A few weeks ago, I published a post called Bibliography in which I listed every book I’ve ever had published, along with some notes about each piece. It got a nice response and got me thinking about all the projects over the years that I either finished but never published or completely abandoned during the writing process. For brevity’s sake, I think the only way to do this properly is to only talk about books. If I also went into short stories in this category, we’d be here forever. What follows is Part 2 of a list of all my unpublished or unfinished books, from the time I started writing up to the present day. The best way to do this, I think, is to divide this post into three parts. The first was my childhood works. Today’s entry will cover my teenage writings. Part 3 will be my adult pieces.
ARNOLD BANE: This was me writing a pulp hero before I knew what a pulp hero was. Probably obvious, but I got the name by combining Schwarzenegger with a Batman villain. In most of these stories, he fought to save his city from his seemingly immortal nemesis Nick Jackson (who I probably named after a bully). As the series progressed, I incorporated a revenge narrative where the hero loses his family and tries to find their killer, and a story in which he gets framed for something and works to clear his name. I don’t remember if I wrote any of these down, to be honest, but I acted them out in my backyard pretty regularly.
LIFE FORM, WHERE THERE’S SMOKE THERE’S FIRE, THE ALIEN WARS: These are three books that might not have been intentionally related, but could very easily have been a series. You know the deal. Alien invasion apocalypse. Starts small, escalates, lots of shit blows up. My attempts to write these down never really satisfied me, but I kept at them for years. I kind of want to revisit them now.
STEELTECH, TX-2000, DARK FUTURE: I remember no plot details, but I’m sure they were my attempts to ape what I liked about the first two Terminator movies (which was FUCKING EVERYTHING). I don’t remember how much I wrote down, but I did some cool drawings I’ve since lost. I know they were cool, because a kid in my sixth-grade class threatened to kick my ass if I didn’t Xerox some copies to give him. Hey… maybe he still has them. Maybe he has the originals. Jerk.
THE ENEMY: A court jester from medieval times that’s also a vampire wreaks havoc on a small Pennsylvania town for some reason. Two kids and a priest band together to thwart it with an ancient dagger.
CRIMSON FALLS: An ancient creature that’s lived under a town for so long that it’s part of the town takes the shape of a wolf/dragon thing and terrorizes a group of kids. I really fucking wanted to write IT when I was younger. Jesus.
NEON LASER X: This was my fucking epic. A prison of war in a dystopian/cyberpunk future joins a group of rebels to overthrow the tyrannical government. Followed by the sequels, NEON LASER XTREME (back off, it was the 90s) and NEON LASER X 3000.
Well, that was… a thing. I hope you’ve enjoyed laughing at my expense.
About a week and a half ago, I published a post called Bibliography in which I listed every book I’ve ever had published, along with some notes about each piece. It got a nice response and got me thinking about all the projects over the years that I either finished but never published or completely abandoned during the writing process. For brevity’s sake, I think the only way to do this properly is to only talk about books. If I also went into short stories in this category, we’d be here forever. What follows is Part 1 of a list of all my unpublished or unfinished books, from the time I started writing up to the present day. The best way to do this, I think, is to divide this post into three parts. The first will just be my childhood works. Part 2 will cover my teenage writings. Part 3 will be my adult pieces.
THE SKELETON: I wrote this when I was seven-years-old after seeing Stephen King’s Silver Bullet on Halloween night, an event which made me fall forever in love with the horror genre. I don’t remember a whole lot about the plot, if there was one, but basically there was a castle in which a skeleton resided. The titular villain killed anyone dumb enough to trespass on his abode. If I recall correctly, the castle overlooked an old European style village. This leads me to believe that maybe Silver Bullet wasn’t my first horror movie, because aesthetically, I pictured this book looking like Dracula, specifically the version starring Bela Lugosi. Maybe I did see some of the Universal monster movies, but nevertheless, the King movie was what made me want to write horror. I took a stack of copy paper, folded it down the middle, and basically made a chapbook (before knowing what a chapbook was). I put a few sentences of narrative on each page, along with some ink illustrations. I’m pretty sure I tried selling copies of this chapbook to neighbors for a buck a piece.
THE SKULL: I remember this a lot less clearly, except that I was inspired by the VHS cover to the movie Graveyard Shift and it precedes what would later develop into an obsession with floating head movies (Cemetery Man, Zombi 3). Maybe also worth mentioning is the fact that it has no relation to THE SKELETON, though it definitely was the second installment of my chapbook series. I guess that technically means these books aren’t exactly unpublished, but whatever; they’re out of print and definitely lost to the ether.
*Note: The chronological order of these next three or four is unclear. I’ll do my best.
SOMETHING: I think this was my first stab at a franchise. I planned four entries in the SOMETHING series. They were about a giant squid that kept coming back to attack a small town. I was definitely inspired by what little I knew of the Jaws movies (I wasn’t allowed to see them, but I had a working familiarity), the movie version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Godzilla, and It Came from Beneath the Sea. There were submarines, cities leveled by tentacles, and damsels in distress. If I ever revisit this one (weirdly enough, writing this post makes me want to revisit all of this), I’d probably give it a different title. As before, the first book was released as one of my makeshift chapbooks. I don’t think the sequels ever got written, but I definitely drew covers for them. And no, I don’t have any of this artwork, unfortunately. Weirdly enough, I wanted to rework these a little bit after seeing the first two Alien movies. I planned the squids to evolve to also have arms and legs and heads that may or may not have been giant penises with teeth.
HAUNTED HOUSE: If you caught my interview on The Horror Show with Brian Keene, you already have a vague idea of what this book was about. Kids get caught in a haunted house inhabited by a clown that’s also a spider. The oldest kid starts dressing in black and wielding a samurai sword. The only original stroke I think I put was I had the clown bleed cotton candy. Still, this story captured my imagination for years, and it got me banned from show-and-tell in fourth grade.
SOMEONE WHO’S DEAD: Definitely one of my favorite titles I ever came up with. I don’t think I ever actually wrote this, so much as drew art for it. Basically, I had this guy who was like Freddy Krueger in that he kept coming back to kill new groups of kids, but for his look, I drew inspiration from the car accident victim on the cover of the original Pet Sematary film.
GRAVEDIGGERS: I don’t remember much except in the opening scene someone got their leg cut off and it upset my mom so I stopped writing it.
THE BOY AND HIS PET TIGER: I guess I wrote Life of Pi long before there was Life of Pi. It was definitely set in the jungle though, not on a boat.
VOYAGE OF A LIFETIME: A group of people travel to an island to explore and end up at odds with a reptilian guy who has an army of skeletons, zombies, and prehistoric crocodiles. Pretty cool.
WEREWOLF PARK: Jurassic Park but werewolves. No, I’m serious.
These were the standouts. I’m also pretty sure I wrote a sequel to The Blob called, IT’S THE BLOB! I know I wrote a shark story called IT (and proudly wrote a letter to Stephen King about my accomplishment). There was also a zombie story modeled after Night of the Living Dead, but the living souls were trapped in the undead bodies, and I had a lead zombie who looked like the grim reaper and carried around a cane. There was also a vampire book in there somewhere, but I don’t remember any other details.
This was fun. I think I may revisit these ideas now. Do a collection, maybe. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.
Katie and her mother cuddled in the back of the car driven by the demon who injured and violated them. Night darkened the sides of the winding road. The woods, barely visible, appeared as a giant living creature as leaves and branches tossed gently in the breeze. Katie felt as if she’d been transported to some primordial darkness, a black dimension full of monsters like the fiery-eyed naked man who drove towards some awful, unknown destination.
The car drove from country to town to city, but though the light increased, Katie felt no comfort. She and her mother gave up on asking the man where he planned to take them and what he planned to do to them. He offered no insights, and after a time, it became obvious that whatever he had in mind would be something dreadful. Stories like this didn’t end happily. Ever.
They took a route through the seedy warehouse district. Long abandoned and dilapidated buildings only accentuated the gloom and Katie’s bleak outlook. She clutched her mother’s hand tightly and found she no longer knew who was comforting who. Both women had suffered tremendously at the hands of this monster tonight, and both likely had something even worse in store. One could argue that what they’d endured so far was worse than death, but not to Katie. Despite the horrors or the night, she needed to go on living. She had a future. She had friends. She had love. With those wonderful things in her life, she could process tonight’s trauma. She good go on.
Her mother, on the other hand, might feel differently. Their family stood on the brink of ruin. Late-middle-aged, one could argue she had entered the twilight of her life. She had a decade or fifteen years left of work, tops. Her looks would fade soon. Immense trauma at this stage of her life could destroy her, even if this awful man didn’t kill her tonight.
Thinking about her mother this way brought new tears to Katie’s eyes when she believed herself all cried out by this point. Guess there are always more tears to shed.
The car slowed down when they entered a section of buildings converted into row homes. Katie’s mother looked up and glanced around.
“I think this is where your father used to live,” she said.
“That’s right,” the driver confirmed, his tone sinister.
This new information prompted Katie to renew her inquiries.
“What is this? What do you want with us?”
“All in due time, sweet girl. For now, let’s just say I need the two of you as bargaining chips.”
Katie and her mother exchanged glances. By her mother’s expression, Katie guessed the woman who’d birthed her had no better idea as to their fate as Katie did. They resumed cuddling. They couldn’t seem to hold each other tight enough. How fleeting, our flesh, Katie thought, more aware of her mortality than she could ever remember being, even more than as a child afraid of the dark, even more than the time she had a fever high enough to induce demonic hallucinations of giant wolf-faced spiders crawling around her bedroom.
The car rolled to a stop in front of one of the row homes. Katie looked up and her chest clenched at the sight of her father, standing on the front stoop with a strange, dark-haired woman. Her mother followed her gaze and gasped.
The entry that follows is the first chapter to Blood and Brimstone, an apocryphal continuation of the story begun in my debut novel, Flesh and Fire. I would strongly encourage familiarity with the material before you embark on reading this tale. Otherwise, you may be a bit lost. Flesh and Fire is available on Indie Bound, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold, as part of a flip book with a zombie novella by Jonathan Maberry. Readers of FLESH AND FIRE may find this scene familiar. However, it should be noted that this time around, it’s told from a different perspective, and shows a piece not originally included in the manuscript.
Katie woke on a hard wood floor. Glass gleamed in shattered pools around her. She didn’t recognize the living room, with its lavish entertainment center, granite ledge, and leather furniture, but she felt like she should. The faces in the family photos hung from the wall were vaguely familiar. One of the faces maybe belonged to her.
I’m home. This is my house, but what the hell happened?
She tried to move and winced. Too disoriented by pain and confusion. Blood leaked from her cheek and splashed against the floor. Shards of glass dug into her palms.
Gagging sounds drew her attention to the hallway. A lean naked man stood over a prone, kneeling woman. The woman wore a black blouse, its buttons torn open. The naked man had the woman’s dirty blond hair clenched in his fists. Her face was pressed against his pelvis, her cheek bulging with something.
This is my mother. And she’s blowing a guy with me in the room. Me in the room, injured and confused. Something’s not right.
Of course, Katie could be dreaming. Some feverish nightmare brought on by a looming illness, or something funny in Jake’s weed. Where was Jake? Hadn’t he been with her earlier in the day? She didn’t remember him leaving.
This wasn’t a dream. The pain hurt too much. Everything that didn’t hurt was far too tactile. Confusion still clouded her thoughts.
Her mother’s head lolled side to side, eyes closed, as if the man’s penis contained a powerful sedative. She’s not awake. He’s raping her.
And she remembered. This man had broken in and attacked them during a heart-to-heart discussion about the state of their family. They’d discussed sitting down with Dad and trying to rebuild something together. Katie had even floated the idea of Skyping with her estranged brother. After they agreed to work on the family again, Katie had seen this naked man standing in the window, and she had screamed.
Katie tried to call out to her mother now, but could only produce a wet croak. The man’s buttocks tightened and untightened as he thrust into her mother’s mouth. Katie’s hands brushed a larger shard of glass. She glanced from it to the man assaulting her mother. She hesitated, remembering how he had walked across the sea of shattered glass like some macabre Christ, jagged grin emblazoned on his face like he enjoyed the pain.
Doesn’t matter. He’s human. You can stop him.
Katie tried to rise again. She bit her lip to avoid crying out as she got to her hands and knees. She needed the element of surprise. Her fingers closed around the shard. She held it like a dagger. Propping herself up on one knee, she teetered and almost fainted. Biting harder on her lip kept her sharp. She stood and stalked toward the man fucking her mother’s mouth.
The hallway seemed to stretch for miles. Every step dulled the pain. With every thrust of the man’s hips, rage moved to eclipse her fear. She passed the closet on her right, the stairs on her left. She crossed the doorway leading to the dining room. She came to the foot of the stairs, at the edge of the foyer. On her left side, a bloody handprint marked the door to her father’s studio. In front of her, the man continued his assault on her mother, not noticing Katie advancing with the shard of glass.
Katie raised the sharp object. She pointed the tip at the man’s jugular. In the small windows at the top of the door, she saw the reflection of herself, about to become a killer. About to kill for her family. Maybe the only thing worth killing for. She cast a final glance down at her mother, eyes half-closed and rolled to their whites, lips leaking spit and pre-cum. The image tightened around her heart like a noose around the neck of a man condemned to die.
That moment’s hesitation earned Katie an elbow to the face. She fell backwards and lost the shard, heard it clinking against the floor somewhere nearby. The naked man collapsed upon her and pinned her to the floor. Katie’s mother slumped and fell in a crumpled heap, still unconscious, mercifully unconscious.
Katie tried to squirm free, but the man was too strong. She screamed in his clutches. She cried out to a god she didn’t believe existed. The man’s eyes turned to fire and her prayers fell silent. His face became a grimace. The fires in his pupils dimmed.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I know nothing else I can do.”
I just had my short story, “Long Night at Jade’s Diner,” critiqued by my classmates, most of whom are 12-15 years younger than me. While I took this Creative Writing class with an open mind, I had no idea how these kids would react to my story. After all, it’s very violent. At nearly 7,000 words, it’s on the long side for a short story. It’s written like a faux screenplay (something I aped from Haruki Murakami’s After Dark). And it ends (and begins) rather ambiguously.
My classmates liked the story. My professor seemed to really like the story. However, this blog isn’t about that. Instead, I want to talk about some of the criticism leveled at the piece.
First, there were a few adverbs that didn’t need to be there. Some instances of “show-don’t-tell.” You know, basic early draft mistakes we all make.
Some were taken back by the ultra-violence. Now, let’s be clear: they weren’t #triggered. They, rightfully, pointed out that given the story’s more literary bent, the violence was very jarring to read. The professor disagreed, but I kind of agree with the kids on this one. The piece will likely benefit from reeling in the violence, making it less over-the-top. While gore has its place (and God knows I’ve written plenty of blood and guts stories), this particular tale doesn’t need it.
Two women called me out for the omniscient narrator describing the breasts of two female characters. If I’d been writing from the point-of-view of a character who has a fixation, the lingering might have been called-for. In this case, it wasn’t.
I’m glad they called me out for it.
When you’ve been writing as long as I have, I think it’s rather easy to get set in your ways. Weirdly enough, the professor told me early on that given my publication history, I wouldn’t likely learn anything from this class and the students who, he believes, are less far along in their writing journeys than me. But he was wrong, and I’m glad he was.
I believe you can, and should, always try to learn at every stage of your career. Like programmers who refuse to learn new software or engineers who steer clear of new equipment, the writer who stops honing his craft, regardless of their level of success, will become obsolete.
I don’t intend for that to happen until I die.