in there!”

Joseph and his brother, along with Mr. Jenkins, had just said goodbye to the Carson team – after signing a six-figure advertising contract – and now the twins braced themselves as the boss was finally free to drop his forced calm and explode.

Just like they explained, sir,” Joseph said. “Gertrude is actually Gertrude Carson, who started the company, but no one has ever taken her seriously because she’s a woman, so on paper she’s only V.P. while she lets her cousin Daniel appear as acting President.”

Yes, yes, I heard all that.” Mr. Jenkins waved his hands in frustration. “What I want to know is how you two knew that! And you didn’t say a word about it yesterday! When you started changing your presentation, I thought I was going to have a heart attack!”

We didn’t know it yesterday, sir,” Thomas added respectfully. “We only just…realized it when we met them today.”

Yes, but…how?”

Joseph looked at his brother, who shrugged, so he simply turned a smile on his boss and said, “Call it a hunch.”

* * *

At their favorite downtown bar, Joseph and his twin squeezed through the crush of bodies and took a booth in a relatively quiet corner. In the heat of the room, and free from contact with other people, Thomas gladly divested himself of his jacket, lounging comfortably in a black polo shirt and khaki slacks, with an off-white fedora tilted low over his brow. Joseph unbuttoned the cuffs of his blue-and-white striped dress shirt and rolled the sleeves up to his elbows.

A waitress took their drink orders, and once the brothers were alone again, Thomas pulled a gold ring from his pocket and slid it onto his left ring finger. Though Joseph was used to the action by now, he still couldn’t fathom how his brother could stand not to wear his ring at all times. Joseph knew that, when he finally met his own partner someday, he would never want to see his own ring off his hand. At least Thomas’s partner was aware of the behavior and didn’t seem to mind one bit.

A few minutes later, the brothers were enjoying their respective bourbon and scotch, while a martini sat at Thomas’s elbow, waiting for its drinker.

They sipped in silence, watching the crowds around the pool tables and on the small dance floor, one brother occasionally resting a hand on the other’s arm to silently share a thought. Whereas the cacophony of thoughts that could be picked up from direct contact with such a crowd could be burdensome, silent contact with one another was a source of amusement. The brothers, being what they were, could watch people and make comments about them without uttering a single audible word.

Joseph rested his elbows on the table while Thomas slouched back, tugging the fedora down lower over his eyes. Joseph could see his older brother smiling to himself as he sipped his drink, quietly enjoying their accomplishment of the day.

Across the room, Joseph spotted a young man wearing skinny jeans, a pink plaid button-up T-shirt, and a grey scarf. Blond curls peeked out from beneath a black slouch beanie, and a broad smile lit up the man’s freshly shaved face as he squeezed through the crowd, walking with a slight limp.

Joseph set down his drink and rested a hand on Thomas’s arm, making him grin.

You don’t need to tell me he’s coming.” Thomas laughed, sitting up straight and pushing his hat back with an index finger to the underside of the brim. “I can feel him, you know.”

Joseph shrugged and laughed. “Force of habit.”

Hi boys!” The newcomer giggled, blowing Joseph a kiss before sitting down right beside Thomas. “Sorry I’m late–”

His words cut off as Thomas gathered him up in his arms and gave him a long, deep kiss.

Joseph rolled his eyes. “Tom, Spencer, really? Can’t you guys wait until you get home?”

The couple ignored him, kissing one another hungrily, so Joseph focused on his drink and tried not to laugh.

Mmmm, I missed you too,” Spencer managed to get out when Thomas stopped for a breath. “What was that for?”

We had a really good day,” Thomas murmured, and kissed him again.

Guys, come on!” Joseph laughed.

Thomas sighed and nodded toward his brother. “We really need to find him his partner.”

Spencer gave Joseph a pointed look, then made a show of kissing Thomas back before straightening himself on the bench and resting his head on his partner’s shoulder.

Really, Joseph,” Spencer said, “you just don’t understand.”

I just thought we were celebrating, that’s all.”

And what do you think we were just doing?” Spencer grinned childishly. “What are we celebrating, anyway?”

Spencer started sipping at the martini while the twins recounted their successful presentation, and he had to look back and forth between the two as they habitually finished one another’s sentences.

When they were finished, Spencer sat forward and held up his hands, saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute! You guys read your clients? Again? Isn’t that cheating?”

How so?” Thomas asked.

Well…doesn’t that give you an unfair advantage, being able to read their thoughts?”

Not necessarily,” Thomas said. “An advantage, sure, but–”

“–it’s no different from any other ‘advantage’ a person could conceivably have–” Joseph continued.

“–like some people are naturally better at math–”

“–and some at making speeches–”

“–and some at engineering–”

“–or sports–”

“–or art–”

“–and they couldn’t help being born the way they were–”

“–and neither could we help being born Lethean–”

“–so we just use what we have to work with, that’s all.”

Spencer put a finger to his lips and loudly shushed them, then shook his head, dizzy from the conversation.

Thomas looked slightly chagrined at having said the word aloud, but as the trio glanced around, no one seemed to have taken any notice of their conversation, so they each heaved a sigh of relief. There were very few of their kind left in the world, but maintaining the secret of their Lethean heritage was still considered a cardinal virtue.

They knew perfectly well that, should their abilities ever be made public, they could be in for a world of trouble.

It’s not like we asked to be born this way,” Thomas continued, lowering his voice. “It just simply happened, so like Joseph said, we use what we’ve got.”

Right. It’s not like you’d see a world-famous athlete give up his ability just because of some supposed ‘unfair’ advantage over, say, someone who’s disabled,” Joseph added, to which Spencer had to nod in agreement.

Besides–” Thomas grinned, putting an arm around his partner. “I wouldn’t give it up for all the money in the world. I hear the sex isn’t as great for regular humans.”

Pfff, speak for yourself.” Spencer laughed. “I’d still be great in bed, even if I were only human.”

Thomas looked at his brother and shrugged. “He’s got a point there.”

Mmmm, you know it–”

Guys! Really?” Joseph interrupted, rolling his eyes.

Spencer laughed and jabbed his partner in the ribs. “You know what we should do? As soon as we get a chance for a vacation, we should take your brother traveling to find his partner. Get him all nice and paired up and then he’ll finally understand what he’s been missing, and stop pestering us about our pillow talk.”

You know, that’s not a bad idea.” Thomas grinned and turned to his twin. “How about it, Joe? Where is she, do you think?”

She?” Spencer raised an eyebrow, and laughed deviously. “What if it’s a he?”

Joseph looked down at the empty glass between his hands, and quietly responded, “No, she. I’m not sure how, but I can tell it’s a woman. And she’s very far away. Very faint. Somewhere east, but…”

He felt the other two watching him, but didn’t take his eyes off his glass. After a moment, Thomas reached over and rested a hand on his shoulder, asking seriously, “Joe, what’s wrong?”

Joseph glanced up at his twin and back down at his hands, sighing. “She’s in pain, and always so tired. It’s very faint but I can always feel it there. She’s very weak, and I can feel her fear. I wish I could understand it, but she’s too far away.”

Have you tried sending her positive feelings?” Spencer asked, serious for a change. “I know that helped when Tom did that for me. Remember? When we were in the hospital and–”

Thomas visibly shuddered. “Ugh, don’t remind me,” he said, automatically reaching down to massage Spencer’s bad leg.

Have you tried that, Joe?” Spencer asked again.

Joseph nodded. “Every day. I can’t tell if she feels it, though. She’s just…ugh, by Lethe, she’s just too far away.”

Well, I think–” Spencer began, but got interrupted when another man approached their table.

Tom! Joe!” the man called, and Joseph looked up to see their coworker, Brad Edwards. “I hear you got the Carson contract. Congratulations.”

Joseph shook his offered hand, surprised at the truth and sincerity in the man’s voice, considering Brad’s was one of the Carson pitches that had failed.

Thank you,” Joseph replied while Brad perched on the edge of the bench next to him.

No hard feelings?” Thomas joked while he reached across the table to shake Brad’s hand.

Nah.” Brad waved it off. “I knew our pitch was crap. But what could I do? The team insisted it was good enough, but it didn’t seem right to me, and I couldn’t very well go against four other people who agreed with each other, now, could I?”

Why not?” Thomas asked. “If you know in your gut that something isn’t right, why would you play along? Why would you let others decide for you?”

Brad shrugged. “Just easier that way.”

Joseph stifled a laugh, thinking of all the times he and his twin had bickered over certain ad concepts, neither one backing down without good reason. He could never understand how people like Brad would simply bow down to the opinions of others.

Looking over at his twin, he figured Thomas was probably thinking the same thing.

A low whistle distracted him out of his thoughts, and he heard Brad say, “Would you get a load of those legs! Look, Joe, I think they’re checking us out.”

Joseph felt his twin kick him under the table, and turned to follow Brad’s gaze. Leaning against the bar were two women who looked as though they’d just stepped off a magazine cover, complete with slender legs, short skirts, and overflowing low-cut tops.

Brad smacked him on the arm. “Come on, Joe.”

No, thank you.”

Brad swung around to face him with an incredulous look. “Are you crazy? They’re looking right at us and you’re going to pass that up?”

Joseph shrugged and spun his empty glass around on the table.

Dude, tell me you’re joking.”

In response, Joseph just shook his head.

What, are you gay or something?” Brad asked, then a horrified look came over his face. “Shit. Sorry, Tom. No offense.”

Thomas held up a hand like he was waving off the comment. “None taken.”

You’re really not interested?” Brad asked again, and Joseph shook his head. “Christ Almighty, man. Very well. Suit yourself.”

With that, Brad got up and approached the bar alone, and Thomas kicked his twin under the table again.

What?”

You’re supposed to at least pretend,” his twin hissed, and Spencer nodded along beside him. “You don’t want another Mike Callahan incident, do you?”

Joseph grimaced, remembering the fight with Mike all those years ago. “No,” he answered. “But do you have any idea how hard it is to fake interest in a human?”

Thomas grinned. “Oh, sure. It’s hysterical.” He shared a look with his partner and the two burst out laughing.

Did I miss something?” Joseph asked.

When Thomas finally got his laughter under control, he said, “Spencer dragged me to this gay bar one night, a couple months back, even though he knows I hate dancing.” He paused and shot his partner a look, but Spencer just grinned back at him. Thomas cleared his throat and continued, “As a joke, he asked me to try dancing with other men. I couldn’t keep a straight face for the life of me, and this one guy was absolutely furious that he couldn’t get me hard.”

Ha!” Spencer laughed. “I almost forgot about that. The guy with a tattoo on the back of his hand, right? Oh, the look on his face was priceless.”

Joseph cut through their laughter, asking, “So you couldn’t do it for one hour, yet you expect me to keep up the charade day after day?”

Well, until you find your partner, Joseph, I–”

I don’t like pretending to be something I’m not,” Joseph interrupted him, and the mirth across the table evaporated.

Thomas reached over and squeezed his hand. “You’re right, Joe. I’m sorry. I just don’t want to see you have to go through another incident like–”

He was cut off when Spencer grabbed his arm, gasping, “Ah! Tom, it’s our song. Come on, let’s dance!”

Spencer jumped up from the booth, tugging on Thomas’s hand, while his partner complained, “Did I not just remind you – again – that I hate dancing? And besides, you’re only going to aggravate your leg.”

Pfff, like you don’t enjoy helping me with my stretches.” He tugged on Thomas’s hand again. “Thomas, darling, dearest, mera pyaar, mon amour.” He pouted. “Please?”

Thomas turned to his brother and sighed. “The things I do for love.”

Spencer grinned and seemed to drag Thomas to the dance floor, but once there, Joseph could tell that his brother was happy right where he was, in the arms of the person he loved more than anyone else in the entire world.

In the arms of the person who carried the other half of his soul.