Category Archives: Chapters

Where I may hype up whatever novel I’m trying to push to the public.

The Writing Workflow for Plotters, Pantsers, and Whomever Sits Between Them

Writing a novel is no straightforward process, in spite of what the “experts” may say.

Okay, the experts, whoever they are, make no actual claim that writing a novel is straightforward, though the pantsers (like me) will argue that it comes pretty close, given that we start at the beginning and drive toward the ending, discovering as much as we can along the way (hardly straightforward, even though the momentum is almost always forward). In reality, of course, writing a novel takes planning, dedication, and follow-through, with a heavy dose of insanity—I mean organization—and reaching its proper ending will require seeing it at both the big picture level and the micro-scenic level. In short, writing a novel means you gotta have some foresight. There’s no way around that.

But I didn’t always have a problem with that.

For years, I would just open a document in Microsoft Word, crank out a chapter in a day or two (or sometimes a week if I let it get too large), and move on to the next one, making sure to save it in a folder dedicated to the novel. Once I’d finish the last chapter (usually six weeks to a year later, depending on the novel), I’d read what I have, take notes on what I like and what I don’t, and then move on to the next revision. Then somewhere along the line I’d decide that something doesn’t work, at which point I’d start adding, moving, or removing scenes, relabeling my documents to something better reflective of its current state, and make such an atrocious mess of my work that nothing would make sense anymore, yet I’d somehow bring it back together, and then I’d shelve it for a few years until somebody would ask me if I’ve written anything lately, to which I’d say no, then go back and see if I actually like that old novel that I blew up in the rewrites now, because, hey, somebody reminded me that I should really finish what I started because, hey, I’m not exactly starting on anything new. At that point, I’d take note of the scenes I like, try to rethink the ones I don’t, and then shelve the thing yet again for another few years because now I have no idea where to begin fixing it.

(Okay, I’m referring specifically to my first thriller, Panhandler Underground, which I wrote in 2005 but put on the shelf until a time I could make sense of the main character’s profession. Fortunately, I’ve ordered my copy of the Occupation Thesaurus, out now, and should receive it in the mail soon, so maybe I can finally sort this dude out and get his story back on its proper track.)

Nowadays, I find that organizing a novel is as difficult as writing it, especially when I go back and try to repair the damage I’ve already done to an existing novel, so coming up with a plan to make sense of it all is necessary. But merely going back through all of my Microsoft Word documents and trying to remember where everything is supposed to go is madness when my memory is so bad that I often read a story I like, check the author to see if he’s got anything else I might enjoy, and discover my own name on the front cover. (Okay, this doesn’t happen with my published titles, but it definitely happens with old stories I find in my documents folder. The fact that my name is on it is the only proof I have that I wrote it because I don’t remember a thing about it.) Because this is no way to work, I’ve decided it’s time to implement a new system for organization.

This is where I’ve decided to integrate multiple resources into my writing workflow, each one dedicated to a particular function within the writing process, and each one designed to keep me on track.

For the record, I just put together a video about this, which you can watch for more information, but the short version is this:

  1. If I’m writing a novel from scratch or nuking a story that no longer works in favor of starting over, then I’ll want to begin conceptualizing with the Snowflake Method and using the software dedicated to the Snowflake Method, Snowflake Pro, to accomplish this goal. This will allow me to develop the idea and move it through all ten steps toward a fully-fledged outline.
Writing Workflow Slide 1
Snowflake Pro in Action
  1. Next, I’ll want to develop the flowchart and additional character and/or scene details (like setting or items) that Snowflake Pro doesn’t visualize for an alternative way to see the story from a bird’s eye view. I can use Plottr or Campfire Pro (or Plot Factory or some other story planning software) to create the visual map, as well as fill in the additional details that Snowflake Pro doesn’t cover. If I use actual maps (created with Campaign Cartographer 3+, for example), then I’ll want to use a program like Campfire Pro to tie my maps to their descriptions. Using these programs, I can create the world and backstory I need to understand my characters and their motivations better, as well as to keep track of the nitpicky items in their lives that I’ll want to remember and quickly access at some point.
Writing Workflow Slide 2
Outline Tool in Plottr
Writing Workflow Slide 2a
Character Builder in Plottr
  1. Once I have a clue what the story is about, then I can start writing my scenes in Microsoft Word. Or, if I’m revising an existing story, I can write whichever scenes are still missing.
Writing Workflow Slide 3
Writing the Scene in Microsoft Word

Note: If I’m revising a novel, which is my case for The Computer Nerd, I probably won’t use the first two development steps unless I need to go for a complete rewrite, which is currently my case for The Fallen Footwear. The exception would be if I wanted to create an outline or summary or synopsis of an existing novel for verification of its integrity or for various marketing purposes. I would also map an existing novel if I know I’m going to write a sequel, as having a snapshot of the previous story would be immensely helpful in developing a new chapter for its characters, because, you know, my memory sucks.

  1. Once I’ve written my scenes, I can move them into Scrivener, where I can then write notecard summaries and provide status labels to help me determine whether the scene is in its proper location and achieving its proper goal. From the notecard view, I can make a more informed judgment about whether the existing work is, in fact, working.
Writing Workflow Slide 4
Creating the Novel’s Assembly (or Repair) in Scrivener

So, that’s the current workflow I’m using to either write or revise my novels. Are you a writer? What’s your workflow? Let me know in the comments below.

The Coming of NaNoWriMo 2019

I just posted a video about NaNoWriMo 2019 and how we can prep for it with Scrivener. This comes with the idea that I may actually record my writing progress this month, for those of you who want to see a story written in real-time.

Will this likely end in disaster?

Probably! So, now you gotta watch, right?

In the video, I reveal two new templates I’ve developed this year: one for planning a story (and is still a work-in-progress), and the other a basic template for NaNoWriMo that includes options for journaling, tracking progress, and writing a postmortem when all is finished.

If you’d like to use either template for your own prep or writing adventure, you can find them both here.

If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, then comment below and talk about it.

Good luck!

The Audiovisual Book Experience, an Experiment

Today on YouTube, I launched the beginning of what could become my next big feature: “The Audiovisual Book Experience.” The premise behind it is that people don’t read anymore, but they do listen. At least, that’s what I’ve heard from people who listen exclusively to audiobooks and podcasts and can’t be bothered with an actual book or blog post. I think these same people watch YouTube videos on occasion.

I confess that I don’t get it. And, I do think the information is a little suspect. Of course people still read. I’m a person, and I read! I read books and blogs. I also write both. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re a reader, too. Already, you’re proving them wrong.

But, I also see the point they make. The people who prefer audio text to visual text are the people who are too busy to sit down with a good book; they probably spend more time looking through their windshields, making sure they don’t hit something or someone than they do staring at the pages of a paperback or the screen of an e-reader. Of course, they still stare at their phones for some reason, on the road and off. But it makes you wonder: Has no one told them they can read a book on their phone? What else are they going to do at a red light?

Okay, they shouldn’t read a book while driving. Point made. Audiobooks are much better for that. And they’re also much better for running. I’ve tried reading a book while running a few times. It’s definitely too shaky to concentrate. An audiobook would’ve been nicer for that scenario. If these people are so active that they can’t even spend a few minutes in bed with a good book, then perhaps the audio version is necessary.

But what of the people who want both, the reading and the listening experience? Haven’t we all started our reading lives by reading with an adult, where the adult reads out loud while we follow along and try to understand each word? Would it be so odd if we were to read along with someone else again, but as adults?

Maybe. Probably. But we’re going to try it anyway!

And that’s the point of the Audiovisual Book Experience, to allow YouTube users to read a book while someone else narrates it to them. That way, if they need to, they can do other things while the book is “playing.” Or, if they’d rather follow along, they can see each word in its book form. This gives each reader the option of reading the book however he or she wants. For free!

Is it a good idea? I don’t know. That’s why it’s an experiment. But, if it does generate interest, I’ll likely do another. If not, then I’ll commit my time and energy to something else.

I do wonder, though, how other authors with better voices than mine could make use of an audiovisual book experience. It might be worth it for them to give it a try for their own books.

That said, I’m launching my own experience with Amusement, a short story about a businessman who must confront the corporate entity responsible for the faulty product that ruined his life.

The overview video has already launched. The introduction and legal information video will launch at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Monday, September 23, 2019), and “Part 1: Professionalism” will launch immediately after, at 1:15 p.m., both Eastern Standard Time. Each additional episode will launch on consecutive days at 1 p.m. until next Sunday when the final episode, “Part 7: Crash,” airs.

The entire audiovisual book will be curated into a playlist that you can run at your leisure.

If you decide to check it out, please let me know what you think, either here or on YouTube. Hope you’ll enjoy it.

Friday Update Bonus: Saturday Night Special – Happy End of the Year Report

So, 2016 is finally over. Hooray!

To celebrate the passing of one of my least favorite years in a long, long time, I would like to point you in the direction of the header where you might see the tab “My Books” awaiting your attention. Doesn’t that look nice and official up there?

Now, look a little closer. If you hover your mouse over the tab, you’ll see a dropdown menu cascade before you. In that tab, you’ll see a list of all of my currently available e-books. You may also notice that some of those titles have right-facing arrows beside them (looks a little like this > ). Note: For you phone readers, you may have to click on the three lines beside the magnifying glass to see what I’m talking about.

A couple of those title selections have had arrows there for months and months, but perhaps you haven’t noticed until now. Those arrows, if you see, point to sample chapters for the matching books. For nearly a year, the only books you could sample were The Computer Nerd and Teenage American Dream (in “Future Books”), and only the first six and five chapters respectively.

Well, as a belated Christmas present and in celebration of 2016’s much anticipated exit, I have not added anything to The Computer Nerd (sorry, keep reading to find out why), and Teenage American Dream remains unreleased, but I have added the entire stories of not one, not two, not three, but eight of my current e-books to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, each for free, and each completely. All you have to do is select the chapter or part you wish to read from the submenu marked “Read (Title),” or access the store page for that book and scroll down to the bottom, and follow the chapter links to read the stories in their entirety. If you’ve ever been on the fence about reading these books before, now you can test drive them to your house and back risk-free.

And, if you’d like to download the official e-books for your phone or e-reader from the store of your choice, you can still do that. Those links are open. Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Inktera have them available for free. Amazon Kindle has them for $.99 each, though I’m pretty sure it’ll price-match Apple, so I think you can get it free there, too, even if it doesn’t say you can (I’m basing this on recent sales reports). Basically, there’s no reason not to check them out, now that you can have free access to them whenever you want and wherever you are. Want to read at the beach this January? You can do that! (Yes, I know it’s not the right season for that, but I live in South Florida, so every day is a beach day for me.)

The titles you can now read for free in their entirety here at Drinking Café Latte at 1pm include:

  • Shell Out (2015)
  • Eleven Miles from Home (2015)
  • Amusement (2015)
  • When Cellphones Go Crazy (2015)
  • The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky (2015)
  • Lightstorm (2015)
  • The Fallen Footwear (2016)
  • Waterfall Junction and The Narrow Bridge (2016, two stories in one)

I will also likely make Cards in the Cloak and The Fountain of Truth available here for free in the near future. But Cards in the Cloak is almost the length of a novel, with the first chapter in need of a slight rewrite, and The Fountain of Truth has one section that I’ll need to split into pieces, which I haven’t figured out yet, so it will take a little more time to get those online. Keep an eye open for them.

Regarding The Computer Nerd, I am still contemplating the possibility of changing its title and relaunching with a new cover, new first chapter, and a few other changes in 2017. So, I don’t foresee the Drinking Café Latte at 1pm version of the story (in its entirety) going live before then. Again, stay tuned for updates.

Finally, Christmas is over and I did not finish Snow in Miami in time. Rather than rush and release a terrible version of the story, I decided to hold it back for now, until I have a draft I’m happy with. I’ll release it as part of Zippywings 2016, hopefully at the end of February, and I’ll likely release the standalone version next Christmas, hopefully with a companion book. I was too swamped with other things this year to really focus on any one story for long. Plus, I want to launch books a little smarter in the future than the way I’ve been doing before. That said, 2017 will probably yield low in my slate of upcoming books, but I do hope to start releasing new titles after April (when I finish the CPT class I’m taking on Saturdays).

So, that’s your end of the year report. Hope you have a happy start to 2017. I know I will. Thanks for your readership. One of these days I’ll get my mailing list up and running so that you don’t have to stumble upon each update here. For now, keep watching Facebook or Twitter for updates, or, if you hit the subscribe button below, you can get updates in your mailbox. It’s the best way to find out what’s new. You can also send comments whenever you think I’m taking too long to do anything around here.

Happy New Year!

Friday Update #9: Superhero Switch and the Coming of Christmas Brings Snow in Miami

Welcome back to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm. As you’re aware, Christmas is coming fast and hot (well, depending on where you live, I guess), and that means eggnog, gingerbread coffees, cookies, and all sorts of goodies are on the way, and I’m here to let you know about some goodies that are coming your way from me.

Goodie #1:

For those of you who have been reading Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One this past year (the anniversary of its worldwide release is coming at the end of the month), I have great news. Its sequel, Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two, is now free for a limited time. How limited is this time? Hard to say, but I’ll keep it free throughout the holidays for sure. However, it’s best to pick it up while you can, before I put the price back on. You know what happens when you procrastinate? You forget. And then you lose. So, don’t procrastinate.

This freebie comes with a trade-off, however. My plan since day 1 has been to develop and release a bite-sized version of the series, where the Annual Editions are broken down into individual story units closer to the length of a traditional thriller or adventure novel. The individual stories would add up to the same universal conflict, but due to the way that conventions dictate how a story unfolds, the core story points would inevitably change. Essentially, A Modern-day Fantasy Annual Edition and A Modern-day Fantasy (Standard Edition) would develop at different speeds and in different ways, while keeping the story line roughly the same.

Because I don’t want to confuse readers with the option to choose the bulky Annual Edition over the easier-to-manage Standard Editions (which would take two or three books to equal the story of an Annual Edition entry), I want the pricing to make it easy. In short, I’d rather readers stick with the Standard Editions. The Annual Editions serve as my original vision for the story, but experience has since taught me that the Standard Editions make for a better fit (and more satisfying read). It doesn’t mean they will be over before they begin, but it does mean the story can be delivered at a more sensible pace.

So, the trade-off for Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two going free for the holiday season is that Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One will now cost you $4.95 to pick up. So, I hope you were one of the people who contributed to its 543 free downloads this year, and not one of the procrastinators who kept putting it off.

It should be noted that I don’t plan to make Cannonball City permafree again. It was free for a year to introduce readers to the character of Jimmy Knightly, but with the Standard Editions on the planner, I don’t see a reason to keep it free, as one of those books will surely come out with a free price tag. Likewise, Superheroes Anonymous will be free for a limited time, but limited times run out before you know it.

Moral of the story: Don’t put things off. You’ve got a good goodie to get, so get the goodie while the getting is good.

Goodie #2:

A year ago, I released an e-book called The Fountain of Truth, which is a collection of three holiday-themed fables, one of which is a revision to the classic tale of how Santa Claus began, one which teaches us to listen rather than to assume, and the titular title reintroducing a story I like to share on Facebook every Christmas Eve about speaking truth. This year, I am preparing another holiday-themed collection called Snow in Miami, which will feature an update to my flash fiction story “Unexpected Weather,” with two new stories, “A Black Friday Tale” and “The Pear Tree,” included. In this book, the three stories will be threaded together through the lens of a husband and father who must learn how to actually be a caring husband and father through his sharing of holiday stories with his wife and son. We get a sense early on that his wife and son are just people who live in his house and demand things from him that he doesn’t want to give. But throughout the course of telling and hearing these stories, he begins to understand just how lucky he is. So, you’ll actually get four stories for the price of three.

I don’t have an estimated release date for Snow in Miami, as I’m still having to split my time between work, CPT test prep, and other projects. But I do expect to upload it to Smashwords before Christmas. However long it takes to get through the channels to the other stores will depend on that upload date.

In the meantime, enjoy this opening sample from “Unexpected Weather”:

Mr. Carson propped his feet on his desk and lit the cigar he had been waiting all day to smoke. Chicago’s temperatures were falling by the minute, and the muzak filling the room was gradually integrating bells and chimes into its drowsy score. Christmas was coming soon, and the bonus he was sure to get from his most recent mega-sale would pay for gifts for the entire family, the neighbor’s family, and even the meter reader who occasionally showed up on his property to gauge him for his utility usage. It would be a Christmas like no other. He’d finally have the means to stock his yard with a holiday scene so spectacular that he would surely win the neighborhood decoration contest this year. He’d even hire that ice sculptor to carve out the outdoor ice bench he had always wanted to sit on, on Christmas day.

His success was a long time coming. Months of proving to the boss that he was capable of leading his office would have to pay off now. Months of top-level ignorance would have to come to an end.

He puffed on his cigar and let the smoke fill his mouth. He was forming cloud nine between his cheeks.

His chair started its backward arc toward the cubicle wall when his boss, Mr. Rivers, popped into view. He had snuck up on Mr. Carson wearing those dang moccasins again.

“Carson,” he said, “how many times I gotta tell you not to smoke in the building?”

Mr. Carson pulled the cigar from his mouth and dangled it over the edge of his desk, just above the trashcan. He wasn’t permitted an ashtray, so he made it his habit to catch the ash in the can. He kept a separate can for paper to the right of the desk to prevent accidental fires. This one just held a single plastic bag.

Mr. Rivers shrugged. Then he handed him a narrow, gift-wrapped package.

“Here, no need to apologize. I decided to make your life easier.”

Mr. Carson took the package, flipped it over and under, listening for something to rattle inside.

“Open it,” Mr. Rivers said. “Early Christmas present.”

Mr. Carson was a little suspicious. He knew Rivers had heard about the mega-sale, and per the standards of the company, sales that large warranted bonuses. Mr. Carson hoped that this wasn’t his bonus. He had been counting on a large check.

But he obliged his boss. He pulled off the wrapper and tossed it in the can to his left. A narrow green box was exposed. He opened it. Inside was a skinny electronic device.

“E-cigarette,” Mr. Rivers said. “Or vape, as they’re calling it now. Unobtrusive and mostly safe for indoors.”

Mr. Carson opened the battery hatch to find it empty.

“Sorry, batteries not included. Figured you could try it at home first, in case it’s not as safe as I assumed.”

Mr. Carson looked up at his boss, but didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what to think about this gift. He was an authentic smoker, proud to carry around his packs of real nicotine darts with the silver lighter that had the naked woman silhouette he was so fond of. Gift from his dad on his eighteenth birthday. Refillable fluid. A real gift from a real man.

“No need to thank me,” Mr. Rivers said. “I should be thanking you for nailing the Trifecta Account today. In fact, I am.” He gestured at the e-cigarette. “Stroke of genius.”

Mr. Carson shrugged. No big deal.

Okay, it was a real big deal, but he didn’t like to brag in front of people who cut his checks. They were a notoriously humbling lot, positioned to strike down anyone who displayed too much pride for a job that was somehow enhanced by the assistance of a team, which this particular sale was not: he certainly had a right to say it was all on him, because it was. But Mr. Rivers didn’t like braggarts, so he kept his mouth shut.

“Anyway, I had a talk with the bigwigs upstairs, and they agree that your work on this account was of stellar performance, and they think you would be perfect for their starter office in Miami.” A wide smile formed on Mr. Rivers’s lips. “You start in two weeks. Isn’t that exciting?”

Mr. Carson finally opened his mouth. The smoke he had been savoring finally blew out into the opening and evaporated. The space between his cheeks was now nothing more than a tongue that had lost its taste for change.

“In lieu of a bonus, the board has agreed to pay for your moving fees instead.”

Mr. Rivers leaned over the desk and patted Mr. Carson on the shoulder.

“I’ve already asked Mrs. Williams to set up the conference room with finger foods for your going away party. You like bologna sandwiches, right?”

Mr. Carson was partial to turkey, but his boss never paid attention.

“Anyway, you’ll like Miami. Never gets cold there. Just think, you’ll get to spend Christmas at the beach. Isn’t that exciting?”

Mr. Carson thought about the ice bench he would not get to sit on, on Christmas day.

“Anyway, enjoy your last day. Again, sorry about the batteries. I was thinking I’d let you wait for the party in the observatory. I know you often talk about the big window overlooking the lake. Thought you might want to remember the view.”

Mr. Carson’s sister’s apartment overlooked the lake. They were just over there for Thanksgiving. Mr. Rivers was thinking about someone else.

Mr. Rivers’s eyes drifted down toward the trashcan to Mr. Carson’s left. He reached in it and pulled out the gift wrapping.

“Here, don’t want to cause a fire, right?” Then he found the small plant that Mr. Carson had bought a few months ago to liven up the cubicle. He snuffed out the cigar in the soil. Then he tossed the cigar in the trash. “Housekeeping will take care of your garbage today.”

Mr. Rivers paused at the opening as he headed out to the walkway outside the cubicle. He tried to look at Mr. Carson from over his shoulder.

“Good luck in Miami, Carson,” he said. “You’re going to do amazing things there.”

Mr. Carson was barren of thought by that point. The world stopped making sense to him.

***

            At home, Mr. Carson didn’t know how to tell his wife that the money in Chicago was coming to an end, and that to keep the money flowing, they would have to fly south with the birds. As he rehearsed his speech in his mind, and subsequently shot each version down as ridiculous and an invitation to make Mrs. Carson cry, he took the carton of cigarettes from his trusty brand out to the front porch and lit one stick after another. By the fifth smoke, he was feeling a bit more relaxed. The chill in the air was giving him goosebumps, and the night was steadily growing comfortable.

By the time he had stubbed out half the pack, he was feeling pretty confident in his speech. She would understand. She would have to.

***

            Mrs. Carson didn’t understand.

“Who does he think he is?” she asked, when Mr. Carson told her the news.

“The Great and Powerful Mr. Rivers,” Mr. Carson said.

“We have a life here, John. A life.”

“Yes, I know that, and you know that. But knowledge hasn’t had much power around here lately.”

They were sitting at the dinner table, and Mrs. Carson was just about to pour the wine when Mr. Carson got to the dark side of his speech. It had begun beautifully, with the news that he had succeeded at his big sale. Mrs. Carson was so happy for him that she retrieved the bottle of Chianti from the rack to celebrate. But Mr. Carson didn’t want to lose his place from what he had practiced, so he continued talking. Mrs. Carson put the cork back into the bottle before the first drop hit the glass. Uprooting everything she knew to start over in some gaudy place where the natives walked around half-naked in their front yards at Christmas time was no cause for celebration.

“I just wish you’d stand up for yourself every once in a while,” she said.

“I do. But they don’t listen.”

“Standing up for yourself requires getting them to listen.”

Mr. Carson shrugged. He knew she was right. It wasn’t like him to marry someone who didn’t see the truth in things, and she could see the truth in anything. He liked that about her, even though it caused him stress most of the time.

“Maggie, here’s the thing. The door here is closed. Once they close it, they close it. I know this isn’t ideal, especially with Christmas coming up. But it’s a great opportunity to—”

“Great opportunity? You’re already sounding like them. Have you really thrown in the towel that fast? Without consulting me first?”

Mr. Carson set his fork down. He could sense the conversation was going to interrupt his eating rhythm for a few minutes.

“This isn’t a matter for consultation. They didn’t ask me if I wanted to go. They told me I’m going. Even if we don’t go, I can’t go back to that office, not for anything other than to throw my stuff into an empty box.”

Mrs. Carson’s eyes began to tear up.

“I don’t understand why they won’t give you a choice,” she said.

“It’s called business, Maggie. Relocation was always a possibility. Said so on my contract. I just didn’t think they’d ever call on it.”

Mrs. Carson pushed her plate away and stared off to the side for nearly a minute.

“You know,” he said, “you’ve been wanting a tan for a long time. This could be your chance.”

She rolled her eyes. He noticed the corner of her lips turning upward slightly.

“Your dream body will follow. Imagine the influence of all those bikini-clad beach bunnies turning you to an obsessive fitness and diet fiend. For the holidays no less. Make all your friends up here jealous of your luscious figure.”

Mrs. Carson’s expression lightened. She was considering it now.

“Think of Nancy and her big butt. Then think of you and your smaller butt.” He brought his palms close together to signify the differences in the two butt sizes after hers would shrink.

Mrs. Carson pulled her plate in front of her and started eating.

“I should probably enjoy this dinner while it lasts then,” she said.

Mr. Carson leaned over the table, angling as close to her as he could.

“It’ll be okay, I promise.”

He wasn’t sure it would be okay. He knew nothing about Miami, except that it was hot, crowded, and the music was bad.

Mrs. Carson nodded. “Okay. If we’re stuck, I guess we have to go where the money is.” Her face was still solemn, but not like it was when he had broken the news.

“We’re not stuck. We’re going to be better off than we are here. Richer and happier. And thinner.”

She put her hand up.

“Fine,” she said. “We’ll make it work, I guess.”

After dinner, Mr. Carson retrieved the box that Mr. Rivers had given him earlier and took out the vape. He found a box of batteries in the refrigerator and popped one into the compartment. He wasn’t sure what to do with it exactly, but he started with the button on the side. The thing began to smoke almost immediately. It was as if he had put a thermometer in his mouth and a fever had set it on fire.

“What’s that thing?” Mrs. Carson asked him, when she returned to the table after clearing it.

“Gift from the boss. It’s one of those electronic cigarette things.”

“How is it?”

Mr. Carson thought about it for a moment. It was considerably weaker than his normal cigarettes. And yet, it had a certain flavor to it that he found pleasant. Even fragrant.

“Weird,” he said. “Well, different.”

He pulled the device out of his mouth and stared at it.

“It makes me feel different.”

He put it back in his mouth.

“But in a good way, I think.”
 

(end sample)

Have a good week.

Friday Update #7: A Primate Mailman and Other Marketing News

Since my last update, I’ve written part of a new prologue to The Computer Nerd, in an effort to raise the stakes of the story a little sooner. I still have to finish it and clean it up, but it’s there and in progress. Here’s a snippet of what’s to come:

            Something in the dark slammed against the handle to her locked bedroom door, and she shot forward out of her restless sleep. The ringing echo of clanging metal had barely died when the unknown force hit the handle again. This wasn’t the usual wakeup call she had every morning. If it was even morning.

A pair of stem-shaped shadows divided the dim light shining through the crack under the door and stretched across the floor toward her. They didn’t shake, just remained stock still as the source of the shadows jostled the handle, cursed, and jostled the handle again.

The woman slid her feet out from under the sheets and reached for the table near her bedside. Her robe was folded on the tabletop. She had asked the assistant who placed it there to keep it neat, but now that she needed it, she wished she had left it near her pillow where she could reach it.

“Come on, you useless tool,” said the gruff voice on the other side of the door.

The woman felt anxiety creeping up on her. She expected someone to unlock her door as they always did first thing in the morning, but they usually had keys. And they rarely cursed at the door. She didn’t know who was trying to break in, but the last thing she wanted was for the impatient man to see her undressed. In spite of her circumstances, she still wanted to look classy.

She stretched toward the table again, but the handcuffs locking her to the opposite rail prevented her from reaching all the way.

“Fine, you leave me no choice,” said the man on the other side.

The woman was given one pillow. It was hardly big enough for her head. She tried batting at her robes with it, but she merely brushed the edge of the table.

The shadows finally shifted to the side. The man on the other side of the door was changing his entrance strategy. She had no idea how long it would take him to enter, or what he would do once he finally broke in. In spite of the near frigid temperature of her room, she began to sweat.

And that’s just the beginning. I hope to upload a new version of The Computer Nerd in time for the first-year anniversary of its worldwide debut on October 20th. Keep an eye on the news.

Time for MailChimp

After an unnecessarily stressful time at my job this week, I decided it was time to pull the trigger on setting my marketing strategies to get more attention on my books, as a way to bring me closer to financial independence. Seminar after seminar I’ve been listening to this summer has universally agreed that the mailing list is the way to go, and that MailChimp is the best site for beginners to use. So, that’s what I did this week. I signed up for the service.

Now, I haven’t done anything with it yet. And I probably won’t for a while still. But what I think I’ll aim to do is to write a pseudo sequel to The Computer Nerd (more like a side story involving the bounty hunter Mr. Sanders) and make it free. Then anyone who subscribes to the mailing list through the second book can get the first one free. Then I can resume marketing strategies as usual for the third and, if I deem it necessary, fourth books.

If you’ve read The Computer Nerd and you’re wondering how on earth I would pull a trilogy or tetralogy out of that story, then I would say think of Mr. Sanders as a potential protagonist, and you might figure it out.

Anyway, I’ll be spending some time figuring out how I want to set up my first marketing campaign. It’ll be a while still before I do that though.

The Cost of Marketing

Which brings me to my other eye-opening point. I’ve listened to several of Nick Stephenson’s freebie seminars since June, and garnered a lot of information and tips on how to grow my audience. Obviously, without spending the $600 necessary to get his whole course, I can’t find out all the details, not without extensive independent research. Even though I would like to enroll, I can’t afford that right now. Too many bills and too little income.

But, this week, he sponsored the release of a new book called Broken by author Gordon Hopkins, based on Stephenson’s Leopold Blake character, and offered a 75% launch week discount on the title. Anyone who bought the book between September 10th and September 14th (his traditional five-day window) would gain free access to a new course he’s designed called Your First Six Figure Launch, as well as all six of his earlier Leopold Blake novels.

I bought the book, got the freebies, and listened to the course. And I finally learned of a detail I’ve been trying to figure out since June. Turns out, to get a really good, consistent marketing campaign going, I would need to set aside about $230 a month or so, minimum. And I think that’s before the free 2000-subscriber limit on MailChimp kicks in.

So, for someone whose bills constantly flirt with his matching line of income, I think that’s going to be a huge challenge for me. So, I don’t actually want to get the mailing list active until I’m close to launching the third book (but I’ll start it with the second).

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about this week.

Oh, and I’m back to eating healthier. I’ve lost about ten pounds since the beginning of the month. Cutting way down on the carbs to get that weight loss.

Preview: Superheroes Anonymous (AMDF, Year Two): Chapter 4

May 27, 2016:

The worldwide debut of Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two has officially arrived, and now it’s time to preview the last of the first four chapters. Or, you could just click the link and buy the book now and read the whole thing. That’s probably better, since it’s only $4.95, or the price of a coffee at Starbucks. And I guarantee it’ll last you much longer than that coffee from Starbucks.

Just a reminder:

If you’re unfamiliar with Jimmy Knightly, the island of New Switzerland, and the wackball superheroes known as the Risen Ordinaries, I’d suggest reading the first year volume, Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One, to get yourself acquainted. But don’t let that stop you from picking up Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two, now available. Get ’em both!

Do be aware, however, that these “Annual Editions” are very long. They are actually multiple books rolled into one seamless volume that covers a year of the overarching story. If you’re intimidated by story density, this may not be right for you. FYI.

That said, enjoy the final preview.

If you need a refresher, read Chapter 1 here.

And Chapter 2 here.

And Chapter 3 here.

And now you can read Chapter 4 here.

And you can read Chapter 5 and beyond here.

Enjoy.

Preview: Superheroes Anonymous (AMDF, Year Two): Chapter 3

May 20, 2016:

The worldwide debut of Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two is coming next week, and to continue the preview from two weeks ago, I’m releasing the third of the first four chapters of the book. I plan to keep releasing them, one every Friday at 1pm EST, until release day on May 27th, so keep checking back.

Just a reminder:

If you’re unfamiliar with Jimmy Knightly, the island of New Switzerland, and the wackball superheroes known as the Risen Ordinaries, I’d suggest reading the first year volume, Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One, to get yourself acquainted. But don’t let that stop you from checking out this third in the four-chapter preview and picking up Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two on May 27th. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional spoiler!

Do be aware, however, that these “Annual Editions” are very long. They are actually multiple books rolled into one seamless volume that covers a year of the overarching story. If you’re intimidated by story density, this may not be right for you. FYI.

That said, enjoy the preview.

If you need a refresher, read Chapter 1 here.

And Chapter 2 here.

Otherwise, continue the preview with Chapter 3 here.

Enjoy.

Preview: Superheroes Anonymous (AMDF, Year 2): Chapter 2

May 13, 2016:

The worldwide debut of Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two is coming soon, and to continue the trend I started last week, I thought I’d release the second of the first four chapters of the book. I plan to keep releasing them, one every Friday at 1pm EST, until release day on May 27th, so keep checking back.

Just a reminder:

If you’re unfamiliar with Jimmy Knightly, the island of New Switzerland, and the wackball superheroes known as the Risen Ordinaries, I’d suggest reading the first year volume, Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One, to get yourself acquainted. But don’t let that stop you from checking out this second in the four-chapter preview and picking up Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two on May 27th. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional spoiler!

Do be aware, however, that these “Annual Editions” are very long. They are actually multiple books rolled into one seamless volume that covers a year of the overarching story. If you’re intimidated by story density, this may not be right for you. FYI.

That said, enjoy the preview. Content is still subject to change slightly, but probably not by much.

If you need a refresher, read Chapter 1 here.

Otherwise continue by reading Chapter 2 here.

Enjoy.

Preview: Superheroes Anonymous (AMDF, Year Two): Chapter 1

May 6, 2016:

The worldwide debut of Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two is nigh, and to get the boulder rolling, I thought I’d release the first four chapters of the book, one every Friday at 1pm EST, until release day on May 27th.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jimmy Knightly, the island of New Switzerland, and the wackball superheroes known as the Risen Ordinaries, I’d suggest reading the first year volume, Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One, to get yourself acquainted. But don’t let that stop you from checking out this four-chapter preview and picking up Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two on May 27th. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional spoiler!

Do be aware, however, that these “Annual Editions” are very long. They are actually multiple books rolled into one seamless volume that covers a year of the overarching story. If you’re intimidated by story density, this may not be right for you. FYI.

That said, enjoy the preview. Content is still subject to change slightly, but probably not by much.

Chapter 1

“Some Unpronounceable Martial Art Involving Spoons”

     It was an honor to learn these special moves from Plummet Man, a member of the superhero elite, and Jimmy knew it, but he still wanted to punch his mentor in the mouth. Ever since the Cannonball City Transport had dumped him in front of the duck pond at Cannonball City Central Park’s main entrance, he was forced into this training mode that he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted, and taking instructions he neither understood nor could put to relevance seemed like an utter waste of time. But the Risen Ordinaries, the small group of men and women who monitored crime in the city and had the skills to counteract them, had pestered him to join their ranks, due to his sudden physiological transformation during a crisis at the Nectarine Institute of Research, and he could only assume their belief in him was sound. But they failed to realize that he was just a tennis star who was better at sports than he was at crime-fighting. A part of that reason, he assumed, was due to him never telling them about his identity as Jimmy Knightly, tennis star in hiding. The other reason, of course, was that they never bothered to ask.

Like a good student, he still resigned himself to listening, to watching, to pretending to follow the mad actions displayed by his teacher before him. But, like a typical student, he dreamed of being anywhere else, doing anything else. Plummet Man’s intentions were certainly noble—giving this security risk a chance at representing a nation of science-built superheroes was the act of a saint—but they were also misguided. Jimmy had a lucky break when he defeated those powerhouse titans of destruction, Cloak Combustion and Bald Hairypit, in the suffocating inferno enveloping city hall. Heroism couldn’t have maintained the same consistency that professional sports had provided him. At some point, he was destined to let someone down, and given the nature of the superhero-sidekick relationship (what the Risen Ordinaries refer to as a crime-fighting apprenticeship), that person was likely Plummet Man.

Punching him in the mouth would be easier. The disappointment would come as less of a surprise, and Jimmy would still have the satisfaction of relieving himself of the stress that his pudgy mentor was inflicting on him.

“Come on, I know you can do this,” Plummet Man said, again, for the tenth time in as many minutes. “I believe in you.”

So misguided. Jimmy had no idea how to respond.

This wasn’t the first time he had learned the basics, but it was the first time he was willing to admit to having no comprehension about what he had learned. Maybe the instructor was so gifted that the art seemed effortless, and maybe some recessive part of his brain tricked him into believing that he had understood all of it. But, as he stared at the three spoons in his left fist, staring at his warped yet handsome reflection in their chrome finishes, he realized he had no clue.

“You’re not clearing your mind,” the instructor said, as he appeared in triplicate over Jimmy’s shoulder in the spoons’ reflections.

“My mind is always clear,” Jimmy said. “I just don’t get the point.”

“You’re not supposed to get the point. The point is that it can save your life.”

His mind actually wasn’t clear, and he had been thinking about it for the last half hour. Staring at utensils was turning him cross-eyed, and he felt the strain in his neck building toward his forehead as he progressively drifted away from the lesson. Learning the tricks of these spoons was supposed to save his life one day, and it was pissing him off that he couldn’t comprehend how. He had spent his life learning how spoons are used for one purpose only: to eat soups and cereals; two if he counted stirring cream and sugar into his coffee. The idea that they had a third purpose, to humiliate evil and save his life, blew his mind, and his mind was not one that could stand getting blown.

“You’re gonna have to explain it to me again like I’m an eight-year-old.”

The man in the purple spandex circled to Jimmy’s front and looked him in the sunglasses. It was equally hard to see his eyes, for they were masked under a translucent piece of plastic film, but there was just enough light penetrating the surface to see the whites staring back. They were familiar, but Jimmy still didn’t know how.

“In the field, you won’t have time to remember the details. In the field, you’ll just have to rely on your muscle memory. There is nothing to get. Clear your mind. Then use the spoons.”

Jimmy closed his eyes, doing his best to think about nothing. A few supermodels entered his thoughts instead, but he let them go quickly. They had all turned him down for dates in his previous life. Not worth the thought. He started thinking about coffee after that—he was in a hurry to leave the house this morning and didn’t have time to make it. Plummet Man, his instructor, had told him they had a lot of work to do and would have to skip the morning diner visit until later. Coffee might’ve stimulated his brain, which he was sure he needed now, but that might’ve been contrary to the actual lesson he needed to follow, which was to clear his mind. It was all so confusing. How anyone could learn this stuff was beyond him.

“Use the spoons,” Plummet Man said.

Without giving it any thought, Jimmy waved the spoons over his head. Then, when nothing happened, he took the middle spoon into his right hand and shoved it into his mouth. When he opened his eyes, he could see the spoon’s stem jutting out past his nose, and a slight frown on Plummet Man’s face—the part of his face that Jimmy could see—beyond that.

“Maybe you need another demonstration?” he asked.

Jimmy pulled the spoon out of his mouth, wiped it off on his sleeve, and placed it back in the group. Then he passed all three back to Plummet Man.

“I’m telling you. None of this makes sense to me, and that’s the problem.”

“When I showed this to you back in November, you said you understood.”

“And you believed me?”

Plummet Man gave no response. He just took the spoons in his right hand and fanned them out in Y-formation.

Jimmy leaned against the trashcan beside the park bench as he watched his mentor slowly go through the steps again. Even as the visual reminder played before him, he couldn’t grasp the fundamental point. Plummet Man was waving the spoons around, almost like spinning fan blades, so effortlessly that Jimmy thought years had gone into this weird spoon art training, but he didn’t know why he was spinning them, and that, Jimmy realized, was the main problem.

“Pretend you’re teaching me calculus,” he said, “though I barely passed algebra.”

Plummet Man halted the improvised propeller and all three spoons stopped in a downward angle like a set of dull claws poised to dig some earth. He snatched his whole hand out of sight, putting it and the spoons behind his back.

“Are you saying you need me to explain the steps?” he asked.

“Making me watch you is doing nothing for me.”

When Plummet Man pulled his hand back into sight, the spoons were missing.

“Why can’t you just mimic what I do?”

Jimmy shrugged.

“Doesn’t work that way for me.”

“But, you want to be a Risen Ordinary, right?”

“Well, not really, but you people keep trying to suck me in, so the best way to shut you up is to agree to your terms. Not sure what point you’re making, though.”

Hero or not, sometimes it was important just to be honest, Jimmy thought.

While Jimmy was talking, he had missed Plummet Man reproducing the spoons in his other hand. It was like witnessing a magician at work, a magician who refused to share his secrets but expected an exact replica of his presentation.

“Sometimes you have to act on your feet. Sometimes the situation does not allow you to draw on experience. Half our job as Risen Ordinaries is to improvise reaction to unique situations. That’s the secret to Ingurumen infantilismoa konbinazioa borroka, or Envirospasticum, as we call it. If you can’t improvise, you risk killing yourself and your team.”

Jimmy considered Plummet Man’s words. Still had no idea what any of them meant. But somewhere in the nonsense, he understood the word improvise.

“So, what you’re saying is, it doesn’t matter what I do with the spoons. What matters is that I do something with the spoons.”

Plummet Man passed the spoons back to Jimmy. Without giving it additional thought, Jimmy tossed one spoon in the air and tried to catch it by clamping the others together as it fell back toward him. The left spoon knocked the falling spoon out of trajectory, launching it over the right spoon as it passed harmlessly over the left. He watched the rogue spoon fly into an ant pile about eight feet away.

He glanced back at Plummet Man and smiled.

“How was that?” he asked.

“Needs work,” said Plummet Man. “Not sure how that move is going to save your life.”

Jimmy grinned, nodded. Then he cocked back his elbow in preparation to strike his mentor in the face. Plummet Man, ever his superior, had already anticipated the move and kicked him in the stomach. Jimmy toppled backward onto the sand, nearly rolling into the duck pond.

“I appreciate your alternative mode of improvisation,” Plummet Man said, “but you must also anticipate defense and counterattacks before you throw a punch. It also helps if you don’t telegraph your moves. Learn to punch without flinching first. Might also save your life.”

Jimmy flipped to his belly and staggered to his feet. Why anyone believed he would make a fine superhero was beyond him. He was terrible at even following directions.

“Not to mention,” said Plummet Man, “it might save my life. So, get this right, pal. Let’s try your spoon technique again.”

***

     It had been an exhausting experience working out with Plummet Man, but Jimmy was never one to back down from exercise, and ever since his ankle had healed from last year’s injury at the Australian Open, he had been gradually trimming down the excess body fat he had acquired from weeks of inactivity and months of burger binging. He still hadn’t reached his target weight—he was hooked on that damn Hamburger Supreme at the restaurant in the Hotel Primex—but he was getting there. The trouble was that his workouts with superheroes had left him too exhausted to resist the urge.

It wasn’t like this whenever he had trained for a Grand Slam match. In those days he had personal trainers who told him what to eat, told him how to exercise, and told him to hold still as they shot him full of the best medicines to overcome the pain. They essentially took the pressure away from him thinking for himself. He didn’t have that now. Here in the lonely nation of New Switzerland, home to the Western Hemisphere’s premiere expatriates, he had to make decisions for himself, and those decisions were the ingredients that determined whether he could keep up with these superhuman crime-fighters. Training to defeat rival tennis stars had never left him with so much performance anxiety, and completing a session (or even a match) had never left him feeling so physically drained at the end of the day.

And it was for that reason that, on this late afternoon at the end of February, Jimmy Knightly, former tennis star and current superhero-in-training, who had decided for himself to crash on his living room couch the moment he had gotten home from his day with Plummet Man, was not ready for the surprise that was waiting at his front door. When he opened it, heart aflutter because he was somehow expecting his neighbor and long-term crush, Julie Alundruss, to be standing on the other side, he felt his heart reverse direction and crash into his sternum because the person standing on the other side was not Julie but a man who should have been playing a police chief role in some ridiculous action film over three thousand miles away.

It was on that visit that Edward Sewaller, Jimmy’s best friend since childhood, had revealed a shocking likelihood that neither had believed was possible: Jimmy’s murderous stalker, the Spotless Cowboy, was still alive and likely heading for New Switzerland to finish the deal he couldn’t close with Jimmy back in Los Angeles.

The Spotless Cowboy was an FBI nightmare, if Jimmy could recall, not just elusive, but decked in trace-eliminating hardware that had no known origin, and thus, no known seller, and thus no known way to track it to a bank account or known identity. Jimmy had known only the basics of this mysterious device that the Spotless Cowboy had used as outerwear, enough certainly to keep him afraid. It had helped him reach an impossible aiming and firing speed that allowed him to mow down an entire police squad in the lobby of the orthopedists’ office where Jimmy had tended to his ankle injury. And for a guy who had to cross off names from his list by killing them with gunfire, the thought of him coming to eliminate Jimmy from the list left him feeling a little jumpy.

“So, the rumors are true?” Jimmy asked. “Special Agent Greenhorn didn’t kill him on my front lawn that day?”

“No one shared the reports on what really happened,” Ed said, as he leaned forward to grab a magazine off of Jimmy’s coffee table. “The buzz around town, if my sources can be trusted, is that he killed a neighborhood haunt and switched his clothes to escape.”

Jimmy shook his head.

“Sometimes I wonder how anyone could elude the FBI using such ridiculous methods. Aren’t they supposed to be one of the most state-of-the-art detective agencies in the world?”

“Yeah, but they’ve been having a lot of problems lately. Clearly you’re not watching CNN.”

Jimmy glanced at his longtime friend as if he were meeting him for the first time.

“Do you not know me?” Jimmy asked.

“Right. Sensitive spot. Not saying it to speculate, just confirming what I know you didn’t see.”

Jimmy had stopped watching any news program a long time ago, thanks to the harassment he had felt from reporters after he had undergone a wardrobe malfunction in France. He had further distrusted them after one of the cycles gave a faulty report that he had been committing adultery with one of his bodyguard’s girlfriends, a woman he couldn’t recall having ever met, a woman he was certain he hadn’t met—though he hadn’t found out about that news story until two years later when he tried hiring that same bodyguard to protect him again. The incidents had left him unknowledgeable about much of the world’s happenings, and incidentally, a happier man. It was the Spotless Cowboy’s disturbance of his personal tranquility that had put him back on edge.

“At any rate, the FBI dropped the ball, and now the bastard’s on his way here. Most likely. So, please don’t die.”

Jimmy stared across the living room, at his stereo, which was currently silent.

“Doesn’t sound like I can make you any promises.”

***

     Jimmy’s training session the next day was more difficult than usual. Plummet Man wanted to keep teaching him Envirospasticum, and he wanted to do so along the beach to help Jimmy focus better on the trickier techniques, as the city was too busy and the art of using spoons in warfare depended a lot on muscle memory. If Jimmy could concentrate on the movements of the spoons, he could begin to see them even with his eyes closed. If he could mimic those movements, then he could form his automatic actions. As Plummet Man pointed a spoon at the ocean and lunged, then asked Jimmy to model his behavior, Jimmy understood his intention immediately. The idea was certainly sound.

But Jimmy couldn’t concentrate. Even with a technique as simple as lunging, Jimmy wasn’t as focused as he was supposed to be. When he took the spoon in hand and lunged forward, his arm flopped to his side. When he straightened his body and glanced at his mentor, Plummet Man was shaking his head at him.

“You told me to teach you like you’re an eight-year-old, and you’re still doing horrible,” he said. “Are you even trying?”

Jimmy shook his head.

“No, I can get this.”

He tried again. This time he kept his arm straight, but his jutted knee was shaking. When he looked down at it, he noticed he was standing in the hollow between a dune and flattened sand. He stepped backward onto higher ground.

“Better?” he asked.

Plummet Man shrugged.

“I’m honestly wondering if I should save this lesson for later,” he said.

He stepped in close and put his hand on the small of Jimmy’s back.

“You need to keep this straight, first of all. Try again. If you feel my hand slip away, you’re doing it wrong.”

Jimmy tried again. He felt Plummet Man’s hand slip away.

“You’re not keeping your back straight. Pretend you’re fencing. You ever watch two fencers square off? They keep it elegant. You need to keep your lunge elegant.”

Jimmy stared at him in disbelief. Even though his mentor had no way of seeing his eyes behind his sunglasses, he was still narrowing them.

“My lunge with spoons? Needs to be elegant?”

“It’s about power. If you can control your body, you can control your spoons.”

Jimmy cracked a smile. His mentor was bonkers.

“You understand that I’m standing in sand, right?”

Plummet Man nodded.

“Yes, you’re increasing your need for control. Try again.”

Jimmy tried again. He was still bending his back too far forward.

“Children can do this,” Plummet Man said. “I can vouch for this because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Surely you can do this.”

Jimmy was about to scream. He knew he could do this, too. He was a sportsman for crying out loud. If anyone could do something so physically easy, he, a professional athlete, could lunge with a spoon on the beach while keeping his freaking back straight.

But when he heard the thunderous crack of a palm trunk snapping about a hundred feet behind him, he pitched too far forward and tumbled into the sand.

Plummet Man reached down and picked him up. Then they both looked in the direction of the noise. A hippie was coming out of a dark cleft in the thick tree line past the highway. He was dragging another hippie out by the hair. The other hippie was grasping at the more dominant hippie’s wrists to pry his hands away, but he was making no progress. By the time the first hippie finally released him, they had reached the highway.

The first guy kicked the other while he was down. Then he returned to the cleft between the trees. The beaten hippie jumped to his feet and chased after the first, but two more hippies were emerging from the darkness, holding the sharp ends of two picket signs at him. The fallen hippie caught the hint and backed off.

Jimmy glanced at Plummet Man.

“What are we watching right now?” he asked.

Plummet Man shook his head.

“No idea. Best we leave it alone. The people around here are known savages. I’d rather not get tangled in their affairs.”

The fallen hippie slinked toward the highway. He was limping along as if someone had stubbed his right big toe before driving a two-by-four to his left shin. Jimmy had a momentary flashback of the burden he had felt walking when he had his ankle injury last year.

“He’s got a long way to walk in that condition,” Jimmy said.

Plummet Man nodded.

“Yes, yes he does.”

Jimmy took a step toward the highway, but Plummet Man grabbed his biceps and stopped him.

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.

Jimmy shook off his grip.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I think you shouldn’t worry about that man. Let him be.”

“Aren’t we superheroes or something?” Jimmy asked.

“I am. You’re a sidekick.”

Jimmy wrinkled his nose at the idea of being somebody’s sidekick. He still couldn’t get used to the idea.

“Well, don’t crime-fighters help the downtrodden?”

“When the situation is right, sure. But this isn’t that time. He’s a grown man, and now he’s alone. He can handle himself.”

Jimmy clenched his teeth as he watched the hippie reach the road. The hippie began limping east with his thumb extended. With his other hand, he pried his shirt off his body and waved it around like a tie-dyed flag.

“No one’s gonna actually drive through here, though,” Jimmy said. “Right?”

“Probably not, no.”

Jimmy turned toward his mentor.

“We could give him a hand. There’s no way he can make it all the way to Cannonball City walking like that.”

“Maybe not, but that’s not our problem.”

Jimmy felt his stomach tighten. He had spent the better part of the year recovering from his injuries, his fears, and his chronic string of bad luck. Even though his fears continued to peck at his thoughts, and his bad luck was likely the price for residency on the island of New Switzerland, the injuries he had incurred on the tournament tennis court, and again in the heat of battle against a brutish man with unfathomable armpit hair and a cloaked man who shot fire out of his wrists, were mostly healed. And he couldn’t get there without the support of others. Failing to return the favor didn’t settle well with him. He wanted to help this guy out. The Envirospasticum lesson could wait.

“I think it should be,” he said. “Especially if he needs a hand.”

He glanced at his mentor for validation. Plummet Man’s smile was flat.

“Leave it alone. Stick to your training.”

“I am sticking to my training. This is training. Look, we’re seeing an active situation where someone needs help. So, let’s give the man some help.”

“I appreciate your heart,” Plummet Man said. “But you don’t yet understand the situation.”

“Neither do you. Isn’t that why we should find out?”

“Not necessarily.”

Jimmy couldn’t believe his mentor would just let a man in need fend for himself in this violent wildland without so much as an escort back to town.

“I’m gonna at least ask him if he wants help,” Jimmy said. “At least then we’ll know who’s right here.”

Plummet Man shrugged. Then he gestured Jimmy forward.

Jimmy headed off the dune toward the Coastal Highway, doing his best to ignore his fear of exposure. Hiding his secret terror behind his sense of duty was no easy task, and every shift in shadow among the trees to the north caused him a new shot of anxiety. But he pressed on, keeping his eyes focused on the goal that mattered: reaching the hippie in need and getting him to wherever he was trying to go.

As he trekked across the narrow stretch of beach to the section of road known as the “Highway Fork,” he felt Plummet Man’s presence sticking closely behind him. With every swish in the sand he heard coming from his own feet, he could hear in stereo several feet behind.

Once he reached the road, he glanced over his shoulder to confirm that Plummet Man was right behind him. The expression on his mouth was still flat, somewhere between disapproval and resignation. When Jimmy lifted his hands to question his actions, Plummet Man simply gestured him to continue forward. At this point he was giving Jimmy full control of the scene.

Because the hippie was lumbering along, Jimmy and Plummet Man caught up to him rather quickly. Plummet Man hung back a few feet while Jimmy veered in front of the hippie and stopped him.

“Hi, sir,” Jimmy said. “We notice you could use a little help. If you would like my friend and I to assist your—”

Without warning, the hippie swatted at Jimmy and hissed. Jimmy shrank back on instinct.

“What the hell?”

The hippie lunged at Jimmy, but Jimmy’s reflexes took over, and he sidestepped the man before he could strike. However, for someone who had been beaten just minutes ago, and injured below the knees, the hippie was remarkably fast, and before Jimmy knew what had happened, the hippie sideswiped him and knocked the spoons out of his hand. The hippie fell forward and tackled the spoons before Jimmy could reach down to grab them. Then he snapped at him while Jimmy’s hand was just inches away. Jimmy withdrew his hand to his side before the man could bite it off.

Jimmy took a few steps back. Plummet Man, meanwhile, was standing behind the hippie with his arms folded over his belly. He was indifferent as he watched the skirmish unfold.

“Care to help?” Jimmy asked.

“No, you got this,” Plummet Man said.

The hippie was down on his hands and knees, cradling the spoons as if he were a lion and they were his cubs. Whenever Jimmy took a step forward, the hippie would growl at him and swipe.

“Should I just let him have the spoons?” Jimmy asked.

Plummet Man shrugged.

“Good question. How important are they to you?”

“I don’t know. They’re spoons.”

“What if they were covered in nitrogen powder and he was going to use them to blow up the city?”

Jimmy was trying to listen to Plummet Man’s questions, but his focus was almost entirely on the hippie. It seemed the hippie was inching closer to him with a hot fire in his eyes. He seemed really intent on eating Jimmy’s hand.

“I didn’t know nitrogen powder could do that,” Jimmy said.

“Who knows? I’m not a chemist. Just an example. What if he had the ingredients to destroy the city in his hands right now? What would you do?”

“Call for backup.”

“What if we’re all tied up. What then?”

“I don’t think a hippie is going to tie you up. That’s ridiculous.”

Plummet Man unfolded his arms and pointed at Jimmy.

“Play the scenario, Powerstick Man. You’re training now.”

Jimmy shuffled away from the hippie as he lunged at his feet. Now the hippie was trying to stab him with the spoons.

“Fine. Okay, first I would fight back.”

Jimmy jerked forward in an effort to scare the hippie into backing off, but the hippie threw all three spoons at his face. As Jimmy put up his forearms to block the assault, the hippie jumped to his feet and dashed past him, bumping him in the side, nearly knocking him over. When Jimmy spun around to catch his balance, he watched him running for the city and marveled at how quickly he recovered from his previous injuries.

Jimmy hunched over and caught his breath. In the wake of his burst of adrenaline, he hadn’t realized he was tiring out.

“What just happened?” he said.

“Well, you defused a situation, sort of,” said Plummet Man. “In the messiest way possible.”

“Why was he acting that way?”

“You could chase him down and ask him if you want.”

Jimmy shook his head.

“This has got to be the craziest place in the world.”

He straightened his knees and stretched. With his hands pressed against his lower back, he leaned back and cracked it. Then he clenched his fists and leaned over, trying to pull the kinks out of his spine. Then he shook his hands to loosen up.

When he stood up again, Plummet Man stepped in close and elbowed Jimmy in the side. Jimmy bowled over as he felt the air rushing out of him.

“Ow, why?” he gasped.

“Training,” Plummet Man said. “Always be on your guard. When even the peaceful hippies attack, you know you cannot lower your vigilance.”

Plummet Man reached down and picked up the spoons.

“Also,” he said, “you disobeyed my order. Let’s not forget that you’re the sidekick. I told you to leave that guy alone. He didn’t look right, and you’re not ready to deal with people like him.”

Jimmy wanted to argue that he had singlehandedly defeated two known members of the Order of Pilephile just a few months earlier, but seeing as how that battle had landed him in the hospital for six weeks, he thought it was a bragging right worth keeping to himself.

“So, what now?” he asked, still gasping.

“Now we return to our dune and keep practicing our spoons.”

***

     When Jimmy got home that night, he brewed some tea, grabbed an icepack to deal with the day’s bruises, and thought about how poorly he had handled the situation with the fallen hippie. While he sat on his sofa listening to “Every Breath You Take” on the radio, he started to wonder if he was well-equipped enough to face his old enemy. Sure, he had taken down two members of the Order of Pilephile during the crisis at city hall, and he did so alone, but he dispatched them by what felt like luck. The energy harnesser he had used to blow them out of the third floor window had given him a heart attack. Every medical professional he had seen since convinced him to never use it again. Facing a known mass murderer who wanted to murder him without that portable lightning bolt shooter was probably going to suck.

That night, he saw his orthopedist visit return in a dream. Once again he relived the nightmare of witnessing the aftereffects of half a dozen police officers falling in a spray of blood on the waiting room floor. Once again he awoke in a pool of sweat. Once again he went into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of hot water and attempt to calm himself back to sleep.

The next morning, he and Plummet Man forwent the spoons to train beside a parked car in the Cannonball City Heights District. When Plummet Man noticed his heart wasn’t in it, thanks to Jimmy thinking about the Spotless Cowboy, even though he didn’t mention it, he suggested they go to Smack Burgers for some lunch. It was while they were eating with Cherry Chicklet and Miss Honeysweet, two beautiful ladies who also kept their hands dipped in the crime-fighting pool, that the Pig Rocker, a fellow Risen Ordinary with a hotheaded persistence, busted in with some “big news” about the old fallen ocean liner called the Tropica Hardcore and what life-altering detail had been discovered about it. He told them they needed to go to the Risen Ordinaries’ conference center on Sandy Smack Island to hear more about the situation and the repercussions of the findings. After the reprimand Plummet Man had given him at the beach the day before, Jimmy reluctantly agreed to join them. But his heart wasn’t in that journey, either. He was uncomfortable with the idea of taking a long walk in plain daylight, exposing himself to the hidden crosshair of a sharpshooting maniac who now knew exactly where to find him and could reach New Switzerland at any time. He wasn’t sure if Plummet Man would understand.