Something has to give. I’m just not sure what yet.
I’m in New York City for the next two months, teaching a marketing course at School of Visual Arts. While I’m here, I’m writing the next Shirley Link. The final draft will be done by the end of the day! I’m excited by that in ways I’ve never felt before. This Shirley adventure has been the toughest one to craft yet. By far. Part of it is that I’ve had the idea for the mystery for a long time. That meant wrestling with age-old preconceptions about how the clues would be set up, how the players would respond to them and how they’d be revealed. But once I sat down to write the book, well, none of those ideas lasted a single draft. Still, with the help of my beta readers, I’ve worked through it and I think this may be my new favorite Shirley Link book! Stay tuned for launch dates and peeks at artwork soon ;-)
Then there’s The Camelot Kids: Book Two. I found myself at 40k words before I knew it, so I know the book is primed and ready to emerge. I’ve been getting up at 5:30am every morning to work on it and that’s worked well on a number of fronts. There’s something about writing Fantasy (that’s heavy in magic) at the start of the day when the world is quiet. Magic is more present when our lives are still. But to tap it means pushing aside all concerns. It means assuring The Stress that it can come out in a little bit and do its thing. It means gently nudging strong insecurities back into whatever caves they spring from. While the story is all over the place right now, I’m excited to release the ending to a story that’s been dancing around my head for ten years.
And then there’s Atticus. The book died last night. I mean it was dead. Flatlined. It had frustrated me one too many times. I went to sleep in despair. My good idea had no legs. It had nowhere to go. It gasped for oxygen and I tried to give it some but it wasn’t enough. Then, this morning, its eyes popped open and it breathed in a lungful of air of its own making. So, on its own, it’s showed me a way forward. Now I’m more excited than ever about the story, though I also see that it’s bigger than I initially assumed.
Excited. Terrified. Tired. Pounding on three books will do that to a guy. So wish me luck. I’m headed into the final pass on Shirley Link & The Party Poopers and then I’ll be outlining the next Shirley! Yeah, you know that title I gave this post? The one that advises against writing three books at once? Well, I may be addicted to the feeling so, uh, do as I say, not as I do…
My cousin is a musician. He’s worked his entire professional life amidst notes; touring with a successful band for years, producing several fantastic CDs and teaching. When iTunes slammed into the planet and made music digital and cheap he was angry.
“Too bad, cuz,” I’d say. “You know what they say. Adapt or die!”
Okay, I didn’t say it like that, but it’s the message that he probably took away from our debates.
Then Spotify and its ilk pushed music even further into the ether. Songs became not just a commodity, but a common element. Like air, except louder and with a riff.
Poor music business.
But what if indy authors have more in common with our musical peers than we think? What if the proliferation of subscription services is sending us down a path of permanently earning less for our books.
I’m an optimist. I believe that the writing life is a wonderful life. I know it’s here to stay. But it may need to change into something different.
So I got to thinking. Stand back. It’s a dangerous thing. Ask my wife. Or my cousin.
Here’s my take…
Musicians have concerts. Gigs can add some cash to the coffer as music sales drop through the stage. At gigs, bands sell CDs (and LPs!) to the audience.
But writers have nothing similar. Book readings are the closest thing, but they’re not as essential to the reader as live music is to the music fan.
So are we doomed to just maneuver the same turbulent sea of shifting tactics to survive Amazon’s whims, or Facebook’s changing policies, or a tiered Internet?
Believe it or not, I’m going somewhere positive with all of this.
What if writers need to produce their work to find that alternate revenue stream? Produce our work? What the hell does that mean, Ben? Well, what if I need to make The Camelot Kids a comic book and a weekly animated short for it to make me money? What if Shirley Link is a monthly podcast and a small indy film? Maybe your book is a future YouTube hit? What I’m searching for here is that secondary revenue stream that leverages the wonderful book we’ve written and builds upon it for a modern audience.
Does that makes sense? I mean, we tell stories. On paper. On touchscreens. But maybe we need to ponder other ways to tell our stories.
Maybe we need to tap into these social network thingies and find audio recording, film making, 3D animating peers who will work for a cut of the profits.
As importantly, maybe new services need to spring up that help us make our books into animated movies, or plays, or films, or games, or virtual reality experiences. Yes, there’s ACX. There are fun toys like Booktrack. Those are along the lines of what I’m talking about, but what I’m starting to see is that I need to break out of my comfort zone (even more than I already have). I’m starting to see that the same way that musicians had to learn to set up a gig, perform and connect with music fans in a whole new way, well maybe in some twisted, introverted wordish way that’s our future, too.
What do you think? Could you envision writers as media producers? Do you think a successful indy author will need to be a successful media producer in the near future? Is the thought too terrifying to ponder? Or does it excite you?
Here’s a free story, starring Maille Rose! Maille (pronounced Molly) has become a favorite of The Camelot Kids’ fans. Read on to find out why. You can also download this story to your device for later. (PDF) (epub) (mobi)
Maille Rose’s wand hand was asleep. Sitting in a closet will do that. As a rule, something is going to lose blood flow when you’re scrunched up in a pile of dirty laundry for seven hours.
Her target had been due to return to his bedroom at 7 pm. At least that was the routine according to the Survairys who had scouted ahead the previous week. But 2 am rolled around and faded into 3 and she still found herself browsing the clothing tags. She even invented a new game called “Percentage Polyester?” but she just couldn’t go on when it actually became enjoyable.
Maille wished she could doze off, if only to escape the smell for a while. But she had a job to do. Maybe she could leave the closet for a few minutes to stretch her legs? No way. She wasn’t allowed to leave her entry point until the target showed up.
“When I’m in charge,” she thought, “I’ll update every ridiculous rule in Rules of Magic.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t put you in charge,” a man’s voice said in her head. “Your target is walking up the stairs.”
“About time,” Maille thought back.
“Your right hand is asleep,” the voice grumbled. “How are you going to do your job when your hand is blopping around like a rotten pumpkin?”
“I have no idea what that means,” she thought. “But don’t worry about it. I got it covered.” She hoped her cockiness was obvious. Nothing got under his skin more than cockiness.
“Oh, you do, do you?” he grunted.
“I came up with a spell!”
“You came up with a spell.”
“A spell. That’s what I thought. Did my brain stutter? Yeah, the spell gets the blood flowing. It’s pretty cool. Did I remember to feed Mrs. Howl’s chickens?”
Maille didn’t mean to think about the chickens just then. The stray thought was what wizards call a Randumber. Randumber’s are when you think about something without meaning to, which interrupts the conversation you’re having with whatever cranky wizard is using your head as a motel. Randumber’s are considered quite rude and a sign of poor form in the wizarding world.
But Maille didn’t care.
She cared more about the fact that no, she had indeed not remembered to feed the damn chickens now that she thought about it.
She plopped her limp hand on her lap and held the wand over it. It was a bit awkward in that small space because Maille Rose’s wand was once a normal Louisville Slugger bat — before she chose it as her primary wizarding tool.
“Influit,” she whispered.
Within seconds Maille could move her hand normally. Just in time, too. The door to the room creaked open.
She held her breath. She didn’t want the target to hear her breathing. In Maille’s experience, a gentle, quiet entrance (even from freaky entry points like closets) was the best way to avoid the target’s death by abject fear.
She Eyenapped the eye of a nearby fly to get a good look around. The door had indeed been nudged open slightly, but the room appeared empty. A single bed-spring with no mattress sat in a corner, covered with a couple of blankets. The paint on the wall flaked off like dead skin and left an army of flesh-colored chips on the rotting floorboards.
Back in her own head, Maille’s non-magic ears concluded that her target must have gone back downstairs.
“That’s it. I can’t stay here any longer,” she thought. She wasn’t going to wait one second more for this ninny to show up while chin-deep in his boxer shorts. He could discover the truth about his life some other day.
“Now see here, you whipperscrapper…” the voice in her head started, getting his words wrong as usual.
It was too late. She’d already nudged the closet door open with her foot, wand raised high. Just in case she needed it.
But her wand wasn’t enough.
Maille’s target, now more aptly named her attacker, had been cloaked in the shadows on the other side of the closet door. He kicked the door closed, trapping Maille’s leg in the doorframe with a sickening CLUNK!
“Sounds like that hurt,” the voice in her head said, so loud that her head throbbed.
“If you won’t help me, then zip it!” she screamed back, this time out loud.
Maille rolled forward, dodging a baseball bat to the head. She punched her opponent in the nose and blocked the second blow with her own bat.
But, unlike the attacker’s weapon, Maille’s bat had magic.
And it had been dented. So it was now mad bat magic.
It lashed out with a burst of purple flame, chest-high, that cut across the floor and lay down an eerie glow. Maille immediately feared that her wand had overreacted because… well, there’s no other way to put it… her target was the cutest boy she’d ever clobbered.
Handsome Face (as Maille would call him until she learned his real name) leapt over the wall of flame and took another swing.
But this time she was ready. The spells rolled out of her mouth in the following order:
ContraPlaga (accompanied by waving her arm dismissively) disarmed him.
Stipatio (a spell usually reserved for putting babies to sleep) made his eyes get heavy.
ModusObligatus gave real weight to the darkness of the room, keeping her attacker contained, just in case he managed to beat down the Stipatio.
Handsome Face kind of lolled to the floor and lay flat on his back, frowning at the ceiling. Maille stood over her target. She was short of breath because ModusObligatus added about seventy pounds to everyone in the room.
And because this guy rattled her in a profoundly irritating way.
Maille Rose reminded herself who was in charge here — square jawline, piercing eyes and wide shoulders aside. She got ready to launch into her standard pitch.
Instead, she said, “Hi! I’m Maille!” She closed her eyes and shook her head. That was as far off-script as she could have possibly managed.
“What are you doing, silly girl?” the noggin voice echoed in her skull.
Handsome Face glared at her, like he’d take a bite out of her leg if he could move.
“I’m not sure how you got to be such a fighter,” Maille said, trying to keep her tone light. “But that’s a good thing.”
“Stick to the script, Maille Rose,” the gruff voice spoke behind her right ear.
“I’m trying!” she yelled.
Handsome Face lost a little of his frown. It was replaced with concern. Most likely concern that he was stuck in a room with a nutball.
“Okay, listen up,” Maille started. “Have your parents told you about The Prophecy?”
Handsome Face’s concerned look got more intense. She was freaking him out now. Fine. As long as she kept the upper hand no one would get hurt.
“Here’s the deal, and I’m sure you’ll listen to me because you can probably tell I’m a wizard.”
“You’re not a wizard yet, you little liar,” the head voice said with a condescending cackle.
Handsome Face’s expression was now one of terror. She followed his stare to her hand, the one that had been asleep a minute earlier.
It was the size of a basketball.
Her new spell was malfunctioning.
“Oh, look at that,” the voice said. “Who could have guessed that an untested spell could backfire?”
Maille decided to do the only thing that would buy her time. Pretend nothing was wrong…
“So,” she continued, “you’re the great, great, great, great…” She paused.
“Great, great grandson of Sir Hoel, one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. You may think, ‘okay weirdo with the mutant hand, so what?’ Well here’s what needs to happen. We’ll need you to give this note to your parents or guardians.” The hand was so heavy that she lay it on the ground, bending over as casually as she could, and dragged it across the room. She placed a slip of paper on his chest. “Don’t read it! It has a pretty potent spell that will make anyone who’s not meant to read it sweat soy sauce for eight hours. Okay. Next, you’ll need to wrap up any personal matters because you won’t be seeing this world for a few years if all goes well.”
“You missed a whole paragraph, Ms. Handy” the voice scolded.
Maille collected her thoughts. She hadn’t forgotten her lines since job #4. “Oh! Yeah. As a descendant of Sir Hoel you have been chosen by Merlin to join the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table in New Camelot where you’ll be trained in preparation for the return of King Arthur.”
“Time of return is inconclusive.”
“I know, Merlin,” she said to the voice. “The time of his return is inconclusive, so don’t ask. We’ve been waiting for generations so it may never happen.”
“Maille Rose!” Merlin hollered.
“Any questions?” She smiled her most comforting smile just as the bedroom door slammed open.
A small man, almost as wide as he was tall, looked at her with eyes the size of surprise itself.
“What the hell is goin’ on in here, Tongueless?” he said as he stepped on the boy’s shoulder.
Maille lifted her wand but the deformed hand slowed her down. The back of the man’s hand smacked her face hard sending her onto the bed-spring.
She tried to remember where she was.
“You brought a girl into my home, you freak? You know what happens when you break the rules around here. Now get up!”
But Maille’s spell kept him flat on his back. So the man kicked him across the face. It wasn’t a hard kick. It was more like he was checking to see if a wounded animal was still alive.
The runt of a man unbuckled his belt, looped it into a circle and snapped the leather together. His drunken frown morphed into a drunken smirk.
He came at Maille first. She got a quick glimpse of his mess of a face. His three day beard pulled back to reveal a mouth filled with broken, blackened teeth. His small eyes almost squeezed shut under the pressure of his smile.
He snapped the leather again and raised the belt over his head. It came down on her leg.
That woke her up.
“AngerIbidem!” she yelled.
“I’ve got to hand it to you. That’s some good thinking,” Merlin said in her head. Maille made a mental note to have her revenge on the old wizard sometime soon.
The thug grabbed his own throat and strangled himself. His tongue rolled out of his mouth, shoving chunks of chewing tobacco to the floor. Maille planted her feet hard, determined to convince her body to wake up. She picked up a flashlight that sat next to the bed and clocked the creep upside the head. He fell to the floor.
Disgusted with the whole predicament, Maille lifted the spells on Handsome Face.
What had the monster called him?
It occurred to her that the young man hadn’t spoken a word, or even made a sound since they came to blows.
He propped himself up on his elbows, then sat up and rubbed his shoulder. Maille could see a blood red scrape running from his neck to his t-shirt’s collar line.
“That looks bad. I can’t heal it but I can clean it and dull the pain if you’d like,” she said.
He locked eyes with her. He was thinking about it. Then his face relaxed, he got to his feet. She hoisted her hand up and rested it on her shoulder, then approached slowly. She gently placed her bat on the wound. The blood evaporated and the scrape was clean by the time she pulled it away.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He didn’t answer.
She signed the question with her good hand, in case he was deaf or mute.
But he just stood there.
She summoned a dot of green light. It was the size of a penny and it floated between them. She lifted a finger and moved the dot across the stale air.
“Maille Rose” …
… she wrote in light.
“That’s pronounced Molly,” she said. Then she slid the bright dot toward him. It slid across the room and came to a stop right between his eyes.
She was worried that whatever this revolting man on the floor had done to the boy over the years had damaged him beyond repair. Her concern grew as she watched him go cross-eyed looking at the light, as if he didn’t know what to do next.
But then he took a purposeful step back. There was something reassuring in the motion. It showed her that whoever this guy was, and however he’d been damaged by his life, he did things on his own time and in his own way.
He took the light with his palm and the glow grew to match the size of his hand.
… he wiped into the air in big, thick letters. The handwriting was uneven. Yes, there would be work to do with this guy. But she’d seen the patience of Merlin’s team at work many times. It always worked. Every time.
Maille glanced down at the man under their feet.
“He your dad?”
Tom nodded, unable to look at him.
“Do you want to skip the whole ‘letter to your parents or guardians’ part of my speech?”
“Grab what you want.”
He didn’t move.
“Okay, let’s go then,” Maille Rose said, turning toward the closet faster than she should have. She almost lost her balance but Tom caught her humongous hand and cradled it under one arm.
She smiled, he smiled back and Maille Rose led Tom into the closet to take him home.
Welcome to today’s peek into the world of The Camelot Kids!
Today’s sneak peek at Russ and Josh has a special place in my heart. The boys are best friends, always together and always, well, blabbing. Between the two of them there isn’t a discussion unturned. If they’re not trying to get to the bottom of why cats don’t respond to whistles then they’re devising ways to test their theory that melted chocolate will flow just fine through the park fountain.
Here’s an excerpt from a scene with Josh and Russ, best friends to each other and loyal buddies to Simon.
The set-up: Simon has just had a disastrous first day in New Camelot. Day two isn’t shaping up to be much better, until he gets to know some of the other boys.
Simon woke to the sounds of rattling steel and heavy boots stomping out the door.
“What’s going…” he said, half-asleep. The darkness of the room was barely interrupted by the moonlight that crept through the high, slim windows of Wellwoven.
“Been trying to wake you for five minutes, sir,” Russ said, as he followed Josh out the door. “Better not be late again. Hector doesn’t like us making the same mistake twice.”
“Thanks,” Simon said. He threw on his armor as best he could, but it wasn’t so natural to him as it was to the others. He ended up running after the second-to-last last boy out, still rearranging some straps that, for the life of him, he couldn’t find a use for.
He followed the flow of kids down the hallway until the sound from the waterfall surrounded them. But before they reached Tapper, the boys and girls turned left to walk down a set of wide stairs. Everyone filed into a large circular dining hall.
Simon had never seen anything like it.
Large posts reached high to the arched ceiling, which was buttressed by equally massive beams. They must have been made from the biggest trees ever, Simon thought. Fireplaces burned the chill out of all four corners of the hall, casting a warm glow over everyone seated at the table.
And the table! It was the most impressive of all— a single giant, round surface with dozens of slightly curved benches around it, most filled with kids talking with their mouths full of breakfast. Along the walls were several arched windows, lined with ivy. They framed the grounds outside and the mountains in the distance. The first sign of the sun poked up behind them. It was going to be a beautiful morning.
Dozens of castle employees scrambled about, keeping the plates piled high with bacon and the cups filled to the top with juice. One lady kept the staff motivated, barking out polite but firm orders like, “Section 8 is drowning in eggs, while 6 hasn’t even smelled them yet, dear!” The servers bowed slightly as they passed her. She was an impressive woman, three hundred pounds if she was an ounce. Her face was kind but her eyes had a focus to them that kept everyone on their toes. She saw Simon staring at her and gave him a nod and a smile.
He spotted Russ and Josh waving at him. He waved back, which seemed to get a lot of attention, because the chatter began to quiet down. The boys and girls stared at him, some whispering. Simon felt like turning around and going back to bed, but he forced himself to step forward. The floor was smooth cobblestone that clicked under his boots. By step number three, it was the only sound in the hall. He slipped into a spot on Josh’s and Russ’ bench as fast as he could. He smiled and shrugged, not sure what to say.
“Well that was awkward,” Josh said. Simon laughed and some other boys joined in.
They enjoyed some succulent dishes, quiet conversation, and the view of the mountains. No one nearby was showing contempt for Simon so far. In fact, Russ and Josh were joined by some other kids who went out of their way to include him in the conversation.
“Nellie was pretty as a pie, you ask me. I don’t know what she sees in that doofus,” said a fair-skinned, slightly unhealthy looking boy. “He didn’t even pay attention to her the whole time.” The most life he had in his face was in his eyes, which were trying to get a look at this Nellie, who sat across the hall.
“Ooooo. Sam is smitten with a new girl today,” Josh teased him. He leaned in close to Simon and whispered, “He falls for a new one every week.”
“Cut it out, Josh,” Sam said, getting some much-needed color in his face.
“A true romantic,” said Russ. Some of the guys laughed, their mouths full of buttery bread and bacon.
“A true moron,” came a deep voice from farther down the table. Simon remembered the speaker as one of the large boys who had helped Gawain to his feet after the fight the day before.
The nearby kids dipped their heads down. They didn’t want trouble. Simon would have done the same a few days ago, but not here. He’d have none of that here.
“Who are you?” Simon asked curtly.
“I’m your worst nightmare,” the kid mumbled to his friends. The posse laughed. Simon noticed that Gawain was in the middle of them, but he wasn’t acknowledging the conversation at all. He just kept eating his porridge.
“I guess I’ll call you Mumbler, then,” Simon said, not sure where he was getting the courage to stand up to this guy.
All the big kids lost their grins, glanced at each other and nodded their heads.
They stood up quickly, in perfect unison. The backs of their legs knocked the long bench over. All the other boys on the bench, including Simon, were on their backs in a split second.
Gawain was standing along with the other big kids, but he’d grabbed his plate and was still eating from it as if nothing were happening.
Simon was about to sit up when a foot came down on his chest. It was Mumbler, who appeared very self-satisfied. The back of Simon’s head hit the stone floor. The big kid removed an armored glove from his hand and was about to slap Simon with it when Gawain snagged his wrist.
“We play fair around here,” Gawain said. Mumbler jerked his arm away and put his glove back on. Gawain leaned into Simon’s field of vision. “At least some of us do.”
The posse walked through the door to the grounds outside, laughing and giving Mumbler pats on the back. Gawain lifted the bench back into place and sat down by himself to work on a new bowl of porridge.
Russ grabbed one of Simon’s hands and Josh took the other. They pulled him up. All of them stared at their plates of tasty food.
“The Mumbler is Eric,” Russ said softly, probably wanting to break the humiliating silence. “He fancies himself Gawain’s righthand man. That would make him second in command among us trainees.” Russ glanced over at Gawain, who still ate as if he’d just been introduced to food, then whispered. “No one’s sure if Gawain even likes him, though.”
“You could have taken him if he hadn’t cheated.” Sam was jiggling his left knee nervously.
“There’s no such thing as cheating,” Simon said. The words came to him automatically. “The enemy will win any way he can. That means you have to think like him. As long as you’re on the right side of things, that’ll guide you.”
The boys didn’t know what to say for a moment. Even Simon pondered what he’d said, as if someone else had spoken with his voice.
Then Russ asked, “So being right is the only thing that separates us from the enemy?”
Simon was surprised at all the eyes on him. “I don’t know about that, but I lost because I didn’t act on stuff I knew.”
“Like what?” Josh asked.
“Like he’s bigger than me and that all his friends are bigger than me. I knew he didn’t like me from the second I saw him, so I was a target. Me and everyone I’m with. I knew the only thing that bound me to him in any way, actually, was the seat we sat on. It was a weapon he could use against me.” The boys nodded. “The thing that surprises me is that he had the move coordinated with the other guys.”
“Yeah, they pull that trick sometimes,” Russ said. “But usually without provocation.”
“I know the type.” Simon said.