Edward Owen – Author

Monthly Archives: July 2013

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Ray Bradbury Challenge Week #2- Free Ride

For an explanation on this Challenge, see last week’s post here.  Or read Arial Burnz blog for the really in depth explanation here.

I work for the LA County Metro. Guess my work is invading my writing….

Free Ride

It was a stroke of luck that he found it at all. Robert was sure it hadn’t been on the sidewalk when he went to sleep. The shiny black TAP card practically glowed against the grimy sidewalk as if someone had left it as a gift.

He shuffled to the nearest stop and climbed on the first bus that happened by and pressed the card to the reader. It gave a cheery little beep. This was his lucky day.

The car ran the red light and hit the bus just as Robert snatched the five dollar bill off the floor. Because his head was down, none of the glass cut him as it did the other passengers. He pushed away the paramedics and headed to the next stop.

On the next ride, a twenty beckoned between the seats. Robert wedged his hand into the crack and stretched his fingers until they just grabbed the bill. It slipped from his grip and he scurried on his hands and knees to retrieve it. The dump truck careening down the hill hit the bus in the exact center, cutting it in two and killing the eight people in the center seats. Robert walked away without a scratch. Buses did not seem to be a safe way to travel, regardless of their profitability.

Several passengers gave him nasty looks as he boarded the train. He ignored them. His card was as good as theirs. The train shot out of the tunnel into the sunlight. The driver of the tanker truck was too busy reading a text from his girlfriend to see the red lights. The explosion killed the thirty five people in the first car as well as the engineer. Robert was retrieving a black bag from under the seat. Because he was in the last car, he suffered some minor bruising. He felt the laptop was an adequate trade-off for his injuries. But now he was worried.

The laptop case also contained a key card to a hotel. The address put it downtown so he walked the four blocks. He slipped into a side entrance and pushed the card into the first door in the hallway. The light blinked red so he moved to the next door. On his eighth try, the light blinked green and the lock clicked. He pushed the door open a few inches.

“Hello, anyone here? I found your card.” He didn’t want to say ‘computer’, but it would be hard to hide. The only answer was the steady hum from the air conditioner. He eased into the room, shuffling his feet, ready to bolt at the first sign of an occupant.

A neatly made queen sized bed occupied the center of the room. Robert opened the closet and found several suits and dress shirts hanging inside. Nothing fancy, but a quick inspection of the tags revealed they were his size.

What are the odds?

The bathroom was fully stocked with towels, a shaving kit and a toothbrush and toothpaste, all sealed in plastic. Robert went back to the door and threw the security latch. He stripped off his dirty clothes, turned on the shower and climbed in. Thirty minutes later he shut off the water, his skin pink from scrubbing. He eyed the pile of dirty rags lying on the floor before wrapping himself in a towel and checking the dresser drawers. He wasn’t surprised to find boxers and undershirts neatly stacked inside. He shaved and pulled his unruly hair back into a pony tail. The man staring back at him in the mirror sparked old memories. He laid down on the bed and fell asleep.

The next morning, he dressed, flipped open the laptop and logged on to the internet. Within fifteen minutes he found a listing for a graphics designer position at one of the ad agencies downtown. His email inquiry garnered a response in less than an hour, stating that an applicant had canceled their appointment and could he be there at ten o’clock? Robert responded immediately to confirm, packed up the computer, donned one of the jackets from the closet and strode out of the front door of the hotel, his feet barely touching the ground.

He had just enough time to make his interview… if he took the bus! The thought of getting on board another bus tied his stomach in knots.

Look, you wouldn’t be going to a job inter view in new clothes if you hadn’t gotten on that bus, would you?

Robert swallowed a lump in his throat and climbed up the steps. An attractive young woman smiled as he walked past. He did his best to smile back, and gripped the back of the next seat as he sat, his knuckles white with fear. His ride was uneventful, but he got off the bus two stops early and walked the rest of the way to the interview. An hour and a half later, he emerged from the building with a new job. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the TAP card and the cash he had found.

“I don’t think I need this anymore,” he said and tossed the card into the trash can near the street. He purchased a standard day pass TAP card and waited for the bus. When it arrived, Robert found a seat near the front. It was a quick ride across the bridge back to the hotel. The operator was just about to close the door when someone shouted “Wait!” A dirty hand was thrust in the doorway and its owner ambled up the steps.

“Got me a TAP card. Gonna ride all day,” said the man. He was filthy and Robert wrinkled his nose as the stench overwhelmed him. The man reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a card then swiped it on the reader. “Found it in the trash. Never seen a black one.”

“Nooooo!” The scream erupted from Robert’s throat as the tires squealed and glass shattered.


Writing and the Wizard of Oz

First of all, I’m talking about the original with Dorothy, Toto and her three goofy boyfriends… It will forever have a place in my heart. Second of all, this entire blog post was done on my phone and sent as text messages, so I hope you appreciate the effort (No, it is NOT a smart phone, it’s pretty dumb.)

I’ve been known to use the phrase ‘I’m off to see the Wizard’ when leaving the house or the salt mine Keyshop. As is often the case, my writer’s brain hopped on that train of thought and forced my fingers to type.

Dorothy represents our neophyte writer, wide eyed and pursuing her dreams of becoming an author. Upon announcing this to friends and family, she finds herself in the Land of Oz, a cleverly disguised and little known outer circle of Dante’s Inferno. She is warmly welcomed by her friends and family, represented by the Munchkins. There’s a lot of singing and dancing and ‘You go, girl’ but they can’t really help her. Then the jealous friend/relative Wicked Witch shows up and does her best to derail Dorothy’s plans.

“You write? (cackling laugh) You don’t have a degree/enough imagination/ the time… You’ll never be a real writer my pretty, and neither will your little dog.”

"We're off to see the Wizard...."

“We’re off to see the Wizard….”

But wait! There’s a publisher/wizard who can make all your dreams come true! the Munchkins cheer. Just follow the Yellow Brick Submission/Query Letter Road.” Fortunately for Dorothy, a Good Witch/Mentor shows up to help her on her journey. (Tonight the part of Glenda the Good Witch will be played by WANA goddess Kristen Lamb http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com).

Like any new writer, Dorothy makes some writer friends along the way. The Scarecrow is sweet but keeps using ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ and his spelling is so bad it makes it hard to read his work. Dorothy is too nice and too naive to suggest that the Scarecrow take some writing classes and simply watches him stumble through one clumsy paragraph after another. Alas, he cannot help her much on her trip.

Along the way Dorothy runs into a bunch of nay sayers and psuedo critics, but has the presence of mind to collect their comments/apples and use them to her advantage. She also toughens up a bit and adds a much needed layer of skin.

The next member of Dorothy’s writing circle is the Tin Woodsman. His prose is perfect. His writing is grammatically correct with nary a typo in sight. His writing is BORING! Because it lacks what? Oh, please tell me you connected the dots on this one… It lacks HEART! He takes no chances and allows none of that pesky emotion bleed into his work. Great cure for insomnia. For that reason TW can’t help our intrepid Dorothy much, except as a living spell check.

Poor Dorothy, searching the path to authordom with such poor results. Companion #3 is no better. The Cowardly Lion Writer writes only for himself and doesn’t have the courage to put his pennings out there for others to read. He is, however, more than happy to tell others what is wrong with THEIR writing. Bully, coward and useless to boot. And Dorothy because of her kind heart drags the dead wood along with her, prolonging the pain of becoming a successful writer. Thankfully when the evil witch/jealous coworker tries to bog her down with poppies/cookies and shiny things her mentor comes to the rescue with a snow storm vente espresso.

Low and behold the day arrives when Dorothy and company reach the Emerald City/Publisher’s office, only to be told the Wizard is not accepting submissions, “Not no way, not no how.” Poor Dorothy is crushed. She’s come so far and fought so bravely only to have the door slammed in her face. She does what any good writer would do; she resorts to tears. (If this worked in our world I’d be slamming my toe in the door every day… NOT my fingers, I still have to write).

And magically (because this is a movie), our intrepid adventurers are admitted to the Emerald City (so named because publishers have money lying around in stacks). Surely now Dorothy can get a killer book deal. But alas, the Wizard has other ideas.
“It needs vampires, vampires are hot.”
“But it’s a con-rom mystery set in Santa Monica,” argues Dorothy.
“And a long car chase, we want to be sure Hollywood will pick it up. Oh, and I need you to steal the witch’s broomstick. I’m pretty sure I can pass it off as a Harry Potter movie prop.”

Frustrated, Dorothy tries to fall back on logic.
“But that’s not fair!” At this point the Wizard is tired of our fledgling four and shoos them out in a storm of fire and mounds of poorly written legal forms.

I would cut to the chase, but we’ve come this far…

The Wicked Stepsister (what? It never said they weren’t related) is seething with jealousy by this point and starts a number of vicious rumors about Dorothy making time with three losers and before you know it the gossip is flying like… Oh yes I will… Like monkeys. The personal attacks are extremely damaging and the Witch manages to lock Dorothy in her slum apartment in South Central. She won’t even give our poor heroine a paper sack on which to scribble the charming romantic comedy burning a hole in her brain. Her fellow writers in arms sneak into the tenement to free her, but Dorothy engineers her own escape when she inadvertently douses the Wicked Spinster Aunt with a glass of Koolaid. The overwhelming sweetness of the drink puts the Witch into a sugar coma from which she never recovers. Upon their return to the Wizard with one very beat broomstick in hand, they learn that his powers are not quite so all powerful.

“Ebooks and self publishing have ruined me,” he laments. “but I can teach you all a thing or two as a small token of my gratitude (considering he hocked the broomstick to a rabid Potter fan for a cool $20K, it’s the least he can do).

“For you, Scarecrow, there’s nothing wrong with your writing that an English class and a Macbook Pro with spell check won’t cure.” In less time than it takes to write a cheesy teen angst-super natural-love triangle hack novel, the Scarecrow is banging out some very respectable short stories.

“For you, Tin Man, all you need is a muse to inspire you and get you a little steamed up from time to time.” The curtains part and Jenny McCarthy prances over to the Silver Scribe and plants an embarrassingly long and passionate kiss on his quivering mouth. At last report, they were living in Spain and the Tin Woodsman was the hottest thing on the erotica market under the nom de plume of Steely Dan. Rumor has it that Jenny hired a tinsmith with a degree in electrical engineering and now you couldn’t wipe the smile off her face with a two by four.

“To the Lion I give you a lifetime membership in WANA and WLC. These two groups will give you all the love and support you will need to get your writing out there. I’m even throwing in lunch with Kristen Lamb who can help you build a platform that will help you find an audience.” This so inspired the Lion that he has self published two novels and teaches creative writing at the local community college.

“I bet there’s no book deal with a huge advance in that bag for me,” Dorothy said with a pout.
The Wizard placed a hand on her shoulder (he’s a toucher, you know) and looked wisely into her eyes.

“I can’t help you anymore. I’m getting out of publishing and opening a Starbucks in Jamaica. Have a nice life, kid.”

After which he sped off in his Porsche Boxter leaving poor Dorothy all alone. Ah, but all was not lost! Glenda/Kristen floated in on champagne bubble to save the day.

“My dear, you’ve had what you needed all along. You write with heart, your grammar and punctuation are spotless and you are fearless in your prose. All you needed was an editor to pull it all together.”

In a puff of smoke Arial Burnz (like the font, not the little mermaid, wrong story) appears and says, “Your POV bounces all over the place and you have more filters than a coffee maker. I can’t do this alone.” Another puff of smoke and AJ Nuest joins the party.

“Don’t worry, honey,” says AJ, “I got a whole box of red pens with your name on it. They’ll go great with those shoes.”

In the end, all Dorothy needed was a little guidance, some creativity and a big box of HARD WORK. Sadly there is no magic short cut, but Dorothy did self publish her cute little rom-com novel and made enough money to move off the farm into her own place in Malibu.

The Cure – Ray Bradbury Challenge Week #1

There is a long story behind all of this, but suffice it to say that Ray Bradbury (one of my literary heroes) is credited with this idea. Write a short story every week for a year, between 250 and 750 words. At the end of the year you will have 52 new stories and your writing will have improved a great deal. This idea was passed along to me by my dear friend and fearsome editor Arial Burnz. Challenge accepted with the change that I am shooting for 300 to 1000 words for a number of unimportant reasons. These will appear every Wednesday and yes, I will still post my usual silliness awesomeness on Fridays. Feedback, as always, is welcome.

The Cure

Greenish-yellow vapors hang in the air like some art-deco fog. Helicopters cross the sky morning and night spraying their poison and dropping leaflets telling us we will be cured, that life will go back to being normal. We’ve managed to shoot down a handful of them but it’s like trying to dam a river with two rocks and a handful of sticks.

They had no right. They built the wall to keep us in thinking we would die off. When we didn’t they attacked us. Now we will die for certain. Some of us will not survive changing back. I watched my brother go through it. He writhed on the floor in agony, his limbs contorted by the spasms wracking his body. I put a bullet in his skull out of mercy. He was the first of many.

The virus we carry is aggressive and the chemical only works if it comes in contact with our skin. If we were still breathing they would have wiped us out already. We stay inside as much as possible. A group of us fled down into the sewers. No one has come back so I don’t know if they made it.

We got it all wrong. The books, the movies; everyone missed the mark by a mile. The roving hordes of mindless creatures feeding on the uninfected? Hardly. Contracting the virus is a lot less painful than their ‘cure’. There’s no biting; simple skin contact usually does the trick. You feel a little dizzy, sleep it off for a couple of hours and then wake up. Without a heartbeat. It’s the last time you will ever sleep. You can’t imagine how liberating it is if you haven’t experienced it.

We are the most productive society in the history of mankind. But because we live on raw meat we’re labeled monsters. Well, raw is not really accurate. It has to be living tissue, blood and bone. Of course there were unfortunate casualties in the beginning, before we learned to control our hunger and keep plenty of livestock on hand. It’s been almost five years since the last human death. Even still we are seen by the ‘normals’ as a threat. So they are going to kill us. Maybe not directly, but reversing the virus will end our immortality and subject us to all the diseases and health problems that have plagued our species for a millennium. Explosions echo through the city. They are using rockets filled with liquid to spread their poison and cure us, make us like them. We are choosing otherwise.

The smoke from the gun mixes with the mist creeping under the door. The bodies of my wife and our two young daughters lie unmoving on the floor – there were only three bullets in the gun – but they are free from the pain and suffering that awaits me. The burning courses through my limbs and I know the change has started. I will live in hell until I can find a way to end my miserable life. And I will make sure I take as many of them with me as possible.

Racing Down the Homestretch (in Concrete Shoes)

Nothing cranks up my creative juices like starting a new project. Where some writers look at the blank page with trepidation and a feeling of being completely overwhelmed, I see it as my own personal sandbox/canvas. It is the tabula rasa (blank slate if you are Latin challenged) on which I am free to create the masterpiece of my choosing. A cursor blinking in white space does for me what the sun does for Superman; I type faster than a pouting muse, my prose is more powerful than than a critic’s opinion, I’m able to leap tall story arcs in a single bound; I become an unstoppable juggernaut of authorly awesomeness.

I race along pretty well for a while (plying my muse with chocolate and back rubs) with the occasional bump in the road that every writer faces but I push through. Then, somewhere between two thirds and three fourths through, the wheels come off.

I blame my Muse. I think the chocolate makes her fat and lazy and the backrubs have turned into full body massages with little or no inspiration in return. I start looking for other things to do. I’ve even been known to turn to (gasp!) editing to avoid writing. It isn’t pretty. What started with my Muse and I working in tandem genius has degraded into a state of debauchery; me wandering alone in the less reputable parts of the internet (Facebook and Twitter are Beverly Hills compared to some of the slums I’ve visited… Not my proudest moments) and my Muse passed out on the floor with chocolate covering her hands and face. An intervention would be in order at this point but there’s no one to perform such a service. I plod ever so slowly forward, my feet encased in concrete like a Mafia hit victim dragging my Muse by her hair caveman style. Somehow, we make it to the finish line and we smile at each other through the chocolate haze, only to realize that we are now faced with the less than savory task of rewriting. More chocolate. This is where heavy drinking would come into play if I wasn’t allergic to alcohol.

 Two things I find valuable to combat this affliction; deadlines and editors. I participated in NaNoWriMo last year and FINISHED the first draft of my novel Death in the Middle of Nowhere in thirty days. 53,300 words. Yes, it’s a little light and needs a lot of work, but it’s done. I am reading it to my critique group and noting their suggestions in Scrivener (more about this great program here). It will likely be a long while before it sees the light of day, if ever. But it’s done. My editor, Arial Burnz, is great at kicking my butt into gear and getting me to clean up my act writing. She and my Muse don’t always see eye to eye so I keep them away from each other. Red headed editor vs. Muse with a whip; not a pretty sight. Besides, they are both far too valuable to allow anything to happen to them. Just another challenge in the life of an Indie writer.

 It is nice to have allies in this battle. Other authors face the same challenges and hearing their stories often helps me cope. For those of you who write, you owe it to yourself to read Kristen Lamb’s blog here. I often get a chuckle but always get good pointers on the craft from her perspective. As the founder of WANA (We Are Not Alone) she is the torch bearer for our cause. Every little bit helps.

At some point, stories do get finished, edited, rewritten and published, but the last mile is grueling. I’d rather go to the dentist. Every day for a week. In my underwear (sorry for the visual). Thanks for letting me vent. Until next week, Dear Reader, scary concrete dreams.

Horror-able Violence

Most horror stories contain violence. It gores with the terror-tory. (Sorry, that was pun-avoidable. It will likely get worse. Did you actually read the title of this blog?) Nothing shakes our instinct for self preservation like the threat of extreme physical harm or death. Even if the act itself is not described in detail, alluding to it often serves the same purpose. If you suddenly found yourself floating in the middle of the ocean at night, what is the first horrible thought that enters your mind? That you are likely to succumb to hypothermia and drown? Probably not unless you have a lot of training or expertise in ocean survival. Most people would be scared shipless (I warned you) that they were going to get eaten by a shark, even though hypothermia is a certainty and several thousand times more likely to happen. Which ‘Accident at Sea’ incident makes for a scarier story, Jaws or Titanic? Exactly. Both involve the death of one or more characters but getting chewed up and possibly swallowed is a lot more terrifying than freezing to death and gently slipping beneath the waves. It’s violent and in all probability extremely painful.

The thought of dying violently is terrifying to most of us. The next best/worst thing is reading about it happening to someone else. I’ve talked before about the power of empathy, our ability as humans to put ourselves in the emotional shoes of another. It’s what makes books and movies popular. Did you cry when Old Yeller died? Cringe when Jack busted through the bathroom door in The Shining? Cheer when Rocky knocked the crap out of Apollo Creed? That’s empathy. Without it, no one would bother to read fiction, especially not horror.

I’m a big movie fan. Screenplays are just stripped down books in most respects. Some of the best movies started as books. I will admit I’m a much bigger fan of Sci-Fi movies than Horror. The Slasher movies have given Horror a black eye IMNSHO. Gratuitous gore and violence, vapid characters and flimsy, rehashed plots plague this genre of film making. For the most part they are laughable and not scary at all. I will admit I have not watched many and may have missed a gem or two, but I doubt it. Even some of the movies made from great books weren’t great movies. Kubrik’s version of The Shining didn’t work for me. Probably would have been great if I hadn’t read the book first, but I think Hollywood left it’s clumsy fingerprints all over the scene of the crime. Even so, it’s the violence or threat of it that makes the story scary. Ghosts? No big deal. Your Dad going after your Mom with an axe? That has decades of therapy written all over it.

I’ll admit I’m not as well read in the classics as I probably should be. I had a brief introduction to Mr. Poe in high school and have yet to indulge in the Lovecraftian world. Blame Stephan King and Dean Koontz. They pulled me into their worlds and I cannot escape. There may very well be horror tomes devoid of the promise of blood and violence, but none come to mind. Horror without violence is like a romance novel without kissing or sex. It goes (body) part and parcel with the genre and readers have come to expect it. I assure you, if you pick up one of my stories (thank you in advance for your support) you can count on the bodies hitting the floor… Even if they get back up and eat somebody. Until next week, Dear Reader, scary violent dreams.

A Spotlight on Indie Horror

OK, you could probably file this under shameless self promotion but as I have stated before, blogging is not an altruistic endeavor.

For those on both sides of the horror fence (readers and writers and fence straddlers like me) I’m happy to announce the coming launch of a new ezine, Dark Recesses. As the Managing Editor (the vote was taken while I was out of the room) I have the pleasure of working with two great people on this project. Elizabyth Burtis is our Creative Director and handles all of the layouts, website and other such things. Mark Harrington is our Operations Manager and  handles website maintenance, email and other such computer wizardry. Both Mark and Elizabyth are horror writers as well. Thanks to modern technology (thank you, video conferencing) we are able to collaborate even though they are in Portland and I’m in So. Cal. I met Elizabyth through the Coffee House Writers Group here in LA before she moved to Oregon. She met Mark up there (a very romantic story) and they started the Portland chapter of CHWG known as PDX. OK, back on topic.

Unlike other genre based ezines, we aren’t looking to showcase works of fiction. Instead, our contributing authors provide us with a glimpse into the inspiration that produced their book. We call it ‘the story behind the story’. For fans, it’s an opportunity to learn more about some of the up and coming authors in the world of horror. For authors, more shameless self promotion. Our focus is “the inspiration and motivation behind Indie horror”. In addition to the articles, authors and small publishers can buy ad space for further promotion. Contributing authors get a 50% discount on ads placed in any issue in which they have an article. We are also looking for original, unpublished artwork that is reflective of the genre. Submission guidelines can be found at www.darkrecessesezine.com. Our first issue is scheduled for October 1st, 2013. Just in time for Halloween, of course, with subsequent issues coming out each quarter. Not exactly altruistic, but doing our part to help promote Indie horror. I can be reached at uncle.fester@darkrecessesezine.com. Until next week, Dear Readers, scary ezine dreams.