It’s been three years since security guard Tohru Takuda and his reluctant band of monster-hunters defeated the Kappa of the Naga River. Now, a mysterious artifact is driving innocents in Southern Japan to flay their friends alive, and the grisly murders turn Takuda’s world upside down. Disheartened and impoverished, he struggles to lead his rag-tag team to find the artifact before it poisons the entire nation. Takuda is caught between the police, the bloodthirsty murderers, and forces conspiring to harness the artifact’s horrible powers.
And all the while, he must watch his back, because the most dangerous killer may be lurking among his own men…
The Drowning God is one of 30 projects selected out of 4,500+ submissions for Harper Voyager’s new digital-first expansion.
To uncover modern Japan’s darkest, deadliest secret, Detective Tohru Takuda must face a living nightmare from his childhood: THE DROWNING GOD.
Few villagers are happy when Takuda comes home to investigate a foiled abduction, and local police enlist powerful forces to shut him out. Takuda sacrifices his career and family honor to solve the string of disappearances in the grim and backward valley of his youth, but his investigation reveals that more than a job is at stake. Behind the conspiracy lurks the Kappa, a monstrous living relic of Japan’s pagan prehistory. Protected long ago by a horrible pact with local farmers and now by coldly calculating corporate interests, the Kappa drains the valley’s lifeblood, one villager at a time.
Takuda and his wife, Yumi, are among the few who have escaped the valley, but no one gets away unscarred. When Takuda digs into the valley’s mysteries, Yumi’s heart breaks all over again. She wants justice for the son the Kappa stole from her, but she needs an end to grief; even if Takuda survives the Kappa, the ordeal may end his marriage.
With Yumi’s tortured blessing, Takuda dedicates his life to ending the Drowning God’s centuries-long reign of terror. He can’t do it alone; a laconic junior officer and a disarmingly cheerful Buddhist priest convince Takuda to let them join him in the final battle, where failure means death—or worse. The journey of these three unlikely warriors from uneasy alliance to efficient team turns THE DROWNING GOD’s mystery into an adventure in friendship, sacrifice and courage.
Wings of Sorrow and Bone: A Clockwork Dagger Novella
A few months after the events of The Clockwork Crown…
After being rescued by Octavia Leander from the slums of Caskentia, Rivka Stout is adjusting to her new life in Tamarania. But it’s hard for a blossoming machinist like herself to fit in with proper society, and she’d much rather be tinkering with her tools than at a hoity-toity party any day.
When Rivka stumbles into a laboratory run by the powerful Balthazar Cody, she also discovers a sinister plot involving chimera gremlins and the violent Arena game Warriors. The innocent creatures will end up hurt, or worse, if Rivka doesn’t find a way to stop Mr. Cody. And to do that means she will have to rely on some unexpected new friends.
In this excerpt from Chapter 2, Rivka and Tatiana have just met and escaped from Balthazar Cody’s party. Their nosiness has guided them to a basement laboratory full of peculiar creatures…
“Yes. Gremlins. My God, they are ugly,” said Tatiana, shuddering. She had to speak loudly to be heard.
The creatures mewed, cackled, and banged on the copper and wood bars of their enclosures. Nothing was made of silver. Rivka stepped closer.
The bright electric lighting showed the green gremlins well. Some had tint variations, like patches in a quilt. Their sizes ranged from pigeon to husky tomcat. Long, bat-like wings folded along their sides. Hideous hybrid faces featured round, black eyes, some of their noses compressed and others more elongated. Their arms tended toward long and skinny, hind legs stubby.
Gremlins had split lips, just like her.
Rivka traced her upper lip with her tongue. Doctors in Tamarania could fill the gap that partially exposed her front teeth. She was slowly saving up money for that very surgery.
“Hi there.” Rivka reached out. A gremlin’s three small fingers clutched her fingertips. There were no claws, nor did it try to lurch her off balance. The little gremlin pressed its face to the bars. Long, whiskered ears trembled. Rivka felt a vibration against her hand, and with a start realized that the creature was purring.
“A lot of them—no, all of them—are injured.” Tatiana pointed.
She was right. The gremlin whose hand Rivka held had bandages girthing most of its torso. The one to the left had no ear, just a rounded stub. The one below had no wings, and therefore, no arms. A cage over, the gremlin actually had separate arms, but its wings were gone as well.
“Is this like a medical ward for maimed gremlins?” Rivka frowned and looked around as she wiggled her hand free. It certainly seemed like a sterile surgical space. She pulled out her trusty little screwdriver again.
“What are you doing?”
“Being nosy. There has to be a ledger or something around here that chronicles their injuries.”
The cages were numbered and denoted with colorful flags; not all were occupied. Most of the cabinets and drawers held tools and blades with purposes she didn’t wish to contemplate. No paperwork had been left out. She pulled a cart from beneath a steel table. Lifting the hinged lid, she found a snarled pile of dead gremlins. She gasped.
“What?” called Tatiana from across the room.
“Bodies.” Rivka shoved the cart away. She’d seen all kinds of dead things before, people included, but there was something especially disturbing about a haphazard knot of that nature.
Like that sample? Read the whole novella for just 99 cents
tor.com blog post about books that changed my mind about Japan and directly influenced The Drowning God.
Guest blogger C. Hope Clark probably doesn’t remember this, but the one time we met face to face, she encouraged me to escape the gulag archipelago of for-the-love online litmags. She saved me, and I’m thrilled that she’s included kendley.com as a stop on her blog tour celebrating the release of Murder on Edisto! The subject matter is right up our alley … but I’ll let her tell it.
When my publisher all but ordered me to write a second mystery series, I dug in . . . until I thought of deep South Edisto Beach. Edisto Island is much bigger than the beach, and the beach is practically on an island all to itself, but both are wrought with flavor. I’ve visited there many times, and I can’t go for long without the breezes and outdated community calling me back. I’m hungering for it as we speak. My birthday’s coming up soon. Guess where I plan to spend it?
In Murder on Edisto, former detective Callie Jean Morgan returns to her parents’ South Carolina home broken, widowed, no longer employed, with a craving for gin and a teenage boy to raise. Life means little to her, but she owes it to her dead husband to raise Jeb. Regretfully, she remembers too late why she left her parents’ overbearing ways so many years ago, and she heads to the family’s vacation home on Edisto Beach to get away, clear her head, and hopefully give her son the life he deserves. On her first day in her new home, however, she finds her childhood mentor, a senior gentleman in his 80s, murdered, and Callie has to decide what she’s made of.
Edisto Beach is perfect for this story. Located in South Carolina, the first white settlers date back to the 1600s, and its plantation, sea island cotton days outshine anything in Gone With the Wind. Today it’s still secluded, uninhibited by development, devoid of neon, franchises or motels, an hour south of Charleston. Peaceful. Simple. A place to heal.
And the perfect place to throw a murder mystery.
This is the first time I’ve outlined three books in a series. With such a rich locale, an intense and bitter-sweet history, the ideas flowed. Some of those old days even come with ghost stories, and I’m itching to find a place for them in these stories. Ghosts and murder, a mystery author’s dream.
One such story involves a mausoleum at Edisto Presbyterian Church, and the legend of Julia Legare. The young daughter of a plantation owner came down with diphtheria, and in the humid heat of summer, appeared to have passed away. She was placed in the family mausoleum, the tomb sealed. Over a decade later, the family lost her brother in the Civil War, and upon opening the tomb to lay to rest the plantation owner’s second child, the brittle bones of the daughter fell out, still clad in her burial dress. Seems she was only in a coma, and in those days of rapid deterioration, burials took place rather rapidly. She’d been buried alive. The clawing marks are evident in the crypt and frequented by folks in the fall when the Edisto Historical Society holds tours.
The amazing aspect of this tale, however, is that nobody can seal the mausoleum. After several attempts, each resulting in the door being moved or cracked open, the family conceded that the child wanted nobody else to risk experiencing her ordeal of being locked up alive. The mausoleum remains open to this day.
By the time I completed Murder on Edisto, I had defined my spirit communicator in sidekick Sophie Bianchi, but I never could fit the mausoleum in the picture. I’m in the midst of book two, on the constant lookout for a convenient scene. Then there’s always book three.
There are other stories: the newlywed bride who lost her husband at sea and walks the beach moaning, or another young woman murdered on her wedding day by a scorned lover, leaving her bloody handprint on the window for decades. That doesn’t even count the Gullah and voodoo related haunts that occupy the sea island coastline.
I went into this series kicking and screaming. Today I’m on fire with Edisto stories. Sometimes it takes a wiser person (i.e., my editor) to point an author in the right direction. Old Southern families, romantic beaches, rolling lazy waves, spirits and haints, gothic history and slow, muggy, hot summer days. Shiver. Where was my head? This is a perfect setting. Just tell me where I can put the mausoleum.
C. Hope Clark’s latest mystery release Murder on Edisto is already capturing the interest of readers who love a good beach read mixed with crime fiction. Hope’s also known for her award-winning Carolina Slade Mysteries, likewise set in rural South Carolina from the sea island coast to the peanut-picking midlands. When she’s not elbow deep in mysteries, Hope is editor of FundsforWriters.com, recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine for its 101 Best Websites for Writers. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com She lives half the time on the banks of Lake Murray in central SC, the other time on Edisto Beach.
1) Read “Trade Surplus”
2) Watch Andrew Swainson’s “I Lovely Cosmonaut” (music by Monstrance, 2007)
3) Repeat 1) and/or 2) as needed
4) Report effects in Comments section
They first exported mesh bags of green plastic army men, tiny warriors tangled in platoons of prime numbers. Each soldier was unique. Each was svelte and androgynous. Each sported a monstrous hooked nose and an improbable weapon: this one aimed a defoliated tree branch; this one cradled a gigantic spiked dildo; this one stood tip-toe in the act of hurling a boomerang made of broccoli.
We passed them around. Trade them! Collect them! All one-hundred-and-thirty-seven!
When the clothing came, we fought over it. I wore a vest of acrylic burlap in shocking blue with seventeen pockets and an eye-shaped vent between the shoulder blades. The chill up my spine was small price to pay for an ironic fashion statement. My girlfriend wore a shimmering blouse with extra sleeves flapping like rectangular wings. We laughed aloud at the late-night talk show host who proudly displayed his new blue jeans and then had the cameraman zoom in on the superfluous fly at his left ankle.
It was open.
The initial injuries came with housewares. The filigreed tableware was hypnotically gorgeous, but even the spoons were frighteningly sharp. Trivets snapped like terrapins, salad tongs closed on their victims like medieval torture devices, and drinking glasses required bibs or tourniquets, depending on your luck.
Opinion on the goods was divided. Enthusiasts took a neo-Taoist approach. Gorgeously crafted nine-inch golf tees, for example, made wonderful chopsticks, and twelve-pound, razor-sharp butter knives were a chef’s dream come true. Use them for what they are, not what you wish they were. Just ignore the instructions.
Not an option in my set. The instructions were cooler than the products themselves, Zen kohan with stick figures engaged in absurd activities apparently unrelated to the products themselves. We blew them up on tee-shirts and bumper stickers:
NOW POCKET NECK WISHES—SLICE!
(stick figure apparently shot from cannon)
HAPPEN ABYSS 11x11=123 POTATOES—BAM!
(stick figure apparently crying or sweating on toilet)
SPORT CHEST COOLANT POWERS—TRIP!
(stick figure apparently asleep in colander)
and my favorite, the ominous and enigmatic
EAT GLOVE NO BABIES—DESTINY!
(stick figure apparently smoking a dog)
Consumer electronics appeared overnight. There were no design innovations to distinguish them from the products of established makers. There were, however, unexpected functional anomalies. We heard of these UFAs as rumor, but we all faced the reality sooner or later.
Eating directly from the new refrigerators destroyed melanin, which led one feebleminded school nutritionist to tell children that midnight snacks caused albinism. The picture quality of the new televisions was superb, but even limited viewing left owners with a desire to hoard ball bearings and a voracious curiosity about Paris in 1473 C.E. The new hairdryers left users starry-eyed and anemic, but their hair was so lustrous and full-bodied that few could forgo the pleasure.
The products were hard to avoid. We started buying them by accident, which ruined the irony—or worse.
A canned drink had me seeing infrared vapor trails with the first sips, then in x-ray at the half-way mark. By the time it was empty, I was counting mites on a bluebird three blocks away, and I was afraid to leave my bench due to the yawning crevasses and gigantic crawling creatures on the sidewalk, so unaccustomed was I to the startling shift from telescopic to microscopic vision. It was dusk when my sight returned to normal, and by that time, I had examined the can as no human had ever examined any object with the naked eye.
Just below the allergy information:
SHARP SHARPER SHARPEST CAFFEINES—DANCING!
(three stick figures apparently fighting over a pizza slice)
The products penetrated all markets, everywhere. By the time we understood their synergistic interrelations, how using the products in close proximity to one another created new and more alarming UFAs, it was too late.
We had dug our own graves with our debit cards.
We threw it all out. The streets were littered with indestructible, immaculately wrought objects generating overlapping fields of complementary and increasingly deadly UFAs. The goods neither rotted nor rusted nor faded, and no one collected them. The sanitation workers had been issued the new cell phones.
We quickly learned to hit the dirt when we heard that peculiar, warbling ringtone.
I saw one up close. Bits of the former owner clung to it with a sort of molecular desperation, but it was clean enough that I could read the single instruction on the receiver:
BATTERY LIFE CONFETTI OPEN/HANDS—TRANSMISSION!
(stick figures apparently joined at the heads)
As UFAs tore the world apart, the decision finally came to use beta testers. The legacy of our journalism and of our culture is the cynicism of the final headlines:
BETA TEST OMEGA GOODS—POINTLESS!
(stick figure kneeling in prayer)
TOO LITTLE TOO LATE—GOODBYE!
(stick figure exploding)
We forage now. We’ve even learned to joke as we skulk beneath the crisped husk of the little girl catapulted into a tree by her own bicycle or as we step over the poor shivering bastard whose skin has melded with the lining of his seven-sleeved fleece hoodie or as we dodge the lurching woman whose headset has burrowed into her brain.
Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?
We cannot laugh, but we joke. We are still urban sophisticates, after all.
We hope for escape to the suburbs, but energy-smart and passenger-hungry vehicles prowl day and night, and the new traffic signals are dreadfully efficient. Petrified forests of would-be jaywalkers crumble at every bridge and tunnel leading out of the city.
We forage till one of us opens the wrong cabinet or uses the wrong can opener or steps on the wrong floor tile.
We forage, and we read labels. We’re don’t care about high fructose corn syrup anymore.
We look for unusual instructions. We look for the ubiquitous point-of-origin label:
MADE ON ALDEBARAN VI—FANCY!
(stick figure and ice-squid apparently playing pat-a-cake)
Ice-squids from a gas giant, little entrepreneurs with big dreams.
Nobody’s laughing now.
FULL-SCREEN MODE RECOMMENDED
“Trade Surplus” appeared previously in a daily supplement to a for-the-love online litmag.
Kendley Fiction confirms it: Bizarro fabulist Tom Bradley exists, and he appears to be entirely human.
Taller than most, and much redder, but still.
I know Bradley exists because he taught alongside me at a Japanese institution of higher learning in the mid ’90s. I met him at a spring semester start-up confab. This was a seasonal ritual in which gaijin EFL instructors reassured a harried consortium secretary that they could dress themselves, show up on time, and remain more-or-less sober during short presentations.
We played Japanese. It was fun! We smiled and bowed and sat in neat rows. The secretary was pleased. Everything was great.
Then came the turd in the punchbowl, a ginger giant in a voluminous Hawaiian shirt. He made it clear that the whole thing was a complete waste of his time. He split the second it was over, leaving the rest of us standing forlorn in our cheap Korean suits.
Months later, my mentor at that college told me of a manuscript received from a colleague. Tom Bradley, he called this colleague. A tall fellow…
“And red?” I asked tremulously. “Very red, favoring shirts Hawaiian and floral?”
It was so. Bradley’s manuscript had displeased my mentor, who declined to pass it along to a friend at the William Morris Agency.
“It just wasn’t my cup of meat,” he said, employing a conflation of aphorism and euphemism he had used to great effect in his own manuscript, Let’s Practice Colloquial English.
Time passed: I returned to the States with Renée, my honeycrunch Canadienne; my mentor hunkered down to spawn in the jungles of darkest Siam; and Tom Bradley emerged as the inakamono anchorite godfather of Bizarro letters.
Now, two decades years later and half a world away, I can say without qualification that Tom Bradley’s Family Romance is Kendley Fiction’s cup of meat.
Even the initial premise is irresistible: Nick Patterson provided ninety illustrations, and Bradley wove among them a tale of life under an industrialized, militaristic theocracy dedicated to the genocide of the relic Amalekites, wretches cursed by Jehovah in the first book of Samuel way back in the porno-scriptural times before whatever Big Thing brought us to this point, said genocide undertaken in order to recover the Weapon of Sparse Destruction allegedly developed by said relic Amalekites.
Our narrator, growing up in the shadow of an absent father, resides in urban catastrophe on the banks of the Judeuphrates River with his sister (nearly catatonic thanks to the tender ministrations of the Grand Religiopath and/or his minions) and Mom.
Four ways to read Family Romance:
1) an ironically pseudo-semi-autobiographical take on boyhood in Utah during the age of above-ground H-bomb testing, perhaps Bradley blowing off steam left over from Fission Among the Fanatics,
2) a scathing allegorical satire of modern America gone off the rails in a jingoistic, genocidal frenzy of right-wing Christian extremism,
3) an extended and elaborate Rorschach test in which we examine the relationships between Patterson’s disturbing stimuli and Bradley’s horrifying, outrageously funny responses,
4) or a heartwarming coming-of-age story.
Take your pick.
The real point of reading Bradley, aside from his illumination of the ridiculous and grotesque world around us, is the rolling cadence of his pitch-perfect writing. We prize competent prose here at Kendley Fiction, but we absolutely adore Bradley’s strong, steady voice guiding us with spot-on verbiage and heady switchbacks to revelations by turns disgusting, divine, and gut-bustingly hilarious.
He’s always a treat, and knowing that Nick Patterson’s drawings came first gives us a little more insight into the mind of Tom Bradley (see option 3, above). Presented with these disturbing and downright frightening illustrations, why did Bradley choose this direction for his narrative?
• A Relic Amalekite cleansing its fundament with tufts of tall grass — yup. What else would this illustration portray, now that I read the text?
• Mom employing “her formidable vagina to point out the superior vertebral development of her urban assault vehicle” — check.
• This illustration engenders the phrases “Sneeze Catastrophic” and “off-the-shoulder love-sarongs.”
Of course it does.
But who the hell would make those particular associations in the first place?
Bradley, that’s who. He’s one of a kind.
In the long run, our own reactions to Family Romance may be the greatest revelation of all. Learn more about Tom Bradley — and perhaps more about yourself as well, liebchen. Kendley Fiction guarantees that, at the very least, you will not, cannot, be neutral about Family Romance, our cup of meat.
This post was previously published in a for-the-love-online litmag. We meant it then, too.
A 1968 French-Italian production of three Edgar Allan Poe tales, narrated by Vincent Price. Federico Fellini signed on to direct the segment “Toby Dammit” thinking the other segments would be directed by Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman, but he was depressed to learn the other directors would be Louis Malle and Roger Vadim. Sure enough, Malle’s and Vadim’s segments (“William Wilson” and “Metzengerstein,” respectively) are stylish and forgetable-to-tedious, but Fellini’s “Toby Dammit,” the last and longest segment, is well worth the rental. Terence Stamp plays a strung-out British film star nodding past a cavalcade of classic Fellini caricatures, all the time haunted by the figure of a little girl bouncing a white ball…Very, very spooky.
Time Capsule: Also featuring Alain Delon and a scantily clad Brigitte Bardot (“William Wilson”) and a scantily clad Jane Fonda on horseback falling in love onscreen with her brother Peter (“Metzengerstein”).
Wednesday is still my favorite day of the week, thanks to Rod Serling. The only thing good about living in the Central Time Zone was being able to stay up late enough to see Night Gallery. Yes, it’s time to talk about Serling’s OTHER best macabre television series ever. Serling introduced each segment by way of a work of art, a painting or sculpture often as creepy as the segment itself. The segments, especially in the 1970-’71 season, largely avoided the topical concerns often expressed in The Twilight Zone, replacing social consciousness with…bite. “Midnight Never Ends” – “Sins of the Father” – “Little Girl Lost” — even the titles were chilling. Night Gallery on DVD is the perfect antidote to torture porn and tweenie-targeted vampire(ish) nonsense. It’s fast-paced enough for modern audiences, but the writing ranges from rock-solid to excellent, and the performances uniformly reach heights we just don’t see in slasher-trash (sorry, fans of Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Malcolm McDowell and a cast of little-knowns, but now we’re talking about Vincent Price, Orson Welles, Ray Milland, Cesar Romero, Sam Jaffe, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Godfrey Cambridge, Roddy McDowall, Raymond Massey, William Windom, Jack Cassidy, Wally Cox, Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee, Victor Buono, Jack Albertson, Lawrence Harvey, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Patrick O’Neal, Leslie Nielsen, John Carradine, John Astin, Pat Boone, Mickey Rooney…) Oh, yeah. And bits of it were scary as hell. Between light-hearted segments like “A Midnight Visit to the Neighborhood Blood Bank,” “Dead Weight” and “The Flip-Side of Satan,” we had “Something in the Woodwork,” “Pickman’s Model,” and one of my personal favorites, “The Doll.” Laugh if you will, but I still can’t sleep in a room with a doll, with those glassy eyes and that frozen little smile just waiting to widen into a big, toothy grin…damn!
“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way, not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”
—Rod Serling, from the Night Gallery pilot
Four years after Dracula and arguably at the height of Universal’s gothic splendor, The Bride of Frankenstein lacks the misplaced angularity borrowed from German Expressionism that characterized many of the Frankenstein sequels, and it retains a warmth and peculiarity that makes it one of the most human and humane monster movies ever. Thanks to James Whale’s subversive direction, Ernest Thesiger’s evil and effete Dr. Pretorius chills and delights, Karloff horrifies as the monster in his first speaking appearance, and Elsa Lanchester entrances as the iconic Bride. It’s a beautiful bit of cinema history that raised the bar for Hollywood horror, and there’s still nothing else quite like it.
“Sometimes I have wondered whether life wouldn’t be much more amusing if we were all devils, no nonsense about angels and being good.”
— Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger)
Vincent Price chews up the scenery as Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who commits suicide in front of the critics who’ve thwarted his career. As critics begin to die in bizarre fashion, twistedly reminiscent of the gruesome and unexpected murders in Shakespeare’s plays, chief critic Peregrine Devlin begins to see a startling pattern… Along the lines later aped by Se7en, but far more clever and much, much more fun with a heavyweight supporting cast including Diana Rigg, Harry Andrews, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, and Swindon’s own Diana Dors.
“A remarkable performance. He was overacting as usual, but he knew how to make an exit.”
— Peregrin Devlin (Ian Hendry)
There’s a monster in my office, and it gnaws at me.
This monster dwells in the twilight world between life and death, never daring to crawl out of the shadows. It’s too hideous for the light of day; bloated and grotesque, its malformed appendages flap spastically. No wonder I keep it in the dark.
If you ever looked more closely, as several people have, you would see that its individual parts are quite lovely, even if they don’t fit together like clockwork. Were the extraneous bits sliced away and the remainder stitched up neatly, we could see what massive reconstructive surgery might get this creature on its feet.
For now, the monster remains in the shadows. I lock the bottom drawer to keep it from wandering out.
It’s my first novel, The Wine Ghost, in which we consider the terrible freedom of Frank Boyles, the last Baby Boomer. Set in Arizona, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand, The Wine Ghost was twelve years in the making. I wrote at least 350,000 words on three continents to get the present 110,000, and I learned lessons in writing that no classroom can contain. The Wine Ghost is so dense, challenging, and chaotic that it’s unpublishable in its present form, but writers who’ve read the whole thing (and the handful of agents who’ve read the pitch and substantial excerpts) have said it’s a remarkable achievement, despite the fatal flaws.
Here are some of those fatal flaws (from my current perspective):
• The first half of the novel is a nosedive, and readers begin to wish for the final collision 30 pages in. As it is, it takes 60,000 words for Frank Boyles to fall off Japan.
• The upward spiral of the second half provides stronger structure, and it’s less relentlessly depressing than the first half, but the pacing is crippled by chapters up to 9,500 words in length.
• Those overlong chapters end like short stories, depriving readers of thrills, chills, or cliff-hangers that might help them keep turning the pages.
• Even at a slim 110,000, it’s nearly Dickensian in the number of characters and subplots, a ridiculously overdrawn expat milieu that drowns a simple tale of disgrace and redemption.
• Its many stylistic indiscretions (i.e., showing off) brand it as an irretrievable semi-autobiographical first novel from a boy who had read too damned much Cormac McCarthy and far too little Hemingway.
Well, what to do with a monster like this? “Kill your darlings” comes to mind, but there’s still good meat on those awkward bones. I’d be a fool to just delete it.
• plucking out whole works of short fiction
Done and done. From The Wine Ghost, I’ve harvested short fiction (“Dry Wash” in The Bicycle Review, “Coolie Tales” in not from here, are you?, “The Belly Lesson” and “Tracy-baby Tells a Ghost Story” in a for-the-love online litmag) and poetry (“The Algerian Witch’s Abandoned Brood” in Hauptfriedhoff, for which I also penned the foreword). This is good exposure and possibly good advance PR, as long as I credit these appearances in my final MS.
Oh, and as long as I eventually rewrite and sell the book.
• repurposing plot, setting, and character
Check. If The Wine Ghost is to become a viable novel, I must cut 40,000 words of extraneous characters and subplots, and I’ll be damned if they’re going to waste. Almost all of that 40,000 words, including an entire valley and one of the most frightening maniacs I’ve ever written, is going into my paranormal thriller series. A no-brainer, as they say.
• entering first-chapter contests
Consider this: your first novel, like mine, may be unpublishable in its current condition, but you polished the living daylights out of that first chapter, didn’t you? Despite structural flaws in the work-as-a-whole, you might still get some cash out of that first chapter. Dr. John Yeoman has put out a straightforward, thoughtful guide titled “How to Win Writing Contests for Profit.”
Now you know.
• thematic analysis: the rut or the sweet spot?
We make and break patterns in our writing over the years. Sometimes patterns emerge because we’re caught in the loop of trying and failing to get it right, and sometimes such patterns remain because we got it right the first time and it works so damned well. Because we’re swinging for the fences and bursting with things to say, our first novels are perfect for spotting the beginnings of larger thematic patterns in our writing.
The Wine Ghost is no exception. My old friend, developmental editor Zak Johnson, says this: “I think you’ve mined your Wine Ghost for more than you even realize. (the evil uncle from “Dry Wash”) has reappeared as the obscene old man in many of your works … if you do (rewrite The Wine Ghost as a commercially viable novel), keep the original as a relic of the exorcism that brought it out of you.”
Or as a standalone shrine to my daddy issues. Enough said there.
A re-read of that novel may show you patterns to build upon or abandon. Don’t just write it all off as juvenilia.
• just one more draft, I promise
After 30 years as a professional writer and editor, I put The Wine Ghost aside and started submitting fiction in 2009. I have a completed and competitive genre novel making the rounds of publishers, and I’m halfway done with the sequel. I can’t drop that to start draft five of The Wine Ghost, especially knowing that it would take a sixth and seventh draft to get this beast on its feet. I have too much going on. I sometimes want to just strip off everything I can repurpose from The Wine Ghost and leave it like a car on cinderblocks. I’ve moved on, I tell myself.
If only I could. I’ve planted crossover elements in my paranormal thriller series such that it occupies the same time and space as The Wine Ghost. It’s not just the paranormal thriller series, either. I’m constantly laying Easter eggs and setting breadcrumb trails that lead back to the monster in the bottom drawer.
I don’t kid myself that The Wine Ghost will ever, ever make more money or even gain more critical acclaim than a genre book. It’s not that I miss the freshness and urgency of the literary expression that led to my writing The Wine Ghost; I’m a much better writer now than even a few years ago, when I wrapped up the fourth draft.
The dreadful fact is that it’s an important book, the book that called me to write it because it may speak to some teenager as confused and depressed as I was when I first got a little relief by reading Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren or Lord Dunsany’s Pegana tales. It may show some kid a path out of a darkness that almost took my sanity and my life.
This monster gnaws to tell me that I must keep honing my craft in order to do the story justice. Every genre chapter I write, every blog post I submit, every short story that goes over some indifferent editor’s transom — it’s all surgical training to reanimate the monster in my office.
I’m lifting weights here, people.
And it may sound perverse, but I hope you have a monster in your office to keep you moving as well.
Visit it sometimes. Thank it for keeping you working. Promise it that you’ll stop by more often and that you’ll eventually bring it to life and set it free on an unsuspecting world.
It doesn’t hurt to make these promises, even if you don’t intend to keep them.
And don’t worry if you forget to go to see your monster every once in a while.
If your monster is anything like mine, it will come to see you.
Versions of this post have appeared in Blood-Red Pencil and Write Now, Right Now