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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.

A Goodreads “Favorites” Review: About a Boy

October 21, 2015

In honor of Back to the Future Day, I wanted to post a couple of “blast from the past” reviews for two of my favorite books, Syrup and About a Boy. Now, these are technically new reviews, so I’m not actually blasting the past here, but I have reviewed both before on my Visual Bookshelf, so I am kind of going back in time. That site’s gone, of course, and with it, all of my old reviews. I doubt I’ll review most of the books featured there twice, but these two books are certainly worth revisiting, so with that, I’d like to share my thoughts.

I’m continuing my “blast from the past” review series, or more accurately, my “favorites” series with a review of my second favorite book of all time, About a Boy by Nick Hornby. Although less revolutionary to me than Syrup, it still speaks to me as a man, as a role model, if I were one, and as a person who appreciates time. It reminds me that anyone can become a better person, and it inspires me to respect anyone and everyone. It, well, it’s a novel, and meant to be enjoyed as one. It doesn’t have to speak to anything.

But it does have to be read. Here’s my review of it on Goodreads:

About a Boy Review

What’s next? It’s a surprise. But when you walk away, don’t you forget about me.

A Goodreads “Favorites” Review: Syrup

October 21, 2015

In honor of Back to the Future Day, I wanted to post a couple of “blast from the past” reviews for two of my favorite books, Syrup and About a Boy. Now, these are technically new reviews, so I’m not actually blasting the past here, but I have reviewed both before on my Visual Bookshelf, so I am kind of going back in time. That site’s gone, of course, and with it, all of my old reviews. I doubt I’ll review most of the books featured there twice, but these two books are certainly worth revisiting, so with that, I’d like to share my thoughts.

I’m beginning with my all-time favorite novel, Syrup by Max Barry. It’s a story I continue to think about to this day, and one that still subliminally influences my own writing. It’s brilliantly conceived, expertly crafted, and hilariously received. If that’s not enough, then consider this: It makes me proud to be a writer.

Read my Goodreads review for it here:

Syrup Review

Come back in an hour to read my review of my second favorite book.

“The Computer Nerd” One More Day until Release

October 19, 2015

The Computer Nerd Cover Image
The Computer Nerd Cover Image

So, with tomorrow marking the release of my first attempt at selling a book I’ve written (no longer just the freebies on an ambiguous marketplace where anything and everything shares space), I must admit that the uncertainties of success are mounting. Will it succeed? Will it fail? Will anyone even notice?

The scary thing about putting my work on the Internet for all to see is that some people might actually check it out, and those same people will undoubtedly have an opinion. Whether that opinion is positive or negative can greatly influence the future the work has with the rest of its audience. The more people who praise it (or, realistically, if the first person to comment is one who praises it), the better chance it has at winning respect and additional readers, maybe even fans. If the majority, or even the first to comment, shows a tendency toward dislike, then the question is begged if the story, and its author, has a chance to find a more successful audience elsewhere. It’s a nerve-racking thing to think about.

This doesn’t make me as nervous when I send out freebies, like the six books that are already available (check the right sidebar for those titles). The only risk in reading a free story is that you can’t get those ten seconds back (the ones you invested to find out you’re not a fan of this thing you just downloaded). It’s a bit more of a nail-biter when people actually shell out their hard earned dollars for your work.

I suppose when the traditional publishers take control of a work and the overall feedback is negative, or nonexistent, it has a greater effect on the author since that publisher may be hesitant to take on the next book. In the indie world, the next book stands on its own. Same goes with positive feedback. The more that people like a book, the better chance it has to gain a momentum in respect, in criticism, and ultimately in sales, and the more the traditional publisher will like the author. On that same note, the indie author who puts out his second book is unlikely to see an effect carry over from his first, as his next book cleans the slate, and the traditional publishers can’t prevent it from getting into readers’ hands.

Yet, a good book is a good book, and a good author will more than likely have some momentum going into his second book, if the people reading him know that he’s good.

I think the meteoric rise of a book like Ready Player One by Ernest Cline sets a strong example of the benefits of momentum. Great book, strong premise, competent writer, decent publicity, movie tie-in: no doubt the author would have a free pass for his second book. To me, as a fan of the first book, I think Cline has earned his free pass because his second book, Armada, while entertaining and worth a read, doesn’t quite hit the same marks. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to. It’s good enough that Cline’s third book will come out with strong legs, most likely. And that’s just it. The momentum keeps going. I daresay the momentum stays fierce because Ready Player One was such a force out the gate that Cline could probably peddle his success on that book for several titles to come, even though Armada does hold its own to a lesser extent.

On a similar note, I keep thinking M. Knight Shyamalan has had three hits after The Sixth Sense before Lady in the Water crashed at the theaters. Each one was a little worse than the one before (well, I’d actually argue that Unbreakable was his best movie, but that’s me), but he still carried The Sixth Sense‘s momentum for a little while. Of course, the movies he’s done since Lady in the Water are proof that every artist must give each work his all and not trust his momentum to last forever. At some point, the talent must come back. Fortunately, it seems his newest film, The Visit, has pulled him back into form (I haven’t seen it myself, but the reviewers say he’s gone back to his old ways, which is good). Point is, now that I’m heading into a tangent if I don’t reel it in here, each work stands on its own, but momentum certainly helps.

I don’t know if I’ll gain any momentum once The Computer Nerd goes live tomorrow. The benefit of the presale is that all sales to Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and Kobo made before tomorrow will get counted tomorrow, and the book can rank higher on the sales charts than if I had not opened it up to presale. But, I’m also choosing to release on a Tuesday, which is the greatest competition day (admittedly the reason why I chose to release on the 20th and not the 23rd–I mean, why not see how I stack against the big bosses?). A scan on Amazon shows I’m going up against John Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer. Am I going to outsell John Grisham? Not a frickin’ chance. Not even close. But, I am releasing a 99-cent book tomorrow that runs the equivalent of a little over 300 pages in a paperback. He’s releasing his 352-page book for $17.37 on Amazon ($14.99 on Kindle). In fairness, he probably has an editor telling him where all the story fat is located. I’m basically fending for myself here. But I think I held my own as a worthy author for this one.

Bottom line is that The Computer Nerd is worth every bit its price, as I’m sure Rogue Lawyer is worth every bit of its price. (As an avid collector of John Grisham hardcovers, I’ll no doubt be picking up my copy one of these days.)

Yes, I’m well aware that I just promoted John Grisham’s book for the same day that mine is coming out to the e-book market. Whatever. There’s a reason he’s popular. Again, mine is an eighth of the price and almost the same volume of story. (I can’t comment on quality because I haven’t read Rogue Lawyer. I’m sure it’s good. I believe mine is also good, though I welcome your judgment if you’re reading this.) In the great scale of weights and measures, buying The Computer Nerd on or before October 20, 2015 (basically today or tomorrow), still makes sense.

Speaking of promoting other people’s books, I’m happy to say that Larry Brooks’s Story Fix is out now, and for anyone who’s read Story Engineering or Story Physics, you’ll know that Larry Brooks is a gift to writers, and if you haven’t read his books, which you can find at the Writer’s Digest Shop, you totally should, if you’re the least bit serious about writing stories. I’ve picked up my copy this past Saturday, and even though I’m releasing The Computer Nerd tomorrow, I’ll certainly be looking forward to releasing a revised version in the near future should I learn about anything I’ve broken and didn’t bother to fix. The nice thing about publishing e-books myself is that I can do such things as that. Obviously, if I release a major update to the story (and I don’t foresee that happening because I have edited the crap out of this thing already), I’ll post about it. Once you buy it, you’re supposed to have access to all successive versions.

But again, I don’t foresee that being necessary. I’ll more than likely need Brooks’s advice for the one I’m currently updating, The Evil Clone of Michael K., which I hope to release in December (on a Friday or Saturday).

So, on that note, buy John Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer tomorrow. But, if you have a leftover dollar to spare (or your regional equivalent), give The Computer Nerd a try. You can sample the first six chapters, beginning with this post, and find out more about the book on its official page. The e-book, which is approximately 80,000 words, or the equivalent of about 300 pages (in paperback), can be bought at Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and starting tomorrow, you can also buy it at Smashwords.

If you get a chance to read it, please comment here, or leave a review on your purchased store’s website, or at The Computer Nerd page on Goodreads.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this story. If you start a discussion on it anywhere (for better or for worse; my skin is thick), please link it to the comments below. I’d love to see what people are saying about it.