Creepy collective consciousness is creepy

It appears I’m not the only writer with her knickers in a twist over The Book That Shall Not Be Named, and not only that, but it appears the writerly collective conscious had gotten its knockers knickers in a twist somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning. Usually when the twist in my knickers gets too tight, I simply avoid the source. In this case, I can’t. It’s everywhere, including my snail mail box after my 70-year-old aunt in Salt Lake took the time to cut an article on it from Deseret News and drop it in the mail to me. I can’t get away from it.

Between this and the incessant banging on the marketing drum, I’ve pretty much had all I can take of the business side of being a writer. (Note: Being a publisher is an entirely different thing.)

Monday morning I went whining to a couple of people, one of whom was utterly unsympathetic and the other who sent me to Cliff Burns’s latest blog post. Lo, there not only did I behold my own frustrations laid out in more articulate language than I’ve been using lately, but on the same day I was having my existential crisis.

Building character through self-flagellation | Cliff Burns – “Books not selling, readers indifferent, preferring to spend their hard-earned shekels on dry-humping teen vampires and spank me-fuck me fan fiction. Not a brilliant stylist, so I can’t even hope for the consolations of posterity.”

Then a friend, who thinks something must in the water:

The rise of the published first draft | VacuousMinx – “I fully agree that TBTSNBN has an alchemical appeal for readers, one that transcends its many flaws. But while its appeal cannot be copied, any more than you can catch lightning in a jar, the (lack of) process can and will be. […] So we will get more barely-altered fanfic and more un-self-critical writers who are proud that they can write 100,000 words in a month and send the resulting manuscript off to a publisher.”

sent me to yet another writer writing at the same time:

Striving for a WIP that’s actually “in progress” | KZ Snow – “Does it even pay to write well? Maybe I should follow the lead of some of my peers and strive for quantity, compose a few tearjerkers or sex romps or chuckle fests every couple of months. There’d be nothing wrong with that. Readers seem to enjoy the output of speed writers as much as or more than that of poky writers.”

I’d already decided to do the Dunham serial a couple of weeks ago, so I did feel as if I were actually taking action and could prove to be a boon. We shall see, but at least I was trying something different, doing something with the words I’d written that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day for another year. I’d also already decided to rebrand the Dunham series with new covers and new classifications and unveil them all next year with the release of Dunham.

So between the time I announced the serial and the time I got to Cliff’s post, I had spent hours revamping my websites, which I find oddly relaxing. And because I do like this thankless, background, zero-revenue activity so much, I slowly came to the realization that writing novels and the act of publishing them is a hobby. Given that I hold my hobbies sacrosanct, this wasn’t a step down, but a step up. In that respect I also decided to get out of the business of publishing other people. I needed to let go of the pressure of selling, the pressure of sales (or lack thereof, as measured against those of the snake-oil salesmen of our business), and the pressure of bookkeeping. I needed to rejuvenate my love for creating and disseminating my own work. The constant marketing of myself and publishing other people is not part of the hobby and not part of the love.

So now it’s Friday. Nothing about the situation has changed except that I feel as if I have taken some action AND changed my outlook. My frustration level is way down and I can once again stop to see what I have: a wonderful family, a good job that pays the bills, a nice house with a gorgeous porch* upon which I sit with my Tax Deductions and discuss the nature of God—and a hobby I’m mad about and am excited about sharing over the next year.

That’s far more than a lot of people have.

*I am irrationally and exuberantly proud of my porch.

UPDATE: I was roundly castigated for not actually showing you my porch. Here it is:

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“A book a year is slacking.”

This sentiment got some traction in writerland a couple of weeks ago, but since the beginning of this digital publishing surge, it’s been a (sometimes unspoken) maxim. No, actually, it’s been around a long time. Way back in the day when I was a member of RWA and went to all the chapter meetings (MARA), there were two prolific category writers in my chapter. They worked for both Harlequin and Silhouette and put out three titles a year minimum. Then you have the James Patterson-type book mills wherein a team of ghostwriters is assigned to an idea and a title and off they go. I now know of many writers, especially erotic romance and erotica writers who espouse this view.

It begs some questions, of course, the main one being, “How many pages/words do these books have, anyway?” Come to find out many of them are short stories. Many are novellas. Some are category-length (the size of a Harlequin Presents, or about 50,000 – 60,000 words). Never mind the fact that I do, actually, write that many GOOD words every year. (Good words meaning ones I want to keep. I throw out as many words as I keep.) As far as I can tell, nobody’s writing longer works at the pace of one title per year. (“George RR Martin is not your bitch.”)

I sure as hell am not. What’s an epic writer who is NOT, in fact, George RR Martin, to do with this business when she’s lucky to be able to put out one title per year? This, combined with some other book news that I will not belabor because it’s been belabored quite enough, has got me thinking about what I write and how I write it. How can I capitalize on the fact that I do write the equivalent of three category-length titles per year?

There was only one answer to that. It’s not a new idea. It’s not even an idea I necessarily like because it involves a way of reading I don’t care for. But other people do like it. A LOT. If it works, it’ll keep my name out there for the next year until Dunham is released (July 4, 2013–save the date!) and, hopefully, build excitement. If it doesn’t, no harm done. (I don’t think.)

Dunham serial coverBeginning July 4, 2012, I will be posting one unedited chapter of Dunham per week, every Wednesday at 6:00 a.m. US Central time, for one year. I’ll offer them as free downloads here, at Smashwords, and at All Romance eBooks, and send email reminders to those who request one. It will be the serial equivalent of an Advance Review Copy (ARC).

Fifty-two chapters! you say. That’s a lot! Yeah. It is. In fact, it’s approximately 140,000 words, which (for my fans) is half the length of The Proviso, longer than Stay, and nearly as long as Magdalene. It’s also somewhere around 70% of the finished book. Oh, hey, it’s a swashbuckler with lots and lots of angst, set during the Revolutionary War. They have ships! They go places! They blow things up! So of course it’ll prop a door open! (Eh, but that’s the beauty of digital, innit?)

Hopefully, by the time July 4, 2013, rolls around, you and a gazillion other people will want to know how it ends and buy the book to find out.

I’ll be frank: This is a marketing ploy. I hate marketing. I suck at marketing. So do the most of the rest of us. I also can’t put out two or three titles a year to do my marketing for me. I’m not asking for any money via tip jar or a Kickstarter campaign. I’m offering a free hit and hoping you will get hooked and, in turn, you will hook your friends. Please hook your friends!

Some details:

1) The cover is for the serial. It will not be the cover for the finished book. I thought it would be utterly gauche to go without a cover.

2) Remember, this will be unedited. The finished novel will be professionally edited and available in print as well as digital.

3) Though the serial is offered only here, Smashwords, and All Romance eBooks (of necessity because neither Barnes & Noble nor Amazon will allow me to offer it for free) (fuckers), the complete book will be offered at all the normal retail outlets.

4) Even if you opt in for the email reminders of a new installment, I won’t keep track of your email and I won’t spam you. I just don’t work that way (which is why I suck at marketing!).

5) Each installment will be available for download in DRM-free EPUB, PRC/MOBI/Kindle, and PDF. I’ll even post the text itself online at theproviso.com/dunham (not live yet).

6) Hopefully by the time the serial begins, I’ll have come up with back-cover copy that reflects the story accurately and does not suck. Until then…

It’s 1780. He’s an earl acquitted of treason and out for revenge. She’s a pirate planning a suicide mission. Their first kiss sparks a tavern brawl—and then things get interesting.

Monsters! Mormons! Not necessarily synonymous!

My editor and partner, Theric Jepson, who runs Peculiar Pages alongside my running of B10 Mediaworx, made some sort of joke on Twitter (don’t remember the joke), and Wm Morris of A Motley Vision (a MoLit blog) had an idea. And the idea was to skewer the 19th-century literary tradition of using Mormons as stock villains in pulp fiction by turning the Mormons into the protagonists instead of the antagonists.

Plans were being made. I felt no compunction to submit a story to this anthology of pulp fiction because a) I don’t read pulp fiction; I read trashy romance novels aka porn for women and so b) I didn’t feel qualified to write anything for it. But then Wm posted an update on AMV saying, “I’d like to see X, Y, Z, and A, B, and C.” Well, I thought. I could do Y, Z, and B. So I did.

When I got it done and Wm liked it (Theric was not my editor this time), I had second thoughts. Considering I’m kind of, you know, responsible for its publication, I figured there would be seen some sort of “in,” or conflict of interest. Theric and I discussed it and decided I’d withdraw it, but Wm thought my withdrawing it was a bad idea. So, okay. Onward.

What has resulted is the most wonderful collection of tales of the supernatural and bizarre. Supernaturally bizarre. Or bizarrely supernatural. Whatever. Including! Get this! TWO graphic novels!

So here’s a little taste of my story, of a Mormon self-styled “nun” packing nuclear weapons powered by cold fusion to zap demons left and right.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

He’s never been here.

I can tell because he can barely keep from puking into the swamp, and his neoprene skin is making him fidget and wiggle.

Definitely a roving monk.

“Gas mask?” I ask and offer him something that very much resembles Cthulhu.

“I am not wearing that,” he snaps.

“Little bit touchy, are we, Monk?”

“Shut up, Nun.” He doesn’t offer his name. Probably something boring like John. “Pray.”

I do.

The sun is just setting when he locks his 0.75-gigajoule disperser down to his titanium gauntlet with much exaggeration. “Got your affairs in order?”

Break a leg in nun-and-monk speak.

I stand for a minute and stare at his gauntlet and matching gun, both so much more decorated than mine, engraved with lightning bolts. My gauntlets and weapons are engraved with paisleys. Pretty, but…

Pretty.

Feminine.

To do a job like this.

I grit my teeth and pull my left-hand disperser out of its case, lock it down to the gauntlet, lay the telescoping barrel along my titanium-covered index finger, then lock it down with tiny clips.

Point and shoot.

Once my right extremity is similarly burdened, I click my night-vision goggles down over my specs, and lead the way into the twilight, into the swamp where it’s already dark as midnight, downdowndown, gradually being covered in slime until I’m chest deep in it.

Yeah, it stinks. But this is where I work, so I’m used to it and I’ve already stuffed my nose with Mentholatum. I have the clearest sinuses in the Atchafalaya basin.

I haven’t been allowed to go into the swamp for the last two weeks, since the flood waters from up north began rising in earnest. It’s taken that long for my sensors and weapons to be recalibrated for the extreme change in environment. The animals have been driven up out of the swamp and what crude oil was left on land has been pulled back into the water. With water comes mold, fungus, mosquitoes, and other diseases, but that’s not a concern for hunters. The crude, well…I don’t know how—or even if—the sludge will react to the extra radioactivity my partner brings, which is orders of magnitude above mine.

But we don’t question, because to question is to die. The general authorities overseeing our gadgetry supply us with whatever we need to do our jobs.

“Why aren’t we taking your boat?” Only now do I detect a mid-Utah accent. Great. A JelloBeltian.

I grab a palm full of water and let it trickle back out through my fingers. I still have a hand full of refuse. “Look at that. It’s soup. Chock full of plants. Oil. Trash from the floods. I don’t want my motor bound up in—” I point to a heavy drape of Spanish moss that floats on the surface. He looks around. Spanish moss is everywhere. “—that.”

He says nothing and we trudge through the thick water.

“Crocodiles?” he asks after a while.

“’Gators, rather,” I say. “They won’t bother us.”

“I know that,” he snaps. Again. He might as well be a ’gator, he’s snappin’ so much. He’s not questioning, but he sure is murmuring.

Murmuring doesn’t get you dead. It might get you injured, though. Very distracting activity, murmuring. I’d rather he not murmur around me when he’s got enough energy to melt a ton of steel.

(I bet it kills him he can’t control a whole gigajoule.)

“Where were you last?” I ask conversationally as we wade through slime, our dispersers primed to shoot.

“Gobi Desert,” he answers, and I catch something wistful in his voice.

“You liked it there.”

“Yes.”

“What were you hunting?”

“Had a band of specter demons going through the villages. Wiped ’em out.”

Specter demons.

Psychiatrists call it “auditory or visual hallucinations,” a symptom of several psychiatric disorders, but we know what they are: Lucifer’s army, waging war on those of us with bodies—on our bodies—because he can’t make any real headway in his war on Father and Mother.

Specter demons are the grub worms of the psyche, chewing up people’s neural pathways like grass roots, leaving dead lawn behind. We’re allowed to attempt to heal the damage, but we mostly can’t. We’re only required to get the demons out of our plane and bar them from future entry.

Like internet trolls.

But there are a lot of internet trolls.

At the blip of a shadow in the corner of my eye, I point and blast. Swamp water explodes and covers us like debris-ridden oil rain.

“Eeewww.” Even I’m grossed out as I flick it off my neoprene skin.

The monk rubs his fingers together, brings the substance to his nose. “Well, you got ’em.”

Good. The sacrifice of my skin will not have been vain.

Demolition demons are the worst. They usually show up in hospitals, disguised as Staph infections, gangrene, pneumonia. The advanced demolitionists manifest as cancer catalysts. The more skilled a demolitionist, the greater power it has over a cell’s ecosystem. Medicine will arrest what it can, and we may be able to do the rest, if we get there in time.

No demon has the power to kill a human; they can only sow the seeds of disease—physical or mental—and let nature take its course. That’s the pact the Parents have with us, their children: Lucifer cannot kill us. Yet he continues to search for a way to do so and this, the Atchafalaya basin, is one of his biggest training grounds and laboratories.

I don’t know why he bothers.

Generally, we don’t interfere in a disease process. There is a time and a season for everything. Repairing psychological damage—attempting to, anyway—is different. The schizophrenics, bipolars—not all are caused by specters, just as not all diseases are caused by demolitionists. But it’s very rare that science loses a human body to disease if its turn on earth isn’t done. Not so with specter-induced mental illness.

Several hundred demolitionists burst up in rapid succession, coming for us. They’re small, about the size of a barn owl, and usually invisible to all but us.

It takes both my 3-megajoule dispersers and the monk’s behemoth to pop that ambush right on back to hell, for lack of a better word. Technically outer darkness either hasn’t been built yet or stands empty awaiting its prisoners once this Earth is cast back into the celestial recycle bin.

“Hmm,” I say, and because I can’t keep myself from stating the obvious, “this is not normal.”

The swamp waters aren’t as still as usual. I don’t know if it’s the oil or if there are more demons here than the water can hide. With pelts of moss and a slick over it, it should be harder to displace than water alone.

A battalion bursts out of the water and charges us. They’re no match for us both, but the sheer number of them is cause for concern.

So. The flooding and oil aren’t the only reasons I have a roving monk at my side.

… the unique dangers. I wish I knew what that meant.

Generally, we only make a little headway each night when we hunt. Lucifer replaces the demons almost as fast as we can dispatch them, but never quite fast enough. Out of the hundreds or—like tonight—the thousands that we send back to him in an evening, perhaps collectively, we will have lessened their numbers by a factor of ten.

Sometimes I wonder why we bother.

The water settles.

“I don’t know why we bother,” says the monk wearily.

I look at him sharply. Can he read my mind? I’ve heard it’s a possibility, a gift given to the upper echelons of our kind.

I answer by rote: “So someone can live and fulfill the measure of their creation.”

“Deb, I heard it in correlation meeting last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. Don’t want or need to hear it while I’m hunting.”

He’s jaded.

Bitter.

“How old are you?”

“Four twenty-three.”

Oh. I’m only fifty-eight. I feel that I’ve missed some important information.

No wonder he didn’t like having a nun—and such a young one—take the dictation.

He knows my name. He probably knows everything about me.

“What’s your name?”

“Ezekiel Alleyn.”

Oh. My. Stars.

The water bubbles and I don’t dare think about him as we go about magnifying our callings with weapons powered by cold fusion. Not magic, not supernatural.

Technologically advanced and genetically enhanced.

Like the demons.

Like the hunters.

There is no supernatural, no magic, only puzzles that haven’t been solved. Even we hunters don’t know how most of our technology works, and I’ve always wondered how much the general authorities who build this stuff know.

I figure they get their instructions like Noah did: Here are the blueprints and the supply list. Go to it. Don’t ask any questions.

The hunters’ DNA is altered when we’re set apart for our callings. I don’t know how that works, either, but considering Jesus healed the blind and the lepers…

Something brushes up against the back of my leg, wiggles its way between my feet. “Bonjour, mon ami.” The smallish ’gator flips his tail up behind me, making a splash.

The monk steps away to escape the oil-and-debris rain.

“You have a lot of friends here?” he asks.

What an odd question. “Of course I do.” He, of all people, should know the extent of my enhancements. I couldn’t work this swamp without having the flora and fauna understanding of and sympathetic to my purpose.

The ’gator maneuvers through my legs, and around again, making a figure eight, like a cat. He wants my attention, so I trudge to a log and he climbs out of the water so I can scratch his oil-slicked head with my titanium claws.

He almost purrs.

Non, chèr,” I tell him in Cajun. He doesn’t understand English. “I can’t get rid of him, sorry. He’s my boss.”

“He’s whining, Deb. What are you doing to this place?”

“He’s just a baby.”

“A baby you’ve spoiled rotten. Tell him to go home. We have work to do.” I translate as kindly as I can and he slides back into the sludge, but not without a swipe of a tail at the back of Ezekiel’s knees.

He glares at me. “You tell him he better never do that again.”

We spend the night sludging through the swamp, sending demons back to Lucifer. Our dispersers mess with their molecular structure somehow—or at least, that’s how it’s been explained to me.

We don’t speak. Ezekiel—

Oh. My. Stars. I can’t believe I’m hunting with Ezekiel.

—isn’t familiar with this terrain and I need to keep the awe out of my eyes and voice.

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” he mutters.

I don’t like that he can read my mind. I feel…naked. I don’t look so good naked.

“Are you trying to mess me up?” I ask. “Pick a fight? Because if so, I’ll take some personal time for the rest of the night and let you do this by yourself.”

“Watch your mouth, Sister Judge.”

I gulp. That’s the second time he’s dressed me down tonight, on top of his surliness at being here. It makes me rethink my abilities, my attitude.

“Don’t start doubting yourself now,” he grumbles as we trudge through the swamp. “I don’t need a hunter with a self-esteem problem at my back.” I purse my lips. “And no, I’m not here to kill you… Yet.

If you like science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, zombies, werewolves, ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night, go get the whole collection! It’s only available in digital now from the B10 site and the Kindle store, but print is forthcoming in the next couple of weeks.